Monday, December 18, 2017

Doing it all again

I’m not really sure what’s lurking. Only that I’m perpetually tired….like really tired. Like ready for bed by 8 tired.  Last night it was ready to sleep at 6 tired, but I have kids, so that didn’t really work out.  And it may just be that I’m tired. But since my mom died, I’ve learned that crazy tired is actually a sign of unacknowledged grief. So, my guess is that somewhere there’s a pocket of emotion that’s built up and keeps sapping my energy. And the best way I've found to find it is to write....

I’m not really sure what it might be exactly, only that I miss my mom.  I wish I could do Christmas with her again.  Last year was hard, but it didn’t feel hard, I guess because I was expecting it to be hard.  But this year, the grief feels worse.  I remember a woman from my second church whose husband had died.  She said, “The first year of grief sucks, but the second year is so much worse because you have to do it all over again.  I mean, you get through the first Christmas, birthday, anniversary, etc without them, and then you have to do it all again.”

It seems insanely obvious that after someone dies you would have to do all the things without them from that day on, year after year, and that’s true.  But it’s hard to do the work of grief, the expressions and the deep deep feeling, only to realize despite your best efforts, there’s more deep stuff and sadness there.  

So there’s both a deep longing—one where I wish she were here, where the decorations are mostly all a reminder of her…the table cloth she bought me, the napkins, the Christmas dishes, the “our first home” ornament, the clothes, the symbols…so much of it beckoning forth her memory and she’s not here to enjoy it or share it.  And there’s a deep sadness, an emptiness because of her absence.  And frankly, it’s exhausting.  

Yesterday we received a package that included See’s candy. That’s a special treat up here since there aren’t See’s stores nearby.  And See’s was always a favorite of my grandma and my mom.  So when I open the box to enjoy some candy, I’m inclined to offer some to my mom, or save some for when she gets here.  Only she’s not here and she won’t be coming…not again, not ever.  

And there’s the grief.  Hard and fast and strong and deep.  I miss her.  I wish I could talk to her. Appreciate her more.  Ask more questions. Learn more things.  But I can only pull from my memories, and those of others who know and love and remember her. And, for today, that’s the best I can do.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Children's time for All Saints' Sunday

(Give the kids a clementine.)

Today we are going to talk about savoring things.  Do you know what “savor” means? Savor means to enjoy…taking in every detail.  

So we’re going to take a minute to practice. We’re going to savor these oranges.  Before we open them, we want to look at them…what shape are they? what color are they?  

We want to feel them, how do they feel?  

We want to smell them, how do they smell?  

You get to anticipate what they will taste like…we’ll have you do your taste test up in activity time.  

But savor means we take time to look, and smell, and touch and feel something.  If we think about it, it can be easy to savor lots of things.  Even things we can’t taste…we could savor the beauty of a flower…how it looks and feels and smells….even though we wouldn’t likely eat it.  

We can also savor memories….we can think about someone or sometime and think about how it felt…was it warm out, or cold.  What were the things we saw?  Did we eat anything? Was it sweet or salty? crunchy or chewy?  

And we can do the same with people…what were they wearing? How did they wear their hair?  Were they wearing perfume or cologne that we liked? what did their voice sound like?  Did they give good hugs or have a big smile?  

Today, we are remembering the saints…we’re talking about people that we have loved who have died.  And we can’t hug them, or look at them in front of us…but we can savor our memories….remembering little details…maybe things that make us laugh or smile, maybe even things that touch our heart and make us happy. Savoring memories is one of the best ways we can continue to hold someone in our heart even when we can’t be with them in real life.  

Let us pray. 

Morning Prayer

Lord Jesus, guide my thoughts and my words. Help me to understand your Word in a way that is easy to share with others. May the words that I preach glorify and honor you. May the message of the day draw people nearer to you and to the saints. In Jesus’ name, amen.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Need for creative writing

One of my key roles is to be a story teller. It is my job to convey the stories and significance of the Bible in meaningful and relatable ways.  One of the best ways to do that is storytelling.  Some scriptures come alive easily and readily and others require that you mine the significance.  Often, as a preacher, I can recognize my preaching as a true gift from God in how easily the words come.  And, I know I’m struggling when I have to fight to write.  It may be that my spirit is dry, or that my mind is distracted. But, clearly, one way or the other I have something to work on. 

I often have multiple writing commitments (sermons, articles, FB postings…) those things can be fun, but they can also be a drag. And often I struggle to get those done if I’m not writing freely without expectations or constraints.  My hope is to revive my blog a bit to help stir that creative energy that I miss on a day to day basis.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

Prayer for Focus

Dear Lord, 
Help me to be centered on you. 
Give me energy. 
Give me inspiration. 
Give me insight into your people and your Word. 
Help me to listen. 
I lay my burdens at your feet. 
You have far greater wisdom and care for them than I. 
I leave them with you so I may focus on the work at hand.  
When it’s time to pick them up again, 
show me how to follow you.  
In Jesus’ name, 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Susie's Surprise

This is a classic in our house…the stories…not the recipes.  lol.  I can hardly say “Susie’s surprise” without laughing. And if you have my brother, sister, and or dad and I together, we can generally all start to giggle, at least a little, at the memories.  

Let me start by saying my mom was a good cook. She cooked a lot of meals for all of us for a lot of years.  Most of those very good meals left no imprint on my brain.  I’m sorry mom.  

The meals that will live forever (in infamy) are those called “Susie’s Surprise”.  These were generally meals that came together as my mom tried to use up leftovers and clean out the fridge.  Maybe mom’s downfall was that she could find a use for just about anything…including a montage of food.  

I was particularly mindful of Susie’s Surprise yesterday as I excitedly planned meals to use our ham leftovers from Easter. I could make fried rice, mac-n-cheese and ham, split pea soup, quiche and navy bean soup.  I look forward to each of those meals and consider each of them fairly normal in the food categories.  I’m certain my mom made similar meals with left overs.  Sadly, I don’t remember those.  

I can’t even tell you all the weird Susie’s surprise concoctions she made. Just that they were weird.  Really weird.  Not like pot pie, or fried rice, or turkey soup….weird…like some odd combination of already combined foods (like casseroles) re-combined to be a “Surprise!”  I do remember a salad with all kinds of things including tuna, olives, and kidney beans.  I’m not even sure what else.  None of us were thrilled to eat it and we definitely thought it was too weird to be shared with the neighbor.  Sorry Ada.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cleaning Out Old Skeletons

Somehow the least appealing boxes to unpack are ones that have a random assortment of paperwork.  With every move there are boxes that have a hodgepodge of items and I’ll regularly open the box, look in, see the smattering of items and close it right back up with no desire to sort through all that randomness.  Well, the purging bug bit last week and I spent a good bit of time sorting through those boxes.  I got through at least 11 and have 5 of them refilled with items for a yard sale. Not bad for a day’s work.  

As I sorted I found lots of old files…sermons, seminary papers, tax documents, cards, letters and more.  One of the things I found was a 5 page document outlining the list of egregious (in my opinion) actions of a former boss.  I had written the list at the end of my employment there and shared it with our supervisor so that if something happened in the future, our supervisor would know it wasn’t an isolated incident.  This particular person had a habit of being hurtful, mean spirited, and spiteful.  I turned in one copy and saved one for myself.  And as I sifted through paperwork I found those pages all over again.  A skeleton of sorts that hangs in out in the closet.  

Over the years, I recovered it a handful of times.  I read through the report and am often surprised at just how bad it was.  My memory has had a way of softening the harshness of those months under his awful leadership.  But when I re-read my notes and am reminded of the pain I endured.  Each time I’ve been reluctant to throw it out.  It’s seemed necessary to hold onto it. 

But this time was different. This time it seems I need to be done reliving those wounds.  At this point I know it was hard to work with him and that he was awful to me.  And that’s enough. I don’t need to keep revisiting the details. 

So I bid farewell to that ugly old skeleton.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spirit of Helping

My mom was a helper. She enjoyed filling a need and could step in to most any task at any point and help it be successful.  Do you need a cook? She could do that. Do you need a florist? She could do that! Do you need a childcare provider? She could do that. Do you need a prayer person? She could do that.  Do you need a scripture reader? She could do that. Do you need your pants hemmed? She could do that.  She could do most anything and she would to help most anybody.

My list of the ways she helped me over the years could go on and on (and probably should).  But in this Holy Week, I am thinking of her help in leading worship.  My first appointment was to Hemet UMC. In my first year, I was assigned to leading Palm/Passion Sunday.  Liturgically, the Sunday before Easter can go either way...focused on Palm Sunday or focused on the Passion.  I hated to choose.  I didn't want to skip Palm Sunday and I hated that people wouldn't come to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday and wanted them to have to sit with the sorrow of the Passion.  So, I did "Palm to Passion Sunday" and used the liturgy to explore the various events of that week.  The final element was to turn off the lights and hammer nails into a cross and let the sound echo in the sanctuary.  Then it was silent.

My mom was there for that service and was more than happy to help. So she hammered the nails.  The liturgy had been powerful and then the darkness, the silence, the hammering, and more silence, it really spoke to people.  And I remember how it spoke to her and how even in the busyness of orchestrating the liturgy, she was touched.  I am grateful she was always supportive of my ministry and willing to lend a hand in so many ways.

Monday, April 3, 2017

For the saints

On October 6th of 2016, we held a gathering of saints (yes, the living ones) to say goodbye to my mom. It was held at my home church, Bishop First UMC.  And, truth be told, it was an amazing reunion of beautiful people from my mom's life. There was family from all over the country and there were friends dating back to her childhood. Over the years, her friends, of course, became our friends and extended family.  There were people from every stage of my life.  People we had traveled with, camped with, done 4th of July with, worshipped with, done mission work with, done ministry with, prayed with, and shared many many meals with.  They were the people who helped form and shape me--pastor, Sunday School teacher, my mom's prayer partners, aunts, uncles, teachers, and more.  They comprise the tapestry of my childhood (and beyond).  

I'm not sure I can properly convey how precious it was to hug them and tell them hi.  And I so wished my mom could have been there to enjoy it. She would have adored having time with each of them. She easily could have talked until midnight as she caught up with each and every one. 

I am so very thankful for each of these people and the love they have shared with my family over the years.  And I am thankful for my mom who loved them and nurtured relationships that span a lifetime.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Give of Yourself

Mom was always thinking of others. Always.  I don’t know that she knew another way of operating.  (One ironic and poignant example was when she was needing to be up and walking and exercising in order to gain back strength.  Yet, we could barely find a single way to motivate her.  At the same time my husband was needing to push himself to do more exercise.  In true Sue fashion, she volunteered to do a measure of walking for every measure of walking Rick did.  They weren’t equal, but in an attempt to encourage and motivate him, she offered to be an exercise buddy of sorts.  She wasn’t ready to do it for herself. But she was ready to do it for him.).  She always was thinking about how to do what would be good for another.  

One particular blessing she gave me was when I was a new mom with Ruth home from the hospital.  Each night I would nurse her and then my mom would take her and rock her for a few hours until she was ready to nurse again. Then she would bring Ruth into my room so I could nurse and put her down.  You could argue it was selfish (or at least not totally self-less) since she got to hold her granddaughter.  But her true motivation was to help me and let me get some good sleep.  Sure, she enjoyed it, but she was thinking of me.  

I am grateful for that gift and the memory of her holding Ruth and rocking her to sleep.   

Monday, February 27, 2017

Do the unexpected

As a parent, my mom was wonderful because she was consistent and, in most ways, predictable.  If you were refusing to finish your dinner, she would ask you your age and after you replied, say "5", that was how many bites she assigned (if you were particularly lacking, she might assign 5 bites of meat, and 5 bites of vegetables.  But, it was still consistent (and seemingly fair since 5 is a good number for 5 year olds).  Similarly, if you were acting out, you might earn 5 minutes of time out (unless you were 8, then it would be 8).  It was predictable and consistent.  It wasn't based on how well or poorly her day had gone, but on a specific strategy of parenting.

Then, sometimes, she would do something totally unexpected. Like the one time she served us waffle cone bowls and let us make ice cream sundaes for dinner. Not dessert. That was dinner.  Once.  It only happened once, but man did it stick!  It was a beautiful thing.

She did special things for us and by making them out of the ordinary, they became extraordinary and that was awesome!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Remembering the markers

Happy anniversary!  
Today would have been this lovely couple's 46th anniversary.  
I can hardly imagine what it would be like to spend the day, after over 46 years together, without your beloved.  What I do know is that they shared a lot of love over the years, both with each other and with others.  In 2015, then into 2016, she spent about 6 months in rehab, then a little time in the sun in San Diego before heading home. They'd only been home a couple of days and she still managed to arrange a surprise party/dinner with friends at a local restaurant.  She loved to plan surprises (though really preferred to anticipate the joy for herself), to buy gifts, and to spend time with friends.  

I'm grateful for the amazing example of love, care, support, encouragement, trust, generosity, and service that I have in my parents.  They didn't fight in front of us.  They communicated regularly and openly. They were intentional in showing love in various *languages. They proved that marriage takes work and it's worth it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Parenting advice

Parenting is hard work. If you’re a parent, you know that.  If you’re not, you should know why the parents around you are exhausted and sometimes at their wits-end!  There is love, snuggles, cuteness, and laughter—all of which are awesome.  And there are tantrums, power struggles, food battles, and learning wars that are not so awesome.  

I have to say my parents (yes, both of them) are amazing, stellar, cream of the crop parents.  They are amazing people too. But as parents, they rocked it.  They were consistent, even keel, affirming, loving, kind, and a wonderful example.  I cannot remember one instance where either of them yelled. Not once.  As a parent myself, that’s pretty miraculous.  I wish I could say the same about myself as a parent.  Instead I’ll just say I’m a work in progress.  

Before I was a parent, I was a youth leader, youth counselor and youth pastor. I worked with teens at summer camp and in the church for years. And from time to time I would need advice about how to work with one.  Regularly, I’d call my parents to ask for their input.  Almost without fail, if I asked my dad, he’d say something like, “You should ask your mother; I learned everything I know from her.” And he’d pass the phone to my mom.  

Always, she’d have an answer. She was an educator who had both her masters and extensive continuing education training.  She and my dad took ELEVEN parenting classes before my brother was born.  (He was the firstborn).  ELEVEN classes.  That’s a lot.  I mean, parenting is hard, I get that, I’m grateful I’ve had 3 classes.  I could benefit from 11, maybe it’d help the yelling thing…anyway.  She knew a lot. She understood behavior from a developmental perspective, as well as a social one, and even an intelligence level one.  She could identify the underlying issues and offer a dozen options for how to handle it and work with the student.  

And then once I had Ruth, she continued to offer good wisdom.  It’s a bit different as a grandparent because you don’t want to stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong (or isn’t solicited) and as a parent you don’t want to be seen as a failure (or at least that’s my issue) and so you (I) don’t always ask for advice when you should.  

In January we started a new stage, it’s super *fun*.  I don’t know which stage it is exactly…my mom would have been the one to tell me that.  But it’s where my kid asserts her independence by ignoring, arguing, or defying most every bit of instruction I give.  I wish I understood it so I had more patience for it.  And, I wish I had my mom’s dozen options for how to curb it before it drives me insane.  

I miss her. I wish I could call.  It makes me sad she’s not on the other end of a phone ready to answer.  But it also makes me grateful that I was raised by someone so amazing.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Missing My Mom

My grief has been hitting particularly hard.  The day my mom passed, I sobbed. Hard. For a long time.  While her death wasn’t unexpected, it was unreal that she was actually gone.  And then I quickly fell into the doing…thinking about her service, writing liturgy, helping sort at the house.  The busy work of grief.  And I didn’t feel it much.  I missed her, but it didn’t sting like grief often does.  And then January came and my grief hit like a ton of bricks.  Grief is funny that way. It comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, often unpredictably for things we’d never imagine.  

I’ve been remembering a lot and savoring various memories.  And still the sadness lingers.  And that’s ok. I’d certainly tell someone I counsel at the church that it’s ok to be sad.  At the same time, I hope for something beyond the sadness.  So, I thought I’d start writing and sharing memories, hoping that something more fruitful might happen, or at least that it would provoke the tears to do the healing work. 

It will likely be a series of posts, memories and lessons from my mom.  I like assonance as a communication tool, so I’ll stick with “Momma Mondays” and share my stories of her.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guided Meditation

Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath.  Relax your shoulders.  Lay your hands in your lap.  Take a deep breath.  Breathe in the breath of God. Breathe out your worries,  your fears,  your pain and your doubt.  

You find yourself sitting in a comfortable, overstuffed arm chair in front of a big picture window.  To your right is a big fire in the fire place. In front of you through the window, are the rolling hills of the Palouse, covered in fresh snow.  

You are comfortable. You are warm and you are relaxed. 

You have a hot drink and can simply enjoy the beauty of the scene in front of you.  

As you look out you notice a handful of robins just outside the window,  eating berries from a tree. You are reminded of God's word to trust in God's provision as God even provides for the birds in the dead of winter.  How true it is.  Most of the plants are covered in snow,  and yet here are the birds eating what God has provided.

You are encouraged to trust God...even when things seem barren.  The Holy Spirit speaks into your heart showing you how God wants you to trust.  

Take a deep breath and listen to what the Spirit is telling you.  (Pause 15 seconds)

You focus on the birds awhile longer.  They play and eat and the simplicity of their task makes you smile.  You yearn for some of that simplicity in your own life.  If only you had less on your plate.  

You take a sip of your drink, savoring the flavor.  Then another deep breath. Breathe in the Holy Spirit. Breathe out your stress. You invite God to show you what you might let go of.  

Listen to God’s answer.  

Take another deep breath. Notice the air in your lungs. Take a moment to reflect on what God has shown you today.  

Breathe deeply. As you are ready, open your eyes.