Monday, July 20, 2015

The Guy In The Basement

When I told my husband that I'd invited a guy who's on a motorcycle adventure (aiming for some 23,000 miles around the United States in 10 weeks) to spend the night at our house, he gave me The Look.

He didn't say anything; I just got that sort-of side eye look he gives - you might have seen it, if you've spent any time with him.

And, to be honest, I sort of unrolled the information slowly, because I was pretty sure that I'd get both The Look and The Side Eye; but I was also pretty sure that we could get past it, if we moved carefully.

(Once, someone I respect and care about told me, 'Beth always gets what she wants.' He wasn't necessarily nice about it - we were in the middle of an argument - and it made me so angry. I'm not sure if I felt insulted or caught, and, quite frankly, I've been worrying over that ever since, like a tiny piece of steak caught between your teeth. Do I really always get what I want? Or, more importantly, do I bulldoze my way in, out, and around the people I love to get what I want?

This concerns me, as half the time, I'm not even sure what I want. I don't trust myself, like John Mayer says, with loving you or anything else. I know I'm impetuous and spontaneous and ridiculously naive at times. I know I refuse to look at details and keep my head in the clouds. I know this about myself, and I don't trust what I want, which is one sure, strong reason why my husband is a solid match for me; he slows me down and makes me think.

Where was I?)

So, I had this strategy, that I knew he would need some time to process, even though I knew this guy wasn't an ax murderer, and I think hospitality matters and that the most wonderful thing we should do is open our home and feed this guy dinner and let him spend the night and let's just DO IT FOR GOODNESS' SAKE.

Plus, I was curious. What kind of person decides to spend 10 weeks on a motorcycle, criss-crossing the country to the tune of 23,000 miles? I mean, I knew who he was, but I didn't really know him.

Tracy and I went to high school together. Without the internet, we'd probably have never, ever even thought of one another again. Even with the internet, I was unsure; did I know him from choir? Did he write for the school paper? Was he a year older than me?

Wrong. He was a band guy - trombone, to be exact. He wasn't a journalist; in fact, he ended up in education, like me, teaching music. I nailed the age - he did indeed graduate a year before I did, but we were acquaintances because of school musicals, mostly. That's about it for our history, unless there's something else that I don't remember. And just like everybody wants to reach out and touch somebody through Facebook, we'd become 'friends', which is to say we gave each other permission to look at our photos of our kids and our yards, and to read our blog posts.

So Tony says Okay and I realize that really, I am not even CLOSE to being ready for company, as the boys' rooms are wrecked and the girls' room is still buried under wedding dresses and clutter. There's the basement space, but the bathroom is filthy - like unfit for human use - and the bed hasn't been made.

So I made a pie, and started fixing dinner for a guy who said he'd been eating Ramen and sleeping in backyards. He showed up, but I didn't even know it, because he had rolled up, found Tony outside in the garage and they immediately started talking bike talk. That gave me time to clean the bathroom.

We ate dinner and caught up and asked the inevitable question: Why are you doing this?

I think his answer satisfied me - it started out as a Guinness Book of World Records thing, totally legit, and it was fascinating to hear about that process. He eventually abandoned that plan - did you know that a traveling world record attempt requires two full minutes of video while you are in transit, every hour? Crazy! So the world record won't happen this trip, but he is pressing on with his original dream to get the miles under his belt.

He shared his stories of the road and even more (hilarious) stories of school bus wrecks, and students and education...and as we sat and talked, a peculiar melancholy settled over me.

I couldn't explain it then, and I'm less able now. I wish I could pinpoint it; a swirl of nostalgia, coupled with a total lack of nostalgia, talking with a man who left the era in which we were comrades, of a sort, to pursue a solid, enduring marriage, three kids and a varied, but settled, career. I watched my husband connect and really, deeply enjoy the conversation; he was inspired and encouraged. That pleased me, greatly.

But for me, something was amiss. Expectations, maybe; I only know Tracy Farr from the memories of adolescence, and I don't remember much. We didn't do the, 'Hey, do you remember when?.....', because we didn't have any of those.

Yet, he knew me, the girl I used to be. Or at least he saw me, way back then. And maybe I was hoping for some clue, some revelation or connection between this rich place I find myself in today, and the wild, iridescent mayhem of being sixteen. Maybe I thought he'd walk into the house of this fifty-year old woman with nearly grown kids and say, 'I can tell you how you got here because I knew you way back when and this is what I saw...' But that's ridiculous.

We didn't have time for those conversations, for the meandering exploration of what we hoped and dreamed and where we are. We'd start from scratch, anyway; we had no notes to compares, no foundational history other than geography. We both stumbled through and survived adolescence and built lives doing the best with what we had, and here we are, and such is life.

So Tracy Farr rode quickly into our lives and regaled us with stories. He rode out just as quickly, on the move; no time for sight-seeing or even breakfast, as his purpose is wrapped in deadlines and mileage. But for just a few hours, over dinner and pie and his best stories, there was some sort of closure, some acknowledgement of that life that was High School in Grand Prairie, Texas; some brief connection of being in our fifties, in America, with all the wide open spaces you care to explore right in front of you. Ours for the asking.

I'm so glad Tracy came, and I'm praying for safety as he continues to ride.

You can see his pictures of his trip here; they are magnificent. He writes about his travels (and other stuff) here.

And he looks like this:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Small, Sticky Truths

'Epiphany' - it's a big word for an 'aha' moment.

Sometimes it's a 'DUH' moment, more akin to Homer Simpson than a host of angels or some deeply intellectual metaphysical understanding.

I had one, this morning.

It's for me, because I need reminding.

Because I read the news on the internet about missionaries who end up captivated by child pornography; about a political system that sometimes seem more like a game show; about financial systems collapsing. I hear about soldiers dying - a story that barely makes the news. Drought and destruction and collapse and iniquity and corruption and death.

I see a broken world. But, of course, it's always been so...

I clasped in my hand, yesterday, post-it notes with very personal, very real requests for prayer. They were small, sticky truths; the reality of why we do what we do every Sunday, when we proclaim help and healing through an infinite God who somehow became flesh and somehow matters. I stood in a small circle and asked for it, knowing that it might be a dangerous request.

It was.

My heart is pulverized, with the weight of all that is carried in that small circle that is my immediate family, my brothers and sisters, my fellow pilgrims.

Financial paralysis - over and over again.

I said, We must believe this, we must live this if we are to ask, with integrity, for others to join us on this journey. So raise YOUR hand, share YOUR burden, move towards honest community. Write down your burden. I will pray for you.

"I will pray for you."

I said it, and I meant it.

But then I read those notes, one after the other, and my heart seized and I felt burdened...

which is what I asked for.

I will pray for you.

So I brought them home, and I woke up this morning knowing I had a million things to do.

I will pray for you.

I checked Facebook, and made a list of the most pressing needs on this very busy day. I checked the news. I checked Facebook again, just in case I missed anything.

I read my email.

I will pray for you.

The moments crept up on me, that point in the morning where you know if you don't move now, you're going to be late, and the timeline you'd planned will go out the window. It hit me, and it was time to move, and I looked at the evidence of my morning, and I felt some despair - at the state of the world, and the random chaos of my Facebook feed, and my emails that offer more and more Things To Do, and I knew I had to move, and I felt overwhelmed.

Monday morning, 6:30AM, and I already felt defeated. In despair. And wondering, honestly, if it even matters. In a Godless society, where it's easier and easier to live independently, sleeping in on Sundays, unconcerned with faith, proudly and openly secular - does it even matter?

All these people, all this pain, all this clutter - does it even matter?

And then came that epiphany, the one that - quite frankly - I don't want to admit. But the one that I am compelled to confess this morning, before this week takes off. I want to remind myself. I want to remind you.

I gently reminded a friend and coworker last week that doing the work of Jesus requires a daily awareness of what he did, how he lived, what he said. To declare it with integrity means we have to internalize it.

And it's not as if it is a struggle, or a difficult, torturous thing. The words and acts of Jesus are life-giving, precious, encouraging, uplifting, interesting.

But then again, so is Facebook. Isn't it?


I know I'm not the only one. My distraction today was Facebook and financial stuff. Only an hour in, I'm anxious that the week is a loss already....

But it's not.

I have people to pray for.

I have a spiritual practice that says mediation matters, prayer matters, reading Old Testament history and prophecy and New Testament tales of incarnation - they all matter, and they change us.

So, join me, will you? If God is to be real, and a reality in your life - today, tomorrow, and the next day - let's act like it.

I don't know what it looks like for you, but for me, it looks like this:

Remembering that blessed are the meek, and those who mourn, and the poor in spirit.
Praying for a wrinkled stack of sticky notes.
Offering praise from my heart and my truth, rather than a somebody else's song.

Grateful, for grace - this, and every day.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Death As A Teacher

Death is not all that complicated.

It may be a long watch, when we deal with illness or injury. 

It may come suddenly; it may take us by surprise.

Regardless,there is no doubt that we all know it awaits. Each and every one of us is headed int the same direction, the same end. This mortal life will cease and we cross into that place that remains a mystery to all who walk this earth.

Death, then, is fair. We all get there. No one escapes, regardless of the imbalances we encounter while living. 

Death is fair, and it is a most appropriate teacher. And we learn, as we move through what remains. 

Mourning and grief; these are complicated things. Those left behind - we do all we can to make sense of it, to seize the day and reevaluate life in light of the shadow of death. It doesn't flinch, it does not draw back; it is what it is, and it is final.

Today, I wore the role of 'pastor' in a way that is not unfamiliar and yet not without great reverence and respect. I officiated the funeral of a friend, a fellow musician. And I cannot help but reflect upon this experience, even considering why it has such resonance and power in me even now, hours later. I'm a pastor; that's what pastors do, right? Weddings, funerals, Sunday services; we represent the presence of God where needed or expected. It's not that complicated.

But for me, it is never simple. When I wear this hat I am always, constantly, aware of my lack of qualifications. And it's not just the basic human insecurities of whether or not I'm good enough - it's a larger thing, one that carries, for me, the immensely serious and powerful responsibility of this role. Not that I think I'm all that - I don't. It's precisely because I'm not all that - not much more than a mom, a wife, a teacher, a musician who is forever indebted to the brilliant and life-changing power of God and the larger-than-life truth of Jesus. I am confident that God called me into service, but there is tremendous weight in the office of pastor. My expectations are high. 

So I tread lightly. I prayed, and I dug deep. I wrote words and walked away and came back to edit again. I had the great privilege of taking an entire day to contemplate the life of a specific human - his legacy and the imprint he left on the world - and to consider what it would mean to represent the presence of God as we gathered to celebrate his life. 

And then we met today, and the God who says I will never leave you or forsake you was true to His word, and He was with me, and the certainty of the words I'd written rang with rich, vivd power in my own heart. Something clicked within me, something about the presence of God and the gift of human presence and a half-century of life and the beginning of wisdom, coupled with the reverence of the Holy One.

My friend, Craig; we will miss your presence. Your smile and your constant encouragement live on, even today, with the honor of standing in front of those who love you, refusing presumption, welcoming the companionship of the One with whom you walk, right now, on the other side of this life. Thank you for this last gift, brother. 

I will hold it carefully.

Craig Butler RIP

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Childlike Faith In A Music Store

Although I did preach the sermon on Youth Sunday at my church in 1980, and in spite of the fact that I can look back now and see a definitive calling into ministry even in my childhood, my first career and my formal education is in teaching. I have a degree in Music Education, and I've taught in public and private classrooms off and on since the mid-80's.

I have great, powerful memories of teaching school; a few years in the Dominican Republic that were fueled by youthful passion and exuberance and the incredible beauty of the Caribbean. I was young enough and bold enough to believe that anything was possible, and so it was. Green and naive, I was filled to the brim every day with the joy of teaching.

In a small town in Texas, I learned what it was like to open your heart to kids from difficult circumstances, and I came to see the honor and privilege it was to gain trust and respect in a way that mattered both inside and outside of the classroom.

I taught in Ohio, a year that was probably more about my survival and sanity than any good I did in the classroom - but I still believe it mattered, the opportunity to walk into a classroom every day and wave a banner that said You matter. Your soul matters. Your heart matters. Sing. Play. Dance. Shout. Make it matter.

I've always believed that education is ministry - life change, investment, transformation. Again, during one transitional year in Chesterfield County, I encountered kids who needed so much...and others who barely seemed to need anything. I did my best to be present, but it was a hard year for me; I was barely present in my own life, and teaching was hard. My cup, that used to overflow, was parched and drained, and giving and sharing and leading and guiding was exhausting.

That was the year I walked away; I was offered the opportunity to work full-time for my church, in the same community where my kids attended school, and I needed to do it. I needed to soak in the grace and healing; I needed to give back and serve. I wanted to be there.

It was a very good decision; a decade into the job, I've grown in ways I knew were necessary and others that were unexpected. Creativity has flourished; I've discovered my weaknesses and learned not to fear them.

I stayed in the classroom, part-time, for a year or two; the local high school needed an accompanist and I gladly obliged, grabbing moments when I was asked to instruct and coach and cast vision and throw out words of inspiration. But when I walked out of the classroom for the final time, I said I was done. I have no plans to teach in the classroom again. Leaning hard into the work on my plate in this season of life at my current job, I seize the moments when I can tutor and enlighten, expound upon things, throw out some ideas and inspiration and wait for the light bulb to come on.

I love those moments. But I have no interest in going back to the classroom.

And yet, today, something beautiful and amazing and wonderful happened. My husband's business - Powhatan Music & Sound - had been asked to host a special event for elementary kids in the county. Called Read to the Rhythm, the school partnered with the library to hand out books, share stories and inspire kids to read throughout the summer months. We worked to clean up and prepare and make room...

And then the kids came in.

And they kept coming.

I never counted, but we had probably 60 to 75 kids there, from preschool up through 6th grade. They were eager, smiling; each one came in clutching a copy of a new Scholastic book that the volunteers handed out on the front porch of the music store. Respectful, mindful of their surroundings, we had no issue at all with kids touching instruments or running around. They were well-behaved and well-mannered.

Valerie Ayers, of the local school board, had chosen a book about music to read to the kids. For certain sections of the book, I was prepared to illustrate with a live instrument; 'P' is for piano (which I played); 'V' is for violin (which I cannot play, but I can fake); and on and on, with banjos and ukuleles and maracas and guitars and the upright bass.

The kids smiled and I had an absolute blast.

I got to tell them about the music store in a very short spiel, and then we took a few questions.

How do you make the instruments?

What makes the sound?

Do you have every instrument here?

How do you yodel in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'?

There was a moment, when I was speaking, bent over towards those upturned, shiny faces, when the joy of teaching flooded through me. I remembered what it was like to spend an entire school year with a group of children who knew that they were there to learn, who were caught up in a system that was sometimes a chore and yet they were willing to go along and follow the one leading.

Childlike faith.

That's a thing in my current day-to-day job, this notion that there is great value in childlike faith. But in this day and age, the serious, humble pursuit of childlike faith seems to be lost in the shuffle. Lately, it gets shouted down by folks taking sides and tossing out arguments, pushing agendas and defending long-held beliefs; there certainly isn't much evidence of the innocence that 'childlike faith evokes on the endless stream of social media declarations and demarkations - even (or especially?) from followers of Jesus, for whom childlike faith was worthy of emphasis. Even when we gather on Sundays, sometimes it's an awkward mix of a longing to celebrate and the tender, careful eggshells we walk on for those who remain skeptical or even hostile; the air can be thick with cynicism, a stubborn tolerance of rather than participation in corporate singing, a bleak "show me" cloud that hovers over our heads, reeking of the muck and mire of cultural battles and general discontent. Anything 'childlike' can get buried pretty quickly.

Richard Rohr often provokes interesting challenges in me; his writing inspires, occasionally comforts, but mostly stirs up a mess in my soul. These days, I think my heart is better stirred up and thoughtful than it is relaxed and cozy, and this morning, I read these words from Rohr:
Humans tend to think that if they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. Presence is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is a much more vulnerable position, and leaves us without a full sense of control, which is why many will not go there...In some ways, presence is the 'one thing necessary' (Luke 10.42), and perhaps the hardest thing of all.
I'm not sure if any of the dots connect in this; they hardly do for me, so I cannot say for sure that anyone reading this can make sense of it. A relative who reads my blog occasionally told me last week that I wrote a lot, but often didn't really say anything. He smiled as he said it, and neither of us were really sure if it was a complement or constructive criticism - but it's true, really. I write a lot and I don't always understand it, but I can tell you this: Something about standing in front of a bunch of open-faced, open-hearted children, talking about the joy found in music and learning - that changed me today. It pulled me clear back around to the beginning of my life, lived with purpose, and it caused me to think about what I do every day, especially on Sundays, in my work and my real life.

As Rohr says, I think I encountered presence, today, of a sort that I can't really make sense right now - but that's okay. That vulnerability is okay, and maybe even necessary.

Childlike faith. Oh, may I remember.

Monday, June 29, 2015

On Writing And Waiting

I wrote a letter this morning, the old-fashioned way. Pen to paper, the pressure of my fingers curved
around an instrument that does not harbor an instantaneous 'delete' button.

(I know this, because I swear, when I misspelled a world, the ring finger on my right hand automatically moved toward the top right of the paper...)

The writing of the letter was interesting enough, but the fascinating part (to me) was that in the three hours since I wrote that letter (and mailed it), I have been anxiously awaiting a reply.


I have had to stop, and think, and then pointedly tell myself that all the things I told her, she doesn't yet know.

I've been chewing on that for a bit. Certainly I'm aware of the studies that show how our brains and our attention spans are evolving, morphing into this digital age of information overload. I know full well that too much online influx makes my brain less able to process, to create, to think clearly. But I've never really considered how the instantaneous sharing of information creates this powerful expectation of response. 

I have certainly been thinking about it today, as I realize - with some concern - how hard-wired I am for an instant reply to the letter I wrote today, which is still probably three days away from its recipient. What does that mean? Does that change what I wrote? Without the imperative demand of an immediate response - the kind that we expect with a text, or a Facebook post, or even an email - is the information I sent diluted? If we're not in instantaneous dialogue, what is the context of the words, scrawled on a page, three days prior?

These are questions that were ridiculous just a few years ago; but today, I'm shocked by how different the process of written communication can be - not the new form, but the old-fashioned kind.

Sarah and Max received a beautiful, hand-crafted wedding gift from a thoughtful and very creative friend. The address label and the card inside were made with a tool that I instantly recognized - but was surprised to see. Sarah told me that this craftsman - their friend - uses a typewriter to write - no word-processor or computer print-outs, just an old school typewriter. I was, in turn, shocked, amused and then intrigued. I thought of carbon paper, and white-out, and the IBM Selectric that came with the automatic 'erase' key. I remember those machines.

I remember pounding out long letters, stringing together sentences for my uncle Dave, for my old babysitter Bev - my missives sent gently to those I trusted the most, as my fingers aimed for the magic of the written word that so captivated and called to me. I worked in an office for a few years in my late teens, and any spare moment that had no work to do found me either reading or writing. I loved both.

Just a little over a week ago (has it been only that long? It seems years...), Sarah handed me her vows, hand-written on two over-sized sheets of her sister's drawing paper. She had passionately poured out her promise, her deepest feelings about marrying this man she loved. She asked me to edit, and I volunteered to type them for her on something more manageable to hold at such an intimate moment in their ceremony. I've always been the editor of my kids' writing, and this particular creative outpouring was especially precious. But whereas I freely added punctuation and altered sentence structure in applications and essays and research papers, in this case her work stood as it was. And I recall, in that moment when I heard the words she had written come out of her mouth (and her heart) as she pledged her life to Max - I remember how clearly I saw her, and how grace pointed out to me the unique "other-ness" of my child, standing on her own, joining hands and jumping into that wild ride that is the challenge and chaos and utter joy of marriage. In the context of her written words becoming a vow, the moment she spoke them was weighted with purpose and infused with hope. My edits would have altered what was; they would have been rude and presumptuous and wrong. Her words were hers, and they were ripe with truth as she delivered them, in the moment they were needed.

We write words, and sometimes the context is one like a simmering stock, in which the marrow ebbs and mingles with the sweet and charred bits and pieces. Eventually, it cools, and your tongue tastes the smallest offering off the wooden spoon, and you see that it is good. It just took some time.

And that's like writing a letter these days, I suppose.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Abell Photography

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Perspective: A Wedding Post (With Pictures)

It was a subtle refrain, stuck in the niche of my brain.

Ohhhhh, the rains fell down and the floods came up
The rains fell down and the floods came up
The rains fell down and the floods came up...

The rains fell, and we had a flood of mud and muck, and yes - a huge tree branch fell, and someone received minor injuries, and the winds were incredible and it turned out we were experiencing the remnants of a tropical storm.

But first, they got married.

My daughter, Sarah, married her best friend, Max. And oh, what a day it was!

We started early; Sarah threw together some delicious things in the kitchen for something that resembled breakfast. Most of the females left the house, headed for hair appointments; two of the bridesmaids who were also responsible for the incredibly beautiful floral arrangements and decor stayed behind to work out their creative juices.

Everything ran late, of course. We were scrambling at the last minute to get the photographer in place, to get the pictures she wanted, to get the right undergarments....

Meanwhile, the guests were arriving. It was hot, but there was no rain in sight - and we were grateful.

When she was ready, I left my mother-in-law's house and walked to our backyard. I grabbed a bottle of water and got in line, with the rest of the family, for our processional. Someone stage-whispered, "Beth! BETH! Where are the flowers? For the flower girl?"

I didn't know, but I figured I could find something. I scrambled up the back deck stairs into the kitchen; I found two bags of beautiful rose petals. Somebody said, "Use this!" - and we crammed the petals into a gold-plated thing with a handle and I ran back out the door.

I left my phone behind, so I took no pictures. I focused on being present, being in the moment; and it was exquisite.

We walked in, the extraneous parts of this new family formation. On the arm of my son, I walked towards the front and sat down. The men came in, and the pastor - my brother - stood beside his soon-to-be brother-in-law. I smiled to myself as I looked at Max, looking slightly nervous - which was more nervous than I'd ever seen him. He counted the people; I watched as his eyes roamed over the crowd, his lips moving - and smiling from time to time. I supposed he saw people he loved in the crowd and hoped that it made him happy.

The bridesmaids came in, one by one; they represented such a powerful thing in Sarah's life, these women who knew her from different seasons. Girls from Savannah; former roommates and friends who'd shared important parts of these last few years. Christine and Kristen, the other two thirds of a trio of love and affection that winds from Ohio to Pennsylvania, Virginia and Indiana; girls who have partnered in life with Sarah for almost 15 years.

And then the maid and matron of honor, the sisters of the bride. They were both trembling with anticipation - what I recognized as the prelude to some serious tears.

The song began - a guitar and the voice of a friend and groomsmen - and we waited. I watched my brother, who knew to give me the look, that thing we know how to do as worship leaders when it's time for the pastor to make his move. It's subtle; a slight nod, a downward shift of the eyes...and it made me smile.

Eric gave me the look, and I performed that one motion of leadership that the Mother of the Bride gets to do; I stood and turned, so our friends and family would do the same, and I saw my daughter, on the arm of her father. She stopped as she reached the back row, and my father joined his first-born grandchild to escort her down the final part of her journey as a single girl.

He was crying.

They reached the front row, and Dad kissed her through his tears, and I took his hand as he turned to take his seat with Mom. Sarah and Lonnie moved up the small hill to Eric, and Max, and everybody was beaming.

There was a prayer, and a worship song, and the giving away - but the moment that opened the door to the incredible emotional connections present in this sacred ceremony was when my brother, the pastor, looked at his niece, the bride,  and said,
"Sarah, I held you in my arms on the day you were born."

I lost it right there, and Eric was choked up, and I heard sniffles all around. In that moment, the power of love and family and presence rose up in a tangible wave of purpose, like God himself saying This is what you are called to, when I call you to be my people. The long line of love, of connection, of truly knowing someone in a way you can only embrace when you've been part of a life for its entire length.

When Eric turned to Max, he said, "Max, I did NOT hold you on the day you were born", and we all laughed, and then he continued to remark upon what he knew about this man my daughter loves.

And it was all good.

Another Erik, their pastor from City Church in Savannah, read scripture and shared encouraging words. Three men played music - best friends, brother-in-law, brothers in Christ.

They read their vows and they were raw and true and deeply personal and real. Their promises were to stay grounded in Christ. Max held her hand and looked in her eyes and made his promise, and when he finished he kept gazing at her and he leaned in to kiss her, because it was obvious - we all saw it - it was the right thing to do, but Eric jumped in and said, "No, no - not yet!" and we all laughed again.

But finally, they exchanged rings - a beautiful silver band for Sarah that Max bought at Hearne's Jewelry Store in New Bern, which was founded by my grandfather and is, in fact, the source of Sarah's middle name - and a band hand-crafted of wood by a North Carolinian craftsman for Max, which is what he wanted. Then they did kiss, and Jesús sang the song that made me cry every time I heard it, the song that seals their promise and lays open the truth of how hard it will be:

Hold on, darling - this body is yours
This body is yours and mine
Hold on, my darling - 
This mess was yours
Now your mess is mine

How hard it will be, but how well worth it.

They walked down the aisle with joy, nearly floating, beaming. We finished the recessional stuff and took the pictures and moved into the reception time. I walked around, my heart bursting to see so many people who are so important to our lives.

My cousin Garth and Denise, who opened up the world to Sarah when she spent two summers with them as a nanny for their kids, who are now moving into adolescence themselves.

My cousin Drew and Victoria, with their miracle baby Elliot.

Max's brothers and sister, his parents and his nieces and nephews - who have all expressed love and affection for Sarah that reassures and comforts me, as her family widens.

My brother-in-law - some might say 'ex', but I still claim him - Donnie and his son Brendan and daughter Abby, who drove clear from Texas to celebrate with us.

Debbie and Meredith, who worked alongside Sarah at Lands' End and helped her grow in myriad ways.

Travis's mom and dad, who'd spent a hot summer night in the back yard last year as we celebrated Shannon's wedding to their son.

Sammy and Angie, whose influence on our entire family is immeasurable.

Leslie, who offers support in a way that only she and I understand when it comes to our kids.

Brian and Susan, whose friendship and partnership is stronger than I could have ever hoped for.

Lonnie, who smiled all night long.

Tony, who did whatever it took to make it all happen.

We ate - the Boka Tako truck came, and if you haven't had their shrimp and grits tako, you haven't lived. The Gelati Celesti truck came and the dessert was heavenly.

And the rains came, as I mentioned at the beginning of this long post. The rains came down and nothing went as planned from that point on. The toasts were interrupted; the sound system quit working. Torrential rains blew in sideways. A huge branch sheared off the tree that stood between the tent and our house; it clipped a friend on the foot and left a serious bruise. The ice cream truck got stuck in the mud.

But eventually the rains passed, and we plugged in somebody's phone and turned the music back on, and they danced. The mud was deep around the dance floor, but they danced and danced and Sarah and Max smiled and laughed and enjoyed every minute.

They left, in a car that had been decorated and then washed clean by the storm. We waved goodbye as our sparklers faded out.

The rest of that song came back to me as well - not just the part about the rain. It says, "The wise man built his house upon the rock...and the house on the rock stood firm."

That is EXACTLY what I believe we witnessed, in the unexpected events of June 20. It was a crazy night, and much of it didn't go as planned; but Max and Sarah are on solid ground. Messy ground, sure - but solid. And theirs.

We'll never forget it.

At Ahead of Hair - the hoody worn by Christine, Kristen, and now the third and final bride.

Shannon gets her Boka on.

Miracle baby Elliot and my cousin, Drew.

A beautiful photo of my mom, Victoria and Elliot!

They served each other tacos.

My cousin, Garth, with his Uncle Clyde - my dad.

Beautiful - am I right? 

He's fit right in with the family since the beginning. 

That's a pouty duo. 
Favorite pastors.

Shannon, getting her WATERMELON on.

Eric and Levi, considering their tacos.

Love these guys - but check that photo bomb by the best wedding coordinator EVER!

Everyone in this photo is named Eric(k).
I'm not kidding.
Four of them were in the ceremony.
Is there such a thing as too many Eric(k)s?

I just love taking pictures of this happy couple.

The bride and the photographer - friends from way back.

Travis playing a little John Mayer for the daddy/daughter dance. She changed into a reception dress made by my mom,
barefooted with bangles made by Susan Lloyd.

Second cousins.

He cleans up well!

Best man, maid and matron of honor - right before things fell apart.

Sweetheart table, with the sweethearts.

I think this was right about the time he had to reassure her that everything was going to be okay.
Even though trees were falling and rain was blowing sideways...

Eli got some serious dancing in! 

Eli, again - with Katie!

Sisters, dancing.

There were no lights...but there were toasts.

We held up our phones to illuminate Syd and Shannon's speeches.

Meanwhile, Tony took care of business....with his chainsaw.

Justin. This guy was amazing.

Max's nieces. Beautiful!

Invite Mathew O'Donnell to any party and he will Tear.Up.The.Dance.Floor

Siblings, dancing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Off And Running - A Wedding Post

There are so many things I want to process about Sarah's wedding; about the day itself, and all the days leading up to the day. About Max, and his family; about their friends and the incredible energy that flowed through them throughout the entire weekend.

I haven't had time yet to sit and think through it all. I want to make time to write, but there are other, more pressing concerns.

But this one thing, I can talk about. It caught me completely off guard.

I knew there would be beautiful moments of togetherness. We just did this last year with Shannon, and though they are VERY different girls who wanted different things for their wedding day, some things would remain. I knew we'd have a few moments of tenderness - some spontaneous, and others planned for the photographer. I knew my heart would swell, and I was certain I'd cry.

But this one thing happened and it floored me, and really prepared me for all that was to come.

With the wedding in our back yard, we were incredibly blessed to have the convenience and hospitality of my mother-in-law's house in what is, essentially, our front yard. It was there that the girls would dress and prepare, where her daddy would pick her up and guide her to aisle that led to Max.

The girls came back to our house from the hairdresser and Sarah was focused, ready to get busy. I'm sure she was nervous, too; but what I saw was determination. She gathered a few things, we noticed the time (we were already off schedule) and then we headed out the door to Louise's house.

Sarah, 90 minutes before her wedding.

She took off. She didn't wait for me - she didn't need to. She walked with purpose and determination, like she knew her destination. She didn't rush or hurry; she just moved efficiently and deliberately.

The girl had places to go and people to see. And she walked, on her own, to get ready.

To be sure, I don't know what she was thinking in that moment. Maybe nothing much at all, other than Holy crap it is so HOT! But here's what I was thinking, as I walked behind her:

There she goes.
There goes my girl.
There's my first-born, my daughter.
That's the little 4 pound 15 ounce, five-weeks-early baby that broke my heart into a million joy-filled pieces.
She knows what she wants. 
She knows what she needs.
She knows how deep, how wide, how vast is the Love that holds and helps her.

She doesn't need me; not in this moment. 
She's walking away, quite literally - and not just into the arms of a man.
This is her life; she has chosen this next step, and she's moving forward into this new season.
The decision has been made, the course has been set.

There she goes.

That's my girl.

My heart cracked again, some 24 years into this motherhood thing; but it was filled with the joy and delight that only a maternal heart knows. She and I are intertwined, as any mother and daughter might be, and perhaps in a few more complicated ways as well. There are tiny fissures in the deep love we have for one another - made from the weight of circumstances and the burdens of others and, sometimes, simply from the stress and strain of the human experience.

I know this: A cracked heart lets in light and shows you what you need to see, the truth that sometimes waits behind the walls we build through time and experience and worry and our default mechanisms for getting through life. Sarah Brawley walked towards her destiny as Sarah Philips, and in the few yards of an open field she pressed on towards what was ahead. She left me behind, but beyond any perceived sorrow is a fierce mix of pride and love and incredible fondness for one of the most incredible women in my life.

Who just happens to be my daughter.

"I've got my eye on the goal...I'm off and running, 
and I'm not turning back." (Philippians 3.14)