Archives for January 2007

Working Toward Retreat…

It’s been almost a full year since I’ve done any speaking or teaching for a women’s group of any kind. For a while there, I was doing something with and for women on a regular basis – I facilitated a women’s Bible study group at church twice a month for about seven years, participated in four different women’s retreats for our own women (two as speaker, one as worship leader, one as communion celebrant) and spent a weekend here, a half-day’s worth of interaction and input there. I spoke at a ladies’ tea, and I offered communion to a Bible study leadership team every fall for several years running. I like working with women – I also love preaching to and teaching groups which include both genders and a variety of age groups. But there is often something rich and remarkable that happens when a group of women gather somewhere away-from-the-usual for the express purpose of drawing closer to God.

Two days from now, I’ll get that opportunity again as I lead a group of women from Brentwood Presbyterian church at their annual women’s ministries retreat – right here in Santa Barbara at la Casa de Maria. We’re looking at the book of Esther – which is the same material I used at the very first retreat I ever led by myself almost 10 years ago. My good friend Karen Jobes has written an incomparable commentary on this marvelous book and I have enjoyed re-reading it the last few weeks. (In case you’re wondering…this is the only commentary I have ever read from cover to cover!) Over the course of this weekend, we’ll be talking about and reflecting on:

The Hidden Presence of God in Our Story

“…for such a time as this…”

Session One – Friday Evening, January 26, 2007

Making Things CLEAR…

…the need for consent and clarity.

Session Two – Saturday Morning, January 27, 2007

Keeping Things CONGRUENT…

…the importance of consistency and community.

Session Three – Saturday Afternoon, January 27, 2007

Living with COURAGE…

…the need for conviction and commitment.

Session Four – Sunday Morning, January 28, 2007

Responding with CELEBRATION…

…moving through confession to cooperation.

Throughout the course of these sessions, the women will spend some time in individual reflection, some time in small group discussion and some time in large group learning. It is challenging and fun to lay out a series like this, and I am grateful for the opportunity. And I am especially enjoying wrestling through this topic at this particular juncture in my own life and ministry. I gave the leadership team at Brentwood a list of about six topics and this is the one they chose. After listening to a bit of their corporate story of the last several years, I can readily see that it is also a great topic for them to wrestle with for a while.

It’s a good and relevant topic precisely because God so often seems hidden to us. There aren’t too many miracles to be had, these days. Indeed, I believe that God chooses to work through the ordinary, non-remarkable circumstances of daily life far more often than God chooses to intervene with a miraculous event – and I believe that’s true in any day. There are far more stories like Esther’s in this life than there are stories like the Exodus. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is that there is more often a “miraculous quality to the ordinary” (a Jobes’ phrase) than there is an ordinary quality to the miraculous! The only problem with this truth is, of course, that we so often fail to have ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear’ the wondrous ways in which our God is at work in, around and through the ordinary stuff of life. I am praying that together, the women from Brentwood Pres and I will have our eyes and ears opened in new ways this weekend.


Last night I found a note from a good friend in my e-box. Someone I’ve missed since she took another job halfway across the country 18 months ago. Someone with whom I had found common ground here in Santa Barbara, very soon after I arrived 10 years ago. I was so very green around the ears professionally. I had come to my first paying job since working as a personal assistant to a friend almost twenty years before. I was deeply frightened about expectations, both known and unknown, and about my ability (or inability, to be more accurate) to live up to them. The first day I drove up here, with my little Ford Escort loaded to the gills with supplies, my husband put me in the car with sobs and hugs, a rather unusual mode of farewell, to be sure!

We were both excited about the prospects of ‘being sent’ to a new place. (Yes, I know it was Santa Barbara – I’ve heard the sardonic comments about ‘somebody has to serve Jesus in Santa Barbara…’ too many times to count!) but it was a new place, a strange place and it certainly wasn’t a place that ‘felt’ like us. My husband sobbed for me because he had already been in the working world for a lot of years and he fully understood about expectations, about performance anxiety, about awkward personnel issues, about office politics, about hard decisions and about sacrificial labor. He wondered what I would find and he knew he couldn’t be with me for my first few days. His job required (and still requires) him to be in southern CA 3 days per week. My new job meant living in a guest house until we found a home, much of the time without him beside me. It was a strange feeling, after 30 years of marriage, to be without my partner for days at a time.

And I had left behind rich and deep friendships of many years in southern CA. Neighbors and small group partners and co-workers whom I loved. I had been a pastor for 3 years at this point, but I was working in the church where I had already been a lay leader for 21 years and my friendships there had come first. So coming to a new parish – without friends and, oddly, where no one knew me in the context of my family – was strange for me. This was a place where my new boss warned me against making friends within the congregation. I think he was trying to help me establish the same kind of boundaries he had worked on very well for a very long time. Even though he had a number of close associates of many years’ duration within the broader church community, he was careful to tell me that only his small group of male pastors, all of whom lived in other geographical areas, really knew him well. I have since learned that this is not atypical for pastors who are men.

So, I spent almost two years afraid to let anybody get too close, afraid to be my neurotic, vulnerable, broken self with the people I met and grew to know and love. And during those same two years, I was finding a house, moving into a house, trying to live in that house without my ‘stuff’ – our house in Altadena took 11 months to sell – and doing it all without my husband here from Tuesday to Thursday every single week. I was deeply and desperately lonely.

Then I went to lunch with Karen. She, too, was a midlife seminary student. She, too, had deep ties to her mom and family who were living elsewhere. She, too, wrestled with balance and friendships and all sorts of the same kinds of stuff that I was wrestling with. We met for meals about 3 times a semester while she taught in Santa Barbara and those meals helped me begin to feel real in my new home. Gradually, I was able to be more myself – with her, and with others. Gradually, I felt the freedom to be a pastor and a friend in my own way, following the leading of the Spirit and being true to the person God had made me to be. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it.

So when I saw her name in my e-box, I was glad and grateful. It was sweet and good to hear from her – she is busy with her life and her family, and so am I. Hopefully, we can maintain some sort of contact, despite the distance and the pulls we each respond to, both personally and professionally. I know from painful personal experience that it is not easy to do that. Many of my friends from only 110 miles away are now Christmas letter friends only, and that is sometimes hard for me. But then, there are a few dear ones with whom I can instantly be deeply connected, even after many months of no contact, and for these ones, I thank God.

My BBC (Birthday Breakfast Club) from Pasadena – dear friends with whom I have maintained some semblance of relationship since the move north. These women were God’s gift to me for many years – four of them walked with me into the admissions office when I applied for seminary – and all of them encouraged my gifts and listened to my story with love and wisdom.