The Race of Mountainside

From Ari

I guess the story should start with the triathlon. Prior to the starting of Mountainside, Heidi and I had decided to compete in a mini-triathlon. It quickly became a sweet time of us discussing the future of this new endeavor. Metaphors move me. The triathlon became a metaphor for the unknown journey that lay ahead. Running metaphors such as “hitting the wall” imagery and finish line scenes get me through hard moments in life. I knew this whole “starting a church” thing would become a “race” that would need a long, slow perspective. We talked of how “hitting the wall” times would come and how we knew that perseverance would be needed.

We ran the race during the second or third meeting in our home of what would become Mountainside. They said they would cheer us on from home.

The “race” of Mountainside began in our home. So many fears filled my mind. What this would mean for our kids was the main obstacle I did not know how to get around or through. In my own life, the local church body was transformative, pushing me to look outward, pushing me to care for others, and nudging me into deep relationship with a God who would deeply love me. I could give up a lot in this new endeavor, but to risk my children’s experience of God seemed like a stretch of race that I could not traverse.

There are many things I could not know then—as when, on the journey, you run around the bend and are struck by a scene of such beauty that you stop. Perhaps it is like a race in which the course is dry and dusty, and you are tired, but then you turn the corner and you see green meadows, crystal blue lakes, and because you see this you can keep running. I had no idea there would be times on the race that I would round a corner and be stopped by the beauty and grandeur of God via this endeavor called Mountainside. A few of those round-the-corner moments would follow, as well as a few of the dry, “hit the wall,” I cannot go on moments.

We had an old answering machine in our room next to our bed. I was standing in the doorway when Josh played the message from Jan and Warren prior to the start of Mountainside. It said something like, “. . . blah blah blah, and we are committed to starting this church with you.” We both looked at each other and realized that we had totally fooled these two grown-ups into believing we could do this. Did they really want to start out on this journey with us? It was a moment of beauty before Mountainside began. There were other pre-Mountainside beauty moments that told us to go on with this nudging, such as little gifts that helped us financially as we took off, notes of encouragement, and many others.

When you “hit the wall” in a race, it is only your mind that wills you to go on. The body wants to move, but feels as if the weight of fatigue is paralyzing. When Luke was an infant in the pack, and I was carrying in supplies to set up our kids ministry room at the community center, I was hitting the wall. Life felt hard. We were trying to read the book on Godly Play and implement this amazing new idea with a small group of very young kids. Being the only family with three kids and trying to get out of the house was at times paralyzing. Having two active young boys in a group in which there were none felt at times full of judgment and solitude. If there were just other little children around, perhaps it would feel more normal. I wanted so much for our children. But if I wanted it, there was no team or subset of the church that I could hire to get it done. Remind me what is so great about a participant-style church?

And then I turned a corner and beauty showed up. There was beauty in conversation about this completely new paradigm for training our children in spiritual issues. I turned a corner and my breath was taken away when we got fed meals during the significantly difficult season of having a third child. While at a large church with intact, well-polished “ministries,” we did not get fed with our first two children. I did not know what it was like to receive such blessing from a body. When the meals would come, it felt like we could go on.

Beauty showed up when my oldest, who had never liked church before, began to engage in church. He liked going. Beauty showed up from Ivy who helped me trust my gut as a mother. The clear, glassy blue water showed up in a visit from her when I was home with my third newborn, alone and sad. She showed up and sat with me. Having babies is like hitting the wall. I had no idea how hard it was going to be. Elesha held Luke along with many others in a “hold Luke” rotation on Sundays.

On that night in December, there around our table sat a committed group of Mountainsiders who were discussing something important. I, on the other hand, had much more important work to do at Deborah’s house. It was time for us to prepare food. Being working mothers, we had found that feeding our families became a really hard task. So, as a result of the intentionality and giftedness of my friend, we began to cook into the wee hours of the night. Packing up supplies, and meeting at either house, we would cook several meals for our families. It was a beautiful, enriching time for me to glean wisdom from this beautiful soul. I had just taken the last load of groceries to the car when I went back inside to hear the story that Sonia was telling. It was a story about her faith, and how it had become a communal faith, a story that involved not just her and her personal journey, but one that was linked to community. It was a moving story for all of us.

I think at the close of her story, with the front door open and my car loaded with cooking supplies, we heard gunshots. The boys were in their room almost asleep. Warren said, “Get down!” And so we did—all of us on the floor. A man was dead approximately twenty yards from my front door. I crept into the boys’ room; Caleb asked what that was. I said I did not know, but that it may have been gunshots. I hated the look on his face. It had never been there before. We huddled together while Josh and Warren went outside to confirm what had transpired.

That was not the first act of violence in our neighborhood. Some around us thought we were crazy to stay; we wondered if we should leave, but decided to stay. God showed up for me in this season through the lives of the Mountainside body and a tangible sense of God. The Peace that showed up for me was unexplainable. It actually turned out to be a turning-the-corner, beautiful moment in my spiritual history with the stories of Mountainsiders coming around.

A few more of those moments include: someone doing my laundry for years, someone showing up to do my dishes when I had three children age four and under. Emily showed up at just the right time, and made me feel like God brought her to our church—like I needed some scaffolding, reinforcements, and she was what I needed. People sent us to Hawaii, watched our kids, and let us vent. Often. Jeremy built our chicken coop (with Josh). Many people taught our kids, played soccer with our kids, and modeled life for our kids. Caleb and Rob text. Rob’s family comes to his soccer games. The children’s workers ask how best to serve our children in the unique role they hold at our church.

My early fears of this endeavor being one in which my children would miss out were eased from a variety of stories. Every Christmas, most likely due to the prompting of our dear Jan, my children received a gift from their church—their names on an individual gift, a way of honoring them in this journey. It has been a blessing, a turn-the-corner moment. Around the time of Zach’s eighth birthday, while making his guest list, I had another moment: names of young boys his age were mixed with adults’ names like Gabe, Kurt, Josh I., etc. While my boys did not have polished, programmed youth programs, they had adults loving on them and wanting to know them. My boys are known by the adults in our body. Not just known, in an adult vs. child sort of way, but known in a, “I like who you are and want to know you, and have known you,” sort of way. There is no greater gift. I can keep running.

Jan’s illness and death was hard and beautiful. Our time of gathering as Mountainside women around her was a gift. Her smile was a gift. Her persistence a blessing. The night before she died, our family gathered in her home, eating, watching a game on TV, and laughing. We would go in and out of her room. She said she was not in pain. Luke was the last of my boys to see her, and when he walked in, she smiled at him in a way I will never forget. He wanted to see her one more time. He felt known and loved by Jan. There was no condemnation for him by her—only love. My children did not have polished, fancy programs, but they were known and loved by Jan (and Warren).

There are hard spots in every journey—really hard things we all have to carry—and they are unique to each of us. Josh likes the idea of our family having mottos. We have a few, with one of the best being, “We can do hard things.” We can do hard things. We can run through the last hundred meters, we can keep going because of those memories of beauty, those turn-the-corner moments in our stories when God shows up and gives us courage to take another step.

Just this past Friday afternoon, nineteen young adults and their families gathered to depart on our first ever Mountainside camp event. I have always hoped that this journey would include moments for my children that would involve camp. While we stood around the circle and prayed for our children it felt like one of those turn-the-corner moments of beauty for me. No polished, paid person put it together. Busy, active parents of three children each worked hard to put it on. They probably stayed up late into the night many nights in order to get the details completed as it was just one more thing on their long “to do” list. “We can do hard things.”

Here we are at our ten year marker. A new building. New people to share life with. It almost feels like a new race. I look forward to the times ahead, and hold on to the cherished memories from the first ten years. Happy ten years, Mountainside Communion. I pray this next leg of the race will move us toward God in new ways as we continue to grow and mature.