Last Monday the mere act of quietly slipping back into my study at church, before other staff arrived, was the most healing and restorative thing I could have done. I relished reentering my routine of answering messages, taking stock of pastoral care needs, and planning Sunday worship. I felt like myself. It felt like home. With many recent shocks and aftershocks, I was able to remember who I really am. As church friends and leaders stopped in to welcome and console, that feeling grew.
Our bias as a society is that to learn who we truly are, we must go way deep into our heart of hearts, like peeling and cutting an onion, and we will find it there. But that isn’t my experience. I find nothing at the center when I chop onions, cooking.
Where do we discover our truest, authentic self? It is by living in relationship. You make me who I am. Cecile confided to me after dinner, she can’t wait for Sunday. I nodded silently, approvingly. We’ve missed all of you more than we can say. More than this, after our years together, worshipping and serving side by side, people and pastor, you all show me who God is. Finding God is embedded in our web of relationships, not going off into some remote desert hermitage by oneself.
The many cards you’ve sent Cecile and me sit next to me as I pen these words. The language you used was so simple. “I hurt for you….We care for you both… We miss you and need you back.” Your simple, honest expressions of concern and support have been more healing for me than you could have imagined. As I flew south with a vacant ache in my gut to do my mother’s memorial, I took one of the cards with me. When I felt overwhelmed, like I couldn’t do that service, I took the card out and reread it, repeatedly. “As you reenter the busy life of the church,” she wrote, “please know that you are surrounded by love and support to allow you time to mourn, and you have many willing hands to help you with tasks. You are loved and appreciated.” I have never done anything to be worthy of that.
I will need that love and support for my grieving, yes, but not only for that. I am the one human sorting out my Mother’s estate. And boy, is it ever complicated. Let’s just say that Mom and Wally weren’t big on filing things. I will need your patience as I spend hours piecing this puzzle together and enduring the labyrinth of phone prompts with banks, realtors, lawyers, estate sales, funeral home, and the like. I’ll do my best to cover everything at church, but I must do this for Mom.
May I share a story about Mom I told at her memorial? Mom was hard on her sons, even fierce. A report card with mostly A’s would elicit questions about the one B. But Margaret Dolores Rosenberger was also capable of real tenderness. When I became a 30 year old senior pastor of a historic downtown UCC church in Columbus, Ohio, she was excited for me, proud and pleased. Maybe I would make something of myself! She was in a wine store when she saw a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, a legendary wine. She bought it on impulse. As she paid for it, the man behind her saw she was buying a bottle of wine for over $100. “What’s wrong with you, lady? No wine is worth that much…You’re giving it to whom? You’ll spoil him,” he mocked. “He won’t appreciate it. It’s a big mistake. I don’t understand.” Mom quietly gathered up her package, eyeballed the guy and calmly smiled back at him. “You would understand…if you had a son like mine.”
I hope you have someone who believes in you like that; that’s how believe in you.