The chapel was small, and there were some people in the middle aisle. We sat on the right with only two people in front of us. Sitting there quietly, I watched every person curiously. One man came was friendly and came to shake our hands, and then the service began. The pastor was an African-American woman, and she led everything. There was one pianist.
The pastor read the obituary, and then she invited friends and family to give testimony of Karen’s life. A friend went up first. She was open, smiling, sincere, and she knew a lot about this place. She met Karen through AA. They had just started volunteering at the Salvation Army together. She was sad for Karen to say goodbye. But Karen knew Jesus, her friend said, she knew Jesus, and she is with Jesus now. She smiled and returned to her seat.
The man that had greeted us went up next. He had known Karen through AA also for a long time. He said she was his friend. He said he loved her. And he said she was so frustrating at times. He knew her too well and he could always tell when she was using again. He said it was hard to be with her sometimes. He said, “But she was clean and sober the last three years. She was clean and sober when she died and that was a victory. And she loved God…like a child. And she was with God now; and her struggle is over. ” He sighed in relief and sat down.
I felt heavy. Most of the places Karen had been were places I had never been to until now. Hard places of addiction, places of sorrow, places of depression, poverty, and illness. What a gift she gave me to not be in those places with her.
A cousin went up to talk about Karen. She was trying her hardest to be positive. The strengths she found to speak of came with details behind them of how much Karen must have hurt her family…the family she came from. They all looked nice enough. It was all weighted. Every word.
My head spun around my whole life to try to see hers. She was my flesh. She is gone. I had already said goodbye to my adopted mother with the sorrow and pain of a child and I miss her so very dearly every day even now. But, now. I was saying goodbye to the one who bore me into this place.
My heart was heavy, but there on that pew, nothing was hanging out there for me anymore. I felt myself open-wide. Open. I knew it all. I knew she was too young to have me. I knew there was something broken in her life. I knew the rest of her adulthood was filled with addiction and pain with some points of light. I knew she was probably using when she was writing me letters. I knew she had somehow made peace, made friends, and made this place her church. I knew that her story and my story and our places were coming full circle in this moment to find redemption in the bigger story of God in us.
After the last prayer, the man who spoke of Karen in the service came straight to me. He knew me. He held my hand and said, “I know it must have been a very hard decision to come here, but I’m so glad you are here today in this place.” I smiled and squeezed his hand. “Me, too.” I was welcomed into the reception warmly. I spent the next hour meeting people who knew about me and those who didn’t. All of them were delighted to talk with me, curious, kind. It was like a big exhale for all of us. As my dad and I stood in front of my car to say goodbye, we just looked thoughtfully at each other, satisfied. “I’m so glad you came with me,” I said.
“Thank you for letting me be part of this with you,” he said, emotional. I couldn’t say much more. I needed him that day. I needed him that day in 1975 also. Thanks, Dad.
This story is one I have never told. I’m not sure why. I guess I wasn’t ready until now…until this place. I tell it to you now to remind you of all of the stories, all of the places that have never been told. I tell it to you now to remind you of all the stories, of all the places you have never been yet. I tell it to you now to remind you of our place in God’s story of redemption…..messy, circling, love, openness and sacrifice.
And so we find that God uses place to open us wide. Or we must open to the place we are in or the place God is sending us….for
St. John of Chrysostom said “It is not enough to leave Egypt. One must also enter the Promised Land.”
I’m not in the place you are in. God is. That’s what I do know. Being open to seeing value in the place you are in suddenly opens up places within you that you knew nothing about!
You might have seen hints…you might have smelled them or glimpsed them through some crack. You were searching for this place all along, praying, writing, grasping. You lit some candles. You’ve been on your knees and nothing happened. But then it did perhaps in a place you would have never imagined. Opportunity knocks right here. Light comes in, into all these places within you that you never knew and then you knew. After all, perspective is about the lighting, right?
Your places are there for the seeking. You might be surprised where you find brokenness, redemption, true love, and sacrifice. Don’t be afraid. There might be some fear, maybe the whole thing is closed up by fear. Be afraid and remember that perfect love drives out fear. You’ll be okay. Perfect love is the place, the whole story. So, crack it open, that place you’re in.
Eph. 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
For this place’s sake, don’t miss it.
My Lord God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road, though we may know nothing about it. Therefore we will trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face my perils alone.
—Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude