With Gratitude…

Dearest Church of the Village Family,

Dad and me in Taiwan in 1983

Dad and me in Taiwan in 1983

I want to write you a somewhat personal note today. As many of you know, I have just returned from Taiwan, where I was attending to the funeral rites of my father. I need to tell you how grateful I have been for your love and prayers. For every card, Facebook message, email, and text of support that has come from you, I give God thanks.

I have truly known the love of God through the church on this journey. My District Superintendent, Rev. Smartt Sears met with me on her first day on the job to pray with me and support me. My bishop, Bishop McLee, called me soon after my return to express his condolences. My colleagues at MIND and Religion and Race have expressed their love to me in significant ways. And, most of all, I have been blessed to have Bishop J by my side—who has also experienced the death of a parent in the last year—showing me incredible grace when I need it most.

These extravagant demonstrations of support are all reminders to me that, whatever hierarchical, administrative, or strategic relationships we may have with each other in the church, we are first and foremost spiritual community. We are first sisters and brothers who care for each others’ spirits and hearts, Methodists asking “How is it with your soul?” before anything else. As Paul says of the body of Christ: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” (I Corinthians 12: 26a)

Especially for those of you who have been walking with me, I would like to offer you some reflections from my trip. My journey to Taiwan was difficult. It began with a typhoon. My husband and I slept in the LA airport for a night waiting out the storm, and my mom stayed a night in Tokyo before the winds died down over Taipei. When we arrived, we were, as always, taken in by our Methodist church family in Taiwan. We stayed on the campus of the Methodist University where my dad was chief accountant, and we worshipped in the University chapel where my parents were married and where I was baptized. It was important to show my husband these special places. (You will be interested to know that the Sunday School that day even started talking about gay rights in Taiwan—I swear I had nothing to do with it, as I cannot speak enough Chinese to insert myself in this way! The Spirit does interesting things, doesn’t she?)

Early in the week, we traveled to the interior of the island, where my father had been living. We went to a funeral home—full of altars lined with mostly Buddhist offerings and photos. My father’s casket was waiting in a back room. He was laying there with his head poking out from under a white cloth. I had been imagining this moment for many years as he deteriorated physically and mentally, and it was just as sad as I had predicted. We read scripture and placed lilies on my father’s chest. We prayed, and then the casket was closed and loaded into a hearse. We travelled many miles to the crematorium where we again said prayers and watched my father’s casket enter a very hot oven.

Before I embarked on this journey, someone told me to remember that the body would look like my dad, but that he was no longer in the body. But as I said good-bye to Dad’s body for the last time, I felt this incredible sense of gratitude for the vessel that was home to my father’s spirit, mind, and love. The face whose smile I always craved. The hands that cooked for me every day. The arms that picked me up as a little girl. This body was truly sacred and worthy of honor, and I am grateful that we traveled so far to be with it on its final journey.

The day before we left Taiwan, I went through all of the things we had hastily shoved into big envelopes from my dad’s room at the nursing home. Going through my dad’s things reminded me that I am not just feeling my father’s death. I am feeling all of the emotions that have built up over these last few very difficult years with my dad. (I know that some of you understand this well because you too have taken care of elderly parents and loved ones in recent years. You have shared your stories with me as my own story has unfolded. Your sharing has made me feel much less alone, and I thank each of you for this.)

I found in Dad’s things the big-lettered notes I wrote to him when I took him to Taiwan in March of last year. With my hard-of-hearing father, these notes were my best way of communicating with him. They were a written chronicle of that journey with him and reminded me of just how difficult that week was and of how hard I tried to do my best for him. In Dad’s things were also the 8×10 photos I mailed to him of our family in days past, of him walking me down the aisle on my wedding day, of my graduation. The nursing home staff laminated these photos and my notes to him so they would not get ruined. It was good to go through these things because they provided evidence against that guilt that creeps in at the end of our life with older parents—those feelings that we didn’t do enough or didn’t make the right decisions.  I did my best for him. I wasn’t perfect, but I did my best. Most days, I am at peace with this.

Today I am back at work, even as I try to shake off that 12 hour time change. I must say that it is uncomfortable for me to be weak, to be vulnerable, to have to ask for grace. But I am so blessed to serve a church that offers grace and love and strength so easily. May we continue to lift one another up with our stories. May we continue to journey together, holding one another’s hands, carrying each other when necessary, loving each other as God loves us. May we multiply our care to reach those in our world who most need God’s love.

With gratitude for you,

Pastor Vicki