Here is my column in today’s Greenville News
The Gospel in a Lost Bracelet
My wife lost a charm bracelet about a month ago. She was shopping in Easley, and she thinks it came unhooked and fell to the ground. We haven’t found it, despite her asking at the stores and restaurant she visited.
If someone picked it up, they would have seen charms of various sizes and shapes. Some from distant places, some representing times in the lives of our children. It’s a lovely bracelet that she has had for decades. However, it’s a bit worn with time. It hasn’t been polished in a while. It’s still precious to my bride, but for reasons a stranger could never fully appreciate in what appears a trinket.
I was thinking about this at work one day; about how easily we miss the value of others. I have seen this demonstrated as I have watched married couples, late in life, come to the hospital. They attend as closely as they can to their cherished partners. They hold hands, they stroke hair, they speak in sweet tones and say things like, ‘there’s my beautiful girl!’ Or ‘hey handsome!’ Even in the midst of their mate’s profound dementia, they are gentle and loving. Even though the ravages of time and illness have left their spouse with babbling speech, or a body twisted from stroke.
It may not even be the aged, but the young; with scars, burns, amputations, infections. The families of wounded service-members understand this well. When we come to them, as strangers, we sometimes fail to see the truth. What we see as shattered and unlovely is only a dim reflection. Who they are, their value, is perceived through the loving eyes of those who ‘see them as they are.’ We strangers certainly have no concept of the treasure trove of stories and wisdom, memory and meaning in the people we often see only in terms of illness and injury.
I have also seen this in the adult parents of addicts. Worried fathers and mothers who come to the hospital from across the town, or across the country. They hover over their children despite the emotional pain, the fortunes spent on rehab and legal fees. They are so happy to see that wayward, prodigal child that they ignore the lies, the violence, the profanity and derision hurled at them as they try to help. Many times I’ve wanted these patients to simply go to jail and stay there. Their manipulation and narcissism being more than I can tolerate.
Ah, but I cannot see them as they are seen by those who love. I cannot know them before the drugs and alcohol, when they had joy, when they were charming or kind. Even if they were always hard to handle, I cannot know the innate, irrevocable love, the hopes and dreams their parents (spouses, siblings) have carried for decades, through trial after trial. The remembrance of school days, vacations, triumphs, romance and dreams.
My vision is sometimes clouded because these people appear worn. They have cirrhosis, hepatitis, HIV, chronic wounds. They have handcuffs and warrants; they have lived hard lives. But that’s not how they look to those who continually lose them, and find them again, hoping at last to see the cycle broken. They are precious gems, covered in dust and dirt, lying in life’s sediment, as families try to find them and polish them. It’s easy to ask ‘why do their parents keep helping?’ To which they answer, ‘how could I stop? This is my child.’
And in considering all of this, from bracelets to drug abuse, I understand better than ever what this kind of love actually is. This kind of profound worth and care of the beloved, do you know what it is? This is the Gospel of Jesus. It’s a love that will live and die for the objects of its affection. It knows the value of everyone, for it created them, and imbued them with it. It’s a love that knows all of their stories of sorrow and pain. And never, ever, stops pursuing them until the end of time.
If we want to stop struggling with ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ and all the rest, if we want to stop the endless, exhausting arguments of political parties, all the attempts to assert control, all of the ‘othering’ based on ideology, science, faith, race, education, geography or anything else, this Gospel is the best place to start.
Because everyone is a treasure. If only to God. May He open our eyes.
PS Reward for the bracelet!