by Father Thomas J. Fehr

Tears sometimes come unexpectedly and for surprising reasons.  When I came to a sudden realization that a long delay in completing my first master’s degree was a matter of God’s timing that would actually help me complete my Master of Divinity sooner, tears flowed.  Having experienced a seriously broken relationship with my brother Bob after coming out, it appeared we would not reconcile as he neared his death. The words spoken with his last ounce of energy were to my brother Michael: “Tell Tom peace.” When Michael shared those words with me, tears flowed.  When, after six months of intense discernment, and after having always said I would never live in a religious community, I became a member of the Common Friars, tears flowed.  Likewise, being a person who would often shy away from anyone who is handicapped because of the fear that I wouldn’t know what to say or do, I am now blessed to know Andy Rinehart, a parishioner at St. Luke’s with Cerebral Palsy.  As my two year residency at St. Luke’s nears an end, I will soon have to say goodbye to Andy.  Once again, tears will flow.  My experience of Christ’s presence in these and in every situation has taught me that these tears flow from joy.

What struck me about Andy when I met him was just how much like everyone else he is.   As I watched him interact with the staff, I realized that he could joke and tease with the best. Through his sense of humor, he has won the hearts of everyone at the center.  He won mine too!  One day, following Andy as he wheeled himself down the hall steering his electric chair with his chin and a joystick, I called out:  “Hey Andy, slow down.  You’re the only one on wheels!”  If it hadn’t been for the strap holding him in, I think he would have rolled right out on the floor he was laughing so hard. I can tell you that they never worry about the lights going out at the home – with his bright eyes, broad smile, infectious laugh and keen sense of humor, Andy lights up the place all by himself.  Besides having a great sense of humor, Andy is a good listener and many a fellow resident and staff member come to him when they need to talk. 

When you see a person suffering from such a cruel disease, who is utterly dependent upon others for his care and who can still exhibit such mirth and love, you have to stop and ask yourself, “Why?”  The answer, Andy is full of joy; the kind of joy that makes tears flow.

Joy is not simply a matter of feeling happy.  The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines joy as:  A sense of extreme happiness and well-being related in Scripture to knowing God and God’s actions and love, specifically in Jesus Christ.”  This is what Andy has.

Andy was born in Cambridge, Ohio on December 13, 1976.  He was mainstreamed in the public school system and received his high school diploma.  Some students and staff treated him badly, but he had good friends and supporters as well.   It was while he was in high school that his home health aide, Bill Quinlan invited him to visit St. Luke’s.  Andy was baptized that same year; 1992.  He is now one of our most faithful Sunday worshipers.

Andy arrives every Sunday morning from Newark Healthcare Center on the Earthworks bus.  From the time Andy deboards until he reboards, there is a team ready to assist him.  I am convinced that it is not so much because Andy needs assistance, but because . . . well why wouldn’t you want to be around someone with so much joy?

Loving relationships seem to be the key to Andy’s joy.  His mother is his staunchest advocate, and he often speaks of his relationship with his grandmother, Mary, who having heard so much about I have little doubt has joined the communion of saints in heaven.  Andy treasures his family and looks forward to opportunities to go home for a weekend.  I’ve already mentioned his great relationships with the staff and residents where he lives. 

At Licco Inc., which provides employment for people with developmental disabilities in Licking County, Ohio, Andy’s the go-to guy.   His supervisors know that anything they ask of him, if he can do it, he will.  He always gives 100%. 

One of the ways that Andy physically expresses his joy is through his art.  He is currently doing a painting of St. Luke’s historic church building that will be sold at silent auction to benefit the choir’s 2012 tour to Oxford, England.  It’s his way of giving back to the community, of being fully alive as a member of the Body of Christ.   Some of Andy’s paintings grace the halls of the center where he lives.  I can’t help but smile when I see them.  Why?  Because it’s another way Andy shares his joy with others.  Andy wanted to share his joy with you and has allowed us to feature one of those paintings entitled “Sky Blue” on the cover of this issue of the Altar and Table.

One thing Andy teaches those who encounter him is that joy is never contingent upon your circumstances.  Joy is that knowledge, that feeling that lets you know God is always present, ever loving and ever seeking the best for us.  I remember a friend who I used to work with that would always say, “No one can steal my joy!”  That’s because nothing can separate us from the love of God.

At the Good Earth Farm, we know the gift of joy; we claim it as one of our charisms.  We experience life as a journey where no matter what, God is with us, and we strive to do all that we do in the name of Christ.  We try to live each moment in Christ’s presence.  It’s really quite simple: if you want to live a joyful life, put Jesus first.

Andy brings joy into my life! I hope one day he can visit us at the Good Earth Farm.  We would certainly have at least one thing in common:  joy!  Perhaps on such a visit, tears would flow.

Fr. Thomas J. Fehr joined the Common Friars as a postulant on October 25, 2010. As of February 1, he lives on the farm and commutes to Granville, where he continues to serve at St. Luke’s through June as Assistant to the Rector.

 

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