The Hard Work of Making Something Beautiful

Once upon a time, I danced. Well, you can find me dancing often. (When I can’t pray words, I’ll sing or dance or stretch.)  From 3 to 17, I was in classes: ballet (mostly), tap, jazz, modern. It provided a grounded assurance to my life; a regular place to go and be, especially as a teenager. Even with all those years, I’d never consider myself very “good.” It wasn’t because I didn’t work really hard or enjoy it. Maybe it was a bit of the lack-of natural physical talent thing and the fact that I have a terrible time memorizing. I’m beyond clumsy; more than once managing to create a domino effect with the apples in the grocery store. I still don’t know my times tables but tell me a story and I’ll likely never forget.

Ballet taught how important the body is; that standing with your shoulders back and down can help you walk into any situation with poise, even when your heart and mind are doing somersaults. Ballet taught me many lessons. Here are six that are pretty well summed up with the photo below by Jordan Matter. His photography moved me to think today.

1. Anything beautiful in this world comes into being after hard work.

2. Hard work doesn’t always end up with something beautiful, but it still matters.

3. Most people will never see the hours and hours and hours that it takes to create something meaningful.

4. It’ll get dirty, ugly, and painful to make the wild eyed dreams we have come true.

5. You must let go of or have taken from you certain ideas (or toenails!); allowing sacrifice to open the door for greater creation.

6. Be flexible. Have an incredibly strong core.

Jordan Matter’s photo in the Series: Dancers Among Us

She kissed my hands.

“She kissed my hands,” I said.

“Do you wear a ring?” she said, referencing the Pope’s ring.

“No, kinda,” a little chuckle in my reply. “It was one of the most intimate moments of my life. We prayed and she kissed my hands.”

That’s a little snippet of my counseling session yesterday. I routinely tell her about the things that happen in church and she tells me, just about every time to write them down. I’m taking her advice.

One of the major elements of my call is visiting those who are older in our community. It could be that those days with my great grandmother prepared me for this. I’ve got some good stories with her, but this is about the people I care for now. Often, I find myself looking at the calendar and realizing it’s been a month or more since I’ve seen everyone and instantly change my schedule to go visiting. Visiting is the best. It’s also heart wrenching and holy, glorious and ghastly.

There is the 104-year-old woman who is sharp as a tack and funnier than you. No insult intended, but she’s got a dry wit and sparkling eyes that are irresistible. She and her husband were the first two people baptized in our baptistry. She loves traveling and could tell you about the car trips down Route 66 and to Florida and more. She and her family could teach classes about how to care for one another. Recently, her throat muscles have given her fits resulting in therapy and a new diet. The new diet included thickening all liquids. Do you know the joy of a glass of water? It’s cool, quick journey down the throat? This 104-year-old couldn’t have it for several months. Yesterday, I walked in to see a real glass of water, not yellow tinted, lemon flavored, jello-just-before-it-sets consistency water. We celebrated the simple joy of water.

There is one couple where he suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. For years, they’ve lived separately in the same facility. Two years ago, he was still himself personality wise when I would visit. He didn’t know me, but I always explained who I was and he shared stories. Now, I don’t see him when I see him, if you know what I mean. There is his body and I speak to him, but he rarely replies. It is gut wrenching. My focus with his wife is to hear the stories of their life. We look at many of the same photos every time I visit. Those stories become more vivid with each telling. She has a name that embodies her personality: gentle, kind, encouraging. She loves the beach, going there on more than one anniversary trip.

It is my practice to hold hands when I pray with people. Recently, I read an article saying that we might consider holding hands in worship simply because that might be the only time in a given week that some would have the chance to experience the gentle touch of hand holding. What a great sadness and an opportunity to share love. It’s an instinct for me. Oh, I’m thankful for that instinct…sometimes.

Last week, as I prayed with my dear one who loves the beach, we joined both sets of hands. I spoke words to God for us. At “Amen” she leaned over and kissed my hands. Knowing what was happening, my instinct was to pull away quickly. I’m not the Pope, although I do wear a ring on my right ring finger, a sign of God’s call. With an internal struggle, I received this blessing from her. I’m still processing that holy moment. What do I do with such an incredible, intimate moment? Perhaps, say “Amen” again.

2. TWO.

730 days. 2 laps around the sun. Here we are, on the first day of the third year with Bethany Christian Church.  (Nick says nobody says things like that, first day of the third year.) It’s been two years together and my mind is a swirl of thankfulness and wonder.

As I reflect on what it means to be in this community of faith, a memory from my ordination stands out. At the end of many Disciples ordinations, there is a moment where the ordinand stands up to say a word of thankfulness. My words were “thank you for letting me fail.” (This was the first of many times as an ordained minister where I said something utterly outrageous unintentionally. It’s also why I should script the majority of my public speaking.) What followed was an explanation of that odd sentence. I thanked them for taking risks with me, for me, and providing room to discover for myself what it was to go to seminary, work in church and love God’s people. Here I am again, wanting to use the same words.

In the two years we’ve been church together, we’ve had some very clear Kelli-fail moments. Remember when we sang that song on Pentecost that nobody knew with all the flats and sharps and nonsense? Don played to finish it out but the rest of us just looked at other in confusion. We laughed about it and I learned that Don must have veto right to hymns.

Or, here’s another one: Remember that time when my sermon wasn’t very strong and it was clear that we all knew it? (Choose your own memory, because it’s been a huge, continuing learning experience to preach every week.) Instead of pointing out the gaping holes, you were kind enough to share words of encouragement about something else in worship that worked well.

Or maybe this, how about the dozens of times I’ve asked why we do something a certain way and you took the time to explain the history of our congregation, ignoring the fact (that I now know) that why often implies a sense of judgment. The judgment wasn’t there and you trusted me even when it could have been perceived differently.

In these two years, because of your grace, I’ve become a better pastor, a fuller self, and an individual in love with God’s people. Because of your grace, people come into the doors of our church and find genuine welcome; just like Nick and I did the first time we visited, before you were even receiving papers (resumes) from perspective ministers. (We learned quickly there is no incognito at Bethany.) Because of your grace, we’ve seen glimpses of the realm of God here in Tulsa, in our sanctuary. Remember when Charles and Kelly let us be a part of the blessing of their wedding rings in the midst of worship? Remember when we needed to reintroduce a children’s moment in worship because there are children here every week?

Thank you, Bethany. I love you from the bottom of my heart. Here’s to more grace, more love and more memories.