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Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee!


Editor’s Note: FMS Programs Manager, Emily Norton reflects on the unexpected love that has bloomed from a friendship that emerged from an emergency response training.
**Names have been changed to respect privacy**

“See you Sunday! Safe travels. I love you!” I hung up the phone and reflected on how natural the words “I love you” came out.

These words transported me down memory lane to four years earlier when I was setting up an emergency response training for fewer than a dozen people at 8am on a Saturday for work (my job prior to FMS). My main role for the training was merely recruiting the volunteers, figuring out logistics and ordering lunch. The trainer was doing the rest. “Is this really worth my time?” was a thought that kept creeping into my mind. It was Saturday after all!

We went around the circle introducing ourselves – name, where you live, and why you were interested in the training. “My name is Clare and this is my husband Frank. We live in a small town in Virginia. Our reason for signing up for this training is that we are planning on selling our possessions and our house, so we can buy an RV and travel around the United States responding to disasters and helping communities in need.” My half-asleep self immediately perked up. Who was this incredible couple?

Those all-day Saturday trainings soon became something I looked forward to coordinating, so I could spend more time getting to know Frank and Clare, who traveled four hours to attend.

Frank and Clare were a married couple in their 70’s with grown children and grandkids, and they lived in a small town. I was in my mid-20’s, single at the time, and enjoying city life in DC. In many ways we were quite different, but our shared Christian faith and heart for service allowed us to bond quickly.

“Love blooms bright and wild…” in unexpected places with unexpected people.

Over the past four years our friendship has grown immensely and I am incredibly grateful for Frank and Clare in my life. Although the 4-hour distance has been challenging, that has not stopped us from deepening our friendship! We have exchanged dozens of letters sharing the joys and challenges of our lives and we have been intentional in carving out time for in-person visits. Although we have never met each other’s families, we know each member by name, where they live and what they are up to.

I was nervous writing a blog about Frank and Clare because no amount of words can fully describe their joyful spirits, deep faith, and overflowing love – but if you ever meet them you will experience all of those beautiful gifts of theirs within minutes of an introduction. Christ’s light shines brilliantly through their every word and action and their smiles! They offer their compassion, listening ear, and peaceful presence to every person they meet, and often those complete strangers (like I once was) quickly become their friends thanks to their intentionality in sharing their time and love with others.

From hearing their stories and witnessing their lives, it is so clear that Frank and Clare seek God’s guidance for every step of their journey – whether it’s to the jungles of Paraguay with their then-young children to serve on mission for years or through dozens of doctor appointments to treat Frank’s cancer – they always put God first, and it is from their deep faith, that stems a contagious sense of hope and joy.

They are truly an inspiration to me. I am incredibly grateful for their pastoral humility, thoughtful guidance, and the numerous lessons that I am privileged to learn from witnessing how they live out the Gospel in their daily lives. Their 50+ year marriage is one of those beautiful lessons I do not take for granted. I am grateful for their example of a healthy relationship deeply rooted in their Christian faith and their unconditional love for each other.

They are also inspirational prayer warriors. Miracles have happened thanks to their prayers. I truly believe that! To this day, Clare asks me how Allison, Aubrey, Catherine, Erin, Janice (the list goes

The beautiful prayer shall Clare made Emily sits ready to be used in Emily’s prayer corner in her apartment.

 on) are doing. Very few people in the FMS family know that Frank and Clare have the prayer cards of each of our recent missioners and prays for them daily. This prayerful support to our missioners has meant so much to me.

One of my cherished possessions is a prayer blanket that Clare knitted for me in my favorite color. This meaningful gift has provided me with so much comfort during numerous challenging times and when I wrap it around myself it feels like I’m receiving a big warm embrace and prayers from both of them.

I could continue writing anecdotes about God blessing me with the presence of Frank and Clare in my life, but I think I’ll close with a reflection on Christmas…

Christmas is a time when Christians everywhere pause to reflect on the life-changing Incarnation – God humbly joining us on Earth as Baby Jesus being born in a manager. That is not the only incarnation that Christians are called to reflect on. We are called to reflect on the Incarnate Christ, the Body of Christ, Emmanuel (“God with us”) alive here and now, all around us… at 8am on a Saturday morning in people like Frank and Clare… and like you and me. We just have to open our eyes and open our hearts to receive the Incarnate Christ and Love in our daily midst. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee!

Reflection Question: Who in your life has shared Christ’s incarnate love with you?

Former Programs Manager Emily Norton has worked at various local, national, and international NGOs, all of which shared her goal of serving marginalized populations and promoting social justice. Latin America holds a special spot in Emily’s heart, and she has studied and served in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, and Ecuador. Her time on mission living simply in an intentional community, focused on ministry of presence, and living in solidarity with the poor was transformational for her. Emily was a wonderful guide and advocate for Franciscan Mission Service lay missioners through the application process, formation, overseas service, and re-entry. Emily is a proud native of Portland, Oregon, and a proud Bucknellian (i.e. she graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA), who loves learning about different cultures, exploring new places, being active and going on spontaneous adventures.