For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:1-5
There are days when I read the lectionary scriptures and ponder and ponder and ponder and…
Today was one of those days. It isn’t that the scriptures didn’t move me because scripture always moves me. It was that the one verse that got stuck in my head was there because I listen to John Michael Talbot. If you have never listened to his music, it is high time for you to go to Amazon or iTunes and get yourself some soul soothing, uplifting music. Please understand me: I am a punk princess who likes to pogo to tunes from AFI and The Offspring, who has sweated to death at a three hour long Green Day concert, and who loves to get down to all manner of music meant to make you dance (are you listening Zumba fans?) Still, I love some good worship music; despite my predilection for anything that makes me want to dance, sometimes you need to worship in the depths of your soul, soaking in the sweet and quiet space that you and God create. John Michael Talbot is one of the artists that helps me find that sweet and quiet place. So when I read the words “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still” I instantly found my mind filled with music. It is one of JMT’s more lively tunes and I just couldn’t get it out of my head.
Talk about an earworm. Try to get worship music earworm out of your head just once. Fat. Chance.
Finally I started wondering what it is that God might need me to say if this is where my mind and my heart found themselves focused after reading the scripture. I realize that earworms are labeled earworms because they crawl into your head and refuse to come out despite their lack of reason for repeatedly playing over and over and over in your mind…but I am also aware that God has this habit of using the stuff I’d prefer to ignore to guide me and make His will more evident. So I asked God to reveal the reason for the earworm.
And there it was: Willow. Write about Willow.
I met with Willow on Tuesday night. She and I go way back. Her father Todd sang in the choir at my church and she attended our youth group. I watched her grow up from a little girl to a young woman and then fell out of touch when she moved away to attend college. I’d see her when she’d come into town to visit her dad and of course, we’d talk, but that was about all. When Todd was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Willow shared her anguish with me. We wrestled with what it is to lose a parent when we aren’t yet ready to be without our parents and the horrible injustice of dying before we get old. Willow and I became friends during those texts and phone calls, and I was honored to sit at her side at her father’s memorial. Nowadays we stay in touch mostly by text and occasional coffee dates when one of us is in the other one’s town. I was down in Tucson this last Tuesday and Willow drove over to my hotel to meet with me. We talked about all the normal stuff: jobs, partners, family…and of course life, death, and her father. Sadly, Willow has a friend and colleague that is dying of cancer—again long before they grow old—and it is waking up all her grief over her father.
I remember going to visit Willow’s dad during his final days. Todd had chosen to spend his final days at home and so that is where I went to visit him. It was the first time that I had a chance to see him outside of the church setting, and I was not surprised to find a ton of pictures of Willow everywhere. The most prominent picture of Willow was quite striking. It was a black and white picture of Willow with duct tape over her mouth and the words “No H8” written on her cheek; her fist is raised in defiance to the discrimination and hatred aimed at LGBTQ persons every day. It was the first thing I mentioned to Todd when I walked into the bedroom to visit with him. He beamed at me. “Isn’t it a great picture?!” He told me that it was featured in a national magazine and was somewhat famous. Then he began to talk about Willow. Todd told me how proud he was of her, and how great of a teacher she would be. He told me that he had always knows she was a lesbian and that was fine with that; the most important thing was that she was happy and had someone who loved her. He went on and on about what an amazing woman she was becoming and then he said “She is the best thing I’ve ever done.” I understood him completely. No matter how great our life is, no matter what our accomplishments, for a parent the greatest accomplishment of all is a child who lives a vibrant, meaningful life—a child who is busy becoming all God created them to be.
Sitting with Willow Tuesday night, I chose to tell her that story. I wanted her to know what her father had said to me so that she would always know proud he was of her. She cried. So did I.
And this is why I cannot get Isaiah 62:1 out of my mind. You see, Willow didn’t know. She had always known that her father loved and accepted her totally and that he was very pleased with her accomplishments, but she had no idea the depths of his feelings about who she had become.
I believe that we often leave our most important words unsaid. Maybe it’s because we think we’ll always have another chance to say them, but I think it’s more because we don’t realize just how frequently the people we love have no real idea of just how much we love them and how much we value them and their contribution to our lives and to the world. When my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I remember calling his friends and family members to let them know; several of the people I called asked if I had any idea what my mother-in-law thought of me. I was a little startled by their question. My mother-in-law and I got along fine and enjoyed each other’s company, but I actually had no idea at all what she thought of me and so I told them so. I was humbled when each of those people shared with me the things my mother-in-law had told them about me—how she felt about me as a wife and mother, but also how she felt about me as a pastor and counselor, as a woman and as her only daughter. I had no idea that she held me in such high esteem. Over the next few months I became much closer to her as we worked together to help my father-in-law die a peaceful death. I enjoyed every minute of our time together during the last three years of her life, and I will always be grateful to the people who told me what she thought of me. They gave me a great gift. My mother-in-law died in 2013, but every time I think of her I remember that I have no idea what others truly think of me. I also remember that I am more loved than I know, and that my life matters more to others than I am aware of—that my actions impact them more than I realize. I comfort myself with that knowledge when I feel low and it helps…a lot.
This is why I had to tell Willow what her father thought of her. For her sake I could not keep silent, for Willow’s sake I could not be still. She had every right to know what her father had said to me, because for Todd, Willow was everything he had ever hoped she would be. I can only hope that knowing this will comfort her and lift her up when she is low, and that it will remind her to never value herself too little. We are more powerful than we realize and we make more of a difference in the lives of others than we can ever imagine.
I suppose I should tell you to tell the people around you just how much they mean to you, so…you go do that! Do that now! Do not keep silent and do not be still. But the greater thing to hear is this: when someone speaks praise or love to you about someone else, pass it on. Pass it on because it is difficult to hear praise like that face to face and our humility stops us from hearing things full strength when they come straight from the source. When it comes to third party praise, love, and admirations, go find the person and pass on the good words you heard about them…pass them on so that they can know without a doubt what they are worth.
“…you shall be called My Delight Is in Her
…for the LORD delights in you
…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
Just so you know, I did get Willow’s permission before posting this. Each story that is told belongs to the one who lived it, and those stories are intimately woven into their very being and therefore deserve to be held in respect.