Tag Archives: endings

One Year Later

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It’s exactly a year to the day since the Vine ended, one of the most ash-grey moments of my life.

I don’t know why, but up until this point, I have felt very little about all of it. I did not experience anything but bone-weary relief when the Vine closed. I did not mourn when we sold our house, moved from the city that we had tried to call our home. I did not cry when we said goodbye to our friends, smiles on our faces like paint on cracked plaster.

I don’t know exactly why that all changed this last weekend.

Perhaps it was simply this year mark.

Perhaps it was being on a retreat with my new faith community, seeing the faces around me, and thinking about the people who are no longer in my life.

Perhaps it was having the retreat led by the pastor of a new church, one I had helped out during their opening worship gathering, in the very same weeks that the Vine was drawing to a close.

Perhaps it was the Taize music, bringing back nights and morning in a tiny house in our early years: two couples praying, over-full on hope; all those dreams painful rubble just a few years later.

But, for the first time this weekend, I wept.

And I missed it.

I missed the best moments of the church I tried so desperately to plant, of the times when I saw people come alive, when I watched friendships blossom, when I experienced those giddy times when I knew we were undiluted outpourings of God’s goodness to our world. I miss those moments when I felt like I had discovered an expression of church that didn’t require all the backdoor institutional compromises, one that felt like the purest offering of love that I could lift up with my life.

I miss my house. This is perhaps the most visceral of my losses. It was a glorious home; one that offered us the very best of what gave us life and the very best of what we hoped our lives would be. I miss our hardwood floors and big windows. I miss our double sized living room, our working fireplace, our wall to wall bookshelves. I miss the meandering curve of our second floor hallway and my office with its slate green walls, contemplative windows, and solid wood-block of a desk. I miss our quiet bedroom, our hopeful sitting room, our lead glassed windows, our small hidden cabinets. I miss the promise of our empty third floor, decorated with the prayers and hopes of our friends and family, waiting for a future spring, full of guests, children, and joy.

There is much that I don’t miss: the suspicious water spots on the ceiling, the sloping pitch of the floor, the sinking feeling, as our dreams slipped through our hands, that we really couldn’t afford a place like this and still build a life together.

Still, I know we will never live in a house that beautiful again.

And –  I miss, I miss my city, which still feels like home.

I miss the unpretentious beauty of its old houses.

I miss the downtown in all its struggle and hope.

I miss our friends: the young hipsters, the idealistic boomers, the dirty-fingernailed street people, the beautiful children, and the good hearted business owners.

I miss the trees and the lakes.

I miss the farms.

I miss the feeling of roots, of love for place that grew from stilted practice to effortless habit within me.

While its landscape is scarred with trauma and hurt, while often the very crosswalks and stop signs taste of bad memories, of deep doubt, of creeping, bitter disappointment, while I don’t know that I could ever have been more than a dancing puppet of my best self there, I still miss it.

I miss it. I miss it. I miss it.

I feel like I’m at a pause right now, catching my breath on a journey to somewhere. And, I admit, this pause is indeed a pleasant, peaceful, healing one.

But there are days I look back at the road behind me,

See the shape of that stillborn future,

And weep.

“By the rivers of Babylon—

   there we sat down and there we wept

   when we remembered Zion.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

   let my right hand wither!

Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,

   if I do not remember you.”

Psalm 137

Traveling Through Fear

What’s it like three month after your first great dream officially ends and you’re wondering what comes next?

There’s a lot. Much of it very good, some of it very difficult. (And I want to share the difficult parts with you as well. Why? Click here.)

I’ll tell you about one challenge I’m struggling with right now.

Fear.

It’s probably the reason why my twitter feed has dried up, my newsletter keeps getting pushed to the back burner, and why I haven’t posted very much here recently.

It’s the fear that comes from the stress of the several major transitions and the million little ones that I’m in the midst of right now.

It’s the fear that comes from having sent out several inquiries out into the wind, ones that could make a big difference for my life, and not having any control over what happens next.

It’s the fear that comes from knowing the career that I had assiduously built for the last fifteen years (that’s half my life!) is gone and that a good part of my next one will likely involve stocking grocery shelves. (I find myself saying, “Grocery stores! I’m 31! I have a Masters Degree! I’ve planted a church! I don’t stock grocery shelves! Yes, I clearly have some major issues to work through with this.)

It’s the fear of that I will not discover what I want to do next, followed by the much more intense fear that I will discover what I want to do next, but no one will care when I try.

It’s not all the time. There are days when I’m hopeful and excited for the future. However, there are also other days when so much as opening my laptop seems too much to handle.

Here’s the hard truth:

There’s no magical spiritual jujitsu, where, through the perfect combination of positive thoughts (I can do it!), the right opportunities (and then, just as I realized I could do it, that amazing job opportunity came through!), and the right affirmations, (and then, that person who always thought I was a miserable failure called me up to say how they were wrong, I am amazing, and how I had a great future in store for me!), I can wrestle my fear to the ground and beat the living crap out of it.

Maybe there are people who have such incredibly relentless resilience that, after getting knocked to the ground, they can spring back up, cheerfully dust themselves off, and leap into the next thing.

However, for mere mortals, like me, there are no easy answers.

All I’ve learned so far is this: the only way to get to the other side of my fear is to go through it, and trust there’s something good on the other side.

And that process sucks.

That’s the best I think any of us can do: travel through our fear day by day, grabbing onto every inch of progress, and trusting (or at least acting as if we trust) that something better lies at the other end.

I know that it will get easier. Decisions will get made. Doors will open (or close.) Life will get easier.

Until then, keeping going is the best that I (or any of us) can do.

 

Part One: “Well, That Sucked”

Over the next month, I’ll be reflecting on my journey with the Vine. If you’re looking for more context, check out my post: Rules of the Road.

“Well, that sucked,” I said, as I sat on the brick steps of our house one early October morning a couple of years ago.

(I just asked my wife, “Which event do you think I’m talking about?

She said, after a long pause, “Well, it could be a lot of them.”)

There was the time I led our first Bible study, proudly demonstrating the connection between the Psalms and the work of a famous post-Holocaust artist, while the two young men in our living room drank coffee and looked at me in benevolent confusion.

Except, that time I sat on my front steps, smiling like an idiot, because I had thought the whole event had gone pretty well.

There was the time we hosted a worship gathering at our house. The people taking communion had all discovered long strands of gunk in the grape juice, someone had hidden in a bedroom upstairs because he didn’t want to participate in worship, and everyone drove off as quickly as possible afterward, leaving my wife’s broken spinning wheel and a chaos of dirty dishes behind them.

I did say “Well, that sucked,” that time, except it was on our back bench while drinking a very large glass of scotch, as the strains of “I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Has Gone!” played with cheerful irony on my ipod’s speakers.

No, this was the time I was sitting down on the brick steps on a Saturday morning.

We were a year into our ministry. Everything was sunshine, pretty flowers, and amazing stories that made me feel proud to be such a damn good pastor and Christian.

We had the missional wet dream of a small group: two ex gang bangers, a guy recovering from mental illness, a recovering alcoholic, and a post-Christian millennial hipster twenty something, with an additional few church people in the mix. They had asked if we could study how they could better relate to their finances in light of their faith.

People asking if we could study how to use their money to the glory of God, (which, naturally, would include a tithe to our as-yet-unfunded-running-on-a-7000-dollar-a-year-primarily-for-coffee-budget)?

Of course, I said yes.

I created a four week curriculum with that group particularly in mind. It was participatory, concrete, used lots of media, and engaged every learning style.

I was very impressed with it.

Class was scheduled for 9:00 AM that Saturday morning.

I was prepared.

I had folders. I had a class outline so detailed that a brain-dead chimpanzee (and even most pastors) could teach it effectively. I brewed coffee. I even made muffins. Homemade muffins.

I sat on my brick front steps, 9:00 AM, basking in my excitement, ready to change some lives for Jesus.

9:05 rolled around.

I was not worried. I had a group for which on-time perpetually means 15-30 minutes late.

9:15.

Crickets.

I began looking up and down the street.

9:30.

Still no one.

I started pacing.

9:35.

I started looking down the street, trying to force every passing car into my driveway by sheer force of will.

9:40.

I started calling.

I left three voice-mails.

I finally got someone. “Hey, sorry, I’m too tired to go today, maybe I’ll come next week.”

You’re too tired to take my lovingly hand-baked class?

You’ll just come next week? The class is sequential. There’s homework. You can’t just come next week.

Asshole.

Another person: “Sorry, I was able to work today, needed the money, you know?”

I didn’t point out that, perhaps, in the long term, learning how to manage your money, (e.g. don’t spend it on an iphone when you’re in debt and you live in a shared apartment that smells like drugs and shit) might be a better long-term strategy.

I sat on the steps again.

The smell of muffins wafted tauntingly from inside.

“Well, that sucked,” I said, not for the last time.

New Chapters

Most of the time, chapters of my life have ended so quietly that I didn’t notice until I was well into the next one.

However, as the time approaches for my church’s final worship gathering together tomorrow afternoon, I can almost hear the pages coming together with a bang.

Lots of people have asked me, “What are you going to next?”

I’ve joked and said, “That’s Monday’s problem.”

Well, Monday is just two days away.

In two days, I will be more or less jobless.

In two days, I will have to wrestle more concretely with my vocation than I have since I was sixteen.

In two days, I will have to figure out what to do with all that time that used to be taken up by perpetually being so damn busy.

In two days, a new chapter of my life will begin.

I’m both anxious and excited to see what will be written there.