Today marks four weeks exactly for the date I count as the “date of death,” the official day we lost our baby.
Today marks the first time I needed to write a sermon, post-loss. When it’s my turn to preach, I take Thursday morning to write from home, looking out at the drizzly rain. Today I couldn’t do it. The last time I preached at our church is the day the miscarriage began. I couldn’t conceive of going back to writing sermons — what would I say?
How do you talk of the Good News when sometimes there are no words? How do you reassure people they should have hope, when you might not have hope — or, at least, might not be ready to talk about hope just yet?
As with every other Thursday, I finally wrote the sermon. I decided to make this sermon’s Good News simply that we can express all our grief and pain to God — that God gave us books like Lamentations (a.k.a. “Complaints”) for just that reason. We have permission to bring it all to God and not force ourselves to rush to hope.
My comfort comes in knowing God gives us this freedom.
* a quote from my dad after I called him for help this afternoon
The sermon is based on John 9:1-7. The title is “Everything Happens for a Reason.” If you, too, are done with that saying, click here to listen to the person who inspired me to delete that phrase from my vocabulary.
When I was in Divinity School, my preaching professor admitted, “It’s hard to choose which issue of justice is most important. Race? sexual equality? poverty? refugees?” He had sat through all our sermons, all our worries, and it’s true they were all over the map. In the face of so much injustice, we were tempted to despair.
“For me,” he said, “the main thing is creation care. That’s what it all has to come back to. If the world isn’t here anymore, in just a few generations…then what’s it all for?”
His words came to mind when I read this blurb just before Election Day:
I’m almost a single-issue voter. I’m not, but my thinking about … elected officials and what their purposes are begins and ends with how they approach health care. My thinking certainly visits all the other issues along the way … but number one among all the issues for me is health care. My reason for that is that I believe that you can’t really effect* positive change in any other area if your body (or your child’s body, or your partner’s body) is sick or not working. Nor can you effect change if you’re struggling to pay for – or even get – vital medicine for yourself or a family member. Nor, again, can you effect change in areas you care about if you’re in significant debt for medical care you’ve already received. You can even have a hard time effecting change in the political issues you care about if you merely live with the specter of not being able to access or pay for medical care for yourself or your family.
I think both men make a good point. Maybe I’d give a slight edge to Rob Delaney, over my preaching professor, because it’s true that we can’t advocate for environmental justice if our ill bodies are draining away all our advocating energy. Plus my prof said it’s basically too late anyway.
* Delaney is an intelligent man who can properly use “effect” as a verb.
Most people can’t; please don’t attempt it.
It was hot the day I visited the prison. A guard in a tower watched me like the sun.
Arriving wasn’t easy. I passed through multiple doors, went through security, waited to be buzzed through multiple gates. Finally I got to the lobby, where I gathered with others.
We were all from the outside, and we’d come to pray with those inside as part of a prison ministry weekend event. We chatted nervously until finally a guard came to escort us to the prison gym. We lined up and passed through another door, into a holding chamber.
Every Sunday in worship, the pastor prays, but leaves a silence where you can say the name of someone on your heart. Like popping kernels the names jump up and die down.
For years I’ve been saying the name Kate Bowler. She was my professor. Before I moved away, I went to her office and asked how I’m supposed to lead as a woman — how I’m supposed to be taken seriously. She said, “You don’t need to wear business suits with shoulder pads.” I said, “Does that mean I should get rid of all the suits I just bought from Goodwill?”
Only months later, word got out that Dr. Bowler had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer – at the age of 35. I never knew how young that was until I reached my thirties. It’s young. It’s when you should be flourishing, finding yourself, falling in love with life.
So every Sunday morning I said, “Kate.” Because what else can you do? And she lived, and still lives. She’s, what, 37 now? Maybe 38? She’s still with her high school sweetheart, still watching their toddler boy grow up.
My church family prayed for Kate without knowing her. When I put her name on a prayer card, they mailed their heartfelt prayers. They surrounded someone they’d never met. They let me say her name out loud.
I’m beyond ready to read Kate’s new memoir, which I guess she wrote in between traveling to another state for chemotherapy treatments and trying to spot Jimmy Carter down the hall. But anyway. Just the title of her book says it all: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It officially releases on Feb. 5. Order your copy here.
Or if you can’t wait, get a preview of her voice by reading her New York Times op-ed here.