...but just to type those words makes me uneasy. I can feel my heart beating and my pulse is quickening, because to be honest means admitting that lately I've not been doing as well as I'd like everyone to think. Many of you have even asked me, "How are you doing?" and you've received the standard answer, "Oh, I'm FINE." Well, the truth is that I've been struggling. I'm not exactly sure when I started to struggle or what caused me to lose what had been a reasonably firm grip on keeping it all together.

When my mother was diagnosed with stage III esophageal cancer in October 2017, my sister and I held on and worked together to support her through seven months of chemo and subsequent radiation. When my husband had a heart attack early in the spring of 2018 I held on, encouraging him on the journey of recovery while reassuring our daughter that Daddy really was okay - that everything would be okay. Of course, I did not know then that everything would not be okay, that in less than nine weeks my mother would have one of those "it never happens but we have to warn you anyway" events during surgery to remove any remaining cancer.

When she died on May 20, less than three weeks later, still I hung on. There was work to be done: a funeral to plan, a child to nurture, a church to pastor, a house to be sold, an estate to be probated, a life to be dismantled, and a family to hold together. I dug in, and I held on. Something changed earlier this year, sometime in February, I think. I'm not exactly sure when; it took me a while to realize I was losing my grip on okay. Like I said, I'm not even sure why it changed. Maybe it was the arrival of February and the anniversary of Travis' heart attack reminding me of the start of what had been a four month run of devastating events. Maybe it was compounded by the anniversary of the bittersweet days my sister and I spent with Mom in Ireland, savoring life even as we feared potential loss. Maybe it was just that everything was beginning to bud and turn green with new life bursting forth, and I was not prepared to receive it because behind the facade of my firm grip I was still at the tomb.

I willed myself to attend to the things I felt could not be abandoned, and I watched as many other things slipped away. I wasn't sleeping well; I quit going to yoga; I felt overwhelmed by projects that had previously energized me; I lost my creativity and even stopped writing articles for the newsletter for fear I had nothing worthwhile to say. I hoped no one would notice. I cringed when anyone mentioned the newsletter or asked me to take something on. I didn't want to be vulnerable, to be seen as weak or ineffective. The things I would have said to any of you - things like you are grieving, you don't have to be okay, be gentle with yourself, this is a normal response to loss, I couldn't allow myself to hear. I didn't want to burden my husband; after all, the birthday of his elder daughter comes at the end of March and the anniversaries of her accident and death the first week of May. One of you stopped by my office with a vase of daffodils picked from your yard at the nudging of the Holy Spirit, and I was transported back to the Irish fields and the thousand of yellow daffodils that had so pleased my mother. Finally, the disappointing actions of the General Conference, still pending review of the Judicial Council, certainly didn't help my disposition any. Then one day, about three weeks ago, I started crying and it seemed as if I would never stop. I could no longer pretend to myself I was okay. Still, I didn't want you to know. After all, the pastor is supposed to be non-anxious, peaceful, grace-filled, strong, and courageous, right? So I kept smiling, kept showing up, kept responding, "I'm fine!"

As I consider our congregation, I know that there are many of you who understand what it is to feel as if you have only the most tenuous hold on okay, or that everything might truly be coming apart despite your best efforts. This is a particularly challenging season for our church family. Each week there are new names being added to the prayer list: new diagnoses, fresh and longstanding griefs, troubled relationships, aging parents, and that strange mix of faith, hope and fear. You are surrounded by a family of faith, hundreds of people who love you, who pray for you, who would do anything to make it better, yet there remains an inner place no one can touch. No one, that is, but Christ.

It is not lost on me that we have lived once again to the commemoration of Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
What a strange mix it is! Palms waving, crowds cheering before the shouts of "Crucify him!" Fellowship with the beloveds, a shared meal, the breaking of the bread and giving of the cup; tears shed, Garden prayers, a plea for anything but THIS; an unwanted verdict, the pain, the loss; the emptiness of Saturday. It is a week of highs and lows that invites us to encounter, again, the God who loves us even unto death; who came to be among us incarnate in Jesus; who healed, forgave, and fed; who drew the circle wide and included those who felt hopeless; who entered into our pain, endured our fear, anger and rejection; who died rather than abandoned us; and who rose again to proclaim that redemption, resurrection, new life, and Divine love shall always have the final word.