There I go again. No matter how I turn, turn, turn, I seem to keep ending up in the same place. Same grumbling. Same shaking my head. Same temptation to just keep dialing into the doom that feels nearly overwhelming in spite of my best efforts to haul myself up and onto the happy train.
Four years ago, while I was traversing the Capitol Mall on my way to attend the National Book Festival, I got a look at the 2016 Inauguration preparations. Pedestrians were only allowed to cross on designated pebbled pathways which were bounded on either side by tall chain link fence. Looking through the links I saw, in one distance, the Capitol building and in the other, the Washington Monument. Between them, what is normally a grassy expanse was instead covered in white plastic tarp, dotted at regular intervals by thousands of black sandbags. It looked to me like a huge cemetery.
How prophetic this feels today as tomorrow’s inauguration looms, now with 400,000 lives lost in the US alone to this deadly pandemic. I’m mired in gloom as I watch current preparations underway, standing as I am with metaphorical feet mired in today’s muddied grounds. I, free of Covid infection so far, am instead wracked by the virus of anger, unprotected by my antibodies of indifference, distracted continuously by division and rancor, all the while fretting in fear. Stone cold stuck in a furrow of my own making.
All of this angst fueled the very capable side-planking exercise I performed early this morning. 60 seconds to the right side: 60 seconds to the left. Stable and strong until I then tred to elevate one leg. Ha! it shouts, taunting and merciless. The mind says go, but the muscles say no way! Those hamstrings ain’t what they used to be, but at least they’re truthful. Better than my core which is now suspiciously silent.
Funny how a bit of daily sturdiness can trick ya into thinking you’re moving right along when actually you’re stuck in the rut of your regular routine. All that time you thought you were making beautiful music you were just a skip in the record, repeating the same refrain, over and over and over.
Time to pick up the arm of that old Victrola and set the needle on the next track to play a new song. Gently.
Today, this January 19th of 2021, the vast lawn of our National Mall is being draped, one might say planted, with 400,000 flags, each one representing a person who will not attend this inauguration because of Covid-19. Today, this hallowed ground will, in fact, be a cemetery. The image, though desperately sad, is incredibly moving. Ironically, from this brokenness, we can be inspired. Inspired not just to set up camp and mourn for the lost, though we have to and we will continue to, but rather to pick them up and carry them with us into a better day.
God will provide that day.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.1 Corinthians 10:13
There’s nothing quite like playing a game with a kid. Pull out the equipment, explain the rules and you’re off!
When they’re small, you may need to correct them, re-route them, or help them a bit. As they grow, you may show them a few tricks and, every now and then, have to caution them when they get too rough or bend the rules in their favor. But somewhere along the way, if you’ve played your cards right, they start teaching you new ways to play the game. That’s when the game becomes theirs.
Two years ago our church experienced a terrible tragedy in the death of 14 year old Bennett Rill. Two weeks ago we christened a basketball court in his memory. Of course, you don’t christen a basketball court with a bottle of champagne, you cut the ribbons and play 3 on 3, as hard as you can, then shake hands, and go have some refreshments.
A bunch of us sat on the hillside to watch and cheer the competitors. Benny t-shirts were everywhere. Derick, Bennett’s Dad, was working the crowd, shaking hands and slapping high fives while Mom Carolyn was receiving congratulations and thanks for a day of community basketball that was truly a celebration of their son.
I’m wondering how this family does it. They have experienced something no one should ever have to go through, and they’re honest about how it’s going. “Bennett is still gone and our pain remains as sharp as ever,” Derick offered in his opening remarks.
Each day is hard and it isn’t getting any easier. They’re not pretending otherwise. Thank God! This family is living their mourning among us in order to help us all deal with this loss. Most especially the young friends of Bennett’s as well as his teachers, neighbors, and teammates.
The Rills, in their great compassion, have created a living, working, playing place where they can gather and remember Bennett in the way he would have wanted. By playing the game he so loved, in the way he loved to play it — as hard as you can until you’re completely spent and then go have a cold drink and remember the three-pointers you drained, and the lay-ups you can’t believe you missed.
The court was built with some of the funds donated to the Bennett Rill Memorial Fund for Student Ministries, the rest of which will support 6th – 12th graders at Floris to bring in speakers, sponsor events, send them on trips, and support them in mission work. But the court speaks fellowship. It beckons kids of all ages to come play on it, come enjoy each other’s company, and come get to know why it was built in the shadow of a church.
That’s the thing about a game. It invites you to play.
This court, with the number “21” painted in the far corner, memorializing Bennett’s favorite spot to shoot three-pointers, isn’t a sad place to remember loss, it’s forever game day, to remember victory and a remarkable young man who left us way, way too soon. But not before he showed us his love for God, family and friends and his fearlessness to share that. He was the “real deal.”
As I watch Derick and Colin cut the ribbons that bar the entry to that court and welcome it’s first “official” competitors to the championship game with high fives all around, there’s no sadness on any face, just pure delight. They’re here to play “Holy Hoops,” as Derick would say. He has opened the gate.
The Rill family hopes that court will get lots of use in the days to come and become a place for kids to congregate, get to know each other and themselves better. They’ll play some games of “H-O-R-S-E,” which on this court is re-named, “J-E-S-U-S,” and in the process they’ll come to know Him in fun, fellowship and the spirit of competition.
I can just imagine Bennett, who’s spirit is surely more alive here than ever, asking his buddies if they want to come shoot some hoops over at his house and giving them the church address to meet up. Bennett would probably greet them in the parking lot, usher them down the hill to this treasure of a court and then beat them with a shot from “his” 21-spot at the imaginary buzzer.
After they’d exchanged high fives, Bennett would smile and wait for the inevitable question. “So, Benny, where’s your house?”
“Right there,” he’d say. “That’s my Father’s house. Wanna come in for a drink?”
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love
his faithfulness continues
through all generations.
~ Psalm 100: 4-5
Fret not yourself because of the wicked,
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your vindication as the light,
and your right as the noonday.
It’s amazing how people come out of the woodwork when they hear time is growing short. A deadline really motivates, especially when it’s imminent. That’s what happened when my dad received his diagnosis. People he hadn’t heard from in decades started writing, emailing, and calling. Each one had the same message: were it not for you, I would not be who I am today.
It was heartening to hear that my father’s deeds had borne fruit as they echoed through the years. Though Dad appreciated the sentiments shared, it didn’t change things. He would soon die in his home of many years. A man of modest means, he was never wealthy, never famous, never in the headlines. As the world measures, he had very little to show for himself.
It doesn’t seem fair that a man who lives an honest life, works hard, cares for his family, supports his friends, and mentors his co-workers, just perishes. I hear daily of those who lead tarnished lives with questionable business practices, extravagant spending, and expendable relationships, and yet they prosper. The Bible may say that the wicked “will soon wither, soon die away,” but I see plenty who are flourishing. Why bother to lead a good life when this is what it gets you?
My thinking did an about face when a kind friend offered, “While the wicked may prosper, they never leave a legacy.”
So true. The stories which follow the wicked are best forgotten, but those shared after a life well lived are told and re-told. They magnify the goodness and continue to inspire. Dad didn’t plan what people would say about him after he was gone, he had just made regular deposits in other people’s lives, and the interest compounded over the years. This flowed freely in loving remembrance after he left us.
Not long after the memorial service a group of employees from the neighborhood Starbucks came by the house with a gift. In recognition of the many hours Dad had spent at the Johns Creek Starbucks welcoming and conversing with patrons, they had framed a green Starbucks apron. At the top was Dad’s photo encircled by the apron ties, and underneath were the words: John, honorary barista of store 8202.
When a good man dies, we’re left to tell the stories of his life, not only to remember him but to take meaning and purpose for our own. While the wicked may flourish for a little earthly while, the righteous leave a legacy of goodness and mercy that inspires even greater things. One might even say that it gives such a life power over death itself.
—Wendy Rilling LeBolt
Today: Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Concurrently published in the Lenten devotional booklet distributed by the Church of the Good Shepherd, Vienna, VA.