Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A different Holy Week than we imagined . . .

Once a year, the grandparents come to visit us from the US. One of the hardest things about living the life we have chosen is that we are so far away from them, so we love seeing them and spending time with them. For many years now, they have come to visit us in Berlin and we have taken a trip together to some other European vacation spot. We have made a lot of unforgettable memories this way. 

My children could hardly sleep on Thursday night waiting for Grandmama and Grandpapa to get here. The grandparents arrived late that evening, so the kids expected them to come to their school on Friday, the last day of school before the Easter holidays, to pick them up. Then, on Sunday, we would all fly to Sicily, Italy together for a vacation. The kids could hardly contain themselves with excitement - grandparents, the beach, gelato on every corner, and as much pizza as they could eat!

But what happened is this . . . my father-in-law, who loves to get out and about, decided to go grocery shopping with me and my husband on Friday morning. As we were walking along and chatting, he suddenly stumbled on some cobblestones and took a very hard fall on the sidewalk. Even though he got up, it became quickly apparent that he wasn't going anywhere. The ambulance came minutes later and took him to the emergency room. 

A hospital stay and surgery on his fractured tibia followed. Although Germany has an excellent medical system, it's still scary to have surgery in a foreign country where you don't speak the language. He came through the surgery okay, thank the Lord, and will start physical therapy today. 

So here we are. The last few days have been completely different than we imagined they would be. Everyone has been dealing sadness and disappointment, especially my father-in-law, who never dreamed that he was flying to Germany to stay in a hospital. An somehow, we have all felt God's grace gently carrying us through it all. 

This was not the Holy Week that I would have chosen for our family, but it is the one that God allowed. And here are some things that I have observed:

Jesus' followers also imagined a very different Holy Week so many years ago. After Palm Sunday where all Jerusalem hailed Jesus as the new king, they probably imagined a grand outcome with celebrations. It's no surprise that they all ran away after the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our natural instinct is to run away from anything painful. The disciples also had to deal with pain, sadness and disappointment that would not be resolved until well after the resurrection had taken place. And our sadness here will linger for a while as well, but that's okay.

Falls are unexpected, they happen quickly, and you are not prepared for them. I am re-visiting the Stations of the Cross, where Jesus falls three times, in a new way. Watching my father-in-law stumble and fall was terrifying. Not knowing how badly he was hurt and being momentarily paralyzed with shock - I never want to relive that again, but I know there will be other falls in life, literal and metaphorical. My comfort is in knowing that God will always be there. 

Before this happened, I thought my rest would come in the form of a vacation - sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun, viewing amazing art and eating wonderful food. I thought that I had earned this after the last eight weeks of hard work. But as my friend Shannon in Brussels (you can read her thoughts at THÉology) has shared with me, God's rest does not always come in that way. There are times when physical rest does not happen and we rest in who He is: His completed work in creation, the work the He will complete when creation is fully renewed, what He has done in us, and what He will do in us. And this is the kind of rest that I am seeking this Holy Week. 

I wish you and your families a meaningful Holy Week and a joyous Easter celebration!


  1. Shelia, I am so sorry to read of Mr. Whittenberg's accident. I will pray for all the family. Thank you for your honesty in reflection. It has caused me realize even though I am dealing with some family issues that have made me very sad, and although things may not be turning out as I think they should , God is still unchanging and worthy of praise. love you, Marsha

    1. Thank you, Marsha! Your thoughts about this mean so much to me!

  2. Wow, Sheila.. So sorry.. Can relate when Sergei broke his hip right on Christmas Eve, two days before we had to fly for vacations.. Still, your post is a wonderful testimony of looking to God at all times and you inspire and bring hope to others even in sad times. Praying for quick recovery and wonderful (in Easter way))) time for your family. Hard times can bring even more bonding. Love you and sending you hugs!

    1. I had completely forgotten about that - thank you for reminding me! You were such an inspiration when all that happened. God took care of you in so many ways. It is encouraging to remember how you came through that time.

  3. Sheila,
    I'm so sorry to hear about your father-in-law! What an unsettling thing to happen. When it's all over and he's recuperated, I bet he will have some interesting stories to bring back home -- about his unexpected visit to a German hospital. Although it isn't the desirable outcome (who wouldn't rather be on vacation in Sicily), these are the type of events that fill our lives with interesting stories! I will keep him in my prayers for a quick recovery!

    Your meditation on "imagining a different Holy Week," is so beautiful. How true for most of us, that Holy Week isn't what we imagine it will be. I also love the way you discuss falling and relate it to Jesus' falling three times in the Stations of the Cross. Very meaningful!

    Wishing you a fulfilling Triduum and a joyous Easter!


  4. Shelia: I am so sorry for your father-in-law and your whole family! I am encouraged by your perspective although I know it is still a bummer. I feel for him in German hospitals, how they're so different from America! We experienced that feeling there even living in Germany! Grace, grace to you all.