On Nov. 8, I flew out of the Cody airport to go home to North Carolina. As we began our long trek across the country, my thoughts quickly turned toward my heartache of knowing it could become the day …
On Nov. 8, I flew out of the Cody airport to go home to North Carolina. As we began our long trek across the country, my thoughts quickly turned toward my heartache of knowing it could become the day I lost my dad. It was the day I had dreaded the most all my life, losing the man with the deepest passion for Jesus Christ I had ever known. Who boldly, fearlessly, and with deep compassion, walked his talk in mission to the world in ways I’ve never seen in another.
It was the longest day I could imagine. I was able to hold it together until the last leg of the trip, when I landed in D.C. and had a three-hour layover before my N.C. connection. I deeply wanted and needed to be with my family, but I just could not get there fast enough, and there was nothing I could do about it.
It was my third airport and 12 hours later, in Washington, D.C., where I finally broke down. Even though I travel often, I became fully aware as I sat down at my gate, a crumbling mess, and noticed every single person had their earphones in and their heads down pointed toward whatever device they were connected to; no one ever looked up for three hours; not a single person’s eyes ever met mine. I have never felt so alone in my life. At that moment I longed for just one person to look up and offer their “presence” at this critical moment, but it never happened.
Finally, I landed in North Carolina and ran to the curb where my son picked me up. What a blessed relief to walk into that hospital room filled with my family and my dad still among us and fully aware and engaging, for three more hours. He had fought the good fight, faithfully finished his race here on earth, and then I’m sure he busted heaven wide open! The last hours around that hospital bed with my family and our dad was the holiest ground I’ve ever had the privilege of standing upon.
I get it: We are all plugged in and live in a different culture. A new era has dawned, one that robs us of the present, where no one wants to encounter another person for fear they may have to give of themselves and have a conversation or get involved. These days, fear and apathy have a more prominent place in our responses to others’ as the culture continues to build that in our counter-culture living for God’s kingdom building.
After everything I’ve experienced as a person and a pastor, I believe, now more than ever, we need to treat everyone as if we are all going through something painful, because we all are! We don’t have to know what it is, but we need to “show up” for each other for God. My hope is we could “be” the presence of God so healing and wholeness might have a fleeting chance in the midst of this broken, suffering world.
What has happened to our daily response of love, forgiveness, praying for each other, kindness, meeting people where they are? One thing I know for sure, Jesus always looked up, and he always stopped, and he always gave to every person wherever they were and whoever they were — more than they asked.
Finding myself completely lost and alone following this new gut-wrenching grief in my life, God showed up and gave me more than I asked for and something I didn’t even know I needed. Providentially, one of my dearest seminary friends took the time to say a few exact words I desperately needed, which also brought the answer that would enable me to carry on my dad’s legacy. He said, “You just keep loving the world like your dad taught you!”
And my heart exploded — with my dad’s single, famous, bold, “Amen!”
So, here’s the thing. We are created and designed to be in relationship with one another. What would happen if we committed to make God’s dream come true by faithfully responding and showing up for God for all his people? Before every person becomes an island as we all stop looking up, and we lose the compassion to respond at all, to meet the least of these, any of these, as hot tears pour down a stranger’s face as we walk past them, one who is in desperate need of the presence of Christ?
(Rev. Melinda Penry is the pastor of First United Methodist Church.)