Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Unexpected Stain of Grace

Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Arthur Foye, the father of an old friend.

Well, more than an old friend really. An old girlfriend. My first kiss, in fact.

If my calculations are correct, her father was a minister of the gospel for something like 52 years. I came to know him when I was a 17 year old half man / half punk. I remember being embraced by the family, and I remember their house as a place of love and joy and acceptance. This is, of course, in complete accord with everything that was said about Art during the service yesterday.

I would estimate that there were at least 300 people in attendance, in spite of bad weather that has plagued the state over the past week. The spirit of the gathering was not downcast or melancholy. We certainly mourned his passing, and many will miss him greatly, and yet the pervasive mood was one of joy and hope, with a generous portion of humor.

I have been thinking throughout the past week of his personal impact on me. It is a curious thing to think about now, some 30 years later, because I am certain that I was not much more than a blip in his life, some skinny kid who hung around his daughter for a year or so. We did not have many actual one to one conversations between us. I was much more likely to sit down and chat with Joan, his lovely bride. We certainly had no deep conversations about Jesus, or theology, or scripture, or anything like that (that I can recall), which even then was bread and butter to me, as it was to him.

Yet I remember meeting them for the first time as I arrived to pick up his daughter to go to a movie. I was anxious to make a good impression and communicate that I intended to take very good care of their girl. I recall an amused look on his face. Possibly even approving, but as a young man in that situation, I may simply have been hoping for the best.

As time went on, I have memories of celebrating New Year’s eve with the Foye’s, and of their inviting my Mom to join us. This began a friendship between them, which lasted until my Mom died last year. I am so grateful to Art and Joan for their kindness and support to my Mom as she went through much trouble over the last few decades of her life.

I remember eating with them, as he would preside at table – that long, long table in their New England country kitchen. Food was plentiful (important to a teenage boy) and good, conversation bright and studded liberally with laughter. They welcomed me into their family with ease and grace and I always felt welcomed there, even after I was no longer dating their daughter.

I remember visiting the summer Church camp where Art was Director for many years, soaking in the sense of fun and joy that he brought to what I know now is often a pretty tough job.

I remember watching as they cared for, suffered with, and struggle over their children. I remember being struck forcefully by their example of open and total love in all circumstances.

And then through the years following, as I had occasion to visit, we would chat amiably and he would be off to some meeting or another while I would stay for another piece of coffee cake, just thankful for the chance to hang out in their kitchen. If spirit can affect things, then that table must be saturated with love and hospitality.

Looking at all this on the whole, I find myself a little bit surprised how much influence Art and Joan and their home and their family have had on my life. My association has been long but really on the fringes of their lives. Nevertheless, the experience of having been with them, the memory of that time, the knowledge of who they are and that they are there has never left my mind or my heart. Truthfully, I really cannot say that I knew him well. Yet by building a house inhabited by gospel values, and by letting me into that house, even for a brief time, Art and Joan have had a profound impact on my thoughts, my choices and my life. Although it is difficult for me to account for the powerful effect of such brief acquaintance, I am joyfully grateful for it. I am a better man because of it.

It is rather as if grace had such a profound hold on their lives that it simply couldn't help but leak out all over those who came near them. Even now, I still bear the beautiful stains of that grace, and those lovely colors have not washed out. I can only imagine what brilliant colors his life must have lent to those he knew well, and who worked with him regularly.

May the love of God the Father, the peace of Christ, and the joy of the Holy Spirit continue to dwell richly within the memory of Art here on earth, as we await with joyful anticipation the reunion to come when the world is made anew.

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