Denoument, 2: Emmaus (an epilogue)

The months following that day were long and difficult. That week alone was (obviously) quite painful, clearing offices, writing emails, and calling parents, friends, relatives. Oh yeah, and Mikala and the kids got sick and our A/C went out – in late summer Missouri.

Fun times.

So, after informing Brad that the Farmhouse retreat scheduled for our leaders was now cancelled, we were told to just bring ourselves for a few days. After all, we didn’t have anywhere else to be.

Mikala and I fought on the way. We cried, felt trapped. Should we stay in Warrensburg, home both to depressing reminders of what was, but also our friends, Cadence’s amazing school, and relative proximity to half our family? Or should we cut ties and leave? And if so, where? We were cut adrift, an oarless lifeboat suddenly separated from the ship, left to float in the doldrums, hoping for rescue.

So at Brad’s counsel, we took September off. Cordoned it as sabbath and did very little searching, allowing ourselves to grieve and spend time with those we loved. We coveted time with our remaining students, saw alumni who came to pay their respects, visited and entertained family and friends, and tried to be present in the beauty and pain as much as possible.1

And there was plenty of both. At several students’ request, I tried to continue our planned sermon series on Revelation, often leading to beautiful moments of discussion and growth. Yet perhaps the most poignant moment was when Cadence and I were walking back from the student recreation center about a week after the firing and, tired from rock climbing, he asked if we could stop at the Campus House and pick up a snack on our walk home. I gently reminded him that we were no longer going there but he continued asking until finally I stopped, knelt down, looked my son in the eye and said as softly as possible, “We are not allowed to go there anymore. We were asked to leave and not come back.”

He froze. His mouth fell open, eyes widened and there, in the middle of campus, Cadence lost it. He broke down, sobbing wildly, so I picked him up and carried him home, unable to say anything other than, “I’m sorry” over and over.2

Once October came around, we dove back into it. I picked up some part-time construction work through my neighbor to help pay off an outstanding doctor’s bill. We saved our pennies but also tried to spend them on happy, memorable experiences. We planned. And dreamed. And applied. We came back to a discussion we had tabled during our time at the Farmhouse: Brad had suggested considering Bloomington as our family’s next stop, as it is a very progressive city and the home to an outstanding university. Plus, Trinity Episcopal is a thriving parish with many opportunities for connection and a potential starting point for the ordination process – and it didn’t hurt that the Farmhouse was an hour south, Bonnie was an hour north, and Kellan only a couple hours further.

After all that had happened in Muncie, my first reaction to this was a spit-take followed by a “Hell no,” which was basically Mikala’s reaction when I told her as well. But the logic of the decision, especially in light of our quickly-dwindling severance, was overwhelming. So, three days before Christmas we packed and said goodbye to our still-new house and drove back across I-70 to Indiana, where we hastily threw our things into a townhouse, then drove to New Jersey for two weeks.

Upon returning, we hoped to begin our new life smoothly, but our first event was Cadence promptly falling apart – physically and emotionally. He severely broke his arm within 18 hours of getting back and was then forced to face this new reality: surgery, a new (smaller) home, a new school with an unfamiliar teacher and students, and a new church. For weeks he raged and wept, missing his friends and the Campus House, hating the apartment and the icy southern Indiana winter.

After a month or so, we found a counselor.

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Too bad he also wasn’t dared to lick a flag pole.

 

I began my new job as a social worker and fell deeply into depression. Not only was the learning curve steep, but I was thrown immediately into the broken lives of adults and children dealing with drugs, sexual, and physical abuse, and encountered their and our system’s repeated failures to adequately deal with these issues. I drank – and wept – more. I also screamed and lost my ability to handle even the slightest misfortune.

After a few months, we found a counselor.

Mikala settled into her role as a full-time stay-at-home mom, a job for which she is eminently capable but finds constitutionally ill-fitting. Though she desperately loves our children and thoroughly minds our family affairs, she longs to again have some outlet beyond the home for her energies – all of which I support wholeheartedly. She was a fantastic campus pastor and hopes to pursue social work through Indiana University, but for now finds herself at home every day . . . all day . . . with three children. Waiting.

After a few months, she found a spiritual director.

In good and bad ways these last months, the Campus House has not disappeared from our lives. Several frustrating holdovers have followed us, such as insurance squabbles and issues with former supporting churches and financial supporters. But we’ve also hosted several former students (now simply and thankfully called friends) and have found the memories of our ministry with them much more sweet than bitter – but the bitterness is still there. We struggle to forgive: to remind ourselves to again unclench the hands that want to exact justice from those who have withheld it. Every so often I still find myself going back to those moments, replaying and changing conversations, silently spitting my fill of vitriol at those men who stole everything from us.

But we try to move on, even as we know this place is a way-station, a stopping point – though that stop may take several years – on our journey. And we try to learn to forgive, to see the opportunities for love and growth through the darkness of depression and failed dreams.

In his sermon “The Road to Emmaus”, Frederick Buechner speaks about that place we all go when tragedy strikes, that place where we’ve run to escape fear and disappointment but where, if our eyes are open, we might just meet the risen Christ:

Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.3

Bloomington is our Emmaus. We may only be here for an evening before we run headlong back into the thick of Jerusalem, or we may be here years, wondering if the clocks for our hopes and dreams will ever match those who have the power to make them reality. And though for now it can be difficult to find the sacred or the beautiful in anything, I refuse to waste these years, and I hold onto hope that we will again be able to find it in even the simplest of things: a stranger on the path, a broken piece of bread.

Buechner continues:

The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only . . . the gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all of our being and our imagination – if we live our lives not from vacation to vacation, from escape to escape, but from the miracle of one instant of our precious lives to the miracle of the next – what we may see is Jesus himself, what we may hear is the first faint sound of a voice somewhere deep within us saying that there is a purpose in this life, in our lives, whether we can understand it completely or not; and that purpose follows behind us through all our doubting and being afraid, through all our indifference and boredom, to a moment when suddenly we know for sure that everything is in in the hands of God, one of whose names is forgiveness, another is love. This is what the stories of Jesus’ coming back to life mean, because Jesus was the love of God, alive among us, and not all the cruelty and blindness of men could kill him.

 


 

Well here we are: the final post of this series. Thank you for those who have followed from the beginning and many thanks to those who have hopped on later down the line. I hope these posts have been at times moving and enjoyable and have provided some context for our family’s journey.

I’m not sure what the next set of posts will be about, but I intend to keep writing here so if you enjoy following my work, please keep checking in and follow me on Facebook or Twitter to see when new posts are up. Thanks.

Peace, Josh.

 

1. Warrensburg was the first place we ever had adult friends with children. The Smiths, Bridges, McWilliams – these families showed us for the first time how beautiful family-friendships could be.

2. I had a similar experience a few weeks later with Leland, but Cadence’s tears – since he was old enough to realize he had lost a community – was easily the most heartbreaking thing I experienced those first weeks.

3. Buechner, Frederick. The Magnificent Defeat. San Francisco: Harper, 1991. Print.

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