Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Friendships are not low maintenance enterprises: learning on the open road

Writing is a lot like physical exercise--it doesn't take long for writing muscles to atrophy (figuratively). I haven't written anything longer than two sentences in over a week (at least tweets give me that), and I'm struggling to put ideas toward a future in type. Writing is not a low maintenance enterprise. If I don't do it at least three times per week, it becomes more difficult and much easier to descend on my priority list until it becomes a memory of something good. I notice the similarities in other disciplines--prayer, Bible reading and reading for leisure easily slip into the background. These activities represent my best self. Why would I dare let them slip?

My family recently returned from a trip to Sioux Falls. We made wonderful connections. Melanie and I reflected upon relationships that were 8-14 years in the making for me, for Melanie they are close to 20 years. These friendships didn't come easily--they've taken a lot of work. Sometimes the work is futile. Sometimes the only explanation we still have some friends is pure grace. We spent about half the time of our nearly 50 hours in the car talking about these relationships--stories, observations, laments and joys. I'm not sure we came to any conclusions, only that in the amount of time we talked--we affirmed their value and necessity. I saw three people who were my best friends in Sioux Falls, and I was able to see them all. I'm glad we had the time to meet--we knew about our families, our vocational paths, and some of life's simple pleasures. I haven't quite built that type of friendship here in the Puget Sound area beyond my family. I would say one has redeveloped--we already get together occasionally on a Saturday morning. It's strange coming back to the area of my younger days. I don't know what to make of friendships--they're fragile, yet they take a lot of work. They're also a source of grace and perspective. These friendships are a great companion to family.

During our return to the Puget Sound region, Melanie and I were reminded of what we left behind when we moved almost six months ago. We knew it would be different. We knew it would be difficult at times. I walked into our former home and was overcome with how I hadn't processed our departure--it was so frenzied and lacked reflection. I was a bit weepy walking into room after room, flooded with memories of bathing my girls, waking up in the middle of the night to care for our babies in their bedroom, watching Melanie work on her doctorate in our home office, places in the house where Melanie and I talked into the early morning hours, the birthdays and holidays celebrated, the neighbors we enjoyed. I used to work outside while the girls would play in the yard. We would stop to talk with the neighbors and spontaneously plan an evening together for some grilled shrimp, a beer and a fire in the backyard. We had a home.

I just realized that my time in South Dakota was the longest time I had ever lived in one place in my entire life. I lived in that house nearly 8 years. I lived in various spots in Renton, Bellevue and Olympia growing up. I then began my varied exile across the Midwest after I graduated from high school in 1988 (The Allman Brothers "Ramblin' Man" comes to mind). I have returned with my wife and two daughters to a place that is very familiar to me, yet I don't have the cadre of friendships to go with the family and vocation.

On this trip I gained new insights and empathy for what a congregation endures when it's facing a new season of congregational life. A life that does not include the same worship, pastor, small groups or friendships. It's really hard, and I can see how profoundly emotional and disorienting transition can be. One thing Melanie and I both articulated in all of our discussions is that our relationship with God and the power of God's call amazingly trumps everything that we hold dear that bears God's love. Our relationships and work over the past eight years were only possible because we followed our callings. The call came--and now we are here--in the Puget Sound region. This is a place for God to bear new blessings as we continue to discover how we can also be a blessing to the our family and the place to which God calls us anew.

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