A Lenten Journey Through the Valley -- Rev. Julie Long
Four weeks ago, I joined with many of you at the altar of our sanctuary to have ashes placed upon my forehead in the shape of a cross. On that Wednesday, we embarked on the Lenten journey together to remind ourselves of our mortality and our humanity.
As I mouthed those words, “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,” on Ash Wednesday, I had no idea how quickly I would collide with this truth, with the fragility of life. When on the Tuesday after Ash Wednesday I learned that my father had died in a tragic accident, I was thrust into the Lenten journey in a way in which I never expected to find myself.
For me, this Lenten season has led me through the valley of the shadow of death. In the valley, I’ve confronted shock, deep sadness, anger, and lots of questions. But at times I have remembered that for shadows to exist there must be some source of light. Here are a few of the places where I’ve glimpsed light.
First, I’ve faced the truth that life is fragile. My father was one of the healthiest 63-year-olds I know. An avid skeet shooter, he was as careful and cautious about his sport as anyone. Yet in the quickness of the firing of a shotgun shell, his life was gone. It sounds cliché and emotionally charged (and probably is!), but it is so true that we never know what the next day holds. We must be intentional about living good and purposeful lives. The light for me on this part of the journey has been that my father tried to do just that.
Second, I have sought light by trying to make space for Mystery. We will never know exactly what caused that shotgun to discharge. Nor will I ever be able to answer the questions of why things like this happen. At my father’s funeral, his pastor, Mike Ruffin, quoted the words of one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Those words were a powerful reminder for me of Mystery and have been a source of comfort and light for me.
Through it all, I have been left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am grateful that my Dad had a life well-lived – not perfect, but good and honest and true to himself. I am grateful that he often told me and showed me how much he loved me and how proud he was of me. I am grateful that he enjoyed life, cared for others, and took time to delight in those he loved.
I am grateful to have found God along this journey. I have felt God’s embrace in the open arms that greet meet with hugs on a daily basis. I have tasted God’s goodness in the meals that have sustained us. I have been overwhelmed by God’s word of comfort in the many cards, calls and emails that have been sent our way. I saw the face of God in the faces of church members who drove from Macon to be present at the visitation and the funeral. And I’m pretty sure there was a bit of the Divine in that banana pudding that was delivered to our home this week!
I am well aware that this Lenten journey is just beginning for me and that it will not end when the cloth in the sanctuary turns from purple to white. But I do look forward to Easter. I pray that even as I still find myself in the valley, I will be reminded of hope and life and light. I will rest in God’s promise that the worst things are never the last things, and I will be grateful for the good gifts from God that I have found, even in the valley.