Laboring with Love in a Time of COVID-19

This past weekend, my brother and brother-in-law celebrated their second wedding anniversary. Members of FUMCFW and active with the eleven:eleven community, Mike and Stan have been a great example of a commitment to love that actively engages relationship beyond (or across) political differences of opinion, different interests and community connections, and even significant religious differences. But they have, among many things, one thing in particular in common. They really like each other.

This Sunday is Labor Day Sunday (that’s probably not an actual name for it), and I want to explore the nature and meaning of love — love as a “labor of love.”  So, I’m bringing back a story from two years ago that resonates even more today, at the end of which I’ll give you one more “teaser” to think about. Enjoy!

Two years ago, August 24, 2018, Linda and I traveled to Del Norte, Colorado, to celebrate my brother’s wedding. He and his husband, Stan Tucker, live in Fort Worth, but have a second home in Colorado. Their wedding took place in a small UCC Church, where they are affiliate members in the picturesque mountain town of Creede.

We arrived in Del Norte, about 35 miles outside of Creed, just under an hour away from the Rehearsal Dinner, when the instrument panel in my Mini Cooper Countryman indicated a flat tire! Del Norte is a small southern Colorado town in the San Luis Valley at the foot of the San Juan Mountains along Highway 160. Its population is about 2000 people, and they have one tire/inspection/auto repair shop. So we pulled in 30 minutes before closing (and less than 45 minutes from the rehearsal dinner).

Mini Coopers are equipped with “run-flat” tires, so they don’t carry “spares” — the idea being, of course, that you can drive on a run-flat tire for maybe 50 miles or so, in the city, to your nearest, SPECIALIZED MINI COOPER TIRE DEALER!

I walk into Ken’s Tire Center and Auto Repair, a one-garage, two-room building, and wait 15 minutes at the counter as the woman at the shop desk (Ken’s wife, I’m guessing) chats it up with a local man whose radiator had been repaired.

“Never would have got that leak if Frank had gotten up the county road with his grater and smoothed out the rocks like he’s supposed to every three months,” the man laughs. “Big, sharp rock just jumped up and bit my radiator!”

“Guess Frank should pay for this repair, then,” Ken’s wife joins in.

I’m looking at my watch realizing we now have 40 minutes to get 35 miles up the mountain road into Creed when another customer comes in.

“Hey, Bill!” Ken’s wife exclaims. “Whatcha getting’ done on yer truck?”

“Radiator leak!”

“Frank didn’t get up your road either?”

“Naw. You, too?” They both laugh. Meanwhile, Ken’s wife gives me a polite “I’ll be right with you” glance and enters back into the conversation.

“You know, I think Frank’s wife is due to deliver her baby pretty soon. They’ve been pretty busy,” she adds to Frank’s defense.

Linda is sitting in the chair behind me. “Maybe we better call Mike or Stan and let them know we’re gonna be late.” I assure her they can have this fixed in no time, and we’ll be there well before things get started.

The two customers continue their conversation about radiators and the weather as another woman comes in to ask about picking up her car, and the conversation shifts to her kids’ first week at school.

“I hear we’re getting a new campus next year!”  Ken’s wife exclaims. “Guess we’re all paying for that one,” she smiles as she winks at me, I guess to indicate she knows I’m still at the counter.

“Yeah,” the young woman chimes in. “But you know the state matched our property taxes with another $25 million! That’s gonna be a real nice campus for our kids.”

Now, I’m really happy to see how friendly this place is. Really. I am. But I look at my watch, and 15 minutes have passed, when Ken’s wife finally addresses me, “Honey, what can we do for you?”

I tell her about the flat (probably from the rocky road on the way up to Mike and Stan’s place, I mention, having just heard about Frank and his wife). She smiles and says there’s a lot of that going around and starts into the story about Frank and the grater, and I smile and say, “Oh yeah, I heard about that already.”

So, she asks me what kind of car.

And when I say, “It’s a Mini Cooper,” suddenly the room goes quiet as everyone looks at me and Ken’s wife gives me a kind of “bless your heart” smile and then says, “You know, I’m gonna need to get Ken for that.”

Well, an hour or so later, a new tire is on order — FROM MIAMI, FL (to arrive in 3 days on Monday)!  But several people offer to take us up to Creed (including Tony and Amy Simms, Mike’s and Stan’s neighbors we met for the first time and who are now regulars with eleven:eleven). But Ken does “the impossible” and plugs the tire leak, opens my car door for me and adds, “I wouldn’t drive this more than 50 miles or so before replacing it. Better have someone follow you.”

He wishes us good luck and says he’ll see us Monday morning.

Long story short, we made it to the rehearsal, an hour late. We borrowed a car for the rest of the weekend. The wedding and community at the little Creed Congregational Church were beautiful, and the weekend with family and friends from around the country was a special and memorable time!

But the tire never came in Monday morning!

“I’m not sure why that order didn’t go through,” Ken’s wife said, apologizing for the inconvenience. “We could probably get one here by Wednesday.”

So we took our chances on a plugged tire with a half-life of 50 miles, drove 3 – 4 hours to Santa Fe, and got one at a dealership there. We were only 3 hours late to our church staff retreat on Tuesday near Graham, Texas. The drive along I-40 (the old Route 66) across NM at night was pretty spectacular, illuminated by a full moon in front of us (the same Harvest Moon we can all see tonight, 2020!), and lightning from a desert storm off to the South.

All along the way, we met people working at their various jobs — from the female pastor officiating the wedding to Ken’s family at the tire shop, to the wait staff and chefs and park rangers and auto mechanics in CO, to the salespeople and serviceman at the Santa Fe Mini dealership, to the clerks at the quirky Clines Corners truck stop in NM, to the FUMCFW family and friends who own and work the amazing Rocker B Ranch where our staff retreat took place that week near Graford, TX!

All along the way, it seems like labor was most meaningful and inspiring where love (and connection and conversation) was present. Honestly, it’s what made our trip the most interesting, too.

Well, as I said, this is “Labor Day Sunday,” and our reality is decidedly different in CoVid/2020 — our encounters with others significantly more limited, socially distanced, and mostly masked. We’re all a little more anxious, and life much more unpredictable. A flat tire would seem completely par for the course, if not pretty underwhelming. The time and reality we are in couldn’t be in more need of a labor of love. We couldn’t be more in need of some new thoughts on the possibilities of love in all its messiness, imperfection, and Godly possibilities!

So, I hope you can join me this Sunday as we offer a little different format with Brad and the band offering some extra songs (the music of Michael Franti, David Bowie, and Elton John), some spoken word, and I share with you a few quick thoughts about “laboring with love in the time of COVID-19.”

Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven


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