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We could have even done more repair work on Marie's home which sorely needs it. But our wise treasurer thought building Marie a chicken coop was the best thing to do and she was right.
Our community met Marie in the summer of 2012 when our team insulated and replaced a ceiling in her home. We all feel instantly in love. It was easy to do. We were quickly encircled in her gratitude and hospitality.
There are objects all over Marie’s home that reveal her nature: bird feeders, pictures of children, grandchildren, great nieces, handmade objects, baby dolls, and the most telling—a toy once enjoyed by a grandson who died. Marie has lived a life full of great sadness and great love. She has raised a gaggle of children, not all biologically hers, and with such love has come sorrow. She is honest about her heart break and free with her love. Her husbands have disappointed her, but she continues to live in the world as one who trusts love is the only answer.
How could we not have fallen in love with Marie?
Last year after installing a skirt around her trailer and painting the back of her home we had a lazy afternoon before us, talking with Marie about her farm. She had lost her coop in a fire and now only had a few chickens strolling around her yard. One of these chickens, a rooster, had a comb splattered with white paint from our children’s wild painting job. Marie was tickled pink at the sight. She enjoyed even more watching our children play in her field, exploring the nooks and crannies of her beautiful farm.
Not too long after I was called aside by the treasurer in our community. Knowing the numbers, she was happy to report we had a surplus in our mission trip account. What if we hired someone to build a coop for Marie to house her chickens? It didn’t take long for the “official” leaders in our community (note: that is pretty much all the adults) to agree that this would be the best way to spend our surplus. By October, Marie had a coop. Last winter she wrote us twice to report on her snug chickens and the joy they brought her was evident on the lined page.
I once read an article entitled Bread and Roses. Although I cannot remember the details of the article, the title has forever informed my thinking about those who Jesus calls the least among us. The author of the article argued (more articulately than I ever can) that the poor need both bread and roses. We could have made sure Marie’s oil tank was full for the winter, paid her electric bill, or filled her pantry. We could have even done more repair work on Marie’s home which sorely needs it. But our wise treasurer thought building Marie a chicken coop was the best thing to do and she was right. Marie, like all of us, needs bread and roses. Her new chicken coop is, I am sure, more beautiful to her than a vase of long stem roses. And there is no question that is has brought her great joy.
We’re going to see Marie in a few short days. We are eager to see her new coop and meet her new chickens. Hopefully her roosters white painted comb has worn off. I am sure Marie will encircle us in love and her natural hospitality. But I wonder what roses we might offer her this year. I wonder what roses we all need in our lives, beyond daily bread, that remind us that love is always worth the risk of heartache.
As her grey heart rhythmically pulsed on the monitor it was as if all of life rushed before me—all that it is to be human contained within the walls of a pumping muscle.
Today I took my daughter to the cardiologist to make sure her heart murmur was “innocent” as preliminarily diagnosed. While there, my sweet girl had an ultra sound of her heart. She lay down on the sterile table with a deepening dimple, heart socks, and ribboned pig tails peeking out of her medical gown. The lights were turned down and the medical technician soon had my daughter’s beating heart, twisting and fluttering in various shades of grey, on the monitor before us.
Without any warning my eyes filled with tears as I watched my daughter’s heart beating. My tears were not related to worry. Taking my daughter to the cardiologist did not even register as scary; both my son and I have innocent murmurs. “Why the tears?” I wondered as they continued to fill my eyes.
I had multiple miscarriages. When I became pregnant with my final child—my daughter—I was monitored closely. In the first thirteen weeks of her gestation I had three ultra sounds. I waited desperately to see my tiny thumb sized baby’s flickering heart appear on the monitor. I had seen too many of my babies still, suspended in the black of the monitor, no flickering heart to be seen. When I was fifteen weeks pregnant with my daughter, I had a panic attack. I was sure my child had died inside of me like the others. My midwife confirmed my fear when she could not find the baby’s heart beat with her portable monitor. My husband and I sank into sobbing despair as we waited for an ultrasound to confirm the worst. Thirty minutes later my 14 week old baby’s heart flickered on the screen, beating with life. She was fine. It’s just that she had found a place to rest out of reach of the midwife’s monitor. I watched that heart flickering for a long time before I decided finally, maybe, I could allow myself to fall in love with this child I was carrying.
Today as I watched that once tiny baby’s heart beat and beat and beat, I thought about all the life events that would break that heart wide open with love, compassion, grief, transformation. I thought of the many she would fall in love with and the many who would disappoint her. As her grey heart rhythmically pulsed on the monitor it was as if all of life rushed before me—all that it is to be human contained within the walls of a pumping muscle.
My academic husband makes our children watch educational documentaries (they are not allowed to watch TV on a regular basis so they happily will sit through any documentary, just to have a chance at screen time). Recently they watched the documentary I Am. My middle son was taken with the documentary and shared with me what he learned: the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. With earnest expression that only an eight year old can muster, he proclaimed, “You see, Mom, everyone thinks the brain controls everything, but it doesn’t. It’s the heart. That’s why it hurts all the time, Mom. That’s why I can feel it inside me when I cry. My brain isn’t telling me anything; it’s my heart!”
There you have it. I cried because I saw on a dim grey monitor my daughter’s very being, and for that matter the very essence of who we are as humans, why we ache, why we love, why we are so vulnerable to this beautiful and scary world.
When God makes a new covenant with the Israelites after their exile from the Promised Land, this new covenant is not written as a law code on paper. Instead God proclaims through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will write this promise upon your hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). And the promise is this: “You belong to me. You are my people.”
I did not see the words--you belong to me--on the ultra sound monitor today. But I am sure I could hear them whispered with each beat of my daughter’s heart. She belongs to me, I belong to her, all of us belong to each other. All of us belong to God.
Love is limitless. It is overwhelming. It is life giving. It is wonderfully addictive.
Have you ever been completely overwhelmed by love? Have you ever gone to bed so love-full that you can barely sleep as you recount over and over again that love’s source and its boundlessness?
I am not just speaking of romantic love. I am speaking of all sorts of love. I am speaking of a house filled with good friends that stay up late into the night laughing, misbehaving, and sharing their lives with one another. I am speaking of sleeping children, their delicate hands curled near their faces; simply the sight of these tender bodies sprawled in bed fills your heart to capacity. I am speaking of that first love that is so real, so innocent, that it does not seem possible that it will ever change. I am speaking of a dog bounding to the door, greeting you with a love that yes is non-human, but still very real and life-giving. I am speaking of a shared love that’s memory is so long that words never need to be spoken. I am speaking of the love, in all of its varied connections, which sustains us in every chapter of our lives.
I am a deeply blessed woman. I am married to the love of my life and my three children cause my heart to sing nearly every day (there are some days they simple challenge my patience). I write this not to sound arrogant or even charmed, but because I acknowledge openly how good I have it not as a result of my own doing, but simply out of sheer luck—or in religious terms grace. Yet I have become aware that my view of the sort of love that fills you up to bursting and sustains you each and every day has been far too narrow. I am the sort of woman who has lacked such love-imagination that I have assumed if my husband died my life would end. I am the sort of limited person who forgets that there is so much love in this world that if we just pay attention we will see it bouncing around us like charged electrons.
I have had the rare opportunity to be in relationship with people who seem to steep themselves in daily love. Amazingly these folks are not all married and are not all parents. (Remember: I admitted to my lack of love-imagination). I have observed much love this year: a shared transformational love among a group of women, a childless individual who embraces every child around them with an eager love, a single person who spends little time in self-pity but creates endless non-romantic ways to share love with others, a broken-down-by–life’s-hardships person who never ceases to rejoice in the joy of community and the love it brings to her life, a new again to love man who wells up with tears every time he speaks of his new love, a teenager who has discovered for the first time the wonder of being romantically loved by another, and the pure enjoyment of children who love another because they yet know there is any other way to feel.
Love is limitless. It is overwhelming. It is life giving. It is wonderfully addictive.
Loves ultimate source must be God. What other explanation could there be?
Go out this day and share some love, receive some love, get overwhelmed and rejoice at the wonder of this life sustaining force.
Yet never before, together, as a friendship, have we so desperately needed God to hold not just the world, but us, in agapic love.
Just last week my childhood friend Kimmy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia while she was 35 weeks pregnant with her third child.
Kimmy and I have been best friends since we were both placed in Mrs. Durney’s 2nd grade class. We became friends as a result of happenstance, yet God has transformed our friendship over the past thirty years from childhood chance into something holy other. I wondered, however, as I spent three days with my dear friend on an oncology unit just how that transformation occurred. I wondered how I could count the three days I spent with Kimmy as toxic chemo, pasty platelets, and vivid red blood cells dripped into her blood stream as blessed. I wonder how those three days, which left me utterly exhausted and heartbroken, were deeply holy.
What else are you supposed to do when you learn your childhood friend has been diagnosed with Leukemia and must give birth in order to save her life? You show up. (Note to reader: I am no saint. I did what everyone would do.) I coordinated with her sister, arriving after the initial wave had settled down. Her baby boy was safe and sound in the hospital NNICU and my friend was hooked up to chemo. I brought scarfs and haircutting scissors, advice from others who had gone through cancer treatments and prayers rocks. I also brought knitting, because what is one to do? I assumed I would sit by her bed and knit.
I did knit, but I didn’t do a lot of sitting by her hospital bed. Mostly I spent the days lying beside Kimmy in her bed, cuddled next to her, watching her 5 pound baby boy on the TV screen (hospital IT guys connected a live feed to her TV set). We talked and we talked like we always have. We shared stories of our children. We spoke openly of our fears. We tried to plan for her children’s upcoming weeks without her. We mourned her lost summer plans: working with her eldest on reading, teaching the girls how to swim, nursing her newborn. We wept. We laughed. We shared our lives.
Perhaps my husband said it best, “You and Kimmy are like twin sisters.” Maybe we are. Maybe the holiness of our relationship has to do with an intertwined past. But if that were the answer wouldn’t all childhood friendships swaddled in sweet memories mature into deep relationships? Perhaps God knew we would need one another, but don’t all people need abiding friendships?
I have come to one overly simple conclusion. I believe our friendship moved from blessed to holy on that oncology unit because we continued, as we always have, to share our lives openly and honestly with one another. Yet this time, we did it with full awareness that God, as God always has been, was the third friend listening.
Kimmy and I share a common faith. We both view the world as a place tenderly held in God’s love. Yet never before, together, as a friendship, have we so desperately needed God to hold not just the world, but us, in agapic love. We were held.
Kimmy is not cured. Nothing is okay in her day to day life. My visit certainly did not heal her. Yet our visit with each other somehow, reminded us in a new and profound way that God is ever so close.
For the heck of it, a timeline that made me feel better to record:
1984: K & A spend every weekend at each other’s house
1986: K & A go to different schools but remain best friends
1988: K & A begin wearing matching half-heart bbf necklaces
1994: K & A attend each other’s high school graduations and have sorrowful goodbye’s before the first day of college
2001: K & A both get married and stand up in each other’s weddings
July 2013: Kimmy is diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia while she is 35 weeks pregnant with her third child.
I wonder, in a nation that loves to identify itself as Christian, why has immigration become so complicated?
My friend called me panicked: her husband was in a car accident.
Her husband does not speak English. He is an alien in and alien land. (Leviticus 19:33). As I drove my friend to the scene of the accident, she was on the phone with her husband. I could not understand what they were saying to one another, but I knew they were afraid. Had the Police arrived?
I had assumed that since my friend was speaking with her husband that he was standing beside his crushed car, unable to speak with the driver of the other car, needing our help to relay insurance information or call a tow truck. When we arrived at the scene, I quickly realized that was not the case.
We could see from a distance the flashing lights. There were fire trucks, ambulances, police cars. My friend’s husband was strapped to a back board desperately trying to use his cell phone with his restricted arms.
The fire fighters must have seen the fearful look on my face. They quickly assured us that everyone would be okay. The EMT’s were relieved that my friend could translate so they could understand the severity of her husband’s injuries. I offered my friend’s information to the police officers on the scene: name, phone number, address. Should I give them their real address or mine? Would they find out he was undocumented?
“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33
My friend and her husband are fine. The feds have not arrived at their door. They’ve had to do all the normal things after a car accident: insurance claims, paying the tow company to take their car to the junk yard, and living as a one car family until they save enough money for an additonal car.
The emergency workers that arrived that night were excellent. Luiz’s lack of English was treated as an inconvenience, not as something that marked him as less that human. For that, I was and am deeply grateful.
Yet the sight of Luiz strapped into a stretcher, his head stabilized, emergency workers surrounding him, clutching his phone, desperately waiting for our arrival, lodged itself deep inside me.
I had never realized how much power I possess until I saw Luiz on that stretcher. I am white. I am educated. I speak English. I am American. I have credit cards, bank accounts, and investment funds. I have many connections with other powerful people like me. I have never once felt helpless. Emotionally vulnerable, yes. Unaware what to do next, yes. But never absolutely helpless.
Luiz is a very capable man. He can do anything with his hands and can make an enormous smile flash on the face of any child he meets. Yet that evening he could do nothing. He was utterly helpless, utterly dependent on the arrival of his wife.
We can treat undocumented, non-English speak immigrants anyway we want. Like Luiz, they are utterly helpless in many, if not most, situations. We hold all the power. This awareness has left me bereft for my friend and Luiz.
What protection does Luiz have as an alien in an alien land?
I am a Christian, long before I am an American. The man I follow spoke of a totally new world order where the first shall be last (Matthew 20) and the poor are blessed (Matthew 5). He reminded his followers that we could not act anyway we like, but instead the law of love, not power, governs us (John 13 & Matthew 22). And the God of the Hebrew Bible was very clear about how to treat aliens in an alien land who had no tribal protection: the same as a native. (Leviticus 19:33)
I wonder, in a nation that loves to identify itself as Christian, why is the immigration question so complicated?
*Be warned, I am about to admit to complete, irrational, unreasonable belief.*
I am a mostly rational person when it comes to faith. But there are a few things that I believe that are irrational—at least from a 21st century scientific perspective. The biggest: I believe in the resurrection hook, line, and sinker. The virgin birth—totally
not convinced. I think Mary and Joseph had sex. Good for them! Jesus walking on
water? Powerful metaphor. But the resurrection, I believe in literally, to my very core. Perhaps this is just faith. Perhaps this is just hopeful thinking. I’m not sure.
I am a questioning believer and an adamant follower of Jesus. I’m not big on
doctrine, but I’m an ordained minister—go figure? I’m the first person to admit
I think the Bible is riddled with mistakes and even some blatant mistruths, that
prayer is complicated and mostly only changes my internal attitudes, and the
doctrine of substitutionary atonement (read my former blogs) is hog wash. Don’t
worry; I can’t be kicked out of the church for saying these things. I’ve already
broken my ties with any denomination.
But the resurrection? The belief that Jesus was dead and three days later walked out of the grave, appeared to the women, stuck out his bloody hands to Thomas to reassure him, and then ate fish beside the sea shore with the other disciples who had fled and gone back to business as usual. Yes, I believe it all. And because I believe this, I believe also that Jesus wasn’t just that guy, but the guy, the human form of God.
A faithful companion along the journey commented: “Sorry, Abby, I can’t worship a
zombie.” I respect that and even find the comment comically accurate. So why do
I believe in the resurrection? I don’t have an answer. At least not a good
answer. I can only offer the following:
I believe in God and for this reason, I believe in hope, even when realistic people
tell me to be hopeless. I gave up believing that God could rescue starving
orphans, Haitians from earth quakes, a mother with debilitating depression,
victims of violence, struggling families, a child with every learning disability
known (my list could continue). So if I believe in a powerless God and every day
I encounter the utter brokenness of this world, then what’s the point? I am left
with no choice than to believe in a God who does something!
I believe in a God who loves.
I believe in a God whose love is more powerful, more healing, and more creative than anything we broken humans can imagine.
I believe in a God who invites us into a dance of co-creating love.
I believe in a God whose love is active in this world through this dance of co-creation.
I believe in a God who grants hope to the hopeless. Real hope.
What does this have to do with the resurrection? The resurrection is the ultimate
expression of God’s co-creating love.
God did not possess the sort of military power that could defeat the systematically
violent Roman Empire. Hence Jesus died a brutal death on the cross. But God did
possess the power of co-creating love that sprang Jesus from the grave.
Together, Jesus and God defeated suffering and death with this co-creating love.
The resurrection, the defeat of the grave, continues to offer today the final
This final word gives me hope for the starving orphan, the depressed mother, the
individual facing PTSD after a childhood filled with violence, the cancer
patient, the Haitian rebuilding his community. The resurrection calls me to
dance with love on my darkest days, when I am sure there is only suffering to be
found in the world. The resurrection calls me to co-create in this world,
instead of sitting and weeping. The resurrection calls me to roll up my sleeves,
to pull out my check book, to fall to my knees, to utter a prayer, to hold on.
The resurrection is God’s final proof that love is more powerful than anything
else, even evil, even death.
I know that what I believe can be questioned. I know my systematic theologian
husband can poke holes in my argument. I don’t care. It’s what I believe. It’s
the experience of one broken disciple, following Jesus, placing one foot in
front of the other on the journey, and feeling powerlessness yield to an even
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.