A Grateful Farewell

Dear Christ Community Church Family,

Throughout my life whenever I have experienced monumental changes it has inevitably come at a time that feels too soon. The truth is, we are never really ready for change. But God calls and we respond. Sometimes with the full assurance that we are loved and held by him, and at other times finding ourselves asking only for the desire to want to want to please him as we watch our passions and opportunities come together and define a calling.

The personal passions and opportunities God has been placing in front of me have begun to evolve over the last few years into something unexpected and yet greatly rewarding. I have found a great passion for working in the recovery community as well as writing and speaking about my own experience with addiction and alcoholism. Recovery and working with individuals who struggle as I have has taught me who I really am. I am always humbled by those who will break their silence to me in order to get the help they desperately need.

With the arrival of David Cassidy in May of 2014 we began a healthy new trajectory here at Christ Community and one that I have enjoyed participating in with him. David is a bold leader and he has pulled us out from under some very stuck places as a church family. I believe David has a large vision for where God is leading CCC and what she is to become. With the addition of Charles and Ken we are experiencing even more fresh perspectives and observations as well. It will be exciting to see how God uses this new leadership team to move this church forward.

Sadly, and yet with great peace I have to tell you that I will not be continuing on as part of that team in the same capacity that I have been for the last twenty years. I am resigning my position as Director of Worship/Arts Ministries with Sunday, August 7, 2016 being my final Sunday as a staff member of CCC.

I cannot put into words what this community has meant to me, and my family. You have walked with us in some of the deepest waters that life can roll in. You have shown me grace and compassion in some of my hardest and darkest days. You have encouraged me when I was ready to throw in more than the towel, and your kindness will always be your legacy to me as a church family.

At fifty-five years old I am starting from scratch and embarking on an entirely new career. This is all in its infancy and none of it has a salary attached to it as of now. So, I am trusting heavily in what God has put before me in the way of passion and opportunity. Bridging the gap between the recovery community and the church is long overdue and I believe it is something that only those of us who have walked that road can usher in. I am pursuing certification as an addiction and peer recovery coach and will be seeing clients and families that need additional work maintaining their sobriety and following a care plan, many of whom having spent months in treatment. I plan to be working out of a counseling group in Brentwood as well as with some exciting new endeavors here at Christ Community spearheaded by Cindy Blom in the area of training care leaders, group recovery work, and recovery coaching. I covet your prayers as I move into this new season.

I’ve often said that life is like going to the prom and finding out that it ends at 10pm instead of midnight. We always think we will have more time together. But, be that as it may, it has been a privilege to dance with you, share my gifts with you, and be shaped and molded by you for two decades.

Lastly, I have to say that I have had the honor of working with some of the most talented people on the planet in this job. As much as I’ve enjoyed their immense musical gifts I have been blessed beyond measure by their extremely generous hearts. You are a blessed congregation to have such people who serve you weekly for no pay, simply because they love Jesus, and because they want to usher you into a life of worship. This will be like leaving my children but I know that they will continue to be in very good hands.

Pray for me, as I will you. I truly love you and will look forward to seeing where this dance takes all of us.

Blessings to you all! I love you dearly.

David Hampton

After the Miracle

What if we actually got what we prayed for? What if we really got the miracle, won the lottery, or our prince/princess finally showed up?

One of my favorite stories in the bible is that of the paralyzed man who had to borrow the faith of his friends to get to see Jesus by way of a makeshift hole in a roof. There are many parallels that have been drawn from this story. The importance of friends, the significance of Jesus first forgiving the man’s sins and revealing himself as the One who grants forgiveness, the ugliness of the religious right off in the corner passing judgment, and even the correlation between the persistence of the friends cutting a hole in a roof that didn’t belong to them and our own desperation. I believe that these are all appropriate conclusions, but I think there is even more under the surface of this story if we play the tape all the way to the end.

Even though the man in the story had a physical miracle it doesn’t necessarily imply that his healing was without some major bumps in the road. The physical miracle was just the game changer. For him to experience the fullness of what Christ did for him he would not only walk away from his physical malady, but he would have to walk into a new way of being, thinking, and living. That is never without tension. This man would need these same friends who lowered him through the roof as much after the miracle as he did beforehand to help him rethink his world, his work, his relationships, and even his days when life on the mat might look easier.

I imagine him walking home thinking about how he was actually going to make a living now. What is going to be expected from him today that wasn’t expected of him yesterday? Suppose his mother has cared for him all these years and she is a person who needs to be needed. After all, her role and focus has been taken from her abruptly by the very thing she probably beseeched God for his whole life. The fact that he is now able to make decisions for himself or exert his opinions is going to challenge the roles of some of the people closest to him.

I’m told more people end up divorcing in recovery than in their active addictions.

So, what if we get what we’ve prayed for? What if we actually experience a sudden and miraculous change in our lives? Can we understand that even miracles can bring their own sets of expectations and challenges?

As recovering people we understand that each day we don’t go back to our old habits is truly our miracle. But it takes time for those around us to catch up. When we finally take up our beds and walk it doesn’t mean that everyone else in our lives is ready to give up theirs.

The Un-Birthday

Today marks the second birthday that we will be remembering Tricia without the joy of her physical presence.

I’m discovering that moving on from a loss doesn’t mean we erase the significant days of those people we love who most shaped and shared our lives from our calendars. It may just mean that we change the context in which we commemorate them. Just because I change the context of something doesn’t change the significance of it.

I have decided that on this side of things I am going to take a different approach to the way I observe Tricia’s birthday. Frankly, I am clueless how to celebrate something as personal as a birthday without the one I’m celebrating being present anyway. So this year I am choosing to look at it like the scene in Alice in Wonderland where the rabbit and the hatter are throwing themselves a “un-birthday” party. Alice, of course has no concept of what a un-birthday is but she soon learns it is the other 364 days of the year that aren’t her birthday that are worthy of celebration.

This year I am celebrating Tricia’s birthday by moving toward celebrating her “un-birthdays” – those moments we have over the other 364 days of the year that remind us of a beautiful life. I will celebrate her when I talk to our daughter and see glimpses of her in Lauren. Lauren’s laugh, her strong sense of principles, a certain determination, the way she waves her hand to make a point, and the sparkle in her blue eyes that she inherited. These are the daily joys that come on the “un-birthdays” which I can celebrate repeatedly.

I celebrate Tricia as I remember something she would say to me in the form of encouragement when I am feeling like I’m swinging in the wind at things that don’t come to fruition fast enough to suit me.

Sometimes when I drive in to Nashville from being out of town and see the skyline on the horizon I remember how fearful I was of moving here over twenty-five years ago and I quietly mumble to myself, “Thanks, Sweet Pea,” for her believing in me more than I did.

I can even celebrate her in the fact that she had our deck built with the stairs going down the wrong side of the house (in my opinion) and I laugh at that disagreement with every trip down those steps.

There won’t be a cake with Tricia’s name on it today. We aren’t going to get together and ceremoniously blow out her candles. Those are beautiful expressions but those aren’t ours to do now. What I will do is continue to celebrate her “un-birthday” tomorrow and each day when I see the glimpses of what she left here – a beautiful, bright daughter, a host of friends, the lasting impressions of her generosity, a circle of people she impacted and empowered, and a laugh that will stay in my mind as long as I remember her.

And occasionally, when I trudge up and down those blasted deck stairs that honestly should have been on the opposite side of the house.

Thoughts On Mentoring…

To mentor is to train and counsel and advise. It is to model as much as it is to impart strength. Leading requires relationship because we are asking people to trust us. Otherwise, we are simply reducing mentoring to a conceptual leadership model of boxes to check as we run people through the machine, which often is falsely labeled as Christian community.

Mentoring is not efficient. It doesn’t fit the time study grid of a highly effective ministry leader very well on paper. To wear the mantel of a mentor may mean we don’t get a lot of actual “work” done at times. It is rarely convenient and rarely on our terms when the opportunity to invest ourselves presents itself. But when we love with the kind of love that is willing to step outside of our little ministry boxes people begin to genuinely believe us. When we trust them with our stories, they can soon find the freedom to trust themselves, and others with theirs. This is the beginning of earning the permission to speak into lives and be heard, which is at the core of a mentor’s credibility.

Since my own spiritual overhaul over the last several years I have begun looking at people through different eyes. They are not just names in our databases or slots on our music rosters. They are stories, lives, souls with dreams and hopes, and hearts longing for connection. They are eager to be invested in and in return will surprise themselves with the joy they experience from serving. As they come alive to their own stories they will become those who share and draw others in embracing their own stories. And so it goes.

As leaders we will inevitably reproduce ourselves in the people we shepherd. The question is what kind of leadership we are exhibiting for reproduction. Are we producing efficient, task oriented, goal driven volunteers who only feel God’s pleasure if they have checked off all the boxes correctly? Or are we creating an environment in which people can bring all of themselves, their whole story, to be embraced, loved, inspired, and utilized. Are we truly about creating a tapestry of lives that do community together?

My role as a mentor is one that invites people into the broken fragments, which in the hands of God become a beautiful mosaic. The lives, the stories, the restored hearts are all represented in the tiny shards he strategically places in the mortar. The beauty of the mosaic is that instead of God simply putting back together a broken vessel, he uses the pieces from many broken vessels together to tell his story. The mentor knows that there is something beautiful in progress and that God is always up to something redemptive. Those tiny specks that we almost discarded and disregarded are the very things that bring the colors to the story God is telling. As a lead worshipper, I am the one entrusted with reaching into the clutched hands of those I serve, asking them to trust me enough to let go of the sharp fragments, and then showing them that there is place in the mosaic that was saved and perfectly suited just for their own tiny pieces.

Fix Your Wig!

One of the most comical things in the human experience is to observe us when we are completely oblivious to something that is utterly obvious to everyone else. A circumstance, in which someone is so blind to his own awkwardness, dissonance, or contradictions, (especially when they are evident to everyone) can find me laughing in a nanosecond. Except when it’s me.

Tricia and I happened to be at dinner one evening many years ago when we noticed a couple entering the restaurant looking very disheveled and thrown together. The man’s shirt was only partially tucked in and the lapel of his jacket had blown upwards around his neck. His wife had a similar look as her raincoat was only partially over her shoulders and her umbrella nearly blown inside out.

As it turns out, it had begun to storm on their way in leaving the couple to run for their lives escaping gale force winds and a torrential downpour. It didn’t take long to notice that the gentleman’s hair also had a certain asymmetry to it. What at first merely resembled a wet, wind-blown coif upon closer observation had the appearance of a woolly accessory situated almost diagonally on top of his head. My OCD wanted to rush over and give it a firm tug to the left but of course, one can only observe these things from afar unless one wants the police showing up for dessert.

Maybe a good friend could have leaned in to the poor man and said, “Buford, bro, you need to fix your wig!” But, alas we weren’t those people so we just observed Buford enjoying his dinner and the oblivion of what appeared to be a small ferret-like critter parked on his lopsided noggin.

After howling together once we got in the car and then talking more soberly later we realized that there were many times that we were just like Buford. For instance, when one of us would go on a tirade we could be oblivious to the way we were coming off to others. Whether it was something we were throwing out in an argument, a rant with friends at dinner, or taking on a store clerk over a refund we were perfectly capable of being as oblivious to the way we were presenting ourselves as Buford was in his ill fitting wig.

Hence we coined our phrase, “Fix your wig!”

When one of us would hear the other going down a road that could prove embarrassing or maybe even irretrievable one of us would lean in and mumble, “You need to fix your wig!”

If the other didn’t respond to that, we might take on a more assertive tone with, “Seriously! You really need to FIX your wig.”

If one still chose to go full steam ahead the other might hear, “I’m not kidding. Your wig is freaking wrong side out right now. You need to stop!”

When everyone but me sees me as I am it is a sad commentary as I reveal my humanity in Technicolor. Despite the loving admonitions of those around me, I am perfectly capable of driving through all the warning signs until I come to consciousness having experienced the emotional equivalent of having dinner in public with a stray cat on my head.

My hope is that I will get better at heeding the warnings of those I’ve given permission to speak into my life and that I will surround myself with people who love me enough to tell me when my wig is a bit askew before I become the object of pathetic glances and curious bystanders.

Lastly, a trip to the mirror after running through a thunderstorm in fake hair is never a bad idea.

True Poverty

Jesus, my Brother and Lord, I pray as I write these words for the grace to be truly poor before you, to recognize and accept my weakness and humanness, to forgo the indecent luxury of self-hatred, to celebrate your mercy and trust in your power when I’m at my weakest, to rely on your love no matter what I may do, to seek no escapes from my innate poverty, to accept loneliness when it comes instead of seeking substitutes, to live peacefully without clarity or assurance, to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in my life fade away, to belong no more to myself, to not desert my post when I give the appearance of staying at it, to cling to my humanity, to accept the limitations and full responsibility of being a human being – really human and really poor in Christ our Lord. – (Brennan Manning: Reflections for Ragamuffins)

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Waiting on the Lord is something I’m learning a little more about than I ever cared to know, quite honestly. It is one thing to say that I belong to Jesus and that I have a certain hope as a Christian. It is quite another to say that I am willing to let go of my excuses, facades, strip myself of all my favorite substitutes, and lay myself bare – poor before Him (as Brennan Manning’s prayer so vulnerably articulates) and simply wait.

About six months before Tricia passed away I was having a session with my counselor. I was tired, frustrated, and numb. I began to share about all the ways that my life seemed to be dictated to me. My reality felt very decided for me by my circumstances as a caregiver and while I complained about it on one hand, there was a certain safety in it on the other.

After listening to my “I feel so stuck” speech for the bazillion-and-seventh time my counselor became unusually quiet and began to speak in a very cautionary tone as if she was treading into the conversational equivalent of a walk across a frozen pond.

“David, when Tricia dies I believe you will experience some very anxious days. There is likely to be a level of anxiety that you haven’t encountered even in her illness.”

“No,” I snapped back, “I may be a lot of things – sad, regretful, heartbroken, and even relieved, but anxious is NOT going to be one of the things I feel. I can promise you that.”

She smiled and continued her verbal trek across the icy Lake David.

“Well, time will tell,” she said. “But I believe Tricia has represented a barrier between you and several things that you haven’t had to confront yet. Suddenly it will be open season on things like vocational changes, new relationships, professional opportunities, personal risks, – all things that you haven’t even considered, let alone pursued simply because of your situation. You will be free and fearful at the same time and you will have to honestly ask yourself what you are going to do with these new options. You need to be prepared for that. As much as you’ve been shackled by her illness, you’ve also been protected by it and losing that safety net can produce anxiety.”

Sure enough, in the days and weeks that passed after losing Tricia I began a journey of restlessness like I’ve never experienced. I felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere. Nothing in my life was the same. I was no longer married. I lived alone in the house we built together. I had too many choices. No one necessarily needed me. Life was moving on and I felt as if I was left standing at the station waving at it.

When the subject of a season of fasting here at CCC first came to my attention I initially felt that it was just one more time I was being asked to give something up. Upon more prayerful reflection it occurred to me that I needed to treat this as a season of investment instead of a season of doing without. I realized as I approached praying for our church, prayer for change, and prayer for direction for us as a body I am demonstrating that I need that prayer for me. Life without excuses and substitutes is not for the faint hearted.

I’m finding that peace can reside in the fear as well as the freedom. And waiting on the Lord is simply waiting – quietly, patiently, and purposefully as we acknowledge all of our human limitations. For me, embracing the poverty of Christ is less about what I sacrifice and more about embracing His.

From Here

In the two weeks since my wife went to heaven processing thoughts for me has been like being inside of one of those wind machines snatching at swirling dollar bills. My thoughts swirl around me and only some of them I actually manage to retain.

I’m not one who by nature considers myself to be scattered. Yet, in these last ten plus days I have started the washing machine and forgotten to put in clothes. I’ve walked away leaving the dishwasher door hanging open never putting away the entire bottom rack of dishes. I’ve even gone to appointments on the wrong days because I’m not reading my calendar accurately. Some details I’ve carried out fine. Others are blowing around in my brain as I clutch at them only to find they’ve slipped through my grasp.

Those have been the easy things, to be honest. Over the past fifteen years I have been so oriented to watching the clock in order to make sure I was home in time to turn Tricia in her bed or make sure she had her lunch that I feel out of sorts when I realize those tasks are no longer necessary. Nothing takes me as long as it used to. I wake up every morning and still wonder if I should go check on her first thing. I’ve reached for my phone to call her and see if I can bring her something from the store. If I sit down in the living room to watch TV I have to remind myself that she won’t be lonesome in the back of the house without me coming in there. I don’t have to offer to share my dessert or make sure her laptop is powered up or turn in my order for medical supplies.

I’m going through closets, drawers, and keepsakes of hers and I find myself wanting to ask her if she thinks we should save something. When is it okay to throw away a person’s hairbrush? What do you do with keepsakes that meant more to the person you lost than they ever did to you? Is it okay to admit that I never liked the color of our bathroom even though she did?

I feel a bit like the man who went to sleep on the airplane and missed his connection. When he got off the plane he expected to be in Cleveland and instead he found himself in San Diego. I love the weather in San Diego but I’m used to the weather in Cleveland. I can predict the weather in Cleveland. I have no idea what people do in San Diego.

From here I will learn to enjoy the different weather. From here I will adjust to the vortex where a week feels like a month. I will learn to think with more intentionality. From here I will continue to grope at random thoughts however incomplete knowing that eventually I will get to retain a few more.

What Is

What Is

I believe the most spiritual things we do are the least spiritual. It isn’t the amount of great inspirational books we consume, or the amount of prayer circles in which we engage that most effectively develop our spiritual eyes. It is when we engage in the most ordinary things in life that we learn to see God.

My spiritual life on this day consisted of giving sips of water to my wife who can no longer hold a cup, can barely swallow, and doesn’t know for certain where she is. She asks the same question every thirty seconds because she doesn’t remember that she’s asked it. Delirious, disconnected, and demented we watch her slip away from us.

This is what dying looks like. It sucks with a loud noise! It isn’t graceful. It isn’t sweet. And it sure as hell isn’t pretty. Not the version I’m watching, anyway.

About a week and a half ago Tricia began slipping into long seasons of confusion, not eating, and not being able to feed herself. Her hands and arms are no longer much help as her MS has progressed upward. Her voice is very frail and her speech is slurred when she does attempt to speak. The painful shift in our reality culminated last week when she no longer recognized our daughter.

My point in sharing this entry isn’t to point out how challenging my life is. Nor is it to spin myself as some kind of hero. I’m not. I hate it and wish I were anywhere but here most days. Death’s waiting room is a crappy place to spend any time. The point of this entry is that our most spiritual place is right where we are. Taking up our cross is taking up our reality. This season is just about showing up and giving someone five spoonfuls of sweet potatoes and letting them ask us whether it is morning or night fifty times while we do it. My heart hopes that in those five bites of food she gets from me that she’s reminded that I love her and that I’m here.

What is it that has felt the least spiritual to you today and yet may be the very most spiritual? You may have only thrown a ball with your son, but you made a memory that will shape his life. You may have taken your daughter to the movie, but it impacted her because you gave her the gift of time. The conversation you had with your spouse between soccer games and the grocery store may have felt mundane to you but it meant the world to them. It is those things for which we live. Not the big ministry opportunity, or the great epiphany on the hillside with the guru. It is those five blinking spoonfuls of sweet potatoes that are exactly where God has us. Let’s not waste them and learn to see God in our reality.