In The Fullness of Time- A Reflection in this Holiday Season
As is our tradition, each year on December 23, we (Tom and Michael, the co-founders of Someone To Tell It To), go to the Iberian Lounge at the Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to reflect on the year that is just ending. We celebrate the incredibly good moments and achievements and are open about the moments that have been incredibly hard and painful in our journey together.
2016, while filled with countless moments to celebrate, was especially difficult personally, particularly for me (Michael), as I lost my mother to a cancer that ended her life just five weeks after it was diagnosed. Her death resulted in our family realizing very starkly how much she compensated for my father’s growing dementia; when she could no longer care for him, he spiraled down into a situation so severe that he can no longer care for himself in any way. Today, his hold on life is extremely tenuous. As our family anticipates the new year, we ponder how difficult 2017 may be.
I share this about my parents and excerpts from the letter, below, entitled In The Fullness of Time, that I wrote to Tom for our December 23 tradition, not to elicit sympathy or an outreach from anyone, but because I know that many others are living with their own painful, unchangeable challenges as they go through this holiday season and anticipate the new year, too. I share it because in co-founding Someone To Tell It To, Tom and I want others to know that they are not alone in their grief, in their longing or in their loneliness. I share it because we all live with loss and disappointment and fear – of some kind, of some unwelcome sort, of some lingering drain on our peace of spirit and mind.
I share it to express what, at least, under girds me to live with the inevitable, incredible challenges of this life and to, I hope, still thrive in the midst of them. My wish for all of us in 2017 is that we, too, may have love in our lives. Love that carries us through. Love that reminds us that we do not have to carry the hardships alone.
It’s exactly why Someone To Tell It To was born.
In The Fullness of Time
At the risk of sounding overly sentimental and “un-masculine”, by quoting this line from the chick flick, Notting Hill, I’ll do it anyway. It’s probably the most famous line from the movie. But more significantly, rather than just being a romantic comedy fairy tale movie line, it actually speaks to a very basic, very common human longing and need. When Julia Roberts’ character laments to Hugh Grant’s character, after he rejects her plea to reconnect as a couple, with her admonition …
“Don’t forget, I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her…”
she is voicing the sometimes conscious and universally unconscious essential cry of the heart that all of us share.
Everyone of us – every one of us – simply, sometimes desperately, sometimes achingly,
– hungers to be loved. For who we are. As someone who matters. Especially by those who matter most to us.
I need to acknowledge, what is certainly obvious, that 2016 has been a year of incredible personal loss. Suddenly, without much real preparation or warning, I stand on the front lines of mortality. I don’t have the buffer of my parents and my grandparents standing in front of me anymore, like I did for all my life. Now, I’m next. Now I’m the family patriarch for all intents and purposes. Hell, I don’t even feel like a grown up yet, as I’ve shared before. How the hell can I be the oldest one in line, the one implicitly looked to as the leader, the sage, the one to set the tone and the direction? How did this happen? It’s still not real. It’s still not right.
Since this summer, when everything stunningly changed, and I found myself in this unwelcome position, I’ve found myself looking back in quiet moments, a lot, at my childhood and remembering things I haven’t consciously thought of for years and years. Going back so often since then to the house I grew up in, to York County, to the hospital, to my dad’s new home, to the church my faith was nurtured in, to the tiny village that formed so many of my memories – where love was first felt and the desires of my heart were first formed, where I also learned isolation and discrimination, insularity and humiliation – has evoked more memories and feelings than I can easily describe. It’s what I most often think about in the dark stillness at 3:00a.m. The world around me may be still. But at that hour my spirit rarely is.
In the colliding cacophony inside my head, there is one thought that always surfaces eventually – all that matters in this life is love. It’s the theme I return to time after time. In sermon after sermon, in story after story I write, in every single day of my life, the one and, really, the only thing that I am concerned about it is being loved and loving back, in being love, embodying love to everyone I can, even to those for whom love is hard to share or express.
In essence, everything I do and say and write, everything, is some version of the very same message –
Everyone of is just a girl or a boy, standing in front of other girls and boys, asking them to love us.
If I can remember that, well, then I’m remembering something sacred, something very profound, I believe.
In this year of profound personal loss, I know that this message is the most important one of all for me to cling to. It’s about love. It’s about love. It’s about love.
That is the bedrock cornerstone, the foundation, of my faith. In all truth, there’s been one thing that I have never wavered on, one truth that I have never questioned or stopped believing – that God first loves me and that God is only and completely love. I have never doubted that God loves me. That’s probably where a lot of my “glass half full” temperament comes from – my unshakable, inherent belief that we are all loved passionately, perfectly, personally by God, the creator and keeper and sustainer of love. Whatever pain I’ve felt, whatever losses I’ve incurred, whatever unloving feelings I’ve felt from others, they have not caused me to give up on this belief. God loves me. God loves us all, infinitely, eternally.
But I am certainly a profoundly imperfect vessel of that love and an imperfect receiver of that love. While I don’t doubt God’s love for me, I do doubt others’ love far, far too often. In my deepest yearnings for perfect love to come from those I can see and touch and share life with, I too often need reassurance that indeed I am worthy of God’s love through them. And during those 3:00a.m. moments, I play that tape reminding myself of that far too many times and I’m embarrassed to admit it. We probably all do and probably all are.
So, what’s the point of all this? It’s Christmas, my favorite, and yours, season of the year. It’s a time, when most especially, we are reminded to reflect on love, to live love, to be love, to express love. In this season when we recall once again the perfect love that was born naked and unashamed into the world – and that died naked and unashamed to prove once and for all that love is real and here and is stronger than everything else in all creation – it is imperative to tell you how much you are loved by God and by me and how much you have helped me to see and know and feel the ridiculously gracious, generous power of love in our lives.
Tonight, I’m just a boy, but a boy who knows that I am loved so much, so unbelievably, by this incredible God. Tonight I’m just a boy, like every other boy and girl in this world, asking every other boy and girl around me to love me, as I try my best, though imperfectly, to love them too.
Tonight, most especially and most significantly, I’m just a boy … grateful … for the gift that God has given me … to live out – every day – more completely than ever before, who I really am. Grateful that I can continue to grow every day… in the amazing grace, depth of compassion, breath-taking beauty, wonderful joy and abiding peace that God, who is love, wants us all to know.
Because of this, I experience more often than I can say, what Henri Nouwen describes as the “fullness of time” – that place,
Wherever Jesus is the time is brought to its fullness …
… We often experience our time as empty, he writes. We hope that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year the real things will happen. But sometimes we experience the fullness of time. That is when it seems that time stands still, that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity. This is the experience of God’s time.
At heart, I’m just a boy, yearning like every other boy to know that he is loved. What a privileged and grateful boy to know that I am.
That, ultimately, is the fullness of time.