I’ve been pacing back and forth in my own heart for months over this. The screen in front of my eyes and the keyboard beneath my fingertips seem to mock me right where I am—stuck.
In the commute through Nashville into Franklin. In line at the grocery store. Taking walks downtown when I need to reset my brain. I seem to be stuck.
This is how it has always been.
A word or phrase crosses my mind in a moment of silence and it slowly simmers and soaks. I tend to it in unexpected ways and through simple conversations. Words start to float to the surface and I skim the froth that carries the richest flavor off of the top.
Writing feels like it comes on fast, but I suspect it takes quite a while.
This project here took me 27 years.
Like the things I manage to scratch down, these days feel pretty fleeting. I recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Or that’s the simplest way to put it. But if we’re being accurate—which I hope to be–I moved to Hermitage, Tennessee, just to the east of Nashville and I work in Franklin, Tennessee which was, allegedly, voted the “number one small town in Tennessee.” I’m still getting used to typing Tennessee, hoping that when it’s solidified in the muscle-memory of my fingertips it might feel a little more like a free,deep breath than wearing an oxygen tube that forces air into your lungs. When you move to new place, a lot of things go into survival mode. Eat. Drink Water. Sleep. Stretch. Try to get from Trader Joe’s back home without Apple Maps.
Finding a new church is kind of the worst. Once you’re there and you’re rooted in a community and your roots start to tangle with those near you, it’s a little steadier. But you have to hear a good amount of sermons and smile and explain that you “just moved to Nashville” and sing songs you don’t know first.
I finally managed, by the grace of God, to land at a little church and it seems that, for the first time in weary weeks, my oxygen tube was lowered.
Back in Austin, where I was an intern for a year, I found an Anglican church called Christ Church. It was an alarming change for those who have a less-than-ecumenical view of things. It would also be alarming to the pilgrim ancestors who were fleeing the Church of England in the New World. The jump from Baptist to Anglican is mostly one of practice, but not one of big-picture things. We lean hard into scripture and community and prayer.
In Austin, they became my little life raft as I navigated the turbulent waters of post-Seminary transition. I went from being surrounded by people who got the above pilgrim joke, to being an odd-man-out. It wasn’t all bad, and Christ Church certainly softened the blow. We gathered and joked and told stories and hardly ever felt the impulse to watch YouTube videos or google things, which doesn’t sound like amazing criteria, but it was exactly what I needed. To connect to those who valued one another and the Lord in a way that was real and good. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist other places—the church is global. But Christ Church was a genuinely sound group of people. The kind who fast together and feast together. Who stay away from small group at the sign of a cold because someone’s protecting their immune system after cancer treatment. Who let you lay on the couch and sip water the day after you almost die of dehydration. Who sit on front porches and all coerce the children to look at the camera. Nearly a dozen voices, urging on the little ones.
My last Sunday, I stood in the front during the Benediction and looked them all in the eye. We walked down the aisle during the final song and Father Cliff handed me the mic as I shakily said through tears, “Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
“Thanks be to God!” the congregation replied, “Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
The first friend I met at my church here in Nashville was Lynzy. She really does spell her name that way. We chatted briefly and I made my way out of the building, pretending that I might never come back, even though I knew I certainly would. Like my 2-year-old niece and I winking across the table during dinner prayer, I was half in and half out.
Week two, I sat in the back on the other side of the sanctuary when it hit me like a slow and steady series of waves when you’re standing waist-deep in a lake. I knew it was home, and all of a sudden I felt a tremendous wave of grief and couldn’t keep my balance and went under into the cold, powerful water.
I stepped forward for the Eucharist and as we took communion, the worship leader sang clearly and strongly, “There’s gonna be a great rejoicing.” I took bread and wine and felt my breath catch in my chest as I quietly sang and wept. With every note, it felt like Christ Church was being replaced. Devastating.
Tell me all you want about how they’re in my heart and it’s not over and we’ll always be friends and maybe I’ll move back, but this is the truth: Life is crazy fleeting. And sometimes, we grieve and we move on and it doesn’t mean we don’t keep those friendships, but it does mean I don’t get to cross Austin and pick up Mediterranean food and Cheerios and walk into someone’s living room the way I used to.
Lynzy and I decided we should get dinner the following week. We sat down and talked for hours and just as I started to take that tube out from my nostrils to breathe deeply on my own, she looked and me and said she was about to graduate from nursing school. And she was moving. In about 6 weeks.
A this point, we had a choice. Give up or press in.
We made the most of it. We ate more meals together and told stories and she told me that she believed in this blog and I told her that she was going to be an amazing nurse. About 20 seconds later, we were sitting in her empty apartment, eating the food that still lingered in the pantry, sipping hot chocolate and watching Harry Potter. We started it at 9:30pm on a weeknight and I didn’t get home until 12:30, but it was worth it.
She graduated two days later and I arrived late to church that Sunday. I sat on the other side of the sanctuary from Lynzy and her parents who had come into town.
And that’s when I opened my notebook and wrote out, “these friendships are fleeting and fast and perhaps they make me feel my lack of settledness the most. Things fluctuate from abundance to want so quickly that I’m almost knocked off balance.”
There were plenty of reasons to stay there, on that side of the sanctuary, alone. But suddenly I felt in my gut that I had to soak in all the moments we had. We all stood for the Gospel reading and I stood up to walk across the sanctuary so fast I nearly ran right into the vestry and had to re-route.
From this part of the room, I glanced around. I saw those friendships that were fresh, but not so fleeting.
The rector’s sons, drawing on a clipboard in the first row.
The newlyweds sitting nice and close to one another, his arm on the chair behind her.
The worship leader who turns her attention to her daughter who is a remarkable likeness of her own frame.
Even if I have the honor of their friendship for 50 more years, it’ll still be too quick.
I met Lynzy’s parents during the passing of the peace. We took communion. A baby laughed loud as we sang of Our Deliverer. For the first time, I recited the correct liturgy after weeks of accidentally speaking the words we spoke at Christ Church in Austin.
As the rector whispers to his wife, “This is the body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” he raises his eyebrows as their eyes meet.
The next morning, I drove an hour out of the way to bring donuts to Lynzy and we sat one last time on the floor of her apartment as her dog soaked in the security she offers. Thatcher is a yorkie-poo who has been nervous since the packing began. We prayed and hugged and talked and hugged and avoided the inevitable.
I drove away and I thought of the day before when we were together one last time at that Church. I breathed in deep and remembered that all of these things are framed by eternity as we sat in the longing of Advent.
And this is who I know Him to be: a God who is kind and sees things through and aches for us to know that every ounce of investing in one another is never wasted.
Is it fleeting? Yes.
Should we give up? No.
Do we press in? Absolutely.