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A Father’s Day Love Story

This is not an ordinary love story. We begin with death. My father is dead. He died homeless and disabled.

At first, my father’s death brought me comfort because his life made me uncomfortable. Months before his death, I traveled to the heart of Jerusalem and prayed for my father to find peace. I wanted God to bring an end to the psychological and physical suffering that haunted my father.

Selfishly, this prayer meant to save me, not him. To have a haunted father was to be a haunted daughter. I grew-up in the shadows of this peculiar haunting; every Father’s Day a manifestation of what never was and never could be.

One of the greatest hauntings happened at Denny’s. I met my father for lunch. Over greasy platters of food we discussed grandiose plans and plots of world domination. My father’s mania drove the conversation far away from ordinary life. Abruptly, he requested I serve him Holy Communion.

Angrily, I refused. This love story was not going well. God’s love comes to us in the breaking and sharing of bread. The pouring and sharing of the cup. Forgiveness of sin and new life. Yet, at that moment in time, the haunting is all I knew. God didn’t seem to care what happened at Denny’s.

My hatred of mental illness and its destruction of my family won out. I could not share this bread and cup with my father. The pain, anger and hatred were too great. I disappeared from the table. I shrunk back from this love. I denied him.

As time moves the living forward and leaves the dead behind, I think about this moment in time. Now I wonder, can you serve communion to the dead? Father, who art in heaven, will you share this bread with me? Will you take this cup from me?

Then, after twelve Father’s Days as a fatherless orphan, something happens. Last Friday night during an online church small group who read my book Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church, the question comes. “What about the time when your father asked you for communion. Would you do anything differently if you could?” The question reawakens the haunting. Could the love story be saved after all?

I tell them the truth, which is the only way I know how to heal. “I was filled with anger. I resented his mental illness. I did not have compassion. I didn’t know then what I know now.”

My father’s symptoms of mental illness haunted his own knowing. His brain disorder didn’t allow him to acknowledge his own illness, preventing him from cooperating with treatment options. My father chose to believe in himself instead of believing in the mental illness. Now I understand this was the only choice he had.

“If I could do it all over, I would give him communion.” As I tell this small group of faithful followers of Jesus about my regret, I realize my heart is changed. The denial is gone. Instead there is repentance.

This is a love story about mental illness. When we are haunted it is hard to love. Yet sometimes the haunting is lifted and the shadows clear away just long enough for healing to deepen.

A question is asked. A chance at redemption. Would you show your father love if you could?

Yes. The answer is a million times yes. And in this deep desire and longing for unity with my father, an intimacy and closeness never known in this lifetime, there is holy communion.

In the dream of a second chance at breaking and sharing, I discover my father’s love. Life is broken and given for me. I take and eat of it. My father’s love is poured out. I take a drink of it.

In this holy communion, I am freed from the haunting. This is my Father’s Day love story.

The Deadliest Virus

“Grandma, what do you think of…?” This is how most conversations began with my 99 year old grandmother. Alert and thoughtful, she read the newspaper every day until the day she died.

I wish I could ask her now, “Grandma, what do you think of what happened to George Floyd?”

“Grandma, what do you think of what the President did in front of the church?”

“Grandma, what do you think of the protests?”

“Grandma, what do you think of the curfew?”

Grandma died on May 16, weeks before the brutal police murder of George Floyd. One of the last questions I asked her was, “Grandma, what do you think of the Coronavirus?”

She said, “It’s hard to believe it’s real. You look outside and you can’t see it.”

But now I wonder what she would say about a different virus, a more deadly virus that’s been infecting people for more than 500 years. Anti-black racism is the deadliest virus to infect the soul of this nation. We cannot build immunity to it. It continues to kill black and brown people while sickening the souls of white people. Racism is our nation’s original sin.

When Grandma suddenly fell seriously ill, we prepared for her to have a good death. To protect the health and safety of family members from contracting COVID19, we limited the number of family who could be present at her bedside.

Before her death, I led prayers for the dying on Facetime. I guided Grandma’s first born, my mother, in anointing her with oil, making a sign of the cross on her forehead. Spiritually, I was present and in the room with Grandma. A couple of days later, she died peacefully in her sleep at home.

As a local pastor, when I called my Grandma she always asked how things were going at the church. She’d listen closely and then say, “don’t work too hard.” My church last worshipped in-person on March 8, and since then has become an online church. I did not leave my house, apart from neighborhood walks, for almost three months.

When it came time for Grandma’s graveside memorial service our family decided to limit the number of people. We didn’t want to contribute to the spread of COVID19. Again, I stayed home and joined the family using Facetime to offer a scripture reading and prayer.

COVID19 kept me physically away from Grandma in her time of dying and in our family’s time of grieving her death. Mourning the death of a loved one is an emotional, spiritual and physical experience. Even though we are physically distant, our bodies still grieve, even when alone.

Just days after Grandma’s graveside service, George Floyd was killed. A call to action went out to all local pastors where I live in Indianapolis. Come protest. Wear a mask. I looked away.

I didn’t want to contract COVID19. I didn’t want to be a spreader. After three months of saying no to leaving the house, how could I change my mind now?

I got a direct message. Then I got a text. Then I got another text. Come. Are you coming? Black and white women clergy friends wanted to know. Can we count on you? Will you join us?

“Grandma, who art in heaven, what should I do?”

What a hypocrite to leave my house now! Why didn’t I go out then, if I am thinking about going out now? What has changed?

I went to God in prayer, “O Holy One, show me. Help me. What should I do?”

I wanted to go to Grandma’s bedside. I wanted to go to Grandma’s graveside. But I knew I could not.

I did not want to go to the protest. I did not want to be exposed to COVID19. But I knew I had to go.

Black lives matter.

Prayer changed me. In prayer, God guided my steps. God said to go.

With God’s help, I do what I cannot do alone.

With God’s help, I go to places I fear.

With God’s help, I speak when I have no words.

With God’s help, I give my life.

Leaving my house during the global pandemic in order to join hundreds of strangers to protest was an act of rebellion. I did not want to do it. But I had to do it. I did not want to go. But I had to go.

While the threat of COVID19 is very real and deadly, the threat of anti-black racism remains the greatest threat to the lives of white, black and brown people. Until we eradicate this vitriolic virus, we will continue to spread the virus for generations to come.

“Grandma, who art in heaven, what do you think?”

A respected and beloved family member contacted me after seeing my social media post about attending the clergy protest at the Indiana State House. She rightly questioned my logic. How, she asked, could I go to be with thousands of people, yet I wouldn’t come to be with family at a time of our greatest need?

Millions of people are taking to the streets across the world peacefully protesting. COVID19 is still a threat. Health experts predict a surge of COVID19 illnesses and deaths from these super spreader events.

Yet, for us all to stay safe and stay healthy at home is not safe or healthy at all. Not really. How safe and healthy is it to continue to live in a nation where the anti-black racism virus has nearly a 100% infection rate among whites?

In a global pandemic, people are risking their lives fighting the deadliest virus of all time. We are concocting the vaccine together, in our bodies, in our cries, in our protests. In the streets and in the voting booth, there is hope for eradicating the deadliest virus.

“Grandma, who art in heaven, what do you think?”

“Go. Wear a mask. Stay physically distanced if you can. I couldn’t believe in the coronavirus because I couldn’t see it. But this virus you are fighting I’ve seen my whole life. Go and do your part to stop it.”

Photo by Jerrel L. Farries

Mental Health Pandemic

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad news. COVID-19 is infecting our brains. Even if you don’t test positive for the virus, it’s making us all, even the uninfected, mentally sick. It’s safe to say the mental infection rate is nearly one hundred percent.

Our mental health depends on three primary areas: strong social networks to prevent social isolation, strong personal connection to fight off loneliness, and strong financial health to fight off stress from money worries. This virus has attacked every single one of these areas and in major ways. Who hasn’t had their social networks, personal social connections and finances infected by this virus? Some of us are more negatively impacted than others—women, people of color, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities.

This mental health pandemic will last much longer than COVID-19. It will be with us for generations because of the trauma that is rewiring our brains as we speak and reshaping our DNA. Now is the time to put into place measures to help us recover from the mental health pandemic.

Now for the good news. We know what mental health requires of us. We know that strong social networks, personal social connections, and financial health promote mental wellness. Using this information, we can be proactive about treating this virus that infects our mental health.

Here are five key investments to make during a mental health pandemic:

1. Invest in your social networks. Being connected to peers who share our interests, hopes and dreams gives us a sense of belonging and affirms our sense of purpose. This can be a professional group, a recreational group, a recovery group or a religious group. We are wired to belong to others. Find your people and stay connected in safe and healthy ways.

2. Invest in your personal connections. We are dying alone and we are dying from loneliness. Friendships affirm our sense of self-worth and self-love. It’s hard to love ourselves when we don’t feel loved. A friend is someone who loves us. A friend is someone we love. This simple love can save us from despair.

3. Invest in financial wellbeing. Worrying about money is a huge stressor. Unemployment is at an all time high. We define our worth by how much money we make. That’s a lie. We have value no matter what. Take time to create a new budget to follow during the pandemic. What are the bare essentials? What can you make do without? How can you save money and cut down on expenses? How can our communities with surplus finances help others so that everyone has enough? There is enough if we share.

4. Invest in caring for your body. Moving our bodies improves our mental health. Drinking water and eating healthy food is good for the brain. Our brains need sleep. Naps are good. Be mindful of how your body feels and treat it gently. Your body is a temple. Your body is holy.

5. Invest in caring for your mind. Cultivate positive emotions to balance out the negative ones. We are filled with sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear these days. Take breaks from the news cycle. Turn off electronic devices. We can reclaim our humanity by intentionally focusing on what brings us joy, contentment, pleasure and awe. The truth is we can acknowledge despair and joy at the same time. Our mental health suffers when we are consumed by despair. Be intentional about creating time and space everyday for noticing what is good, even if it’s only the goodness of our very breath, a ray of sunlight, or a single wildflower pushing up through the concrete. Be present in the moment and let go of what you cannot control.

Remember that you are not alone. You are loved. This pandemic will not win. We will overcome despair by coming together. Our love for ourselves and for each other is what will save us. We are saved one day at a time.