Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Death Does Not Win

Things used to be less complicated. Or maybe I just marched through, blissfully unaware of the complication that existed all around me. It seems the more I learn about inner-city ministry and race and missions and privilege, the more confusing it all grows. Day-by-day, I find myself less sure of my goodness, less comfortable settling into the role of one-who-does-good. I stumble sorting out which stories to tell, how to share my life and our story without exploiting or using those dear to my heart.
He knocks on the door and when I open it, he smiles at me sheepish. Handing me a crumpled pair of khakis, he explains that he tore them jumping over a fence and asks if I can fix them. Last night, I finally willed myself to pick up needle and thread, knowing he needs them for school. Tears prick my eyes as the needle stabs my finger, and I stitch uneven. Fraying edges tuck and fold, and I tie a knot before cutting another piece of thread. I grab fabric and loop another stitch as tears slip silent down my cheeks. I piece-meal it all together, praying my messy work will hold strong for him.
She began, over time, to feel like a vulture hacking into the carcasses of people’s stories for something she could use. Sometimes making fragile links to race. Sometimes not believing herself. The more she wrote, the less sure she became. Each post scraped off yet one more scale of self until she felt naked and false. Americanah

I meet her at the first football game. She sits on a bench so far back from the field I wonder if she can actually see him play. The sun shines brave, but the cold bite never quite leaves the air as I walk over and settle myself next to her on the bench. I introduce myself and we chat as she rubs her swollen belly. Her due date looms Sunday, she smiles as she tells me; then whispers that she is terrified. I nod sympathetically, and tell her how terrified I felt when I gave birth. The game ends and her boyfriend jogs over for a victory hug. We exchange phone numbers and she promises to keep me updated on her baby’s arrival.

Just a few days later, I hover in the space between waking and sleep, that place where everything seems distant and the sounds of the street and neighborhood trickle gently into my ears like someone has turned the volume way down. Then my phone rings, and I check the clock: 12:38am. A knot ties quickly in my stomach, because what call after midnight carries good news? His voice speaks quiet on the other end, telling me he has bad news: they lost the baby. Today is his eighteenth birthday, and today his baby died. He tells me between ragged breaths and I cry with him.

The funeral falls on the same day as the next football game, and Adam has left for a week-long conference in Orlando. I find a babysitter, and agree readily to drive them to the gravesite. I hold her friend’s baby, while trying to pin on the pink ribbon they hand me with shaking fingers. Tears slip and I will myself not to be the one to fall apart as they lower the tiny white casket into the ground and cover it unceremoniously with dirt. On the car ride back, I rub her arm and we agree that it’s OK not to be OK. Both of our cheeks shine wet with tears, and she holds a cake wrapped in tin foil on her lap, while he carries the flowers and blanket that adorned the grave. Their brave and beautiful is not my story to tell; I think it even as I know unswervingly that this is exactly why we play football. This day, this moment, this pain entered into: this is why we are here.
People need me.
That’s the really insidious lie of our ego, we come to think that people need us in ways that they don’t, not really. Or if they do, they’re not supposed to – and empowering that is not really a good idea. Living from that place brings death not life - Jonathan Martin - Renovatus Church
We leave the wedding late Saturday night, determined to make it home for Easter with our families, even if it means driving until 2am. The sky has long stretched in front of us without light. The road unfurls dark: miles of black asphalt framed by charcoal sky and deepest black silhouettes of trees. The night feels unending and relentless, the blackness suffocating. What happens, I wonder, when we reach the end of ourselves on the long stretch of dark road? When I find myself uncertain of my ability to pick back up that which He has asked me to lay down? When I find myself more willing to stay in the tomb than I am to walk into the light, even as His voice calls me forth.

And then we sit for two hours in the dark. Traffic doesn’t move, and police cars followed by ambulance pass by, their lights flashing and bouncing through the black of night. We talk of the broken world, of faith and resurrection and the God who is Father, even when it doesn’t swallow easy. There has been a terrible accident, we know it and we try not to contemplate it, until finally the road opens back up and we drive again on the black-carpeted highway towards home. She drops me at my front door at 5am on Easter morning.

And the dark continues unrelenting only until it is not. Dawn peeks surreptitiously over the horizon, and birds chirp in anticipation as I collapse into bed.
I have no answers. No revelation or wisdom for what to say and when to remain silent. We don’t have a formula for any of it: for ministry or parenthood or stumbling through marriage or making it all work in a way that feels sustainable. I don’t know how to uncomplicated things, how to step back into a skin that feels more comfortable with putting myself in the role of Savior in incarnational ministry. I don’t know how to friendship and neighbor and love and serve and mother. I just don’t know.

But I do know that He has risen. That resurrection is possible. But every-single-time, resurrection first requires death. And so we drive into darkest night unending until we find ourselves suddenly at the edge of dawn. And the light comes. We emerge blindly: those first wobbly steps out of the tomb are squinty and painful. Because light hurts after so much dark. But we simply cannot walk into new life without it.

Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven - NT Wright


  1. In a hard "season" of life my daughter has been living, I called her and ask how she was doing after church on Easter Sunday. In a moment she answered me saying,"There is hope". My heart was glad. I feel your post and understand. May God give you both the strength to continue his work, peace when you need it most and hope every moment.

  2. I want to give you answers. I don't have them. I can relate on a small level as we settle into our new community. We're not heroes or saviors. We are the ones who are lucky to live here. I don't know how to be Jesus or tell stories with dignity or any of that either. Taking it one minute at a time. Praying for strength and wisdom and joy and peace for you, friend. xoxoxo

  3. I think the privilege is getting to live in their stories. And you do that with strength and dignity. Telling their stories, again, with respect and love ... allows the rest of us to enter into those stories in prayer. Thank you for sharing! Love you!

  4. I am continuously thankful that that community--that our world--has you and Adam and your generous spirits in it.

  5. Oh, my. I get this in the depth of my soul. I love that you are fighting for the friends in your community with your life and with your words. It's hard, can be confusing, and I find myself slinking away from the decision of how and saying nothing at all instead.


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