Posted in God's Love, Ordinary Holiness

Was It Worth It?

It was worth it.

Every dollar.

Every minute.

Every drop of sweat.

Every late night.

Every early morning.

Every long line.

Every ounce of sunscreen.

It was all worth it.

Before leaving for the ELCA National Youth Gathering, I wondered on my blog about the cost of it all. Is the $1,000+ for each person a faithful use of the resources God has given us? I had decided that it was worth it, in part, because we who belong to small congregations need to feel how alive, enormous, and vital the Church is today. And while I know our kids will grow into adulthood and tell the story of growing up in a small ELCA congregation, I decided that the investment of all these dollars is faithful because at the Youth Gathering, they will learn to tell the story of growing up in a Church that serves and loves God and others in loud, brave, bright ways that change the world.

Because the youth group at Emmanuel, High Point is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, we attended the pre-Gathering event called MYLE (Multi-cultural Youth Leadership Event) that ran the three days prior to The Gathering the 31,000 attended. MYLE is smaller, maybe 700 of us, on the campus of the University of Houston for a few days of intentional unity, praise, play, and service. If I’m honest, it’s a few days where my kids of color aren’t (pretty much) the only people of color at an ELCA event. We are the “whitest” denomination in America. I don’t like writing that sentence; I can’t take pride in that. But, we need to say it out loud, and we really need to face it. And work to change it, to embody the kingdom.

Though our church body has work to do, I am proud to be a pastor in the ELCA. Part of that pride comes from getting to see the ways we are acknowledging our lack of diversity, confessing the sin of clinging to our own kind, and taking a seat while non-white people, some of whom speak many languages, take the lead. MYLE is one of those ways.

At MYLE, our Puerto Rican sisters and brothers brought vibrance and resilience to any room they entered. The Glocal Band made up of talented musicians from many lands and languages invited us in and showed us the way as we sang of God’s love in Swahili, Korean, Spanish, English, Kannada, and other tongues!

Each day, speakers would challenge us to imagine the world through the eyes of “the other.” And every speaker pointed to Christ as our freedom and unity, helping us see where we still have boundaries that need erasing. It seemed that each of my teenagers tucked in their pockets the words of different speakers because when we gathered at the close of each day to talk and pray together, each person had brought home different words and images from that day’s experience. Each one found courage for the task of self-examination and growth; some from a lyric, some from a speaker’s refrain, some on a service project, some in a small group.

One night, very late, there was this moment. I’ll let you eavesdrop on my precious group for a bit:

Teen 1: I saw lots of Wakanda Forever shirts today.

Teen 2: Wakanda Forever! (crosses arms over chest)

Teen 3: It’s whatever.

(We all kind of pause because something has changed in the room.)

Me: What’s up?

Teen 3 (born in Africa): It took a movie for everyone to figure out that Africa is beautiful and strong? It’s like, “Okay, we’ve been over there being beautiful and strong, and you looked past us. Now, there’s a movie, so you are looking at us?”

Teen 4: (slowly and quietly) That never occurred to me before.

Right there, at nearly midnight, in a small, gray dorm room with nine people perched on desks, beds, and chairs, sweaty from a very long Houston summer day, snacks and drinks everywhere…a boundary was erased. Okay, maybe it was simply seen for the very first time, but it was crystal clear that the heart of the one who saw something for the first time was looking around for his eraser. And the young woman who showed him the boundary felt seen.

It’s really all we can hope for! It’s the finest of Christian formation when something painful bubbles from one heart and is seen and heard as true by another…and confession falls from the lips of those who see and hear the pain…and hearts are changed…and lives are stitched together. And when all of that happens when the very next thing is the prayer prayed together at the close of the day, it is the holiest of moments, and the messy, smelly dorm room is the holiest of temples.

I have described MYLE as being spiritually expensive. Spending time attending to racial identity and reconciliation costs a lot of energy that is not easily replaced with a nap or a cup of coffee. The cost hangs around a while. MYLE was so packed with gorgeous, serious, funny, musical, brave, deep, and silly moments that by the time Wednesday came, and 30,000 of our closest friends were arriving for The Gathering, we were pretty tired. But, God had plans for our tired bodies and spirits, so we took naps, drank coffee, and pressed toward the stadium…where we received an I.V. infusion of the joy of 31,000 people who had been waiting for this holy party for three long years!

Now, I suppose I could write endlessly about The Gathering because the planners crafted a masterpiece of a Gathering. Each day was full of opportunities for worship, service, learning, play, music, and unity. And I’m sure some other blogger has written well about all of that.

So, let me tell you some of the words the speakers said that were like Velcro to my youth group, the words they brought back to the hotel with them for our late-night conversation and prayer. Each speaker had 10 minutes, and their speeches were packed with Christian hope, love, and light, but these are some of the words which have clung to the young people I love. I do hope I’m paraphrasing faithfully:

“We don’t have a hunger problem; we have a greed problem. There is enough.” Maria Rose Belding

“YOU are defiant hope in a broken world.” The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman

“You have a reason and purpose.” “Show up!” Joe Davis

“There’s grace for that.” Pr. Will Starkweather

“Your current situation is not your ultimate situation.” Pr. Nadia Bolz-Weber

“We are hope for the world. People need us!” Rebekah Bruesehoff

“I felt like the world was trying to break me, but one day my heart started to change.” Michaela Shelly

“If you can still feel, you have the strength to carve yourself into a new tomorrow.” Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton

“Am I willing to live for this?” Savanna Sullivan

Is there another setting where you can bring your youth group to hear people of varying ages, male, female, every-possible-shade-of-skin, immigrant, citizen, LGBTQIA, ordained pastors, poets, musicians, a terminally ill teen, and people recovering from addiction, eating disorders, and self-harm speak honestly about what they’ve been through…and point to Christ as their source of strength and healing, saying as plainly as possible that God’s call, hope, grace, and love change everything?

If you know another place to find all that, then you know of a rare and precious gem. Please tell us all where to find such a gift.

As for me and mine, we’ll start fundraising right away for our trip to Minneapolis in 2021. And in the meantime, we will continue to bear witness to God’s love and point to the cross of Christ – which changes everything!

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Truth for Lent

I have been very productive in my work lately. I’ve worked with a team to craft curriculum for a week of camp focused on prayer. I’ve crafted liturgies for our congregation’s anniversary and to use during Lent. I worked a 14-hour day on Sunday – doing some of the most beautiful things a girl could get to do.

I have been attentive to my need to learn new and complicated things lately. I took a six-week course on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Every Tuesday, I drove 90 minutes round trip to sit at the feet of excellent teachers and learn. And I’ve read a couple books about various saints of the Church.

I have been attentive to my needs for a social life lately. I threw a fun party with a pretty table setting for the meal and a table full of craft supplies for afterward. I saw a movie with some friends. I have two friends in some pretty solid crises, and I’m loving them over text messages and phone calls from far away.

I have been attentive to my need for exercise lately. I started working with an app on my phone that dictates a 7 minute workout, and I do it nearly every day. If you are thinking, “Seven minutes is not a lot.” I say this: 7 minutes is 100% more than zero minutes – and me using the word “daily” when it comes to exercise is quite new.

I have established some new ecologically friendly methods in my life lately. I use flannel squares I can toss in the wash – instead of cotton balls. I use a bar of shampoo – instead of liquid in another plastic bottle. I use handkerchiefs – instead of Kleenex most of the time. I’m using bar towels – instead of paper towels in the kitchen. It takes a bit more energy, but I’m learning to change some things.

Meanwhile,

  • The hairs on my chin grow wild.
  • The craft supplies are still on the table.
  • The sink seems to be birthing dirty dishes.
  • My car is so messy.
  • My desk upstairs has paperwork on it that likely has some overdue stuff lingering in the stack.
  • My ever-shedding dogs need brushing (again)!
  • The skin on my face has dry patches because I haven’t given it the regular moisture it needs.
  • Pretty sure I don’t want to know what is in some of those containers in my refrigerator.
  • I’m pretty sure the rain gutters are full or plugged somewhere.
  • And poop-scooping? Let’s just say I’m behind on that.

I really can’t do it all.

Or at least I can’t do it all …well.

During Lent, I’m trying to be very honest with myself about some things. Confessional, I’d call it.

Truth:

I am strong and capable, and I can do anything.

Truth:

I am distractable and do not live with a team anymore, which means I cannot do everything.

(Okay, you are maybe thinking: If you were had laser focus and lived with a family, you would still not be able to do everything. I think you are right, but I’m acknowledging some old and new truths, here.)

I’m not feeling self-deprecating, here. I’m not beating myself up or dripping with shame. I’m just listing some truths that God is revealing to me about…me (again).

It’s confessional in that I’m searching myself, acknowledging the things that nudge up against me and have the potential to scoop shame on my head, and saying them aloud.

It’s confessional in that I have responsibilities lingering in paperwork stacks and home repair/upkeep and pet ownership, and if I let them linger too long, people and animals could suffer.

It’s confessional in that, in my life, after confession comes forgiveness. And just now, writing that sentence and typing the word forgiveness caused me to take a deeper breath, offer this physical body of mine an extra dose of oxygen. Knowing, as I do, that after confession comes forgiveness means I’m safe. And when I feel safe, I really can do anything.

But seriously, even being safe (saved) doesn’t mean I can do everything.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Waste and Such

I really want to be one of those people who can put all her waste for the month in a small canning jar. I dream of shopping in zero-waste or nearly-zero-waste stores, y’know, schlepping my containers in there to buy the hemp soap and whole grains like barley and farro and fill my olive oil jar from the big drums with little spigots and perfect funnels. Those people are so crunchy granola, and I think they are awesome.

But, I don’t know what hemp soap is, actually.

And I buy barley and farro…and then I throw them away 3 years later because, well, because they are not rice, I suppose.

And I buy a giant bottle of olive oil at a ridiculously huge store that I love, love, love…and when I’m done with it, I recycle it.

See, I’d like to be a zero-waster, but it’s probably a good idea for me to just learn to waste less things. Like it would be super easy not to waste farro by throwing it away when it is farroancient and has made me feel weird every time I clean out the cupboards and find it in there…again. I could actually be honest with myself at the store and say, “Jennifer. You have bought farro twice. The first time was because that Italian couple on the Food Network was funny and clever, and they were cooking with farro, which they told you was super healthful for you (oh, they likely said it was healthy for you, but grammatically, that makes no sense, so…), so you Googled it, and they were super right. Farro is packed with healthful nutrients. So you bought it, cooked it, wished you liked it, but you didn’t, but you weren’t going to give up on it, so you put it away in the cupboard…until you threw it away years later. You bought it; you tried to like it; you threw it away. We are going to give you that wasteful move as a freebie – because you didn’t KNOW that you weren’t going to like it when you bought it. (Oh, you could have given it to someone who likes it, but you didn’t even try to find that person, mostly because you are not certain that Italian couple would take your calls…or your partly used bag of farro.)”

But the second time you bought it? (and waited a while) And threw it away? WASTE.

And the gluttony in your freezer that you don’t eat, gets freezer burned, and you throw it away? WASTE.

So, you see, there are one million ways I can reduce my waste without learning about hemp soap or whatever. And actually, I’m becoming more convicted that focusing on one small and fairly odd way to reduce my waste is, in fact, just a distraction from what I already know is true.

Sometimes I waste things (including money) because I don’t remember that I already bought them.

Shampoo is on sale.

Do I have a bottle in the cupboard?

I can’t remember, so probably not.

I’ll just get a bottle because it’s not like I don’t need shampoo.

It’s not a splurge or anything.

*sighs while shoving the new shampoo bottle in the crowded cupboard under the bathroom sink…next to the other 4 bottles of shampoo.*

I could put three bandages on my body every day for the next year…and still likely have some to share with you. Though I’m completely uncertain that you would like to use Rugrats Band-Aids which are for-the-most-part still sealed for sterile use. I’m pretty sure Sage picked those out in elementary school.

I have more Chapstick and Visine and aspirin than I can use in 5 years. Not because I feel like I need more, but because I do not have a real sense of what I have.

I. Have. That. Much.

So, last January, I started something new. Now, starting something new is nothing new for me. I am always trying a new system or pattern because I always feel scattered, and if just one part of a system or pattern will stick to me and help me out, it’s worth it all.

Last January, I took a little measuring cup into the shower, and when I washed my hair with two pumps of shampoo (for my long hair), I pumped it into that little measuring cup first and discovered that I used 1 ounce of shampoo each time I washed my hair. Then, I looked at the giant pump container of shampoo from the giant store I love and saw it contained 70 ounces. Then, I calculated how many ounces of shampoo I would need for the year, and I went to my ridiculous shampoo stash and calculated that it would last me the rest of the year.

I did the same for body wash, discovered I would need to buy 1 more container to last the year, AND I BOUGHT IT.

I checked out my toothpaste and mouthwash and floss.

I figured out how many dishwasher detergent pods I use in a year.

I calculated how many kitchen trash bags I use, how much laundry detergent and hand soap and dish soap and paper towels and AA batteries and Qtips and deodorant and multivitamins and …you get the idea.

I figured out how much/many I need for a year, inventoried what I already had, and bought the rest of it.

Here’s what this means for me and my distractible mind that struggles to sort and remember things:

Shampoo is on sale.

(unless it is currently December) I don’t need any.

I did it in 2017 and learned a lot about myself and my needs.

I’m doing it again in 2018, and while it is an initial outlay of extra cash, I am beyond certain that I’m saving money.

And I know I’m not wasting as much. I buy in bulk, so there is a bit less packaging. I’m not buying so much of something, so I may spend a bit more on a brand that treats the planet better in their processes and packaging.

One of my favorite purchases was/is toilet paper. I found a great company that shipped a box of 48 rolls of toilet paper to my house. (I know there is a huge ecological footprint in the shipping industry, but the TP I buy in the store down the street is shipped there, so, I’m not sure what to do about that.) It’s made out of bamboo, so it’s not depleting forests. The company spends much of its profit on bringing sanitation supplies and toilets to the developing world.

And it has the best name:

And this toilet paper comes in paper wrappers in a cardboard box, so while that is still packaging, and we still have to process it, it is recyclable – unlike the plastic wrapping on the TP from the store. So, there’s one tiny way to create less waste.

I’m not that girl who can put all her month’s trash in a little jar, but I’m learning to do things better.

I have a compost pile, and I just bought a bar of shampoo to use after I finish the bottle of shampoo in my shower. I know, right?! A bar of shampoo? Yep. I’m going to try it. It would mean buying less plastic bottles, which would be fantastic.

But, it could be that I have a partially used bar of shampoo to go with that partially full bag of farro.

Thomas Merton etched something on my heart when I was in college. I read and memorized this prayer of his, and the sentences I have highlighted below echo through my life in many ways. In this case, I may not be going about reducing my waste in the best way possible, but I believe that my desire to do so, and my actions to that end, matter and are good.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Jennifer, Table for One

I have lots of friends who are single. Many of them have been single for years.

For me, it’s been 2.5 years of singleness.

And I’m noticing something.

I do big things alone, now.

There are a hundred thousand little things I do now as a single person that are slightly different. I’m finally learning not to buy the family pack of chicken breasts and to stop checking the price of espresso (which I never drank, but Ken loved). I don’t wonder who is going to start the dishwasher or get the mail every day or put the trash by the curb every week. I manage all the bills and taxes and HSA account balance. The little day-to-day pieces of life, I have slowly put in place. Messily, to be sure. This scatter-y mind of mine doesn’t sort and make workable systems very well. But, over the last couple years, I’ve figured out how to shove the little tasks into piles I can recognize and manage. It’s a good life, this little household of huskies and their mama.

And then…this week, I felt very single.

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive and give my battery a jump-start yesterday, I had some time to pay attention to what I was feeling. Weary. That’s what I came up with. I felt weary because I had managed some big things this week…alone.

My son got married a week ago today. It was beautiful, and everyone was sparkling. I had tissues with me – because weddings – and I thought I’d be a blubbery mess. But, I wasn’t a mess; I was amazed. I walked down the aisle in my mother-of-the-groom dress with Jenna’s beautiful mom, Mary Lynn, and took my seat next to my darling mother. I reminded myself to really pay attention, to leave the program on the pew (it doesn’t matter if you know what comes next), to watch Jenna and her daddy walk down the aisle toward a new chapter, to look at my kid’s face when he made some whopper promises, to marvel at his sister’s beauty and maturity standing there among the bridesmaids, to love every word my mother’s lips formed as she opened The Velveteen Rabbit and read about being real, to be so grateful for my big brother, Karl, standing next to me.

It was extraordinary.

But, it was also amazingly clear that I am single. When Micah was born and I started dreaming about his life, I imagined standing next to his dad on the porch when Micah drove away on his first date, sitting next to him at Micah’s choral concerts, holding Tom’s hand while we bore witness to our kid marrying the person of his dreams. But, it didn’t happen that way. And, as it turns out, Ken wasn’t there, either.

At my son’s wedding, I was flanked by my brother and my mother, two of God’s best pieces of work. But, that wasn’t really the plan.

When I got home from the wedding on Sunday evening, I was pretty sure I was getting the cold about which I’d been saying, “I don’t have time to get sick!” for about a week. By Monday morning, I was feverish and achy. It’s the first time I’ve been sick since my nest emptied a couple months ago. And it turns out that even when you are sick, your dogs need to be fed and let in and out to do their business…and they are lousy at getting you a glass of ice water or another box of tissues from your stockpile in the shed.

The week was one of tissues and cough drops and naps and gallons of hot tea…and by Friday morning, I really wasn’t better, so I went to the doctor, so she could tell me it was a virus about which she could really not do much. But, she wrote me a prescription for a nasal spray she hoped would help with congestion, and I went to Walgreen’s to have it filled. Cleverly, I left my headlights on while I went in and waited for the prescription to be filled, so then I got to wait for the tow truck to jumpstart my car.

And while I was sitting in my car, waiting for the tow truck, I texted my mom about my predicament. She texted back that my dad said if my battery died that quickly, I might need a new one. So, I knew my plan for a quick trip to the doctor and then crawling back to bed had to be scrapped.

And I thought, “If Ken were here, he would bring me his car, tell me to go home and crawl into bed, manage the tow-truck-jump-start, and go to AutoZone and get a new battery.”

Right there, in my juiceless car, I realized I was weary from doing big things alone. All the feelings of Micah’s wedding and all the fatigue from managing life while sick…and now a car thing…these things are things often made easier with the right partner.

Of course, I’m not alone. Not by a longshot.

  • Because I was flanked by my big brother and my darling mother while my son made promises and my daughter bore beautiful witness (not to mention my cousins, aunt, sister-in-law, niece, and beloved friends).
  • Because Linda, Eileen, Stan, Patrick, and others all checked on me this week while I was sick.
  • Because I got to share meals and great conversation with Katy, Jake, and Ann this week.
  • Because my mom is always a call or text away…with dad’s sound advice about a battery chiming in.
  • Because my oldest brother, James, called this week to ask how the mother-of-the-groom was doing, how my heart felt.

I’m absolutely not alone.

But, I’m noticing more and more that I am definitely single.

Posted in God's Love, Ordinary Holiness

Sonder

When Sage was maybe a middle schooler, she brought home a new word. I don’t know how she had found the word, but when she told me about it, her eyes were so alive with fascination…and maybe relief.

She said she never knew there was a word for something her imagination had dwelt upon for hours on end – over months and years. She said she had always looked at the person standing in front of us in the line at the grocery store and thought, “They have a whole life just like mine. They have friends and maybe siblings. They have ideas and dreams about what they want to do, and they have people and circumstances in their lives that help them get there – or stand in their way. They go to school or work and there are parts of their days they like and don’t like. Their life is as complicated and full of people and relationships as mine is.”

It turns out the word for that concept is sonder. If you would like, check out this video about the concept of sonder.

It happened to me a little bit today while I was at my friend, Daniel’s, installation as the pastor of a congregation about an hour and a half away from where I live. He started working there a couple months ago, but today was an official installation service.

Daniel asked me to preside at the Lord’s Table during the service of installation. As I drove toward his church today, I thought about what an honor it was to have been asked to lead in this way, how much I miss having him nearby to have lunch and study the biblical text each week, how it would be nice to see his amazing family today.

When I arrived at the church and found the room where the pastors were putting on their robes, Daniel smiled when he saw me. I’m sure I smiled, too, and we hugged hello.

Then another pastor came in, another friend who was leading a different part of the service. Daniel smiled when he saw him, and they hugged hello. Soon, the room was filled with maybe 10 pastors, all of whom made Daniel smile. One of them was his mother.

And I thought to myself how wonderful it was for him to have so many people who love him in his company on this important and holy day.

Then, we moved to a hallway just outside the worship space, and the choir was lined up ready to go in before the line of pastors would enter. And the choir members greeted Daniel, and he smiled a warm, honest smile.

As we processed in, singing a hymn, walking down the center aisle and taking our places in the front row, we walked past row after row of people who had come to bear witness to his installation. Teenagers and tiny kids, middle aged folks and those certainly in their 80s and 90s. They were at the beginning of their relationships with him, and some of them were surely already trusting him with their worries, their dreams.

I thought about the people in my congregation, and how much I love them. I thought about how my life as their pastor is just rich with our relationships! With some, I have shared serious and scary moments in their lives. With some, I have hysterically funny memories. Daniel just left a congregation full of those relationships, and he is beginning that same journey with these folks at his new church.

After worship, there was a reception where people mingled. Every person I met said something like, “We just love Pastor Daniel. He is exactly what we need here.” And I thought, “That’s precisely how I feel about him.”

And while I felt sad to drive away because Tuesday will come, and I won’t be meeting him for study and lunch, I felt mostly amazed at the ways God knits us all together. I felt mostly astonished as God offered me a tiny glimpse of the ways Spirit is stitching Daniel’s life together with more relationships and laughter. I felt mostly grateful that love is not finite, that there is enough love-thread to stitch and keep stitching us one to another every single day.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Creativity as Non-violent Protest

Today, I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at a women’s retreat just filled with love and light and hope and sisterhood.

Today, I am reading accounts of demonstrations at the University of Virginia wherein members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and Alt-Right carried torches and shouted declarations of white supremacy.

So, I don’t know what to do.

Or feel.

God called me to the mountains months ago when I registered for this retreat. I read Rachel Held Evans’ book in preparation for her to lead us in some study and prayer while we are here. I paid a little extra, so I could have my own room, so I might experience a weekend of reflection more than conversation. I signed up for a workshop on using liturgical art in worship because our council discussed that as a goal at our retreat in March. So, this weekend is about me: as a woman, as a pastor, as a mom whose nest is emptying this week, as a sometimes weary child of God.

But people are carrying torches and quoting Hitler in Virginia.

I’ve been crying about it. And, honestly, I am angry at the timing. I’m angry that my retreat for centering myself before a busy fall and for slowing way down for 48 hours has been invaded by violence and hatred…and that exceedingly familiar feeling of helplessness in the face of enormous problems that have layers and colors and textures far beyond the reach and power of my life.

That voice in your head asking, “Why didn’t she just turn off her phone for the retreat?” It’s in my head, too. But, I didn’t, so here I am.

That other voice in your head whisper, “Uh, her anger right now is ridiculous…how about a little anger that the KKK is assembling AT ALL, not that they are assembling during her retreat.” It’s in my head, too. I promise. It happens that I am captive to sin and cannot free myself, so imbalance and preposterous priorities are commonplace. Writing about them helps run a highlighter across them, so I can notice them better: this time…and the next.

So, here is what God did with this mess today.

First, my God brought me to breakfast with two women who are pastors in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and the conversation in our little cloister of three women who long to follow Jesus included confession of times we have not welcomed people well, times we have be terrified to speak and act for justice. Maybe it was because we don’t know each other that confession came easily; maybe it is because we are tired of not confessing things that embarrass us as pastors who are called to work for peace and justice in all the world. Cate and Becca were my pastors this morning; and I suppose I was theirs.

Next, my God brought me to a book study where we broke into groups of four to discuss the ways we have experienced death and resurrection in our lives. We talked about life in the military where every move is a death of some sort. We shared our pain that our children reject the faith we hold so dear. We told of acts of unexpected grace we had received in ways we still carry in our pockets, pulling them out when we need to be reminded of our call to do the same for others. And we were reminded that this grace thing has already gotten out of hand. “Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Searching for Sunday, page 40)

Then, God and I went to a workshop about liturgical art, and the leader, Lisle Gwynn Garrity used Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living while offering us the opportunity to play with art and be sanctified in the process. Together, my eight new sisters and I relinquished the messages from others that we are

not artistic or not artistic enough or there must be a better way or she is doing it better than me. We picked up oil pastels and drew our love and light and hope onto that cambric. Our gentle teacher offered us Brene Brown’s words and silence and tender music to coax us along this path. And after a few minutes, she would invite us to move to the seat to our left and add to that which our sisters had drawn. In the end, our fingers and palms were smudged with oil pastels, the cambric was exquisite, and I felt braver to be the woman God designed me to be.

Then, my God and I walked past the ducks on the lake and under the trees which couldn’t be

greener to get lunch in a room full of a few hundred women who had just been to one workshop or another…and I told God I hoped they all felt a little braver at lunch than they did at breakfast.
Then, we checked my schedule again – because my memory is not as good as God’s – and went off to the afternoon workshop where the facilitator used Brene Brown’s work in Daring Greatly to help us identify our top three values. That was the easy part (though it was far from easy). The hard part was this question: What behaviors you do engage in when you have lost sight of each of your three values?

Ouch.

So, God and I talked with the three women at our table about snapping at our children and gossiping about friends and numbing ourselves with food or alcohol or shopping or busyness. We confessed that our fear is debilitating at times. And we remembered how it feels when we have been brave and dared to speak truth to power or cross the threshold of a WeightWatchers center or told our adult child it’s time for rehab.

And God smiled when we remembered our strength.

So, today, I am not in Virginia. I’d like to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. Also, I am terrified to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. So, there’s that.

Today, I’m not in Virginia with my collar.

Today, I’m in Montreat with my sisters. We are learning (remembering) to be creatively, prayerfully, sacredly alive. We are praying and singing for God’s kingdom to reign. We are remembering our strength. And we’ll need our strength to muster courage when we are afraid, to link arms and sing against hate in our various lives when we leave here.

At the book signing before her speaking session

***

After I wrote the paragraphs above, I went to our evening session where Rachel Held Evans opened our evening by declaring that white supremacy pervades the systems and institutions of our nation, and the church is no exception…and that hatred, oppression, and declaring oneself better than any other human in the world is in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And 400 people applauded. And applauded. And applauded.

Some of us shouted, “Amen.” Some of us whispered it. For Rachel had spoken our collective confession.

And Christ heard it.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Things that make you go hmmm…

I have a dear friend who makes “10 Things…” lists. I always enjoy reading them. Here’s one from the last few weeks of my life.

  1. Sometimes you get an invitation to a new adventure, which only serves to help you know you prefer this current adventure.
  2. Sometimes it takes a serious fall that could have been serious-er to help you know how much you really like being alive. And “there’s a million things I haven’t done. Just you wait. Just you wait.”
  3. Sometimes it takes a severe allergic reaction affecting your arms, legs, and neck to help you have a dose of real empathy for those who have uncomfortable and embarrassing skin conditions all the time. Seriously, Friends, some of your friends/family/clients/students/teachers with psoriasis and eczema and such are wearing long sleeves in the heart of the summer because they feel like lepers. I have found myself wanting to wear a shirt at the grocery store that reads: It’s an allergic reaction. It’s not contagious. It even affected my work, as I had planned to visit some homebound folk today, but didn’t want them to worry – since many of them have compromised health and cannot afford any type of exposure to illness. I will simply go in a few days when my rash has cleared up, but those with chronic skin conditions regularly have to offer explanations and wear those sleeves as best they can.
  4. Sometimes you agree to be the chaplain at Music Week at a summer camp of hundreds of musical children and adults, and it helps you remember how sacred are rhythm, melody, harmony, and silence – and that you worship a creative, endlessly interesting God.
  5. Sometimes you agree to be the chaplain at Music Week, and it bubbles to the surface one of the embarrassing and difficult conflicts within our congregations:
    1. we want the finest of musicians serving in our midst
    2. some of the finest musicians are gay

    This means in our holy community, we have people offering their exquisite gifts to and for us in the name of Jesus. It means that very often, when we sing our favorite hymn, and our spirits are lifted to and through the thin spaces between earth and heaven, the fingers, brain, feet, voice, and creativity that offer us that moment are possessed by a gay person. So, Christ’s Church has a choice: accept the giver and the gift in the same breath of gratitude, or tell Jesus we do not like the way he gives us his gifts. We do not get to have it both ways. We cannot say, “Thank you for the music. It has restored my soul. The musician, however, is broken.”

  6. Sometimes you rack up plenty enough emergency room, urgent care, and bloodwork bills to reach your out-of-pocket limit for the year, so you start thinking of all the things you have ignored or not got tested when advised to do so. And you feel every minute of your 48 years…and you are not sure you want to know what all those tests reveal. But, in the very next breath – maybe before the first breath is complete – you are just so grateful for health insurance and an HRA account and a job that tosses money in that account just for taking health assessments online. So, you dial the phone and make the first long-neglected appointment.
  7. Sometimes you watch your daughter just start adulting, and when you get really quiet and totally honest, you admit that you are not nervous about her moving out next month. She’s doing great. She’ll do great. She’s stronger than you will ever be, and you pray that her strength doesn’t have to be tested quite so brightly as yours has. When you imagine her as an elementary school teacher, you feel such relief that there will be a couple dozen kids every year who get her light, strength, creativity, artistry, and intellect. They are luckier.
  8. Sometimes you look at the calendar and you see it’s only 88 days until your son stands at the foot of a cross, holding his Love’s hands, promising to participate wholly in a holy relationship until death. He’s already got one year under his belt of teaching high school special ed math in the heart of Balitmore. (When you told someone about him and his job, the person said, “There are givers and takers: he’s a giver.”) He’s more than you expected in so many ways. His creativity and kindness match his spooky-smart-intellect, and his hunger for justice drives him.
  9. Sometimes you confess to your financial planner that you know loads of other adults manage all their bills and savings and such like champs. They make budgets and stick to them. They don’t always underestimate how much money or time things will take. Some of them even just keep lots of details in their heads, like which bills come quarterly, and what the password to that account you only access when it’s tax season in order to download/upload some documents for your tax preparer. You know people do that (and you are pretty sure he’s nodding because he is one of those people…which is a great trait for a financial planner, after all), but you confess that it is difficult for you, so you have lists and calendars. And when the computer with that information froze and crashed one day many months ago, it completely derailed the quazi-system you had going. Sometimes you share all that mess with your finance guy, and you are getting kind of teary with all that vulnerability…and he offers some really helpful help. And it feels like you are talking to God-in-Skin, helping the helpless.
  10. Sometimes your Mom watches your life with a tumble down the stairs, concussion, and scalp-staples, followed closely by a freak allergic reaction, all wound up in two weeks at camp: a week with your middle schoolers and a week with the musicians. She asks which day this week she can come and help you catch up on laundry and cleaning bathrooms and such. She asks this because she knows you. She knows how you get behind in things. And how it makes you feel ashamed – because, ya know, lots of adults just manage all those things. So, when she calls to ask when she can come, you don’t say, “Oh, no. You don’t have to do that. I’ll get it done.” You say, “Is Friday good?” And you look to heaven and whisper, “Thanks.”
Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Frightened and Grateful

Sunday evening, I came home, tossed my keys in the bowl, put my purse in my purse-place, had my phone in one hand and a drink in the other as I went downstairs to let the dogs out. After taking 2 stairs, I tripped/slipped somehow and tumbled the rest of the way down 4 or 5 stairs to the tile floor, where I proceeded to split my scalp open.

I knew right away that I had hurt myself quite badly, so I dialed 911.

Actually, I dialed the 9, but I couldn’t remember the rest of it. I thought, “It’s like the terrorist attack in New York with the planes and the buildings.” And somewhere from a quiet corner of my frightened and panicking brain, I found this phrase: nine-eleven. So, I dialed two ones and hit the phone icon to connect me with some help.

Matt answered.

I didn’t know his name was Matt at first. First, we established that I was, indeed, hurt and needed help right away. As I spoke with him, I got a towel from the linen closet and held it to the back of my head to try to stop the bleeding. I told him I was starting to feel pretty woozy. He calmly asked me to go unlock the front door, then lie down if I thought I might pass out…so the emergency team could get to me, and I wouldn’t fall again.

I told him I thought maybe I’d go wait for my heroes out in a chair on the front porch and just hold this towel to my head. That way, if I did pass out, they would find me right away. He asked if I would like him to stay on the phone until they arrived. I told him that would be really helpful, and I asked his name. He said, “Miss Jennifer, my name is Matt.” I said, “Hi Matt. I’m glad to meet you, and I’m really grateful for your help.” He said, “I’m glad to meet you, too, and we are going to get you the help you need.” Sitting there, bleeding profusely, feeling not at all sure I would stay conscious, I felt safe with Matt’s reassurance. This is the work of the gospel, to sit with those who are suffering, offering them hope. Matt preached a quiet, calm, and gentle sermon from his seat in some Guilford County Emergency Dispatch office somewhere miles away from my front porch. I told him how concerned I was about getting a hold of my daughter who was at work. He asked for her number and dialed it. He connected me to it, so I could talk with her, but she didn’t answer while she was still on her shift. I told him I’d try to text her, but my vision was pretty blurry to be able to see to text.

Then I heard the music of sirens. I told Matt, “I hear them!” And he said, “I’ll stay with you until they are standing in front of you.”

I said, “They are turning onto my street!” I was flooded with relief that they would find me while I was still conscious.

Five or six people hopped out of that fire engine and ambulance. Each one had a job. I was pretty distracted by the man with the blood pressure cuff and finger monitor, not to mention the man who was taking the towel off my head, but the man standing in front of me wanted my attention. He was so kind and kept asking me to look at him and answer his questions. He was wondering if I knew what time it was, had I lost consciousness? I answered his questions, and he discerned that I had not. He said I had done a great job of putting pressure on my wound, but I had a goose egg on the back of my head about the size of his fist. He made the decision that I would go to the hospital – and likely get some stitches.

And here’s the part that makes me cry when I remember it: It was 10:20, and my angel daughter would be home from work by about 10:40. My house looked like a crime scene, and I could not have her walk in there and find all that blood and me gone. I just kept saying over and over that I had to get a hold of my daughter. By then, I had a massive bandage wrapped all the way around my head, so my glasses didn’t fit on my face. An EMT held them to my face, so I could peck out a text to my girl telling her that I promised I was okay, that there was a lot of blood, but I was okay. That I would be at the hospital getting some stitches.

The man who had been interviewing me earlier asked if he could go in my house and get my keys and purse, then lock it up. He asked if my dogs were okay. I said they were and that my daughter would be home shortly to tend to them. He brought me my purse and keys, told me how beautiful my dogs are, and made sure my house was locked.

The only other time I have ever ridden in an ambulance was when I was 20 years old, dating an EMT, and he drove me home from work in it one day. I’m quite sure he was not supposed to do that, though.

This time was very different. Riding backward in any car at any time ever would make me carsick. So, riding backward after having sustained a head injury…well, it was not a great trip to the hospital, but we made it there quickly.

Maybe someday I’ll want to write about my experience in the hospital. It was horrible and beautiful, with many small sermons preached to me by the quick and assured decisions and actions of kind and capable nurses and orderlies and technicians and such. And one sustained sermon preached by my faithful daughter who sat by my side and has more strength than I will ever be able to muster. But, tonight, it’s important to me to write down what it felt like to be rescued. I have been rescued (by my parents) from lousy circumstances, but I don’t ever remember needing literally to be rescued by medical personnel.

Something has shifted within me.

Language is not liquid enough to move in and through all the ways I am grateful. As a matter of fact, in order to write them down, I have to acknowledge what could have been had I not been so lucky. And I’m not ready to go there, yet.

For now, I have deep oceans of gratitude for Matt and his team of superheroes and my daughter…none of whom were wearing capes.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

…for a stranger

Two years ago, I was lying with my neck resting in the crook of a shampoo bowl, and the stylist was noting how quickly my hair grows. We had just cut it short 5 weeks ago, and it was already in need of getting shaped back up. It hit me then that I get my hair cut off an inch or less at a time – many times a year. What if I didn’t? What if I just didn’t go in for a haircut for…a while? How long would this stuff get? And how long would it take?

I guess I knew right then that I would be growing it out to give it away. It just struck me as the most absurd thing that I have quick growing, thick hair I keep throwing away a little bit at a time, and there are others who have lost their hair who long for what I have. (I feel the same way about giving blood. My body just makes the stuff. It doesn’t cost me anything to make it. And other people need it, so sharing it makes simple sense.)

Growing out a short haircut with loads of layers wasn’t really fun, but once it got to be chin length, I went in and had it shaped nicely with some long layers that I could let grow out. I had a trim every 3 or 4 months to remove dead ends and shape it up a bit – always telling the stylist about my plan, so she would honor my desire to keep as much length as we could while still keeping it healthy.

My daughter has long, thick, strong hair, so I asked her about caring for it. She told me how to keep it healthy, and I stayed away from using heat on it most of the time, didn’t wash it every day, used a good conditioner, got hair ties that didn’t pull or damage.

And the most interesting feeling grew: I was a hair surrogate!

Now, I considered being a surrogate mother when I was younger. I loved pregnancy and delivery. My body did it well, recovered well from it, too. So, I really did consider it. That’s not how life worked out, though. I just never want anyone who reads this to think that I can for one minute equate growing my hair with growing a baby. Conceiving and growing a human with all the physical and emotional ramifications of that AND the process of handing that child to his/her parents? Absolutely no comparison to not getting a haircut.

Except in one way: I knew the whole time I was doing it for someone else.

  • When I was sick of it and wanted to cut it last summer, I thought about the child who would get the wig made of my hair. If I gave up, would she have to wait just a little longer?
  • When I felt like coloring it just for the fun of it, I remembered that Wigs for Kids only takes undyed hair.
  • When I thought about cutting it…and just starting again another year, I remembered that the rules require that only 25% of the hairs can be gray. I meet that standard right now, but likely not in the coming years.
  • When I wanted to straighten it, I considered the split ends and damage I was doing – and knew it might render my hair unusable if they have to trim off too much when they get it.
  • When I kind of liked the length, but really wanted some layers in it so styling would be more fun…you get the idea.

Another feeling grew, too. As I researched the various programs for giving your hair away, I learned a lot about the process. How the hair is boiled and bleached and prepped in lots of different ways, how it takes about 6 donations to make one wig, how Wigs for Kids puts the wig on the child and lets her get a haircut in the style she wants.

So, that meant my donation was reliant on 5 other people going through with the years of growing, caring, waiting…and then cutting and donating. I started wondering who they were. I wondered if they were tired of long hair, too. Or did they LOVE having it long, but chose to donate it because it was just the right thing to do. Were they planning it all along, like I was? Or were they like my friend, “Ginger of Luxurious, Strong, Straight Hair” who was at a huge gathering of Lutheran Youth in Detroit and plunked herself in the chair at the Donate Your Hair booth?

I felt connected to those 5 strangers as I grew my hair. And today,

as I walked in to Great Clips (that’s the company that donates to Wigs for Kids – and also, I am not a big spender on haircuts that I need ALL THE TIME), I wondered about my 5 hair-donation-siblings. Had they already sent in their donation? Was I the first of the 6 of us?

 

We put my hair in 5 twelve-inch ponytails, to keep as much length as possible for the donation. (Gathering it all into one ponytail would mean losing the length around my face for the donation and keeping hair I didn’t need for my new style.)

Then, she snipped each one off!

061117_2343_Surrogacy2.jpg

And…that’s the only time I will donate my hair.

 

But, I’m glad I did it.

 

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Worship

Whenever I’m on vacation, I get to choose where to worship on Sunday morning. Sometimes, if I’m in town I worship in a nearby town at a church where a friend of mine is the pastor. Sometimes, I worship here in High Point at the Episcopal or United Methodist congregations near me. Last night, I wondered if I might drive the 75 minutes to worship with my parents.

But, this morning I woke up and sneezed my fool head off! Not sure if it was allergies or a cold, I decided not to bring a potential cold to a local congregation. And I’ve heard people tell me many, many times that they don’t go to church because they find God in nature, or they don’t like to be around lots of people, or…they watch a preacher on TV. Well, I don’t have regular television, but I do have the internet, so I decided to try worshiping at home today.

Now, my task list for today (besides worship) was to install a fence, plant 6 shrubs, and transplant a bunch of potted plants.

So, before the sun got too hot, I went out and started working on the fence. The work is always slow for me because I’m not adept at this kind of work. Inevitably, I forget I need (or can’t find) a tool. I spend a LOT of time measuring things many times, so I don’t screw something up. And…now that Roxy and Eleanor live here, it’s like working with a toddler under my feet!

As I set up my work, I thought about how in worship, we begin with confession and forgiveness. So, as I made my way around my shed just loaded with things that I use only occasionally, I confessed that I spend money on things I don’t really need, that my comfort and convenience get my money far more readily than a stranger with a hungry tummy or a sick child who needs medicine or a single mom who can’t pay her bills. And as I measured out where the fence posts would be and drove stakes into the ground, carving into the earth, digging up grass that had grown there, I confessed that my use of fossil fuels in my car and in the truck that delivers my Amazon Prime items means I am complicit in the call for more resources. And if those who are building dangerous and leaking pipelines (like the Dakota Access Pipeline) which threaten our water supply didn’t have customers like me, they wouldn’t be carving into the earth in dangerous ways. And as I knelt in the sun, my muscles already feeling weak with only a few minutes of work behind them, I confessed that I do not care for my body as I should. I do not move it and keep it strong, even when I know it is important and faithful.

Since I am the one who pronounces God’s forgiveness after our confession on a Sunday morning, I stood up and looked around my yard, thinking about declaring myself forgiven. Then a breeze picked up, blowing my hair across my face, and I knew just what to do. I walked over to the stone birdbath which rests on an old stump. It was shimmeringly full today because of the powerful rainstorm that blew through here last night. Reaching out my hand, I saw the dirt under my fingernails as I dipped my God-made fingers into that God-made water and smeared a barely muddy cross on my God-made forehead. And in that moment, I remembered that God didn’t make the cross; we did. God showed up to love us, and we fashioned him a cross for making us admit we weren’t loving each other well. And God did not punish us for such a savage thing. God forgave us. Because God is in the business of forgiving and never grows weary of forgiving me. This, I believe.

Because I am not physically strong, and because I get over-heated oddly easily, I committed myself to taking frequent breaks to come inside, cool off (lying on my tile floor is fantastic for that), drink lots of water, and remember to eat well.

On my first break, I decided to find a sermon. So, I scrolled through Facebook to find a friend’s church with a link to their service. I watched Facebook Live from Pilgrim Lutheran in Lexington, SC. And what do you know, the pastor said that we need the church, that Jesus prayed we would all be one…together. Even though it is inconvenient and frustrating and not always efficient – we need each other in order to be Christ’s church. On the day I decided to do church alone, the sermon I randomly chose to hear reminded me that I need the church, and the church needs me.

I spent the rest of the day in and out of the sun, working hard, resting, petting my dogs, telling my dogs to move out of the way, accomplishing an important task, and remembering that I’m a capable woman. The fence posts are in, and the fencing will go up tomorrow. I didn’t plant the shrubs because I called my dad for some advice, and the suggestion he made means waiting to plant the shrubs until we do some other work in that area.

I sang a little – because we always sing in worship.

I ate fresh strawberries and blueberries from my garden, and while it was not Holy Communion of bread and wine with my sisters and brothers in Christ, it absolutely was a provision from God growing right there in my backyard.

So, I had church on my own today. It was fine. But in 7 days, I get to worship with my beautiful congregation – and that’s better.

Scroll down if you want to see my very helpful dogs being very helpful.

First, I gathered my tools in my very professional construction bucket, and my assistant made sure everything smelled right.


 

…and tasted right.

 

 

Eleanor stood very, very close because it is helpful to have others very, very close when using a hammer.

 

 

Meanwhile, Roxy came over to laugh about how muddy her nose was.
Both girls kept me company while I worked by being very, very close. After all, nothing is more helpful than closeness while using tools.
I’m helping, Mom.  See how close I am? That’s how you know I’m helping.