Today I am reminiscent of 30 years ago. I was barely in my 20’s and God gave me the opportunity to run a children’s home for children that were infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. My life boat of natural supports rocked as the waves of fear, questions, prejudice and anger splashed against the sides, at times, as high as a tidal wave determined to flip me over and sink my cause. The shame, focus, and declaration of rights for anyone, where AIDS was concerned, tore at all sides, splintering my boat to shreds causing me to ‘get out of the boat’ and walk on water.
I never thought of it that way until this moment. The walking on water. But she did. I say she because when I look back at the memories of yesteryear, it is though I am remembering a book that captured my full attention and absorbed into my very being; yet, I wonder, who was that young woman? Who dares to step out of the boat and ride against the tidal waves of societies woes? Who has the strength and tenacity to ‘take the hand of Jesus’ and not look back, or down, or around at the chaos threatening to declare death. Death, it is such a harsh and final word and the journey to it’s very door sometimes even beyond harsh. O death, where is your sting?
The sting of (a) death, a loss, is more than the end of breathing in the breath of life, it is about life changing to a new normal due to a critical incident that prevents one from continuing down the path they already started. Changing course to follow the adventure requires willingness to go against the status quo, sitting in the corner of a community function or understanding that noone else understand the life you now partake. All that is left is the hand of Jesus holding you up and the eyes of Jesus beckoning you forward.
I was asked if I would take in a toddler from a neighboring state who was abandoned at birth. The child was headed to his second birthday and had never been out of the hospital. His prognosis was less than 2-3 months to live against the struggle of AIDS. You would have thought that the nasal cannula was distributing adrenaline instead of oxygen from the sight of this little man jumping and weaving around furniture with a fifty-foot oxygen cord in tow. Huge brown eyes sparkled as though he was keeping a secret and dimples hid under the cheek tape holding his life-line in place. He was the fifth child now in my care.
I had brought trauma and drama with me into the church fellowship. Sunday mornings I would arrive at church with my brood in a precarious procession up the hill to the front door. This was the third faith community I attempted to call home, and home is what it was. Our new family members pitched in to assist in areas that they could. One of the children’s mother accompanied us…in what was the last year of her life. Although it was summer extra blankets were needed along with folding lawn chair for her comfort. Diaper bags, oxygen tank, strollers and other child paraphernalia found its way to the needed area going into church and then back to the car at the end of service.
The weekly mother and children swim at a parishioner’s home was no exception. Me and mine were welcome with open arms to participate. As my little guy became more alive and healthy, the mother of the other children was fading away. Young singles in my small group would come do (their own) laundry and stay with the children to give me a chance to grocery shop, or just get out for the evening. Checks showed up in the mail the exact amount to cover unexpected expenses. It was not unusual to arrive in a full kitchen first thing in the morning with more food and supplies than we could handle and somehow a children’s clothing store started leaving boxes of new clothes on the front porch.
By summer’s end doctors were in awe of the life that flowed in the veins of my young charge. No longer were dimples hidden nor oxygen tubing flowing through my home. With exuberant joy he created new adventures with boyhood charm. One of the volunteers in my home assumed his care, as I was not prepared to parent him longer than summer. By the end of the year, the young mother was skeletal in physic, fading each new day. The bond of relationship with others in our church body helped to walk this young woman into a loving and forgiving relationship with her creator and those she was about to leave on this earth. On New Year’s Eve a few of us were present with her as others sang to her through the phone, “Bind us together with love and chords that cannot be broken” ushering her through the gates of heaven.
Will you join the song either by getting out of the boat bringing the trauma to your fellowship, or, will you put your hands to the plow and help when trauma comes to your church?