Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The note

Feeling grateful and giving thanks for the amazing gifts of life and companionship are not things that come easily to me. I spend way too much time trying to figure out what's "happening" in the world and what "needs to happen" to avoid falling prey to the tendency to fixate upon what remains undone, broken, unjust or otherwise unhelpful in the overall scheme of things. And lately I've come to the realization that, far from being prophetic-for prophecy always walks hand-in-hand with a robust vision of hope-my meditations upon the maligned have on balance probably caused more discouragement and alienation than anything else. Why do I share this? I share it because I am trying to grow in this area and by God's grace I'm finding some pretty incredible reasons to be thankful and grateful. I had such an occurrence this past week and wanted to publicly declare it.

Last Sunday I was sweeping our kitchen floor in anticipation of some close friends coming over for brunch. As I swept, I encountered a crumpled note card that had been kicked under one of the cabinets. It was covered with lint and dust. I picked it up, dusted it off and looked it over. I was genuinely astounded by what I found. The note card was a gift from a friend of mine in high school named Angela Phipps. Angela and I became friends because we shared a passion for writing and reflecting on life through our own tender poetry and prose. Angela was a very bright & gifted student, and an even more luminous person. Tragically, she was killed in a car accident during our junior year in high school. I will never forget the day when we learned of Angela's death. Everyone was devastated by the event and the school administration decided to create a space in the library where students could come to talk about what happened and share their feelings. The day was especiallly significant for me because I had a teacher (Eleanor Griffin) who recognized that I needed some extra time to be in that space to process my feelings. But even more, I think Mrs. Griffin realized that it was a special opportunity for me to serve and walk alongside my classmates. I was without a rudder at that point in my life and really struggling to find my way. Mrs. Griffin discerned this about me and made the room for me to be present in that space for most of the day.

As I've reflected on the contents and context of the notecard, I've been powerfully reminded of how that day helped to birth a nascent revolution in my life. A kid with a lot of passion and desire to be with others and serve them, but carrying an awful lot of emotional baggage and pain, began to slowly find his way on that day. The same kid that to this day continues on much the same rocky journey. But how easily we forget where we've come from and how much God has done for us! As I read the beautiful and hope filled words on Angela's note card, I couldn't help but be reminded anew of how much that day meant to me and how unbelievably faithful God has been to me on every subsequent day since. I can look back and laugh at the cheesy nature of my attempts at grief counseling that day-"And ever has it been that love knows not its own depths till the hour of separation"-a line from the poet Kahlil Gibran that I remember reciting to several fellow students that day. But there is no doubt that this day was one of the foundation stone's of my future life; and in typical fashion something that I'd almost completely forgotten until I found that note card on my kitchen floor.

I have no idea where that note card came from or how it ended up on my kitchen floor at such a "kairos" moment in time. However, the message to me is unmistakable. For me it was kind of like King Josiah rediscovering the Torah in ancient Israel. Angela Phipps' life, and all of the vast potential it represented, was cut tragically short. My own life, which was far more uncertain and disordered than hers, was elevated and forever blessed and expanded by the sacred opening that her death created. For the last twenty-one years, by the sheer grace and love of God, I've been allowed to continue slowly (and quite often ineptly) finding my purpose in life by serving others. Truthfully, I doubt that many of my current efforts are any more effective or sophisticated than they were on that first day. But the good news for me is that that simply does not matter. That is not the point. The point is to celebrate the incredible life that I've been given and celebrate the amazing way that God has carried everything precious born in my heart on that and all subsequent days; and to remember the friends like Angela, past and present, who have incarnated this loving effort of our Lord to steward me through life on a good path. I want to conclude by sharing Angela's words, as recorded on the card.

"I have learned to respect the advice as well as the advisor, the actions as well as the actor and the opinions as well as the opinion giver, for we must all realize that without these traits and the people bold enough to give them-we would live in a narrow-minded, unchanging society which would eventually die of ennui."

Angela Phipps

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