Almost immediately after arriving home from Israel, I started contacting friends. I wanted to tell the story — to try and make sense of what happened. So within a day or so, I started making calls to friends, near and far, women and men. I wanted to talk with people who knew me. I believed that what happened in Israel was divinely inspired and brought about by the hand of God. The word I received for my life was that part of me had died, and it was time to wake up and start living again.
There are many things I love about my faith tradition, but one of the best is that Presbyterians are reasonable. We are not overly emotional and we are not romantic or sentimental in our beliefs. We are proud to say we go about things “decently and in good order.” So when one of us thinks we’ve heard directly from God, we need to talk to others — to affirm that what we think we’ve heard is consistent with the biblical witness. We need others to weigh in and validate that it isn’t our own will we’re trying to pass off as God’s and that it isn’t just arbitrary voices in our head (like, say, the Son of Sam serial murderer). We need trusted friends, who are mature in their faith, to affirm that what we think is the voice of God, really is the voice of God.
And so I endeavored to tell the story to trusted friends. The first person I tried to tell something about my experience was Noreen Kinnevy. Noreen has been our church administrator for eighteen months or so, but in that time she’s become a reliable confidant and partner in crime. She listened while I tried to tell the story, and I couldn’t help but cry as I told her — the tears flowed easily and unexpectedly then. I didn’t know what to tell the church — they were expecting a trip report or at the very least a sermon series. Noreen advised that I be as vague as possible and blame my swollen eyes on sleep deprivation. She covered for me and together we navigated the slippery slope. I’ll always be grateful to her for how she handled it so calmly and matter-of-factly.
Ed Davis was the first friend to whom I tried to tell the whole story, only three days after coming home. Ed is a Methodist pastor who was in my Palmer DMin cohort, and we became friends during that time. We live relatively close by on the Jersey shore and we’ve gotten together regularly for lunch since 2010 when the program started. Ed wasn’t prepared for what I hit him with that day. I tried my hardest to keep it light, but I ended up crying in the parking lot as we were leaving. His pastoral instincts kicked in, and he didn’t completely panic as most men would. Ed has been a good friend — supportive, not judgmental and a colleague in ministry. I needed to hear from other men who knew me, and so by the end of the week, I had emailed Steve McConnell , who was my pastor and mentor in Liberty Corner. We made plans to meet in early May. I also called Harry Heintz, another mentor, and told him as much as I could of what happened.
Within another day or two, I had a SKYPE conversation with Mary Rodgers and Angela Madden, two pastors I met at the CREDO Conference in October 2013. We had bonded then and shared many laughs and also some deeply personal things. A little light “girl talk” felt great and we laughed a lot.
I was anxious to compare notes on the intensity of the birding experience with Pat Balko, a friend from NJ Audubon, who had taken some trips with Wings in the past. We too, laughed a lot about some of the quirky things that happen on birding tours (like the “Very Important Meeting” and the seriousness of British birders).
I made an appointment with Ruth, a counselor I had seen four years earlier, when I was dealing with some lingering grief issues. A man in my congregation had been diagnosed with cancer and his illness was hitting too close to home. I knew I needed help in order to deal with it in a healthy manner. Ruth was a God-send. When I talked to her on the phone two days after arriving home and described my experience, she said that it sounded as if I had crossed a “liminal” threshold. I have seen Ruth a lot in the two months since the trip. She has been an invaluable gift as I try to sort out what happened.
I had coffee on LBI one afternoon with Marcia MacKillop, a friend with whom I had lost touch but had re-connected last summer. Marcia, is a pastor. She was compassionate and empathetic, and I was grateful we were friends again. I have also told the story to Myrlene Hamilton Hess, Dawn Adamy, and Chris Neufeld-Erdman, all pastors. They listened patiently and intently. They laughed and cried with me.
I contacted a number of friends that I knew in Basking Ridge, which was an important, formative time in my life. Shelley Jones was a good friend who had walked closely with Carl and me during his illness. We had lost touch after I moved, but we too, had reconnected a couple years ago and I knew Shelley would have an understanding, patient ear. She did, and she sent me flowers within an hour after we talked. I also called Carolyn Stewart, who is the most genuinely affirming person I have ever known. She listened attentively and she verified that while it had been a hard experience, it was essentially very good. Also, since Carl’s death in 2000, the Allen family has tried to include me in family get-togethers, as one of their own. It was good to share some of the experience with Mary Anne and Peter Allen over dinner in Somers Point.
Perhaps the most impromptu and important re-connection I made was with two high-school friends. Since February, we had planned a “girls’ night” for early April. They hadn’t expected me to come, but I surprised them in Sea Isle City on Friday evening. I’ve known Elaine since eighth grade. She’s been my best-friend for as long as I can remember. She was my maid of honor. Terry and I met in high school, and we went back-packing in Europe after college. We had slowly grown apart. Elaine and Terry had families; I did not. I moved away, they stayed in Pennsylvania. Their marriages lasted, I was a widow. As I began to tell the story, they cried with me. That helped the most. Two people who knew me best said that I had been lost to them, and they didn’t know how to reach me. They didn’t think I would ever come back. All the while I thought they were the ones who had become distant. Sometimes, Elaine knows me better than I know myself. I am so glad — so grateful to have them back in my life.
Every one of these sixteen friends affirmed that God revealed something important to me while I was in Israel. Yes, it has to do with vocation and call and an end of grief, and a new beginning, and another chance at life. But it more immediately, it also has to do with connections and community. It was Steve who reminded me of this when we met in May -- how valuable community had been to me during and after Carl's illness. Relationships with other people, no matter how thin and thread-bare they may become, are life-lines. They let us know we are not completely alone, no matter how isolated we might believe ourselves to be.
God works things out in rich and complex ways. How like God to use the experience at the Dead Sea, when I could not have felt more alone, to compel me to reach out and tell the story. And in so doing, I re-established life-lines that connect me to others and refute the fundamental problem I had identified: I am not completely alone.