The Liability of Mobility

Happy New Year, Reader!  I hope your holiday went well, or at least was tolerable.  I didn’t get into any fistfights with family this year, so I’m counting that as a win.

The bar is low in my life.

But while I’m sitting at my desk waiting until a concert tonight (the centerpiece of which is Holst’s Planets suite, which is one of my favorites), I keep looking over my shoulder at the parking lot behind my building and worrying.  The thing is that I live in a city and, in cities, parking is an incredibly tricky concept:  there are lots of cars, but not lots of spaces.  And they’re currently resurfacing my parking lot, which means I had to find somewhere else to put my car.

First world problems, I know; you may even be wondering why I have a car, living in the city.  I don’t use it much here—I walk to anywhere within about a mile and a half radius, which is the vast majority of the pieces of my life.  But I have it so that I can leave here.  My friends are several states away and I can’t afford to buy a plane ticket when I want to go home to see them; I sometimes have people or places I need to visit that are definitely not within walking distance and aren’t on any of the bus lines, either.  (Sadly, my city doesn’t have a subway or el system.)  I also have it so that I, as an up-and-coming pastor, don’t have to rely on the vagaries of public transit (rather less reliable and far-reaching here than in, say, NYC) to be able to get to my church or the hospital or one of my parishioners’ houses.

I also, to be perfectly honest, still have my car because of the freedom in it.  When my grandfather finally had to give up his driver’s license because he simply couldn’t see anymore to drive safely, he didn’t give it up voluntarily.  His sons had to wrest it from him because it was his last link to not having to depend on the rest of the family to get him around; it was his way of telling himself he wasn’t being a burden.  I get that, at a visceral level.  As a hella independent woman, I love that my car affords me the opportunity to leave if I must and go wherever I want (provided, of course, she holds together; she is almost 15 now, but I can’t even handle the idea of her demise and so refuse to acknowledge it).

In America, a car is a ticket to anywhere you have enough gas to go.  A car is a home—literally, for some, and I admit to having spent some nights in my car when I was travelling and couldn’t afford another option.  And my car is currently sitting in a lot where it might be towed.

Before you lecture me on taking risks with the possibility of towing, dear concerned Reader, let me say a) I know; there’s a story about a van in Chicago and a middle school youth group that has made me painfully aware of city towing consequences, and b) I did play by the rules for part of this.  One of the frustrating things about this parking lot makeover is that we weren’t given any avenues about what to do with our cars by the folks who own the building, simply the command last night to move them (I’m bitter about this mostly because they were supposed to do this repair over the holiday break when most of us weren’t here anyway, but nooo, now we’re all in the way…damn right I’m being petty about it).  So this morning I actually put my car in a lot, which wasn’t cheap.  But I could only leave it there so long, and besides, I had to get to work.  For the remaining hours, it’s not so much that I couldn’t afford the cost of meters or garages or whatever (I could definitely jostle other things in the budget to make it work, because even in being poor I’m pretty fortunate about the financial burdens I have; trust me, I’m aware that I could be a lot worse off and this is a tiny expense); it’s that it’s frustrating to me that I should have to simply because a company couldn’t be bothered to honor its commitments and my building super couldn’t be bothered to help a bunch of graduate students re-house their cars for a day.

sesser-pd-012Why am I complaining about so small a thing, you may well ask?  And what on earth does this have to do with God, especially as the first post of a new year?  Part of it is the simple amount of mental energy I’m putting into this.  My car has been tucked into the back of a lot that is usually half-empty for about three and a half hours now hoping against hope that the school that owns the lot won’t do a random sweep, and I tell you I have been nervous the entire time.  It’s exhausting, quite frankly, and of a far higher cost than the stupid garage would have been.  The principle of the thing is super ridiculous beside my concern that I might have to go rescue my car from the impound.

But what if I were even half as aware of God as I am currently of my car?  I don’t mean that someone could take God away from me, but how often have I considered the freedom God gives with the dedication I have to the freedom of this vehicle?  In this new year, how do I understand God’s place in my life—in relation to the car or not?  How can I live with the passion of appreciating God even more than that with which I appreciate my car?

UPDATE:  The lot is finished, my car was not towed, and she’s safely back in her spot.  I’m almost ashamed of how much my body unwound, Reader, when I saw her sitting right where I left her.  When have I ever had that intense of a reaction to realizing God is still, and always, with me, right where I walked away from Him?

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21, LEB)

Lent, Week Seven: Anointing the Sick

My apologies for how late this post is this week, Reader.  On top of the usual reality that Good Friday is complicated for me, my car died Thursday.  For a wannabe pastoral type, of course the best time to be without transportation is Maundy Thursday leading into the Paschal Triduum.  Fortunately, my music director was willing to give me a ride to work, my coworker loaned me her car so I could get to class, and then Interpreter graciously ferried me around for the rest of the day and then on Friday.  It helps that he and I were already going to the same places—it’s church week, y’all—but it was still a moment of grace for him to step in and for me to let him.  It’s hard to be dependent on another; it’s hard not to feel like an imposition, a burden.  But in letting that happen while I waited for my dear car to be resurrected (how apropos, no?) we got to talk with each other, break down events with each other, talk shop and not talk at all.  We’re both introverts, after all, so sometimes we are perfectly happy just to pay attention to the road and say nothing.

I do now have my car back (thanks be to God, although my checkbook doesn’t agree) and that is good because I truly don’t live a life of a format or in a place that can count on rides from others and public transportation.  But it was an unlooked for gift, I think, to have that time of simply being with a friend and of seeing the generosity of others.

So what does that have to do with the one remaining sacrament?  Not much, on the surface.  The anointing of the sick, formerly known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction, is very much about humans and not cars.  But it is (even still in the Catholic Church, though they’ve changed the name and broadened the parameters) about death.  This sacrament was originally the last connection in this life to God’s grace; it served as an outward sign just before death that God was on both sides of that great divide with the person dying.  Now it includes those who are very ill and may yet survive, but the concept is the same; “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

I saved this sacrament for last because I knew it would fall on this holy weekend, Reader.  I realize that technically Lent ended Thursday night, but we are still in the wilderness.  Perhaps we are even more so, because right now our tradition states that Jesus’s body, broken and bloodied and stabbed, lies entombed.  Christ has died.

One of the most awful of the Seven Last Words to me is the one often left in Hebrew (or Aramaic, if you go with Mark):  Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?  (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”)  In the hour of His death, Jesus had no one to administer the reminder of grace; no priest hovered in the approaching darkness to reassure Him that the Light would not be overcome.  He was Himself the Light, and He died.

I don’t say this to get into a theological argument of how God can desert Himself but to underscore that death is the one thing we can reliably count on to freak us all the hell out.  It is the one thing that we concretely know happens and don’t know much about.  We persons of faith have lots of ideas, sure, but we don’t know.  We can’t.  Death is beyond all of us; only One has ever come back from it, and He didn’t spend any time at all talking about what it was like.  So to have a ritualized reminder that God is there with us even in that most unnerving of hours is an amazing thing; we are not left alone as Jesus was, we are not forsaken in that time of great need.

Because Jesus was.

Here’s the amazing thing I re-learn every Good Friday—Sunday is coming.  Here on Holy Saturday when Jesus is not in the story, is not in this world, when His disciples huddle together in a room that holds memories now painful and stare blankly at each other wondering what they missed and what else they could have done right, there are birds chirping outside my window.  The slowly dropping sun slants in through my front window and makes my silver-edged table shine, the empty glass on it sparkling in the light.  Soon I will head out for an Easter vigil service and then wake far too early in the morning to go to a sunrise Easter service because Death did not win.  Yes, Christ has died, but Christ is risenand Christ will come again.

If I don’t fully believe that, I need to start playing for a different team.

But in believing that—and doubting it and fighting with it and being totally confused by it and worrying about it and celebrating it—I myself am still confronted by Death.  My best friend will die, my favorite uncle will die, my first love will die, my last grandparent will die.  But in that space of standing on Death’s threshold and feeling his hand reach for ours, we do not have to be alone.  In this sacrament or merely the spirit of it (for those of us who aren’t Catholic) we are reminded that Jesus has stood here and taken that hand and will come back for us every time.

So I know it’s a few hours early, Reader, but let me hear it all the way up here in the Land of Pilgrims:  Christ has risen.

Christ has risen indeed!

 

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.  And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.  (Mark 16:1-2, AKJV)

Lent, Week Two: Eucharist

DANG IT I PACKED A TURKEY SANDWICH FOR LUNCH AGAIN.

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths through the fact that I’m utterly failing everything I set up for myself in observance of Lent (how Lentian, perhaps).  Deep breaths through having had a week of incredibly stressful travel and being unable to find my footing on returning to this life I’ve made that increasingly seems almost foreign.  Deep breaths through yet another meeting, yet another task, yet another extroverted moment when all my introvert heart wants is to curl up and read for a day.  Deep breaths through a lunch eaten at my desk as an afterthought, the thousandth of such lunches and breakfasts where I eat because the clock tells me to.

One of the two sacraments that survived the transition from the Catholic Church to the Protestant ones is that of communion, the Eucharist.  I recently heard a professor say that the Protestants have made it unrecognizable from what it was originally as a sacrament, but I’ve no desire to get into that here.  I’ve also no desire to get into what the meal is.  I want to get into the fact that this is the one people know—the bread and the cup, the Last Supper, that moment when Jesus says some crazy stuff about dinner.

This is the one that, honestly, is hardest for me.  There are many reasons why, but you don’t need to know them, Reader.  What you do need to know is this crazy story about a man and a woman and some soup with bread.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t like soup.  I’ve never liked soup.  The older I get, however, and the longer I live in places that get cold for part of the year, the more I realize that whether I like soup or not is somewhat irrelevant.  I’m going to have to eat soup sometimes, especially because well-meaning people serve it to me and there’s simply no point in continually reiterating that I don’t like soup because they will tell me that this is because I haven’t had their soup and proceed to serve me their soup and I will have to be polite about it.  So I’ve developed a sort of cultural resignation toward soup, an attitude where I won’t necessarily choose it but I no longer refuse to eat it.  This past week I had a rather intense couple of days of driving and stayed with a very kind couple whom I had never met before and who had graciously made dinner.

Which was, of course, soup.

Sigh.

It was fine soup and I was very much aware of the gesture of the thing, but the best part of the dinner was that there was this bread, a honey-sunflower-seed wheat bread that was fresh from the oven and warm and crackly and wonderful.  It was soft to a perfect degree of softness and crusty but not painfully so and just damned delicious.  I ate rather a lot of that bread, smeared with real butter because this was the country and that’s how it’s done.

I say all of this not to go all Instagram on you (don’t worry, there are no photos of this bread) but to showcase this incredibly ordinary moment of communion.  That was not the sacrament, to be sure, but it shared the origins of the sacrament.  Jesus’ conversation with His disciples, His friends, was at a dinner table; it was taking the things of the meal and reshaping them.  He didn’t go out to Kroger and buy bread and wine specially to make a point like show and tell.  He used what was already in front of Him, pieces left from a ritual already drenched in sacredness both by its religious connections and the very necessity of eating to maintain this frustratingly blessed thing called a body.

Communion is done in a thousand ways these days; some go for intinction, some are fed by the priest, some have the pre-packaged wafer and grape juice, some will only serve crackers, some separate the wine from the bread and devour fistfuls of the latter in the delight of breaking fast.  It has had some super bizarre moments of importance in the past.  But hopefully the concept always remains—in this act we remember that Christ sat down and ate with those who loved Him (and those who didn’t) and said this will be a new world.  This will be a new way, a way that takes what you understand and turns it upside down but I will be there with you always, I will be in and through this act of remembrance because I am bringing you into Me and into relationship with all the parts of Myself.

Eating is a powerful bonding experience.  I don’t know why, but I designed an entire service-based house on the idea when I was in college and I believe still that the best way to join people together is over food and drink.  Whole relationships have been shaped by coffee for me, others forged over sandwiches and Gatorade or shared Kit-Kat bars that break apart to bring together.  For God to put a meal at the heart of this faith is gutsy and genius and utterly, utterly human; we have to eat.  This is an earthy thing wrapped in such divine understandings that it points us in receiving it to deeper aspects of this faith life—somewhat like accepting soup because the bread is so delicious and so freely offered.

 

 

Then Jesus took some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the apostles, saying, “This is my body, which I am giving for you. Do this to remember me.”  In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new agreement that God makes with his people. This new agreement begins with my blood which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:19-20, NCV)

Minivan Jesus

My dear Reader, I hope your Friday is currently all that a Friday should be.  I am very glad you’re here with me; I’ve been having a rough time of it lately and I appreciate more than I can say your allowing me this space to think through some things.

This past Sunday was particularly tough; it was both a blessing and a curse that it was one of my preview-your-future-life-type days as I attended/participated in two services, Sunday school, and a pair of meetings for a total of nine or so hours spent at church.  This is nothing, of course, to Intepreter’s 15 hours the same day, but then he may not be completely right in the head after 30 years of ministry.  That much to do is a blessing because it pulls me out of myself and forces me to interact, consider, and think ahead.  It’s a curse because I have to interact, consider, and think ahead—and doing those while concealing that I’m not fine takes a lot of energy.

Yes, I know, there’s the side understanding that this is my family and they love me and I should be free to let them know when I’m not okay and they’ll understand and yes, that is true and fine and well and good.  Sometimes, though, it’s more energy than it’s worth to allow people to care about you like that, not in the sense that I don’t want people to love me (GRR ARG LOVE GRINCHINESS) but in the sense that there are a lot of reasons I may not be okay and I don’t have the space in my life/head right now to explain them to you.  I love my church family and very much appreciate their open offer to be there for me if/when I need them, but I also know that if I say “I’m not okay” they’re going to say “Oh, what’s wrong?” and quite frankly I can’t have that conversation while I’m running from thing to thing to thing.

Does that make sense?

It is such a curious conundrum, Reader, that God puts us in relationship with each other and we insist on finding every possible way of making that as hard as we can imagine.  We distrust each other, we misspeak to each other, we push on the wrong buttons and ignore the right ones, we assume so much.  And it almost gets worse on Sundays for those of us heavily involved in church activity; we look right at each other and hurry to the next thing, and some days that’s exactly what needs to happen and some days we miss the person directly in front of us refusing to admit s/he’s not okay.

I don’t know what to do about that, Reader, I really don’t.  I don’t know what to do about being called ever deeper into a relational faith when I have no real idea about how to be in relationship and am beginning to find that no one else fully does, either.

Lest you think this is a pessimistic Friday missive, however, let me tell you how Sunday ended and why I titled this the way I did.  Sometimes, someone does know how to be in relationship and has the energy to do that.  (I don’t fault anyone at all for knowing what to do but not having the energy to do it; there’s no way you can be effective in sharing someone else’s burdens if you’re totally depleted yourself.  As a dear friend told me Wednesday because he’s much more insightful than he gives himself credit for, “Please, please, please, please be good to yourself.”)

So the last meeting that I had on Sunday let out at about seven, which is a totally respectable time.  I had been rather quiet the entire meeting—and my fellow meeting people had noticed and been very kind about respecting my wish to get on with the meeting rather than acknowledge that my head was in seven other places—and Mr. Great-heart and I were among the last to leave.  I was getting into my car when he rolled down the window of his minivan and said, “You are not okay.  Come here, let’s talk.”

I recognized that he would not be dissuaded, so I climbed into his van and insisted he needed to go home to his family, that I was fine.  I was not fine, he said, I was not fine at all and if I didn’t want to say why that was totally okay but he wanted to make sure I had that choice.  He was there if I needed him.

We didn’t talk very long and I didn’t go very deep because he really did have to get back to his family; it was a long day for him, too.  It was such an good thing, Reader, to be reminded that connecting to another doesn’t have to be hearing his/her whole life story.  I hold a sort of Mother Confessor role for some of my coworkers and there really are times that they need to work through an entire mess of things that takes twenty minutes to explain.  But that’s not always how it needs to work; there are some times when it really is just a friend reaching out to say you are seen, your being “off” is noticed.  So much of the power of faith, I think, is following a Person Who says your name when everyone else forgets it—Who calls you to His minivan to make sure you’ll be okay for the night.  When we open ourselves to that place, to extending the invitation to relationship as well as seeing and accepting it, we are living more fully into the Spirit that reshapes us.

This can also happen, in case you’re wondering, in a sedan.

 

A friend loves you all the time, and a brother helps in time of trouble.  (Proverbs 17:17, NCV)

On My Own Four Wheels

The wind today in the Land of Pilgrims is ferocious, Reader.  The remnants of a storm that woke me with insisting fingernails of rain tapping my window at 5 this morning sweep through the valleys between buildings on this campus, whirling up the tower past my office window.  It whistles through the top notch I can never close because I can’t quite reach it.

It is a day in which I’m very glad I’ll be getting in my car and driving home for a little while before a concert.

This has not been the week I planned, not at all.  For the first time in a while I had several evenings in a row without meetings or obligations, evenings I planned to spend blissfully curled up with my laptop while I cursed my characters in this first week of NaNoWriMo.  I did end up getting to do some of that, but I also got to spend several days carless and worrying about repairs.

I live in a small city, Reader, where there is public transportation but it’s not the most efficient or user-friendly.  It is not an automatic assumption here like it is in New York or Chicago or London.  This is still very much car country, and as a single person who lives alone and has a pretty crazy schedule I rely very heavily on my car.  No bus gets to all the places I go, so when I don’t have a car, I lose a lot of freedom.

By freedom, I mean independence.

How American a statement!  I remember my father’s father adamantly insisting he could drive in his later years even though he was going blind and deaf and had a heart that never decided on a regular rhythm.  He knew that losing his license would make him, culturally speaking, baggage; an old leftover ferried around by his family, a burden, an afterthought.  He was an incredibly independent and stubborn man and he fought that loss until the doctors themselves said no more, we cannot allow you on the roads.  It was a point of some soreness for the rest of his life—which was a little less than a decade.

No one plans for their car to fall apart.  Mine is old (but don’t tell her) and has certainly been ill-used.  This summer alone we travelled together some 9,000 miles in about 4 1/2 months; she has been put through her paces, as have I, and it’s showing in some of the repairs I have to do.  But when they crowd together, demanding to be heard in clanking rumbles of discontent; when the repairman say we will have to do this, and this, and this, and this…Reader, I get so frustrated.

Part of it is that I am frustrated I can’t fix this myself.  I pride myself on being able to do little fix-its and delight in around-the-house type jobs.  I like knowing how things are put together; when I was a kid, I would exasperate my mother by pulling apart her pens to see if they all had the same pieces and then putting them back together with mixed success, depending on whether or not I’d lost the spring in the deconstruction process.  She started using a lot more pencils until I was old enough to be able to handle the concept of keeping all the parts.

But I don’t understand cars, and specifically I don’t understand my car.  I haven’t had the chance to pull up in a driveway and pop the hood to just explore the engine; I haven’t taken the time to crawl underneath with a book or a friend and memorize the chassis layout.  It irks me, Reader, that I fit the stereotype of the clueless female who walks into a mechanic’s shop and has no idea why there’s an upper and lower engine mount.

It’s also frustrating because, for the several days that I didn’t have my car, I had to rely on other people.  The horror!  The outrage!  The humility of it!  Oh, Reader, how amazing it is to see all the places in my life that I still stay, “No, I’ve got this, I’m okay” even when asking for help is the most logical thing to do.  One of my coworkers lives literally across the street from me; she was more than okay with ferrying me around for a few days, especially since the only places I went were work, home, and the shop.  I’ve no doubt that it would have been a bit different if I had had several meetings I needed to attend, but even that could have worked.  After all, have I not done the same for her in the many times she’s had car trouble?  I didn’t think anything of it because I understood that this was something she needed and I was in a position to help her out; no worries.

Yet when the positions are flipped, ALL THE WORRIES.

Oh, how much I want to know everything and be able to do it all by myself, to walk around on my own two feet and drive on my own four wheels and need nothing and no one.

Until the wry voice of God whispers, Even Me?  I was not created to know everything; I was not made to do all things by myself.  Even Jesus wasn’t master of all trades; He was a carpenter’s Son Who wasn’t as good at fishing as Peter or at accounting as Matthew.  And that was fine, because He was good at His thing—He was very good at His thing, thankfully.  But His thing wasn’t every thing, and if freaking Jesus didn’t do everything, what makes me think I can or should?

No, little one, it is grace to be in relationship with others.  (Even though it’s really great to have my car back.)

 

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  (Luke 10:33-34, ESV)

Retreat, retreat!

I’ve always been amused that, in English, the same word means both a time away for reflection and/or spiritual growth as well as a running away with varying degrees of dignity from scary/dangerous things.  I think that’s a rather perfect pairing for this past weekend (wow, look at that alliteration; it really is Friday, my brain is done).

So off we went to the land of Difficulty, three vans of adults who had just gotten out of work and a gaggle or three of girls and two boys who had just gotten out of school.  No really.  Fewer than 15% of the group was boys.  And these are 7th and 8th graders, mind.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think God had devised a gauntlet especially for me.

But off we went.  Fortunately, I was in the van with another adult whom I know well (actually, one of the angels who dragged me through camp last year), so that was half the battle.  He’s phenomenal, and I’m so glad that I was his copilot.  It wasn’t a bad drive; we got our caravan rather switched around and we really were just making things up on the fly, but that happens, right?  I’m pretty sure Interpreter spent the entire weekend with an amused/exasperated expression, but that seems to be how this sort of thing works.

Saturday was the Day of Things, which became the Day of Fewer Things because one of our vans got towed.  (Seriously.  From a strong contender for Shadiest Parking Lots of Big Cities.)  So that was a mess.  But before and after and even during that, it was amazing how much grace there was.  Yes, that’s annoying, and expensive, and frustrating, and sneaky, but it was a totally unlooked for opportunity (?!) for us as adults to model patience and such to the kids, and it also created a whole different type of close-knit for those who came on the trip.  Working together was awesome (and I sacrificed a grand number of brain cells to the painting of a basement bathroom, which I was totally happy to do considering I’ve sacrificed brain cells to far less worthy causes), and going to this one particular chapel downtown was great, but we won’t forget that towed-van business, no matter how we spent the intervening time.

And I must take a moment to say, Reader, that this is a great batch of kids.  Yes, there are a few who make me sad about life because they’re bossy and impetuous and really quite ignorant about things, but they were right there with us the whole weekend.  They rolled with the punches, and I am very painfully aware of how much harder this whole affair could have been if they had been annoying jerks.  And they responded to the chapels and such to which we took them, really beginning to dig into the places where faith is weird and hard and much bigger than we give it credit for (even if class Sunday morning was like pulling teeth).

They’ve also taken a shine to me, somehow, and I don’t quite know what to do with that.  Kids make me nervous, although this is the bottom end of the age range with which I can actually work.  But for them to really seek my approval in their awkward ways, to want to tell me the jokes they find funny (which were mostly not in any real sense; timing is one of the things we’re definitely going to have to work on), to give me a hug, to share their ideas and reactions with me—that’s a gift, and one that I never expected I’d want.  Reader, my heart grew three sizes, and you better believe it hurt like hell—still hurts, really, because I don’t live in that world and so am unsure about this odd visitor’s pass.

So it will be an interesting journey with these confirmands, I can promise that.  And I’m sure I’ll keep you sort of updated, because this is one of the glaringly obvous places God is ridiculously present in my life right now; there are no implications in this, it is very clearly stated.  And it swirls around all of the other things going on—still plugging away at a job that doesn’t seem to matter much but is nice, having an abstract accepted for an academic conference in May, travelling every #($)! weekend because relationships matter but I’m an introvert and very very tired and I would love to stay home for once.

Ahem.

It was a retreat in both senses; it was a time of spiritual growth and reflection, but that reflection freaked me the eff out and now I am running and tripping and stumbling away with very little dignity from how scary this kind of relationship is.  I’ll be honest about that, sure, because I have the feeling you know what I’m talking about—how being an adult isn’t a concept, all of a sudden, but a reality, framed in the questioning eyes that want you to explain why the world has parts where the foundations of a church are sinking and no one cares as the plaster cracks and the paint chips away.  And you hear the same question in yourself, of why there are broken things, and suddenly it is yours to answer or to own up to the valid admission that you don’t know, but that you’ll check.

In that, too, is grace.

 

Or what man is there of you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:9-11, WEB)

In Pace

A friend of mine killed himself yesterday.

We weren’t close friends—we’d served together on various church things, had said hello at services, had made each other laugh a few times.  He was remarkably patient and reservedly quiet, a rare and prized pairing of attributes.  He had an astounding comfort with heights, which always impressed me as I held tightly to the ground below.

His is not the first suicide I’ve known, and I am sorrowfully certain it will not be the last.  In the face of this are the oft-asked questions:  What did we miss that could have saved him?  Where did we fail?  What was so wrong?  Where was God?

There is so much desire, in these moments, to assign blame, or to avoid it, or to explain that we may file these things away, understand them, reach toward something that makes this bearable.  But there is no explanation—there are causes, to be sure, and we can and should delve deeply into the world of mental illness and accountability systems, into the places of our culture that don’t want to admit that brokenness comes in all sizes and volumes.  There can be no explanation, though, because the only one who could explain this is dead.

This morning I had to take my car into the shop for repairs.  While my dear chariot was having her innards taken apart, I walked to the McDonald’s down the way for some coffee, some breakfast I was delighted to be able to eat after a nasty brush with stomach illness a few days ago.  I needed this new space to think, to write, to simply be for a moment without hurrying past this loss as I have done for so many, bent on crossing off to-do lines that did not include those with no more lists to present.

I sat next to the huge panel windows with my coffee and my notebook and looked at the sun sparkling on the snow, a new layer fresh last night that fell like splotches of confetti.  This snow is the best kind, the heavy wet flakes which lace every branch in the crystalline frosting of a living painting.  I listened to a group of old men next to me jawing over their lattes, comfortably rehashing stories and opinions they’ve all heard before in the familiarity of old friends and weather predictions.  My friend will not hear these conversations.  He will not see this snow, this beautiful stillness when the world waits, rests, finds its own renewing peace in the chaos of all we inflict upon it.  He found no peace, and I will likely never know why, or if I or anyone else could have done anything about it.

But I see this snow, and hear these conversations, and delight in a stranger who smiles at me.  I live; I live in the sorrow, and I live in the joy of an ice palace, in the laughter of others, in the hope that tomorrow will be better.  I live in the stunning blindness of light on light that I may also live in the darkness, because I know both.  I live in the arms of a God Who does not explain why my friend knew only the shadow, Who does not tell me what happens now, much though I wish He would.  I live that I may go to a memorial service on Monday and remember, and pray, and mourn, and fight for those who live but barely, whose lights flicker uncertainly.

Do you also live, Reader?  Do you marvel at the warmth of the sun and the sway of easy jazz?  I pray that you do—that, though we may never meet, you know that your living is good, and true, and necessary.  Live, Reader; hope, and weep, and laugh, and know to the tips of your toes that even when people fail you, when the darkness seems complete, it is not, and God is there.  Hold to this promise, dear heart, for you are so valuable, and absolutely loved.  May you find your own measure of peace today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

 

“Come to me, all you who are troubled and weighted down with care, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke on you and become like me, for I am gentle and without pride, and you will have rest for your souls; for my yoke is good, and the weight I take up is not hard.”  (Matthew 11:28-30, BBE)