It happens in the blink of an eye. One moment you are new in town. The quiet terrifies you. You question whether or not your mobile carrier is actually functioning because the device that used to be a non-stop game of notification whack-a-mole is as still as the air in the new room you’ve moved your dining area into that doesn’t have a fan the way the last house had a fan.
But then in the blink of an eye…
Someone has the courage to say one bold word.
And no, I don’t mean some dramatic emotionally over-charged grammy winner. I mean, some kind soul in the front doors of the church fixes their eyes on you, recognizes that you have no idea what you are doing and they welcome you. It definitely happened for us recently. Shortly after writing about how I was on my way to church and didn’t feel that anyone would miss us if we walked out in the middle of the service, we arrived to a satellite campus for the church and got MOBBED.
It was so cool. It was like the whole crew there was waiting just for us to show up. We walked in the door and anonymity went bye-bye. And it didn’t stop with just saying “hello.” People have continued getting to know us. We have gotten to the place now where we missed the first song of the worship service last week because we were talking with someone who knew us. And we were getting to know her.
It happens so fast in the heart of a believing person.
There are a lot of professions that move town to town. I include you in this thought, even though I don’t know your life all that much. The only life I know and can speak to is that of the military family.
And for you, it is a continuous cycle of resetting to the anticipation of that first, “hello.”
And then you blink…
A young man, converted to Christianity at the age of sixteen, found himself at the doors of a run-down church in northern England. His wife put on a brave face and they pushed open the creaking door that hung unevenly across its frame. Inside was clean, quaint, and aging. The smell of seldom polished but often dusted furniture mixed with the smell of cheap smoky parafin and the dust of ages. The first service would be difficult. Leading people spiritually when you are younger than half of the parish is always going to be a challenge.
But he says “hello,” faithfully. Week after week he begins to know his people and in knowing, love them. They invite him for humble dinners beneath leaky dining room ceilings. They laugh at shared moments of joy. They embrace each other silently as tragedy strikes all too often in their poor community.
He is a good pastor. He is talented. He is a notable resource to the Baptist churches in England who decide he needs to be sent to fill the vacated pulpit of a well known pastor in London. It is a good career move.
On the day that he is set to depart the dreary country life of northern England, he sits with his wife and growing family, who have outgrown their home and $200 annual salary and know one thing. Their hesitance in view of their church family, fully in view of them, looking them eye to eye, is finally voiced by the preacher’s wife.
John, I cannot bear to leave. I know not how to go.
Nor can I either.
So there in that place, they unpacked and stayed.
This story has bothered me since I read it. How many times have I looked at my final ticket to my new home and thought to myself that there is no going back now? How many times have I used the fact that there is transportation secured and all of my stuff packed into a box as the justification for departure? How many times have I left and somehow wished there was any excuse to do what John Fawcett did in the 1740’s?
Departure for me and probably for you too has a certain rhythm. We go through it like we go through stages of grief, but there is some relief when it comes time to do the actual leaving. We used to torture one another in Hawaii by accompanying one another to the actual airport and delaying the goodbye for as long as possible, walking our people to the actual security line and waving them farewell as they got sucked into the vortex of shoe, wallet, belt, keys, dignity removal. Having been on both sides, there is a relief, in a way, once that final moment took place. There’s no more goodbying… just leaving.
I cannot imagine getting to the airport and right before loading all of my luggage onto the conveyor, looking at the eyes of the students there who arrived to farewell us, and then declaring that we were no longer moving, give me my sold house and shipped goods back, I want off of this farewell wagon. I mean, I can imagine it. It just doesn’t seem to ever end well in my imagination.
John Fawcett was called to his people there. I was called to leave. He would go on to publish enough in the course of his pastorate that a college in America mailed him a doctorate degree. You, dear friend were called to a new place. You, dear friend, were called to remain in place and share your familiar surroundings with an alien landscape of new people.
Our lives are new and unfamiliar. School starts soon. The great struggle for the military mover comes when filling out that paperwork that requires an Emergency Point of Contact and you have to fight the urge to quote Dwight Schrute and say, “The… Hospital…” We have to learn new ways to register vehicles, and issue new driving licenses. We have to find out which directions the GPS lies about and which stores have the best produce. Moving from Hawaii, we rejoice in the availability of Chick-Fil-A and the fact that the dollar menu at McDonalds actually costs a dollar instead of the Hawaii buck fitty.
We have to figure out, in all of our new routines, why the loneliness does not ever get easier to handle.
And then, in the blink of an eye…
We discover one of the great joys of the Gospel which is not apparent to folks who are born and raised in one town and sing John Cougar Mellencamp songs like anthems to their singular geographical accomplishment that is as foreign to a constant mover as a walk on the moon. We find that within the heart of Christ is the heart of the people we love so dearly. We find that we love people because of the heart He redeemed. We find that even with miles separating us, we are somehow mysteriously still close.
There is some deep Narnian magic at work in our lives that I need today. I’m beginning to love the people I’m around. I get to be around my family who I already love, but now need to figure out how to know. Our church family is beyond description amazing. But there’s still a moment, described very recently by a friend close as a sister who said that when the service was over, there was a heart wrenching quiet, where once a family gathering would take place after the final “amen,” now was just everyone leaving. I need that magic today because I need to be close to my people.
So what to do?
Get close to God, and pray that my people are close to Him as well. I lose sight of them in the light of His glory, but in His presence and intimacy, you, friend, are brought close in that moment too. And I know it. I hope you know it too.
I cannot ever go back to Hawaii and expect the potent fellowship I once enjoyed there exactly as it was. We’re all moving on. What I look forward to is the moment that you and I are close to the heart of Christ and in that moment, close to each other as well. I look forward to returning to a place I have never been, a home hoped for and yet unseen.
One day, called into glory, we will finally be home, and there, reunited at last with every person we have ever farewelled, we will finally have what we have always wanted. We will have unity with the One who made our hearts for love. We will have unity with the ones He has sent us to teach us how sweet that love can be.
Blessed be the tie that binds,
Our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above
When we asunder part,
It brings us inward pain.
But we shall still
Be joined in heart
And hope to meet again. 
- Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories: The Inspiring True Stories Behind 101 Favorite Hymns, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012) 45.
- John Fawcett, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” from Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories: The Inspiring True Stories Behind 101 Favorite Hymns, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012) 45.