Posts

The Snow Day

Just call us “Peoples Presbyterian: Church of the Holy Ice Flow”

Just call us “Peoples Presbyterian: Church of the Holy Ice Flow”

In the Shriver household, the morning did not start well. I knew it was cold, so as soon as I woke up, I checked my phone. Yep. School’s closed. Today was a Snow Day. Well, to be precise, today was a Cold Weather Day. The local school district, where my two sons are enrolled, closes whenever the morning temperature is too low. Something reasonable about not wanting children to freeze while waiting for the bus or whatever.

Between my husband and me there was plenty of grumbling, some horse-trading around who had to stay home this time, and a few not-safe-for-church words sent in the general direction of the school district. These past three weeks have been hard. Three sick days, two midwinter break days (why!?), two cold weather days, two snow days, and…wait for it…five regular school days. Five. It hasn’t been a recipe for a happy family or a productive work life for either of us. As I said, it’s been a hard three weeks.

And so, on this cold weather day, we settled on a compromise: Kelly would be home for the morning, John would take the afternoon shift, and we’d both work from home after bedtime. Sigh. Another snow day, solved? Resolved? Resigned to? I don’t even know how to think about it anymore. I’m just so tired.

But then, today, something in me shifted. I was sitting there, on the couch, browsing my phone, keeping one lazy eye on the kids (they were ripping things up, but those documents weren’t that important, right?), and I ran across a Facebook post from a friend. Her school district was open, despite crippling snow in her area, and she was giving thanks. Not to gloat about her ability to go to work, not to rub it in my face that her kids got to go to school, but because the 50,000 kids in her county who rely on free lunch would get to eat that day. And it made me pause: 50,000 kids get to eat.

It took 50,000 kids and a Facebook post to jar my brain enough to pan out and see the larger scope. Like Ana and her melting frozen heart…or maybe I’ve just seen Frozen too many times in the past three weeks. Sure, it was easy for me to complain about lost productivity, but what about the others? What about those parents who didn’t serve a beautiful, compassionate church that allows me all the flexibility in the world when it comes to my family? What about those parents whose partners don’t work in flexible, family friendly offices, or even more so, don’t have a partner to rely on? What about those kids who won’t eat without a free breakfast and lunch? What about those kids whose houses aren’t kept warm enough, because of the heating bill? What about those younger kids left alone, because mom and dad have no choice but to work? What about the seniors whose Meals on Wheels won’t be delivered, because they’re tied to the closure schedule of the local school district? What about the others whose lives are far more deeply impacted by a snow day than my own?

Don’t get me wrong, my lizard brain, the bit of me that dwells solely on Kelly and her perceived needs, is still having a field day with this. I can’t stop myself from worrying and complaining about the personal inconvenience caused by this snow day. It’s selfish, but true.

And at the same time, 50,000 kids and a Facebook post reminded me: I really am going to be fine. Some compassionate part of me is starting to see what a snow day does to the children, families, and community around me. And, I guess, part of me is starting to fight back against my own, selfish lizard brain, melting a bit of that frozen heart. To take notice of the people around me who are invisible, whose inconvenience is far more severe than my own, and to give thanks for my sweet church and my husband’s flexible job.

In a larger sense, as a pastor and not just a mom, I’m being called back, once more, into the pulpit on Sunday morning humbled, reminded that a bit of compassion, a larger view of community, is what God asks of us. It’s a question that for me, once asked, I can’t forget. It’s a question that I feel I need to ask of my church (which happens to sit less than 100 yards away from the town elementary school). It’s a question about how knowing and seeing the needs of others may begin to translate into finding a way to serve and care for the neighbors around us—in the surprising and new ways God may be calling me, calling my family, calling my church, calling us.

Keep Calm and Carry on with Hope

medium_14712446017

A little over a month ago a man named Thomas Eric Duncan was getting ready to leave Liberia for Dallas, Texas. Prior to departing he helped a neighbor get a sick pregnant woman into a car to go to the hospital for medical care. Or so is the story the media twisted, and spun out of control. (Since Duncan’s death, the Dallas News published a letter from Duncan’s nephew disputing that story.)

Whatever the truth, I resonate with that story: I’m in the last months of pregnancy, waiting to deliver my daughter at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, the same hospital where Duncan was quarantined, treated for Ebola, and eventually died.

West African countries have been battling Ebola for months, treating thousands of cases. Americans didn’t tune in to the magnitude of that story until one case popped up in one city in one western country. The media descended, and anxiety rose and infected the Dallas community and the country more quickly than Ebola could.

It became clear to clergy including myself that fear and anxiety were what we had to reframe and fight. We had to keep calm and carry on with hope.

At my church, my colleague and I preached, prayed, and tried to live out calm in the midst of crisis.

Living out calm meant I went about ministry as usual visiting parishioners who were hospitalized at Dallas Presbyterian, and going to my own obstetrician check-ups there. I didn’t think twice about continuing with my doctor and pushing forward with our plans to deliver our firstborn at Presbyterian Hospital.

I also continued to go about the parts of my ministry that took me to Vickery Meadows, the neighborhood where Duncan has lived with his fiancée, Louise Troh.

I attended a parent meeting at McShan Elementary School in the heart of Vickery Meadow to share information about the community garden our church started, and an upcoming event. The discussion came round to Ebola. As panic alarm bells were sounding and paranoia was setting in the principal said this, “We are all neighbors, and this is a multicultural community. You have nothing to fear. We encourage you to keep on supporting each other, and we will not tolerate bullying or isolation of others.”

She preached to me, and I’ve held her words in my head over the last month: “You have nothing to fear.”

Other ministers closer to the situation, like Rev. George Mason of Wilshire Baptist church spoke eloquently on national television putting out an alternative to the frenzied media story…one of love, care for our neighbor, and compassion as his congregation ministered to Louise Troh, a member of their congregation.

A few weeks ago another colleague, Rev. Brent Barry invited an ecumenical group of clergy to lead a prayer vigil for hope. The mayor came to speak, but also to find solace.

As the third case emerged and anxiety and fear became more widespread, the mayor held a conference call for faith leaders. He encouraged us to share a message of love and hope. He preached to me, reminding me that Jesus ministered to the lepers, and that the early church stood in the gaps when others were abandoned. Now, more than ever we were needed.

When I get a concerned call from a loved one or church member about plans to deliver my firstborn at Dallas Presbyterian, I’m not worried. I fight the fear with facts: I’ve not touched the fecal matter or bodily fluids of the 3 Ebola patients, and neither has my doctor. I’m fine, and the baby is fine. Keep calm and carry on with hope.

When I encounter a neighbor or friend who is concerned about us welcoming “those people” from Vickery Meadow into our neighborhood or houses of worship I ask them these questions: Why are you afraid? Have you come into contact with the fecal matter, bodily fluids, or urine of those 3 people? No? Then you’re just fine. Keep calm and carry on with hope.

Now, more than ever our neighbors in Vickery Meadow or West Africa need us to love them, to welcome them, and to embrace them. They need hope, and I pray that we can continue to remember those lessons once this Ebola story ends. Shunning, and living in fear is not our story as Christians nor is it the Gospel call to hope.

I can’t wait to tell that story of hope to my baby girl when she is born one of these days at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. Maybe I’ll even get one of the coveted birthing tubs since so many other pregnant women have changed their hospital out of fear.