Easter, in this strange year, had been so long in coming. Visiting the vital black church of Zion Baptist on the Minneapolis northside, had helped. Their worship so informal, so personal, so genuinely “full of the Spirit.” On two different Sundays, with the worship leader broken in tears, having been caught up in passionate, tearful prayer. I had been prompted by my wife – and the Spirit through her – to walk the side aisle to the pulpit steps to just kneel with the preacher and hold his hand, and on the next Sunday Molly herself strode down the aisle and knelt before the woman who had prayed. We were simply drawn, to act out our sympathy, and stand by these fellow Christians.
And, our four weeks of Lenten Bible Study on Thursdays of March had turned out to be high time of the Spirit there, at the Hilltop Restaurant in the hour of sunrise. We read the passages of Jesus’ ministry, leading to the cross, and people told their stories of God in their life 'mid both tears and laughter. A truly “mountaintop” experience for me.
But now it was Easter. The Day had come. We had made our way to church, been checked in through the new protocol. Some, standing in the common, greeted us. Everyone was feeling the wonderful sense of “Home,” after all those months of church by TV, staying at home, watching an earnest TV preacher, or managing local church by Zoom, still not quite “family,” or the beloved community of the church as dear and loving “band of brothers – and sisters” walking together, sharing their lives and being that 17th century Puritan vision of the “city on a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us” – the vision of the servant people with a call to begin again, in a new land and to serve the world from that great, looming continent.
But then we reached the east door to our favorite part of the Meetinghouse, at the first row, below the “box pew,” facing in toward the pulpit.
Suddenly, just before entering the open door, we became aware of a couple standing there, as ushers, to direct us to our seats. I knew them. She was a lovely young woman, a confirmation student of mine, now a grown woman and mother, serving the church as an usher “captain” but now nestled with her father. “Oh Dick,” I said, “how are you? We have just learned of Jill’s death, so sudden, it has seemed not possible.”
Tears came to them both. “It was esophageal cancer, only six weeks between her diagnosis and her death.” And his mid-life daughter said, “We are just holding each other up, as best we can.”
It was Easter Day, the “Day of Resurrection,” of Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave, and here was their family, stricken by a sudden death of the wife and mother, whom we had seen so shortly ago, walking up the aisle in her almost young stride, now gone.
We touched briefly, sharing their loss, and went to our seats, ourselves stricken, at the paradox of it all – with the day of victory, shadowed by death of one so dear and near.
The pictured has lingered long, of still young father and his grown daughter, weeping in the doorway to church, on the day of the Christian hope. It seemed so hard – yet the victory was not blotted out. They were there, on the Victory Day, clinging to the cross and to each other – visibly declaring the truth of the Christian hope. “We are holding each other up,” the daughter said.
We know we will all come to that day, when we will learn how real it will be for us, and for all people of faith. The picture is so vivid, of father and daughter, carrying on.
It is the cross and empty tomb that charge us all to carry on, to hold each other up by faith in Jesus, coming to help each of us to be victorious, with Him.
May we all be victorious in this great reality of life.
Love to you, from Arthur
There are wonderful names of people in our world. Some so unusual and full of meaning that we love to savor the name. Repeat them over and over, delighting in their sound, and in the meaning behind the names.
One such name is growing up in our family. It is the middle name of a mid-teen granddaughter who loves to use that middle name rather than her given first name. It is the word TENEBRAE. It comes from the worship life of the church. It is the word for the hushed evening service of the Thursday of Holy Week, remembering Jesus’ last night with His disciples. His dearest friends, there in the Upper Room, where Jesus broke bread and gave it to these friends, saying “This is My blood of the New Covenant, shed for you. Drink you all, of it.”
The foreshadowing of His sacrifice of His life, His body and blood, that would be given up in His death on the cross next day – His dying for the sins of the world, that those who believe in Him might be forgiven, and then their lives saved, for eternity.
That service, with the lighting of candles, and its deep remembering of Jesus’ gift of that life for them is call the “Office of Tenebrae.” It is a holy, beautiful name, recalling Jesus’ great gift of His love for the world.
That beautiful young granddaughter in our family, cherishes and holds close, without fanfare, that name of love, given her from their faith by her parents at her birth. We love to say the name with all its deep meaning in that young person’s life.
I bear my father’s name, and cling to the “Junior” that reminds me and others that I am the second in a short line of Arthurs.
And yet, despite the importance of a great variety of names, I have occasional blocks of names and places that are very dear to me. Molly and I laugh about the temporary failure to remember names of people and places very important to us, saying, “Well, one of us remembers the first name and the other comes up with the second – sometimes hours later.”
It’s a slight embarrassment common to us old folks, especially as it comes in an arena of our thinking we once were good at.
We’re perfectly aware that persistent forgetfulness can also be a warning sign of the onset of some forms of dementia, a dreaded condition that none of us wants in ourselves or our loved ones. And surely it is not something we want to ridicule in any other person’s life. Perhaps, particularly when it involves public people.
Yet, comics in the media are already asking, “Can we laugh at President Biden yet?” They want to make fun of his memory struggles. But, are they funny? Are people with speech impediments, or trouble walking, or people with any of a variety of deformities fair game for anyone who hankers to ridicule others?
It is interesting to look at Jesus’ interaction with people. He was an indefatigable defender of people – of the blind and lame, of the speechless and the infirm. He looked for signs of faith and there He gave hope.
It was the self-righteous, the mockers, the proud, and the hypocritical for whom He saved His stinging rebukes. For the helpless and hopeless, the strugglers and stragglers, Jesus had instantaneous compassion.
Do we want to be like Jesus? Then, be ready to uphold and defend, to heal and to embrace. Be a mediator and advocate.
You will continually surprise the world. You will be ever “on the Lord’s side.” And our name, whatever it is, will be honored, with Him. We can try.
The Puritans would say there is no need for Lent, for a time of “coming back” to Jesus for the Christian. After all, aren’t we supposed to be daily, and hourly, and minute-by-minute walking with Jesus?
But, though I count myself a Puritan, particularly of the Pilgrim variety, I am always grateful for the season of Lent. For the deeper devotion it really does offer. Especially for the corporate life of the church.
I think back to so many Ash Wednesday evenings, where, in the darkened, penitential light of candles and shadows, we could invite all who were ready to walk forward and kneel at the steps before the Cross and commit their lives to Christ. And, so many did, hesitantly, earnestly, sincerely take that profound “leap of faith.”
Jesus calls us “o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless seas.” In the midst of the toughest, strangest, most difficult times, Jesus calls us to deepest places of our troubled hearts and wounded spirits, saying He will meet us there.
And, it behooves us to go to those most hurt places, to meet Him there, and so to BE PRESENT when He comes.
The dear Lord has given me two places to be present this Lent. One, with Molly and sometimes others of you, on the Minneapolis northside for “church” with our fellow Christians of Zion Baptist Church. And, praise God, how they “do” church. The Spirit comes smiling into their worship from the first moments and the small choir, hands raised, eyes closed, sway back and forth singing to the Lord as they call Him to come. And, I think He can’t resist, for He is there in the shining faces of those people as they come, first to join in song. Then Pastor Brian Herron welcomes us all with a lighted face and a wide hands open invitation to see and seek the Spirit, in joy.
It is a moving spirit of love that calls us to be together. On Sunday last “Minister Rhonda” preaches. Young, agile, and deeply confessional, she opens her own heart to Jesus, and to us. “I have stuff,” she admits honestly, deep hurt, down inside. “I hold grudges,” she cried out, repenting. She prayed for healing, for power, for joy in Jesus. We all felt her tears, and shared them. Oh, we were “one in the Spirit, and one in the Lord,” and went home that Lenten Sunday that not only honored “Women’s Month” but drew us all together in the joy of Jesus.
The other great time, for me, came on the following Thursday, when on the Patio of Edina’s Hilltop restaurant our motley “Dawn Patrol” gathered to read the Bible, share our lives, and be led into deep recess of hurt, as we read the chilling account of Jesus’ condemnation to be crucified for us and heard His words, so humble, as we gathered at the Cross.
It was a mystical time for us all – some 20 of us – as we opened our own lives telling our stories, speaking our gratitude, and listening to each other.
When it was done, no one wanted to leave, as little clusters of tender talk formed, as twos and threes slowly made it to the door, and into that so-blessed day.
Lent gives us that chance, and how gratefully we took it, as renewed and strengthened Christians.
May you be so strengthened by Him, and renewed in heart and hope in these Lenten days.
The Bible Study I love so much was over. The sun had risen and shone into the patio at The Hilltop. I had just barely made it. The crowd of last week was much reduced. Fourteen of us were there, fitting well the neater arrangement the restaurant had prepared for us.
For half an hour this ever-motley crew told their stories, intense, personal, about their faith, about moments of transformation, about encounters they’ve remembered for 40 years. A few quivering lips. The look of truth on every face – especially on the faces of those with a story to tell, or a prayer to ask. Without embarrassment they opened their hearts.
Jesus was already there. So, it didn’t matter that we staggered from one storyteller to another. It was what we had come for. The minister could wait and lift up Jesus as he’d planned. No one protested. They listened intently. They knew why we were there. The Jesus part would come.
And it did. So, we came full circle. Those who’d reported they would need to leave early, did so. Sweet prayers were said.
I gave them my notes, on Jesus and the Kingdom. The discussions of the great identity. “Who are you? had been the question of the hour. “Are you the One Who is to come?” The answer was yes. Some were shocked. Others rejoiced.
The King had come – but oh, how disturbing that was. It did not frighten my little group. They wanted the Truth, the hard Truth.
And, so it ended, and little clusters formed – of folks, who didn’t want to go.
I had planned to move from The Hilltop to Jerry’s and its welcoming Starbucks restaurant.
I would sit alone. Get my coffee, maybe write a little. Or, just see what would happen, who would come.
It did not take a minute for a silver-haired man to rise from his table and greet me. An old parishioner, of course.
Later, he stepped away from his table to mine. He had a message to give, of something he wanted me to know. “Many years ago, you came down the aisle in church, and gave me a gift. The gift of faith, for me, and for our family. We’ve never forgotten. I want you to know, and to thank you.”
Very simple. Very short. But, important to him, and to me. Testifying to Jesus coming into his life, and the difference it had made.
We laughed. I thanked him. He departed. Not part of my plan for the day. But a gift, nevertheless, to me.
You just never know who’ll come along. An old friend. An “angel unaware.” Made my day. And my life.
Keep on the watch. You’ll never know. Praise God.
I don’t know what makes an exciting day for you. Accomplishing an important task, coffee and conversation with a good friend, perhaps. Those often really “make my day.”
But, I had been looking forward to doing Lent. Ruminating about LIFE. Jesus’ life. And my life.
I have a handful of dear friends who have made up a little company of friends who loved to gather early morning, mid-week, at a local restaurant during the seasons of Advent and Lent, to be together, to have a light breakfast of a roll and coffee, to greet each other with news of their lives, to read the Bible, hear the life and love stories of Jesus in His ministry, pray for each other, and find the presence of the Spirit among them in real and personal ways.
This went on for a decade or two. But suddenly, in this year of pandemic, it wasn’t so simple. An enemy was abroad in the form of a hostile virus. We could only meet wearing masks and keeping a 6-foot social distance from each other.
For a while we discontinued. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Epiphany came and went. Our churches were closed with only high-tech “zoom” contact. It was too hard. We missed church. Social and political change overtook whole cities. And peaceful protests turned to riots. Stores were burned. Police precinct stations were burned. Calls were raised to “defund the police.” The news was about violence. About racial tensions. About America as a white racist society.
Churches tried to respond. To have discussions of race and racism. We were called to “cancel culture.” To wipe out precious traditions. There was anger by church leaders, and by protesting responders. Many felt grief about their churches, their communities, their own lives.
With COVID vaccines being given to thousands, it seemed possible we could try and find each other again.
We found the Hilltop would take us again for four early Thursday mornings of March, heading straight for Holy Week and Easter.
We explored tentatively trying again to gather as a Lenten discipline. Ten or fifteen said they’d be game. They would welcome an abbreviated Lenten gathering at dawn, facemasks, social distancing, and all. To those who didn’t want to take the risk, we would send by email the presentation notes all written out, after each of the four gatherings, so we could make our Lenten Pilgrimage together.
This week the day came – March 4th – for our first gathering. A woman who lived in our part of the city volunteered to pick me up at 6:30 am and so she did. We drove through dark streets at first light, talking of many things.
As we arrived at the restaurant, other cars were already pulling in. As 7:00 am approached we walked toward the door, not yet opened. But waiting there to hold the door was a dear friend, one of the cities’ most distinguished dermatologists. He had never been before. But as the sun rose, he was there to be part of our little company.
His wife was in the gathering crowd, as were others, determined to share this early morning experience with their fellow Christians.
Soon, 7:00 came. The door opened. And amid early greetings and introductions, the comrades of the “Dawn Patrol” poured into the restaurant to gather by the fireside on the inside patio.
A few tables were moved so we could see and hear each other as we came together, and read, and prayed together. Cheerily a group of first-timers helped with arrangements, found seats, met others they didn’t know – all the while everybody talking excitedly.
I found my place, greeted those dear Christian friends, and welcomed them all to this time of friendship and faith together.
There were more than 10 or 15. By final count our crowd was 26 – all glad to be there, sensing they would not be alone, but very much in the presence of the Lord Who had invited them.
We went round the room, one man remembering the March day when he with his family and a boatload of fellow Latvians, fresh from their refugee camp in Berchtesgaten, Germany, had steamed into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Another, just in from Arizona told how this gathering had so nurtured her, that she had come all that way for the first gathering. Her grown daughter was there, too.
My own “boss,” President Jim Olson of the Pilgrim Center, had driven across two cities to come. Members of my first Confirmation class were there – my friends of over 50 years. A flight attendant just in from far places spread her lighted smile across the room, saying what this meant to her. One man told of the stroke he’d suffered and his children who called 911 and got him to the hospital in time to forestall the effects of a stroke. He praised the Lord.
And so, on it went. We talked of Jesus’ journey of three years, ministry to every sort of person with a need on His way to the climax of His life on earth at Golgotha and THE CROSS outside Jerusalem.
I found trying to imagine Jesus’ life and the many confrontations with Pharisees and other leaders of the church, as He followed the instincts and insights of the love which God had given Him, breaking through to meet the deepest needs of the broken world around Him. It was an exciting journey for me among these friends who needed to see the absolute claim of Jesus’ life of courage for each of them.
I felt the same spirit of God’s love reaching out to all of us “in that very room” as we talked and confessed the love of Jesus we were each feeling.
Well! - It “made my day.” It lifted my spirit. It gave me the restored sense of purpose for my own life as I was privileged to be among these brothers and sisters of faith in the single most important thing in my life in these days of its final stage.
Here was my own reason for living writ large for me. It made the whole day one of exhilaration and exultation in being blessed by Christ, Lord of my life. And, it has continued in the days since. A way to live. A recognized gift of God – seen so clearly in the lives of these lifetime friends who were finding their own lifetime call as we were privileged to walk together with the One Who gave His life, to be our Lord.
Wonder. And privilege. Along the trail of Jesus’ own walk to the Cross.
Bless you all.
The deep mid-winter is the birthday season in our family. That means that someone you love’s day of birth comes swooshing along – truthfully – when you least expect it. When you’re not ready for it. As a big surprise.
It’s the grandmother who thinks about presents – the right, the perfect present. And the daughter.
My job always, is to write a birthday letter. To make it half-card, half-letter. To tell the birthday person who they are to us. What their character, their spirit means to us. What they mean to the world. What their “presence” means in our life.
And, you have to get it right. To be sure your description rings true. For the young especially, need to be affirmed. To be reminded you really know who they are. That you know their heart, and helping them be true to that inner self. That spirit that they recognize.
The grandmother, who makes the assignment, doesn’t really read the letter, I’ve discovered. “Well, what if I get it wrong?” I’ve protested. She just looks knowingly at me, and more or less says, “You get it, don’t worry.” So, I do it, each year, hoping I don’t repeat myself.
This year, a granddaughter who lives at the other end of this country, turns 15. Oh, so many thoughts – and memories – about being a dead-center teen-ager.
At a Sunday lunch at a restaurant we love, I turned to the 63-year-old birthday person, and said, “Do you remember 15?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she shot back “Yes!” Which could have meant a lot of things.
I remember 15 as a trying time of a first girlfriend, of being uncoordinated, of going away to a private school, and being lonely but saved by going out for crew, and learning to row, and singing in the Glee Club of that boys’ school.
Even learning to write, happened there, where Porter Dean Caesar made us memorize Shakespearean sonnets and other poetry. It was a new world of literature I wouldn’t have had at home in Portsmouth.
I remember that the body sort of came together that year. Both rowing and wrestling helped. And – strange for me – I began to win. On the water. In a racing shell. Even gaining the stroke seat in that four-oared shell, a leading of others. It all just changed for me.
And now, at 91, things are different again. My body won’t do just what I want it to do. Parts hurt – hands, back. Many muscles shrunk away. Molly and I work at figuring out this stage. The dying decade, most likely.
It is what people where we live are doing: dying. And staff folks help us “go easy into that night.” From chaplain to exercise people.
You can do something with hair in this decade. It’s all white now. You can let it grow long – or short. Or – grow a beard.
It’s a time to stand straighter – regaining a few of the six inches you’ve lost.
What means much to me, is thinking. Including praying. And writing, like these weekly, meandering blogs. Oh, bless Laury, who types and computes, and makes communications work.
Writing and thinking and helping the body change and grow were part of that decade where 15 comes in the middle. It wasn’t quite so serious as the twenties. The nineties are most like the twenties; very serious.
Because now, it’s for keeps. It’s forever. There’s a finish line up ahead. But, you don’t know where it is. I want to cross it with my head up, and my heart full. And my faith more and more wonderfully alive. Filled with Jesus. That’s the most serious part. The forever part. My dear partner in life helps me cling to that.
Is it different? Oh, yes. What about change? It’s all around me. My job is to love. And so live. And keep going, till the “roll is called up yonder.” High adventure I tell you. - As actually, every age is.
Love you, pals!
This bright February afternoon, that fills our little apartment home with sunlight, has brought America to heart in a fresh way for me. I am reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning history called “The British are Coming.” The author is Rick Atkinson.
It had been slow going at first. (A very thick book!) The book is deeply researched, with infinite details of life in Britain and life in America. Now that I’m half-way through, I can hardly put it down. The author does character study of British leaders – Army and Navy, and American leaders from George Washington on down.
Much of the fighting was done in New England, New York, and places familiar to Molly and me. Greenwich, Connecticut and nearby New York were home territory for us growing up.
One of America’s few victories in the early years of the Revolutionary War was a coastal battle involving ships of war as well as ground troops. But much of the rest of the story were tales of terrible deprivation and defeat for American forces fighting in Canada, and Washington’s own ignominious retreat from Manhattan Island, Hudson River towns, and into New Jersey.
“Providence” was very real for General Washington and his officers. They knew they were fighting now for the great ideas of America, for the establishment of a country that would be free, where the people constituted government and leadership. The Continental Army, when finally established, was hardly an army. Much of it was local militias. Much of the struggle was over barest necessities of clothing, food, and shelter, exposure to rain and winter snows, and the fact that soldiers were signed up for short times, so fighters were constantly leaving to go home. They hadn’t realized they were involved in an eight-year war that was to fulfill a dream of something that did not exist anywhere else in the world.
Conditions for both armies would seem to have become almost unbearable. To sleep on the cold ground, to march without shoes or socks, to have food that was hardly edible, and to be, for Washington’s army, daily desertions of troops, simply leaving for home when their short-term time was up, was discouraging for Washington and his officers.
And yet there was a strange, almost inexplicable commitment to this war that seemed often so hopeless.
“Yet for those who had come this far and endure this much,” the historian Rick Atkinson observes, “sardonic humor and stubborn defiance would get them through the night, and the next day, and the day following. The British, after all, had to win the war; the Americans had only to avoid losing it.” “Never was finer lads at a retreat than we,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb, a Washington aide who led and fought valiantly at Bunker Hill and been wounded at White Plains. “No fun for us that I can see; however I cannot but think that we shall drub the dogs.” (p. 493)
It was Washington himself who called his army to rise above their longing for home and family to see the profound.
Washington had made the point that they were not just fighting for their own land, and family, and property, but for the first time in the world’s history, the people themselves were fighting for a great vision, the cause of liberty, so denied across the globe, to all people in all countries. It was a call that stirred their hearts and made the visionary call to liberty and freedom a spiritual quest, worthy of their devotion and even their lives if it came to that.
He spoke it true when, in his “General Orders of August 23, 1776,” he declared, prophetically, “The hour is fast approaching on which the honor and success of this army and the safety of our bleeding country depend. Remember, offices and soldiers, that you are freemen fighting for the blessings of liberty.”
Which makes it all the more important for us who cherish this vision to understand that it was built upon the radical understanding of their own voyage to the New World from the oppression of England in its State church, on the Puritan movement of faith that had called this band – first of Separatists and soon after, the Puritans themselves – to leave home and country, to claim the Biblical call of being “a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us,” as they in the early days of the 17th century acted on that call to build communities like Plimoth and Boston in a wilderness land, but to live out the spiritual vision of a free faith under God, that brought the idea of covenant communities of commitment to each other, in which churches committed their whole congregations to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit through their church meetings led not by dominant clergy or by a handful of lay leaders, but by all the people waiting upon Jesus Himself to come in His Spirit to show them how they could unite in following a common way forward, confident that “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
So came the original Mayflower Compact which prepared the way for another generation to declare their independence and to articulate it through a sacred constitution.
So, we hear the same call to us, in our time, and see ourselves as people of “the Way,” led together in unity by Jesus.
One of my own books tries to articulate this through a series of sermons given on Thanksgiving Days and Independence Days. It is a thin volume called “A PASSION FOR AMERICA.” I would love to share some of these with friends who let my colleague Laury Baars know of your interest. Free to the first 25 who write to email@example.com with their name and address.
Let us be about Americans, who rejoice in our heritage, and seek to understand it more clearly, and live it, in our time, more truly.
Written on February 14, 2020
It’s a sun-filled, desperately cold Sunday afternoon. In fact, it is St. Valentine’s Day, the day of the spirit of love. He got hold of the love idea, and practiced it. He made a practice of deeds of love and mercy.
It’s not much when we give one day in a year to thinking about living in the love way.
It so happened that the TV preacher from Texas whom we have watched on the Sundays of this long pandemic, when we have so needed churches, was talking about “emptying out the negative.” His descriptions were brilliant of how easily we fall into dark thoughts – about ourselves. Thoughts about our own inadequacies, our inabilities, our penchant for defeatist thinking about our health, about our work, about the world around us, and how easily the pandemic has exaggerated that darkness.
But Joel the preacher’s point is that God is thinking just the opposite of us. He, after all, has made us. He has plans for us. He sees strength in us, and success in us, and that our job is to lay hold of God’s view of us, of the goodness, even greatness He sees in us, and for the good things He plans for us and has waiting for us up ahead. He wants us to claim that picture of ourselves. To talk to ourselves about goodness and greatness.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been on our minds this month. He was a man of faith, of believing the best, for himself, his people, his country. “I have a dream,” he famously said. A dream of different people coming together. A dream of all people living, loving, and working together. He preached the dream, and gave it to America, and its divided people.
And his dream came from Jesus. Of a way of living that Jesus taught, and lived for all people.
Jesus was his model. He was Valentine’s model, too. He offers Himself as model for all of us. “Follow Me,” is what Jesus said to all those He met on the road of His life. That long journey of His so short three-year ministry in the world, was calling people to follow Him. To see the world His way. To not be self-centered like the rich, but to be humble, like the poor, the children, the sick, the broken, the hurting.
It was to take up the burden of the life of sacrifice, of doing good to others, the life of bearing the cross. He calls all of us to that. From the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”
What brother Martin knew America needed for the children of slaves and the children of slave-holders was to sit down together at the table of reconciliation on the green hills of Georgia, WAS FORGIVENESS. Love, lived out.
What a person we have to be to go to that table. To serve the others at that table. To have forgiveness in your heart. The spirit of God’s children – the humble-hearted, the good and the great. That can be all of us. It needs to be all of us. It is the big thing, the great thing that we become, in following Jesus. Never losing sight of that man or woman of love that we dare to be.
Let’s all help each other to be those people, with a selfless mind and heart. Living for others. Serving others. In the Jesus company! Who share “the dream,” and live it together.
Bless you, friends, in this season of the “saints” of love.
It really was a day like any other day. The 90-year-old was up, cleaning up our apartment, straightening out our life – and incidentally hers – and moving on in it until those precious celebratory evening hours at the home of our oldest daughter: telling life stories, remembering shared adventures, thinking of each child and grandchild in our wonderful family.
Our eldest, the retired Minneapolis Police Sergeant, now on Florida’s east coast with his wife, watching dolphins play through field glasses; of our second daughter, the front-line nurse, living through the pandemic with Covid-19 so close you could touch it. Of the youngest of our daughters, our artist, mothering her college-student son while meeting the world at the end of a check-out line.And our youngest son, now a Virginian, with a new house and a new job near the heart of America.
Even of our foster son from Viet Nam, who still counts us as family. And “the oldest daughter” herself, having prepared wonderful stew for four and presented an art-piece birthday cake.
It was all about love – of a person absolutely critical to us all, who birthed each one of these five children, and spent her life serving them, opening doors of possibility to them, sitting by the fireside at Ossipee and listening to nascent dreams spilling out and offering the encouragement only a wise mother can.
It was rehearsing the answers to “How do I love you? Let me count the ways...” And hearing again the deep reasons, the traits and “habits of the heart” that have built love into the lives of each child, now gray and grown, with their children to think about.
It is something to even get to grow old – with another dear to you, in a lifetime of children, and challenging adventures in places far and near. In the first little town among Berkshire hills. Among people of faith who both watched this important, wise young woman, and learned from her, but grew their love learned from their own years. All the years of adventure among the lives of people, even as she taught them and shared her life with them. Miracles of relationships!
And, as God would have it, adventures that called our little partnership out across the world – even into the dark lands of the African Genocide and the broken hearts it left behind. And she – this 90-year-old in only her vital 50s and 60s, and then 70s and 80s, that got her to 90- trusted God to show her what to do, how to heal hearts, how to mend broken lives, and hold out Jesus’ love which was the healing balm.
Upon arrival in Rwanda she asked God why He had brought her there and heard His answer: “I have brought you here to ask their forgiveness for what you and your people of the West did to divide them from each other.”
She taught all of us who were with her about ministry on your knees; washing feet, holding sobbing souls, standing by, being, Jesus’ light.
Our whole Manual for Retreat Leaders she wrote, designed the progression, remembered the scriptures needed, told the stories that would help fellow leaders and see how to do the delicate thing that became our life.
She never took credit for the genius of her creation. She turned away thanks and praise. She was utterly humble. She learned forgiveness early and became one of its greatest teachers. And in her own daily life, with its hurts and heartaches, she never held a grudge. She lived forgiveness, the Christian way.
I suppose that’s how she got to be 90, by forgiving many. Until some caught on and realized what an innate and God-sent teacher she was.
Just before 90, she posed a Christian Visitors ministry of house and home visits between white and black churches. It comes from Africa. But it’s working already to make friends in churches here.
She is a wise one, a “Lady of God” as a woman in our residence has described her. Quiet and humble, but following when Jesus calls.
She is ripe and blossoming in her old age, as scripture says. Her days are quiet, but exciting, as her Lord finds more and more use for her.
What a good way to live out your days. Doing the work of the Lord you love. It is an example that blesses me every step of the way.
Old ladies and old men can influence others still, to step out, trying new ways of Gospel-bearing; and new ways to be bold for Jesus. Look for the right one – new or old for you – And KEEP GOING.
It seems almost impossible after so many weeks and months of lockdowns, closing businesses and schools, restaurants and churches. Civic leaders have tried hard to do the right thing, trying to determine what would protect health and save lives, and as citizens we have tried to keep distance, wear masks, wash hands, and otherwise keep going as well as we could.
The youngest in our family, two engaging little great-granddaughters, have stayed at home from school, the six-year-old greatly missing teachers and classmates while their parents have done yeoman service to teach and lead at home as best they could.
One grandson has started college, while two young teen-agers of our St. Louis household, not only stayed home to study, but left school, house, and friends to move halfway across the country to Virginia, and start their new school without even seeing its inside. All in that family are happy, including their dad with his new job – done at home.
We miss church terribly but have followed a gifted young TV preacher who has encouraged us, gone to chapel here in our senior residence, and had occasional visits with our nearby children, worked at writing – like these blogs, hoping for better things.
And one has opened up to us for four Thursdays of March as Lent moves toward that final “week that was,” and gives us, in their restaurant (The Hilltop) the patio fireplace room where our little company of Christian friends can receive a light breakfast, talk together, pray together, read the Bible together, and BE TOGETHER – distanced and masked, but together.
If you want to come, 7:00 to 8:30 am, on any or all those Thursdays – the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can alert The Hilltop. It’s been a long tradition, to which we are returning, mostly to be a COMPANY OF LOVE, in these still tense and divided times, for remembering the GREATEST TRUTHS (that Jesus came, and is among us), and finding healing in our fellowship of love.
The unwelcome pandemic has inadvertently reminded us how deep is our need for each other, and so much more our need for Jesus.
He promised to be with us always. And then at the end, to come and get us, and take us to the place He has been preparing for us in heaven. What a comfort and a strength for living out these interesting and unexpected days of life here, with so much we must go through, and oddly finding that, when each day is done, we were privileged and honored to be alive in it.
All the work of our dear Lord - Let us all celebrate that together.
Love you all, wherever you are!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES