all manner of things shall be well
Close to 18 years ago, I sat through a Sunday service in the church I grew up worshipping in week after week. It's the church my father founded from a Bible study in our living room. A group of people who loved God in the midst of really messy, broken lives and often demonstrated love to us -- the preacher's family in much the same way. Messy and broken. If I'd learned nothing else from my Dad it was to love people regardless -- and sometimes even especially -- because of the mess.
This particular Sunday -- around 18 years ago -- I was already a mother to a couple of children. It was a gloriously sunny June Sunday in upstate New York. A group of men had just returned from a weekend away at a conference together. One that filled a stadium and encouraged men to be faithful to the promises they'd made to their families. Because we were a small and rather informal congregation it was completely normal for "testimony time" during the middle of a service. And so several of the men shared their joy from the time they'd had together. One particular man -- the very handsome husband of my close friend -- shared with passion all the good things God had showed him and how much he loved his family.
My heart filled up in praise for this good Sunday. The feeling was the closest I could recognize as Shalom. The sense of things being the way they should be. All was right with the world. But there was also a giddy edge to it that in later years I recognized was my own drive for my ideal to match God's Shalom. As in a hyper-driven need for everyone in the small circle of our congregation to be at peace with God and each other. For conflict to cease. My hyper-driven need for everyone to treat each other kindly all the time was a result of my own messy, broken sort of love.
After the service, I was floating with good feelings and told my mom, "Isn't this day perfect?" As soon as I said that to her I recognized the difference in her demeanor. She was wisened, even a bit jaded with church folk. She was not naive and did not share the same ideal as I for everyone to get along. I think, now her ideal was for everyone to be honest about themselves.
She discerned what in my ideal flitting about I'd missed. Something about that testimony time wasn't truthful.
Not too many months later that girlfriend with the handsome, testifying husband called me to ask if I'd come over to house with her so that I could be with her when she confronted her husband about the affair she'd discovered he was having. I went. I sat in her living room and played with her two toddlers and waited for him to come home. But before that I asked her to meet me at my mom's house so we could pray with someone. This sort of messy brokenness freaked me out. I needed someone older and wiser to lean on.
Oddly I'm remembering this story this morning as I come home feeling a giddy joy about the morning. My husband preaches a couple of times a year and this was one of them. He is one of my favorite preachers and since he only preaches a couple times a year I haven't gotten tired of listening to him yet. I recognized sitting there that for almost 24 years God has been grooming us for what is not yet but will soon be -- our opportunity to shepherd a church with Brian as priest. I realized this morning that for the last 3 years of full-time intentional pursuit of this goal (his seminary degree) I've been holding my breath. I've been counting the cost and trying to figure out how to soften the blow I know will come -- day in and day out. The messy, broken relationships we will experience in a way that will be new to us in some ways, but frighteningly familiar to me as a preacher's daughter.
And today, I recognized again what I'd been discounting -- an anointing. I recognized the anointing power of the Spirit of Christ -- the ascended and reigning Christ -- on my husband. And I realized that self-protection would mean missing out on the shalom that comes with spiritual power from on high.
It is no small thing that I recognized this on a weekend we have criss-crossed the city of Austin from one ministry event to another -- stepping through the thresholds of dear families we've grown to love in this community. Giving and receiving messy and broken love. Yesterday in the middle stop -- between the farewell blessing brunch and the high school graduation party and before the night of prayer and commissioning for the camp counsellors -- our tire popped in South Austin. We rolled off the road into an empty parking lot and my husband calmly went through all the motions of changing that tire. It was a little blip in the day and one we'd rather have avoided but it had this effect on me of adding -- rather than detracting from the shalom.
There's this British sitcom Brian and I love called Rev. The fact that it's a sitcom about an Anglican vicar should clue you in that the comedy is frequently irreverent. But somehow the writers of the show aren't so jaded that they exclude all moments of grace, peace and truth (shalom) from the story lines. So you get the bike-riding priest dealing with blown bike tires while trying to balance the needs of true believers, drug addict sometimes believers, social climbing cultural believers, a wife who isn't afraid to speak her mind and his own bouts with doubt and exhaustion. When we pulled into our driveway last night after a 12-hour Saturday of ministry-related events (and Brian still needing a couple of hours of sermon preparation), he turned the key in the ignition and we both leaned back in our seats and I said "This was a Rev. kind of day, wasn't it?"
And today as Brian oversees preaching as well as a baptism and mission team commissioning and children's ministry director farewell we're also texting with our 20-year-old son who is on a plane to Washington D.C. for his summer internship and coordinating our schedules with our 18-year-old daughter who has her high school graduation baccalaureate service this afternoon somehow my youngest daughter and I got stranded at home with no vehicle to get to church. And I had to call my husband a few minutes before service started for someone to come pick us up.
And in the middle of the service our soon-to-be graduate fell apart emotionally and we walked together for healing prayer and on our way I got to hug a dear person who's family is sort of falling apart and smile into the sad face of their little girl. And on the way back out -- after the prayer and the healing oil -- I got to hug my dear friend who is a widow, absolutely radiant with the holiness of grief. And after service my daughter and I scurried up to the table holding the remaining bread and wine to take communion before the good altar guild people drank and ate it all up (it's actually a liturgical thing!)
And I felt the giddy joy of it all creeping up in me. The beauty of messy, broken love. This is not my ideal, certainly. I'd prefer everyone just do one thing at a time, calmly and in order. And I'd rather no family falls apart and no good husband dies. To be honest, I'd have preferred to go forward for communion at the same time as everyone else.
But there was a rightness about it all, too. That recognition as my husband preached the fierce but good power of YHWH who suspended the Red Sea to claim for himself fame as the God of his people. That anointing power settled on me, too. Hopefully a much wiser, humbler knowing than 18 years ago when one man's testimony made me believe all was perfect in the world and therefore I finally had permission to be happy.
I walked out the sanctuary to my car, barely noticing the olive-skinned couple wandering in the parking lot. So full of the giddiness of messy, broken love I saw them but did not discern. Just before I put the key in the ignition -- yes the same van still wobbling around on the spare doughnut tire from yesterday's flat -- I recognized their plight and hopped back out.
"Are you looking for the entrance?" I holler across the parking lot, not even taking the time to close the door of my vehicle.
"Yes. Can you help us?"
I get near enough to shake their hands and ask their names. "Are you from Austin and is this your first time at Christ Church?"
"No, we're from Egypt and, yes, this is our first time here."
I show them the entry way and bless them before running back to my van wondering what they'd think of Brian's sermon about the evil Pharaoh's army being drowned by the force of God? And I pray for them and text friends to pray for them.
And I am full with the knowing that I was made for this. I am full of shalom.