12.11.2015

From the other side of the chrysalis

I've had a few weeks to process the dissolution of our weekly Milkweed Momdays. This past Monday was the first without the Bible study written on my calendar. (To be more accurate, it was written on the calendar, but I crossed it off.)

Through reflections both in solitude and in the safe exploration afforded by the presence of gentle and wise friends, my perspective is widening beyond the sacrifice of my "baby" on that mountain. I'm still grieving the loss of the group, but I've begun to see it more as a change, an apotheosis as opposed to a death.

Here's what I've realized. The Shepherd had been leading me and the members of Milkweed along still waters, instructing us to rest and receive in the cool, plush grass. Many of us were in need of healing, a regrouping in loving, Christ-centered community. One mama told me that she came because, in her words, "I had to." Others agreed with that sentiment, driving incredible distances because they too felt compelled to plunge into the Word and open their souls to one another so as to root down deep into good soil. And we grew up fortified, as Milkweed should be, and we nourished one another and were nourished by our Source.

But that place of respite was not where the Shepherd wanted to leave us. He, who is also the Gardener, wanted to prune us so we could mature and spread. 

Had our loving Daddy not nudged me to surrender the group to Him on that pre-Thanksgiving day, it may have stayed as a place of receiving. But Milkweed has always been His project, and He wanted it - wanted us - to stop taking in and start giving out. Now we had the foundation of relationships, accountability, prayer, and study of His Word, which is what disciple-makers need to follow the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. The Spirit kept bringing this passage back to my mind:

~No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.~
Ephesians 4:14-16 (MSG)

Here's what is so exciting to me: Since we ended the weekly in-person meeting times, many members have reported they have had opportunities to start meeting with other women, sharing their faith, discipling them, encouraging them in their walks with Jesus. The Shepherd is leading us onward, into the dark valleys, to bring Jesus' light out of the 2-year-olds' room at First Christian Church and into the hearts of the lost and the hurting. YAY GOD!

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God. 
James 5:19-20 (MSG)

I still don't understand all of this, but I am in awe of what Daddy has revealed thus far. And I am riddled with delicious anxiety for what He is going to do next. 

Thank you all for being part of this adventure! The best is yet to come...

~This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!~
Romans 8:15-17 (MSG) 

12.03.2015

Unsent

Dear Shawn,
It has been exactly 10 years since we met. If you hadn't left this earth that day in July, I wouldn't have realized this. I also wouldn't find myself tearing up at thoughts of eating toast at a family restaurant, or searching intensely through my CD collection for that scratched-up disc with "Trudy" scrawled on it which we found in a parking lot, deciding I absolutely must keep it.

You had been burned by a coworker; I had been burned by a workplace. We were partners on the job and cautious to engage personally. I discovered you had advocated for me to get the position, even though you hadn't known me. Screw the boundaries - that endeared you to me forever.

Advocating is what you did, who you were. You were a social worker in every cell of your body.

We worked with kids, but neither of us had any; neither of us wanted any. You succeeded in that goal. I'm deliriously happy with my failure there.

I'm going to miss you, even though we haven't seen each other in over five years. I had invited you to my birthday party when my parents still lived in Michigan; you couldn't make it because you were studying for your social work exam. Always so dedicated. I was proud of you, regardless of the outcome of that standardized test.

We talked on the phone, through the Internet and, our shared favorite, by written correspondence. I came across one in a pile the other day - a card you had written me after I had become a mother. In your characteristic fashion, you ran out of room and took your expansive, blooming printed letters onto a small stack of notes piled within it. That handwriting encapsulated my mental depiction of you: welcoming, flowing, not concerned about limits or minutiae.

You once handed me a CD by the band Keane. You'd bought it thinking it was Kanye (West) and were disappointed by the purchase. You weren't embarrassed by the mistake; you moved forward with transparency and laughter, then gave the  album to someone you thought might appreciate the music.

You gave. Without thought or pretense, you just handed things to me to keep. Many became treasures. (Keane did not.) I admired how pragmatic you were, all the while housing a sensitive heart that could tap into others' needs and address them. 

I have the ornate clock you gave for our wedding. Not on our registry, nothing I would have thought to seek out, but it's one of my favorite presents because it was gilded with careful thoughtfulness. It hasn't had batteries in it in years, but it has always held a place of prominence in our home, a beautiful reminder of the joy of unexpected gifts.

I'm endlessly grateful God brought us together for our season. You helped me recognize my caffeine dependency, I gave you a copy of 'Jesus Calling'. I'll never forget your allegation that the author, Sarah Young, was stalking you based on how timely her insights were per devotion.

We talked about life beyond small talk and clich├ęd philosophies. We talked experience, perception, theory, hope, and you regularly challenged me without a verbal confrontation. You were not made squeamish by the underbelly of humanity, didn't shy away from the darkness of living; it was all part of the story. All part of the richness of the discussion.

You told me about the illness while we were walking on treadmills. It was our only shared workout, but had I not moved out of state I'm certain we would have had many more. Your dad had been diagnosed, and it appeared your sister would be, too. It was troubling, but you could cope because that's what you knew how to do.

A few years later, you told me you were diagnosed. I didn't know what that meant until your communications became more disorganized, your planning less long-range. We talked on the phone, and you were approaching the final stages of grief - I had missed the first three, although you probably continued to bounce in and out of them.

It became harder to know how you were. We didn't share a friend group, so when you wouldn't return messages I didn't know what to think. I'd just pray and wait.

You were going through so much loss in your life, and I kept a distance so as not to add the stress of updating your absent friend. You chided me for that. I saved that voicemail. As long as my iPhone allows it, I'll keep it.

Your mom was the one who took over communique after you could no longer text. She was gracious and kind, despite grieving the loss of her partner and the impending loss of a daughter, both to the same black hole. She reminded me of the ladybug outfit you two picked out for my daughter when she was a newborn. It resides in a "keep-me" box, its color faded from frequent wearings.

I cried when she said you were in a coma. My kids didn't know what to make of my tears. The boys were still infants, but I sat my daughter down with the 24-piece puzzle you'd given her and explained who you were and that you would be seeing Jesus soon.

You went home to Him later that week. My daughter put the puzzle together for the first time after the news came from your mom. It was the best tribute I could imagine.

It's the holidays, when we think of those we love, and even more so those we have lost. I am approaching my birthday again, remembering the one you had to miss. I'm not sure why I'm sitting in this memory in particular, but it is an honor to have it to wrap around me because it reminds me that I wanted you there and you wanted to be there and we existed in one another's hearts. And, in the end, isn't that what true friendship is?

Thank you, Shawn, for journeying with me, sharing with me, and coaxing me out to play. Thank you for being consistently you.

By His grace & in His time,
--j