I can’t get passed this season without thinking about a little toddler named Michael. As many of my friends know, my amazing parents were foster parents to dozens of kids across two decades. Growing up, I did not know anything but a noisy, chaotic, Christmas with presents stacked so high in the living room that we could barely see the tree – and usually 6-10 kids tearing into those presents with a frenzy on Christmas morning.
Four of the kids were my biological siblings, my big brothers Terry and Doug, and my little sis, Tami. The other children were my emotional and spiritual siblings. Our lives were tied together by the intersection of their need for a safe, stable home and my parents’ open doors. We learned much from each other in the daily routine of cranking out necessary chores and walking to and from school. And sitting around a crowded dinner table made “family” happen for many of them and certainly redefined what family meant for me.
For eighteen months, one foster child captivated all of us – my parents and all the kids in the house. His name was Michael. His mother had actually been a foster child in our home for a few years. When she was unable to care for him after graduating from high school, he stayed with us. Then she left town and no one heard from her for over a year. It looked as if Michael might suffer the same foster care fate his mom did as she began a cycle of repeating the mistakes that her own parents had made.
At some point, it looked as though my parents might be able to adopt Michael since his mom had disappeared and we were the only family he really knew. I was overjoyed at the thought of a baby brother. Already invested in his life – I helped feed and care for him, posed him for funny pictures with hats and sunglasses, and just loved his sweet and gentle spirit. He was my little brother.
One day, I came home from school and sensed a shadow of pain and loss in the house. My mom had been crying and my father could barely find the words to tell us that Michael was gone. There had been some court hearing that day. His mother actually made a surprise appearance and in a matter of minutes, Michael was literally taken from the arms of the only parents he recognized and given into the care of a confused, wayward mother that he did not know or recognize.
I never got to say goodbye. And, because of the legal parameters of foster care at the time, rarely were foster families able to stay in touch with foster children after they leave. So, I never saw him again, either. Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t find a picture of Michael, wonder where he is and pray for good things in his life. I also pray for his mom, because even though she wounded us terribly, I understand the past she struggled to escape. I know that when she and Michael left our lives, there was much help and healing left to be done that could not happen.
It’s amazing how such losses can become driving forces in our lives. I find that my days can be defined by the “Michaels” that I don’t want to see leave my life with unfinished spiritual and emotional business. After years of walking alongside people on their faith journeys, I still want them to know they can always come back with their questions, doubts and struggles. There is no need to run away because of shame, grief or uncertainty.
That is the good news of God’s kind of salvation. Coming home to faith after a long time away is not only allowed, it is celebrated. And, we find relief and help in unpacking whatever baggage weighs us down from our travels. God never looses track of us and the invitation to return home is always before us. Oh, and he also gives us a spiritual family where we can belong.
If I could talk to Michael today, I would tell him that we never stopped loving him. I would ask him if always felt connected to the prayers, thoughts and love of a family hidden in his childhood memories. I would remind him that even though we could not go where he was going, God never lost sight of him.
It’s been a little over a year since we lost Dad. I think about him every day. In those thoughts I also wish for one more conversation, one more meal shared, one more road trip.
This week, I realized I could share one more story that is actually in Bob Moore’s own words. Several years ago, he wanted to submit some childhood memories to a publication compiling personal experiences from people who grew up in northeastern Missouri. He asked me if I would help him and of course I was thrilled to assist. The following are the short, funny vignettes that I wrote down as he shared them with me. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do:
“During the early years of my childhood, we lived in northwestern Missouri near Ridgeway. In the spring of 1952, my parents moved from Ridgeway to a dairy farm southwest of Palmyra in northeastern Missouri with my three sisters and me. My older brother, Dick, stayed in Ridgeway where he completed his senior year and graduated from high school. This move was a new experience for my parents and siblings, as we had never lived on and worked a dairy farm.
My sister, Liz, and I attended a one room country school called Stonehill, which we walked to each day. Marilyn was a few years older and attended high school in Palmyra. My baby sister, Carol, was not in school yet.
As a young boy in Ridgeway, I loved to ride my pony and play cowboy. Our farm had a large dry pond, which was ideal for riding around while pretending to fight off the bad guys. There was a cut in the dam of the pond that was great for my adventures. One day, my dad watched me from the barn as I rode across the old dry bed of the pond and through the cut in the dam. The pony came out, but I did not! Dad panicked and ran to see how badly I was injured. Imagine his surprise to find me laying down for cover on the dam, pretending to fire my rifle (BB gun) at invisible targets! I told him later that I had slid off my pony to the ground while going through the cut at a full gallop! Needless to say, that was not the first, nor the last anxious moment I caused my dad!
Cow Tail Flotation Device
Living on a dairy farm for the first time near Palmyra had its share of new experiences. One afternoon, my sisters and I had to go back out to the pasture to drive the dairy cows up for milking. On the way into the barn, we had to cross a swollen creek due to heavy rain that day. The milk cows were able to cross without any problem, but in order for us to cross, we had to hang on to the tails of the cows so we would not be swept into a larger creek, where we would have been in a lot of trouble. My dad lost is appetite later that evening when we told him what we did and he scolded us for our daring stunt!
One of my favorite things to do was to throw snowballs at my dad. I loved hiding out and bombarding him with a pile of snow bombs. He was always a good sport, but he was also a patient man!
One day he got even. Living on a Grade A dairy farm required an outhouse. I did not realize that this outdoor privy would be my downfall. One day, Dad waited until I went to use the outhouse and literally caught me with my pants down! As I was standing up to leave, Dad suddenly opened the door and threw a huge pile of snow right into into my pants! Revenge was sweet for him that day!
Fishing with Mr. Waters
One of our neighbors, Mr. Waters, was an avid fisherman. He would come to our place and take me fishing. There was a large lake on our farm, but we were leasing the property, and the owner of the farm told us he did not want anyone fishing on the pond, especially Mr. Waters. Once the owner asked Dad if he ever saw Mr. Waters fishing there. Dad told him, “No, I have never seen him fishing there,” even though Mr. Waters had just come and taken me to go fishing. But he was telling the truth, he had never SEEN Mr. Waters fishing at the pond!
While attending high school, I started boxing in the FFA shop before school and during lunch. I actually was a bit of a natural and grew quite confident in my skills. One might even say I got a little cocky and showed up for each match with my boxing swagger!
One morning, my sister Marilyn’s boyfriend, Jay Dee, invited me to box with him. I was a freshman and he was a senior. Now, my dad anticipated trouble ahead and instructed me not to box Jay Dee, but I decided to take him up on the offer anyway. It didn’t take long for me to get the upper hand and I laid it on him pretty soundly. He got mad enough that the principal escorted him to the school office to cool down. Marilyn knew what Dad had told me about not boxing Jay Dee, so I knew I was in trouble! She told on me that night.
Dad turned to me and said, “Did you whip him?”
“Yes.” I said sheepishly.
He replied, “Good, you had better!” My sister was now really hot and mad when I did not get into trouble and stomped out of the room proclaiming about the injustice of it all. Jay Dee and I had a good laugh about it a few years later when he became my brother-in-law!
I boxed a lot of people and had a lot of wins. I even boxed my FFA instructor and handled him quite well, too. However, one day I lost my swagger. A junior challenged me to a match and I accepted as usual. Nothing went my way this time. While I was still getting my gloves tied, he hit me without warning. It was downhill from there and I ate a little humble boxing pie that day!
Spinning Her Wheels
One evening at a school carnival, some friends and I obviously could not find enough to entertain us with all the options at the carnival. And since boredom is a sure sign of mischief to come, we cooked up a little something to have some fun. The plan was to lift our teacher’s car up onto cement blocks so that the tires were just off the ground. We were successful in this task and watched with delight as the teacher got in her car, started the engine and tried to drive away. Obviously, she didn’t go anywhere as the wheels just spun. We left the carnival satisfied with our little prank. The part of the plan we did not anticipate was that someone saw what we were up to and reported us. So, we had to go and apologize to her the next week. We couldn’t get away with anything!
Making the Sports Page
I played football at Palmyra High School in Marion County. At our final game one season, we were winning by a large margin. As I ran from the field to the sidelines, I turned my ankle somehow and sprained it pretty badly. The next week, I was sitting in study hall and noticed that my coach was passing around a newspaper from St. Louis. Each person that read it would turn to me and laugh. Eventually, Coach brought the paper over for me to see. The headline on that sports page read, “Sophomore tackle trips over chalk line and breaks his ankle.” So, my lapse in coordination made the St. Louis sports section and they didn’t even get the info right! My foot wasn’t broken. But, I guess broken was a better story than sprained! Regardless, my classmates all got a good laugh on my account.
Later in high school we moved to Bethany, Missouri. I was teasing my sister Liz one day after lunch, which was pretty normal. We were only about a year apart, and actually quite close. But I still reveled in giving her a hard time–my way of expressing brotherly love.
However, this time I must have really hit a nerve because after I made a smart remark, she started after me in a fury. I ran for the door and bolted through it. As it slammed shut, I heard a TWAAANG!!!!!! on the other side of the door. Startled and curious, I abruptly stopped and came back through the door. There, still wiggling from its impact into the door, was a knife she had picked up and thrown at me! It was stuck in the wood at about my shoulder blade height. The look of astonishment on her face was priceless and my mother was left stunned and speechless!”
Denise writing again. My favorite story that my dad told which is not included in these memories is about peach pits and slingshots. Family lore is that my dad and his siblings had a whole lot of fun on the farm… and so did Grandpa! One prank they often pulled was to collect peach pits and lie in wait for Grandpa to come by. Then they would attack him from all sides.
So he started carrying a slingshot in one pocket and peach pits in the other whenever he went out to work. One day he was in town talking to some folks and they were making fun of the slingshot hanging out of his overall pockets. Grandpa‘s response was “if you lived with a bunch of ruffians like I do, you’d have to defend yourself too!”
Dad, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your whole, joyful story of a life that has brought me so much laughter, offered challenge and given me perspective on so many days. We’re headed to the mountains next weekend. Sure wish you were going with us!
I had the privilege to attend part of this dedication today. I am grateful for such a space to remind us to see each other as God sees us and forge a path of healing for our city. Yesterday, The Well Tulsa heard our own Anthony T. Archie II tell the story of Zaccheus and reminded us that sometimes:
1. God uses the one who has done wrong to make things right…and
2. God uses the one who has benefitted from the wrong to make things right.
I know as a Tulsa resident that I have benefitted from the wrongs done 100 years ago today. So, I want to do the work of understanding and listening more, and do my small part to help make things right with my time, resources and words.
These three things show the measure of my love for my neighbor and speak volumes about whether I truly will live into that love. Dr Cornel West spoke at The John Hope Franklin National Symposium last week and his words “love is inseparable from justice” have never been so true for me. Justice is about setting things right. That is the heart of my faith; choosing to follow the One whose love for us was bound up in making the broken things right for us.
So remains the question, “Is my love for my Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian neighbors bound up in helping set things right for them?” I cannot say, “I am tired of talking about this” because I must remember that none of these neighbors has the privilege to ignore prejudice and racism just because they are tired of it. And they are tired. Worn out. Discouraged. Wounded and traumatized by it every day.
I also cannot ask “How long do we have to keep working at this goal?” Actually I can ask that one if I truly want to know the answer and not just complain. The answer is as long as it takes to make things right. As long as it takes.
An aboriginal activist sister said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.” (April 19 Book of Common Prayer app)
Our destinies are intertwined. When we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves and as the God-who-sets-things-right loves them, we cannot be whole. We cannot flourish. We cannot be free.
May today be a beginning for each of us who realize that 100 years later, God has a part for us to share in making things right in Tulsa.
I’m turning 50 this week. As I have seen the heartbreaking stories coming out of India, I found out from my friend who works for One Collective that $50 will feed a family they serve in India for thirty days!
It’s a crisis of staggering numbers there with the recent COVID-19 surge. We’ve gotten through the toughest of years so I’d like to invite friends to join me in giving $50 to bring relief to a family in India. Here’s the link and details about the need from my friend below:
India is experiencing a devastating spike in COVID19 cases and deaths. Their medical system is overwhelmed and they lack the basic resources to care for their patients. Running out of oxygen, medications, and hospital beds has put the entire country in a state of turmoil and India has implemented a new lockdown.
COVID19 and the lockdown affects the poor the most – they are day laborers and without work each day their families are going hungry. Earning just a few dollars a day, they are too poor to have any kind of savings or store of food to see them through a time like this and they are struggling to survive. But you can change that… let me explain how.
Many people joined us in a relief effort last April during the first lockdown and we were able to feed over 500 hundred families. One mom lost her income during lockdown. When you provided her family with food it was the first time she and her children had eaten in three days. She called our team the next day to share the overwhelming feelings of joy and gratitude she felt when she was able to feed her children.
You can do the same thing for families in desperate need today- we are asking you to bring people together to provide food for those who are most at risk. For just $50 you can feed a family for 30 days. The connections and plans are already in place – what’s needed is your help today.
I know you have seen what is happening in the news and you have been concerned about those affected and I want to give you the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. One partner has already pledged to feed 24 families, and our goal is to reach 500. And that’s the goal I’m asking you to reach – one family at a time.
Please take advantage of this opportunity to show what’s really important to you – go to this link to feed a family in need today. (And, of course, if you can feed 2 or 4 or even 10 families – that would be amazing… and appreciated. Thank you!)
The following post is written by Rev. Denise McKinney
I remember one of the first times I was careless with another person. It was first grade, and my friends and I were walking home from Manor Heights Elementary on a snowy Wyoming afternoon. A group of boys that lived nearby began pelting us with snowballs. The next day, the pelting began again. I remember feeling what could be described as a 6-year-old’s indignation and decided that I would seek justice the following morning.
So my friends and I asked to go to see our principal, Mr. Hambrick, at the start of the school day. When we shared our saga of mistreatment, the principal called in the group of boys for questioning. They defended themselves and gave their side of the story, which included that we began the conflict several days earlier by piling up snow on the slides as they…
Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. But it is deeper and richer than what I understood peace to be for a long time. I think I learned that peace was about me feeling better about a bad situation or me getting out of conflict with another person. Both ideas seem rooted in my needs and discomfort.
What I’ve learned is that keeping the peace in my soul and in my life is not really Shalom. At most, it’s a shallow, low-impact kind of peace that does not do the Hebrew word justice.
Shalom is about all created life flourishing in the fullest expression of God’s love for us. It is helping everyone and everything live into the purpose and identity given by God the Creator.
…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 (MSG)
For me, it’s this simple; Shalom falls short when it’s all about me. And because my default is usually me-focused, these words written by Paul to a church in an ancient Turkish village are my reminder to look out and look up when I start yearning for peace inside. These are the questions I am learning to ask myself:
How am I learning to orient my life toward true Shalom?
Do I daily recognize the places I have more power for no other reason than my ethnicity or socio-economic situation and figure out if I can share it or give it away?
Do I resist living a busy, high octane existence and fill my days with missional living?—By the way, both can be exhausting, but only one makes a difference in God’s economy.
Do I remember that peace isn’t just the absence of conflict or differences, or even war, but the intentional movement toward reconciling and restoring people to God and to each other? Am I working to bring a reconciling, restorative, active peace to my community?
Sometimes living and giving Shalom means speaking up. Am I speaking up honestly and in solidarity with the orphan, refugee, prisoner, oppressed and spiritual skeptic in my community to make a tangible difference for them?
My imperfect practice of living Shalom has included:
Building friendships across race and culture.
Learning from people who are tearing down walls that divide us and join in their work.
Listening to the stories of the oppressed and responding with life-giving actions.
Sharing more resources than I think I can – sacrifice takes my focus off me.
This is a journey that for me continues to be beautiful, gut-wrenching, cathartic, priority-shifting, wonderful and full of laying down my own wants. If I could encourage others, I would say that we must stop taking the love and peace of God for granted in a way that only allows the best for one. God’s Shalom wants the best for all, and we must figure out a way to live that more fully and honestly, so that all people and creation around us can flourish.
This Independence Day morning as I sit by the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, CO, my heart is a mix of emotions for a day typically marked by family cookouts and fireworks. As a white female, I find that I am feeling the tension of deep gratitude and bitter lament for my country. I am so grateful to be in a place with such strength, imagination, individuality and hope. I also grieve that strength has often become dominance, imagination wasn’t enough to combat prejudice, individuality has forgotten community, and hope has not been shared by all.
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy…I Corinthians 6:10
The truth is all these joys and sorrows can share space. They can dwell with each other in my heart and mind. And for my white friends and neighbors, I dare challenge that joy in our freedom can share space with the whole story of how we got here today. We can dwell with each other in the history. We can listen. We can recognize that Independence Day is not the same celebration of freedom for all.
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…— Frederick Douglass, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ (Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852)
We can hear the glorious and brave stories again and learn the malicious and destructive stories that have been veiled and ignored. We can genuinely care that in our retelling of a nation being born, there are also stories that have flowed down through the generations from a place of pain, suffering and oppression. We can acknowledge that sacrifice and domination made the birth of our nation possible. We can be willing to sit alongside the discomfort that brings like a devoted friend. We can draw near to it and to one another so we can truly embrace a future together..
And we can open up space for the goodness and gratitude some of us feel to be shared by those who have never or rarely felt it. Here’s the thing, though: in order for someone else to be able to take it up as their joy, I must be willing to lay it down. I must be willing to give up an identity that though has proven beneficial to me, has caused others great pain.
Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13
There is no greater love I can show to my neighbor than to lay down that which has been so life giving to me so he can live more fully. And I am finding that in laying down the partial story of my nation that I hold so dear, I trade fear for true freedom when I am willing to know the whole story.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
It is my hope and prayer on this July 4 holiday that the strain of COVID-19 on our communities, the struggle to reach a cultural and systemic norm where Black lives truly matter, the awakening to how indigenous peoples and immigrants and descendants of those who came from non-Western European nations still feel the destructive pain of white culture taking over, would be the truth and fullness of our shared story that really set us free to be more than platitudes of freedom could ever achieve.
There is a sentence later in these thoughts that will be hard to read. It has heavy, shocking words that our minds might initially reject because 1) we can’t imagine the problem is as horrific as the stories being told and 2) we might feel the words are pointing right at us and accusing us. But stay with me for a few more sentences. Maybe we feel accused and can’t imagine because we have never been proximate to the stories we are hearing or the people crying out for justice and change. Maybe we don’t know what we don’t know. But, the Black community is trying to help us know.
It’s like the story of the Good Samaritan. As he traveled along a common trade route known for perilous bends in the road where travelers were vulnerable to attack, he wasn’t expecting to come upon a man beaten half to death. He did nothing to cause the man harm. He didn’t know him, but the Samaritan did recognize that this victim one was from the community he had been taught not to trust.
The Samaritan may have never been this close to someone so different from him in belief and life experience. He may have thought that any other day in a different situation, they would avoid each other altogether and not wade into the differences. But this day, if he doesn’t wade into the deep end of their differences, the wounded man will die.
So he wades in. He crosses the road. He chooses to get close and get involved. It requires him to talk to the man and offer words of comfort. He realizes the victim needs more than just a few minutes of a stranger taking note of his injuries on his way to somewhere else. The Samaritan must change his plans. His priorities have to shift. His well-organized life and structure have been interrupted by the intentional harm and abuse inflicted by someone who came before him. But if he passes by, he becomes a part of the harm and abuse. He must use his resources to get the man medical help and give him safe space for restoration to health and flourishing. He must see the victim as his neighbor–someone who matters to God, and who matters to him.
Now here come the sentences I warned might be hard to read: Over the past several weeks, we have heard a litany of stories emerging where Black men and women have lost their lives at the hands of White individuals who abused their authority & position with stunning brutality. In all these cases, the person in authority was also a law enforcement officer or had strong connections to law enforcement. Just to read this may feel like one group is being pitted against each other. But please don’t shy away from the discomfort.
That discomfort is knowing deep down that something is very broken in our communities. Our nation is waking up to a pattern of abuse and injustice by individuals misusing the power entrusted to them and by old systems built to oppress that still perpetuate obstacles to the Black community. If that truth sounds foreign, it’s because many of us have never experienced or been close to such a reality. But even if we haven’t seen it ourselves, the undeniable stories must be heard and finally recognized.
You may say, “I have not done anything intentional to harm the Black community.” You may argue that we can’t live in the past, slavery isn’t a construct anymore. You may feel like the challenging words on tv and at rallies are directed right at you and now you are on the defensive. But the Good Samaritan teaches us that the first two individuals who came upon the wounded man passed by. They were not willing to find out more and really understand what happened to the victim. They were not willing to give up their priorities in order to get proximate. The place and privilege they enjoyed was their excuse for not offering compassion. They didn’t think they owed the stranger anything. It wasn’t a problem they created. And since they weren’t there, maybe this man brought it upon himself…
The question asked by the story of the Good Samaritan is “Will I be a neighbor?” Will I wade in as God nudges me to? Will I cross the road of indifference and distance to be close and proximate before I dismiss it as “not my problem?” Am I willing to have hard conversations and listen so I understand how we got to this place and how it has left so many lying on the side of the road without hope of change and healing? Will I give more than just a few minutes of taking note of the situation before going on my way and putting the uncomfortable images out of mind? Will I change my plans and give up privileges I enjoy for no other reason than the color of my skin so that someone who needs what I easily enjoy can flourish? Will I work alongside others who can help to set things right so these violent tragedies and repeating oppressions no longer have systematic oxygen to keep fires of injustice burning? Will I realize, that if I just pass by this moment in our history and do nothing, if I don’t try to get closer and understand and do something– anything, I become a part of the harm and abuse?
Will I cross the road and move closer to them to see what needs to be done so that no one else dies? Do I understand that justice is so much more than payment for wrongdoing? It is giving what is needed to restore people to each other in right relationship. Will I take this sacred opportunity to be a neighbor so that the people crying out for justice know their lives indeed matter to me?
Throughout Lent, we have been on a journey with Jesus toward the cross. It’s a journey that he knew was coming. Jesus intentionally chooses this destiny in Mark 10 when he “sets out for Jerusalem”; a decision that will cost him everything.
Today is our invitation to be present in this story. We don’t just want to read the narrative again. We want to live it alongside Jesus and his disciples. Come along with Mary and Peter, as they experience the loss, the questions, the confusion of those who didn’t understand what was happening on the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week.
At the same time, hear the story as if you don’t know its ending and wrestle with why Jesus, God’s Son, would allow himself to be taken. Why would he risk all he had accomplished to move closer to a terrible end? What could possibly be motivating his actions?
MARY’S STORY: Mark 14:22-26
art by Courtney Burk
I am both bewildered and mesmerized by Jesus in this moment. I see him so clearly as a man, a friend, a skilled wood worker, and as my son. But tonight, like many nights before, and like the night he was born, there is more. So much more. There is an unmistakeable “otherness” about him. It makes all who are around him yearn for God’s presence. It even makes us feel that God is certainly as close as the sound of Jesus’ voice.
And now, he is tearing bread apart and saying things like “this is my body” which sounds strange—and yet it makes so much sense even though I can’t explain it. He has held up a cup of wine and shared that “this is my blood” which is even stranger. Yet, I find a pulse of life in those words, and an enveloping peace that I will understand the God-infused mysteries of my eldest child very soon. It is both a knowledge I have carried, and a heartache I have felt but not fully known for his entire life. As I receive my passover bread and wine, I say a prayer, asking Yahweh to help me in this moment, to hold it and remember it.
PETER’S STORY: Mark 14:27-31, 53-72
art by Tami Roach
I have never wanted to turn back time as much as I desperately want to rewind the last hour of this day. I would trade a lifetime of happiness if I could take back the words I’ve said, fears that gripped me and pride that blinded me.
Jesus warned me. Gave me the specifics of this failure. But I thought it was impossible. He told me exactly what would happen and I didn’t believe him. He looked at me with the deepest compassion and said that before a rooster crowed not once, but twice, I would deny knowing him three times. When I protested his prediction, I had no idea that an evening spent celebrating the Passover with our friends would turn into a violent upheaval of all I’d devoted myself to for three years.
It all happened so fast and none of it makes sense. I mean, I know Jesus is not exactly buddies with the Jewish leaders, but the people love him and he has never invited the wrath of the Roman officials. Everyone’s talking treason and the last time I caught a glimpse of him, his face was bloody and swollen, and he had been beaten.
What is hardest for me to believe is that I could betray my faithful friend so abruptly. One minute I announce to everyone that he will always be my leader, and moments later, I am so afraid his fate will become mine, that I turn my back on him to protect myself. I don’t know how he will ever trust me again. I don’t know how I can live with the guilt of failing him when he needed me most. I don’t know how to bear the crow of a rooster ever again.
JESUS’ STORY: Mark 15:15-37
Today we mourn.
For promises unfulfilled
for wholeness unrealized
for brokenness still afflicting.
Today there is only darkness.
Our hopes are buried
our longings shrouded
our desires entombed.
Today the grave engulfs us.
We walk in hell
empty, stripped of life
no light only darkness.
Today God seems to have failed.
Yet here we find freedom
Between death and resurrection
This is the night which empties us
and makes us whole.
Let’s try for the next 48 hours, to be aware, even uncomfortable with the confusion, fear and anguish of these moments. This is our story, even though centuries removed from the historical events, we can find our place as the mother, friend and follower who is trying to make sense of what’s happening in front of us and how much it hurts to see everything unfold. Until Sunday.
It’s taken me days to write even a handful of words to describe how I am feeling about the events of the past weeks and months. For all of us, there is a shared unease to the COVID-19 virus and the exponential quickness of its spread. There is a communal loss in not seeing friends, co-workers and even some family because of social distancing. And everyone can speak to the financial stress of it all. Within the layers of our collective trauma are the personal stories we must also share with each other.
My dad fell and broke his hip on February 15, 2020. The robust man in the picture above from a 60th wedding anniversary in 2018 had already been slowly losing strength in his legs and endurance in his lungs. His longest walk became a slow stroll across the living room with a walker. We also noticed that his 81 years of exuberance and effusive conversations were fading into a more subdued daily persona.
Within hours of his hip replacement surgery, doctors and nurses quickly realized things were more serious than just a broken hip. Dad had medical issues that seemed to converge and snowball into a delicate balance of getting his extremely low sodium and hemoglobin levels up while reducing the severe edema in his extremities. Suddenly, our work, family and activity schedules flexed so we could be at the hospital to help keep him talking, moving his legs and give Mom a chance to go home for a shower since she was sleeping at the hospital.
For almost three weeks, the hospital staff worked to address those life-threatening concerns and help him start moving again with very weak, very heavy and very swollen legs. They were amazing. And their collaboration worked to get him physically stable enough to go to rehab.
He had improved enough to be released, but he could not yet stand or take a step. He also was not remembering or communicating the same as before. The hospitalist shared with us that going under anesthesia at dad’s age can potentially affect those things. Since surgery, he doesn’t always remember when someone visits him, food holds less interest for him and he can’t stay with a conversation much longer than a few short sentences.
One week ago, I would have said that his situation was better, but still fragile. There have been many conversations with my mom and siblings over the last month about next steps needed to get Dad home. The obstacles facing him were intimidating, but we were hopeful.
Then comes the last seven days of realizing the sober reality of COVID-19. Dad’s rehabilitation facility officially closed to all visitors at noon on Thursday March 19. We had continued the practice of taking turns visiting him every day in order to keep him alert, practice talking, exercise his legs and encourage the man who has always loved sharing a meal with people to please just eat a little more. But at 11:30 Thursday morning, I looked into his bright green eyes for as long as I could hold his gaze, told him I loved him and that I would be back to see him as soon as everything settled down.
The helpless feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen to him without his family there to cheer on his recovery has wrecked me because he is so fragile and is in a care facility that like all other convalescent homes, is most vulnerable to the spread of the virus. We have come to terms with the reality of a limited recovery, but the idea that he won’t have us there at all is a new trauma. Knowing my mom goes home alone at a time in our nation when she cannot just get out and shop for distraction or grab coffee with a friend for support is so hard. Dad truly is the love of her life and trying to navigate his care, financial decisions, and their new normal isolated from their community on top of this cultural crisis has been heartbreaking for her. The timing for all this couldn’t have been worse.
Our family is holding on to each other and figuring out what to do each new day. It is the best of family dynamics in communication, taking turns and being in this together. As siblings, we have enfolded Mom into our family meals and grandkids have gone over to hang out with her. There are lots of texts, phone calls and video chats. Dad has an iPad so we can try to FaceTime him and say hi. There is a lot of checking in on each other. There have been so many tears. But there is also so much love.
I have walked alongside people in their pain and loss during 25+ years of ministry, yet there really is nothing that prepares any of us to feel less stress or anguish when the pain becomes our own. In reading this, you have most likely already thought of your story and the pain that no one can help you avoid. That’s what we share. A spiritual and emotional fragility that is not unlike my dad’s vulnerable physical condition. And for me, two truths are carrying me through this, albeit with my feet dragging on the ground– believing that God’s mercies renew with each sunrise and that he is always with us.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day. ~Psalm 46:1-5
In reading Psalm 46 again this morning, I am reminded that this is true for my dad as well, even as he is separated from us. With the faint color of each dawn, God reminds my dad of his care and protection even in the blurriness of his internal thoughts. And I will do my best to trust that Dad is experiencing the very real presence of God and his strong peace in that 12′ x 12′ rehab room.
I am acutely aware that my story is in the wading pool of the deep suffering waters for many people. It is just my hope that with this glimpse into my moments of worried tears, hopeful conversations, mental and emotional weariness, anxiety for what has often felt like an impossible situation, and a constant reminder to draw near to the God and people I love without explaining away my sadness and doubts, will do it’s small part in helping someone hear these words, “You are not alone.”