The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
It has taken me almost and a year and a half to write about this fragile little porcelain bell. The picture is not clear, but it is a beautiful bell. It has my name on it, the date I graduated from college (May 1985) on one side with hand-painted rendering of my Alma Mater, Fisk University. On the other side is an equally beautiful rendering of my dormitory, Fisk Jubilee Hall. It has taken me a year and a half to write about it because whenever I hold this bell in my hands — I am simply overcome. I can barely contain myself to finish a sentence because this little bell is but one physical reminder of the way God drew even me with loving-kindness into God’s circle of care and has loved even me with an everlasting love.
I came home one day in early 2008 feeling like most people feel sometimes — tired and frustrated. I remember driving around the block a few times, trying to get my head together because I did not want to bring my “stuff” into the house I share with family. (Most days, I fail at that and I am grateful that they just wrap me in their love anyway.) When I walked into the foyer, I saw the package. Quite frankly, I did not think much of it. I am notorious for not reading mail right away. I was not expecting a package and so I did not check to see if my name was on it, and made no move to open it. (There is a sermon in there somewhere!) After a few hours, no one else in my house had opened the package either. (They DID check the name on the package…because expected or not, these little Simpson’s love packages…anybody’s packages!)
I peeked over at it, almost afraid that it would be for me. When I discovered that this neat little package was for me, I immediately searched for the name of the sender. Who could be sending me something that I was not expecting?
And there it was her name…Linda Pegues Brinkley.
From the recesses of my memory, I saw her face as clear as if she was before me: a member of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, TN — the congregation that nurtured me while I was in college. St. Anselm’s was a place where dreams were held sacred – even crazy dreams. I always felt like I was entering “another world” whenever I crossed the threshold to go into worship. In this world, my dreams were significant. Linda and the people of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church made my dreams significant.
I was far away from home and lonely. (We won’t even talk about the culture shock of moving from “Brick City” Newark, NJ to “Ya’ll take care now, ya hear?” Nashville, TN)
Few of my peers understood or had sympathy with the call that God was burning into my soul at that time. After all, the college years were supposed to be party years, not discerning years, right?
Anybody who has had a call knows that coming to grips with it — God’s call on your life — is a lonely, frightening experience.
I was young, but open.
I had never even seen a female minister before and had no absolutely no idea that somehow, agreeing to wrestle with God’s call on my life might also be about stepping into arguments about the “worthiness of women” to carry the Word — an argument God obviously settled long before I was born. Otherwise, why call?
I was clueless about everything except for this one thing: while the verses of scripture would argue against each other about whether I was even worthy of God’s love, I was convicted and convinced that the overarching story of why the Word became flesh in the first place had everything to do with me and people like me. Somehow, I was in the story even if “verses” fought against it. And somehow, I wanted to tell that story over and over again.
Holding this fragile bell in my hand reminds me of my wrestling with God, of seeking refuge and solace among people who were not afraid to create an “otherworldly” space for crazy, young people….it reminds me of what I needed from the adults around me just so that I could make peace with the burning in my soul, so that I could respond to the One who was calling me with an everlasting love.
I called Linda soon after receiving the bell and the sound of her voice washing over me through the telephone was like Baptism…it was “commissioning” all over again, encouragement to go out on behalf of the story.
It was encouragement to dream anew! Crazy dreams, so what!? Dream…
It was a powerful example of how Love travels through years with a ringing reminder — “I have not forgotten you…I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
What can we do with that?