Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For the Saints

All Hallow's Eve.  Halloween.  Reformation. 

This All Hallow's Eve I remember those who have died.  In preparation for All Saints Sunday we have a list of names of the saints who died this past year.  We will speak their names during worship; they will join us at the table as they do every week.  We will light candles and give thanks for the light that still shines in our midst.  We will remember and we will honor the mystery and grace of death and resurrection. 

Yet, never did I imagine that I would have my own father's life and name and history to lift up as one of the names of the saints.  Never did I anticipate that reality.  Never did I want to believe that death and grief would so powerfully take hold of me.

I don't want to speak my father's name on Sunday.  I don't want to acknowledge the reality that he is dead, that he is among the saints.  I don't want to know that he joins us with all the saints who have gone before and all that are to come.  I want his real voice, his real skin, his real touch.  With me.  Now. 

Due to a variety of circumstances, I am not preaching on Sunday.  Perhaps that is for the best.  Or perhaps preaching would have been a way to give honor to the day and my father.  Nevertheless, I will have God's word declared to me by another. 

I am the pastor and I will preside at worship.  I will light a candle for my dad.  I will read the names of the saints.  I will acknowledge in a small way the power of naming the saints, of remembering.      

But most importantly, I think for this coming Sunday, I am first and foremost a daughter.  A daughter who misses her father.  A daughter who yearns for time to go backward.  A daughter looking into the light and trusting in the words of others that resurrection is real.  

"By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high
will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace."
                   -Luke 1:78-79

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bean Bag Toss

Today is one of those days that brings a smile to my face.  Today is one of those days that reminds me why I love being a pastor.

On Reformation Sunday during the Sunday school hour all ages gathered to play and learn and experience the Reformation.  We had different activities and games and stations.  Pumpkins were carved and letters were written to those who aren't able to join us in worship.

The week began and I loaded my car with the pumpkins and cards.  One of my favorite stops is to a senior living facility, both assisted and independent.  As I walked into the building I noticed Jean, the sister of one of the congregation members, sitting in the living area.  She's with  a group of residents.  I greet her and share with her the pumpkins and cards.

"It's bean bag toss time.  Every Tuesday afternoon we play."

I've heard all about the bean bag toss game.  Every time I visit I hear how great Jean is and how many prizes she has won!  Even now I hear from her friends how Jean masters the bean bag toss.

The activities coordinator pairs them up and they are ready to play.

They get three bean bags each to toss during a turn.  Each bag is three points.  The first person to reach 21 is the winner.  Together we cheer and clap and encourage one another.  Of course there is also plenty of laughing when the bean bags end up far away from the hole.

Jean is up and her partner is Don.  Don is up first and he gets three in the hole right away.  Sitting next to me is the score keeper and she leans over and says to me, "Don can't see a thing."

I smile.  "Well, Jean can't hear so they are some pair!"

Jean and Don take turns and it is a close game.  Jean says, "I must be nervous with a guest."  She ends up losing.

Later I challenge Jean to a game and I must have beginner's luck because my first three bean bags go directly in the hole!  We all cheer.  Jean playfully feigns anger.

I win.  I go over and shake her hand.  

Jean says, "See what you have to look forward to?

I know she speaks with sarcasm.  Yet, I can't help but be grateful at this moment.

I see a community that gathers to play together.  To playfully tease one another.  And to encourage one another to do the best you can, however you can.  It's a joy to be in their presence.  It is a humbling gift.

The Piggy Bank

It's that time of the year again. 

An intentional time of the year for people to hear how God has blessed us and how we can shine God's light through our time and talents. 

It's that time of the year again. 

As a congregation, we talked and talked and talked about how to share our time and talents.  

Then something happened. In the midst of our efforts talking about shining God's light among and with the people of the congregation, God's light broke through with the actions of a child.

During the children's sermon, Rusty was asking the youth where they share their gifts and how they help others in the community and at school. We heard about the youth cleaning up after the lunch room rush, welcoming a new student on his first week, and a neighbor offering homework help to the new kid in the neighborhood. Some were listening, some were watching each other, but all the adults had their eyes on the children.

Anna was sitting on the floor watching everyone and listening to Rusty. Layla was with her mom on the pew when she noticed the bright blue piggy banks next to her. The piggy banks were given to the Sunday school class to think about where their money goes. How do they save, spend and share. Layla sees the pig and she sees Anna. Off her mom's lap she goes and grabs the piggy bank to give to Anna.

Two children sharing. Two children knowing perhaps more intimately than adults what it is to give and love without restraint.
Thank you Layla and Anna for shining your light.

Later during the offering as the plate was being passed down each pew, I hear the pitter-patter of small, delicate feet. I turn around to see Layla once again sharing. She is running, running with the click and clack of her shoes, to drop her offering in the plate. She gives without thought, gives as a gift of love.

Thank you Layla for shining your light.

Thanks be to God that it is always that time of year to be amazed by God's shining light. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


This weekend, all around the world the Muslim community celebrates the holy holiday known in The Gambia as Tobaski.  The festival of the sacrifice.  God summoned Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.  Abraham obeyed.  Before the sacrifice occurred, God stopped Abraham from his task.  Abraham obeyed.  His son's life spared.

I know the story.  I've heard about Abraham's faithfulness and his obedience to God.  I've read and heard sermons preached on the angst of Abraham at having to sacrifice his son.  Yet, he obeys.  Abraham as one of the ancestors of the faith for Jewish, Christian and Muslims.  Abraham as a model of faithfulness.  I know the story.

Or so I thought.

During my first celebration of Tobaski, a three-day affair in The Gambia, I attended all the required prayers, I bought new clothes, I helped clean the compound, and I helped cook.  And I watched the sacrifice of the rams.  (Of course since I had a camera my family wanted pictures of the event).

Each year during Tobaski rams are sacrificed to remember Abraham and his son Ishmael.  As I stood there watching the sacrifice of the ram, my brother leans over to me and says, "Do you know why we slaughter rams?"

He says, "We slaughter rams to remind ourselves that Ishmael could have been killed, but God didn't allow it; God saved us and gave us life."

It wasn't about Abraham, it was about God.  God's grace.

Throughout my two years in Africa my definition of God and worship and faith expanded.  Old stories were made new.  New stories were revealed.  New understandings broke through.  God was alive and active and life-giving for me.    

I give thanks for my Muslim brothers and sisters across the world.  I give thanks for the opportunity to learn from one another.  I give thanks for the opportunity to love one another.  We are all God's children.

Each year as Tobaski is celebrated I offer the same prayer.  I pray for this world and all the opportunities we have to point away from ourselves and to point to God.  I pray that we see God in our neighbor, in the stranger, and in the enemy.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lessons from the Apple

I should have been prepared.

I should have known.

The church hosted a Fall Fest at a members' home and one of the activities included apple bobbing.  Good ole' fashion apple bobbing.

Full of water and an assortment of golden and red apples, the youth waited with anticipation.

"Can I go first?"

"I want to go!"

One by one, heads went in.  One by one, water covered faces, hair and clothes.  One by one, apples came up with each youth collected by their teeth.

Then came the words I should have anticipated:  "It's your turn, pastor!"

I had no excuse.  I wasn't sick.  I'm not really afraid of germs.  If all the youth could do it, why not me?

Except, I couldn't remember the last time I bobbed for apples.  If ever.  How do you exactly bob for apples?

But bob I did.  I received lots of advice.

"Just plunge your head in!"
"Grab it by the stem.  No, that's cheating!"
"Push it to the side."

And bob I kept doing to no avail.  No apples were being lifted out of the water.  

Finally as a resort to spare myself any further humiliation, I invited someone else to challenge me to see who could get the apple first.  If someone else could get an apple, perhaps I could be spared any further failed efforts.

My challenger came forward and we counted: 1, 2, and 3, GO!

In went his head, completely submerged, and not seconds later he came up with an apple.

I still had no apple.

But that's okay.

There was plenty of laughter and screams and joyous expressions when my challenger went head first right into a cold bucket of water.

Cheers abounded.

Then one of the youth grabbed an apple for me and gave it to me.  "Here you go, pastor!"

I took a bite.  Pure joy.  I may not have acquired the apple the proper way in true apple bobbing fashion.  I may have given up.  Thankfully someone else was there to provide a way for me.  

Many others that day didn't give up.  There were youth and adults who kept going back in the bucket.  I reveled in their determination and gave thanks for each of them.  For their commitment.

I give thanks for those who are able to dive right into life no matter what obstacles get in the way.  And I give thanks for those who offer an apple, those who offer hope, to a fellow brother and sister.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Festival of Sharing

Truth be told, I still don't quite understand.  

It's my second year in Sedalia and my second time on the Fair Grounds in Sedalia, MO for the Festival of Sharing.  Every year hundreds of youth descend on Sedalia and the fairgrounds for a YouthFest where they worship and work sorting items, loading and unloading food and boxes.  Every year large, very large, quantities of rice, beans, school kits, backpacks, health kits, quilts and prison kits arrive in Sedalia for sorting and shipping.  Every year an untold number of people across the state of Missouri and across the world are impacted by the Festival of Sharing activities. 

Doing some research in preparation for the day, the Festival of Sharing website states:  "The third Saturday of October is the day that people of faith, from many different denominations all over the state, gather at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, in Sedalia. The groups and families bring money that has been raised and “kits” that have been assembled during the year. Volunteers help to sack rice, beans and potatoes for distribution to Missouri agencies. In the afternoon state agencies bring their trucks and trailers to receive the kits, rice, beans and potatoes to distribute to their clients. Kits, assembled for Church World Service, are loaded on a semi truck to continue their journey to other parts of the world."

The youth and adults from the church I serve in Sedalia gathered at 7:30 a.m. at the fairgrounds for a devotion and donuts.  The fall day was crisp and the sun beginning to shine.  Trucks already being loaded.  Sacks of potatoes being flung.  

We each were asked if we could pick up one of the youth by ourselves?  
There were attempts.
But it was difficult.  

Then we put our arms together and took part in a trust fall of sorts passing one of the youth across the length of our arms.

Together we are stronger.  Together we can make the work go quicker.  Together we can be the Body of Christ.  

"Now, let's get to work," said the youth leader.  

And work we did.  

We sorted and packed and shipped and loaded and laughed along the way.  We said prayers for the families and children and prisoners who would receive the kits.  We praised God for the gift of life.  

Throughout the morning working and witnessing hundreds of youth come together in service, it was hard to understand the full impact this one day would have across the state and across the world.  Perhaps I'm not meant to fully understand the Festival.  Perhaps in not understanding, I can begin to contemplate the enormity of the need and the enormity of the response of so many youth from across the state of Missouri.  

In not understanding I begin to trust that others will help me along the way.
In not understanding I open myself to hearing stories from our neighbors.
In not understanding I keep myself open to the mysteries of a servant God.    

Perhaps in not understanding I can simply roll up my sleeves and begin working.

So check out the website - and we'll see you next year!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Real Story - Life in the Barnyard

Below you'll find a letter written by my mom after her visit to The Gambia in 2005.  
She continues to inspire me.  She is why I keep writing.  

Greetings to all of you.  I'm taking this opportunity to tell all of you my impressions of The Gambia.  You've been hearing from Kim for the past year and I thought you might enjoy a different point of view.  For any of you contemplating visiting I'm going to list the do not's first:

1.  Do not go in the summer - the thermometer burst the first day
2.  Do not go if you're over 30
3.  Do not sit under a mango tree - there is a law of physics I now understand
4.  Do not put your arm down on the ground without looking first - my scorpion bite is finally healing
5.  Do not go on a horse cart ride without a cushion - don't ask!
6.  Do not bring a designer handbag

Gambia is really two stories - the coastal capital and resorts and the village where Kim lives and works. I am only going to write about the village.  To get to the village of Nyanga Bantang we left the hotel in a hired jeep at 6 a.m., spent 3 hours at the ferry crossing, and then drove for 5 hours on dusty dirt roads at harrowing speeds and at precarious angles.  The whole time I wondered if that driver was going to just dump us somewhere and leave us.  I was hot, dirty, and stressed.  Along the way we occasionally passed a village and one "main" town that the tourist book recommends - forget the tourist book!  I may write my own and give the real description of this town and its highlights.

When we arrived at the village Kim's whole family rushed out to greet us.  Fortunately Gambians don't hug; I already felt like a wet dish rag and things were not going to improve.  After the endless greetings I collapsed on Kim's bed while she went to get water.  Kim fussed about my dehydrating and force fed me water - it wasn't the water I objected to it was the fact that it was hot - everything is hot here.  I attempted to use the facilities - I'll spare you the details!  From my position on the bed I could look out onto the compound - naked children playing in the assorted manure, sucking on used batteries, playing with empty boxes and broken machettis, goats, children, horses, donkeys, cows, and cats roaming freely.  I would later realize the goats, chickens and people all shared the same food bowl too.  I really like animals, but!  For months I had been counting the days looking forward to my trip to Gambia and after an hour all I could think about was how was I going to survive a week here and how was I going to convince Kim to come home and not spend another year here.

That evening I lay outside on the concrete slab I had heard so much about.  At least outside there was a little bit of a breeze.  I lay on the slab surrounded by children and the women when they finished their work.  For someone with personal space issues this really was something else.  I lay there barely conscious, suffering form the heat, listening to story after story about Mariama (Kim's African name) and how good she was and how they wanted her to stay forever.  The whole week there I would continue to hear these words, Mariama is so good, Mariama loves people and people love her.  Mariama is doing so much for our village.  Even 10 miles away from her village everyone would shout out her name and run to greet her.  I also was asked for the first of many times to take a child back to the U.S. with me - mother's trying to give away their children so they can have a better life.  I heard over and over how hard it is in the Gambia - and it is!

The day beings before dawn with the roosters crowing and the women fetching water and pounding.  I see the stream of work and animals in front of the door to the hut.  The women work from about 5 in the morning till 10 at night.  About 9 we receive breakfast, the same as lunch and dinner, it is coos - the rainy season has not begun and this is all they have left to eat.  Despite their lack of food they have welcomed me and feed me; I am their guest.  I see there are other people other than family in the compound eating too, any one who is there eats and is provided for.  I attempt to send Kim to the biddick (small store) in the village to buy some things for the family - fruits and vegetables would be good.  There is nothing to buy; there is no food!  A this point I notice my designer handbag on the floor - the absurdity really hits me.  These people are warm and welcoming, they take in strangers, they work 15-18 hour days, they're malnourished, the children are naked or wearing threads playing in manure and fighting over trash, there's no relief from the heat and dirt, but I have my designer handbag.

When I get home I'm either going on the biggest spending spree ever or never spend another unnecessary cent.

Today we go to the school to see the library Kim has started and meet the students.  I spend several hours surrounded by kids reading stories and listening to them read.  Personal space is an issue again, but at least I won't fall if I pass out from the heat.  As a teacher I'm close to tears.  At school I can't find ways to get my students to read and here they come early, often walking for miles, and come on Saturdays and Sundays to have a chance to read and learn.  After school they come to the compound to continue reading with Kim and I.  Kim's 20 something year old brother sits nearby and listens too, he wants to learn more and asks lots of questions.  If I could only stand the heat I would stay and do more.  People who want to learn!

The village is made up of 39 individual family compounds and we have to make the rounds and visit all of them.  Over and over again I hear how good Mariama is and how she needs to stay with them.  On the last evening in village Kim has a party for me - she spends the day making pankets with her family and has hired drummers.  That evening 300-400 women and children come to the party to dance.

I have many more stories but I won't ramble on anymore.  Let me end with a quote:  "I am not the same since I have seen the moon from the other side of the earth."  I cried when I left the village.

No, I will not make Kim come home, and if I could stand the heat I would return myself and be the teacher I want to be.

I ask for your prayers for the people of the village of Nyanga Bantang.  They are a good people.



The Music Within

"What?  I can't hear you.  I'm deaf as a door knob."

 Jean - a fiery, spunky, and sharp woman, makes a statement when she enters a room.  She moves quickly; you can tell she's always thinking too.  She sees everything and notices the smallest of details.  And she remembers what you've told her.  Despite her loss of hearing she still tells it like it is.  Jean knows what it is to call a thing what it is.  No excuses.  No ifs, ands, or buts. 

 I met Jean when I visited with her sister.  The two are inspiring.  Pure, sisterly love.  Always caring and always loving.  Their relationship, like all relationships, takes work, and with that work they bring out each other’s gifts.  They call each other out on their stumblings.   They lift each other in love.  

 Jean was a music teacher. The kind of music teacher, I imagine, that students knew not to mess around with.  The kind of teacher that students knew was giving them the very best she had to offer.  The music in her soul shines brightly and loudly. 
A piano sits in the room.  I ask, "Can you play something for me?" 
Jean smiles timidly.  She looks at the piano. 
Jean sits down at the piano bench. 
Yes, Jean, deaf as a door knob, Jean can still play the piano as if she could hear every note.  And she does, she feels the music.  She hears it in her heart and soul.  The music resides within her very being. 
And she needs the music.  She needs people to listen to her.  She needs to know that the Spirit never leaves. 
I too need the reminder that the music never dies.   

 The Spirit is at work in the world making music where there seem to be no instruments.  The Spirit is at work bringing hope to the hopeless and voices to the voiceless.  
Thank you, Jean, for reviving the music in my soul.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thank you, Pastor.

October marks "Clergy Appreciation Month."

I write not to garner compliments for the last 20 months of ministry as an ordained minister, but rather to give thanks for those who formed me to be the pastor I am today.

Divinity Lutheran Church was home.  A small, loving congregation that encouraged, nurtured and loved me.  The people of Divinity saw gifts in me that I couldn't even begin to articulate.  The youth group was small but mighty; full of overnights, Easter breakfasts, fundraisers, and lots of laughter.  We somehow fit together in the world of the church; in God's eyes we were special.

Divinity no longer exists as a worshipping community, but it still functions to bring good news and hope to a world in need of love and renewal.  It is a funeral home.  Divinity meant so much to me growing up that I contemplated being ordained in the funeral home.  (Thanks to my mom for having the wisdom to talk me out of that idea!)

The building still stands.  The people and pastors of Divinity still proclaim the good news.  We are God's people on the move in the world.

I preached my first sermon at Divinity for a youth Sunday.  I do not remember the text for the day, how we decided who was leading and organizing, what time of year it took place, or how I felt preaching and leading worship.

I do remember the words of wisdom from my pastor as he mentored and tutored me in the art of sermon crafting.

As a high schooler who knew what it meant to be a Christian, I was sure I preached a good sermon about how well I was doing serving and loving and being a disciple.  I was sure I would make the members proud to hear all I was involved in and how I shared the good news with others.

Looking back now I realize how little I knew about this life of faith.

My pastor read my sermon and simply said, "What about preaching about what God is doing?"  

God.  Well, that would be an idea.

But I had written a sermon about what I and the church were doing for God's kingdom.  I already took a lot of time to write and think and reflect on the sermon.  I couldn't write another sermon.

"What about preaching about what God is doing."

God brought me to a community that knew about love and acceptance.  God shared radical hospitality to all.  God slowly stripped away my desire to be the best and brightest.  God walked with me.  

Thank you, pastor.

Thank you for the lesson that continues to reveal itself to me.  Thank you for the reminder that the life of faith isn't about me, but about God.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Searching for the Song

I have been told that I am fearless. 

I lived in Africa.  I walked 500 miles.  I jumped into a hole in the lake in the middle of winter.   I’ll eat anything, talk to anyone, share my food, ask others to share their food with me, etc…..


But, ask me to sing.  Request that I chant the liturgy during Sunday morning service.  Sing alone.   

Fear.  Only Fear. 

I am terrified to sing in front of others.  Absolutely terrified.  I’ve avoided singing publicly for a while now, even going as far as dropping a class to avoid chanting in front of my classmates and professor.   There is something about the vulnerability, the openness, the uncertainty of my breath and voice that brings panic to my mind.  Yes, I am a perfectionist.  I have no confidence in my voice.  

But the song in my life continues to speak.  During internship years ago, a group of women retreated for one night.  It was a time of grace, a time to be together in community, to laugh, to cry, to eat, to play, to be present, and to experience the grace of one another.  We centered our time in the story of John 6 and placed ourselves with Jesus and the others, hungry, waiting for food, and experiencing the grace of abundance from the simplest of means.  Together and individually, we defined grace in our lives.  Our time together as women flowed with authenticity, passion, creativity, and honesty.  One woman wrote her story in the form of a poem expressing how the story in John 6 touched her.  Our lives intertwined, we returned home full of grace. 

A while later, this same woman turned the poem into a song, a simple hymn-like creation.  She asked me to sing with her, in church, in front of everyone – it would be our gift, grace experienced and given.  

Again, I felt fear.  Yet, I felt compelled.  I felt comfort.  I felt community.  And I knew that grace would be shared. 

So, I agreed to sing.  In church.  In front of the congregation.  With a microphone.  I agreed to sing.  


Another weekend came and the woman and I retreated for another night.  In the evening hours while others slept, we crept into the sanctuary.  We sat by the organ, illuminated with the glow of candles and Christ’s presence, and we sang.  Together our voices joined as one.  The fear faded.  Perfectionism diminished.  Authenticity and honesty revealed.  Pure and simple.  Song.  Music.  Heart.  Soul.  Grace.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Growing Tree

The tree towered above us.

It was a dreary and cold Friday.  The look and feel of the day captured the feelings and emotions of those gathered at the cemetery.  We celebrated the life of Byrdia.  We celebrated the presence of God.  We proclaimed hope and trust in the God who walks with us through the darkest pain.  We hoped in the resurrection's promise.

It had been a long journey for the couple, but what journey isn't long and full of all kinds of twists and turns and unexpected encounters.  The husband, Oliver, had not left his wife's side for nearly two years.  Two years ago Alzheimer's began to take over her mind.  Each time I visited with the couple in their home I heard stories of how they met, where their children lived and what they did, and the lessons learned along the way.  We would share communion and tears and prayers.

Each time I asked, "What would you like to pray for today?"

And each time, Oliver said, "I pray for Byrdia to remember.  For her to get better."  Simple, heartfelt and loving words from a husband to his wife of 58 years.

Her memory continued to fade.  The time came for hospice to control her pain and to make her as comfortable as possible.

The night Byrdia died, the hospice nurses came to clean her body and prepare her for burial.  I gathered in the room with the nurses and the daughter.  Holy, sacred time.  Such tenderness in each wipe.  Such awe for the hands and feet of God in these women.

I thought of Oliver's words, "I pray for Byrdia to remember."

I smile.  God remembers.  For I see the women and their compassion, I see the tears of a daughter, and the devotion of a husband, and I know that God remembers.        

At the cemetery, Oliver walks over to me following the committal.  "You see this tree here, this tree that is towering over us, right next to Byrdia's grave?  That tree was here when we first bought this plot years ago, and it was just a little tree, barely to my knees."

The tree towered above us.

Hope blossomed from the cold ground.  Holy ground.  Sacred space.  Hope from a towering tree to guard Byrdia and to remind her family that she is with God.

And at that moment, underneath the towering tree beside Byrdia's grave, once again, I remember Oliver's prayer; "I pray for Byrdia to remember."

I smile.  I feel the presence of the tree and the presence of the lives of the saints who have gone before and who are to come.

I smile and know that God remembers.  

Monday, October 8, 2012


The sun is shining but fall is definitely in the air.  A crisp, cool day.  Yet, I'm warmed and hopeful by a memory from this summer's Vacation Bible School.  We embarked on "Sky - Where everything is Possible with God!"  

I think about VBS and I think about Miley.  We had a touching dialogue on the eve of her birthday.  

Pastor Kim:  Miley, I hear tomorrow is a special day.  Is there something special going on tomorrow?

Miley shakes her head yes.  Faint smile is beginning to form.

Pastor Kim:  So what's going on tomorrow, Miley?  

Miley still smiles.

Pastor Kim:  Are we going to sing a special song for somebody.

Miley shakes her head yes.

Pastor Kim: For who?  

Miley says, "God."

I smile now and say, "That's right, we will sing songs about God!"

Pastor Kim:  Anything else for tomorrow?  

"Tennis shoes."
I think about Miley's answer of tennis shoes and recall that we are supposed to wear tennis shoes so we can play during games outside for VBS.

Pastor Kim:  But, is it somebody's birthday tomorrow?
Miley smiles and says, "Yes.  My birthday."  

I am in awe that a day-away-from-5-year-old-girl thinks of God and tennis shoes first before her birthday.  I'm impressed she's not running around telling everyone her birthday is tomorrow.  (Okay, that's me hyping up my birthday weeks before just in case anyone would forget).  But when asked about the next day, her birthday, the first song that we're going to sing, she tells me, is for God.  Perhaps Miley gets it better than any of us.  It's always about God.  Always.  God is first.  God is the reason we celebrate birthdays and love and relationships and gather for Vacation Bible School.    

And tennis shoes?  Well, children know better than any of us what it is to play.  To run hard.  To laugh hard and loud and long.  To reach our arms out and embrace the day.  We need tennis shoes to play.  We need reminders that playing is another way of praying.

So Happy Birthday, Miley.  Thanks be to God for birthdays, tennis shoes, and songs.      

Catching the Monkey

It's time.  I love to write.  I tell myself I can be a writer.  I have scraps of paper and notebooks and quotes strewn all over my office, in my purse, and in my home.  I write weekly sermons, monthly newsletter articles, thank you notes, blessings, and prayers.  It's time.

I wrote every night while serving in the Peace Corps.  Two years of my life is chronicled - the pain, the homesickness, the astounding joy, the inspiring people, the misunderstandings, the adventures, the love and the joy.  All written.  All saved to reveal a part of myself that I continue to learn from and continue to live into.

A constant theme in my African journals was the alternating feelings of joy knowing that I was a part of the family in my compound and feelings of sadness and confusion at not understanding my surroundings.  Learning African proverbs during my time in The Gambia helped me to learn the language and understand a bit more about the culture.  So I learned the proverbs.  I memorized them.  I said them quickly to feign my ability to actually speak and understand the language and culture.  I shared my new proverbs weekly to get a laugh.  I tried to be a part of the community.

"Slowly, slowly is the one who catches the monkey in the bush."

My first proverb.  I think all new Peace Corps trainees learned this one.  We knew it would take time and patience and lots of mistakes before learning the language and communicating.  We knew we had to roll up our sleeves and stick our hands in the food bowl whether we knew what we were eating or not.  We knew we had to hear endless children yelling our names and asking for candy.  We knew we had to face not being in control and not being able to take matters into our own hands.  Heaven knows that we couldn't even buy our own pieces of fabric to make our own clothes!  It takes time to learn how to live and be in another culture.  It takes patience.  It takes an open heart and mind.  It takes a spirit to know that we are the ones who need to be saved.  

"Slowly, slowly is the one who catches the monkey in the bush."

We knew that we were the ones catching the monkeys in the bush.  Deep down we knew that somehow and someway we would always be searching for that monkey, seeing the monkey in front of us but never getting our hands around him or her.

And it is now six years later since returning from The Gambia and I am still searching for that monkey in the bush.  She's taken on different forms and shapes over the years.  At different times she's shown herself more openly and hidden more deeply.  But I still keep searching.  I still keep moving forward.

And I write.  So today as a hope for continually searching and dreaming, I hope to share a bit of my journey with you all.  Whoever you may be.  Where ever you are.  Whatever monkey you are chasing.  And wherever your journeys take you.  

Come with me and search slowly and prayerfully for that monkey.