Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fleeting Moments Each Filled with Grace

It has been a remarkable week. One week ago this evening, I sat by my father's bedside, listening with concern to his irregular Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern; wondering how long he would be present in body with us. He was gone less than 13 hours later, passing quietly, without struggle or pain. Fleeting moments; one minute here, the next, gone. Calmly, almost silently, his breathing ended, no struggle, only peace and rest at last. An ending. Grace.

Dad wanted no service, no memorial, no gathering. It was rather fitting to the way that he and my mom chose to end their days, quietly withdrawn, choosing to separate from the bustle and energy of daily life. This was the pattern in which they had lived their lives for more than 10 years, almost entirely disconnected from civic life or involvement in the lives of others, save for a small handful of family. We were a small family, really just my immediate family and his sister, who is 79 now, and lives in Beverly Hills.

And so, my Dad is gone.

Saturday morning, I headed to the mountains, to this place, to spend a shortened bit of time with our church family. These are the people who spent the week thinking of and praying for our family as we faced our loss. And so, for me a loss, followed by not by isolation and withdrawal, but by engagement and embrace. So many who greeted me had kind words of sorrow, of sympathy, encouragement, or merely a long hug and tears. None of these people knew my Dad, but they know me. These are good people. Broken, messy, fallen, redeemed, awkward, loving, grace-giving people. The Body of Christ.

I always keep thinking that our church could do better. In so many ways. We are not big enough, not influential enough, not cool enough, not hip enough. Just not, well, enough. But you know what? This past week, and again over the weekend, for me, my church did just fine. Simply, graciously, fine. I need to be content with the simple gifts of this life.

And then, on Sunday morning, as our congregation gathered one more time, came a moment that nearly knocked me over. A fleeting moment. A moment full of joy and noise and singing, of music, and laughing and Grace. So much Grace.

Our oldest daughter has wanted to be a teacher of elementary kids for as long as we and she can remember. A junior in high school now, her life is full with school, studies, sports, and social life. And as is normal in young ladies her age, we parents do not necessarily get the best parts of her personality. We are often living with the sullen, grumpy, at-odds-with-the-world young lady who lives at our house. Not a lot of joy on some days, you know. Its hard to be 16, and we hear about it often. Much drama.

Fleeting moments. On Sunday morning, all of the kids of the church gathered in the front of Hormel Hall to sing to the adults. This is a tradition that has lasted as long as we can remember. There were almost 50 kids in all, crowding the front of the room. And there were two high school girls leading the singing, on their knees in the front, conducting like mad. One of those girls was Kelly, our oldest.

This was a moment I could not miss; I snuck to the front of the room to watch.

As she conducted these little kids, the smile on her face was as bright and broad as I have seen in months. The somewhat sullen high schooler was transformed by the smiles, and signing, and joy of a stage full of pre-schoolers and elementary kids. As I knelt on one knee and saw the beaming face of my girl, as my eyes filled with tears, the entire week, if not my life to this point, was illuminated.

In some strange way, the pieces of my life rearranged, and fit together in a more coherent picture. A picture of Grace.
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