After graduation from seminary, the movers arrived taking all of our belongings and we packed what was remaining into our mustard-colored Dodge Colt wagon. Anna, just over 3, and Grace, 11 months, sat in their carseats in the back, Karen navigated and I drove. We traveled from Kentucky to San Jacinto, California that week in June.
The sweat poured off us as we drove on pavement hot as a skillet on the stove. All four windows open, the hot air blew around us. We had a bucket of ice on the floor in front of Karen. She’d put her feet into it to keep migraines at bay. She also dipped our bandanas into the ice water to tie around our necks to cool us down. Four, long days we drove, leaving our last hotel before light to drive the last hours across the desert before the heat. We pulled up in front of the white stucco house with dark red trim, the weed-filled lawn, under blue skies. This would be our house. It was a weird feeling. We would not be moving in for a few weeks, but our stuff would be arriving later that morning with the moving company. They would move it into the garage for storage.
Excited. Amazed. Expecting a warm welcome, even at 7:30 am, I knocked at the parsonage door. The current pastor, hardly awake, opened the door, saw us and said, “My God, it is too early! Come back at 9:00 am, would you?” And shut the door.
Somewhat deflated, we got back into the car and drove away. Feeling a bit rejected, albeit it was only 7:30 am, I was also swimming with the fears of what it meant to pastor this people in this place. We drove up and down the streets of the place which would become our town. We found the church, also a stucco monolith, with a large lawn and huge eucalyptus trees. We explored a park. At 9:00 am we returned to the parsonage, and briefly saw the house.
That first day we also met Helen Reeder for the first time. She embraced us with a love which at least for the moment chased away my doubts and fears. She chaired the committee which oversaw my work at the church. She had been my main contact over the preceding months, and greeted us like long, lost family members. She was a breath of fresh air. That night I met with the committee Helen chaired, my first face-to-face with this group. It went well. In three weeks I would be their pastor.
We lived out of suitcases for the next weeks, finally moving into a little cottage behind Helen and Harold’s house until the current pastor moved out. The last week of June we moved into our new-to-us home.
Helen was a mainstay for us over the next years. She helped us paint, redecorate, found others to help, and was a solid encouragement to me in my first-time pastoral role. Harold, her husband, we saw less frequently, but he would drop off a watermelon at our place every week all summer each year from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
In 1994, six years later, both we and Helen and Harold moved. They moved to the town of Marquam, Oregon and we moved to Banks, Oregon where I began new work. Two of Helen and Harold’s pastors in the intervening years were dear friends of mine, guys with whom I was in an accountability group. So, I would hear news from them about this dear couple. Then last July 1, my wife, Karen became the pastor of their church so suddenly we are connected again. Harold died late last year of prostate cancer. And, just a week ago, I got to go see Helen and her son Dale. It had been 27 years!
Time although it marches by has a strange quality to it. When I walked into their home and hugged Helen, now 91, it felt like no time had passed at all. Again I was 29 and she, 58. Certainly, all three of us look different than we did over two decades back, but, there was an immediate intimacy of connection.
Those years had not dimmed our relationship.
I love this about relationships. It was as if the time spent together those six years in San Jacinto, 27 years earlier, had forged a deep bond which time had not severed. I sat down in the soft, brown recliner and we began to talk. Stories poured out about the pandemic, about Harold’s death, about life now. It has been so long, and yet, it had been no time at all.
What a blessing to have someone returned to my life after all those years!
It left me with two discoveries.
First, back in 1988, I was so stressed about the unknowns of being a pastor at the church. In my journal, on June 6th, I was picturing myself alone seeking to do all the leading, preaching, caring, but God had spoken: “Brian, always picture me in the images of the pastorate placement. After all, I have preceded you there.” I could name dozens of people who embodied this truth, and the first was Helen Reeder. She put skin on Jesus in our lives. God truly is WITH us, moment by moment.
Second, the emotions of a moment can feel huge and be defeating. They can be the Empire State Building towering over our lives. But that is because they are experienced in a moment. In that moment, they can seem larger and speak louder even than God. But when written out, when allowed to see the light of day, when seen again after years have passed, those huge emotions can look like a small pebble in our paths. I wonder what it would feel like to allow emotions to be but not to dominate the present? If after years what seems so big today might look small, what if we viewed even present defeats and difficulties with a long view? What if? Perhaps we could see them as stairs not mountains. What if we welcomed the feelings, like friends coming for a brief stay, and then let them travel through us and beyond us? What if? That would be different, wouldn’t it?