Loaves and fishes

Every now and then I stop and consider how many times I have cried recently and the reasons for it whether I have or haven’t. There have been times in my life that I surprised myself by doing that, realizing that I hadn’t shed a tear in recent memory, maybe months, maybe even years. There are times of great grief, of course, when crying is not only expected but necessary for healing. And there are times when too much sniffling is a wake-up call to tackle any depression that might be sneaking up on me.

In the last few weeks, I have found myself turning the channel on the TV to get away from news in this country and around the world. Needless killing, deliberate killing, calculated killing is difficult for me to handle. I don’t need to know the people involved. It doesn’t make any difference to me their race or origin. I have not gotten toughened up by video games or violent movies; in fact, I avoid them. I can put on a tough exterior and I have on too many occasions, but I’m pretty sensitive inside. Life is a precious gift in my sight and the taking of it out of hatred, revenge, or perverted thinking is beyond my understanding.

I had to turn the channel when I happened on to a host of funerals for police in Dallas and Baton Rouge in the last couple of weeks. Even photographs of folded flags handed to widows brought tears to my eyes. I can’t even talk about it without feeling a very heavy sadness spread throughout my body.

We bought the house in our neighborhood 16 years ago when we moved to Wisconsin from South Dakota. While we live on the outskirts of a couple of cities, we are still a rural area and our safety needs are provided by the sheriff, or, more rightly, the county deputies assigned to this precinct. There have been two or three times within a short time frame that we found it necessary to call the deputies for assistance. They were always available and willing to serve. They got troubling issues addressed. We were very thankful for their presence.

As it turns out, this is the precinct that covers our portion of the county. Wish I had taken this photo, but I'm glad the sheriff's office decided to place it prominently on their website.

As it turns out, this is the precinct that covers our portion of the county. Wish I had taken this photo, but I’m glad the sheriff’s office decided to place it prominently on their website.

But more often in those 16 years, we haven’t had a need for police protection or we haven’t known about it if we did. Still, it has always made me feel good, feel safe when I see a patrol car come through the neighborhood or when I meet one on a county road, or even when I see one set up for catching speeders. Those men and women are doing their jobs and they remind me that part of my job is to watch my speed so that I don’t endanger either myself or others.

I’ve always had a high regard for law enforcement. I haven’t always agreed with them, but I learned early on never to argue with law enforcement. It just isn’t worth it. If I think I’m that much more in the right than they are, then I have to weigh my options on how to get that addressed or just move on away from it.

A few years ago, Terry and I were touring “Up North” as Wisconsinites call a vast area to the north of Wisconsin Dells. We had stopped for an evening walk down the street of a small town close to where we were staying. The sun had set but it wasn’t quite dark yet. We just wanted a stroll and to see what little shops might be there for us in the morning. But as we made our way down the sidewalk, a large group of young men were congregating outside a bar. Their vociferous language and stares felt threatening to us so we made it back to the car and headed on to our destination.

The next evening, we decided to make that excursion again, but this time we just stayed in our car and slowly cruised down the main drag we had avoided. The place was pretty desolate; we saw no people or traffic. We just watched either side of the street to see what shops or cafes were available.

Suddenly, the night sky lit up with the flashing lights of a local gendarme who had been following close behind us. Terry knew he was back there but I had no idea. We immediately pulled over and stopped. The officer came around and asked for the usual credentials and inquired as to whether Terry had been drinking. When Terry inquired as to the reason for the stop, the officer said, “You were going too slow.”

Well, I guess that would have been right on an evening when Main Street was humming, but the speed limit was 25 which is pretty slow anyway. We were probably humming along at 10 mph as we looked around.

He warned Terry not to drive so slowly and his attitude was what I would associate with someone who had been given a little authority and intended to make the most of it. After we moved on back to our lodging, we mused as to where that guy had been the night before when we felt threatened in his little burg. But arguing with him wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere and we were ready to leave that town once and for all. They apparently didn’t need any business we might bring them.

Now we laugh about how Terry got an honest-to-goodness speed warning for going too slow.

As I was reflecting on the deliberate, calculated ambushes of police officers in the past couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but think about our deputies in our neck of the woods and I wondered how they were feeling. I wanted to do something for them, but I knew they wouldn’t be allowed to accept gifts. So this week I sought out my favorite recipe from a bread-baking class I had taken at the Newman Center when I was in college and I made two loaves of banana nut bread. Then I tracked down a deputy (that’s harder than you might think if you aren’t calling on an emergency issue) and left a message for him on his voice mail that two loaves of banana nut bread wouldn’t begin to cover it, but that if it were all right, I’d like to drop them off at the precinct station as an indication of our appreciation for all of the officers’ service.

My voice cracked as I told him. I felt kind of silly as I quickly wrapped up my message.

Deputy Steve called me back within 30 minutes and he said, “You know, Gretchen, I just shared your message with another deputy and your words mean more to us than you know. We’ve all been talking about how isolated we feel and I’ve told them that the silent majority would begin to speak up so that things will get better for us.” He thanked me and told me that he had checked and it would be allowed for them to receive fresh banana nut bread from my kitchen.

So I wrapped it up, wrote a note, and drove to the station where Deputy Steve saw me get out of the car and pulled up and got out to talk with me. Again, my tears welled up with appreciation, and, I think, sadness over recent police killings. I handed over the bread to another officer and they both let me hug them. I invited them to stop for coffee whenever they were in the neighborhood and just needed a break. I kind of felt like maybe someone would take me up on that.

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I should have asked what he meant when he said the deputies are feeling isolated. Is it an indication of how law enforcement in general is feeling or do these deputies feel isolated because of the rural nature of their work?

It makes no difference. I am reminded of the story of Jesus who was intentionally seeking a desolate place, some isolation for himself, but the crowds kept following him. He was concerned for their well-being and ordered up food as one might call for a pizza delivery. But the disciples said they had neither the food nor the money to buy it yet there was one small boy who had five loaves and two fish and he was willing to share, so Jesus just made certain there was enough to go around. I’ve long thought that what happened that day was that there were many people who had food but were not moved to share it until they saw that boy share his. Suddenly, the whole crowd was fed and there was food to spare. Getting people to share like that makes it no less of a miracle and probably more of one.

I am certain the deputies divvied up my two loaves so that they went much further than two loaves are intended to go. I’ll bet every officer who wanted a piece got one. And at shift change they probably read out loud the note I included thanking them for their protection.

These men and women are like loaves and fishes to me.

In my own assessment of my tears this week, I would say they are a combination of grief and gratitude. I pray for God’s protection for them. And if you ask me to read all of this out loud to you, I can guarantee my voice will break.



After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. – John 6:1-13 (see also Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17, and Mark 6:30-44)

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