I’m leaning into an old circle of blogging friends from way back when, and somebody got approved to throw out writing prompts, and I thought I might play along for a while.
I’ve been stewing over this post for several days. It happens, sometimes; I write something in my head completely before I sit down and start typing. This has occupied my head for a while; if I’m honest, which I try to always be, this story has taken up room in my head and heart for years.
It remains the starting place for one of the biggest challenges of my life; the source of anger and frustration and bitterness and emotions that I’ve never completely reconciled.
The prompt was this: Write about an event that revealed to you that the world was not simple.
So I will.
I rediscovered faith in my mid 20’s; I became part of a congregation that was fundamental in its doctrine and practice, and very different than the one in which I had been raised. Talented, with leadership gifts, I fit in and even thrived in some areas; but I quickly realized that there was a place for women and a place for men and that they were quite different.
I bought it. I wanted to fit in, and I was zealous in my desire to please God. The people I encountered were kind and loving and passionate. They welcomed me and encouraged me and I wanted to belong.
Fast forward a few years, into a marriage and motherhood and a new extended family. The intermingling of faith and family was a powerful draw for me; my history was one in which religion was a private, quiet affair, and a family so outspoken about their evangelical passion for Jesus and so committed to church met some unarticulated need in me. They were special and united and designated for something great. Chosen. Set apart.
I bought it. I wanted to fit in, and they accepted me with love and grace.
This was a large family, in comparison to the norm. Lots of kids. The eldest, married first with two kids, was kind to me, if somewhat mysterious. But she helped set the tone for the Family First identity, the tight, close-knit identification of what, for all intents and purposes, was set before the community as – wait for it –
The Perfect Christian Family
Honestly, I’m not sure I ever literally heard those words – but it was there, underneath all of the church-going and preaching and birthday parties for Jesus and mission works. And it’s what I thought would work for what I needed.
I bought it. I needed an identity as something better than who I had been, and instead of picking up on the grace-filled gospel hope that is centered in the real truth of who Jesus is, I leaned into something altogether different and aimed to be part of The Perfect Christian Family. In fact, I set out to quickly build one of my own. I told myself that it would be enough, that it would last, that making everything look good was the point.
I bought it. At this point, it was my own lie, and I was hooked.
One day, one of those perfect family members did something decidedly imperfect. She left her husband.
They had two young children.
It was utterly inconceivable.
As a good Christian should, I took it upon myself to make sure that she was encouraged and quite possibly convicted by truth; I told her that God hates divorce, that God would want her to stay and serve her husband, that certainly this was some sort of blip, a minor problem, that she needed to go home and reconcile.
I may have even used the words “submit” and “obey” at some point.
In my smug righteousness, I did what seemed to be right to me. She was polite, initially, but I wouldn’t let up, and finally she lost her temper, and she told me, as I sat in a tiny kitchen in Hico, Texas, the truth that would rock my world.
I remember the fury leaking through her voice. I remember hearing her anger at me, and my lack of understanding. I remember her frustration.
I remember these words:
Do you really want to know what’s going on? Are you really ready to hear this? Are you sure you want to know the truth?
In my innocence, in my utter conviction that the world was black and white, wrong and right, lost and saved, I said yes; of course. Truth is good! Tell the truth!
So she told me the truth, about why she’d left home and married so young, and why things were not always as they seemed, and why she was such a mess and in counseling, and why she knew that she had to do the right thing for the right reason, and why I should keep a careful, protective eye on my young daughters around the extended family.
And I realized that there’s really no such thing as a perfect Christian family, and that the world was not as simple as I hoped it might be.
Much has happened in the years since, and I lay no claim to what is true and what is not about those more recent events. I do not know, and it is never safe to assume. But I know that this part is true, because I lived it and I remember it; it marked my family.
No, that is not accurate: It totally shifted the axis of my little family and my experience in the world. It blew apart the carefully constructed “Christian lifestyle” I operated within and talked about. It created a nebulous environment of intentions and assertations that had no foothold in honesty, because of the deeply interwoven layers of anxiety and refusals to acknowledge, admit, confront – or much less talk about it. What family really knows how to navigate such waters? It is complicated.
And complicated things can become cancerous.
In spite of this – of all that is true, and all that has disintegrated since, I still hold that there is opportunity and space for redemption and restoration. Truth brings freedom. It can be complicated. But it is possible.
I have another friend I’ve never met; one who has been in the blogosphere for as long as I have. Her journey is fascinating – the child of African missionaries, she draws from a rich deposit of memories and experiences. Read her blog here – and read on below to discover Donna’s Record of Influence, and a sweet love story.
By the way…my parents had this record. Or maybe it was an 8-track. Either way, I know these songs, too…
My record of influence is the album “Peter, Paul and Mary in Concert”. There are so many ways this record was important—but here is the primary reason. It was the FIRST gift ever my almost boyfriend (now husband) gave me. The album included a song of Mary singing “There is a Ship.” You see, that’s the song that helped my husband fall in love with me.
We were working together at a youth camp one summer. Our first interactions were full of mutual intense dislike. I though him cocky, and he thought me uppity. Such is teen love. Anyway, by the end of the camping week, we were talking more and more. The last overnight of camp all the kids took to the surrounding woods with sleeping bags in hand. And, of course, so did the counselors. After the campers were asleep, my to-be-husband and I talked. And talked. And then I sang to him “There is a Ship” which includes in its words “But not as deep as the love I’m in, I know not if I sink or swim.”
I don’t know if that did it, or if the fact that he told me then that no one had ever sung to him, but whatever it was, that was the electric spark. And that—dear reader—is how and when and why my now husband and I fell in love. That was in the summer of 1965. So the influence of that record—for us, it was for a lifetime.
What I remember most about Jayne Trapnell – a woman I have yet to meet in person – is the gift she sent me some eight or nine years ago.
Did I mention that we’d never met?
Jayne and I connected through blogging, way back in the day. I think the common link was the Real Live Preacher blog, where both of us were commenting – and linking back to our own little blogs. I opened the door to my private, processing blog to Jayne, where she read the words I flung into the internet air about divorce, and fear, and pain, and spiritual growth. She read, and she commented; at some point I must have said something about not having any decent sort of speaker system to play music, because one day I opened a package from Georgia to find that Jayne had confiscated a portable speaker dock for iPods from her husband – and sent it to me.
Did I mention that I’d never met this generous woman?
In years since, we’ve communicated online. I get a Christmas card, every year, with her talented son Sam in the photo. We’ve spoken by phone once, and it lit up my world, because she sounded exactly like I’d imagined her. She’s continued to write honestly about her gains and losses, her spiritual growth, her family, and all of the things she’s passionate about. (Find her blog here; you’ll be blessed.) I find her to be a great inspiration.
And one of these days, we’re going to meet in person.
When my friend Beth put out the challenge to share about an album that influenced your childhood or adolescence, nothing particularly came to mind. But, yesterday as I headed to work, I could find nothing on XM I really wanted to hear, and so I switched over to my iPod. I smiled as CSN started to play, and the memories came flooding back…
It was the beginning of the summer of 1980, and I was 18. Not really an adolescent, but getting ready to head to college in the fall. And, as it always goes, I met a boy. John was an intense guy, and we fell head over heels that summer. Well, the actual truth is that he did. We were headed for colleges in different states, and I knew that did not bode well for continuing a relationship. But, for those months, it was a heady and intense time. He was kind enough to help me equip my pea green 1973 Mercury Montego for the journeys that would lie ahead, driving to and from college two hours from home. He removed my factory AM radio and installed a radio that gave me AM and FM! And, he also installed a cassette player which I could disconnect and put under my seat for safe storage. It would sit in the middle of my floorboard on one of those stylish plastic cup/tissue holders that were so popular in the day, and I could play my cassette tapes as I traveled. Boy, I was feeling pretty uptown.
All during that summer, we’d listen to CSN, as we’d head to the lake to enjoy time on his family’s boat. I learned every song on that album by heart. When the fall came, and I headed to school, it was one of the cassettes I’d listen to as I traveled…
When I listened to this particular song yesterday, it was not John that came to mind, but rather, my very first trip home once I’d left. It was probably a few months into my starting college. As I came across the mountain I traveled to get home, this song was playing. When I rounded the bend, and saw my hometown for the first time in months, the realization of how much I’d grown shook me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all my parents had done to nurture and provide this opportunity for me. I realized for the first time what “home” meant, and tears poured down my cheeks, as I was humbled by how much I missed home and the love that surrounded me there. When I got home, I shared this with my Dad, who put his arms around me with a knowing smile on his face, and said, “It’s a good feeling when life humbles you, Jayne.” I felt I was finally an adult.
I lost my sweet Daddy five months ago, and the memories that flooded back yesterday were even more poignant, when I recalled that exchange. That is the power of music. It takes us back to pivotal moments in our lives. It conjures up so many emotions, and allows our senses to be back in a time we know shaped who we became.
…I have seen the changes, it ain’t easy rearranging and it gets harder as you get older, and farther away as you get closer, and I’m still wondering how…
Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone and think, ‘Wow. Now that is how you live a life.’
That’s how I feel about Brandi McCombs. In between working with her daughter on basic piano technique and working together on the creative team for a while, I got a few glimpses into the life of this woman who tends to gather herself very closely. It was always fascinating; she’s the kind of person that really honors the gift of life, in that she seems to truly live. From dabbling in photography to learning to weld, and God only knows what else she’s discovered – this is a woman who is not content to let life go by unexamined and unchallenged.
I’ve always been fairly confident that we had a lot in common, and once she shared her thoughts about a record of influence, I realized I was right – at least in part (I know every word to every song on one of her two choices). Her words here are inspiring and interesting; they are a public gift from a private person whose soundtrack to life is diverse, raw and real.
In keeping with my history of commitment issues, I had trouble narrowing down my answers to one album, or even one artist. Always the fan of a mix tape, I revel in diversity/randomness. In thinking of the period of my life with the greatest changes, I have a mix tape in my head. It has Randy Travis, and Ratt, and The Cure, and Tesla, and Mark Chestnutt, and Metallica.
My last two years of college were a major time of change for me (The first two years I was at community college and either living at home, or with my grandparents — which I would not trade for anything!), and the two years after graduation as well. When I moved into my dorm at the University of Tennessee, I had a boyfriend from my hometown and I knew we would get married and have cute babies and live happily ever after. I buckled down and studied and went to class and was a good girl doing the “keep the home fires burning” thing. He joined the Navy and travelled the world on a floating frat party.
But I digress…
Indigo Girls – Indigo Girls
It was 1989. I had gotten to UT and was trying to find my way as a transfer student in a dorm full of people who had come as Freshmen and had bonded groups of friends already. As an introvert, I am a sponge — I sit and listen and soak up the vibe and temperature of a room. It still takes me a good amount of time to feel comfortable enough to opine, but back then? In the social realm, I moved with sloth speed. I made one friend on my floor who was the complete opposite of me. She was boisterous and flashy, came from a family with money, and was hell on wheels. When I was with Kristin, I did not have to say much — she got us in places with her blond hair and flashy style and easy flirting. The guys paid attention to her, and I relished some of the attention by default. She could work a room and have them buying us drinks while she told crazy stories, and I would just smile and laugh and somehow be part of it all. She made life as an introvert effortless.
Kristin had a CD from this new group called the Indigo Girls. I immediately loved their harmonies, and the poetry of the words, and the simplicity of the acoustic sound, which was new compared to the synth-pop and hair bands of the 80’s. I loved that I could sing along with voices in my range. I loved that this music was so different than the heavy-metal that my boyfriend insisted on blasting. I loved it so much I went out and bought the cassette (no CD player because that was way more than I could afford) and would listen in my car everywhere I went, singing at the top of my lungs when I was by myself…Over and over and over. The freedom of driving my car with the windows down wherever I wanted to go, listening to what I wanted to hear, doing what I wanted to do. Without parents to tell me to turn it down. Without the stress of figuring out what I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life. Without an overbearing boyfriend to take over the driving, the decisions, the music. Pure freedom. Soaring. Top of my lungs.
Kristin flunked out and had to return home. I had to pick a major and return for my senior year and graduate and get ready to marry my sailor. Then there would be no more dressing up and going out with girlfriends (because “M” did not like me spending time with other people). No more sitting at tables full of lively, beautiful college boys, laughing and smiling and feeling good about myself (because “M” got angry when anyone else looked at me and was sure to tell me that I was lucky to have him). No more Indigo Girls (because “M” always controlled the music and the volume and would never listen to “two lesbian chicks”).
For years that cassette was in my collection, but I didn’t listen to it anymore and finally got rid of it somewhere along the way. I had to pull it up on iTunes to verify what it was called and remember the songs on it, but to my surprise I still could sing almost every word of every song. And it still lifted my heart. I looked at the songs I liked best — Closer to Fine, Love’s Recovery, Prince of Darkness — and it is fascinating to look at the lyrics and realize how maybe they were a little voice making its way through the confusion and “stuckness” of my young adult life, quietly planting a seed of light and hope and freedom.
So to Kristin, wherever you ended up, thanks.
“The best thing you’ve ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it’s only life after all”
And to “M”:
“By grace, my sight grows stronger
and I will not be a pawn
for the Prince of Darkness any longer”
Which then brings me to album #2….
Alice in Chains – Dirt
I graduated college on top of the world with vast knowledge and a piece of paper that I thought guaranteed me a thrilling career and fat paycheck. I walked out the door of commencement and entered one of the worst job markets in history. Months of applications, interviews, and sitting by the phone… nothing. I felt like a failure. A farce.
My fiance was still in the Navy, but stateside, so I loaded up and moved to Washington state to share my brilliance there. My parents were none too pleased that we were not married but living together. “M” was not the small-town boy who we said good-bye to when he joined the Navy. I was not the wide-eyed innocent girl who did what she was told anymore. Once out there, I had no family to fall back on and no job and very little money of my own that quickly dwindled until I was dependent on “M” for pretty much everything. Meanwhile, he didn’t like my clothes, my hair, my attitude. It was an eye-opening six months until I hung my head and returned home to live with my parents again.
The Seattle music scene was booming and while “M” still had a habit of blasting the heavy metal music in the car so loud it made my head hurt, he had also gotten into the alternative/grunge sound as well. Somehow when I left, this Alice in Chains album came with me. It is a long drive from Washington to Tennessee, with a lot of little radio stations in the static along the way. Somehow this got listened to more than anything on that journey home.
“Down in a hole, feeling so small
Down in a hole, losing my soul
I’d like to fly, but my wings have been so denied”
I returned home to find my beloved Granddaddy dying. My older sister was also moving back in with my parents with an alcoholic husband, a toddler, and an infant in tow. The relationship I had spent 4 years in was coming to an ugly close, even though my fiance had now returned home from his stint in the Navy and we still saw each other at his convenience. My four year degree was worthless, and my friends were all elsewhere. Life had gone on without me, which was yet another rude awakening.
I listened to this music some more. Somehow the beat and intense guitar and still those harmonies I seem to like made me feel better on some level.
“Loneliness is not a phase
Field of pain is where I graze
Serenity is far away”
It was December. Again, I hung my head and canvassed the mall, finally resorting to retail to bring in a little money to at least be able to buy my family Christmas presents. I met some fun people. I worked long hours. I had to listen to that insidious mall Christmas music all day, every day.
“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!” I was a borderline alcoholic at age 23.
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” I feel like a total failure at life.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” And at this rate, I’ll be home forever. I feel like a total failure at life.
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” I go home and sit in my room and wrap whatever pathetic presents I got for my family with Alice in Chains cranked on my stereo. Fa La La La Fucking La.
Ah, my friends — Alice in Chains. So different than the happy mall music. They say what I am feeling.
“I feel so alone
gonna end up a big ol’ pile of them bones”
Over the music I can hear Mother hesitantly knocking on my door and asking if I am okay.
It is the last Christmas Eve my grandfather is alive and I miss it because I am working. I drive three hours around the region, chasing the rest of my family on our traditional route. I race to my grandparents’ house. Granddaddy has already gone to bed, and my granny is always happy to see me but her face is tired. I race on to my aunt’s open house (little did we know it will be the last Christmas she is alive as well), and get there as they are putting away the snacks and egg nog. My folks left 30 minutes prior.
“Oh God, please won’t you help me make it through…”
Yeah, I don’t listen to this music anymore; Alice in Chains still gets radio play and I come across it sometimes. I listen to it with a different ear now. It is too intense, too angry, too depressing, and riddled with what I now know are heavy drug references. I never paid much attention to that before. No wonder my mother was so worried about me. However, there is a happy ending to the story and the real reason this album had a profound impact on my life.
I met a guy. At the mall. We were at a mutual friend’s party on the eve of a new year. We started talking music. I said, “I listen to all sorts of stuff, but currently I am really into Alice in Chains.”
Him: Oh, I have that CD.
Me: Hmmph, I only have it on cassette.
Him: It sounds SO much better on CD. You could come to my place and give it a listen, but I don’t want that to come across weird.
But it didn’t seem weird, so I did. It did sound much better digitally. I started spending more time with this guy. He let me pick what we listened to, or what we watched on tv. He liked my hair and my clothes and my attitude, and he said HE was lucky to have ME. I made him mix tapes of goofy country music that he had never listened to. And I realized what I had been missing in life, in my heart, and in my soul.
Karen Bonner holds a huge place in my heart. We met through church, or through piano lessons – I’m not sure which came first. She brought to me her precious daughters, already established musicians thanks to the skill of a previous teacher, and I had the immense privilege of helping guide them in their musical journeys. For quite some time, Karen spent a weekly hour in my living room, settled into the peach leather couch to wait as their girls navigated the Faber Piano Lesson assignments in the next room.
I was navigating a new assignment of my own, and Karen became a touchstone for me. She was a real person, someone authentic in my life; she told me true stories about her history and her struggles, even as we celebrated the accomplishments of her kids. One day I blurted out a stream of words intended to challenge and encourage, not knowing the tender place they would pierce. I apologized later, and she didn’t bail on the friendship.
I am forever grateful.
We share a love of James Taylor, long talks in her mini-van, and an intense passion for our kids – even while we worry that our parenting is screwing them up. We have some history, and I hope that we have a long future as friends as well.
Here is Karen’s story.
The Carpenters, specifically the album entitled “The Singles” had a profound influence on me and still does. My earliest recollection of listening to this album was a time when I was young enough to be pushing a baby doll in her carriage all around my house. I was probably around 5 years old. I vividly remember that the carriage had a blue and white gingham print and the baby doll was a Madame Alexander doll. My mom played this album often and we all sang along. To think of it now, I can clearly hear the music, lyrics and the static-y sound of a record as the needle rhythmically bobbed up and down along the grooves of the vinyl.
At this time in my life, my mom had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 37. I really had no idea of the struggle she was about to endure to try and stay alive and raise her five daughters. They sheltered me from the stress and pain as much as possible. Back in those days, feelings weren’t talked about much. It seemed to make things worse if the subject were brought up in conversation. But as for me, I was just a clueless 5 year old, playing ‘mommy’ with my dolls and happily singing the lyrics to “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Top of the World”, “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “Close to You”. Obviously, the lyrics were written from an adult perspective and addressed topics such as lost loves and relationships I knew nothing about. No matter, I sang the words to the top of my lungs as if I had penned those words myself. I probably even held a plastic microphone to make it more realistic!
Four years later, my mom would lose her battle to a cancer that had metastasized to her bones. She had tried everything to live. Multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, radical double mastectomy, oophorectomy, and other surgeries and hospitalizations in efforts to grab at whatever new treatment was the latest hot topic in the medical world. My dad was left to raise five daughters who ranged in ages from 9-16. He was lost and so were we. Her funeral procession was, according to the Bliley (funeral home owners) family, one of the longest they had ever witnessed. My mom was well loved by many and had a profound influence in her community by her involvement and leadership in the schools, church, civic events, and neighborhood.
The day after her funeral, we returned to life as normal…well, our new normal. There is nothing normal about being motherless when you are not even 10 years old. My dad mistakenly believed that it would lesson our pain to mention our mother. We never talked about her. Ever. If someone called on the phone asking for Robbie Carreras, we’d simply say “She’s not here right now”…as if she’d be returning in a few hours. If I was sick at school and sent to the clinic, the clinic aide would say “Let me call your mother”. I’d respond indicating that I was miraculously better and would stay at school sick for the remainder of the day. I couldn’t say I didn’t have a mom because we just didn’t bring it up. Ever. Her death was so taboo that I couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything that reminded me of my mom. I pretended that she never existed.
I went for many, many years refusing to listen to that Carpenter’s album that brought me such joy as a child. Somehow, to enjoy listening to it felt like a betrayal. Something that brought a child such familiarity and happiness didn’t belong in my life anymore.
Fast forward 20 years and a few therapists…I was finally able to listen to this album without stopping it after the first refrain of the first song. I not only listened but was transported back to my 5 year old self…baby doll and all. I could actually trace my steps from the living room, to the family room, through the dining room and hallway pushing the carriage and singing to the tops of my lungs all the while hearing my mom’s voice in the background.
I don’t feel sadness and grief anymore listening to these songs. In fact, they provide great comfort. It may be hard to believe, but I honestly don’t have many direct memories of my mom. Most “memories” I have are retellings of events from others’ memories. But this, this picture of me singing these songs, with my mom…well, they are mine and they can never be lost or taken away.
I met Christian Miller years ago; probably right after we moved here and the kids started school. He is one of the most unique individuals I have ever met – no hyperbole. Christian is passionate about people; as an educator, he’s one of those guys who pour so much into his students that the relationships remains strong long after graduation.
He has an infectious, engaging personality; Christian does everything big – and whatever that
thing is, it’s always, always filled with joy. For almost 10 years now he has been a presence in and around our church and our community, and we are better for it. One of the most striking characteristics of this man is humility; he has an unbelievable gift for vocal music, which he shares with us at church from time to time. When he is leading worship, he is always behind the music. He elevates what matters most, and it endears me (and others) to him.
For all those reasons, I eagerly anticipated his response to my questions for this project.
Boy, was I surprised. But, now I love him even more; and his story reminds me of how important it is to notice and encourage our kids’ passions….
MMC Mickey Mouse Club – 1993 Album
I was 11 years old. It was my first album. At the time, no one (I thought) knew how much I loved to sing. I never really sang for people; I would go to my room to listen to music. Christmas, 1993: I didn’t ask for it, but my parents just knew I loved music and got me this CD. It meant a lot, because it meant they saw my love of music and that they saw me.
The best songs:
Step to the Rhythm – true 80’s style! OMG – this song was awesome!
Give Me Back My Groove – the girl that sang this had some pipes!
I Saw Her First – a cool, almost-boy-band song – haha. Wow!
I Want You Back – a deep song about love that no kid would really know anything about.
The significant relationship around this record was with my parents, and how they saw my passion. It was really cool for the 11-year-old me to feel seen and understood, even over a passion for music that I thought I hid pretty well.
I don’t listen to this record anymore…but I did for this project. I just listened to the whole album on youtube – oh, my goodness, the smile on my face feels permanent! I love this so much! Think about it – over 20 years ago…wow!!!
I knew Lindsay Durrenburger long before I met her in real life. As she mentions here, she was a good friend of my brother. Like most good things in life, I connected with her because my brother said, ‘You need to do this.’
Our first real conversation came via a phone call while I was strolling the streets of Chicago. I was there for a conference, and that meeting paled in comparison to the giddy joy of our first dialogue. Since that time I’ve been with her in person only once, but she’s pretty much a member of the family in spirit. Lindsay writes at Fueled By Diet Coke (moms with small children, read the post she called Their First Love…grab a Kleenex first…) She is a gifted writer and storyteller. Her honesty and vulnerability puts profound truth in the world.
That’s a good thing.
Here’s Lindsay’s response to my request regarding a record of influence. Like the woman herself, it’s packed with spiritual insight and authenticity. I’m grateful to her – for this, and for being part of my world.
“The thing is, Lindsay, you think in people.”
I can’t remember the circumstances surrounding my husband’s revelation about my default disposition, but it’s completely true – I think in people. Whenever we recall past experiences, he’ll say things like, “Do you remember that one time that we tried out that new hotdog place?” And I’ll reply with something like, “Yeah, and we ran into So-And-So and their kids and talked about the new school they’re starting in the fall?” And then he’ll stare blankly at me, his eyes inquiring, HOW IN THE HECK DID YOU REMEMBER THAT, YOU PSYCHO.
I just can’t help it. It’s how I do life. The people around me at any given time will define every thing that happens in my life. Relationships don’t just matter to me; they are everything.
A few (ahem, just a few) years ago, I graduated high school, moved to Tallahassee, Florida, for college and started attending a church where I would end up meeting one of the most important people to me – Beth’s brother Eric. She’s blogged about him a time or two before, so you probably already feel like you know him.
But you don’t know me. And you don’t know me the way Eric knows me.
Eric is the Pastor of Musical Worship at that church. For several years I had the privilege of playing keys in his band, despite the fact that his musicianship far (far, far, far, far, far…far… far…) exceeds mine. It was under Eric’s leadership that I really grew and matured as a musician, Christian, and (most importantly, probably) an overall human. Unfortunately for him, though, that meant enduring countless coffee meetings and rehearsals in which I was a cacophonous mess of baggage and insecurity, but apparently never scary enough to frighten him away. Over time, Eric got to fully know me and love me, despite everything about me, and after a particularly embarrassing lunch at Red Lobster (I never went back as long as I lived in Tallahassee because it was that bad) he actually volunteered to became a father figure to me; he voluntarily applied for the position that was vacated by my biological dad nearly two decades ago, knowing full well the hot mess he was adopting. Seriously. Eric adopting me was kind of like him buying a car that doesn’t run but DOES make really good fart jokes.
If that’s not amazing grace, people, I don’t know what is.
With Eric, and on that team of musicians, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. I found a safe community where I could be myself and be loved. I found (dare I go there prematurely) shelter.
One week in 2012 Eric introduced a new song to the band’s repertoire – “We Will Follow”, a track off of Jars of Clay’s at-the-time-most-recent album The Shelter. A perpetual bad Christian, I’d never purchased any of Jars of Clay’s music at that point in my life, but after hearing the first words of that song (“In the shadow of the Cross where my first love died…”) I impulsively snagged The Shelter, not totally prepared for how it was going to change me forever.
Before I knew it, I was drinking up the entire record day in and day out. Everything about the musicality – strings, layered vocals, echoing electric guitar riffs, swelling pads – and the lyrics (oh goodness, the lyrics) made me feel safe and protected. A byproduct of my absentee father, I’ve always craved the feeling of security. So listening to this record was something I almost couldn’t stop doing, for fear of never feeling that safety again.
I thought these feelings of belonging were just coincidence. Turns out, they weren’t. While Jars of Clay released it, the record is actually an impressive collaboration of many artists, and a little internet sleuthing will tell you that the songs on The Shelter are actually meant to celebrate (tadaaa) community. It’s a record that thinks in people, I guess you could say.
At the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, things were suddenly shaken up for my family. Not able to make ends meet in Tallahassee, my husband and I were forced to relocate for better jobs that would hopefully provide for us. We were forced to leave our shelter.
We ended up getting jobs in Naples, which is a 7-hour-drive from Tallahassee. I remember when we were down in Naples visiting, and were offered the jobs, just like it were yesterday – I was driving aimlessly on a road in Naples, trying to lull our 10-month-old to sleep, and sobbing uncontrollably at the thought of leaving Eric and our community. I hated the prospect of not belonging again, and even more than that, I hated the idea of us being so far away from the person who promised to be a dad to me. I’d gone so long not having that relationship, and WANTING it, that the thought of losing it was so terrifying to me.
I jammed the auxiliary cable into my iPod, started blaring that devastatingly beautiful title track, and wept. LORD did I weep.
If there is any peace
if there is any hope
We must all believe
our lives are not our own
We all belong
God has given us each other
And we will never walk alone
Fast forward to now:
We have lived in Naples for three years now, and our time here is swiftly coming to an end. We don’t know where we are going when our lease is up in June, but I am happy to report that the relationship I was most concerned about losing when we first moved here has not only been maintained, but also refined and maybe even strengthened. I’ve learned that distance doesn’t equal abandonment and that this community – this shelter – that we’ve built is sturdier than I could have ever imagined.