Since the kids have gone back to school, I've gone back to writing. Yesterday it felt like the puzzle pieces I've been trying to connect for the last several years finally started looking like a picture. So to celebrate, I'm sharing a rough excerpt from my latest chapter. Hope you like it...
Sunday was a big day at church as we celebrated the launch of a new church plant where my husband will be the executive pastor. All the families who were leaving to plant the new church came up on stage and the congregation prayed over us. There are only four more Sundays between now and our first official service, and at least two of those Sundays are reserved for practice runs, so it was one of the last times I’ll attend Providence--the church that’s been my home for the last twelve years.
Two Sundays ago I got very emotional during the final songs, thinking about how I wouldn’t be hearing these same people sing every week anymore. I’m excited about what lies ahead for our family and this new church, and I feel positive that God has led us to take this next step, but I’m also sad to be leaving people who feel like family. It’s one of just a few times in my life to be leaving a church in good standing, and maybe the only time in my life that leaving a church hasn’t also involved a move to another town or another house.
Since my Dad was a pastor when I was growing up, and the longest amount of time he served at a church was four years, I’ve left behind lots of churches and homes and towns over the years, and ninety-eight percent of the time, I had no say in the matter. People laugh when I tell them I no longer shudder to hear John call himself a pastor, or when I say I prefer to be known as just “John’s wife,” instead of “the pastor’s wife.” But few of them understand the legitimate trauma of my past.
Whether it’s something as simple and routine as a tonsillectomy, or something as dramatic and unexpected as a car wreck, there’s a thread of pain and sadness running through most of my early memories. Yet I’ve recently learned that the survival instinct is our worst enemy when it comes to memory banks and the general outlook on life we develop during our formative years. It turns out our brains are not much different from other animal species in the way we’re always looking to avoid pain and death, and our minds are hardwired to remember all the things that have hurt us in the past, so we can bypass them in the future. The problem with locking down on the negative, of course, is that you tend to forget about all the positive.
I’m sure my parents could tell you fifty happy memories for every one of my sad ones, but alas, the dark scenes are the only ones saved in my memory bank from the first several years. Like when I hid behind the recliner of our new parsonage in Greenwood, Arkansas, reading a letter that had been returned to me. I’d mailed it to my best friend Karen, whom I’d left behind in West Memphis the year before. I cried as a I realized we’d probably never see each other again, especially since her Mom is the one my sister had told me about, the one who shouted at her and my Mother as they left the church building the night Dad was fired. “Y’all should’ve died in that car wreck, you know,” she said, “then maybe we’d ALL be better off now.”
No doubt we all have memories of crying alone as children, and there’s a good chance the memory of what my sister told me is some sort of confabulation, but that’s how the eight year old girl in my subconscious remembers it, and she’s not one to be easily dissuaded from her convictions. Plus, the fourth grade version of myself, along with the sixth and eighth grade versions, could tell you a couple more stories whose endings are just as sad. Like the time I was bullied for a whole year but didn’t want to tell my parents because the bully’s mom was a single lady who went to our church and it was my responsibility to set a good example of Christian love for this kid. Or the time when I was serving in the baby room during a business meeting, and heard my Dad getting fired through the nursery speakers.
Those kinds of memories leave a mark on your heart, confabulation or not. That’s why it’s such a big deal for me to take this next step in our lives, to try on the shoes I’ve previously seen as my Mother’s--which were always much too large and fancy to fit my small, regular feet--and I know I’ll never be able to walk in them as gracefully as she did. But perhaps with lots of time and practice, I’ll find my own way to get around.
My friend Dawn once told me that faith is a series of resurrections. She’s a poet, so she has a way of saying things that stick with you. We’d been talking about our stories, how we’d both grown up in church, how we’d both been saved and baptized when we were little girls, and how we’d both had experiences as adults that made us feel “born again” all over again. Yet the more I think about this upcoming transition, the more I understand that my own need for resurrection just might be a daily one.
Because faith is so much more than a one time transaction, trading a lifetime of bad behavior for an eternity in glory. And while it is, truly, the best exchange you’ll ever get, this “deal” did not originate between equals. It’s a bit like Gepetto trying to teach Pinocchio how to eat real food when all he has are wooden lips, hinged jaws, and an hollowed out log to serve as a digestive system. Only the blue fairy has the magic to transform that pile of sticks and strings into an actual living body. And in my life, only the Holy Spirit can fashion my heart--filled with blood, muscles, and veins--into a heart filled with sacrificial, glorified love. One that can beat forever.