Last week we attended a new church. It was our first appearance at church in nearly a year. I was satisfied with the first church we visited when we moved here, but my husband wasn’t. There aren’t that many Episcopal churches, and because of its progressive focus on inclusion as well as the beauty and power of the liturgies, it was and is important to me that our church be an Episcopal one. But a desire for sleep and free time kept winning over trying out new churches on Sunday mornings.
What got me moving was the fact that my mother-in-law was visiting us and could care for Liam while we went to a church for the first time. Visiting for the first time with a tiny Liam had felt overwhelming, so I was excited about taking advantage of the opportunity to go without having to split my focus between Liam’s care and the new church.
We attended the children-focused service, since I figured that would be the best place for us to (possibly) fit in with our little boy. We had an amazing experience! During the kiss of peace (when parishioners greet each other) in the service and after the service, at least 3/4 of the congregation in attendance made their way to talk to us, learn who we were, and figure out how we wanted to be involved. It was incredibly heart-warming. We also loved that it was a joyous and informal service where kids were involved in all aspects of it. During the last hymn, kids danced in the aisles to the music. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could find a home in a church.
The sermon was on a passage from the book of John where Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha run to get Jesus’ help when their brother Lazarus is ill. Jesus is busy preaching and healing people elsewhere, and he cannot go to Lazarus. By the time he makes it to Lazarus, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Mary says to Jesus, “I know my brother wouldn’t have died if you were here,” and Jesus weeps.
The sermon wasn’t about that part of the passage; it was about how Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of Anne Lamott’s reflections on a very personal faith lately, or maybe it was the reflections on community-building that I was having during our church visit, but I found it hard to focus on the sermon because I was so busy focusing on the part about Jesus weeping. It seemed like the passage was meant just for me.
For the past three years, I’ve lived in California while most of my friends and family live in Georgia and almost all the rest live elsewhere on the East Coast. While we have been here, people’s lives have gone on without us, as lives do. People close to us have married, divorced, moved, had children, had seriously ill family members, won awards, produced plays, gotten and lost jobs–in short, have experienced the immense joys and struggles that come with life over time. I can only fly home so often, so I have missed most of these events. I have been able to be present for people somewhat through phone and email, but I have often despaired at the distance between me and the people I care about so deeply.
I’ve pondered various ways of moving us back to the South. The South has many issues, don’t get me wrong, but it turns out that place is rooted deeply in my bones. And my roots there run deep in part because of these long-term, often decades-long and sometimes nearly life-long, relationships that I have with people there. I never understood the phrase ‘uprooting their lives’ until I was in California and could feel each of my tender roots, raw and exposed, waving in the wind from our move from Atlanta. I have struggled for three years to grow new roots in new soil, in two cities in California.
But I married a man who has gotten a PhD in computer science, a PhD specializing in human-computer interaction in mobile devices. In other words, my husband belongs in Silicon Valley, where he can work doing research in developing on-body technologies. There weren’t many lab locations to do his work eight years ago when we met, and after the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, there are even fewer places for him to do that work now. It’s nearly all concentrated here, in the Bay Area. In Silicon Valley, he has a great job that he loves that supports our little family. He has a number of companies where he can work if he chooses to leave his current job. There is a lot of security here, and there is a lot of excitement for him here in what he is able to explore. I am grateful for all of that, and that is why we stay here. I love my husband more than words can say, and that is why I’m working so hard to develop an ability to be at home and content here.
Yet sometimes I feel awfully alone in what I lost leaving Atlanta, watching from a distance as so many people’s lives go along and I’m over here, far off to the side. So when I read that Jesus wept, it struck a chord. You do what you have to do in life. But even Jesus was overcome by not being present when his friends needed him.