A Eulogy of Sorts for an Amazing Woman who 20 Years Ago Saved My Ass

(from the memorial service of Suzanne Harvey Lynch, June 30th, 2013 (what would have been her 79th birthday) at the Comedy Works, Greenwood Village, co)

A couple months ago, I sat at the deathbed – or in this case, the death recliner of a woman dying of emphysema and needing a priest.  I’m unclear if the fact that the priest was me was poetic or just ironic, since 20 years earlier it was this same woman, Suzanne Lynch who had saved my ass.  I was a fucked up kid trying to get sober and she was a lawyer who lived in the nice part of town.  I had nowhere else to go and could barely pay for my own groceries when Suzanne offered that I could live for awhile in her spare bedroom while I got my act together.

She seemed so unlike me on the outside. Since she owned things like, dishes and furniture. At the time, I had nothing going for me. Well, I had killer abs, but that really was about it. I was an angry, hostile, but ultimately just kind of injured young woman. But for some reason, Suzanne Lynch saw more in me – something no one else (most especially myself) could see.  She dared to think I was something more than the mess I was in the moment. She believed that I was not irredeemable – that I was more than the sum total of my mistakes. And in the end, that whole Suzanne taking in Nadia thing was like, I don’t know… emotional venture capitalism on her part.

And I hope the investment paid off.  Eventually I married a nice Texan and had a couple kids and went to college and then seminary and wrote a couple books and became, of all things, a Lutheran pastor.

I and everyone else seemed to find each step of my life more unlikely than the next. But not Suzanne. I called her once to tell her I was in college and strangely getting all As and all she said was  “of course you are, don’t be ridiculous”.  And when I was ordained she said she was not in the least bit surprised.

So, Suzanne had fed me and given me a place to be broken and 2 decades later, I would sit by her recliner in the living room of a senior high rise and feed her communion and give her a space to confess her own brokenness.

“Suzanne” I would say after a few minutes of small talk,  “would you like to tell me the things that weigh on your conscience.”

“Well” She said in typical Suzanne fashion, “let’s define conscience first”

“Bullshit” I replied, “you’re avoiding the question”

She gave a raised eyebrow, but didn’t have the lawyer’s fight in her anymore so resigned to the inevitable and said, with a brevity I’d not experienced in Suzanne before, the things she had done which troubled her.  Some were funny, others sad and one was particularly painful.  But I could not look away from this amazing, brilliant, frustrating, woman. I heard her secrets while holding her bruised, papery hand. And then asked her if she believed that the word of forgiveness that I was about to proclaim to her was from God.

She said she did.

And then I just told to her that she is forgiven.  Now, just to be clear, Not in that weird way where God is some angry bastard up in the sky with a killer surveillance system and a dry erase board listing the bad things we have done and then when we confess God says “oh OK…” and uses his sleeve to wipe them clean.  No. I assured her – as she had assured me, that she is not the sum total of her mistakes. And that our higher power whatever you want to call it – that powerful force of love in this universe has the ability to redeem all of our crap. That the love of God is always more powerful than our ability to screw things up. That’s redemption, and redemption was something Suzanne believed in. celebrated. Fought for.

As we sat there at her recliner, Suzanne’s shaking hand then wiped away her tears and adjusted her oxygen tube.

“I feel unbelievably lighter” she said in a whisper. She was so beautiful in that moment. So free. And unlike two decades earlier, she had my complete attention.

In that moment with her I flashed back to when we had sat together in the early 90s.  I had been wearing a sleeveless Public Enemy t-shirt and sat on her Ethan Allen sofa and paying as little attention as possible and still have it look like I was listening to the 58 year old lawyer in the Ann Taylor suit whose guest bedroom was the only place I had to lay my head.

But now as I wore a black clergy shirt and gave the woman in the recliner my full attention and told her that she is loved and she is free,  and I too felt comforted by the knowledge that no matter how much of a distracted ingrate I had been when she took me in, that a Higher Power could somehow redeem me and redeem her and redeem our stories and all our broken mess of a beautiful life. And I could sit at her side and tell her this as she looked beautiful and free and took some of her final, struggling breaths.

A few years ago I took Suzanne to lunch and thanked her for taking me in and told her that I wish I could re-pay her somehow.  To which she said  “Well, Just live your life, kiddo. That’s plenty”

This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other.  We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of it… all of it is completely worth it.

I loved Suzanne. I’m so grateful to have known her. And I am grateful to have been seen by her.

She was quite the woman, Suzanne Lynch. And I’m fairly certain the old gal’s in heaven right now taking in misfits and correcting God’s grammar. Amen.

 

Here is a link to Suzanne’s Obit. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/denverpost/obituary.aspx?pid=164071064

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • Judy Naylor

    Beautiful

  • Bill Johnson

    Amen, indeed. Well done.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonmspangler Jon Spangler

    Thank you for another great post, Nadia. I said my good-byes to my brother-in-law, Victor, on Saturday: he is dying after 12 years of living with bone cancer.

    He and my sister have been married 30 years, raising three kids to young adulthood, and creating much love around them. As Victor said in his now-whisper of a voice, “it’s been a hell of a ride.” Indeed, it has been: Victor has prepared many,many great meals and served them with the warmest of hospitality; he has made lots of wonderful music and always answered my technical questions about computers….

    I will dearly miss Victor’s physical presence but know he will never be very far away once he leaves this plane of existence for wherever his next destination will be….

  • Gerardo Noriega

    I have no words, just awe and tears at this amazing story of redemption, of God’s infinite love. Thank you, Nadia for sharing this. Greetings from Mexico.

  • Gerardo Noriega

    It is also a story of man’s/woman’s gratitude to God’s blessings.

  • avila629

    Goosebumps and tears. Thank you again, for a touching- and real- homily that gets to the Heart of this human experience. Shared!

  • Hugh Toob

    Saved your ass? Bullshit? Nice mouth speaking the supposed words of God. Corninthians 14 34-35, Timothy 2:12! The only rightous thing youve done was get marriednand have children. Lord have mercy on your husband for tolerating a heretic.

    • hikerrev

      Matthew 7:1-2; James 4:12; Ephesians 4:29; Luke 6:31; Galatians 5:14; Titus 3:2; 1 Corinthians 13:1

      If you have something constructive to say, that’s great. However, I believe that name-calling has no place in the Reign of God.

      Peace be with you.

      ~ the husband

      • Hugh Toob

        Yes I speak with LOVE. LOVE OF CHRIST AND THE IMMUTABLE WORD OF GOD, women should not teach or preach!

        • Hugh Toob

          Your foul mouthed heretic of a wife is proof!

        • Levedi

          Screaming at people in all caps is not loving. Loving Christ is no excuse for treating his people with hatred. Christ died for Suzanne, and Nadia. He loved them so much he died for them, just as he died for you. Please follow his example and treat people on this board with the love of Christ.

          • Hugh Toob

            You are MISTAKEN. Either you believe THE BIBLE is GODS SPOKEN WORD, INFALLABLE AND HOLY AS HE IS, or you dont. If you DO, than you CANNOT be a preaching tattooed woman spewing vulgarities and purporting to be HOLY! My suggestion is to READ AND ACCEPT THE ENTIRE BIBLE NOT JUST PICK OUT THE FEW VERSES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF! Jesus DIED for OUR SINS so that we may strive to BE LIKE HIM. Not for women who have DISGRACED THEIR BODIES WITH TATOOS AND THEIR FAMILIES WITH OBTUSE AND VULGAR PREACHING to find the pulpits of the pharasees and the acolytes of the unwitting!

        • Ellen Polzien

          According to his discussion Patheos history, Mr. Toob recently showed the love of Jesus by making fun of suicide. I’m sure our Lord is very proud.

        • Pug Mahm

          Hugh…no one will have an answer for you until you reach the gates of glory (along with the rest of us whom you so diss on) and God Herself tells you to be ashamed of your attitude and She removes it from you and you can’t even remember what it was.

        • Jason Douglas Greene

          HT you are a sad little man. The “word of GOD” also says that we should stone unruly children, be good to our slaves, and cut off our hand if we “sin” with it. I bet you’ve never had a lustful thought, or are you handless?
          THANKS Nadia, very moving post..

    • Paul Timmis

      Hugh (if that’s really your name, which I very much doubt) – I politely and respectfully ask you to read the story that Nadia tells again and, if and as you do, this time try to look past those words that you’re clearly uncomfortable with. If you can manage this, you will discover a gospel story with Christ very much at its heart. If you read it again and don’t make such a discovery, I suggest you go back to the Gospels themselves…

  • RLJEight

    Nadia, thank you for sharing this story. It is really quite beautiful.

  • Pug Mahm

    Tears in my eyes reading this. How I do love your sermons. Better than going to church, actually…because I can read and reread and read again those parts which I find most helpful–which is usually the whole thing! LOL

  • Greg Colby

    As one who has also expereienced the saving love of another human at a time wheni needed it most I fully appreciate the depth of this experience for you. My friend is dying right now as I write this and I avhe had the honour of siting with him and letting him konw before its too late how much i love him adn appreicate the act of grace adn mercy he bestowed upon me by taking me in. i too am about to embark on study and hopefully ordination. I’m so glad ot have discovered you adn your blog. I’ve ordered your book and look forward to the read.

  • Tommy Everard

    Amazing story that I really enjoyed reading. Thank you.

  • KingGeorge

    Wow! The Jews are afraid to even write the name of God, but the preacher here can in a memorial service in one sentence link in the readers mind God and the idea of him as the angry bastard in heaven. Hopefully profanity laden pastoral messages are not what American church goers mean by ‘new, refreshing, and honest’.


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