The final scence of the Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life always gets to me. George Bailey has spent his entire life trying to juggle two almost competing desires: 1) to provide financially for his family and 2) to serve the town he loved. Of course, when George feels like a failure at both of these endeavors, as well as compared to the standards for success for his profession, he tries (in vain) to end his life. And at the end of the movie, when all hope seems lost, the whole town comes and bails him out. But what gets me is how George is helped out and even praised by all the people he's been helping; people he didn't even realize he was helping. As George's living room fills with people, he is able to see a reality much greater than the small and frustrated perspective he'd been having. Whenever I watch that scene, I think, "that's what I want my life to be about - giving my life away for others." And I usually cry thinking about it.
Well, as our last worship gathering for the church I began and pastored, I had an It's a Wonderful Life Moment. Honestly, I don't know if there will ever be a moment in my life in which I have more praise and thank-you's poured over me than hour of open sharing that happened this morning.
Mostly, that hour was a blur of tears, hugs and 'thank-you's'. But I remember a few lines, many of which were forced out between tears.
"Thank you for leading my daughter to Christ. For speaking at my wife's funeral. For helping me celebrate her first post-mortem birthday."
"I was so lost, but you, Erin and this church found me."
"This is the only church I've ever known. I've been sober for six months because of this church."
"You and the church changed my paradigm for what church is to be about. My understanding of the Kingdom has expanded. For awhile, I wasn't being obedient to God. But your obedience inspired me to be obedient." And the growth I saw in this friend over the period of about a year was the most dramatic change I've ever seen in a Christian.
"I never thought I'd care anything about God or the bible. But now I know Jesus. Thank you. We've been through a lot together. Thanks to you and Erin for always being there for me."
That guy wanted to talk longer but he just couldn't get the words out. But I knew what he was trying to say.
In response to my sermon about going after the lost sheep - "Donnie, I was 'the one.' I could be real around you. You accepted the real me."
This guy wanted to say more but couldn't choke back the tears. His wife said that was one of the few times she's ever seen him cry.
"I've been a Christian my whole life, but this church gave me a vibrancy I'd never experienced before. Donnie has a unique and fresh way of explaining God." This friend is now preparing for full-time ministry
"Donnie and Erin, you really helped me see the truth."
From a teenager who gave me a tearful hug, "Thank you for doing that bible study with me last summer." I was starting to drift in the wrong direction but you nudged me back toward God."
"This church has helped my family know what it means to love people the way Jesus loved."
It has been anything but easy. But it has been more than worth it. I've always had a gift for words but I have no words to describe the awe and thankfulness at having been such a significant part of the spiritual journey of so many people. Maybe we should all just gather around the piano and sing, "Auld Lang Syne."