Over the next few weeks, we’ll be offering, for the first time, a few entries from our first book, Judgment & Love. Edited by Sean Norris and featuring contributions from nearly all of the regular contributors to this blog, J&L is a collection of 35 true-life stories illustrating the powerful truth that when love is shown in the face of deserved judgment, lives are changed. In other words, these are sermon illustrations par excellence – and ones which actually happened! To order your copy at the reduced price of $10, go here or click on the button at the bottom of the post. This first one comes to us from The Rev. Nancy Hanna and it’s quite a doozie:
She came into my office three weeks after her mother’s funeral, at which I had officiated. She was deep in the throes of disposing of her mother’s house and belongings: a private and painful activity (on the level of hearing the clumps of earth thud onto the top of the coffin lid) unaccompanied by hymns or prayers or family members huddled close. She alone was cleaning the closets, packing the china, and removing the framed photographs from the walls. Her two sisters had gone “home” to their own spouses and children and busy lives in other cities and she—divorced with grown chil- dren in college and first jobs elsewhere—was back home. . . alone.
“How’s it going?” I asked her.
“Slowly.” Her eyes were down, watching her hands twist a moist Kleenex in her lap.
“There’s so much stuff; so many decisions. . .” her voice trailed off. Then she said in a burst of energy, “My sisters left the day after the funeral! They just. . . left!” She began to cry.
“You’re feeling abandoned.” “They left!” Now she was sobbing. I waited. “Now I have to pack up everything, get it to UPS, and ship it—even the photographs!” “The photographs?”
“There’s this wall in my mother’s bedroom where their wedding portraits hang. Just theirs; mine isn’t there.”
“Where’s yours?” Silence; a long pause. “There isn’t one. Never has been.” “Oh?” “Yes. I was two months pregnant on my wedding day; it was 1958. There was no white wedding dress. My mother said it would be inappropriate. I wore a suit. There were only a dozen guests. One of my husband’s aunts cried throughout the ceremony. It was awful.” Her mother’s judgment of her according the to standards of the time had crushed her.
My mind flashed to a wall in my mother’s bedroom: the “bride’s wall.” On it were the bridal portraits of my mother’s mother, my mother, my sister, and me. I am wearing the same headpiece and veil as my mother. For two years the photographer displayed my photograph in his window. I was eighteen, slender, and the lighting was good. Best of all was the dress: a white, long- sleeved, empire waistline brocade with satin-covered buttons all down the back. Simple. Rich. Elegant. Perfect for my January 1, 1965 wedding day.
Like the woman sitting in my office, I was two months preg- nant on my wedding day. My parents and my boyfriend’s parents had granted our desire to marry and raise our child. During the busy week before New Year’s Day, my mother took me shopping for a dress. “Something simple. It will be a small wedding. Some- thing simple; something dark; tailored.” We walked into the wedding clothes shop in our suburban village. She steered me toward the mother-of-the-bride section. My heart sank. As she searched through the rack, the white brocade bridal gown caught my eye; it was on a mannequin. I walked over to it and began to finger the material. My mother watched me. She left the mother-of-the-bride dresses and came to my side.
“Would you like to wear this one on your wedding day?” she asked.
“Yes. Oh, yes. Yes!” “Then you shall.” My grieving parishioner is quiet and still now. I say a prayer; we agree to talk again soon. My mother’s gracious gift of love has borne fruit: I am a wounded healer, thanks be to God.
p.s. To download Nancy Hanna’s inspired final sermon, “The Final Word” click here. Or just listen now: