Thursday, November 11, 2004

Now That I Got That Off My Chest . . .

My mother found some of my poems the other day. Not the ones I'm writing now, mind you. No, these were from my how-small-towns-feel-like-a-prison-and-when-will-people-see-me-for-who-really-am era . . . in other words, I wrote them as a teenager.

She's sending them to me which makes me almost cringe because I kept what I thought were the best from those years and if these didn't even make that cut, well . . . it may prove painful to read. No more painful however than having your 74-year-old mother read a couple to you over the phone in her best Tennessee twang and then describe them as "cute."

One she selected had the term "Mother Love" in it. And I'm fairly certain that whatever she was reading into it was not what I had in mind at 15! However, now having heard it again after all these years, I can honestly say I have no idea what I meant. And I'm glad their cuteness made her happy.

Mom and I have a great relationship. We've been able to talk openly for most of my life. First of all because I used to have little to hide and secondly because by the time I did have some "issues" that I might not have wanted to be too open about, we'd come to the point where sharing them just seemed natural. While there was some level of discomfort at the idea that my mother has recently spent a day rummaging through my teenaged angst, the truth is she knows that the girl who ranted about limits eventually learned that they only existed in my mind.

Mom also reminded me that if not for Von Harrison I might not have ever pursued a path where words became the tools of my trade. Von was the pastor's wife during my teen years. She was also my Bible and missions teacher. But most of all, she was a friend.

Though she was only in her mid 30s, this was an era before age was relative so, of course, I saw her as ooooooold -- I mean she had three kids for goodness sake! -- but still very nice. And I especially liked that she seemed to especially like my writing. What I didn't know until they came out in print was that she'd liked my poetry so much that she'd sent it to a national publication.

I'll never forget the first time I saw that byline. And one of the first people I shared the moment with was Von.

I'm glad I did because later when I began to see lots more bylines, Von wasn't around to share those moments. Cancer killed her before she ever reached 40 -- an age I saw three years ago.

In many ways, she lives on. I'm sure her children obviously reflect that bit of her instilled in those early years, but they moved from our small town long, long ago. What I know is that she's always been and will always be a part of me.

And for all my ranting, that is the church at its best -- a community living and loving and caring enough to push to the hard places and then celebrating what happens when you go there.

A friend recently said, "I don't want to be an unloving critic of the church, but neither am I an uncritical lover." I liked that. Plus it was a good reminder of why I still do what I do 20 years into it. I'm one of those folks who finds it hard to stop loving the loves of my past. In fact, I don't want to.

But, just as with relationships, I do need to find a new way of relating and that's where I find myself now.

While I strongly believe that my walking away from my professional role is critical at this curve in my journey, I'm not ready to completely give up on what my mom and Von and so many other great women of the faith served so faithfully.

I once worked for an organization who included the line in its history, "We stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before us." I always liked that line. And I hold fast to the community it suggests. From that vantage point, I do see a new day coming. It looks nothing like First Baptist Church Greenfield, Tennessee circa 1975, or 1995 or 2005 but there's a vague outline there. And I see it only because of those who have taught me, loved me, forgiven me, challenged me and . . . released me.

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