Childhood memories flooding my mind, I was barely breathing, my anxiety such that I couldn’t even keep coffee down. It was a horrible day, no escape from thoughts that I carried with me. Chef hugged me and said lets go to church, help with the Blessing Boxes. Given that I hadn’t showered for days, that I didn’t want to see anyone, this seemed like a preposterous suggestion, yet he stayed with me while I finally cleaned myself and donned clothing that didn’t fit into the pajama category. Off to church we went, too late to really contribute to the task but seeking the peace and sanctuary that comes from when surrounded by believers.
Sneaking in the side door, attempting to encounter the least amount of friends, I was immediately reminded that preparations for a funeral were underway, the luncheon following was being prepped, the tables laid out with candles and mints and just enough color to be comforting, to show hospitality to those who are grieving, those left behind, to those who have gathered to share kind words and to hear them. Anxiety began to lift, my muscles unclenched as I moved into the church kitchen and chatted about how much ham was being served and instructed on the proper techniques of the dishwasher. Concentrating on events in the present rather than locked into those of the past helped me regain a sense of control, but more than that I could see that others were hurting in profound ways on this day, suffering and crying and still finding some laughs and seeking solace in the rites of the service and in each other. I remembered not what happened to me so many years ago but what the psalms tell us, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps 147:3
Moving on the classroom where the cookies and nuts and lotions and oranges were to be packaged in preparation for delivery to all those in the congregation who have suffered a loss this past year, those with medical crises and emotional upheaval, even to those who have given so much, they could benefit from receiving, I found we were indeed too late. The bright green boxes were closed up with red ribbons, friends gathered around collecting the number needed to match their delivery list. Dropping into a chair next to the program coordinator, my sense of failure, of inadequacy returned. Why couldn’t I summon the energy to get there on time? Why was I so self-involved I couldn’t give back to those who were more needy? Last year our family received on of these boxes, probably the year before too, too many years of turbulence and strife to keep track of, too many boxes of cookies showing up when I was too far down to pick myself up to remember. Then she hugged me and gave me the gift of perspective, the peace I was seeking all morning.
She told me with tears in her eyes that she hoped I wouldn’t be offended but I wasn’t getting a box this year. Thinking we were low on cookies or that I was in blessing time-out because I didn’t bake or sign up to deliver, she went on to tell me, “You have had a better year and this was how I could honor you.” Right there, smacked in the head with the Holy Spirit in the wisdom of no cookies. Thoughts swirled, crashed, smashed as echoes of laughter and joy rushed into my soul, a spiritual high that has only slightly abated. Me, I have had a good year in spite of the countless hurts and pains and sorrows, the pathways my mind is more accustomed to seeking out, I forget the silly moments, the highs, the peace, skimming over those like the ads in my twitter feed.
I truly don’t know how to survive without my church, without the constant dose of faith lived out by those around me. When mine is running on empty, when I am so lost in the darkness, I find their stories and smiles and hugs and ability to remind me who I am to be life giving. I cannot always travel to the mountains or to a third world country to regain my perspective. Thank God I can merely drive down the street and learn I don’t get any cookies this year.