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Tearing Off the Roof

By November 16, 2016 8 Comments

Thanksgiving is just about a week away, so I want to begin today by thanking Sarina Moore for subbing for me here over these last months.  Her prose, as always, is, like her, luminous and insightful.

Roof Tile

I’ve been away from the blog for some months now because, at the very end of July, I (rather Humpty-Dumpty-like) had a very great fall—and in the process, broke several bones in my foot. Six, to be precise, with the whole she-bang receiving a fancy French name. In the words of one of my colleagues: “when an injury gets a name, it’s never good.”

And indeed, it was not good at all: no weight-bearing, no driving. Due to the caprices of my surgeon, my surgery date turned into a dance of endless rescheduling—and so I spent August waiting and mostly house-bound. When I finally did get to have surgery, I started classes 10 days later—still not driving and getting around campus on a little knee scooter. So passed September, October, and into November as I moved ever so slowly towards walking again. Yesterday felt like a major achievement when I got to wear shoes on both feet for the first time since July. Hard not to feel like a triumphant toddler!

And maybe that’s not too far off since there’s nothing like the helplessness that comes with serious injury. All of a sudden there are so many things that one can’t do—or things that absolutely require help. Rides arranged, errands carefully planned.  Then, too, our medical system—like most of society, to be honest—isn’t really set up for people like me who live alone. Instead, the implicit assumption seems to be that everyone has someone at home available to care for them 24/7.

As a spinster, I have always highly valued my independence, but the flip side is that, like most single people, I have also found myself wondering from time to time about what would happen in a crisis. And I don’t just live alone: none of my family is closer than 1500 miles. My closest friend lives a day’s drive away.

I’ve always loved the story in Mark 2 where the paralyzed man is healed by Jesus after his friends, who can’t get through the crowd, lower him through the roof of a house. And the text says that it took really serious work: “Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on” (emphasis mine). We probably usually think about the man who was healed (and I have new sympathy with the Bible’s attention in story and verse to the healing of “the lame.”) Or maybe we think about Jesus and his exchange with the man and with the watching Pharisees.

But think about the friends. Imagine caring about your friend’s healing so much that you refused to be put off by the crowds, that you wanted to see your friend restored so fiercely that you were willing to literally tear a roof off.

Turns out that’s exactly the kind of people who make up my community. Every night in August someone different brought me an amazing meal, each one expressing such tender care of me. In fact, I had a list of people ready to bring meals beyond what I needed. Two friends joked that I was eating too healthily and showed up with trays of hors d’oeuvres, a box full of bakery goodies, and some “adult” slushies and set-up a very happy hour alongside my sofa campsite.  Cards and emails and Facebook encouragement have been constant. Flowers and plants arrived.  A team of folks came and stayed with me in the days after my surgery. Errands were run. Since July, my floors have been scrubbed and my house has been cleaned. Over and again.  My laundry has been done, and the bed made up with fresh sheets. Over and again. My trash has been collected and taken to the curb. Every week. And I have been driven to appointments and haircuts and grocery stores and back and forth to wherever I needed going. Every day.

It may be that it is better to give than to receive—but, of course, that’s a paradox since without receivers there would be no givers. I have not been accustomed in my life to be a receiver very often.  And yet, these last months of incapacity have been a powerful—and unexpected—testimony that I am not alone. A stay against anxieties about whether single folks, like me, will be cared for. An assurance that the kinship of believers really means something quite tangible. And beautifully so.

Or that is us at our best, in any case.  As we live into new understandings of the brokenness all around us, may we commit to being roof-destroyers all.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • Dale Cooper says:

    How your words blest me this morning, Jennifer. Through you reflection our Lord himself reminded me that concrete (and often unheralded) acts of care (can) have immense importance and effect. Thanks for writing–for me.

    Dale Cooper

  • Jessica says:

    I love this. Thank you.

  • Marc Gesink says:

    As a single person myself, I found your testimony of perseverance, friendship, and triumph over your setback very heart warming. Thanks for sharing, and glad you got your wheels back!

  • Diane says:

    I had a very similar experiece with a “Humpty Dumpty” fall down a flight of stairs fracturing a vertebrae and head wounds and traumatic brain injury.
    You don’t know me. I am a friend of Steven Rodriguez. I feel compelled to reply as I was cared for Christian sisters and brothers in the much the same way as you were. This is the Body of Christ as it is meant to be. The many many provisions of care have made real the words of Hebrews 13:5 ” Never will I leave you or forsake you.” My experience has given me comfort and confidence that I can rely on the Lord for the future. My concern for the future of my special needs son continues, but my anxiety about him has been reduced as I realize God’s constant care for his children. The words of Psalm 119:105 remind me that my Lord may sometimes be a lamp to my feet, just one step at a time, even as He knows the future and will light my path.

    Thank you for sharing your story of God’s provision during a time of great need. And thank you for listening to my reply.

  • Amy Schenkel says:

    I know that the body of Christ is most often absolutely amazing when it comes to these grace-filled acts of service, but I didn’t really realize how much of a safety net that was for me until we were in-between communities of faith. Who would help us if something happened then? And, I wonder, for our neighbors that don’t have these connections to communities of faith, who helps them?

    • Jennifer L. Holberg says:

      Yes, Amy–I think you raise such an essential point. One of the things I was trying to gesture towards at the end is that we’re all need to be more intentional about doing whatever necessary for those in need–and that means looking for people who maybe haven’t been on our radar in the past. How well are we truly understanding our neighbors and serving them. Thanks for commenting!

  • Aw! Thanks for the shout-out! Glad you’re back, too.

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