Number Games

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I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers lately, and no, I’m not the one who prepares our taxes. I’ve been thinking about the numbers that mark our days, signify big events, mark periods of our lives, and help us keep track of life. We are the type of family that marks special occasions no matter the size.  Besides the usual birthdays and wedding anniversaries we like to remember the little dates that matter too. For instance, our dog Ally just turned 13 and we had cupcakes. Happy Birthday, Al!

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She doesn’t know she got a bite of cupcake because she turned 13, but we know that having her in our lives and helping her age has been a gift. We celebrate the anniversary dates of getting each cat (because seriously, who knows their cat’s birth date?), first days of school, baptismal birthdays, the anniversary of our first date, and whatever other happy occasions comes to mind.  Why?  Because we like to make a big deal of our days. We like to take time and acknowledge the good, the hard, and the momentous.We like to look back and forward not just letting everything pass us by.

Driving to camp with kids for a retreat this weekend one girl and I talked about what shows we like to watch. We both find “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” super funny. She talked about the scene where Kimmy is consoling her overwrought boss by telling her the strategy of taking life 10 seconds at a time. “You can stand anything for 10 seconds,” says Kimmy Schmidt. “Then you just start on a new 10 seconds.”  “And it’s true!” said this student. “It’s true! And you just keep going and going and going….”

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At the end of the group workouts I do our instructors often include a “capstone” which is a  torturous and horrible  great way to end a hard workout. Often I hear them say, “don’t stop now. You can do this — it’s just  3 minutes. Don’t cheat yourself after all that hard work. Whether its 10 seconds or 3 minutes or a decade time can feel like an eternity or like it flew by at lightening speed. Time matters, paying attention matters. We can see time as a distraction or as a gift.

In March I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of my ordination and turning 40, both felt momentous to me. For someone who was never completely convinced I was going to be a pastor having spent ten years serving one congregation is not anything I would have predicted for myself. If you would have told my newly turned 30 and newly ordained self that at 40 I would find myself still happily serving in my first call I would have laughed at you. Hard. But as I reflect on this I know that I am a person who believes in the power of staying put, putting down roots, and values longevity. It’s not really that surprising that I’ve spent ten years in one place because that is who I am. I will send down deep tap roots, build and keep relationships, keep learning and growing and be in it for the long haul or until I know it is time to do something different to keep growing. I don’t run when the going gets tough — I never have and I hope I never will. I will live the words of my instructors and not cheat myself (or others) by quitting early. I’ll leave when the workout is done and not before.

40 feels like I finally made it. Made it to what, I don’t know yet. My 20’s were the years of going through college and graduate school, getting married, setting up a household, having a baby and remodeling our house. It was a whirlwind of life changes that kept coming at me fast and furious. All good things but I couldn’t have fit in many more life events if I tried!  My 30’s were a time of figuring out what to do with all those life changes that happened in my 20’s. Suddenly I found myself living into being a wife, mother, pastor, a home owning adult and all that goes along with those responsibilities. I’ve kept and grown friendships that have stood the tests of time and change. I navigated new worlds on my own and with those I love. My 40’s feel like a new era. I feel so much more confident, non-anxious, and patient than I ever have before, probably because I could only gain these things from time. I’m looking forward to seeing what choices I make with whatever life presents. Part of my reflecting on this is because my dad died when he was 46. 46 is young. It’s not that much older than I am right now. I think about him and all that he had done in his life, but also how much he didn’t get to do and I’m aware of the precious gift time is. Don’t cheat it. Don’t waste it. The numbers matter whether they represent seconds, minutes, days, years or decades. As I enter into this new decade I find myself so much more aware of my time in the broad sense and it is both exciting and filled with a longing to make it count. E.B. White says, “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” I would change it a bit though to say, “Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult, but more often than not they are one in the same.” Enjoy your time.

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Ellie Kemper Image is from: http://media.vanityfair.com/photos/5485bcfa98f2d00004ac8f79/master/h_590,c_limit/ellie-kemper-unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-vf-ss02.jpg

 

What do you hear? What do you see?

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This Lent at church we are focusing on the question “What do you hear?” It seems like a simple question on the surface, but it is really quite complex. In my sermon last Sunday I talked about how we physically don’t all hear the same way. My family has experience with auditory issues as one member has hyperacusis, a sensory issue in which the person actually hears things at a higher volume than the rest of us with “normal” (in typical range) hearing. When we discovered this the question of “what do you hear” took on a totally new meaning. Sounds almost felt like land mines laying in wait to derail our daily activities. I suddenly found myself spending time reading and thinking about the auditory sense, something I just took for granted before.

“What do you hear” is also a question of interpretation, feeling and emotion.What you hear in tone, inflection, and volume is almost as important as the words themselves. The same words can feel different when said in love, sarcasm or contempt. Our hearts hear things, too. Sometimes we think we know what our hearts are going to hear before our ears do. We enter into a conversation braced to hear criticism or eager for affirmation. We think about how to make sure our children really hear our love for them. We ponder how to best communicate with our co-workers. We strive to make our needs heard by our partners. We hope by voting our opinions are heard. As I’ve been sitting with this question I realized that sight is the same way.

The other day I was walking our two dogs, Lily and Ally. Lily and Ally are what we like to affectionately call our “pet quality show dogs.” They come from exceptional breeding lines and yet are the furthest things from show dogs as they come; and we love them that way. Our cats are also what we call “scratch and dent” models.  On our walk we met two other dogs and stopped to let all the dogs say hello. They quickly became a tangled mess of leashes and wagging tails, a sight that always makes me smile. The owner of the other dogs suddenly said, “oh no! What happened to her eye?”  It caught me off guard and it took me a moment to realize that he was talking about Lily, who has had an eye removed. When I realized what he was asking about I explained about her eye problems and we carried on. But later it struck me how when I look at Lily I don’t see her as my one eyed dog (or a pirate puppy, as one friend calls her). I don’t see the 5 eye surgeries she has had, the hundreds of eye drops she has had and will always need for the remaining eye. But her one eyed face the first thing this man noticed about Lily. I see Lily’s joy every time I walk into the room and the way she has mastered unconditional love. I don’t see her missing eye or her imperfections. Our sight, like our hearing, is different depending on our senses and on our hearts.  I look in the mirror and see those pounds I wish we could get rid of, the corners of my eyes getting crows feet and the gray hairs multiplying. But my daughter sees me as her beautiful mother. We see our lives and see the deficiencies, not the gifts. We see what needs improving, or complete overhaul, instead of our successes.

Fortunately God sees us how I see Lily. Our scriptures tell us we are beloved, precious in God’s sight, made in God image, children of God. Our scriptures don’t tell us our skin is dry, our cupboards are disorganized and we could stand to lose ten pounds. God sees us and loves us no matter how the world sees us or how we see ourselves. God’s love speaks into the world’s words of “not enough” to say “enough.” God’s sight says “you are beautiful” when the world sees “not picture perfect.”

What do you hear? What do you see?  May our hearts hear and see God’s love at work in all our senses.

 

Footnotes

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The older I get the more interested I am in the footnotes of life. Dramatic headlines catch our scattered attention, but there are almost always stories buried within the headlines and those are the stories that I’ve been drawn to recently.

In Minneapolis a black man was shot by police because of disrupting EMT’s who were tending to a woman who was assaulted. The toll our black neighbors have suffered at the hands of police is awful. It is a system that doesn’t serve all of us equally and it is tragic whenever there is use of deadly force. But while protests continue down at the police station I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to the woman who was assaulted? What happened to her?  What is her story? What was her night like that she ended up the back of an ambulance not able to get the immediate help she needed? Why aren’t there protests every day when women are beat, threatened, and harassed? Where are our culture-changing movements, demands for justice, and camp outs for people like her? Why is her story a footnote?

The focus on refugees is all over the news; even more so after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The news that focuses on the risks (fears) of letting terrorists slip into countries along with genuine refugees has overshadowed the stories of the refugees themselves. I do not believe the fear mongering about refugees outweighs our duty for compassion towards them. As we think about how we as a country welcome the strangers among us I do wonder what their life was like that they had to leave their homeland with basically nothing just to survive. What do refugee parents tell their little ones each night as they try to soothe them to sleep? How do they summon the strength each day to continue moving forward into a strange and unknown future? What have they left behind that breaks their heart and what are the hopes that sustain them? Why is their story a footnote?

A few weeks ago we heard the story of the Widow of Zarephath from 1 Kings 17, a story that has always intrigued me. The story of course focuses on Elijah and how God provided for him through this foreigner widow who was down to her last meal for herself and her son. But every time I read this story I wonder about her. What was her name? How long had she been a widow? How did she manage to live in that time and place where she was basically invisible? How did she face such grief as she was preparing to die? What could her footnote of a life teach me about mine?

Our lives might feel like footnotes too, sometimes. We aren’t the main attention getting stories (that might be for the best). We aren’t the most powerful or influential. We might not be remembered by more than a handful of our family and friends. But the good news is that God is always in the footnotes. God knows that woman’s story as she rides in the ambulance; her fear and her wounds. God knows the road that the refugees are traveling because God has traveled it before and goes with them. God knows the widow’s name and hears her anguished grief. Headlines with their big bold letters catch our attention. Footnotes, with their tiny asterisk and tiny print, always have God’s attention.

the rucksack

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As we prepared to begin our workout around the lake, all of us with weighted balls, some with weighted rucksacks as well, we were reminded that the exercises weren’t about speed but about keeping good form. It was dark and we were all a little tired and maybe questioning why exactly we signed up to do this at this time of the morning. The few with rucksacks strapped to their backs maybe had more reservations about the workout than I did with my lightweight ball. We got into position and started off. The guy next to me said, “don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here dealing with my mental shit.”  As I laughed he looked at me and said, “thanks – no one has ever found that funny before!”  Oh, I found it funny. That is just the kind of comment that makes me laugh, mostly out of recognition.  Working out is hard, it is supposed to be. But getting winded, sweaty and knowing you will have sore muscles is nothing compared to the workout that is “dealing with our mental shit.”  We can weigh ourselves down with weighted balls, rucksacks, and sandbags to build up our muscles, but carrying around our “baggage,” so to speak, is hard work that doesn’t build us up as much as it tears us down.

When I was a teenager and my depression and anxiety came into full bloom the only image I could really work with in therapy was that of a big rucksack that I was carrying around. I remember I even drew a picture of my stick person version self dragging that rucksack behind me. That bag held a lot of grief, anxiety about anything and everything, and painful self-consciousness. Each week I would visualize bringing that rucksack to the therapy time and I would spend that session opening up that bag and taking things out to look at, examine, ponder, and then prepare to let them go. All that stuff, that painful yucky stuff that weighed that bag down did nothing but hold me back. I couldn’t just drop it and leave that bag behind me, it contained parts of my past that formed me, but I didn’t need that weight stunting my growth. I also needed to fill that rucksack with new things: stillness, the ability to recognize and live into all kinds of feelings, the unconditional steadfastness of God’s grace, the appreciation of the present, resilience, humor, the ability to re-create, meditation practices and patience all got chosen to be carried around in my rucksack. It’s mine to carry around so I get to decide what to carry. Grudges, hard hearted-ness, fear, envy, and self-destruction don’t get a place in my rucksack, and when they sneak their way in I have the muscles to do the good workout of “dealing with my mental shit.”

I had forgotten about that rucksack image from therapy until this morning’s workout. It gave me a chance to revisit the workouts I have done in the past that have trained my muscles for these past 20 years. I hope that guy had a good workout in more ways than one.

Our Gnome

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We have a lovely, large tree in our front yard that has a heart shaped gap right where the trunk separates into two large branches.

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A few years ago this little fellow showed up in the tree.

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He was soon joined by a turtle, and then a frog. We all waited patiently, keeping watch, trying to figure out what kind of magic was happening in our tree.  And then…we got a note. A note from the Gnome! Our little Gnome addressed his note to “Wise Child” and signed it, “Knowledgable Gnome.” While we didn’t have an explanation, we did have a name (Knowledgable Gnome!) and our correspondence began.  Since the notes were addressed to “Dear Wise Child,” Ilse took over responding to his notes. There were gifts given, for instance two dragons were gifted to Knowledgable Gnome, “Flare” and “Blue Dragon.”  The dragons lived inside with us during the winters per Knowledgable Gnomes instructions, learning as much as they could about our human world before returning to the tree when Knowledgable Gnome came back after his long winter away to teach the tree dwellers about their human family.

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Other creatures have come and gone depending on the season. There have been cats, dogs, more frogs, a horse, a troll (Tricky Troll) who gives sketchy advice, snakes and various items such as a pinwheel and a wheelbarrow. Knowledgable Gnome leaves every year around Halloween and returns sometime between Easter and summer. When Easter is late in the season he makes a splashy return by playing some kind of trick on us and leaves a beautiful resurrection note. We are always a bit anxious about his return and whether he will grace our tree again, and are always thrilled when he and his first note of the season arrives. Knowledgable Gnome keeps pretty good track of us. He even noticed that we were gone on our big trip and we returned to a very distressed note. He needed a little reassurance:

IMG_3631All seems well now, though. You might not guess it, but Gnomes can be very demanding. You can’t just ignore them!  We try our best to keep him and his revolving cast of friends happy so they continue to return to our house every year. After all, we have become part of the Gnome’s family.

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Worship at St Martin-in-the-Fields

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Last Sunday, July 5, I went to worship at St Martin-in-the-Fields, a beautiful church right on Trafalgar Square in London. I picked it because we were staying nearby and have always heard about the church because of its commitment to music. We walked there the evening before just to make sure I knew where I was going and picked up a schedule of events to look over. As we were eating dinner Marc said, “so, I see they are having a guest preacher tomorrow.” “Hmm,” I said, not really caring since I didn’t know the regular preacher. “It’s Barbara Brown Taylor,” he said and my mouth flew open in surprise and delight. I’ve long admired Barbara Brown Taylor’s preaching and writing and to be given the opportunity to hear her on our big trip just felt so lovely.

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(I took this during the run-though as the participants did sound checks for the radio technicians.)

Besides the guest preacher, that morning’s 8:10 worship was special because it marked the 10 year anniversary of the 7/7 London Bombings. The service, “Responding to Violence,”  was being broadcast live on BBC Radio 4. The liturgy was well crafted and meaningful, the music was beautiful, and the testimony given by the rector of a church nearest the bombings about his experience that day tending to the dying and wounded was powerful and moving. Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon was based on Matthew 11:10-15, the bombings, and also the recent violence against black churches in South Carolina. Here is part of the Gospel reading used that day:

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

We don’t hear these words often. We prefer to skip over them pretending that being a follower of Jesus is a gentle, peaceful calling – all rainbows and light. But as Brown Taylor pointed out, who knew the truth of that statement better than Jesus? Violence did not surprise Jesus. In fact he tried to prepare his followers for the violence that the kingdom of heaven suffers often. Jesus’ teachings are teachings on how to respond to the violence; not if it comes, but when. Turn the other check, forgive, be hospitable to all. We encounter violence all the time. Specific violence, random acts of violence, violence against our spirits, violence against our bodies, violence against the beauty of the world. Thinking about South Carolina she reflected on the forgiveness and mercy  family members  showed the young man who killed their loved ones during a Bible study. “It was as if the Bible study had never ended,” she said reflecting on the power those Christians claimed when they decided not to hate the hater, as they instead lived out “God’s other way” of active peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.  It got me thinking about how we respond to the violence we encounter in our own lives. Do we respond with hate and fury? Do we run away and pretend it doesn’t exist? Or do we claim God’s other way and  face the violence of the world with the softer, yet stronger, powers of compassion, welcome, forgiveness like Christ? Outside the main doors of the church stands this beautiful sculpture by Mike Chapman entitled “In the Beginning.” Up from the top of the stone is the baby Jesus, and all around the block is carved the words from John 1 that we hear each Christmas Morning, In the beginning was the word, and the word became flesh and lived among us. Jesus lives among us and knows all about the violence we experience whether it be an attack on a major city during morning rush hour, individuals being targeted and killed because of their skin color, or harsh words said in the heat of an argument. This Word comes in the midst of it all reminding us that we are freed to choose another way, the way of God.

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This morning, July 12, I worshiped at “The Church of the really long, lovely walk.” Haven’t heard of it? I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go today so I took a long walk instead. I had plenty to pray about and my eyes just needed to see all the summer green and my legs needed to move.  Birds sing the best hymns and I listen better when I’m moving. May your summer worship give you pause for thought, time to pray and listen, and beauty to fill your soul.

travel

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(some scenes from our travels in no particular order)

Our travels brought us to Iceland and it’s strange and beautiful landscape, the beautiful Cotswolds of England, the historic towns of Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Salisbury, and the busy crowds of London. We had a marvelous time!

Traveling does something to us. It fills our senses with new sights, sounds, tastes, smells and experiences. It messes with our daily routines and helps us see our day to day lives in a new light. I’ve found that traveling makes me a more patient and open-minded person. Who knows if that slow driver is just having a hard time navigating a strange new place, or that person who is short-tempered in line has been up for 24 hours just trying to get to where they want to go?  Traveling is an adventure in newness that expands our minds and hearts. Having the ability to travel is also a huge privilege that I think we often take for granted. To be able to get on a plane with documents that let us go almost anywhere is amazing. To have the resources to pay for a place to stay and food to eat and money to spend and to have the time to explore is something that most of the world just doesn’t have. Traveling is humbling to me because of that, and also because is teaches me about how much I don’t know. Every time I travel I learn different ways of doing things, different textures of the day and ways of being in the world. I am really grateful travel is another way I get to learn.

IMG_3333Of course I’m also grateful that I get to travel with these two. They have a sense of adventure that keeps me on my toes!