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What I am in my Father’s eyes

I’m from Illinois, I told someone recently.

The blank stare in response told the usual story.

“Is that over near Chicago?” my listener asked, and then shrugged and changed the subject.

My former home is one of what coast-dwellers call the flyover states, considered too dull to be worth a glance down en route from exciting place to exciting place.

Central Illinois, where I did much of my growing up, is eternal roads past farm after farm. No lakes for summer play, not much snow to speak of to make winter fun.

At a glance, there’s not much special about the midwest heartland.

You have to look closer to see what’s really there.

Green, deeper and prettier than any you can imagine. A sea of September-soybean green eases the heart like no medicine ever could.

You could have a small child stand on your shoulders and they still might not be able to see up over majestic corn stalk tops.

After harvest comes horizon, 360 degrees of it. The land gives birth to the sun each morning and lays it to bed each night, colors and clouds glowing glorious as you gaze, breathless.

Prairie dogs pop up like whack-a-moles on the roadside, and the state fair smells of horses and funnel cakes on your way to the life-sized butter cow.

Cicadas scream on a hot summer night as you lie in bed, sheets flung aside in the heat, the once-cool washcloth for patting your face and neck now dry and warm against your hand.

Muted by deep distance, a thunderstorm in miniature rips the skies miles away as you lean on the front porch railing, heart fluttering, feeling its electric nearness through the dark sky.

The people are quiet, self-effacing, hands calloused and often missing fingers that got stuck in the combine. The boys wear ball caps and go off to college and come back to take over their dad’s farm. The girls are strong and smart and look like their mothers.

Dull? Lifeless? Flyover?

Ain’t hardly.

My pretty homeland is so much more than what you see on the surface.

The Land of Lincoln, Illinois licenses plates say.

The man whose profile was enlarged and carved onto a mountain, miniaturized and stamped onto a penny — the president who guided the country through its greatest divide and waged war against slavery, whose 110th birthday will be celebrated by the country without much of a fuss this Wednesday — was a Midwest farm boy.

Growing up in Illinois, you learn about Lincoln. On class field trips you visit New Salem, a recreation of the village where “Honest Abe” ran the general store and delivered mail and ran after customers who had forgotten their change.

You learn about the lanky young man with an axe who split logs on his dad’s farm in rolled-up shirtsleeves and suspenders, the merry storyteller who charmed everyone he knew with his dry wit and who read everything he could get his hands on.

Just an ordinary, nothing-special guy.

Not much of a leader, that Abraham Lincoln.

People, and places, can be so much more than they seem at first glance.

***

The young man they all knew, the polite teenager who helped out with His dad’s carpenter business and went out fishing with His friends, the one who, when he turned 30, started acting strange and talking about fishing for men — He didn’t look like much, probably.

He was plenty, though, that pleasant young man. Plenty much to free slaves and heal divisions, enough to lead the biggest revolution in the history of the world against the powers of death and the devil.

Not much to look at, in a robe and sandals … and yet, He looked at me — this dull, flyover, can’t-get-it-right mess of a person whose reproachful glance I see in the mirror each morning — and saw something worth living for.

Someone worth dying for.

“The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart,” God told the prophet Samuel.

Not as I see myself does my Maker see me. Past the layers of pride and self-aggrandizing, past the deeper layers of inward-turned reproach and failure, He looks closer and sees what’s really there — His child. His person, worth a second glance purely because He loves her.

I shan’t ever be a leader of the country, can’t save the world with lightning at my fingertips. At a glance, there’s not much special about me.

But, in my Father’s eyes, I’m more than nothing. I’m His, and I’m loved.

And that’s enough.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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