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  • Greg Dover

Greg's Weekly Word: "love"

To lose yourself in another's arms, or in another's company, or in suffering for all who suffer, including the ones who inflict suffering upon you - to lose yourself in such ways is to find yourself...is what it's all about...is what love is.

This is part of Frederick Buechner's definition of love in his book, Wishful Thinking, and (I think) pretty accurate.


And yet we usually think of love more as the first two kinds of losing - in another's arms or another's company - and less so in another's suffering. Or, we don't think of love as "losing" at all. It becomes sentimental and romanticized, mostly a feel-good, heart-warming experience.




But Father Michael Renninger of Richmond, VA shares a different image...


His grandparents lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where his grandfather would sit in a huge recliner in front of the TV, watching the Phillies disappoint him again and again. His grandmother - Nanny Woods - was an active, bustling woman: always going in an out of the swinging front porch door to church meetings and card games and bingo. (She was the queen of bingo.)


All of that changed abruptly when Renninger was a teenager, and his grandfather had a series of strokes that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. He could no longer walk, or speak, or even swallow. Doctors finally had to insert a feeding tube, and they encouraged the couple to find a nursing home where he could be cared for.


But Nanny Woods wouldn’t hear of it. She took her husband home to care for him there, because “that’s what you do,” she said. And that’s what she did. The recliner in front of the TV was replaced by a hospital bed. And rather than going here and there, Nanny Woods was almost always there - by her husband’s side, sitting with him, caring for him, even learning how to help with his feeding tube.


Their house wasn’t far from where Renninger went to college, and one Friday afternoon of his freshman year, as he was driving home to see his parents, he decided to stop by. He parked his car on the street, walked up to the front porch, and pulled open the swinging screen door, and took one step inside. He immediately had the sense that something wasn’t right, and as his eyes adjusted to the room, he saw what.


His grandfather was in the bed, his face red, his good arm flailing. His grandmother was standing over the bed, flustered and trying to move things around. Something had gone wrong with the feeding tube and green liquid was everywhere. He was scared. She was crying. It was a mess.


Renninger had the same instinct I would have had at age 19 in a moment like that - “Let me get out of this room…” He put his hand on the door and started to push it open, and as the hinge squeaked, his grandmother looked up, noticing him for the first time.


She had never raised her voice to her grandson before, but in that moment she shouted. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare leave!” she said to her grandson. “Because sometimes love looks like this.”


***


During Advent, we await the One who is Love Incarnate. And at Christmas, we see what that love looks like - a child born to poor unmarried parents, part of an oppressed people, in a land occupied by the Empire...born among barn animals, laid in hay, wrapped in rags...a frail, vulnerable child who cried and spit up and had poopy diapers... One who would lose himself in our company, with us in the joys and sorrows and messiness of life - losing himself even in the suffering of death - to show us, beginning at his birth, that sometimes love looks like this.




- GJD

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