In honor of Approach sign-ups being due today, we wanted to take a moment to share one of the talks that take place during Approach. Below is a talk entitled, “God’s Love,” and was given in the Spring Semester of 2012. We hope that by reading this talk it will encourage you to sign-up for the retreat, or remind you of your Approach experience.
God’s love is something different and unique for each of us.
Some of us find God in nature as we walk and witness the splendor of the awe-inspiring world that has been laid out in front of us. Many of us can walk for hours reflecting under the trees. Some may stop to literally smell the roses, and others may watch trails of ants following along their directed path, only wishing that we too had our own path so easily defined. Others may find God as we enter our homes and our senses become invaded from memories of the past. Our noses taste the aroma of fresh baked lasagna and gooey parmesan cheese garlic bread lingering in the oven waiting to welcome you back home. Some of us may know God through the laughter of friends. The laughter that pulls tears from your eyes and turns your gut into knots. Laughter that leaves you with the same empty feeling in your lungs that you feel after swimming underwater for far too long. It’s that dried eyed sensation of 4 a.m. conversations. That desperate calling for sleep, but that yearning to stay awake for just one more moment. We can find God’s love present in a great number of things, but for me finding God’s love didn’t come easy. For the longest time I was left wondering “Is dis luv dat I’m feelin’?”
Let me take you back a little bit, to a Bobby of years past. At this time he was a svelte kid, full of energy, always outside, and always happy to attend Kindergarten. It was a time when pleasure was found acting out Goldilocks and the Three Bears with large over-sized boards with holes to pop your heads through. When cleaning off pennies with some “magic liquid” to make them shine like-new again was one of my favorite station activities. To this day, I still don’t know the true make-up of that “magic liquid.” While Kindergarten was a fun time, it was a distraction from what was happening back home.
My dad was suffering from a major heart attack that attacked his heart so severely that several other organs were affected as well. For months he remained in the hospital, surgery after surgery my mother and I prayed for a positive outcome. Several times we were told that there is a high possibility that he wouldn’t make it through. Before each surgery, my mother and I would talk with my dad before he’d go in for what we were told could possible be his last time. I remember several times my dad telling me, “It’s time to grow up and be a man to take care of the house and mom!” Surgery after surgery we would wait, never knowing what to anticipate. Once or twice we were told that my father had died, but they were working to bring him back. Night after night, my mother and I would return home to a slew of messages on the answering machine and a hamster that had inevitably escaped it’s cage. My mom and I would laugh as we’d search for White Ranger, named after my favorite Power Ranger.
Searching through the house, we’d hear the machine playing in the background, “We’re praying for you three!” as we’d look under beds.
“This is all part of God’s plan,” as we’d look between the nooks and crannies of our laundry room.
“Everything happens for a reason” as we’d shine our flashlights down the hallways catching a glimpse of White Ranger escaping under the closet door.
“This too shall pass, we are all here if you need anything!”, as we’d open the closet door just quick enough to snatch White Ranger and place him safely in his rolling plastic ball–the Pokéball as I’d refer to it.
Many nights were spent like this worried if I’d “truly have to become man of the house”, chasing a hamster, and listening to messages that frankly didn’t mean shit. This routine continued for a few months until my dad was given a “clean bill of health,” as clean of a health that can be given to someone after having gone through such an ordeal. Life was, as you could say, “back to normal,” but normal was hard to understand for a 5 to 6 year old Bobby. Questions of “Why would God do these things?”, continually lingered in my head.
It was as if a dark cloud had passed over me and blocked out the hopeful rays of the sun. It wasn’t until high school did those rays begin to pierce through the clouds.
Like many high schoolers, I was dorky, fairly more… “rounded” than I am today, and confused about that I wanted to do with these four years. Being the active “yes-er” that I am, finding something to do didn’t take long. When a high school teacher asked me to help him start a burial program I answered with a resounding “yes.” After a bit of planning, and prodding others to get involved, I was excited to miss several periods of class–especially the quiz I was supposed to have in “E” period. I was off to my first funeral. Most of us generally have a relatively fluffy image of a funeral: a large church, a collection of a hundred or so people gathered that we’ve encountered throughout our life, a grand oak coffin lined with satin and wearing our “Sunday’s best” for the final time. Driving up to River Vally Cemetery–where Louisville’s indigent population is interned–destroyed that ornate illusion, it was as if a delicate sand art display had been blow away by the change of the winds. The large church had been replaced by over bearing smokestacks billowing out clogging ash, the gathering of people was replaced with a collection of weeds smattered among knee-high grass, and the polished-oak coffin was instead a plywood 3 by 6 foot box covered in what can only be described as left over church carpeting from the 70s. Standing under a makeshift graffitied pavilion a brief 15-minute prayer service took place for no one to witness. The crowd gathered included myself and four of my high school peers, our teacher, the coroner who is required to witness the body being buried in the ground, and a 40 year old deceased man roughly the same age of my dad when he had had his heart attack. Forgive my pun, but the situation was grave.
It was bleak, it was simple, it forever changed me. The lives of the individuals we buried were each unique and entirely full of experiences different from anything I will ever understand. But it wasn’t their lives that taught me, it was their deaths. Think of all the people you’ve encountered: the people you pass as you walk to class, individuals sitting across from you at meetings, former teachers, fellow students, family, and long time friends, none them attending your final hour. For the most part, the people we buried had no one.
Still unsure and unwary about my outlook on God, I accepted another invitation from that same high school teacher to take a mission trip to Belize and build a house for a family in need. Like many who’ve gone on a mission trip before, I had that “save the world” attitude, convinced that I was going to swoop in and change people’s lives! Boy, I could not have been more RIGHT! To say that my service and interactions changed the world, would be a MAJOR understatement! I changed lives!
The only thing that I was incorrect about was that the world that I was changing, was my own world, and the house that I was building was a home within myself, a shelter from the dark clouds that had been lingering over me. Building a house was nothing, but meeting a meek 6-year-old girl named Zenobia who could do nothing but smile and make everyone fill warm and welcomed meant everything.
The rays of sun light were beginning to shin through.
So often through difficult times we hear those same words that I heard as I was searching for White Ranger. “This is all part of God’s plan,” as we struggle to remember what it was like to feel “normal” before our loved one died. “Everything happens for a reason” as we are adjusting to a new school and finding a place to sit is more worrisome than if we can remember our class schedule.
“This too shall pass. We are all here if you need anything!” as we gasp for air from beneath a pile of books, papers and meeting agendas.
For me, and like other I presume, we hear those words and they merely deflect off of us as if nothing had been said at all. The mere blandness of those words hit out ears like the stale taste of bread.
I knew what God’s love was. I had read books. I had seen movies. I had even completed paint-by-numbers drawings of God’s love. I knew it was nothing what everyone was telling me, but that was where I was wrong.
Let me go back again…
While I was in kindergarten, busy making pennies shine like new again, God’s love was present in that still unknown “magic liquid,” reminding me of the glimmer within just waiting to shin through.
God’s love was present in the chase to find White Ranger. In our protective actions to return the hamster to the safety of the Pokéball, God too is always willing and accepting to welcome us back into his loving safety.
God’s love was present in my high school teachers invitation to help establish a new burial program. Helping to give witness to the need to take action of our own life to accept our invitations and mark a new beginning. In the shinning smile of Zenobia’s face, God’s love was whipping clear the dark clouds and reminding me of the importance of establishing a solid home to return to when we feel the clouds looming return.
God’s love is present in the simplicity of our everyday actions, and the summation of our live’s experiences. If it wasn’t for having to find God’s love through my life’s experiences I wouldn’t have been able to move through my most recent low pressure system.
As many of y’all are aware, I was in charge of Manresa this past year. Regardless of your sentiments toward the program, I merely wish to use it as a place marker for my final story. Manresa, for CORE, is a year long process that virtually consumes your life. All summer long, I worked nearly 40 hours or more a week to bring about the program. While this was going on my grandfather was slowly running out of life, he was dying. Like many young boys, they need a solid male influence to help shape them into men, because my dad had been in such frail health while I was younger, my Papa, Robert G. Runyan, assumed that role.
It was Day 1 of Manresa, the Group Leaders and Staff Members had just finished checking-in, picking up their T-shirts and Manresa Materials, and had begun moving into their rooms, when I received the inevitable phone call that my Papa had died. Very calmly, without giving any notice to severity of the phone call, I realized that I would be missing at least 2 days of the program I had spend the last year planning. I began strategizing and establishing the order of what needed to happen in order for my missing absence to run smoothly. It wasn’t until I had completed the schedule and created a lengthy list of notes did I inform my fellow Core members later that night after dinner about the news. Heading home with purpose on the horizon, we struggled to find a priest in such short notice, but luckily due to a little invitation I had accepted years earlier, I knew exactly what was needed for a funeral. The mission of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society is “no one enters this world alone; therefore, no one should exit this world alone.” My grandfather was, and to this day is, my biggest and most inspirational role model, I knew speaking the mission of the Arimathea society would not be needed to inspire anyone to attend his final hour. Leading the funeral service for the man who most directly affected my life by using the same burial program that had been used for countless homeless men and women felt appropriate for a man who continually put the needs of others before himself.
The dark clouds had lingered back, the high energy of Manresa blotted out, and the shadow of the setting sun descended. I had retreated to my inner home for shelter where I was to be reminded of God’s love.
The long nature walks through Bernheim Forest where my Papa, taught me how to identify the various trees and appreciate the refreshing sensation of a cool stream across your feet on a humid summer day.
The deliciousness of lasagna noodles being strained from a pot before being layered between garden-grown tomato pasta and herbs.
The muscle aching jaw pain felt after laughing friends about the endless slew of politically incorrect and socially inappropriate jokes that my grandpa would ingeniously come up with.
God’s love was present through each moment of those situations.
During the simple everyday present moments, God’s love is enriching our experiences.
The smile of a friend can remind me of Zenobia’s glowing smile, and words of encouragement remind me of the frustrating exhaustion of searching for White Ranger.
How do you experience God’s love? Through a walk in nature, a genuine conversation with a friend, or a night time prayer.
What moments take you back to knowing God’s love? Whatever it may be, allow yourself to understand and get to know how God is loving you.
God’s love is all around us, we need only to identify it. Look back at your life and think about what you see. Think of each moment as a precious moment, a precious present.
We need only to examine our core values to cherish those precious presents when we came to know God’s love, and if we find ourselves wondering the halls of our inner homes, unwrap your gift, push open the shutters and allow God’s love to shin in!
Bobby Nichols is a Senior Theology major from Louisville, KY. When he’s not going on retreats or working at the CFJ, he enjoys watching Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, in hopes that he can one day marry Tina Fey or Amy Poehler.