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Life is Rich and Thick

One of my mentors in ministry is Rex McDaniel who pastors a congregation in South Pasadena. I served under Rex for a few years while completing my seminary education. Once a week, I would ride my bike away from the pleasant confines of the academic life, and I would go sit in a chair in Rex's office. It was there I learned much about what pastoral work was really like, and Rex was a great teacher - helping me understand how to love and pray for and be with a people as life handed out hard knocks and small moments of joy.

Rex had an expression he often shared with me to capture the ups and downs of life. "Wes-man ... life is rich and thick." Another time he went on to explain a bit further his choice of words. Life, so Rex explained to me, is like a milkshake, a good "thick" milkshake. It is full of good and much to enjoy, but it often seems that the goodness of it comes only after the "thickness" of it all, those rough patches when it seems like life isn't really about enjoyment as much as it is about struggle and work.

Whenever the occasion came along, Rex would drag out his line. It might be after someone announced to the church an upcoming birth in the family, or it could just as easily have been after we learned of a diagnosis of cancer. I remember especially when Anna and I came to part ways with Rex and the congregation of Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena. That, too, was a "rich and thick" moment according to Rex - full of the sweetness of the times we enjoyed and celebrated and full of the thickness that got caught up in our throats as we said our goodbyes.

I was a bit surprised to find the same thickness getting caught in my throat yesterday when it came to say thank you and goodbye to Jorie and Bradley yesterday. I shouldn't have been surprised, though. It was a good choking up, and I know that all of you are equally grateful for all that Jorie and Bradley have brought to us ... and saddened at the same time by how much we will miss them. I only hope that their gifts continue to be exercised, and that they will find a community to embrace and encourage them.

Bradley came up to me after the service yesterday to share how much this church community means to him, and how grateful he was to have found this community. That gave me great joy, that deep kind which left me speechless for a moment. And that marked the second time in a week that someone had told me that they were grateful that God had led them to this community. I celebrate both of those rich moments and am particularly glad that for some in our community the good news is coming true, that there are those who are discovering promise and family and grace in this place. It is all by God's grace.

The opportunity to say thank you and goodbye to Bradley and Jorie as they prepared for life beyond DePauw seemed especially bittersweet this morning, though, as I awoke to the news that another young man named Marshall Mathew from DePauw took his own life this past weekend. Ellen Clayton wrote me to share the sad news, and she asked that we keep his family and the students at DePauw in our prayers. I told her of course I would, even as I grieve Marshall's death.

With such loss, I'm not sure that Rex's old line applies. In the case of the loss of the young or in any case where depression or despair wins out over life and hope, life is not thick or rich. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is just dry and barren and empty. Again, I'm saddened for the community at DePauw that will be feeling the emptiness of a life that had more life to live as well as the emptiness of so many questions that cannot now be answered ... and to think that this tragedy occurred when graduation was fast approaching with all of its promise and fullness. I am reminded again that when Jesus spoke the Beautitudes (Mt. 5:1-12), he was speaking promises ... not conditions for us to meet. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," is a declaration of God's ongoing, unending willingness to go specifically to those who are hurting. The same goes for those who mourn and those who hunger and thirst for things to be right. I pray God's mercy would flow deeply to those who most need his care.

I am grateful for the time we had together in study and in worship yesterday, and may God give all of us strength and grace to aid the world this week ... with all of its thickness and richness and emptiness.

Wes

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