My friend Ann was driving through the cemetery in the blazing heat one summer afternoon and her heart was heavy with grief. Her father had died four months before and nothing could shake her of the sense of loss – until suddenly, there was an interruption.
It was Christmas Day of 2002 and I boarded a flight to Milwaukee with a ham as a carry-on. The ham was a gift from my mom to my ham-loving brother. The ham was in a box, which I put in the overhead compartment next to my bag, and then waited to take off. Unfortunately, though, we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes, raising the risk of me missing my connecting flight in Detroit.
It was Christmas of 1984, and my mother crammed my three older siblings and me into a compact car and took us to Arkansas to celebrate the holiday. I vaguely remember it — my mother, on the other hand, remembers it quite clearly. Apparently, it was pretty rough. No doubt, putting one adult, two older teenagers and two small boys into a small car for six hours was a recipe for disaster. One of us — I shall not say who — was behaving horribly and Mom couldn’t seem to get control of the situation. She was exasperated nearly the entire time.
One time, I met a D.C. traffic-directing cop in the line at the mall and I remarked how dangerous her job was. “I mean, people in D.C. drive so crazy,” I said. “You could get killed.” “Oh no,” she said, “don’t feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the people in parking enforcement. They get screamed at, spat on, cursed out – you name it. It’s horrible.”
My brain did it again. I was so frustrated. I had completed 7 months of a grueling treatment for a neurological disorder that had plagued me for several years. It wasn’t debilitating though. I just had these 20-second episodes where I couldn’t read or write, and sometimes it made it hard for me to speak.
One day when I was in my 20s, I was struggling with a lot of guilt and shame because I felt like the only thing God ever saw about me was my sin and brokenness. God must’ve told my mother. I came into the dining room where my mom was and she said, “Joshua, look at that angel up there on the shelf,” and then she pointed to a ceramic angel behind me.
I was standing across the counter from the lady at the hole-in-the-wall dry cleaners and I was getting irritated. She had lost my pants and I was sure of it, but I couldn’t find my ticket to prove it. The woman kept insisting that I hadn’t dropped them off with my suit jacket.
I was a poor law student living on $300 a month, and as soon as I saw the police cars down the road, I instinctively put my foot on the break. I couldn’t afford a ticket. It was just a police checkpoint though. I slowed down, stopped beside the officer, and handed him my driver’s license. He furrowed his brow.
Last summer, my dad was in crisis. He was in the hospital after another near miss with death, and based on his track record, it would kill him if he went back to his old apartment and tried to live independently. And while I couldn’t imagine sending him to a nursing facility, we didn’t have a lot of options.
It was 1988 in Petal, Mississippi, and I was in love. My third-grade student teacher, Ms. Smith, had stolen my heart. Ms. Smith was pretty, with her long brown hair and that tiny ponytail on the top of her head that poofed up. But it was more than her looks that made me swoon — Ms. Smith likedme. That wasn’t always the case with my teachers, and for good reason.
It was my freshman year of college, and I was feeling insecure at my church’s college retreat. I had joined the church about three months before the retreat, and I hadn’t quite found my place. But little did I know that I would have a life-changing conversation that weekend.