Too Close to the Sun

My pastor wears fabulous shoes.

Seriously.

I notice these things. I notice because they’re colorful and funky, and stand out against her typically black or blue robe, and I notice because I need a place to look while she’s preaching.

That sounds strange.

Let me explain.

She preaches the way I used to preach, back when I preached [a time that is getting further and further away from the present]. She doesn’t use the pulpit. She walks. Her feet are exposed. So I look at her feet.

I try not to look at her face too often, because we might make eye contact…and I’ll cry. Crying in church is uncool. There’s snot, and tears, and my makeup runs…and let’s be honest, no one wants raccoon eyes for social hour.
So, I look at her feet.

This was one of those weeks. She had these funky heels on, with an ankle strap, and a swirl of leather that came off the vamp and onto the top of her foot, making the toe box asymmetrical. Dusty, dark mauve? Light maroon? The color fell somewhere in there, with tan in them as well.

Aija [that’s her name – Aija.] was preaching about “calling” this week. And I was studying her shoes, desperately trying to do anything I could to stop the tears. And it didn’t work.

I looked up. Made eye contact.

And lost it.

“Calling” is a word with a lot of baggage for me, especially in the context of ministry. When I was an officer, I was expected to have a story at the ready, for when people asked, “how did you receive your call?”

And I had my story. It wasn’t a particularly interesting story, but it was mine. The exchange was almost always the same. Someone would ask, “How did you know you were called to be an officer?” And I would answer….

“In a way, I always knew I’d be an officer. I grew up in the Army, in an Army family, with Army values. I lived, breathed, and bled red, yellow, and blue. I went forward at a youth councils when I was 13, certain that God was calling me to be an officer. That was what I was supposed to do with my life, so that’s how I lived my life as a teenager – working toward that ultimate goal. I worked at the summer camp each year, volunteered at the corps, participated in all the activities and divisional events, studied army history and theology, and ‘stayed pure,’ never dating or listening to secular music, eschewing the activities of my peers for more ‘mature’ things like weekend seminars and classes. I went to a Christian college, and *ahem* ‘fell into rebellion.’ I decided that I would major in radio broadcasting, with a minor in community development. I could serve God that way. But in my sophomore year, my financial aide was cut, and I found myself on the brink of being tossed out for an inability to pay. I was working in the school library, and ended up getting locked out on the balcony overnight, [because of my own stupidity]and by morning, had ‘surrendered’ to God, and got myself back on course to be an officer. I transferred to the Salvation Army School for Officer Training in New York, and the rest is history.”

Yep.

That was my story.

Is my story.

Is PART of my story.

Is a CHAPTER in my story.

Notice that? I’m learning….

I’m learning that my story isn’t past tense.

That it is still going.

That being an officer was a huge chunk of my life.

But only a piece of my life.

And that life didn’t end when that chapter closed.

Rev. Aija is a powerful preacher. She’s engaging. She’s approachable. She’s educated and eloquent, and so very ‘real’. Everything I had aspired to be [and, on some levels, was] as a preacher. More often than not, the sermons on Sunday wash over me like healing water…but none like this week.

As she spoke of calling, and the demystification of it, I felt something break off, let go. It’s been five years, but there are days when I still feel like a total failure, like nothing I will ever do with the rest of my life will measure up to what I did in my 20’s and early 30’s – because for years, decades, I was taught that people who “left the work” who closed the chapter of officership in their lives, were somehow turning their backs on ‘their call’….or, even worse, they were never actually called in the first place.

Ex-officers are fundamentally flawed, guilty of some nebulous rebellion or sin that lured them back “into the world” and away from ministry.

Horse shit.

She told the story of Icarus, who, after escaping from Crete, flew too close to the sun with his wings of wax, and fell into the sea.

I’ve heard that story before. It’s always been an admonition. Be careful with your calling, Christin. Stay on the right path, or your fragile dream will disintegrate and you will fall into worldliness. Don’t stray too high, too low. You must stay RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE, where it’s safe.

I always thought…..but what if staying where it’s safe becomes just as much a prison as Crete?

The pat answer was to “find joy in your suffering. You are sacrificing your life to the Lord.”

Icarus. I knew this story. I knew what it was supposed to mean.

Until it didn’t.

“what if,” she said….

“What if…we thought about it differently?”

He’d been in captivity his entire life. It was all he knew. But he dreamt of freedom.

Of Flying

And one day, it happened.

He could fly.

And yes, he flew too close to the sun.

But the point was….before he fell, HE FLEW.

He. Flew.

He didn’t fail.

He Flew.

He.

FLEW.

I couldn’t help it. My head snapped up.

And made eye contact.

“And if anyone asked him, ‘was it worth it? Would you do it again?’ He’d say yes, EVERY TIME.

Because. He. Flew”

Suddenly, it clicked.

All these years, I’ve been focusing on the failure of the fall.

I didn’t see the victory of the FLIGHT.

And the fact that, for the first time in his life, he felt the sun.

And it was worth it.

I lost it.

Came completely unglued.

Couldn’t stop the tears.

Had to leave the sanctuary to go cry in the bathroom.

All the guilt, all the feelings of failure

The haunting thoughts that I didn’t make a difference

That my life as an officer was a waste, at best

A mistake, at worst

Began to fall away, and I couldn’t stop the tears.

HEARING someone, from the pulpit, say that dreams have a life span…

That it’s the FLYING that counts

The relief washed over me.

I got myself together, returned to the sanctuary, and slid in the first pew by the door, just in time for the extinguishing of the chalice and the benediction.
Again, eye contact. And a small smile.

I looked away, back at the shoes, for fear of crying again.

Every week, the entire congregation joins hands across the aisles as we sing our benediction. Every week, Aija stands in the middle of the front two rows, at the center, joining the two front rows as we sing.

This week, she walked over to the first pew by the door, and took my hand.
Such a simple gesture, but profoundly meaningful for me.

I tried to sing, fighting back tears

“we have spent time together, and these holy moments give us strength to go down the winding road until we meet again. And my prayer for you is a peace that’s true, until we meet again.”

After services, Aija stands at the sanctuary door to greet people as they exit, and when I approached, she asked me if I was okay.

I hugged her, and said quietly into her ear, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.
So much.”

Her response?

“i’ll keep saying it.”

Understanding. Truth. Relief. Release. Reframing.

Acceptance.

From her.

From myself.

Yes. I ‘left the straight and narrow.’

I flew too close to the sun.

And it was worth it.

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