Every night when we put the girls to bed, we lay down with each of them for a short while; five, ten minutes, tops. This started with Ainsley, who would cry for close to an hour if we didn't stay with her for a little bit after we read a book, said our prayers and hugged and kissed good night. Ten minutes of snuggling with your toddler is a far better use of our time than listening to one or both of them scream for thirty minutes.
Alanna is our quiet bedtime girl: once storytime is done, she wants to go to sleep. Generally she tells us to leave after a minute or two of snuggle time, as opposed to Ainsley, who wants us to "tell me about my day, Daddy," and always asks for us to stay longer than we should. Tonight, as I was laying down with Alanna, she quietly reached out her hand and touched my face. You might even say she caressed it, moving her hand gently over my eyes, my cheek, my nose and lips, and my forehead. This is a rare thing, and it cut to the very core of me. It was a precious moment of joy that I'm still savoring an hour later.
We don't have "a church" right now. Oh, sure, Beloved is working in a perfectly nice Methodist congregation, and the girls attend Sunday School there. But we lost our church in the Unbloggableness, and I'm finding it very, very hard to pony up the desire to get involved somewhere else. We transferred our membership to another Lutheran congregation, but due to our respective calls to other worshiping communities we've been dead weight on the membership roll, and even if that wasn't the case, I'm not sure either one of us are ready to stick our necks out just yet. It's no reflection on any of the churches in town at this point - it is, for me, a reflection of the ongoing healing process, and learning how to trust again.
I knew the call to ministry would involve a great deal of sacrifices. Time, privacy, personal space, weekends, affluence: these are the things any pastor knows are going to be in short supply once that stole is placed on your shoulders. The stole symbolizes an ox's yoke - and sometimes it feels just as heavy. I was ready for all of that. What I've lost this year, though, is that sense of solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I wasn't ready to lose that, and of all the wounds we've taken in the past year, I'm beginning to believe this one will be the longest to heal.
I am by no means a perfect father. I am by no means a perfect pastor. But that moment with Alanna tonight was a ray of hope for me. If this little one, who has cried when I've scolded her and screamed when I've disciplined her, can reach out in a darkened bedroom and gently caress my face, then maybe, just maybe, the time will come when I'll feel I can trust again - that I don't have to carry the yoke all by myself. Bonhoeffer said the church is truly the church when it gathers "mit einander für einander" - "with one another for one another." Oh, I'm ready to feel that way again. Here's hoping this particular advent won't last much longer.
Grace & peace,