As we near All Saints Sunday, I want to tell you about some of the saints who helped shape my life. None of them are painted on chapel ceilings. I’m guessing they have not walked through life considering themselves particularly holy. Our paths didn’t necessarily cross by way of church. But somehow, in the course of living their lives with decency and compassion, they taught a kid what it means to be a child of God.
One of my saints was Dr. Charbonneau. He lived next door to me for most of my childhood. Dr. Charbonneau delivered babies and fixed broken arms in my little town, but when I was small, he was in a horrible accident. He recovered some; not enough to practice medicine again, but enough to take long walks with his cane to the ice cream shop where he would buy me a triple scoop cone. He was always telling me that he had holes in his pockets and was sure that some coins had fallen out on his long, tar and gravel driveway. If I could find the coins, they were mine to keep. For a little kid who didn’t have anyone her age in the neighborhood, he became a surprising childhood comrade who kept me entertained and in change for the gumball machine.
Mrs. O. was in charge of a program at my high school that gave kids the chance to do individual projects. When we met the first weeks of my freshman year, I said, “I think I want to try to find my birthmother for my project.” She had so many reasons to say no, but Mrs. O. said yes. Meeting once a week for the next three years, we did research in libraries and court houses, we wrote letters to my adoption agency, and we eventually got a court order to unseal my original birth certificate years before the state allowed for it at age twenty-one. In the three years of our weekly meetings, she was my sounding board for all the things that teenage girls scuttle around in their heads. She cried with me when we found out that my birthmother had died from leukemia when I was four and she cried again when she met my birthmother's parents the next year at my high school graduation party.
Saint Sharon met me before one of my parents. When my folks got the call to come and get their baby girl from the adoption agency, my dad was in the hospital recovering from major surgery. Mom and Sharon jumped in the car to pick me up on the other side of the state. Both families ended up moving but landed in the same town in a different state eventually. Somehow, like a gift from God, Sharon has always been there just when she was needed. A truth-teller if there ever was one, she says the hard things that need to be heard and she says them in love.
When I reflect on these three and the other ordinary saints whose lives have crossed mine, I give thanks. These were the regular folks of various faiths who have been a reflection of God’s light in simple but profound ways—kindness, presence, grace, truth, and love.
As we approach All Saints Sunday, remember those people who have shown you a glimpse of the holy from their lives. And make sure that somewhere, someday, some kid will likewise remember you.
Who are the saints in your life? Ask the teenagers in your ministry to reflect on this question as well!