I know we are supposed to embrace change, and that it is the only constant in life, but change often feels like loss to me — especially when change comes in bunches, like it has this year.
My grandmother died twelve years ago last week. I drove past her old house on the way to church yesterday morning and I don’t even recognize it.
Her once well-kept lawn is overgrown with weeds. Her front porch, the place of so many conversations over a cold glass of ice tea, is now hidden behind a privacy fence. The yard we played in as grandchildren is filled with junk.
Those changes weigh on me.
It takes me a little over thirty minutes to get to church now because we sold our building recently and are remodeling another facility. During the interim, we’re meeting with a sister church in another city.
I wasn’t completely attached to the old building because I have only been going there for four years. But my mom attended a couple of events there with me, and those moments are precious memories.
And a writers group I’m affiliated with held a couple of writers conferences in that old building.
A friend who taught with me at the first conference died last year after a battle with cancer. I have a picture of us standing side by side in the basement of that facility and she looks like the picture of health. We had no way of knowing she wouldn’t live long enough to attend the conference the following year.
Leaving that old building behind weighs on me.
A month or so ago, I went fishing with my buddy, Shawn, at his cabin in central Nebraska for the last time. He sold the cabin a week or two later (and he’s considering a move from the area).
For the past four years, we’ve gone fishing there on Memorial Day and the place has grown on me.
We always stop first in Central City to buy bait at Central True Value Hardware. The owners have a 19-year-old cat named Pockets who roams the store. When I asked about him this year, the clerk told me Pockets was having a bad day, so he was curled up behind the counter. The hardware store won’t be the same after Pockets passes away.
After we leave the hardware store, we head for the cabin. For a city boy, that’s always so exciting. You’ll never find me on the cover of “Field & Stream” because I love the air conditioning too much, but sitting by the lake and fishing with Shawn while shooting the breeze makes it one of my favorite days of the year.
The water is so calm that you can see your bobber move when even the smallest fish in the world starts messing with your bait. I’m speaking from experience. But I’ve caught a few big fish there, too.
Knowing that Memorial Day 2016 will be spent elsewhere weighs on me.
Last week, we lost Elisabeth Elliot. I’ve already written about how much that has affected me. The old guard of the faith is moving on to glory, and I’m not quite sure how to relate to the new guard.
That weights on me, too.
Two friends have also lost their mothers this year. In fact, I’m attending the funeral for one of them this afternoon. It’s not surprising since most of my friends are near fifty, but as we lose the generation before us, a certain knowing settles in.
We can never go back to Christmases past, or birthdays past, or anything past — and there will be no more futures with these people and/or places. In all of the cases I mentioned above, I have the memories, but I can never return to the scene to relive them.
For the non-sentimental, you are probably asking “Why not just start new traditions and make new memories?” And you are right, of course, but I still need to feel the full weight of the losses first.
When Elisabeth Elliot slipped into eternity yesterday, I lost a spiritual grandmother.
We never met in person, but she still spoke to me like a spiritual grandmother would when I tuned into her radio program “Gateway to Joy” every day in the early 1990s, shortly after I became a Christian.
As somebody who didn’t grow up in the church, and who came to Christ in his mid-twenties, her fifteen-minute program guided, encouraged, challenged and shaped me.
Her message was counter-cultural to a young Christian like myself: we must die to live, we must surrender to be free, and we must accept the lot we have been assigned if we want to find peace (she often quoted missionary Amy Carmichael who said, “In acceptance lieth peace.”)
Elliot’s approach was direct, and her tone was uncompromising, but for a wayward young single Christian man, her words were exactly what I needed to hear. They carried authority, and a ring of truth. They also came from a place of authenticity.
As a woman who lost two husbands in the most horrible of ways, she knew loneliness. She knew longing. And she wrote from those places.
While I was writing my first book (a singles devotional book called “Single Servings”), I sent Elliot a letter along with some sample devotions, asking her if she would consider endorsing my project. That letter was dated July 21, 2003 (I know this because I still have a copy of it). I was stunned when she called me a month or so later.
After introducing herself, she put her husband, Lars, on the phone, saying she doesn’t deal with men one on one. For the remainder of the 15-minute call, Lars was our liaison. She would say something, Lars would repeat it (even though I could hear her). I would respond, and he would repeat it to her. And so it went.
We exchanged pleasantries. She pointed out that we had the same publisher, as if we were equals. Nothing could have been further from the truth. But it put me at ease.
“I received your letter and it looks like your book will speak to today’s singles,” she said through Lars. “But I am unable to endorse it. Not because I don’t think it’s a good book, but because so much has changed from when I was single.”
I knew what she was talking about since I had read many of her books. She opens “Passion & Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control” this way: “In my day we would have called them love affairs or romances. Now they are called relationships. The word love has fallen on bad times. To many people it means nothing more nor less than going to bed with somebody …”
In that same book, she wrote about receiving letters from younger women who were confused about the status of their relationship with men they were interested in. And she made this observation: “The letters keep coming, bombarding me with questions along these lines, suggesting that the experience of one from a different generation might still be a signpost.”
“Passion & Purity” has been revised at least once, and the edition I own is the sixth, so it’s hard to say whether she wrote these particular words before or after our conversation, but either way, she seemed to be saying even then that she was amazed when someone from a younger generation might ask her advice.
She hesitated as she began to explain to me, through Lars, why she couldn’t relate to the dating/relationship culture that had become the norm. She thought it would be better if younger writers like myself addressed it instead.
The irony is, I was 27 years old when I first found her radio program in 1993, which would have made her 66 — nearly 40 years my elder, and yet she became the first female voice to speak into my life, spiritually. She was indeed a signpost who pointed me toward hope, and truth.
But in the decade between when I first started listening to her program and our phone conversation, our culture had shifted so much that she was on verge of passing the baton to a younger signpost. I don’t think the full force of that hit me until her death.
She wasn’t passing the baton to me in particular, of course. She was passing it to the generation behind her, and ultimately, to the one behind it — I just happened to be part of that generation. She seemed to be telling me it was our time to apply the scriptures to a culture that looked much different than the one she grew up in.
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been trying to process the influence Elliot has had on me. I’ve been twisting the kaleidoscope of her many quotes, books, and radio programs in my mind, but the big picture isn't coming into focus, yet. I’m just too close to the situation.
But in the immediate, I can’t get past this notion that one generation is responsible for speaking to the one or two directly behind it, while we still can. And so I will speak when a situation presents itself.
What an enormous responsibility, and blessing.
Thankfully, through the magic of technology, I can still hear Elliot’s voice every day (BBN is rebroadcasting her old radio shows), and it will remain a guiding influence in what I pass along.