It was Wednesday, August 12, and my daughter Elly and I were on the last couple of legs of our cross country odyssey. We were heading into St. Louis where I had served 7 years as an associate pastor in North St. Louis County. More to the point, we were heading to Ferguson for lunch.
Yes, Ferguson. Shootings. Protests. Riots. Lootings. Ferguson.
We were going to eat lunch in Ferguson, because that’s where my husband and I bought our first house. Elly was just months old. Our neighbors welcomed us. We ate at the coffee shop, and visited the library across the street, and played at the city park within walking distance. Elly learned how to ride a bike in Ferguson. We brought Karl home from the hospital to our house in Ferguson.
Ferguson was home, and that’s where I wanted to eat lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Elly, however, did not.
She doesn’t remember Ferguson except from photos and movies we’ve shown her. No, she’s learned about Ferguson on CNN over the last year. One night this past fall, I was cooking dinner when she started yelling from the family room, “Mom, our house is on TV.” Huh? What’s La Junta doing on television? I walked into the family room. Oh, I realized, our old house in Ferguson is on TV. God help us.
For these obvious reasons, Elly was not excited about the prospect of eating lunch in the middle of what she imagined to be ongoing rioting. It’s not safe. We’re going to get shot. No.
I didn’t give her a choice. I confess that I don’t know what I expected either when we pulled off the interstate into our old neighborhood. What I saw first was a man mowing his lawn. A mom was pushing a stroller down one street. Someone was walking from his car into City Hall.
The Whistle Stop Cafe—a renovated train station—was busy. Nurses were on their lunch hour from the hospital. A dad had brought his toddler daughter to wave at the trains that go by the cafe and sometimes stop so the conductor can pick up free frozen custard provided by the owners. The back of the cafe was set up for story time later that day.
I did have the opportunity for one relatively lengthy conversation with an African American woman at the table next to mine. She wanted to know where I bought my purse. I admired hers. That was all.
All of this is to say that life was going on, as normally as it possibly could, even in the midst of one of our nation’s most fiercely conflicted communities. Life goes on, because it must and because God’s power is greater than any violence any person can muster.
“God does not leave us comfortless” (John 14:18). God does not leave us at all.
I posted this same sentiment later that same day on social media and was promptly criticized by a friend for acting “as if nothing was wrong” in Ferguson.
No, I replied. I am not trying to minimize—in any way—the trauma that my former neighbors have experienced over this past year. I simply wanted to witness to the goodness and resilience of the people among whom I once lived and raised my children.
For a very long time to come, I want to remember August 12 and how ridiculous our fears seemed to us once we were sitting there at the Whistle Stop eating our sandwiches. I want to remember and give thanks for the courage and tenacity of the folks who have stayed to live in Ferguson, day after day, and who carry on going to work, caring for their families, eating their frozen custard, and working for real, lasting justice.
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). If God’s got us and the whole world—even Ferguson—in His hand, is there anything we really ought to fear?