When I was in college I stayed with an English professor who out of the kindness of her heart made it a practice to rent out her large attic room to whichever poor, starving student God happened to bring to her doorstep. For the last half of my college career, it was me. In exchange for the next to nothing rent I paid, I received a room, all my meals, and my laundry to boot. Yes, she washed my clothes for me. Karen even packed my lunch for school each day. I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing it was. When I first moved in I discovered that Karen was in remission from cancer of the esophagus. Over the course of the next three years, her cancer would return, and, as a part of the family, I walked with Karen through those painful, final months of her life. I felt like God had placed me there to bring hope and joy to a difficult journey. I attended the weekly healing service hosted by the Episcopal church she attended; I prayed for Karen daily, asking God to bring forth a miracle; and I rubbed her swollen feet at night as both of us laughed through Dave Letterman’s top ten list on TV.
I will never forget the week her brother visited her just a few months before her death. It was truly bittersweet. How clearly I remember the day he left. As I returned home from school, I recall pausing before the back door and bracing myself before my entrance into the house. I knew the morning had been difficult for Karen. I didn’t feel up to it, but I put on my happy face and went on it, greeting Karen with my usual jovial self, hoping to help lift her mood. Karen’s words in response pulled no punches: “Sami,” she said, “it is hard for me to say goodbye to people for the last time when you are so damn cheerful!” I was stunned, but over the years her words have become one of my highest treasures. I have carried her gift of direct honesty into every situation where I sense others are deeply grieving. Because she was so blunt with me, I was able to learn early on how important it is to walk softly on the raw edges of another person’s life. That wisdom has served me well over the years.
But I can honestly say that I’ve never felt what she felt until today. Last night was our last worship service at Wesley for the semester. And for me personally, it was my last, period. I don’t even know how to put into words how I feel. I just know that I am hurting. People who don’t relate to me as the campus minister of the Wesley Foundation have no idea how significant last night was. It’s like they are talking to me as if I am the same person they have always known, but inside I am undone. It just doesn’t seem fair that I am in the midst of letting go of a part of my life that has been central to everything I am for the last nine years, and yet I have to relate to the world outside of this experience as if I am still the same person. I am not.
Yet the best parts of me still are the same. My heart truly is full. More full I would venture to say, than ever before. All of you, my precious students, poured out your love for me last night, in ways I could not have anticipated. I just had no idea. I know so deeply the love I have for you. I am staggered and humbled by, truly in awe of, the love you have for me. Oh my. There are no words. God has truly placed you here to bring hope and joy to a difficult journey. Wow.
John Claypool, a Baptist minister, wrote about the heartrending experience of losing his ten year old daughter to leukemia in his book Tracks of a Fellow Struggler. In it he shares the journey of her diagnosis, remission and relapse, and finally her death. In poignant vulnerability he shares his grief, not from the vantage point of a wise and far-removed pastor advising parishioners on grief, but rather from the perspective of a devastated father who has lost his own beloved child. As he struggles to understand what has happened, he offers a way of moving through the heartache that helps me now as I move through these final days: “Here, in a nutshell, is what it means to understand something as a gift and to handle it with gratitude, a perspective biblical religion puts around all of life. And I am here to testify that this is the only way down from the
I choose gratitude. There are, to be frank, numerous other options available to my battered and broken heart. But I have to view them as less than viable options for helping me truly live deeply these last days together. I have to view them as temptations with the power to rob me and those I love of holy moments together, where we celebrate our fun times, reminisce on the good times, and reflect on the meaningful times that changed us forever. Ultimately, more than anything else, I am deeply grateful. I’m so grateful for each one of you, your tender expressions of love, the legacy of Jesus writing Himself all over and through us that we have shared. My time at Wesley, all nine beautiful years of it, has been a gift, full of God’s grace and mercy. Every sweat drop and tear has been worth it. Every struggle and fight to keep Wesley alive and thriving has been well spent. I would give myself all over again for the ministry we have experienced together without question. None of the loving, no matter the cost, has ever been wasted. While my heart grieves the changes that are happening, I honestly thank God that He brought me here to be a “spiritual mother hen” in the first place.
So, my dear, sweet ones, we have a week and a half left in our semester. The time is quickly flying. I don’t want to waste a minute of it. Please come for these final days together. Let us laugh, be silly, and boisterously celebrate life together as we always have done. In the midst of my heartache this is my highest joy.
This is me trusting,