My grandfather would pick us up every Sunday morning in his Pontiac Grand Am, and we would drive from the city for 20 minutes or so through rolling hills and farm land into the southern end of Lancaster County to the church he pastored. It didn't feel like 20 minutes. Especially after church when you couldn't wait to get home to lunch after Pop's preaching went long. But I liked the drive. I liked the way the road meandered through farm country. I liked how the creek twisted and turned beside us. I like watching the way the fields would change through the seasons. The fields were a patchwork quilt of colors and textures. Up close, of course, all you could see was cut down corn and dirt, but from the top of the hill you could see one field was cut down while another was green. You could see the pattern that the farmer had tilled the land and planted the seed.
Sometimes I think about my own life this way. It is easy to get caught up in the moment, the very close perspective of the mundane and the routine, but when I get to look from a hill top, I am amazed at the textures and colors that have woven together as my life.
This weekend I had the opportunity to look from a hill top.
On Saturday, another friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. It seems like it was not that long ago that I was tearfully praying in the backyard over the last friend. Both were special men and there is a gap in the world now. This particular friend was unique, perhaps an unlikely missionary-a well inked biker, wearing a full gray beard and a doo rag, larger than most men, louder than most too-but that is how I see him. He fostered celebration and laughter. He helped those in need. He wasn't intimidated by church people. He was a bridge between two worlds. For all his faults and weaknesses, and I know he had plenty, this Easter Sunday, as I sat in church listening to the preacher that our friend introduced us to, I thought what if...
If he hadn't called the helpline and I hadn't answered
If he hadn't started a meeting that helped so many
If he hadn't been willing to be in service
If he hadn't invited the husband to an Easter play
If I had been as stubborn as usual and not gone
If we hadn't gone to third service together
If we hadn't sat in front with them
If we hadn't become good friends as a couple with so many things in common
If those things had changed, the whole landscape of my life would be different. I never wanted to do church. I wasn't even looking for God. But, sitting in church this Sunday, I thought how many gifts our friend gave us.
The husband and I have a different marriage, well, even the fact that we are STILL married.
We have a living faith in an active God that has grown in huge ways.
We know the importance of Christian community to us, even when it feels awkward.
And we know that sitting up front is the best way to focus in church, and there are always seats.
We have dear, dear friends who are like family to us.
I began to believe I had something to say, I had value, I could lead because of connections from church.
And you never know who might be waiting for an invitation to join you at church, so just do it.
My friend was influential in the lives of many, many others. He has affected the landscape of their hearts as well. In the past, I made sure to tell him how he a significant part of our life, but I don't know if he believed it. It can be difficult to believe good things grow around us when all we see are cut down fields and dust. Sometimes we just have to wait for a hill top to get the proper perspective.
I hope you see it now, Ralph.