"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' (Matthew 25:23, NIV)My high-school/life friend John Zeigler's mother died Friday. The illness that overtook her was sudden, unexpected, and shocking...and in a week, she was gone. So it was that I was on the road to Toledo to be present for my friend in his loss.
My experience of Ann Zeigler over the last 30 years was of a woman who cared deeply for her children, her husband of 50 years, the schools she taught at for 20 years, and Park Congregational Church. The best time to visit the Zeiglers' was always when Mom Z had been baking pies - and it seemed there was always just one slice more for the next person who had stopped in to visit.
They worked hard in life, and they played well in retirement. Ann and her husband Ned traveled often, frequently bouncing from one set of grandkids to the next. I've known her son John long enough to know she was not without flaws by any means - but those flaws seemed long and far away as we gathered for the visitation in Toledo Sunday afternoon. Like the Barbra Steisand song says, "It's the laughter we will remember/ whenever we remember/The way we were." And as I thought of Mom Z's life, this verse from Matthew leapt to mind - there is no doubt that it applies to Ann Zeigler in spades.
These gatherings, sad as they are, are almost always a chance to reunite with friends and renew relationships that have drifted apart. But they also make me look at my life, if there were to be a final accounting for me this weekend. And the balance-sheet rarely looks all that positive.
I know I'm my own worse critic; as a friend often says, "Who better to judge than I? After all, I was there at the scene of all the crimes..." It becomes very easy to focus on the catalog of sins, of character defects, of all the times I turned left when I should have turned right, or the times when I could (and should) have stepped up to an opportunity, and instead stepped back in fear or doubt.
I know I'm not unique in this. As a wise friend often says, "I may not be much - but I'm all I ever think about." Self-centeredness is definitely at the top of my character-defect parade...
But my faith - cracked an wobbly though it may be at times - is that there is One who has redeemed me, who sees all my failures and sinful nature and yet still says, "I love you. No matter what you think about you, I know you - and you are Mine. I have gone ahead to prepare a place for you, and there is already a place for you at my Table. Come to me, and your soul will find rest."
And when I'm able to remember that, it's easier to put down the scorecard, to stop comparing myself and my struggles to folks like Ann Zeigler, and to simply accept the gift of grace. I can trust that Ann and I will both hear God say the words of one of my favorite praise songs:
Do not be afraid, I am with you,Loving God, welcome your servant Ann into your presence. Let your love and your presence be like a strong, cool wind on a sweltering summer day - bringing comfort and relief to those who struggle with the loss of a wife, mother, sister, and friend. And let each of us who believe find renewed hope in the promise of life after death with you. Amen...
I have called you each by name -
Come and follow me
I will bring you home...
I love you, and you are Mine.