The Vertical Inch

December 15, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Vertical Inch

“Divine Possibility…the Visible Sign pointing us to an Invisible Reality!”


written by Debbie Allen

Nothing perks the ears of a human heart like the cries of a new born child.  They are the very echoes of human frailty…reminders perhaps of our own neediness.  They resonate with the deepest longings of humanity’s heart cries; ever hungering for the warmth of another’s touch in this life.  Such cries intrude upon our senses in a way like no other. These sounds of innocence awaken our spirits to the utter vulnerability of this newly unfolded mound of squalling flesh who is capable of doing nothing for himself.  In light of these thoughts…why then would the God of the Universe, Creator of all things, purposely choose to enter into our world as a tiny Babe clothed in the flesh on that first Christmas morning?  Though this question will never be fully understood by our own finite minds, I suggest it may require a rather unique standard of measurement, commonly overlooked.  This measurement can’t be found in the math books of childhood or in the lengthy,  complicated equations we master at the hands of college professors.  It is a measurement that doesn’t add up in the minds of even the greatest mathematicians.  Its components can’t be found in the bottom of a test tube in a Science lab; nor can it be deciphered by the world’s deepest thinkers.  More simply put, there is a measurement for measuring the immeasurable.  It is what I have come to call the vertical-inch.  Let me explain.

Many years ago, as a ten-year-old little girl, I lay sprawled on the kitchen floor of my Aunt and Uncles’ house trying to decipher my math homework.  Though math wasn’t one of my favorite subjects, drawing was.  This particular night, my homework involved drawing and labeling a variety of geometric shapes.  With my ruler in one hand and my tongue pasted above my upper lip, I set out to draw the most perfect triangles this world has ever seen!  Soon afterwards, however, the noise level of the grownups visiting around me became too much for this art-matician to work in.  I retired to a nearby bedroom and closed the door.  My ruler in place and my pencil in motion once more; I was again interrupted. This time, by strange staccato-like squeaks and groans emanating from a bassinette standing in a far corner of the room.

“Hmmmm…the new baby,” I thought to myself.  “As if there isn’t enough noise in this family already.”

Pretending I didn’t hear anything, I continued working. After all, I doubted she even knew of my presence in the room.  Unable to shut out the noises, I rose to my feet begrudgingly and took a few steps toward the awkward sounds.  On the way over , I remember thinking a few thoughts of my own on the matter.

“My Dad holds you like you’re made of glass or something.” I recited under my breath with a deepening frown.

“And my Mom…she speaks some foreign baby-talk-babel-language of her own when you’re in the room.”

Growing more disgruntled by the minute; sheer curiosity drove me to the side of that bassinette for a peek at this little disturbance for myself.  Exercising great caution, I peered into the bassinette expecting to see an expressionless, pasty, white-faced china doll type figure.  One who couldn’t speak a word of proper English, yet still somehow managed to rule the worlds of all those around her.  I determined right then she was not going to have that same effect on me.  One hand planted on my hip and the other one still gripping my ruler, I took a deep breath and peered down into that bassinette.  To my surprise, two little eyes still struggling to focus in life, intercepted my gaze.  Much like what happens when two stranger’s eyes lock on an elevator; mine shifted immediately to the floor.  After all, I had nothing to say to her.  That’s when I realized that those awkward squeaks and groans were the sounds of her voice.

“Did she have something to say to me?” I puzzled, still frowning?”

Raising my eyes again,   I saw one of her tiny hands free itself from under the blanket.  Reaching for it as if she’d put it there for me, I dropped to one knee; wrapping her miniature fingers around my thumb.  Fascinated by the size of them, I did what made perfect sense to me at the time.  I lifted my ruler up next to her index finger and measured it.

“One inch?” I whispered aloud to her.  “You are barely even big enough to be real.” I added, shaking my head in the midst of this rare ten-year-old ah-ha moment.

As I stroked her little pink cheek, I remember feeling an unforeseen tear trickle from my eye.  Even at ten, this sudden brush with innocence made me realize that something too precious for words lay in front of me.  Backing away from the bassinette, I picked up my math homework again.  Still captivated by my encounter with this little bundle of new life, I penciled in a one-inch vertical line right next to the string of geometric figures I’d already drawn and labeled.  I didn’t just label this figure though…I named it. The vertical-inch.  The next morning I turned my homework in without having erased my vertical-inch before doing so.  Within the next two days, my teacher returned it to me with her candid remarks written in bold red above my small addition to her mathematical world.  She wrote,  “What’s this???  Doesn’t exist…Not real!”

Though the perfectionist in me abhorred the sight of those red marks written across my discovery, the optimist in me rejected her every word. Our worlds collided in that instant over the vertical-inch.  My teacher based everything on absolutes.  She left absolutely no room for its consideration between questioning its reality and pronouncing its nonexistence.  She supported her conclusions solely on what she could see and thought she knew.  The eyes of her heart were so clouded by the facts and figures that regulated her calculated, mathematical world that logic stepped in and ruled where new possibilities were never invited.

Staring down at my vertical-inch that day, I could only offer my teacher a smile.  I couldn’t sway her to think differently about it, but my own thinking remained transformed by it.  You see…I saw that vertical-inch with my own eyes!  I touched it…and felt an unexplainable measure of its warmth and the indescribable pull it had on my heart that day I knelt beside my cousin’s bassinette.  From that moment on, a simple one-inch vertical line became for me life’s picture of Love’s profound dimensions.  Dimensions that entail much more than length.  Height and depth enter into the picture as well.  For this we need to turn our eyes toward Heaven’s own Vertical Inch.

Pull yourself out of the hustle and bustle of your own world for a moment and step back into time; into the little Judean village of Bethlehem, more than two thousand years ago.  It’s Christmas Eve, but as you walk the streets, no one seems to know it.  The cries of beggars on street corners replace the familiar sounds of bells ringing in your ears.  Angry shop keepers slam their doors in your face proclaiming, “Are you mad!” for asking if they will be open until midnight like you are accustomed to during the holiday season in your world.  Hungry and tired, you turn around and give up on the idea of ever feeling welcomed here in this dark, dirty city.  In doing so, you encounter your first smile since your arrival.  It comes from a rugged, slender young man leading a donkey bearing the weight of a fourteen-year-old, pregnant, single-mom.  Not wishing to pry, you return a hurried smile and then dash off towards the Inn which this young man pointed out to you.  It’s the only inn you see with a vacancy sign still showing above it.  Reaching into your pockets, you haul out a handful of cash and pay the Innkeeper a little extra for what you soon find out to be the last room in town.  Feeling somewhat smug about such good fortune, you walk away to the tune of the Innkeeper’s gruff voice telling the next knock on his door, “No room!  We have no room for you here!”

Giving a quick glance back at the inn door, you are startled to see the tired face of the young man who smiled at you earlier.  His brow is now creased; trying his best to console the pregnant girl’s tears as the Innkeeper points them to a stable out behind the inn.  For one fleeting moment you ponder offering the young couple your room.  After all…the girl is pregnant, and the young man did point this place out to you. But, your guilt passes soon enough.  There is your back to consider…and what about your allergies to animal dander?  Bethlehem has no 24/7 Corner Drug Store.  Besides, it would mean giving up some of the comforts you deserve and paid good money for, to complete strangers.  After finding out this Inn has no room service, you begrudgingly wash a couple of dried figs down with a gourd full of murky-looking well water; and hit the hay!

Only two hours into slumber, you are awakened by a dog barking outside your window.  At home you would’ve just closed the window, but here you discover the windows to be a twelve-inch thick stone opening with nothing covering it.

“Shut up!” you holler down at the barking menace.  He ignores you, but you finally see what his barking is all about.  In a field not far away, the quiet bleating of sheep on a hillside is replaced with what sounds like loud voices singing.  Shielding your eyes from some strange, bright light shining down from nowhere on that same hillside; you walk away grumbling about the wild party those crude shepherds must be throwing in the middle of the night.  Nestling under the covers again, you doze for what seems like seconds before hearing someone yelling in the back alleyway under your window.

“A new thing is torn!  A new thing is torn!”, your sleepy ears hear a man shouting.

“Probably one of those ignorant shepherds…” you mumble aloud.  By the time you get to the window, he’s too far gone to hear your own angry cries at him for interrupting your rest.

Just buy something new!” you holler back, still shaking both your head and your  fist out the window in his direction.

Then, the staccato-like bleating of a little Lamb suddenly pierces the night.  A cow moos simultaneously…and a donkey’s bray adds the finishing touches on what you  deem an ordinary symphony of distractions filling the night air.  All this commotion seems to be coming from the stable behind the inn.

“That poor young couple…how could anybody sleep through all that?” you ask yourself, seeking the warmth of your own covers once more.

Lord…please help me get my rest. After all…I wouldn’t want to sleep through Christmas.” you whisper before slipping into a deep, deep slumber.

If I were to entitle this scenario, I would call it, “Clueless in Bethlehem.”  We don’t have to look too far to see ourselves in this story.  Most of us are so deeply involved in whatever world we find ourselves walking around in; we fail to see the miracles staring us right in the face.  Each of us is guilty of asking, “How could anybody sleep through all that?” and yet, it is we who snore the loudest!

My prayer for each of us throughout this Christmas Season is this.

That you won’t just “Shush!” the barking dog that wakes you in the middle of the night.  Perhaps he is God’s way of alerting you to the sounds of Heaven’s own Angelic Voices singing out the Good News of the  Baby Jesus to quaking shepherds on a hillside not far away.

Tune your sleepy ears to the cries of the one who runs in the streets below the window of your world.  These are the sounds of the shepherd’s own joyous shouts proclaiming, “A New King is born…A New King is born!”

Finally, step beyond the comforts and conveniences of your neatly packaged world.  Experience for yourself the very Reason for all of the bleating…mooing…and braying in the stable that night.  Kneel down with lowly shepherds and worship beside the Kings from the Orient.  Don’t be afraid to look over their shoulders; for they have set aside their own worlds for a peek into the manger.  As your own fearful gaze is captured by the Eyes of this little Stranger; know that your very heart is being held in the gaze of the One who watched you being formed in your mother’s womb.  As His tiny Hand looses itself from the binding of the swaddling cloths; reach for it.  Take it for your own and discover the miracle of God’s own Vertical-Inch.

One inch!” you exclaim, wrapping His Fingers around your own.

“You’re barely big enough to be called real…and yet, somehow too real to be denied.” you whisper.

Basking in the midst of this unforeseen, ah-ha moment, an untended tear slips from your eye.  You are kneeling in the Presence of God’s only Son; Someone too Precious and too Innocent for even words.  His tiny Finger draws your eye beyond the mangers edge; pointing the way to Heaven from Earth.  Oh…the Unspeakable Gift that lay within this Vertical-Inch!  A Divine Measure of the Immeasurable.  The Ultimate Gift of Love.

Much like the teacher from my childhood, there are always going to be those living in the world who will not hesitate to write across what we know to be true  in bold red letters,

“What’s this??  Doesn’t exist…Not real!!”

Such absolutes are merely the sum totals of puny human logic ruling out Divine Possibility.  The world has always been on a collision course with the idea of the Vertical Inch.  It remains a Measurement that will never add up in the minds of men as long as they continue to seek answers within the limited realms of their own earthly-foot.

“Don’t let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men’s thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said.”  (Colossians 2:8  LAB)

Don’t sleep through Christmas this year.  Peek into the manger and lock eyes with the Lover of your Soul.  Slip your hand into His.  Experience the unexplainable measure of its warmth and the indescribable pull that He has on your heart.  Truly, an Unspeakable Gift lay within the Realm of this Vertical-Inch.

“For in Christ there is all of God in a human body; so you have everything when you have Christ…” (Colossians 2:9 LAB)

Life’s picture of Love’s Deepest Dimensions…