Who Are Our Neighbors?

“Be Still, My Soul”
(originally by Jean Sibelius)

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

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My friend and long time mentor Blair Meeks wrote a book of prayers and liturgies for death and dying called Standing in the Circle of Grief. It was written as a resource mostly for clergy but includes all who offer comfort in time of need. This book has somehow become one I read often. It stands upright in a row of few other books on my computer desk, in fact. I have taken it with me across many miles to read Blair’s beautiful prayers to my father at the time of his dying in 2009 and my mother in 2015. I have gifted a copy to a hospice chaplain in Colorado who lived out Blair’s prayers but appreciated her writings.

Somehow along the way the name of her book strikes me in settings not specific to death but applicable all the same. We all experience grief in the losses that cross our lives.

So, when another lovely mentor and friend, Rev. Neelley Hicks let me know of the death of Angie Martinez I felt a special loss. With her message I felt an invitation to join in the circle of grief for Angie. Blair’s words, once again, came to life for me. Neelley’s words put me squarely in that circle.

I have known Angie and known about Angie for several years. Spending time at Sixty-First Avenue UMC over many years has gifted me many friends from varying walks of life who have taught me what it means to be the face of Christ in a hurting world. By that I mean they are the face of Christ, they are the teacher, they are the faithful, in spite of having little our modern society would judge valid. I think their most important lesson may well be the value they have for each other and others. They love to share their stories and that sharing puts us in very real contact with the neighbors Jesus talked about. We have a common address. We praise God together and we share communion, not only at the table but in our lives and prayers. We share stories.

Angie and her mother Joan started attending this church several years ago. At the time Angie had an addiction to alcohol she was willing to address. She did so by riding a bus every day to Meharry Medical Center for treatment. She had few resources but she used them wisely.

She brought honor and personal attention to her job cleaning houses and used those hours to make friends, to demonstrate a work ethic and pride in what she did and what she had to offer. She especially cared for God’s creation focusing on care for animals both in her living quarters and the surrounding neighborhood. To that end, I include some photos of our cat who also came from a Humane Shelter. I think Angie would have liked knowing that!

When she and her mother started attending this church  they were recipients of much needed food from the church pantry. As healing from alcohol came, they became the givers in this congregation, whether that be in hours spent helping at the church or calling Greg, another member and friend, every evening at 7 PM to check on him… or hugs and smiles. They were servants. They were friends. They contributed and did indeed become the face of Christ.

Angie’s mother died in 2016 which was a huge blow and a great loss. But she continued working and serving. She died suddenly this past week. Her loss to her friends and congregational members is palpable. They were, indeed, all her friends.

So thinking of Blair’s book reminded me again of the importance in living out the title, and really standing in that circle of grief. I was honored to attend the beautiful service for Angie at the church. I was grateful to hear the words of people who loved her and whom she loved. Neelley and Brenda, Nita and Paul, Greg,  families she worked for, her landlady—-all spoke from hearts of sorrow but joy for her victory. Her brother Tony spoke with clarity and love in spite of his tears. Lives were enriched by knowing Angie.

Two members of a lovely family spoke from their pew about their love for Angie, who had worked for them a long time. Their heartfelt request was that her story be told and shared. The ever present hope she lived, in spite of difficult circumstances provides hope for all of us.

When I first sat down in the pew, I happened to sit by Wanda, a lady I had met but did not know well. Angie had lived in her home for 17 years. I mention her at the end of this writing simply because her words said it all. She shared how long she had know Angie and her mother both. She said, “you know, after they came to this church, their lives changed. They became different people.”

The gospel call in real time.

Praise be to God.

jackieshields

2 thoughts on “Who Are Our Neighbors?

  1. Oh Jackie how wonderful and comforting and eternally hopeful your words are. I hope you too find this comfort with the loss of your friend. How well I feel I know her now through you telling of her story of faith and endurance! Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

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