“I’m confused.” That is what my church companion whispered to me during the sermon. “If we are not supposed to put our families and jobs first what are we supposed to put first?” It was the Sunday School answer I gave her, “Jesus.” One word whispered to her as the sermon continued.
Earlier there had been a song with the words “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts, let us not lift our souls to another.” She stated “I don’t know what this means.” There wasn’t the opportunity for discussion, we were singing, and I don’t quite know what I said in response. The comment made me more cognizant of the language used, the religious type church words. Words like idol, sovereign, soul, cleansed, and even worship. Then the Bible passage was about this guy Paul in Ephesus and I could tell she was confused. What did he and this city she had never heard of have to do with God and his son Jesus. She likes Jesus and has accepted what she understands of him. She even loves him some but it’s hard to love someone when you don’t know them well and aren’t quite sure how to learn more about them.
It’s as if she has just tuned in to an amazing story and needs to be filled in.
I wanted to explain more about Jesus and how this guy Paul’s life had been transformed. I wanted to explain what the passage in Acts was about. I wanted to explain how Acts fits into the Bible. I wanted to explain the Bible. I wanted to talk about Jesus. We have talked about Jesus at times, which I’m sure is the reason she asked me to bring her to church. There was some conversation after church trying to explain and understand how she experienced the morning. She wasn’t dissuaded about not fully understanding church or Jesus, she wants to return.
I had a similar experience a few years ago. My friend sat with me in church wondering about the words in a song and the content of the sermon. He asked some questions and I’m sure I muddled through some answers. He liked Jesus too but we’ve had enough conversations that he knows loving Jesus is something different.
It got me to thinking that we have the opportunity to be the pause button on the sermon. Sometimes the sermon is at church from the minister. However at other times the sermon is an act of service, a story, a song, a gift, or a kind word. When we are given the opportunity to pause the sermon and explain it I pray that we have the opportunity to answer “Jesus” but sometimes even a bit more than that. I don’t want to miss that I can hit the pause button to explain the great story of God’s love sent through Jesus to those who have just tuned in.
The snow continues to fall outside the window of parent’s home in Vermont. Miles and miles of white fields lay on the horizon. The night will prove to be brilliant once the clouds clear and the moon shimmers glistening on new snow. Fresh powder always seems to have a mystery of jewels as it sparkles. It’s been much too long since the snow has serenaded us. The world feels expansive with snow covered fields that seem an unending horizon.
In the coming weeks I’ll be moving a couple of towns away after 14 years in the same home. It’s been a wonderful place to live for a variety of reasons, however one reason that I will miss is horizon. Though I live in a town, a village of sorts, my bedroom is on the third floor of a home set on a hill. My bedroom window faces east and the sun regularly wake me up. No neighbors can peak into my windows and my shades are never drawn. Many mornings pinks, oranges, and reds are found on the horizon and it seems the masterpieces have been scripted just for me. I know that just beyond the window lays a village, fields, woods, a beautiful beach and the Atlantic.
Growing up in in Vermont brilliant sunsets are common though were never taken for granted. Whether it is the sun setting over Lake Champlain or settling for the night behind a hill, the canvas is continually changing. It seems it is always improving. Many a day my parents would call to us to see the display of beauty which God was painting. There is also a drive I love to take through the Champlain Valley with the rugged Adirondack Mountains and glimpses of Lake Champlain on one horizon and the soft Green Mountains on the other. Even as a child I knew that this display was magnificent.
On my way to work I drive through conservation and state forest land. Fields lay on both sides with perfectly set trees that solicit dreams of picnics, long walks and carriage rides. Often there are glimpses of deer or in the fall an expansive pumpkin patch. Horses find their way to barns for hay as I attempt to savor a few more minutes without reviewing a list of tasks and crises. My thoughts in the first few miles of this drive typically turn to God who it seems has orchestrated a perfect commute for this girl who longs for the horizon.
When I go too long without a view of the horizon there is something that goes amiss within my soul. My world seems smaller, the possibilities for the future bland, and my restlessness can’t be identified. With the horizon it’s easy to remember there are adventures to be had, relationships yet to be discovered, and a journey that is unfolding. The mystery of horizon is that it is ever changing whether it is jeweled snow, erupting pumpkin patches, dazzling sunsets, spirited sunrises or courageous explorers on a quest. I long to move into the horizon, to take the walks, hike and ski the mountains, kayak the oceans, swim the lakes, and meet those also on the journey. Each day there is new light, colors, people, and beauty to behold. My soul longs for the horizon and what lies ahead. My prayer is to move into the horizon knowing I will not capture it rather allow myself to be captured by the one who created it.
Back in April of 2011 I blogged about Writing Gini The post was a way to keep myself accountable about something I didn’t want to regret not following through with. Gini Andrews, my mentor and friend, is now 95 years old and 11 months. She has been a dear friend for 13 years and has played an integral part of my faith journey. Her life here on earth has been winding down with the support of a group of friends, friendship which is measured in decades rather than years. I am humbled that in a small way I am part of this group that is part of loving her into eternity. I have been thinking of this a lot for the past months. How do I express to her how much she means to me? How for my own process, journey, and eventual healing do I feel I have no regrets and enough been said? Though both of us have been generous with words I chose to write a letter. Yet for many months I didn’t feel the pressure of it. She seemed relatively healthy and I only wrote a bit. However in August there was a diagnosis of cancer and decision for hospice rather than treatment. The pressure moved to writing the letter and my desire to get it “perfect.” How I hate the part of my personality that puts pressure on myself to both overachieve and do things “perfectly.” So I worked on the letter in fits and starts. It was exhausting to write and to edit. Writing each section brought tears as did each edit. Yet finally I finished and it found its way downstairs and into her hands this week.
Having completed writing a letter of gratitude and thanks I leave you with some suggestions when writing and sending an important letter, especially for those leaning toward Type A.
- It really is the thought that counts. As long as it is readable the receiver is not going to look at it with an editor’s eye. I have comma issues and Gini is a writer. Get over your grammar issues, finish and send it.
- Allow yourself to use the process to work through your own feelings. Allow tears to flow thinking about saying goodbye whether goodbye is in months or years. Allow tears to flow about expressing things that someday you will not be able to. Assume you will not be able to easily identify all the emotions the process stirs up.
- Express what you have learned from that person. We all want to know how our lives impact others and wonder if/how we will be missed.
- Most relationships include humor and if you are able include this aspect of your relationship.
- Consistent with your own beliefs, share your own source of peace, or if you share similar beliefs/faith this could be the most central source of comfort and strength you share with the person.
- Get it done, put it on your list, and prioritize it with enough time to allow the emotional process of it.
Hospice is an agency that excels in helping individuals and their loved ones make end of life decisions with dignity and grace. Hospice of the North Shore
This week I went to a wedding of a friend I have known for about 7 years. We became friends, enjoyed some adventures, were part of a Bible Study, and have worshipped together at church on and off. He is the type of friend I appreciate as I know that the most important part of his life is his walk with God and that it is changing and growing. No matter how little or often our paths have crossed, faith is core to our friendship. As with most weddings there were other people I continue to cross paths with who are not as close but we make conversation and it’s enjoyable to spend time with them.
The standard question to ask seems to be, “What’s new?” It can be a difficult question. On the outside my life is nearly the same as it was 10 years ago – the same apartment, the same life status (single not in a relationship and without kids), and nearly the same job. I’ve travelled, mentored more kids, my nieces and nephews are older, I’ve taken classes, learned new things, been on adventures, taken up new sports, developed new friendships, deepened others, been in and ended close relationships, feel closer to God and further along in my journey. Lots has changed in my life, yet from an outsiders view, and sometimes in my own mirror I wonder if I have really changed other than the rise in gray hairs that I am seeing. I know that I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. Many of the goals and dreams I had ten years ago have not been realized (marriage, kids, house, new job) yet It seems that God continues to change and grow me and is preparing me. What that preparation is for I’m not sure but I continue to sense a stirring.
What struck me today is that Jesus must have gotten this question as well. As a man in his late teens and all through his 20’s the question “What’s new?” must have been asked over and over again. When was he going to find a nice girl, get married, start a family? It may have looked to outsiders he was stuck, oddly single, and possibly even that his career aspirations, if any, were small. Yet if they had listened to what was new about his relationship with his Father I believe they would have heard something else. What I appreciate about my now married friend is the type of friendship we have. A friendship in which the question of “What’s new?” is really about what God is doing in each other’s lives, whether it be seen in external or internal changes.
I don’t want to miss asking the question of “What’s new?” both from an external and internal perspective. I also don’t want to dismiss that the changes in my life, though not many are external, are significant and real.
What’s new with you?
Joelinda and I came to know each other through our church’s senior high program. Then and now she is a strong young leader. Four years ago I attended Joelinda’s high school graduation. Fast forward four years of college… a commencement speaker. Her address at Bowdoin does not only speak to her class but all of us in how we can and should engage with others. May it also speak to you. www.bowdowin.edu Watch out Atlanta… she’s on her way.
Commencement 2011 Address: Joelinda Coichy ’11
Story posted May 28, 2011
“‘The Bowdoin Hello’: To Know and Be Known”
by Joelinda Coichy ’11
Class of 1868 Prize Winner
May 28, 2011
President Mills, Members of the College, and Guests,
It is an honor to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this glorious occasion. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to take a moment to recognize those without whom I, and the Class of 2011, would not be sitting here today. Thank you to our parents and family members for their love and support. And to Bowdoin faculty, staff, alums and community members who have all helped shape our college experience.
Joelinda Coichy ’11
Four years ago, President Mills greeted the Class of 2011, on these very steps, and here he declared: “the Bowdoin hello lives!” It was my first hour of college and I was already confused. I wondered if I was going to be forced to greet everyone I crossed on the quad with some sort of special handshake. And I puzzled at how I would ever get to class on time.
Well, as it turns out, “the Bowdoin hello” is not a secret handshake. It is a verbal greeting that students, faculty, and staff extend to the people they pass along their journeys through Bowdoin. The catch is that it applies especially to people they do not know. Freshman year “the Bowdoin hello” starts as a simple “hello,” but as time passes, the “hello” is, more often than not, followed by the recipient’s name. For example: “hello, Wilson,” or “hello, Professor Albaugh.” And, each time that this “Bowdoin hello” rings from across the Quad or echoes through the halls of Hubbard, it testifies to the fact that at Bowdoin we invest in knowing others and being known in return.
Had I understood this on my first day of orientation, I would have been anxious for reasons other than having to memorize a handshake. As wonderful as it sounds to know and be known, it is actually tremendously laborious and often uncomfortable work.
I am a Haitian-American, evangelical Christian. I always have been comfortable expressing my racial and cultural identity. In fact, I wrote about them in one of my admissions essays. But, for me, the prospect of being known, as a Christian, on a secular, New England campus was absolutely terrifying.
When I checked the “yes” box to attend Bowdoin, I assumed that I would have to check the “no” box to being a Christ-follower. Well, at least in public. I fully expected that for four years, I would have to read my Bible in secret and maintain my faith alone. Instead, “the Bowdoin hello” forced me to engage people and build relationships, which ultimately helped deepen my faith.
To Be Known
Let me tell you about a particularly poignant time that “the Bowdoin hello” forced me to be known. One Sunday morning in the late fall of my sophomore year, I was walking across the quad on my way to church. As I took in the foliage, I noticed that my professor was walking his dog in my direction. I knew the “Bowdoin hello” was imminent, so I mentally fumbled to come up with an explanation for why I was awake and dressed so early on a Sunday morning. We passed each other, said hello; and when the awkward pause came, I could think of no excuse, so I mumbled something about being on my way to church.
To my great surprise, instead of running in the opposite direction, or solemnly explaining that I would need to find a new advisor, my professor engaged me in a lovely conversation. Turns out he knew of the church that I attended because his daughter had done a school project analyzing the church’s architecture.
That particular exchange was instrumental in assuring me that at Bowdoin was the sort of place where I could bring my faith to light. As I engaged in more “Bowdoin hellos” and let myself be known, I found that it created unexpected connections between me and others. The result has been that at Bowdoin my faith has not only survived, but blossomed.
To Know Others
As central as being known as a Christian has been to my Bowdoin experience, the most transformative part of “the Bowdoin hello” is the way that it has helped me to know and appreciate others.
My first year I made the mistake of bringing way too much stuff to Bowdoin. I am talking 27-pairs-of-shoes too much stuff. And more binders and packets of college ruled paper than I could possibly have used. I wanted to be prepared.
It was the end of first semester, and it had been a long four months of my roommates and I being “nice” to each other, whether we felt like it or not. It was the beginning of our very first set of college exams, and it was 20 degrees outside. In short, it was the perfect storm.
I came home one evening to find that my binders, that had been collecting dust on our bookshelf all semester, were stacked atop my already-too-full desk. Slightly delusional from stress and fatigue, I flew into a rage. My roommates were startled by my outburst and tried to calm me down. But it only made things worse. I was done being “nice.” The conflict escalated and ended with one of my roommates storming out of our room in tears of fury. I followed suit.
The thing is, at a small place like Bowdoin, you can only run from conflict for so long. A few days later, we all found ourselves in a proctor-led roommate mediation session. Again, I wanted to be prepared. So, I arrived to the meeting armed with a long list of complaints against my roommates. But that evening the Biblical parable about removing the plank from your own eye before pointing out the speck in another’s became all too clear to me.
To my great surprise, during our roommate intervention, for every complaint I fired off, my roommates launched three back in my direction. They said things like: Joelinda is never around; we barely know Joelinda, and we are tired of always tripping over Joelinda’s stuff. I thought that I was going to show them, but their gripes taught me something invaluable about being part of a community.
Upon reflection, I realized that although I had extended polite greetings to my roommates in an effort to be “nice,” I had not engaged them in the true “Bowdoin hello.” I had never made time to truly listen to and get to know them.
You see, the “Bowdoin hello” is not simply about being “nice,” it is about true acknowledgement of one another. Small and intimate spaces like our freshman dorm room and the Bowdoin community more generally speaking illustrate all too clearly that if we fail to acknowledge one another explosions like our “binder fiasco” are bound to exist.
I am happy to report that my second semester of freshman year was much better than the first, in part because I got rid of those dusty binders, but mostly because I made it a point to regularly engage my roommates. In the process, I not only learned a lot about the wonderful people who surrounded me, but the four of us succeeded in bridging the gap between four very different and very strong personalities.
These two anecdotes illustrate two lessons that “the Bowdoin hello” taught me.
The first lesson is this: Say “hello.”
Many of us can attest to the fact that when we are late to class and the bitter wind is howling and our minds are filled with thoughts of tests, saying hello is actually the last thing we want to do. In not too long, many of us will find ourselves, in cities or new environments with new winds and new tests. But in spite of these obstacles, we must carry with us the tradition of “the Bowdoin hello.” This hello is not merely a greeting. It is a lifestyle of engagement in our communities and in our world. And it is taken on by individuals willing to make themselves known no matter how scary it might be.
The second lesson is this: Do not avert your gaze.
A glance at all the people on the quad today illustrates the fact that we all come from different states, countries, backgrounds and cultures. Over the past four years, we have been thrown into dorm rooms, classrooms and onto athletic teams together. At times it has been tempting to try to ignore our differences. But undoubtedly, our proudest moments have been those times when we have vehemently disagreed but we have not looked away. Instead choosing to understand and maybe even appreciate each other’s perspectives. As we depart, let us take this with us, remembering not to avert our gazes, but to invest in knowing those who surround us. In doing this, we will affect positive change in our world and in our communities.
Class of 2011, it has been an honor and a great blessing to share these words with you. But instead of saying goodbye, I will say “hello” in hopes that we will be reunited in the future having built many more strong communities by knowing others and being known in return.