Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Three Words (or maybe a few more) by Glenn


Some of you know that at services for people I knew well
I like to share three words or phrases to sum the person up, three words to pay tribute to their life. While we all knew and loved Alanna, we knew her in different ways, in different roles, from different angles. So as I and the others share, I invite you to form your own words or phrases for Alanna. Write them down if you want to. Share them with Jim and the family. Swap words with each other while we eat pancakes later on. The folks who will speak from this microphone up front today aren’t meant to be the end of the tributes to Alanna, just the beginning. Let your words roll!

I’m also aware that while we will all have some different things to share, we will also all have some of the same things to say. After all, she was who she was, whoever she was with. As the first speaker, it’s not my intention to say everything you’re intending to say before you get a chance to say it. But here’s the thing: if two or three of us say the same thing about Alanna, then we know that was a pretty important part of who she was. And if all of us say the same thing about Alanna, then we must have nailed it, and surely she will be smiling in heaven that we got it right. (Or more likely, trying to get our attention to tell us we didn’t get it quite right . . . but we’ll just have to do the best we can.)

So here are my three words or phrases for Alanna:
1) Worthy Alanna is worthy. Alanna was empowering of the people around her. She found ways to bring outsiders in. She let people be who they were, but found ways to guide and nudge us to be better. She gave gifts of lavish attention, like taking a whole crowd of people to meet one unsuspecting friend at the airport, or sending a hand-made card every day for a week to a lonely person in a nursing home. Through Alanna, people came to know their worth.
When Alanna and I worked together at Maynard Church, everything I did (well, not everything, but most things I did) were awesome, incredible, and she’d tell me so on a regular basis. Even when it felt to me like things were falling apart, Alanna believed in me. And whatever awesomeness there actually was in what I did was due in large measure to her. That is why 500 people showed up for her memorial service in Albuquerque and another large crowd has come here in Ohio.

Yet Alanna struggled to have that same sense of worthiness for herself. It was hard for her to let go of guilt over a thing or two from the past. We talked and prayed long and hard about that. And while she was willing to do or give almost anything for others, it was harder for Alanna to receive care and attention. This may have been one of the greatest transformations that took place for Alanna through St. Stephen’s Church in Albuquerque. As reluctant as she was to receive, they were just as insistent on being generous. Finally, perhaps, what she came to see is that worthiness isn’t really the issue. The key scripture is the parable of the prodigal son. The son comes home, desperate and disgraced, saying to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And of course in some ways he was right, and of course that didn’t matter to the Father in the least. God does not give to us because we are worthy nor withhold because we are unworthy—God gives because God loves us.

And as Alanna grew sicker and sicker, she received care and attention and accolades from hundreds of people. And though she may still have wondered why they were doing it, she accepted it all.

And I am here today to say to Alanna more than to anyone else: Alanna, as a human being, you are awesome, incredible. You are worthy and then some. And through the blood of the Lamb, you now stand before the very throne of God, blameless and worthy.

2) Alanna never really had a job; she insisted on living out a calling. I know a lot of people who talk a lot about being led by God to do this or that. And I know a lot of pastors, who all have a call of God on their life. But I’ve seldom known anyone who was so focused on doing what God was calling her to do. This is part of why she had such a hard time finding the right job. I’m not sure the job existed that would allow her to perfectly live out her calling. So what she did was this: she took the jobs she had and turned them in to her calling.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, Mark makes a point of telling us that they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fisherman for people.” Jesus took who they were and what their job was, and turned it in to kingdom work. That’s what Alanna did with her jobs—whatever they were, she turned them in to kingdom work.
A lot of people have said to me recently, “Oh, so Alanna was your church secretary at Maynard.” Well, sort of. Being secretary was what she got paid for. What she actually did was more complex. She was the creative dynamo, she was the party organizer, she was pastor’s encourager, she was the justice crusader. It wasn’t always clear what my job was. To keep up, maybe!

Alanna did what she believed God called her to do; she didn’t do what God didn’t call her to do. It sounds so simple, until you try to do it.

3) I can’t reduce this last one to just a word or two. I’ve been wondering: did Alanna see the glass half-full or half-empty? Well, she was relentlessly upbeat, wasn’t she? Think of all those cheerful emails about “Freddie and his friends.” Yet Alanna could also grow quite discouraged. She had in her mind a picture of how things ought to be—that we should all love one another and serve the needy. And when people didn’t do that, it grieved her heart.
But if you had asked Alanna, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” here’s what I think she’d have said: “Are those my only choices? Give me that glass . . .” And she’d think of a dozen ways of seeing the glass, quite apart from half-full or half-empty. And what of her life—ending at forty, was it half-full or half-empty? I can see it either way. While she lived, she lived it full. Yet I will forever wish she’d had forty more years to live out her calling. But in some ways, it’s neither one of those. Her life was not half-full, not half-empty, but poured out. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy: “I am being poured out as an offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Alanna poured her life out as an offering to God and a gift to those who knew her. My prayer is that some of that water might remain in all of our wells.


Jim said...

Thanks for posting all these, Erin. I just haven't had the heart to transcribe mine yet. I'll get it to you.

Erin said...

No worries Jim, send it along when you are ready. If you want me to sum things up and add your letter, I could do that. Frank took notes when you spoke. I could send that along if that would be helpful. Know that I am in your back pocket if you need anything.