One of the wonderful things about summer is that it often brings unexpected moments that reminds us how good life can be. These moments can remind us that sometimes the best gifts in life are those gifts that cost very little and include laughter, tears, joy and love shared among friends. This past week has brought several such moments for me.
One of my dearest friends is a former parishoner of mine that moved to the Washington, D.C., around the same time I moved from the church where her family attended. Her younger son was between the ages of our two older children, so they were childhood friends and shared many good times together.
For several years it was easy to maintain our friendship. Every summer the children and I would travel to D.C. to spend some vacation time with her family. Every winter, usually in February, her family would travel to West Virginia to spend time with our family.
We all had so much in common that those times were precious and joyful and we looked forward to them each year.
Around six years ago when my mother's health started failing, my free time was spent going to North Carolina to spend time with her. Our trips to D.C. stopped. Shortly before that time, my friend was diagnosed with a rare liver disease; her health failed, and their trips to West Virginia stopped. Gradually, the phone calls became fewer and fewer until Facebook messages around once a year was about all the connection that we had.
During that time I really longed to spend time with my friend, but there were so many other things that occupied my time - work, family, endless band trips and swim meets, and trips to North Carolina as often as I could get away. During that time she was struggling with her health, and her son had a major illness his senior year in high school which required surgery and months of recovery. I was not in touch with her, but she was in my prayers a great deal, and I prayed that she would be able to feel the prayers surrounding her.
Two weeks ago, I felt compelled by God to go and see her. I wasn't certain why and really thought it would just be a bit of a vacation for me over a long weekend, but that was not what God had in mind. God had not planned for it to be a vacation, but for me to be a "listening ear," a peacemaker with someone else in my friend's life, a spiritual director and a constant presence of prayer.
We stayed up late talking, crying and laughing together. I was a neutral presence between she and another friend who needed to make peace. I anointed her and prayed for her. I heard God saying time is short, life is precious, friends are important, so make the most of time together. We did.
Yesterday, I had another opportunity to spend time with her and her two sons as she and her younger son came to visit her older son, who lives in Morgantown. My kids and I met she and her sons for brunch and we spent three delightful hours together, talking, sharing life and laughing as our kids, who hadn't seen each other in six years, talked, teased each other and shared memories.
These two opportunities to spend time with her have been the highlight of my summer. I know that she is very ill, but still she deeply appreciates all that God gives to her each day. She is faithful in the midst of pain and looks for those God moments even on the worst of her days. Her bad days outnumber her good days by far, but she knows that she is not alone. She knows that in the midst of her days and all of the moments of her life God is there.
As we departed yesterday, she drew aside and said to me that, just as for me, these visits have been the highlight of her summer. She went on to tell me that over the past six years, when we had been out of touch, I had always been in the midst of her heart and in her prayers and she knew that she had been in my heart and in my prayers because whenever she felt down or the pain and fatigue got to her, God always showed her that I was praying her and she could feel it. She told me she has always felt me with her.
As I reflected on our time together I thought about the promise that Jesus made to his disciples and also to us. It can be found in the very last line of the Gospel of Matthew: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Like my friend and I, we sometimes lose contact with God in our lives. We do not always feel as close to God as we have at other times. Sometimes we are angry with God. Sometimes our sadness and grief keep us from feeling close to God. Sometimes we get busy and put other things before God thinking that tomorrow we can return to our prayer life or devotion and then something else gets in the way.
Through all those times and through whatever takes us away from God, the promise of Christ is still ours, "I am with you always." When we come full circle and hear those words in our hearts again, we find joy and laughter and tears and blessing.
Maybe all of us need to think about reconnecting with the friends and family that God has placed in our lives. Maybe we need to ask for forgiveness from those people or maybe we need to offer forgiveness. Time is short, life is precious, family and friends are important, so let us make the most of the time we can spend with others. And know that in the midst of all of this Christ is with us always, to the end of the age.
To God alone be glory!
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