It’s 10:30 on New Years Eve, and its all I can do to keep my eyes open.
The family and I have been in Louisville since Sunday for a 20 year reunion of my college roommates and their families. All in all, we had 12 adults and 16 kids meeting together for the first time in several years. It was a time of great anticipation for me. I worked hard to get folks connected, and have looked forward to this time away.
As we drove down the street to head out of town, I ran over a cardboard box, which then became lodged under the car. Of course, we had to find a turn off and crawl under the car to remove it. It was the beginning of a difficult trip.
Why difficult? Well, in all, the family and I had a good time. But looming over me throughout the trip was three phone calls, the calls that all pastors get while away on vacation, which informed me of deaths in my church. The first came while we were on the road. A parishioner’s mother had died. She had been ill for some time, and was in her late 80’s, so it wasn’t totally unexpected. She would be buried in her hometown in Giles County, so I had no direct responsibility, but I had to make connection and offer my support and apologies for missing the funeral.
The second call came the next day. One of our home bound members had been transferred to the local hospice hostel, and was not expected to live. Later that night, he died. I had visited this man the Sunday before Christmas, with my daughter and four other children who had delivered him presents and sung Christmas carols with him. We hadn’t had the opportunity to become very close, but I still felt the loss. His funeral will be Saturday.
The third call came just as we began to gather with my roommates. It didn’t involve a church member, but struck much closer to home. It seems that a child in Anna’s preschool class was returning from a quick trip to Florida with his parents, when a tractor-trailer truck ran a stop sign, knocked down a power pole, and sent hardware and live power lines into the car window of the child’s family. The father and child died, with the mother only suffering minor injuries. This wasn’t some older person near the end of their life. This was a 32 year old father and a four year old son. Just two weeks ago, they had come to my daughter’s 4th birthday party at the church. We had shared small talk and pizza, and father and child played in the gym. Tomorrow we have to tell our four year old that one of her best friends has been killed, and frankly, I’m not sure how to do it.
Then, finally, after we arrived home tonight, my wife learned that a 16 year old from her church had a bicycle accident while we were gone, suffering a spinal injury. His prognosis for walking again isn’t good.
In the midst of all of this pain, all of this suffering, the petty crap that makes up most of the conversation at the church (mine and others) seems so inappropriate. We get so concerned that someone hasn’t organized their event as well as they could have, or that we’ve misprinted a name in the bulletin. And yet our world is filled with people who are hurting, who are suffering, who need a place to grieve and most of all to be themselves. Jesus came into the world calling us to be a community of vulnerability, and we instead get caught up in power games of who controls what.
Tonight, as we ring in a New Year, I can’t be bothered with the middling issues of church life. I am tired, weighed down by the pain of the world that has intruded into my joyful weekend. This, of course, is a season, which will go as quickly as it has come. But, as I ponder the confused look in Anna’s eyes tomorrow, I feel like this season will never end.