It was late – the kind of late when you’re just out of a meeting and you breathe a sigh because maybe it’s been kind of a long day and there’s a dog and a couple of cats that tend to make you smile when you get home. There was a text message waiting for me to let me know that a clergy friend I’d known for a long time was in hospice. There wasn’t a request to go, simply a kind awareness that someone who had walked this calling before me was in his last chapter on this earth. I sat down and prayed for him, in gratefulness for the ministry I knew he had done and the lives he had impacted. And I prayed in gratefulness that he had been so willing to share his insights and wisdom with me in his retirement. I packed up my stuff, got to my car, started it up, and drove to the hospice house. I hadn’t really planned on doing that, it just happens that way, the sacred journey of faith for us, I think.
It was late enough that there was no one at the front desk and no one in the halls. I stood there for a bit, wondering how I was going to find my way. So I just decided to start praying at every door I passed and figured if I wasn’t able to find someone to let me know where he was, I would have prayed for him as I passed one of the closed doors. As I was walking, a nurse came out of a room and I caught her and said who I was looking for – she saw my name badge and gave me the number – it happened to be the door I had just passed. I knocked lightly and stepped in and I saw my friend’s spouse quickly look up and, after a moment, recognize me. We hugged and cried and talked about how much we don’t understand and how graceful God is and how we know that sometimes we have one foot on earth and one in heaven.
Then I suddenly realized I just needed to talk with him. So I told his spouse I was sorry but I needed to interrupt our conversation and have one with him. She smiled as she told me he wasn’t responding, and I smiled and said he still would know. I found myself reciting for him the people and families with whom he had served, loved, and grown in friendship through so many years. I talked about the mom who felt openly received and welcomed when she told him she had two gay sons and he put his arms around her and said ‘congratulations, how proud you must be of their courage.’ I talked about the students from a nearby campus who trusted him to officiate at their weddings and came back and had him baptize their babies. I talked about his work on an old church building with a beautiful old organ that they began refurbishing during his tenure. I talked about the children’s sermons and the celebrations of Holy Communion and the confirmations and baptisms and the oldest of the old and the youngest of the young who all felt loved and cared for and shepherded by his compassion, his strength, and his warm sense of humor. As I was talking, he began trying to form words and squeezing my hand and moving his shoulders. And I told him that while I couldn’t hear him I could still understand, and I could, and I don’t know how to explain it any other way. Our conversation lasted probably a bit too long – some things don’t change no matter what situation I’m in *snort* but his spouse and I both smiled and she said the timing was just right. I guess there’s grace for me too. We embraced, I prayed, I kissed his head and said goodbye and that I knew there were some folks waiting on him to get where he was going.
Sometimes being me gets on my nerves. I have a tendency toward verbosity and sometimes I simply need me to be quiet. Work has always come first for me, and my family and friends have had to deal with that over the years too many times to count. I overthink some things and underthink others. I believe, preach, and try to live and serve in saturating grace but sometimes have a hard time allowing myself the same. I am passionate about theology, education (both learning and teaching), and the treatment of humans – most particularly those who cannot speak for themselves, protect themselves, or make adequate provision to meet basic needs. I believe we need to meet direct missional needs and do the harder work of changing the systems that create those needs. And I don’t know how to do all that efficiently, effectively, and for as many as need it, I simply know I have to try. I love to laugh and have fun. I love to make people laugh and I am more entertained by odd and peculiar things than you can imagine. I talk to my animals and truly believe they understand me. And most days I feel less than adequate to do the work that I have been in entrusted to do. Maybe you all feel a lot of those things in and around your life as well.
And then there are those unexpected and sacred moments. Those moments when God calls and we respond and we may not have any idea what it is God is inviting us to do or be, but God provides that as well. And in those moments, sometimes the most difficult of all that you can imagine, God’s grace is so apparent and so real, and God’s love is so overwhelming and so full that all those “being me gets on my nerves” moments fade away for a time, and we are who and where God knows us to be – beloved and growing, forgiven and accepted, striving to serve with excellence and humbled in the journey of the perfectly imperfect.
I pray those moments for you as well as for me – those moments of deep recognition that God’s love and forgiving grace moves in and through our imperfections. I pray the recognition of people trying their best to serve the larger picture of working for the common good, and the individual picture of walking beside those in greatest need for healing, support, and compassion. Where we have been blessed in abundance, I pray a recognition and deep humility and gratefulness, and where we need to grow, I pray a spirit of generosity, a clarity of vision, and a deep and broad perspective of life in this global village.
And today the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the tree outside my office has flaming red fall leaves, and those places in my reality that would pull me into my least self are set aside as I’m simply grateful for a minute, or maybe two, of grace.