Thursday, December 31, 2009

Arrows 2009

It's time again for year-in-review segments on the news and weight-loss resolution advertisements on TV, which must mean it's also time for my annual "arrows" entry. Here goes:

Family ↑
Last year my family added a member: my brother-in-law Matt. This year we welcomed another fantastic addition: my niece, Hannah. She's an adorable, tiny person with lots of feathery, dark hair and deep blue eyes. She makes strange squeaking noises and fascinating faces. I've really enjoyed getting to know her, and I'm looking forward to seeing the person she grows into.

Travel ↑
This year did not involve overseas adventures, which is always a little disappointing to me. I also had to make several for work, interviews, and other less-pleasant reasons. On the other hand, I did get to do a fantastic family vacation to Colorado. I got to spend time in the mountains with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins, mom, dad, and sister. We hiked and played games, swam and dined. It was a time of great laughter and bonding, and it reminded me of just how much I love the people on that side of my family. I also made a road trip of awesomeness with several of my friends in January. We drove through the night on our way to southern Florida, singing along with CDs and noshing on junk food all the way. We attended a friend's wedding, then spent a few days at Disney, going on rides, taking in shows, posing with characters, and having the kind of magical, silly fun that is only possible at Disney. Between those ventures and my treks to see my sister, brother-in-law, and new niece, it was a pretty good year for travel.

Sports ↓
All of my teams let me down this year. The Cubs... well, let's not even go there. And my Broncos and Mizzou Tigers both did well at first, then crashed and burned late in the season. Mizzou even got destroyed in their bowl game. It would take a miracle at this point for the Broncos to make the playoffs. *sigh* Maybe next year.

Ministry ↑
After five years of working through the process, I finally, FINALLY got commissioned as a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church this year. I survived the papers and the interviews, and got to start my ministry. I was appointed to a church and started working as an associate pastor on July 1. I may still be in the honeymoon phase, but so far the church and I seem to be really good fits for each other. I really like the people I get to work with, both the congregation and the staff, and my job responsibilities are both challenging and fulfilling. I've gotten to use skills and gifts that I had never anticipated using as a pastor. In redesigning one of our worship spaces, I ended up using my ASP skills to draw to-scale room sketches and apply for a building permit, then use a tape measure and power drill to facilitate the move. I have used my journalism training to create a weekly e-mail newsletter. Plus I've used TONS of things from seminary. The work is stressful, but I love it.

Moving ↔
This year I finished graduate school and left the city and community I had loved for three years. My friends scattered all across the country, which was incredibly sad. My roommate, who I had thoroughly enjoyed living with for three years, moved to the opposite side of the country, and I had to learn to live without that companionship. I had to leave behind my favorite restaurants and coffee shops, art museums and hang outs. I'm no longer in quick visit distance of my great aunt and uncle, and second cousins, and I can't just pop over to watch football with my aunt anymore. I really miss the city and my life there. On the other hand, though, I'm having fun exploring my new city. I'm starting to find new hangouts, restaurants, and coffee shops, and I'm enjoying the proximity to historical landmarks. Now I'm closer to my sister and her family, so I get to see my new niece more often, and I'm learning to like this new state. I also really like my apartment which, though I haven't used it, has a putting green. It has just been a bit of a tough adjustment.

Friends ↑
It was tough to leave behind my wonderful seminary community in May. But I have managed to stay in reasonably good contact with many of my friends both from there and from undergrad. One of my seminary friends even got called to a church pretty close to where I'm serving, so I get to see her every month or two. And, thanks to licensing school that I didn't really want to attend initially, I've made some great friends in my new conference. One in particular has rescued me from a cancelled flight, showed me places to hang out in town, and really helped me to feel at home in my new place. Another joined our staff in October and became my going-out buddy, my "date" for church events, and my "go ahead and do it!" supporter at work. A third meets me for sermon prep over coffee and even brought me a care package when I was sick. With these people, I'm definitely going to be able to adjust to this new city.

Dating ↓
There's almost nothing to put under this heading, since almost nothing has happened. In 2009, I didn't go through any breakups. I didn't start any new relationships. In fact, I didn't even go on any dates. Sad, I know. But between writing my thesis, getting through the commissioning process, graduating, moving, starting a new job, and adjusting to a new city, I didn't really meet any available men. And, in light of my schedule and my vocation, I may never meet any eligible men EVER AGAIN. Seriously. I don't know where I'd find them. There aren't any eligible men at church, and if there were I shouldn't date them anyway. I can't meet a co-worker. And don't even get me started on trying to meet strangers. I can't even have a normal conversation with a HAIR DRESSER once he or she finds out I'm a pastor, so there's no hope that a random attractive stranger in a coffee shop will be able to handle that information. I've even become skeptical of online dating options. Thus I have concluded that either I will be single forever or a man will miraculously be delivered to my doorstep.

Weddings ↑
I finally got into the proper spirit for all the weddings this year. One of my first actions of 2009 was to go to a friend's wedding in South Carolina. Then, a week later, I went to another wedding, this time in Florida. Both brides were beautiful, and the gatherings of friends at the receptions and during the travel were really, really fun. Then in the summer I started another round of weddings. I was honored to be the maid of honor in the wedding of two seminary friends in July, watching my friends so beautiful and in love that it brought tears to even my skeptical eyes. All of the people in the wedding party were friends from seminary, so the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, reception, and other wedding events became joyful reunions. I also got the joy of being the maid of honor for the August wedding of my best friend since childhood. She looked gorgeous, and I had a lovely time with her family, who are all close enough to me to be my own family. It was a blessing to get to celebrate the unions of such wonderful people.

? 2010
I'm intrigued to see what 2010 will bring, and to experience the adventures that I'm sure it has in store. I'm taking the advice of one of my friends, who has told me that my resolution for the new year should be to "get a life". I'm going to try to do just that by meeting new people, working a little less, and traveling a bit. We'll have to see how that goes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve!

This was probably the longest day of the whole Advent season. I got up this morning and wrapped some presents, then headed to the office to get some work done. I did some small parts in the children's service at 5:00, then helped lead the 7:00 and 11:00 services. It was great to see so many people in worship, and to celebrate the birth of Christ in this community. The greetings and hugs got me through the evening, helped by a picnic dinner with my parents. All of the church activities were bookended by relaxing at home with my parents, watching bits of the Star Wars Trilogy on Spike TV. Worship, family, and Star Wars? It doesn't get much better than this.

Here I am, still alive and smiling at the close of the Advent season:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Arrivals


My face split into a grin today when, at 4:00 a.m., my parents arrived at my apartment. I left them to sleep while I went to work, but we had lunch and dinner together, and did some shopping in the evening. My parents brought a box of my childhood Christmas ornaments with them, and this evening we got them out and put them on the tree. With each ornament, we retold stories of the people who gave them to us, the places they were purchased, or the events or phases they commemorated. It's still Advent for one more day, but today it felt as though Christmas had suddenly burst into my apartment with my parents and our family traditions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Catching Up

Like yesterday, I forgot to carry my camera for some of the best parts of the day. Our staff meeting was particularly exciting today. In addition to our usual laughter, we played Family Feud with some information that our Minister of Youth and Young Adults gathered about Christmas traditions and practices. It was a great pick-up in the last few days before Christmas, and combined with the silliness that results from being tired and overstressed, we shared some fantastic laughs.

In the evening, I went Christmas caroling with the youth. We shared songs and smiles with our homebound members and our members in assisted living facilities. We are NOT great singers, so the songs left a little to be desired. But we visited, listened, and smiled, then spent the time on the church bus between stops joking around and relaxing. It was lovely.

Finally, I came home to clean up and get ready for my parents' visit. They called and informed me that they were going to drive through the night and arrive twelve hours before I thought they'd arrive, so now I'm excitedly awaiting their arrival. And I made the deadline: My apartment is clean, and they're not here yet! Of course, my shopping still isn't done, but the absolute musts are taken care of.

So, without further ado, my clean apartment:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Grinchy

I had a Grinchy day today. A family in our congregation is going through a situation that is painful beyond imagining. The preparation for Christmas Eve services is reaching fever pitch. My apartment is not yet clean for my parents' arrival. I spent an hour in traffic trying to get around a train derailment that created a huge traffic jam. I had to fight the crowds at the mall and I still didn't manage to finish my Christmas shopping. I got back to my apartment tired, frustrated, and sad.


In that low moment, I was really thankful for faraway friends and the ease of communication. I often forget how blessed I am to be able to pull a cell phone out of my pocket and call loved ones any time I want. But today that made me smile.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I wish I could have captured this on film...

Today I was unable to get pictures of most of the things that made me smile.

For example, this morning the DCE and I attempted to go to church at 7:30 a.m. My car had other ideas, though. It got stuck in the ice/slush/mess in the parking lot, and refused to move in any direction. So there Amanda and I were: wading through the snow and slush in our church clothes, trying to push the car out. As annoyed as we were by the snow and ice, the cold slush in our shoes, and the frustrations of trying to get the car out in spite of the weather, the situation was hilarious. We found ourselves laughing out loud, and I wished we could get a picture of that moment. Finally a few of her neighbors helped us, and we managed to get the car out.

When we got to church, we had our usual two services and Sunday School, though the turnout was small. I also tried something in a worship service I had never attempted before: I preached a first-person narrative sermon. The text was the Magnificat, so I preached as Mary, explaining to Joseph about her pregnancy and her interaction with Elizabeth. I was really nervous about stepping away from the pulpit and doing something so different. But in the second service, it went really well. Several of the people who heard it said it was meaningful for them, and I really had fun trying something different. I wish I could have caught their facial reactions on film, but I couldn't exactly pull out my camera while I was preaching.

I got spoiled by having lunch out with friends from church, then I returned home to work on cleaning my apartment and finishing up Christmas preparations to get ready for my parents' visit. I was productive, but there weren't a lot of great moments to capture on film. But I did FINALLY hang up some of my pictures, so my walls are no longer bare.


This picture doesn't capture the best moments of my day, but it is something that made me smile.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Double Post!

I know you're deeply disappointed in me for not posting any pictures yesterday. The fact is, I took lots of pictures. But I couldn't post them because I was out of town and forgot to bring the cord to connect my camera to my computer. So today I'm going to post two days' worth of pictures.


Yesterday I spent the day shopping and hanging out with a seminary friend. We visited Colonial Williamsburg and went to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens.


Just as we walked into Busch Gardens, it started to snow. It made for a beautiful evening.

Today I returned home to discover that about eight inches of snow had fallen during the night. I caught up on some things around the apartment, but soon began to worry about getting to church in the morning with the snowy, icy roads. I decided to spend the evening with our Director of Christian Education and stay at her apartment overnight, since her apartment is closer to the church than mine.


We played in the snow, made some dinner, and watched Christmas movies. It was lovely.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nativity

I didn't think to get out my camera today, though I had a great time shopping, joking around with co-workers, and attending a Christmas party for a group from church. But this evening, as I was relaxing in my living room, I looked up and saw my nativity. It was made by a member of my church in Atlanta, and it always makes me smile. The figures are woodburned into blocks of finished 2x4, which always makes me think of supplies from ASP. Plus, every time I look at it, I remember the fun I had with my friends from that church: singing in the choir, laughing at terrible puns, talking sports, and ministering to the people of the community.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shepherd Staff


During Advent, church staffs are very busy, putting together bulletins, planning extra worship services, going to meetings and celebrations... the very things that I was afraid would keep me from really observing Advent and celebrating Christmas. But for a few hours this afternoon, we took a break from that busyness to celebrate together. We shared a potluck lunch and had a gift exchange at the senior pastor's house. It was wonderful to get to share down time with one another, to laugh and joke and converse about non-work things. It reminded me how blessed I am to have a talented, kind staff to work with.

Good Council



Tonight was the Christmas celebration for the council, and the dinner, games, and conversation were a wonderful part of my day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fog Delay


Today I awoke to a dense cloud outside my window. The whole area was blanketed with fog. So, since I'd already arranged to come into the office late, I rolled over and granted myself a fog delay. It reminded me of those days when I was in elementary and high school when, upon waking up in the morning, I'd discover that everything out the living room windows was obscured by fuzzy gray. At that moment, I'd run to my radio to listen for the school delays. We'd start with a one hour delay - I'd hustle back to bed for as much extra sleep as I could manage. When I woke up and checked again, we'd have moved on to a two-hour delay, and I'd use the extra time to sit in my pajamas on the couch and watch cartoons or the Today show. If I was really, really lucky, school would be cancelled by ten a.m., then the fog would burn off by eleven. Then we'd have the rest of the day, unencumbered, to relax and enjoy ourselves.

So, fog is attached to wonderful memories for me. It seems magical, softening all the hard edges and making the world seem calmer somehow. Today that softness seemed like a gift from God.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sweet Treats

Sundays are, as you might imagine, very long days for pastors. Today I was at church for twelve hours. Some of those hours were really intense: leading worship, conducting interviews, teaching confirmation. Others were powerful: the service of Lessons and Carols was beautiful, and incredibly meaningful. But by the end of it, all I wanted to do was kick off my shoes and chill on the couch. I didn't even want to scrounge for dinner. So, I threw some frozen veggies in the microwave and opened the tin that a couple of wonderful church folks left outside my office. Inside the tin was an instant smile: sweets and baked goods of many kinds, that I didn't need to cook or bake myself. YUM!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Staying In


I stayed in most of the day today to catch up on things here. I did chores, wrote prayers for tomorrow, wrapped some Christmas presents, and generally relaxed. So, my happy thought for the day is this: my Christmas tree with actual wrapped presents beneath it. It doesn't have a ton of ornaments on it (and none on the back!) but it still reminds me of my favorite Christmas memories. There are ornaments from my parents' tree at home, ornaments my seminary friends and I made together, and ornaments from friends from my new church. It has tangible reminders of great times with loved ones, and it's almost like a tiny part of each of them is here in my apartment, even though they're far away.

Season of Light

This evening was a fantastic! I went out for dinner and the tacky light tour with our Director of Christian Education and two wonderful friends from church. We feasted, laughed, had great conversation, and got to see some incredible decorations.





Friday, December 11, 2009

Pastor Friends


Today I had a meeting of my provisional covenant group, and it was fantastic to get to share some laughs and some great conversation with my clergy friends. After a long drive home and two hours of hectically trying to catch up on the work I didn't get done earlier in the day, I took a break for a fantastic dinner with another clergy friend, followed by sharing a slice of cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli. In the midst of a stressful week, this time with colleagues helped me keep my sanity.
(And I know this says it's Friday, but it's only fifteen minutes past Thursday...)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Old Man and the Shoe

I had a great time today making a gingerbread house with the girl I mentor. But because of child protection policies and stuff I couldn't take a picture of that. And I had lunch with a friend from out of town, but I didn't have my camera with me. So, I found myself at a friend's apartment at the end of the day, having not yet taken a picture of something that made me smile. Then I saw it: something that made me laugh that I can share with you.


This is Santa, sitting on a shoe-shaped chair.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Chapel Redefined

The Minister of Visitation and the Minister of Missions apparently bought ties for the mission team a few years ago. The ties, which feature outlines of the Blues Brothers and the words "On a Mission from God", are AWESOME. Since we liked them so much, the guys gave them to me and to our new Director of Christian Ed. So, we showed them off by wearing them to Home Depot today.



Then this evening, after lots of planning and sketching, after meetings with Trustees, fire marshals, building inspectors, and the emerging worship planning team, we finally rearranged the chapel. We had help from youth volunteers, members of the team, and a few brave adult volunteers. I couldn't get a good angle to get a picture of the whole room, but I got these that show some of the arrangement.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Deep Breath

Today was all go-go-go, from the moment I woke up until about five minutes ago when I got home from a church event. The morning was stressful and I had moments when I nearly tore my hair out. The evening was awesome, I had a great time relaxing and laughing with a committee of hard working people I've been in ministry with this year. But for a brief moment between the workday and the evening events, I drove into the sunset. I took deep breaths and noticed, for the first time all day, that the sky was an interesting color, that the clouds were dancing in graceful shapes across the sky. And in that moment, there was peace.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Second Sunday of Advent: Productivity

Today I led three worship services, taught a Sunday School Class, and put together a bunch of Christmas cards. If I could, I'd show a picture of the setup for the Blue Christmas Service, which was lovely, but I'm pretty sure pulling out a camera during that particular service wouldn't have been a good idea. So, here are some of the cards. I'm not done with all the ones I need to send yet, but between the chores I did yesterday and the stuff I got done today, I feel like I'm going into the new week ahead instead of behind.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Snow Day!



Granted, it hasn't snowed very much, and it hasn't accumulated at all, but it was nice to look out at the falling flakes while I cleaned, decorated, and did chores around the apartment!

Warm Hands



This evening I had the opportunity to spend some time with two of my clergy friends. We broke bread together, talked and laughed around a warm fire, made S'mores, drank hot cider, and watched the Muppet Christmas Carol. It was a lovely break from all the work of Advent, and it was deeply relaxing. There's something about being in a safe space, sharing food and stories with people that sets my heart at ease. So, today I'm thankful for the care of friends, and for warmth in the midst of cold weather.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Blind Side



Today was an incredibly long day, and I faced some unexpected setbacks in one of my major projects. Most unexpectedly, I spent the day talking with a building inspector and filling out building permits. So, by the end of my 12-hour day, I was exhausted and a bit grumpy. But a friend called and invited me out to see the Blind Side after my meeting. I'm reading the book, and so far I've really enjoyed it. And the movie exceeded my expectations. Sandra Bullock did a fantastic job portraying Leigh Anne. By the end of the movie, I had released all the stress of the day and I found myself smiling again.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Stepping Up

I walked into the office this morning expecting an ordinary day. Then our office manager informed me that our church had become a disaster management center for the day. I had been told when I arrived that we are a Red Cross Disaster Center, that we take people in when crises occur and provide a place to stay, but I hadn't seen it in action before. I was amazed and extremely impressed.

The previous evening there had been a fire at a retirement community nearby. Many of the residents had to be evacuated and had nowhere to go for the night. The Red Cross contacted the coordinators at our church (trained and very dedicated lay members) who contacted our Facility Manager and Minister of Missions. Together, they made all the necessary arrangements for the displaced people to have beds and meals, they helped facilitate communication with families and arranging temporary placements for all of them. They worked with the Red Cross volunteers and employees to keep the situation under control. Church members and people from the community stepped up to offer whatever help they could. And as I watched all of this happen, as I watched people who had stayed up all night smile and minister to people as though they weren't exhausted, I was amazed. This is what the incarnation is all about.


Today, this ministry was what made me smile, and what made me proud to be a part of this faith community.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Model Box

In his prayer during our staff meeting this morning our senior pastor referred to Advent as a "pregnant time". I love that imagery. It is a time when we are heavy with expectation, curious and excited about what is to come. It was also interesting timing, since this is a bit of a "pregnant time" for one of my big responsibilities at the church: a new emergent worship service. Part of my work on that service has been planning a rearrangement of the chapel where the service will be held. I can explain theologically what I want to do, and I can brainstorm ideas, but interior design and arrangement of space are not my strengths. Fortunately for me, we have a very gifted member who is also studying theater at NYU. She volunteered to advise us and to provide us with some tools for our planning. Today, a wonderful gift arrived from her: a model box. The model box is a scale model of the space, complete with all the important things that will go in the chapel. It allows us to arrange and re-arrange the space in 3-D without having to move all the furniture. The arrival of the model box made me grin and actually jump up and down with excitement.



Here is a picture of the awesome model box. The brown space around it in the picture is another happy thought: the surface of my desk is actually visible!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Today's Joy? Decorating!



Our new Director of Christian Education turned her Charlie Brown-ish Christmas tree into a full, colorful masterpiece of decoration. Despite the Barbie pink, it made me smile!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

As promised, I will be posting pictures each day of Advent. I'm off to a bit of a rough start, as I forgot to take my camera to several big events today. Fortunately, I remembered it when I went to a birthday celebration this evening, so I do have some happy pictures to choose from today.

Today I found joy in the people at church, the excitement over our Advent Festival, and in spending time with friends this evening.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Break-In

A week ago, someone broke into my parents' house and robbed them. Someone smashed in their patio window, trashed their bedroom, and took my mom's jewelry and my dad's laptop. It was, ironically, the night before I was preaching about trusting in God rather than in money or physical security.

When my dad called to tell me about it, I was floored. I've always believed that my parents' house, the home I grew up in, was safe. My hometown is tiny, and crimes like this hardly ever happen there. Even the police officers were surprised, noting that a crime like this hasn't happened in town in years.

I've spent my life traveling, and that house has always been my home base. As I've traveled to four other continents, moved away for college, grad school, and jobs, my roots have always been there. That is the place I could count on: it was the one constant, my safe place to come home to when I was otherwise rootless. It has only been in the last few months that I've moved into an apartment that's a semi-permanent home, instead of a temporary location for school.

And now that home I'd always taken for granted as being safe and unchanging has been violated. My heart breaks for my parents, whose home has been violated. My heart breaks for the generations-old family heirlooms that are now gone, probably lost forever. My great-grandmother's pearls, my great-grandfather's watch, my mom's wedding pearls, my parents' Phi Beta Kappa pins, the earrings and necklaces my sister and I gave to our mom for Christmases and Mother's Days: all gone. The safety and security my parents counted on: destroyed.

What led the thieves to this course of action? What need drove them to this desperation? Or was it just greed? I'm still trying to find the words to pray for those people who are now my enemies.

It's going to take me a while to come to grips with this. It's going to be a long, difficult recovery for my parents. God help us.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Advent Project

One of my friends, a chaplain, started taking a picture every day of something that made her smile. She was working as a pediatric hospice chaplain, and taking the pictures helped her to remember the good gifts from God that were around her, even when everything seemed to be filled with darkness and tragedy.

I've decided to copy her idea this year for advent. I've always loved advent, and especially Christmas, but I'm nervous that the hectic schedule of working at a church during advent and Christmas is going to get me so focused on the work and the details that I won't be able to remember the beauty of the season. So, to prevent that from happening, I'm going to carry my camera and take pictures of the things that remind me of God, and the season of advent. Then I'm going to post them here, as a form of accountability.

Here are a couple of previews:


I love the colors of autumn!


HIking along the James River


On October 24, I got to see the Richmond Zombie Walk. So, the "undead" walked through the streets of Richmond to raise money for the American Cancer Society.


Zombies!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Little Ones to Him Belong...

Last week I got to do chapel for the "School for Early Childhood Education" (translation: preschool) that is part of the church where I work. Before I get into this, I have to tell you that I have never been great with kids. I can handle them in small numbers, but working with children is not one of my best gifts, and in large numbers I find them very intimidating. So, I was a bit nervous when I looked out at the fifty-ish children assembled in the sanctuary on Tuesday morning.

But then I started making eye contact with them. Most of them smiled when our eyes met. One little boy started grinning hugely whenever I glanced in his direction; he didn't just smile with his mouth, or even his face, he scrunched up his shoulders and wiggled, and it was as though his smile ran from his hair to his toes. I taught them "Rise and Shine", with very simple hand motions, and they followed along. At the point in the song where I clapped once, my clap was immediately followed by thirty seconds of each child repeating that motion in his or her own time. When I started to tell them the story of Noah, one of the older boys called out, "That's from the Bible!" When I replied that yes, the story was from the Bible, half of the kids felt the need to inform me that they, too, had Bibles, and to describe what those books looked like. After a few minutes, I found myself enjoying working with the kids. I was challenged and entertained rather than intimidated or overwhelmed.

After leading chapel on Tuesday and Wednesday, I got a call in the wee hours of Thursday morning from my sister to tell me that she was heading to the hospital: the baby was on its way. I was on pins an needles for twelve hours, jumping every time my phone rang, and finally, finally, my brother-in-law called to tell me that I have a healthy new niece.

The very next day, I made my way up to the hospital to see how my sister was faring and to meet my new niece. So, less than 24-hours after she entered the world, I got to hold the precious little one in my arms. I couldn't tear my eyes away: I marveled at her copious, dark hair and at the deep blue of her eyes. I was fascinated by her puffy cheeks and mesmerized by the faces she made in her sleep.

Since then, I've gotten to spend more time with her. I've gotten to hold her and feel the unevenness of her breathing. I've gotten to hear her strange little squeaks and tiny hiccups. She's amazing.

As I looked at the preschool children, and as I held my niece, I became even more convinced that God is love. Only a loving being could create something so tiny and precious. And how could any creator not fall in love when faced with the fragile beauty and wondrous creativity of children?

Praise the Creator God, in whose eyes we are all precious, fragile, amazing, beloved children. Praise God who cradles us in the eternal hands, swaddles us with divine presence, and sings us lullabies of comfort and peace. Amen.

Monday, October 05, 2009

"My Bubbles!"

I practice blowing bubbles as a meditative act. I know it's a strange habit for an adult, but I love it. It allows me to connect with beautiful memories of childhood. It takes me back to getting gradually soaked in sticky bubble solution as I spun around with my wand arm out so that I was surrounded in floating rainbows. It reminds me of stealing pans and dish detergent from the kitchen and bending wire hangers into giant loops in hopes of making giant bubbles. There's an innocence and carelessness about it: you simply can't be too serious while blowing bubbles.

At the same time, it gives me an action and a focal point to keep my lower consciousness occupied so that my mind can focus on deeper things. In that way, it's a bit like a rosary. Moving the beads and saying the simple prayers of the rosary occupies one's motor functions and allows for praying about other things. For me, bubbles serve the same function. It keeps my hands busy and prevents me from seeking greater mental distractions. And bubbles can be a metaphor for almost anything, which gets me started on inner reflections.

I've tried for years to write poetry about bubbles because I love their beauty and simplicity. I love their connection to people's childhood memories. I don't know of anyone who dislikes bubbles or has bad associations with them. But I can never seem to capture that in a poem because it always seems cheesy. Even the metaphors that stir my mind sound schmaltzy when written down and don't express what I see. I suppose I should just leave it to meditation, since trying to grasp or capture bubbles almost never works.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Half-Formed

My view of the world is based upon a continually-changing set of theories. My way of thinking, my values, and the purpose of my actions are based on more solid, less changeable things, but the way I see the world is shifting constantly because of changing experiences and attitudes, and I like to formulate expendable theories based upon those shifting views. Here are a few of my more recent theories:

1) There ought to be a periodic table of people, based primarily on reactivity. Some people are extremely reactive, and whenever they're faced with stress or anxiety, they blow up or boil over. Other people are mostly stable, but react to specific situations or other elements badly. The goal for leaders is, I think, to be like Noble gasses, almost completely non-reactive. Leaders need to inspire, true, but when anxiety is introduced into a system, when people are freaking out, the job of leaders is to remain calm, to respond instead of reacting. People should be required to at least be aware of their people-periodic number, and to warn others so that they can be treated accordingly.

2) The creators of the movie The Wizard of Oz were secretly inspired by the Epistle of James. (Note: this is the movie. The book was more likely inspired by a bad acid trip.) Think for a moment about the last scene in Oz, when the wizard is helping the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. He tells them that they already had the gifts they were looking for, but it was as though they didn't have those gifts because they didn't evidence them. Once they have claimed and demonstrated their gifts in their journey to help Dorothy, they are given tokens that reaffirm their possession and use of the gifts. The wizard tells the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man in turn that they already have what they were looking for, "But there's one thing they have that you don't have," and presents them with a token marking their gifts based upon their actions. Perhaps what James is trying to say is, "Where I come from, there are people who all day long do nothing but faithful things. Those people are called Christians. You are like them, but there's one thing they have that you don't have: evidence. So, in honor of your acts of faith in Jesus Christ, these are acts of piety and grace. Do them, and all the world will know you have faith.

3) Someone, somewhere needs to invent a neuter personal pronoun for the English language. She and he both imply gender, and it objectifies. This leaves me with no adequate pronouns for describing my as-yet-unborn niece or nephew or God. It leaves me at a loss for words more often than I'd care to mention. If a new pronoun is not added soon, I'll have to think of my own. I'm leaning toward "teb", but I'm also taking suggestions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flashback

Two weeks ago, I decided that fall had arrived. I turned off the air conditioning, threw open the windows, and breathed in the crisp air of an autumn evening. For the last fourteen days, I've smiled smugly to myself, thinking about how green I've been and how much I must be saving on my energy bills. But the summer decided to return for a last laugh, and tonight I found myself sprawled on top of the sheets, with the comforter thrown aside, still too warm to sleep.

Suddenly, the heat and the sleeplessness cast me into memory. I remembered other nights of temperature-induced insomnia; at my grandparents' house, at age nine, lying as still as I could, listening to the cicadas chirp and the frogs sing, and willing a cool mountain breeze to wake the air from its steamy stupor. After 60 Minutes, Murder She Wrote, and a bowl of ice cream, I'd be sent to bed. And as much as I wanted to be obedient and just go to sleep, the doldrums of hot air prevented me from sailing off into slumber. So I'd stare at the ceiling, straining my ears for the chiming of the grandmother clock, the whooshes of passing cars, and the faint murmur of Granddaddy watching TV in the basement.

In the stillness, it almost seems possible that tomorrow I'll wake up to the smell of blueberry muffins and bacon, nine years old again. I almost feel like tomorrow I'll go swimming, play Scrabble with Grandmother, eat fresh blueberries, and fall asleep waiting for the thunderstorm to cross over the mountains and bring cooler temperatures through the screened windows.

But here no grandmother clock chimes on the quarter-hours, and I'll wake up tomorrow to an alarm instead of the smell of bacon. Tonight i miss being nine.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reflections on a Quarter-Century

I turned twenty-five today. It's a bit strange, because I feel simultaneously very old and very young. A part of me is shocked that I've now crossed the very last threshold of "now you're old enough to do everything," and is amazed that I'm really that old. Another part of me can't believe that, with all the stuff I do every day, and the average age of the people I work with and for, I'm only just now turning 25. It seems as though most other people my age are either a) established, married, and thinking about a family, or b) in school or recently finished and out partying it up every weekend. I am neither of those--a fact which surprises even me.

Ten years ago, I would never have envisioned myself here at this point in my life. In fact, ten years ago, I thought that at 25 I'd be working for a newspaper, probably out west somewhere. I thought I'd be married, living with my spouse in an apartment or first house. I thought I'd have a dog and dishes that weren't from my parents' house in the seventies. Fifteen-year-old me would never have imagined I'd be a pastor or that I'd be single.

On the other hand, I've done some incredible things that I never would have dreamed I could have done. I finished not just my a bachelor's degree, but also a masters. I got to study in South Africa, do mission work in Peru and Brazil, and travel in the Middle East. I've driven halfway across the country by myself, lived in four different states, and flown halfway around the world. I've been with people when they've died, officiated at funerals, presided over communion, and tomorrow I'll baptize someone. I've been blessed with incredible opportunities and wonderful friendships.

My first quarter-century has not been what I expected. But I have loved it. Not every minute, of course, but a lot of it. And I refuse to regret any of it, because I do not have a long enough view to make that kind of judgement. Everything that has happened thus far has made me who I am and brought me to this place in my life. And I like who I am and where I find myself, so I cannot regret the things that brought me here. I have been given opportunities, and I have made choices, and so far I am pleased with the outcomes.

At twenty-five, with probably sixty more years of life ahead of me, I simply hope that at the end of that time I will have the same attitude: thankful for the blessings, and glad to be who and where I am.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Observations from Week...10-ish?

1) As a pastor, I am a member of both the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Men. I even played around with that this week by attending the UMM meeting and being the only female in the room. I find the gender identity label play in that fascinating. (Did you think I'd just put my thesis on the shelf and leave it there? HA!) Does that mean that clergy are without gender by virtue of our position? That being "clergy", wearing a robe and taking on that identity disclaims us from a gendered identity? Or is it some sort of transcendence of gender, where being clergy means we are not limited to one or the other side of the artificial gender binary that the system of UMM/UMW assumes? The likelihood is that I'm overanalyzing what was designed to simplify the organization of the church, but I still think it's interesting to consider.

2) I fixed the wobbly-Britney-Spears-microphone problem thanks to the advice of theater guru and all-around-cool-person Colleen. I learned to avoid the robe-tripping problem by wearing my white robe, which is hemmed to be shorter than the black one. Impromptu speaking, however, remains a skill that eludes me.

3) At the end of my 12-hour-day today, I knew that my brain would go into catch-up reprocessing mode as soon as I went back to my apartment. I didn't want to face that right away, so I went to distractionville: Buffalo Wild Wings on game day when I knew that the local team was playing. I nibbled on wings, sipped my water, and basked in a room so noisy and full of television screens and action that it was impossible to hear my own thoughts. I couldn't get sucked into thinking about my to do list for the next day, evaluating myself on the day's activities, or thinking about the busyness of the fall schedule. For a few minutes, I shut my brain off and enjoyed the distractions of three football games at once, the shouts and jeers of excited (if slightly inebriated) fans, and the sharp scent of buffalo wings. Only after that respite did I head back out into the evening air and allow advance planning for the next day to creep back into my consciousness.

4) The youth had a dunk tank for their kick-off event. I avoided becoming a victim of the contraption using the excuse of dry-clean only pants. I never thought I'd say this, but I was saved by the suit.

5) The acolytes at the church are mostly middle-school students, so I often notice that they are wearing shorts and flip-flops or jeans and sneakers beneath their black robes. I love it. I love that they're comfortable enough in the church that they don't feel like they have to dress up to be there. I love that they come to serve as they are. And I love the symbolic blending of the inside-the-church sacredness of robes and the sacred ordinariness of the clothing the youth wear every day.

6) I am consistently impressed by the way the people of the church use their gifts to serve in many, many ways, often without people noticing or commending them. I'm working to find a way to celebrate that more often in the church, but in the meantime, I continue to take note of them, thanking God for them in my heart.

7) I haven't exactly found a rhythm to church life, but I have found a sort of tide. There's an ebb and flow to the weeks, and to the month. While Sunday is not the most important day of the week, it is often the busiest, so there is a sort of buildup, starting with midday on Tuesday, as Sunday approaches. Monday morning seems to be a day of tying up the previous week's loose ends and setting the first steps for the new week, and things are *usually* calmer on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Likewise, the first week of the month is usually the most hectic, with meetings almost every night. In the second week things begin to slow down. The third week starts a little busy, but usually lulls toward the end, and the fourth week is most often quiet, as the calm before the storm of another first-week-of-the-month. Of course, the tides aren't constant enough to be relied upon, but at least some semblance of a pattern is emerging for me. It helps to give hope when, after the insanity of the first-week, I know I can look forward to the calm of the fourth-week. However, I'm pretty sure that the liturgical seasons that overlap that schedule will change it around. Advent, for instance, is three weeks of building up to the fourth week of the month. It's not routine, but routine would probably be boring, anyway.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

An Offering

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. I could blame this on the distractions of my senior pastor going on vacation, the visits of multiple family members, and a police standoff/shooting in my apartment complex, but those aren't the reasons. In fact, I've sat in front of this computer screen several times in the last few weeks and typed half-posts, but I kept losing the thread of my thoughts halfway through. All of the thoughts seemed half-formed, and I couldn't seem to draw them together coherently.

I'm still struggling, so instead of offering you my half-formed thoughts tonight, I'll share with you a written gift that was given to me today.

Since my birthday is coming up, two of my friends, fellow-clergy who share my love of clergy and theology, brought a feast to my apartment. They gave me things to set my table (placemats, cloth napkins with napkin rings, and a vase of flowers) and brought a delicious meal. Then, as we sat down to our feast, my friends produced a liturgy, which we read aloud together. It touched my heart with its humor, creativity, and kindness. I hope it does the same for you.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right and a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you,
Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, Lauren, and new friendships.
You formed us in your image, breathed into Lauren the breath of life 25 years ago,
and in-spired a new generation of clergywomen con-spiring in re-creation.
When people of the church turn away, pointing to God "over there",
when Jack Lemmon fails,
your love remains steadfast, right "here" at work in us, through us and the world.
You delivered Lauren from the captivity of licensing school,
made covenant to be her God, God of the kazoo and yoyo.
You sent her to breathe in the good air of this place,
blow bubbles in the traffic,
a prophet preaching to stuffed animals and the people of the south side,
until justice and righteousness flow down like the hem of her bridesmaid dress.

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ.
Your Spirit anointed him to preaching a "wonderland" to those living in "cardboard,"
to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind
(without a Britney Spears microphone),
to make toasts at wedding suppers, to suffer the heat of festivals,
to shake hands of Galileans and Pharisees,
and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people,
all while leaving his cell phone and calendar at home.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and drank coffee with sinners.
By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to your church,
delivered us from slavery to sin and death,
and made with us a new covenant from the bath water of the Spirit.
When the Lord Jesus ascended into the "mystery divine," "hanging out" in the colors of a sunset sky,
he promised to be with us always in the power of your Word and Holy Spirit.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you,
broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said: "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples,
and said: "Drink from this, all of you: this is my blood of the new covenant,
poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
And so, in remembrance of these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving,
as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, Lauren, Sarah, and Amy,
and on these gifts and on this life birthed, raised to new life, and coming into the Kingdom.
Make these gifts of table and the gift of new friends be for
breaking bread, dining with the Risen Savior of the Galaxy,
opening our eyes to traveling new roads.
"Spirit show up," make us one with Christ, one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory,
and we sit picnicking by the waters of life in eternal sabbath.
Through your son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not Back to School

My new favorite coffee shop is full of 19-ish-year-olds. The facebook news feed from my undergraduate alma mater is announcing the official welcome activities for incoming freshman. Hordes of elementary school children are storming Staples, Office Depot, Target and *disapproving scowl* Wal-Mart in search of crayons, safety scissors, pens, pencils, and notebooks. The television ads have changed from bright sunshine, swimwear-clad individuals, and beach images to brilliant fall leaves, tweens in backpacks, and announcements of Labor Day sales. The youth at the church are talking about new classes and band camp. It's back-to-school time and, for the first time in two decades, I'm not a part of it.

I have no clear memories of a time when I wasn't in school. That is, perhaps, because the last time I wasn't in school was when I was three. At the time, I was very upset that this whole "school" thing was forcing me to miss my morning Sesame Street fix. In retrospect, it was a very reasonable concern, as I haven't seen a full episode of Sesame Street since then. But I digress.

All summer as I've gone to work each day, it has felt a bit like a summer internship. Even with all the responsibilities I have, even though it's full-time work, even though a lot of what I do is preparing for future programs and events that will take place through the fall and into the new year, it has still felt as though, eventually, this work would be wrapping up and I'd be returning to school. As much as I've tried to adopt the mantra, "I'm a pastor now. This is my vocation. I'm going to be here for a while," it hasn't fully sunk into my identity just yet. I still feel like I should be purchasing new notebooks and pens, picking out my first-day-of-school-outfit, going over and over my class schedule, and doing my annual new-school-year panic. After all, that's what I've been doing every autumn for as long as I can remember.

Instead, this fall I'm adopting new traditions. I'm focusing on New Member Sunday instead of new school supplies. I'm wearing my new white robe instead of my first-day-of-school outfit. I got a library card instead of a new class schedule. I'm panicking about being the substitute Big Kahuna while the lead pastor is on vacation instead of panicking about the new school year. But before the back-to-school sales end, I'll probably buy a new pack of multi-colored pens; I don't want to get whiplash from the transition.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pastor in the Tub

As a pastor, one of the things I am supposed to do is study. I'm supposed to study theology, the Bible, read devotions, and have an active spiritual life. I attempt to do this, though, admittedly, I'm more successful some times than others. Most people assume that these activities are a morning discipline, when the pious people of the world wake up at the crack of dawn and go to their prayer closet for an hour of silent reflection, or sit at the table with a bible, a book, and a cup of coffee. Pastors are probably supposed to do this in our offices or studies. But those aren't places or times for me. I would prefer, if I could, to wake up at the crack of noon, which makes devotions early in the morning a struggle, and I can't seem to get into my spiritual zone in my office. So I study theology and Scripture in coffee shops, and do prayer and meditation in my bathtub with a book by Anne Lamott. As odd as it sounds, those are places where I engage best with God.

And that is fine with me, because God is there, too. I see one of my main roles as a pastor to be helping the people around me to recognize the presence of God. I imagine myself standing among the people, periodically pointing around me, saying eagerly, "Look! Do you see it? It's God, right over there!" In the mundane, extraordinary, hectic, calm, joyful, tragic, broken, healing, sinful, redeeming, cacophonous, quiet, love-filled, lonely, difficult, ugly, and beautiful moments of our lives, I want to be announcing, "Look! Right here! It's the Spirit at work!" In the midst of sales pitches, funeral dirges, news reports, and music of our everyday lives, I want to be whispering, "Did you hear that? The voice of Christ?" I believe that as I point toward God, everyone around me will start pointing, too, but in different directions, seeing God all around us, showing God's presence to even more people.

I'm re-reading The Little Prince, and I'm amazed at how I feel myself resonating with the title character. He finds himself suddenly on earth, trying to explain to a grown-up, that in a picture of a box, there is a sheep going to sleep. He sees things that others can't, and doesn't allow others' skepticism to diminish his confidence that those things are real and present. He's pointing to the reality that the grown-ups miss. But The Little Prince is not alone. The author, despite his age, also sees what the prince sees, and carries on the prince's legacy by sharing his story with readers. And so understanding grows. Perhaps that's what evangelism should be.

The Evangelism committee at my church sees it, too. Before I arrived, they ordered the creation of signs that ask, "Where have you seen God today?" The signs are in random locations in the church, stuck on the tops of doorframes with magnets. So as we pass through the church, we are reminded to look around us for the presence of God and to cry out, "Look! There! It's God with us!"

My very wise preaching professor emphasized this sort of observation, too. He taught me that one of the main roles of the preacher is to be on the lookout for things in the world that connect the words of Scripture to the world in which we live. He encouraged us to write down things that caught our eyes, ears, and hearts, and to keep a box of these observations, which we could sift through when writing sermons. I don't have a box, but I have a space, right here, where I can write things down.

- You cannot spill water in a bathtub. It's not possible. Sure, the water can run over the rim of your glass, it can pour on you or into the water around you, but it can't spill. It doesn't stain, dye surfaces, or leave a water mark. The moisture isn't a nuisance, and there are absolutely no consequences if it dribbles down your chin. It's beautiful. But sometime you have to get out of the tub, and you cannot live on just water, you have to consume messier things. I'm sure there's a metaphor here, or some sort of connection to something, but I'm not there yet.

- As I was enjoying my burrito in the airport the other day, I was watching two small children, probably ages three-ish and two-ish, playing nearby. They were playing as children do, testing to see how far they could wander from their mother before she called them back, gazing at the faces of strangers and trying to decide what their meaning might be, when their father returned with lunch. The family unpacked their food, and the kids settled on the floor to eat. Before the three-ish boy would eat his lunch, he chanted what was clearly the family meal prayer. It was a simple, four line grace, with a gentle rhyming pattern, and he said it in a singsong way, as though it were a limerick or a stadium chant. He didn't stop there, either. He repeated it several times, all the while with his food sitting before him, until his mother finally told him he needed to stop talking and eat. Were the words heartfelt or habit? Did he repeat it out of excitement, or just to get his mother's acknowledgement of his devotion? I'm still pondering.

-On airplanes humans are at our most sheep-like. We are herded by the announcements of airline employees and the instructions of flight attendants. If our flight is moved to another gate, we move obediently in a flock across the airport, guided by our airline shepherds. We are, for the most part, docile and quiet. We go where we are told, do what we are told, and move together, even though we usually don't know one another. In a way, it's beautiful. On the other hand, we are a mass of humanity, with at least our shared travel in common, and yet we usually don't engage in any sort of community. We sit together, but don't converse. We go the same place, but with our own reasons and with little to no interest in the reasons of others. In that way we are a terrible example of community; we don't support one another, we simply gather for an event and leave again, without ever really connecting. I feel like there's an ecclesiology metaphor in this somewhere, but I can't quite nail it down.

What Didn't Make the Toast

There, in the white dress, is the girl who stood up for me to the bully at the babysitter's house in kindergarten. That's the girl who helped me survive the bugs, homesickness, heat, and long, dark, nighttime walks to the outhouse at Girl Scout Camp. She's the one who taught me to wear makeup and to curl my hair for showchoir, the one who helped me when I forgot my dance steps or the dance briefs to wear under my dress.

Under that veil is my doubles partner, who covered the backhand side of the court, talked me down when my serves were off, yelled "Alons-y!" to get ready for the match, and cried with me when we lost our last match and were eliminated at sectionals our senior year. She's my study buddy: I corrected her spelling and she checked my equations, we stayed up late working on group projects and homework. We giggled together backstage during musicals, drilled each other on lines for our plays, and whispered answers to one another during quiz bowl matches. And even though we've lived in different places for seven years now, we're still close. We still call each other after rough days and to share giggles.

Congratulations, best friend. You've grown up beautifully, and I'm happy for you, Mrs.

But remember, he's your partner in life, but I'm still be your partner in tennis and in mischief.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Above the Clouds

When I was eleven I took my camera on an airplane for the first time. I spent almost an entire roll of film trying to capture the view of the sky from above. I was mesmerized by the way the clouds appeared to be solid, as though I could step out of the plane and walk on them. I loved the way the light played on the clouds, turning them alternately white, pink, orange, blue, and gray.

I was thinking about that today as I soared above the clouds at sunset, and pondering why it is that people often imagine that God lives in that space high in the sky above and among the clouds. I think we like the image of God above us, with an unlimited panoramic view, ever watching over us and watching out for us. But I think there's more to it than that. When God feels distant, it seems logical that God lives in some remote place that we can't really reach. And, while we can access that space now with the help of aircraft, we cannot be there without special equipment, and we certainly can't remain there for any great length of time. That means that imagining God in the sky adds to the mystery of the divine. The light is somehow different there; whether the brilliance of the sun, the soft glow of the moon, or the tiny pinpricks of stars, the light is never obscured-divine light is always shining. It is an inaccessible wonderland of mystical, ethereal beauty, so it seems the ideal place to imagine for God's home.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that God is a limited being who exists far up in the sky gazing down on us. I believe in an incarnate and ever-present God who is with us where we are. But I can see why God might want to hang out up there, too, and I can understand why we imagine God living in such a beautiful, mysterious place. I'd like to live there, too, if I could.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Six Observations from Week Six

1) I went to a conference last week for a ministry that I'm working with at my new church. I believe in the ministry, and I plan to support it in every way that I can. However, at the conference I was continually stuck in the tension between wanting to support the ministry and being disgusted by the sales-orientation of the whole thing. I understand that the ministry is trying to equip people to run the program, but I felt like I was sitting through endless infomercials for leadership books and extra programs. I hated the corporate, consumer tone. I was torn. Are they providing necessary equipment for ministry? Or are they like the money-changers in the temple, exploiting devout people to make a profit under the guise of serving God?

2) A very elderly widower proposed to me before our first service on Sunday. I said that I hadn't known him long enough to marry him. Why does this sort of thing always happen?

3) Someone asked me the other week, "What is it that you do all day?" The best answer I can come up with, on further reflection, is that I do what needs to be done. Each day I walk into the office and, like Forrest Gump on the bus to boot camp, "I don't know who I might meet, or what they might ask." I don't know if I'll be doing paperwork and administrative stuff in the office, planning worship, visiting in the hospital, or talking with people who come to the church. No two days are alike.

4) In some ways I get more out of worship services when I'm leading than I do when I'm simply attending. Yes, I'm not distracted by the nerves and my inner attitude is calmer when I'm not in leadership. On the other hand, when I'm leading, when I'm in charge of prayers and things other than the sermon, I listen very carefully to the words of the hymns, the sermon, and the anthem to provide transitions and connections that tie the whole service together. I hear the words and messages more distinctly because I'm more alert.

5) I rely on my friends and colleagues in the ministry, even more than I anticipated. I was counting on being able to call my friends to commiserate and stave off isolation, but I never realized how much it would feed my soul and aid my ministry to have clergy friends. When I went to the conference, I got together with a clergy friend who lives in the area near the conference, and it was amazing to hear about the things he's doing in his ministry, to get ideas and energy from hearing his stories. I returned to two pieces of mail, both from friends in ministry that I hadn't even met three months ago, who had reached out to encourage me. They are friends I can call for advice about work and commiseration about social life or lack thereof. They're people who inspire me, whose company I love. What a blessing there is in collegiality.

6) Living in an unfamiliar city without benefit of roommate means I'm struggling to find things to do with my end-of-the-day energy. On the one hand, it's slightly sad. On the other hand, I'm getting caught up on my crime shows, keeping up via phone with my faraway friends, and getting to know the inside of the workout room better than I have in years. The self-care and wellness people should be proud.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It Wasn't Me

I preached for the first time at my new church a few weeks ago. I received a lot of positive feedback, and even today someone told me how much they enjoyed the sermon, and how I didn't seem nervous at all. So, I'm having trouble finding a way to tell all these people that IT WASN'T ME.

I don't really preach. I can't. I dropped classes in college to avoid public speaking. I HATE public speaking. I got so nervous just giving the toast at my friends' wedding a few weeks ago that my hand and the glass it held were visibly shaking. If it were up to me, I could never, ever do it. But something happens when I lead worship. The Spirit overtakes my nerves; my hands steady and my voice becomes clear. That's not to say that I'm not nervous. I'm really, really nervous. But I stand up there anyway, and God shows up.

I preached for the first time when I was in college. I did a planned dialogue with a friend from the Wesley foundation during our Wesley on Wheels worship at a church we were visiting. As I walked to the church that morning, I threw up in the bushes because the nerves had my stomach so upset. But when I started speaking in the sanctuary, I was OK. And it happens every time. I'm nervous. My hands sometimes shake. I still occasionally get nauseous as I sit waiting for the service to start. But as the hymns and prayers begin, someone else takes over.

I'm sure that the physiological explanation has something to do with adrenaline overcoming anxiety or some such thing, but I'm pretty sure it's bigger than that. Without God, I couldn't and wouldn't do this. I'd have a nice cubicle or copy desk job where I'd never have to stand in front of more than eight people at once. But God dreamed something bigger and equipped me to do it. So each week I stand in front of a congregation and trust that the Spirit will show up again this week and speak through me. And I am in awe because God keeps showing up.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spontaneous Sabbath

I got up this morning to the sound of my phone ringing. I know that the idiom I should have used there is "I woke up this morning," but that wouldn't be strictly true, since I was doing my weekly Saturday-morning-snooze-button-marathon when the phone rang. My sister replied to my groggy greeting with an offer to spend the day with her. Until recently, this wouldn't have been possible, but my recent move put us within 3 hours of one another. So I put off my to-do list of errands and Sunday preparations, packed my cooler, and hopped in my car.

We spent the afternoon picnicking, wandering around a state park, and talking. As we chatted, I was reminded of the amazing thing about my relationship with my sister: despite being polar opposites in political belief, disagreeing about theology, and having very different lives, we've managed to remain really close. While we sat on a bench watching the water, I was more relaxed than I've been in months, even with Sunday responsibilities hanging over my head.

But, as always, the sabbath didn't last. Between a minor fender-bender on the way there, and the never-ending game of Red Light/Green Light that is interstate driving on the east coast, I was reminded that such respites are Kairos within Chronos, holy times woven into the everyday insanity. At least sabbath returns us rested to our ordinary busyness.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wedding Liturgy

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be witness to the marriage of two of my close friends. Both the bride and the groom were my seminary classmates, people with whom I had shared late night theological discussions, study sessions, and celebrations. They are both intelligent, wise, funny, and dedicated to serving God. They had specially designed their wedding service with hymns about the love of God, Old Testament and New Testament readings, and communion. I have watched their relationship from the beginning, and I really believe that being together strengthens and builds up both of them, so that they are not only more in love with each other, but also more able to love God. And their first act after saying their wedding vows was to take the bread and the cup, serve one another communion, and then serve the body and blood of Christ to their closest family and friends. Standing there in the midst of that love, observing the beauty of a covenant made in love, even my tough heart almost succumbed to tears of joy.

It wasn't the only time of the weekend when I nearly cried, but the other times had less to do with beauty and more to do with the absolute hilarity that ensues when my friends get together. The wedding brought together almost all of my closest friends from seminary, and we lived up every minute together. We talked, joked, and laughed until our abdominal muscles were sore and tears streamed down our faces. It reminded me, yet again, that I have been incredibly blessed to have been brought together with these people. Who else could give a toast that was so laden with double-entendres that the groom laughed himself to tears? Who else could make spending six hours in an airport into a thoroughly enjoyable experience? Who else could make someplace as strange as the "Heart of Texas Motel" seem like home? I love these people.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Prepared for Class

When I was in high school, the teachers made a big deal about being "prepared for class." They insisted that this was a life skill that we needed to work on, something that, if we didn't do it, would have fatal consequences. Today, I proved them wrong. I forgot both my cell phone and my calendar when leaving for the office. But, even without my to do list, my phone numbers, and my GPS, I managed to have a productive day. Of course, it was incredibly inconvenient. But I proved my teachers' dire warnings wrong. That brings me to a new challenge: disproving all of those very serious warnings my teachers insisted upon. Which of my teachers' dire warnings should I try to disprove next?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

First Sunday

Today was my first Sunday as a provisional elder. I arrived at the church early and, with the help of my lead pastor and the sound guy, got all wired and robed up in time for our early service. During the service, the congregation welcomed me through the liturgy for the celebration of an appointment, and I had the opportunity to lead the people in prayer and help preside over communion. I even got to do the epiclesis and fraction during the communion liturgy, which was both powerful and humbling. After the first service I met what felt like hundreds of people and talked with them over a reception. Then, with fewer nerves the second time around, I served in the 11:00 service as well.

My new church gives a very good first impression. So far, they seem very friendly and kind. Nearly everyone I met greeted me with a smile, a kind word, or an offer of help, should I need it. And most of them seemed to realize that, as hard as I might try, there was no way I would be able to remember all of their names.

A few observations:

I never know quite what to do with handshakes. There are people who hang onto your hand for a full minute or two, throughout the time you're talking with them. There are those who, after grasping your hand for barely a second, drop it immediately, as though you have cooties. You seem creepy if you hang onto the hand of a grab-and-drop person longer than they hold onto yours, but you also seem cold and antisocial if you try to let go of the hands of the hang-on-forever people. But at least at my new church, no one gave me the dead fish handshake!

The church also has the sort of headset mikes that remind me of Britney Spears. The problem with this, though, is that I have small and slightly misshapen ears, so the headset doesn't stay on quite right. I've bent the earpiece in a very strange manner, and it still wobbles in a disconcerting way. I was nervous the whole morning that my headset would fall off and make loud screeching noises out of all of the speakers.

I need to get my robe hemmed. Soon. I stepped on the edge of my robe twice today, and I was just lucky that it didn't happen while I was carrying the elements up and down the stairs from the altar table. I'd had nightmares all yesterday that I might trip on the hem of my robe and fall down, or knock the communion elements off the table accidentally. On the upside, with those alternatives in mind, the worship seemed much better by comparison!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tomorrow

"Tomorrow is it, ya know? It's my first day of really working full-time. It is my first day of being capital-G, capital-U Grown Up. And that's weird. And scary," I told my mother, as I packed my cap gun, plastic recorder, kazoo, and yo-yo into a cardboard box. "What if I turn into one of those really serious adults who forgets how to play?"

So, instead of adding my marbles to the box with the rest of my goof-off materials, which are destined for a dusty spot in the back of my closet, I put them in a jar and placed them on my dresser. That way, when I wake up tomorrow morning, before I leave for my first day of work, I'll see them and remember that, while I do serious service all day, I still know how to play. And tomorrow I'll put a bottle of bubbles in my car. Because you never know when you'll be stuck in traffic and need a little floating pick-me-up to share with your comrades-in-vehicles.

While tomorrow is in some ways an official turning point, I have a feeling it'll be a lot like today. I'll wake up, pack paper and pens and a lunch, and drive away. I'll go out into the world, and spend the day loving, serving, learning, talking, praying, and working. At the end of the day I'll come home, play and talk with the people I love, and sleep.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cardboard Wonderland

Bubble wrap pops, are you listenin'?
Out my door, heat is blisterin'.
A frightening sight,
Dust sparkling in light,
Packing in a cardboard wonderland.

Holes in walls, what to do now?
Carpet stained, dare I ask how?
A rolling desk chair,
A sock with no pair
Packing in a cardboard wonderland.

In my new place I won't have this clutter
All my stuff will magically belong
At least that's what I to my father mutter
And hope and pray I'm not completely wrong.

Every corner filled with boxes
And the crowding is obnoxious.
A truck full of stuff,
And it's still not enough
My car looks like my closet sprouted wheels.

This is mad, all this packing
And there's no time for slacking
Just throw it in there
I don't really care,
Packing in a cardboard wonderland.

Later on, I'll unpack this
And I'll wonder where my hat is.
I'll seek unafraid
In the boxes I've made
Packing in a cardboard wonderland.
Packing in a cardboard wonderland!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Commissioned

This week I attend Annual Conference for the first time in my new conference. I met tons of people, sat through a lot of sessions, and ate several banquets. The experience was surprisingly fun; almost everyone I met was warm and welcoming. Despite some troubling comments during the discussions of legislation, Conference confirmed for me that I am in the right place for my ministry.

On Monday night, I put on my robe, filed onto the platform at Annual Conference alongside my colleagues, and knelt for commissioning. When my turn came, the Bishop and one of my mentors laid their hands on my head, and my mom stood behind me with her hands on my shoulders, and the Bishop prayed for my ministry. My family and the people from the conference who have guided and supported me in the process stood in support. Then the bishop officially commissioned us for ministry. My parents cried. I tried to look serene in light of the somber occasion, but I ended up grinning. As intimidating as these first steps are, I'm joyful.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

RIP Jack

Jack Lemmon, 1995-2009
F.L.Y Car and Traveling Companion

I got the bad news on Saturday morning. The mechanic called and said that the transmission in my 14-year-old Buick needed to be replaced. I didn't have time to get it repaired, and it seemed silly to pay for a repair that cost three times the value of the car. So, I made a very difficult decision: I took a deep breath and told the service people not to bother with the repair. Then I went to buy another car. So, in memory of Jack, I offer this tribute.

Jack was as faithful a traveling companion as a girl could ask for. He came into my life as I graduated from high school, the last legacy of my beloved neighbors. After Harold passed away, and his wife, Betsy, went to live in a retirement community permanently, their daughter decided to give me their car, rather than keep it. So, at seventeen, Jack gave me the independence that every seventeen-year-old girl dreams of. It wasn't exactly the car I'd dreamed of, and I referred to it as a Fogeymobile Land Yacht (F.L.Y. car), but it was a free vehicle when I had none.

Times were not always smooth with Jack. In our first year together, Jack's transmission gave out and the electrical system blew. As a result, Jack gained a last name: Lemmon. The car was christened Jack Lemmon; as a car that was designed for older adults, I named it after an older actor.

On one of my trips back from school, his muffler let go. When I stopped the car at 10:30pm and found that the muffler was dragging against one of my rear tires, I was forced to simply take the muffler off completely, stash it in my trunk, and continue on my way. I felt very independent and empowered.

But perhaps the strangest Jack incident was when I went to pick up my sister at the airport, and Jack decided that he would refuse to shut his back door. Something went wrong with the latch, and it simply would not close. After thirty minutes of struggling with the door, I was forced to grab the rope out of the trunk and tie the back doors together to keep them closed. But, other than a little whistling and extra ventilation in the car, it worked out reasonably well.

That always seemed to be the way it worked out with Jack. Things frequently went wrong, but nothing ever happened at a time when I couldn't deal with it. And Jack accompanied me on great adventures. We traveled all over the Midwest, east coast, and southeast. Jack carried me to and from school, on road trips and family vacations, and on endless errands.

Jack, thanks for the years of companionship and support. Thanks for helping me to learn independence, responsibility, and flexibility. Thanks for your dependability. I'll miss you, dear friend.