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Good Grief, Multiplied

A dear friend has died.

Mary Anne NolandShe gave her life to her family, her friends, her church, her God. She had given everything but the last of herself, and now she has given that.

In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “In the giving we are chosen, blessed and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others.” We are given. Given as bread for the world. Who can we be for each other? How can we out-do each other at serving, helping, supplying a need, lending an ear, loving?

In life, Mary Anne was for me, my certain reader. On any given day, she was the one I knew was reading this blog. If I posted, I knew Mary Anne was reading. Sometimes she would comment or respond or share something in reply. Always, she was listening to what I wrote, and that was life-giving to me.

When I sat down to craft some words, I could picture my sure-reader. I knew exactly what she looked like, where she was, how she might respond. This is gold to a writer, to be able to picture their audience. In fact, it is essential, to write to the one and let others listen in. It’s what draws life out of lifeless words and animates ideas, otherwise dormant.

Today’s is the first post Mary Anne is not here to read. How then do I write? To whom?

Nouwen offers, “If love is indeed stronger than death, then death has the potential to deepen and strengthen the bonds of love…. and  holds the potential to … multiply itself to fulfill the needs of countless people.”

Somehow, by freely handing over life to death, it takes on greater life to all who would receive it. A sumptuous meal will be served around the table, with enough for guests, newcomers and the wayfarer happening by, and still there will be leftovers. It multiplies itself in the giving.

I remember a conversation from years ago when Mary Anne shared the difficulty her aged mother was having, physically ailing as well as confused and forgetful. Having no experience with this, I wondered about correcting the poor disoriented woman to help her remember. Mary Anne advised patiently, “Even if they don’t remember what you said or even who you are, they’ll remember how you made them feel.”

Even in grief, we carry goodness when we touch the heart of the other with our presence which speaks the love for us. When the hearing is gone and the words no longer make sense, Something else speaks.

Sunday morning last, I woke up to the roar of a rushing wind. Pentecost Sunday had arrived and with it the Spirit of God who swooped close to claim and collect His own.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. ~ Acts 2: 1-4

Funny, I think Mary Anne read the Kinesthetic Christian because she seemed to marvel at the way I could speak a language she understood but couldn’t write and thought she didn’t have the words for. Now, she has expression for everything she desires. Thanks be to God.

“The spirit of love, once freed from our mortal bodies, will blow where it will, even when few will hear its coming and going,” Nouwen supposes.

Mary Anne, I can still hear your voice clearly: your clipped phrasing for what was not acceptable to you, your sense of humor, your honesty, your fierce loyalty, forthrightness and clarity. Oh, you knew what you were in for and what was coming just around the bend. I know you held on for as long as you could and then let go gracefully. Probably with a “To heck with this body. Bring on the new one!!”

How quintessentially you is the opening to your obituary: “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.”

Yep. Mary Anne to the core, to the end, and to the everlasting. How you embraced dancing in the rain. Sleep in heavenly peace, dear lady. One day, we will see each other again. There will be dancing and not a chance of rain.

Peace.CIMG2980

Cradled in Community

News travels fast. At 2:24pm on Tuesday afternoon my daughter, who lives in DC, messaged me asking, “Do you know what’s happening on Point Rider Lane?” She had seen a news link, shared on Facebook by a friend from her middle school soccer team who was concerned about the helicopters flying over her house. I didn’t have an immediate answer, but soon I would. What does one do with news like this? As our Pastor put it yesterday, “the worst possible news.”

We do what people do in hard times. We gather and share the news.

Yesterday, I pulled into the church parking lot past an oddly marked vehicle. In the driver’s seat sat a man furiously typing on his laptop. I thought this odd because, as usual, I was arriving only minutes before the start of the service. Why wasn’t the man getting out and coming in? When I walked by, the ads printed on the side of his car told me why. He was from the media, probably on deadline to submit this morning’s story.

Floris UMC worship was news. And the news outlets were reporting it.

I felt a little odd, then, walking into the service. Wasn’t sure what I would find there. But I was greeted, as usual. Welcomed, as usual. Seated, as usual, although the sanctuary seemed a bit more full than usual. The sermon title had changed, but we were still welcoming new members and handing out Bibles to our 3rd graders. Just like usual.  Then we sang our opening hymn, so familiar, so fitting: I Love to Tell the Story.

It felt a bit ironic but so fitting. Today, an old, old story was breaking news.

We are a community suffering through tragedy. And so we come. To be comforted and to connect. To ask questions with no answers. We bring our grief and our sorrow. But we come. Tom Berlin’s wonderful heart for all of us was poured out in his words.

Tom brought to mind a message I heard this summer delivered by Rob Fuquay, a pastor in NC. The theme was the “I am” statements of Jesus. Rob was teaching from John 11:25-26. Jesus said to Martha whose brother Lazarus lay in the tomb, “I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this?” Rob asked us if we could put our trust in this. Rest in this. Because the resurrection was not just for those who have died but for the many left behind, the people who have to live with death. Who carry grief.

Tom cautioned us that “grief carried casually can easily convert to anger.” So, so true, Tom. Thank you. But grief, cradled carefully, the way our church has helped us carry it this week, can be made alive again. Life, not resuscitated, but resurrected.

As the song goes…

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
 
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
 
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’twill be the old old, story that I have loved so long.
 
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

What a privilege we have as keepers of the whole story… of Jesus and His love.

Frederick Buechner, “The power of the Resurrection means, the worst thing is not the last thing.”

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