Loving Better

What. A. Week.

For the Nashvillians who were here during the flood of 2010, our community response to this natural disaster is no surprise. There’s a good reason they call Tennessee the Volunteer State.

After an F3 tornado ripped through Germantown, North Nashville, East Nashville, Donelson, Hermitage, and Mt. Juliet, the devastation surrounding our neighborhoods was heartbreaking. Still is.

But, we’re banding together, serving each other, loving our city. It’s really beautiful.

I’d put some family time on the calendar six months ago, so I drove down to Atlanta on Friday, looking forward to a little normalcy.

Upon meeting them for dinner, we sat around a table as one aunt started in on a story of a blast from the past requesting her friendship on Facebook. Not immediately recognizing him, she went to delete the request, but with a slip of the finger ended up accepting instead. Before scrambling to undo what she’d done, she noticed familiarities and reached out to a mutual friend who confirmed she knew him — the brother of her high school sweetheart. The inevitable message from her new Facebook friend told the story of his parents’ passing along with news that he’d found something of hers while cleaning out their house. Unsure of what it could be after all these years, my smart aunt sent her work address.

Reaching this point in the story, she lifted something out of her bag and told us the mysterious item had arrived earlier that day. We all looked upon a black tattered cover as she carefully flipped to the first page revealing it was my grandfather’s Bible. The first page read James Dowell, given by Alpha Lou Dowell (my great-grandmother, in her own writing), December 25, 1961.

We sat in silence for a minute holding so many questions in the same space as the gift of this coincidence. What a thing to happen on what would’ve been my grandfather’s 90th birthday!

I’ve told the following story in bits and pieces, but now I’m able to look back and see more of how they string together. Two years ago, the grief of my grandparents’ passing sparked a series of events that threw me into the darkest season of my life. It felt like I had fallen into a hole and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pull myself out.

One day, I was listening to my friend Hunter’s podcast, All Our Favorite People where he and his co-host interviewed an author named Annie F. Downs. She’d just released a book called Remember God.

The book is raw and real outlining her own questions and wrestling with God. Reading it made me feel like I could’ve written the same story (though far less eloquent, I’m sure). Annie is easy to like, so naturally I subscribed to her podcast (That Sounds Fun) and quickly devoured her entire library, many of which I’ve written about here.

Fast forward to this past September, I had just attended the STORY conference in Nashville where we talked about liminal space. A couple of weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and I realized everything we’d just talked about at the conference – the “messy middle” between the no longer and not yet – I was living it.

At the same time, my small group at Cross Point (featured on my cell phone in the picture!) was studying Annie Downs’ Looking for Lovely. I had been noticing references to metaphorical singing for months at this point; lyrics like I’m going to sing in the middle of the storm, my weapon is a melody, He is my song… the pattern was persistent in warring for my attention.

There’s a whole chapter in the Looking for Lovely study on music and a day devoted to the stories of Miriam (Moses’ sister in the old testament) and Mary (Mother of Jesus in the new testament). I was struck by the similarities of their stories: both in times of liminal space, neither paralyzed by fear, both full of faith and singing actual songs.

I felt compelled to dig into the questions of how people sing through their own liminal space and continue finding joy in their circumstances, so the Starting with a Song Podcast was born.

When I met Annie face-to-face and hugged her neck this weekend, I couldn’t play it cool. I wanted to outline the entire account I’ve written here, but instead just summed it up as, “your work has mattered so much in my life.”

I’m sure she hears that a lot. I hope she hears that a lot.

We talked about Nashville and grieved the loss that our city and our church experienced this week. And then it was over in a blink. My mom and I took a seat in the venue while I processed through tears.

“Mom, I was dead,” I told her, wiping my eyes. “I truly believe that it was God who brought me back to life and He used her work to do it.”

I drove back to Nashville today, the repetitive lines in the road helping me to process what I learned this weekend while still wrestling with unanswered questions. Jonathan Pokluda (the dude in the picture with Annie and I!) said, “one of the things Annie does really well is wrestle out loud.” She doesn’t “stay” in any one place, she publicly talks about the things she’s thinking about, she asks tough questions. I’m adding that to the column of Things I’ve Learned from Annie: it’s okay to wrestle. And it’s more than okay for others to see you wrestle.

What’s yet to come? Why haven’t certain things transpired? When will I see the change I pray for? Will I ever see the change I pray for?

I don’t know.

“Even though humanity is the grammatical subject of the various infinitives — people plant and pluck up, mourn and dance — the human subject is by no means the determiner of such events.”

—William Brown

Who knows why things happen the way they do? I can only speculate for others, but this is what I know to be true in my life.

Even when I don’t see it, He’s working.
Even when I don’t feel it, He’s working.
He never stops. He never stops working.

For now, I’m realizing the list of things I have that I don’t deserve far outweighs my list of wants. It feels good to sit in the simplicity of living and loving the life I have now, as well as the story that’s still being written.

“I can hold the tension because Christ is holding me.”

— Erin Moon, Every Broken Thing