I don't claim to know much, but I just woke up from a dream, a dream that felt so real, so raw, that I had to document it before that fogginess of what felt like a bitter-sweet reality wore off.
As a church we had broken into groups, and rather than doing topical small groups, rather than putting a check next to our names that we'd been there (even though in our minds we are usually somewhere else), we decided to do community as they were demonstrated for us in times past.
I don't remember everything, but I do remember that these groups were in homes, and our group happened to meet at a home of a gray old man, with a splotchy 5 o'clock shadow, who got around a little better than his age should allow for, but walked down onto his patio, off of the fuzzy green steps that old people often had, and into our midst.
I can't remember who all was there. In fact, all I do remember was a man and woman couple, around Aaron's age, and the woman was wearing a pink shirt, two youth kids who had ridden to the man's house with us, and stood awkwardly up against the edge of the patio. It was obvious they didn't want to be there. Myself, Aaron and Bryton stood similarly as awkwardly, realizing first hand that life could easily get messy if this worked out like it was supposed to, especially with Bryton in tow, but the church wanted to really do life together... and Bryton and Ansley were parts of our lives.
Being that the man, who was named 'Tommy' in my dream, was home-bound, few of us knew him or have heard of him. His house was sanctioned somewhere down Park street, just off of a side street to the left, somehow you could see the cemetery from all directions from his patio... a constant reminder of our fallen world. As Tommy walked down the one step from his home onto the patio I cringed a little bit, "What could we possibly have in common with this old man?" After all, there has to be a reason we have always been broken apart into age groups, right?
As Tommy stepped out we learned a great deal about him, the first thing being was that he played the violin, and he did it well. He sat in our middle, and we gathered around him. (What an amazing feeling that must be at such an age, to feel rallied behind and to feel as if you are contributing something to those who have come after you! What a celebration!) One of our youth, a girl I remember now, asked if he could teach her. (I'll admit, I was thinking the same thing for myself.) He said he could, but had the wisdom to know that she wanted a quick jog on the instrument, not the marathon that it would take for her to perfect an art.
He told us how he'd had quite a baseball career, playing all the way through the age of 40 for different leagues and organizations. A pitcher (a very good one, it seemed), he was very humble, and I remember thinking, in my dream this is, that the college age boy in our midst, though not a baseball player, was clinging onto these words. I wonder if he was catching on to the humility. What a great example to us all!
And hours passed that first day. I can't remember the last time I wanted to do church for any longer than what was already planned for, but we all shared our lives together, the young having more in common with the old and the old more with the young than we'd ever imagined. Bryton had even been sitting on Tommy's lap, and later playing in his backyard with the man about Aaron's age and the college-aged boy. Is this what "It takes a village," feels like? Is this what community really feels like?
The rest of my dream was a whirlwind of events that happened in sporadic times. The things I do remember were the anticipation of meeting at Tommy's house and the enjoyment once we got there. I remember that I no longer dreaded having to take our kids in fear they'd be a distraction. Since we were simply doing life together, we did just that. There was no fear that they'd get in the way.
We did read through God's word while we were there, but it was always in the context of our evening, was never forced, and happened when it was most convenient to happen. There was no devotional book, no teaching material, no lesson. Rather, our Bible often got opened when someone would say, "You have to read this, this is really where we are right now," or "God spoke these passages into my life when I was fighting cancer (the lady in the pink shirt... she was always in pink)." It brought to life the idea that the Word is meant to be passed down through relationships... trusting relationships... loving relationships. Sure there are most definitely times for large corporate worship and learning. Jesus conducted these large worship events Himself! But if you look at the disciples and at the times in which they learned, it was usually after Jesus spoke when they went to Him and said, "Um, could you dumb that down for us, please? We don't get it." These relationships are the tie that make the message trustworthy by those hearing it. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 impresses upon this idea:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (NIV - sorry, not my favorite either, trying to get this all written before the fogginess fades.)
Tommy walked that road with us, we all walked that road together, and had valuable wisdom and life experience to offer to one another. Our character qualities that God had taught or was forming in us rubbed off on those around us.
Aaron and I began going to Tommy's house with our kids a couple times a week to visit, not because we were forced to during small group, but because we now had the time to not have to do church in the evenings, but to experience relationship with people that would bring us nearer to Christ. On those outings to Tommy's house Tommy spent a great deal of time with Bryton. He couldn't chase him around the yard or run crazy with him, but he sure knew how to catch a baseball. He spent the entire summer, and spring and fall, teaching our little boy (who had gotten bigger in my dream, it seems) to throw off-speed pitches. He was an encouraging teacher. It never seemed like a task or a hindrance to him, but rather, something he looked forward to. We tried to pay him several times to which his reply was always a grin, a wink and, "Ah, I can't take it with me, and I'm close to leaving."
The winter rolled around and it was obvious that Bryton was missing that special time with Mr. Tommy, and Mr. Tommy obviously was too, because while we met at his house one evening, with it all smelling like moth balls and we were sitting on his old brown shag carpet, Mr. Tommy got up, left the room, and came back with that violin.
He showed Bryton how it worked and how to properly hold it. He sat behind him and fingered notes on the frets (are they even called frets on a violin?) and used Bryton's hand to run the bow across the strings. Bryton's eyes became the size of quarters and lit up the room.
All I know, is that Mr. Tommy taught Bryton more about life, love and faith through a baseball and a violin than I could have by reading to Him monotonously every word of every scripture in the entire Bible. He did life with him in such a way that Bryton loved him dearly and wanted to display the characteristics, and most of all, wanted to know the Jesus Tommy talked so affectionately about all of the time. To Tommy, Jesus wasn't a chore to be done, but a relationship to be celebrated. His talking about Him never felt forced, but seemed to ooze out of the overflows of love that he felt for Him.
And in my dream, as we were at Mr. Tommy's the following spring, Bryton sat down in the grass of the small backyard that was amongst the cemetery. He and Mr. Tommy had been throwing around that baseball again, Bryton's pitching becoming increasingly (and surprisingly) accurate. Mr. Tommy walked over to him and sat himself down on that green grass, all 83 years of him. What progressed was a scene that we only were able to witness from afar... when after what seemed like an hour in my dream did Mr. Tommy and Bryton bow their heads, spent some time loving on Jesus, hugged, and picked their gloves up off the ground. We found out later that Mr. Tommy had the privilege of leading our baby to Jesus.
Yesterday - before this dream - I thought that I would feel hurt, even jealous, of the person who got to lead my babies to Christ, but this morning, I pray for that Tommy in the life of my babies, that person who will love Jesus in such a way that it will infect those around them.
In my dream I remember my thankfulness, I remember crying. I remember sending an urgent prayer to God thanking Him for putting Tommy in our lives.
The next scene I remember with Tommy was at a ceremony of some sort, a celebration. We were all dressed up, sitting around large tables, and the woman in our group who normally had on the pink shirt was now dressed in a black, sequined dress. Bryton sat to my left, Ansley to Aaron's right, noticeably the only two children in a room of adults. This served as a reminder to me that they were a part of the group. They weren't our baggage that we toted with us, but they, even as Bryton a child at this point, and Ansley even younger, were part of our community, and without them we lost a piece of what God was trying to do within our group.
The presentation started as we all sat around our big round tables, Tommy sitting across from us and flashing us smiles here and there, when the person behind the podium held up a large gold reward and the lady with the pink shirt got up from our table and walked to the podium. She gave a long speech, full of tears, and she held a kleenex in her left hand. I noticed the Kleenex because she'd often wave it in a gesture our direction as she was thanking people (for what, I'm, honestly, unsure), but all I know was that the pride we felt for her was the same kind of pride we felt when our own children succeeded. It was pride that had tears streaming down the smiling face of Tommy. As she walked down the stairs from the podium we all stood to hug and congratulate her, and I remember thinking, in my dream, "I bet these people didn't know that this is what a family looks like."
It was as that ceremony ended that Tommy passed away in our midst. There was no rushing to call an ambulance, he had gone, it was certain, and he had done so peacefully, with a smile on his face. Our smiling had turned to crying, he'd been saying for years that he was leaving soon, and now he had left. How would our lives ever be the same?
Then I woke up.
And I woke with tears in my eyes. I'm not certain if the sadness I felt was that Tommy, who I had grown so affectionate towards in my dream, had died, or because I had just realized he hadn't existed at all. This safe community in which we shared life together had been only a figment of my imagination.
But I have to imagine, I have to wonder, what life could be like in that context of trust and messy relationships, when people know your junk, share life, share wisdom, and even share skills like throwing off speed pitches and playing violins, wanting nothing more than the pleasure of being allowed to do it. I have to wonder what it would be like if church was more than a chore and more of a lifestyle, where we loved others as we are called to love them by Christ, and that love brings us in closer relationship with Him because of what wisdom we gain from them.
I sit here thinking that I've never felt, in a 'religious' setting, that my kids were any more than 'baggage,' something that kept us and kept others from engaging with God more fully, (awful, I know) but I remember feeling in our dream like they were a part of us, like our group was not fully present or fully functioning without them there to offer what God had given them to our group. I'll admit, I long for the feeling that my kids are a part - and not a part of a group their own age, but a part of a bonding social environment that will deepen their love, strengthen their character, and introduce them to the face of God.
And I thank God for the friends we have that allow us to glimpse what a community like this could feel like, and I pray someday that He allows us to be a part of such community...