It’s cliche but it’s true. That mushy footprints quote. “Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” Matt and Rachel Blazer are two such people in my life. This weekend they began their cross-country move to Connecticut and I am a ball of emotions. I’m totally in denial this is truly happening. I’m sort of excited for them in an “I want God’s best for you, I know God’s plan is perfect, I have to say this cheesy Christian crap” sort of way. But honestly I’m pretty devastated. It’s a strong word but these are awesome people. They are incredibly faithful friends. Matt and Rachel have always BEEN THERE for me, for over a decade. They helped me grow up. They introduced me to my husband for goodness sake. And I can’t imagine that if I went over to their house right now, they wouldn’t be there with their sweet daughters, Rachel’s teapot whistling and mugs waiting, the way it’s always been…
I met Matt in 2002. I was sixteen years old. It feels like a million years ago and also kind of like yesterday. He was hired as the youth pastor at Greentree Webster where I had recently started attending church with some of my friends. He only had half a thumb on one hand and he showed up with a sword and I thought he was weird (I was right, by the way, he’s definitely weird). But he was also pretty cool and not churchy, and any adult who’s hung out with teenagers knows how hard it is to win their approval. So for the next 2 years Matt was my youth pastor. He organized a youth group gathering called…The Gathering (seriously) and we sung songs and hung out and Matt would tell us stuff about Jesus in his weird cryptic way and I never knew what he was talking about. But I wanted him to think I knew what he was talking about so I played along. Honestly I don’t remember anything specific he told me about Jesus back then, but I do remember him saying one time that a man should be dangerous in a good way (he probably doesn’t know it, or perhaps even remember saying that, but I carried that with me as dating advice for years to come. I knew Jesus was dangerous in a good way and I figured I should marry someone like that). He told us about his fiance, Rachel, and how she lived in Memphis and how she was moving to St. Louis when they got married. I knew before meeting Rachel that she must be really beautiful and really smart. I hoped that she would like me and that someday we would be friends.
Matt and Rachel lived in a little house on a street called Pinetree when they first got married, but I don’t really remember that house. I very much remember the Holly house where they lived next. It was a five minute walk from my parent’s house and I would go over there to babysit their sweet little girl, Caroline, when I was home from college during summers or holiday breaks. They often wanted me to come over an hour or so before they actually intended to leave the house, because they wanted to hang out with me before their date night. How cool is that? They did — and do — pursue me so well. They’ve never been too busy to hear about my life and the things I cared about. They always assigned significant value to me and I never felt like I was “just their babysitter.” (To sweeten the deal, when Caroline was about 3 years old, she used to refer to me as “Beautiful Halley” when I would babysit. I won’t lie; I loved that).
I remember when I was home from Mizzou on Thanksgiving break my freshman year in college. I was dealing with some boy drama and I felt so confused and tormented and everything you feel when you’re 18 and in a long distance relationship. Matt must have picked up on this, because after the annual Turkey Day Chapel event, I turned around to see him talking to my high school boyfriend by the stage. Although I didn’t know what was being said, it didn’t matter; I knew it was good stuff. I immediately felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. In that moment I felt like Matt was the big brother I didn’t have and that he was taking care of me.
I remember 2008 when Rachel was pregnant with Julia and I was finishing up nursing school. I had become intensely obsessed with everything related to birth and maternity care, and I was rather high on passion and short on grace. However, I remember talking to Matt about the introduction of electronic fetal monitoring in the 70’s and how it hadn’t resulted in fewer neonatal deaths as promised but instead had dramatically increased the cesarean rate. I must have sounded so silly; here I am, 22 years old and quite childless, rambling on and on about obstetric interventions and why they are terrible. The amazing thing is Matt was really listening and really wanted to hear about my thoughts on the matter. I remember going over to the Blazers’ house and talking to both Matt and Rachel about their hopes for Julia’s birth and how they wanted it to be different than how Caroline’s was. I wanted so deeply to make it so for them. I remember they asked me if I was interested in actually being present for the birth and I was floored and honored beyond belief and totally bummed that I had to decline due to a prior weeks-long, out-of-town commitment. However, I did end up “doula-ing” them via text message during Rachel’s labor and birth, and in that way was still privileged to be part of their journey. (I also had the privilege of visiting Matt, Rachel, and Julia in the hospital a few days postpartum). I’m sure they don’t know this but that I have numerous pages written about the experience, in a special journal I have dedicated to commemorating the births I attend. I keep this little book handy and I pulled it out tonight and read about the birth of Julia Paige Blazer…7/7/08…10:51. The beauty of perfect newborn Julia juxtaposed against the sadness that her birth was not the one hoped for. I felt so honored to be invited into that happy and sad moment in the life of the Blazer family.
I remember 2009 and finding out that Matt had cancer. I remember exactly where I was and I remember sitting there and crying because I was scared that he would die. I remember wishing I knew what I could do for Rachel and wishing I knew how to be a better friend to her.
I remember 2010 when Matt had some hair again and I found myself in a few more romantic blunders. Matt took on that big brother role once more when my then-relationship started going sour and in the throes of heartache I briefly got mixed up with a guy who was bad news. The Blazers probably thought I was a hot mess — I kind of was — but in their awesomeness, they also wanted me to experience the pursuit of a wonderful man. And they just so happened to have someone in mind. So trusting their judgement greatly, (and also having done a thorough Facebook stalking), I agreed to be set up with Matt’s co-worker (who had taken over as the youth pastor at Greentree Webster — now called Riverside), this Simon Kim person. And what do you know, we fell in love and got married and had a baby.
I think when Simon and I started dating was really a taking off place in my friendship with Rachel. I sent her many frenzied emails during those early dating days…I think I like him…I don’t know if I like him…it’s all happening too fast…etc! In her graceful way, she answered all of my emails, always with kindness and wisdom and never with capitalization (Rachel style). Since she and Matt introduced us, it was natural to talk to them about our relationship and hang out with them since we were all mutual friends. And while I think the Blazers hadn’t thought of me as a “youth group kid” for a while, it was when Simon and I started dating that I felt assured we were “real friends” and more like equals. I also started attending Riverside full-time again, having moved back to St. Louis and now dating one of the pastors. The demographic had changed a lot since the Greentree Webster days when I was in high school, but the Blazers were still there. Dating a pastor is a really weird thing, but having the Blazers around made me feel a lot less awkward. Gradually, Riverside became MY church once more instead of just my boyfriend’s church or the church I went to in high school. Rachel helped me meet and become friends with many other women at Riverside. She invited me to meet with herself a few other women on a biweekly basis, sometimes for Bible study/prayer requests and sometimes just for hanging out. Over time I felt like I became “one of the girls” and that was pretty special.
Rachel hosted a beautiful bridal shower for me. Matt did our pre-marital counseling and performed our wedding. He told me in advance that I wouldn’t remember anything he said during the ceremony and he was absolutely correct about that. In fact, I was so NOT focused on anything he was saying that I leaned in to kiss Simon during his message. Simon drew back, not sure what to do, but Matt took it all in stride, saying to Simon,”You can’t kiss HER until the end…she can do whatever she wants; it’s her show!” (OK so I remember one thing).
Matt and Rachel continued to be our faithful friends as Simon and I figured out marriage. They were among the first people we told we were expecting (partly because Caroline asked when we were going to have a baby and we’re not very good liars). Rachel lent me tons and tons of maternity clothes and brought us meals (plural) after Gabe was born. She was always available with a cup of tea or a glass of wine when I needed to talk about the complexities of being a pastor’s wife or the exhaustion of early motherhood. Matt and Rachel were also there for us during times of strife. 2013 brought the end of our family’s time at Riverside and some painful transitions. It was a confusing season to say the least and was difficult to talk about with most people. But Matt and Rachel understood our situation the most and were there for us when we really needed them.
Somewhere along the line, and I don’t really know when, I became closer to Rachel than I am to Matt, at least in the sense that if I’m emailing or texting or calling a Blazer, it’s almost always Rachel. In retrospect that surprises me because for a long time I admired Rachel but didn’t feel close to her, whereas Matt has been my good friend for a long time. For years I saw Rachel as this gorgeous woman with perfect hair and a perfect house who I really wanted to be like but didn’t REALLY know. And then some time went by and some things happened and I got to know her.
Rachel, you have such a beautiful heart. You really SEE people in a way that most don’t, and you often know the perfect thing to say or do to bring comfort to a weary soul. You are so lovely and sophisticated. You are also hilarious. I’m always saying to Simon, “Did you read Rachel’s Facebook status!? It’s so funny!” I love your spunk. You are so gosh darn good at following through — whether it’s sticking to Paleo, training for a marathon, or keeping promises to friends. You are a strong mother and one I look up to immensely…your girls are so blessed to be yours. You are such a great listener; you have a way of putting people at ease. You are transparent and genuine without revealing too much (in other words, you are quite real and quite wise at the same time, which is hard to do). Isaiah 26:3 reminds me of you…your mind is stayed on Christ. I loved watching you worship at Riverside — your love for God is so evident. You are a picture of kindness, a gentle and quiet spirit to be sure. Thanks for being my faithful friend and loving me so well.
Matt, you will always be so special to me. You’ve been there for me since I was a junior in high school. You’ve been my youth pastor, and my pastor, at times my counselor, and my good friend. You’ve even been like my big brother when I needed one and I appreciated that so much. You always took an interest in the things that mattered to me — even to the point of telling your buddies about doulas and birth plans 🙂 You are definitely goofy and kind of weird too, and sometimes I have to read your emails three times to figure out what you are saying. But you sure can preach a great sermon and it’s been such a privilege watching you grow as a pastor. I still have those furious notes I scribbled during your sermons from years ago (and from months ago). I remember your ordination service at Riverside and being so proud of you. I hope you realize you have played an eternal role in my growth as a Christian and a person. You’re kind of awesome. And without you I wouldn’t have Simon and I can never repay you for that. Speaking of Simon, thank you for being such a good friend to him too. I’m so glad he has you, and you him.
Simon and I will miss you both — as well as Caroline and Julia — terribly. (By the way, Simon told me before we were parents that he could never love any child as much as he loved Julia Blazer. He was wrong, of course, but it was awfully precious and we do love your kids a whole lot!). Thank you for everything. God bless you on your new adventure. St. Louis’ loss is Simsbury’s gain. We hope to come visit this summer or next! We love you immensely. We would not be who we are without you. Y’all leave some big footprints.