Sitting in a local coffee shop, Your Body is a Wonderland comes on over the speakers, and right here in the middle of a chilly café (I just cannot get warm; I’ve pulled on my winter coat), I am transported to summertime.
Sixteen years ago we lived in the Cleveland suburbs, in a family-friendly neighborhood with a community pool just a block from our house.
The kids were little; Sarah was eleven that summer, David only three. My little flock of Brawleys spanned a decade of time. My life was kids – all kids, all the time. But that summer things began to change. David was old enough to move away from infancy into legitimate toddlerhood, out of diapers and into childhood. The pool was still a challenge – there was always the risk of somebody drowning, and my job was to be on high alert. But it is crystal clear, this memory of the pool speakers playing the local pop radio station all day, every day; and of this song captivating my ear, the liquid guitar riff, the repetition of the lyric, the yearning in John Mayer’s young voice, the innocence of my children’s childhood being formed all around me in that exact instant…
Do we all have moments like this? Where we remember the exact moment we heard a song – where we stood, what the air felt like, how we responded? Is it just me?
For the twelve years since my marriage to their father, my gaze was always down, feeding, finding, fixing all things related to my children. At some point right around that summer season, I finally started to look up now and then. I viewed the landscape of my life with a new perspective; twelve years older, wiser, seasoned by maternal servitude that powerfully refined my identity into something I never imagined I would be but had grown into with ease: Mom. Not just “mom”, but Mom of Five.
That was something.
I liked this new identity, and as I began to look around that summer and test the boundaries of bits and pieces of time (David went to preschool and I had a few hours each day without children – what a gift!) I stretched into a calling that had been percolating for 15 years.
Music as ministry; strategic planning; service at church. It all came alive in that season and I remember a passion and joy unlike anything I’d ever experienced within the vocational opportunities I’d encountered. Partnered with a gifted, passionate leader who preached and lived grace over all, I was part of a church experiencing explosive growth and excitement that spread like wildfire. I began to catch a glimpse of a future imbued with a literal commissioning – one in which my neither my gender nor my past limited the possibilities. All I had to offer – to surrender – was received and redeemed.
In hindsight, I believe that I was invited into a life of ministry four decades ago, in a huge church in downtown Franklin, Pennsylvania; I remember feeling captivated and seen by something Divine in an unusual and unfamiliar way. But nothing much came out of that experience; I didn’t know what to do with it. It simmered inside of me for another decade, until bits and pieces bubbled up out of my personal pain. I caught a glimpse then, in my 20’s, and I took a tentative step towards living in grace that unfortunately, too often derailed down the steep embankment of pleasing others.
One step up, two steps back; that has been the case, throughout this grand arc that is the great gift of life. I’m on the back end now, looking ahead with excitement at what still might be, but fully aware that there is less pavement ahead than behind.
And yet there’s something to be said for traction, and that’s what I am celebrating today. Looking back over my tentative explorations of calling and purpose and self, I see urban streets and narrow country roads; asphalt and concrete. dusty ruts and interstates. Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere, Man comes to mind; I know this is true of this life, this journey. And while I’m not certain what the road will be like as I move forward, I know this: I’ve got a grip.
I’ve got a grip, and it’s not just what I’ve learned and what wisdom I’ve gained. It’s the unique grip of grace and trust, this quiet confidence that in spite of all that I do not know, what I do know is sufficient. There will be joy; there will be pain. I can’t anticipate or prepare adequately for all that lies ahead – I can’t possibly imagine, just as that young mom at the community pool caught up in John Mayer’s Wonderland couldn’t possibly imagine the middle-aged almost-empty-nester sitting in a coffee shop in central Virginia today.
But here I am, and there I was, and so it’s nothing but a sweet gratitude for the grace that simmers underneath all of our days and nights that envelopes me on this chilly January morning. Winter is here, but spring will come; summer will follow. Life goes on, and all will be well.