These days, it seems like I’m surrounded by loss everywhere I go, Visitors. Most of you know that I’m a businesswoman. I’ve started several small enterprises over the years, the most successful of which have to do with education, childcare, and entry-level housing. These endeavors have yielded a lot of satisfaction and joy, none of them ever employing more than about 20 people or so. I’m in very good company, according the the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, firms like the ones I’ve created account for over 80% of existing jobs.
In this day of Covid-19, the political influencers of the spineless variety have elected to pick the winners and losers of the age. Millions and millions of firms like mine say that they have fewer than five months of reserves, and one quarter of us have shuttered permanently already. The capricious, science-free dictates of governors the likes of which Colorado and Michigan have had to endure indicate that five months of closure is within the realm of acceptable, so most of these businesses are not long for this world.
I’ve always had a rabid fear of business debt, so my businesses are likely safe for the time being. My childcare facility is housed at a local Lutheran church, and the congregation has gone overboard in their generosity. My preschool population of families is also overwhelmingly generous, many have paid their tuition in the face of their own job loss, and some have even provided extra for the benefit of furloughed teaching staff.
So I’m relatively safe, as is my staff, for the time being. Yet I survey the outrageous landscape of Colorado governor Jared Polis allowing large businesses like WalMart, Home Depot and Lowes to operate under relatively few restrictions, and Polis ‘making examples’ of small coffeeshops who dare to defy his capricious and unconstitutional emergency orders. I watch Polis give blanket passes to violent and crowded demonstrations. Then, I watch with dismay as my friends who, like me, have poured their lives into their little endeavors, only to see decades of job creation and positive community influence melt away under these shutdown orders. Doubtless Polis has received much larger contributions from the previously cited corporations, while the little bakery down the street struggles to just make payroll. The unfairness and injustice of this political machination is just heartbreaking, and very, very personal to me.
So I am surrounded by loss on the macro level. The negative energy of this is just draining, and I fear it his only just begun, Visitors.
A few of you know I just completed a graduate degree at Regis University here in Denver. It’s an MS in Criminology, with a heavy emphasis in addiction and psychopathology. Because of this, I’m alert to personal stories of loss like TobyMac’s last October.
I love Toby Mac. Toby is the Justin Timberlake of the squeaky-clean Christian set, producing upbeat, lightweight bubblegum pop for everyone, but most often the teenage youth group bundles of insecurity that grace most Baptist youth group meeting rooms. My kids liked Toby until they were about fourteen. Toby had four kids, and Truett Mckeehan, Toby’s oldest, died last October of an accidental drug overdose. Truett ingested what’s called a ‘speedball’, or a mixture of cocaine and heroin, or in this case a synthetic heroin relative called fentanyl.
The idea with the ingestion of a speedball is that co-administration of the drugs is meant to provide an intense rush of euphoria while hoping to reduce the negative side effects such as anxiety and heart palpitations that often accompany stimulant use. Opioids are depressants, and fentanyl is dozens of times stronger than heroin. Usually the effects of the cocaine wear off long before the effects of the opioids, and the respiratory depression effect is profound. If Truett’s dealer sold him some of the ‘fent’ that’s making it’s way around Denver, the boy was unreachable the instant the drug hit his brain. The part of his brain that tells his lungs to breathe simply turned off. Truett was dead within minutes.
I was dumbstruck when I heard the news. Toby’s music represented a different era in my life, one that was marked by the heady enthusiasm of our young, growing family, a prosperous community, and defined purpose in life. Profound loss was unimaginable.
I look back on that now, and realize what an irritating Christian that I must have been. Listen to this song of Toby’s from that time. Pay close attention to the lyrics.
Big picture? It’s a great song. It’s catchy, aesthetically pleasing, even danceable. The sentiment is awesome. God’s love is calling you. If you’ve lost your way, it’s never too late, sure, you might have scars, but get up! You’ll shine again! You’ll be fine! (sigh. How grating that must have been to the truly grief-stricken.)
I’m not sure there is much more shattering than the loss of a child. Chris’s death was the hardest thing I have ever had to endure. In his last clear-headed days, he would often tell me how glad he was that none of our children had to experience terminal cancer, and how thankful he was that he didn’t have to watch them die. Convoluted sentiment, but I got it. Perhaps you do too- as adults we have a few more tools to wrestle with the unfairness of horrible illness, and reconcile it to the terrifying unpredictability of a broken world.
I think there are fewer tools, perhaps none, to handle the the abrupt, unfair, world-rocking, faith-destroying, startling death of a child. Truett’s death rocked Toby to his spirit. Gone are the catchy lyrics, the predictable, pleasing drumlines. Listen to this dissonant piece, and turn the lyrics on.
Since Chris’s death, I’ve had the honor of befriending lots of people who have experienced soul-crushing loss. Toby’s sentiments are raw, real, and universal.
Did you notice the incessant rain in Toby’s video? Even his glasses are covered, it’s like his tears simply don’t stop. Did you hear his doubt?
“Is it just across the Jordan? Or a city in the Stars? Are you singing with the angels? Are you happy where you are? ”
Toby’s ‘highkey’ and ‘extra’ looks are gone. He’s just a middle aged man grieving his son. Wailing at the heavens, under the cloudy skies, questioning his God. Is God really good? Can He really be trusted?
You’re allowed to wonder, Toby, and so are you, Visitors.
I’ve been tracking with Toby since Truett’s death, and have seen some wonderful community come around him. Like Marines who ‘leave no man behind’
or 9/11 rescue workings pulling one of their own from the rubble
Toby’s community pulled around him. Toby’s music has changed. There is an authenticity about it, a generousness. Almost as if Toby’s view has lengthened, and expanded enough to include the truly broken, the doubting, and the ‘bruised reed’ that the Bible talks about, referring to the wounded among us. What we all should be, in whatever capacity we can, when we come across God’s broken and hurting people. He loves them more than we can comprehend, and it’s what He asks us to do.
I’m sure Truett is proud.