Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Laying it all Down

New Mexico morning -- today, Tuesday Aug 26, 7:00 a.m.

I woke up this morning an hour later than I wanted to, no idea what happened to the alarm. Probably not a bad thing since I didn't go to sleep until 2:00 a.m....though not for lack of trying. The knowledge of unemployment is one thing -- my head, heart and body implementing that is apparently another thing entirely. After 6 months of functioning on 4-5 hours of sleep, I don't even know how to go to sleep. Truth is, I don't know what to do with myself in general, with all these hours of time.

There are no phone calls to make to check on this or that thing or person. No emails to send in response to the latest round of cyber communication, no work email to read, even. I'm at loose ends, and it feels really odd. It's not like there isn't anything to think about -- a 35-weeks-pregnant wife and all that means is a great deal to think about. I guess it's just that there's been so much more than that for the past several months. Like, 300 other people. An entire community to hold in one way or another. And now, all of sudden, it's not mine to hold.

I'm driving into another life, and need to lay this other one down. Looks like that isn't going to be as simple as I thought.

Light in the Desert

Sunrise over the Mojave Desert - Monday morning, 6:00 a.m.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Remains

(Actually late Sunday evening, CA time)

I’m in Barstow, CA, a mile from I-40 – the road home. Home to Shannon, home to the new life we’re beginning in Asheville, NC. Away from Santa Cruz, away from the home we’ve had there with our church, with our friends. And away, too, from church for me. The robes and stoles will go to the dry cleaners’ soon, and be put away for awhile. They’ll be replaced, very soon, with my new job as mom-at-home.
It’s all a lot to process and feel, to say the least.

I’ve been crying for days, at one thing or another, with one person or another. And, today, with the whole church. At another point in my life, if I’d been in the crowd watching all of that unfold, I would have been one of the few dry-eyed folks there. I’d closed off much of myself, trying to stay safe from harm, protecting myself from any depth of relationship that had the power to cause me pain. It took me a few years to realize how much of life I was missing, and to discover that there was no way to give myself to Jesus – or to anyone else – without grief and pain coming into play somewhere along the way. And that I had no idea what joy was.

Church life is hard, really hard some days. There is nothing easy about being in real, messy community with a whole lot of people. And there sure isn’t anything easy about following Jesus. But as I drove away from Santa Cruz today, talking to Shannon and winding my way through those familiar streets, I knew that every hard day these past 4 years was worth it. I would trade none of it, not even the dark days. Our marriage began there, in that community of faith, with that community of friends. Our child began growing there, 35 weeks ago. (5 weeks to due date now!) And I gave my life to Jesus in a deeper way than I ever have before – because I finally learned to let go of my need for safety, for protection. Shannon started breaking down those barriers in me, and this church and these friends brought them most of the rest of the way down. I still have a lot to learn, a long way to go as I search for Jesus’ footsteps in my life, in the earth I walk on. But I’m pointed in the right direction, and more so because of the ministry I’ve shared with so many in Santa Cruz and beyond.

What remains, now, in the place of those long-held barriers in me – what remains is gratitude. Gratitude for the grief, because it tells me how much I’ve loved here, how many people I will love and carry with me all the days of my life. Gratitude for the tears, because they show me the depth of joy I’ve discovered and experienced. Faith, hope, love – and gratitude. These remain.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Last Days

It’s Wednesday night. I’ve been stressing for a couple of weeks about this coming Sunday, my last as a pastor here – and as a pastor anywhere for the foreseeable future. What scripture is right for this kind of day? What word would God have us hear for a day of gratitude, of letting go, of opening to what new possibilities are in store for us all on the other side of this farewell? I want to be profound, of course. A sermon that will stay with them forever, move them to new heights, a sermon everyone will want copies of afterwards…oh. Right. This isn’t actually about me. It’s about God. About the ministry we’ve been given and shared and grown into, and about the Christ we’ve tried to follow on the streets of Santa Cruz and in so many places beyond. It’s about the ministry they’ll continue to grow into, the new life I’m stepping into, and the footsteps of Jesus we’ll all keep doing our best to find and follow.

I know the scripture now, the liturgy has been written, the band has been given the music, a sermon title discovered. And the word itself will come – God’s word, somehow, in my frail, human speech. And the word will come in the prayers we pray together, in Lori’s voice and in Art’s magic through the piano keys, the word will move into the air in Renata’s bow across the cello’s strings, Steve’s steady rhythm behind the drums, Stan’s centering bass and Brad’s lively horn. It’ll come, because this word, God’s word, is living and breathing and ever-present.

How grateful I am for that. And how grateful, really, I am for the grief. It’s profound, this grief of leaving Santa Cruz, of letting go of this church community. There will never be another Santa Cruz for us: the place and people with whom we began our marriage, the people who prayed – and still do – every day for our baby girl soon to come into the world. And it’s the church where I’ve learned what it means to give myself to this work, to this calling of parish ministry. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this place, and they’ve all given that and more right back to me. And the grief tells me it’s been worth every hard moment, every painful wrong step, every poorly chosen word – by them and by me.

Anne Lamott says there are really only two prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you” and “Help me, help me, help me.” She’s right. Thank you for Santa Cruz, for community, for friends to last a lifetime. Help me grieve and honor it all, and help me carry it with me when I go.