Updated: Feb 16, 2020
It was a mere whisper, but it swished around at the bottom of our stomachs like Campbell’s soup and had reverberated up into our chests. And now it had crept out of our mouths! A cold, lonely and damp, dilapidated tiny 1950’s apartment in the middle of Rotterdam. It’s kitchen the size of a large microwave oven. Beds for junior highs – normally my legs stick out at my ankles . . . now they stick out at my knees.
Now that we had both whispered it, we could say it out loud. “What are we doing here!?!” And now that we had said it out loud, Michelle and I could begin to deal with it, come out of the fog. I guess honesty does that. “We can do this. We can figure this out . . . together.”
For several months we’d been poking around with the idea of leaving Inglewood and the Lantern. We had ruminated over this idea of catching some re-invigorating breaths after 12 years of stoking the church-planting fire in Calgary. For six months we battled between ‘desire’ and ‘guilt’. What other profession gets to leave its position for months and months on this thing called ‘sabbatical’? Guilt.
On the other hand we were probably becoming myopic, isolated, having not lifted our heads from this fledgling congregation in some dozen years. Yes, probably, true. ‘Desire’. But, how could we simply step away . . . who would do what at the Lantern?! Weren’t we indispensable? What if they discovered they were just fine without us? And our house and the car and Zorro!
The folks at the Lantern had been gracious with our desire and our guilt . . . and had given us permission to leave the helm, to get away and . . . discover. Discover what? I found the preparation to leave ‘a discovery’ in-and-of-itself, an exploration of letting go, even if it were only for four months. The simple release of the various responsibilities I had, one by one, was a discovery, a rather pain one; our house, things familiar . . . a letting go of relationships, small good-byes . . . the tangible release of all the keys. A mini-death. A good trial run for the ultimate ‘letting go’. Not so indispensable after all. Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all so far.
The turbulence over the Atlantic had our children losing more than their faith in the trip. For close to three hours the raucous weather tried to convince us to go back to the land of security. But planes don’t u-turn over the Atlantic. I found preaching in front of 150 unfamiliar faces not a difficult task. There’s a quick bond in a church. A Jesus-bond. I had come to Rotterdam to . . . coast. Not ‘sea’ coast, but ‘relax’ coast. In Calgary, I imagined the curiosities of the city, the country, the continent. I had thought of unique people, places, practices. For some selfish reason, I’d thought little of the church, its needs, its requests.
Having been here now for three days, I’m drawn to the people of this church. 38 different nationalities represented. Each individual with a story, each wondering, each seeking. Each person a soul.
I can’t coast.
I can’t coast through conversations.
I can’t coast through prayers.
I can’t cost through a handshake for Pete’s sake.
Last night I rode the tram home with an African woman after a Bible Study. Her husband had abandoned her 17 years prior . . . she raised six children in Rotterdam, the youngest now 19-years of age. She was awesome, tough, tired, delightful, weak and . . . wondering. Mavis. Across from me, at the same study, sat Marg. A widow for 12 years now. Wondering. Mary, from Cameroon, sat beside Marg. She said she was praying for something . . . she didn’t say what . . . but nothing was happening. Nothing was happening for years. And yet there she was . . . wondering. God, come out of the shadows for these people.
Tonight I prepare for Sunday and it’s only Tuesday. They need two scripture readings for their bulletin that gets printed on Wednesday. They need a quote from a famous person because it fills a nice place beneath the offering. Been doing it that way for years. Naturally, they need a list of hymns. They need a title for the Children’s Message. (The Children’s Message?) Most important they need a theme because tomorrow the choir meets and . . . well, they need a theme. The Choir needs a theme! Oh God, please, give me a theme!”