I am the pastor at a country church in an area known as Norse, Texas. One of the things I treasure most about being at Norse is the quiet. I often feel like I have the best of everything. I get to be a pastor in a great church and I get to live in a quiet place where there is room to breathe and think. My children are growing up being able to see the stars that dot the night sky. We are able to often be outside and not hear the sound of vehicles or other voices – only the sound of the wind and the birds, the cats playing, the dogs barking. It’s heavenly.
My mother used to love to sit outside our house and just enjoy the peace and the seasons as they passed. We lived about five miles outside of a small town in Minnesota. When I was growing up I couldn’t imagine what she could possibly enjoy so much about that sort of stillness. When I dreamed about the future I always pictured moving to the city and being a part of something active and exciting! So that is what I did. Like many small town Minnesota kids I move to Minneapolis and learned my way around. I frequented the bars that had great bands that came to play. I knew where the cool restaurants and coffee shops were. I walked everywhere along the paved streets and I didn’t think twice about the constant hum of traffic, the incessant lights and thick odors. It was like my senses craved being overloaded. So I plugged headphones into my ears and blasted angsty music. I lit my Marlboros and drew in deep, cancerous breaths. I stayed up far too late and woke up late for class quite often. When faced with the decision between whether to go for a run or do homework, I always ran.
Life felt jittery then. I guess days filled mostly with caffeine, nicotine, excessive exercise, a poor diet, and constant activity will do that. There was no space – I filled in all the spaces. Quiet moments were something to be cancelled out with noise as soon as possible. Solitude and silence were lonesome things back then.
The shift happened slowly. I ended up living in the country for my first call as a pastor. I was just a few miles outside a small town but near a freeway so the noise of the trucks and cars passing made it not entirely serene. We then moved on to Colorado and lived in a large city not far from downtown. Within twenty minutes I could be hiking on a mountain trail but it was not peaceful. The mountain was a significant tourist destination. And it began to bother me that when I put my baby in his crib at night, the noise from the neighbor children in their back yard seeped in through the windows and walls. I started to notice that whenever I left the city to go back to Minnesota and spent time at my house where I grew up or by the lake, I felt the tension in my neck lessen and the frantic chatter in my mind would shut up a little bit. I began to dream about my children having the sorts of things I had growing up – gravel roads to walk on, mud puddles to play in, space enough for boredom and thus creativity to enter in. I began to listen for God to beckon us back home to Minnesota. I was certain that was what would happen next.
So this church, Norse, was supposed to be a practice interview. I can admit this now – now that we have been here three and a half years. I can admit that before we came here we couldn’t fathom God could actually be calling us to a church in Texas. We were northerners. We didn’t even like country music! In late 2009, when the call committee invited us to visit and discuss the possibility of me being a pastor here, my husband and I joked privately about how ridiculous the idea was. But leaving wintery Colorado for a warm interview weekend in Texas sounded just fine. And so we went.
We observed everything coolly for most of the trip. We were friendly and polite. The church was wonderful, the potluck lunch after worship was amazing, the people were lovely – they just didn’t realize that we weren’t supposed to be here. They weren’t in on the joke yet that God was going to be calling us back to Minnesota any second because that was where I was going to find the quiet place for my boys to grow up. That was where I was going to reconnect with where I came from and figure out where I was still going. That was home. This was just an interesting weekend trip.
I think if it had been any other time of day that we chose to make a quick drive out to Norse from the hotel to return a hymnal I had inadvertently taken with me after church, things might have turned out differently. However, it was evening, and the sun was slanting just so over the quiet church lawn when we drove up. We were flying out the next day. It was all going to be done and we would probably never come this way again. But if you have ever been here in the evening, when the sun goes through the stained glass at just the right angle, and washes over the gravestones in the cemetery, and there is only the sound of the breeze passing through the branches of the live oaks and the cedars, you know how easy it is to fall in love with this place. Although my children were asleep in their carseats, I could hear their laughter echoing over these hills and picture them coming around the corner on their skateboards and bicycles in the years to come. Although every plan we had was to keep working our way back home to Minnesota, I distinctly felt in that moment that perhaps I was already home.
In truth, I imagine that is why I so love to take pictures of this church in the evening – because that is when I first could picture us living life here. It was when the sun was low and turning the grass golden that I first could fathom that the story of my family could become intermingled with the stories of your families and this place. In the stillness of that February evening, I caught on to the notion that perhaps God could be calling us here. I remembered that perhaps God’s plan was still better than mine.
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God..”