Last week I found myself with two very different emotions as I reflected on the lives of two different women, one whom you do not know and one about whom I hope you are learning more.
The first emotion was grief, as I learned about the death of a woman from the first congregation I served. Ulla died at the age of 90 due to complications from Parkinsons. She was an amazing woman of incredible strength and boundless compassion. She always sought to learn more, grow more, and give more. Ulla grew up in Sweden, of which she was proud. She shared with me about different Swedish traditions, whether it was Swedish hymns or Santa Lucia Day or the ginger cookies that she closely guarded the recipe for.
She became a nurse and served as a missionary in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe in the 1960s before moving to the United States. She took great pride in the care that she provided and told me how her nursing uniform was displayed in a case in a local hospital.
I knew her in her retirement, but I saw those traits of compassion and strength in her leadership at church and the gifts and creativity and knowledge she would share. Our Christmas tree skirt was a gift from her. One of her small quilts hangs on our wall. I always enjoyed sitting with her and visiting with her, and I wish that I had one more chance to talk to her. The world is a bit emptier without her in it.
It did not surprise me when her son shared a quote from her that she used her whole life: “It’s not what happens to a person that is important … … it is what a person does with what happens that matters.”
The second emotion I felt last week was inspiration. At the inauguration last week, we all had the opportunity to hear Amanda Gorman, 22 years old, our National Youth Poet Laureate, who delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb.” In her words she sought to inspire all of us to take up this task before us with our country, acknowledging that though we are from perfect, we are called to move forward, seeing “yes we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose.”
In words that sounded like my friend Ulla, Amanda concluded, “For there is always light, If only we are brave enough to see it, If only we are brave enough to be it.”
When I think about Ulla and Amanda, I hear about our call to participate in the vision of the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God. I hear the words of Micah, who declared, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
I hear the call to celebrate our differences and realize that this vision, this task, this call, requires all of us working together, being together. So in both the grief and inspiration I have with these two women, I will let these words of Ulla, these words of Amanda, shape how I am called to be in the love and grace of God. And I invite you to join me.