For more than five years I've been blogging in this space. In all that time I don't think I've gone more than a week or two between posting. Now it's been over a month since writing any new words here. I've mentioned before that sometimes the more I have to say, the fewer the words I'm able to articulate.
And right now I have a lot to say.
In one week, my family is moving 1,735 miles across the country. Even as I type those words I'm barely believing them to be true. Even less believable is that we are moving to Texas. Austin, to be specific. When talking with people about this fact, my husband has taken to quoting a well-loved line from Christmas Vacation, " If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."
Mind you, we're pretty excited about living in Austin. We're even more excited about working with the people at Christ Church Austin where Brian has accepted the call as Executive Pastor. We've spent the past few months dreaming together the new opportunities waiting for us in the city that boasts both about its live music, its local goodness, its college football and creamy jalapeno, its self-proclaimed commitment to keeping it weird. Imagine, we say, the fun of living in a place as this?!?
Unfortunately, in this life, the road to the new leads smack dab through the land of loss. In order for us to follow God into this new calling, we've had to be willing to let go of unmet hopes and dreams. Even harder, we've had to let go of living day in and day out with most of our favorite people in the whole world. With our minds dreaming up all the beautiful that lies ahead, our hearts are completely broken with the act of saying so many good-byes.
Any way you slice it, good-byes hurt like hell.
Yesterday, the team of worship leaders and artists I've been honored to lead threw us a farewell gathering. Funny to put those two words together: farewell, gathering. The whole occasion is one of the best gifts I've ever been given. In the past few years of many, many good-byes we've learned that it is very, very difficult to say well what our hearts really want to say in the leaving of each other. Yet, this group of beautiful people found a way to say exactly the right things in the right ways in the right time.
For weeks, in this chaos of moving our family cross-country, I have been stricken with the inability to make. While I've never been afflicted with the inability to eat food or breathe air, I'm thinking the feeling may be similar. Turns out that this whole time I've been gasping for creative air, this group of people has been busy making. Songs, words, jewelery, cards, rich chocolaty desserts, whimsical veggie trees, prayers -- all artfully and wonderfully made as love gifts to me and my family. I'm completely undone by the kindness and beauty of it all.
Before the evening was over, I tried speak appropriate words back to them in our conversation of leaving. If I could have written it out ahead of time, here's how I would have said it:
There's a weight-lifting technique my husband learned once from a personal trainer that comes to mind as I'm reflecting on these past few years of working together. The trainer noticed Brian seemed to be holding back energy as he worked toward his pre-determined goal of repetitions, using lighter weights, only half completing lifts.
'You need to put more weight on the bar and do as many as you can until you are exhausted. Then try to do one more. Don't try to save energy. The goal of weight lifting is to make your muscles tired, to exhaust them so they can tear and then rebuild. That's how you develop strength."
This principle comes to mind when I think about the different attempts I've made at loving people in community during my forty plus years of walking with Church community. The past several years have been as hard or harder than any other in my experience. When I was hired for the position of Worship & Arts Director, I had a clear sense that I could choose to go through the motions of the job without giving myself completely to love. Or I could choose to love deeply.
I thought I could give no more energy to love. Then I chose to risk love one more time. I chose to give and receive deep love with this group of artists, craftsman, worship leaders. It makes days like this horrible. Still, next to being Brian's wife and my children's mother, loving deeply and being loved, serving and leading with this group of people has been and will always be one of the highest honors of my life.
True, there were many days we bumped heads, misunderstood each other, missed opportunities to say the kindest thing or the truest thing. Could have loved better. But at the end of the day, I believe we chose to move toward each other in love. It makes days like today both more difficult and more precious.
Someone from the congregation sent me a good-bye email a few weeks ago. In the email she said that she was going to miss seeing my smile as I lead worship. She said that I made her feel like a child being smiled at by a mother who was proud of her family. I realized when I read those kind words in the deepest, truest part of me that is what I want most to be seen, a nurturing, loving woman.
And, while I would not pretend to be your mother, rather as a reflection of your loving, nurturing God, I wanted to give you a few charges before I go.
1. Choose love. Do not give way to petty arguments, bickering, jealousies. Choose love until you feel like you can't love even one more time and then choose to love one more time. Do not give into the temptation to create sentimental facsimiles of this time that we've shared together. Keep loving each other in fresh, true, beautiful ways.
2. Keep making. Do not stop making. Keep making with all your strength until you feel like you can not attempt one more new work. Then make one more new work. In the way that you've been making when I could not, make art for those around you who are not able. Your church family need you to share goodness, truth and beauty through your making. You need to make for each other.
3. Last thing: Do not let anyone tell you that this work here is small. This is not a small work or a small place. God is not a small God and He is alive and well at Union Center. The scale and scope of the work here is not the issue, rather will you be open channels for what the Spirit of God wants to do in you and through you for His purposes here? On this subject, I want also to charge you to look for the artists on the fringes. Those not yet in community, those wounded, those not certain what to think about Jesus and His Church. Do not turn inward toward each other, become ingrown and unconcerned with showing hospitality to the stranger and the foreigner and the orphan and the widow.
I would have said something like that. These beautiful people wrote songs and poems and made art to give us that I can barely even begin to process right now because of the kindness they showered on me. I'm hoping they won't mind that I post some of those works here over the next few days.
In the meantime, here's the humble little slideshow I created for them as a gift of thanks. In a fit of sentimentality, I went a little overboard using three whole songs for this. But I figured if ever there was a time, this would be it.
*Thanks to Sara Groves ("Twice As Good"), Over the Rhine ("All My Favorite People") and Miriam Jones ("I Am One") for the perfect songs!*