After being home with my kids and homeschooling them for the last 21 years, I have headed back into the world of substitute teaching . When I tell people where I will be, they warn me and try to “prepare” me, my own child included. They care about me and worry about me, because in some ways, they see me in this moment alone, as if I was the one homeschooled and never out in the “real” world before. Being a pastor’s wife I must not have rubbed up against the “dregs of society”, or have any pulse on what goes on out there. Thankfully, I have not been locked in a house for 21 years (neither were my children for the record), although many things I know about and have seen would probably freak them out, if truth be told. I have had the privilege to hear and be part of many people’s stories, so at this point in my life very little shocks me. My heart may hurt or be heavy, but shock is a different story. But because they only know me in this context, in one role, they need to warn me.
As much as I want to declare to these people that this is not the only life I have lived, I am reminded of that lesson from many years ago, where I needed someone to say that to me. There was a precious soul in our first church. I loved her. Everyone loved her. I met her later in her battle with breast cancer. She looked old and weak. I did not know her any differently. I noticed a twinkle in her eyes though, a sort of mischief about them and I was drawn to her because of that. She also had a heart of worship, even in her agony she would have her husband help her stand up to dance before the Lord. She wanted to be part of the action, especially if it involved adventure or trouble. I would include her and try to walk slower and wait for her, but I was only seeing the surface, this warn out, tired, sick woman. Somehow in my mind that was who she was or had always been. I guess if I had taken time to think about it I would have known how false that was.
At her Celebration of Life service there were photos of her life. I was stunned when I realized she was about my age. My heart ached at all the pictures of the young, free spirit who could instigate the mischief and adventure instead of just tagging along. It made me realize how I had interacted with her, and what was happening to her body at the moment, not who she really was. I loved her and enjoyed her tremendously, and learned so much from her, but it makes me sad that I missed more. I missed getting to know her deeper soul, her truer self that was a full life that just happened to have cancer in the moment I knew her. And she chose to live life well, and intentional, in spite of it. She chose to show me grace and do life partially with me even though I am sure she could tell how I saw her, such grace. When someone treats me that way, I am tempted to pull up my sleeves and show people my scars or pull out the albums to convince them about my whole self, not just this one little role they know me in. She just loved me and came into my life wherever I let her, for that, and so much more, I am grateful.
When I meet someone I do try to remember, especially when I meet an older person or someone who is sick, they are a conglomerate of a lifetime of experiences, loves, losses, gifts, and hurts. They are not just this decaying body that can no longer do certain things. They have memories and experiences that make them who they are, that have brought them to this point. Sometimes I forget though, when I meet someone making bad choices, or far off the path. I forget that this is not who they really are and their life is full of things to go back to or things that drove this to this point. When God reminds me, it gives me better eyes to see and heart to hear. It keeps me from being critical, or just pitying a person. It helps me to enter into their story to really see them, to learn from them and even enjoy them. I am thankful for those who have offered me grace to learn this lesson over and over. And now in this new season of my life I am choosing to be thankful for the opportunity to be that one who can offer the grace because they just do not know me and that is not their fault. As I remember my friend, I am reminded to share my life as much as they will allow, and enjoy it for what it is.