Post-Christmas: Hope In The Darkness

Chris Cook

Chris Cook

Director of Care Initiatives

Another strange Christmas filled with uncertainty – and in our local community, deep anguish. But what does the hope of the season offer us and how do we receive it?

Chris Cook works on staff at Kensington, and uses his artistic talents as a writer, photographer, and advocate. Check out his website, where this blog and these images originally posted, at jchriscook.com

It’s Christmas Eve for the Cook family; and we have braved the preparations and an eight-hour drive to land in the “happy place” of my sister’s home just inside the Beltway of Washington D.C.

I’m sitting in her comfortable kitchen as the household wakes up, still recovering a bit from the previous day’s drive and thankful for a good night’s sleep and a strong cup of coffee.

My daughter Julia just sidled up to me and caught me in an early morning yawn.
“Are you tired?”

In her attempts to connect with people despite her speech delay, Julia has taken to the same question whenever she sees someone yawn. In fact, I can’t yawn – not even once – without her asking nowadays.
“Are you tired?”
Kid – you have no idea.

For the last three months – longer even – I’ve been clinging to a promise of one of the old Christmas carols:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Our family is still in a fragile season after the passing of my father-in-law. The pandemic had limited our in-person contact with Jim in the last eighteen months; but it was clear in our phone conversations that he was declining. By our visit in mid-October, he made it clear that all lines of medical intervention had been exhausted – and he was too.

What followed were several treks from Detroit along US-68 through the farm communities of central Ohio to Jim’s home in Springfield. My wife, Jocelyn, and her siblings arranged a Zoom meetup so Jim could connect with his siblings. Hospice was called in; but Jim had other ideas.

Within hours of receiving certified revisions to his estate from his attorney, and with all conversations and reconciliations complete, Jim asked for help to bed for a nap and breathed his last, with his daughter Jennifer by his side. Having served thirty years in the U.S. Navy and Reserves, it was fitting that it was Veteran’s Day.

Jocelyn said her final farewells to her father the following weekend, and with family and community, lovingly placed him in the good ground of Ferncliff Cemetery with military honors and a nice view of the meandering waters of Buck Creek. With the pragmatics of burial and estate disposition behind us, the real work of grieving Jim’s loss could begin.

But the dust hadn’t even settled when I got a strange text message from a friend a week later. It came out of nowhere saying, “My family is safe.” That obviously made me pick up the phone and call her, asking what she meant.

“Turn on the news,” she said. “My daughter is safe, but there was a mass shooting at her high school.”

The unthinkable – the thing we read about happening “somewhere else” – happened here. Oxford High School. Four dead, seven injured, and a community lain bare with anguish.

Whatever grief we carried previously had to be momentarily laid aside so we could be available for the victims. Spaces were opened to pray with and for the grieving. I consulted local and national trauma experts and marshalled resources to equip dazed parents trying to help their children. Funerals were planned for children ripe with promise and potential.

That horrible day is almost a month behind us. But in similar fashion as my father-in-law, we have buried our dead, but the season of grieving has just started.

All of these experiences are overlaid by a pandemic that is diabolically persistent and innovative. With the rise of the Omicron variant, many of us are feeling a familiar sense of dread as we look at yet another difficult winter. But we also feel a sense of injustice that the holiday season we were supposed to be free from the virus has been stolen from us all.

And all of those pains and frustrations are compounded into our lives and can leave us flat and even hopeless. And, scarily, questioning how long our stamina will hold out.

I recently heard from a dear friend who summed it up well. “Things just feel different now,” she said. “I feel a heaviness that wasn’t there before Covid. I’m not sure if it’s the cumulative toll of the past two years or thinking we could put Covid behind us and return to ‘normal’. But I’ve realized that so much has changed and ‘what was’ isn’t what is now.

Just about every conversation I’ve had lately – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the lady who attends the self-checkout at my local grocery store – has included some element of this… haunting… a collective trauma… a growing realization of the gaping tear in creation. We’re all grieving the death of what our world was supposed to be.

We each express it differently; sometimes anger, for others, depression. For me, it can manifest as a drive to organize and purge the household, nervously tamping down the perceived chaos in my little corner of the world.

For all of us, there is a pall that has moved from an individual, personal grief to something more connected and communal, enveloping us all.

But here’s a question I keep pondering: Is this feeling the discovery of a new thing or is it also the realization of a brokenness that was always there? Has our broken world burrowed through our layers of self-protection to make us see it anew? To borrow the sentiment of that familiar Christmas carol, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining…

Pining. Suffering a mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart.

Yep. That sums it up. We’re brokenhearted, we know it; and it cuts across not only family and community, but time itself.

But what is the response that best fits this place we find ourselves in?

To take on so vast a problem in so short a space would be no doubt formidable; but I think some of the answer lies in this direction:

Journalist and thinker G. K. Chesterton spoke to the same kind of cultural hopelessness at the turn of the 20th century when he wrote in Orthodoxy, one of his seminal works…

I know this feeling fills our epoch, and I think it freezes our epoch. For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

I read this years ago and it’s captured my imagination ever since. It has set me free in many ways as I’ve processed my personal pain and walked alongside others in theirs.

We are bound neither by a cold pessimism that sees the world as irredeemable, nor a false optimism that all is well. And perhaps more critical, we mustn’t let the two extremes meld together into a dissatisfied lukewarm of hopeless resignation.

If we are to navigate the suffering of the present world well, we must enter into rhythms of lament and celebration; and fueled by both and the greater love that infills us, become agents of love and redemption to the very world that wounds us.

So lament the unfair, the tragic, the abominations. We each need to admit to ourselves, to God and (preferably) another safe human being the length, depth, and breadth of our pain – indeed, the anguish of the world entire. Put words around the hurricane of chaos and hurt that we carry wordlessly in our minds; and in the naming of it, begin to strip it of its power over us.

Hold space for it all. But don’t stop there. We also need to take the critical and often neglected next step to recognize and celebrate the beauty that finds its roots in seemingly hopeless circumstances. Poet Jane Hirshfield recently reflected, “…there is no inch of Earth which is not soaked in suffering. But there is also no inch of Earth which is not soaked in joy and in beauty and in radiance.”

The Christmas season – from the anticipation of Advent to its fulfillment in these marvelous hours – is a reminder of the resolute truth that, despite the mess in which we find ourselves, Love came near and can transform us.

There was absolutely no earthly reason to believe that any good would come from a baby born to a teenage girl under culturally sketchy circumstances in a far off and neglected land two millennia prior. But good, indeed radiant good, came.

Chesterton also wrote in Orthodoxy, “Love is not blind; that is the last thing it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound, the less it is blind.” The Love that came on that “day of angels’ awe” saw us in all of our confusion, frustration and despair – utterly hopeless – and came anyway. Not out of our transactional understanding of any “right thing” we could do or be, but a steely, wintry love that sees all the faults, the error, the embarrassing… and loves anyway.

And in our remembering of Christ’s appearing in our mess, (again, borrowing from the familiar carol) may we be reminded of our great intrinsic worth, experience again the thrill of hope; and in our weariness, rejoice.

Merry Christmas, friends.

****
If you feel like the time has come to “get honest” about what hurts in your life and start a journey toward healing and equipping for the adventure God is calling you into, Kensington has a ton of resources to help. Whether you are struggling from the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, or just need a kind and listening ear to process, you can find it all at 
kensingtonchurch.org/care.

For the communities, families and individuals still working through the wake of the tragedy at Oxford High School on November 30, we want you to feel supported and seen in the weeks and months to come. If you need prayer, counsel, or want to learn more about how we’re coming alongside our neighbors, visit kensingtonchurch.org/oxford

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Titus 1

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, 4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless– not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. 10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach– and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

Other Helpful Passages:
Ephesians 4
1 Corinthians 12-13
1 Peter 5
2 Timothy 2:2

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Cost: $15
The cost includes a workbook, snacks at each meeting (including coffee). Childcare is not provided in the summer.

You are encouraged to join us on any week. Sessions are self-contained.

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At Kensington’s Grief Recovery support group, you can find hope and healing after the loss of a loved one. It’s a place where you’ll encounter caring people who can empathize with your pain because they’ve been through it themselves.

Winter Grief Recovery | Feb 6 – April 30 | Orion campus
Winter Grief Recovery | Feb 13 – May 7 | Troy campus (DAYTIME GROUP!)

Find a Grief Recovery group near you: griefshare.org

You are encouraged to join us on any week. Sessions are self-contained.

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Our dedicated volunteers bring encouragement and prayers of faith to those who are in local hospitals, medical centers, recovery centers and homebound. If you or someone you know would like to be blessed by such a visit, email visitation@kensingtonchurch.org or call the Troy Campus during business hours at 248-786-0600.

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Members of our Pastoral Care Team are trained by the nationally known Stephen Ministry program and are compassionate listeners who walk alongside others to provide skilled and distinctly Christian care in times of need. They can’t promise to have all the answers, but they can promise their focused support. To receive care from one of our Pastoral Care Team members, call us at 248.786.0600 and ask for a Campus Care Provider – they can get the process started.

Interested in joining our Pastoral Care Team? Email us for more info.

1 Timothy 3

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. 14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

Other Helpful Passages:
Ephesians 4
1 Corinthians 12-13
1 Peter 5
2 Timothy 2:2

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Before the Last Resort

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Troy

5pm | 12/23
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7pm | 12/23
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11am | 12/24

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1pm | 12/24
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3pm | 12/24

Birth–PreK programming

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Orion

5pm | 12/23
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7pm | 12/23
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11am | 12/24
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1pm | 12/24
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Clinton Twp

5pm | 12/23
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7pm | 12/23
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11am | 12/24
Birth-PreK and Elementary programming

1pm| 12/24
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3pm| 12/24
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Birmingham

11am | 12/24
Birth-PreK programming


1pm | 12/24
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Traverse City

2pm | 12/24
No children’s programming

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Clarkston

10am | 12/24
Birth-PreK and Elementary programming

12pm | 12/24

Birth-PreK programming

Marriage and Blended Family

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Discover rhythms and practices that can help us abide in the love, grace, and hope of God, where our lives can be transformed. Explore some of these practices together with others who are pursuing the same. To find out more, please email discipleship@kensingtonchurch.org.

Birmingham Campus

We are offering a time for our congregation to gather after the 10am service for prayer in the Groves Auditorium, 20500 W 13 Mile Rd, Beverly Hills, MI 48025.

On Sunday evening, Dec 5, parents of high school and middle school students are invited to the second half of our Edge gathering at Genesis Church, 309 N Main St, Royal Oak, MI 48067, at 6:15pm. We will have a breakout to equip parents in caring for themselves and processing pain with their children in times of tragedy.

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Parents – self care is critical. It’s important to do your own processing with another adult so that you can be more present as your child processes. Here are tools that you can use to get you started.

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Counselors Are Needed After Tragedy

“The aftermath of the Oxford shooting tragedy will undoubtedly result in traumatic symptoms and experiences across our communities for quite some time. Healing the brain through evidence-based therapies is absolutely possible with clinical guidance. There is a valuable village of Trauma Therapists with collective resources standing by for Oxford, for both direct and secondary survivors to engage in therapy. Until then, we honorably hold a sacred space, as students, families, staff and school partners continue to mourn.” -Laura Azoni, LMSW, Founder of Sanctuary Services

Orion Campus

We believe that unity at this time is more important than ever. Several churches in the area are partnering together to offer space for students to begin the process of healing.

We will have several grief and trauma specialists on site this Sunday evening at our Orion Campus (4640 S Lapeer Rd Lake Orion, MI 48359) from 5-6:30pm and will have a night of prayer, worship and an opportunity for students to process with each other.

Tate Myre Funeral:
Monday, 12.6 Visitation 1 to 8pm
Tuesday, 12.7 Visitation 10-12pm and funeral at Noon

Clinton Township Campus

We will be offering a time for our congregation to gather after each service for a time of corporate prayer in the Greatroom. Prayer will be offered at 10:15 am and 12:15 pm. (25000 Hall Rd, Charter Twp of Clinton, MI 48036)

This Sunday at 3:30 pm as a community we want to gather, pray and mourn together. We are all looking for answers and wondering why tragedy happens but we can find hope and peace in Jesus. 

Troy Campus

Join us Sunday night, December 5th for a Community Prayer Vigil at Kensington Church at 6:00 pm. Invite friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to come together for a time of hope and prayer. 

Following the Vigil, at 7:00 pm, there will be breakouts for students and for parents to process and be equipped in caring for themselves and those around in times of tragedy.

Marriage Classes

What grows marriages? Focusing on the two of you and being in community!
The Marriage Course includes seven sessions, designed to help couples invest in their relationship and build a strong marriage. Some couples do the course to intentionally invest in their relationship, others are looking to address more specific challenges. Either way, the course offers essential tools and practical ideas to help you build a relationship that lasts a lifetime. The Marriage Course is based on Christian principles but designed for all couples with or without a church background.

Please email marriage@kensingtonchurch.org with any questions.

Financial Compass

Financial Compass is designed to help you discover the freedom found in wisely managing the resources God provides. To find out more, please email discipleship@kensingtonchurch.org.

Bible Basics

Whether you are brand new to the Bible or have been reading it for decades, Bible Basics is a course that will help you understand the overall flow of the Bible. Over the course of several weeks, learn how the Bible came from the original writers to the English versions we have today. We’ll look at the big-picture story of the Bible and how all the individual books add to the whole. We’ll even learn a little about the history of the Jewish nation. But most of all, we’ll grow in our awe of the amazing author of this amazing book!

Please email discipleship@kensingtonchurch.org with any questions.

Clarkston

Clinton Twp

Orion

Troy

What is my purpose? What value does the Bible have in my life? How do I pray? How can I grow in confidence to share my faith? These are the big questions that are at the heart of what it means to have a relationship with God. Alpha is a space to explore life’s big questions, to say what you think and to hear other people’s points of view. Over ten-weeks you will explore and discover while listening to weekly topics, participating in table discussion, and developing community. Alpha courses meeting in-person gather around a meal.

You don’t have to come for the whole series—just check it out for the first session and see what you think. No pressure.

Please email discipleship@kensingtonchurch.org with any questions.

Orion

Troy

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