Archives for March 2011

ShoutLaughLove: stories of the broken, beautiful church

so much shouting, so much laughter
Linking with tomorrow on the topic, “the broken, beautiful church…”

It was a strange afternoon for November. The air was sparky – almost tangible electricity all around as 11 women gathered in my living room for a brain-storming session about how we as a church might be ‘near to the broken-hearted.’ We had a good, productive, prayerful time together, deciding on an evening event with a guest speaker as precursor to some Sunday morning learning and sharing opportunities.

As the last woman headed out to the driveway I walked with her and said, “I don’t like this weather! It’s hot, really hot for 6:00 p.m., and the wind is blowing so fiercely. It always makes me nervous somehow.” I glanced up at the foothills just above our home as I said these words, feeling uncomfortable, even a little frightened. Of what, I did yet know.
Within 15 minutes, my phone rang. A neighbor calling to say that there was a fire racing down the canyons above us and we would have about an hour or two to evacuate. We ate our dinner standing up and gathered together photographs, important documents, art work and loaded both our cars and a nephew’s, who had come by to help. We drove 15 minutes south to stay with our son and his family and began to pray in earnest for all the people in our congregation who would be directly in ‘the line of fire’ as the evening progressed.

Perhaps it might be good to tell you that I was, at that time, the Associate Pastor for a congregation of about 350, worshipping in a beautiful new worship center directly in the line of the flames on the side of a Santa Barbara CA foothill. Our senior pastor had flown that morning to the east coast, where he would officiate at the memorial service for his wife’s mother and that meant that the major burden for decision making fell on the office staff and on me. And I was now a dozen miles away. We kept in touch by email through the night – until power outages made that difficult. We made phone calls, sent text messages, watched the news in stupefied horror as the flames raced through entire neighborhoods – neighborhoods where people we knew and loved had homes and memories and precious possessions.

The next day, we held an emergency staff meeting in the home of our bookkeeper, who lived in a non-evacuation area. A few key lay leaders also joined us, as we prayed and planned and brainstormed. “How can we gather?” we wondered. “Worship is at the center of who we are as God’s people on Cold Spring Road. And Loving One Another is our second greatest mandate – how can we do that well in the midst of crisis and loss?”

One friend called a local country club. “Yes,” they said, “you can use our space for your Sunday morning gathering.” Several of us laid out a liturgy that allowed space for grieving in the midst of praise. We planned to share stories, without a sermon, and beginning that Sunday morning, we began to provide material help to those in our midst who were bereft.
In total, 20 families suffered loss. Fourteen of those lost everything they owned. And ALL of us came together that Sunday morning – we sang, we cried, we prayed, we loved each other, and we thanked God profusely that no life was lost. There were new stuffed animals for each child who had lost every treasured toy. There was Benevolence money that day, one check per family – to help buy groceries, toothpaste, toys – no restrictions on usage. There were plates put out for extra compassion funds – and more poured in from distant members, even from sister congregations in our denomination. Two weeks later, at our first Advent Supper, we gathered donated Christmas decorations from retailers and congregants and put out an abundant supply of lovely things, with shopping bags to fill for each burned-out family.

Within 24 hours of our hastily put-together worship gathering, we were back into our church facilities – graciously spared any serious damage. My husband and I moved back into our home, no damage there either. And over the next few weeks, I watched in amazement and grateful awe as people cared for one another with grace and wisdom.

One woman, a neighbor whose house survived but needed some major repair, began a small group for her sisters who were left with nothing. We opened the doors of our church campus to a local neighborhood association so they could gather insurance information and begin the long, tedious process of jumping through city and county regulation-hoops. Many of those new friends joined us at our weekly Advent Suppers and spoke of how loved and welcomed they felt. It was a terrible, wonderful time in the life of our congregation. God was palpably present in the midst of calamity and terror – and the church was at her beautifully broken best.

RemembeRED for March 15th

Joining a new ‘meme’ group today – assignment?
This week, we’d like for you to write about your favorite fresh fruit or vegetable.
Share a memory of when you first tasted it, where it came from, when you last had it, a favorite way to prepare it, and such.
700 words

This love bloomed late in life – not really sure why it took so long to make this discovery. All I know is that I am so glad I did.

It was a hot, humid summer vacation, spent at one of God’s most beautiful places on this earth – Maui, Hawaii. We were staying in a large, older condominium development just south of Lahaina, where the buildings were low to the ground, the pools were heated almost beyond comfort, and our grandchildren ran with delight down to the beach each day. Not too far from our particular building, there was an enormous tree, with dark green leaves, a profusion of thick branches and green-burnished-with-rose oblong fruit hanging by long, tough stems. That tree was loaded with these oval jewels, and every day a new supply dropped to the ground with a soft thud-thud-thud. Almost daily, we walked over to that shady giant, gathered those fruit that were not too bruised and brought them back to our little kitchen, cradling them like long lost children.

Once in the kitchen, the peeling began. A sharp knife was required to lay back the skin and reveal the brilliant orange-gold flesh of this precious cargo. And a particular skill was developed over the 10 days we spent gathering, peeling, dicing, slurping, dripping with this nectar of the gods: the skill of separating fruit from….hmmm… what shall I call it? Not exactly a seed, but not exactly NOT a seed, either. Each golden treasure was firmly joined to a spongy, pithy center that was not soft and delightful, but fibrous and distinctly not delicious. While we honed this technique, the juice of these lovely things dripped everywhere – down our arms, off our elbows, onto the counter, into the sink, sometimes even onto the floor. And the fragrance was sweet, sweet, sweet.

We cut these beauties into fruit salad, we lopped them into the children’s open mouths, as they waited like baby birds for yet another taste of heaven. We made interesting sweet-spicy salsa, we sucked the centers as dry as we possibly could, we oohed and ahhed and sighed and smiled. Our very favorite thing to do that hot summer holiday? We cut them into chunks, dropped them into the blender, added some skim milk and vanilla ice cream and drank down the sweetest smoothies you can possibly imagine, the perfect remedy for a parched throat. I was nearly 60 years old when I first tasted a mango – and it went immediately to the very top of my favorite foods list – not just a list of fruits or veggies, but food in the largest possible sense. Everything about it pleases me – the flavor, the fragrance, the texture. And, of course, the fact that it grows in the tropics and reminds me, every time I eat it, of that summer sojourn.

I look for them now, at places like Costco or my local grocery produce section. Somehow, they almost never measure up to the ones we gathered for ourselves that summer at Puamana. Not ripe enough. Too ripe. Not flavorful enough. Too pithy. Too pale. Too firm. Still, when I do find a good one – I eat it with relish and delight, thankful that such treasures exist, grateful that I can enjoy them with all my senses. Better late than never!

5 Minute Friday….

This week’s prompt from Gypsy Mama is: “I feel the most loved when…” 5 minutes of unedited writing on this topic…


This is a really tough one for me. Not sure why, I just know that I’ve put it off this entire day because I am struggling with what to say in this space. I’ll give it a shot – maybe I’ll surprise myself.

I feel the most loved when…

I know the people I love are well and safe

my husband cleans up the kitchen every single night that I cook

anyone pays me a compliment of any kind (does that make me hopelessly desperate??)

I see dolphins at play in the water when I sit at the beach in God’s presence. For some reason, dolphins are carriers of God’s love to me, especially when I am feeling cut off from God

when the sun is shining

when my husband gives me an unsolicited back rub

when my children or grandchildren seek out my opinion or presence

when my youngest granddaughter smiles at me

when friends drop a line or a note – for no reason but to say ‘hi – thinking of you’

when I read beautiful writing — because deep down, I am sure that those words were written just for me when I needed them

when I hear beautiful music (Durufle’s Sanctus gets me every time!)

when I am overwhelmed by creation’s beauty – which to me is a reflection of an intensely beautiful God who speaks my particular love language…

time’s up.

Photos added later…

Five-Minute Friday: when I look in the mirror, I see…

Wow. This is a tough one. It’s not quite Friday, but as Friday is jam-packed with traveling, I’ll put this one to bed early:

I see a face that too often surprises me. It’s gotten so old. I still like the face and that’s a good thing – but wow, time does a number on us, doesn’t it? I see eyes still blue, but tired and lived-in. I see hair that is now quite naturally very light – not exactly blonde, however. :>)

I see broken teeth that have been covered by crowns, one of which is not quite the right shade of yellow-white.

I see a smile that is just a tad too gummy, but usually pretty warm and welcoming.

I see too much jewelry – but then I like jewelry and I’ll wear it when I’m even older and grayer than I am at this moment in time.

I see a body that has carried too many pounds for far too long, but is carrying just a few less than a few months ago. And that’s a good thing, too. Long ways to go..but I’m suffering far less angst than I have in a very long time over the whole idea/issue/situation/reality/neurosis.

I also see an overall image that reflects pretty much who I am – and that is also a good thing. I am female. I am a wife. I am a mother to 3 amazing grown kids. I am Nana to 8 remarkable grandkids. I have pastored all my life, even before I knew I was a pastor and that shows too, somehow. I am a daughter of the Most High God, created in God’s image, called to live a life of freedom and joy, filled with gratitude for every step along the journey, even the painful ones.

Time’s up.

Discovering ‘memes’….

There is a whole world of blogdom out there that I haven’t had a clue about – not the slightest clue. So…in my retirement weeks, I’ve been exploring. Kinda interesting, to say the least. And I’ve found a number of blogs I really like, a few that drive me bonkers and several that offer a weekly invitation to participate on a theme….which I am gathering is what a ‘meme’ is. I’ve done a few 5-Minute Fridays from the Gypsy Mama (and if this ‘button’ from today’s adventure works, I’ll post her button the next time I try one of her challenges. Not at all sure how to make such buttons line up on one side of the blog – but that’s a project for another day. Today, I’m answering the queries listed below:

1. March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s birthday so I’m wondering…do you like green eggs and ham? Okay-how about this instead…how do you like your eggs? Or don’t you?

I actually LOVE green eggs and ham if the ‘green’ is avocado in a scrambled mix of goodies. Not crazy about the color, but love the flavor. It’s a toss-up between scrambled and over easy on toast or a half baked potato for my favorite way to eat them. Both my mother and my son think I am nuts for liking runny eggs – positively makes them gag. Oh well…
2. Is March coming in like a lion or something less ferocious where you live?
Where I live, it’s been rainy since March opened its doors. Not exactly either lion or lamb. But then, I live on the central coast of California where the seasons are slightly more subtle than in other parts of the world.
3. Do you work better or worse under pressure?
I have always, ALWAYS worked better under pressure. I need deadlines and schedules and assignments. That’s why retirement has always seemed such a fearsome thing to me. HELP!! What do I do without all that?? Well, so far, I do pretty much whatever is at hand to do – and that’s been kinda nice, actually. So maybe in my old age, I’m giving up the stress-obsess of my past life? Time will tell…
4. March Madness-are you a fan? It’s college basketball in case you’re wondering. And if you’re outside the USA tell us-is there any sort of ‘madness’ taking place during March in your part of the world?
My husband and son are fans – I am not. I used to be – a little bit. But I’m married to a man who LOVES all things sports – well, almost all things sports – there a few he skips. And at age 66, I’m about done with sports on TV. So, I read, I surf the internet, I watch tivo’d programs, I talk to my kids or my friends. I don’t do sports programs very much at all – except for tennis. But once it gets down to the final 4 or so in all that March craziness, I’m interested in who wins – though not quite interested enough to actually watch any of it.
5. Under what circumstances do you do your best thinking?
It varies. Most often, I think best when I’m alone, sitting in my car on the bluffs above our nearest beach. But often, my thinking is jogged/challenged/excited/spurred/changed by discussion with others whose mouths are as quick as their minds. My mouth is not so much – I need to process a bit – but I enjoy the challenge of discussion and that can often really spur my thinking in good directions.
6. What item of clothing from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
Probably the comfy sweatpants and sweatshirts on my closet shelf this season of the year. Jeans a close second.
7. Do you use sarcasm?
Hmmm….does one ‘use’ sarcasm? I guess I do – a little. I try not to be truly sarcastic, maybe more ironic?? And if I am sarcastic, it is most often directed at me.
8. Insert your own random thought here.
I haven’t a CLUE what I’m doing with all this new techno blog stuff – when I preview this written excerpt, it looks as though every line is underlined – and I have absolutely no idea why. Maybe I need to add some schedule to my life and TAKE A CLASS ON ALL THIS!!