We simply kept walking
There’s a can of Coke sitting on my desk that’s been there for a rather long while. I could use this opportunity to go on a rant, which I do every now and again for entertainment, about the decision to remove the pop machine that sat right outside the offices for at least 17 of my nearly 20 years of ministry at Grace. It was old, it didn’t work a fair amount of the time. It would be refilled and then someone would look at the dates on the cans and they would have been in the machine for years. I suppose pop finally spoils, I know it can get flat and lose its fizz. I may resemble that remark. When I was throwing a fit that it was being removed for which I had agreed earlier, probly more about the opportunity to be dramatic than about the decision itself, I was asked how often I purchased pop from the machine. I shared that was rather a personal question that I didn’t believe I had to answer. I missed the old girl when she was gone. Now replaced by a nicely appointed Keurig coffee machine and drawers of different kinds and makers of lovely coffees and even some little cups to make hot tea and hot chocolate. A marvelous change, but I still yell around intermittently about the pop machine being gone, mostly to keep up my reputation for being a curmudgeon.
As I’ve started – nearly three half-filled boxes so far – packing up my office, a good friend suggested I start with my desk. That if I could get that sorted, thrown away, and/or packed, I would be able to see progress and that would be positive reinforcement. Plus, that leaves a clear flat space on which to place other stuff I need to sort, shred, keep, or simply throw away. The top of the desk indeed got cleared first, and the Coke can is still there.
Now that I’m a short-termer, I can probably offer a few confessions. One is that I am sometimes prone to high anxiety – I know you’re totally shocked and surprised. snort My first Easter here was one of those moments. I had never seen so many people in my life, and I might have fractured a bone in the top of my foot I found out later, from coming up to Grace about 11 p.m. the night before and setting up more chairs. Hospitality is a thing for me, and if new folks come and don’t see a place to sit, they don’t feel welcome. There had been so many people on Palm Sunday, I knew we had to pack in more chairs. By fire code we weren’t supposed to have that many chairs in that room, and the office administrator had the custodian set up the number we were allowed. So I waited until I knew the fire marshals would be abed, and no one would be stopping by the church to witness, aide, or abet my premeditated criminal action, and I added chairs.
Anyway, we survived that Easter morning and that afternoon I had a bit of an anxiety attack. Cold sweats, nausea, trembles and shaking, and some vertigo. I called a friend who came over and said let’s go get something to eat. I’d had a few bites of lunch earlier, and eating was the last thing I wanted to think about, but we went to Ruby Tuesdays. Yes, it was back that far when there was a RT on the northeast corner of 119th and Strang Line. When the attendant came to our table to ask what we wanted to drink, my friend told him that I would have a coke. I looked at her and she nodded and said that yes, I would be having a coke. A real coke. Not a pepsi, not a diet coke (coke zero wasn’t even a sparkle in anyone’s eye), not a decaffeinated coke or a cherry coke or vanilla coke, an original from when coke was invented, coke. I was still quite trembly and shaky and thought that was probably the worst idea anyone ever had. It came and on insistence I began to drink it. In about 10 minutes I started feeling more “normal.” My heart rate reduced, my brain slowed down, of course then I noticed my foot hurt like the dickens, but at least I knew I was likely going to be o.k.
Over the years I’ve had some intermittent anxiety, maybe not quite that extreme, and a coke always makes me feel better. Maybe it’s a placebo, maybe it’s the chemicals that will also, as recommended on FB, cut through rust stains in an old toilet bowl, but it almost always brings me back to center and a calmer perspective on experiences that in my way of being, have been a little overwhelming. Perhaps having a Coke can still sitting on my desk is not that surprising.
Because I’m me, I’ve wondered what would be the last thing I would put in a box or my briefcase on my last walk out of my office. Of course the go-to is my old red bible that has walked with me since seminary – and it will probably be the most treasured. But I now know the last thing I will pick up to take will be this can of Coke. I frankly didn’t know that when it sat alone on my desk after that first day of packing, but when I came in the next, it was stoplight red clear to me – that has to be the last thing. It simply represents both the hardest year of ministry for me, and the first chapter of a book that I believed at that time would likely only have one chapter, one year, maybe two at the most at this place called Grace. And yet as hard as everything was, the glory and intensity of the day of Resurrection was, as always and everywhere regardless of circumstance, a pinnacle and height of faith that is unsurpassed. And this old can of Coke reminds me of that. How God must shake God’s head . . . really? A can of Coke is what brings Easter alive for you?!? Well Okey-dokey artichokey.
I look back at that pastor and shake my head at how much she did not know, at how generous this congregation was to stick with the journey at this place through such difficult circumstances, and how strong we became through commitment to walk together in the midst of things that hurt like h-e- double toothpick, and required a commitment that likely went beyond any one of our abilities or willingness to do it on our own. I believe because of faith alone through God’s grace, we simply kept walking . . . Perhaps that’s why poet Jan Richardson spoke into Epiphany for us last week at the beginning of worship in “An Epiphany Blessing” the start of which says:
If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
as it comes into
The poem continues from there and I would highly recommend reading it completely, she is such an artist and speaks into so much of our reality with such beauty.
I don’t know if I’m done with all the Coca-Cola moments of my life, I’m guessing God is probably the only one who does, but I’ll risk saying that I’m oddly grateful for the ones I’ve experienced up to this moment. As uncomfortable as they sometimes have been, they also have deepened my faith, invited a growth toward small facets of courage, and continue to remind me that whatever it is God has for us to do, the first step is recognizing we cannot do it alone.
Please know I will never stop giving thanks for God’s grace, for Grace, and for God’s grace through Grace, for all of us.
And from 1971 . . . “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company . . .” Those of you old enough now have an ear-worm, and you’re welcome!