People come into our lives. People leave our lives.
I learned this at an early age. As missionaries our family moved around a lot. I went through first grade in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Second and third grade were in Brussels, Belguim. Fourth and fifth grade were in a public school off 16th street/Emerson on the east side of Indianapolis. I remember, the Friday afternoon before Easter break, saying goodbye to my classmates. Walking my "girl friend" to the corner. We had all been handed a bag of popcorn by our teacher as a "spring break" treat. I handed my bag of popcorn to the girl. She walked straight at the light and I turned right. So I finished 5th grade in Nome, Alaska. And that is where I stayed until the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Then, it was south to the Midwest...to Walkerton, Indiana. The last three years of high school were there.
People come and people go.
There have been other losses. My Dad died on the mission field, in Africa. Before I was four year's old. My brother, Eric, was killed in a car accident on his 5th birthday when I was off at 1st grade. More drama and loss than you'd expect to find in a life so young, right?
So Wednesday evening of this past week I am meeting with lay leaders. They ask me how I am doing...how the church is doing. I tell them. I also tell them I am going -in just a few minutes- to be presenting a Bible to a young boy named Taylor. Other children will get their Bibles on Sunday morning later in October, but I'll be walking over into the church gym in a few minutes and handing Taylor his Bible.
A friend asks, "Are you giving him his Bible tonight because he is moving away with his Dad?"
Suddenly, I can't speak. My eyes fill with tears. I nod. Taylor is a great young young man. He refers to me as "Sermon Mark." Just a few weeks ago he led our 9:15 congregation in the Lord's Prayer. The tears are a puzzle... I wipe them away and go present the Bible. It is a good moment. I tell Taylor God is good and God is going to give him a whole group of new friends. "I know it!" he says in a matter-of-fact way.
I walk out the door. Express to a friend my puzzlement over my tears. She says, "Well, you've had a lot of people walk out of your life. Those losses build up and you don't want to see someone else you love leave."
In worship today I tell the story of Taylor...the Bible...my tears. After our last service of the morning the sanctuary is nearly empty. Children are playing in the worship area. Adults are chatting. Tech people are shutting down the computers and sound system.
A friend named Chris comes up to me. We hug and watch his young grandson crawl around the communion rail. "I think I know what your tears were about," he says. I wait. "You were crying for yourself. You remembered the young boy who moved so much...all the times you had to adjust...and you know the tough work ahead of Taylor."
"Never occurred to me," I think to myself. Really...never thought of that. We stand there quietly. "The truth is," he adds, "many of the tears we cry we cry for ourselves." I don't know quite to say...but it sure feels like Jesus has tip-toed up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "I think I know what those tears were about."
In Psalm 34 the psalmist says (:18, TNIV), "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Funny how God shows up, sometimes, when the sanctuary has emptied out. And you are nearly alone...but not quite. A friend is standing there...beside you.