Storms that Threaten…

This post is something of a part four in a series of Revisiting Waters from my past. You can read the first few parts here:

In each of these posts, I shared a story of going to a place I used to live, and sitting by water there, remembering and learning. Here in Part Four (and Part Five, coming tomorrow), I’ll be looking at one more — a place I really needed to go.

Last month, I pondered grief in my life, and wondered if there were some things in my life I’d never allowed myself to grieve. In a blog post on the subject, I wrote this:

I tell other people that their suffering and grief are valid, no matter how big or small. And by validating them, it makes it possible to process and move forward. But I tell myself that if I have suffering or grief that is too small compared to someone else’s, then it is not worthy. I do not deserve to call it suffering. I do not deserve to grieve.

I have belittled my own grief, and tried to ignore it, thinking that it doesn’t count, or else that it isn’t really grief. One of the things that I believe I’ve failed to grieve is from ten years ago: leaving the first church where I was pastor, Faith United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Nescopeck. I think there’s a sense in which I never said goodbye.

One big part of that was because of the way the move went: Superstorm Sandy came through Pennsylvania the day before the move. The movers called and said they had to delay for a day. Plus, we found out that the house we were going to was without electricity, running water, and heat, and would likely be for several more days. (The whole township was basically knocked out by the storm.) The brunt of the storm had spared Nescopeck, and so this meant that we would be moving from a warm, comfortable house to a cold and dark one. With our two cats and our three-year-old child.

My wife and I tried to solve this as best we could, and the answer we came up with was this: we would let the movers move our stuff to the new house, while we would go and live with my parents for a few days. So for the next four or five days, Heather and I would drive well over an hour to the new house, unpack as much as we could in the daylight, dressed in hats and gloves the whole time, and then drive over an hour again to sleep at my parents’ house. My parents didn’t really mind having their grandchild with them, and the cats were in misery in the basement.

A few things to add to that: our child’s last day in preschool in the old town was cancelled due to the storm. There was a special send-off that now wouldn’t happen. I don’t honestly know how much the kid was upset by that, but it affected me deeply.

Plus, the truth is, I’d never fully accepted living in Nescopeck in the first place. This is no reflection on the congregation I served there, but I had a very hard time emotionally moving there five years earlier. I had grown up just ten miles away from there, and in my recollection students at Hazleton Area High School at the time fell into one of two categories: you were either going to stay in Hazleton forever, or get out and never look back. I was desperate to be in the latter category, and I succeeded for the next ten years. When my bishop sent me to interview at Faith United, I felt like I had failed. Because Nescopeck was in the same county as Hazleton, I felt like I was being sent back to the place I’d escaped. I remember telling myself that I would give Nescopeck five years. Five years and three months later, I was on my way out. Again, this had nothing at all to do with the wonderful people in the congregation – it was all my own baggage. I often wondered if I’d ever really given the town, the people, or the church a fair shake.

All this has been inside me ever since. I think it never really got out, because I never really said goodbye properly. (There was a send-off at the congregation. I’m not talking about saying goodbye to people; more saying goodbye to all the things that the town represented for me. That’s the goodbye I never had.)

So I decided to take a trip there. Nescopeck sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River, and I wanted to stand or sit there, and watch the river. Over the last six months, I have spent time sitting by water at three other places where I once lived, and each of those experiences has been profoundly meaningful for me. Read about them here, here, and here. My baptism, the Darkwater that has followed me my whole life, became so tangible to me on those trips. I thought perhaps a similar trip to Nescopeck might help me to grieve, help me to come to terms, help me to find some meaning there.

This was the first time I’d been back in Nescopeck since the day I left. I’ll write tomorrow about the experience I had. Spoiler: it was good.

Image by Greg Bierer from Pixabay

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