You Won’t See Me Follow You Back Home

2005 seems like a lifetime ago.

In many ways, it was.

As 2005 began, I was herding my five kids around, trying to work a full-time teaching job, inching my way back towards the church, and grieving. Of all those things I was well-aware,  except the grief. In the moment, I’m not sure I knew what to call it, how to feel, what to think, or what to hope for. I just knew that my life was wrecked – in large part by my own hand; my kids were in pain; and every passing day seemed like a searing exercise in survival.

Those days hurt. I didn’t call it pain back then; I was confused, and struggling, and burning the candle at both ends. I was lost, mostly. But resilience is an amazing thing, and it seems to me that most of us simply do what has to be done, and slog through the muck, and cry when we need to, all the while holding on to that slim hope that someday, things might not hurt so badly.

I think that was me, 12 years ago. Pain is pain, whether you bring it on yourself or you suffer at the hands on another. Truth be told, seems like it’s always a bit of both, isn’t it? From both ends, my heart hurt.

I look back now and I see that woman – so young, although she felt so old. Just past forty. Somehow finding the wherewithal to buy a house – by herself – and move her little broken family into its sanctuary. I was sleeping alone in a master bedroom that was larger than any one person ever needed – its abundance of space a sometimes bitter reminder of what often felt like desolation. (Eventually, I took the smaller room and moved all three of my daughters into the oversized master – definitely one of my smarter decisions on all fronts.)

August, 2013, Ashland, VA

Berber carpet and moss green walls; I see it so clearly. And what I’m thinking of tonight is a time when I lay on the floor and sobbed as I listened to Jimmy LaFave sing Walk Away Renee. Maybe you know the song, originally recorded in 1966 by a band I’ve never heard of. If that’s all you know, it’s kind of a throwaway pop tune.

But if you’ve heard Jimmy LaFave sing it, you’ve invited into the deep recesses of a broken heart.

And if it’s your own heart, you might find yourself cracking wide open. When LaFave wraps his raspy voice around the chorus for the last time – and you KNOW it’s the last time, when she’s going to walk away and he’s going to let her go – everything spills over into sorrow.

Just walk away, Renee / No, you won’t see me follow you back home

Now as the rain falls down upon my weary eyes

I start to cry 

Just walk away, Renee….please, walk away…

Nobody likes pain. I cried a lot , 12 years ago, but mostly tucked the tears away and leaned hard into just getting things done. That’s what the situation required, and so day after day, that’s what I tried to do. Funny thing is, though; while you think you’re getting it done, there’s a high likelihood that you’re missing a few things along the way.

Maybe a lot of things. Important things.

There are so many times I wasn’t there for my kids, because getting things done meant leaning into my identity as a leader at my workplace. Getting things done put layers and layers upon those things upon my soul, and I am going to tell you the truth right now: 12 years later, I am working on peeling back all that had to get done and figuring out who, exactly, I am. And dealing with some amends that have to be made.

I found out yesterday that Jimmy LaFave has terminal cancer and a short time to live. My thoughts turn to that moment in my bedroom, that season when I played Austin Skyline over and over and over again, exorcising geographical and romantic demons like a warrior.

Except nothing every really got exorcised; that deep wound in my soul is still there, and it throbs and thrums as I listen to Walk Away, Renee in a different house; one that is mostly empty, with a self that’s mostly older and slower. Not much like a warrior any more.

That’s probably a good thing. There’s not much I want to fight these days.

Just four years ago I had the good fortune to see Jimmy LaFave in concert at Ashland Coffee and Tea. He is a tremendous interpreter of American folk music. His voice stirs my soul. And now he’s living with the end in sight.

We all know that life is short; everybody is headed for the same ending. But something about terminal brings everything into a sharper focus. I can’t help but think about all that’s been lost along the way; the tears that still flow as I hear him sing this song are as much about his numbered days ahead and the ones I still count that flow behind me.

A great article about LaFave.

No Easter Baskets

Hello, blog; it’s been a while. IMG_0631

A full month, to be exact.

I am always writing in my head. Always, all the time, every hour of the day; I’m scripting something that I am seeing or feeling or doing. My head is chock full of words.

Getting them out is another story.

But here I am, today, at the end of a day that started with a gentle alarm at 4:50AM and then a not-so-gentle rustling from the other side of the bed. It’s Easter Sunday, and that means a long day of service and family and energy and excitement.

Just a short time ago, Easter was a season with a long list of things to do. New outfits for each of the kids (matching, when they were younger); Easter baskets (usually with chocolate and seeds in them, for our cravings and our lesser gardening instincts…). A big family dinner gathering. Those are things I remember from the ‘good old days’ that were a scant 10 years ago; days that seem to have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Now my baby is 17, and he slept in and drove himself to church today in a pair of new dress shorts I bought him for his spring break adventure, a cruise to the Caribbean.

My, how times have changed.

As the traditions have fallen away, I have dug a bit deeper into ‘the TRUE meaning of Easter’, as an full-page ad proclaimed in the Richmond newspaper today. I have an intellectual and academic understanding of the event; raised Christian, I understand the implications of Holy Week and all that happened. Maundy Thursday; Good Friday. Prayer vigils on Saturday, celebration on Sunday. I know what it all signifies, and although my current place of worship shies away from liturgical observation of the church calendar, those days are rooted in my heart. It is a true thing about most of life: When the clutter and noise clears away, the opportunity to understand and appreciate truth widens.

That’s kind of where I am with Easter this year. Not that raising a family was clutter and noise, but let’s be honest, shall we? Five kids add up to a lot of clutter, and no small amount of noise.

Now there is one, and he was gone all week; so I had time to think.

Towards the latter part of Holy Week I ended up claiming a short break – two days away from work, three days away from home. We were in a new place, a higher altitude. We did new things – a float down the Shenandoah in a canoe has long been on my bucket list, and we checked that off Thursday afternoon. Friday evening – Good Friday – found me on the floor of a bedroom behind a closed door, seeking some introverted healing quiet. My beloved husband had brought a couple of guitars along, and I reached for the warm wood of the worn Martin, a small-bodied guitar that holds a resonant history.

Now, I don’t play much guitar; I am a pianist, primarily, and that’s where I focused the hard work to become a proficient instrumentalist. But I am able to work my way around basic chord progressions, and in that quiet room, my raw fingers found the formations for enough chords to string together some music.

Hymns. I love old hymns, the words that I soaked in as a child on a weekly basis; the melodies and harmonies stitched on the staves in the Methodist hymnal, four parts that create the basic chordal structure of pretty much all contemporary music. All that music IMG_0678is buried deep in my soul, and so I found those chords, and I whispered the words towards the thin, hollow wooden door.

My fingers began to ache. When you don’t play guitar for a while, there are no calluses, no worn, familiar ruts in your fingertips. It’s all fresh, thin skin, and the metal strings dig deep. On Good Friday night, the metaphor was not difficult to find.

My thoughts wandered to a new song – new to me, at least – and I searched the guitar for those chords (that come so easily on the piano; it is a good thing to be challenged!) I struggled to find the words, and in the end, I had to do a quick google search; I found the chorus and whisper-sang this song, the one that is currently at the top of the list for my favorites:

What a beautiful name it is; what a beautiful name it is / The name of Jesus Christ my King /  What a beautiful name it is; nothing compares to this / What a beautiful name it is / the name of Jesus

Without the baskets and the shopping and the great compulsion to create holiday memories, I focused on two things during this Holy Week: What I really believe about the Easter story (and why it matters), and the role and responsibility I have as a staff leader at my church. Both areas are packed with changes of which I’ve been unaware; things I’d been missing. With a bit of time and space, and some quiet introspection, I saw more clearly. I paid attention. There were, I dare say, some revelations that bubbled to the surface – both in a spiritual sense, and also in a professional or vocational sense. These are questions and challenges I have been running hard after for some time now.

When the clutter and noise clears away, the opportunity to understand and appreciate truth gets very wide, indeed. From the bends of creation I experienced tangibly as we navigated the Shenandoah, to the deeply personal twists and yaws of the inner depths of my heart, it was a profoundly moving week for me.


I have friends and family – people I love and respect dearly – for whom the Easter story is little more than a myth. They don’t buy into the commercialism or the spiritual aspect. They don’t believe the resurrection and they generally want no part of organized religion. It is interesting to me – and, as yet, still a great mystery – that as my own spiritual experiences deepen and widen, I find that my respect for those who choose a different path does the same. I wonder if there is some semblance of integrity and love for fellow humans that gets buried under the evangelical mandate to see vast numbers of people saved from destruction and damnation; a love that is freer to bubble to the surface as my own passion, fascination and devotion to Jesus and the creator expands and pushes and pulls from within my soul.

To put it bluntly, the more I know of Jesus, the more I am drawn to the people who aren’t interested in knowing him – but not as projects: as people. This is, undoubtedly, mostly about a change in me and what I believe – and how I am called to live out that belief.

And that’s the thing I am most grateful for, the things that this Easter journey has drawn out of me: I am growing, and changing, and morphing. I am a human being living in the midst of humanity, clinging to an amalgamation  of supernatural, miraculous, historical teaching and people and experiences that are impossible to explain – that yet hold a wondrous attraction for me. The more I am willing to let myself be unmade, the greater the joy set before me.

This is a good thing; this is a measure of grace, and not at all where I expected this writing to end up. But with so much coursing through my brain, it was worth sitting before the blank page and popping the cork.

Happy Easter, y’all.