I remember the day I walked into my church for the first time. I had been feeling the pull to seek a church, even though I had only attended worship a handful of times in my life. At the time, I lived within walking distance of at least five churches, so I had my pick. I passed a beautiful and stately Presbyterian church daily on my way to the train station for work, and knew the denomination had moderate views on issues I cared about, so I figured it was a good place to start.
That Sunday morning was bright and warm. As I walked down the street, my anxiety rose. What on Earth was I doing going to church? What business did I have being there anyway? I practiced Zen meditation and yoga. I was an experimental poet and artist – I was supposed to be anti-all-this Jesus-stuff, right? And yet, there were memories of attending Mass, experiencing a peace I’d seldom felt at any other time in my life. My inner critic was having a field day.
On the steps to the church, I eyed the heavy wooden doors uncertainly. They weren’t open, so perhaps no one would notice if I didn’t walk in. But then I felt something like a huge rush of air behind me, pushing me up towards the door. So, I reluctantly entered and found a place to sit inside the large, light-filled sanctuary.
The choir was beautiful. Some of the liturgy felt familiar. The pastor called us “dearhearts” in his hearty drawl. And I watched the beautiful colored light from the stained glass shift around the sanctuary. I still had no idea what I was doing there or if I’d ever go back.
However, I was sitting near Anne and Bill Jackson. I now know this was not an accident. You see, God led the lost and brokenhearted to Anne in order to receive the love and care they needed. Anne caught sight of me after worship, wrapped me in her extraordinary love and well, that was that. She loved me so completely at a time when I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I was divorced, broke and broken, in a new relationship as problematic as it was hopeful, full of self-judgment and shame. Anne didn’t know any of this – and even if she had, she would have patted my hand and told me it was going to be okay. And it would be okay, because she knew these things. She saw straight into my heart and claimed me.
The next Sunday, I showed up to church. Anne saw me, and motioned to the seat next to her in the pew. Gratefully, I sat down next to her. The following week, she invited me to lunch with her and Bill after church. And so it went. Like proud grandparents, they were with me when I professed my affirmation of faith and became a member of the church. I can trace my entire faith journey as a Christian to this one person who welcomed me in and let me know I was loved simply because.
I had been very close with my grandmother, who had loved me in a similar way from the time I joined her family as a little girl. My grandmother occupied a deep and abiding place in my heart. I never thought I would find anyone of her caliber in my life again after she died. Anne was like a gift from God to me, saying, “See? You will always be loved. It’s going to be okay.”
A few weeks ago, sensing that Anne’s health was shifting in a direction that would take her away from us, I sat down and wrote her a card to let her know what a blessing she has been to me and that I loved her. I’m grateful Spirit once again pushed on me and that I did not hesitate to obey. I know Anne is she is at peace now, and I rejoice in this. But I am sad and grieving, and know that feeling will be with me for a long time.
This week, we’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 and I think I’m finally getting the message. Knowing and living in the promise that we are God’s beloved is what makes it possible for us to truly love one another. We can’t do this of our own will simply because we want to be a better person. It’s another one of those awesome and crazy gifts of God, like joy, or grace or forgiveness. This love, Paul says, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This love is practically impossible by human standards and yet, Anne lived that from her heart. Ask anyone that knew her. I know this too: I am all the better for having been loved by one so beloved.