I walked the straight path with Rose, our two and a half year-old Labrador retriever. We headed toward the pond.
As we approached the edge, I noticed an egg at the end of the pier, nestled between the last two wooden planks, sitting there solitary.
Rose had already entered the pond, swimming with her rudder tail slapping the water’s surface.
I walked out and picked up the blue-green egg, all smooth in my hands. I suspected it was a duck egg since we have mallards nesting around our two ponds every year.
But why would a mallard lay her egg on a hard pier, exposed and vulnerable, instead of in her nest, feathered and tucked away among the surrounding willows? Perhaps she couldn’t wait? Perhaps she expected her fragile-shelled new life to develop and hatch wherever she decided to drop it? Perhaps she didn’t care much or know much about being a good mother—all the sitting and warming and waiting that’s required for life to open up and grow? Perhaps the egg was placed there by a human playing some sort of joke? I held the egg gently in my palm, meditating on possible life applications of finding delightful gifts in unexpected places.
I went to church the next day, still wondering about that egg . . .
We’re fairly new to our little church in town, having been there only a few months. And we have been in a particularly rough spot as a family for a while now. Needing a bit of intensive care, we have found sound preaching and warm, caring people who have reached out to us intentionally to get to know us, really. Doesn’t take much more to nurture souls and heal hearts.
Consider Ruth Ann . . .
When I told her in May that Anna, our twenty-two year-old daughter, was hospitalized in a locked “behavioral health” unit and given a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder with severe mania and psychosis, Ruth Ann didn’t flinch or look away or try to change the subject to something more comfortable than mental illness. She looked me directly in the eyes, empathized, and said she was going to feed us dinners so we wouldn’t have to worry about planning and shopping and cooking so we could visit Anna in the hospital for our twice daily, one hour allotments.
The next day, Ruth Ann arrived with a huge pan of lasagna, a tossed salad, rolls, and a pot of vegetable tortellini soup that lasted us four days! What a precious love offering poured from her heart through her hands.
But the most precious gift Ruth Ann gave?
Her ears and her tongue.
After last Sunday’s service, Ruth Ann approached me right outside the sanctuary, on the step leading down to the narthex. Looking straight in my eyes, she asked, “How are you doing? How’s Anna?” She wanted to know how we all are coping, really, so she could really care. I told her, really. She listened and empathized. And then I asked her how she and her husband were, really, since his father is dying. And she told me. I listened and empathized. And we touched each others’ arms gently.
Right there on the edge of the narthex, at the end of the aisle, Ruth Ann and I hatched some new life together—right out in the open, a bit off to the side, exposed and vulnerable where we both found ourselves at the end of our “piers”. We cracked our shells and wiggled out of our comfort zones when we could have more easily brushed off the “How are you?” with a reflexive, insincere “Fine” and moved on out of the church.
Why did we risk laying our hearts down in the open, a bit off to the side, exposed and vulnerable?
To experience true life. To feel true love.
Because that’s how it happens.
The giving and receiving of open hearts, cracked and bald exposed, beating wild for a breath of protective, nurturing love to help it grow, sometimes right there at the end of our “piers” where we’re about to roll off, fall in, and drown if not assisted by another.
THIS is the church in the world.
THIS is the love of God in the world.
This is the CALL of God in the world—to bear one another’s burdens as if they were your own and to encourage one another daily—to bind up wounds and help secure proper care.
But to bind up wounds, one has to know what the wounds are. And to know what the wounds are, one needs to ask. Because most wounds are invisible. Most broken hearts are bleeding out without anyone even noticing.
People who want to care like Christ need to have eyes like Christ. They look deep into eyes and hearts and souls. They take the time to ask questions, to listen well, to pray, to do something tangible if they can, like Ruth Ann. Her meals were great but her love was greater . . .
Ruth Ann offered her listening ears and her empathic tongue on multiple occasions to one needing both. And she cares enough to keep asking how we’re doing regularly, to ask how Anna is doing, really.
It’s called true love.
It’s called Christ’s way.
To leave our comfort zones, our familiar places with familiar faces where routine and tradition and personality type can turn us into petrified wood, pretty on the outside with niceties spoken but cold and stony with no beating heart on the inside—unmovable. Does Christ want rock hard hearts so scared or unmoved by broken hearts that they don’t know how to beat for another anymore?
Christ came to MOVE us . . .
He came to move us to CARE as He cares—to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted—to offer hope and healing and restoration for all.
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus asked in reply to his disciples telling him his family wanted his attention. “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-34)
Some people are blessed with family who can care as needed. Others aren’t. For the second group, there is hope in the family of God. All who do the will of God—who care for people as Christ cares for people—are true family. But in order to benefit, we need to let go of expecting that our “by blood” or our “in-law” family provide what we need to heal and grow. Will we let God provide family for us in unexpected ways?
My learning lessons continue and I vow to keep practicing, though it’s more easily said than done. Some hopes die a slow and painful death. But peace is found in letting go of what can’t be. Bit by bit, as we let go of the expected and embrace the unexpected, we find the gift of grace. And so often it’s the unexpected that blesses the most.
Unexpected eggs in unexpected places . . .
Unexpected grace from unexpected faces . . .
Unexpected love from a God who gives all we need through unexpected people.
I’m re-learning that if I want my life to develop and become full-grown, I need to lay it down in exposed and vulnerable places, often away from the expected comfort of feathered nest, where God Himself will provide all we need through those who can and will walk the planks, stoop low, pull up close, and hold the possibility of new life gently in their palms. And then, once grown, the cycle of life repeats. Giving and receiving. Taking up and letting go.
So here’s a huge “thank you” to all the “Ruth Ann” caregivers in the world. I am blessed abundantly by many “sisters” and “brothers” and “mothers” and “fathers” who are Christ’s “Good Samaritans”. And I hope to be back on my feet again soon, eagerly serving once again the way we’ve been served in the past two months.
I went back to the pond the other day. I held the mallard’s egg in my hand. I walked the planks to the very edge of the water, said a prayer, and let it go. Into the depths, I let it go—a bit sad, but trusting in God’s perfect provision . . .