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  • Disaster and Redemption by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson

    Last Wednesday when I drove Emma to school, the pollen hung in the air like a scrim. It comes every year: two weeks of early spring in which our world is silted with a gritty yellow dust. It coats railings and window sills; it clings to cars, dusts the newborn leaves, and pools in untouched corners of porch and parking lot.

    Photo credit Lynne, who is enjoying her first spring in North Carolina’s piedmont.

    You can garden in it, and plumes of the stuff will rise with every leaf you disturb. You can run in it, and it will stick to your sweat and fill your mouth and eyes with grit.

    There’s nothing for it but to wait it out. Even rain brings little relief. While we may watch this yellow dust running down the drain, it returns on the next dry day. The trees will release this pollen–filling our air and lungs, dusting our skin with its reproductive hopes–until it has run its course.


    And Wednesday was the day that Emma called me from school. She called; she didn’t text. A text from Emma is not uncommon during the school day: a message to remind me of something, or to tell me how she is, or to ask me to remind her of something–at which I will scrawl the message in Sharpie on a piece of paper and tape it to a kitchen cabinet.

    But on Wednesday, she called, which meant something was wrong. And when I heard her voice, it matched mine in an emergency: hushed, slow, measured.

    “Mom. I’m okay. But there’s been an explosion.”

    Amazing the thoughts that pour into the milliseconds between a phone’s ring and the voice that answers, “Hello?” And in the next milliseconds between the reassurance and the explanation for it all.

    I think we all think about it at the drop-off, right? We’ve seen it too many times on the news, and in my teaching days I supervised my classroom in the drill: the lockdown, the silence, the students’ bodies folded and pressed into the space least visible from the door.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Last Wednesday it was not a shooter but an explosion: the coffee shop we drive past nearly every day. The oasis we’ve visited many times in its sun-filled mornings with its ancient and beautiful black-and-white-tiled floor. It was a gas leak, and now everything is gone–and with it, the owner–less than a block from Emma’s school.


    The school handled it very well. The early release was executed promptly, counselors were present. The necessary cancellations and then two-hour delay were clearly communicated. And yesterday, the students wore white in a show of support to all affected by the explosion, and most specifically to honor Mr. Lee, who lost his life.


    Then on Monday, I had a text from Emma: “Mom, Notre Dame is on fire.”

    She hasn’t seen the cathedral in person yet, but we have long hoped to take her there.

    “Crazy how many things are catching fire,” she wrote.

    And interesting how fire ignites fire, how we see the connections even when they aren’t connected. How disaster here and disaster there are linked in our minds. Trauma, we know, can do this to us: an accident fifteen years ago can somehow still startle us today if the sound is loud enough.

    The coffee shop exploded, and to Emma–who, while in the school was literally about as far from the explosion as she could possibly be–it sounded like someone immediately next to her pounding and banging on a metal door.


    We can’t drive past the front of the coffee shop yet. That section of Duke Street is closed. But I drove near it yesterday to get Emma.

    The building is gone, replaced by light and rubble. But the light is wrong: it shouldn’t be there. Wrong, too, are the collapsed roof and wreckage, the blasted out windows of the surrounding buildings, and the dark marks around these empty spaces where flame, debris and smoke shot through and stunned us all.


    Which brings us to last Wednesday’s pollen and this week’s clear sky where, now, the scrim has lifted. Even last Thursday it seemed the pollen was on its way out. And Friday evening’s thunderstorm scrubbed the last of it away.

    Somehow this brings to mind that now famous saying of Mr. Rogers, whose own mother, helping her young son contend with the horror of disaster, told him to always look for the helpers.

    Look for the helpers: and there they were, evacuating the coffee shop before the explosion, and afterward carefully picking through the debris. Some continue to channel traffic around the site; others took pains to confirm the stability of the school buildings before students were allowed to return.

    See, too, the counselors, present and ready for students affected by the trauma. And the students themselves, yesterday tying white ribbons to the school’s fence in honor of Mr. Lee.

    In Paris, over 400 firefighters worked tirelessly to put out a blaze that, for a time, they said could not be overcome. Others pulled priceless works of art out of harm’s way. And across the river, grief-stricken Parisians watched the flames and prayed, a vigil against utter destruction.


    Sometimes it’s easy to feel that loss and disaster are the way of things. We can far too readily count the corrosive forces of the world.

    But the helpers are world’s redemptive motion, as are those who grieve a loss not explicitly their own.

    And this motion–do you see it?– runs deeper than human will. Recall the pollen, already finished for the year. It coated our world for two short weeks, a nuisance of yellow dust. It was a gesture toward continuance, the opened palm of life’s Author, an elaborate if gritty abundance of hope.


    Daisy, why another day?

    Why another sunrise?

    Who will take the blame

    for all redemptive motion

    And every rainy day

    When He gives Himself away?

    –“Daisy,” Switchfoot


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The Books

Overview of Healing Maddie Brees

This is the story of Maddie and Frank Brees, seventeen years into a marriage they’ve crafted with honesty and care. When Maddie is diagnosed with cancer, they discover they’re not as honest as they thought, and the burden of her present illness is compounded by the beliefs and experiences of their pasts.

A work of literary fiction, the novel took me many years to write. It’s a story of marriage and of illness, and also of unvisited grief. It questions what we expect from one another and from God, weighs the significance of adolescent love, and examines the perhaps extraordinary demand of our physical beings on our spiritual selves.

And it’s filled with hope.


Overview of Wait: Subtitle Yet To Be Determined

Waiting might be the most common experience of human existence, but some waits are worse than others. Some are longer; and for some, the stakes seem frighteningly high. Whatever you’re waiting for, chances are you’re not enjoying the wait itself. The whole idea of waiting, after all, means to endure in the hope that things will get better.

Meanwhile, we might glean something from our protracted dissatisfaction, and this work of creative non-fiction explores some possibilities. Initially, I drew from my own family’s very long wait, but soon I was including the experiences of friends as well as stories of waiting in scripture and studies of some art and poetry. The book takes a careful look at different aspects of waiting, offering a perspective that might make your own wait something you are actually grateful for.

Read more

Wait: Subtitle To Be Determined.

Right. That’s not a good subtitle. Well, I’m waiting for inspiration. When I figure it out, I’ll put it here.
Meanwhile, you’ll have to wait…. See what I did there?

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About author
Rebecca Brewster Stevenson

I was born in California, spent two years of my childhood in Japan, and grew up in Pittsburgh. While Long Island’s North Fork, home to my maternal grandparents and parents, will always be my second home, I have lived most of my adult life in Durham, North Carolina, where my husband and I have raised our three children.

More About Rebecca


“Most powerfully, Stevenson links the physical to the spiritual, letting Maddie’s breast cancer open her to a spiritual journey, letting the veneration of the Eucharist open space for understanding illness, letting love for the mortal body open space for love of the divine. A gorgeous meditation on broken bodies, fractured faith, and the soul-wrenching path to serenity.”

–Kirkus Reviews