As best as I can remember, my mother Trudy and I boarded the Greyhound bus in Augusta. We couldn’t depart from the station in the little Middle Georgia town where we had lived. Trudy was afraid that her abuser, my father, would catch us. So friends had secretly driven us to a terminal some miles away.
With one-way tickets in hand, we fled to Miami at the beginning of the summer of my eleventh year. In the divorce, my father had kept the house and the only car. The courts held him to one-dollar-a-day child support and no alimony. The child support never arrived. My mother had supported us on hourly wages from a local factory, catching a ride to and from work with sympathetic coworkers.
To buy those tickets and to provide us a cushion in our new setting, my mother had saved what she could and had sold most of what she owned. No job and no apartment awaited us in Miami.
Risking so much, especially with a child in tow, may seem reckless to some. Their thinking might go something like this: As bad as things may have been, at least she had a job and a roof over her head.
But this view of our circumstances fails to connect with my mother’s desperation and her legitimate fear.
Trudy was escaping the man who had unapologetically beaten her and had threatened to shoot her. In a Southern town of less than two thousand, she would never be safe from his domination and his violence. And abandoning me to my father’s influence was unthinkable to her.
So, we boarded a bus and traveled for over twenty hours into the unknown. Trudy not only yearned for a new life for us. She believed that a better life was possible. Crucially, she had previously learned that the old life would have to die before the new life could emerge.
Surviving a Nazi concentration camp had taught her this truth as a teenager. Crossing the Atlantic alone in a ship designated for displaced persons and starting over in the New World had reinforced that lesson.
To put this in Christian terms, followers of Jesus seek to lead a resurrection-shaped life. We see in Jesus’s resurrection not only the promise of life after we’ve drawn our last breath. The death and resurrection of Jesus shows us a way of living right here on planet Earth that has an eternal trajectory.
Again and again we let go of a life narrowed by suffering or prejudice or injustice. We let that life die instead of clinging to it and trying to improve it in superficial ways. Once that life breathes its last, a new, more expansive life can emerge.
That’s what Jesus was getting at when, after predicting his death and resurrection, he told his followers to take up their cross and follow him. That in order to live they must die. He was teaching them to pattern their lives on his example. (Mark 8:27-38)
Barbara Brown Taylor says this:
“Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air.” (Learning to Walk in the Dark)
Resurrection is more than a happily-ever-after ending. It is the Jesus Way of leaning into the life we actually inhabit.
After some periods of homelessness and hunger and uncertainty, my mom and I ended up in Atlanta. She got a job. I went to Catholic schools. My maternal grandparents reconciled with their daughter and moved to Atlanta so that we could all live together in their retirement.
The story doesn’t end there, tied up in a neat bow. We had entered a new season of life, but we were hardly finished dying to old, narrow, battered selves. Financial challenges dogged us. The psychological effects of abuse weighed upon us.
Part of my own growth has been to recognize that resurrection is as much about our common life as it is about our personal life.
Together, we need to let the world die that allows and even promotes daily violence against women.
Together, we need to let the world die that allows our rising cost of living to force thousands of full-time, low-wage workers into food insecurity and even homelessness.
Together, we need to let the world die that makes some among the elderly face the choice between life-sustaining medicine and going hungry.
In our everyday lives and in our ordinary communities, we will experience the darkness of the tomb. Jesus’s followers believe that God does God’s best work in such dark places. That’s where resurrection happens in us and through us.
Thank you Bishop for giving me a fresh look at periods in my life!
I’m glad this post was helpful, Cynthia!
Wow, its hard to fathom how you got to where you are now, but so glad you did! Your poor mum, she was such a survivor.
Lots of people along the way helped me in all sorts of ways. Mom was really something.
Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking but beautiful story. So many stories in our lives – some of them shine like stars in the sky…
“the promise of life after we’ve drawn our last death.”
Typo? Perhaps. Truer truth, nonetheless.
Every death and loss and shedding proves the rightness of the path I’m on, and invariably clears my sight and ears a bit more.
I look forward to purchasing your book one day, Jake. Perhaps when finances are such, I will purchase a signed copy directly from you.
Thanks for reading, Kitsy! You’re right, that should have read “breath.” Still, typos can speak the truth loudly, as you pointed out. I’m glad our paths have intersected.
Great message. Thank you for sharing it.
Thank you, James!
Reblogged this on Pastor Michael Moore's Blog and commented:
A powerful and deeply transformative reflection, Jake!
Thanks, Michael! I appreciate connecting with you each week.
Dear Jake, this helps me undersrtand you better.
Our less than salubrious beginnings can be a platform for understnding others.
Thank you, Ron! I believe that Nouwen had a point about wounded healers.
M deeply moved by all your good thoughts, but especially by your story! Your journey teaches courage and faith! Deacon Belle