My mother-in-law came to stay with us last weekend, something I had desperately been wanting. She left for a month long stay in Florida on the day we discovered our son was gone, I needed my mother, I needed her hugs. Yet the dementia that she is experiencing robbed her of the ability to stay with me throughout a conversation, she hasn’t absorbed the news in a lasting way. While heartbroken that I am losing her too, I accepted what she did have to give, the glimpses of her I could still catch. Sitting across the dining room table, poring over a puzzle, we chatted as if our world was not as scattered and disconnected like the pieces we started at. In the end, I realized she was in there somewhere and I was blessed to have her near even as her mind was far away.
My thoughts are consumed with memories of my son, blessed gifts that now flow freely. Sudden eruptions of tears, of sobs that begin and end with seemingly little control on my part, are my new normal. I too, like my mother-in-law am only partially present. Yet those around me are accepting of the little I offer, content to be close by when a smile appears on my saddened face, when a bit of my laughter joins their chorus. They also remain when I am vacant and far away, when I have no inclination to participate. This family of faith bolsters me as I journey a path that winds me close and then sends me plummeting, they welcome me anyway, in spite of, without judgement. What does it mean to offer that to all of our brothers and sisters, to accept them where they are and the gifts they have to share without the desire to fix, change, alter each other?
I grew up in the Catholic church, dabbled in Episcopalianism as a young adult, finally landed in this Methodist church. I came here not for some deep commitment to John Wesley and his teachings but because of the congregation, the way they reflected God and Jesus to me. Slowly I have learned about the actual tenets of our denomination but take those almost as suggestions, not as rules that guide us (my apologies to my Pastors!). Our church runs a wide spectrum of personal beliefs, we do not support one political party or agree on societal issues like abortion and sexuality even as we are pursuing social justice issues with a new ministry of partnership with the local probation department to support those formerly incarcerated. I once questioned whether this congregation was truly progressive enough for me, I felt called to evaluate how my leanings meshed with the wider group and came away with the comforting knowledge that I prefer the combined voices, the opportunities to hear other perspectives, without being forced to accept all of those as my own. It is okay with me that we disagree, we are supporting each other anyway. This is my church home, my family, a coalition of those who could choose to be divided, those who could seek to speak louder and drown out opposing views, yet we have thus far managed to sing together. Still societal concerns do beg for a thoughtful response, one that discerns the nature and teachings of our Jesus. How do we construct our puzzle together?
Ultimately, I am thoroughly encouraged that I am not given license to determine our church’s message on sexuality, on homelessness, on abortion, on who deserves the grace that I receive with every interaction at church. What if I have it wrong, what if my personal views are not as rooted in faith as they need be? As I continue to grow into my relationship with God, I can look back and see along my path discarded prejudices and with each step, less need to impose my views on others who are traveling as well. I trust the voices who come together in the light to ask hard questions and to listen to others who may have walked a bit longer or along a rockier route, who may have stumbled and gained insight as they climbed back up. We in this congregation are not told who to vote for, how to respond to each person’s failings or sins. We are taught to accept the weavings of all of our threads, to create a thing of beauty that grows as we unite our lives and struggles.
My mother-in-law and I worked on the puzzle for hours. I sought out ways to connect individual pieces to create the image on the box, she approached the task much differently. Picking up one piece at a time, she studied the box until she could find where that bit of color, those tiny words, could be identified in the larger image. She didn’t connect the pieces, I didn’t use the box. I could argue that her method moved us no closer to our goal, yet her ability and desire were not the same as mine. She was content to be with me anyway. I was blessed by her nearness. We traveled separately together. Our voices mingled and joined, we love each other anyway. I pray that my church never loses that which makes us the strongest, our inclusion of wise discerning voices who can see the larger picture and connect the odd bits as well as those who are lost and disconnected, those who look at the world with aged eyes who have seen more and experienced more. There is no one right way to build a puzzle, there is no one way to interpret the bible. In the end, the journey of questioning and wondering aloud IS the point, that is the calling, that is where our beautiful joining occurs.
Shall we continue to listen to wise scholars and dissenting views, to those who are young in age and those young in faith as well as those who lean differently than ourselves? What a beautiful tapestry we create with the rich colors of us all. Our puzzle won’t be completed on this side but with each piece added, the image of grace becomes clearer. How joyful I am that we don’t discard those pieces that just don’t seem to fit, what elation I feel when the awkward shaped one becomes central to the picture I am building. Just as I cannot do this puzzle work without a strong light to illuminate the true markings and soft edges, this life walk begs for our reliance of the Light. Thank you church for showing me the way and the worth of us all.