There is this couple in my church who are older, eccentric and given to discussing pre-millennial end-times theories. They are a couple unlike those towards whom I gravitate, but also a couple who continually teach me that the Church is a motley collection of folks. We do not listen to the same radio stations. We do not read the same books. They have two lifetimes’ experiences of working, raising children and church-attending. They have suffered grief in all kinds of trials. I am in missions full-time, and I’m young and single and still idealistic. At first glance, we have no point of connection, but a deeper look proves otherwise. Our differences exemplify a kind of “mixedness” within the Church which shows how different people with different backgrounds may coexist and unite. The result is something beautiful. The result is a body.
Recently Carol had knee replacement surgery, so I visited the couple with banana bread and flowers in a jam jar. Ray let me in, and I presented my gifts. Ray worked for years in sales, but lost his job when his employer went out of business. Now in his 60s, he works as a night security guard. A year ago he battled prostate cancer and won. Outside of the surgery, Carol also has Hepatitis C and is continually in and out of the hospital. Ray said hello and told me, smiling, “You know, I’ve just realized something: I’m not good at anything! But if I remember that, when I do get things done, even if it’s not perfect, it will still be ok.” I protested that surely there was something he was good at, and he laughed. He then showed me the scattered mess in the living room, including a stack of medical bills that made me want to cry and a pile of campaign materials, evidence of Ray’s active involvement in politics.
We went upstairs and found Carol sitting in bed with her dog and smiling. She had warned me that she wouldn’t be wearing makeup, but I thought she looked even lovelier without it. I tried to avoid staring at the long scar over her knee, but my eyes wandered there occasionally. We sat and talked and laughed, and it was good. We talked about my upcoming trip to Turkey for a missions conference, about Carol’s physical therapy and about her father’s funeral last fall. Carol told me how she was saved. We talked about hymns, and upon discovering that I wasn’t familiar with “When We All Get to Heaven,” Ray and Carol together burst into song. We drank flavored teas and gave me some for the road, so that I could have something besides water on my trip. They served the banana bread back to me, with ice cream.
We spun off into a conversation about prayer and liturgy, and Ray said he wanted to show me a book of puritan prayers that he had recently bought. He wrote in the book and handed it to me and said, “Carol and I would like you to have this.” At this point I gushed as I had spent the last two weeks searching for a book of prayers. And here it was in my hands, not found by my diligent searching, not used, but free and beautiful and leather-bound. It was from Ray and Carol. The same Ray, who when he first introduced himself to me three years ago pointed out that his name was on his belt buckle, just in case I should forget it. The same Carol who sometimes complains about chronic pain, but more often is plucky, who likes to wrangle with the rector about dispensationalism. The same Ray and Carol, who bring up weird theories, who ask sweetly naive questions about other cultures and give bits of advice about working overseas at which I smile and I nod often insincerely.
After my two and a half hour visit Ray and Carol prayed for me. Ray put his arms around Carol and I and drew us close, and Carol leaned her head against mine. Some sense of social propriety told me that I ought to be uncomfortable with Carol’s face two inches from mine, and yet, oddly, it felt so right. She fervently thanked God for the time we spent together. Ray asked for protection and provision, that I would be safe during my trip. I stared at our feet as we prayed, and felt that I could fall to the floor and weep. For here was me, shallow, vain self, with the arms of two saints about me, and they were interceding on my behalf to God.
I went to Ray and Carol’s home to bring them something and left with more than I’d given. Reminders were everywhere of our differences, politically, theologically, and culturally. Things surrounded me with which I’m not usually comfortable, even the scar on Carol’s knee. But our unity and intimacy in Christ, that was deeper than our differences, and our physical closeness as we prayed was a reflection of the spiritual reality. I realized what Christian life is all about; it’s about relationships which transcend normal barriers.