Advent Reflection: Joy comes in the mourning

I returned to UrbanPromise after being away for ten years working on prison reform.  For several months prior to starting in June of 2010, I was on cloud nine. I had met David, the love of my life.  David was also dedicated to prison reform, and we were planning our move to Camden and our future life together.  On his last day at work in California, David was shot in a mall parking lot.  He died in an ambulance en route to the hospital during rush hour traffic.

His death went unsolved for six months until two days before Christmas in 2010.  His killer tried to collect the reward money, and he was arrested.  He was a mentally ill client that David had helped, housed, and equipped to free himself from addiction.

I was inconsolable. In this, my darkest hour, I did not see how I could step into a leadership role at UrbanPromise.  How could I bring value to a place and a people in such poverty and pain, as my beloved City of Camden, when I was in so much pain myself?

Family and friends were so kind and patient during this time, but it was so painful to hear their questions about his unsolved murder.  It was easier not to talk than to hear speculation about whether or not he was in some way at fault for his death.  Yet God gave me moments that let me hold onto hope – a hope that Joy was not permanently dead.

Moments of peace came to me often through scripture, CS Lewis, and a special passage from Kahlil Gibran: "Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.  And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."
I did come to UrbanPromise.  Here, I began meeting children who had lost their parents and meeting parents and grandparents who had lost loved ones too soon.  Three of our kindergartners (now 7th graders) had lost parents.

One mom invited and then drove me to a grief group at a local church.  One grandmother would stop by my office to talk to me every morning.  She would tell me about losing her husband, how she felt, what she did to heal, and how she got through it little by little.

I can't imagine being anywhere but at UrbanPromise during this time.  What a gift to be surrounded by a community of people who understood my sorrow, who brought comfort without judgment, who withstood my tears and loved me through this time of great sadness.

And they are the same people who now—seven years and three children later— who celebrate with me at adoptions, birthday parties, and baptisms.  As written in the passage by Gibran, my joy is made greater because of the deepened place that contains it, the place carved out by sorrow. It is thanks to what God does through this beautiful UrbanPromise community of children, parents, staff, and volunteers that I can say -- Yes, I've been blessed, not in spite of, but because of my mourning.

Jodina Hick is our amazing executive director.  Jodina heard Tony Campolo's message about making a difference with one's life when she was in high school.  This influenced her greatly and led her to pursue a degree at Eastern University, a providential introduction to Bruce Main and a job at UrbanPromise.  Jodina is responsible for starting our StreetLeader program and the UrbanPromise Academy during UrbanPromise's first decade.  She eventually went on to law school and into prison reform.  Jodina is passionate about prison reform and is proud to have helped change egregious laws that impede life after incarceration, including local, state and federal laws.  Jodina has three children (8, 8, and 2) and she loves spending time with them, as well as reading, gospel music, British detective shows, and opera.