Well, I’ve had lots to write about over the past week or so, but I’ve just not been able to collect my thoughts in any kind of a coherent way. So here I go, into the abyss.
A friend committed suicide while I was in France.
Wait. It gets stranger.
Few people know that, at the age of four, a tie die wearing, long haired hippy showed up, married my mother, and adopted me. Like many single moms, my mother’s decision was based largely on the fact that he got along with me so well. He lived next door, had a motorcycle, a boat, a mustang, and played guitar. He was perfect. At the age of four, I would wander across the yard to his house, and he would feed me popsicles and let me play his guitar. Eventually he and my mother started dating and, six weeks later, got married and, like any other classy couple of their day, spent their honeymoon at Niagara Falls. What a couple of cheese balls. Anyway, within one year, he had adopted me, sold his boat, motorcycle, and mustang (to my horror), become a Christian, and had become the model father and husband. Let me pause here to say, don’t try this at home. Millions of suckers a day think they’ll win the lottery, only one ever does. Millions of women a day think they’ll “change him”, few ever do. The difference is that the lottery will only cost you $5. The other usually costs the lives of the couple and often the children involved. Don’t do it. It rarely works out.
Anyway, having been adopted at the age of four, I really knew nothing else. He was my dad. In fact, I would go through long periods of time (literally years at a time) where I would forget that I was adopted. My biological father was not in the picture. In fact, I had never met or even seen a picture of the man. I didn’t need to. I had a good dad. So, after a few years of forgetting, it would suddenly come up. I remember one day coming home from school and asking my mother if I “looked like dad”. She looked at me for a second, then gently reminded me that dad had adopted me. I looked at her, eyes wide, and shouted “WHAT!” Haha. That happened a couple of times. I just simply forgot. In fact, I can remember attending big youth conventions as a kid and being asked to raise my hand if I was from a “broken home”. I can remember looking around at all those kids and thinking, “those poor kids”, not realizing that the speaker meant me! It was easy to forget, after all, my home wasn’t broken. And so life moved forward with me forgetting for a while, then suddenly being reminded through some happenstance.
One of those happenstances took place about six years ago while I was living in Pittsburgh. One night, in the middle of the night, I received a phone call to let me know that my biological father had passed away. To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about the call, nor even who it was that called me. But I do remember a few things. One of the things that really stood out to me that night was that it was real, and that other people knew about it. That hadn’t really occurred to me but it was something that became a reality once I received that call. The other thing was the realization that I had two half sisters and a half brother living in Colorado. Again, the details are a bit sketchy for me, but I somehow made contact with them that very night. To this day I can’t remember how it happened. How, after all those years, I was suddenly in contact with all these people within minutes. That night I also discovered that I had a grandmother alive and living in Colorado. Suddenly my Beaver Cleaver existence ended, and I was booked on the next episode of Jerry Springer. It was surreal.
Within a few months, I was making the trip to Colorado and meeting my sisters, brother, grandmother, and nieces and nephews for the first time. It was a strange day spent looking at lots of family photos, visiting my grandmother in a nursing home, taking a motorcycle ride with my brother in law (oddly, the one I probably had the most in common with), and realizing that I had very much gotten the better end of the deal. Though they were older than I was, my biological father had left before I was born, and had eventually taken up residence near them. From the stories they told, and even through seeing their own interpersonal relationships, it was pretty clear that my childhood had been a dream vacation compared to theirs. It was a sad day as I realized that I had teenaged nieces and nephews that I probably would never know, a grandmother who was mad at the world, and siblings who really had little in the way of family support. I went away determined to maintain a relationship with them. Shortly afterward, I moved to London.
In the years since that visit, the youngest of the sisters and I have stayed in touch. She sends me regular pictures and updates of the family. The story goes that, on Cayrn’s thirteenth birthday, our grandmother told her about me and even gave her a picture. Apparently she had been looking for me ever since. I haven’t, however, been as fortunate with Pam and David. Whether its busyness, or simply a lack of desire, Pam and David just haven’t been very open to having a relationship beyond Christmas cards. Still, they’re often in my thoughts and prayers and I have this hope that one day they’ll see the love of Jesus.
This month, however, some of those hopes were lost when I first received an email to let me know that my grandmother had died, and then received another only a week later to let me know that David had committed suicide. Apparently he had separated from his wife, had been living in an RV, and decided to end it, all alone in that RV.
I don’t write any of that for sympathy. The truth is, I didn’t know David or my grandmother. My grandmother was in her 90’s and David wasn’t all that interested (though possibly a little more interested than I understood as he mentioned me in his suicide letter and also left me some art work.) I mention it only because the first thought in my head, once I heard the news, is that Jesus came to heal the sick. There are a few themes, always rattling around in my head, and one of those is that Jesus came to heal the sick. When I read the stories of Jesus, I always have to ask myself who he would be hanging out with if he came to earth today? I don’t think we quite grasp the enormity of whom Jesus spent his time with. People so reviled, not only by religious leaders, but also by the culture at large, that he was regularly rebuked for it. Yet his response was always that he had come for them.
What good are Christians and churches, hanging out in steepled buildings? I recently had a pastor friend suggest that one of the biggest problems facing the church these days was the “I want it my way” culture that was rising up around us. It is his belief that this culture is leading to an epidemic of church hopping. That, when people don’t have their needs met through a church, they simply leave. And, while I have always agreed with that to a point, I also think it’s a cop out. Why, for instance, aren’t their needs being met? And, furthermore, what are their needs? Answer those two questions and we’ll be well on our way to winning several generations to Jesus.
As my two sisters, and their children, try to deal with the grief of a lost grandmother and brother, all in the space of a week and a half, I can’t help but wonder if there are any Christians nearby, reaching out to them. Do those Christians even know they exist? Or, like so many Christians, are they satisfied with the notion that, as long as that sign sits out front with its catchy little slogan, the sick will know where to come when they finally get desperate enough.
Build it and they will come. A slogan that’s lost nearly all of its certainty.