I’ve been putting off writing a “good bye letter” for almost 2 months now. I’ve managed to write the letter telling you I’m leaving, and I preached a final sermon. We’ve hugged and talked and shared coffee. We had the most amazing party last Sunday and I felt so loved and so happy, but also really sad.
As we were driving to church, Gracie and I were talking about how much she was “weewee (really) going to miss everybody.” I told her I felt sad about leaving too and she said, “You mean you don’t want to leave our home either?”
“Well, no, I don’t want to leave,” I confessed, and then moved quickly to, “but I know that we’re going to make new friends and…”
“I KNOW!” She protested, “I KNOW that. But… I’m sad.”
That’s the thing about sorrow – it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t mean we aren’t hopeful or excited. But sadness just hangs out beneath the surface. And every so often, we are engulfed. And that’s okay. Sometimes, we just need to cry and grieve our losses.
At the moment, I’m grieving the loss of this worshipping community – for myself, but particularly for my children. I love the way Gracie dances to the music at Gathering, the way she skips down the halls to find her friends, the joy on her face when I tell her we’re going to church. “My church?” she asks. “Our church,” I reply. I love the way Jake lunges toward Leslie, and Jenny, and Katie, and Amy, and Emma, and Ali, and everyone else who loves him so dearly.
I know they will make new friends and experience God’s love in a new community, but… I’m sad. We love all of you, and we’re leaving, and that breaks my heart.
This week, we’ve got more than 130 kids experiencing God’s love in our church. These halls are simply ringing with light and life! For preschool story time, we have the loveliest tent draped in twinkly lights and rainbow gossamer. I’ve been creating a similar space for a few years now, but Natalie Wise and Charlie and Jack Van Aman helped me this year and they took it to the next level. It is so wonderful and beautiful I can’t help but weep. It feels like just the sort of little tabernacle a 4 year old Jesus would create – full of wonder and mystery, snug but still airy, peaceful and exciting at the same time.
It’s a sanctuary – a place for tears and singing and stories and games, a place for solitude and community. It’s a place where you can be really, really sad and also incredibly happy at the same time. You don’t have to choose. I don’t have to choose.
Last Sunday, at the 8:30 service, Gracie turned to me while Scott was singing the prelude and said, “I love this song.” And later, as we sang Love Divine All Loves Excelling, we danced together and the look of joy and love on her face was ever so holy. My heart was singing and breaking at the same time.
Dear Darling Girl,
We’re getting ready to move, and so our lives are a little bit crazy right now. I wish I could communicate everything that is going on – how I’m anxious and excited, heartbroken and hopeful –but it’s hard to find the right words for a young child. I believe your heart knows. Still, I like words and it helps me process my thoughts and feelings on paper. When we speak, it will sound different, but the meaning will be the same.
We’re in the sorting and packing stage of moving. Garage sales, donation runs, packing boxes, and trash bags are the name of the game. And it’s made me realize that we have A LOT of stuff. We’re not hoarders, but it’s easier to keep something than to make a decision about its worth. So, we’ve let things pile up.
This is not your fault. You are three. In your world, everything is a potential treasure! I love that about you. But, it’s my job to help you keep it in perspective. You can’t keep everything.
It might be easier for me to get rid of your stuff once you’ve gone to bed – and believe me, that is happening! But we’re going to go through some of it together, because I want you to learn what to keep and what to toss:
1. Have you used it in the last year? This one is deceptively difficult. Some things – like vacuums and pool floaties – are very useful and should be saved. Other things – like children’s clothes and toothbrushes – are very useful, but should not be saved. Will you use it in the next year? It’s easy to imagine a potential use for just about everything – used popsicles sticks become potential craft supplies and ripped jeans become “painting clothes.” Resist! You really only need one set of work clothes and only professional Pintrest bloggers can make those used popsicles sticks look like this.
2. Did you or someone you love make it? We have some quilts made by your great grandma that I hope to keep for a very long time. Not only are they useful and beautiful, every stitch is full of her love and care. Keep those quilts! When you feel sad or scared or excited about making an awesome blanket fort, wrap yourself in her love. That’s an easy decision.
Your own artwork – at this point – is a bit more difficult. While it is all truly beautiful, it is also legion – stacks upon stacks, rows upon rows, more marching through the door every day. We need more questions…
3. Is it expired? Stuff expires like medicine – there is a period when it is really helpful and lovely, but after a while it begins to lose its effectiveness. Your lovely artwork hangs on the fridge for a while and it makes us all happy and proud, but eventually we toss it to make room for new artwork – not because the new art is necessarily better, but because it gets our attention and makes us feel happy and proud again.Most toys expire in a similar fashion. As we play with them – over and over – they become familiar, less challenging and/or exciting. The musical worm that you loved as a baby does not interest you at all anymore. It has expired. You can’t fit into your shirts from last summer. Your beloved sparkly Ariel toothbrush is really expired. But not all toys expire…
4. Does it contain a strong “sense memory?” I just tucked your monster- footed jammies into my “save” bin – not because they are so cute, but because I could remember you and your brother wearing them. When I touch them, I can feel the snuggly warmth of your one-year-old bodies tucked onto my shoulder. I hear the sleepy sighs as you relax into me and allow me to hold the weight of your body, the weight of your love. Some things are made more of memories than fabric or wood. If the memories are strong and lovely, keep them.
5. Does it tell a meaningful story? Last summer when I was out of town, your Daddy took you to the zoo. You rode the dinosaur ride for the first time, snuggling into him for the scary parts and shrieking with joy at each new surprise. After the ride, you picked out a stuff Tyrannosaurus Rex wearing a neon green “Columbus Zoo” hoodie. I wasn’t there but I know the story by heart because you tell me when we talk about “T-Rexy.” You hold him close and tell me how he is “bery special” because your Daddy got him for you at the zoo. The zoo story is sweet, but it’s important because it reminds you of how much your Daddy loves you. It speaks of the joy, the care, and the love you share with one another.
6. Is it very special? Some things are special because they were made with love or woven with sweet memories. Some things are special because they remind us of meaningful stories. Some things are just special. It’s hard to describe this kind of special – but as Calvin said of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist (yes, your Presbyterian pastor mommy is quoting Calvin) “I rather experience it than understand it.” (Institutes 4.17.32)
You have a whole collection of rocks that are very special. Some were collected in our back yard, at the church, along a park path, but each one cried out to you, “Pick me up! I may be brown or rough or sparkly or smooth and I am special!” At your request, I use a black marker to write where you found each rock on its often uneven face, and you keep them in a pink plastic box. Why are they special? Only you know.
7. Can you live without it? This is the most important question and the answer is always “yes.” Even though you can keep all these special things, you don’t need them, and you probably shouldn’t keep them all forever. It’s good to let go of special things, even if it’s painful. There is a reason Jesus encouraged his disciples to travel light, to sell their possessions, even to lose their lives. Too much stuff can weigh you down, make you sluggish. If you have too many things, you may use them to wall yourself off from the world. You might be tempted to place your trust in what you own, to look to your own resourcefulness for salvation and to your memories for comfort when this kind of trust is for God alone.
Now it’s time to go through your treasure box, but don’t worry. You don’t have to do it alone. We are going to do it together – this holy work of sorting and evaluating, story-telling and remembering, saving and sacrificing stuff – and we are going to remember that we belong to God and not to our possessions. God is the Story-teller, the Rememberer, and the Savior our lives.
A few days ago, my three year old girl climbed a tree all by herself. She was filled with wonder and joy and pride, and so was I!We were having a picnic lunch on our first day off in a long time. She insisted we bring a picnic blanket and even though her father and I pushed for the relative ease and comfort of the shaded picnic tables, she wanted to lay out the blanket under a tree.
She was right. It was the perfect spot. Underneath a low hanging canopy of leaves, we spread our blanket amidst the clover. The playground was just steps away and we spent some time on the slides and ladders. We also took a little walk to the pond nearby, but we spent the most time underneath that small, almost bush-like tree with its web of spindly but sturdy branches. It was shady and relatively cool, there was yummy food, and we were together.
Towards the end of our time at the park, we returned to our spot to pack up our stuff, and our little girl started to study the tree.
“Mommy, I want to climb that tree. Can you help me?”
I took notice of the tree and realized it was the perfect tree for a three year old to climb, and that she really didn’t need my help. She was big enough, strong enough, smart enough, and brave enough to do it on her own. And I told her that.
For almost half an hour, long after we had packed up our blanket, she climbed up and down and around that tree. She swung from its branches and dropped to the ground. She even spent some time “teaching ” me how to climb a tree. It was fabulous! And it got me thinking about what makes a good climbing tree:
Low hanging branches (or, “a way in”) – You’ve got to have a way to get started: low branches to grab and pull up, knobs or crooks to step-on. A ladder might be useful, or a boost from a friend, but I would say that’s for more advanced climbers. If a three year old can’t do it alone, it’s probably too high. Without a way in or on, a tree isn’t really climbable, and you are left feeling wistful and frustrated.
High branches (or, “a way up”) – Once you’re on the tree, you need somewhere to go and in a tree somewhere is almost always up. Sometimes the way up isn’t clear and requires some trial and error. Sometimes you can see it but the branches might be higher than you’d like or farther apart or more spindly than you’d prefer. Often, it takes some courage to keep going, but a good climbing tree gives you a chance to be brave.
Somewhere to sit (or “a place to rest”) – Climbing is hard work. You need a comfortable crook to settle in and rest to take stock of how far you’ve come, to survey the ground beneath your feet and the branches left to climb. You need to be able to dream, read, pray.
A view (or “perspective”) – Whether it’s from your resting spot or a perch high atop the canopy, a climbing tree should provide you with something wonderful to see. It might be a vista full of more trees to climb – mountains or rivers or playscapes yet to be enjoyed. It might be a new view of the people you love or the places you have been, now seen from above with a little more distance and (maybe) a little more grace. You might even find a canopy of leaves to observe up close: the way the veins in the leaves mirror the branches of the tree; the slight variations in color, texture, and structure of each leaf, each branch. Perhaps you’ll see a carefully constructed birds nest just above your head or an ant winding its way along the branch.
A good climbing tree can teach us something about God, about ourselves, and about the world not just from the new perspective it gives, but also from the act of climbing – moving up and down, in and around God’s wondrous creation!
But if you are three, a good climbing tree is just plain fun! It helps you learn that you are strong and brave and smart. It cradles you in its branches not too far above the ground, but far enough to be exciting. It gives you lots of ways to explore your newfound independence and skill so that when you see another tree that’s just right for climbing, you’ll be ready.
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