“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance…
a time to seek and a time to lose…” – Ecclesiastes 3:2,4,6a
Time has its way with us, its unswerving sweep sometimes carrying us along against our own wishes. And occasionally, we can be overwhelmed as we come face to face with changes that months, years or decades have brought. Changes that happened, frankly, without our consent.
At least that’s how it seemed the other day when I went to my home church for the first time in nine months. I’ve been preaching elsewhere and this was my first Sunday to have the choice of where to go. So I went home to Christ United Methodist.
I was not prepared for what I would encounter there in this beloved place with beloved people who have journeyed with me for the past 6 years.
The encounters that morning would turn out to be grace. The kind of grace that quietly moves beyond the obvious. The grace that becomes a testament to the tender strength of endurance and the deep gifts of the spirit. But first, I would see what time had wrought in my absence.
I was feeling so happy to be back there as I stood in the large Commons area, my eyes doing a quick sweep of those who were gathering there before going into worship. A man with white hair and using a cane caught my attention on the other side of the room, familiar and yet hardly recognizable as my dear friend, and I hesitated. Not believing it could be he.
Yet it was. In the nine months since I had last seen him, thirty-five pounds were gone. His straight posture now had a curve to it as he softly leaned on his cane. The hug was familiar, but there was a twinkle in his eye that was missing now. But not the sweetness of his spirit. Two strokes, a death and recovery in an ambulance, long stays in the hospital and nursing home had changed his life forever. He and his family are talking about moving him to a safe place from his beloved home where he lives alone. This sweet, kind man who has helped so many down on their luck, now depends on a home health aide, loving neighbors and his family. And his church. He is a year younger than I. And he was there, in spite of.
I was sad as I entered the sanctuary. Surprised, then, when I saw a dear elder woman friend who was diagnosed about a year ago with pancreatic cancer. Yet, here she was at church with her husband, in spite of. She, in her 70’s and he, in his 80’s.
After the service, I met up with another dear friend whose wife is my Norwegian soul-sister: we have always said, “Jeg elskar deg” (I love you!) when we saw each other. She is too frail now to get to church, but he was there. In his 90’s, “suddenly” he had gone from a pretty robust man for his age to a more stooped, frail picture of his former self. I asked him how they were doing in their assisted living apartment. Winsomely he replied, “Oh, we’re okay. But it isn’t like home.” And there he was, in spite of.
The service was wonderful, inspiring, uplifting. Yet when I got home, I found myself crying for all the losses and the sweet winsomeness of those losses that I saw in people I love so much.
And I cried for their indomitable courage.
My blog is usually positive about aging, and even robust overall in its enthusiasm for aging “well” or “with grace.” But time doth take its toll on us, and what we do when the toll shows up is a testament to both our vulnerability and our courage to overcome it. Both can be grace when we embrace life as worthy, even “in spite of.”
The health and well-being of our spirit is key to finding those graces that can endure in the midst of loss and change. Not everyone finds that in formal worship settings. We all are drawn – consciously or unconsciously – to find those enduring graces in something that is beyond us. Some Spirit that meets our spirit to refresh it. To challenge it. To heal it. To strengthen it. To soothe it. To hold it.
To give birth to the grace of determination.
We may find that in God, in Nature, in prayer or meditation, in mindfulness, in retreats, in physical challenges, in the deepness of love. Find grace in that which is beyond us and yet in us. The graces that hold us when the toll is being taken are the foundation of our courage to endure.
For some of us last Sunday, it was in a Minnesota church where our spirits came to be fed in company with those who endure and overcome and share and try our best to be the family who hold each other close. Many of us, in spite of.
So may we all find those places where we know we will find the grace of home. The place where we learn that we can still make it through. In spite of. And give thanks.
(Photo credit: Ilya Gorgots)