The War for the Reds
After church last Sunday we went to the grocery store. We bought strawberries and tomatoes, along with many other good things to eat, but it was the strawberries (together with the tomatoes), that led me to give up, again, and hand things over to God, again.
It was not a usual Sunday. No, we’d worshiped at 10:15, as we always do, then Rich raced off to pick up the chicken–lots and lots of fried chicken–while I wandered back to help the Kitchen Ladies (I stand firmly on the periphery of our church’s team of Kitchen Ladies. I have not yet earned the right even to hold the spatulas of our church’s awesome Kitchen Ladies. But I digress.) prepare the pot-luck offerings that we would enjoy a little later.
Our regular monthly pot-luck had been the week before. We would serve this pot-luck later today, after we had celebrated the life of Ginny Allen, a parishioner who had been called home the weekend before. Rich got back with the chicken just in time and we returned to the small sanctuary, whose pews now supported at least twice the number of people who had worshiped there two hours earlier.
Our congregation is small, like the community it serves, but we open our arms wide to grieving neighbors. Pastor Robert told us how Ginny had been fighting cancer for as long as he’d been her pastor–six years or so. Pastor told us how another parishioner had invited Ginny to our church while they both enjoyed our canyon’s Friday night music gatherings at the general store. That congregant had cancer, too, and had been called home long before Rich and I began attending this church in early 2011.
People rose and shared stories of Ginny. Familiar voices thickened with sadness as we learned of her resolute views, her love of her neighborhood, her care for our Vacation Bible School children, her unflagging generosity, her adventuresome spirit.
I thought of our musicians, leading worship as we mourned together the loss of a woman they’d grown to love. It’s hard to sing with a lump in your throat. This is part of a small community, a small congregation, I thought. The losses are more personal. As for us, we’d met Ginny only a handful of times, as her health seldom permitted her to attend Sunday services during our brief tenure. But last Christmastime, she’d been feeling a bit better. She’d been to church, and we’d met her. And then there was the night we went caroling.
Ginny invited the carolers to stop for hot chocolate, last Christmas. (Sunday at her memorial, I learned that Pastor Robert tried to dissuade her, fearing the burden would be too much. She’d have none of it.) What we found, when we arrived at this sick woman’s home, was a banquet. Tamales, and ham, and hot soups in crock pots, and fancy cheeses paired with crackers to eat them from, and other delicacies whose names slip my mind, but oh, they were lovely. And sweets? Oh, yes, every kind of holiday morsel you can imagine, spread out right there in Ginny’s home, just for us.
Ginny herself stood in the midst of it all, beaming as if we were her children and it was our graduation day. A few helpers remained discreetly in the background, tucking themselves into the recesses of her kitchen until some platter needed to be refilled. We carolers had come, and she showed us her legendary hospitality. We didn’t know, but maybe she did, that it would be her final Christmas with us.
And through all of this, our pastor’s story and our heartbroken, steadfast, musicians’ songs and the loving memories shared by devoted friends and neighbors, I couldn’t figure out how to pray. Do I pray for the pastor, leading us in our remembering, in our honoring her life? Do I pray for the musicians, whose fingers found every note and voices remained clear and true even as their eyes watered? Do I pray for the children whose Vacation Bible School fees won’t be paid, in secret, by the woman who could not abide the thought of a child being turned away from Jesus?
Do I dare pray for my own hurting heart, that somehow treats every memorial service as another memorial for my own mother, remembering her in the midst of every remembrance of someone else’s life?
“You’ve got this, God, I know. And I’m so grateful, because I don’t know what to ask of You.” And at the time, that prayer felt like a failure, like some weakling’s sorry excuse for a petition.
Then, hours later, after we’d shared food and smiles and more stories, and cleaned the fellowship hall and folded the tables–after all that, the strawberries showed me (together with the tomatoes), that my meager little prayer was enough. If I say to a good friend, even my best friend, my husband, as I describe some unusual roadster I saw: “And it was red. A perfect red,” he’s not going to see the red that I saw. Even if I say “red like a strawberry” or “red like a tomato,” well, each of those fruits wears its own spectrum of red, and they’re different from one another. And if the exact shade of red is important, well, we’re going to talk for some time as I try to help him see exactly the red I saw. And we’ll probably abandon the endeavor before he sees exactly my red.
But what if I say, “God, You remember that red I saw?” Well, that’s something different. Because in His omnipresence, He sees everything I see. And in His omniscience, He knows exactly which red I’m remembering. Before I even mention it, He knows. Just as when I don’t know exactly what to pray for, He knows.
The strawberries (together with the tomatoes) showed me. And I learned my lesson. Again.
26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.
Romans 8:26-28 (NLT)