I have a beautiful Hardanger needlework cross I keep in my Bible. I keep it there as a reminder of the gracious woman who made it for me when I moved to another church. She was in the weekly Bible study where we shared the scripture, our faith and perhaps most of all, our personal stories. One of the gifts of ministry is the opportunity to be allowed into the lives of those we minister to. Often I hear stories which strike me as heroic, given the circumstances the teller has lived through.
Betty and Frank were a couple who came yearly to the small fishing resort I grew up on in southern Minnesota. Childhood sweethearts, they married at a young age. I never learned what happened to Betty’s dad, but I knew that her mom left home right after Betty and Frank were married. None of that would have affected them quite so much, if there weren’t six younger children in the family. As a young married couple, they took on the responsibility of raising all of Betty’s siblings without any idea how long that would be. The youngest was only two years old.
I never knew them to complain about that fact. With a houseful of kids, there was no room for any children of their own. They were full time parents to Betty’s sisters and brothers. Over the course of many years, we got to know the family well. Laughter arrived with them for the two weeks they would stay each summer. Along the way, we heard the story of their unusual family. The children grew up without knowing their mother’s whereabouts. Eventually, an assumption was made that she must have died.
I don’t know what I would have done the day that Betty’s mother showed up on their doorstep, long after the youngest child was raised. How had she even known where to find them? I never learned that part of the story. What I did not expect was for the two of them to take Betty’s mother into their home. She made life difficult whenever she could. Yet, I never heard anything from either Frank or Betty critical of her. A missing mom had returned looking for help. In their minds, opening their door to her was the only response possible. I have often thought of the love that these two gave her so freely. It was both undeserved and completely unmerited. Everyone would have understood if, on that first day, they had simply shut the door to her.
God’s love is like that. We stumble and fall. Our mistakes can be legendary. Still God waits. God waits for us to come to our senses. We are as Robert Robinson’s hymn would say, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Our resolves, our resolutions, our good intentions slip away as we let ourselves get side tracked by less important, less meaningful things. Still, God is patient with us. We are nourished by God’s hand. We are loved in spite of our wanderings. Robinson’s hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” continues with “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above” which is another way of saying “Yes” to God. That “Yes” is an acknowledgment that we are ready to journey out of the wilderness and into God’s land of promise. Meanwhile, God waits with arms wide open for us to return.