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/
During the year I throw ticket stubs, photos, brochures and whatever kind of mementos I may pick up along the way into a box in my office. At the end of each year I go through the box along with my journal to review where I’ve been, what I’ve done and what things have happened. Then I create a scrapbook. I started this habit about six years ago after a trip to France and it’s proven to be a worthwhile exercise in many ways.
This year’s review had a lot of obituaries. In fact, another one was added on December 29th when a college friend passed away. Well meaning friends keep telling me 2016 will be better than last year and that it can’t get worse, but of course that is nonsense. Pain and misfortune do not follow a calendar and it certainly can get worse.
However, I’m hopeful that things will get better somehow. While the friends and family I’ve lost won’t come back, the Artmobile is still totaled, and I’m a year older (I won’t get that time back), still I keep hope. Hope that I will grow from the losses, hope that I still have a future, and hope that I won’t just be older but wiser as well. I’ve been pondering a meme on Facebook that said in effect “I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of the year” indicating growth and depth through a year's experiences. I'm not so sure I can make the same claim.
When my mother died, I spent time pondering about how I’d changed during the seven years I looked after her. I couldn’t put my finger on when the changes had occurred, but I was not the same person. I had developed more depth and compassion…more patience and more faith. I can’t say that this year of loss has wrought any great or small changes in me. I’ve barely had time to begin to process one grief when another came my way. Wave after wave of loss – wave after wave of grief. Rather than grow, I seem to have shut down a bit. I suppose I had to in order to weather the storms and continue to see after the needs of my in-laws.
But it’s time to stop withdrawing and time to try to step forward again. Time to get into the studio. Time to try to start writing again. Time to breathe and take a step forward.
While I know I’m a bit late in saying this, Happy New Year.
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.