Browsing The Northern Cross

Betsy Kneepkens: Summer of thorns? Or summer of roses?

This summer was so horrible I want to forget it and so impactful I want to always remember it.

For people that are without faith this is a crazy thing to say, but for believers this statement makes total sense. This summer was horrific in countless ways. A number of innocent people lost their lives to bombings and indiscriminate shooting sprees. Dozens if not hundreds have died at the hands of terrorists in the name of God, our Father. Additionally thousands of Christians were killed for their faithfulness. There was a holy French priest who, while saying Mass, was beheaded and a religious sister and lay faithful observed this and were held hostage.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

You want to forget those stories of police officers being shot and many killed while protecting those that were protesting their profession. There were riots in cities where businesses and government vehicles were burned to the ground, during which gun shots were being discharged arbitrarily.

We have a presidential election season like nothing I have ever seen before and government leaders telling the public that our world has never been better or safer. Locally, although not nearly as horrendous, we had storms that toppled trees, electric outages for days and towns submerged in what some are calling record high flooding. There has rarely been a week that has gone by that one news story isn’t topping the story from the week before.

If you spend enough time with me, you will hear one of my more frequent phrases: “Where there are thorns, there are roses.” As a person of faith, I try to help my children believe we are called to seek out the roses that come with all life’s thorns, a lesson Christ taught us on the cross when his crucifix meant that the gates of heaven were opened. As I reflect over the summer I certainly want to forget about all those horrible incidents, but if I did, I would not be able to see all the good and beauty that flowed from these distressing situations.

Take for instance the beheading of the Catholic priest in France. This priest was not only unable to protect himself while saying Mass, his life was devoted to serving others. Like all of us, he was an imperfect human, but my guess is that living 58 years of priestly life he caused little harm.

I can only imagine how terrorized those faithful daily Mass-goers were to observe such a ghastly act. If you continued to follow the story you would know that in this awfulness there were roses that emerged. The Sunday after this gruesome killing, as an act of solidarity, Muslims attended Mass in churches throughout France and Italy, in several situations filling up many of the rows in the church that would otherwise go empty. Imagine that moment when the sign of peace is offered to each other, Christians and Muslims, acting as one family of God in the true presence of Christ. A precious moment, one that can never be forgotten, and something I want my children to look for even in the worst of circumstances.

In Dallas, police officers were being gun downed as they protected protesters that were protesting them. This situation was of course covered by social media, and if you looked at the video close enough you can see the protesters running away from the suspected gunman’s location and the police officers, if they were not running toward the gunfire, were using their bodies as shields to protect the at-risk protesters.

This act by the gunman was diabolical, but the beauty of the police officers service was nothing short of an authentic Christian act of selflessness, a portrait of something I hope remains in my memory forever. Furthermore, after two extraordinarily tough years, and it continues, I have recently witnessed several civilians reach out to local service people, be it police or military, and thank them for their willingness to offer their lives for the safety of others. I hope not only to always remember what these service people do for us on a daily basis, but also to remember those tender acts of children and adults reaching out in appreciation and support. I don’t want to shield my children from this ugliness of this world, but I want them to remember the beauty that certainly will flow by God’s grace.

The local storms this summer were severe and caused a great deal of hardship for many. My family experienced a tad of electrical outage inconvenience but nothing of a hardship compared to so many. I want to forget all those trees that fell, all those houses that were flooded and all the property damage that occurred. The roses that came from the storm were meeting neighbors I had never talked to before, observing others who had given to those that had not.

I want to remember the one friend that came over to collect the laundry of another, because she had power and other friend did not. I want to plant in my memory the individual who was driving around in his truck with a chainsaw finding places where people were stranded and opening pathways so the stranded could get out. I will not forget the friend who kindly came to our house when the power returned to turn off what was left on and to make sure there was no damage, while he had no power and we were out of town.

Where there are thorns, God places roses. Traumatic, awful, horrible and horrendous situations will happen. We live in a fallen world. God’s existence is in the inevitable roses that flow from the grace and mercy God outpours, assuring us of his continued presence. As faithful people we are blessed with connecting God’s endless interaction with us, even when this fallen world chooses continued brokenness.

Non-believers are left with just trying to forget these horrible incidents. But believers like our family get to hold on during this troublesome time, trusting that God’s love and mercy will produce a rose. It is the summer of roses I want to remember.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.