Thursday, June 16, 2016

Grace, Grief, and Gratitude

Leave taking is hard.

Since I was a child I have known this intimately. Visiting family often followed this pattern:  Every night before their arrival was sleepless with anticipation, excitement.  But the return to home, often in the shape of a long car trip, was marked by a deepening dread and despair that descended upon my heart with every mile.  Saying goodbye to a loved one felt like a ripping of something essential from my being.

Every leave taking hits me this way.  It doesn't matter what the circumstances are.  When I have loved, my heart bears the imprint of the beloved.  The moment of separation is never easy.

These last two weeks have been hard.  Last Saturday we laid one sweet Grandmother to rest.  This Saturday we will lay my other precious Grandmother to rest.  In the span of one week my family and I have experienced the wresting away of our beloveds.  The expression of grief trickles down my face at odd and unexpected moments.  One friend witnessing my tears explained it simply:  This is love leaking out.

I know that death is certain, but I am sure that our separation is temporary.  And so I am choosing, as someone close to me has suggested, to say "see you later" rather than "goodbye."  In the waiting I will not be wasting the time I have left.  These two precious souls have given me a precious heritage and legacy to live in to. 

This week of grief has been spent in the midst of my church's yearly gathering.  United Methodists from all over the state of Kentucky have gathered in my hometown to worship and work together as we figure out what it means to be faithfully connected to one another in the coming year.  Monday morning as I looked out over the crowd of gathered clergy and laity, my heart uttered the truth of what I was seeing--this is my Family.  And I believe the presence of these two precious ladies have been absolutely connected to the utterance of those words.

They are the ones who have sown the seeds of my faith, in ways far more intimate and profound than simply telling.  In one I found the quiet pastor's wife whose constant prayers birthed churches while blessing and protecting countless souls.  When my Grandfather would extend the invitation of hospitality and the grace of God to those who needed to be shown God's love, my Grandmother did the work of hospitality and grace by feeding every one that found themselves seated at her table.  Their life together exemplified the ministry of Christ to the Church.  And their prayers and faith in me were pivotal in helping me understand and accept my own calling to ministry.

In my other Grandmother I found the faithful lay-woman that every pastor prays for.  She lived her life as a worker not a watcher, one of the founding members of the United Methodist congregation where she will be remembered this weekend.  All my growing up years I remember her working in the church kitchen preparing the Wednesday night meal.  And when it was time to hang her apron up because of age and lack of energy, she sat down at the welcome desk during the week to answer phones.  Even in her later years when my Grandfather's health was quickly declining she would volunteer her time, giving of herself to the church she loved.  Her life is beautiful example of the work of the Church, always in action so that the work of Christ may be lived out in the world


What I understand is that our family is more than the people we are connected to by shared history and family trees.  We are connected through faith.  And the best families connect us beyond ourselves to the Family of God.  During these difficult days this is the Family that has sheltered me and loved on me and cried with me and upheld me as I have tried to release my Grandmothers to Jesus.  This is the Family that has prayed for my immediate and extended family as we have gathered in our grief and pain.  In the Church's embrace I have found hope and the balm for my spirit that helps me minister to my own loved ones.

So I stand on the cusp of another funeral with this desire in my soul-- to continue the legacy of faith I have inherited.  I want to be the blessing that my Grandmothers have been:  The blessing that keeps on blessing.  I want to live in the surety that my prayers and serving matter, no matter how humble, no matter how hidden.  And I want to honor them by leaving a legacy of my own, bringing others into the Family of God, praying and serving, healing and hoping, sowing and reaping for the Glory of His Kingdom.