Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where everybody knows your name

So, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that our family lost a beautiful, perfect, planned, wanted, beloved baby on July 4. Since then, lots of things have been helping me make it through each day while other things ping a deep, visceral response that is less thane helpful. And a lot of days, I find the coping things are art of one kind or another.

I’ve always been a woman who likes to sing, dance, whistle, read, write, and draw. I’m more successful at some than others. And I do get some funny looks at church, when I’m walking down the hall whistling as I head to my office, but if you listen closely, you’ll often realize it’s a hymn. I’m a nerd like that.

One that was in my head in the days following Brennan’s birth and death was the Cheers theme song. Don’t ask me why. But I think it’s because I wanted exactly the opposite. Here are the lyrics:

     Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
     Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
     Wouldn't you like to get away?
     Sometimes you want to go

     Where everybody knows your name,
     and they're always glad you came.
     You wanna be where you can see,
     our troubles are all the same
     You wanna be where everybody knows
     Your name.

I definitely wanted to get away, but I wanted to go where nobody knew my name. I’m a pretty public person, I don’t mind being vulnerable and open about things, and folks who know me in real life will tell you I’m a huge extrovert. So, finding a place to get away means going somewhere where nobody knows me – nobody expects anything of me, nobody thinks it’s weird or unprofessional if I’m weepy, nobody does the sympathetic head tilt and asks how I am.  

The Saturday after the birth was my first full day home. And I was really thinking about being at my church the following morning. Physically, I was fine, so why shouldn’t I be there? And it dawned on me – because everybody knows my name. I needed somewhere I could be anonymous and alone to work through the first bit of grief. I had nothing to give, as a pastor, since I was needing so much. When I talked to my lead pastor to let him know I wouldn’t be there, he was surprised I was even considering it.  

But where else would I be on a Sunday morning but in church? So, while I knew I couldn’t face my own wonderful, loving congregation, I decided I needed to be with my brothers and sisters in Christ somewhere else. So I looked up the service time for the United Methodist Church closest to my house and made the plan to go. Andy didn’t want to go, which is fine with me. We all cope differently. He honored God by taking James to play in the park that morning. 

So I got up that morning, looking grief-ful and tried to put myself together for my first real public outing. Ugh. It was not fun. Part of the nice thing of being a pastor, most of the time at my church, is that I never really worry about what to wear because I wear a robe in worship. And part of the other yuck of it was that my body was still all rounded from pregnancy but I couldn’t bear to wear maternity clothes. 

I drove to the church, avoided parking in a visitor spot, and tried to go directly to the worship space without drawing any attention. Silly me. Part of the beauty of our connectional church, especially for an extrovert like me, is that lots of people really do know my name. I didn’t realize that at this church, the entryway was also the gathering space prior to worship. So there were so many people. And the pastor, a sweet colleague of mine, saw me almost immediately. Yikes! I really didn’t mean to shove my grief in his face on his first Sunday in his new church. So, I gave him the briefest of hugs and practically ran into the worship space, claiming a spot on the very back row. 

But I wasn’t fast enough. Their lay leader came by to give me a hug. Another lay person, who leads their church’s mission team for my church’s Sunday morning feeding ministry, came by and wordlessly dropped a box of tissues off in the seat next to me. Then, as worship started, I saw the pastor’s wife go by, being directed to her special spot by one of the ushers. I smiled despite my circumstances; worship was exceptionally full, probably as a “see the new guy” kind of Sunday. 

Then the pastor’s wife saw me. And I know their story, which includes the loss of a child. Not like our story, because every story is distinctive and unique, but close enough for us to resonate. She came back to the very back row where I was sitting, where I was desperately trying to draw an invisible screen of anonymity around myself, and asked to sit with me. I said, “But you’re an important person, you should sit up front.” She shrugged and sat with me. She worshiped with me. She didn’t say anything after she sat down, besides the responses and singing the hymns. She didn’t judge the tears streaming down my face. She was the best friend to me in that moment that I could have asked for. Like Job’s friends, before they mess up, she just came and sat with me in my pain.

It’s an uncomfortable place to sit. I admire the people who can do it because, honest to God, I want to flee this place myself most of the time. But this is my life, so I can’t run from it. And I realized later, that even though I really thought I wanted to be alone, there was a reason I felt the need to worship that day. I needed the connection with God and community to be reaffirmed because grief can feel awfully lonely. So praise be to God for the grace I found that day. I pray you find the grace you need this day and every day.

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