“Buncher”

My grandparents call each other “Buncher.” I have no idea why, but they do. Sometimes they shorten it to “Bunch.” Their term of endearment for one another is just a tiny snapshot into their rich life together. Seven children, nineteen grandchildren, and four point five great-grandchildren who live within an hour’s drive (save a few of us who have defected–well really just me), their love for their family and for God is a model for me. It has shaped my life more than I know. When I’m around my family, all 45+ of us, I feel like I’m a part of something bigger than me. They make me not want to live so far away.

Over two weeks ago I got news that my grandmother had her second stroke. She was with my grandfather, my great aunt (her sister, Marg), and my mom boarding a cruise ship on the west coast of Italy. Until last night, she was in a hospital in this port town recovering. Mom said it wasn’t a great town. “I didn’t see any stores I wanted to go into,” she said. I wasn’t able to talk to my mom much, but the family has been emailing a ton. The email list consists of the seven siblings and their spouses, Aunt Marg’s eight children, plus many of the nine children of my grandmother’s brother, Bob. To say there’s a lot of communication is an understatement. But living hundreds of miles away, I’m thankful for the updates.

Interestingly, Mom told me that both strokes have been in times of great joy for Grandma.

The first: Grandma was surrounded by her family listening to her nephew play piano music her mother had played in her childhood.

The second: the moment she boarded the cruise ship bound for the Holy Land. She leaned over the rail of the boat and cried out in wonder at the sight.

According to my mom, some days are better than others in terms of her lucidity. The first thing she said after the stroke was,

I love my husband, I love my God, and I love my family.”

I love that no matter what her physical or mental condition, she is sure of what she loves. The right side of her body is still immobile, and we are hoping for some great therapy in the weeks and months to come. It’s hard to hear news that she isn’t always recognizing her family, and that she doesn’t always know where she is. My grandparents are full of life and love; they hate to miss a thing! I know it’s killing them to be so immobile right now.

Today she is back in Annapolis after a flight across the Atlantic in a special plane where she could lie down throughout the trip. We are so thankful for the doctors, nurses, lawyers, family members and friends who worked hard to get her home safely. It was quite a feat after release papers were literally ripped up in my mom’s face. I can’t wait to be home for Thanksgiving to see her. Today, more than ever, I praise God for her life.

The most handsome couple in Annapolis!

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A Prayer for Easter

Today I missed my family. Sometimes it is hard to be so far away, especially when my mom says things like “when you are not here, it feels like something is missing.” It’s hardest on holidays when I get phone calls from my family together on their way to be with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Being together with such a group reminds me that I am a part of something greater than myself. They are so much a part of who I am; it feels unnatural to be distant from them.

But as I arrived at church early this morning to set up, I felt a different kind of family. For me, the ritual of preparing for worship tangibly (setting out communion wine, ordering the nursery for babies, hanging signs directing newcomers) helps me prepare emotionally to worship together with my church family. Especially today. As I greeted dear friends and welcomed visiting families, we prepared together to come to the table and eat, to sing, and to hear the message of the gospel, which we need to hear again and again. As I offered Christ’s blood shed for the sins of each communing man and woman today and shared tears with many friends, I knew I was just where I needed to be. In serving communion to people I know and love, people with stories of pain, people with stories of joy, I found myself using the napkin to dry my face as well as the wine cup.  Today, this was my family. He is risen, indeed.

As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, our hearts are stirred to praise, but we are reminded that there is redemption left to come. We can rejoice in the “already,” but we still feel pangs of the “not yet.” For me, I feel this especially on occasions when we are called to joy. As I rejoice in my church family, I miss sharing in the meal with those I love who are not here. But I am thankful that God reminds me of his love, and how he continually shows me that he is at work–sometimes mightily, sometimes softly. As we look at the ways He has moved mightily in our church since it’s beginning, we are humbled by His grace and hopeful for what is to come. Here, I am a part of kingdom work, and its beauty captured me today.

Anne’s congregational prayer articulated my heart, and I had to share it. These days, I’m finding deep strength in praying words others have prayed.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Today is a day of hope, renewal…LIFE.  Jesus, we celebrate you!

Because you have been raised from the dead, everything changes.

Thank you that on the cross, You dealt with all that distorts and defaces human life. And Lord Jesus, we acknowledge you are on your way back to put all things right and redress all wrongs.

But God, for some of us, even when we are celebrating or enjoying something good, our pain is still with us.  Pain of grief, loss, guilt, disappointment, loneliness and fear.

We all find our lives in a mess of one sort or another:

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.

We are perplexed and not sure what to do, but we aren’t driven to despair because we know You know what to do.

We are hunted down, but are never abandoned by You.

We get struck down, but we are not destroyed.

So, even though it often looks like things are falling apart, You are making new life, and not a day goes by without You unfolding more grace.

While we realize the darkness is not yet over, may we also remember that the darkness of trials is not out of reach from your Redemptive hand.

And remind us that these hard times are tiny compared to the coming good times, the extravagant celebration prepared for us…

God, we know that as You raised the Lord Jesus, you will raise us also. Thank you! And thank you for the knowledge that those we love, who have died in the Lord, will live; their bodies will rise again — Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color.

Not only do You promise to swallow up death forever.
Isaiah says that you, The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces;

Thank you for your tender love.

Because this gospel is true, free my friends and me from the pettiness and emptiness of living for ourselves.

God, give us courage to see and feel our sins against you.  In the face of all this amazing truth of your love for us, we still decide to please & protect ourselves – to do what seems best for our time, our schedule, our feelings and our advancement.

We neglect those who are hurting around us.

We often live according to the patterns of this broken world, trusting in our own words, strengths and abilities.

We doubt your power and presence – the same power that brought you back to life.

We ask for your forgiveness.

It is your kindness, Lord that leads us to acknowledge these sins against you.  Since you don’t forsake those who seek you, we come to you now, in need of cleansing and renewal.

Thank you, Lord, that it is your grace alone that sets us free from these sins! Your life, death and resurrection bring us into your heavenly family and forever place us in relationship with you. Give us faith and courage to trust these truths and to live by them!

Because of your compelling love, show us how to live for you… Mold us into a body of people who are aware of this beautiful Story of Redemption you are writing.  Show us what it means to wait on You in the midst of our stories and to wait with others in theirs.  Stir in us all the faith to remember how You have worked redemption in the past.  Let the knowledge of your Risen Son propel us out — to go into our community in the confidence that You are at work, that Jesus is Lord, that the Spirit can and does heal, renew and transform broken lives.

Amen.

–Anne Henegar