I’ve had a lovely email this morning, from a friend many miles away. She starts it by writing ‘Would it be alright if I just whined for a minute?’ It’s a lovely email because it’s honest, because it’s a boiling-over of frustrations and concerns, because it’s a way she has of sorting out how she’s feeling right now, and it lets me know how best I can help and pray for her. And she’s a funny cove, so even in her angst and fury, she made me smile.
Connections. It’s all about honest connections. Our love for each other, the deepening of friendships, the life of any community, the workings of any society; they all depend on our connection with each other. Communication, honest and open. Keeping the channels of communication open.
The email arrived as I came back from the supermarket/beach/bakers. The dogs needed feeding and the shopping needed unpacking, but first I had to sit down and answer my friend because she was my priority right then. She wanted a connection with me and I needed to grab the hand she reached out. The dogs would survive if their dinner was five minutes late, the shopping would still be there when the dogs had been fed, the day would resume, but my friend so many miles away would know that I was here and listening and ready to join in with a bit of good natured swearing (I leave devout responses to Mother Therese and the Pope) . People don’t email me to be told the soft words and the wise saws of ancient days. They email me for something else entirely, neither wisdom nor measured advice . They email me because at that moment they want me, bonkers old warts-and-all Luce, to communicate honestly with them. There and then. Not three days later. Not if and when the mood takes me and after I’ve sifted and weighed my response. But now. When someone’s going under for the third time, it’s not a good idea to think deeply about the situation, weighing up the options, working out the priorities, and then praying about it all before reaching for that rope.
They matter and sometimes they matter immediately. If you take a week to answer a cry for help, the message you send is ‘I have more important things than you to attend to.’ and of course this may be true. I never expect an immediate response from anyone- especially busy people – but you know what? When I’m in need, really in need, I always get one! If I shout ‘help!’ to the right people, they answer.
A few months ago I had a horrible and thankfully unusual experience. I struggled alone with it for weeks, feeling rejected and confused, and then sent an email to a friend. His response was immediate ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes’ he said, and he was. Him and his sanity, and I was lifted up and dusted down so I could start all over again.
And listen, sometimes you won’t manage to connect, but if you are part of a healthy community you may well find that just in being able to reach out there is comfort:
Yesterday afternoon I visited my sick friend in hospital and as I left her I wanted to contact Jo, who shares the visiting with me (we are a tag team), her sister, and our Pastor. Jo and her sister both went to voice mail – jolly frustrating – and as I walked to the car I emailed our Pastor. Quite a detailed email. Not long, but more than a brief ‘how-de-do’. When I pressed ‘send’ there was no swoosh of it going. I’m a bit deaf and the roadway was busy so I checked the sent box – no, not there. Checked the outbox, no not there. Checked drafts… not there. So, I sat in the car to write it and send it again. Same story, no whoosh, no sent, no outbox… so, flip me! I wrote it again, sent it again. Same story. Sod it. Phone must be on the blink.
I realised at this point that my heart was full and I just needed to connect with someone who cared and someone I trusted. I needed to share the news that lay heavy on my heart and that connection was lost in the ether on blinkin’ hotmail. I was alone with all my emotions. Hard.
I drove home and sent it AGAIN, from my Mac. Might have been getting just a tad mechanical and rote by now. I apologised if my poor Pastor had received it umpteen times already.
He had. That rotten message had come through three times. I have the horrible feeling that number 4 will have pinged in by now.
But you know what I realised? That just by being confident enough to send that email – whether once or 57 times – I was recognising that I was not truly alone, that I was a part of a family, that there was care and support available. That’s when community works, even when communication doesn’t.
When community works, sometimes you don’t even have to shout for help: Last night I planned to meet friends for supper but after that hospital visit I just couldn’t face going out again, so I sent a cancel email. Then I looked in my fridge… eggs and butter. Same as yesterday and possibly the day before. It would have to be yet another omelette… really? Another bloody omelette? I checked the goodies drawer and there were crisps so that was ok. I’d have crisps instead. And some chocolate. Wine. More chocolate. A grey sort of evening lay ahead, tired and a bit emotional. Then, just moments after I’d sent my cancel-supper email, I had a reply … they were bringing supper to me!
And now…the best connection of all. A little miracle connection. Listen, my sugarlumps, how’s about this for a connection? Apologies to those of you from Mount Zion who already know this… fast forward if you know the tale….
One night last month, Mount Zion Church held a night of prayer. At about 3.45 am there were four of us praying, and chatting about God and life, drinking coffee… the atmosphere was warm and relaxed, the church cosy. Paul began to talk about his brother, thousands of miles away in Australia, concerned because he’s not been well recently, and has a hard time in a demanding job. We began to pray for him, a stranger to most of us, and one of the prayers went something like this: ‘You are the God of Cardigan and of Australia. The miles are nothing to you. Won’t you please let Paul’s brother know, somehow, that he is loved and prayed for tonight? He’s in the middle of his day, as we are in the middle of our night, but you are the God of time and space. Please let him become aware of your love and of our love, too.’ It was a heartfelt prayer, all of us honouring the love of these two brothers.
A few moments later, Paul’s mobile rang, strident and a real shock in that hushed space. Who could be calling him at a quarter to four in the morning? Who would be cruel enough to risk waking someone at that time of the night? Paul looked at the screen – it was his brother, in Sydney! He had called ‘by accident’. Paul laughed with the sheer delight of that moment. Again, his brother apologised, thinking he had woken Paul’s whole family, saying that it was an accident, but Paul told him, over the cyberspace and all those miles ‘It’s no accident, believe me, it’s no accident!’
On face time, Paul was able to take that phone to each of us and we waved and spoke, laughing with amazement at this little gift in the middle of the night.
Accident? Really? Coincidence? No way. In about ten years Paul’s brother has never once called him by accident. Never once. Until someone prayed “Won’t you please let Paul’s brother know, somehow, that he is loved and prayed for tonight?”
Just a few minutes later he was talking to us, over all the miles. Prayers reaching up to eternity, bouncing back to earth, encompassing the globe. The one Information Super Highway that never fails. The one outbox that is always emptied, the one inbox that is always read, the one reply that is always sent. Hot mail? Tsk. Rubbish!
God hears. His connection with us is perfect, even when our connection with Him is just that bit… erm… Luce-ish. A bit hotmail. A bit human.
This is from a Psalm: The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
I reckon the ‘in truth’ bit is important. Connection without truth? What a waste of time.
Yes, my chucks, if ever you ask me ‘Would it be alright if I just whined for a minute?’ My answer will always be ‘Whine on.’ I can’t promise a sweet, wise or soft reply, but I do promise a fast one. There used to be an old cigarette ad ‘You’re never alone with a Marlboro’.
I’d like to think you’re never alone with a church behind you.