As the reality of Warren’s death is just beginning to sink in – I am ASTOUNDED at the graces we have been given.
Grace Upon Grace.
God has been so evident to us in this tragedy.
Am I angry? Oh my goodness, yes!
Am I heartbroken? I have only a taste of the grief that is to come!
Yet – I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude.
Please understand that I do not wish to downplay the tragic loss we have experienced. Those moments of anguish and lament are being expressed privately and when our community is gathered together. We are beat up by compounded grief after 6 months of seemingly non-stop tragedy. We are not rushing through this and only talking about the good things. We will have a long long road of grief ahead.
And still – God is with us in the midst of our anger and pain. He is revealing himself over and over and I want to share those revelations with you. So here they are, Grace Upon Grace:
A Month to Think About Death
For many of our members, Mike’s death served primarily to highlight their own fragile existences. Soon after we found out about Mike, Warren showed up at Starbucks, waiting for me to get off work and declared; “Sheryl, I don’t want you to put my picture on the gate.” I was so thankful for those instructions, and asked if there was anything else he needed to say, just to feel at peace about the prospect of dying. I told him he could share secrets, or give instructions or wishes. The next day he was at the gate with a note: “Here Sheryl. This is my secret and I don’t care who you tell!”
The note told about a violent and terrifying abuse from his mother when he was 10 that took 12 years to physically heal from. This was one of 3 secrets he said that he carried.
A few hours later, Warren was back at the gate with another note sharing the last of the 3 secrets. This secret he asked me not to tell anyone. Thankfully, I got his permission to share it – hoping to help free Warren from it’s power.
Warren’s final secret is on the note in this photo:
As I read it he said; “Sheryl, remember that time I came to your gate and asked if you knew somewhere I could confess? And you said a loving God would hear my confession? That is what I wanted to confess!”
It was an honor to talk through both of these “confessions” with Warren on that day. One, the confession of an abused child who had hidden the painful injustice and was ready to air it to the world – freeing himself of it’s power. The other, a confession of a sensitive heart carrying a burden it never needed to carry. I pray Warren found true freedom through writing these notes and the conversation we had at the gate.
Six Flags Great America
On Thursday night, Warren stopped by with a note. I asked him to sit with me on the porch and I asked him a very unique question. My birthday was only 12 days away and a few of us, including Steve, were going to celebrate at Six Flags. I asked Warren if he would join us. After some logistical questions centering around a radio program on the morning of our trip, Warren agreed! He hadn’t been to Six Flags since 1981 (the year I was born!) and had only ridden one ride. Even with the possibility that he would not ride any rides, Warren said yes to going!
On Saturday, Warren wasn’t at the gate at the designated time. I asked Jordan to go over and look for him in his building while Steve and I grabbed coffee for the crew. When we got back, Jordan was empty handed. He had gone with the front desk worker to knock, but Warren didn’t answer.
We were SO disappointed to not have Warren with us. He and Steve are the only two remaining small group members who have been consistently in my life since JUSTembrace was founded 5 years ago. I was thrilled to celebrate my birthday with these two long-time friends. We talked about Warren all day and how much we missed having him with us.
I feel like I see God’s hand in the timing here. I’m not trying to over-spiritualize something, but these two things strike me as being tangible gifts in this tragedy:
They easily could have noticed something was wrong because Warren hadn’t taken the trash out on Friday. That knock on the door could have turned into the discovery of Warren’s body. Saving one of Warren’s dearest friends that experience was a grace.
Having fun is something I do not do well, but am trying. The Six Flags trip was a HUGE step for me. Having that day right before this new chapter of grief was a grace that I am keenly aware of.
Every Sunday for 5 years, we have hosted our neighbors for a time of reading and discussing Scripture, followed by a shared meal. For the last year and a half we have added a few hours of no-agenda hang out time! We call it open house, and each week we put on the coffee, set out the UNO or Jenga or Spades, and we just enjoy each other. Just last week we gathered for a memorial for another community member, Mike. Our time was so sweet and we captured wonderful memories as we grieved Mike together.
We got word that Warren passed just moments before 4pm. For the next four hours our family was gathered. The loss of Warren coincided with our community’s rhythm, and provided us an instant gift in beginning the work of processing and grieving. For hours we held each other and wept. We cared for each other. We shared with each other. We were present with each other. It was the most powerful day in our history, and I cannot wait to write a unique blog just about this time! That will come soon!
The JUSTembrace community has had so many losses and has suffered greatly just this year. In March, one of our neighbors from the nursing home down the street, Miss Lela, passed away suddenly. Soon after, one of our former housemates and core community member lost his grandmother. Then very shortly following his loss, we lost Melvin Wilson, one of our “founding fathers” – and largest personality in our community. Within weeks, Brian, another former housemate, was diagnosed with cancer and Lori’s father in PA was placed in Hospice care. Lori moved into the house, then straight to PA to be with him. She lost her dad in late July. In August we lost Mike and a month later, we lost Warren, just one week after hosting a memorial for Mike.
This snowball effect of loss, is truly overwhelming, yet, with Warren, it was a grace preparing us as a community for this tragedy. We had an entire year to prepare for Melvin’s death, and while he was just as dear to our hearts as Warren, we were able to say goodbye and hold his hand until the end. The loss of Mike was tragic and sudden, but we were already grieving the loss of Mike before he passed, because he had chosen to walk away from our community. Celebrating his life was an important discipline in the prophetic witness of this community, and it was so beautiful!
The deaths of Ryan’s grandmother and Lori’s father as well as Brian’s cancer journey, all served our community as opportunities to grow in caring for each other and carrying each other’s burdens. I believe that through all of these trials, in just the last 6 months, we have grown into a deeply caring and compassionate community. Those traits served us so well as we stood together for hours in the yard, grieving our dear Warren – being present with each other – and expressing our personal and corporate laments. The loss was traumatic, but we had already learned the languages of lament, comfort and grief together, so we were able to receive great comfort even then.
This blog feels so weird to publish to be honest. I wrote it because I want our friends and supporters to know how God has been at work. I have not wanted to write facebook posts about these things – but I wanted to share the images with you. This grief is making me want to close up and just focus on our immediate community, but I know that there are many outside of our physical community who are also grieving this loss. I want you to have these stories. They are added to the stories of how many of you reached out in comfort or sensed God bringing our community to mind and obediently praying for us.
Thank you for your comforting messages. Thank you for your notes in the mail and for your many other gifts of presence and provision.
Thank you mostly for grieving the loss of our sweet friend, Warren, with us.