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My View From the Top of the Stairs

My View From the Top of the Stairs

The year was 2012. It was a Saturday in February, and I was nestled in my warm, comfy bed. Asleep. Deep, unbothered-by-dreams-or-stirring sleep.

When all of a sudden, I wasn’t.

There was a siren! I was under attack! This was the end!

I am not a fast human by nature, but in that moment I was a jungle cat. Out of the bed, down the hall, by my parents’ bedside in just a few bounds. My parents were out of town, and my dad had forgotten to turn off his no nonsense alarm set for 5 A.M.

On a Saturday.

It was one of those obstinate alarms that grows more infuriated every second that passes without silencing it. Its volume steadily ticks upward until you start to believe you’ve been transported right inside the machine and are standing directly next to the noise-making mechanism.

I hit buttons, turned knobs, and finally just ripped the stupid cord from its secure spot in the wall socket.

I walked slowly back to my bed, but not before texting my parents a long message dripping with sarcasm and irritation.IMG_3676

For as long as I can remember, John T. Brock has set his alarm to ring at 4:30A.M. If ever there was a day when I was awake before my dad, chances are I hadn’t yet been to sleep. He cuts himself some slack on Saturdays and will sleep an indulgent half hour more.

He fixes the coffee the night before and sets a timer on the pot so it will wake when he does. He pours himself the first cup of the day. Sometimes, he’ll walk to the back room, flip on the television, and stand a few minutes in the bright glow of the breaking headlines.

By 4:45, he’s settled into his chair and has already made a significant dent in his first round of caffeine.
His chair. It sits firmly by the fireplace. Beside the left arm there sits an ever-changing stack of leadership books, commentaries, and sermon notes. To its right, a small table stands at attention holding a pair of glasses and the aforementioned cup of coffee.

This is where he sits. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

The rest of the house is asleep, but my dad is awake. And he’s there at this time, in this chair, every day to meet with Jesus.

I’ve always known about his habit of waking early in the morning. I knew how he spent that time. I knew he’d be there every day. Without fail.

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Our house is laid out in such a way that when I walk from my room to the bathroom down the hall, I walk past the staircase on my left. And if I make that trek at anytime between the hours of 4:30 and 6:30 A.M., I can catch a glimpse of my dad’s knees and feet. Sitting in that chair. Talking to Jesus.

On another dark morning a few years ago, I again emerged from the comfort of my bed, slow and groggy this time, annoyed that my sleep had been interrupted by my need for the bathroom.
When I rounded the corner of my doorway and walked past that familiar first step, I caught a glimpse of a different image at the bottom of the stairs.

And I won’t ever forget it.

Knees, not crossed gingerly in his normal seated position, but pressed to the floor in front of the chair, long legs stretched out behind him. His larger-than-life, 6’4” frame bent at a ninety-degree angle. His elbows in the chair’s seat, his hands resting on his shoulders, his forehead pressed to the fabric. Praying. Interceding. Having an all-encompassing conversation with his Savior.

Until today, he never knew I saw him in that moment. He didn’t hear me get up. Didn’t hear my feet pad across the floor. Never knew for a second that someone was watching him.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve told it.

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Not long after moving to Nashville, I found myself in the middle of a conversation about parents. About our relationships to them. About how frustrating those relationships can be. I heard story after story about damaged paternal relationships, wounded and scarred by broken promises and sinful choices.

And suddenly everyone was looking at me. It was my turn. What was my father like?

“Well,” I said, “he’s like this,” and I pointed to that moment. That image. That dark morning when I caught the most beautiful glimpse of my dad’s heart.

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I won’t ever stop being grateful that the Lord woke me up at just the right time, at just the right moment for me to take that mental picture.

Because that is a picture of my dad. Not just in that moment, but in every moment. That is the physical posture of his heart. He kneels daily to seek his God and to serve the people who have been entrusted to him.

The long list of characteristics I love most about my dad all stem from and grow out of those moments. His kindness, his sacrifice, his love and devotion to his wife, his kids, his church are all marks of a man of God. But those qualities did not arise simply because he is a pastor. They didn’t come as a packaged deal when he became a Christian. They did not manifest within him because he is what the world calls “good.”

No. They did not appear by magic or happenstance.

They came with the morning. They rode in on the sun’s tide. Day after day, new mercy after new mercy, they were carved into the fabric of his DNA. He is kind because he has a standing appointment with Kindness Himself. He is devoted because he has never gotten over the devotion of a Jewish King who came to rescue him. He is sacrificial because, time after time, he has shown up and put his knees in the dust at the foot of a Roman cross and looked up at the most beautiful sacrifice this world has ever known.

He is a good father not because he is perfect or without flaw or failure, but because he starts every day at the feet of Jesus. And of all the things I’ve learned from him, this is, without a doubt, the most important lesson, and the one I am most grateful for.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you, and I’ll never be able to tell you exactly how proud I am to be your kid.IMG_2953

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Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

In 2016, I spent a significant portion of my time fighting a love for my new home. I had arrived in January with a steel resolve to be brave in the face of all the new. I was happy to be at my job, but that was about it. Though Nashville did all it could to reach out and extend a welcoming hand, I flat refused to speak. I spent the whole first year of our relationship pining over my ex. No wonder we had issues.

I stepped into a new city still hopelessly and madly in love with Florence, AL. Nashville was a fine place for some folks to live, but it just wasn’t my type. It was merely a holding spot for me. A waiting room for me to park in while I waited for the Lord to tell me I could go home.

If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.

-Malala Yousafzai

Home. Florence. One hundred and thirty-three miles southwest where all my people were.

I had no people in Nashville, and to be honest, I did a poor job of looking for them. I held my heart so far behind me that no one could come close. At best, I planted weedy roots that were violently ripped up once or twice a month when I pointed my car toward the Alabama state line and hit the gas. My mouth complained about my lack of ties to the city, but truthfully, my heart fiercely fought any connections. I didn’t want them, and somewhere deep inside my brain, I felt like I didn’t have room for them.

If I loved Florence with my whole heart, I had no more room for a new city to love. There wasn’t space for both.

But an affection for Tennessee was rising, quiet and strong and steady in the space beneath my chest.

I saw it first in April of last year. Green was coming back into the world again, arriving in brilliance after its hiatus. It sprung from the trees with all the energy of new hope and new life. My Cruze would come to the top of a hill on my way to work, and I’d catch a glimpse of rolling hills rising like a deep breath coming straight from the earth. And I would catch mine. In the cool stickiness of summer evenings, I watched the maple leaves from my patio flutter bashfully in the breeze. On Saturday hikes, the light would cut through the wall of trees so sharply I knew it was looking for my attention.

I stretched out on grassy lawns or scrunched in age-old pews and heard the city’s wild and brilliant heartbeat through guitar strings and voices loosed. I put my hand on the pulse of music that makes this city feel alive, like the soil beneath our feet is breathing the music from its own unseen lungs. Those of us who have to obey the laws of gravity get, for a brief moment, the chance to know what it feels like to defy it.

I’ve spent much of this new year trying to quietly apologize to Nashville. And Nashville, in all her generosity, is forgiving. Through all my foot stamping and tantrum tears last year, she never stopped singing. She never let her voice get too small for me to hear. And I’m grateful for another year to hear it and another chance to really listen.

You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.

-Henning Mankell

There’s room for both, I’ve learned. There’s love enough for more than one piece of geography.

And I need them both, Florence & Nashville. I need every mile.

Florence is home. Safe. Still so very needed. Always will be. When I cross the city lines, it refills my tank with courage. Tells me with its slow drawl that it’s glad to see me. Tells me it’ll be here waiting when I come again.

Nashville is growth. Smothering with its enormity. Terrifying. Luminous. Gleaming. So welcoming and warm. It pushes me to be brave. Demands more of me than I thought I could give. Asks me to climb to new heights, but promises a great view. And it delivers.

There are a thousand ways to go home.

-Rumi

So, Nashville, I just called to tell you I’m sorry. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad you welcomed me and gave me a new place to call home. I’m glad you didn’t give up on me.

And Nashville—the view really is amazing.

 

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Sundays

Sundays

Nashville life has been an adventure. I’m learning how to adult and so far, it’s going well. Here’s a brief list of the things I am most proud of:

  1. Without using my GPS, I can navigate my way to my job, my house, my church, my gym, and my favorite pizza place. Though most of these are on the same road, it’s still a pretty huge accomplishment.

**Those of you who know how long it took for me learn how to get to Florence Boulevard should be especially impressed.

  1. I’m no master chef, yet, but I did (fairly) successfully use my George Foreman the other night.
  2. My socks match. Everyday. (To be honest, this is my crowning achievement thus far.)

Yes, things are going very well here. During the week, the days go by quietly, systematically, gently allowing me to adjust and settle down into this new life. Saturdays might have been more difficult had I not had a fairly steady stream of visitors from home.

But then there are Sundays.

Sundays have proven themselves to be the most difficult of all.

I cried the first time I visited a church here. The first time, I looked up at the pulpit and saw someone other than my dad addressing the congregation. I looked out into the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces and used my fingers to push back in the tears that were trying to escape. For the first time, it occurred to me how alone I was. There were no hugs from long-time friends, no familiar laughs in Sunday School, no choir light on my face, no sweet grandmother’s voice singing beside me, no dad to teach the Word from a familiar pulpit. There was family in that room, but it wasn’t mine. I suddenly felt Highland’s absence painfully, like a tightening band around my heart squeezing until I thought I’d have to reach in and rip it out myself.

Sundays are hard, and this week was no different.

Except this time, it was hard to be home. I held my breath from the moment I arrived to the moment I left, trying to cage my emotions. My trembling hands again caught tears before they could spill conspicuously over my cheeks. I didn’t want anyone to see, to know how much I hurt with the ache of missing this church family. I didn’t want anyone to think I was lying when I answered the constant stream of “How’s it going?” and “How’s Nashville life treating you?” with a resounding, “Great!”

Because I wasn’t lying. It really is great. The Lord has continued to prove Himself faithful, and I am still certain I was being obedient to His call on my life when I moved here. No question.

But the truth is, I miss home. And never more than on Sundays, when I’m missing my church family.

I wish I could articulate how much I love Highland and its people. I wish I could put words together to adequately explain how my life has been formed and shaped through the ministry of this church. Maybe someday I’ll be able to express it fully.

But until then, Highland family, know that I love you dearly. And miss you fiercely. But because you have shown me what it means to love and serve Christ’s bride and the lost community around her, I am equipped to do the same in a new location.

For that, and countless other blessings you’ve given me, I’ll be forever grateful.

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