A Better Thing – Reflections from Hutchmoot 2012

The first face-to-face meeting of our reading group.

There are events in life that are worthy of memorialization. Every detail is recorded for posterity. Hallmark birthdays. First steps. Weddings. We submerge ourselves fully and bathe in the richness of the moment. It is a sacred place. I won’t attempt to memorialize the events of last weekend at Hutchmoot. Pictures and scrawled notes fail miserably. Rather than recounting the specifics, I want to share a bit of the sacred fragrance that has lingered with me as a result.

Last year, my attendance at Hutchmoot was unexpected after learning of an open spot only days prior. I had little time to develop expectations, and sojourned through the weekend like a wide-eyed tourist taking in the sights. I went with no particular agenda, no preparation, and having had met only a few who would be attending. I arrived with open hands, and I left with a full heart.

During those few days in Nashville, I met folks who were writers, musicians, artists, and book lovers. We had much in common, and conversations flowed easily. Through the following year, some of those initial meetings grew into deeper friendships. Black and white took on tints of color. Initial sketches of those writers, musicians, artists and book lovers developed into more complex portraits. As months passed, I began to see them as parents, friends, spouses, and children, all finding their way through this thing called life. We read through books together and learned from one another. We shared life’s burdens and triumphs. We prayed for each other. As diversity and imperfections surfaced, the degree of affection and loyalty deepened.

In speaking about a writing group which had been meeting together for several years, Anne Lamott describes the following:

“They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”

 

According to the lineup of speakers and musicians, a gathering like Hutchmoot could be perceived as a gathering of the “slick and cool.” Yet the actual experience was anything but. Nearly every conversation, whether in a crowded hallway or during a structured seminar, was peppered with the themes of gratefulness, brokenness, struggle and redemption. Folks were honest about life and cared for one another well. Hearts got bigger.

During one of the sessions, Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive read, sang, and played through the life of Rich Mullins. Mullins, like so many of us, led a life of seeming contradictions. He was steeped in scripture. He wrote unabashedly of the power, tenderness, grandeur and compassion of Christ. Yet his life was marked by significant struggle and addiction. Mullins had the courage to be honest about his life, and as a result, ushered in a new era of Christian musicians who would do the same. It’s an unexpected irony – his brokenness may have been the most beautiful thing about him. His struggle only amplified the grace of God. The same is true for all of us.

Yes, Hutchmoot was indeed what Jonathan Rogers termed “an embarrassment of riches.” The food, the music, the conversations, were far more lavish than mere words can convey. Yet the senses of taste, sight and sound only served to heighten an awareness of the eternal fragrance present in each one of us. Not of perfection, competence, or achievement, but the unmistakable incense of a broken, forgiven people. A people who are deeply and eternally loved by their Father. It’s the broken vessel that is most potent.

 

Maybe it’s a better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken, then redeemed by love

Andrew Peterson, Don’t You Want to Thank Someone

 

I’m grateful to have been given a few days with these beautiful, broken, and redeemed people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The servants of the secret fire… until we meet again.

 

 

 

* Photographs not printed with permission. If you’d rather have yours removed, don’t hesitate to let me know. 



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The Invisible Thread to Nashville… and Back

If you haven’t read The Princess and the Goblin and missed the earlier post giving a bit of background information, you can catch up here.

 

Back to The Princess and the Goblin… As the story continues, Irene’s grandmother (who lives in the attic and is invisible to everyone but Irene) spins an invisible thread.  She attaches the thread to a ring, then instructs Irene that if she ever finds herself in danger, she is to follow the thread wherever it takes her.   The story proceeds to unfold as Irene is frightened once again by the creatures. Yet this time, she follows her grandmother’s thread rather than reacting out of fear.  Instead of leading Irene upstairs to the safety of her grandmother, the thread leads her outside, down the mountain, through the dark forest and into a dangerous cave.  Although the thread takes her through places of great peril, she ultimately discovers and saves her friend Curdie, who had been taken captive by the goblins and hidden deeply away in a cave.  The thread miraculously leads them through seemingly insurmountable dangers, then ultimately back to the safety of the castle.

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“We’re moving to Nashville.”  Although we knew it had been a possibility and had seen friends who were in the same position, we never thought that we’d be the ones preparing to leave.  Two years ago, my husband’s group at the bank was disbanded.  It was the day before our anniversary when he received the news.  In his words, “While most wives were understandably worried about what was coming next, mine was giddy.” Only weeks earlier during our weekly small group meeting, I had casually uttered, “I wish it would all stop.  That the hamster wheel would come to a screeching halt.” After years of over-commitment and unrelenting activity, I longed for a slower pace of life.  Be careful what you ask for…

 

After absorbing and then processing the news, we decided to take a 6 month break before looking for employment.  By worldly standards, it was a risky thing to do.  David was an unemployed banker in a banking city, which was filled with 2,000 of his best friends in the same situation.  But we knew who held the cards.  We knew for whom we actually worked.  We were given the gift of peace.  Our hope was simple.  We wanted to step back, enjoy our family, and open our hands to receive what had been planned for us. This was an opportunity to live in the kind of dependence for which we were created.   Great peace came from living in the moment regardless of the outcome.  David, who tends to be prone to anxiety, slept soundly.  We loved having him home.  The hamster wheel had stopped, and we were having a happy little hamster party.

Within a few months, two ministry opportunities unexpectedly surfaced and became viable possibilities.  Well-meaning friends would ask, “Do you feel called into ministry?”  Our answer seemed somewhat illusive, but it was true.  We’d answer, “We don’t know if we’ve been called into ministry, but we feel like we’ve done what we were supposed to for today.” Seven months flew by, and it turned out that neither of the two ministry opportunities would be our ultimate destination.  During those months, David had chosen to pour himself and his talents into organizations and people we loved dearly, and that had been a gift unto itself.  But still no job.

Eight months into the adventure, it was time to consider banking opportunities that may exist in Charlotte.  He began the job-hunting process. With 2,000 of his best friends. Although were not married to a particular home or life-style, we had been holding white-knuckled to our amazing community in Charlotte.  We couldn’t fathom leaving.  “God, we’ll do anything… but that. “  Of course, it’s the “anything but that” which he uses to teach us that all we really need is him.  And it’s the “anything but that” which proves that idols don’t have to come in the shape of houses, country clubs, or lifestyles.  They can also come in the form of Godly people and unique community.

Shortly after commencing the job search,  David received “the call” from a bank in Nashville. We had always said that we would grow old here, but if we ever had to move, Nashville would be our top city of choice. I started doing homework on churches, ballet studios, and music programs.  We made the house-hunting trip, and I found a beautiful old bookshop in which to make my dwelling while David had his final round of interviews downtown.  The kind old shopkeeper asked if I’d like to go behind the shop to the warehouse, and I spent over an hour digging through stacks of dusty, ragged books.  This could be my new home.  The great finds in the bookstore helped.  I do have my priorities, you know.

We returned to North Carolina and put our house on the market.  Homes in our neighborhood had been lingering on the market for months, and we didn’t want to waist time.  We had talked for years about moving to another neighborhood, so there seemed to be no downside and we had plenty of time to sort out the details.  Or so we thought.  Our home went under contract in less than 12 hours and after 3 showings.  We were shocked.  We were moving.

Later that week, David received an unexpected call from a former colleague.  We were surprised to learn that he was a final candidate for a job in Charlotte. The folks in Nashville graciously allowed him the time to decide, and the folks in Charlotte sped the process up beyond what we could have anticipated. You can guess the end of the story.  We’re still here.

Although we all know that life can turn “on a dime” and that we ultimately have little control of our own destinies, we spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy fighting that universal truth.  We think we can plan, maneuver, and even convince God to give us what we want.  We’ve inherited an insidious spiritual cancer that tries to convince us that we know best.  Then God is gracious enough to intervene and remind us that it’s not true.  That he knows what we need far better than we do.  What we need is often not what we want.  What we need most is dependence on Him. 

Today, we stand grateful for the invisible thread that led us through such an adventure.  The path was never clear.   It was full of twists, turns, caverns, and surprises that didn’t make sense at the time. We experienced many great gifts during those months – time together, peace in the midst of turmoil, steadfast friends, and the storybook ending of staying in Charlotte.  Yet we’ve seen enough life to learn that although these are good things, they too could be taken away at any time.

The greatest gift that we received along the way has been the assurance that “no, we are definitely not in charge.”  And yes, the One who is in charge is good and faithful and true.  He gently leads if only we’ll choose to unwrap our white-knuckled fingers from around whatever it is that we grasp – in order to hold tight to the invisible thread. We can’t hold both at once.  May we remember and believe, as Irene’s grandmother promised, “You must not doubt the thread.  Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.

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For the rest of the story, visit “Lest We Forget”


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The Only Thing to Fear

 

I’m particularly persnickety about what books we choose to read aloud as a family.  I have my own personal stack to be read, as does each of my children, but we like to keep one family book near the dinner table (or on the screened porch) to be read together after dinner.  The “to-be-read” list is a long one, so it is a rare occasion when we read a book out loud a second time.  However, when I found an out of print copy of George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin from one of my favorite collections (Illustrated Junior Library), I decided to make an exception.  I read this book to my boys several years ago, but our youngest was not old enough to be included.  At that time, I had a teenager, a toddler and 4 and 6 year old boys in the house, so I was too bleary-eyed to remember much of it.  In reading the book aloud again (with more sleep and life perspective under my belt), I feel like I’m reading it for the first time.

Several days ago, we meandered into a scene where the little princess, Irene, is alone in her bedroom.   Bounding in through the open window is a frightening creature.  If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll recall that there are subterranean goblins who are plotting against people living above ground.  The goblins only come out at night, and they have pet-like beasts which dwell with them.  It is one of these horrifying creatures that invades the room.  Irene is terrified, and instead of running up the stairs to a place of safety, she reacts out of fear and darts from her room, down the stairs and out the door of her palace into the dark of night.  “It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure.”  And then came the line that stopped me.

 “… But that is the way fear serves us; it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”

Now I don’t consider myself a particularly fearful person.  Of course, there are the biggies – death of a loved one, chronic illness, safety for our children from the evils of the world.  But I’d suggest that we all are fearful at a much deeper level.  Our fears are often unspoken and often unrealized, and we have become extremely sophisticated in our management of them.  Although our outward behaviors appear to be unrelated, at their core is the same propelling motivation: “ I can make life work on my own terms.  I will not be disappointed. “  And therein lies the great mystery of the human condition:  the very strategies we implement on a day-to-day basis undermine the true joy and contentment that we are ultimately seeking.

~Some of us manage fear by being quiet… Others by talking incessantly.

~Some of us manage fear by achieving…. Others by failing to try.

~Some of us manage fear by erecting high barriers around the heart…  Others by demanding more out of relationships than they could possibly provide.

I try to avoid the fear of disappointment by engineering “the ideal”… My husband tries to avoid the fear of disappointment by wanting too little.  We both strive to control our worlds in very different ways.Same disease.  Different symptoms. We all are uniquely gifted in the way we try to become masters of our own little universes. Thank goodness our strategies don’t work.  If they did, well, then I really would be in control of my life which would be overwhelming.  Nevertheless, we keep trying. Hoping that we can control life and subdue the fear of ultimate dependence.

Oh –  back to the rest of the story. The Princess and the Goblin is worth a read for children and adults alike, so I won’t give away any “spoilers.”  But I will say that eventually, Irene learns to react less from her own fear and insecurity only when she decides to trust the one who loves her deeply…. Regardless of circumstance.  She can’t see the big picture and has to rely blindly on the character of the one who does.  A lesson for us all.



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