Listening in church this past week to a young man who is a Rwandan genocide survivor, a thriver who has overcome all the odds and inexplicable evil to become a doctoral student at Purdue, I was in awe of his ability to keep getting back up, his persistence in moving forward. The world is filled with evil acts waged against both large groups of people and specific individuals every day, how can one find meaning is all the horror? I left the sanctuary wondering how I can keep moving forward in the face of all the evil I have experienced, is there a point where it just becomes too much? I certainly haven’t watched my family murdered in front of me, lived in a refugee camp with no food, maybe my life is not so bad. Yet my soul cries out that the view looking back is gruesome in its own right, that my heart has broken along with my spirit too many times to track. How does this man keep going? What can I learn from him that will encourage me in the belief that tomorrow will be better, that hope is worth investing in, that joy will come in the morning when it more often feels like only more pain and evil await?
I quietly celebrated the end of our Wednesday night church groups, the meals I create to feed 130 people each week have drawn to a close for this session. This round started only two weeks after my son died, I was given the chance to back out of the commitment and hand it off to someone who wasn’t lost in mourning, but I stuck with it, placing myself around believers and grace givers each week intentionally, allowing their hope and faith to feed me while I sprinkled cheese on pasta and browned hamburger seasoned with onions. Having lost any sense of God’s presence, I chose to be close to those who hadn’t. A tiny step towards hope, a belief in something, anything bigger than my loss. As staff filtered through the kitchen each week while I prepared the salads and stuck chicken in the oven, I was gifted with space to be sad and angry and vacant, and also to be included in conversations about ministry visions and next steps. Sometimes the getting back up looks most like going back to church, overcoming the stronger desire to lay down amongst the rubble.
I shared with a friend that the contrast between my two circles truly confuses me, I can’t find logic or understanding in how both can be real in my world. My church community lifts me up, hears my brokenness and accepts me as I am. The other circle, one of former relationships and fringe engagements, is united in causing more pain and cruelty, in judgement and bitterness. How can I be involved in both? She told me, “Lisa, they are not your circle.” Six words that swept away the helplessness and returned my power. I can choose not to be connected to that circle, to not continue my role as punching bag and doormat. She is absolutely right, that is not my circle anymore, maybe never was. Wise words that offered me a view of a hope-filled life, a nudge that said there will be a better day, a better next five minutes, grab onto this. Truly a peace that passes understanding filled me, a serenity that makes no sense in the current climate of my days and nights and anger and pain. Freed of the bondage of evil, I chose to visit a greenhouse and look at the new life coming, see the greens that will soon be filled with colors as flowers erupt. I saw the deliberate work of gardeners who trust that the seeds they have planted and the shoots they are nurturing throughout the artificial warmth will produce a breathtaking bounty. A greenhouse at the tail end of winter is a true illustration of the choice of believers, to rest in faith and to do the hard work of nurturing that which gives nothing back for an extended period, knowing that one day the real sun will shine on the leaves and the roots will be strong. The greenhouse is my circle, my community that seeks out the good. The containers filled with rosemary and thyme, just like those I see each week at church as we brush our lives against each other, release the scent of hope a fragrance that fills the air and reaches my soul when I touched the tiny leaves.
The children in the Wednesday night programs heard about the life cycle of butterflies on their final night. They painted pictures of butterflies and investigated containers of larvae, watching as the tiny beings began to slowly, so slowly make their way to the top as they prepared to transform into new beings, completely unrecognizable as their former selves. How do they know to climb, to spin, to wait while wings are being prepared for them, for the freedom that comes with flying? These tiny beings know there is a better tomorrow coming. Plum was given his own small container to take home, a deeper need to see hope and God’s hand in all creation recognized in this child who lost his father with no warning or real explanation. This is my circle, filled with those who see suffering and move to alleviate any piece of it, people who show love every time they look at us. We are watching in anticipation as the large make their way up the sides of the plastic container, but more, I am watching my own transformation. I am being restored, pursued by a relentless God who knows I am stuck on the edge, struggling to find the way back into the light and away from the evil that surrounds. I am climbing back up after every fall and know that I am in the right circle where wise words, sweet understanding and continued prayers beat back the darkness.
Choosing hope, believing that while this world is filled with evil it is also brimming with goodness, knowing that tomorrow may bring more pain but also more healing, trusting that God can turn all the ugliness into something good, I rise and face this day. That is how we survive, even move to thrive. We just get back up.