I like to think of myself as individualist for a host of reasons, but this past weekend any notion that I, or any of us, are self made, was vaporized in the string of events and moments that was “graduation and attendant parties, and family reunion”, a five day festival that taught me the power of relationships, over and over again.
My youngest daughter completed college which, itself would be a milestone even as a stand alone event. But my wife was graduating too. She’d taken a brief 30+ year absence from her education to marry me, work while I went to grad school, give birth to three children and raise them while running a ministry that she and I started from nothing, before returning to Seattle and eventually completing her degree. That these two special women in my life would finish college at the same time made for a remarkable weekend. That most of her brothers, and her mom were able to celebrate with us, and celebrate the upcoming marriage of my son made these past five days more than special – they made them profound. Now that I’m home, and the guests are gone, and the pictures are loaded on flickr, I’m thinking about the things I learned this weekend:
1. We live by grace. There was a moment this past Friday, when I was walking onto Seattle Pacific University’s campus, when I had sort of ‘flashback’, recalling the very spot when I first remember meeting the woman who’s now been my wife for nearly 33 years.
We’d married after I graduated, and moved back to California reluctantly, always hoping that we’d be able to return to the misty mountains of Puget Sound someday. To now be standing on nearly the exact ground where we’d met, now with my wife and three adult children was a moment of overwhelming joy. I felt like David and Solomon both of whom, pondering their lives, said “who am I, God, that you should bless me like this?”. They knew, like I do, that their lives were filled with enough snapshots of failure to disqualify them from being blessed at all. Greed. Fear. Lust. Self-Pity. Foolish choices and words – we’ve all been there.
Thanks be to God though, that God is making a movie of lives instead of collecting snapshots in order to condemn. The movie version, if we’ll let God be God, will become a story of redemption and transformation, giving testimony to the reality that God is good, patient, and gracious. Every time I’m tempted to pull out the snapshots of failure and allow them to tell me who I am, I need to remember that God’s making a movie, and that the movie is about us becoming people of light and life. I was reminded of this in a powerful way this past Saturday.
2. We’re lit by many lives. After graduation on Saturday, there was a party at our house, where people from different parts of our past all appeared, magically, together. Families from our days when I was pastor on an island; a woman in her nineties who supported us when we ran a ministry in the mountains; folks who were part of the five student college group that began when I first arrived in Seattle as a pastor and we’d read Dostoyevsky, and play in the mountains, and eat meals together; family; professors; friends.
As I surveyed the room I realized that if it’s true that we’re fed by Christ, it’s equally true that Christ shows up through flesh and blood, people offering encouragement, affirmation, $20 here and there, and other forms of love. In the past I liked to think of myself as a bit of a loner, one who didn’t need anyone in order to get on in life. As I get older, I’ve come to repent of that delusional way of thinking. The truth of it is that God shows up for everyone; the widow, orphan, outcast, marginalized. But the truth of it is also that God wants to show up through people. With the clarity of 20/20 retrospective vision, Saturday night showed me just how many people have invested generously in my children, my wife, my family, me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, thanking God that God has been made visible in my life through so many countless lives.
3. Passing the torch is a privilege. I was privileged to read scripture for Seattle Pacific’s graduation and, as such, able to stand on the podium for the ceremony.
Not only did this enable me to see my wife and daughter up close during graduation, and greet them each personally, it enabled me to see the many students who attend the church I lead in Seattle pass in front of me. I thought back to a time over 18 years ago when I man in India told me, as a prophecy, that I was to be the pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle. I laughed then, like Abraham when he was told at 99 he’d be a dad. Like Jacob, unqualified. But God does what God does, and here I was, 18 years later. We’d moved to the mountains because we wanted to pass the torch of the faith to a new generation. As I watched these students I knew that God had given me the privilege of doing in ways beyond what I’d ever envisioned. Passing the torch of faith is the best thing we can do with the time we’ve been given, and my prayer is that I’ll do it until the very end of my days.
The guests are gone, and this morning it’s just me and my coffee as things return to normal which means “wholly unspectacular” which means Wednesday. But I can see now that the visible fruit we’re privileged to enjoy on the occassional day of celebration is nothing more than the ripening of a million anonymous moments of giving, serving, confession, affirming, expressing gratitude, as we invest in each other for the long haul.
Thank you Lord Christ, for showing me so very much this past weekend. As I turn the page and begin a new chapter over the course of this summer, I pray that the truths you’ve shown, about humbly receiving, expressing gratitude, allowing others to light our lives, and passing the torch of faith, will govern all my actions, all my days. Amen