Columns, Featured Stories, Grace Notes

Magical Mystery Tour

My niece Abby (my brother’s daughter), who was born and raised in St. Paul, graduated in May 2009 from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Abby, an only child, made the decision in late 2009 to move to Seattle, where several of her friends from Gustavus, including former roommates, were living. She didn’t have a job waiting for her, but instead planned to find employment when she arrived. Abby’s parents admit that they struggled to accept her decision.

The last time I had seen Abby was Christmas Day 2009. She rode along when my brother drove me to the airport at 5 a.m. that day. I was traveling to southern California to be with my daughter Britt and her family as Britt started chemotherapy. Britt had recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Jean Johansson

Brayden may be starting his exposure to church a little late, but his enthusiasm about church is making up for that.

A huge snowstorm had barreled through the Twin Cities during most of the previous day, dropping enough snow to cause the cancellation of some Christmas Eve worship services. I felt fortunate that my plane was still scheduled to take off December 25 … on time even. Abby would be leaving for Seattle before my return in two weeks, so we said our goodbyes, not knowing when we would see each other again.

In August, Abby arrived in the Twin Cities for a short visit. This was the first time she had been back home since she had left for Seattle seven months earlier. Seeing Abby, I couldn’t help but think about how many things had happened since we had parted on Christmas Day, when both of us were at the beginning of an unsettled period in our lives with lots of unknowns ahead of us.

Abby has embraced her life in Seattle with the enthusiasm of someone in love with the beauty of its location, the energy of that city, and the presence of her friends. She found a job that she enjoys and is doing it well. She has made new friends and spends time with them as well as the friends she knew when she arrived in Seattle. She has negotiated all this on her own, without requests for financial help from her parents. In other words, she has proved she is a capable adult.

When the hoped for becomes the actual

Britt endured the ravages of chemotherapy every two weeks, from the last week of December until mid-April. During the time she was being treated, family members took turns traveling to California to be present and help keep the household functioning, something that her local friends were also doing. On April 23, Britt received the news from her oncologist that those of us who loved Britt had been praying for — her Hodgkin’s was declared to be in remission. On June 18, after receiving daily radiation treatments for two weeks in an attempt to prevent the likelihood of a relapse, Britt’s treatment was done.

In between the completion of Britt’s treatments and her return to work, she, Pat, and Brayden drove to Minneapolis for a three-week visit. From the minute they arrived in Minneapolis, the visit was a continuous celebration of a multitude of blessings: Britt’s courage and fortitude during her treatment; the support and help she, Pat, and Brayden had received from so many friends and family members, both nearby and far away; and the wonderful news of Britt’s remission. Having cancer has impacted Britt’s life in many ways, including being the catalyst for rethinking priorities.

That’s how I found myself standing at the font at worship on July 18, surrounded by Britt’s extended family and members of my congregation, as my grandson Brayden, age 6 ½ years, was baptized. He may be starting his exposure to church a little late, but his enthusiasm about church is making up for that.

A week after his baptism, when he woke up later than he had planned on Sunday morning, Brayden charged out of his bedroom, his clothes in his arms, asking anxiously, “Is it too late to go to church?” I have been waiting for 33 years to hear a child utter those words, with that kind of passion, in my house. And Britt and Pat, who have been a couple for nine years, became engaged in April and will wed in July 2011.

I am grateful for the ever-flowing grace that surrounds me, those I love, and the entire creation. The grace that carries Abby to a faraway place and guides her as she negotiates her way into a new life; that causes Britt to heal; that washes Brayden into the body of Christ; that leads Britt and Pat to pledge to wed.

The Beatles may have had something else in mind when they coined the term “magical, mystery tour,” but it seems a fitting description for our sojourns here on earth, in the embrace of God.

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