It’s my tagline on Twitter. Three descriptors of who I am for the readers of this blog. Three words that could be put in any order. On any given day, I’m living into all three. They are roles that complement and connect with each other. But all that changed on April 5 when I got the shocking phone call that my eldest son had been found dead. Since that tragic day, I have been a pastor in hiding. Others filled that role for me during Holy Week and Eastertide. I thank God for them. The issues for which I am a passionate voice — especially the cause of ending gun violence — did not stir my activist’s heart. My heart was busy bleeding elsewhere.
Of those three roles that seem as organic to me as breathing on most days, I could fill only one. Parent. A grieving parent. On some days with energy enough to help my son and daughter through, and on other days, needing their energy to help get me through. It was definitely a family effort, during which we took turns doing the consoling and being the consoled. I thank God for them.
Our family took a big step forward together this weekend. We interred my son’s ashes. With just family gathered, we spoke of our love through tears and heavy hearts. We spoke truthfully to a variety of emotions. We promised to let go of our unanswered questions, and to always remember the good times. The many good times. We said good-bye. My children do not want to call this closure, as that sounds to them like we are moving away from our love for him, when what we are doing is figuring how out to move forward with him still alive in our hearts.
So, in that spirit, I began that moving forward by participating in the Moms Demand Action rally in Indianapolis this weekend, to return to my role as activist in ending gun violence. I had already planned to participate before my son’s death. After prayer and a gut check, I decided to go ahead as planned. I’m so glad I did. It was powerful being in the presence of so many passionate people of peace. And after hearing the stories of so many gun violence victims, I am even more committed to using my voice, my hands and feet, my mind, heart, and resources to continue the fight.
The daughter whose mother was the school principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A survivor who was shot three times in the massacre at Virginia Tech seven years ago. A mother of a teen-age son who was killed by a gun for playing his music too loud — a mother who watched as the shooter was found not guilty. A brother of a family man killed randomly at the mall in Portland, Oregon. A mom who survived a violent attack and wounds suffered at the hands of her ex-husband and in front of her 4 year old son who pleaded, … daddy, please don’t shoot mommy. And many others.
It would have been tough to hear these testimonies anytime. But this weekend it was especially emotional for I found myself thinking also about my son. Though his death was by natural causes, not by gun violence, I share their heartache. I pray that I will also be able to share in their strength and their willingness to lead, despite and fueled by their grief — but also their hope that we can change our country’s culture of violence.
So, in that spirit, with that same prayer, and with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, I return to my work at Disciples Christian Church tomorrow. It’s time.
from a returning pastor, a healing parent, and a committed activist