A Living Hope — Remembering Lucille Peterson Johnston

I had the privilege of giving the homily and pastoral prayer at the Witness to the Resurrection Service for one of my dearest friends, amazing Lucille.  A mentor to me for 43 years, she lived a full, rich life, fully using her gifts of leadership, hospitality, generosity, inclusion, encouragement, creativity and joie de vivre. I thank God for her. I am posting this short piece here for anyone who loved her and was unable to travel to Santa Barbara today for the service. I wish I could give you the entire time — the memories, the singing, the piano music, the laughter. Maybe this will give you a tiny piece of the whole.


They’re all gone now — all of my mothers. My own mom, the one who birthed and raised me, died last year at the age of 95. My husband’s mom, the one who welcomed and included me, died in 2014 at the age of 98.

And Lucille, the mom who mentored me, who saw gifts in me I didn’t see in myself; the one who challenged me to begin the slow, steady work of becoming a pastor — now she is gone, too, at the amazing age of 102.

And I feel each loss profoundly.There are no substitutes for any of these remarkable women. None. Each one was a gift of God in my life — planting seeds, modeling courage, living a life of faith and faithfulness, fully and well.

So I join with Cindy and Curt and Jim and their families in grieving today. There is a huge hole in the universe that opened last weekend, one that will never be filled in exactly the same way. And it’s important to say so, to acknowledge and make room for the tears, to pause and let it sink in that someone with a larger-than-life presence is no longer touchable, no longer filling that unique and particular space in our lives and hearts. And that is painful.

But here is something else that is true, perhaps even more true than the pain: even in death, we have a living hope. That is why, as I stand here and you sit there, we can all link arms and give testimony to this truth:

          our gratitude is wider, deeper and greater than our grief.

And if Lucille were here with us, I’d offer to help her design a needlepoint purse that says exactly that!

            Our gratitude is greater than our grief.

All week long, I have been overwhelmed with the depth of my gratitude — to God for the gift of this woman in my life, to Lucille, for being who she was, and to all of you for sharing her so generously with all of us. There is no one like her — never has been, never will be.

Now we all know, she wasn’t perfect. Not one of us is. But I gotta say this — she came really, really close, didn’t she? She had strong opinions and she shared them. She liked to be in charge and she was scarily good at it. She never garnered a long list of degrees after her name, but her intelligence was through the roof. And she adored her family — every single member of her family — the ones she bore and the ones some of them married, and the kids they bore and the kids they married, and now the kids the kids had!

And then, there were all those cousins and aunts, her amazing sisters, the two remarkable husbands and an entire step-family. All of you were shining stars in her universe and I hope you know that, way down deep inside you. Because to be loved by Lucille Peterson Johnston — that is a rich gift, one with lasting impact and importance, one that changes you from the inside out.

In the midst of my own remembering, and on the rising tide of my gratitude, I’ve reflected on why that last point is true. Why is it that the love of a person like Lucille has the power to change us?

I think it’s this: Lucille was the embodiment of what it means to live firmly situated in the ‘living hope’ that Peter talks about in the first chapter of his first epistle. Lucille walked the talk. She knew God, up close and personally. She radiated energy and life and hope, which, if you think about it, is a pretty risky thing to do. Because when we allow ourselves to hope, we open ourselves to the strong possibility — maybe even the likelihood — of massive disappointment. Sometimes, living in hope can feel tenuous, uncertain, even frightening.

But here’s the thing about the kind of hope that Peter is talking about here, — this living hope is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, “oh, I hope, I hope, I hope I get what I want” kinda deal. No. Peter’s kind of hope — God’s kind of hope, Lucille’s kind of hope — is alive — it has wings and a beating heart and it can move us to do remarkable and world-changing things.

“By his great mercy,” Peter wrote to the church, “God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (NRSV)

It begins with the mercy of God, and it continues through a life lived in hope, and is brought to completion when we reach the moment of our inheritance. And that is where our dear Lucille is right now, friends. She is experiencing the completion of the living hope that was her life on planet earth. She is enjoying the company of God in ways we can only imagine, and she is surrounded by nothing but love. Nothing.

Harold and Roy are there, of course. And her mom, whom she moved across the country to care for so many years ago. And sweet Drake, who left us way too soon. And her sisters, Doris and Betty, and so many friends, too many to count. And before we know it, we will be there, too — some of us sooner than others.

But between now and then, we have work to do, don’t we? We have the remarkable task of carrying on her legacy, of letting that living hope empower us to be the truest, fullest, richest persons we can be. Because here’s the wonderful truth — Lucille knew herself. She knew who she was, what her gifts were, whom she loved. And she was the very best Lucille she could be, wasn’t she?

That’s what the mercy of God can do, you see. That’s what living in hope births in us — a growing awareness of who God is, yes, indeed. But also a growing awareness of who WE are, and a deepening desire to live these lives we’ve been given fully aware and fully awake.

So thank you, Lucille, for being you. For showing us the way to the good life, for calling out the best in us, for reminding us, with that ever-present twinkle, that there is always more to come.

And thank you, God, for giving her to us and for giving us to one another.

 

Will you pray with me, please?

 

Loving God, Risen Savior, Gentle Spirit,

How we thank you for the gift of Lucille. For her grace and beauty, for her warm hospitality, for her generous and thoughtful gifts of love and inclusion to so many people. We miss her. And this family misses her most of all. Enliven us with your presence, even as we sit together in grief. Remind us of that hope with wings that Jesus makes possible.

We pray especially today for all these ones in the front rows, the family Lucille loved so dearly. Will you bring the healing balm of tears and of laughter, the soothing comfort of memories, of photographs and family history, of things shared only by them?

And will you bring to all of our hearts and minds our own special and sweet remembrances of Lucille’s endless gifts — rich gifts of creativity and hospitality and leadership. And empower each of us, by the work of your Spirit within us, to live our lives as fully as possible. To know ourselves, to deepen our walk with you, to reach out to others with the kind of welcome that Lucille modeled for all of us, the kind of welcome that she experienced because she knew you so very well.

No, there will never be another one like her, Lord. And that is exactly as it should be. Thank you for your loving design, O God, your careful and invigorating breath of life, that Spirit that is uniquely breathed into each and every one of your human creatures. Thank you especially that the Wind you breathed into Lucille blew our way for so many years.

It is all gift.

In the name of Jesus, the one who loves us and walks with us, we pray today. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Let Go, Let God — for Addie Zierman’s LinkUp

So, this whole ‘let go and let God’ cliche from so many voices in the evangelical world. I’ve written about and around and through this whole idea from lots of different angles over the years, most especially as this cliche morphs with others — like, ‘he must increase, I must decrease,’ or ‘more of Jesus, less of me.’ There’s something about the whole ‘dying to self’ mentality that has gotten more than a little bit twisted over the decades. The longer I live — and clearly, that has been a lotta years now — the less I like any of it. In truth, I believe that this particular worldview has done far more harm than it has good.

When we advocate for the annihilation of the self — and at its core, this phrase is advocating for exactly that — we are lying to people, big-time. We are teaching something that is diametrically opposed to the kind of life Jesus invites us to live, the kind of life Jesus modeled for us, the kind of life we are designed to inhabit. We are, in a word, deeply devaluing the Incarnation. God took on our flesh — that’s how deeply we are loved. That’s how valued human flesh is — every single human-fleshed person ever exisiting — every.single.one.

Please hear me clearly here: I am not in any way disparaging the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross, nor am I saying that we are destined for an easy, comfortable life. If the gospel shows us anything, it is that a life lived well is a life lived with generosity, kindness, tolerance, joy and acceptance. It is also a life marked by suffering, loss, sorrow, grief, tragedy and sometimes unspeakable horror. We are human persons, living in a world of beauty and of terror. Life lived here will always be a mixed bag. Yet we are promised joy in the midst of all the mess and mayhem. How is that possible?

Well, it doesn’t happen by abdicating our selfhood. It doesn’t happen by waiting for some kind of robotic activity within our zombie-like bodies under the strange spell of a god who is outside of us and chooses to use us like puppets on a stage.

It does happen when we are open to the possibility of partnership.

When we say ‘yes’ to the sweet voice of the Spirit who woos us with an invitation to join the dance.

It happens when we spend time, energy, effort — and money, as needed! — to discover who we are and how we’re wired. It then becomes our ‘job,’ if you like — our primary task in life — to experience God’s delight in us and to realize that it is God’s delight that both invites and empowers us to use our unique mix of gifts and talents in service of the kingdom dream. And that is going to look different for every single one of us.

There are no duplicates in God’s design. And we will never, ever become clones of anyone, not even Jesus. Hopefully, there will be in us — as in an old, married couple — an increasing similarity, striking ways in which we begin to resemble one another and our elder brother. But letting go of who we uniquely are at the core of our being is not what is required. Not at all. On the contrary, it is when we discover and release our ‘who-ness’ that God is most delighted and most honored. Ireneaus got it right, all those centuries ago, “The glory of God is a human person, fully alive.”

There will always be things to let go of, oh, yes, there will. Most particularly, we must learn to release all the accretions of time and choice that are keeping us from knowing and being our truest selves. Things like pride, fear, obsessive drives of any kind, besetting sins. Those things we must part with — or at least, keep working on!

But that center piece, that true blue, loving, imago dei?  Oh, no — not that. Not ever that. YOU are designed in the image of a loving, creative, hard-working, knows-when-to-call-it-a-day, merciful, justice-seeking, lovely, kind and joyful GOD. A God who sends some spark of divinity right into each and every soul that draws breath on this planet. A God who sees, knows, loves, and draws forth that spark, over and over and over again. A God whose desire is for our good, for our growth, for our mutual embrace. A God who — beyond our power to reason, imagine or sometimes, even believe — wants human beings to jump into the circle and DANCE.

Don’t ever let go of that.

Joining this reflection with Addie Zierman’s, “Let Go, Let God” link-up. Oh YAY for link-ups!

31 Days of Photo Journaling: Day One – An Introduction

At the beginning of September, I had such high hopes for this year’s 31-day series. I wrote the introductory theme piece several weeks ago and never got back to add more. So I have decided to change course! I will be joining Kate Montaug’s 5 Minute Friday 31 day group, writing on a particular theme each day of the 31 days of October. Hopefully, it will happen each and every day this month. Time will tell, right?

So here is the intro piece to the first series I planned to write. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try this series idea next year!

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It’s (almost!) October again, and for the sixth year in a row, I am joining Crystal Stine’s 31 Day Challenge, choosing a theme to write on every day of the month. I am trying to be just a tiny bit more intentional about this blog space again, despite the loss of subscribers I experience every time I write here!

This space has been an important part of my life for the last decade and I’d like that to continue. One way for me to do that is to be disciplined about writing short, hopefully pithy, posts on a daily basis whenever the invitation arises. And this invitation is a big one! So . . . “once more, into the breach,” right?

The theme I’ve chosen for this year is Photo-Journaling, something I love to do and can easily transfer here. I take pictures a lot. A lot. And I always have — even before the invention of phone cameras! It’s a way of documenting, remembering and reflecting on my life. My photo folders tell our story as a family, my story as a pastor and as a child of God/wife/mother/grandmother/friend. I have often used my photos to organize my blog posts or my newsletters, weaving words around the pictures as I go. Something about the combination of the photo and the words tells the story more completely.

So here are a few thoughts for day one of our journey together this year. The photo above was taken on one of the walks I take several times each week. My husband and I have headed for the marina in our town quite a lot during the last few weeks and always see something fun/interesting/educational/inspiring when we do. This particular late afternoon was an interesting one. The fog had rolled out about midday, sitting like a lurking giant just beyond the breakwater. It was a low roll, however, leaving space for the clear blue skies which had become our predominant view just a few blocks further inland.

As we walked out on that concrete barrier that protects millions of dollars worth of yachts and fishing boats, a small sailboat was cutting across the water at exactly the right angle for me to capture both the fog and the blue, blue sky behind it. Something about that image grabbed my heart. I saw myself as that little boat, sailing across the vast mystery that is our life as followers of Jesus. Sometimes thick fog blurs my view and feels as though it is limiting my options. But what I need to remember during those times is that the blue sky is still there, somewhere just above me, encircling both my small boat/life and the fog bank, no matter how huge it may appear to be at any given moment. And that boat is heading straight for safe haven, making a bee-line for the harbor entrance. That’s where I want to be — en route home.

Can I hear an ‘amen?’

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Eleven

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That Catholic retreat center I visited in southern California had several lovely sets of stairs hidden here and there. This one led up to a central fountain area, with benches and small grassy areas. I am drawn to tiles of all kinds, and find the repeating — though slightly different — pattern on these steps restful and lovely to look at. Yellow, blue, white, terra cotta offer a soft palette to the eye. Repeated geometric patterns are also soothing, lovely without being intrusive in any way. 

I focussed my camera on the steps alone this year, trying to pay more attention than usual to the craftsmanship, the subtle gradations in color, evidences of wear and tear. Our small group of spiritual directors was last in this place about 18 months ago, and on that trip I took these pictures. Hunting for them as I began to lay out this month’s posts, I remembered more clearly the setting for the stairs I focussed on this year. Can you see how lovely it all looks?

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As we reflected a few days ago, sometimes you need to change your perspective, your point of view, in order to see something new. So I offer these earlier photos as a way to underscore that powerful truth. The steps alone are intriguing, colorful, beautifully crafted. But seen in their larger setting? They become spectacular, beckoning the visitor to climb, climb, climb.

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And if you choose to climb, this restful spot awaits. A curving bench, under the hanging branches of bright green tree.

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And the refreshing music of water gently dropping into a pond.  

Paying attention can lead us in so much beauty!

The Seven Sorrows

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I snuck in through the back gate, carefully closing it so that the family of deer grazing nearby could not enter the enclosed garden. Miraculous rain had fallen during the night and the air was crisp and cool, with a slight breeze from the west. The small labyrinth on the grounds of Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center was my first target that morning — I love to walk and pray, and if there is a dedicated pathway for such walking and praying, I head straight toward it. These deer were just to the east as I slowly wound my way to the center of that stone-marked pathway and back out again. They were lovely – young, strong, alert.

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The garden site took me to an entirely different place, one of tears and remembering, of death and dying, though there was beauty to be seen on all sides. The wisteria arbor pictured above was the first thing I saw as I clanged the gate behind me. Stretching out on both sides to form a circle, the entire 15-feet wide pathway fully enclosed a special, set-aside space: The Garden of the Seven Sorrows. This is a space marked for contemplation on the sorrows that Mary carried throughout her life as a mother, an idea new to me, and a surprisingly welcome one.

We Protestants don’t often think about Mary, do we? We tend to forget the depth of her spiritual maturity, her shocking availability to God. Would you be so open? Would I?

There are six niches around the circle, each with an exquisite and colorful mosaic depicting the sorrows that are mentioned in the gospel narrative. There are benches, a variety of both green and blooming plants, a fountain in the center, and a striking bronze statue duet, life-sized and haunting in its detailed depiction of mother and son locking eyes as Jesus drops the cross on his way to Calvary. That statue represents the seventh sorrow, and I saw it first from the back.

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I walked around, under the arbor, to begin my pilgrimage at the beginning, stepping into each niche in turn and then returning to the center magnificence to further contemplate that bronze tableau, this time from the front and from the side. I invite you to come along with me as I walk, enjoying a more distant view and then a closeup of each sorrow in turn. Take a moment to savor the detail, to reflect on the moment captured by the artwork. See what rises in you.

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It began in the earliest days of her motherhood experience, didn’t it? Taking her new little boy to the temple for blessing and dedication, Simeon had a hard word for her
“. . . and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

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Joseph holds the infant Jesus and the heart of Mary beats almost out of her chest at Simeon’s heavy words. Eight days old and her heart is filled with foreboding.

The Second Sorrow focuses on the flight into Egypt. With a toddler in tow, Mary and her husband were forced to flee their homeland, not knowing exactly when they might return. This is, to me, a poignant picture of the plight of so many refugees in our world today — forced out, running away to a foreign place, uncertain about the future, wanting protection and safety for their family.

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Sorrow Three comes twelve years later, when Jesus remains in the temple, worrying his parents by his absence, and then by his response: “Didn’t you know, Mother? Didn’t you know where I would be?” 

Do we know where our children are? Can we?

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img_0634The artist has managed to capture Mary’s pain and confusion, using just small pieces of colored ceramic. Jesus is rapt, his hand raised and open. Always, his hands were open.

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And this is Sorrow Four — the only one not specifically recorded in scripture, but one that surely could have happened — Mary meeting her son on the road. I do not know who the artists were, for either the mosaics or the sculpture, but I am grateful for them and to them. This is one of the most moving sights I’ve ever experienced. Contemplate the detail on their faces with me, won’t you?

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Deep grief marks a person in every way — physically, emotionally, spiritually. Her tears elicit my own.

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And Jesus turns to look at his mother, his mama. How difficult this entire event must have been for both of them. The gospel writers give us tiny glimpses; artists take those glimpses and give us wider, deeper vistas.

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I think he must have been a strong man — I like the musculature outlined here. But he was also a very weary man at this point in the journey, a heartbroken man. And all of that shows in that face. All of it.

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Though I do not subscribe to the Catholic doctrines about Mary, I completely understand how they developed. The mother-son bond is a strange and wondrous one, and like it or not, we moms are of primary importance to and a strong influence on our children, daughters and sons alike. While I believe the Catholic church has overplayed the importance of that bond, I fear we Protestants have seriously underplayed it. 

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And here is the one we are probably most familiar with — Sorrow Five — Mary watching her beloved son die on that tree. The apostle John appears to the right, turned away from the sight; Mary looks, but weeps. What must that have been like?

img_0642The Sixth Sorrow is the one made famous by Pietas across the ages — Mary holding her son as he is taken down from the cross. “Has there been any sorrow like unto my sorrow?”

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The final sorrow comes at the gravesite. The women are all there and it is hard to know which one is Mary. Who do you think it is?

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The rose bush effectively hid all of their faces, but I snuck my camera around the blooms and thorns and got each of them:

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As I walked this beautiful, yet somewhat strange new circle, I found myself saying, ‘thank you,’ over and over again. Thank you to the Son, yes, of course. Of course. But also — thank you to the mother, the dear mother, the one who said ‘yes’ to the mystery, who opened herself to unspeakable pain, who loved her child with her whole heart. She was not perfect, but she was deeply good and I am grateful.

As I turned to leave this glorious space, I noticed a flash of color just off to my right. Two colors, to be exact — two colors of the church year, in point of fact: red (this one was pinkish) and purple — red for sorrow and purple for royalty. Seemed fitting, somehow. Perfectly fitting.

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We will return to this same retreat center in 18 months. You can be sure that the Garden of the Seven Sorrows will be a part of my own meditative experience in 2018. It will be springtime then. How lovely!

Full to the Brim . . .

Some days are like that. Just full, mostly of good stuff — gratitude, relief, satisfaction, contentment. Today was that kind of day for me. This helped:

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a 15-minute power walk on a wide beach this afternoon

The last few weeks? Not so much.

Two different days in the dentist’s chair, two overnight, quick turn-arounds to southern CA, one for a Grandparents’ Day, one for a memorial service for a friend of forty years. Unseasonably hot weather, with a rainstorm thrown in here and there, aching muscles from who knows what, a shorter fuse than usual, which I always find slightly disorienting. Who’s here right now, making me feisty and discontent?

It was Lunch with Mom Day again today, something I love more each time I do it. The change in my mom’s meds has wrought a near-miraculous change in her demeanor and happiness level. As I gazed at her sweet face across the table from me today, I found this glorious sense of fullness moving right up into my eyeballs and then spilling gently out onto my face. I am stunned at how much I love her, how grateful I am to see glimpses of the mama I once knew, to celebrate with her the change we both observe and take delight in. I have no clue how long this will last, but I am determined to inhale all of it for however long she’s here.

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she is savvy enough to recognize that my phone is also a camera these days!

On Saturday afternoon, we sat packed into the downstairs of our former church home, remembering with joy and gratitude the life of Roland Tabell, the Director of Worship in that place for almost 40 years. He planned his own service pretty much, and I thought some of it might be awkward and difficult. As it turned out, he knew better! About 250 of us sat and listened to a recording made about 35 years ago of a musical drama he had co-written and I helped to produce. And immediately, we were back there, rejoicing in the Lord’s gifts to us during those years. 

I think maybe that’s why our Scripture urges us so often to remember. It is good to tell our story, to celebrate it, not to wallow in it or regret it, but to re-connect with God’s work in the past as a means of re-discovering God at work in the present and anticipating its continuation into the future. We too often forget to do that, especially when we feel discouraged about the state of the world, or the state of our own souls.

People traveled from across the state and across the country to be there. Long threads were re-gathered into a lovely afternoon tapestry, one that will help sustain us, even as we return to our separate stories now.

I am grateful today. What about you?

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I include here the words I was asked to share at Roland’s service on Saturday. Some who read this blog knew him and could not be there with us. And I would like to put this ‘on record’ somewhere. He was a hugely important part of our story, Dick’s and mine, and we miss him already.

Remembering Roland
by Diana Trautwein (with help from Dick)
April 16, 2016 at Pasadena Covenant Church

It was the summer of 1963. I had just finished my first year at UCLA, where I met and began dating a guy named Dick Trautwein, and that summer, Dick was recruited by some friends to join their church softball team. That church was this church. As a player, Dick was required to attend one worship service per month, and we opted to come on Sunday evenings. We sat up there in the balcony, enjoying the breeze that wafted in from the then wide-open stained glass window, listening to Paul Larsen preach and watching as Roland Tabell led the congregation in worship from the piano.

Flash forward to 1975. We were now married, the parents of three little kids, aged 7, 5 and 3, living in Altadena, and looking for a neighborhood church after six years of commuting to my home church in Glendale. We chose to come here, at least partly because of that lovely summer experience twelve years earlier, and from the moment of our first Sunday morning worship service here, with Mel White preaching, the sanctuary filled with color and creativity and Roland Tabell still leading worship and also . . . directing a choir, a really good church choir — I knew immediately that I wanted to sing in that choir, I wanted to sing in Roland’s choir.

That was the beginning of a 21-year relationship with this community and a 40 plus year relationship with Roland and Betty. I would say that those two relationships — this community of people and the denomination from which they sprang and the Tabells — have been among the very best of God’s gifts to us over the course of our 50 year marriage.

I’d sung in choirs my whole life but this church choir was different from any of them, primarily because Roland was different from any choral director I’d ever seen. He was beyond gifted, never indulged in histrionics of any kind, was uniquely open to creative new ways of doing things, was always prodigiously arranging, researching, selecting anthems of power and beauty, helping us all to be the best possible singers we could be on two hours of practice per week.

He was soft-spoken, humble, nimble at the keyboard, thoughtfully reflective, always reading, asking questions, thinking things through from a different angle. I volunteered in his office two mornings per week for about a dozen years, helping to produce both of the musicals that he and Bryan Leech created together, gathering props, organizing costumes and music folders, even painting the choir room and hanging mini-blinds in those fall colors so popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. I have photos somewhere of Clara and Larry Spence helping me to hang those dang blinds!

During the early years of our friendship, Roland and Dick discovered a shared love for tennis, and played singles with each other weekly for twenty years. As couples, we traveled together to Hawaii, with Roland doing all the planning, finding great accommodations for not much money, even setting up side trips and must-see tourist experiences for us all. I remember stepping into one of those boats at the Cultural Center on Oahu and some other tourist recognizing him from a band they’d played in together years before –a Hawaiian band. Hawaiian band? Roland? When we all questioned him about it, he tossed it off, like he tossed off the years of music in the army, and the broad knowledge he had of all musical permutations from Gregorian chant through slack key guitar. He traveled easily through every musical genre (with the possible exception of hip-hop and rap), using it all to the glory of God and the enrichment of his chosen community of worshippers.

But here’s what I remember the most about this man, and here’s where his life intersected mine in ways that were profound and transformative. Roland saw gifts in people, and he called them out. He was the first person to ask me, in all seriousness, “Hey, have you ever considered being a pastor? You’ve really got the gifts for that.” That was in the late 70’s, after I had to fill in at the last minute for someone who became ill and ended up leading an entire worship service on the fly. It took about ten years for me to heed those words and to see in them God’s prophetic call on my own life. Time and again, he gave me opportunity to use my gifts — musically, administratively, devotionally. He pushed me and he pushed others into the front of things, always ready to step back, to stand in the shadows, providing encouragement, insightful critique, and even a little arm-twisting, from time to time.

He was such a gifted man. Even more remarkably, given the depth and breadth of those gifts, he was such a good man. His presence in this place was gift, from beginning to end. He was faithful and true, strong and steady, winsome, occasionally quirky, and always interesting. I thank God for his life, I thank God for the ways in which his life intersected my own, I thank God for Roland Tabell.

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Eyes to See — A Book Review . . . and a Giveaway!!

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This book is a beautiful and deeply true gift to the world. It is a book to be savored, read over time, with pen in hand and fingertips at the ready — ready to bend down corners of page after page after page . . .

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Christie Purifoy invites us into her life, one year in her life, to be exact. Moving through the seasons from autumn through summer, from late pregnancy to early toddlerhood, from the wilderness of Florida to the welcoming joys of a very old house on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, she lets us see life through her eyes.

And what beauty-seeking eyes she has! Her reflections on the life she lives are deep, rich, honest and gloriously articulate and thoughtful. Maplehurst is an old, brick farmhouse, now surrounded by a brand-new neighborhood of tract homes, a place far from family, yet a place that becomes home in every way you can think of.

Along the way, she reflects on things like post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, gardening (oh my, gardening!!!), the liturgical year, life, death, joy, sorrow. She reflects on this life we live, all of us, but she does it in a way too few of us take the time to — and with a skill very few of us enjoy. 

I’ve pulled out some sloppy photos of a few favorite passages, but believe me when I tell you this — there are too many to count. 

On what following in the steps of the Magi might really be about:

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On caring for the dying of things as well as the living of things:

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On enjoying beauty — the beauty that is easy to spot and the beauty that we must earnestly seek, each and every day.

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I am delighted to offer a brand new copy of this remarkable book. If you are interested in having your name dropped in the hat, please say so in the comments. I’ll select a winner one week from today and post your name on the blog and on Facebook. I can’t think of a better gift to offer you, my friends. Truly.

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 8 — Looking for the Good

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Let me tell you about my friend, Lucille. Please. Let me tell you.

We met in 1975 when my family began attending Pasadena Covenant Church, where Lucille and her then husband Harold had been leading members for decades. She was the head honcho of the woman’s organization in the church and she was GOOD at it! Gifted organizationally and an exceptional cook, she had vision and energy to spare. At this point, she was 58 and I was 30.

If you’re any good at math, then you’ve figured out that she is now 98 years young. She has some trouble walking these days, but overall, she is still amazing. In fact, I would say, Lucille is a real pistol! In the very best way.

God put this good woman in my life at precisely the time I needed to be inspired and encouraged. She saw gifts in me and she patiently drew them out over the 21 years we worshipped and worked together in that community. She always saw the good in me. Always. And she told me about it, in ways both direct and indirect. She was, in many ways, a third mother to me — my own mom and mother-in-law being the first two. And I even looked a little bit like her daughter (and like her, too). 

Can I just tell you what a gift it is to hear from another adult whom you admire that you are a good and gifted person? It is life-changing, as a matter of fact, and I will be grateful to her and for her until the day I die.

She now lives in assisted living at the same retirement community where my mom is located. Because my mother’s condition has been so demanding, I’ve had little time to visit with her of late, but I’m making an effort to change that. Why? Because I love her. And because I’m grateful for her. And because I don’t know how much longer she’ll be here for me to sit with and smile at.

When I went to see her new little apartment (her third in this place – she started in a HUGE one with her second husband . . . which is another beautiful story I will tell some day . . . and then downsized to a still lovely smaller one when he died. And just last year, moved into assisted living. Her same beautiful things are still there and that smaller space radiates her beauty and grace in every corner.

When I went to see her, she asked me to go get a box out of one of her closets and bring it to her. Inside were some lovely needlepoint zipper bags that she had made and she insisted that I take one. “My daughter is coming soon and she’s bringing me new ones to do. I love to do it while I sit and look out the window or watch television.”

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Her beautiful handiwork sits now on my bedside table, a glorious reminder of someone I love who took the time and made the effort to see and speak the good in me. Thank you, Lucille. And thank you, Jesus.

So, where are you looking for the good in others these days? And who has seen and named the good in you?

Just Wondering

Pentecost — One Week Late!

DSC04430As I noted in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe below), this is a crazy-making time in our lives. We’ve got a major move underway and a big family vacation right in the middle of it all. And I’m still (at least, partially) in recovery mode from several weird medical experiences of the past few months. So this post is about a week later than I had hoped it might be.

Through it all, we keep on truckin,’ by the grace of God and a whole lotta stubborn determination. One week ago we traveled south to be present for our middle daughter’s oldest son’s confirmation. Wesley is 17, just finished his junior year in high school and is contemplating college, right around the corner. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t he just a tiny kid who looked almost exactly like his mama?

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While we were there, we managed to sneak in basketball games for each of Wesley’s two younger brothers and I had the shopping joy of browsing a JC Penney, a store which my town hasn’t had for years. They have definitely upgraded their women’s clothing section!!

But the true highlight of the weekend was that Confirmation Service. We always love worshipping at Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena CA, and are regularly inspired by their creative worship and solid preaching. It’s been a good home for our kids and that makes this particular set of parents and grandparents very partial and very grateful.

It was Pentecost Sunday — a great day for welcoming young adults into full membership of the church. Two of the five kids were also baptized — a wondrous splashing of water from a beautiful wooden font.

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But the standout surprise moment for us happened during the children’s sermon. Pastor Matt invited the confirmands and about 3 of the littler kids to take hold of round, disc like objects which he had stashed up front. They were in shades of red, orange and yellow and as the kids began to handle them, I could see that they were circles of crepe paper streamers.

And here’s what we did with them. The kids tossed them out as far as they could, then the congregants picked them up and tossed them behind themselves until the back pew was reached. Then the back row tossed them toward the front until all the rolls were completely unspooled. It looked fabulous!

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Then we were instructed to raise those streamers above our heads and stomp our feet as fast as we could. “And that,” said Pastor Matt, “is just a small picture of what it must have been like when the Spirit showed up at Pentecost.” Wind and fire. Oh, YEAH!

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It was the perfect set-up for the kids’ vows and the gentle reading of a piece of their own personal credos, each one reading a portion that wove together into a modern version — a confirmation student version! — of the Apostle’s Creed. 

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At the end of the service, some helpful ‘stage hands’ moved forward a large white easel and a table spread with colored (washable) paints. And during the singing of the last hymn, we were invited to come forward, dip our thumbs into red, orange or yellow paint and make a mark on the sketched-in flames drawn on the easel.

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Everyone was involved, a bodily experience of community that I found profoundly moving.

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It’s not the most gorgeous piece of art you’ll ever see, but it is a lovely representation of this particular fellowship of believers and their commitment to be in this thing together.

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In the quiet space after the service, I snapped a photo of the finished flames, set against the draped cross. And I thanked God for this motley, crazy thing called ‘the church.’ We are far from perfect, but sometimes . . . sometimes, we get it right.

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Joining this with Jennifer, Lisha, Laura.

Something New, JUST FOR YOU!

 

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He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

This has been the greeting for this season of the Christian year for centuries. So I greet you, on this first Monday of the Easter season with the words of our fore-parents in the faith — He is risen!

This magnificent truth is something to celebrate. And more than that, it is something to live. ‘We are an Easter people’ — I’ve heard it, I’ve read it and I believe it to be true. This grand Easter event colors every other aspect of life when we lay claim to the word ‘disciple’ — Easter changes everything.

So it seems to me that this first week of the Easter season is a natural marker for new beginnings. And I am beginning something today, something which makes me more than a little bit nervous:

 

I have an eBook!

 

And I am giving it away to everyone who signs on the dotted line for yet another new thing in my life: a semi-monthly personal letter.

This small epistle will be from me to you, and will land in your in-box on the 1st and the 15th of each and every month for at least the next year. That means the first issue will show up in just nine days.

I’m calling this letter, “More Wondering. . . ,” and in it I will say things I won’t be saying anywhere else on the worldwide web. It will be an amalgam, I hope. A mash-up of personal note, updates on my book-publishing project (did you know I have one of those?), things that have caught my eye on the web, quotes I love, photos I’ve taken. A little of this and a little of that — all of it, I hope, adding up to something worth reading and enjoying.

My blog guru, LW Lindquist, has been hard at work putting the ebook together — and friends, it looks amazing! It’s an edited version of the blog series I did at the beginning of 2014 called, “Living the Questions: Reflections on the Mystery.” I’ve edited those essays for this new format, and added some questions for reflection at the end of each of the eight chapters.

An 8-chapter book — can you believe it?

I cannot tell you what a joy it was to see this thing jumping up at me from the screen of my Kindle Fire. 

It will be available as a free download whenever you subscribe to my new letter, “More Wondering . . . ” Because it’s in PDF format, the book is easily downloadable to any mobile device that connects to the internet. I just turned my Kindle sideways, and there it was, filling the entire screen! Amazing, right? 

I am delighted to be able to offer you this gift. And I want you to feel free to share this news with friends. In fact I hope you will — and please direct them back here, directly to this post so that they can get their own copy — after all, it’s FREE!

I think it looks pretty fabulous — don’t you?

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You can sign up for the “More Wondering . . .” letter using the form below, or the signup form in the sidebar:

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And yes, there will soon be one of those pesky pop-ups on this blog. That’s because I really would love for anyone who reads something I’ve written here to have the opportunity to join our newsletter circle.

Can you all help me spread the word? a Facebook share or a tweet or two would be just grand.

Thanks, friends! And I hope you enjoy the eBook and the newsletter when it comes into your inbox on the 15th of this month.