Many years ago, I was walking to my car in a parking lot that was covered with glare ice. I slipped and fell flat on my back, knocking the wind out of me and it felt as if I had hurt my back. I was alone except for one young man who ran up to me with a look of concern and asked, “Are you all right?”
“No,” I groaned, and laid there in pain.
With a startled look, he stood up straight, thought a moment, walked to his car and drove away, leaving me laying on the ice. He did not help me get up. He did not go into the building we were next to to get help. He simply left.
Realizing I was on my own, I did manage to crawl to my car, get in, and drive home. Nothing was broken and although I was bruised and sore for a few days, I was basically okay. Fortunately.
Now, that young man was not being malicious. He was concerned enough to come over to me and ask if I was all right. But no one had trained him what to do if he came upon someone who was hurt. In his world, you asked someone if they were okay and they were supposed to say, “I’m fine.” He simply didn’t know what to do next. Perplexed, and possibly feeling he had done all he could he simply left me lying alone, in freezing weather, in an empty parking lot on a sheet of ice.
I wonder how many of us, looking at our culture right now feel like that young man? We have plenty of good intentions, but no concrete strategies or actions to follow through. Plenty of opinions are flying around, but very few plans, and even less follow up. Many in the church have declared culture wars, but few are thinking about culture care. Meanwhile, it seems that our nation is lying flat on its back, unable to get up.
About twenty years ago, it was popular to wear bracelets or tee shirts emblazoned with WWJD. It stood for what would Jesus do? It became quite popular. If faced with a life situation, you were encouraged to stop and ask yourself that question. Of course, to answer that question one has to educate themselves with who Jesus was, what he taught, and how he lived. An understanding of a sacrificial lifestyle was important and why he came to show us how it’s done. You really had to educate yourself biblically to truly answer to question, but it’s far more popular to just adopt a fashion statement.
Which brings us to today. As I ponder the life of Jesus and wonder what He would do, I’m confident from being familiar with his teachings that he’d find a way that would honor the authorities, since he was clear on the importance of paying your taxes, to respect those in government and to pray for those in authority. Not just the public figures you liked. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be posting unkind and untrue memes about people or political parties he didn’t like, since he came for all people. All.
And finally, I’m confident he’d put the phone and tablet away and engage people on a much deeper level. He had more important things to do that to be constantly distracted.
So do we.
The year I graduated from high school, the year I turned 18, I was finally on my way to being emancipated from my mother. I found a midnight shift job (which curtailed our interactions significantly) and saved my money for a year and went off to a small bible college. I had become a Christian a couple of years earlier and wanted to find out more about the Christian faith.
I found far more than I bargained for.
First off, not everyone who claimed to follow Christ was all that enthusiastic about it. They seemed to think they had “grandfathered in” and felt that everyone else was having a good time while they were missing out in their dutiful and dull lives following a bunch of rules. What they were missing was a God encounter.
But I eventually found my tribe in the older students and the former drug addicts and street people. These people had experienced God the way I had and they were hungry for more. We all wanted to go deeper in our faith. I decided the best way to do that was to work in a Christian ministry, so a couple of years later found me on staff of said college. Because the faculty and staff would be solid Christians who would help me grow…right?
Peeking behind the curtain of any kind of ministry is sure to disappoint. What you’ll find there is people. Wounded, struggling, and imperfect people. There may even be evil people lying in wait for innocent victims. I found all of that and experienced sexual assault from two different men that I had deeply trusted. Years later, talking with other women, I learned there were other predators there as well. This is no longer surprising to me since we now have the #Me too movement and the recent news about hiding sexual misconduct within the Catholic church. But at the time it was shocking and devastating.
I left that job and for a time left the church as well. I never gave up on God - He never failed me through all of that. But His people were another story. For years I was part of a micro-church before that was even a thing, and worked on starting my art career.
The Lord gave me time to heal and slowly called me back into larger community. Was it perfect? No, indeed. People in the church are in various stages of transformation - myself included. It is quite messy, as a matter-of-fact.
But the community of broken people from different fellowships came around Mike and me when I stepped back into my mother’s life. They helped us make the act of forgiveness a tangible thing. They became part of a bigger story, and because of them I could write a book about how forgiveness is walked out…even when you’ve been forgotten.
I sat with a visitor at church last week, and struck up a conversation. She’d heard of our little church plant and came to see what was what. I gave her a little background about the pastor’s heart for the city and for people in recovery. His original vision was to reach the poor and disenfranchised on the northwest side of Grand Rapids and we as a congregation have partnered with quite a few ministries there. But it seems as if God had a slightly different plan and has been adjusting our little fellowship accordingly.
The pastors and elders have developed a solid relationship with the staff at Mel Trotter Ministries. https://www.meltrotter.org/ This is a downtown ministry that addresses homelessness, addictions, and recovery. We’ve taken over providing a chapel service once a month and I have had the great privilege of sharing my story of rejection and forgiveness and also gave away books to whoever wanted to read the story.
Part of the reason we’ve gotten so involved is that our pastor found out that once people have completed a recovery program, they are often not welcome in many local churches. Too messy and inconvenient. Too close and uncomfortable. Our church made a conscientious decision to start relationships with the homeless and people in recovery so if they want to, they have a place to connect with when they are out of the program. We have bible studies, provide transportation, and do our best to do life together. You win some, you lose some. Some people have made a great start at recovery, found jobs and moved into an apartment. Some are back on the street. Recovery is a process that goes day by day.
As I was explaining this to our visitor I said, “You can have nice church or you can have authentic church. With authentic church you will have messes. I can guarantee it is messy here. Welcome to our mess.” Her eyes lit up.
I do believe I’ll be seeing her again. If you are in the Grand Rapids area, I invite you to Lake Effect Church. Broken people are welcome there. http://lakeeffect.church/
People who make a plan and work that plan amaze me. I make plans, and life blows up in my face making those plans unworkable. A couple months ago, I planned that I would end my employment on December 15. That would give the company plenty of time to find a replacement and to get product out for the Christmas rush. I was trying to be thoughtful of my coworkers and to be intentional about transitioning into the next chapter of my life. Good plan.
At least, I thought it was a good plan. Shortly after I gave notice, I was down for a couple weeks with diverticulitis, but took good care of myself and was up and running again. Bonus - I started losing weight and am back on track with my health. A little behind in all that we had planned for the holidays and with the book, but I felt confident I could catch up.
What I didn’t factor in was the virus from hell that was going to take me out the last week of work and beyond. Instead of celebrating with my coworkers, or going to Christmas and Hanukkah parties, I was in bed hacking my lungs out with gunk oozing out of every orifice. It wasn’t and isn’t pretty. I ended my run with a whimper, not a bang.
This was to be my week of new beginnings. Getting Christmas goodies baked, purchased, wrapped and delivered. Formatting slides into digital format for the publisher to consider. Connecting with people and getting the studio up and running. Instead of connecting, I’m in isolation and feeling quite sorry for myself.
But a dear friend made chicken soup for me and delivered it just now. When she saw me, she did her best to hide her dismay but it was clear that I look as sick as I feel. She offered to do some shopping for me and I decided to be clear about what my real needs are. We have plenty in our pantry, and Mike is still healthy. What I really need is human connection. So I asked her to email me every day with something newsy so I don’t feel so isolated. That’s my new plan - to stay connected no matter what.
It made me think back on when I was caring for my mother. As her care overtook my life, friends dropped out of my life. Not intentionally. Everyone has life issues they have to take care of and when I was occupied elsewhere, the spaces I left were filled with other people and other things. Many wanted to help out, but really didn’t know what to do. Some came along side me and actually helped with mom’s care. Visiting her, taking her out, taking her to church, and giving Mike and me a break. But that’s not everyone’s strength or ability and some just drifted away feeling helpless. Supporting someone doesn’t have to be a herculean effort - it can be as small as a weekly card or email to let them know they haven’t been forgotten.
If you know a caregiver, send them a small encouragement. It can be a lifeline. If you are a caregiver, let your friends know that you are in need of connection. Make a plan to keep your community strong.
In August, I shared that I was finally coming to grips with the fact that life as I had known it has changed forever. There is no going back, nor picking up where I had left off. While at some level I already knew that, it was time to just face it squarely and plot a new course.
This doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of Mom and Dad. We’re committed to being there for them come what may. However, I had made my schedule so flexible and so available to accommodate whatever might happen, that I’ve failed to care for relationships or myself. I’ve failed to refill my reservoir for far too long.
This has required some thinking and soul searching. One area in need of change seemed to be my job situation. I need to work at least part time to pay my studio rent and the small business I work for had laid me off for eight months. It seemed it was time to look for employment that would work around my caregiving needs and art schedule With those things in mind, I began searching. Of course, as soon as I applied for a position I was called back to my job. Since it has very flexible hours and works around my caregiving needs, I’m staying there. At least for the time being.
Another area that needed to be addressed was being connected with community. To that end, after much prayer I’ve started a twice monthly gathering of artists of faith. People who use art as worship and prayer and are looking for a community that will join together in fellowship, and prayer. Not only inquiring of God, but listening for an answer. It has been far better than any of us had hoped and we all look forward to each meeting knowing that God will show up in prayer and in art. I’ve also started attending a church that is closer to my home which connects me to my own neighborhood.
Another effort to expand community has been to join Bible Study Fellowship, studying the gospel of John. While it’s a good spiritual discipline, I can already see it’s not a good fit. While I will complete the 30 weeks, I doubt I will do it again next year. But that’s the whole point - to try new things and see where it will lead. We're also considering raising a puppy for Paws for a Cause. Expanding our interests and connections.
Mike and I have been trying to be more intentional about spending time together with mixed results. A couple weeks ago we took a vacation day and went to the state capitol to be tourists. It was a fun change of pace, walking around Lansing on a lovely autumn day.
However, the next day Mom went into the ER for breathing issues associated with congestive heart disease. The next few days after that were spent trying to get her and Dad back on an even keel. We were back to our old ways in an instant. Mike was going one way, and I was going another. Cancelled appointments, and meeting with support staff.
Life is a work in progress.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.