Monday, May 25, 2015


These last few days packing and moving has been a part of my work.  I have been sorting and packing books and cards and papers, deciding what to toss and what to save, trying to put things in boxes in at least a semi-organized manner.

Sometimes I stop to look, to read, to remember.  I stop before packing a book that I bought, but haven't read, and I think, "Maybe I will read it now."  I stop to look at a random photograph, a picture taken after a baptism, or during Vacation Bible School one year.  I stop in the middle of sorting a box of cards, to read a thank you note from a child:  "Thank you for helping me cut my pancakes."  I remember then, the "lunch with a pastor" rewards given to students for Sunday School attendance.

I have a lot of stuff.

I have a lot of children's books, I observe.  I did not get these in seminary.  I decide I am going to keep all of these, though they are heavy.  I also have most all of my seminary books still, and my notes.   have sermons.  I have lesson plans.  I have knick-knacks too.  What should I keep?

This is what happens in life.  You accumulate.  At least I do.  Some you accumulate on purpose, and some by accident, just because it goes into a corner and you don't think of it again for a long time.  And then, someday, you move and you consider the weight of all of that stuff.  What it means.  What it costs.  The memories held in the middle of the stuff.  There are different kinds of weights.

One piece of advice I got with regard to leaving my congregation:  Attend to the relationships.  Make time for people.  I think it is good advice.  But there is a hard deadline to be out of the office.

I would much rather be visiting people, talking to them on the phone, having coffee, than sorting stuff in my office.  I would much rather spend all of my time with people than with stuff, except for the time when I see some old confirmation student doodling and memories flood back in.

I wonder if, in the next leg of the journey, I can somehow design my life so that I can spend more time with people than with stuff.  I would like moving to be easier, to be able to pick out and pick up the most important stuff, even to know what it is, and then to spend more time with people, with the people I will leave, with the people I want to remember.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Sunday was Confirmation Day for eleven young people in my congregation.  It is just two weeks before my last Sunday as pastor here.

Because my time here is winding down, and because the pre-confirmation retreat was the same weekend that I had both a funeral and a wedding, I was not able to be with the confirmation students at their retreat.  I missed being a part of their day writing their faith statements, creating their banner, designing their worship service.

But on Sunday morning, I still got to be there, to be with them, to speak some words to them, to say their names, to witness their promises.

I saw them as they processed in together with their parents.  They each stopped in front of the baptismal font, where their parents marked them with the sign of the cross.  I saw tears.  And I felt tears.

Before the service, I was checking over parts with the other pastor, who was preaching.  I asked who was reading the lessons, and discovered that the parts were open.  I asked three of the confirmands if they would read, and they each said yes.

So, that morning, we heard so clearly and so passionately that for everything there is a season.  We heard that we were buried and raised with Christ in baptism, and now walk in newness of life.  We heard that we are light, and that our purpose is to shine.

The message that morning was about Kairos time -- not the same as the time on our watches, not chronological time, but the right time, the acceptable time, the time of opportunity.  "it is your time," he said to the confirmands.  "It is your time to serve, your time to follow Jesus, your time to say yes to the grace and beauty and love of God in your life."  Those aren't the exact words, but that is what I heard.

This is your time -- the right time, the acceptable time.  That's the message that the confirmands heard, but not just those eleven students.  Is it the right time for us as well?  Who is Jesus calling us to be?  How is Jesus calling us to follow?

In two weeks my time here in this congregation will finish.  I will not be their pastor any more.  I will go to be pastor in another place, to other people.  I will help them dream dreams, follow Jesus, grow in grace.  It is the right time.

At the close of the service, the eleven young people processed down the center aisle to the back of the church.  I followed them.  A woman in the back of the church, someone I didn't know, grabbed my arm.  This was her first time in our church, and she asked if I would pray for her, and for her mother, and for their relationship, and for all kinds of healing.  I asked her name, and her mother's name.  She told me.  We took each other's hands.  And there were tears.  She said, I'll be back.

In the meantime, I am here.  Here with the water and the word and the tears, and the names that I know, and the names of strangers.  Here where we pray and heal each other in the power and compassion of Jesus.  It is the right time.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Scenic Route

It seems like a long time ago now, but it was really only two or three weeks ago, on a Friday.  I had just gotten back from an overnight trip to another congregation in another state, where I met a lot of people and had conversations and ate dinner.  On Sunday morning, they would decide whether they wanted to call me as their pastor.

But that Friday morning, after traveling south and meeting the people and coming home again, I officiated at the memorial service for the son of a member of my congregation.  I didn't know his son well; he had lived in another state.  But I had known this man and his wife for many years.  They were old friends of my parents.  I used to bring his wife communion.  She had died two years earlier.

After the memorial service, and after the luncheon, a few members of the family drove up to the cemetery, on the north end of town.  It is the same cemetery where my Swedish grandparents are buried, although I haven't been out there in many years.  I rode with the father of the man who died and his daughter.  It was a beautiful afternoon.

After the committal service, we walked around the cemetery a little bit.  The family got me a map, so that I could come back and find my grandparents' graves, if I wanted to.  We walked around and talked about who was buried next to whom.

Then we got back in the car and headed home.

The daughter said to her father, "How should we get home, dad?  Which way should we go?"  She had lived away for many years, and genuinely needed directions.  Her father, sitting in the back seat, told her she should turn right instead of left.  He wanted to avoid the highway.

He's legally blind, but he's lived in this community all of his life, and he remembered exactly which roads to take.  He gave us directions all the way home,  around familiar parkways and through some of the beautiful city parks.  "Just keep going," he said, whenever his daughter asked a question.

We began to drive around some of my city's chain of lakes.  I hadn't driven by Cedar Lake since I was a child, when my parents would take us swimming there.  But there we were, and after that we drove around Lake of the Isles too.  We came to Lake Calhoun, and another of the beaches where I used to swim, as a child.  I took my first swimming lessons at one of those beaches.  I got an ear infection afterwards, too.  But I learned to float, so there's that.

I thought to myself that this was just the right thing to be doing this afternoon:  taking the scenic route, after the funeral.  I couldn't tell them that in a couple of months I might be moving away from the lakes and rivers and parks that had been my home for so many years.  I couldn't tell them that this just seemed like the right way to spend the afternoon.

I couldn't tell them why it was such a gift, taking the scenic route.

I have always thought that I was formed, at least in part, by this particular geography -- the city lakes.  I have been formed by the water, this particular water.  There's a great river that runs through my city,  but when I lived in Japan, I didn't particularly miss the Mississippi River.  I missed the lakes.

So we took the scenic route that day.  Because I wasn't driving, I could take time to notice things I never noticed, and to remember.  I could remember the earache and what it was like to learn to float.  I could remember picnics on the beach, and walks around the lake, and the time (when I was a young woman) that a single dad sent his two young daughters over to where I was sunbathing to ask me out (so long ago that was).

Most of the time, I confess, I do not take the scenic route.  I am anxious to get where I am going, and I am afraid that I will be late.  But every once in awhile, even during these past two weeks, I will take a small detour, and pay attention, and remember.  I will look at a picture, or some words on a page.  I will hear a few notes of music, or hold a construction paper heart in my hand, and for a moment, I will allow myself to float.  I will take the scenic route.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lessons from My Mother

I have learned a lot from my mom, although I haven't always been willing to admit it, especially during most of my adolescence.  Some of the lessons were small things, some were things she said, some were things she did.  Some things just snuck up on me.

1.  Don't sit in the balcony.  Sit on the main floor.
In church, we were not Front Row people.  My family were not the elders or the deacons.  But, we didn't sit in the balcony either, even when our church expanded and we had a balcony.  I thought that the balcony was very cool, and I wanted to sit there.  My mother told me, in no uncertain terms, that we were not sitting there.  "The balcony is for spectators, not participants."  That was her view.  In church, we may not have been the movers and shakers, but we were not spectators.  We were there to participate, not to watch.

2.  "You Should Not Care What I Think."
I used to ask my mother, "What do YOU think I should do?"  I was always looking for affirmation, which I don't think was a bad thing.  And, when I was younger, and sometimes she said to me, "You should not care what I think," sometimes it hurt my feelings.  I wanted her to be my cheerleader.  At first I didn't understand why she said it.  Now I think I do.  She wanted me to be my own person.  Growing up, she longed for compliments from her taciturn father.  She never got them.  I think she figured out somewhere along the line that he loved his children, even though he couldn't say it.  Because of that, she didn't want me to have to rely on anyone else's good will or good opinion, even hers.  

3.  Use what you have.
My mom loves music, just as an amateur, like my dad.  She got one year of piano lessons, but after that one year, she had to quit because the teacher raised her prices from a quarter to fifty cents.  But my mom kept buying sheet music, kept practicing, and kept trying to learning the songs that were popular when she was growing up.  We had a piano in the house, and reams of sheet music.  She and my dad would sit at the piano and sit and play and sing together.  When my widowed uncle got re-married one December, he asked me to officiate a small ceremony at the farmhouse.  He asked my mom to play a couple of Christmas carols.  She did.

4.  Who You Were Yesterday is Not Who You Are
My mother went back to college when I was in high school.  It took her a few years, because she was working full-time the whole time.  When I was in college, she would call sometimes with a question about a class she was taking.  She graduated with a degree in Business Administration.

My mom learned to hug when I left for Japan.  Our family had never been demonstrative before, but we all started to warm up to it.  We cry more often now, too.  She has moved from being a moderate Republican to becoming a pretty liberal democrat.  She reads and she thinks about things, and she has pretty strong opinions.

A few years ago, my mom asked for a Bible reference book for Christmas.  She started going to Bible studies and book studies.  She reads N.T. Wright and Brian McClaren.

5.  "Let People Say No For Themselves."
The first time I was elected to run the Sunday School at church, I had the unenviable responsibility of finding Sunday School teachers.  I was sitting at the kitchen table with the church directory in my lap.  I looked at my list of names, and checked off the first one without calling.  I said to my mom, "I know she will say no, so I won't call her."  She looked at me and said, "Let her say 'no' for herself."  So I called.  I don't remember if that particular person said yes or no.  But what I remember is having good conversations with everyone I called, whether they were eager to serve or whether they had good (or terrible) excuses for not being a Sunday School teacher.  I remember that I found out a little bit about other people's lives, learned to know them a bit more, sometimes got an unexpected 'yes'.  Even when the answer was no, the conversation and the connection was worth it.

When I was growing up, I think I was sometimes afraid of my mother.  My dad was the warm and fuzzy one.  My mom was smart, seemed omni-competent.  She sewed all of our clothes, made good suppers, and kept everyone organized.  She was a little shy, and I thought she was perfect, too perfect for me.  But then, every once in awhile, she would get down on the floor and play with the cat.  And I saw that she was more than my idea of her.  She was a person.  She is my mother, but she's not just my mother.

There are days when I think that this realization is her greatest gift to me.


"This might be the last time I take communion from you," someone said to me after worship on Sunday.  It made my heart jump, a little.

"We will be gone the next two weeks, so maybe I should say good-bye today," said someone else.

I have three more Sundays in worship, and one of them is Memorial Day weekend.  Everything seems to be moving very fast.  Sometimes I want it to go faster, and sometimes I want it to slow down.

In the meantime, there was a baptism on Sunday.  The baby was the child of a young woman I baptized, many years ago, when she was in eighth grade.  It was my first year as a pastor in this congregation.  I remember her well, how she was not self-conscious at all, but very poised and confident as she stood before the congregation at the late service that morning.

I remember the young woman who was her best friend, too.  They are still best friends, and she was one of the godparents for her friend's baby.  I saw them both there, and remembered that first year in confirmation class, the creative ideas I tried, some huge failures and others a modest success.  I remembered the chaos, kids bouncing off the walls, including these two best friends.

That year, for part of the confirmation lesson on Easter, I decided to tell the story, "The Tale of Three Trees."  I have always loved that story, and wanted to connect it with the Bible stories of the resurrection.  Besides, I do believe that I am good at telling stories.

So, I began.  And I thought that the confirmation students were listening, too.  Then, sometime in the middle of the story, I saw these two girls, these two best friends.  They were standing in the back of the crowded room, and they were swaying and doing hand motions.  My heart sank.  I thought that they were dis-respecting me.  I just tried to ignore them and kept going.

Later on, I talked to our youth and family director, expressing disappointment.  But, she had another view.  She said she thought that they were listening, that they were in fact engaged, and that they were standing there, acting out the story.

Acting out the story.

On Sunday, four Sundays before my last Sunday here in this congregation, I am sitting in worship, and I am remembering back so many years ago.  I am remembering a confirmation class, and best friends, and how they acted out the story.   I am remembering a young woman who stood at the baptismal font, and who leaned over with great gravity and allowed me to pour water over her head.  I am remembering every baptism, and I am remembering the confirmation students in their white robes and I am remembering those moments of chaos and clarity, the ways we have acted out the story.

And how this is the gift of worship, but also its challenge:  will our worship leave space to act out the story of God, which is our story too, by the grace of our baptism?

On Sunday, after the baptism, I got to take the baby in my arms and walk her up and down the aisle while we sang a lullaby.  And one thing I like to do is get the baby up really close to the people on the aisle, so that they can reach out and touch her if they want, or so that the baby can reach out and touch them too.

I can't help thinking that this is what we really want, what we really need, in worship:  to act out the story, where the story of God touches us.

On Sunday, I remembered.  I gave communion.  I held a baby.  I sang.  I acted out the story.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Destination, Not the Journey

So, I have been called to a new congregation, in a new city, in a new state, some distance away from the city and state where I live and serve right now.  I have a few weeks left in my current position, a handful of weeks of vacation (so to speak), and then I begin.

I begin to meet people and drive on roads I have never driven on before.  I begin to write new sermons and ask new questions and meet a community and probably get lost.

In the meantime, I am here.  I am calling moving companies and figuring out what will go first with me and what will go later.  I am getting pictures and imagining apartments and trying to make decisions.  I am making lists (fix car, get new glasses, close checking account).

And the lovely sentiment, "it's the journey, not the destination" occurs to me, except that on this occasion I do not consider it lovely.  I am not loving the journey.

I want to be there.  I want to be there, with the furniture all moved in and the washer and dryer hooked up and all of my books on the shelves and the vase from Japan in the entry.  I want to be there, meeting the children and reading them stories, going to the hospital, drinking sweet tea with a new friend, asking questions, finding a new road.

I want to be there.  And, I want to be here.  I want to be here, doing crossword puzzles and going to restaurants with my husband,  seeing my friends one more time, having coffee with my mother, going up to the Falls with my dog, getting left-handed knitting help at the shop that I love best.  I want to be here, making sure I notice the beauty that I have taken for granted, because I was always on the way somewhere.

Is this "journey, not the destination" thing in the Bible?  Oh, I know, there are a lot of journeys in the Bible, including those forty years in the wilderness, where the Israelites ate manna and quail and prepared to enter the promised land.  But the promised land WAS the point, wasn't it?  It was the destination, not the journey.

Or, maybe the wilderness was a destination too.

So, I breathe deeply (my new spiritual discipline) and try to be there, in the mess, in the lists and the packing and the coffee with friends, in the crossword puzzles and conversations:  here, there, and in between.

Monday, May 4, 2015

With or Without Thinking About It

Again, at the end of the day, I find myself in my car, sitting at the intersection where there is a sign, an unmistakable sign:  "Road Closed."  It has been this way for a month.  There are other routes home.  Every day I remind myself to take one of them.  I have only succeeded a handful of times.  Most days, without even thinking about it, I turn left out of the church parking lot and drive home the way I always have, for almost 17 years, until I hit the "Road Closed" sign.

The first couple of days the "Road Closed" sign appeared, I could drive around it.  The sign was up, they did not really mean it.  You could still drive on the road if you wanted to.

It is different now.  I can see the big equipment, the piles of broken-up road.  The road is definitely closed.  I do not know how long it will stay closed.

It is not that big a convenience to drive around it, but it is also true that there are other routes I could take home.  I could take them.  It would be easier, if I could remember, if I could think about it for just long enough to turn another direction out of the parking lot.  But, most days, I don't.  And then I find myself at the intersection with the "road closed" sign.  Why didn't I think about it earlier?  Why can't I change one small, simple habit?

This is one thing I think about while stopped at the "road closed" sign.  Then I turn, and drive down a few blocks, and return home by another way.  Another thing I think about is whether it really does much good to think about it, whether my actual problem is that I drive home without thinking about it.

There are other things I think about, too:  entrenched habits in ministry, in relationships, in life.  If only I could think about them a little bit more, I could change them.  Some of them, at least, could use changing.  I am tempted to believe that it is my thinking that is the problem, that thinking a little harder, or in a different way, that a new insight is the key to my salvation.  But I am not sure that thinking about them, or writing about them in my journal, or even getting an epiphany while I am sitting in my car will help.

Maybe what it really takes is a road closed sign.  Just the road closed sign, where I am forced to take the side roads, go home by an even slightly different route.  Maybe it's the action, not thinking about it. Maybe you don't think.  You just practice turning, turning around, because the road is closed and you have to go in a different direction.