On Wednesday, I had one of those days in which all of life came upon me at once. My sister and brother-in-law are in Uganda, as many or most of you know, and I had a few DVDs in my possession, a Christmas gift from my parents, that we were in the process of passing through the extended families to eventually get them to someone who was visiting Uganda this spring. (I don't even remember how that was going to happen, to be honest. It was complicated.) But Wednesday morning, my brother-in-law emailed to tell us that a Ugandan friend of theirs from the Seminary here in GR would be visiting Mbale unexpectedly as his sister just passed away. He asked if I could get the DVDs to this friend.
We were figuring out the logistics through emails, and then my sister CALLED MY PHONE. (Remember: she is in Uganda. This is not typical.) However, I missed the call because I was out of my office. When I listened to the voicemail she left and heard her voice, sounding so clear and deceptively close, I nearly burst into tears. My heart hurt. I miss her so much.
At the end of the workday, I scrambled home to get in a run before I lost the last of daylight. I showered and hurried out the door to go out and pick up one more thing that I wanted to send along to Uganda (it isn't every day I don't have to worry about an unreliable mail system when trying to get something to my furthest-off loved ones). It was snowing, big white flakes drifting down slowly from the now-dark sky. I stood in the road next to my car and felt as though the whole screwed-up world was sitting atop my shoulders, weighing a million pounds. I wanted to cry.
After running my errand, I came home and wrote some notes to send along to Uganda, plus one for the family of this kind stranger-turned-postman, and bundled everything up. I drove to this man's house, wondering all the while what I could possibly say to this stranger, whose sister was suddenly and tragically gone, as I handed him some DVDs of comedy shows to tuck in his luggage as he began a bittersweet journey home to mourn. When I got there, his wife invited me in, wearing a green fuzzy robe and slippers shaped like animals. Laughing, she apologized for her clothes and for the state of the (not-that-)messy house. As if it mattered at all. She invited me to sit; her husband was on the phone. I expressed my condolences. She wanted to hear about my life, what I do, where I live, who I am. She was beautiful and joyful. Her husband soon joined us. He hugged me as I told him I was sorry for his loss. The three of us chatted, and they told me about their lives and their children. We talked about the trials of not being Dutch yet living in West Michigan, and I told them how much Sara and Anthony love their country. We discussed the strangeness of country borders and visas, these human-made systems that complicate movement around our globe. We talked about life.
When he talked about going home, the face of my new friend sobered. He told me he was both looking forward to and absolutely dreading the trip. And then he looked at his wife, and in his eyes I could see that he was suddenly far away in a world I don't know, and he wasn't really talking to me anymore. He said, "I just cannot believe that she is gone. I cannot imagine my sister no longer being there." He paused. "She was always so full of life."
I had stepped right into the middle of the tragedy of strangers. Beautiful strangers. It was a surreal experience.
And although I felt slightly uncomfortable giving this man the delivery entrusted to me, which seemed so silly in the face of the loss of a loved one, I realized that all of this is life. Watching a familiar show while in an unfamiliar country, things that bring laughter, a reminder of family... this is important. And all of this, tragedy and simplicity and the seemingly-inconsequential... all of this is life.
I hadn't eaten dinner, and it was after 10 pm. I went home and cooked something and thought about life. I went to bed feeling strange and both upset and comforted by my encounter that evening. The next morning, the sun was shining.
Last night, I went to a new friend's house. When I came in, she told me that her brother had passed away unexpectedly two weeks ago and she was just recovering from a case of shingles that came on after the funeral, but she hadn't told me any of this before because she had still wanted me to come. I stood in the doorway. I didn't know what to do. I think I wanted to bolt and run forever. But instead, I took off my coat. She made lattes for us, and we talked for a long time. As I talked to this trusted friend, she helped me recognize the Holy Spirit in everything that happened this week. She helped me remember how the presence of God comes to us through the complication and mess and weightiness of life.
This morning, I was thinking about the verse in John 10 where Jesus says that he came "that they may have life, and have it to the full." Now, I am sure he was, at least in one sense, talking about eternity and salvation, but I think that maybe he was also talking about life on earth to the full... which is this. Life to the full includes good and bad, exciting and mundane, tragedy and joy, significant and seemingly inconsequential, morning and evening, going and staying, living and dying. Therein is God. And though I feel a bit overwhelmed and frazzled and not-quite-present still today, I also realize that this is real... this is life to the full. And I think that in the end, this is part of what Jesus came for us to have.