Archives for March 2011

At Sixes and Sevens…

I sit here tonight wondering. Where am I headed next?

The thing about moving from a highly structured life to a pretty unstructured one is this strange feeling of being unmoored.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the feeling. In fact, I’m beginning to think I’m enjoying it just a little too much.

I like having fewer commitments/responsibilities/appointments.

I like having more discretionary time.

I like being around my husband all day – and all night.

I like being at home more – we’ve worked long and hard on this place and we love it.

I like having the freedom to help our kids with their kids.

I like this sense of shrugging off a heavy coat that had become more burdensome than I knew.


I feel the need to find the ground again,

to be more centered in myself and in the Lord.

So, what am I going to do about that?

Lent seems like a good time to wonder – and to wander a bit. It is a wilderness time, after all. A time of intentional slowing, of purposeful giving, of paying attention.

And during this particular Lent, about 80% of that ‘paying attention’ has been happening online. Even though this blog has been open for a number of years, I am a rank beginner at it. So I’ve been checking out a whole lotta bloggin’ out there in cyberspace. Some of it is even providing me with helpful tips about how to be more technically savvy, how to write blog-style more effectively. And one of those blogs led me to a new book I’ll begin reading soon – @stickyJesus: how to live out your faith online.

I’m doing some Bible reading online, too. Trying to follow the historical guide provided by the good folks at Life Church, the largest church in our denomination, located in Oklahoma. It’s interesting reading the Word on my computer.

And my husband and I are following a Lenten devotional guide I discovered online. And reading it while using a beautiful candlelit Lenten labyrinth I purchased from another blogger’s son.

So, the internet is where I’m doing a lot of my wondering right now. Wondering if there is room in blog-land for an older woman’s voice, an older pastor’s voice. Some of my discoveries in the last few days have given me hope that maybe, just maybe, there may be a door for me.

In the meantime…I wait. I pay attention. I wonder:

is there more for me to do, Lord?

is there more for me to be?

Red Writing Hood: Pink with Red Sprinkles

The assignment this week is to respond to a picture, fiction or non-fiction, in 600 words. The picture? A scrumptious looking donut, one of many, slathered with pink frosting, dotted with red sprinkles:

“Well, of course,” she said sweetly. “Talk to you later.” The phone slammed into the cradle as Amy’s frustration broke through the facade. If only her boss had any kind of clue what real life looked like. If only he had the slightest inkling of what her life was like. If only she herself had the chutzpah to tell him what her own reality felt like at this moment.
One more assignment. One more level of responsibility. One more series of decisions to be made. Decisions that could mean the difference between pink slips or green lights for people she cared about. Decisions that had her literally tied up in knots just about 24/7. Decisions that felt impossible to make. Amy felt as if she was drowning.
She looked at the piles of paper spread across her desk and wondered to herself how she had gotten to this point. But she knew. She knew she was good at what she did. She knew that she was capable, competent and oh-so-anxious to please, to be seen in a favorable light, to be perceived as the go-to gal, the one who would pick up the pieces, the clean-up batter for the boss. But this?
She hadn’t really bargained for this when she took the job. Promotions? Yes, ma’am. That will do nicely. Approval? Of course, please – and lots of it. Acceptance? Uh-huh – Amy’s middle name. But…maybe…just maybe…you could be too good a worker. Is that possible? Could you make yourself so useful that you became indispensable? So malleable that you were perceived to be a different person than you really were?
Is this what she had worked so hard to become? The person who was given the task of firing people? Could all her hard work, role-playing and nice-girl stick-to-itiveness have come to this?
It was just too much. She could not deal. Swiveling her chair away from the mess on her desk, she stood up and strode purposefully out of the office. Tunneling her way down through the building via the high-speed elevator, she emerged on the street level and walked quickly to the corner.
The smell hit her as soon as she rounded the building. Ah, yes! That delicious, heart-warming reminder that everything and anything could be resolved with the ingestion of a soft, warm doughnut. What kind today? she wondered. What wonder-working circle of sugar and fat could she choose for today’s agony?
And there it was. Right smack dab in the middle of the case. A lovely, softly melting cake doughnut. Perfectly frosted, and flourished with bright sprinkles. And it was pink – just like she was. Because underneath all that competence, underneath all that hard-working, load-bearing, look-at-me-I’m-superwoman exterior was a soft and shy little girl who simply loved pink.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she bought that lovely thing, took it outside in the fresh air with a cup of hot tea and she savored. She savored every single bite. After all, when the feelings rise up and bite you – the best remedy in the world is to stuff them with something divinely good to eat. The quickest, surest way to relief from the bite was to bite back.
Tomorrow, she’d deal with the decisions. Today, she was eating that doughnut.

Remarkable Faith: Reflections on a Funeral…

I met her the summer before I was married. I was 20 years old and she was a couple of years older, married to one of my soon-to-be husband’s best friends. She was, in many ways, everything I was not: a black-haired, vivacious, flashing-eyed fashion plate. She was also deeply kind and a lot of fun and we hit it off almost immediately. As she and her husband went through our wedding reception line six months later, we laughingly said to each other, “Well, I guess we’ll see you in Africa!”

And that’s exactly what we did. Both couples sailed across the Atlantic on a freighter (different ships) to live and teach in central Africa as short-term missionaries. We lived there for two years and were stationed 500 miles apart. Getting together was the highlight of our school holidays – and we got to ride a steam train overnight to do it. She and I shared a deep commitment to Jesus, a healthy pleasure in the joys of married life and a wacky sense of humor. She was a good cook and taught me a lot. I learned to sew and taught her a little.

When we were back in the states, we lived about 90 minutes apart for nearly 30 years. And we got together with some regularity. As our families grew, we spent New Year’s Eve and Day together for many years and even camped together a few times. It was a deep friendship, based on a shared story at a critical time in our lives, and I valued it more than almost any other relationship I had.

Then came the phone call. “Are you sitting down? I have stage 4 breast cancer and we don’t know what we’re going to do…” The four of us went away for the weekend, prayed together and she made the decision to try an alternative approach in lieu of the recommended medical treatment. She was gifted with about a 14 month remission in which she gave praise to God, speaking at women’s gatherings all around her hometown.

At this point in my own life, I graduated from seminary and began a part-time pastoral role in our home church. She and I celebrated together with notes and phone calls and occasional visits. Then she invited us to come to a college not far from our home to see her son in a play. She stood in the back the whole performance and when I asked her why, she said, “My back hurts.”

And I knew. And she knew that I knew. But. She wasn’t ready to move from the place of hope and healing she had enjoyed for a little over a year and she didn’t want anyone around her who had any doubts about the outcome. So…she pretty much cut me out of her life. I sent notes. I called her husband to see how she was doing. I followed from a distance. And it hurt. It hurt so much.

I received a call to serve a church over two hundred miles away from her and agonized about how we could maintain contact with her failing health. In early November, her husband called and said that she had come to realize that her life was coming to an end and she wanted to meet with a few people she had cut off – could I come and see her the following Saturday? Oh, yes. I most definitely could.

But. On that Thursday morning, her husband called to say simply, “She’s gone.” And I was more grief stricken than I had ever been in my life. Oh my, the pain of that loss! I was asked to give the eulogy at her funeral – something I felt honored to do. The service was filled with loving comments from so many people! The young women’s group at their church who came and gave her manicures and massages during those last few months. Friends of short and long term who spoke of her strong faith and her sweet spirit.

My words? I tried to share something of the woman I had known and loved all those years. In the turmoil at the beginning of this last journey, she had shared with me that one of her greatest fears about dying was that no one would remember her. Now that I could speak to – and I did, loudly and clearly. My sweet, brave friend will always be remembered by everyone who knew her. It’s been 14 years since she died, and occasionally, the tears still flow when I think about her. In those 14 years, I’ve been privileged to plan and lead many memorial and graveside services – each one a gift and a rich experience of worship and remembrance. But that one, that one stands out. The friend of my heart, the friend of my youth, my dear, deep friend in Jesus is gone – and she is still missed.

5 Minute Friday: Waking Up…

Joining the Gypsy Mama’s Friday group once again this week, with 5 minutes of unedited writing on this week’s topic: Waking Up…

I am most definitely NOT a morning person. Never have been, never will be. My clock runs so very differently from many – I like to be up late; I like to sleep in. But there was a stretch of time – during one of my several past lives (and yes, I’ve lived long enough to have several of those…) when early morning was one of my favorite times.

For seven years, (4 years of which I was a seminary student – but that’s from another life!) I ran a small (very small) floral business out of my garage. Started with daughter #1’s wedding and ended with daughter #2’s. At that time we lived in an eastern suburb of LA and to gather flowers for any given project, I needed to drive to the downtown area of that sprawling megalopolis and visit the Flower Mart.

There is no place on earth quite like the Los Angeles flower market. Stretching about 2 long city blocks in each direction, it is a bustling hub of activity from about 2:00 a.m. til noon. And it smells fantastic! If I had a wedding or a party to do, I’d set my alarm for 5:00 and head out as the sun first began to peek over the eastern hills, tooling down the Pasadena freeway and pulling into the multi-level lot.

There must be at least 200 different vendors – selling everything from the common (carnations/roses/greens) to the extraordinarily exotic (orchids/protea/wildflowers). I loved it! Picking out colors and textures, sizes and shapes, stocking up on supplies at the upstairs supermarket-of-all-things-floral. That was one time in my life that I didn’t mind waking up early, although I’ve got to be honest here….I don’t miss it one little bit.


Wow – five minutes is not very long, is it? Would love to have told you that this vast array of beauty was a primary source of inspiration and God-breathing for me – but…no time. :>)
I have no digital pictures from that time of my life (let’s see it was TWENTY FOUR years ago that I began that life!), but here are a couple of recent shots of the kinds of flowers I loved to work with – top to bottom: red ginger; coral bouvardia; tuberose (white) and pink ginger; purple dendrobium orchids.

Remarkable Faith: Reflections on a Wedding…

Oh my goodness, I was young. Not quite 21, struggling to finish the first semester of my senior year in college AND planning a wedding…for 600 of our nearest and dearest friends! Needless to say, the grades suffered.

I met him in my freshman year, taken by those big, brown eyes and impressed that our parents had known each other years before, when they were college students themselves. We worked through a few tough spots, but really – as I look back on it now – we were in no way prepared for marriage. But then – is anyone?

He was a person of faith and commitment. So was I. Each of our families was very traditional – stay-at-home moms, hard-working fathers. Each of us was involved in Christian organizations on campus and each of us believed that God had brought us together. We were both first-borns, strong-willed and highly verbal. We loved to laugh, we loved to dream about the future, we loved each other.

So…the wedding. Well, it was a different era. No dinner reception – there was no money for that. We even shared the floral bill with a wedding planned for later the same day. My pastor and his uncle, who was bishop in his small denomination, did the ceremony together. But…and maybe this should have been a clue for what was to come later in our life together…I wrote the ceremony. I did some research, found wonderful liturgies with beautiful words and put together what we both thought was a ceremony that spoke of us and spoke of God. I insisted that the word ‘obey’ be included in my vows. How times change…

My uncle was the organist and he did such a beautiful job, but…he missed one cue. There was to be a formal introduction of the newly married couple to the congregation at the end of the ceremony and Uncle Charles began the Toccata recessional just a tad too early. So I leaned around and shook my head at him and the music instantly stopped. To this day, that’s what a lot of folks remember most about my wedding – the bride telling the musician to stop the music!!

But that’s not what I remember. I remember two very nervous kids, lots of friends and family all around us, an almost palpable level of love in the glorious old sanctuary of the Presbyterian church where I had spent my adolescent years. I remember feeling grateful that we were together forever and I remember feeling excited about whatever might come next.

From that initial sealing of our lives together we have: traveled to Africa and back, living there for two years; had 3 children and 8 grandchildren; walked some dark roads of death and loss; been through the adjustments of my mid-life education (seminary) and career (pastoral ministry, where that early ceremony-building has come in mighty handy!); been down some interesting and complicated health detours for both of us; begun – just this year – what we hope will be a good, long time of retirement together.

And all along the way, we’ve learned a whole lot about what marriage is and is not. It’s a lot more than the wedding, that is for sure. It’s about ups and downs and ins and outs and give and take and laughter and frustration. It’s about compromise and cooperation, dependence and independence, partnership and problem-solving and promise-keeping and prayer. And it’s always about a great adventure – ours is at 45 years and counting.

The RedDress Club: Red Writing Hood – Detour

Joining this week’s meme – describe a detour in your life or a character’s…where were you heading, where did you end up?
The path had been set out for me by my family and its borders were clear-cut and not-to-be-argued.

And it began here: be smart, but not too smart.

a.) Smart enough to go to college. But not smart enough to intimidate potential partners.
b.) Smart enough to attract (and keep) a fine man.
c.) Smart enough to get married and then live nearby.
d.) Smart enough to figure out how to have babies AND smart enough to stop at two.
e.) Smart enough to realize that my entire raison d’etre would be to devote my life to husband and kids but not smart enough to question that devotion – to wonder why, to yearn for something more, something different, something outside the pale of how-things-are-done.

And I pretty much bought it. I was raised in the 50’s and early 60’s, I loved and was grateful for my family and I believed what I was taught. So…I went to college. I met a fine man. I married him in my senior year, at the tender age of 20. But the detour began fairly early on and it was a good one.

Instead of moving near either of our families, we boarded a freighter 8 months after our wedding and sailed to Africa, living for 2 years in Zambia to teach school. That fine man I married didn’t fit the pre-determined mold in some ways and together, we began to cast our own.

I did have those babies, but shocked all by adding a 3rd one to the mix. I did stay at home to raise those kids and was (mostly) glad to do so. But always, always there was a pull, a restlessness, a conviction that there was more for me to do somewhere, somehow.

I was active in volunteer work, in both church and community, so some of that restlessness was soothed by creative opportunities to think outside the box – just a little bit! – and to make contributions that were valued and useful. Things like producing an original musical, raising funds for the local hospital, offering moms younger than myself a bi-weekly opportunity for community, childcare and conversation. I entertained a lot, I decorated my house up the yin-yang; I encouraged my kids to build strong characters and to dream big dreams. I was a good girl for 20+ years.

Then, as my youngest entered his senior year of high school, I took a terrifying detour – at least for me, given my story: I went to seminary, entering the world of academia at the age of 44. And I absolutely loved studying. And I loved teaching (I was a TA for six years) I surprised myself and everyone in my family by pursuing ordination. Fourteen years ago, I took a job 125 miles away from family and was stretched in ways I could not have imagined in my early 20s. And my husband said, “For 30 years you’ve been building your life around mine; now it’s my turn.” And he commuted that distance for over 10 years so that I could do this work. It’s been a good trip – but not one taken on the prescribed pathway – not at all. And that is a very good thing.

5 Minute Friday – Waiting…

This is the place where once a week we take the chance to
just write, and not worry if it’s just right or not.

For five minutes flat.

Here’s how the game works: you simply stop, drop and write. Set your words free. Don’t edit them, don’t fret over them, don’t try to make them perfect.

That’s how Five Minute Friday was born. Want to play? It’s fun. And it’s never too late to link up.

1. Write for only five minutes.
2. Link back here and invite others to play along.
3. Go high five the word artist who linked up before you with an awesome comment.


Seems to me that life is one long series of waitings:

We wait to be born…

We wait to be fed…

We wait to be comforted…

We wait for our muscles to catch up to our vision so that we can begin to manipulate our world…

We wait to be asked to play…

We wait to go to school…

We wait to learn as much as we can learn, some of it easy for us, some of it very hard indeed…

We wait for recess…

We wait for home…

We wait for meals…

We wait for friends to come and play…

We wait for daylight savings time and the extra warmth and light…

We wait for summer vacation…

We wait for the end of summer vacation!

We wait to graduate to the next grade…

….or the next school…

We wait to be kissed…

We wait to fall in love…

….to marry…

…to have children…

We wait for those children to do and learn all those things we did and learned…

We wait for answers to hard questions…

We wait for life to get easier…

We wait for good health to return…

We wait for the end of a loved one’s suffering…

We wait for mercy…

We wait for Jesus.


Monday musings…

It’s a lovely place, Lord. And so nearby, too. Close to the mission – which I love – and close to the foothills – which I also love. Not too far from the beach, either. And not too far from home. Home, of course, being what I love most of all. But is it the right place, the one for me at this point in time? Is this where I’m headed next? I’m in a period of stepping back just now, you see, a time for reflecting, gathering resources – both internal and external – and deciding which way the road is turning as I step out into this strange, new territory called ‘retirement.’

Fourteen years, working as a pastor in this stunningly beautiful community. Fourteen years of handling situations and complications that I could never have imagined when I said yes to God’s call those many years ago. Fourteen years isn’t much on the scale of most people’s professional lives, I suppose. But then, I’m not most people. I’m a strange hybrid, an anomaly of sorts, someone who never quite fits into anyone’s mold.

Married at 20, while still in college. Traveling 14,000 miles from home while still a newly wed to live in Zambia for 2 years, teaching eager students, learning about married life and – surprise! – motherhood. Three kids in 4 years, 21 years stateside as a stay-at-home mom, wife, volunteer. Then…a strange and scary invitation to consider seminary training. Terrified, I needed friends to walk with me into the admissions office to drop off my application. Four years of education, loving every single minute of it (after the first quarter, that is, when I lived pretty much in terror every single day!). Learning to preach – oh, my, how I loved it! – teaching preaching as head TA with many different students over about six years. Hearing a clear call from God to move into pastoral ministry, jumping through denominational hoops to ordination, working for 3 years without pay to keep those hoops open. And then, the call to Santa Barbara – an adventure at age 52, a husband willing, even eager, to support this call by agreeing to commute to LA for TEN YEARS, finding a home which has become shelter, retreat, hospitality central, the source of peace and rest and deep comfort.

Then came the decision to retire. It was such a hard one for me to make – I loved what I did, I loved the people I worked with and for, I felt God’s call to do exactly that…until the spring of last year. I had made the decision to begin training in spiritual direction the year before, and had traveled to Chicago for a week-long, very intense session at our denominational seminary that summer. And as part of the discernment process for continuing in this 3-year program, had labored over a photo-essay book to submit to the on-line instructor of the year-long class which followed that week in the midwest. But what had come to me in that process was more than a ‘yes’ to continue my training. What had come clear as well was that now was the time to step back from my role, my title, my position, my place. So at the end of 2010 I retired from pastoral ministry and am now taking a four month time away to recuperate and re-group.

I felt a deep peace about this choice, grateful to God for the time I had enjoyed, hopeful that transitioning into a new role as certified spiritual director would provide just enough ‘professional’ identity to fill both hours on the calendar and that space inside my spirit called ‘pastor.’ But the road took a strange and unexpected twist: I landed in the hospital in late spring with blood clots in both lungs. And my body simply would not allow me to travel to Chicago last summer, forcing me to withdraw from my training cohort, leaving me to prayerfully consider how God might redeem this loss and point me in new directions.

Through a series of marvelously providential connections, I discovered that there is a school for spiritual direction that meets right here in Santa Barbara every summer – and it is co-led by my own director. And I was invited in for a peek – a weekend class last summer and a winter retreat last month. So now, the application for this summer’s class sits in my book bag, waiting my time and focus. Is this the next step in God’s continuing call on my life? Should I switch from the training track I have already begun to this new one? The timing is identical – two more summers with year-long reading and learning in between. The one here in town is Benedictine – Roman Catholic – and I have loved the worship and the differently focused theological underpinnings to the coursework I’ve done. Perhaps immersing myself in this very different environment is what I need just now. Perhaps this is the way the road is turning. “Lead me in the paths of righteousness, O Lord, for your name’s sake!”

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Sunday Surprises

As noted earlier this week, we’re in a strange season in our lives. Taking a break from our home worshiping community for four months – and visiting others, both nearby and further away. Last night we had a list of about four choices and opted for the mainline option located on upper State Street. First Presbyterian has a beautiful plant and campus, three completely different worship services and a fleet of 3 busses they use to transport senior citizens from a number of different retirement communities in Santa Barbara. We’d been there once for worship – about 10 years ago – and once for a concert, so we knew that the sanctuary was large and lovely. Pretty certain that we’d see a smattering of grey heads and not much more at the latest service of the day (10:30 a.m.), we went in with not much anticipation or expectation.

Well. It was a truly wonderful morning, filled with surprises for both of us, but maybe most especially for me. I thought I had already done most of my grieving at leaving my position of the last 14 years. I thought I didn’t care so much anymore for an entire service of traditional hymns, organ music and a choir. I thought nothing in a Presbyterian worship service could surprise me. After all, I WAS a Presby for almost 20 years, from the ages of 12-30 and my mom and both of my daughters have attended Presbyterian churches for many years – so I knew what to expect, right?? Wrong.

Yes, there was a fair amount of liturgy. Okay by me – I love liturgy. Yes, we sang from the hymnal. But at least one song was completely new to me and really lovely. Yes, the choir was quite small (I counted 17). But wow, could they belt out Mendelssohn’s “He, Ruling Over Israel,” with the best of them. Yes, the pastor wore a long robe and there were portions of the service that were almost stiffly formal. But the general feel in the room was a relaxed one – quite proper, for sure – but laughter was easy, the pastor tripped over his own words a couple of times, and it felt human and welcoming, even if a little more circumscribed than we are used to. We missed the children’s sermon and we missed the contemporary music and we missed the people we love – but… we gained a lot this morning.

First of all, this is a little of what we got to look at:

Sorry I didn’t capture the whole sweep of this large, lovely room, but I think you get the picture. It’s a beautiful space, and despite its large size, very conducive to worship. Very early in the service, a small baby boy – in a tremendously long gown – was baptized. And the pastor of this church led in the baptismal liturgy, accompanied by one of the elders, a very smartly dressed and articulate middle-aged woman.

But the one doing the baptizing happened to be a relative of the baby’s mother – her aunt, from Tennessee – also an ordained Presbyterian minister. She was dressed as I always wished I could dress when I pastored – in a lovely, loosely fitted black cassock with a button-front, a mandarin collar and a beautiful stole – purple for the Lenten season. She took that little boy and spilled water over his tiny head 3 times – in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. She said lovely words of blessing and thanks – and I began to quietly weep, just a little. Offering the sacraments, both at table and at the font (or in a pool or the ocean) was probably my very favorite part of ‘the job.’ Such a privilege, such a picture of grace, such a unifying act for the community to share in together. I miss that.

Surprise number two came at the reading of the morning psalm – about 20 verses from Psalm 139 – one of my favorites. There was a printed musical response in the bulletin, which the pastor led us in learning. And then…. and then…. the pastor sang the psalm – stopping about every two verses for us to join in the sung response. He had a good, strong voice – not a great voice, not a trained voice, but a pleasant and inviting voice, which was just right. It was beautiful, moving, surprising. There’s something about having the Word of God sung to you that causes even very familiar words to take on new luster, deeper shades of meaning. It was, simply put, marvelous.

Surprise number three came with the sermon. The pastor is doing a six week series, looking at the faith traditions outlined in Richard Foster’s book, “Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith.” There are six of those streams – contemplative/holiness/ charismatic/evangelical/social justice/incarnational – and today’s focus was on the second of those streams. Coincidentally, both my husband and I began our faith journeys in holiness churches – me in the United Methodist, from birth to age 12 and he in the Brethren in Christ/Mennonite from birth until he married me. We brought our mixed traditions to the Evangelical Covenant Church in 1975 and have never regretted that decision, relishing the rich mixture and wide acceptance of varying traditions within this small but steadily growing denomination.

So to read 1 Timothy 4:6-10, and to hear the pastor encourage us all to a.) avoid the potential pitfalls of this mindset (legalism, self-righteousness and perfectionism) and b.) heed the 4 lovely hallmarks of this tradition: 1.) scripture – everyday, time in the Word; 2.) service – everyday, doing something for someone else that you don’t ordinarily do; 3.) praise – everyday, being grateful, giving praise, paying attention to the graces of dailyness; and 4.) prayer – everyday, in all situations, offering this simple 4-word prayer: “Lord, open my heart” – well, it was just about perfect for us this week. It was a great reminder of where we’ve been in our journey together these last 45 years. It was a great encouragement to remember that our heritage is rich and real. It was a lovely morning of surprise and serendipity and we are deeply grateful.

A little bit different Ash Wednesday…

This is an odd season in our lives. I retired from active, pastoral ministry at the end of 2010. And as part of that decision, we very deliberately chose not to attend our worshiping community through the first quarter of this year, returning to worship and serve after Easter. I say deliberate because I know myself too well. If I were there, I would too quickly fall back into old patterns, assuming responsibilities that are no longer mine to assume. And I also know that others in our community might do the same thing, expecting me to continue to ‘be there’ in the ways that I have been for 14 years. So, we opted to make a break. We reasoned that it would be great fun to check out other worshipping communities in our area, we could have more freedom on weekends than we’ve had in nearly 20 years, that we could spend time with our kids and visit their churches. Etc., etc., etc.

The truth of this situation? We’re adrift a bit, cut off, by our own choice, from the people and place that feels like home. And, let me be quick to add, there are many good pieces to that. We all need reminding from time to time that ‘this world is not our home,’ that God is present in many places and in many ways, that other communities are valid, creative, worshiping, serving, caring outworkings of the Spirit’s life in The Church (caps intentional).

But we’re acutely aware, especially as we move into Lent and all that this rich season of the year means, that we’re in a different place than we’ve ever been in before. Sort of betwixt and between, neither fish nor fowl, at sixes and sevens – to use every cliche I can think of that’s relevant to this idea.

So as Ash Wednesday approached, I pondered what might be best for us to do. I contemplated attending another church’s service – something I’ve done before (in addition to our own), but this year, that was difficult for us to do. You see, Wednesday is Lilly Day for us. We keep our youngest, newly-turned-one granddaughter – something we LOVE to do, enjoy immensely, wouldn’t give up for the world, and yet also find exhausting in the extreme. Can’t quite put our fingers on why we feel so tired with one day’s worth of watching such a beautiful, charming, fascinating child – but we do. Probably has something to do with our advancing age, which only serves to underscore our ever-increasing delight in the truth that we did this as parents when we were quite a lot younger!

So attending an early or even midday service was out. And the thought of getting dressed up a bit and hurrying through dinner to attend an evening service didn’t call out to us, either. So, I went a different direction.

Last year, I ordered this beautiful wooden labyrinth style Advent and Lenten worship aid from a young man in Canada. His mother writes a beautiful blog, which I began following shortly before my retirement and last year at about this time, she began posting beautiful photos of her son’s work and I thought it would be a great ministry tool. When it arrived, I kept it out for a long time, enjoying it’s simple beauty (two pieces of the spiral come off to make a 24-candle-hole Advent ‘path.’) But I didn’t use it at church. I carefully put it away with my fine china and enjoyed knowing that it was there.

So, I got it out on Wednesday. I had bought some lovely spring flowers at Trader Joe’s earlier in the week and I moved that centerpiece back on the table, giving more focus to our hand-hewn journey-marker. Another blogsite (you see, this is what I do these days – explore the world of blogdom, hoping to find my way to more writing opportunities as I learn about what’s out there, and what’s not…) offered me the lovely gift of a Lenten devotional guide, free for the printing and I put it into a folder and placed it on the table, too.
For whatever reason, Dick and I have gotten into the weird habit of keeping the TV on during dinner – usually tuned to the PBS Newshour (or Jeopardy, if it’s a later dinner!). So for Lent this year, I offered the suggestion that we give that up, replacing the noise with candlelight, brief devotions and discussion. Dick thought that was a good idea – so that’s what we did.
This may be a scandalous thing to admit in such a public forum, but we’ve never been big on family devotions in our house. We’ve done them from time to time, when the kids were younger, and we certainly made a huge point to be together for as many meals as possible while our children were growing, we prayed together over the food and we talked easily and openly about matters of faith. We memorized scripture together, we did service projects together, we taught our children to come to God with thanksgiving and concerns from an early age. But my husband grew up in a home with mandatory morning devotions – and he hated it. And he made it clear very early on that he was not interested in repeating that pattern. So we didn’t. We found our own way, we talked a lot, we explored our faith together and we have enjoyed finding ways of making that faith real in the context of home, work and world.
But this is the first time in a long time that we’ve had any real structure to that – and so far (one week in!) we’re liking it a lot. I missed having the mark of the ashes on my head – and more than that, I missed being one of the persons who imposed that mark on others, offering the wonderful words: “You are but dust and ashes. Repent and believe the gospel.” But I was glad and grateful to be in our home, really looking at each other over dinner by candlelight, and sharing together briefly from the Word and from life. A different Ash Wednesday. But a good one.

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