One of the perks of my work is that almost every day, assuming I have my eyes open to see it, something fascinating happens,. Being aware of my space is one of the many gifts that comes with following Jesus, because he teaches us that every moment is filled with possibility and potential for goodness. I try my best to approach each day hearing the words from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem, Aurora Leigh,
“Earth’s crammed with heavens, And every common bush is afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
If we are looking for the bush afire with God, we need to make sure we are aware of our surroundings. On Tuesday of last week, I had two conversations that were so incredibly different, yet more similar than I could ever imagine. Earlier in my day, I was able to have lunch with a friend that I had not seen in a few months. In her late twenties, she is vibrant and full of life. My friend is one of those people that leaves you wanting to do more with your days, because she is so alive to the rhythm of the city. Over the course an hour and a half, we talked about the art scene in Aiken, a blossoming culture of jazz in Augusta, and how she recently crashed a wedding held on a goat farm in the country. I have officiated more weddings than I could count, but I have never been privileged to preside at a goat farm in the country! The conversation was absolutely fascinating. The time seemed to fly by in an instant, leaving me to ask when we could get together again so I could hear more from my eclectic friend.
While nothing seems more exciting that weddings on goat farms and Winton Marsalis playing jazz in Augusta, it was in the moments when she talked about her work that my friend began to really light up. You see, her job as a development officer requires her to raise money for a local private school in downtown Augusta. The school is incredibly unique in that it is designed to give high quality education to children without access to other private school models (i.e. money). The school is thriving and they are in the process of building new facilities to accommodate student growth. I have to be honest with you, asking people for money is not something that is super exciting to me, so I was more than interested to watch my friend wax poetic about the way that she is going about doing work that makes such a huge difference in the lives of so many children.
I sat and listened, completely enthralled by the work that she does every day. And just as our conversation was beginning to wind down, something beautiful happened. There was one brief moment when she was talking about the school and the children she sees every day, and for just a moment, our eyes connected. You know that feeling, right? When you truly look at someone. Your eyes lock for a second and it feels like you really see the other person. We don’t actually do this very often. People do it so little in fact, that when we do, it feels awkward. But there I was, looking into her eyes and, friends, her eyes were alive.
You could see the passion. You could see the love. That is a beautiful thing, to see someone who knows that they are making the world a better place. She loves her city. She loves her job. She loves her life. And in that moment, I could feel it. I felt it in the depths of my bones. I knew it. And her eyes told me that she knew it, too.
A few hours later, I went to another meeting with a friend. A few miles from the church sits a rehabilitation facility, a nice place that a ninety-nine-year-old church member calls home. In this particular facility, most of the people are only there for a short time, going through rehab for a variety of medical issues. Their stay tends to be brief and then they are sent back into the world. But this woman was in a different situation. She has lived in this community for the better part of a decade. I had been to visit with her once before, although she was asleep and I didn’t have the heart to wake her up. As I made my way to this visit, I had no idea what to expect as I walked into Room 110.
The reason for my visit was that our mutual friend had asked personally if I could make some time to go and see Elizabeth. I was assured that when I arrived, she would almost certainly be asleep. I was given strict instruction to wake her up if this was the case, because she would be heartbroken if I just left a note to say I had stopped by to see her. Sure enough, when I walked into her room, Elizabeth was sound asleep, and for a moment I really thought about leaving a card and calling it a day. I wouldn’t want someone to wake me up! But I remembered my instructions and decided to wake Elizabeth from her slumber. After a moment or two she sat up from her nap and we started to chat. She was a kind and inquisitive. She wanted to tell me about her husband. According to Elizabeth, he was a used car salesman who was the life of every party they ever attended. She showed me pictures of her great grandchildren, and she beamed with pride when she talked about that little boy. She asked about my children and expressed gratitude that she was able to watch our church services on television every week.
She wanted to hold my hand while we talked. I don’t remember ever seeing a hand quite like hers. The skin was tight around her swollen knuckles and her bones seemed as though they were ready to break through her thin layer of skin at any moment. I think her hands were a lot like her life. She told me that she was tired. Tired of living in this place and tired of not being able to do the things she wanted with her life. But overall, she was grateful to be alive for at least one more day. Like her hands, her life was frail and tired. Our conversation was pleasant and after thirty minutes, it was time to let Elizabeth rest.
Throughout our time together, Elizabeth had not really looked away from the television. She was pretty engaged with HGTV, and while she was happy to chat, she was ultimately invested in the home renovation taking place on the forty-two-inch screen in front of her. I had come to grips with being second place to a television. And then, again, for the second time in one day, something beautiful happened. Elizabeth turned away from her show, and for what seemed like a full minute, she just looked in my eyes. My impulse was to look away or to ask a question about anything else. Going against my impulse to be comfortable, I just sat and connected. Her eyes did not light up like my friend at lunch. No, as a matter of fact, her eyes were hazy and faded. But there we sat, looking at each other, feeling like her blue eyes were peering down into the depths. And I thought for a moment that while Elizabeth’s hands told the story of a woman who was tired, her eyes told me a far different story. Her eyes were beautiful. Her stare was intense. Frankly, her eyes were alive.
Looking at each other and just sitting in the silence, Elizabeth shifted her head so that she could ask me a question. Sitting in Room 110, looking at my ninety-nine year old friend, Elizabeth said,
“Where is Jesus?”
That is a great question. If we are really honest, it is a question that we all ask ourselves at one time or another. If you have ever seen someone you love die of cancer, I imagine you have asked “Where is Jesus?”. Some of my friends who have been through terrible divorces or seen their children go through the hell of drug addiction have certainly asked that question. I am going to go out on a limb and say that everyone who has ever walked this good earth has for a moment, a fleeting moment maybe, wondered about where Jesus might be. It is a hard question to ask, because I think some of us are afraid that the answer might be something we don’t want to hear. But when you are ninety-nine, maybe you reach a point in your life when you are prepared for anything that comes your way?
While there is a great deal in the world of which I am completely uncertain, I am well acquainted with this question. I have asked it myself on more than one occasion throughout my life. So, I responded almost reflexively to her question, because I know it to be true in my own experience. “Where is Jesus?”
“He is right here.”
It is true. Jesus was there in Room 110 as I looked into the eyes of a woman who is not long for this world. Looking into the eyes of a human being that still bears the Divine Image as proudly as the day she was born, I promise you that Jesus was there. Sitting at lunch with my friend who is hell bent on making Augusta a better place for all people, Jesus was there. I believe Jesus was telling us the truth when he said that he would be with us until all things are renewed and restored and redeemed in the Kingdom of God.
In all moments and in all places, Jesus is right here. I want you to know, my friends, Jesus is here. No matter where you are in your life, Jesus is there. Some of you are in terrible places right now, and you are asking questions of God and not hearing anything in return. This might not mean anything to you, but I promise that He is right there with you. Others of you are on top of a mountain right now. You are changing the world and life is great. Celebrate those moments and trust that Jesus is there with you.
Life is fascinating. In two conversations that on the surface were so incredibly different, I discovered one thing that is true no matter where you are in life.
Jesus is here.
Grace and Peace