This month is Pastor Appreciation Month. I'm not sure who came up with it, but if you're a pastor like I am, it seems like a pretty good idea. Although yesterday was "Cat Day", so it's important to keep in perspective that every living and non-living thing is getting celebrated with it's own holiday these days. We live in a culture that doesn't want anyone to be offended, so everyone gets a blue ribbon in our culture. But I digress...
I get a few cards during the month with some kind words and usually a gift card to some restaurant or another. It's really kinda cool.
I appreciate the gifts, but the older I get the more interested I am in the card. This is good and bad. Good, in that I realize that the consumer part of me is giving way to what is of greater worth, community. Bad, in the sense that most cards don't say anything at all...they are just vehicles to encase a gift...the thought that counts, without the words of affection that really account for the strength a soul needs to make it to the end with honor. Cards can be very disappointing when they are hollow instead of hallowed.
I want to see someone's handwriting. I want to hear people's feelings put into words. I love the plastic gift card that pops out...but my heart is eager to hear who it's from and what led them to go out of their way to write it.
Sometimes it's just the generic limerick inside that says, "You are appreciated" or "You're a great pastor", etc. and the person just signs their name under the kind expression or pre-fab poem. But sometimes you get lucky and the person actually articulates their heart...this is gold to me. This is the currency that sustains me. Person to person edification. Human contact and connection. Relational exchanges of affection. Encouragement and empowerment from someone who takes the time to speak out their heart into my heart. The card is more important that the gift.
This leads me to last week...
We got a long letter written with tender loving care. It was so deeply connected to my family, my marriage and my life. Every phrase and sentence and paragraph was thoughtful and non-general. It was very specific and as such, special. My wife read it to me in the car and as she was reading it, I remember thinking: "This must be what it feels like to be pursued, fought for, and rescued." When someone is coming for you and disallowing you to write it off or blow it off, it's powerful. When the things they are saying represent everything you're living for that you wonder if anyone knows or sees, that's nourishing. Sometimes I wonder if anyone really knows or cares....beyond the surface. And this letter just kept going, which meant it just kept coming.
I'm used to being the one to try and help others and it almost made me blush as this letter went on and on regarding my heart, my family, my life's work, my leadership, my love, my dreams, my pain, my pressure, my gifts, my glory, my friendship...my friendship.
It is a letter I won't soon forget. The card was packed with pathos. I felt known and loved. I truly felt like they appreciated me deeply...not just because their was a holiday forcing them to conjure up something to say. It was meaningful.
The gift in the card was unforgettable as well. It followed the unique path of the letter in that it was unexpected and almost unbelievable. How could someone care so much? How could someone lavish such love upon us? You almost don't believe this sort of love exists anymore, getting used to it's absence as normal. So when it appears, it's almost too resplendent to behold. You want to turn away feeling unworthy. Run away for fear that you are pitiful. I say pitiful, because love doesn't feel like charity in a world were it is so rare, it feels like pity. And that makes you wonder if you're needy or did something to get attention. I never want to be "that" person. But when someone comes after you with such fierce love, it's so rare that it can feel like you did something wrong to trigger the benevolence. Does that make sense to anyone?
All I know is that it went way beyond a goofy man-made holiday called "Pastor Appreciation" to an appreciation that was rooted in "knowing". Deeply being known carries a majesty that borders on magic.
It's less and less about the gift and more and more about the card.