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When I planned what I would share for today, I envisioned it would be about new beginnings, opening our hearts to newness, hearing God’s calling to always begin again, and thinking about “who I want to be” as Mike and I officially begin a new calling. I was thinking it would be a happier, light, inspirational blog than some of the heavy and hard I’ve shared in previous weeks.

Ted Loder’s beautiful poem, Help Me to Believe in Beginnings, has been ringing in my prayers and heart and a part of what we shared with both churches, the loved ones we left behind as they begin anew and the new family we are joining. After living in the parsonage for a month, we officially begin at Niskayuna Reformed Church today, on Worldwide Communion Sunday! We are called to BE a part of new beginnings for our world, for the suffering, for those on the margins, and for ourselves!

While all of that is all still true, what is also true is that this week my daughter reached her emotional grief threshold AND Hurricane Ian tore through homes and communities, adding to the worldwide natural disaster toll, but also touching our homeland in the US and those we know and love.

New Beginnings often arise from enormous messes! The romanticized ideal of starting afresh from a clean slate naively ignores the fact that piles and piles of mud, debris, and remnants of life before impact will need to be removed from the flooded site, sorted through for what can be salvaged, cleaned, and dried before any sort of rebuilding can begin. This is a long, hard, and painful journey.

It took us years to rebuild after Hurricane Irene. . .and in some ways we are still cleaning up from it eleven years later as we finally finish getting rid of items we saved that we thought we could salvage but never had the time to rehab. The new beginning for those in the wake of Ian is hardly anything to talk about now, as they walk the dark valley of loss, grief, and mud. Heroism will arise now, and then disillusionment followed by disillusionment, as is the unfortunate cycle of a natural disaster. If you are in or know others in the wake, know you are not alone, and many others have traveled your path. May we see you and keep seeing you, help us not look away.

While enormous learning and empathy can come out of trauma, the imprint of trauma is lifelong. Our society has little patience for this reality. We generally live out of our own desires for achievement and productivity or security or wanting to be liked. We look away quickly from pain. We are more apathetic than empathetic. I say this as a simple reflection on what I see in our society and in myself, as well as the work we are called to do, to keep confronting my apathy and grow my empathy.

I so appreciate the other blogs this week which have focused on climate change and pondered a call to action from a logical and theological angle. Let me add to that, sociologically, we know that our human motivation is tied to our emotions. It is stories that tug at our heart strings. We need to keep hearing them. It is knowing people and walking with real people going through the trenches of trauma that help grow our empathy muscles and help us learn to grow our patience to be the presence of Christ in the world.

Like the Kierkegaard parable of the geese in the barnyard, many new beginnings go nowhere because we do a lot of talking and convincing ourselves of the merits, but do not actually “fly.” We need practical and tangible ways to step into action, and then to do it, not just talk about it! May we keep listening to the stories of those impacted from natural disasters and people-made disasters the world around to the point where we the people rise to create movements of action to bring help and hope, beyond political gridlock and finger pointing, beyond borders, empowering all people as agents of wholeness in their contexts and across contexts.

What I saw as I embraced my daughter this week is that she needed comfort and space to allow her emotions to flow. She was tempted to fixate on things that were outside of her control. Her grief was not letting her see the possibilities of what could be, because she was fixating on what was that is no more. As she let out the emotions and I encouraged her to think about what could be, she needed to be brave and try for the possibilities.

We agreed she would go on a field trip that she thought she was going to hate. She ended up loving it. We agreed she would go to her first dance for at least a little while. She didn’t want to go at all, but agreed she would try, knowing we would collect her after an agreed upon time if she didn’t like it. We found a new friend for her to go with. She ended up loving it and staying the entire time! She had to be brave and try for the new possibilities. We celebrate her bravery in facing her grief, in the work of letting go of the fixating, and being brave to try. While the result was better than we imagined it would be and we are thrilled, the victory was in the effort!

Grief is an integral part of new beginnings. We must walk through it in order to open ourselves to something new. No one can push us through, others can simply hold our hand as we walk our own path. It is easy to fixate in grief. We must be brave and open ourselves to new possibilities as baby steps, and when we do, we might just be able to take more steps than we imagined.

While this is not the “happy” blog about new beginnings I had imagined, perhaps it is the real of new beginnings. May we not look away from the pain in the world. May we confront our apathy. May we walk through our own grief, that is a partner to any change, and hold the hands of others walking through grief.

As we take the bread and the cup today, ingesting the grace of God in physical form in our bodies, may it empower us as God’s people to be God’s presence that we may, quoting Ted Loder:

“…to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry,
of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
to make a beginning,
to be a beginning…”

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