My mother, Charlotte, is on a Walk to Emmaus this weekend, "a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders." The program is a ministry of the United Methodist Church (I grew up Methodist). At the end of the retreat, each person receives letters from family and friends to encourage and affirm them in their walk with God. Here's what I wrote to Mom:
I suppose the trick in writing a letter like this one is to somehow communicate meaning without making it sound like a memorial. Forgive me if I end up doing the latter instead of the former – in our culture (and perhaps a little in our family), we rarely take the time to sit down and write out our thoughts about another we admire unless they’ve passed.
But you haven’t (passed, that is), so a memorial is not needed; thus, I’ll go with meaning. Sounds like a gameshow, doesn’t it? “I’ll take ‘Meaning’ for $200, Alex.” But I digress.
As I think of you, Char, the theme that runs through my thoughts is that you have always been a person of hope. This hope goes beyond your sayings I remember from my youth:
- “Tomorrow’s another day.”
- “Everything will work out in the end.”
- And, everyone’s sure-to-get-an-eyeroll favorite: “This, too, shall pass.”
These weren’t just phrases to you; this was really (strangely) your outlook. You really did believe that, indeed, tomorrow was another day; that, in fact, everything would work out for the best; and, sure enough, most things did tend to pass (though some of us can only say that looking back, I suppose, and only when we’re asked to write letters about it).
I know it was hard being the lone optimist in the family, but somehow you never seemed all that affected by the oft-moody spirits of those of us born with more Dunham than Richardson in their blood (which, of course, isn’t all that bad; just “pretty good”). And, while I’m almost certain that I still don’t fully understand your perspective and all that goes into it most of the time, I have grown to appreciate it as I’ve grown older, as Megan
is very much like you in this way, which is one of the reasons I’m sure I married her.
Growing up six miles outside of Griggsville, IL (population amazingly still 1,200), I think your hopeful spirit always kept me open to the possibilities – of writing and the proper use of English; of music and the power of song; of sports and the importance of teamwork; of trying different things and being “well-rounded” in life. The hope needed to give myself to these and other possibilities was often yours before it was mine; thank you for sharing.
Metaphorically speaking, your hope always seemed to set the stage for whatever energy I brought to the theater. Had the lights of your hope not been on when I arrived, I doubt I’d have seen the value of working on the production – regardless of what it was or could be – and instead given myself to a much smaller vision of life. I just couldn’t see that far yet.
More than that, though, I experience your hope by what you do as much as by what you say. To this day, I marvel at how you are able to make so many people feel so at home whenever they’re around you. Whether grown-ups or grandchildren, those who relate to you want to because they sense your hope for them – for their joys and their concerns; for their pasts and their futures; for their plans and their persons. Your ease is evident in your manner, as your hope for others stems from your love for them.
This is a very God-like quality, one for which entire theologies have been written in an attempt to explain, understand, and apply to our human frailties. For our purposes here, I think it’s safe to say that we can narrow it down to the words of Jesus in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that
whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Do you see the progression of God’s love for us driving his hope for us? Without love, God would only be our taskmaster, as his hope for our Christ-likeness would have little grace for our insufficient efforts; in the wrong order (i.e. hope to love), God would only be our critic, as his hope for our Christ-likeness would become a condition for his love.
Thankfully, God’s love precedes his hope for us, and his hope for us is empowered by his love. Likewise, your love has always seemed to precede and empower your hope for us, and this is a testimony to God’s common grace to you as one of his creation, and your receiving of his specific grace to you in Christ as one of his followers.
This may seem a bit "too seminary" and unneeded as an explanation, but for most of us (seminary students especially), grasping and understanding this truth is what often stands between us and hope. I know you have your days, but I’m not sure you understand how often you don’t have them, either! You have always been sure and steady, because I think you have always known and never doubted the love of God; indeed your “hope springs eternal” (as I recall another one of your sayings being).
All that to say, Char, thank you for giving me both the seed of your love and the hope that has bloomed from it. For some reason, my tendency always seems to be putting the latter before the former (or sometimes not remembering the former at all), but that’s one of the many things God is at work on and doing in my life; it’s not that I ever lacked for an example, though, either from him (in Jesus) or from you (as Mom).
I hope you have had a wonderful weekend on your Walk to Emmaus and that your time finishes well and with a meaningful sense of how much you are loved – not only by God but also by us, your family. Thank you for never giving up hope that the love you seem to understand and live out so well would be the same love we would know and hope in, too.
I love you and am grateful to be your son,
PS: Megan and the girls send their love and hope you and Dad get a new dog by Thanksgiving.