Funeral

I simply cannot believe I have not written to you since January. I will put on my afternoon dress, dip the quill into the inkwell, as I smooth the parchment, and see where we go.

I started a lovely new job in early spring. I am delighted to be back with a population I am so passionate about, unaccompanied minors. In this iteration we work in the house where the children live, there are no foster parents. Today I reflected, after I stopped in to chat with the manager of the house, and enjoyed a piece of watermelon, “sandia”. He talked about having only daughters himself, his experiences beginning in shelters like Homestead in Florida, to kids who have come directly across the border, strapping little ones into car seats to be sent back to their country of origin, hand and foot cuffing very young children. How it hits different when they could be your kids.

As he spoke his eyes filled with tears and I was able to see, for a moment, another side of him. And I admit to being glad that these are not children who hold up their arms to be held, who need me to comfort them when they cry or change their diapers. Teenaged boys are not five year old little girls. These boys are capable of managing themselves, they seem to know what to say. They are, largely, adults, or at least they were until they came here and we made them schoolboys again.

Yes, I am grateful to be working again with these kids and with people who are so passionate about them. I am still working on my Spanish. I probably seem a little a crazy to anyone who visits my often not occupied desk, with my little post it notes of the names of the animals we see outside our office window, ardilla, raton, conejo, cierva.

I am currently auditing a course at Bexley Seabury named Pastoral Offices. I have turned in my homework and commented appropriately. I have been assigned group work too. Though we got a little bogged down in our zoom call last night with baptism and confirmation, we are talking about all of the rites, many of which lay people can do. A woman I can see being great friends with said that babies belong before they know they do. Our professor said that if we listen very deeply we will know what to pray for even if we don’t have a prescribed collect. Add this to a fruitful meeting with a CPE site and a new field placement and I am fairly burning my way through the woods toward you.

We have had our share of sadness too.

Last weekend we stayed at a cottage in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our cottage was amazing, rustic and yet equipped, on the shores of Big Manistique lake, it literally lapped at our deck. A little boy with another party threw a rock at a duck, and he hit a duckling square in the head. Apparently he’d been there all week. Apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d been told not to throw rocks at the ducks. The bathroom floor sloped and the shower was very small, but the curtains were new.

For whatever reason he didn’t listen. This little duck went sideways and turned circles in the water, his head underneath. My sisters (all three nurses) leaped in and grabbed him, wrapped him in a towel, fashioned a cervical brace from an empty toilet paper roll, offered him oats and water. All day long they held him, and my oldest daughter, and my dad. And none of it was enough. By 4pm we were praying for God to take the little duck. The girls played him lullabies and stroked his beak and back on my daughter’s bed when he seemed to have gone into a type of coma. At about 11pm they processed solemnly, breaking into sobs when they told us the duckling was dead. They held him in a little silver tote, wrapped in a towel that had come from my house hundreds of miles away. They sat him down and didn’t know what to do. They had named him Curtis of Curtistown. They put daisies in the cervical collar.

None of us knew what to do, to be fair.

My dad shared that earlier in the day, how, when he’d held the duck to his chest its siblings had swum by, making their little duck not quite a quack sounds. The little duck had struggled against his chest, kicking its legs and opening its mouth. I’d found a collect, though not the one I wanted, and I said, authoritatively, into the campfire lit dark, as the lake lapped just feet away, The Lord be with you. They replied, as they have been trained to do, even with me, and also with you.

We gathered close around the fire, on the shores of a beautiful lake, tears running down our faces and I said the words of the collect. We commended little duck, Curtis, to God, a creature that had never been ours, but that we had had the (dubious) pleasure of caring for. We went to bed rather early, all of us tired and full of grief.

I think that I learned that I won’t ever be ready. I learned that every family is different, if the family even exists. I learned that I can plan in advance a collect and say it without crying. I learned that we can’t plan for the types of grief we will encounter.

I would also like to share, in a necessarily oblique way, that a very terrible thing has happened in our family. We are all physically ok, but quite sad and betrayed. Someone we thought was one of us, someone we thought we could trust has turned out to be not at all what he said he was. That has resulted in trans Atlantic moves, the selling of houses, the leavings of people and jobs and habits and regular grocery stores. It has resulted in one of my children going a bit dead about the eyes, as if she always expected such, and not saying another word. And one admitting that she needed to cry, that it was as if someone had died because she knows she will never see or hear from him again and she needs to sort out what do with that.

I’m not sure where the offender is, or if he subscribes to this blog. But I do know he’s set on a new apartment and a new girlfriend, comfortable, apparently, with infidelity. And so I wonder, as so many have at the short end of a betrayal, who I ever was. Who my children were. I wonder about the memories that we made and the nicknames and the experiences. I wonder about giant white wolf dogs and large yellow dogs, both dead, and I wonder if any of it was true. I wonder about my 10 day old child in his arms and then him walking away from her, 12 years later. I wonder about that house, with the view over the valley and the train station, the too small room I shared with my sister, using the antique radio for a makeup table. I wonder about begging to drive but he wouldn’t let me, and the GPS he called Kinky Kate, that time Kate led us through a cow pasture where we literally were driving on someone’s field and had to get out and open the cow gate. I wonder about the Isle of Skye and didn’t you feel anything at York Minster? Or St. Paul’s, where I held you up on your sightseeing tour to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday when I didn’t even know that was important to me?

To be clear; this is not my husband, but another person that existed within my family unit.

And so, with pastoral offices, and dead ducks, and men who walk out on families I am faced with a very CPE choice of where to go, and what to say.

And I just don’t know.

I want to breathe hope and healing into everything that has happened, but I’ve learned that sometimes people aren’t ready for hope, and they don’t want to be healed, not yet anyway.

This week I stopped in, for a very legitimate reason, at my home parish. I can’t stand the sight of my drawer full of English tea towels, souvenirs and air mail packages. I’ve packed them into a hope chest my sister gave to my oldest daughter. My friend had purchased several, a whole new set really, of kitchen towels and I was picking them up; watermelons and lemons, cats and flowers. I heard the unmistakable swell of the organ, I walked swiftly up the side aisle of the dimly lit nave, breathing in the familiar smells. I waited until the hymn he was practicing was done and I said, softly, bravo. He started and beamed, me and him, here in our place. 80 something and 40 something, I have never loved him so much.

I thought about the men I have loved on my drive home. Courageous and wonderful and flawed men. I gave thanks that only until now had none of them left me like this, wondering what, if anything had been true.

I thought of little duck, Curtis, and the funeral rite, “and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.” I thought how comforting it would be to little duck to behold a friend. I thought how someday I too might behold a friend and not someone who has become a stranger because he has betrayed us.

I thought about redemption and what that means. I thought about the little boy with the rock. I wondered if he can be redeemed too.

Look.

Sometimes I am the little boy with the rock. Sometimes I am the betrayer. There is nothing perfect in me.

Except for the urging to walk with you. That is the small and painful part God would choose to refine, an ache that does not go away. An ache to obey a weird and expensive and inconvenient call to love you anyway, to love you despite the moments when you threw a rock at someone or something who was helpless, and it died.

I guess my point is to agree that the moral arc of the universe is long but that it bends toward justice. My point is that someday I long to walk toward one who is the friend I thought and not the stranger who has appeared. My point is that if I can say a collect for dead duckling my child and my sisters have nursed with all their might I can certainly sit with you, at the end of all things.

Though it is not the same. Though it is raw grief.

I love you still. I am burning up the forest looking for you. I am calling and chanting and singing, whistling when my embouchure will obey. I will do whatever it takes to reach you and to bring you back safe with me to our shady tent, on its brief stop over, its give-way, on the way to something else, to where we are truly meant to be. Together.

The Isle of Skye and York cathedral beckon. But I am yours, first. I promise.

Mostly True Stories

I like to tell the romantic story of how I came to the Episcopal church starting with the moment that I received what was basically an engraved invitation (it was an email) inviting me to come and sing in the choir. And while that was certainly a central plot in the story braid, that Kyrie sang on my knees, that heart cracked wide open, all those tears, how snug my hip fits in the bend of the piano, the right notes traveling up my hip and through my ribs to my throat – but there is a different story too.

I was asked to help out in a kitchen that makes free meals for anyone who wants them, twice a week. I’ve written to you often of the red tent of that kitchen, the way the (mostly) women came together (pro tip, if you search “red tent” on my site you will find these stories).

I’ve told you about the things we learned; that marriage is hard, how every kitchen manager does it differently. That the beautiful faces of girl children can hide their spiney and ugly growing hearts and that it’s all a necessary part of growing up. I’ve told you about how I could almost hear the WHOOSH as the curtain fell, how the light changed and became tinged with scarlet, about the clink of cutlery, the smell of food, the aprons and the hats and the chats cutting salad vegetables. I realized that if anything started anywhere it all started there, in that kitchen with the windows over the washing sinks that look out over the Memorial Garden, the tufts the deer make when they rest there, the strange knowledge that the mortal bodies of people I have known are now intermingled with the flowering shrubs and sandy dirt.

We were talking the other day, the cousins, asking each other who remembered Grandma’s yellow plastic bread basket. This was the one she capped every meal with – no supper was complete without that plastic basket full of plain store bought bread and a tub of margarine to spread on it. No table was set without the goose glassware, or the tall Tupperware cups. My Grandmas were different types of ladies, but they loved to feed people, a passion that has been passed down through my grandmothers, and my mothers, to me.

And so the real story begins not with notes on a yellowed page, not with commands to sing higher or to sing purer vowels, but with a bunch of women in a kitchen, preparing food for people to eat – because of course that felt immediately like home.

One of the primary functions of a priest is to feed people, a different sort of food, sure, but there it is. You get to actually put it in their hands, you get to hold the cup to their mouths while they sip, to make sure they got enough.

Huh. Crazy how stuff works out.

All of this bubbles up for me, I think, because this is a Major Feast. This is EPIPHANY. And today the world kind of exploded.

I was outside, pacing around and looking for my kitty pal (a sweet little cat with a collar who likes me to pet her through the chain link fence that separates our properties) this afternoon and actually wondered to myself if I was overreacting. I wondered if my sudden tears were indicative of a weak mind or constitution rather than an actual crisis. What the hell even is a crisis anymore, I wondered aloud. I decided that in most books if the capital building is stormed that definitely spells C R I S I S and P A N I C. Books have been telling me for a long time how I should act and what I should say, and what to expect next, and so I took that to be proof that my shaky self was not an over reaction.

It’s been a bit galling really, to see social media personas post that this was just like the #BLM protests. That “if they can loot and break things so can we”. I guess I missed it when we crossed over from love your neighbor to an eye for an eye. I know the finer points are being conveniently passed over as I see photo after photo of white men terrorizing our elected leaders compared to the thousands and thousands across the world who finally WOKE THE HELL UP after we watched a police officer kneel on the neck of George Floyd – so focused on the violence and shattering glass and fires are we – you know, the really juicy bits.

Today a friend who is vocally pro-Republican said she is upset because everyone will lump her in with them. She isn’t them. She really isn’t. She loves rules. She loves people. She loves God and she practices justice and mercy, she walks humbly with our God.

Today we sat, wide-eyed, we shouted news back and forth down the short hall. We watched videos and we looked at photos and were overwhelmed and unsurprised all at once. We talked contingency plans, because it’s dangerous at times to have two highly anxious people working so closely together. We made more coffee. We wondered, with all of you, what would come next, when our cities would burn, when our capitals would be stormed (again, because this already happened in our state). I explained the plot of The Handmaid’s Tale. We (I?) ate too many peanut butter cups.

And tonight the sun sank low, the sky lit up again, painted by a Bob Ross-esque God. She went to her Bible study and I went to church. I gazed at the white paraments, I closed my eyes to hear the psalm better. I saw myself in my black and white polka dot bathing suit floating in the deep end of a pool with all of the noise of my family, of the world, happening on the surface. I was submerged. I managed to escape for just a moment.

The cities stopped burning and the children stopped crying in their cages, the doors springing open. The hungry had food and the homeless were granted a reprieve. I felt my arms float up in the strange blue water, saw the bubbles leave my nose as my hair drifted in the current and the sun slanted sideways. I thought to myself that it’s a good thing I’m ace at floating. That I’m learning to be still. That I have new friends that I can take with me even as our lives and situations change. All of the books say this is important. I am pleased to have achieved what I thought was not, for me, achievable.

As I floated in that pool I thought of how I feel so lost, so bereft of you, so in the bracken and thorns. How sometimes I’m not sure who I am. Maybe I’m supposed to sell real estate or clean houses. Who knows? You forget is the problem. I can’t glide over new high notes because I’ve forgotten how. I have to learn again to sight read a hymn I don’t know. I am out of practice.

And yet.

I can still see our graves up ahead, the ones we made for ourselves when we decided we were going to change who we used to be. The ones we laid down in and rose up from, those pine needle covered mounds in a quiet forest full of moss and stealthily growing things. That sacred place of putting down all of things we thought we were and becoming, so beautifully, who we are really supposed to be.

My friend Cindi took communion tonight for the first time in ten months. TEN MONTHS. She cracked that wafer between her teeth and swallowed it down, strength for the journey, sustenance for the road ahead. She has so much work to do in that kitchen I have had to move away from, a red tent that I hope to find is moveable as I journey outward from that church on the hill.

My own gentile epiphany is in the feeding.

It’s in the gentle meows of my cats early in the mornings, the way my children ask me over and over how long until a dinner they probably will claim not to like, the collaboration with my husband on all things food and cooking – and in the broken body of a Jesus who came to us knowing just who we are. I am convinced that feeding a flock is very important business and I am looking forward to getting to it in the tiny kitchen space behind an altar, with only a paten and a chalice, a few white purificators and the promise of renewed life and strength as we walk away from each other for what, I now understand, in a way that I didn’t before, could be the last time.

And so I’m here, away from you still, unable to know you in the ways that I wish, unable to grieve with you in ways that make the loss not real for me, running toward you nevertheless. The pine needles are slippery, the light is strange and the world tilts again, and still we journey onward.

I love you still. I long to feed you. Hang on.

One of the songs I have been asked to sing is Fairest Lord Jesus. It was for a funeral and the second tune was suggested. I’ve linked it below, and you should probably listen to it because it will tell you my heart tonight, sung in a minor key, not like the one you know, but the words are still true.

A cold and broken hallelujah, as Leonard would have said. Tonight the second tune is the one I can sing.

I have so many words and not enough time.

Little deaths

I mentioned the other day, just in like a heads up kind of way, that I feel like I’m going through a lot. I wanted my husband to know that when I disappear, even though I’m physically in the same room, it’s not about him. It’s about me resolving things that can’t be resolved in a matter of days or weeks.

I approach dreaded anniversaries now, I loathe the month of August.

Last August I turned 40, lost my job, and then watched my children sing our dog home, all together on the kitchen floor, over the space of a few days.

As the light turns magical and reflects strangely off the tree leaves, as the heat breaks for just a hot second (thank you Jesus!), as the calendar rolls toward what should be Coast Guard weekend well, I feel like it’s a lot.

I told my husband that I see her everywhere, my old boss. I see a car that looks like hers and I have to know if it IS her. I remember her license plate number. My heart pounds and I wonder what I would even do if I saw her again. It’s never her.

There’s the peculiar rustle of parchment paper that I learned to use with you, the way I move my head to keep the Crystal Light powder out of my nose, the intuitive copier I miss on an almost daily basis. It’s a velvet tee shirt like one you would wear, it’s Brooklyn Bagels and Los Amigos, your testing Spanglish. It’s still knowing how to ask if you want your taco hard or soft. Creating yet another new filing system. Submitting payables. Doing your job for you when you just don’t have the heart to do it today. 

I dream stress dreams about my husband leaving me for the neighbor lady, or my child being swept off the pier and taken with long, cold, dark blue tendril waves to the place where the children who drown in the lake are kept. I wake up smelling the lake after a storm, the scent of fish and cold water and sorrow lodged deep in my nose.

I keep my things at work organized, always ready to leave at a moment’s notice though there has been no indication that I need to be this way.

Sometimes, the things that happen to us change us. Maybe forever.

I worry (even now, this second) about dumping my anxiety on you, about throwing up on your shoes and then realize this space was always mine and you can leave if you want; that I can’t.

I worry about weird things, about ventilators and arguments.

I worry about Eucharist and how I haven’t had it yet because I want to wait for us all to be together again. I crib and steal Ramadan, fasting and fasting until I forget what Jesus tastes like, until I forget the way his blood runs down my throat and soaks my white cloth when I serve him to you. I want the full dark of sunset, to light all the candles and make the big meal, to have more Jesus than we can ever consume and stuff ourselves on that pan de vida and give the rest to the sacred birds.

I think of the seeds and seeds and seeds I bought in an absolute frenzied panic back in the spring. I dream that they’ve all bloomed and sprouted in the shadowy stairwell where they live and are wrecked for who knows when I’ll need to sow them. Of the powdered milk taking up valuable space, it becomes a goat in my kitchen, unruly and loud.

I dream of ICE and dialects and little girls with lice. I dream up recipes made of canned meat and egg noodles and cream soups and how to fill a food box when I know I don’t have what you want.

And I wonder how I live in this place and don’t have fresh produce or bread or milk to give away. I wonder why we don’t have tampons or shampoo, why the peanut gallery is strangely silent on anything but peanut butter and expired canned goods.

I hope this week to have my fate decided. I think of Anne Boleyn, pacing in a chamber in the Tower of London as the River Thames dances on her prison walls. I wonder how much longer I will be exiled. I wonder if I’ll be able to move forward into what and who I’ve almost forgotten I am. Stockholm Syndrome is real. I’m in love with my captors and in love with you too.

I’m in my rusty camper, way way out, waiting for the bus that comes by. I’m waiting to throw down my busy work and run, waving my arms and yelling for it stop. I’m ready to move closer in, diesel fumes and all. I’m ready to leave this post apocalyptic wilderness I’ve made, saving every bit of thread, watching and listening to the birds for cues.

Let me in so I can tell you what I know about life out here. Let me hold you while you cry. I understand. I miss it too, all of it. I don’t know who I am anymore either, constantly battling an inner confrontational hoarder I didn’t even know I harbored.

Saturday it was so hot, humid and disgusting but the beaches were packed and we try to be so careful. I put on my bathing suit and for the first time entered our small backyard pool. I laid on a ridiculous gold float and felt I still wasn’t right. I rolled off and felt that delicious and awful thrill before the first big breath that makes me float. I spread my arms wide and filled my body with air. I floated for a long time that way, conscious only of my sinking body and the next deep and buoying breath. There isn’t room for much else.

I remembered how to breathe.
I love you still. We’re going to make it. Let me in.

Below is my sermon from today, based on the Year A Proper 10 Lectionary readings.

And a sort of weird invasion of privacy as this manuscript includes my notes and private cues.

The Parable of the Sower – Sowing Hope 

 

There’s a billboard that some of you may have noticed. It’s large and white and it says (marquee hands) FEAR IS CONTAGIOUS – SO IS HOPE.

 

 This billboard is on interstate 96 between here and Coopersville, and its one of what I like to call the  “positivity “billboards. What the billboards actually are is a public service campaign called The Foundation for a Better Life. They make billboards and videos that sow good news, good seeds, on an at times questionable soil bed. 

 

The Parable of the Sower, or Parable of the Soils, is found in all of the synoptic gospels and is one of eight parables found in Matthew 13. The next parables, interestingly enough, will be the parable of the weeds and the parable of the mustard seed. This is one of what are know as parabolic discourses, or, Jesus speaking in parables about the kingdom of heaven just as he spoke of the kingdom when he taught us how to pray just a few chapters back in Matthew 6. 

 

Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The true hope that dwells deep in the heart of God. 

 

At first it seems like the message is garbled, veiled in riddle and mysticism, this isn’t helped by Jesus leaving his audience only with the parable and sharing an explanation only with his disciples. 

 

At face value it seems that a wise sower would sow only on good soil. You don’t build a business that you know will fail just as we wouldn’t walk through our yards randomly dropping and scattering seeds. 

 Because the soil hasn’t been cultivated! The ground isn’t ready! The rows aren’t orderly and we can’t mark what each seed was to watch anxiously for growth – for proof that we are indeed good sowers of seeds. 

 

The sower in the parable seems willing to just (fling) FLING seed anywhere! Why does she do this? Why does Jesus tell us this story? 

 

Could it be, perhaps, that the story is more than the orthodox practices of planting, though in those times the seeds would indeed have been tossed first and then tilled into the soil – no doubt resulting in an iffy harvest — 

 

Perhaps the story is less about practice and seeds and ground and more about the sower. Maybe the story is about God’s love being as extravagant as a sower tossing seed willy nilly – maybe where the seed lands DOES matter – but not in the ways we may think. 

 

We like to have our efforts work out and our investments pay off. We wouldn’t throw money at a failing venture or send our kids to the worst schools just to see what would happen. But the economy of God isn’t like our economy, and the seed, or LOVE, of God fortunately is not like our own often self interested, self righteous love. 

 

The sower throws the seeds on the broken soil because IT IS broken.  

 

The love of God shoots up in unexpected places – a living and green reminder of the kind of love that can make wounded places whole, a love that can patch broken places together again. The love of God isn’t just for the well off who will manage it wisely, it isn’t JUST for the well educated who will make educated decisions, it isn’t JUST for those who came here legally. It isn’t JUST for people born with a binary gender identity and heterosexual leaning and it isn’t JUST for one branch of the Jesus movement. It isn’t JUST for the people who have made no mistakes. 

 

No! 

 

God is a high risk gardener! The kind that throws seeds randomly into the wind not knowing, but hoping that the seeds will take root because THE LOVE OF THE SOWER is meant for the man carrying his child on his shoulders across the Rio Grande. It is for Philando Castille, George Floyd, Eric Garner,  and for Breonna Taylor and every black life that has been beaten and taken and held down in systems that I am complicit in. 

 

The LOVE OF GOD is for the single mothers who we think have way too many kids. It is for the rehab centers full of alcoholic men and the soup kitchens full of families that are doing their damndest to make life work as they live in a campground because there is no other place to go.

 

THE LOVE OF GOD is made manifest in that rocky soil, in that not ready and IMPERFECT soil. 

 

Just as it is made manifest in you. And in me. We may outwardly be doing it right, but if we are honest we have our secret sins, our shameful failures, the wrong we choose over and again. Our soil is not perfect. 

 

I think this parable was never about the ground and was always about the person of the sower. This parable is about the economy of the kingdom, extravagant, unexpected, and who ME? You want me? Yes! 

 

 It was  never about first century Palestine, or American in 2020, a country gasping on the shores of racial strife, political divide, record unemployment and raging pandemic. 

 

This parable is the best good news right now – this parable tells us that the love of God can take root in even our imperfect forms and lives. There is not a place or circumstance in which God’s  love, God’s seed, cannot take root.

 

But Jesus doesn’t stop there! He doesn’t stop with a so so harvest because only some of those seeds took. He doesn’t stop with a doubled harvest or a tripled harvest – Jesus ends with a ONE HUNDRED FOLD HARVEST. An unheard of abundance. 

 

A one hundredfold harvest is literally thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth. It is literally a realizing of the kingdom of heaven right here and right now. It is no hunger, no oppression. It is the problems of our world faced directly and conquered with gardening gloves and a bag of seed and a sower instilled willingness and bent for love. 

 

As we have been planted now we must grow up, grow up and be sowers. Now we must sow for the world and the kingdom to reap. Now we must toss the love and GOOD NEWS of God to a world and to people that maybe we secretly think don’t deserve it, on ground that we think is n inhospitable to our precious seed. 

 

We do this by sowing contagious hope instead of contagious and poisonous fear. We do this by loving extravagantly regardless of circumstance. We do this by choosing and striving again and again and again to be like the original and eternal sower.

Astute Lectionary nerds like myself will know that the epistle reading is omitted from Morning Prayer. Today it would have been Romans 8, and that is where I’ll leave you.

 

So no. There is no condemnation in Christ. The law of the Spirit in the life of Jesus Christ has SET YOU FREE from the old laws of sin and death. For God has done what the law could not and cannot do. Your soil no longer matters, only your love does because the sower did not care about your soil – the sower only saw the potential in you. 

Go and do likewise.

You are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit, and Christ is in you and if the Spirit of the one who raised Christ is in you then your mortal body is given life  – and life eternal – and abundant and verdantly green  full of hope and promise. 

 

So go. Sow Hope. God has planted you and has set you free. 

 

Amen.

 

Mother

The Catholic conference center is a big place. It houses hundreds of retired Catholic  clergy and group retreats, school groups,  and even some small schools, like mine.

For three years I attended. I moved through varying degrees of defiance, loathing, and laughter. I deconstructed, the point of any good seminary experience. And reconstructed, also important, utterly necessary to the point of the experiment.

In those first years Father Eric would go home at night. I remember seeing the back of him walking down the hallway and feeling an untethered feeling. Like authority had gone skipping out the door alongside him, like we were adrift in this giant 1950’s brick building, left to our own devices.

Patriarchy is a subtle, damaging thing I do to myself. Eric did not do this to me. I do it to myself.

Only the mothers were left. Only the mothers could shepherd us through those delicate hours until daylight, and powdered eggs, and morning prayer.

As I consider I realize that mothers were the centrifugal force of my schooling. I was raised by, pushed by, grown by, spun by women. At any given time the female staff outweighed the male staff two to one.

It won’t make a lot of sense. But I’d like to paint for you the long hallway. It has some sort of quartz floor, all shiny and with definite lines. Small wooden doors line the halls. There are compartments for food and such to be passed through the wall. I used to trade rooms with my friend so she could be closer to the bathrooms. Leaving lights on in the hallways at night was hotly debated.

Your feet make a thrum thrum thrum noise as they climb the short ramp to the classrooms and academic hallway. The coffee was mostly plentiful as were the snacks.

We loaded up on chocolate bark and bananas, coffee and iced wine, good theology and bad. The mothers oversaw this kingdom.

What I wouldn’t give right now to thrum thrum my way up that ramp. To fill my coffee mug and take my seat (third in). What I wouldn’t give for an uncomfortable hour of personal reflection. For a no nonsense reformed Presbyterian to clear her throat and reassure me with her no nonsense attitude and mother’s heart.

She would say something like this:

No one is perfect. You will make mistakes, sometimes grave ones. This is very terrible.

What she would not say but what we would hear is: I love you. You are going to be ok.

The reason I long for the half light of that classroom, the soothing green carpet, is because I don’t want to be in charge of this. Because I know that I make so many mistakes. Because I know that I let people down. Probably the people I love the most the most often.

The mothers would tell me I am not in charge. They would make this clear. They would question my desire to make this about me. I would have to go deep. It might be on my permanent record that I tried yet again to take responsibility for something that is not mine, if only to clear it up and make it go away.

Tonight the lake smells like rain, a fishy electric smell. Tonight I’m casting about for an adult in the room and realize it’s only me. Me and the women in a video call, processing in our own way that we must be in charge, that’s the only way it has always been, could ever be.

Tonight my worst thoughts are manifest, they walk like tall specters down the street, and I beg forgiveness, work to reorient my mind and my heart to the ways of grace and love.

Tonight she isn’t Dr anything, not for me. She is mother.

Mother, spread wide your white chasuble, the one shot through with gold thread. Gather your chicks like mother Jesus. In the midst of your own weeping comfort us.

Mother. Please.

 

 

Every light in the house

I’ve had this old song, Every light in the house, stuck in my head all day. I keep singing it, variations on the same melody, adding a bit of harmony here and there, enjoying the way I can make my voice bend and twang again. Enjoying singing right where it feels comfortable, home like.

Today all us adults on Facebook seem to be realizing that our kids are hurting. Not just the seniors who are missing the very end of a long career, saying goodbye for the last time to loved teachers, familiar hallways and friends.

Like it’s only just occurred to us that their normal routine for just a year, or six or eleven years has been yanked out from under them. I’m grateful my girls went to school on that last Friday, but rather flummoxed that they didn’t bring any of their stuff home.

I’m sad for missed sixth grade field trips, the end of sophomore year. I’m even more sad for kiddos living in homes that aren’t able, for whatever reason, to support their growth and development. The way those kids miss their teachers must be a different and worse sort of ache. I picture my dear friend, her reading glasses and red bob as she greets her kids. How they must love and grieve her loss on a daily basis.

They hear us now talking if. Talking maybe. They hear us say choir and band will be hard to configure when they’ve worked so hard to be part of an amazing program and looked forward to working harder next year. They wonder what happens to trips to New York, district festival. When is the next time they will sit in a music room and sight read with a YouTubing pianist?

It’s hard to not have the answers to those questions, to wonder the same things even as you feel the classical choral music shoved aside by rediscovered country twang and gospel slide; as your vowels stop mattering, as your diphthong becomes purposely pronounced, and you can sound great in the car because the notes aren’t high enough for posture to make a difference.

I’m so curious to know what will happen to the contents of lockers and desks. I wonder if the schools are losing their smells, if the library books flutter and whisper and sigh the way the hymnals do at church. If the sheet music libraries rustle gentle lullabies as the piano and organ keys long to be touched again, long for the singular pleasure of air through a pipe, a hammer striking wire.

Today at work I finished up some #admingoals, packed some food boxes, stood up straight and sassy when a client asked me what I really thought of our governor. We talked about being in our early twenties, how you could make new friends at the bar and not hesitate to all go back to someone’s house to hang out and talk or play cards and listen to music even though you all just met.

We had an unspoken grief for the way things aren’t anymore. For the myriad ways our kids already didn’t understand what it means to not text or email because those things don’t exist, to just not be home if someone was calling. For the life they live on screens, the human connection that is somehow lost, I wondered if it is retrievable now.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t know how the world will change now that three pounds of meat cost almost $20 and we can’t stand around in parking lots talking to clients if they’re not haphazardly wearing masks.

I do know that I long to stand in the bend of the grand piano and feel the notes strike under my hip as they carry out across the dust mote stained glass light, anticipating that memorized first note to sing. Placed Perfectly. No slide, no twang.

I know that for me it’s not church if we can’t sing. That learning to make spoken words praise will be a sharp curve.

And I know that I have an almost sixteen year old laying in the fort she made on her bed staring blankly. And an eleven year old who is moody and weepy, who told me just last night how much it sucks that now the weather is nice and there isn’t any recess. No kids to play outside with, how much she misses her best friend.

I have annoyed cats who wish everyone would go away and stop kissing their heads and cooing at them, a displaced husband who gets excited to go for car rides and is learning to parent in a more gentle way these little girls who really can’t take one more thing.

I’m tired of hearing about the things they don’t have, notebooks and pencil cases left in desks or lockers. Band books that have grown spindly legs and sauntered off down the bike path, internet connections that are slow and websites crashed. More zoom meetings that make hearts break all over again.

And I’m tired of the things I don’t have too. I’m tired already of my lazy slide into old country music. Tired of missing a group of people I’ve spent ninety minutes with almost every Wednesday night for close to a decade. I’m having a hard time with the bright side.

But it’s there.

It’s the mother of the year swan on her nest in the pouring rain. The anticipation of her cygnets.

Its Zechariah and Elizabeth, the pair of mallards who walk through my yard every day and sometimes snooze in the flower beds.

Its creativity in surprise Mother’s Day paintings and rubbing soft eleven year old cheeks. Cooing at annoyed cats. Food to eat and a place that is warm and smells like home.

It’s Mary and Valerie soaring over the notes of Schubert’s Ave Maria, the singular pleasure of matching them pitch for pitch even if they aren’t in the room and I had a nervous breakdown looking for the magical, Ever Disappearing Earbuds.

And yeah, it’s that familiar place in my upper chest and lower face, the place where I can sing that every light in the house is on, Reba, The Dixie Chix, Tanya and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

And every light in the house is on. I’m waiting for you, waiting for us. I won’t leave even if I can’t see your face on a screen anymore because I long so badly to take that face in my hands.

Nothing is normal. It probably won’t be the same.

I love you still.

If I should ever start forgetting

I’ll turn the lights off one by one so you can see that I agree it’s over

But until then I want you to know

If you look south you’ll see a glow

That’s me waiting at home each night to hold ya

Every light in the house is on

The backyard is bright as the crack of dawn, the front walk looks like runway lights

It’s kinda like noon in the dead of night

Every light in the house is on

Just in case you ever do get tired of being gone

Every light in the house is on

 

 

Next time

A poet I quite admire wrote on her own Facebook page that when she writes it is because something inside of her has boiled and boiled, how it finally boils over in a hot mess of words that don’t always make sense; how it’s the only way she can feel better.

I didn’t comment, but I know what she means. The words begin to stack up in the back of my heart. They constrict my chest and float in front of my eyes, coming together in random and dazzling sentences. When we write, she and I, it’s the equivalent of opening a vein.

I mused today, in an alarmingly unconcerned fashion, that I don’t talk to God much anymore. I simply abandoned morning prayer without conscious thought. I mused that now is the time to be growing closer, to be deepening my faith, to take up new practices and disciplines. I felt bad about this for a few minutes and moved on.

I think the reason is that every day it takes everything I have to function. The amount of energy required to make dinner seems astronomical, impossible. I find myself alone in the car with tears suddenly welling in eyes and escaping down my cheeks, but unsure of the reason why.

I’ve all but abandoned the news. I’ve unfollowed the people who are so anxious they can only spew fear and anxiety all over social media. I’ve made sure to eat and sleep and shower and change from day pajamas to night pajamas. But I think that in doing all of this my subconscious goal as been not to feel.

A few years ago my sister and I visited St. Mary’s in Whitby, England. The grave yard clings to the edge of a cliff that tumbles into the sea. I remember standing in the graveyard, the cold wind whipping about me, ripping my hair free, freezing my face. I was completely still, I felt nothing, heard nothing.

In my efforts to guard my heart I’ve once again walled it off completely. Because the truth is that I could cry at any moment, because I’m overwhelmed by beauty or sorrow, roll the dice. The truth is that I, like many of us, am overwhelmed.

I can’t pray because God will have something to say that I probably don’t want to hear. I can’t cry because if I do I won’t stop, not ever. I’ll be like Alice, swimming in a river of her own tears. I can’t feel because to feel nothing seems better than dealing with the onslaught of sadness that lives deep in my heart.

What if we had known that our last Sunday together was our last Sunday? Would we have included a ritual for leaving? A sending of each other away from the warmth of our community? How would any of us have summoned the strength to make such an uncertain goodbye?

The uncertainty of what comes next rattles me. I like rules and grades and plans, I order my days and my weeks, prioritize my workload and feel accomplished when my plans fall into place.

Now the only plans I have are how to contain myself, what to make for dinner, how not to yell at my children as we all are squished together in our small house. The only plans I have are how to avoid zoom meetings that make me sick to my stomach with despair, which mindless tv show I can binge watch next.

I dream strange dreams, my children are dead, my church is on fire or evaporating into the sky, I’m lost and can’t find a familiar landmark. I revisit old trauma and make sure my desk is tidy and everything I would need to take with me together in one place in case this too all comes crashing down.

I filled my car with gas for a whopping 9.50 and took a drive to bring a present to a friend. On the way back Casey said, take the long way, down by the lake. And so I did.

Driving down a curvy road I’ve driven a thousand times I shifted up and down, made the car respond to me as I hugged tight curves, blinding glimpses of the lake all the way. It was like if I could just keep driving I’d arrive and my sister would be working in her yard, she’d toss down her trowel and come to say hello; like I could find the road where my mother lives, pull up to her gate and honk to be let in as she danced out of the house, so like her own mother in her excitement for company. Like I could find my father again, grilling next to his crystal clear pool while mama Valerie watered her flowers.

I watched the cross streets roll by and suddenly slowed and turned right. I cruised slowly past a familiar house, a familiar truck  in the driveway. I thought about the ways I could say hello, and all the reasons why I couldn’t.

My heart broke in my chest for the millionth time as I realized that my brother was not in his yard, that he wouldn’t see me, wouldn’t know to wave.

I thought about the last time I saw my sister, how tight she held me, her face hidden behind a mask and with a wooden gate between us. The three of us are a force, a tribe formed in a trailer park, in cornfields and on school buses and family trips. We endure, abide.

I hate this. I hate it and I want it to stop and I don’t think it will.

Yes, there are ways that “normal” doesn’t work. There are things in our society that must change, we must take this Great Pause and do sums of all the wrong we inflict on each other, all of the ways we don’t care. We simply must work out and look at and sit with systems we participate in that break people or keep them where we think they should be, with what we think they deserve.

In the meantime I long for the Eucharist. To feel your arms around me once more. To sit in the choir room and sing something difficult, to be annoyed with singing vowels correctly. To join my family for dinner, all of us together in the same space, the map of our shared history rolling on even as we eat and talk and laugh.

Please don’t mishear me. I am not afraid. I will rush headlong into any worthy battle, even as friends and family grip the back of my jacket to restrain me.

I am just tired of crying. Tired of longing for you. Tired of shadow boxing, fighting with a specter who is only myself.

Time is weird now. It runs sideways and  together, it twists and doubles back. It makes the day seem twice as long, all of the time I ever wished for has appeared like magic and I find myself bereft of both tasks and motivation.

Please don’t be afraid. Please keep loving each other; thank you for letting me love you.

I am sewing myself up now, this jagged gash in my arm. Applying pressure and a bandage that is soaked through already with all I cannot say.

I love you still. The state of your being cannot separate you from my love. Next time, I tell myself, I’ll drive by and my brother will be outside.

Next time he will thrown down his rake and run toward my car and we will cry and shout hello from a safe distance. And it won’t be the Eucharist, but it will be close enough.

 

 

Penny for your thoughts

I have a confession to make, in this season of confession. I’ve always pretended to be more like my dad, to live a parrot head, free as a bird lifestyle. I’m laid back. I’m calm (calmest person in the room, my mantra in times of distress). I know things and am resourceful, how hard can it, anything, really be?

Usually the answer is not that hard. Sometimes I’m surprised.

My grandma was a worrier. A handwringer, a sigher. And my confession is that my laize faire attitude isn’t really representative of who I am. I do worry, but like in a binge way. I’ll be fine for weeks and then BAM, I’m worried.

Worried about if my kids are all right or if I’ve done irreparable damage. Worried that my car is making a noise and the rent is coming due. Worried that I didn’t do that one thing at work I said I would do (palms- Palm Sunday). Does the kitten seem lethargic? Am I getting enough sleep? What is that pain in my shoulder? When will my back send me off in an ambulance again and can I even really fix it?

My confession is that all these years I figured my obsession with end of the world tv and books was somehow teaching me something, and it did, it taught me how to be afraid now. It taught me that people are to be feared, it taught me that I need to STOCK UP and BE READY.  To know the ways out of town and where to go, to endure the horror of prepared.gov, with its hopeless lists of plastic sheeting and duct tape to somehow shield your family from a biological threat.

I confess to you that it scares me when things are missing from the shelves at my grocery store, a great gaping row of empty steel shelves. I confess to wanting to go home, to self isolate not because I’m afraid of getting sick but because I am so afraid of giving it you to before either of us even knows that I have it.

It frightens me when schools close and events are cancelled and I drive around in Edna, my little silver car, and I long for the go anywhere stability of an SUV that can’t go anywhere anymore but  that I just can’t seem to be rid  of. I wonder as I drive, making myself remember to shift gears, drawing the rpms out viciously and on purpose…Rejoicing if only for a moment in how the little car responds to my abuse, to something I know how to do.  Power and more power in a powerless place.

I wonder, and am ashamed somehow to admit that I wonder, if these are the last good days, if sure, this shop stocked me up but next time there will be nothing. And I’m fighting against this because it is not me.

I wonder if our own stupidity will finally end life as we know it and if I can do that. That’s my confession. It’s my deepest shame in a time of so much fear mongering, my deep truth as I am not the least anxious person in the room.

Tonight I went to the store with the littlest and could not find toilet paper. I bought the softest paper towel and another cart of stuff that doesn’t really make any sense. A cat tee pee. Five cans of tomato sauce. Canned fruit.

Tonight my church agreed to send warnings to everyone telling them maybe they shouldn’t come. And even as I read the letter from the bishop I felt tears slipping down my cheeks.  It felt like watching my husband on a too small bed and believing his heart was quitting it’s job. Like after all this time, we sort this out and it’s over?

I grew up watching the adults take communion out of little cups every Sunday. Sometimes I would catch the women’s work of those cups being filled with grape juice, the matzo crackers broken in the kitchen. I went a long time not caring that I wasn’t receiving that.

And now my heart grieves the people who won’t be fed. Now I realize that my belief in the Eucharist as being central to Sunday morning is so strong. It’s why I feel called to be what I am, because I want to feed you, and myself too, this life giving food shared not only in bread and wine, but in hugs and coffee hour, strength for the journey. Strength  for your social media battles and your 12 hour fasts before a blood draw. Strength for the loss of friends who couldn’t live sober. Missing spouses and bratty kids.

Hearts that refuse to beat in rhythm, a country that is sending your people back, all of these things resolved nicely for me on my knees with you, at the altar rail. In the soaring notes of an anthem or a hymn, all of us singing together, all things I thought couldn’t do again.

This is my fear filled confession. My anxiety ridden letter to nowhere.

If I didn’t love you so much. If I hadn’t just deleted that email asking me nothing more than to sing in a choir. If I wasn’t hungry for more than food.

I’m sorry that I’m not who I said I was. I’m sorry that I’m scared. I’m sorry for my off hand remarks about who can get sick and who can’t, or who it won’t matter to. I’m sorry that my bravado comes sliding off like a mask, left in an aisle at the grocery store next to open shelves that used to be full of something as funny as toilet paper, melting down finally here, with 40 cans of black beans and the biggest bag of cat food I’ve ever seen.

My worry for you stays my hand. It relegates those Irish tunes I learned for Saturday to a folder on my bookshelf. It suppresses my own need to be fed and condenses it neatly into a bowl of holy water that is dry.

I love you still. I’m walking with you and afraid with you and ashamed of that fear.
I know that you already  knew who I was and that I’m just figuring it out. That’s how family works. And that’s ok.

It really is a wilderness, and off we go. I have my silly silver car that can’t go anywhere really, and my hope. I cannot wait to see you again, to fill the church with our harmonies. I will fill the chalice to over flowing, I will bathe in the joy of our coming together.

Maybe then I’ll really understand what the Eucharist is. Maybe then I will really come to the table for more than solace.

Take care out there. And let me know if you need any black beans.

 

 

The Last 2 Years

My community does this fun thing we call the Fall Follies. There is so much talent that is so rarely showcased, I thought it might be fun to have an amateur night (she said enthusiastically, urging you to sign up!) We’ve had a man riding a unicycle and singing the Grinch song, countless show tunes, poetry readings, short skits and everything in between.

A performance that sticks with me is my friend Laura singing a song from a musical called  The Last Five Years. She sang, Jamie is over and Jamie is gone I remember looking over at my sister, seeing the tears stream silently down her face, a reflection of me, as we most always are; reflections of each other.

I’ve had a few emails this week, a little forward movement in this long process toward vows that I will take prostrated if at all possible, so grateful will I be for your affirmation of what I’m telling you I hear.

And it’s got me thinking about the last two years, about the nature of deserts, about things that we think are fallow, the life that is trying to be, hidden under the loam and soil.

The last two years have been full of tears and laughing, watching Queer Eye with the girls while Case works out what sober looks like. The last two years have been so much single parenting as we adjusted to a necessary third shift, it’s exhausting really, this nonstop life.

The last two years have been loving kids that aren’t mine, learning to speak Spanish just a little so that I could get the lunches right and ask for the hugs that were about me and not usually about them. They were a sudden rending, a driving home in the weird late summer light wondering how to break the news that for all of my bravery and bravado I was out of a job; my little box of things jingling in the passenger seat. I haven’t told the friend who got me the tall water bottle that I haven’t been able to look at it since, it just hurts too much. Now you know.

Its been new jobs and new people, sliding again into a system that I must learn if I am to thrive; not one where I am the mother anymore.

It’s been sitting next to Casey in a hospital bed, his legs hanging off the end and asking You why we had to get through all of that if he was just going to die anyway. And then he didn’t. But it’s a wake up call, to sit in the waiting room having no idea if your person is alive or dead on a table, a corpse with so much regret and plastic IV tubing sticking like splinters, shrapnel, out of his long arms.

The last two years are trying to explain how sometimes healing IS death as your children take turns laying by your dying dog on the kitchen floor watching reruns of The Office, offering the dog pets, kisses, and assurance of his worth. They are standing in the driveway and saying, he’s gone, I’m so sorry, to the person who loved the dog most, who missed his passing by mere minutes.

Mostly the days run into the next and you look up and the summer is gone.

A desert to be sure, replete with manna in the form of paid rent and small oasis stations stocked with sparkling water when you throw your back out and find yourself crying for your mother in an ambulance.

There are bright spots, places where who I am was so sure that even I couldn’t second guess my way of of it. A man who died unexpectedly, the last words I said to him still lingering on the organ side of the nave, settling on the organ pedals like so much dust:  the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, as he smiled up at me and I held his hand for just a moment. How I was absolutely sure we were destined, both of us, for those five seconds.

Instead of loving kids that aren’t mine I answer the phone and say things like, try to breathe, take a deep breath with me, we can figure this out. And we breathe and we try not to cry. And we talk about lights or heat shut off and eviction notices, pregnant nieces living homeless and families with no place to go, what the hours are for the food pantry as I fight with the chapel laptop as it thwarts me every Friday afternoon.

Tonight our adult Faith Formation committee met and we discussed our plans for you (insert evil laugh… kidding!). We talked about how we can form you as disciples, or at least offer to, this strange conversion that began with naked catechumenate shut out of worship services. I reflected briefly on how much I love you as I agreed to something I don’t remember (see you there!).

They’ve been watching kids learn about the sudden and intense community that is formed over something as silly as a musical. Acknowledging that yes, it always hurts when it ends, and we keep coming back somehow.

What I hope happens is that I’ll have to leave you, that’s what moving forward means. It means we have to grow, we have to hurt and be uncomfortable and wonder and learn what life is without each other. I hope when I go you send me officially, like a funeral, I want a spot in your liturgy, my brother’s tears greeting my own.

I imagine you all rising from your seats, this long line of beloved faces, arms outstretched as you lay your hands on me.  Because I understand now that you’re pushing your strength and your bravery and your life experience through, I understand that your outstretched hands aren’t scary or charismatic, it’s you laying down yourself for me. The way love was meant to be as we grapple with who we are without each other, what it will cost us, this love.

Its already been expensive, meals brought  and bad solos and walking each other through irritation and poorly timed humor. Burying so many, and baptizing and marrying and sending our own, kindling that new fire as we pray the cope doesn’t catch fire and we shiver in the new light.

The last two years. So many ordinary moments, because that’s life.

I’ve told you about our lady Jupiter. Tonight she sits high up to the right of a Cheshire Cat grin of a moon, go and see.

She fluffs the tulle of her skirts  and stardust flies, illuminating the cold sky with fire and dust that is old and gone, burned out before we ever even see it. What an amazing world.

I find myself tired. So tired. And so grateful for you. And so ready to be fully me.

I love you still.
This desert will end. I know it will. I’ll see you in the lavish tent, with tamales and lemonade and masses in Spanish and lusty congregational singing before the annual meeting,  to a piano that needs tuning though my ears can’t hear that; I’ll take your word for it.

I’ll see you there.

 

Jamie is over and where can I turn? Covered with scars I did  nothing to earn..maybe there’s somewhere a lesson to learn”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devil in the Details: a Conversion

Last weekend was spent mostly with what I think of as my tribe. These are people who care about things that I care about, think Comic-Con for fans of comics, convention is like that.

I can sit and debate if we should call the question, I can hear resolutions and participate in large scale morning prayer all the time. You want to talk liturgy and hymns? I’m here all day folks! I’m a dork, I’ve embraced it.

You see, for me, the devil really is in the details. I can get bogged down and pissed off by what others think of as mere details, or I can be really good at covering details. Sometimes both feel futile and uppity and like so much nitpicking.

Dr. Lisa Kimball talked to us about raising up disciples. She talked about the details of our conversion stories and if we share them. She talked about the stories many people don’t have, how baptism or confirmation really just meant they were drafted for more committees, not the life changing moment these things are meant to be. I didn’t hear how to fix that and can only believe that’s a conversation that should have many voices, one that can’t take place in the space of an hour.

Was your baptism a detail? Was your confirmation just what was expected of you next? Were these things to be checked off some holy bucket list?

I know that for me baptism was that way, a box checked, a way to stop having that awkward conversation about when I would choose what I was always meant to and supposed to choose. Confirmation was very different, it began a process of dissembling, a process of taking apart what I’d always thought was true, seminary only made that all worse, at first anyway.

I find everything still IS hard, I only know that it will be hard now and that was part of the battle. Kind of like getting a shot, once you know it’s going to hurt and how much you may feel braver about the whole ordeal.

Dr. Kimball suggested that if we would share our conversion stories with each other it might help. I’ve gone a bit further and thought that it might help to say those stories like it helps to tell someone how much a bee sting hurts. Maybe we can make each other more brave by being honest about our lives instead of posting all the wonderful moments on social media, leaving out fractured relationships, melting down kids, elderly pets, and parents who don’t know us anymore.

Maybe if I told you that for me this has been a challenging journey would help you because you wouldn’t assume it’s been a nice walk in the garden with my Jesus. Maybe you’d stop thinking there is something wrong with you when you stumble and screw it up over and over again if I said that I do too.

I’m listening to this probably horrible song (and will link it below if you’re curious, profanity warning). He keeps singing that he’s no good at goodbye and for some reason goodbye has been on my mind.

He sings, there’s no way I can save you, because I need to be saved too.

And at my worst moments I feel that way, that I can’t save you because I’m not saved, because I’m not doing it right, because I just don’t know how or because you just won’t come with me. I picture calling you across a dark parking lot, shrieking your name and begging you to come and you don’t even turn toward the sound of my voice.

At my best I think I’m probably just another crazy person on the journey, standing at the crossroads in a ragged robe near a holy shrine, begging you to turn, begging you to hear me.

I don’t know what the details are in developing disciples. I know what I would say and I know what has helped me and what has hindered, but it feels sometimes like the actual desire, a key component, is missing. It feels like getting folks to turn off the TV and tune in and commit to their faith community competes with so much else in our lives.

I guess I just would point out, ever so gently, that we aren’t talking about who wins a sporting event, we are talking about deeper things; who we are as people, who we are called to be. It’s sad to me that so much comes before me, so much comes before us. I feel sad that our community is not a top priority. I feel sad that you’ll miss out on what I and so many others have experienced, that you won’t have a conversion story.

I want you to have that story, and I know that so much of that is about, well, me. I want you to come with me, I want to walk with you. I feel like it’s hard for me to walk with you when we don’t care about the same things. I don’t care about making a lot of money or living in a big house. I don’t care about my kids’ sporting events to any extent other than wanting them to be happy and feel supported by their mom. I do care about Jesus, and I care about the church and the way it feels balanced on the edge of a precipice of indifference and a culture that has moved entirely beyond it. I do care that we sing all the verses in a hymn, that we do things according to our own ancient formula, it’s ancient because it means something.

 

And that’s something for me to work out, how to hang on, hang with, keep sharing, keep inviting. How to learn to understand your care for things that to me are temporary. How to speak in a language that helps you understand why I care so much about different things, how much they matter to me and why.

I don’t know how to get you to say goodbye to all that the world tells you that you are and have to be. I don’t know how to explain that you really have to die. These aren’t comfortable words and these aren’t comfortable places to be. These are places of deep vulnerability, and I get how scary it is to stop being you and start being a new creation, called by a new name, living in a new way. But that really is the message, it really is the good news – that you can, we can, and that even though it hurts we’ll be ok.

I’m walking, I’m going to keep going. Our paths run parallel, I can hear you almost all the time, just over there, through the trees.

Sometimes I look out at you from the choir loft, and I can hardly bear to see. I know that our days are numbered, I know that we might not ever be just this way again. I know that my own goodbye will come and that breaks my heart.

I also know that you’ve stayed with me and loved me and made a home for me that I didn’t think I could have ever again. You are part of my conversion story, your love and your welcome have changed my life and changed my heart. And still, our paths will divide, a day will come that I will walk out those side doors not knowing the next time I’ll walk back in.

And that’s the dying I’m talking to you about. That’s the growth, the call to change and discipleship. That willingness to be sent even from a family, even from a beloved place because God told you to go.

That’s all I want for all of you. I want that place and those people, your own sun dappled path through a wood, your own merry band of travelers.

I love you still.

Always.