From Michelle. October 20, 2010.
Dear friends and family,
How I have longed to write following last Friday’s benefit concert! Steve and I are still basking in the afterglow, and will be for many months. Walking into that room full of people, friends old and new, and some that I had never met, all looking at us with such love and encouragement and hope, it was all I could do not to weep. The air was thick with every good and perfect thing, church redeemed and redeeming, all of us walking together, all of them carrying us to the feet of Jesus. Each song was some reflection of the spiritual truth that while suffering is inevitable, faith carries us through. Each lyric, each poem, each prayer and proclamation was a variant on that theme: God is strong in our weakness, victory was won through suffering, Christ shares our yoke, and on and on. The beauty of the event was that I think we all brought our suffering to Christ’s feet that night. Not just Steve and mine. And when Steve stood up out of his wheelchair and received a standing ovation, we were not just applauding him, but living the hope, the wonder of God’s goodness breaking through. For all of us.
That night hundreds of people gathered to cheer us on. As people gathered around us to pray, a web of prayer and support spread throughout the room, beginning in the hidden depression where Steve sat in his lowly wheelchair and then spreading out, hand upon shoulder upon hand upon shoulder, a physical reflection of the web of prayer that has spread throughout the world. It was a beautiful tapestry of young and old, male and female, rich and poor united in hope and faith and love. It was magnificent.
In my early twenties I struggled mightily with church. Like so many, the curtain parted and I saw the human frailty behind the haloed institution. I wrestled with the hypocrisy and the history and the division and the judgment. I wrestled with the gossip and the pride and the abuses. Until I remembered that the Christ whom I so loved asked us to love EVERYONE, yes, even fallen christians and broken churches, and that no darkness was too dark for him to penetrate. After all, he had chosen to love ME.
What I am trying to say is that last Friday night, and through this entire journey beginning on June 17th, the church has shone so brightly I’ve had to squint to look into the light. We have experienced more generosity, more encouragement, more humble service, more prayer than any two human beings could rightly absorb. I could tell you tale after tale after tale. Some of that generosity and support has come from people who know and love us. Some has come from complete strangers who know us only through the faith we share or the church we attend. Most of those people would not want to be named. They take joy in doing their good deed in secret, for the love of God. But Steve and I get to witness it and take it in. And what we get to see is the church redeemed. And it heals us and carries us and fills us with hope. And we will never forget it. For all of its scars, for all of the hurts past and future, right now and last Friday night the church is beautiful beyond measure.
One of my many favorite moments was when Steve spoke. Until now, Steve has remained largely silent. While his actions have spoken powerfully to us all, I have missed his voice, which has taught and ministered to me as much as to any congregation member all of these years. But there he was, and instantly I knew that he was not just going to talk to all of us. Steve was going to preach. And he was going to bless me again with his teaching. Steve talked about the paralytic healed by the faith of his friends, and I will not do it justice if I try to replicate it here. But what he said got to the heart of the matter. What he said is essentially that you all are healing us by your faith, carrying us closer to the God who heals. And Friday night was a magnificent demonstration of just that.
We have said it again and again, but love truly carries us, yours and Christ’s. Your presence surrounding us that night, and in the prayers and hopes and thoughts and verses quoted on this blog, have been as St. Patrick’s prayer, which I printed up and carried with me to Manila five years ago:
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Thank you to all of you, who surround us with this amazing love!
With gratitude overflowing,