Do you feel a bit tender hearted towards the red-headed girl who got off that plane in Austin? I can see her today, standing in the airport with her young husband, both of them looking like teenagers playing grown-up. I think they have duffel bags instead of suitcases, but they are so desperate to appear capable.
Someone picked them up from this airport and took them out to Chili’s for chips and salsa. She watched the other couple, the real grown-ups, as they talked about their church and their people with great pride. The wife sprinkled salt over the chips before she ate them and the girl filed that away in her memory: this is a thing that people in Texas do, remember now, don’t mess it up. This is his first in-person job interview as a youth pastor, it will last all weekend long, and she is determined to be an asset all the while feeling like a liability. On the Sunday morning when she woke up in the Holiday Inn, he was sitting in the chair watching her. He said he had been waiting for her to wake up because he felt like he heard from God last night: this is their place. He cancelled every other job interview he had – before this place even offered him the job – and he is not the guy who usually does that kind of stuff so she believed him.
She moved here just a few weeks later, upended her small life and headed for the hill country. Her husband felt like he had come home, she felt like an exile. He picked out a nice new house on a nice street with church people and she felt surrounded. Her old friends were travelling, having adventures, taking risks: she was arranging a guest room in a bungalow and commuting to an office.
But she tried, bless her. She put away her flip flops and jean shorts for outlet mall Ann Taylor suits and sensible heels in an effort to appear older than her years, to appear like she knew what she as doing. No one asked her to do this, no one implied she should, this was all her own insecurity in a costume. She put on certainty like armour, determined to do the right things and say the right things and be the right person by sheer effort alone.
Some people need to learn to set boundaries but this girl’s boundaries were no bigger than her view of life and church and faith at the time. She said “no” more than she said “yes,” and she was poorer for that decision.
That girl received love and friendship and guidance but took them for granted, like they were her right. Yesterday, I arrived in Austin nealry thirteen years later, and I remembered her, standing at the baggage claim 3 in the Austin airport, heading out on the adventure she disdained, and I loved her, the earnest know-it-all fool of her.
Yesterday I saw those Texas years snap open like a sheet. The girl grew into a woman right here in the hill country in those years and what a generous place for that experience. Now she looks back on the men and women who surrounded her, and thanks God for their grace with her, thanks God for the ways they challenged her and made her uncomfortable, thanks God for the risk of community – what is that compared to London and Paris?
I called my husband who is back home and said, do you remember? Do you remember our little brick bungalow and the way we used to sit out on the porch with our best friends in the world and at the end of the night they would walk home to their houses next door and across the street and down the corner? How we would sit out on the back drive-way, looking up at the Texas stars, drinking beer, because we couldn’t sit on the front porch and do that? Do you remember Wednesday night church and Sunday night church and the way we loved to sing out loud? Do you remember this person and that person? Do you remember the heat and humidity and good tortillas? Do you remember our friends and our mentors and our kids and our people? We were part of something amazing here.
Do you remember all the teenagers that filled this house – they’re all grown-ups with mortgages and toddlers now, but do you remember how we loved them beyond all reason? Do you remember all the people who loved us, who tried to mentor us, who tried to teach us? I learned more than I thought I did then, I still remember all their words even though at the time I probably looked like I wasn’t listening. Do you remember watching Trading Spaces with our friends? Do you remember when our friends had the first baby of our little group and how we loved that little baby, how we passed her around and dressed her up and bounced her on our knees? Do you remember growing into your calling here? What a gift, what a gift.
Do you remember how much I wanted to leave and now I look around and think: what a beautiful place to stay and grow up.
I’m far away from that girl, now, and sometimes she makes me want to laugh and sometimes she makes me want to roll my eyes so hard they would fall out of my head. Wake up, wake up, wake up, I would say. Look around you: you’re being broken here I know, but this is embarking point for your wilderness and in the wilderness he will be your God. You gathered everything you needed for the journey among the limestone and the bluebonnets.
Maybe healing stains backwards, in the same way that sorrow stains backwards through our lives.
Young woman in the Austin airport, you’ll look back, I promise you will, and you will be filled with love and certain gratitude for the days you lived among them.
What a privilege to set out into the wilderness from among the Spanish oaks and the Guadalupe river, what a gift to be equipped for the journey by the saints of an old German town and the prayers of the earnest at the big evangelical church and the friendship and love of a few good people who loved Jesus and loved you.