The movie theater in my city has $5 Tuesdays, where you can watch any movie for $5. If they have a movie that starts early enough for me to see it before I have to pick up my three kids from school,
I go by myself,
sit alone in the dark,
where no one can find me,
enjoy my popcorn,
and watch an entire movie
without being interrupted.
In December 2019, there was a Tuesday when I went to see Frozen 2. There were maybe 2 or 3 other people in the theater. I was sitting there, enjoying a feel-good Disney movie, and BAM. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it, but a series of tragic events happens, and Anna, alone in a cave, began to sing.
The tears started leaking from my eyes, and before I knew it, I was sobbing.
I mean ugly crying. I don’t cry in movies or books or TV shows. Everyone around me can be falling apart, and I’m like, oh yeah that was sad. But I was weeping. The writers of Disney’s Frozen 2 had articulated my feelings in a way that I could not. Read the words of the first section:
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing.
Now to be clear, I don’t recommend basing your philosophy of life on Disney, but that song got me. When I heard it, I was 6 months into the journey of founding The House Tuscaloosa. We had formed a board, created bylaws, been incorporated, received approval for 501(c)3 status, had a logo and website, started a few programs, and even had signed a lease for the President’s House on Stillman College Campus. But those months had not been easy. I was still grieving the change, the loss of ministry as I had been doing it for 20 years. I felt empty and numb.
Back up to three years earlier. In November 2016, a pastor acquaintance invited me to a lunch to learn about a new cohort of diverse pastors forming in Tuscaloosa, known at the time as Macedonian Ministry, now, The Ministry Collaborative. I almost did not go to the lunch, and I thought long and hard about joining the group, because it would take me far out of my comfort zone. But it was the next right thing for me. Through the group I met other pastors from different theological, racial and ministry backgrounds. I discovered the hidden gem in Tuscaloosa called Stillman College and its phenomenal Choir. I began reading authors I had never heard of before. I traveled to Israel with the cohort of pastors in the summer of 2018 and encountered the Lord in new ways. I was exposed to new concepts that gave me language for previously unarticulated thoughts and feelings.
Have I been I too comfortable? What is the definition of church? Am I too busy to love people? Am I too busy to love God? What does it mean to be called a pastor? Should the church reflect or resist culture? Are our churches too beautiful for people to feel comfortable? Am I too scared of what some people think to stand up for people who have been forgotten? Is it possible to build relationships without being consistently present? Why do gender and race give some people such an extreme advantage, and why are they blind to that? Do I love God more than the ministry I lead? Am I willing to do the next right thing no matter what it costs me?
My husband, Andrew, had dreamed for years about opening a used bookstore. In February 2019, he told me had been thinking a used bookstore could also serve as a place where I could do ministry. I told him there was too much going on for me to think about that. My “not thinking about it” turned into pages of ideas in my journal. Andrew and I discussed it in March, confirming that the next right thing for us might be to start a non-profit, but deciding that the time was not right. We agreed to revisit the idea one year later. Two weeks later, I clearly heard God say, “It’s time!” So, I did the next right thing. In May of 2019, I resigned from my position at a local church and founded The House Tuscaloosa.
Over these last three years, there have been multiple times when I’ve been completely overwhelmed and felt lost. The pastors from my cohort, who are now friends, traveled this journey with me even after our three years together officially ended. Their churches have provided volunteers and support for The House Tuscaloosa, cheering us on and connecting us with resources. On a more personal level, they have given me shoulders to cry on and places for my family to worship and serve.
When I think back to that first invitation to go to lunch and hear about The Ministry Collaborative, I wonder what life would be like now if I had not stepped outside of my comfort zone and joined the cohort. Thanks be to God for giving me the courage to do the next right thing.