Some of us of a liturgical bent are embarking on the season of Epiphany. I can’t even write the word without thinking of Charlie. When he was newly sober, Charlie visited me and announced, “I want an epiphany!” I peered at him, bemused, and suggested that since his brain cells were once again on speaking terms, perhaps that counted as an epiphany. He peered back at me bemused, and after a while, laughed. I’ve been told that one of my gifts is the ability to rejoice in small things.
Once upon a time, in the early 1980s, I was volunteering at a rape crisis center. Since I was young and brave, a lot of my work was with adult survivors of childhood incest. In those days, a remarkable group of survivors in Minnesota put together a video. It was pretty basic — just the group of them talking about how they survived their experiences — but it was powerful.
At the end of the video, one of the participants asked, “What do you wish had been different? What would have helped?” Somebody replied, “I wish there had been billboards saying, ‘If your father is bothering you, call this number.’” Everyone laughed merrily at the implausibility.
Fast forward ten years. I was helping train volunteer counselors at another rape crisis center. For some reason, they were using the same video, which was by then terribly dated. But at the conclusion, when my volunteers in training were trying to draw some conclusions, I was electrified. “We have them!” I shouted. “We have those billboards!” When I see glimpses of hope, I want to rejoice.
My friend Angie is another reason for me to keep my spirits up. She called today.
No big deal; just checking in. Chitchat about kids, friends, and how pleased she is that her boss never schedules her to work the night she teaches catechism to first-graders.
It’s been maybe a year since last she called.
Once upon a time, it was every day at least. That was in the bad old days. Her husband was dying of alcoholism (which was listed as primary cause on his death certificate — a rare statement of bald fact). He left her with a toddler whom she was underequipped to parent, although I started to think that all might be well when she said, “I don’t think I’m doing an especially good job with him, but I tell him I love him all the time. And I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that, so I guess that’s progress.”
Then Angie started going out on Friday nights and wound up pregnant by a gentleman who left town before she could break the news.
Finally things changed. Slowly. One step at a time.
Faith seems to have carried the day, aided by some reserves of common sense. You probably wouldn’t want to trade your life for Angie’s, but she’s fine. The kids are mostly grown. She works, pays her bills, and gives back.
Until now, I hadn’t even thought to be grateful for that — to be amazed at the fact that amid all the crashing and burning, Angie’s is a real story of hope.
At the end of the day, the kingdom of God is not about programs, useful though they are. The kingdom of God is about lives changed, love given, and hope finding fruition.
I can’t manufacture such a moment for you. But be assured that this new year will be full of them. Just don’t let them go unnoticed or uncelebrated.