Undelivered Cards and Christ’s Love

The hero of my young life was my mother’s mother, Pearl. In a family situation where I always felt I had to prove my worth in order to earn the full measure of love, my grandmother was different. She adored me and loved me with no strings attached; I firmly believe that her unconditional love is what allows me to have faith in a God who loves me unconditionally.
Growing up, my grandparents lived 20 miles to the north, which in that earlier time seemed like a great distance. We only saw them for holidays and birthdays, and of course the supervising of the entire crew of kids for the annual spring cleaning—something that also taught me a vital life lesson, namely, that there is a hell. And it is intimately related to cleaning baseboards and scrubbing the rubber gasket on the fridge door with a toothbrush. I lived with my grandparents for a week or two every summer and when I needed to flee my parents’ house, I lived with her for almost a year. When my marriage failed, I moved back in with her, so needless to say, Pearl and I got to know a lot about each other.
As her memory began to fail and she grew more forgetful, the family decided to put her in a nursing home in Milwaukee, which was about an hour and a half away. By this time I had kids of my own and despite her dementia, she always recognized me and my boys. Her birthday was November 1, and I had a card all signed and ready to go, but when I went down to see her the week before, I forgot to actually give her the card. And I drove all the way back home with the card in the glove box before I realized my own forgetfulness. As a result she never got that birthday card because she died on her birthday, only a few days later. I didn’t have the heart to destroy the card, considering it was the last I was ever going to buy for her, so it traveled with me for years in the glovebox, even changing cars when I traded it in. The card somehow became her gift to me, instead of vice versa, and it was a tangible way to hang on to her love. It was my connection to her.
On a deeper level, holding on to that unopened birthday card revealed my need to be connected, to be remembered, to have and to know my true place in this life. We all want that. Regardless of how old we are or the circumstances of our lives we want to know: Who am I? What are the connections that will sustain my life? Where is my place in this world?
Those are the questions Jesus is addressing as he speaks to his disciples in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Jesus is speaking final words, one last sermon, to his disciples. He is preparing them for the Easter earthquake and the transformation of their lives. And Jesus gives some direct answers to them, reminding them that they are his friends, and that LOVE—the laying down your life kind of love—is the connection that will sustain us. Jesus says this is our place in this world.
I’ve spent a lot of time—decades—looking for those answers and trying to make them my own. It’s taken me a while to realize that intellectual answers don’t matter unless they become lived answers. We learn to trust and live those answers in relationship with one another. And we have two realities to contend with: LIFE teaches us to love. DEATH teaches us how to live.
Our searching for answers to those big questions are really our searching for Christ. We’re always searching, I think, but sometimes we are painfully aware of needing those answers: when a loved one dies; when the last kid grows up and moves out, when we get a new job, when we retire, when our health fails, when we get married or divorced, etc… In those moments we want something to hold on to, something to comfort, encourage, and reassure us; a birthday card that will guide us through life.
I’ve never told anyone about the birthday card in the glove box until today, and as I was putting this sermon together, I realized that the birthday card was not the gift and it was not the thing that carried Grandma’s presence. I am. I was the last thing she touched whenever she hugged and kissed me. I was the one she never forgot, the one she believed to the end who would come to take her back home. I was the one to always know how deeply I was loved, with no strings attached. My life, my actions, my very being still somehow carries her presence, her memories, and our shared love. The connection was and always had been within me not in a greeting card.
Sadness, fear, and desperation often cause us to grip those greeting card, in one form or another. We stuff them in our pockets and purses, trying to hold a connection that already exists, trying to maintain a presence that is already eternal, and hanging on to a love that is already beyond the power of death. We do this not only with each other, we also do it with Jesus. With each greeting card we collect, we forget that our lives already embody the shared love of God and one another. Love is the fullness of presence–a presence that the disciples will eventually realize can transcend time, distance and even death itself.
The Risen Jesus does not give us something, he says we ARE something. We are the gift. We are the connection.
* I love you with the same love that the Father loves me. You have what I have.
* I give to you the joy that my Father and I share. You are part of us.
 *You are my joy, my life, and my purpose.
 *I want your joy to be full, complete, whole, and perfect.
 *You are my friends, my peers, my equals.
 *I have told you everything. Nothing is held back or kept secret.
 *I chose you. I picked you. I wanted you.
* I appointed, ordained, commissioned, and sent you to bear fruit, to love another. I trust and believe you can do this.
It’s all about us in the best sense of those words because we are the love of Christ. Our belief in Jesus’ words changes how we see ourselves, one another, the world, and the circumstances of our lives. That belief is what allows us to keep his commandment to love one another. When we know these things about ourselves, what else can we do but surrender ourselves to love?
The challenge of our search is not to find the answers and store them away, rather it is to accept them and live them. Who am I? I am the love of Christ. What are the connections that will sustain my life? The love of Christ. Where is my place in this world? The love of Christ.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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2 Responses to Undelivered Cards and Christ’s Love

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is beautifully spoken my dear friend – Rev Susan

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