The night I learned my beloved pastor was leaving for another position, the air left my lungs. It was like the time my friend pushed me on the monkey swing and my back landed squarely with a thud against the large tree trunk.
As I tried to tell Mitzi how happy I was for her, the sobs rolled in. I could not stop no matter how much I wanted to. Her departure was a shock. Our congregation adored her. In fact, she wasn’t looking for a new position; the dream job came to her.
I choked out, “I promise I am happy for you. The position sounds perfect. I’m just so sorry for me.”
As awful as I felt that night, another surprise awaited me. The very next day I learned Carl, our lead pastor, was leaving too.
BAM, another thwack against the tree. My breath left me again. While his departure was not as shocking (we’re Methodist and he was with us for 10 years, after all) and not as immediate, I loved him too, and the double whammy was just too much.
It’s so easy to understand in hindsight, but over the next few weeks I found myself irritable without knowing why. I struggled against the temptation to be snippy; I sensed my fuse was short. Then, in our church’s last week with Mitzi, my feeble mind finally realized: Ooooooh, I’m grieving. My body’s response to grief always catches me by surprise.
So, I did the one thing I knew how to do. I prayed. I prayed for Mitzi and her family. I prayed for the hundreds, if not thousands, of lives she would touch in her new job. I prayed for our church, for God’s best for us, for us to open our hearts to our new ministers. I prayed He would send us gifts we didn’t even know we needed, much as He had before.
Last, I prayed for God to help me. God, help me not to compare the old and the new. Help me to remember your ways are always perfect. Remind me that you wouldn’t take Mitzi and Carl from us without great plans in store. And, God? I’m selfish. Heal my heart.
The first time I met with Tobi, our new Pastor of Discipleship, my heart’s crack closed up just a smidge.
When I met Justin, our senior pastor, for the first time, the crack closed some more.
During his first Sunday sermon, I could not stop my face from smiling.
I went home and wrote these words:
“I’ve seen a peek at our church’s future. It is good. It will be new, exciting, and (in some ways) likely hard. With fresh faces come fresh ideas. My years have taught me to embrace change rather than wince through it. Grieve the old, yes. But withdraw from the new? No. These faces, these ideas are needed even when we don’t know we need them. They are welcome here.”
The fact I miss Mitzi every single day does not negate the sincere thankfulness I feel for Tobi. I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in her home every week for the last few months. I’ve fallen in love with Tobi’s family, especially her two daughters.
Some weeks ago, when Tobi shared that she and her eldest were traveling to Chicago to see Hamilton, I gushed over the news. I may have squealed right there during Bible study. I’m a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda (since way before Hamilton), a word nerd, a theater lover, and a music geek. This was just glorious, enviable news!
One night in December I entered Tobi’s home and chatted with the family before the other Bible study gatherers trickled in. While the younger daughter brushed her teeth, I asked the oldest about her trip to Chicago and what she thought about Hamilton. She raved (of course) and then she presented me with a small gift.
BAM, my back hit the tree trunk.
They remembered me. On their special mother-daughter weekend, they thought of me.
I hoped the dim light of the Christmas tree wouldn’t betray my eyes. How to tell a ten-year-old and her mother why I’m holding back tears over a Hamilton pin? How to explain that grief has morphed into gratitude? How to share what it feels like to be seen?
I spend my energy making sure Henry and other special children are seen. When I volunteer in his school, I take special care with children who seem neglected, overlooked, or misunderstood. This is my calling and it is my pleasure.
But I forget what it feels like for someone to see me, and I admit it feels good.
It feels even better to be seen in the most unexpected of ways. So, I will wear this pin with as much pride for Hamilton as for the lovely ladies who saw the pin and thought of me. I wear it remembering my prayer: Heal my heart.