Tonight, I did something new. Well, I didn’t go to a new place, and the people that I saw were all quite familiar…but in my mind, it was a fresh start.
Parker, Bailey and I decided to go to church for the Wednesday night dinner and activities. I knew that Parker would enjoy the children’s choir class, and I knew that I would enjoy the fellowship of adults, something that is pretty darn rare for me these days.
I’ve been a member of Cypress Creek Christian Church for 25 years. Twenty-five YEARS. (which I’m not sure is possible, since I’m obviously only 18…?) Over the course of these 25 years, CCCC has held varying levels of significance in my life. Recently, I will admit that I’ve sort of kept my distance. But I feel great transition on the horizon, and I’ll be darned if I don’t want in on it.
The meal tonight was delightfully mediocre and the company was splendid. After we ate, I escorted the kids to their proper classrooms and headed to the Forum (the “old sanctuary”). Our new Associate Minister, Renee Hoke, was giving a talk and I decided to sit in. Since the contemporary service has been held in the newer sanctuary for years, I hadn’t really been into the old building in a long time. As I descended the steps of that room, my heart did an unexpected little flutter. And as I reached down and felt the worn, plush fuzz of one of those brown chairs (a color that certainly never existed in any Crayola box that I had as a kid) and heard the unmistakable groan of the squeaky chair bottom as I settled into it, I found myself completely swept up in nostalgia. The glory of that room…the magnitude of everything that I had experienced there… Renee’s gentle voice wafted through the air as she addressed her captive audience, but I have to admit that my mind was already miles away.
I’m a kid. My hair has been freshly liberated from the bright pink sponge rollers that ruined the previous night’s slumber. I remember exactly how it felt to rest my head against my Dad’s arm during the (seemingly endless) church service. The foam of his suit jacket shoulder pad served as enough pillow that I was able to just drift off to sleep before the next hymn jolted me awake. My eyes would gaze at the ceiling and I would count the various lights methodically, and then the number of pipes on the organ. I would memorize every panel of the stained glass window. Mom would always whisper, “Can you find Jesus?” And I could. There he was, that small, unassuming ichthus etched in the lower right hand side of the blue river glass.
I watched the squirrels scamper around in the garden behind the sanctuary back windows. One particular Sunday stands out in my memory because, even at my tender young age, I knew those two squirrels were doing more than scampering.
I remember the Mother’s Day service when I was 9. My older brother, Ben, decided to join the church that day, and as he boldly rose from his seat and began to walk down those wide steps, I frantically scrambled after him. I don’t think I was heading down for exactly the right reasons, but I sure as heck knew that I didn’t want to have to do it alone one day! I was baptized the next Sunday, and I will never forget the soft titter of amusement from the congregation when I stepped down into the baptismal and completely disappeared from view because I was so short. It didn’t help that my feet were completely swept out from under me as Glenn gently dipped me backwards into the water. It was awkward. I was nervous. And it was beautiful.
Vacation Bible School. I actually got to carry the flag down the steps and place it in the stand on stage one morning. In front of everyone! I Father Abraham‘ed, Deep and Wide-ed, and Rise and Shine-ed my little heart out…
The day I got my braces I played Moses in the children’s play. There is video proof that I did a whole lot of tooth-licking and mouth adjusting that performance. Hey Mom and Dad, poor timing on that one. But I DID get to buy new sandals for the role. Moses needed sandals, obviously! (They were white with double buckles. Perhaps not the most Biblical, but neither was metal tooth-bondage)
A few years passed, and then suddenly…it’s not just “church” anymore. It’s a stage. I’m auditioning! Roger Hanson and Stephanie Lewis created an incredible program called Performing Arts Camps of America and one of my most memorable summer experiences began. I was thrown together with wildly talented youth from all over Texas for two weeks of intense rehearsals and incredible friendships. At one point, Roger somehow jammed a massive conducting baton into the palm of his hand. Like, in a way that it actually had to be extracted. Probably painful, definitely amusing. I swooooned over Aaron Jackson…from afar the first summer, and then up close and personal the next. I experienced a moment of full-body elation at a performance of West Side Story. I was in the chorus, in a pink dress and character shoes, standing beneath the set, singing my ever-loving soul out in harmony with my dearest of friends during the song, “Tonight”. The moment and the sound and the mood was so heart-breakingly perfect…I was changed.
Two short years later, I was standing on that stage on my 16th birthday, and this time, I was up front and center. I had a lead in Bye Bye Birdie and I was on cloud nine. Those same lights that I counted endlessly, Sunday after Sunday, were suddenly all shining on ME! It was a good, good time.
And then, everything shifted again. Our church was blessed with an incredible man from San Antonio, Texas named Scott Hardin. That great room once again became my sanctuary. Suddenly, the bread that I broke there held deeper meaning. The prayers spoken inside those walls were spontaneous and passionate. I held the hands of my brothers and sisters in Christ and I felt grounded and purposeful. Those days didn’t change my life, they became my life.
That sanctuary was home base for Elizabeth and me. We skipped school and somehow would always just end up at the empty old sanctuary, sprawled across the floor of the stage. We drank “Big Bell” Dr. Peppers and scarfed Chinese Wok chicken fried rice and burped and farted and screamed with laughter and wept with frustration and left anonymous notes on yellow post-its for the organist to find. We composed love songs to fictional Disney character puppets and filmed the whole damn thing. We wore outrageous thrift store clothing and created skits about soft drinks and were the coolest people each other knew. Not so much has changed on that front, really.
I held Sam Moore’s hand in the balcony during Service Rally.
During my stint as youth minister, I was awed by the spiritual capacity of my group of kids. I’m certain they taught me so much more than I ever taught them. We had a leadership lock-in in the sanctuary one night, and as we all spoke together, into the wee hours of the night, every inch of that massive room was filled with a Spirit so real and so heavy that I swear it was tangible. It tingled across our skin and resonated deep in my heart and soul. I think I still carry a bit of it around today.
My heart burst with pride when I joined in celebrating Scott Hardin’s eventual ordination in that sanctuary.
I stood proudly aside my baby brother and sweet sister-in-law as they exchanged vows on that stage.
I was there when the carpet went from tan to blue, the choir robes from brown to maroon…
I’ve experienced the unmatched moment of wonder when a sea of candles are raised heavenward during the last verse of Silent Night so many Christmas Eves.
Those awful brown chairs.
It is all so deeply engrained in my life. I am simply so thankful for my church family, my church home. Here’s to another 25 years.
If there is such a thing as the 7-year itch, then there’s only one guy that I’d pick to scratch it.
Happy anniversary, my Matthew.
And if I may, I’d like to resurrect my feelings on the subject from a couple years ago:
Once upon a time, there were two rather normal folks…
Who both knew a guy rockstar named Sam.
Once they were introduced, it took them awhile to warm up to each other.
But soon, they were able to overcome their shyness and discovered that they shared many of the same passions, such as a sophisticated sense of humor…
and a love for at-arms-length portraits.
Young love blossomed.
And then one magical night…
led to another magical night…
that was filled with many magical moments.
They wasted no time in making their twosome a threesome.
And their phobia of odd numbers encouraged them to round out at four.
(Pssst. Six is an even number, too… I’m just sayin’.)
Here’s to 7 years. My baby, my buddy, my sunshine, my prince….seriously, how could I NOT love this man??