Cheryl sat in her wheelchair Sunday after Sunday. She made her way to the sanctuary thanks to the efforts of her friends and her presence there made a difference.
Afflicted with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, she was unfailingly hopeful, deeply interested in the comparatively minor struggles of her friends, and deeply in love with God and those around her.
When I think of Cheryl, I remember her faith and courage. I am also reminded that there are always gifts that we can give to one another — regardless of the apparent limits and frustrations that slow us and seemingly confine us.
Shortly before her death we held an appreciation dinner meant to thank her for the gifts she gave to each of us. I was away at the time, so I wrote to Cheryl. It captures only a bit of what we received from her seemingly weak hands — which were, in fact, filled with strength.
I had so hoped to be with you today. So, this letter is a poor substitute; and typewritten only to insure that you are able to read it.
When I was much younger, like most adults I think that I measured much of life in terms of physical well being and freedom from pain. It’s not hard to imagine why, I think. We live in a world where much of our energy is focused on staying healthy and which endlessly features perfect, strong bodies. I think it can also be traced to being consoled when I was younger with the words, “you always have your health.” In fact, of course, none of us enjoy the kinds of flawless, undiminished strength we imagine having; and those who do enjoy years of strength are never able to keep it.
What I have realized, as a result, is that true strength, growth, and wholeness is about something that lies much deeper. A strength and wholeness of soul and spirit that shines through in courage, compassion, love, and prayers that do not finally depend upon our physical strength at all.
You, dear one, are such a person; and we are stronger and closer to being whole, thanks to your life and witness. Worship will always and everywhere be about adoring and giving thanks to God. But no one who attends the nine o’clock service can have failed to notice that a congregation that goes about the business of worship with a fairly predictable set of habits, makes a singular exception in greeting you. I have watched enough congregations to know that the regular round of greetings, smiles, and hugs from young and old is not a function of sympathy. We don’t feel sorry for you. We are drawn to you.
We are drawn to you because the grace, love, and wisdom that God works out in our lives is something we see and feel worked out in your life; and that realization gives us hope. We have felt it in your smile, in your words, in the wise counsel, and gracious spaces that you have created for each of us along the way —- in the ways you have reached across the difficulties and struggles of your own life to remind us of God’s love for each of us.
Know this and hold onto it in the days ahead, Cheryl…..the space that you occupy in our lives is not tied to that space in the sanctuary where you sit every Sunday, but in our hearts and spirits.
God’s keeping and our love……