How God handled My Rage

Many of this year’s slogans have become my inner voice, whispering chants that empower me and push me to be braver. I hear reminders to speak up for those who often aren’t heard, to show up for those who often aren’t seen. “Speak truth to power” is one of my favorites, encouraging honesty and integrity in all situations. I discovered yesterday that I had been holding back, though, on my truthfulness to my ultimate Power, in the most important relationship I have. Exhaustion combined with life events disabled my defense system until I no longer hid behind proper attitudes of patience and reverence. I spoke truth to God. What happened next was a discovery of God’s truth to me.

Something was different even as I woke, my emotions were too close to the surface, not how I normally walk through my day. Keeping feelings at bay, I survive, I carry on and no one is the wiser that my heart is in tatters. All looks good. My friend shared that when her house wasn’t as clean as she wanted it to be and company was on the way, she would put a bit of Pinesol in all the toilets and do a quick swipe at the sinks. The smell of the pine created that sense of just freshly cleaned, like the maid was only moments out the door. The problem she said, “It was all fake.” I have been “pouring Pinesol” on my wrists like an expensive perfume, distracting myself and everyone from the dirty truth, I simply ache at the estrangement with my daughter. I miss her with every breath, how can I keep breathing like this? Helpless to effect change, unable to build any bridges or reconnect with her, I am forced to wait on God to do the work that I want to do. I have to trust God to repair what is broken and bring reconciliation, in His time. Dab, dab, more Pinesol, see how strong my faith is? Watch me place my trust in the most Powerful, the Almighty…until this day when I snapped and talked to God before I could get cleaned up and hide behind propriety. Honesty happened.

The truth? I am angry at waiting a moment longer. My heart is so broken I can’t imagine how it still pushes blood through my body. I don’t understand what He wants from me, what I am supposed to do. Why isn’t He doing something about this, I have been faithful, right? I sat at the dining room table where she never sits anymore and raged with the ferocity of a dragon at God. First I raged at Chef who was opening cereal bags too loudly, building up my anger, practicing the release that would bring tears for the entirety of the day. I gave God my truest pain, my deepest doubts, my open wounds, and asked for something NOW. What did I receive? No lightening bolts, no texts from my daughter, my table remained devoid of her presence. Still, I cried all day. The tears would not stop. Water rolled down my face as memories long tucked away ran through my mind. After hours of crying at home, at church where I laid it out while asking for prayers, then again back at home, finally God showed me that a different bridge to my daughter was being reconstructed, showed me that He hasn’t forgotten me and is always working on my behalf. I wish I could say I saw this for the gift it was but my initial reaction was jealousy and more anger. Too fully into my humanity, I missed the God moment. Blessedly, today the tears have gone and I can see how He showed up in the most show- offy way, words that would only make sense to me but create connections undeniable to my daughter. I can only wonder at how often I am begging for SOME SIGN and miss it completely, reminiscent of the Bruce Almighty scene, where evidence of God’s presence is all around me yet my stubbornness and frustration refuse to see it.

My soul got a deep cleaning, no need for fake dabs and drips and dots of pine-scented cleaner to pretend I am fine. Refreshed with the salty waters of my own pain, I can face a new day knowing God met me in my anger and didn’t blink, didn’t shrink, didn’t abandon me. The God who wants my truth and doesn’t strike me dead for questioning His plan or ability to get things done remains with me today.  I sit with certainty at the same dining room table and can say I spoke truth to power, and power spoke the same to me. “I am with you child, my dirty messy aching child.” A promise given, a promise heard.  Truth spoken to the powerless. God accepted my rage and handed me back love and peace and grace, a new day with a fresh start. The pine cleaner will stay in the cabinet today, the truth is, I am messy and hurting and God knows it. Together we are working on truly cleaning me up.

One Bowl of Jesus at a Time

“If you girls are staying for dinner, you need to go ask,” I called as I do seemingly whenever Plum is here. His little friends join us almost nightly, certainly everyday for lunch and all the snacks in between. Partly because Plum barely stops playing to eat but also because the girls are hungry. They are always hungry. Without a clear picture of their family situation, I am left with only the result: when food is offered they eat. Last night I learned a bit more though, as I readied three plates to take to the patio only to discover that their dad had come to collect the girls, after permission had been “granted.” I think I may have been deceived all these nights. Little girls may not have ventured the entire distance to their home to do the asking, rather, just out of my sight, returning with the yes they wanted. Plum saw the irritation on my face as I scraped the extra plates and we sat down inside to eat. “Are they in trouble? Are you going to tell their parents?”

Chef and I locked eyes over our full plates of food in our mostly secure home, where we have never felt hungry, never worried about how to obtain our next meal or feed the kids. No, Plum, they are not in trouble.”But what about next time?”  I owned that I was frustrated because I set up extra plates but really it wasn’t too much extra work and next time if they were hungry we would give them food. He was puzzled, seeing in black and white that children had lied to adults. Skimming over that part, his friends deserve dignity instead I asked if we ever have run out of food or not had enough to share. His focus came back to the God who provides, not people who decide the rules. Indeed the details of who sits at the table and how often and why is not really our business.

Every morning while drinking my first cup of coffee, before I begin sudoko to waken my brain, I eat up Twitter.  Always a news junkie, going back probably to my high school days of journalism classes and my volunteer shifts in the school library where I put out the new magazines every week, these days I am voracious.  The events of September 11 kept me glued to the tv for hours, as is true of most Americans. I crave current events, not the celebrity variety but real stories from around the world. I love to know how we are connected, who has achieved some greatness against long odds, learn of new discoveries by scientists in far off labs. My morning coffee ritual lately though just brings pain and anxiety as I wonder how so much hate is running amok, how the name of my loving Jesus can be used to marginalize more and more people. My coffee grows cold as I retweet, retweet, fire off my own. I long for a point of entry, a place to stop the madness and show just who Jesus is. I worry about this child asleep upstairs coming of age in a world that mocks disabilities and encourages others to shout slogans that denigrate women and people with cancer and those who love differently. In a country where the focus is ever more becoming about MINE, I fear we have forgotten what it means to share. Soon enough though, two little girls come knocking on the door, asking Plum to play, snacks are prepared, communion happens.

As we read our books before bed, I randomly picked one we hadn’t touched for quite some time. Little did I know God was working to bring our blessings message home to this child. “Last Stop on Market Street” is a beautiful telling of a child and his gran who take the bus to a soup kitchen where they serve. Along the way the boy interacts with many people who might be on the fringes, yet he is being taught to see their worth. As we finished the story, Plum pointed to the illustration of the main characters serving up the food as others stood in line. “That’s kinda what we do, right gran?” Yes, child, we dish up bowls of our blessings and share them with whoever comes. That is how we are healing our little piece of the world. We are going to love our neighbors at meal times and snack times without questions that may cause distress. Communion means not checking to determine worth but instead serving up some Jesus when dinner time rolls around. Maybe I don’t need to worry about him so much after all. Maybe the point of entry is my kitchen, one plate at a time.

Hidden

Returning to the Garden

The Old Testament, rife with snippets of a single person making all the difference, little vignettes that are taught in Sunday schools and preached from pulpits to inspire us, to remind us that we may not know our role in the greater flow of God’s plan, yet when we answer the call, amazing things happen, begins with a garden story. A garden full of riches but then left too soon, a garden we are left seeking still. Anyone who works with the soil whether in a tiny garden plot or acreage as far as the eye can see, a collection of pots on the porch or hanging from a window sill, or borrowed space in a community garden, whatever level of gardener or farmer, all know that God is in the growing. No where is our dependence more clear than when we dig up dirt and push a seed into the ground, waiting, waiting, tending, only to have food come forth, as we watch the heavens provide rain and sunshine, as the seed produces more and more and we are able to share from our efforts. Yes, God meets us the garden. Thus the story of our Tithing Garden at church has felt holy from the beginning, a space set aside for several plots where folks can grow as they please with the old requirement that they donate 10% of the harvest to the local food bank. I thought I knew all about this garden, the full story of how it almost wasn’t this year, and then I heard the bigger story. A telling from a longer view, a deeper knowing, that convinced me that we never really leave gardens, that God will keep bringing us back.

Writing for our monthly church newsletter, I described all the people involved in making these small spots available and robust again. The Tithing Garden had been around for several years but almost didn’t happen this season. The man who had led this ministry told our director last fall that he was not feeling that call anymore, he needed to step away. Folks had not been tending their gardens, they were messy and ignored, filled with weeds and empty of produce. The director thought maybe the money our church spent on plowing and fertilizing and publicizing would be better spent in other directions, it may be time to let this go. Confession time: I had one of those horribly neglected plots. I wanted to tend it, I wanted to do good, yet it just wasn’t the right timing. Our world came to a screeching halt and we were barely able to tend to ourselves, but still, we hadn’t cared for the soil and the plants long before that event occurred. I think I was also a bit mad at God and had no desire to meet Him in the soil, to watch anything grow while my life had just been painfully pruned. Yet I championed the garden anyway. Several conversations over donuts and coffee, bugs in the ears of those who I know like to harvest and who are dedicated to putting seeds into the soil, I just knew maybe the right people hadn’t gotten involved yet. I had the opportunity to help a friend who owns her own flower shop during her busiest season, Valentine’s day, as a rider who jumped out of the car while someone else did the driving to deliver flowers all around the city. This gave me the chance to talk at length with a master gardener, maybe not an official one, but someone who has a deep passion and a house full of seedlings before winter has ended. The right people began to talk to each other, I gave names to the director.

Our Men’s group was looking for a project, they built new raised beds to enable more folks to access plots. The driver and the lead builder took over leadership of the garden. It is thriving this year. And the leader from last year? His faithful acknowledgment to back away was exactly God’s timing, his wife was diagnosed with cancer this spring and is benefitting from all of his attention. I thought this was the beautiful story, the way so many different people rose up at exactly the right time, to create food for themselves and for those in our community who are not as secure when dinner time hits. It is a powerful story in the life of our church but it is woefully incomplete.

Our church is nearing the 10th anniversary of our big move from the landlocked too small building we left to this new structure in the middle of fields, out in the country. Since our relocation, developers have followed, we are getting 700 new neighbors with many more to come. As we look back on our history and wonder at what lies ahead, the very first pastor of our congregation was asked to speak, a man I didn’t even know. When He first facilitated the unification of our Methodist congregation in 1969, land was purchased for a future church. Until it could be built, he and a fellow parishioner decided to each use it for gardening. One acre apiece, they plowed, planted, weeded, tended. Before he could harvest though, he was called to serve a different congregation, as is customary in the Methodist church.  Many families benefited from the work he began. He has since retired and come home to this area again, he worships now at the church he helped found. When he learned we had a Tithing Garden, he quickly claimed a plot and now donates not just 10% of the harvest but all to the local food bank. Once again he is gardening with our church, once again he is giving it all away.

We are truly actors in each other’s stories, connected across decades and lands and interests.  Sometimes we can see those little bits of goodness, those sprouts of our efforts.  Other times it is difficult to find our role amongst the weeds and the winters.  Without the wide angle view, zoomed out to include both the past and the coming days, it is impossible to know the impact of our “yes” and “no” to any question. A garden story that began almost 50 years ago is finding completion, a man who dug up soil and pulled away weeds is finally harvesting his beans. I think we have been faithful to the vision this first pastor had for us, as well as to what God has asked of us. He certainly has been faithful to God’s call to move and move and move again. Now he is back home to his first garden with our church.  With hundreds of choices and decisions and little conversations and the faithful listening to calls to become His hands and feet, I can see now we are all working our way back to the garden.

Traditional

Exorcising Ghosts in the Courthouse

Walking into the courthouse brings a mighty rush of emotions. Over two decades since I was there to listen to testimony, awaiting my sentence, later to meet with probation officers, I have since watched my own child experience this process. Even the celebration of a wedding on the premises cannot ease the tension that begins as I park the car and cross the street, as I climb the steps and pass courtrooms. This beautiful building, erected in 1882,  is filled with historical significance but it also carries my history. Whispers and murmurs seek space in my mind as I notice fellow criminal justice system travelers walk the halls, seek appointments, check in and appear checked out. Like me, they don’t notice the ornate hinges on every solid oak door as shame casts our gazes downward, away. I say silent prayers that they find success and distance from this building, that someday they come back as a visitor offered a tour and a friendly greeting, that their history is so forgotten by the inhabitants that only the ghosts in their minds can recall the mistakes and missteps that brought them there originally.

Reading The New Jim Crow, watching the documentary 13th, and discussions with our children’s ministry director “S” who spends her minimal spare time teaching our congregation about the intersection of social justice and Jesus all resulted in my return to the courthouse. On this day “S” and I were meeting with the deputy and chief deputy of probation in our county to seek any areas of partnership, to scope out nuggets of interest they might have in working with an outside group. I cannot speak for my partner but I came in with prejudices and misgivings, wearing a full armor of defensiveness ready to protect the rights and dignity of the clients that also walked through those doors. While on probation, I never was treated poorly, I didn’t suffer injustice, I also am an outlier. A white middle-class highly educated woman, I knew how to navigate the system, my distrust of it was minimal when I entered into the rolls. Since, though, mass incarceration has swelled the numbers in jails and probation offices, people of color are targeted in a system designed to revolve rather than resolve, poverty is exacerbated by fees that increase with the inability to pay. Thus, I crossed the street, walked up the steps, entered through the heavy wooden doors prepared for battle. Little did I know I was fighting my own demons.

Expecting a closed system, one that fails to recognize the struggles of those they serve, I was unprepared when they welcomed our involvement and began to list the needs of their clients. Transportation, mentoring, job search assistance, job placement for those who with more difficult histories, and almost hesitantly, they mentioned a program other counties are trying, one they don’t have the funds for but dream of enacting. Rewards. They wish they could reward those who pass several consecutive drug screens, maybe with a $5 gift card. We know fully the benefits of a reward system, rather than relying solely on punishment, we needed no convincing. When asked how many each month they might want, their ask was really the shocker. As if the dream of having something this precious in their hands felt out of reach, was almost too painful to dare hope for, they tentatively replied maybe 5 a month. Three hundred dollars a year would impact lives and fund this program, putting rewards in the hands of those who mostly only have sanctions. The electricity between my partner and I was almost visible. We could feel partnership taking place, a home for those in our congregation who desire to affect change within the system, a means of accessing those on the front lines. We met with open doors and tangible needs.

As our conversation progressed, it became clear that we were engaging with officers of the court who practiced closer to a social work perspective. On the front lines, they recognized the people the met each day as humans with stories and addictions and children. They shared of their own boundaries and hitting the wall, the need for long walks and foul words to shake off the brutality they experience non-stop. The growing opioid epidemic is not only impacting the jail census and then their own client list, but the safety of the officers as they do home checks. The deputy chief officer offered that their bullet-proof vests are out of date, who knew they expired, but the officers are finding more and more that they need to wear them as they check on clients. Further they are expressing the desire for a narcan program, not just for clients who they discover might be in the midst of an overdose, but for themselves as they come into incidental contact with substances in the homes they visit. Yet, when pushed for dollar amounts, for a number on this need, they backed up, talked more about bus passes and gift cards, they wanted their clients covered first. Listening to this, right here, this is when my judgement and armor fully fell away and my respect rose up. These too are humans, doing a job that receives little thanks and requires much of their soul and more and more, puts them at risk.

Ultimately, we found a place that feels open and accepting, ready for our little group at church to bring our desire to become involved and active. This joining can go somewhere, I can feel it in my soul. Personally though, I found a circle closing, healing up more of my scars with balm from facing ghosts and knowing the echoes that I hear are just more footsteps on the marble stairway, another busy lawyer or secretary or citizen, not someone seeking to take my picture or stalk me as I watch one phase of my life end. Our meeting completed, the Chief offered us the “3 cent tour” which lasted about 30 minutes. He took us to each floor of the courthouse, showed us rooms and stairways and hinges all while sharing the history of the structure, love and respect evident with each word. His work is ugly everyday, he reads the local paper to see which of his clients has died from an overdose. He walks around the building and admires the craftsmanship of ironworkers a century ago. He tells of the restoration and likens the investment to preservation of European landmarks. He showed us where many years ago a truck crashed through the building, the driver attempted to detonate a bomb, damage that thankfully didn’t happen. His soul is nurtured through the architecture, it restores what is good in him. He looks at the 500 lb doors and sees that somethings are built to last, some things go on longer than we do, that beauty can be found anywhere, if only we look.

I didn’t want to tour that building, a structure that felt haunted by too many painful memories. With each step though, echoes of the past were replaced with beauty, tiny areas of craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Whispers that I too am more, this building is more, we all are more replaced the shame and humiliation I have long felt as I considered walking into the courthouse. I went there to find a way to help out those currently in the system, what I found was an awakening to my own beauty, my own preservation, the lasting goodness of something bigger created within me that survives my owning life bombing and crashing. Further I came face to face with the enemy and found only people, who held no desire to hurt me. The building has been restored after that attack so long ago, the scars barely visible, changes made now to entryways and some restrictions added, still, the structure stands and the day to day work continues. Jesus was walking with me, showing me that I have survived, I have been made new, I am still standing as well.

As we walked, the Chief pointed out above each entryway that the ceiling had been carved out baring the ironwork of the steps as they rose atop the next floor.  Rows of circles, each bringing light from the heavens onto the shoulders of all who entered this structure, at every entryway. My friend and I locked eyes and knew that we were in a sacred space, that God was bringing His Light into all that happened within these walls, that our efforts and hopes were being sanctified. I could have dropped to my knees right there, such was the power of knowing peace and love where I expected fear and agrimony. When one walks into the building in handcuffs and leg shackles, or still free of those restrictions but sure they are coming, when one has suffered those indignities and is trying to piece together a life again, eyes fall to the marble floor, never noticing that God is shining down on every one of us anyway. I discovered anew through my tour that God always was with me, touched on me as I entered every single time. More than that, God’s light shone on the lawyers and judges and clearly on the probation officers as well.

My unique perspective of having walked those halls and climbed those steps as an insider will surely bring passion to my plea for resources, the point of the visit. I pray anew that our church will rise up to bring more of the Light into this system, that others can find healing in the courthouse, a building not haunted but full of God, if one takes the opportunity to seek Him out. “S” reminded me of this Heraclitus quote : “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” A man who seeks out intricate hinges and hidden windows and rushes to show them to visitors, who craves beauty while facing brutal realities exorcised my ghosts, drowned out the whispers and forced my eyes heavenward. More than that, though, I found an unexpected connection with my Maker. Two decades later, God surely is celebrating with me that I realized He never let me walk in there alone. I am different, the building is different. We are ready to begin a partnership anew.

 

 

 

 

LGBTQ, Jesus and Purple Blankets

With curiosity, with anxiety, I read John Pavlovitz’s piece about Christians Making Atheists only to find much truth and plenty to convict my Christian faith in his words. Jesus is my truest best love, the one I know at my core and brings me to every relationship, how could I not want others to experience that grace? I know full well the power of forgiveness, what happens when a church decides to allow a sinner to participate and to serve, the healing that begins when the refreshing waters of new life discussed in sermons are truly shared with those who thirst for a second chance. I am that person who has come alive which has allowed me to make space for others to do so as well, I say yes when asked, grateful to be included and able to use gifts long laying dormant, waiting for my church home to recognize that my offerings, like the widow’s, may be scant but came from the deepest of my soul and could be used for great good. My church I think is open to sinners and saints alike, I am proof. Yet even with the labels I do carry, there are many that find headlines currently that I don’t wear, that maybe make it somewhat easier to accept this sinner.

As a United Methodist congregation, we are facing the challenge of taking a stance regarding LGBTQ as described here.  Our pastor has asked our members to prayerfully begin considering how we are to act on this new information, the opportunity to stand up for our brothers and sisters who love who they love without our censorship. This is a no-brainer for me, I want to open our hearts and minds and doors to those who deserve the level of acceptance and grace that I have experienced. I want everyone to taste and see the deliciousness that I find every time I walk through the doors, the coming home where my brokenness is not hidden but celebrated. How could I keep this only to myself, how could I ever feel better than, above, superior to anyone, that my sin is not as bad? Regardless of where one falls on the “homosexuality is a sin” continuum, it is clear that by sitting on the throne of judgement, we are practicing exclusion and not practicing a walk with Jesus.

My Plum was gone for 2 1/2 weeks, a planned vacation that I raised up as a concern and a joy to my friends and fellow worshipors one Sunday. I asked that they surround his family as they travel and also Chef and I as we were left without the joy-bringer, the giggler who delights and enlivens us. Finally yesterday my little shadow was home and ready to accompany me on errands, a trip to church for several quick meetings and the gathering of extra food in the kitchen to deliver to local non-profits who could use the donations. After a full day of traveling and a late night, he came to me in the now famous picachu pajamas, a bit grubby and carrying his much loved wad of a blanket. As we walked from the car to the church doors, he began to question not his attire, he stands by that choice, but the security blanket he was clutching. I reminded him that our church cares more about our insides than our outsides, that they love us for who we are and not what we look like. I told him friends inside might ask about Purple Blankie but would never mock him. He was immediately at peace, he told me other people outside of church might make fun of him but not our friends at church. Two steps inside, we both met Jesus.

The office staff have a practice of gathering each morning at a set time to share their own joys and concerns and circling up for a moment of prayer. We arrived just at this time, just as all were visible through the big office window as we entered the building. What happened next was so sacred, was so beautiful, so holy that I want to gush with joy at my church. All my family spontaneously raised hands to wave at my boy, tears of celebration of his return met mine through the glass, they welcomed him like the prodigal son. He stood taller, he swaggered a bit, he answered quick questions, he felt loved. My dirty little boy in pajamas entered church and found acceptance and cheers and grace. I could barely speak, how does one talk when Jesus is walking among you?

I want John Pavlovitz to know that my little church out in the cornfield in Indiana is working hard to get it right. I want everyone to know we are so incrediably full of grace that a child who began life such as my Plum did, who has experienced hardship and trauma is being taught that he matters and he is taking that teaching with him everyday. We may have a more difficult challenge reaching some of our older folks who learned that the bible says no more often than yes, but we are striving everyday to undo some harm and find space for sinners and saints and lovers and grumpy people and for those who wear their pj’s during the day. We are all little children inside, carrying a security blanket or teddy bear, wondering if we will be met with love or judgement. Let us remember to cheer the return of all who enter, surely Jesus is waiting to join in the celebration.

 

 

Let the Clock Tick

The endless days of summer seem less so when divided up by vacations and ministries and separated into three month blocks and two are already behind us. School starts in just one more month, the rush for pencils and a new backpack, clothes that aren’t stained from mud fights and drips from ice cream cones, shoes to fit feet that grew while exposed to grass and sand and fresh air, it all speeds the clock on the last month until suddenly the noise and chaos are over and quiet has come again. I know from too many years what to expect, this last month is precious. The urgency with I will lay out paints on the porch, build fires in the back, take trips to the zoo and water fountains on campus, sure it is for him but also because I need to wring every last bit out of summer with this child before he becomes a first grader, taking more steps away from the baby I know.

Time is a cruel reminder of how little control I have as I mark my calendar, look at anniversaries and wonder about progress. I joked with a friend about how little patience I have, something I surely should have gained now at my age. Rather, I am throwing my hands up, this is now a registered character flaw I cannot fix, must manage and accept. I want everything now. I need resolution, dessert, to lose my extra weight, hotter coffee, a haircut, a nap, all now. Right as the need arises, my mind contorts in confusion when events don’t happen at my speed. Thus slowing down summer, keeping this child safely just a boy and not sending him ever out into a dangerous world of choices filled with drugs and sex and violence, I want it all to stop, an unusual speed setting for me. A contradiction, borne of too much knowledge, too much loss, heartache that steals sleep and brings unexpected tears, I just want us to play more. Then a friend posted about adopting her daughter and I was reminded again of who God is and who I am.

Without sharing too much, she talked about her desire for a child and waiting, waiting, all the while her daughter was being born far away and she would meet her years later. I know this family and the absolute joy in the mothering, the delight she takes in her children. She has talked freely about her agony during her times of infertility. Yet God had a bigger plan all along, her family brings smiles and laughter to our circle and inspires many others to consider the same road. What can I learn from her celebration yesterday? Is God any less aware of the desires of my heart? Isn’t it quite possible that what I am asking for is so small compared to what He is bringing to us?

Faithful waiting, living fully while the clock keeps ticking, continuing to do the next right thing, this is God’s ask of me. Trusting that one day I will write about joyous reconciliations, about bigger loves and wilder outcomes, that is believing that God is in control of the calendar, the world, my heart. So we will make our muddy messes on the front porch, have s’mores in the back, we will paint rocks and maybe some trees with abandon. School will start soon enough, the boy will continue to grow. God protects him more than I ever will be able to, He just wants me to love him today. My job is really quite easy when put that way. Let the clock tick, we have playing to do.

Savor

How We Survived A Devastating Year

After an intense week with little sleep or real time to think, the quiet now has descended and my thoughts are swirling, invading, pushing through weakened defenses. Memories of last year and the shock, the pain, the anger are resurrected, knowledge of what we have survived, what little we knew we were to face, I find the wounds have yet to fully heal. Last year this week Chef was quite unceremoniously, entirely unexpectedly cut off from everything he was for 18 1/2 years, we were left with no income and so began a period of mourning and self-discovery marred by the fear of homelessness. Broken promises, lost routine, expectations of the future all paled as we wondered how to pay the mortgage, soon how to even get out of bed in the morning. As the days became weeks and then months, the answers we sought, that everyone seeks during sudden loss, were elusive. Ultimately, all we truly had, all we ever can depend on, was our faith.

During this season I have watched a man with great confidence be knocked to his knees, a place God met him and lifted him again. I have watched him bravely begin anew, when he many days wanted to never try or trust again. I waited for our children who most deeply knew of his sacrifices, having lived and benefited most from his excessive work and dedication, to lay aside their own needs and reach out to him, to support him during this devastating loss, only to find this an added disappointment heaped onto a horrific year. Yet we never were left waiting for support from others as countless friends and guests that he cared for all throughout the years rushed to his side, brought him muffins and pies, sent him texts and emails, called him over and over, reminded him that he is loved and that he is not alone. These people are burden carriers, those who have walked hard times themselves and know that words will never fix anything but words are offered anyway, food will never make it all go away, but food is delivered anyway. The collective carrying of the weight of the loss, one tiny bit by many, gave us respite, encouraged us to keeping breathing.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us together rejoice in all of it, the horrible, the hurt, the lovely, the terrifying, the silly, the joyful. This is the day, a new day. We begin anew, because of all of you. This is what faith looks like, faith in action. When ours was whittled down to mere words we could recite, when it was mere hunger pangs that grew louder yet we were too depressed to even feed ourselves, you spoke Jesus in hugs and banana bread. When we had little faith beyond spelling the word you reminded us time and again that surviving within a community of faith means that others carry you until you can walk and speak and preach again. God rose our community up, near and far, always at critical junctures, to bring healing words and slices of hope and encouraging directives and sobering pushes, that pulled us from despair pits back into the faith world that understood brokenness and grace and loved us even when we had nothing to offer.

We are now on the other side of the first anniversary, the true beginning of newness. Today as I clean my home, sweeping behind the couch and under all the hard to get areas, I am mentally ridding my heart of the first year hurts, those memories of that time one year ago that our world crashed. No one is here to witness the force with which I bang the broom or slam the bucket, a release of the last dredges of anger, I hope. What we lost will become memory, what has been gained will grow. Building a more solid foundation on true friends, frugality, and most importantly shared faith will lead us into this uncertain future. Fear has been introduced into his eyes, something one wishes never to see in someone they love. Still I watch as God transforms that fright into renewed compassion, a deeper humility, a broader awareness of social justice.  What the next anniversary will bring, we are never sure, yet I trust that God is does know and our wounds are indeed healing. Our purpose is being made clear, Chef is finding his way. The tears may flow today, laughter will follow just as surely in the morning.

To all who have surrounded us this year, the many of you who have lifted us in prayer and listened to us cry and wail, offered their couches for wise counseling sessions, brought meals and taken us to lunch, found tasks to keep us busy and ministries to give us something for our calendars and to take us outside of ourselves, for all the long walks and short drives, for you all, my gratitude is as deep as the ocean and as vast as the heavens. You are wound healers, burden carriers, joy bringers, angels. I love and thank you all. I pray that you never need me to offer such gifts to you yet if you do, I pray equally that I seek out your pain in such beautiful meaningful ways, that I don’t run away from your fearful eyes, but that I too have learned to lift up my bit of your wounds, to offer you respite. Thank you for being in my community, for believing in our healing God who is bigger than any one of us. Together we survived this year. Now on to our future, the beginning. I hope you will join us as we celebrate learning to walk again.

 
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