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This blog is for my sister-in-law Lisa, a great woman of faith, and a woman who records it all!
It is the moment in my life during which I was certain I had arrived into the life I had dreamed of. And I am positive if I were to watch a recorded clip of this moment it would not be half as wonderful as it is in my memory.
At the end of the wedding over which I recently presided, the groom took out his cell phone and snapped a selfie of himself, his bride, and me right before they walked down the aisle. The new norm is to capture every unfolding moment with our cell phones. When my youngest learned how to ride her bike just a few weeks ago, my middle son filmed her pedaling away while I ran beside her (note: it was a small miracle that I actually had my phone). Afterwards, my three kids gathered around me and watched the 10 second clip. And what did we do next? Uploaded it to facebook, of course. Even more telling of the new cultural norm, we texted the clip to my husband in India so he could watch his girl’s determined cycling.
I wonder if this obsession with visually recording every life moment will eventually lose its luster? Or maybe in the future my children will be disappointed when they discover I did not record every moment of their lives with my phone.
My mother was a picture taker back in the 70s. I love to find envelopes of pictures hidden away in my childhood home. The pictures are a window into my very happy childhood. But certainly my mother did not record every adorable moment. Her snap shots are predictable: my grandmothers and me after my dance recital, blowing out the candles on my ten year old birthday cake, 4th grade field day. Pictures were expensive to develop and parents couldn’t live their lives with large cameras dangling from their necks.
But still the memory of my childhood, with or without my mother’s pictures, comes flooding back to me likes stills in an old movie. I am afraid that if I were to come across thousands of pictures of every growing up moment, my childhood would seem less sublime and much more ordinary.
Recently my three children and I met my husband at the airport after his three week trip to India. As we waited for him to walk through the security gate my children were overwhelmed with anticipation. They could not contain their excitement, sure every man slightly taller than 5 feet qualified as their father.
When my husband finally did walk through the gate my three children rushed to him screaming. They threw themselves upon him and would not let go. I have no snap shot. No family selfie. No clip. I did not post it to Facebook or text my mother-in-law with the picture of her grandchildren greeting her baby boy. Instead my children’s greeting will forever remain in my memory and my husband’s and hopefully theirs.
There are no words to describe what it feels like to watch your beloved children greet your beloved husband with such exuberant love. And there is no snapshot, no selfie, no clip that could capture such a moment. Nothing could record the beating of my heart as I watched my children love the man I married. No recording was necessary. It is the moment in my life during which I was certain I had arrived into the life I had dreamed of. And I am positive if I were to watch a recorded clip of this moment it would not be half as wonderful as it is in my memory.
If the disciples had cell phones would we bother following Jesus today? If the stories we have been told about the man from Nazareth were not stories passed through generations and changed by time, but instead forever frozen in a clip, would they carry the same poignancy? If I could watch with one tap Jesus’ healing of the paraplegic, would I be moved to tears or despair?
Some might argue that such clips would substantiate Jesus’ life and ministry, offer proof to doubters. I, on the other hand, am utterly disinterested in proof. I am drawn to Jesus because of the way his life intersects with mine and the mysterious emotions that intersection gives birth to. If what is recorded about Jesus actually happened exactly as said is of little concern to me. I am more moved that the stories of his life have been told, and told, and told, again and again, with the same intensity of emotion, the same strengthening of community, the same blossoming of meaning and purpose. This telling, and its fruits, has fed my faith.
I am certain my grandchildren will rather hear of the June afternoon their parents raced to greet their grandfather after his three week trip. I am certain my telling, years after it happened, will convey with greater depth the power of that moment upon my life, than if I had recorded it with my phone. I am certain that my telling will change, but one truth will remain: it is a moment that will forever shape me.
In the same way, I am certain that many of the stories about Jesus have changed over the years. But I am also certain that these stories remain because something so powerful and beautiful occurred that demand that they be told. The preacher Tex Sample begins every Bible story by saying, “I don’t know if things happened this way or not. But I know this story is true.”
Don’t stop taking pictures. Or even selfies or clips. They are a new and beautiful way to tell the human story. But please do more than use your cell phones. Be present to the moments unfolding before you in such a way that they are lodged in your heart forever. Please share them with the next generation. And remember—truth is more important than accuracy. All of our stories are true.
I am not talking about the miraculous-shake-the-foundations sort of God’s presence that too often is presented to us in faith narratives. I am talking about the mundane daily presence of God that is revealed in the smallest gestures of every day conversations about things like pie, children, Drano, and dog odor eliminator.
Warning: Do not think for a moment I am a spiritually centered human being. I am a broken-nut-job always struggling to center myself in God’s love. The below story is a rare three days.
Tuesday: Nine loads of laundry, dead mini-van, new battery, clogged kitchen sink (no dishwasher), flooded basement, accumulating dishes, dog with bladder infection, dog pee spots all over carpets, three trays of lasagna.
Wednesday: More laundry, dirty dishes accumulating, dog escape, friend confesses they have an addiction problem, shampoo rugs, phone call from friend fighting leukemia, lasagna delivered and visit with friend recovering from a stroke, kitchen sink still plugged.
Thursday: Kitchen sink finally unplugged, laundry almost done, carpets dry, first load of dishes washing, basement still needs cleaning, writing instead.
Here are the details missing from the above list:
· The men who changed my battery were kind and we talked about our favorite pies to eat.
· My husband and Aunt helped me fold all the laundry.
· Three trays of lasagna were baked which meant a great meal for three families (not to mention I had enough money to buy the food in the first place).
· I had left over antibiotics to treat my dog.
· A handy friend showed up to fix my sink, working at it for two hours.
· Three friends called me on Tuesday having no clue what my days was like to just say hi, they loved me.
My bed was warm that night.
· A neighbor put my dogs back in the house.
· Someone trusted me enough to ask for help to end their addiction.
· My plumber handy friend returned to try to fix my sink again.
· A dog loving friend showed up with extra dog odor carpet spray.
· My dear friend Kimmy spoke these words over the phone to me: I’m going to survive because I love my children. Your friend who had a stroke will too, because she is a mother.
· Sat with friend who suffered a stroke and we laughed, cried, and she told me how she thanks God every day and then spoke these words: I am going to survive because my children need me.
· My husband bought me flowers.
I am glad Tuesday and Wednesday are behind me. I am worn out and am sick of house work. Yet my two exhausting days were strewn with God’s presence at every turn. I am not talking about the miraculous-shake-the-foundations sort of God’s presence that too often is presented to us in faith narratives. I am talking about the mundane daily presence of God that is revealed in the smallest gestures of everyday conversations about things like pie, children, Drano, and dog odor eliminator.
I noticed that something in me has shifted over the past few years. I was readily thankful on Tuesday and Wednesday for what was instead of what was not. To keep myself from bursting into frustrated tears,* I reminded myself out loud that I was not walking thirty miles in search of food at a refugee camp with my children clinging to me for safety. Instead, I was facing blessed first world problems. I am positive this shift in me is a result of my accumulated years now spent as a follower of Jesus. I am also positive that for me it has to do with Jesus, but that other spiritually wise folks I know live with gratitude after years spent practicing their own particular faith. I am also positive that it took me a while to arrive at this state of gratitude; it has been a journey with many accumulated miles of practicing gratitude before it became a way of living.
Something else happened on Wednesday. I am not sure what. Perhaps it was a result of gratitude on Tuesday that led me to Wednesday. But it was clear to me as I spoke with my three friends who are fighting addiction, cancer, and a stroke that God was ever so near. As the three spoke with me, I could feel God’s presence as a third person in the conversation. As I listened to the honest, intimate admission of an addict, as I heard the absolute resolve to survive and recover from cancer and a stroke, I knew that there was no other explanation in this terribly beautiful world where sinks clog, dogs pee, cars break down, and parents carry their children over borders to refugee camps, than a God who loves us.
Maybe this equation doesn't make sense, but to me it makes all the sense in this world.
Profoundly beautiful and terrifying love saturated world = Drano + honesty + addiction + odor remover + cancer + refugee camps + flowers + stroke + laundry + handy friend + lasagna + conversation + neighbor + car battery + pie + love.
*I am human, not spiritually superior. I was on the verge of crying many times on Tuesday and spoke candidly to my husband about the financial stress of all that went down, wondering just how we would pay for everything.
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.