The teenagers had just entered the dining hall when I turned to scan the lodge lobby for stragglers. Instead of finding one of my youth rushing from the bathroom or two of the younger ones lost in a game in the corner, I saw one of my adult leaders—the resident youth mama—headed my way.
"This is for you, Leanna. It’s your Half Way There present!"
She held out a folded note with my name on it and a swinging string of colors. I took them, unbelieving.
As she pulled me in for a quick hug and pat on the back, I thought over the last couple of days.
My little gang of world changers and I were serving in Asheville, North Carolina.
It was beautiful and we had already had some meaningful opportunities, but we were sleeping in unairconditioned cabins during a southeastern heat wave. Also, because we wanted to serve the community in a holistic manner (not go in and “fix” things), our schedules shifted as needs rose in the area.
We were Super. Duper. Flexible.
Those things together made for an intense experience for my 22 teenagers, and, to be honest, even I felt a little chaffed from those hot and super-duper flexible days.
"You are doing a great job, Leanna."
The mother’s voice and beaming smile brought me back to the lodge lobby.
As I pulled on the necklace she told me it was made by women overcoming adversity and I noticed that it twinned the one around her own neck.
"It’s for your encouragement. Again, you are doing a great job. I am so thankful that you are my kids’ youth pastor."
I don’t think I went a day without that necklace for the rest of the week. It became ritual. It was encouragement I could hold and truth I could touch.
After the mission, I began a month of transition and goodbyes.
I prepared to pass the mantel to the new youth pastor and looked forward to co-leading the annual beach retreat with him at the end of the month.
I started noticing “last time” moments at home, with community, and at church. I made dates with my favorite Atlantans.
Aaron and I traveled to secure housing near my seminary in North Carolina and started collecting boxes for our move.
And then, at 8:00 p.m. on July 4th, we received the news that my husband’s paternal grandmother had died.
It was shocking to us but peaceful for her.
Grandma Carr died 88 years old, in relative good health, after a French Toast breakfast with family, and during a nap. I don’t think she could have asked for a better way to pass through death.
But through death she did pass, and death interrupts life.
As a Christian I understand that death is not the end, nor is it Bad, but it does interrupt and rob us here in the realm of Time and Matter.
Things changed. I moved up my transition schedule at work. Instead of preparing to co-lead that beach retreat for my youth, I started planning the long road trip to Illinois for Grandma Carr’s funeral. I tried to continue on with the goodbyeing as I intended, but it was suddenly more difficult to do.
Things got busy and hectic and hurried. Aaron and I packed boxes, went to birthday parties, saw friends, filed paperwork, etc…
And tears sprang to my eyes at the slightest provocation.
In the middle of meetings. While I cooked supper. At my desk.
What the heck is wrong with me?! I thought. There is no reason to be so emotional right now.
Except there was. Mourning is a real thing and I had forgotten all about it.
Not too long ago folks used to wear a simple black band just above an elbow to indicate their loss. It clued in the community to their mourning, and, I imagine, signaled the mourners to be patient with themselves.
Mourning is difficult. It hurts. It is awkward. It is unpredictable.
We want to rush it. We get stuck in it. We forget it all together.
Our ancestors developed ritual to help us with that.
I think I need it, and perhaps not only during times of loss. The older I get and the more “heady” my days become, I need things that anchor me both in this world and the World to come. I need holy ritual that involves what I wear, what I do, and how I live.
Sometimes I need my body to touch a truth before my mind and heart will do so.
I pulled on a symbol of mourning, inconspicuous though it was.
It was not black but blazon with many colors. It swung when I walked and rapped on books in my arms.
I pulled on my necklace of encouragement and it was imbued with even more purpose and meaning. As it encouraged it also reminded me that I was hurting and saying goodbye.
I pulled on that necklace, that gift of knowing and Christian love, and I did so as ritual.
I held truth in my hands.
How do you center yourself in the midst of pain or loss? How do you connect again with the Reality of God's steadfastness, even in the face of major transition?
Love to you, dear one.
Thanks for being here.