Friday, November 30, 2012

A Chocolate Advent

The eve of Advent is upon us.  The eve of waiting.  The eve of counting down till the birth of the baby in the manger.  The eve of time marked by hopefulness.  I know the Advent countdown all too well.  With the first day of December comes the first day to open my chocolate filled Advent Calendar.  For me, it's not just a door to open to a bible verse or thought for the day, no, a door each morning containing chocolate.  Good chocolate.  German chocolate.  A start to my day - a start to my December days for as far back as I can remember. 

I love Advent.  I love the light amidst the darkness.  I love gathering for worship amidst the deep blue.  For years I remember the calm and contemplation of mid-week Advent worship, space to feel God's presence in community.  I love the longing and expectancy for a savior.  I love the reminders to slow down, to watch, to wait.  To welcome the One who is always welcoming us.  

And I love the daily chocolates from my Advent calendar.  

I always anticipate my Advent calendar.  Each and every year, without fail my mother would do the honor of purchasing my calendar (yes, even to this day I will not buy my own calendar as it comes from my mother).  It's the Advent calendars with winter scenes, idyllic children, Santa all red and cheery, trees and lights, and beneath each and every door, from December 1st through the 24th, a sweet, savory chocolate.

I'm not a generally patient person in much else in my life (you can ask my family that I've been known to divulge secrets due to my excitement and unwrap and wrap again presents to see what gifts I was receiving) but during Advent I relish the chance to open a door, day after day, one by one, and cherish that one piece of chocolate each morning. 

Now, don't get any grand ideas of this pastor's deep Advent piety.  There are no experiences of prayerfully opening each door or blessing the day.  No, I simply open the calendar each morning and eat my piece of chocolate.

It's a beginning.  It's a start.

On the first day of December, as in so many years past, I will open the door leading to my first chocolate of the season.  It will occur in the morning, even before breakfast.  Day after day another door unlocked to another chocolate.  

So what does all this chocolate have to do with Advent?  Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps I just like chocolate and the self-control it takes to have only one piece a day for 24 days.  Or perhaps, just maybe, this daily ritual of opening the door and enjoying a piece of sweetness is just one glimpse into the life of faith.  Could it be that I need the reminders, especially this year, that there is goodness in the world?  Could it be that the memories and joys from Advent pasts are enough to sustain me during the holidays?  

Yet, maybe I just need to know that the month will be over and in the end the One I've been waiting for has already been waiting for me.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Trotting with Turkeys, and Stephen

The 4th Annual Turkey Trot Run/Walk is on Thanksgiving Day and you'll be in town.  We should walk together.

I don't run.

It's a walk.  I think plenty of people will be walking.  It'll be fun, and it's for a good cause.

Yes, but you don't KNOW that people are walking.

Right, but it says Run/Walk.  I can find out.

Again, I don't want to be the only ones walking, and they have to wait around for us to take down the finish line. That would be embarrassing. 

I'll find out if people walk and we won't be alone.  Plus, we are fast walkers.  I walked across Spain one summer.  I can keep up with the best of them.

Wait, you walked across Spain? Why don't you tell me about it???

Oh, Stephen.  We're going to walk the 5K on Thanksgiving morning.  It's for a good cause.  And we need to get some exercise with all the food we'll consume that day!

Yes, dear.


Thanksgiving morning and we're going to walk a 5K!

Wait, what??

Get up and let's go.  Registration begins at 7:30.  It's a beautiful day.

Did you find out if anyone else will be walking? I don't want to be a hayseed here.

Yes, people walk...

Look at all these people! None of them are wearing jeans. Why am I the only one wearing jeans?

Because we are walking, it's fine.  No one is discussing what we are wearing.

You don't know that. I feel so judged right now. We are such outsiders here in Missoura.

We are walking, we can walk.  It's all good.  Since when do you care what people think of you?

Since always. Look, even that old guy is wearing running pants. I hope we at least finish before him.

Don't start that.  We're just here to walk and support the Center for Human Services.  We should have brought walking sticks like that man!  Then we'd fit in with the crowd.

Right, just what I forgot to bring to a 5k race, my walking sticks... We are soo out of place right now.

There are plenty of other people who are going to walk.

Wait a second, why are our numbers red and everyone else's black? Is it because we're walking? Are they just assuming since I wore jeans that I'm walking? See, I told you they're judging us!

You checked the walking box on the registration form.

Oh, right...

Look the race is starting.  Let's go!  We want to be near the front of the walkers and get going... Ugh, I really wish I had a walking stick. I need to get a good one. When I walked across Spain I kept losing mine.

Why does that not surprise me? Why are so you stuck on these walking sticks? Look, that guy is just carrying his right now. That's just added weight.

We're making good time and keeping a good pace. There's the 1 mile marker!

Yes, but here come the first runners passing us for the finish line.

Woo hoo!! Good job everyone!!!

What are you doing?

I'm cheering for them as they finish... Yea, way to go!!

You are so embarrassing.

I did this in seminary when the Columbus Marathon came through town.

I'm sure you did.

I'm pretty sure I woke up the other people in the dorm.

Again, I'm sure you did.

Look, there's the finish line! Wasn't this fun?

Yes, great fun. Half the parking lot is empty. Can we go get coffee now?


Happy Thanksgiving!  For all the journeys this past year, whether full of ease or challenges, whether alone or in the company of community, I am grateful.  Stephen and I will continue to take one step in front of the other.  And we'll see how many more embarrassments are to come.


If you want to learn more about the Center for Human Services and the awesome work they are doing with people with disabilities check out their website:

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Phone Call Away

For the first time this holiday season I'm celebrating without my father.

There were, of course, many holidays and times when I was away from my family, yet, always a phone call away from the traditional greetings of my father.  There were the phone calls during college where it never failed that the phone would ring at 7 a.m. just to be sure that my father caught me before the busyness of a college day.

"Dad, you can call anytime during the day, you know.  I'm not that busy."

"Well, I just want to make sure I get to talk to you.  I never know where you are or who you're running around with and what homework needs to get done."

"Okay, dad.  It's good to hear from you."  Even at 7 a.m. it was good to talk to my dad.

There were the phone calls in Africa, too.  My family and I figured out the time change and network problems of living in rural Africa for two years.  Nothing stopped me from a phone call with my parents.  Not the heat.  Not the miles of walking.  Not the lack of power.  Not the in-and-out network.  No.  I made sure to have a phone date set each time I hung up the phone with my parents so I had another call to look forward to.  And if it meant standing on the root of a baobab tree with village folks passing by wondering about the crazy American.  So be it!

The phone calls during seminary and my first call occurred on Sunday afternoon.  Holy, sabbath time.  I usually was in the midst of a post-Sunday morning fog and my dad would call.  He wanted to know about my sermon and how service went; he was always eager to tell me about his morning and the sermon he heard.  He asked me theological questions and wanted to know my thoughts.  I heard about his week and who he went out to lunch with, updates on the town and family.  I received the latest movie reviews and which characters he believed best exemplified the Christ figure.  Holy, sabbath time.  

The phone rings to this day and I still look hoping for a call from my dad.
The shortcut for "dad" is still on my cell phone.
I still hear his voice.
I still feel his love.

And when I need the reminder of his presence I remember his final words to me on the phone almost every phone call:  "It was good talking to you.  You be good now.  And remember I love you."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid

A Sunday with a baptism and a first communion doesn't get much better for this joyful pastor.  A Sunday to hear the words of God's love for all, to offer bread and wine, and to be washed with water is nothing short of miraculous.  

Week after week God reminds me that the words I preach are as much for me as they are for the community I am privileged to serve.

Below I share the closing words to this morning's sermon; words of hope and promise.  Words inspired by a God who knows no bounds and whose love exceeds beyond understanding.   

Do not be afraid people of God for the Lord is with you.
Do not be afraid for where you see only scarcity, there is abundance if you only see with the eyes of the Lord.
Do not be afraid because you have a community here today who is promising to support and love you.  A community that will pray for you.  A community that will love you no matter what.  A community that will always welcome you home.  
Do not be afraid to remember the means of grace that overcome you today - on this day with the washing of water, the grace of bread and wine, the forgiveness at the table, and the unfathomable love declared by God's words: "Child of God."  
Do not be afraid to be a child of God and to see others as children of God.  
Do not be afraid to share your voice for the voiceless, to call out injustice, and to speak truth to power.
Do not be afraid to cry with those who are mourning.  Do not be afraid to sing with joy with your neighbor and stranger.
Do not be afraid, for the waters that wash over you today and the bread and wine that are freely given will be yours forever.  

Friday, November 9, 2012


Look at your hands.

Look closely.

Look to the skin, the fingers, the bruises, the marks, the calluses, the birthmarks, the years of writing and typing, the years of holding and carrying, the years of eating, the years of praying.

Look to the work of your hands and remember the experiences and encounters, the lives touched, the bodies embraced, the warmth and the coldness.

I look at my hands and I open them to the memories and experiences of touch, relationships, work, fellowship, prayer, and play.  I open my hands and I see the hands of many who have touched my hands with theirs.  I remember the many varied and diverse hands that embraced me, challenged me, taught me, loved me, prayed with me, ate with me, and held me.

I see Ruth and her 97-year-old arthritic hands, her long sweaters that cover the twists and bends, her hands that have held both sorrow and joy, hands that monthly continue to fold the church newsletter in love.

I see Nadine and her 87-year-old hands moving with the beat of music on her saxophone.  The breath of life continuing to inspire.

I see Laurie as she raises her hands to conduct music and the gift of voices joining together; I see Jeff as his hands glide over the keys and bring music to the air; Sarah as her hands drum to create rhythm and power and move us all to the beat of life.

I see Ndey and Hancha and the other Gambian women as they show me their calloused, rough, and bruised hands; theirs are hands that have seen struggle, worked in pain and yet, still create life and joy in the midst of their labors.

I see Erica and John and Andrea as they embrace and are embraced by the hands of their baby.

I feel the hands of family as prayers are said to bless my marriage.  Hands lifted in prayer and hands open to love.  

Whose hands do you see holding yours?  Whose hands reach out to you in love?

Look at your hands.  Look.  Wait.

Look towards the manger and see, soon, the hands of our savior, the hands of a baby, the hands of an infant.  Pure and simple, hands of love.  Hands poised to welcome all.  Hands open to new life and resurrection.  Hands to embrace the world.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gratitude Project

My facebook page has been riddled with posts of gratitude from friends and family.  It is the month of November and the gratitude project has taken hold.  Each day people from all over share one thing that they are grateful for on that particular day. 

Blessings abound.  Gratitude overflowing.  God always present. 

I smile each time I scroll down the newsfeed and am reminded of my blessings from the lists and stories of friends.  On those days when I feel less than grateful for all the mishaps and stress in my life, a simple word or sentence reminds me I am blessed.  There are days that I wallow in my own self-doubt and insecurities; those days where waking up just a few minutes late sets the tone for a day of harried experiences; the confrontational email or phone call; the long lists of to-dos; the illness of a friend.  I need the words of all God's people sharing their joys and gratitude; somehow these joys and gratitude become my own. 

Blessings abound.   Gratitude overflowing.   God always present.  

This past Sunday we celebrated All Saints Sunday.  A member of the congregation created a work of art with his hands and heart and faithfulness to be first experienced on this moving day.  At the beginning of worship, the cedar-wood cross was lit with votive candles positioned in the front of the altar.  Following the hymn of the day people were invited forward to light a candle in honor of a loved one.  Coming forward they were invited to share God's light, to feel God's light, and to know that they too were a part of the light of Christ.    

Blessings abound. Gratitude overflowing. God always present. 

One by one the candles were lit and the sanctuary illuminated.  One by one the joys and sorrows and gratitude of a community was lifted up.  One by one the communion of saints surrounded us.  One by one, one candle after another, we were reminded that the light cannot be overcome. 

At the communion rail, the community knelt and shared prayers and gratitude before the glowing cross.  I saw the faces of those who faithfully come to worship week after week, along with the faces of those who are unable to attend.  I saw the faces of those we buried this year together.  And the faces of those who continue to go unnamed.  I saw the faces of a community in need of God's light.  I saw a community of saints and sinners, a community of God's people, and I was grateful. 

I haven't taken up the task of sharing my daily gratitude, but if I did, I surely would have included the gift of the cross this day.  The gift of light.  The gift of the saints.     

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Puppets, Oh My!

There are some days that once you look back and relive the simple, enchanting moments from the day, you are astounded at the beauty.  Today is just one of those days.

A visit from my mom always brings new adventures and explorations in Missouri.

Unknown to us (and perhaps much of the world) Independence, Missouri is home to the Puppetry Arts Institute.  Who would have guessed that situated in the heart of Harry Truman's hometown would be a unique and eclectic home to a wealth of puppets from around the world?  My mom and I definitely did not.  Thanks to AAA and their recommendation we headed on I-70 to the Puppetry Arts Institute (PAI) for a morning of enchantment.

We arrived in Independence and after a few U-turns made our way to the city street where the PAI is situated.  Nestled along the street we were welcomed by two delightful, older women.  The large room we entered was set up for a group of 25 boy scouts coming later in the day to learn the basics of puppetry (and perhaps go home with a finger puppet of their own or a painted head they painted themselves!)  The PAI is a museum and as such my mom and I expected to browse on our own and take in the history of puppetry and the special Pinocchio exhibit.  The puppet ladies, however, had a different idea.

Who knows how many visitors they have simply stopping by.  They were delighted to take us room by room and share their knowledge and love of puppetry.  We heard their personal stories and learned of the great puppeteers.  The vast collection included Chinese dragon puppets, the European Punch and Judy, and even the Broadway show Nunsense puppets.  Puppets, puppets, and more puppets!

Even a visit to the bathroom included puppet company.

We were convinced that if we lived a bit closer to Independence the enthusiasm of these ladies would bring us back for puppet demonstrations and puppet making.  We practically knew their life stories.

On the way out the door we were handed two finger puppets to remember our visit.

Eating lunch down the street following our adventures in puppets, we had our finger puppets on the table.

Our waiter excitedly asks where we got the puppets.

"I grew up playing with puppets.  I love them!"

My mom and I smiled.  We told him just down the street there is a museum dedicated to puppets.

Our waiter said, "Really?  I had no idea there was anything to do with puppets here."

We left Independence with our finger puppets and full hearts.  We also left with a desire to know more of the hidden treasures in our town.

What gems have you found right in your own backyard?