Here is a short devotional that was published in the devotional booklet In The Breaking of the Bread at three local churches: Bethlehem Lutheran Church, First Lutheran Church and Salem Lutheran church. My essay appeared on Saturday, the first weekend in Lent.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of our city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (NIV, Rev. 22:1 -2).
“Picnic by the River”
When Bruce’s mom arrived too early, I was curt because I wasn’t dressed yet.
“How are you doing?” I asked, trying to smooth things over when we were seated in the van.
“What do you care?” she replied. She was sitting in the back, leaning forward, her face fierce and sad at the same time.
Bruce wasn’t going to take this. He said something like, “That’s not fair.”
“You don’t respect me,” she snapped.
“What you do you mean we don’t respect you? You don’t respect us either,” I snapped back.
“I’m leaving.” She pulled the mini-van door back, stepped out, leaving her sauerkraut, a favorite.
We drove to our Easter dinner and left her dish with his brother to return. Later I asked Bruce if I should apologize. He shook his head, saying she’d scorch me.
Thus began five years of not speaking, which perhaps was the most loving thing we could do. Before this, I’d rehash conversations, obsessing about what I should have said. My obsession spilled into conversations with everyone. Bruce’s mom and I saw ourselves in the other, parts that we did not like; no, not one bit.
Somehow, I don’t know how, but Jesus’ idea that we should bless our enemy, became a practice. It was hard work, but every time bad thoughts rose I began blessing Bruce’s mom.
When I realized that we might not reconcile in this life, I imagined a picnic at the great river, the one that flows from God’s temple. Trees grow with leaves for healing of the nations. If we didn’t reconcile in this life, I figured we’d reconcile in the next.
When she entered hospice we began rebuilding the relationship. Her caregiver was a woman full of light, whose presence helped us mend the breaks. She made simple meals. Sometimes we brought dinner. We talked about old times. When we were asked to help even more, we said, “Yes, gladly.” The twenty years of blessing Bruce’s mom, of replacing my horrible thoughts with “Bless you,” changed my heart. And that picnic I thought we’d have by the River? It became supper on TV trays by her plastic covered couch. To this day, I make that sauerkraut and think of her, fondly.
Gracious God, as you have blessed us by taking on flesh to live with us and die for our sins, may we in turn bless others, even those who hurt us, that your Spirit might bring hope and reconciliation. Amen.