traveling with sisters


    The restaurant where I work is a little over three months old, which means those who have been there since the beginning are worn out. The food service world already has a built in what-have-you-cone-for-me-lately component: you can’t put the food on the table and say, “Gee, I really wish you had been here yesterday” and expect to stay open for long. Layer on to that the seemingly unending little changes and corrections that need to be made to help the business find its rhythm and everyone is doing more than a full time job.

    This week, people started dropping like flies. Three of our cooks have been out sick; two or three others are running on fumes. The good news for me was I worked double shifts most of the week, which is good for two reasons: one, I made more money and two, I got to spend a lot more time in my Depression Free Zone. Part of the reason for the illnesses has been the Durham weather, which can’t seem to make up its mind between winter and spring. But I think most of the weariness comes from another source. January and February are traditionally slow months in the food world. Though we want the business so we can stay open, everyone was looking for a respite this week so we could catch our breath and it didn’t come. We had the busiest week in the restaurant’s brief history and we were short staffed.

    Life, like orders in a restaurant, just keeps coming. As Roseanne Rosanadana used to say, “It’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

    As I was driving home from my shift Friday night when I called my brother to catch up a bit. He filled me in on his week and I told him about mine, mentioning how dark the days had seemed. He then said something I knew and yet needed someone else to say so I could hear it: “You know, Milton, I’ll bet a lot of what you’re feeling is because of the move. Every time we’ve moved it’s taken me six to nine months to sort through things. You lived in Massachusetts for seventeen years. You’re grieving. It’s going to take some time.”

    On Sunday, Ginger (who says a lot of things I need to hear) quoted Nancy Sehested (who shares our Baptist roots and is now in Asheville) in her sermon:

    In our Epiphany journey, we go with two sisters. One is Rachel, her eyes still weeping and looking backwards. The other is Mary, arms filled with the fragile promise of new life, looking ahead. Our journey must be made slowly because neither Sister Grief nor Sister Promise can walk too quickly.

    I went to church thinking I was waiting for the Wise Men to come to town, only to learn I’m traveling with Two Sisters, one an incarnation of inconsolable grief and the other of intractable hope. How one journeys with them feels a bit like trying to ride Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyu at first, but the more I’ve thought about Miller’s and Nancy’s and Ginger’s words, the more I come to see the creative and faithful tension in traveling with people vested in looking both forward and back.

    My blogging pal and nearby neighbor Jimmy told me about his daughter’s interest in genetics and he talked about how scientists are learning there may be the possibility of turning off “switches” in particular genes that could prevent disease, like my depression. I’ve pondered that option for some time now and come to the paradoxical conclusion that I’m not sure I would want to flip that switch. When I think of the pain I’ve inflicted because of my depression, particularly on Ginger, I wonder if flipping that switch might not be a good idea. And I also have questions. How do I know where the depression ends and I begin? Would I be the person I am had I not lived through days like these? Is the point of life to avoid pain and suffering or to make meaning of them?

    The questions aren’t any easier than living day to day, holding past and promise in the present tense (tension?), as voiced in this quote from Chase Peeples (also from Ginger’s sermon):

    The example of the Magi begs the questions, what do we see when we look in the darkness? And what could we see if we allowed our eyes to adjust to the light available to us?

    Annie Dillard wrote (in which book I don’t remember), “If you want to see the stars, you have to go sit in the dark.” It’s less about flipping switches than it is adjusting to the light and being mindful of the sisters who flank us on each side, calling us to slow down, reflect, and persevere daily, faithfully, and intentionally. Mary pulls us to remember there is life beyond grief and Rachel reminds us we are all walking wounded. Healing comes in traveling together.

    There’s an old gospel hymn, “God Leads His Dear Children Along,” that has always spoken to me. I found the story behind the hymn today and now it means more.

    The author of this hymn, George Young, was a carpenter and a pastor. He didn’t make much money in either profession. Most of his life was spent in small farming communities. Finally, however, he and his wife were able to build their own home, and they moved in. Shortly afterwards, while the Youngs were holding meetings in another small town, someone set fire to their house and it was reduced to ashes. It was probably out of that experience that George Young wrote this hymn.

    Here are the lyrics:

    In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet,
    God leads His dear children along.

    Some through the waters, some through the flood,
    Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
    Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
    In the night season and all the day long.

    Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night,
    God leads His dear children along.

    Some through the waters, some through the flood,
    Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
    Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
    In the night season and all the day long.

    Though sorrows befall us and evils oppose,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
    God leads His dear children along.

    Some through the waters, some through the flood,
    Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
    Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
    In the night season and all the day long.

    I’m tired this week because I chose to work double shifts when I was asked and because I’m living with a depression I didn’t choose. I’m traveling with Two Sisters who were walking long before I took to the road and they are telling stories of how God holds us all, in grief and in joy, in past and in promise, in darkness and in light. Life will never be fixed by the flipping of a switch; neither will it be stopped: it just keeps coming.

    Sisters — and brothers — come, let us keep walking together.


    P. S. — Here is an excellent article on the roots of the violence in Kenya.


    1. The Sisters will stay in my mind, too.
      And your brother is wise. I know the first six months after our cross-country move (16 years ago) were one of the worst times of my life. He’s right, part of what is going on is grief, and will take time.
      Thanks for your prayers. You have mine too.

    2. Milton, I am so sorry you deal with depression, too. There were quite a few years in my life where I depended on antidepressants to make it through. If you haven’t considered it, you may want to talk to your doctor.

      As for your weather – this must be going on in many parts of the country. It was bitterly cold here for quite awhile. The past couple days it has been over 60 degrees. It’s crazy. I’m also sick with some kind of cold that’s going around. Amazing how these things make it around our entire country.

    3. Just thought about this last night–that “counting it all joy” in hard times isn’t joy because of the pain, but for what I can learn in and through it–(your idea of making meaning of the suffering).

      To give some context: a woman said to me yesterday, “Christianity isn’t for wimps,” after I’d expressed discouragement in one of my circumstances. Your response here is much more helpful!

    4. blessed be your name
      in the land that is plentiful
      where your streams of abundance flow
      blessed be your name…

      blessed be your name
      when i’m found in the desert place
      though i walk through the wilderness
      blessed be your name…

      every blessing you pour out
      i’ll turn back to praise
      when the darkness closes in lord
      still i will say

      blessed be the name of the lord…

    5. I love that hymn, too. Our choir will be singing an arrangement of it as this Sunday’s anthem.
      “some through great sorrow, but God gives a song” – that’s my whole testimony in one line. Someday I’ll tell you a story about that.

    Leave a Reply