Forever and ever, hallelujah, hallelujah.

There are some timeless moments in the Christian year, and Easter is one of them. At our church, certain moments have become tradition - the bustling pre-service work of lacing homegrown flowers through the rough lattice of the wooden cross, the joyful sting that hits my eyes when we sing the first line of "Christ the Lord is risen today," standing up to declare "He is risen indeed!" after the children prompt us. But my absolute favorite may be the singing of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."

I don't remember the first time I went up to the front to sing with what felt like the entire congregation (how can so many be left out in the pews, I always think, when so many of us are up here?!). I was probably a giddy preteen who didn't know alto from soprano. Once I sang it in college, I figured out the alto harmony, so now I always head to the very back, near the flowers and the timpani, and Amy almost always finds me, and there's Ellie and Dawn and Cheryl and Katie when she's in town and we keep backing up as more people stream towards us, all crushed together.

Photo from the Glenn UMC Facebook page.

Photo from the Glenn UMC Facebook page.

Everyone is crushed together, actually, and I love how everyone clearly loves it. It's not this staid and perfect performance - how could it be? This is God's kingdom pure and simple, reveling in community. The rustling of sheet music, the bursts of laughter, the waves of recognition between old friends... it never changes, even though in the 52 weeks since we last sang together, so much has changed. For us individually, collectively, for the world. And yet, when Timothy launches into the familiar intro on the organ, it's as if no time has passed.

I learned several years ago now - maybe when I went away for college and would return for Easter Sunday - to not simply stare at Steve, our director, every second of the nearly five minute piece. (Don't tell Steve!) Instead my eyes start to wander, even as my voice keeps on (mostly on the correct notes). I even turn my head back and forth. I want to see everyone around me. What dear face will I glimpse next? Too many to count, new and old.

Yesterday I loved looking to my left and seeing my brother, along with several others our age, John and George and more - we grew up together, I've known them since birth, and now they are men. And in front of them, I loved seeing the current youth boys, Henry, Nate, Sam, Ian, carrying on the tradition, and then some even younger, the Washburn boys and more. It's the same on the women's side, the blending of generations, Kate and Mom and Carol and Ginny Blair and the sense that somehow, we are all intertwined. Would my Glenn experience have been the same without Amy before me, would Ellie's have been the same without me before her?

It's not even that one person has a direct impact on the other - though of course that is often part of it - but that simply by being present, by showing up, by creating a community that we want to be part of, good things happen, and continue to happen.

Positive reinforcement. Lifted voices. Courage in returning to the same-yet-different timeless moments of faith year after year, no matter what is happening in our lives or the world outside this magnificent sanctuary. The moment captures all of this and more, the cross draped in petals, the congregation standing and soaking in the sound, the trumpets and timpani and organ blending with hundreds of human voices that, together, create something worth saving and renewing, forever and ever, forever and ever, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.


Revisiting 2014: My end-of-year personal summit.

Thanks to Rosie Molinary for inspiring this exercise!

1. Describe yourself at the beginning of 2014.

At the start of 2014, I was physically and mentally tired. My beloved grandfather had just died, we were driving back and forth between states and homes during the holidays, and on the first day of the year, I flew to a polar vortexing Vermont for a week of intensive workshops to begin my grad school program. It was the year of our wedding - though still nine months out - and plans and decisions about the big day were always underlying. I liked my job well enough, and loved the folks I worked with, but after nearly three years, it had begun to feel rote and not challenging.

2. What are five words that describe your 2014?

Transition. Struggle. Fulfilling. Joyful. Weary.

3. Recall 2014. What are three images that pop into your head?

Leaving my house in Charlotte for the last time.

Walking down the aisle at our wedding.

Our first Christmas tree in our cozy little home.

4. How do those images make you feel in retrospect?

Leaving Charlotte feels very far away - six months ago this week - and yet not at all. I/We are still hashing out what it means to be not there. The transition has been daily, difficult, and inwardly chaotic. And yet I find myself grateful and filled to be so near our families here in Georgia. Looking back, without that element of family gatherings and closeness, life in NC seems like it was a little emptier. 

Walking down the aisle makes me rejoice that our wedding ended up just as it should have, surrounded by friends and family and the touches that made it us. I'm glad that I remember it so clearly. I'm also glad that the planning, waiting, and preparation are all over and done!

I'm looking at our Christmas tree right now because we haven't had the heart to take it down yet. It fills me with gratitude that after weeks of searching on Craigslist, driving down streets, and everything in between to no avail, a home became available to us the week Sean moved to Atlanta. I'm thankful that it has every element that we looked for, and landlords who are kind and attentive. No matter the ongoing stresses of this transition, it is a joy to have a house that feels like home.

5. What did you do this year that you had never done before?

Went to graduate school. Left a job. Got married.

6. What dates/experiences from this year will remain etched in your memory and why? (Maybe I'm being lazy, but I feel like the "why" is answered in that I remember and note them!)

Sitting in my car and hearing a job offer over the phone, feeling equally elated and terrified.

My going away party at my job in Charlotte, where I bawled.

My first day at my new job, when my heart was in my throat and my stomach felt liquid.

The in-between surreality of going back and forth between familiar places (but we can only inhabit one at a time! Argh!) while we did long-distance for two months.

Putting together our wedding invitations in the calm and quiet of the office where we met.

Fun and humbling wedding shower celebrations.

Moving into our rental house.

Our full, clear-as-day wedding weekend, surrounded by loved ones from near and far.

Exploring the streets and squares of Savannah.

Sitting outside in our backyard struggling to finish my school work.

Moving moments from all three memorial services for Sean's grandparents.

Standing in the back of my home church on Christmas Eve, hearing "Amen" resound around me in a different and more meaningful way than it ever had. (I'll be writing more about this soon.)

Sharing our first Christmas together.

This list would get way longer if I listed the countless small moments that have brought such joy.

7. What was your biggest challenge?

Leaving Charlotte, a place that we think of as home, for Atlanta, where we grew up but haven't lived in quite awhile. I also started a new job, finished planning our wedding, and successfully completed a semester of grad school all at once.

8. What was your biggest triumph?

I can't describe quite how good it felt to read my grad school advisor's final evaluation of my semester, especially since he knew all that had been going on in my personal life. Finishing the term on such a good note - hell, finishing at all - felt like a massive accomplishment.

9. What are three to five great things you did in 2014?

Celebrated amazing lives, including three of Sean's grandparents, as well as inspirational church members - probably the record number of funerals I've attended in one year, but each felt moving and meaningful.

Had a dance party blast at Chris + Michele's wedding with some of my favorite people.

Gathered my best girlfriends together for brunch on the day of my wedding.

Went to Savannah for a fun, restful, adventurous, sunshine-y, delicious food honeymoon.

Watched childhood home movies with my family on New Year's Eve, smiling, sighing and cackling with laughter.

10. What are some important things you stopped doing?

Twitter. I'm almost completely off, and it's so refreshing.

Driving 30 miles to see Sean. Hooray for one house!

Ongoing process, but attempting to slow my brain-crippling anxiety.

Another ongoing process: I feel like I've stopped (or started to stop?) worrying about putting on a good face when things are challenging or messy in life. I feel surrounded and supported by people who will take me as I am and who also know what it's like to live into the questions.

11. What are some important things you started doing?

Going to a women's group at church one night a week.

Riding the bus to work - using less gas and walking more.

Jessica Smith workouts.

Thinking about what home means for me and others.

Figuring out my identity as an adult and wife within the community where I grew up.

12. Looking back, what was this year’s gift to you?

2014 showed me that I (and Sean and I) can take a lot and get through a lot. Leaving a place we love, a new job, the job hunt, an intensive school semester, a wedding, beginning a marriage, the passing of three grandparents... It reminded me of the messy, deep love and support we have on all sides of us and within us. It also brought us to a new/old home that we're getting to know and grow into. It's given us more time with our families and a vibrant church community that I love experiencing anew and sharing with my husband. The start of a new year doesn't end the time of transition, and doesn't make me stop wondering about home... but it does help me to take a deep breath, give us both a major pat on the back, and say thanks.

13. Describe yourself now.

At the start of 2015, I feel the weariness and heft of all that happened over the last twelve months (which have gone in a snap, by the way). But at the same time, I feel refreshed and forward-looking. I'm heading back to Vermont (hopefully not as polar vortexing) to begin my third graduate school semester. I feel like I have a decent handle on where I'm going with my writing - but I know I'll have to buckle down and get words on the page, rather than ideas floating around in my head. I'll be teaching a memoir-writing class this winter/spring, and I'm nervous and excited about that opportunity. I am in a job that challenges me, in a high-energy higher ed environment whose mission I believe in, working alongside dynamic co-workers and friends. It's wonderful to be in the same town as my parents, my grandmother, my brother and his girlfriend, my in-laws, my sister-in-law and her fiance - all great folks who get along well with each other. Most of all, I am so thankful for Sean and all that he is. Even in the midst of transition, I feel settled and joyous with him. Building a home and a life together, and sharing that on good days and bad, was the best and most rewarding part of 2014 and beyond.

Cheers to 2015! (And hopefully a more frequent blogging schedule...)