Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hope is the thing with Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul . . .”
Emily Dickinson

Lent brings with it an opportunity to bear one another’s burdens and sacrifice in some measure to walk in the path of Christ. In the past week I have had this stark comparison of how two women chose to carry their crosses.
Maggie is a lovely woman. She is kind and generous and strives to love others – except her husband. We enjoy similar hobbies and spending an afternoon together now and then. I have become a sounding board for her marital discontent, which troubles me because I feel I should be able to encourage her to have hope that things could improve. Her response has grown increasingly adamant, No, I have decided I need to accept it. I married a man who will always criticize me and never see the good in me. Even if I am widowed I am too old to find someone else. To make it worse, my sister married the most wonderful Christian man in the world, who would never be rude or say an unkind word to anyone. So I know I could have chosen someone better. That is my curse. I made a bad decision and that is all I will ever get out of life for my punishment.”
Maggie even went on to say that when she was a teenager; she was sometimes unkind to her mother when she was asked to help with chores, so this is what deserved in return. I have no idea what Christian denomination my friend Maggie was raised in or where she attends church. I do know this; she is hurt and angry and has been for a significant portion of her sixty plus years, and is convinced Jesus isn’t going to help her out until she makes it to heaven.
So I was listening to my friend  - trying to find some way to witness to her - and came up blank. She didn’t want to hear it. She was bound and determined she had “won” the tragic life story contest, and there was no way I was bursting that bubble. I wish I could say that I walked away compassionately shaking my head, completely unable to relate to her sentiments. Unfortunately I’ve had my share of self-righteous pity parties and her declarations were familiar and disconcerting. I felt her anger, discouragement and pain. I also felt my nose rubbed firmly against that wall of stubborn self-righteousness. I know that wall; I’ve spent many years constructing one for myself.
Earlier this week I had the distinct honor and privilege of attending the wake and funeral of a young man named Connor McCullough. Connor was seventeen years old when he died last week. Connor and his family fought a courageous eight month battle against an aggressive brain tumor. They were gracious enough to invite our community to walk with them on that physical and spiritual journey to heaven. His family was such a pillar of faith and dignity: his wake lasted almost seven hours and his entire family greeted every person that went through the receiving line, which at times had over a two hour wait. Entire basketball teams attended, stopping to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Rosary with our catholic community.
Leslie McCullough and her family understood the purpose of our Christian walk here on earth, to lead others to heaven. And that they did - with hearts full of grace. Their loss is tender and sorrow filled. No mother buries her son without the deepest heartbreak. I understand my friend Maggie on one level, we are to carry our crosses, we get what we get and sometimes life is just hard. Some people won’t or are unable to change. But I watched Leslie McCullough receive hundreds and hundreds of mourners at her son’s wake with tireless kindness and I know there has to be more. Christ wants us to have life, and have it abundantly. Not when our circumstances are all perfect, not just when we make it to heaven, but right now.
I am not completely sure how this all relates to my Lenten sacrifice. I know that I often err on the side of self-righteousness and discouragement – not being able to see that God can and will use my trial to bring about His holy will AND that while He’s accomplishing His goal, my life will be abundantly full of joy. Not happiness in circumstance, but joy in the peace that surpasses understanding. The joy I saw on Leslie’s face as she beheld the witness her son’s life was for Christ. That is the  joy, the communion with Christ that is worth sacrificing for, -- even if it means tearing down a wall I spent a long time constructing.

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