The divorce separated me from my two small children, and the teaching job was more of a calling that I loved with all my being. I was officially divorced in the morning and served my pink slip that afternoon. Both identities were painfully stripped away… and the very next day was my birthday. What irony.
I spent weeks in bed. My best friend would come over after work to make sure I was eating, which I wasn’t. She’d make me get dressed to come eat, but when that didn’t work she brought it in to me. And when that didn’t work she’d leave it on the bedside table to get cold. It was certainly not one of my finer moments.
After a couple weeks I received a phone call. It woke me up. I had to wrestle the covers to actually find the phone hiding in my smelly nest. The gruff voice on the other end said, “Get out of bed, get dressed, brush your teeth, and come let me in.”
Not getting any more patient, “Get out of bed, get dressed, brush your teeth, and come let me in.”
“Bob? The door is unlocked. Just come on in.”
“No. You stink.”
“Bob, I don’t care.”
“I do. Go get dressed and brush your teeth and hurry. This is getting very heavy.”
Just as he said the word heavy a big truck went whizzing by my window… and at that very same moment I heard a big truck go whizzing by on the phone. I ran to the window and there was Bob across the street on the pay phone holding a huge, I mean huge, abstract painting of flowers.
This was no ordinary painting. This was the painting that used to hang in the hallway at church. I loved the painting. It made me happy. Bright yellows, reds, purples, greens. Evidently the Aesthetics Committee didn’t share in my appreciation. It got moved to the bathroom. I simply took more bathroom breaks to visit my friend. And eventually it got relegated to the basement. During a congregational Spring Cleaning I found it in the huge storage closet. I was so sure the painting was lonely, and I would go gaze at her when I was feeling low. I was oblivious to the fact that Bob knew of my love affair with this painting. And there he was on a street corner payphone with an armful of abstract flowers.
I dashed to throw on clothes. I tried to grab ones from the heap that weren’t too offensive to the olfactory system. I rushed to the bathroom to brush my teeth – it felt soooo good! As I was coming out of the bathroom Bob was barging into my bedroom. He traipsed across my bed with muddy shoes.
“Oops.” He said flatly. “I guess you’re going to have to wash that bedding.”
He leaned the immense painting against the wall and pounded a handful of nails one by one into the wall above my headboard. He balanced the painting on the cluster and stepped back to admire his work.
“There.” He turned to me. “Kiddo. I know you’re hurting. You’ve been through a lot. But we need you. We’re waiting. The world is waiting. There is work to be done.”
My eyes teared up. I nodded.
“Tandi, every morning, look up at this painting. And remember. The world is waiting. We need you.”
I broke down and sobbed like I had not been able to do. Bob held me and rocked me until I was ready to come back.
By this time you’re probably wondering who Bob is. Bob is the church curmudgeon. All churches have at least one. For most of his church career Bob has been the soul person on the building committee. He was kind of pokey and contrary. And there he was rocking me while I learned to cry. I knew he was uncomfortable with this he’d just stepped into. We were both practicing being human at this very sacred moment.
That is the kind of Religious Education I am all about. The greatest thing we can give each other is our love, ourselves, and our presence. These are among the most potent curriculums. Church is where we practice being human.
No matter where I live that painting will be prominently placed so it is among the first things I see each morning. It is part of my morning prayers and spiritual practice.
Once my basic needs of being seen, heard, and loved were met I could rejoin the land of the living and get about my business of finding my calling and living my personal mission. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if Bob hadn’t noticed I was gone and tracked me done. Who is missing from this religious community?
Religious Education teaches us to be present to each other. Religious Education is community that sees us at our most vulnerable, loves us anyway, and calls us to our higher selves.
Request: This Sunday look around and notice who is not there. Please check in with them just to make sure they’re okay and to let them know that you noticed their absence. And if they’ve been gone awhile, let them know they’ve been missed. There are a myriad of reasons we each can slip away. There is a main reason to reach out: we are interconnected in love.