Scripture: Excerpts from Mark 9
It was March 6th when my mom had hip replacement surgery last year. I had just entered my third trimester of pregnancy. And as I sat in the hospital waiting room, I watched a news conference on TV about the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Minnesota. I didn’t know then how much our lives would all be shaken in the next days and months.
In retrospect, that was the beginning of this chapter of challenge in our world and in our family. Anesthesia doesn’t mix well with a degenerative brain disease like Parkinson’s – the disease my mom has had for almost 14 years. Neither does recovery from hip surgery because healing requires movement and movement is a challenge with Parkinson’s. Add a new baby with eating struggles a few months later and limited access to professional and community support because of COVID and you have the mess of our lives over the last year a half. We have tremendous access to resources and privilege, and this has STILL been the hardest time of my family’s lives.
Today our babies are thriving. It is so obscenely obvious that welcoming them into our lives has been an act of welcoming the Creator to whom Jesus refers in our scripture passage today. Babies are made evolutionarily to be cute. And caregiver hormones program us to love them beyond reason, to find them practically edible. Even when they keep us up all night, we cannot help but devour them with kisses.
But in our scripture today, the child is also a symbol of the most vulnerable in society. There was no such thing as modern, precious childhood in the ancient world. Young children had no legal status and no rights and couldn’t produce income or food. And childbirth was far more dangerous than it is today. For Jesus to tell his followers that welcoming them was the same as welcoming God meant that God was in the presence of the risky, vulnerable, and unvalued by the profit-seeking powers of the world.
Who else fits that description today? So many people, so much of creation. And yet this year, as I read this passage I have read so many times, I couldn’t help but think of our elders. I couldn’t help but think of the death toll in nursing homes from COVID-19. I couldn’t help but wonder about how our culture would be different if we didn’t just have images of God as a baby and God as a young man in the person of Jesus, but of God as an elder living with chronic pain, or dementia, or cancer, or mental illness, or recovering from a stroke or trying to cope with Parkinson’s.
Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, “I do not believe that God wills cancer or MS or [any disease]… I know only that God can come into whatever happens, and by being part of it, can return it to wholeness. This is a large part of the meaning of incarnation. Nothing ever happens to us alone. It happens to God, too.”
I feel the same way. I do not believe that God has willed my mom’s Parkinson’s. But I believe that God can be a part of my family’s story of living with Parkinson’s, can help us find wholeness even with Parkinson’s. The trick is to make time to see Her presence among us in places we haven’t been taught by tradition or life to look.
I want to have the time and space I need and my family needs to treat elders, my mom in particular, as the incarnational beings they are. In order to do that, I need to shift some elements around. I need to figure out what care my post-partum mind and body need and have space to offer myself that care. I need to figure out what my family needs with two young children and make the room to hold us all with grace. I need to take figure out what support my mom truly needs at this stage of living with Parkinson’s and go through the process to set it up.
In order to do all of that, I need to take a pause from my full responsibilities at Lyndale with an unpaid family medical leave. Our council has graciously said yes to my request. Which means I’ll be working half my usual hours starting in about a week until mid-October and then be fully away for about six weeks. Then I will return for half my hours again for the season of Advent.
The ability to take unpaid leave is a privilege beyond measure. We all deserve such time and space to see the holy in each other, to make room for care and gentleness with each other. I give thanks to this community and to Rev. Rebecca and Karn in particular for picking up where I need to leave off for the sake of my own and my family’s health. I give each of you thanks for your patience and grace as I step away to take care of my family.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus is telling us God is in the presence of risky love, of the vulnerable, and unvalued. Who in your life is God calling you to welcome? What parts of yourself have you deemed to risky, to vulnerable too unvaluable to welcome? May you be able to make the time and space to do so with love. So there can be wholeness again. For you. For them. For all of us.