My church has this saying they use when talking about what church should really be like, they say "circles are better than rows." What we mean by this, is that as a church, we believe that life (or life change) doesn't happen when people are sitting in pews or rows at church. Rather, we believe that life happens, community happens, when we are sitting around in a circle. This is why our church has Community Groups - where we sit together, eat together, talk and share life together, every week. Not on a Sunday, and not in a row, and not at a church... but we meet throughout the week too, in our homes, and we circle around with each other in a way that is more intimate, and more authentic than it could ever possibly be on a Sunday morning in a church building. It's how Jesus did church and it's what works for real life change and growth in faith.
Circles. They are better than rows.
There are some species of animals that only survive because of circles. The matriarch of a herd of African elephants, for example, will - when sensing danger - form a protective circle with other mature elephants to surround the youngest and most vulnerable elephants in the herd. The circle, which can sometimes be severel layers deep, serves as a barrier that protects their young from harm.
Circles. They are safer than rows.
I have always been a circle kind of a girl. I love doing life with people. I love hearing and learning from others' stories of loss and love and redemption. I love to open my life and let people look inside of it, to correct wrong thinking, to steady me, to challenge me to grow, to comfort me. You can't do any of that in a row. It can only happen in a circle.
Circles, are more effective than rows.
Time is more like a row. Time is linear. Grief, not so much. Grief is more like a circle. It has a natural rythm, it is cyclical, and fluid and it never ends. Sure, it may seem to pass for a while, only to circle back around again. The return of grief is the most certain part of it.
Circles. They are harder than rows.
I have felt a lot like the little elephant inside the protective circle this month. So many of you have surrounded me and my family with love and support and encouragement. This great circle of grief might always orbit around me, but ouside of that, is another, much greater, circle. It is made up of friends, and neighbors, and former teachers and coaches. This circle around me is several layers deep, and it is comprised of perfect strangers and friends of friends, and people who knew my brother and people who did not. Just like grief, this protective community of people around me has no end.
For Day 31, I was able to connect with some of these people. I went home to Michigan to surprise my family. Although, on this side of heaven, my mom will never have the gift of having all four of her children in one place, it was healing for her to have all her living children and grandchildren together on the night that she lost her son. We were her circle.
I surprise visited a few family members and old friends, none of whom expected to see me, and I hope considered it a pleasant surprise. And I had the opportunity to visit my alma mater, Grand Haven High School, and had a Q&A with staff and students.
It was a great time of discussion and visiting and felt way more like a kindness to myself than to any of them. It was strange to see my old school, and Adam's old friends who are now the coaches and teachers. It was surreal, but it was good to see yet another layer to that great protective circle.
Circles. They are greater, more impactful, more powerful, more meaningful than rows.
So, Day 31 was no grand gesture of kindness. I simply gave the gift of reconnection. It was a gift to myself as much as anyone on the receiving end, I'm certain. Still, I think that connection is powerful and life-changing and as I think about the immense and powerful hold that grief can have on someone who is facing forward, alone, in a row... I am so thankful that I am in a great circle, and that I am covered. When I feel the pull of grief, tugging my soul into a place that is too dark to face alone, I am covered in prayer. When I feel the shame of suriving, or feeling stuck in this long process of healing, I am covered in grace. When I am grasping for an anchor to ground me, I am covered in love. When I fall short, evey minute of the day in some way or another, I am covered in mercy. And when I am not sure how to bring something beautiful out of something so sinister, I am covered in your kindness.
And when I am missing my brother, and I withdraw and sit alone, defiantly facing foward in what feels very much like a row, God (in his infinite wisdom and relentless pursiut of my affections) begins to sweetly bend that row around me until I am right back in a circle. And the circle is made of layer upon layer of new brothers and more sisters and the whole body of Christ working to protect our weakest and most vulerable. And we shift and take turns recieving cover and protection as we all cycle through our times of grief, and we move and we make room for new members of the herd.
Because circles, are more lasting, more transformative, and more life-giving than rows.