News, Connections and Photos from the life of the faith community at CAPC Oakland
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
A number of years ago our house burned, and we had a horrible time settling with the insurance company. After years and years of haggling with insurance adjusters, contractors, architects, lawyers, arbitrators, etc. I thought I was finally over it all when we sold the house and moved out of Rockridge. It needed to be over. We had suffered enough. I needed to get on with my life, and, by moving, I thought I was moving on. Yet I continued to feel grief and bitterness over the losses we had endured.
When Katrina happened I felt compelled to go to New Orleans to help, and I hooked up with a group from Walnut Creek Pres that was going to do relief work. I figured that–hey–I knew all about loss of one’s home. Wouldn’t that make me a natural? I could totally get it about losses, and I could really help those people–right?.
As we traveled around the ravaged city distributing relief supplies and talking with people who had lost absolutely everything, I was amazed and confused at the incredulous stories I heard from Katrina’s victims. These people were not feeling sorry for themselves. What was that all about? Self pity was something I could relate to, but it wasn’t there.
One spunky 80-ish woman in a tiny one bedroom house had emptied it by herself and stripped it all the way back to the lath. She had managed to rescue a pitiful little pile of dishes that sat on warped floorboards in the middle of an otherwise empty house. It had been her wedding china, and it was all she had left of a 57 year marriage. Wasn’t God good to her in being able to save it? I looked around at the emptiness of her house and thought, “Can you possibly be serious? ”
A young professional couple had spent a year living upstairs in a once beautiful house while they meticulously restored the downstairs. Two weeks before the storm they had moved all of their things downstairs to get started on re-doing the upstairs. Not only had the flood water destroyed all their belongings, it devastated all the work that they had lovingly lavished on their home. Undaunted, they proudly showed us what they had done and what they were going to do with the upstairs. The wife pulled a large box out of a otherwise empty closet in a totally empty room, opened it, and joked about its contents being the only possessions she had left in the world. It was no joke. It was a box of Mardi Gras beads that she had collected for a niece, and she graciously urged us to take handfuls. Thank you for coming. Thank you for the supplies you brought. Thank you for not forgetting about New Orleans. Thank you. Take of what little I have to allow me to say thank you. I felt incredibly guilty. I was doing so little in the face of so much, and I did not deserve her thanks.
At the home of a retired pastor and his wife a group of volunteers were emptying the house of all its destroyed belongings and piling them on the curb for collection by the city. The couple had done much traveling and had many beautiful things–all destroyed by flood water and mold. The wife and I came across a soggy box of Christmas ornaments in the back of a closet. Could we try to salvage them? They were special. She and I sat on the steps of her neighbor`s house with windex and a roll of paper towels cleaning stars and Santas and baby Jesus figurines while tearfully sharing our stories of loss–hers fresh and raw, mine seasoned and well nurtured. Hers were accompanied by comments of gratitude for how good people had been to them and for moments of grace.
And I got it.
These people were all looking at the goodness in the midst of a bad situation and refusing to feel sorry for themselves as I had done for years. Gratitude gave them strength. Gratitude and misery could not co-exist. Gratitude was a choice. Their situations were all worse than mine had been, but their attitudes allowed them to see goodness in their losses as I had not. God’s grace was alive and well and would restore them. And it would heal me.
It’s a stretch to say that I am grateful for the losses I suffered in our fire and its aftermath. I could have lived my life quite nicely without that. But I am incredibly grateful for the vision of God’s grace that allowed me to heal from it. Gratitude for that grace has made me a very different person than I would have been, and I am grateful for that. The Mardi Gras beads still hang from the corner of a mirror to keep me reminded of the strength of gratitude and the presence of God’s grace in every corner of my life. Even in the midst of loss and grief, that grace is there, and my every prayer begins and ends with ‘thank you.’