The Gate of the Year

January 5, 2019

“It’s a good thing you worried about it,” Marnell said to me the other day. This gentle sarcasm is one of his favorite lines, I think, although I suppose he could make the case that he only uses it so much because he married me.  

At the gate of the new year, the futility of worrying is a good reminder for me for a number of reasons. 

Since 2006, I have attended Sandy Ridge Mennonite Church. On December 30, 2018, the church had a special service for those of us that live in Elkhart, to commemorate the final step of a process that has been in place for more than five years. It was our last official Sunday morning service in the Bremen church, because we will now be holding services full-time in Elkhart. We were blessed to have Marnell’s brother and wife and his niece and her husband join us for the service. 

“I’m not sure what songs to pick for such an occasion,” the song leader said. “So I picked some old favorites and some songs of parting.”

The singing was exceptional, and as the dozens of voices blended in the old familiar harmonies of “Lord, I Am Fondly, Earnestly Longing” and “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation”  my mind began to wander back through the years and I suddenly needed a tissue. 

I remember standing by my mom’s casket in the church where I grew up in Wisconsin, as a steady stream of people from Sandy Ridge, eight hours away, came through the line.

A few weeks after the funeral, I went with the youth group on a mission trip to Costa Rica, and I remember how much that trip blessed my soul. I remember singing Akanamandla in the rain under an umbrella, in the shadow of a volcanic mountain while standing in a river with cool ripples parting around my ankles. I don’t think I have a video recording of us singing that song, but this high school choir gives you a few minutes of this heartwarming African chorus.  

I remember the email a few months after Costa Rica, from Paul Miller. There was a need for medical personnel in Haiti to help staff the cholera hospital.  I decided to go over Christmas break from nursing school. My purse was stolen during Christmas caroling right before I left, and a spontaneous offering was lifted for me right then and there amid the Christmas cookies and hot chocolate. I remembered the peaceful, wild sound of the windmill squeaking in the northern mountains of Haiti, cranking on the hill above the tarp cholera hospital.  I remembered how my time there introduced me to the untiring smiles of Bethanie and Joanna, two women I still greatly admire, and led to the writing of Blue Christmas. This experience went on my list of 100 Dreams, as a past event I was glad I did.

I remember the church choruses, and how refreshing it was to sing together even when I was working night shift and could hardly fit it into my schedule. I remember the feeling of community, our varied voices and vocations blending into one. This should have gone on my list of 100 Dreams, because it was one of the most refreshing things I have ever done. 

More recently, I remember the choir’s majestic music at our wedding, one of my favorite parts of the day. I’ve set this clip to start mid-processional if you wish to hear a minute of their music.

Even though I have no immediate family in the church as many people do, I have developed family there. There were many afternoons in Barb’s screened-in porch drinking coffee. There were Sundays at the John Miller house, such as that fateful day when the evening service was canceled because it was snowing. John announced the cancellation on the church hotline and our youthful cheering got captured on the recording, along with John saying reproachfully, “You guys!” 

There were youth camping trips involving shaving cream and winter banquets and gift exchanges. There were inspiring weekend meetings and warm Communion services and kind invitations to many people’s houses for delicious meals. There were good Sunday School discussions and touching testimony times. There was a youth fundraiser where we sold egg rolls door to door and Brad insisted that I spoke Dutch to an Amish man even though I don’t speak Dutch. We have yet to settle that.

Everyone is in agreement that the time is right for the little outreach church to meet every week, so the tears in my eyes almost caught me by surprise.  But twelve years of experiences and memories shouldn’t be brushed off. Tears at partings are appropriate, even if the partings are appropriate.

And, despite agreement that the time is right, the new venture signals accelerated responsibilities for those of us involved. Meeting every week means all offices need to be filled every week, whether teaching Sunday School, leading singing, or unlocking the doors early. Although not ordained as a minister, Marnell along with Lloyd Mast, was recently chosen to help with preaching and leadership since Collier is (geographically at least) by himself. Marnell has his own grief in a separation from Pleasant Grove Mennonite Church, where he attended his entire life. 

As someone said at Sandy Ridge during our last service (Kendall, I believe), if we could see what the entire year holds, we would probably not want to move forward. Or we would go into fits of worry, at which I’m much too experienced already.

But on the calendar my cousin Stephanie gave me (bless her heart for always remembering my birthday!) I found this quote:

I said to a man who stood at the gate of the year: 

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.” 

–M. Louise Haskins (1875-1957), British writer, lecturer 

We may have 100 Dreams or 1,000 Dreams, but the future is still in God’s hands. With him, we can have confidence no matter what comes when we walk through the gate. And he has blessed us immensely with the people who are walking with us through our particular gate. Together, Collier & Nettie, Lloyd & Bev, Velinda, Sarah, Brad, Justin & Laura & Jaxson, Reuben & Carmen, Lily, Mike and Marnell & I are now officially the church in Elkhart.

This was a year ago, but it’s still a favorite of mine. I can’t remember the topic! 
 The door to a church in Maine I photographed on my trip to the East Coast a few years ago.