loss

How to Stay: a sense of place for the tent-loving nomad

FullSizeRenderIt was a morning in May, and we were having breakfast in the lobby of a Hampton Inn.

We were on our way to Grandma’s funeral, and Toby and I started talking about my grandparents’ house – how the house would be sold soon, which felt heavy to me – he sympathized -- and then he was talking about planting oak trees in the backyard of our North Carolina home for our great-grandchildren – and I felt myself growing weirdly irritable – grumpy that he was thinking so far out and would want to– I don’t know --- “lock us in” to staying in North Carolina (I love North Carolina, by the way) – agitated that he would want to spend himself on something that (duh) won’t be realized because we won’t even be in that house by then…I mean, didn’t we spend our first long drives looking through maps and planning to try it all?

Within minutes, I was in tears over my dry factory-muffin. Clearly, there was trouble in River City.

By the time we were back in the elevator, I knew my problem was this thing called place, and my issue was that I didn’t believe much in “permanency” or “long-term plans” or physical home, and I thought we were on the same page about this, what if we want to try something new in a couple of years, why would we want to just be in this one house forever, how can we possibly know that, and I’m getting claustrophobic …

Sometimes we respond to not having something (home, intact family, spouse, children, talent, "success," looks, money…) by deciding we never wanted it in the first place. We say, “That’s for other people” or “Yeah, it’s just never been important to me.”

But maybe I do believe in roots & permanence. Maybe I’m open to going, but could also enjoy staying, and possibly I raged against it not because I didn’t want it but because I didn’t see the point of wanting it and found it foreign and, frankly, terrifying.

As army brats, we didn’t grow up thinking of home as a particular spot on a map but as us -- wherever we were. We didn’t stay in one house or continue in the same schools or vacation in the same spots. It was a wonderful, love-packed and adventuresome childhood.

When required to list a “permanent address,” it was always the little brick house in Beech Grove, Indiana, owned by Howard & Wilma Rogers, we listed. It was the place – along with Aunt Linda’s house -- we did return to every year except the four years we lived across the ocean. Those years, Grandma & Grandpa & Aunt Linda came to us.

This was the place that my parents and siblings and I kept and was kept for us, with its tiny plot of green and storm door and yellow kitchen and small bedrooms and concrete basement and homegrown green beans and memories of snow. And what I perceived as our one place – the one place we could bring our children “home” to -- was about to be taken away, and there would be no more going back.

Suddenly place mattered very much.

And so it began, my conversation with God about naming my places and stepping into them with my whole self.

boat

I’m not just talking about geography. We can be restless in lots of areas & prone to wanting something new/different/better. We like to live with one foot in, one foot out, with a bag packed "in case." We resist feeling too attached or too dependent or worse, controlled.  Or, on the other hand, we do our thing apologetically, loitering around the edges, because we don't believe we truly belong or are "good enough" to be there.

But these places that have been given to megeographically in my neighborhood and city and the world; relationally in my friendships, family of origin and the hearts of my children and my husband; vocationally in the world of independent music and the world of Christian music; and spiritually in the Church, global and local – are MINE, and in them, I DO BELONG.  

My assignments, like my Dad’s, may in the end be temporary, but I want to try to live in them like a citizen.  Or rather...like a civilian.

Sometimes it's hard to celebrate the uniqueness of our own places and be happy in them.

It's risky to let ourselves feel deeply about things that can be taken away or can take away our sense of freedom. It is.  Even as I write this, I feel a bit of dread and resistance and know there will be many moments when it’s right to say “yes” to uprooting.

But for now, my naturally nomadic spirit is going to try to leave the tent for a house of brick and mortar.  See what comes of it.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Decided to include the video for "Everything Moves But You" since this post may have shed new light on the lyric:

what it means to be "Held"

(This was originally a "page" on my former blog...since I don't yet have a place for it in this new blog format, I thought I'd share it again as a "post.") I'm sure I have it documented somewhere, maybe on a piece of notebook paper, but I can't recall it.  I do know it was several years ago--several years before Natalie Grant released it--when I first heard the stories which prompted the lyrics that became the song called "Held."  Because I am still being asked the background of that song, how it came to be, I thought perhaps I should write a little something about it.

I could talk all day about the three women whose lives I so greatly admire, who so inspired me and continue to mentor me in one way or another.  But for now, I'll briefly introduce each one and tell you how they participated (unknowingly) in this song.

Patti

Patti had been a widow for less than five years when we first met.  And she was only about 4o-years-old.  With three young daughters.  My first encounter with Patti's family was when I heard her then 10-year-old daughter sing...wow.  Her raw talent and beauty were stunning.  We soon met her other two daughters who were equally remarkable and we thought: How is she doing this??  Patti had only had a year to prepare for her husband's death.  And her husband, by the way, was young, tall, handsome, strong, athletic, intelligent, devoted and successful.  How does this happen?  Toby and I fell in love with Patti's family instantly...here was a woman who had lost her HUSBAND, the FATHER of her very young children and she was still LIVING.  She was transparent in her grief and questions and struggles and she was determined in her faith.  She shared her heart and her story with us over dinner, coffee, in the swimming pool...I particularly remember her talking about the idea of us "giving" everything over to God, except for some unspoken "sacred" parts of our life.  We mean to say: "Of course, you won't ask this of me."

Vaneetha

Vaneetha was already a survivor before the tragic death of her baby boy.  She had contracted polio as a baby and spent her childhood in hospitals around the world.  She continues to live with the effects of the disease, but when I met her she was (and still is) a beautiful, vibrant wife, mother, friend, leader.  A handful of months after we met, but before we became real friends, her infant son, Paul David, died from a heart defect that had been treated at birth.  Paul was doing remarkably well and had just been celebrated at a church-wide baby shower, when he died unexpectedly in the night.  The first verse of "Held" refers to Vaneetha and her son, Paul.  She has always spoken to me about how knowing sorrow has allowed her to also know joy...and about the strange reality of feeling God's presence most keenly in the moments of deepest grief.

Sherry

Sherry is my mother-in-law.  She had mentioned her daughter Erica to me at different times, but I remember one conversation in particular when she talked about Erica's birth and death in detail.  She spoke through tears about the pain of carrying a child to term and then having to let her go without even getting to take her home from the hospital.  She told me about the still, small voice that spoke to her in the delivery room, saying: You have to choose how you will carry this loss after this moment.  You can choose bitterness.  Or you can choose to let me wrap you up in peace that can't be explained and that will lead to hope.  You can choose to trust that you are not alone, and that everything you suffer here will someday be redeemed.

This conversation with Sherry eventually helped write the third verse.

Other words from these women became the second verse, taught me that no person of faith since the beginning of time has ever lived without suffering.  In fact, they said, those who are students of Jesus have been promised that we certainly should expect pain and suffering in this life.

BUT.

But.  In the middle of that heartache.  At every lonely, dark, lost moment...the Truth.

That in those moments, even then, especially then...we are held, held up, held together, by the the One who has walked here and knows the pain, and who also holds all of time, every story, my story, your story, the Greatest Story in his hands.

Every word was chosen with loving care, because I didn't write this song for a market, or a record label, but for those three women.  I wrote it and recorded it with my old 8-track and made a cassette copy for each of them.  Before I even had a publisher.

What has become of "Held" has meant a whole lot to me.  It has meant something to many people--maybe to you and your story.  And it has meant a great deal to Patti, Vaneetha, and Sherry--to see their stories used to minister to so many others is an affirmation that John, Paul David, and Erica lived and died for at least this purpose...there is so much we can't see or fathom.  But at least this one beautiful, healing thing exists because of them and is part of their legacies.