It was a beautiful evening. The sun was setting in all its glory over a sea of Texas Bluebonnets, a once-a-year view that beckons a pilgrimage of wildflower lovers, birders and Texans of both home and heart.

Sitting there on her porch overlooking the land that had been in her family for generations, she shivered a little, pulling her sweater tighter around her, as the evenings were still a little cool here in early spring. She had spent a lifetime of spring breaks here on this ranch with her grandparents, and while, as a young teen, she had yearned to be inside watching her favorite TV shows after dinner, her grandmother had insisted that she watch “God’s show” on the porch first. Every night was the same: As the sun dipped into the horizon, her grandmother had said, “Oh honey, would you look at that? What you see there is the very hem of heaven!”

As she had grown more deeply into her teen years, the sight of a sunset had started to annoy her. Her parents’ rules seemed to be more and more restrictive and, well, stupid, if you had asked her, which, of course, no one ever had. Her daddy had been a rancher himself, and liked to use the lingo with her, saying things like, “we need to keep a tight reign on that girl” or “we’ve got to hem her in.” He used that last one a lot and every time he said it, she had thought of the sunset and her grandmother’s words…”the hem of heaven”. At that time in her life, it seemed that everyone was trying to hem her in – even God. So she rebelled even harder and secretly adopted a song off of one of her daddy’s favorite Cole Porter albums as her theme song…”Don’t Fence Me In.”

Somehow, she’d managed to graduate high school, though now, as she thought about it, she still wasn’t sure how. She’d skipped out on a lot of classes to hang out with the nephew of the local mechanic. Her daddy and the mechanic had never really gotten along, so that had been a definite pull of attraction; however, that boy had a danger and recklessness about him that drew her in even more. He lived by rules of his own making, a freedom that she tasted in his presence as sure and sweet as honey off a comb. The week after graduation, she had loaded a bag with clothes and plans for a future of adventure and excitement, climbed onto the boy’s bike, and holding on tightly, had left her parents and their dreams for her in a blast of dust.

It had been glorious…for a while. They went where they wanted, ate when they wanted and slept under a blanket of stars. They covered a lot of miles and saw some beautiful parts of the country; she smiled to herself when they stopped once in an old diner and the jukebox was playing “Don’t Fence Me In.” There were NO fences in her life at that time. When they road into the sunset on those carefree evenings, she no longer saw it as “the hem of heaven”, but an endless, open opportunity with no holds barred. Yes, it had been glorious until the weather started to change and her graduation money had run out.

It had been extraordinarily cold the morning that she stood in a gas station bathroom with a pregnancy test that she’d stolen from the convenience store. The little blue line announcing the next chapter of her life both frightened and thrilled her. The truth was that she’d been tiring of this life of “freedom”. She’d been longing for the warmth of the home she’d taken for granted, a soft bed, a sure meal, and had been dropping hints to the boy about settling down and getting jobs, maybe getting married someday. Sadly, however, he’d always laughed at her dreaming, or “scheming” as he’d preferred to call it. As she thought back over it now, she shook her head at her naivete when she’d thought news of being a father would change his mind.

The mind-numbing fear had quickly coursed through her veins as she’d realized she was alone in their camp site. He’d been furious the night before when she’d told him about the baby and she’d crawled into their tent crying from a depth in her heart she hadn’t known existed. He’d told her that he wanted no part in it, but she’d hoped that when he sobered up, things would be different. She’d tried to pull herself together, packing her bag with what she could carry and set out on foot, not entirely sure where she was. With no money left, and overwhelmed by a morning sickness that had seemed to last all day, she spent her days trying to find ways to fill her stomach and keep her baby safe. It was later one evening, at sunset, that she’d happened onto a small church, its silhouette dark against the bright winter sky. She had been overcome with a homesickness for her grandmother and quietly filed in to the last pew.

It had been silent in there, and warm…safe. Lulled by the comfort, she’d fallen asleep, only awakening when she heard music. There had been an organist at the front of the church, apparently practicing for services, when she’d realized that it must have been a Sunday. Gathering her things quietly so she could slip out unnoticed, she had been stopped by people beginning to file into her row leaving her with no option but to stay. She’d felt conspicuous and out of place until something the pastor said had caught her attention.

…And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

The hem of His garment. The hem. She savored the memory of the way the words had swelled in her heart to the point she’d thought it might burst. She had known immediately that they were talking about Jesus, as her grandmother had spoken of Him often, as if they were close friends. She had said that Jesus was the one Who had made sense of her life and made whole the broken places. Without so much as a glance around her, she had made her way to that small altar where the hands of her heart had grabbed hold of the simple hem of a carpenter’s garment and she finally understood.

She still missed her grandmother, even all these years later. She always did on evenings like this, where the sunsets promised to be especially glorious. How ironic it was that the hem that she had been so sure God was using to stifle and restrict her, was really for her safety, comfort and peace. How ironic that it was the only “fence” that offered true freedom within its confines.

The creaking of the screen door broke her from her reverie as she turned to find her son, growing taller and lankier with each passing breath. They waved at her daddy out in the pasture, as he finished mending the fence; he’d been a huge help since she’d moved into her grandparents’ old place to raise her son. Then, ignoring his eye roll, she pulled his young teen self down on her lap, even though he was really too big for that now, and directed his gaze to the horizon.

“Buddy…would you look at that? That’s beauty and safety and freedom, son. That’s the very
hem of heaven.”

NOTE: Some people have asked if this is my personal story, and it’s not…just a fictional tale that formed in my mind after hearing and falling in love with the phrase, “the hem of heaven.” However, the truth of its redemption isn’t fiction…it’s anything BUT!

photo credit: emjc on flickr