Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fabulous 90

Some people are born legends.

Nadine is one of those people.

90 years young, Nadine celebrated a landmark birthday this past week.  And she celebrated in style and grace befitting her life.  Her family threw a huge party for her at the church - stories were shared, laughter and smiles were plentiful.  There were photos and memories and keepsakes.  Lessons learned and passed down through the generations.  There was even her first boyfriend coming to celebrate with her.

Everyone wanted to celebrate Nadine.

I learned Nadine's story well before I met her.

Over three years ago, while interviewing for the position of pastor at Christ and Trinity, where Nadine has been a member for most of her life, I heard about Nadine before I ever met her.  I heard about this 80-something saxophone playing, volunteer coordinating, faithful, forgetful, and wise child of God.  Stories were shared of Nadine learning to play the saxophone in her 80's and playing in the Sedalia Community Concert Band.  I heard how Nadine gathers dozens of volunteers for worship each week.  And for some reason, there were always stories of Nadine losing her keys.  Or her cane.  Amid each story, a vignette of this woman came to me.  A picture of a deeply faithful, loved, and legendary woman.  Someone to know and love.

Someone who knew how deeply loved she was.

When I met Nadine, I too came to know and love this beautiful child of God.  I came to recognize her gifts and laugh with her.  I learned the story of her life.  And give thanks for the family she raised and loved.

So it is with God.  God knew Nadine before she was born.  God called her into this life of faith.  God walked with her through 90 years of love and grace.  And God will continue to know her and love her even when her time with us is no more.  Celebrating with Nadine's family and friends, we each gave thanks for the God who knew Nadine and gifted her to us to know and to love.  We gave thanks for the God who weaves our story into God's abundant grace found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Not only Nadine, but each of us, are known and loved and claimed by God well before we're born.

Before time began and into the future, our story remains held by God.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Breaking the News

After almost 2 years of marriage and 5 years of being in relationship, it's no secret that Stephen and I operate at different speeds.

Whether it is our day-to-day activities, the way we go about our work, or the method in which we make decisions, we move in vastly different ways.

My main speed would be fast.
Stephen moves at a slower pace.

At times we appreciate each other's speed and the way tasks and work gets done.  On many Saturdays as we're both getting ready for church the next day, it's not uncommon for Stephen to be working much of the day right up to his evening service.  Whereas I have finished the same number of tasks (and sometimes more) in half the amount of time.

But there are times I look at the quality of work Stephen has created and the time put in and I'm envious.  Our lawn and landscaping are far better for Stephen's hands rather than mine.

And then there is the decision making.  Sometimes I'm still amazed that at 11 months of dating, Stephen asked me to marry him!  He's very thorough and takes his time researching and figuring out the best options.  He decides with his head.  I go with my heart. 

We both had talked about a dog for a while before we were living in a house.  And when the perfect dog (the one I couldn't stop thinking about) came into our lives, I was ready!  A year later, Stephen still wonders about whether we should have adopted a dog!

It was never more evident how different Stephen and I are than when we shared with our families that we were expecting a child.

We found out we were pregnant at 6 weeks.  A week later my mom was coming to visit for Holy Week and Easter.  So we would tell her in person.

I had found the perfect gift years ago (just waiting for that special occasion): an "I love you Grandma" book.  Before she arrived I wrapped it and it waited for her arrival.  To get to Missouri, my mom has an 11 hour drive from Ohio.  She made the trip in one day, a very long day.  She arrived just before Stephen had to attend a meeting at church.

She was getting the gift upon arrival.  He would have to wait.

We all greeted one another at the car and carried her bags inside.  She wasn't even sitting down, hadn't really dropped her purse or anything and I said, "We have a gift for you!"

Here it is.

Open it now.

"Can I sit down first?" she asks.

No, open it now.  It's a gift for you.

She's standing in our entrance.  We're all waiting anxiously.

And she's tired from her long drive.

My mom unwraps the gift and sees a baby book -  "I always liked these books.  Wait, does this mean?"  

Yes, I'm pregnant!  

A few weeks later it would be time for us to share our news with Stephen's parents.

Stephen's parents were set to visit the first week in May.  Again, we wanted to share our news in person.  They flew to Missouri from Maryland.  Upon arrival we met them at the airport and had some activities planned for the day.  Stephen had it all figured out how we would share with his parents in the evening while his sister and uncle were on the phone.  He even created a picture with our current "Works in Progress" - the '72 Suburban, our dog, and our first ultrasound.  The pictures were wrapped and at the appointed time Stephen would send a picture via email to his uncle and sister.  

Finally.  The time came to make the phone calls and to share the news.  We were gathered in our living room.  Stephen dialed his sister and uncle and we were all talking together across three different states.  I wasn't in charge of how to share the news - otherwise, as soon as the phones were answered, I would have shared.  

No, we talked about our day.  
How the trip went so far.  
Our plans for the weekend.  
How everyone was doing.  

All the while I'm just sitting on the couch waiting to scream our good news! 

I should have known that Stephen would work on his own time.  But we had news of a baby to share!  

Finally.  After all the questions were exhausted and Stephen's dad was falling asleep in the recliner from the day, Stephen says, 'Well, we have some news to share.  Mom and dad have a gift here to open and I sent you a picture.  Everyone can open it now."  

Yes, we're having a baby! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Creative Growth

It's been a while.

Too long.

The last post in this blog came from March 14th.  March!  When I couldn't imagine the heat of summer and the green growth, and now here we are in June.  Surrounded by green and warmth and sun.  It's been a while!  

I look back in the calendar and March was the beginning of Lent.  The beginning of one of the busiest times in the life of the church.  Perhaps I can blame my lack of writing and sharing and reflecting on the extra service each Wednesday in Lent?  Perhaps I can blame the lack of attention to the blog on planning for Holy Week and Easter?  Perhaps laziness is the culprit?    

Then I reflect on what else was going on in March and April.  I recall a lack of energy for anything creative.  If I'm really honest with myself I can say that during those months of quiet on the blog-front, my entire writing world was quiet.  Sermons were hard to come by.  Newsletter articles became a task to get done rather than the gift of writing I usually consider them.  Emails that needed a response took days and maybe weeks.  Letters sat on my desk awaiting a reply.  And the sermons, did I mention the sermons?  It was painful thinking towards each Sunday.  The energy and creativity and illustrations were gone.  Too many times I stared at a blank computer screen.

Now it's June.  Summer is here.  Lent and Holy Week and Easter have come and far gone.

I'm writing again.

And I'm pregnant.  15 weeks pregnant to be exact.

I look back at the calendar and count back 15 weeks to March.

I remember the exhaustion and total lack of ability to do anything other than what needed to be done.  I look back and understand a bit more why it's been so long since I wrote.  

Making it through my first trimester, I can now say that I have more energy.  A less upset stomach.  Less aversion to certain foods.  Less of a need to always be close to a bed or a bathroom.  And a desire to write again.  To share my story.

To use all that pent up creativity and share it with the baby-to-be.  To write this new story that is dwelling inside of me.

It's been too long these last few months, but it's been time well spent.  Time to anticipate and dream and to allow my creativity to envelope this new creation forming inside of me.



Friday, March 14, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Crowd

Friday is here.  Friday is my day off so taking five minutes to write is a gift this day.  It's Friday and another chance to turn off the inner critic and simply write for five minutes.  No over thinking, no editing, no worrying.  Writing for the sake of writing.

Five Minute Friday


It's just natural.  I can't help but think about the crowd.  As a pastor, each week I wonder who the crowds will be who attend Sunday morning worship, and whether there will be a crowd or not.  I wonder who is traveling, who is sick, who has their schedules so full that even sleep is elusive.  I smile thinking about the children who will brighten our days, the children who will reach out their hands in peace, the children who will be running towards the table in awe.  I wonder if a new face will bless us in worship and whether they'll feel God's presence.  I hold in prayer those who we don't know and those who wouldn't even think about coming to worship.  Each person and each face flash before me and I'm full of prayers.  

And then it's time to gather for communion.  Each week the community gathers at the table to feast; to taste the bread and the wine.  To fall down before God and to be surrounded in community.  And it's there that I feel the power of the crowd.  I look out at the faces of those present and I give thanks.  I see the face of Christ before me.  And I feel the power of the saints surrounding us.  I don't have to look far to know that the communion of saints is with us.  Before us.  Among us.  Singing with us.  Loving us.   Remembering with us.  

The table each week is overflowing, so much that I can't contain the crowds.  So much love and grace. So much forgiveness.  So much.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Beautiful Dust

"God makes beautiful things out of us, from the dust."  (Gungor)               

My dad knew the beauty of dust.

Even before he was sick and death could be denied, my dad knew what would happen to his dust.  My father's instructions were clear.  He would be cremated and had specific directions on where to scatter his dust.

A table spoon of his ashes to be precise.

Three locations brimmed with the holiness where he wished his ashes to rest.

In Buffalo, New York, his home town.  He wanted the ashes spread at his school and his home.  The places where he learned to love and be loved.  The places where he was challenged.  The places that defined him as the man he would become.  Almost every visit to Buffalo, my dad would take me past his school and to the home where he and his four siblings were raised.  The fondest memories were shared of games outside through the summer months, working on cars with his dad, and telling stories with his brother late at night under the covers.

My dad knew the beauty of dust.

His father's family came from Nebraska and there also his ashes would lie.  I heard the stories my dad shared of his father's life growing up in the flat, beautiful land of Nebraska.  I knew my dad's love for the stretching skies and vast prairies.

My dad knew the beauty of dust.

And finally, the final resting place for his ashes - my first call congregation.  You see, not only in his life but in his death, my dad knew the hope and beauty of dust.  The instructions for his ashes were written well before I even finished seminary, let alone knew where and how God was calling me in ministry.

But my dad knew intimately that "God makes beautiful things out of us, from the dust."

Ash Wednesday is approaching.  That tender, solemn day in the church where we gather to reflect on death.  Communities gather to feel the ashen cross on their foreheads and to hear the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."  We feel the ashes.  We see them.  We fear them.  We remember the deaths of loved ones.  We reflect on our own deaths.

Ash Wednesday brings us to our knees.  Humbled and vulnerable.  We remember the place we've been and think towards the places we'll go - and all the beautiful things God will make out of each of us.  On this day of ashes and dust and remembrance, the sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us of the cross from our baptisms.

Not unlike our baptism, as a vulnerable and humble baby, the crosses of Ash Wednesday remind us that we make mistakes.  That we are mortal and that we need forgiveness.

The water at our baptism washes over us with a love and grace stronger than anything we can imagine and greater than any mistake we've made, stronger than even death.  It's a love that claims us from the beginning, embraced by the arms of God, and doesn't let go even when our life on earth ends.

On Ash Wednesday when the ashes are marked on our foreheads, when we feel the ash, remember the darkness, and reflect on death, we know intimately that the One on the cross was made of the same dust as us.  That the One who walked to the cross and claimed us at baptism, walked the same dusty, earthen land.

Out of the dust, beauty rises.  Out of the dust, hope emerges.

I never imagined that I'd celebrate Ash Wednesday holding the memory of my father's ashes.  I never imagined that the beauty and grace enfleshed in my father, would be only ashes.  

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

And from the dust, God makes beautiful things out of us.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Transfiguration's Cold Sunday

Sometimes, things aren't always as they seem at first glance.

Or more likely, the picture we have in our mind for a certain day or job or relationship, or Sunday morning worship, our ideal - our hope - doesn't pan out the way we hoped or expected.

Here we are - again, the first Sunday of the month with bad weather.  Weather that keeps us away, rightfully, from driving and being together in community.  Weather that blankets the streets and our homes and walkways.  Weather that terrorizes, a winter that has lasted way too long.

This morning (even while we're ice bound) we're being led up the mountain with Jesus, a high mountain.  And perhaps we're not feeling like we want to go anywhere.  Perhaps Jesus has to drag us up the mountain, perhaps we can't even hear Jesus beckoning us forward with him.  

Maybe we've been so overcome with sickness and grief and loss that we can't move away from our own tears.

Maybe we've been turned down from one job after another and we just can't bear another rejection.

Maybe we've gone from doctor to doctor looking for answers and we can't handle any  more changes in medicines or another diagnosis or the ongoing barage of tests and questions.

Maybe we can't bear to see another storm of ice and rain and snow and ice and rain and snow.

Maybe we've been studying so much and reading so much and we just can't get our minds wrapped around the lessons.

Maybe we've been running from lesson to lesson and practice to practice and work and home and school, and we just can't take any more steps.

Maybe we just can't figure out what to do with our future.

But we are led up the mountain this morning, with Jesus, Peter and James.

And here on the mountain Jesus is transfigured before them.  Jesus is transformed.  On the mountain. A beautiful scene in which the disciples are so moved that they want to build dwelling places  on that mountain and remain there with Jesus.  Their eyes have been opened and they want to remain in the glory they have witnessed.  But Jesus tells them no.  They must leave the mountain top.

"The story of the Transfiguration is not simply about learning to leave the mountaintop, or about releasing what we have grown attached to.  It’s not just about resisting our desire to turn moments of transcendence into monuments.  The story of the Transfiguration is about opening our eyes to glory, allowing that glory to alter us, and becoming willing to walk where it leads us.  The story urges us to trust that what we have seen, what we have known, will go with us.  It assures us that the gifts received on the mountaintop will continue to illuminate us not only on level ground but even when we walk in the valley of the shadow"  (Jan Richardson)

Once we've been dragged up the mountain and have seen the glory of God, we are transformed.  Not by anything we've done or who we are, but because of the presence of Jesus.  The experience we have on the mountain doesn't depend on the mountain, but on the abiding presence of Jesus who not only is with us on the mountain but is the One who walks us up the mountain and back down again into those valleys and shadows and darkness.  Into the everyday realities of life.  Jesus' light shines and we trust that Jesus is with us.

On this Sunday coming close to the eve of Lent, we stand before the light of Christ knowing that we must follow into temptation and darkness on the way to the cross.  We gather on Wednesday to be marked with a cross of ashes, and to follow towards the One who has already claimed us with the cross at our baptism.  Jesus who calls us forward to see the light.    

And so that's where I want to stay this morning, not on the mountain; No, but rather I want to stay and dwell in the persistent invitation from Jesus to go up the mountain, to be with us in light, and to walk with us down to the trenches of life.  I want to stay in his unending invitation to bear witness to the light of Christ.  To Jesus constantly dragging us towards him.    

I want to live in the unexpected blessings that come from Jesus' call to venture forward to places that are unknown.  I want to live in the journey upwards where sometimes the path is rocky and only bearable with the company of friends.

Some things aren't always as they seem at first glance.

For here we are, surrounded by the light of one another.  Stronger because of one another's faith.

Jesus' invitation to each of us; Jesus who calls us to follow doesn't call us to places in which he won't walk himself.  Jesus who meets us in our pain and loss and doubt invites us to life and light, Jesus who knows the crosses we bear and binds them to himself.  Jesus who gives us one another.

Jesus who reminds us that his glory is all around.  That we can join in the blessing,

"That when glory comes
we will open our eyes
to see it.

That when glory shows up
we will let ourselves
be overcome
not by fear
but by the love
it bears.

That when glory shines
we will bring it
back with us
all the way
all the way
all the way down"  (Jan Richardson)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Choose

It's that time once again.  Friday is here.  Time to sit, breathe, and write.  For five minutes and only five minutes.  No second-guessing, no worrying, no editing.  Writing and writing only.

Five Minute Friday


Some days there are just too many choices to make.  Too much to think about, too much to do, and too much vying for my attention.  Choices need to be made.  What to wear, whether to exercise, what to eat, what to pack for lunch, whether to make a cup of tea and read the paper,  what I need to get done for work, who needs a visit, what my thoughts are for the upcoming sermon, on and on and on.  Choice after choice confronts me even before I step out of the bed.  The day already rushing by me.  The worries and the fears and the uncertainty already present.    

Yet, there's a moment each morning when I wake up, a holy moment, where all the worries from yesterday and the to-do lists of today fail to settle in.  There's just a brief moment where the only choice, the only option, is to give thanks for the joy of being alive.  There's a brief moment where the sacred seeps in and just to be awake takes cosmic significance.

For a moment, I am reminded that God chooses me.