So they celebrated All Saints Day at church today. I don’t recall having done that before. Not to say I haven’t, but if I had I either tuned it out or didn’t commit it to memory.
But today’s service….I liked it. It was a time to remember those “saints” that God has used in the lives of those in the church, who now celebrate life in heaven. It made me think about those people in my own life who God used to change me.
Some, like John and Nancy Kimmons, were my teachers. I met them when I was nine. John died my first year of college, Nancy just last year. My relationship with each was so different, but they both helped shape so much of what I believe. John was my first adult friend. From him I learned to have an authentic faith….to try to be truthful about things I struggle with and share the stories of where I have been and where I am going. Nancy taught me to live what I say I believe. She made me do the hard things, even if at times I did it (do it) begrudgingly (and sometimes possibly hating her in the process for “making me”). She changed quite a bit during the years I knew her, and our roles in each other’s lives changed, too. Forty-five years of influence….that’s a very long time…and moving from teacher to encouraging friend to someone who I could encourage…I learned such valuable lessons from her.
And then I think of Bryan French. Bryan was in my youth group in Greensboro (where the Kimmon’s son John was my pastor and their grandchildren other members of the youth group.) When I met Bryan he had had one brain surgery and then in his high school years he had several more (incidentally performed by Dr. Ben Carson at Johns Hopkins). I think I was to Bryan what John Kimmons Sr. had been to me….his adult friend. Well, if he ever thought of me as a “real” adult. He was my concert buddy….I took him to his first concert (unknowingly) and then we went to many more. With Bryan I learned to pray harder, to focus as I did so, and to look to God for answers. I also learned to just say what I thought, when I thought it. There was no pretense in our conversation. When we talked, we talked truth. We discussed the possibilities in his life, including the possibility that he could die before me. He smiled and said he would be saving me the good concert seats. That thought still makes me smile today, as it also makes me cry. When Bryan died one thing I never doubted….he knew he was loved by me and by many others. He also knew he was loved by God. His intense desire to live, alongside his trust in God’s plan for his life, gave me a peace like nothing I had ever known before.
They mentioned Jo Quinn Murphy during the service today. I met Jo when I used to volunteer at the Open Door Clinic on 5th St. Her giving heart, healing hands, and sardonic humor were a beautiful combination, as was her loving relationship with her daughter Molly. Molly always came with Jo to the clinic, sometimes working on homework, sometimes helping count pills in the pharmacy. Jo said she needed to learn to serve, and I think Molly was eight when she told me that. I still grin at Jo’s hatred of the Month of October Pink as she battled breast cancer. I think of the amazing massages she gave me even in the midst of her breast cancer treatment, and how she gave me a foot massage at the last Relay for Life we attended together, because of the nasty hormonal migraine I was suffering. She was a born healer.
Many other faces flashed before my eyes. They mentioned butterflies and it reminded me of my friend Claire. I also remembered my grandparents, my uncle and aunts, my cousin Jonathan, and friends and acquaintances whose life or death changed me.
It’s good to remember and to reflect on these lives who are so entwined with the fabric of who we are, that they still live through us. Oh, so many of these folks would giggle at the very idea of being called saints, but there is a particular beauty in that. It’s not our perfection that usually changes the lives of those around us….it is our presence. And it is our faith in God, even if that faith is shaky or doesn’t look like quite the same as the faith of others around us, that qualifies us as saints.
I love the idea that when we really worship, all of heaven worships with us. When we celebrate what God is doing, they’re celebrating, too. When we’re doing the hard stuff, they’re cheering us on. Life on this earth is short, sometimes even shorter than seems fair, but I believe in a vibrant heaven. I don’t feel like our lives are that far apart from this vibrant heavenly realm.
So happy All Saints day. May those who will greet us in heaven, still be remembered on this earth, and may your life touch the lives of others as they have touched yours. Think for a bit….which of the saints does your life represent and are you passing on the lessons they taught you? Smile at their memory… and pass it on.