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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mothers, Children, and Cancer

This started out as a Facebook post, and it's actually posted there.  But it got so long, that I realized it would have been better as a blog post.  So I'm duplicating it here.

This moment in time is so busy. I'm trying to negotiate a mortgage and a house purchase. I bought a car. David, Naomi, and I are all moving to new places. I'm closing and consolidating bank accounts. Lydia is finishing one summer school class and getting ready to start a second one, after she has barely gotten moved into a new apartment. I'm grading summer school papers and trying to plan for the fall semester. And Naomi and I chose this month, of all months, to take a trip to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Amsterdam, and Berlin. I'm behind on filing my taxes because Everly always did that, but thanks to my always-generous mom's help I am getting close to finishing them.

And of course, this is the month, the final three weeks of remembering Everly's decline into and release from pain. In the busyness of this week, it's not always been easy to settle into a calm reflection on Everly's memory. When I can, it has mostly been conversations about what our kids need, and wondering how I can be a good parent without her.

So thanks to Gayla Brown Greeson for reposting from a blog she showed me a long time ago. It is a mother's reflections on her own struggle with cancer and her care for her three sons and husband. Although her life is very different from Everly's, I think she has a similar heart and a similar faith--not identical, but similar. She talks about the ways she can and ways she wishes she could show her love to her children. She talks honestly about the struggles of dealing with cancer fatigue, pain, medicated fog, and longing for release.

It is a beautiful testimony that reminds me of the beauty of Everly in her final months. So I'm going to link three of her postings from the past three months. If you want to read them, they will bring you some thoughts and memories of Everly or of another of your loved ones. They will also help you feel a bit of what she and others go through. And I hope they will give you reason to offer a prayer of thanks for the life she lived in faithfulness to the very end, and a prayer of love for her three children, David, Naomi, and Lydia.

June 29 Post:  Longing

May 21 Post:  From This Side

April 13 Post:  Catching Up

Monday, June 09, 2014

Palpable Absence

These are challenging days for the Broadways and Esteses.  We are still tender from the losses of our beloved Everly and Herbie, and we will be for the foreseeable future.  Today what stands out to me is a palpable absence.

It is the absence that is filling all available space.  It is not so much that I am thinking about specific things that Everly said or did, nor that I am seeing her in my imagination. All of that is true, but what seems to press most on me is the lack of the one who for so long was always in the midst of my life.

It struck me last weekend when I was attending a professional conference in Pennsylvania.  I have attended these meetings at this time for almost two decades.  On a few occasions, Everly and children have joined me for the early summer getaway.  Usually, I have gone on my own to be with friends.  We would call our wives or husbands during the evenings to catch up.  If I were giving a paper, I would report on how it went and whether I believed I was making significant scholarly progress.  I would tell her about various friends at the meeting, and she would fill me in on job, home, and the kids.

Thus my attendance at the CTS/NABPR meeting in late May and early June was a regular rhythm of our lives.  Though usually not together during those days, it was a time for mutual investment in my career progress, for thinking ahead into the summer plans for our kids, and for a period of years, a season of planning and sharing family time around our kids' high school graduations.  It was a time, even though apart, that we were in the work together.

That must be why on Saturday afternoon I began to be overwhelmed by waves of grief.  As I thought about how Everly would have enjoyed the weather and the beautiful scenery of Latrobe, PA, and the Lincoln Highway that took me there, her absence overwhelmed me.  I had driven alone from Durham to Latrobe, and it was a pleasant trip.  But car travel was often some of our most important conversation time.  Everly enjoyed sleeping in the car, but she also enjoyed working things out, figuring out problems, making plans, and generally talking through whatever was on our agenda.  I was feeling the absence in the car and at the many sights and stops we would have shared.

That night I turned on the iTunes playlist that I had made on our anniversary, May 24, 2013.  Everly never actually heard too much of it.  She was not much for listening to other people's music, or for much variety of music at all.  But I had put together the songs believing she would like them tolerably, and in the last weeks of her life I played this music often for my own help and comfort.  One of my friends came by my room to find me lying in the bed, listening to music, and sobbing.  He was at a loss, wanting to provide support if appropriate, but not sure how to respond.  I told him I was doing what Kate Campbell says in a song, "fading to blue."  I made as much sense of my mood as I could for him, and let him off the hook of needing to help me get through it.

Again, it was a palpable absence.  She and I would not share a traveler's room again.  We would not take scenic drives.  We would not enjoy the beauty of a new place.  The next day, I would drive home alone, and she would not be there when I got there.  It's the absence, above all, that weighed on me.

Today was another day of absence.  I have been looking at houses in Durham for the past few weeks.  I am relocating back to North Carolina, and I want to make this move a good match for my convictions about where to live in relation to my church and ministry.  It is my effort to respond to the first "R" of John Perkins's "Three Rs:"  relocation.  Perkins came to believe that the only way that church people can play a role in transforming their communities is to relocate to the neighborhoods where they feel called to minister.  In one way, it is a reaction against the dominant pattern of "commuter churches" which functions within a consumer model of "church shopping."  It elevates the neighborliness of being in walking distance of one another, of making friends of those around us.  In another way, it is the response to Jesus' incarnation, to go to the people where they are and live among them.  There are many implications for class and race that you should be able to imagine.

I had identified three neighborhoods in which to search.  Rather than go into detail about them and raise all kinds of questions about why I did or did not end up in a specific place, let me simply characterize them generally.  One neighborhood already has in it a number of friends who share similar views about relocation.  That would be a place to become part of existing structures and practices of community life, a very attractive possibility.  Another neighborhood has some churches involved in community organizing, as well as several which would likely be willing and even eager to join the broad based organizing efforts with the right kind of relationships and leadership to pull them into the fray.  Another neighborhood is near the church I have been attending, as a "commuter member," for almost twenty years.  It would mean putting my body and energy into sharing life with the neighbors who are in close proximity to the place our church meets.

All of these neighborhoods are outside of the main popular areas of town.  That means housing prices are somewhat or even significantly lower than the "aspirational" neighborhoods.  That is a good thing, since my income is much lower now than when Everly was our major breadwinner.  Combining the money from selling our Demerius Street house in 2012, savings, and insurance money, I am hoping to keep a purchased house as affordable as possible.  Yet, having lived in a very small house for 25 years, I do wish for a bit more space to spread out.  I also want plenty of room for my kids to come and stay a while as needed over the next few years.  Finally, I want to be able to be hospitable to neighbors and other folks God will send my way.

So today I was taking a third look at what seems to be the most promising house to come along.  No house has been perfect.  These are not perfect house neighborhoods.  Most houses are old.  The ones that are renovated to match the trends of the times start to be priced out of my range.  The ones that have not been renovated much at all often look like nightmares of slow, even interminable repairs.  Many are too small, too deteriorated, or too oddly arranged.  Buried oil tanks, water leaks, poor drainage, and shifting foundations crop up everywhere.  This house I was looking at had big promise:  priced low for its size, all new inside renovations which are done well, new HVAC, all new bathrooms, a big yard, nice porches, including an upstairs porch.  I know I could be pretty comfortable in the house.  Another small one not very far away lacks any "extra" room for me to spread out, and it also is not within the walking distance criterion that I want to stick by.

So on the third look, I can't help but see the things that undermine the house's promise.  There are some old structural concrete items that need to go, a dead tree in the yard, and branches from another tree too close to the house.  There are questions that will require an inspector to search around in the crawl space, which I have not yet tried to do.  A few details of the renovations are consistently left undone.  I'm uncertain about many things.  I need to talk it through.  My good friends Nancy Bumgardner and Joanne Jennings have been kind enough to go with me on separate occasions to look at this house.  They each have different and good insights into how to look at and evaluate it.  My realtor thinks it will be possible to have certain work done as part of the purchase contract.

But the absence is palpable.  There is one that I trust, one whom I want to please.  She understands the strengths in how I think and also recognizes my blind spots.  She is not here to talk this through.  So I go on trying to think on my own.  I can see multiple points of view, strengths and weaknesses, promises and potential dangers.  The yard is so big, and I'm not a lover of yard work.  The house has idiosyncrasies.  Will I get sick of them, or will they just become normal to me?  Can I make the space work as a place of hospitality for neighbors and for my family when they come to visit?

I would love above all to be able to sit and dream together about this or some other house and what we think about the life we could live in it.  We did that in Austin about a year ago, and we were actually in the midst of buying a house just twelve months ago.  It would have been the home for our last years.  We were trying to be near a certain church and in a certain neighborhood.  We felt pretty good about our options.  We were making room for all our kids to be comfortable visiting with us.  But the change in her cancer led us to back out of that contract.

Here I am a year later about to start the same process.  I wish I could sit and chat, share a drive, and ease into the comfort of knowing that the two of us are ready to face the challenges of a new home together.  I won't get that this time around.  And wherever I end up, there will be an empty side of the bed, empty closet space, and a big room with an even bigger palpable absence.  Yes, there is a constant and abiding presence of Everly in and with me all the time.  But that presence exists in and alongside her absence.
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