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AfterWords | Pursuing Love (August 20, 2023)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Amy Hoyle

“Blessed are we who are becoming, who have lived so long in this strange state we call time that it shows. We are changing, and that’s how we know we are alive.

Blessed are you who see the evidence of your own becoming, the places where you are worn from so much loving. The laugh lines from jokes that made your belly ache. Crow’s feet from squinting to see the stars. Stretch marks from growing babies, building muscle, enjoying delicious meals. And yes, the places that hurt. That are visibly still wounded and sore, that change how you move or how you live.

Blessed are you, seeing all this as evidence of loss, yes, but also of life, because what is real is now showing through. Blessed are you who do not despise your realness. It may hurt. You may not recognize yourself in the mirror. But this is what we hoped for, right? To live and love. To be loved. To have our experiences show on our faces and in our cells. It is the real life of Jesus in us, being made visible, as all our seams show.”

— A Blessing for Becoming Real, by Kate Bowler

In the early morning hours of December 17, 2021, I had an insistent call from an unknown number. After declining once, I decided to answer—prepared for it to be someone who had misdialed.

Instead, it was a pre-recorded message stating I was receiving a call from an inmate. My heart raced as I realized this was a call from our beloved son, Noah. We had only one minute to talk. He quickly shared where he was. I only had time to tell him I was on the way, and before we disconnected, I said, “I love you.” And the call ended. I prayed he heard my last words.

We quickly got to work securing a lawyer and headed to the jail to await the charges and post bail. When he was released, the first thing we did was hug him. We gathered some things from his apartment and brought him home.

The year 2021 had already brought all the things: a recurrence of my cancer, chemo, stepping away from my job, struggles with mental health (for both me and my two boys), my father dying unexpectedly, and my mother’s breast cancer returning—a diagnosis that would take her a few months later.

I honestly wanted to know who said out loud, “What else could happen?” It seemed absurd this would be tacked on to our already stretched and grief-stricken family.

The days and months that followed were filled with uncertainty. We were all filled with dread and anxiety—unsure where this road would lead. But we were never unsure of our love for Noah, of his innocence. We trusted God made this part of his story for a reason, that it would one day bear fruit.

For the past year, I’d been pursuing Noah. I realized a couple years into his college career I’d done the societal thing—drop your kid at college, talk occasionally, see them at the holidays.

As I thought through my own college experience, I remembered how much I struggled and wished I had more parental presence. I called Noah, apologized, and committed to meeting once a week for a meal. I wanted us to be real, speak truth, go deep—to have relationship and not play a role.

As we met weekly, we talked through many hard things. His childhood memories were perceived and experienced differently than I perceived and experienced them. I had to learn to listen and receive. I often left those lunches exhausted and deeply sad. Sometimes I took to the bed, resting, praying, reflecting. Then the next week we did it all again.

In pursuing Noah’s heart—his whole heart—our relationship grew deeply. We knew and saw each other, and nothing was left unsaid.

Looking back, I see how God laid such a beautiful foundation: When Noah made that mid-December call, he was confident he’d be met with love, grace, and rescue. Even I couldn’t have known the beautiful depths of unconditional love that would be poured out.

My mom gave an extravagant monetary gift to secure the best lawyers for Noah’s defense and showed such immense compassion, love and support—never questioning or condemning. We were all deeply moved by her capacity to accept—to love unconditionally and unswervingly.

Because God called me away from my job mid-2021, I was able to be fully present with Noah. We had many late-night talks—addressing the anxiety and uncertainty, always affirming our love, our confidence this would all somehow work out.

Even in the midst of the wilderness, we knew the goodness of God.

In recounting that fateful call, Noah confirmed he did hear me say I loved him. He said he went back to his cell and wept. As he wept, he thought of the prodigal son—and the love the father showed.

This parable reveals our heavenly Father’s mercy, grace, and desire for a relationship.

After receiving his inheritance, traveling to a distant country, and squandering all he had, the son—now come to his senses—returns home.

I’ll say to him, “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.” He got right up and went home to his father. When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. Luke 15:17–20 (MSG)

To me, the most beautiful part of the prodigal son story is the father’s heart. Even when the son was a long way off, the father saw him. It gives me chills every time.

There was no way for him to know the exact day his son would return.

That means every day he looked out at the horizon, ever expectant for his son’s return.

When the son’s heart wandered, the father’s heart pursued.

All of us in Christ have experienced the pursuing heart of the Father. God’s love always pursues us through the love of Jesus Christ. And there’s no way to follow Jesus where you don’t go through the wilderness.

The good news is God is always working toward restoring us and making us whole. As Jordan said on Sunday, Scripture—and the human experience—follows the pattern of belovedness / wilderness / forgiveness / wholeness.

Even as we wander, our inner core is
– ever beloved.
– ever light.
– ever blessed.
– ever shalom.

In the wilderness, God planted, nurtured and grew deep trust, deep peace, deep faith in each of us. He helped us learn to love the fractures—even when they weren’t yet healed. His extravagant love made our story new.

As a family, we can truly say we are grateful for the scars. We are grateful for the blessing of becoming real.

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