Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Face

I knew, walking away from her apartment, that I would not be able to sleep tonight. Silly me, I still tried.  But I'm back up now as all I can see when I close my eyes is her face.

Tonight a small group from Nexus started a community surveying project at Trinity Palms, the apartment complex we began meeting in a couple of weeks ago.  We're going door to door, asking a few simple questions about what people see as the biggest in need in their community, what individual/family needs they have, and what programs they would like to see offered. 

Hers was the first apartment we visited.  My husband, John, and I went to the door, knocked, and she cracked it open suspiciously, wondering, I'm sure, what these strange white people were doing on her doorstep.  As we introduced ourselves and began to talk with her the door opened more and we could see her pretty face. She didn't have the look that many do in these neighborhoods, hard and worn out. Instead she looked young and fresh.  But in the few short minutes we were at her door, she gave us a glimpse of her life that her face did not reveal.  She had recently gotten a DWI, lost her job, and because of this her three elementary aged daughters were staying in another state with her mother. 

Who makes this kind of confession to a stranger? It was given in response to the simple question of how many children lived in the home (there was a pink bike outside the door). I think of all the people in the world who try so hard to hide their mistakes, trying to keep the darkness of their lives under the radar of even their family and friends, walking around with hard faces and heavy hearts. Yet here she was.

I can't help but think of the lectionary text from Ephesians 5 for this week, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light."

By the end of our conversation we discovered that she had not yet found a church home since moving to Trinity Palms (transportation being an issue) and had seen our flyer the week before and meant to come but didn't make it. She had told her grandmother on the phone (who was asking if she'd found a church yet) that sure enough when she can't get to church, the church had come to her...and now the church was at her doorstep.  Now, I'm not the type of pastor that just goes around asking strangers if I can pray for them, but as we were about to leave I felt that urgency not to just say we would pray for her, but to actually pray with her. And after a simple prayer for her and for her girls, her eyes were full of tears.

Something about her just fills my heart with compassion and a desire to do something, to help.  I want to be her friend. She's struggling to find work, relying on public transportation and public internet access that is not close by or easily accessible and limits her time to an hour. I have ideas, lots of them, not just to help her, but also the people living in the other apartments we visited, others without work, many concerned about safety for their children. Somehow this is exciting to me, but I should be feeling overwhelmed (I'm sure that will set in eventually).  This was only the first night.  Collectively, our group spoke to 12 families out of 390 inhabited apartments in this complex.

I have to remember that success will not be in fully meeting the needs of every family in the complex (as much as we hope God will use us to help many). But if every person in our church who knocks on these doors ends up with one face they can't forget, one person they deeply desire to help, to love, to disciple, to befriend, then this project will be a great success.

Light will shine in the darkness at Trinity Palms.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Our Loss and Our Joy

I lost something this week.  The joy that comes with the little plus sign on a stick was short lived for John and I.  Each day that passed seemed to be confirmation that all was well, that the plus sign told the truth, but even as we shared the news with family and close friends, there was that voice of reason that said, "something could go wrong, something often does, it's really too early to be sure."  I had friends who had recently suffered this loss, friends for whom I had cried and prayed. Would it happen to me?

In the midst of the anxiety and the uncertainty there was a persistent joy and hope. I daydreamed about cozy little hats and blankets, about quiet early morning moments, about the noble vocation of motherhood.

When we arrived at the doctor's office I knew things weren't right. "Why aren't you excited?" asked the nurse. From one room to another things went from anxious to hopeful to complete despair. Nothing was there, or at least not in the right place. Surgery? Today? Thank God for the continuing advancement of science and medicine. Surgery was not necessary, but still we found ourselves checking into the hospital and soon, for the first time in my life I was lying in a hospital bed.

Between the poking and prodding, temperature and blood pressure taking, and the wonderful people who came to visit, it wasn’t until the next morning that the reality set in. For just a few moments I was alone as John had stepped out to grab a cup of coffee (after a virtually sleepless night on a couch with nurses coming in each hour and talking as if it was the middle of the day).

There’s something about the early morning, when you first awake. As the room comes into focus and a little bit of light comes through the shades, you ponder what the new day will hold.

Yes, I had lost something.  And in that moment there was no hope or joy of the possibilities of tomorrow. All I could see and feel was the brokenness and despair of that day. John returned and seeing my tears quickly set aside his coffee and climbed into my bed to hold me close.

As difficult as it is to lose something precious, something dear, something full of hope and joy, the tragedy would be much greater had I not been able to recognize what I have. For my precious family and friends who care for and support me, for those dear ones who shed tears on my behalf, for my church, this community that prays for me and loves me and fills me with hope and joy, and for my sweet and loving husband who so truly and faithfully loves me as God loves the world and as Christ loves the church - for all of this I am thankful.

Some who read this may wonder why I would share such a story so freely. I want others who experience a loss like this to know they are not alone. I also learned some important things about community that may help others along the way. While there are many good reasons to keep early pregnancy (as well as miscarriages) secret, I found that having shared my good news with my family, close friends, and church community, I was able to then receive the much needed love, care, and support in my time of loss.

The nature of my faith is that my story is never mine alone. Many have gone before me, many will come after me, and God has given the gift of community to share my story in the here and now. In fact, no longer is it just my story, but our story. Joy and pain, loss and gain, celebration and mourning are to be shared experiences, shared realites.

Unfortunately, not everyone is comfortable with sharing the pain and loss and mourning of others, and those who open themselves to share will find that the discomfort of some adds to the pain as they shy away in your moments of darkness.  But others will rise to the occasion, share your tears and your burdens, and be present for you in body and voice as God is in Spirit.

There is risk in opening yourself and your story to be shared with others, but there is great joy in it as well. And there is joy in knowing our story is part of a greater story with characters such as Hannah and Sarah and Mary...and the list goes on with the names of those who have also adopted this story as thier own and shared their piece of the story with me in community and friendship. Today I find comfort in mourning my loss as our loss and celebrating their joy as our joy.