Julia Stewart Memorial
1 Corinthians 13
Earlier this week Amie texted me: If you have about an hour of time… I recommend reading through all the journal entries in CaringBridge. Many of you who gather this day have been part of that amazing online community of support.
August 29, 2012. Amie writes: “I asked Julia if she would like some lunch. Julia replied, I don’t have time for this.” It wasn’t the only time she said those words.
I don’t have time for this. That sounds like a grown-up thing to say, doesn’t it? But when we grown-ups say it, it’s usually in a spirit of irritation or impatience, right?
After walking this journey with Amie and Ryan and the girls over the past two and a half years, after reading through that astonishing CaringBridge journal, amidst all the confusion and fear and grief and anger–and humor, and joy, I take Julia’s words to be a wake-up call. What don’t I have time for? What do I have time for?
In the passage that was read a few minutes ago we heard: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. Every minute of our lives we choose what we have time for. We choose for impatience or love, unkindness or love, envy or love, rudeness or love, resentment or love.
In her five and a half years Julia and her family chose well. They chose—they choose–love. A couple of years ago, not too long after her diagnosis, Julia was up front during worship one Sunday with her mom. Amie was the reader for the day, and Julia wouldn’t let her go so Amie held her while she read. It wasn’t easy. Julia kept talking even as her mom tried to read. When her mom fixed her eyes on the text in front her, Julia took her mother’s face in her hands and turned her head to face her. I’m here, she seemed to say. I don’t have much time.
Dear friends, we are gathered here today not for the sake of death, but for the sake of life and the hope and promise of new life. We are gathered here not for the sake of death, but for the sake of love. What do we have time for? What are we willing to make time for?
Making time for love is a really good choice!—and one of the most powerful expressions of love is gratitude. CaringBridge, May 8, 2012: Today I am grateful…that Julia has no pain. May 11, 2012: So grateful to the folks at UW Medical Center… May 13, 2012: I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I am grateful for your kindness, your insight, your inspiration, your support. May 22, 2012: Kids apparently cope better than us old fogies who know too much. Living in the moment has its benefits…Day by day. Loving, cuddling, playing, being. I am so grateful that we have such compassionate caring experts working with us. I am grateful for each moment we have together. I am grateful for all the prayers and help. And that’s just a sample of the gratitude I’ve seen in this family over the past two and a half years.
What does love look like? Love looks like gratitude, even in the midst of what seem like impossible circumstances—day after week after month after year. What does love look like? Love is being in the moment—not stuck in the past, not looking too far ahead, but relishing every single moment…now. What does love look like? Knowing our time is short, love looks like forgiveness. Ryan, Amie, Loren, Clara, & Julia—this is an incredible, precious gift that you have given us! You have set a tone of hope for the rest of us to learn from and follow.
Back in high school I was in a play that has been performed in countless high schools countless times. It’s Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. Emily and George are high school sweethearts who get married and have a couple of kids. Tragically, Emily, the mother, dies. But in the afterlife she’s given the opportunity to relive what she remembers to be the best day of her life—her 12th birthday. The experience overwhelms her with gratitude for the precious gift of life, and she sees how little she and others were conscious of that gift while they were living it. Emily cries, Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! And then she turns to ask the narrator, Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute? And he replies, No—saints and poets maybe—they do some. Ryan & Amie, Loren, Clara—and Julia—you are our saints and poets, reminding us to be in the moment, reminding us to love another.
We can and will honor Julia’s life with butterflies and rainbows and princesses and balloons and the color pink! But–because we do have time–the best tribute to Julia will be the extent to which we reclaim space in our lives that has been dedicated to anger, self-interest, resentment, or whatever distracts us—and take steps to replace all that with self-giving love. The test of love is not in any doctrine or dogma, not in any philosophy or religion. The test of love is how we live our lives in relation to one another each day—otherwise, we risk being, as our scriptures put it, a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Thanks be to God for Julia and her family, who have set an example of love for us to follow! AMEN