Getting Lost, Of Course

We took a  quick trip last week; an eight-hour drive northwest, scurrying quickly to take care of some family stuff, followed by an eight-hour drive southeast, hustling to get back in time for my Sunday responsibilities. It was a lot of driving sandwiched layered between a lot of scrambling, and we came home exhausted. I slept like a rock the first night, but tonight, here I am – sleepless again- with my brain racing, listing all the things that seem imperative and important.

They are, truth be told: Imperative and Important.

So I got up, and I journaled, and I made a list, and I took literally the notion that we can cast all our cares and I think it worked. Except I opened the computer to order a book that was on the list that I need before Friday and now here I am, writing things…

By the way: I have figured out the secret to my sleepless nights – how to prevent them, that is – but that’s fodder for another post, so I’ll save it. I have discovered that when they do occur, the best remedy is to get up and journal.

Maybe have a glass of water.

Maybe reach over and grab my husband’s hand, or wiggle and worm myself under his arm, or rest my head on his shoulder. All of this I do while desperately trying to avoid waking him, but he always stirs and mumbles something unintelligible.

There’s something symbolic there about marriage, but I’m not sure what it might be… He’s there, and he provides comfort, even if he’s unaware. And mumbling.

When we drove home Saturday we got distracted on the turnpike and missed the exit. I thought, How does this happen? Are you serious? We have driven this road – separately or together – hundreds of times. How do you drive right by Breezewood? What? It turned our eight-hour trip into an 11-hour one; getting off the turnpike is no easy thing. We were nearly to Harrisburg.

We exited and headed south and figured out how we’d make our way back to our original route, forfeiting the GPS notion of south-on-I-95 because we never trust the Beltway traffic. We chose the road less taken: A two-lane country lane meandering through rural farm country; stars on the houses and quilts on the barns. We did a double-take and turned around for the Double Dipper, a family-run ice cream shop with an immaculate parking lot and pristine grounds and a great view of the mountains. Late, we pulled over on a high vista to throw our trash away and take in the view before winding our way down into the next valley.

We stopped to take a picture of a porch we liked; we stopped at a sit-down restaurant for dinner instead of something faster. We stopped for gas, after the small grace of glancing down and noticing that the tank was nearly empty.

It was distracted driving, and we were fully engaged in being distracted; and by the time I realized how late it was and how little sleep I’d get before morning, my emotions started churning. Morning would come early, but only for me; he had no obligations.

But I did. And I don’t do well on too little sleep, or maybe I was just jacked up in general – so I started stewing. Eventually I popped the cork and said You know, I’m really frustrated. I have to work in the morning. I’ll get – at best – five hours of sleep, IF I can even sleep, and I feel like we’re just meandering our way home without any thought of everything I have to do tomorrow and all that I need to do tonight when we get home because we’ve been gone and I’m not ready and I just don’t really feel like you took any of that into consideration.

It wasn’t all his fault, not really. We missed the exit because he was in the middle of an important conversation, and I was reading, and we travel together as a team, trusting one another to navigate as necessary. We both blew it. It wasn’t his fault. I did mention that I didn’t want to spend a lot of time eating dinner somewhere, but I didn’t push hard, and so we sat down to have a good meal together. We’re a team; we are partners, and so for me to get frustrated about singular implications for me about where we’d ended up together wasn’t exactly fair.

But he didn’t say so. Instead, he said, I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking, and then he did everything he could to see me and serve me and help all throughout the next day. And everything got done, and I survived.

And our partnership thrived, because that’s what grace is, y’all; it fills in the cracks when things don’t go right (because that happens, all the time). And in the end, the broken, filled-in places are bonded tighter than they were before, because that’s how grace brings healing.

And you know what? Three days out, you know what I remember most about that whirlwind trip?

The getting lost, of course. The Double Dipper and the new scenery and the struggle to figure out where we were and how to get back on track. Getting lost, together, and finding our way home. Together.

It was the best part.

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Church Day Is Changing

My job is changing.

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Every Sunday morning during my commute, I took a photo and titled it ‘Church Day’… 

Eighteen months ago, I wrote this post. It explains how I ended up falling in love with a handful of people in a ‘foreign’ community – across the river, further west.

In the next several weeks, my time as the leader of that community of faith will come to an end. I’ll hand off that mantle of leadership to a friend and coworker who, I daresay, finds himself just as awestruck as I was, as he anticipates his future as the Campus Pastor.

I have been doubling up for this year and a half; trying my best to maintain the job I was initially hired to do (creative stuff, music stuff, service planning stuff), while learning to be a campus pastor.

And learning to be loved.

We had a leaders’ meeting on Sunday after the services; the last one I’ll preside over as the Campus Pastor. We did our business, with lively discussion and optimism. I wrapped up the meeting and got ready to leave; but my successor said, Wait – sit down. One more thing…

I sat, and he looked around and said You all got my email and you know that we’re all going to take a minute to thank Beth for serving here…

Smart guy, my friend and successor. He has picked up on the fact that I’m a words girl, and he gave me a great gift that I’ll not soon forget.

These people, these rural, country folk who are smart and committed and talented and wise; these folks who have shown me, in 18 months, the true meaning of community and the absolute joy of seeing change in people who have given up and been given up on – my friends and brothers and sisters spoke words to me that were as life-giving as any I have received. I was overwhelmed.

I kept telling myself, Be present, be here, just be. I tried to just listen, to look in their eyes as they spoke, and to be in the moment.

It wasn’t long, it wasn’t much, but it was enough. And the truest, deepest part of it all was when a woman I’ve known for a decade said I remember you from the beginning, when you first came. You’ve really grown.

I’m not sure anybody ever thought I could really be a pastor in the truest sense of the word. I know that I wasn’t sure myself. But somehow, I grew into exactly the kind of pastor that suits the quirky nature of my soul. These past 18-months were undoubtedly more about refining my soul than anything I might have had to offer as a leader.

You’ve really grown.

I was scared to death when I said Yes to this role. I felt, in some ways, like they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get someone in this spot. I never felt worthy or qualified; truth be told, I wasn’t.

But I was willing. And darned if just showing up didn’t set something in motion that has left me closer to exactly who I’m supposed to be at this stage of the game.

I am thankful, beyond thankful, for the people who looked at me and said We think you can do this. The ones who said We’ve got your back; we’re with you. The ones who looked me straight in the eye and said We miss Chauncey, but we’ll stick around. 

Mostly, though, I am thankful for the people who walked through the doors of The Little Campus That Could and trusted us with their joys and their sorrows, their burdens and their blessings. I have met the most amazing people; men and women and children willing to share their journeys and look for meaning and seek God and welcome others to walk beside them. I have stood before a man who said No other church would have me; but this one did. I feel like I have family here. I have heard honest stories of struggle and pain, addiction and shame. I have seen men and women in the latter season of life come alive with the joy they find in a relationship with their Creator. I have seen people tell the truth about who they are and keep showing up.

I have been so unbelievably, overwhelming blessed and honored. And, yes, Alana; I’ve really grown, thanks to you and about 150 other men and women who call Riverside ‘home’. It couldn’t have happened any other way.

Grace, lived out, undeniably real. I’m tracing the trajectory tonight with gratitude. And ready for the next season.

Except I don’t know what my ‘Church Day’ photos will look like come September. It’s just not as pretty around here; I guess I’ll just have to start looking a little harder.

 

 

You Can Never Love God

Our church staff and leadership team attends the Global Leadership Summit every year. It’s a beautiful configuration of leaders from business, government and faith, sharing best practices and glimpses into their influence and management styles. For two days, we sit along with thousands of others across the country (the technology of satellite links!) and watch people claim their 40 minutes of renown on the Willow Creek stage. Melinda Gates, this year. And the former chairman of Ford, Alan Mulally. Bishop TD Jakes. In years past, Colin Powell. Bono. Jimmy Carter. Carly Fiorina.

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Bill Hybels

No slouchers, these folks.

I have personal connections that make the Summit extra special; I’ve stood on that same stage and noodled on the piano during a break at one of the first Summits, during the season that my brother was on staff at Willow. My sister-in-law’s job is to manage and direct the technical teams at all Summit satellite locations every year, so a successful Summit is always a personal high five for Shana.

Even beyond my family connections, this conference time is always full of incredible insight, applicable information and inevitably, some spiritual course correction. This year was no different. My Evernote file is full of sketches and doodles and drawings and bullet points full of words.

Words like people first.

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What my Evernote files look like…

All lives have equal value.

You can change your legacy.

Humble…hungry…smart…

Changing the behavior of others is brutal.

Value people.

Daily bread…

Real connection.

True humility…true dependency…

Red sand beach…

Keep coming back.

There’s a wealth of information represented in those eleven phrases. Each one represents stuff that I haven’t forgotten yet – but I will. Because, the truth is, there’s no way I can hold all of this in my head – even with the best note-taking. And the truth is, I’m not supposed to.

I believe to everything there is a season, and I have learned this: What is needed for each season of my growth and development as a leader, a woman, a parent, a wife – as a human – simply comes.

It comes. I trust the process and I open myself up to what needs to fill in the gaps in what I am learning and experiencing and thinking, because I can tell you this; of all the things I have learned in my half-century on this earth, I find myself utterly thrilled and totally excited by the discovery that there is more.

More self-awareness. More willingness to let go. More desire to lose the control issues. More to learn, from years and years of wisdom that existed long before I started thinking deep thoughts. 

There is this tugging, a gently-sloping descent of sorts, into an existence that is focused less on the certainty of knowing and practicing a way of being that reflects my faith, and more on an open embrace of the vast amount of….well, everything.

Knowledge. Beauty. Experience. Language. Theology. Science. Love. Paradox.

The violent crackle of thunder mixed with the cleansing pinpricks of rain; the deep ache of sorrow and loss fused with the surprise of hope and history.

All of the Summit teaching distilled, for me, into one specific segment, from a scheduled presenter who, quite frankly, did not engender great expectations from me. I was cynical about John Maxwell, but his words are the ones that rocked my world.

Leaders lift. They intentionally add value to people. There is a thin line between motivating people and manipulating people. Do you want to add value to the lives of others – or do you want them to add value to YOUR life? People want to know: Do you like me? Can you help me? Can I trust you? Everything worthwhile is uphill. Selfishness and significance are incompatible. Most people don’t lead a life; they simply accept their life. Jesus values people. His entire life shows him encountering others and reflecting that God values them. Are we going to spend our life connecting with people or correcting them?

Just typing these phrases, scattered throughout my notes on his talk – they convict and inspire and bring tears again, because this; this is the tugging, the gentle descent into releasing years of striving and fighting and clamoring for affirmation. This is, I think, the point.

And then tonight I get this from Pete Rollins, a philosopher and theologian who I trust to spark my thinking. Rollins, paraphrasing philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich, says these words:

You can never love God, but you love someone. And in loving someone, you love God. God is not an object that you love, God is that which you discover in the act of loving itself.

And first I think, What is this nonsense? because in every church I’ve ever been, to boldly state YOU CAN NEVER LOVE GOD would start a fire and end in shame. Of course we love God! We love God because He first loved us! Look at me, loving God in all my God-loving ways! My prayer and my music and my wall art and my proclamations…

….all my things….

I backed up and heard this statement again, because I felt a Holy Nudge, and I knew there was something for me there. And in a flash of brilliance, a thunderclap of dots connecting, I saw that what stuck in my soul from John Maxwell was woven in the somewhat existential philosophical declaration of Rollins, and I tripped over that love your neighbor business that Jesus said more than once, and I stopped what I was doing and decided I’d write all this down.

You can’t love God. Think on that for a while, and think about adding value to someone’s life by connecting with them instead of correcting them. Think about the uphill battle, the tide of political fencing and half-true news stories that we swim against. Think about the quickness that is in our nature to judge and to walk on the other side of the street.

Just think about that, and see what happens.

That’s what I’ve told myself. We’ll see what happens.