Archives for July 2012

Being a Grandparent…

Today was a welcome dose of normalcy. After one solid week of terrorizing, wind-driven fires all around us here in Santa Barbara, trying to do some semblance of ministry while choosing which items to accompany us in evacuation, worshipping in a hotel ballroom because our sanctuary – for the 2nd time in six months – was off-limits due to encroaching flames – it was absolutely delightful to just be Nana for a while today.

Gracie is our youngest grandchild and only granddaughter. She is 3.5 years old, smart as a whip and, of course, absolutely adorable, stunningly beautiful, funny, lovable, creative and an all-around exceptional child (as are all of our six grandsons, it goes without saying. Lovely thing about grandparenthood – you get to brag as much as you like). And she is the only one of our kids to live within easy distance for babysitting and special events.

Grace’s parents were working today and unable to attend her pre-school Mother’s Day Program and Luncheon – so I got to go. Such fun!

Her class sang two songs by themselves (all of them in bird costumes, which were assigned to their parents to create. Rachel sewed a lovely white plastic set of ‘feathers’ and created a crown-of-flame-feathers headpiece.)
Then Room Two sang two songs, and Room Three did 4 short Shel Silverstein poems in batches of 3 or 4 kids, and then sang two additional songs. Then all the classes together sang two more songs, complete with hand motions, one of which was truly wonderful to hear and to watch. Something about sewing new clothes for every member of the family – all you need is: (add one with each verse)
a sewing machine (appropriate noises), (this one for mama)
a bolt of material (extreme hand motions to each side), (this one for papa)
a tape measure (z-z-z-i-p, z-z-z-u-p), (this one for sister)
a pair of scissors (snip, snip, snip), (this one for brother)
a steam iron (pss, pss, pss), (this one for baby)
and a washing machine (can’t remember the sound for this one! (this one for the whole entire family)

And then we feasted! And Gracie is a great eater – plowed through a small croissant sandwich with turkey, a KFC drumstick, a handful of grapes and a small piece of cake without even blinking.

I also got to pick her up at the end of the day and we went to the village grocer for supplies and came home and made chocolate chip cookies. Only she wasn’t so sure about the oatmeal I included. A purist, I guess.

At any rate, it was good for me in every way possible – even good for my soul/spirit. A reminder that life is a gift, that children are among life’s best gifts, that continuity, family, music and food are to be enjoyed and relished.

Silent Saturday: refreshment, renewal, reminder

The Pulse of a Church: Faithfulness

 Yesterday was one of those days for me.
One of those puzzle-clicking days,
when the pieces come together
and lock into place,
creating a picture that is both
recognizable and beautiful.
 It’s taken about 24 hours for me to begin to see
how that happened in my heart, in my spirit.
And I’m not sure that I can find the words to tell you about it.
This much I know.
It wasn’t about the building,
although I love that place
and am grateful for every inch of it.
 It wasn’t even about the worship service,
although some pieces of that service helped
the picture to come together with focus and intention.
Mostly, it was about the people.
ALL the people of the long, interesting,
sometimes exhausting day that was yesterday. 

Our pastor is back from vacation and that’s a good thing.
And he brought a word that he’d been pondering 
for many weeks.
And that’s a good thing, too.
And part of that word was definitely a piece
of the lovely jigsaw that has been coming to life in my heart.
Reflecting on a brief sojourn in Egypt,
he said this about the Christians he met there:
“The future depends on their faithfulness.”
And I thought – YES!
This is the age-old story of our faith,
this is what Jesus kept saying to us,
in parable and story and miracle. 
This is what God modeled for the people of Israel,
this is what the epistles urge the burgeoning
movement of Christ-lights to remember:
Be faithful, even as God is faithful. 
Learn to listen well, and to do good.
Learn to lean into love.
Learn to care for one another.
Live as though every single thing you do matters
in the Big Picture of life. 
And teach your children all of this.
As I listened to that word, I took a look around me. 

About 275 people were gathered in the same space,
people of all ages, from newborns to folks in their 90’s.
A group of six led us in worship –
a father and his 16-year-old daughter on guitar and vocals,
a pastor’s 16-year-old daughter on vocals,
a professor father and young-adult son on piano and guitar,
a former staff member on bass.
The last number of the opening set was an a capella 
version of, “Down to the River to Pray,”
and when those two young women
and two middle-aged men joined their voices
in gorgeous 4-part harmony – 
a small window to heaven opened before me.
And a piece of the puzzle clicked.
Then our Moment for Mission was an interview 
with a son of this church and his gracious, articulate wife.
They gave up lucrative jobs in Orange County to
use their gifts in computer science and music,
working with Wycliffe in Texas.
Their report was wonderful, encouraging, humbling.
And another piece fell into its slot.
I listened to one of the most beautiful prayers 
I’ve heard in months, 
offered by a man who moved here 
about a dozen years ago to retire. 
He has jumped into ministry with both feet – 
music and tutoring and working with our littlest children.
Then I watched this happen.  
 Every week, the kids are invited to come and sit on the steps,
where the pastor has a special word or project just for them.
Yesterday, this beautiful ‘welcome wagon’ 
was wheeled down the center aisle.
 It was built by hand as an Eagle Scout project – 
and an act of gratitude to the church – 
by a recent high-school graduate, 
a kid I’ve watched grow up since he was three years old.
And then builder and pastor and seven little kids
laid hands on that cart, and dedicated it to the
service of the Kingdom of God. 
By now, I’m just beginning to catch a glimpse of the
design taking shape inside my heart.
We rushed home from church to welcome our small group,
this month including kids, lunch and swim time.
My husband is 70, Iris is 2, the rest of us fall
somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes.
We had a grand time together –
sitting in the shade, enjoying one another’s company. 
Two of the women in our group have endured
brain anomalies; two of the families have
weathered tough problems with their kids;
all of us believe that the single greatest task
to which we are called is the care and tending
of faith and faithfulness in ourselves and in our children,
followed closely by serving others in the name of Jesus.
I had to leave our gathering a little early,
and I had to leave for a hard, sad reason.
Another son of our church had recently died,
tragically and too soon.
His mother and dad are among my favorite 
people on this earth – gentle servants who set out
communion month after month,
who greet folks when they arrive on Sundays,
who share themselves quietly and humbly.
I wanted to be there to remember their boy,
to offer words of prayer and committal,
to acknowledge that sometimes,
the circle is broken too early, too early.  
This, too, was a piece of the puzzle –
a darker piece, but an important one.
Last night, and again this morning,
I thought through that entire Sabbath day.
I reflected on the many facets of the picture
taking shape inside my heart,
and I began to see it for the soft yet strong,
slow-growing but sturdy,
sometimes weary but always winsome
picture that it truly is,
and it looks a whole lot like Jesus.
Sometimes it is easy to be critical of the church –
I will readily admit to frustration, impatience
and disappointment 
with how slowly things change, 
with how stuck we can sometimes get.
Yesterday was a quietly unfolding gift to me,
all of it – 
the lovely stuff and the terribly painful stuff.
It became a deep and personal portrait reminding me that
 faithfulness sometimes looks like this:
the generations standing together,
singing together,
working together,
giving together,
mourning together. 

In fact, I guess I’d say that’s exactly what
faithfulness looks like. 
And it is beautiful.

Joining this tonight with Michelle and Laura,
tomorrow with Jen and Jennifer and Wednesday with Duane:

Quiet for the Weekend: July 6-8, 2012

“My beloved spoke and said to me,
    ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, 
come with me. 
 See! The winter is past;  
the rains are over and gone. 
 Flowers appear on the earth;  
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves is heard in our land. 
 The fig tree forms its early fruit;  
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;  
my beautiful one, come with me.’”
Song of Solomon 2:10-14 (NLT)
It’s summer!
 The flowers are popping,
 the fruit is ripening,
 the fountains are flowing,
 the outside lights are hung in celebration.
 Even the old, tired fence looks happy to see
the sun, the warm air and the pinks and purples of summer blooms.
 And the shyest of our feathered friends peeked out from behind the leaves – even though I did have to shoot through the screen to capture her.
May your weekend be full of light and laughter,
time with family or friends,
and time to sit alone in the afternoon breeze.
God is good, all the time.
But somehow, on a fair summer’s day,
God seems even good-er than usual.
Joining up with Michelle, Sandy and Deidra for their invitations to celebrate
the weekends with a small space of quiet and color. 

A Guest Post: Window Coverings, Riding the Bus and Growing Up

My friend, David Rupert, has a great series going
this summer – all about first jobs.
He invited me to participate many weeks ago,
and today is the day.
Just a few simple reflections on going to work at age 15,
in retail – selling window coverings, of all things.
My own house today has very few of those – 
because I like to look outside –
but if I had too, I could order drapes with the best of ’em!
Here’s a small sample – for the whole story, please
check out David’s place – it’s a nice place to be:
I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life – babysitter, lawn-waterer, house-tender, school teacher, stay-at-home-mom, administrative assistant, florist, teaching assistant, staff pastor, curriculum writer and spiritual director. But the year I turned 15, I got my first ‘real’ job. A friend suggested I apply for a position as a retail clerk at a local, family-owned business that sold curtains, draperies and the hardware for hanging them. And I got paid a whopping $1.25/hour. After three years of baby-sitting for thirty-five cents per hour, that sounded like a great idea! I had to apply for a special dispensation from the city government because I was under age, and then, for the next 18 months, I worked every Saturday and all vacation days at Bruce’s Draperies on Orange Street in Glendale, CA. I learned a lot about measuring windows, calculating how much fabric would be needed for custom drapes, and which rods could best bear the weight of which fabric density.

It was boring.

I mean, it was really boring.

But my employers were kind, the customers were gracious – and I got $1.25 per hour!

Here’s the link to David’s house:

A Sacramental Life

It’s a long drive from here to there, about 110 miles.
And I take a similar one every 2-3 weeks to see my mom.
But this past weekend,
I traveled those miles to make a different kind of connection,
one that spans nearly 30 years,
a lot of living, and miles of change in each of our lives.
We enjoyed the sunshine,
we sneaked in an extra chair at a very high-brow establishment 
(just because we could),
we laughed and we talked and we ate. 
Yes, we look a little bit older than the last time we did this.
And yes, there have been some stresses added to each of 
our lives in the months between our last visit and this one.
But what I carry with me into this late evening hour 
is one overarching truth, this bracing reality:
friendship across time is a holy thing,
a sacramental thing,
a gift of God to be savored, 
and relished.
I carried the sweetness of our time together all the way home,
through 45 extra minutes of snarled traffic,
fatigue and stiff knees. 
“How wonderful, how beautiful, 
when brothers and sisters get along!
   It’s like costly anointing oil
      flowing down…”
the psalmist wrote.
And the fragrance of our time was indeed,
‘wonderful and beautiful.’ 
This morning brought us back to our community,
gathering in worship to
to hear a beautiful and finely tuned exposition 
of the Word from the pulpit, 
to share in bread and cup. 
There were three relatively small things that
happened today that have stayed with me, 
late into this evening.
Three things that somehow feel woven
of the same cloth as yesterday’s gathering of friends
at a classic old hotel in South Pasadena,
three things that seem
woven of sacramental cloth. 
Today, as Pastor Jon stepped into the pulpit,
he did something we’ve never done before.
He asked us to stand, 
to reach out and hold the hand of the person
next to us, even if that person was across the aisle.
Then he said this:
“Doing this probably feels more than a little bit
awkward to you. I’m here to tell you that  
that is exactly the right posture 
for hearing the Word of God.”
And he proceeded to read the text of the 
morning, taken from the book of James. 
And we held each others’ hands 
and we listened to the Word.
We placed ourselves under that Word,
physically, literally and spiritually.
And as the words from that ancient epistle
rolled in gentle waves over our heads,
I could sense the awkwardness dissipating,
the unity and connection between us
taking shape and form and beauty in our midst.
It was a sacramental moment.
 At the conclusion of the preached word,
Jon stepped down from the pulpit to the table,
preparing to serve the people of God with
the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.
As he did so, our Pastor to Students joined him.
Jon gently unfolded his 
and placed it around his neck.
And as Lisa came forward, I could see 
that she wore the one she received
at her ordination two years ago.
Together, they prayed over and distributed the
torn bread and cups of purple juice to
an assortment of council members
who brought them to us. 
We are not a ‘formal’ church.
I have never worn my black robe there,
nor has any other member of the pastoral staff.
But somehow, just that small, simple,
act of draping the ‘yolk of Christ’
around their necks, and over their clothes,
added an extra layer of meaning and depth
to this holy moment in the life of our congregation.
It was a sacramental gesture, 
 rich with reminder
that the Table of the Lord is a holy place,
that the food we eat 
and the drink we share
are set apart, 
consecrated, for our nourishment and
encouragement on the way. 

Our children worship with us every week
for part of the service.
But on Communion Sunday,
they are in worship the entire hour.
Sometimes this makes for a noisier congregation,
and that is just fine.
In fact, it is welcome.
Today, after the benediction,
after the postlude,
after most of the congregants streamed out
the back door into the warm California sunshine,
a third small surprise brought brief tears to my eyes.
A small blond boy named Kai
came quietly into our pew as we leaned across it,
talking with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.
He picked up our used communion cups, 
nodded his head and 
went searching for a few more.
Just a few moments later,
the four of us who were chatting caught a glimpse
of something up front.
Kai and his big sister Ruby were taking a stack of
used communion cups and very carefully
setting them around the rim of
our beautiful, artist-designed glass baptismal font.
“I think,” said our friend,
“that maybe Ruby is doing something
wonderful with the sacraments this morning. 
Maybe even something we’ve not seen before.”
I looked across the sanctuary and gasped a little.
The effect was beautiful –
the glass bowl shimmered,
the empty cups shone,
the sweet girl was so intent and careful with her work.
It was a sacramental act of found art,
a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ
at its very best.
Word and water,
bread and cup,
contemplation and action –
all of it woven together into a beautiful
garment of praise. 
As followers of Jesus,
we are invited into this whole-cloth,
beautifully woven sacramental life.
We are called to live that life as if
every moment is holy,
every person is a saint,
every gesture is an offering,
every common thing is an altar.
Because this is the truth,
the deep, beautiful, holy truth.
THIS life, this one life –
with its joys and its sorrows,
its gifts and its burdens –
it is a sacrament.
Glory be.  
Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Jennifer, Ann and Duane today for their 
lovely invitations to share what we’re learning, what we’re thankful for,
what surprise us, what Sunday teaches us and how we see the promises of God at work.
Somehow, they all seem pertinent to these scattered recollections today. 
I’ll also tuck it in with Laura and her Playdates with God.