There’s A Big Problem Among High-Achieving Teens And Young Adults

It happened to Tyler Hilinski.

And Justin Cheng.

And Daniel Green.

And Kim Long.

And Miranda Williams.

And Lara Nosiru.

And Elsa Scaburri.

And Sam Symons.

And a host of others just this year.

These people have a lot in common. They share similar ages. They are all high achievers. And they all committed suicide.

As far as we know, none of these young adults demonstrated the typical patters that society once associated with suicide. They went to good schools to study things like neuroscience and law. Eight students at Bristol University and one from the University of West England have committed suicide in just the last 18 months. Tyler Hilinski was probably going to be the starting quarterback for Washington State this fall. He had just returned from a vacation with his family before killing himself. Whatever pain these students were experiencing was not bound by a nation’s borders.

There are no easy answers here. Christians do more harm than good when we resort to clichés about people “needing the gospel.” The same goes for those in the medical world who seem much more apt to administer drugs with questionable results than to address the actual problem.

I don’t know the parents of these young men and women. We must not assume that this is a result of some major flaw in their parenting. To do so would be reckless and self-righteous. But we can learn from these tragedies. The best thing that parents, educators, and others who have influence over teens and young adults can do is to take the time to listen. Pay attention to what they are saying. Get to know the songs and movies that resonate with them and find out why. But as important as listening is, there comes a time when we have to speak too.

We must be careful that the only words those under our care hear are not, “Do more,” “Work harder,” and “Not good enough.” Again, this is not to say that such was the case with the parents of the people listed above. Even those with the most idyllic family situations make the wrong decisions. But I have spent a lot of time on youth sports fields and I’ve come across quite a few parents who would rather give their kids the burden to perform than a word of encouragement.

The young men and women under our care need to be reminded that their true identity is not found in their athletic prowess or academic accomplishments. They are not the number at the bottom of a 20-page paper. They are not their 40 time. They are human beings created in the image of God. It is that, not their abilities, that gives them worth. And if they are Christians, they are sons and daughters of God. It is that, not their accomplishments that gives them hope.

Balance is required here. If we over-protect our students and children, we leave them ill-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. But if we train them to be nothing more than performers putting on a show for us, we are setting the stage for crisis when the day inevitably comes that they just don’t measure up. We need to challenge them to take risks but we also need to love them when they fail. And in-between the starting line and the finish line, we need to be ready to listen to their fears and guide them through them. The young men and women under our care do not need us to be helicopters or drill sergeants but they could sure use some adults who care enough to listen and know enough to direct.

I don’t have all of the answers for this. There are not Six Easy Steps here. I’m sad for the families of these young adults. I can’t even begin to understand their pain. But perhaps we can begin to understand the pain of the teenagers and young adults in our lives. Yes, even the high achieving ones who show no signs of doing something as terrible as suicide. It starts with compassionate hearts, listening ears, and a few words of wisdom.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

 

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Southern Accents And Jesus

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I’ve lived in the south my whole life. Well, except for the few months that I lived in Louisville, Kentucky where they give you a funny look if you order sweet tea at a restaurant. While the south is far from perfect, there’s a lot I like about it. One of the things I like most about the south is the way we talk. We have a funny accent and we know it. And we don’t care. On top of that, we even go so far as to make up our own words or give our own meaning to established words. Take, for example, wack-em.

Wack-em means something completely different in Brooklyn, New York than it does in Macon, Georgia. If you hear the wack-em phrase in Brooklyn, someone is about to be murdered by a man named Fat Tony and thrown in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental. But if you hear wack-em in the south, it’s because someone has been nice to you.

You: “Thank you for refilling my glass of sweet tea.”

Southerner: “You wack-em.”

The lady waiting your table isn’t telling you to go kill someone. She’s saying, “You’re welcome.” The moral of the story is that if you’re ever at the Cracker Barrel in Macon, Georgia and you have a waiter from Brooklyn named Fat Tony, be careful. Things could get confusing.

There’s another moral too.

Your accent reveals where you’re from. In the same way, the words you use and how you use them often reveal who you worship. Your words are far more powerful and revealing than you think they are.

James puts it like this when describing the tongue.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:9-12 (ESV)

Christian, if you are constantly tearing others down with your words, if you feel the need to always have the last word in a debate or disagreement or if you use verbal nuclear weapons when a scalpel will do, you are not at all acting like the One you claim to worship.

Proverbs is sort of like the James of the Old Testament. Take a look at the words used in that book to describe the kind of speech that is pleasing to God. You’ll find words and phrases like gentle, wise, knowledge and tree of life. If you move forward to the New Testament, you’ll see those same words used to describe Jesus, the One who is supposed to be the object of our worship.

He is gentle to the broken (Matthew 11:29).

His wisdom is undeniable (Matthew 13:54).

His knowledge is infinite (Colossians 1:16-17).

He is the one who removes the barrier between his people and the tree of life (Genesis 3:22; Revelation 2:7).

When we carry the name of Christ but speak like the world speaks, we misrepresent where we are from. That goes deeper than simply not using certain four letter words. You can live 80 years without ever saying a “bad word” and still leave behind you the wreckage of broken hearts and crushed souls that will never be the same because of your speech.

As Christians, we must speak with the accent of heaven. Yes, there will be times when we have to disagree with others. There will be times when we have to speak with courage, boldness and firmness, just like Jesus did. But even in those times, we must love, just like Jesus did.

Your accent lets the world know where you come from. Your speech goes a long way in telling the world where you are going.

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A Word Of Encouragement For People Caring For Sick Family Members

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Being a parent is hard. It’s hard when everything is going well, when there is money in the bank and when the kids are acting like you want them to act.

Being a parent is hard.

But it’s really hard when your kid is sick. I don’t mean the kind of sickness that goes away in a few days with antibiotics. I mean the kind of sickness that keeps you up through the night, the kind of sickness that makes you feel like your second home is a children’s hospital and the kind of sickness that often makes you struggle with trusting God’s plan as you push your son’s wheelchair past a bunch of healthy kids playing soccer.

Being a parent is hard.

And it’s especially hard when you have to be a parent to your parent. It’s hard when, instead of going to your dad for a few words of wisdom, you have to somehow find the right balance between honor and firmness so that he’ll take his medicine. It’s hard when dementia has him thinking that you’re stealing all of his money when in reality you’re trying to save him from financial ruin. And it’s hard when you continually have to pretend to have it all together while one of your greatest examples of human strength slowly withers away.

Being a parent is hard.

When you find yourself in the position of caring for a sick loved one, you are in a constant battle of questioning your decisions. Was it a lack of compassion or was it wisdom to refuse that last treatment? Am I an evil person for looking forward to the end of the day when I can finally unwind? Should I even consider a nursing home?

Through all of the questions, doubts and sleepless nights, there is something that you need to know. You are never more like Jesus than you are when you serve suffering people for the glory of God.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

If you’ve spent anytime in a good church, you’ve heard that verse before. It has been used countless times to motivate Christians to consider orphans and widows around the world. And that’s a good thing. But you are not somehow less Christlike when the widow you are ministering to happens to be your own mother. In fact, caring for your those under your care is foundational to what it means to follow Jesus.

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)

It’s hard to be the parent of a sick child. It’s hard to be the parent to your parent. And I don’t have all of the answers. The Bible doesn’t tell us which doctor to choose and which treatment option is best. But God does provide grace and wisdom for those decisions (James 1:5-8). And God is glorified through you as you struggle to wear the many hats of parent, child and primary care physician.

He is glorified through your nights spent comforting your sick mother after that day’s cancer treatment did a number on her body.

He is glorified through you when you tie your child’s shoes while other kids his age are driving to school.

He is glorified through you when you fix washing machines, cut grass, plunge toilets, balance checkbooks and all of the other things that your dad used to do for your mom before cancer took him away.

He is glorified most through you when you are acting like Jesus.

And there is no better way to act like Jesus than to take care of the suffering people he has put in your life. So don’t let discouragement or worry get the best of you.

Keep going.

Keep caring.

Keep serving.

Keep praying.

Keep shining the light of Christ before your suffering relatives who otherwise may never see it.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (ESV)

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Being Cautious About Syrian Refugees Does Not Make You UnChristlike

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Do you remember when Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner? In the blink of an eye, the former Olympian who I had not even thought about in two decades became a woman, went on the cover of a magazine and won an award from ESPN for being courageous. And I wasn’t even allowed to say, “Man, what is Bruce doing to himself? That’s weird.”

The tolerance police would have called my reaction hate speech.

And some Christians would have said that I wasn’t acting like Jesus for still calling him Bruce.

Both would have joined together to remind me of the importance of compassion.

Well, that same chorus is singing but this song is about the Syrian refugees who our country’s leadership is working hard to bring to the United States. Some Christians have stated that it is our duty as followers of Christ to show compassion to all (insert anywhere between 10,000 to 250,000) of these refugees. Nonbelievers have said the same thing. When nonbelievers start enlisting Jesus to help them prove a political point, look out. It’s about to get interesting.

If you have second thoughts about letting these refugees in, some would say, you value comfort over compassion and your faith simply isn’t radical enough. However, most of those same folks probably go to sleep at night behind the comfort of a door that they locked to keep out unwanted guests who probably just wanted to come in and eat in peace. The nerve!

Perhaps it would help us to take a look at what it means to be compassionate.

One time I was with my wife and small child when we saw a lady who needed a ride. I’m sure that you’ll forgive me for profiling but this lady appeared to be on drugs. I offered her a ride and she accepted. So there we were. Me, my wife, my infant son and some lady who we were all hoping wasn’t carrying a shiv. Finally, our short but anxious trip was over when we dropped her of at a location which, for the record, was not a church building.

It was a quiet ride home after that.

Later, my wife shared some wisdom with me in a very kind way. That’s one of the things that I love about her. She expressed to me that my compassion toward that woman could have very easily turned into a lack of compassion toward my wife and son. Quite simply, I put those under my immediate care in unnecessary danger.

So I read the story of the Good Samaritan to my wife and yelled at her for not being radical enough.

Not really. She was right. There were other options. For one, I could have called a cab for the lady and paid for it myself.

When it comes to allowing thousands of Syrian refugees into our country, there are other options besides, “Bring them on in. WWJD?!”

First, if we really want to talk about compassion, perhaps we should take a minute to think about what created all of this in the first place. It was the United States, along with help from other equally misguided western nations, that helped to create this monster we now call ISIS. That’s not just an Obama problem. It’s not just a Bush problem. It’s a horrific American foreign policy problem that has been going on for decades. When we needlessly topple foreign leaders and create even worse terror groups to take their place, it may be too late and our nation may be too complicit for any call for compassion to be taken seriously.

We must also consider the very real possibility that there is more than meets the eye with some refugees. According to the United Nations, an overwhelming majority of these refugees from the Mediterranean region, not just Syria, are men. According to Time, they are fighting age men. Now that could be because they don’t want to fight in Syria and they are leading the way to scope out a new home, church and little league soccer team to enjoy with their wives and kids. Or it could be what we might refer to as a soft invasion. Either way, shouldn’t we at least take the time to think about this?

Is it really unChristlike to question the narrative when it has already been documented that at least one refugee agency does not track refugees once they enter the country and that one of those refugees has already gone missing?

Despite what some may say, being cautious about allowing thousands of young men into our country who may or may not be here to attack us is not unChristlike. You could even make the case that it is very Christlike.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Jesus said that in Matthew 10:16. But it doesn’t sound very radical, does it? That’s because most of us have grown to believe that compassion and common sense cannot work together when in reality they are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t believe me, try writing your name, social and checking account number on the bathroom wall of some place where someone in need might be able to find it. Get back to me and let me know how the rest of your family feels about your so-called compassion.

Yes, we must be compassionate and we must remember that we are a nation of immigrants. But we also must be wise. And there’s nothing wise or compassionate about trusting the same government that cannot adequately handle public schools to somehow take care of thousands of refugees from the current headquarters of global terrorism.

Christians, show compassion. Even when it’s hard. Obey what Jesus said, even when it involves the illegal immigrant who lives two doors down from you. But do all of that because you love Jesus, not because those who created the problem in the first place are condemning you for not jumping on board with their proposed solution.

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Jesus Is Not Concerned About You

Jesus is not concerned about you.

Maybe your mother is. Perhaps a friend or coworker is. You may even have quite a long list of people who are concerned about you. But Jesus isn’t on that list.

Jesus is not concerned about you.

In Matthew 4, we get a good summary of Jesus’ ministry.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Matthew 4:23 (ESV)

Teaching. Proclaiming. Healing. But no concern.

Concern is what happens when you see someone in a bad situation and do nothing about it other than perhaps making that bless your heart look with your face. Concern is passive. It’s not that it likes it when bad things happen to others. It’s just that it doesn’t hate it enough to do something about it. Concern, all by itself, never changes anything.

Jesus is not concerned about you.

Notice what Matthew says after he tells us that Jesus healed people.

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:24-25 (ESV)

He started to get famous. In verse 23, Jesus is doing his work in Galilee. By verses 24 and 25, people all over Syria, Jerusalem and even beyond the Jordan start to catch on. That’s because, regardless of our geographical, racial, financial or political differences, we all have a few things in common. We don’t like sickness and death. But there’s nothing that we can do to stop them.

And Jesus is not concerned.

So how did he respond to his fame. How did he react when families came from miles away just to see their baby healed? What was his response to the strange woman who was tormented by demons? What did he do to the man who hadn’t seen in years?

Matthew uses four words to tell it all.

“…and he healed them.”

He could have walked away. He could have assumed that it was some sin that caused their sickness and said something about that instead. He could have stayed at home and never bothered with Galilee, or earth for that matter. He could have simply been concerned for the grieving hearts and broken bodies that were drawn to him and given them his best bless your heart face.

But he did none of that. Instead, he showed compassion. Jesus’ compassion is nothing like even the best examples of compassion we see today. His compassion came with power. Power to change. But he wasn’t content merely to change the eyes of the blind. No, he was about the business of building his kingdom. You know, the one where there is  no more crying and no more death. So with each message that he proclaimed and body that he healed, Jesus was beginning the work of tearing down Satan’s kingdom on earth that was established when Adam and Eve sinned. He was building his perfect kingdom.

There’s this old church saying. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Garbage.

God consistently gives his people more than they can handle. But there is nothing in this universe that he cannot handle. Nothing.

So it only makes sense for us to take our concerns to him. And when we do, we are not met with one who is merely concerned back. Instead, we enjoy the active and infinitely powerful compassion of the God who rules over all things.

Maybe God will not heal you here on earth.

Maybe your timetable and his timetable just can’t seem to get together.

That’s okay. God never promised that he would do things your way on your timetable. Could it be that your disappointment with God is rooted in the reality that he just isn’t doing things your way? So stop counting on God to build his kingdom with your blueprints. Instead, follow the example of those broken people who lived in Syria, Jerusalem and beyond the Jordan a couple of thousand years ago. Take your concerns to the only One with the power to really change things.

When you do, you will not encounter a god who is simply concerned for you.

But you will encounter compassion like you have never known. Compassion with power. Compassion that doesn’t settle for the window dressing of simply healing a sick person. Compassion that loves and cares enough to overthrow Satan’s kingdom on earth. Compassion that promises to one day establish a kingdom where every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus is not concerned about you.

But he does show compassion toward you.

And that is enough.

One Of Those Churches

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There’s no such thing as a perfect church. But there are plenty of really good churches. I’m happy to belong to one of them. Almost every day, God puts a visual reminder in front of me to show how beautiful his church is.

On Saturday, he sent Betty Lewis my way. She was pushing a cart with a bunch of chicken on it. There was about to be a funeral. That’s what Betty and her friends do when there’s about to be a funeral. They make sure that the family is fed. No one ever asks them to do it. They just do it. And it may not seem like that big of a deal. Unless you’re the grieving widow who is hungry but doesn’t feel like cooking and could really use some company.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

Last Saturday, seeing Betty Lewis push that cart full of chicken reminded me that I belong to a church where people care about each other.

Every Sunday morning we start our worship service off with prayer. It’s not just any prayer. Every man in the church is invited to come down to the front of the sanctuary to pray for God’s protection and provision over the service. Old men come. Young boys come with their fathers. I’m down there too.

Maybe it’s not hip. Maybe it disrupts the flow of the service. I don’t care. It makes me happy to see men taking a lead in prayer.

They took a lead last Wednesday night too.

A lady in our church had just found out that she was sick. Her husband called me on Wednesday morning and asked if the leaders of the church could pray over her.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14 (ESV)

I was at the front of the line. Behind me, there were almost 20 men. One at a time, they came by, put their hand on their sister in Christ and prayed for God to make her better.

Seeing all of those men pray reminds me that I belong to a church that takes prayer seriously.

When I sit behind my desk, to my right there is a file drawer. Most of the file folders are empty. But there’s one that really should be broken up into two folders. The name on the tab at the top of the file folder is Letters. They are letters of encouragement. Some tell me to have a happy birthday. Some say good job. But they are all expressions of love.

I don’t take this for granted.

For a lot of pastors, their folder with the tab reading Hate Mail From Committees is filling up the whole drawer. They don’t have a letters drawer like I do. Not because they’re doing something wrong. It’s just that they lead a congregation full of leaking faucets (Proverb 27:15). When I open my file drawer, I’m reminded that I do not. And I am thankful.

We’ve gotten church wrong over the years. We’ve convinced ourselves that the church should be a cutting edge factory where we fight hard to stay ahead of cultural trends. Some treat it like one of those big box members only stores. They sign up but never show up until they need a spiritual pick me up. Or 200 rolls of toilet paper.

In reality, the church is the body of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the pastor. He’s the reason for the church. He’s the example for the church. His glory is the goal of the church. When we remember that and put it into practice, nothing else matters. Not carpet color. Not worship style. Nothing else.

Just loving Jesus and loving others.

I’m glad to be a part of one of those churches.

23 Cents

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It was one of the only restaurants in town.

And then it closed down.

In a way, it was my fault.

We used to meet there every Sunday morning. I was teaching a Sunday School class for teenagers. When I first started teaching, they would beg me to take them out for some breakfast. I usually said no. More and more, I started to give in. Eventually, we were meeting there every week.

That restaurant was a funny place.

If you looked behind the counter you could see buckets full of grease sitting on the floor. Well, it looked like grease. I hope it was grease. I think.

And they were usually out of stuff. At least two Sunday mornings a month, we’d hear, “We ain’t got no more” when we ordered a biscuit or some eggs. How can you not have “no more” sausage? It’s 9 in the morning. You’ve been open for two hours. How do you run out of sausage in just two hours? Were you looted just before we came in? But we never asked those questions. We just turned and walked to our tables and enjoyed our sausage and biscuit without the sausage.

My favorite thing about that restaurant was paying for our food. I wish that the NSA was recording everything back then so that I could pull it up on YouTube and show you how this all went down.

Restaurant Worker: “What you want?”

Me: “I’ll have a biscuit, eggs and a large orange juice.”

Restaurant worker: “That’ll be 23 cents.”

Me: “Sorry?”

Restaurant worker: “23 cents.”

Eventually, I stopped saying sorry and just paid the 23 cents. Coincidentally, I also started ordering a lot more food.

Me: “I’d like a biscuit, eggs, a large orange juice, two hamburgers, a milkshake, one of those hats they make you wear and the drive-thru intercom.”

Restaurant worker: “That’ll be 23 cents. But we ain’t got no more hats.”

I was amazed. This was quickly becoming my favorite restaurant. Sure, the food was questionable, the grease buckets were full, the roaches were active and there weren’t usually any eggs for the omelet you ordered but it was cheap. Dirt cheap.

But how?

I found out that one of the workers was friends with the mother of one of the guys in my Sunday School class. Apparently they were really good friends. I’m guessing that this guy’s mother must have saved the restaurant worker’s life at some point. But who cares? Just give me my 23 cent breakfast.

I did wonder from time to time how this restaurant afforded to give us these bargain prices. It turns out that they couldn’t. Which explains why we arrived one Sunday morning to discover that our Sunday School class had been boarded up.

The worker thought that she was doing us a favor. And I guess that she was. We got to eat a lot of food without paying a lot of money. But she wasn’t doing herself any favors. She certainly wasn’t doing her boss any favors.

That lady that gave us all of those deals wasn’t the owner of our Sunday School restaurant. She just worked there. It was her job to provide quality service to the customer while generating revenue for the business. Instead, she just gave stuff away. Until the place where she worked went out of business.

There’s a fine line between compassion and stealing. Compassion is an act of self-sacrifice to help another in need. Stealing is what you do when you act as though someone else’s money is yours.

I wish that old restaurant would open back up for just one day. I’d like to have a meal there with a few of our leaders up in Washington D.C. You know, the ones who think that the answer to every problem is just to spend more money that doesn’t belong to them. I’d like to see the look on their faces when they walk up to the counter to place their order.

Politician: “I’d like sausage and eggs.”

Restaurant Worker: “We ain’t got no more.”

At some point, if things don’t change, that’s a phrase that those politicians will have to say to their hand-out seeking constituents. But, although there will be nothing more to give, those politicians will still want all of us to pay up.

And it will be a lot more than 23 cents.

She Doesn’t Go To Church Anymore

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She doesn’t go to church anymore.

It’s not that she doesn’t want to. There has been no faith crisis. If anything, her devotion to Christ is growing stronger. She just doesn’t go to church anymore.

A few years back her husband got sick. Recently he took a turn for the worse. His body betrayed him. His wife didn’t.

Every time I see her she’s smiling. When we talk, she spends most of the time complimenting me. And her church.

Her church.

She can’t say enough about them.

Thursday morning was no different. She sat across the room from me. Her husband was a few chairs to my left. It’s hard for him to carry on a conversation. Conversations come easy for her. It’s her chance to talk about her church. She told me about Rudy and Marvin and how they do such a good job of just dropping by to make sure things are okay. She told me about the time right before Christmas when Anne and the other ladies in her class brought food. She told me about Amy making sure that some kind of food is brought to her house every Thursday.

She can’t quit talking about her church. And how blessed she is.

Blessed.

The lady who spends her days taking care of a man twice her size but only a fraction of the man he used to be says that she is blessed. Blessed, even though her knees aren’t what they used to be. Blessed, even as her broken hip tries to heal, her doctor tells her to slow down and her cane reminds her that she’s not as young as she used to be.

Blessed.

While she spoke to me I looked beyond her, over her right shoulder to the TV that sat behind her. On the shelf below there were scores of white envelopes, neatly stacked. Inside were DVD recordings of those church services she doesn’t get to go to anymore. Each white envelope was delivered by someone from her church. Rudy. Marvin. Keith.

They look after her faithfully. Just like she looks after her sick husband.

She tells me that it feels so good not to be forgotten.

She smiles.

She smiles like a blessed woman.

But she doesn’t go to church anymore.

And that’s okay.

Because her church comes to her.