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The mountaintop and the valley, all in a day’s work……. Yesterday’s work ‘high’? Receiving an an annual evaluation from my supervisor that could not have been better. Yesterday’s work ‘low’? Receiving a very sincere and serious complaint from someone that her coffee mug was “stolen” from the break room, causing her to ask “Can’t we DO something ABOUT this?” , in the same tone that most people would reserve for oh, let’s see – maybe for conversations about starving children or homelessness. In my work, I often encounter the flip side of some very good people. And sometimes the contrast is a bit much to take.

I used to have this little saying stuck to my fridge: A woman with many children was asked which one she loved the most. Her reply? “Whoever needs me most at the moment”. It’s a struggle for me to think of the person behaving selfishly as a child of God who is most in need of Him at that moment, but I know it’s true.

Then to make the connection that I am the conduit He has chosen for His love to THAT person who I only want to get away from………well, it’s startling when I realize that responsibility, and it doesn’t surprise me any less no matter how many times it hits me. Because I don’t have that kind of grace to extend. But He does. And so I accept and extend it from Him to that other person. Because in the end, the evaluation I want is “well done, good and faithful servant”.


Like most everyone, I have not always gotten exactly what I wanted in life. Of the things I had any control over, I’m at maybe 75%. Which isn’t bad. I’ve noticed lately that the things that haven’t turned out the way I wanted have a strange way of becoming easier to accept as I get older. I wonder if that is because I am wiser with experience, or if it is because I am more tired with a little age, and don’t have the energy to protest? Either way, it’s a blessing. God’s novocaine – acceptance.

It can still be hard at times. In situations with family, work, church, I want to tell people what to do and have them do it and see that I was right. But for the most part, I am aware that I did a thorough enough job of expressing my opinion so that there is no confusion on either of our parts about what I would prefer. It is not a matter of repeated telling; it is a matter of the choices of individuals and loving them enough to continue loving when the choice differs from mine. Not easy; but it helps that I am beckoned: Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Not “go to them”, but “come to Me”. That is acceptance, rest, peace.

I couldn’t have brought myself here today. I’m so depressed.  It can’t be a good time to try a new church. But my husband is ready and has been so good to me while I’ve been down….and this may help me focus outside myself. So I try to sink down into the bright red pew chair in the small chapel. Ahh, small churches – I’m hiding in plain sight.

A woman asks “Have you ever participated in this kind of service before? Let me show you……here’s what you do…”  She has one of those smiles that make you think she didn’t wait until she got here this morning to start worshipping. Looking into  her eyes is like getting a sneak preview of what’s coming.

A processional with lots of little and big children. An ironic thing often happens when I am really broken; beauty becomes much more visible. These children – they are glowing. The priest is praying for them, touching their heads, smiling at them like he is the father of them all and he truly loves each one.  Hmmm. This high church thing…..maybe I understand a bit. He represents The Father. I think about how these children will have this impression and carry it into adulthood.  He looks like this is the best time he’s had all week, loving on these children.  Well. Am I the best part of God’s week?

Liturgy, kneeling benches, a sweet quick little chime. This is good. I am too weak to participate on my own motivation and energy, but I can read responsively, I can listen, I can kneel. This structured service helps me redirect. It is a relief to say more to Him than “God, help me”, and to remember how big He is.

A sermon, and a surprise. The priest interjects something into the flow of this highly structured service.  God has told him someone is depressed and needs prayer. I want to shout “It’s me! It’s me! Everyone else can go home now because this is for me!” My husband has obviously been listening to the sermon  – he whips out his hanky and shoves it at me as fast as he can. He knows how I needed to hear this.

God has my attention. The priest rebukes this depression. He rebukes? I didn’t know a priest would rebuke.  His words are startling in the personal intimacy they convey from God. I can’t even hear much of the rest of the sermon because in my head I am bowing in worship of a God who brought me to a strange place to hear a stranger give me words from His lips. The hanky is wet with comfort.

Communion time. People seem eager to get to the altar. There are things going on behind there….these priests, they have a lot of steps to remember, and it fascinates me. I thought it would feel like ceremony, but instead I am caught up in their actions. 

I kneel to receive communion, at home on my knees in a place I’ve never been. Mystery. I almost don’t want to leave.  Some sit in the front and receive prayer from the priests and a few women whose compassion is tangible. There is no hurry.  I know I could go up there, though a stranger, and receive healing. But I’m afraid; I don’t know if I can handle so much powerful love directed at me in a place that I don’t know. Even so, witnessing something so genuine gives me hope.

A recessional, and I leave. It is hard to talk on the walk home.  I didn’t expect this experience. The following Sunday, I feel well enough to return all alone. God is love; so are His people. Amen.

My Uncle Mark died a few weeks ago.  He was 59, never married, and childless.   A woman brought a 5×7 photo to his funeral. Surprisingly, the photo was of her and Mark at a prom in the 1960’s. Surprising because I wouldn’t have believed Mark ever attended a prom, but also because the woman looked old.   Though I had seen Mark aging over the years, and this year of illness especially, in my heart he was not as old as the lady with the photo.

He was my dad’s youngest brother, so he was the young, “cool” one when I was growing up. We lived across the  road from my grandmother and him. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War,  in Germany. The photos of him before he left for service are so handsome; clean cut and piercing blue eyes. In his hippie days, which ended up lasting decades, he had long hair, a beard, and dressed to match. But you could still see he was handsome under all that hair.

When he got out of the Army, I was in elementary school. So my personal memories of him start with him as a young man of the early 70’s. In our conservative family, he was the black sheep. He lived upstairs in my grandmother’s century-old home and when we kids would go upstairs to see the attic, we were always cautioned to stay away from his room. I remember he had a painting of a beautiful woman – who was tastefully topless, her wrap falling low in the front. I thought she was beautiful, but I knew my dad probably did NOT appreciate the art upstairs.

Over the years, Mark worked as a truck driver. He got in trouble here and there, lost his driver’s license, had at least a couple of wrecks. He drank too much. He worried and frustrated his older siblings. I grew up thinking that one day Mark would probably die in a car wreck or by setting his bed on fire with a cigarette. In my family, he was used as the example on my father’s side of why alcohol was evil. It is no wonder I couldn’t enjoy an occasional drink until I was well into my 30’s. My parents were early subscribers to the adage, if you can’t be a good example, at least serve as a terrible warning. In some ways, he was that.

But when I think of Mark, the family worry and problems don’t come to mind first. Instead, I think about all of his paradoxes: He never had children, but he loved children, and was very attentive and loving to his nieces and nephews. He didn’t like crowds, but he loved to sit on the porch and talk with family and would do so for hours on end. He served in the Army during a very volatile period, but he loved peace as much as anyone I ever knew. He didn’t keep a relationship with a woman, but he was one of the most committed dog owners I’ve ever known. He lived in a way that sometimes hurt his family, but he was also perhaps the kindest man I’ve ever known. 

The greatest paradox of Mark’s life is also the most beautiful: he was not always the brother, son, or uncle that his family wanted him to be, but he was loved.  I am proud of  my dad and his siblings. Despite all the potholes, they made the journey with Mark to the end of the road and escorted him Home. They remind me what family is about – loving unconditionally, caring beyond reason, doing the right thing instead of saying I told you so when it would be so appropriate. This is how God loves us. This is how I want to love.

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"A biography of any literary person ought to deal at length with what he read and when, for in some sense, 'we are what we read.'" --Joseph Epstein, quoted in Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf ******************************************
June 2018
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