It’s an old song but this Thanksgiving I can’t get it out of my mind. “One of these days, Neil Young plaintively sings, “ I’m going to sit down and write a long letter/ To all the good friends I’ve known...”
The relational dimension to life is primary. And, looking back on my long circuitous journey I couldn’t have made it without those along the way that loved, accepted, judged, lifted me up, laughed with me, prayed for me, and sometimes just kicked me in the butt.
Carlyle Marney used to talk about “the balcony people”—those that sit in our balcony and cheer us on. My, my we all have more people in our balconies than we can ever remember. Parents, of course, if they hadn’t picked me up and cleaned me off and held me—where would I be? Teachers, all the way back to the first grade. I still remember that first teacher. Then there were the playmates that made the days richer simply because they were there. Being a Reverend Church folk have played a powerful part in my journey. I still remember those checks they sent when I was in college—and they didn’t have much. Or that friend who never could go to college herself. She fell into a fire as a baby and was horribly scarred. Especially her eyes. And so she worked in a knitting mill for years—sending me and another friend little checks month after month. Who can forget such sacrifices? Or that envelope that came week after week with fifteen crumpled dollars to help me through the week. And then from time to time there would be this huge box with cookies and a cake that was my favorite.
I think of all those youth workers at church and camp and so many other places that believed in me. Like that Lifeguard that told me as I floundered in the water trying to earn my life-saving certificate—“Keep going Roger, keep going. You can make it.” That scene could be repeated more times that I can remember.
I remember that Seminary teacher that told me what my Journalism teacher had already told me in High School. “You can write. You have something to say. You must write.” They cracked a door that maybe would have not been there without them.
My best friend is my wife who has put up with me through thick and thin. She loves me unreservedly—knowing all my flaws-=-and loving me still. And along with her I would add my two children who have blessed me immeasurably and forgiven all those stupid things I did that caused them hurt or harm.
There have been people in every church I have ever served who stood beside me. Sometimes, like Moses’ friends--holding up my hands when I was too weary.
Some people who had never been out of the country and yet put up with all my immature shenanigans. They did not have to do that. People who left their own burdens long enough to help shoulder mine. Often when they never even knew it.
One of my favorite memories are those colleagues and friends along the way.
My, my they have put the sun back in my sky again and again. I have been blessed by a great cloud of witnesses, some living and some dead—that made the difference in life and half-life.
Oh, I wish I could sit down and write every one a letter. This Thanksgiving I pause long enough to remember the names and faces and occasions that have made me a much better person than I ever thought I could be.
A colleague in one church gave me what she called a “Gravy File.” It was a file folder. She instructed me, “Keep it close, put in this file all those things that have been gravy to you.” That was years ago—and my filing cabinets are full and running over with notes and photos and obits and bulletins and programs that have enriched me often.
Whether you have a file or not—take some time this Thanksgiving weekend. Remember. I guarantee if you think long enough you will be grateful for your journey. Without those along the way you and I could never have made it.
"Oh, the comfort,
the inexpressible comfort
Of feeling safe with a person
Having neither words to weigh thoughts
nor measured words, but pouring them
All right out, just as they are,
Chaff and grain together,
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them;
And with a breath of kindness