I know it has been a while since my last post. I’ve never really been the every day kind of blogger, but the lull is still unique for me, I know. We’ve been in an especially eventful season of ministry over here, and the request in that last post is actually just one piece of why.
We lost our friend Anne this morning. I don’t have the interest right now in waxing theological about life and death and what-not. That will come later, I’m sure. I just left the hospital room about an hour ago, leaving Anne’s husband Jeff and son Mark and sister Eve, my wife Becky, Elder Dale and his wife Kim, and Barby (our church’s worship leader and wife of Elder Dave), as they prepared for the right people to come and take Anne’s body away. There were lots of tears in that room when I left it but lots of joy too, the kind only Christians can really understand. Yesterday as we kept watch with Anne’s family over her last labored breaths, I witnessed all afternoon and into the evening a steady stream of Middletown Church folks come in and out, spend time, share hugs and stories and smiles and tears. I left last night brimming with joy. What an enormous privilege it is to pastor this great church.
But I have to tell you about Anne. Just a little bit for now. Anne was a very Jesusy person. Here are just four reasons why that are very personal to me, that I just have to get out…
1. The first is less serious than reasons two thru four, but still important to my family. Anne and her husband Jeff introduced our family to our favorite New England vacation spot — Stonington, Maine. Three years ago in late summer, the two of them led the four of us to this sleepy little fishing village on the rocky coast. It’s not very touristy, which is why we love it. Jeff and Anne had discovered it a few years before and then had some friends move near there, so it became a regular getaway spot. The two years since, my family has taken our end-of-summer vacation week there. It’s become just the right place at just the right time for a family refresh and reboot before the hectic schedule of school and fall ministry season begin. Becky loves taking pictures all over the place. The girls love playing in the water (yes, it’s wicked cold, even in August). I love just sitting there, breathing. It’s kind of a selfish reason to be grateful for Anne, I guess, but it does remind me of Jesus because he’s always showing us new things — in his word as well as in his world — that become old treasures.
2. Anne also reminds me of Jesus because of her honesty, her directness, her passion, her forthrightness. Specifically, she was “Jesus to me” a couple of years ago when she asked if we could meet for coffee. As we sat one morning together at Cafe Terra in Rutland, I was nervous that she was nervous. It was difficult for her to do but she was letting me know that I had hurt her feelings with a careless word. Of course, I hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings, and we weren’t even in conflict. I wasn’t mad at her or anything when I hurt her, which was why it was so surprising to me. But something I said had taken her to a wounded place, whether I meant it or not. She couldn’t let it go, so she had let me know. Of course I wasn’t happy to know I’d hurt her. And I asked how I could make it right. (She said just listening would do it.) But I thanked her. She had done me a great honor. See, in my world, when someone is offended by something I’ve said or feels somewhat slighted or hurt in some way, it is more typical that I hear about it later on down the line and through a third party. Often I don’t even know who it is that’s upset. That’s understandable in one sense; I can figure out why that might happen. But Anne did me the great honor of telling me herself, to my face, as soon as she was able. She trusted me with her hurt. As saddened as I was by what she was relaying, I was also encouraged by the way she relayed it. She didn’t do it angrily or with any demands. But she was willing to risk my getting angry or my being defensive or whatever other terrible responses I could have given her in my flesh or she could have anticipated in her nervousness. She was willing to risk our relationship by telling me the truth. And our relationship grew stronger because of it. That’s like Jesus, isn’t it? Always shooting us straight, whatever it may cost.
3. Do you know the people in church or other community circles that most people have difficulty talking to? (I’m trying to tread lightly here.) There are some sweet, genuine people who seem to need more patience in conversation, more empathy, more grace in social settings, more time, less hurry. People you maybe don’t mind chatting with if only someone else will come relieve you. Well, Anne was a magnet to those people. Anne, like almost nobody else I can think of, had a heart for the people on the margins. Wounded people, people who feel unheard, people who feel misunderstood, people who we might call “emotionally needy” but are perhaps unaware of it, people like even me maybe — they were Anne’s friends. She always made time for the people that many of us selfish folks checked our watches with. Isn’t that like Jesus? Unhurried compassion with the lonely people on the outskirts of communal efficiency and social acceptability? Jeff says people have come in to pay respects in the last few days that he didn’t even know about, hurting people that Anne had regular tea appointments with to be a listening ear.
4. Anne was brilliant. Her insights in Bible study or even casual conversation often related to neurology or some intellectual thing she’d lately read. She was always answering questions by telling us some obscure thing the brain does. A recovering Catholic and a recovering flower child, she loved talking about her relatively “late” interests, conservative politics and Reformed theology. In the last few years, Anne had gone back to school. In her late 50′s she had decided she wanted to study psychology and parlay that into becoming a gospel-centered Christian counselor. (She absolutely devoured all the CCEF materials I fed her.) So this year, at age 61, when she was diagnosed with this brain tumor just a couple of months ago, we all just felt it was kind of . . . cruel? ironic? I don’t know. Interesting? The last meaningful conversation I was able to have with her was right after her first brain surgery. I said, “You’ve just spend three years studying the brain. And now . . . this?” She looked at me and said, “I know, right? God’s funny sometimes.” Funny? I’m not sure funny is the right word here, but I know what she meant by it. And now means by it, as she’s laughing it up with her brother Jesus in glory. (Anne has a great laugh, by the way.) Just like our brother Jesus, Anne faced death with a natural amount of fear and a Spiritual amount of faith in the Father who loves her, cares for her, and secures her. Like Jesus, she had abandoned her self to the sovereign grace of God.
Photo 1: Me and Jeff, in Stonington
Photo 2: Jeff and Anne