Saturday, July 21, 2012

New and old blessings

      It was a peaceful afternoon at the beach, a little breezy, not too crowded. The receding tide had uncovered the sandbar an hour or so earlier, and to get to water deep enough to be gently lifted off my feet by waves (my favorite thing), I had to wade a long way from shore. Most of the time, I faced the beach, keeping my blue umbrella in sight, small though it was from this distance. A woman on her stand-up paddle board talked with two friends about fifty feet away, the nearest people to me. 
      I felt how isolated I was, until I heard a noise to my right. Without looking, I knew that something large had just disturbed the water, and I froze. Heart pounding, I turned to see a spray of water and a round head. The face looking back at mine was unfamiliar. "Do we have walruses in South Carolina?" I wondered for a second. Then I realized. "Not a walrus. A manatee!" I don't think I had ever seen one, not even in a zoo or an aquarium, only photos. Now here was one just a few feet from me, almost close enough to touch if I dared. The creature gave me the luxury of a few seconds to smile and appreciate the rarity of such a sighting before it swam away, its huge form visible just beneath the water's clear surface. 
      It was the sort of experience that needed to be shared. I swam over to the paddle-boarder and her friends, asking excitedly, "Did you see it? Did you see the manatee?" They had seen only a dark shape in the water, and had feared it might be a shark. Only I had come face to face with the manatee. A few days later, a volunteer at the SC Aquarium told me that manatees are rarely seen this far north, and that meeting one is good luck. But I prefer what my aunt Sharon said: "That is a special blessing." 
     A blessing is exactly what it was, and a reminder. I thought of the plaque in the office of one of my seminary professors, inscribed with the words of Renaissance scholar Erasmus: "Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present." There was nothing I could have done to summon a manatee to me. I had absolutely no control over that rare and special moment. I had thought myself all alone in that stretch of ocean, but the reality is, I never am. There is an abundance of life all around, both beautiful and terrifying. For a few seconds, I was given a glimpse of what is always just beneath the surface. And from time to time, God surprises me in just that way, reminding me that there is nowhere I can be where God is not, no matter how lonely my way may seem at the time. Then my heart pounds, and I try to turn my head quickly enough to catch a glimpse, and I smile at the rarity of such a sighting. 
      It is a special blessing.


“Old friends... sat on a park bench like bookends.”   ~Paul Simon

     Well, maybe not on a park bench, but we’ve had some old friends sitting around this week. There’s something about old friends who remember you when you were young and idealistic and ready to change the world, when you were newly married,  when you were a young parent trying to figure out how to get to church on time with a newborn (or newborn twins!).  Friends who studied together, went to school together, who were in each other’s weddings.  Friends who in later years worked in a church together and lived through some serious church craziness together.
      And now we’re old friends, as in  “rocking the geezer shoes together” friends.  All those babies have graduated from college - although some are still in grad school.  Our friends are grandparents now (We’re not! Haha! They win the geezer prize!)   Some kids have moved back home - other kids are moving across the country.  So we sat around,  memories brushing the same years,  telling stories, remembering friends, looking up people on facebook, and just continuing the conversation.  
     That’s the blessing of old friends.  The conversation continued even though we hadn't been able to spend real time together for ten years or more. We just picked up the conversation and kept talking - as if there had been no time away.   The shared story was enough.
     The seminary roommates are both senior pastors now.   Debbie and I both made our way through grad school, raised kids and struggled with the balancing act of working professionally and being a minister’s wife.  We had grown, changed, experienced new things and yet...  in essence, as we found sitting on the back porch, we were still the same as we were all those years ago when the guys were in seminary and Debbie and I were newlywed working wives with the job of putting food on the table.  Old stories, new stories.   Paul Simon, again,  said it best in The Boxer....

“Now the years are rolling by me.  They are rockin’ even me
I am older than I once was and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual.”
No it isn’t strange.  After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same,
we are more or less the same.”


DB is away on vacation this week. 

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