A few days ago, we drove east, until the modest, stubby mesquite trees of west Texas gave way to the majestic, fragrant pines that hide the horizon and cover the eastern part of the state with lush greenery. We were home. Well, one of our homes. It was the first church that took a chance on a starving artist, turned attorney, turned pastor. This is where we remembered that life is fun, where our sweet church taught us what it looks like to be selfless, to be generous, to be patient. These people took us in and loved us well when we moved here ten years ago. And now, five years removed from these precious friends, we drove there again this past week to honor the life of a dear church member who had encouraged us many times through the years.
In the funeral home’s hallway, I rounded the corner to find a chapel filled with dear old friends, people we adore and miss terribly. I listened as one of Sawyer’s preschool teachers told me how attentive he was as a toddler, how he would intently listen as she taught and then he would open his baby mouth and ask deep questions. We talked about how he has such a tender heart toward the Lord, and I got the rare opportunity to hug her and thank her for the years she invested in him, for the ways that she helped to nurture a sensitivity to the Spirit that I see in him today.
I watched as friend after friend approached our children, exclaiming about how much they have grown. I reminisced with an 86 year old who had made sure, six years ago, that she was the very first person to come to our house to hold Emerald after she was born. One of our favorites, a tall, white-haired friend who used to keep Chad company in the front seat of the church bus while he drove all over the countryside, walked into the room, and we heard about some of the many sorrows that he has endured in the time since we’ve been away. Still, he smiled, he hugged us, and he commented on the kids’ freckles. He has always loved freckles.
And then, as the service ended and it was time for us to say goodbye to our dear ones all over again, I walked out of the chapel arm in arm with a sweet friend who used to invite us to her home where she and her husband showed us old pictures and their beautiful glassware and made us fried catfish just for fun. One night we sat with them, just sat with them and ate hamburgers when their son passed away. We just wanted to be close to them. We sat and ate hamburgers and reminded each other that God is good. As we walked out of the funeral home, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “You didn’t know it, but you saved our lives that night.”
Tears sprang to my eyes. It was such a precious reminder that, in the church, God has gifted us with the sweetest opportunity to experience all the joys and sorrows of life with each other. To sit together and eat hamburgers when every word you think of saying seems wrong. To sit together in solidarity, knowing that even tragedy can’t break our faith, that no unexpected heartache can loosen God’s grip on us. To sit together, remembering that Christ is enough. He is always enough.
I know we have many more moments like this ahead of us. Times when we will just hunker down with loved ones right in the middle of a hurricane of heartache. And there will be times when dear friends will do the same for us. This is the church. This is one of the many reasons that we need each other. And, I am so thankful that I got to go “home” this week so that I could be reminded that we are called to give all of ourselves to each other.
As we made our way back west, the sky opened up again. The gorgeous pinks and oranges of the sunset cast a funny hue on the wide horizon. I smiled as I watched our beloved hometown come into view. This is where we belong. This is where we are called to give ourselves away. This is where the rich, beautiful blessings of the church continue to pour out on our little family. I’m thankful.