Across the Age Gap — SheLoves, May 2016

We’re talking about FORWARD over at SheLoves this month. And what came to me was the wonderful way older women ‘paid it forward’ in my life and how I want to be an older woman like that. Come on over and join us, won’t you?

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Lucille Peterson Johnston and her sister Betty Junvik MacCreight were the two women who paid it forward in my life (among others!).

I was in my early 30’s, a stay-at-home mom with school-aged kids, actively involved as a lay leader in our church, with more time and energy than I had enjoyed since the babies started coming. A woman who was a mentor to me called one day with an idea: “My sister and I would really like to see something happen for the young moms in our congregation and we thought maybe you’d be willing to head it up for us.”

“Interesting idea,” I thought. “And I’ve got some time these days.”

So we met together and made plans. From that meeting, a semi-monthly morning gathering began in the church basement. For the first two years we met, childcare and snacks were provided by the older women in the church. Can you imagine? Lovely women, who had walked the road of mothering babies years before, gave themselves to the younger women, helping us to start something new and life-giving for all of us. For me, it was a chance to stretch my leadership muscles; for the women who gathered, it was three hours of freedom and fellowship every other Thursday.

That group was called The M & Ms — for Mary and Martha, of course. This was a long time ago — the late 70s and early 80s — when about 90% of young moms could (and did) choose the stay-at-home route. I led them for about five years, then moved sideways into leading Bible studies for both women and men in the evenings, before finding the courage to enter seminary in 1989. The group continued to meet for about a dozen more years, with other slightly further-along-moms stepping into leadership, until the need for a day-time getaway-for-moms largely disappeared.

It was the right idea at the right time, and it started with older women ‘paying it forward.’ They saw a need, got creative about how they might meet it, and then stepped right into the middle of it with their own loving presence. What a gift!

This is just one story, one picture of intergenerational connection, about learning from and leaning into one another across the age gap. Even though sociological evolution has changed the dynamic of many families today, the principles that undergird this example are still valid.

We need connections to our past in order to move forward with wisdom and integrity. And we need connections with our future in order to be open to the Wind of God at work in the church. We need each other.

Please hop on over to SheLoves to finish this essay and to join the conversation about leaping across the age gap! Click right here.

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?

________________________

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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Sing It Out!! — for SheLoves in December

We were asked to write a shorter-than-usual reflection piece for SheLoves this month, reflection on a character in the Christmas narrative. My choice was a bit of a ‘cheat,’ because I picked two of my very favorites. See if maybe you see the same things I do in this lovely piece of our story. You can start here and then finish it over at SheLoves:

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There are two of them in the story, two of them in the same boat.

And such a strange and wonderful boat it was.

One young, very young. The other, older, maybe ten or even twenty years older. Cousins the story tells us, they were distant cousins.

Both of them pregnant — unexpectedly, miraculously, stunningly pregnant.

And they came together at a crucial moment, offering each other gifts, gifts that took the shape of words, words that sing out with hope and promise, with surprise and jump-for-joy abandon.

That younger one was full to the brim with Spirit-joy and more than a little bit of wonder, and I’m guessing, more than a few questions. When she knew she was with child, she went running, right on up the dusty road, up to the hills, looking for that familiar face, that familiar cousin-voice, so hungry for a companion on the way.

And the older one? Well, she was smack dab in the middle of her own wonderment. For years she cried out to God, begging for a baby, a baby who never materialized, leaving her aching and isolated. When she was beyond hope, God answered! Now there was a wild-souled boy-child growing inside her.

Their meeting is a picture of the life-giving power that is possible when women who share affection and esteem support one another. Mary, overwhelmed by that heavenly visitation and its remarkable aftermath, headed straight into the arms of someone who knew her well, someone who knew God well, someone who could help her make some sense of all the craziness. She headed for Elizabeth.

Hop on over to SheLoves to see what happens next!

A Sacramental Life – A Deeper Story

This is a story that I’ve told pieces of before, but I’ve never told it at A Deeper Story. It’s my turn over there today, so please follow the links to finish reading this post . . .

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His name was Thomps. Tall, lean, always smiling, Warren Thompson was the kind of man who made you think of Jesus every time you looked at him. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite like him — and somehow, that makes me very sad. Seems to me there should be oodles of people like Thompsie. Seems to me that all of us who claim the title Christ-follower should look a whole lot more like Thomps than most of us do.

He came to faith in his 20s, soon after leaving the navy and settling into married life with his life partner, Nancy, in the foothills of Pasadena, California. I don’t know much about his earliest days of faith because I didn’t meet Thomps until he was in his mid 50s.

He wasn’t a flashy guy. Far from it. He was almost shy, somewhat diffident, willing to stay in the background — emphasis on the word stay. That was the thing about this man — he stayed. He came to the mid-sized church we attended long before we did and very quickly offered his services as a volunteer with the youth. By then, he had a couple of little kids, a full time job and a heart that throbbed with an overflowing love for young adults.

So Thomps began to hang out with the teens. He showed up on Sunday mornings, he showed up on Wednesday evenings, he showed up on outings, he showed up at camp. Wherever they were, Thomps was there, too. He was willing to be the stooge, the guy in the skit who got shaving cream smeared on his face, the one who just loved seeing kids laughing and having fun.

More than their laughter, though, he loved their hearts, especially those belonging to young men. Every male student who came to youth group got taken out to breakfast. He’d drive all over town, picking kids up early in the morning, taking them — one or two at a time — to a local coffee shop. Together, they’d down pancakes and orange juice, and Thomps would ask them about themselves. “How’s school?” he’d say. Or, “How’s your prayer life?” he’d query. And always, he’d ask, “How can I help?”

And help he did. He went to sporting events, he listened to debates, he encouraged good study habits, he offered suggestions for devotional guides.

And he prayed. Oh, how he prayed.

 Please join me at A Deeper Story and tell me about a Thomps in your life . . .

Chartreuse Cape in My Closet — SheLoves

It’s always a joy to work with the grand people over at SheLovesMagazine. This is a small story about an old friend, who taught me a thing or two about living with flourish . . .DSC01291

My online dictionary gives two distinct definitions for the word ‘flourish.’ One has to do with thriving in a particular environment; the other has to do with colorful, sometimes startling, ‘ta-da’ gestures.

 My granddaughter is flourishing in the small Catholic school she attends.                                                                           OR
 My friend Nancy always adds a feather boa when she wants to say something  with a flourish.

At first glance, the verb and the noun seem to have little to do with one another. To flourish is to bloom, turn toward the sun, become more of who we’re meant to be. A flourish is a more momentary thing, maybe even a flashy thing – a gesture, a brightly colored piece of clothing, a pose.

When I did a little looking, however, I discovered that they are actually very closely related. The verb form is older (about 800 years old!) and came into English from an old French word meaning to blossom; the noun came later and used to mean a blossom.

So, I wonder . . . what does it mean to blossom? What does it mean to add a blossom to what we do, what we say, how we live?

My friend Kathy helped me understand both meanings of this word.

I first met her almost twenty years ago, soon after my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara. She was in her early 80s then, full of life, and living that life out loud and in full Technicolor. Tall, statuesque, with brilliant blue eyes, she moved with a dancer’s grace and spoke with verve and good humor.

She’d known my husband before I met her and when she discovered that I was a pastor, she wasted no time in asking if I ever preached. “About 8-10 times a year,” I told her. And the very next week, she called the church office, asking for a preaching schedule and for immediate notification when my name came up in the rotation.

And every time I preached, from that day until a few months before she died, she came to hear me. She’d leave her expensive home at the golf course, driving her beat-up, 20-year old Ford station wagon into the church parking lot. I could always see her coming into the back of the gymnasium where we worshipped in those days, and I’d watch as she would gently genuflect and cross herself  before the large wooden cross that hung at center court . . .

Come on over to SheLoves to read the rest of this story . . .

Q & A Tuesday Wrap-Up: Week Four

 

There are a lot of words in this wrap-up — and most of them are from all of you!DSC00924

What a rich conversation we’ve had this week! Thank you all for your insights and your articulate, kind responses to me and to one another. Thank you for helping us all to wrestle well with the question of ‘tears.’ Yes, yes. There is room for our tears in the body of Christ, even though many of us have felt them to be unwelcome in particular corners of that body. The words you’ve shared, both in link-ups and in the comments section, have added so much liveliness and depth to living this particular question. I am grateful.

One of the earliest link-ups this week was breathtakingly beautiful, with reminders that life lived on planet earth is only an introduction to the life that is to come. She wrote: “I love crawling close in hospital beds and into the stories with their glimpses of the main stage, and inviting the next chapter into the room. It’s painful and gorgeous all at once. It’s the most beautiful thing my soul has ever felt. We are in the lobby. We have only caught a glimpse of  beauty.” I encourage you to read the entire post.

Several posts this week were written in poetic, prayerful format, asking the church to be more open to letting the tears flow freely and unashamedly. We were encouraged to:

Make room in our own woundedness to walk the road with others who are weak and in pain. Be a sanctuary for the seeking, the saved and those sick in body, mind or heart. 

Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with all who rejoice. Lift and uphold each other in prayer. Come alongside and be Christ’s ambassadors in caring for all in need.

Another faithful friend wrote a story of freedom, of permission to be all of who she is in the presence of God:

my younger self
was never known to cry
perhaps it was scolded out of me
having too often heard
“I’ll give you something to cry about”

but my God gave me tears
when I surrendered to Him
my harsh and stoney heart

 now I am known
as a woman who weeps
long and deep tears 
born of joy, pain, awe 
and intercession

A regular contributor chose to offer a poetic reflection on both life and scripture in response to this question about tears:

The woman brought her tears,
rained them on our Lord’s
dusty feet. The body of Christ knows
(though we have forgotten)
the fellowship of tears.

And a regular member of the conversation joined her blog for the first time this week, also writing her thoughts in poetry:

While some have been tears
of deep grief,
sometimes tears tell me
it’s time to
stop
pay attention
see what God has for me.

Although not always readily apparent,
the time spent paying attention
until it becomes clear
is time
well-spent.

This beautiful and poignant post came from the deep wells of personal pain and loss and speaks to the hard but necessary truth that we don’t always know where our tears will lead, how our sorrow will be redeemed:

It will be days, months, maybe years, to process what God has done and to see the fruits from the passing of this small seed.
New life is coming, even from this death, and there will be more to write.
Leah has her own story to tell, but I will share some of the precious words she said to me,
“Mom, we will never be the same.  He taught us so much.”

His name was Garrison Isaac.

You know ‘Isaac’ means ‘laughter’–and he is–laughing, I know.  
With Jesus.

A really important corrective came from this once-Catholic-maybe-still-Catholic writer who reminded those of us with conservative/evangelical/Protestant stories that there are other stories about tears, too:

Well, Catholicism has no problems with tears. Repentance is regular and necessary and tears are often part of that. Life is accepted as being full of pain so there will often be tears. There isn’t any pressure on believers to be joyful. So when I came across this sense of failure over feeling unhappy or depressed or sad I was puzzled.

Tears have accompanied deep revelations of sinfulness and forgiveness. . . 

Perhaps there should be some tears shed for the harm that has been done to the church by our disunity.

And the comments section this week simply soared, with heart-to-heart connections and beautiful words. A few of my favorites:

“He doesn’t let a single tear go to waste.
And the day is coming when He will dry each one.
Now that’s a promise to hold on to.”

About bad theology in the church:

“Once, not long after my miscarriage, I was told (taught, actually) that–if we’re not joyful–we make God the Father look bad. I rejected that idea in my spirit immediately, but I still feel a little angry when I think about it. We can be so careless w/ one another.”

A couple of deeply personal stories about the power of Holy Spirit tears:

“My cancer is well advanced in my bones, but I have made the commitment to sing in the choir the whole sesaon. I am pretty much the bass section. 2 weeks ago the anthem was “Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world.” The verses always start out the with basses belting out “I want to meet my Jesus,” or some variant on that theme. It was tough going for me. I did it, then went back to my seat and put my head down and started bawling while someone in the congregation stood up and thanked the choir for their spirited anthem. It was all good. These tears are gifts from God.”

A great reminder of a famous movie quote:

“Do you remember the line in “Steel Magnolias”? “My favorite emotion is laughter through tears” I’ve always loved that line.”

A profound question:

“Can I grieve my way back to owning tears? For so, so long, I had no safe place–and it seems I’ve forgotten how.”

Two reminders that early childhood lessons can sometimes trip us up as adults:

“Somewhere I picked up the idea that they [tears] are often manipulative or embarrassing, and I cringe now remembering ways I have dismissed the tears of others.”

“I decided as a young child, that my sister would use her tears to manipulate my parents whenever she was getting in trouble, and I vowed I would never do that.”

Testimonies of gratitude for the freedom to accept tears, those of others and our own:

“God has been slowly chipping away and breaking down the walls around my heart and in the last two years I cried more than my whole life. (I am 59) He weeps with us and gives us comfort.”

“A book that was instrumental in the process for me was, ‘The Wall Around Your Heart’ by Mary de Muth. I can highly recommend it. This breaking down in order to rebuild can feel like a strange unravelling where ground shifts beneath our feet and all seems uncertain.”

“I do feel I am doing this not only for me but for the precious people who are coming along behind me and I am grateful the opportunity to keep growing. Love the community here.”

A beautiful pledge to commit to openness and break the family pattern:

“but somehow to me, because of their stoicism, it felt like trusting God meant I didn’t feel the depth of the pain. I just had a visit with my only living Aunt last night who was only 5 years older than me. We wept together on the phone, sharing the sharing the pain of this approach – my grandmother not talking to her about my Grandfather (her dad) dying and my parents not talking to me about how i felt about the loss of my two siblings when I was a child. these are kind people who loved us, but they did as they had learned – but at the time, it seemed to us like we were to be brave and soldier on. by the time i could have talked to my mom about this, she got sick and soon died thereafter. I am determined to be open about my journey.”

And these words, from someone new to the conversation – well, they rang true in places deep and dark:

“Once when I was on a panel with other moms, discussing how women can minister to one another, I said, “Sometimes the greatest gift is to have someone cry with me.” Indeed, aren’t we uncomfortable with tears often, quickly sniffling and stuffing them away in our sinuses. I hold firmly to the thought that tears are a gift, and a gift to be shared with those who choose to walk with us. To have another share a time of tears is beautiful, to let them flow freely, not holding back, is a source of healing. One time when I had a blood test for inflammation, my sedimentation rate was off the charts. Later in the day a dear friend and I shared a precious time of talking and crying together. For some reason I had another blood test the next day. The inflammation was within normal limits. Shared tears can be healing indeed! On the other hand, Joy hold its own in the healing arena. I have had people ask me how I could possibly be so joy-filled when I experience such great pain. The answer, of course, is Jesus. The constant Joy is another gift, not manufactured by me, but given to me by a God who sees and loves deeply. The Joy and Tears are compatible, not mutually exclusive. They come together, share the same heart. I fully believe we can be shedding tears of sadness or pain and yet walk in Joy in the same moment.”

Another new ‘talker’ expressed regret and frustration with the ‘cheerfulness’ of too many church gatherings and how that can shut people out:

“I too could take the “good Cheer” better if we also were allowed to let the cracks show. That vulnerability is something most people just don’t want to face, it is too real, I guess.”

And almost immediately, there was this good word, reminding us all that we need people in our lives who know us, all of us, and who love us anyhow!

“I hope you have a “posse.” Through one of the hardest ministry hurts we experienced, i had four friend who knew the all of the story. they saved my sanity – my life.”

And I wonder how many of us can empathize with these words of realization, this glimpse into the full mystery of our own hearts:

“I have recently been surprised by my tears over something that I thought had been dealt with years ago, and realised it was because God was bringing healing to an area of my heart, of which I had been completely unaware! Which makes me wonder how much more of my heart is unknown to me…”

And to wrap up this week’s wrap-up, this lovely story of grace re-discovered through the healing, releasing power of tears:

“The worst period of my life was marked by a state of denial that refused to accept I was struggling. I used a false religion of acceptance (false because I was actually angry, resentful and playing the long suffering pious martyr) that hardened my heart and for a long time no tears fell. I was often ill and now it seems to me that these things were linked. Stress built up inside me and when not aknowledged and released as tears it manifested in other physical ways. (I do not believe that this explains most illnesses btw!) It was this experience that led me to believe that in some ways I was saved by grief. Mourning my sister’s sudden death paved the way for mourning unaccepted losses. Tears allowed more tears and joy came in the morning.”

A  HUGE thank-you from me to all of you for your generous gift of time, thought, and words. We all richer for the connections made in this space.

 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO READ, READ, READ #3

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This marks the 3rd Tuesday since I first offered permission to read, read, read. On each of those days, I have offered a book review for you to consider. Today’s entry was written by a friend and former neighbor and it is lovely.

I think I need to put a disclaimer on this review, right up front: I know Carolyn Weber and I love her. And for some reason, she chose to talk about me in this book. I knew about it ahead of time, even read a chapter or two before publication, but I was still surprised to see my name, right there.

So, that’s out of the way, okay? And the truth of that first paragraph has absolutely NOTHING to do with what I’m about to say, just so we’re all straight about that. 

And here’s what I’m saying: if you like intelligent, lovely, sometimes funny, sometimes achingly honest writing, then this is a book that should go on the top of your stack. This second volume of personal reflections (coming on the heels of the beautiful conversion narrative of “Surprised by Oxford”) picks up her story several years later than the end of volume one. If you’re expecting (or hoping for) descriptions about courtship and wedding, and blissful early years of marriage and teaching, they are not here.

What is here is the story of a transition time in her life, a scary tale of later-in-life pregnancy, labor and delivery, a decision to leave academia and move back to her hometown in Canada, taking a gigantic leap of faith to start over again. It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told. It’s also filled with hard truths, exhaustion, anxiety, disappointment and challenge. And she weaves all of it together with biblical reflection and the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of a disciple.

Each chapter begins with a life story — a hospital delivery room, journal-writing as therapy, reaching out for help when illness strikes, sitting with a friend for tea, a trip to the beach with her children, a sabbatical move, hiking a mountain trail, a season of struggle in her marriage, a hoped-for new pregnancy and its complications, a prayer walk. And each personal story flows gently into reflection on a biblical story. It’s an interesting amalgam, this memoir/devotional, and I like it very much. Very much, indeed.

Carolyn Weber is a force to be reckoned with, offering a keen intellect, fascinating life experience, and a heart longing after God with every word she writes. I commend this book to you with no hesitation.

Herewith some gems you might enjoy:

“Irreverence begins in not paying attention. And yet, I think, it can also stem from counting too often and too closely. The eternal cannot be insisted into a measurement.” – pg. 61

“Throughout the day, the clock ticks, and I tick with it. A ticking bomb. Sometimes, I am successful at being calm, at being present. At being attentive to the children, the husband, the paperwork, the household chores, the friends, the family, the many gifts, even in demands, around me. But often I am not. I am harried and hurried. I keep time with adrenaline rather than with affection. I multitask and fret and race and miss: there is a rush in the rush, and in doing so, I forget to breathe, the breathing so central to running a race, to giving birth, to inspiring others, to living life itself. . .” pg. 147-148

“Scripture, prayer and fellowship show us, again and again, how we live the heart of the metaphor into the very most real. As a literature professor, I have come to admire how God uses even the most skeptical of secular minds to expose the most sacred of truths; nothing lies beyond the glimmer of his salvation, not even cynicism, which I find to be a shocking grace, in and of itself.” – pg. 157


Remembering Helen – Five Minute Friday

I’m not at all sure how this will come out, as the prompt this week brought to mind something that happened to me a couple of times lately — a memory was stirred. And having that happen twice in a week, well. . . it makes me think this is something I’m supposed to get down. So, I’ll try to do it in 5 minutes and link it up with Lisa-Jo and the gang this week:
Five Minute Friday

The view from that hill . . . a little closer to the sea.

PROMPT:  SMALL

GO:

The road winds up the hill, the hill that opens up to the sea. And every time I drive up that road, I remember Helen. She was such a small thing, dark-haired, pixie-eyed, full of sweetness and light. Byron asked me to go and see her. She was a friend of a friend and she was in Santa Barbara to receive a new treatment in her battle against lung cancer.

I was brand new to my job as Associate Pastor and I was pretty new to visitation, especially when the person was unknown to me and critically ill. But I went – how could I not? She was delightful – vibrant, open, seeking, devoted to her family and to her Lord. She wanted someone to talk to, to pray with, to help her face into the realities that were coming at her faster than a freight train.

Oh, how I loved her!

I met with her about a dozen times over the next few months. She would travel back and forth to her home in Arizona in between treatments, staying with friends when she was here. Eventually, she stayed for longer and longer periods of time and the family rented a house up on the bluff, a house with a distant view of the deep blue sea.

Each visit, she seemed smaller, shrinking into herself in some ways, but pouring herself out in others. Her eyes always sparkled, her smile never wavered. Oh, her voice got weaker and finally, she couldn’t walk very far at all, choosing to stay in bed or in a chair nearby. But her spirit? Indomitable.

She died quietly, here in Santa Barbara, and the family asked me to create a memorial service for her in our small chapel so that all those in this town who loved her could come and remember and worship together. 

That chapel was full, I’ll tell you. She was small, yes, she was. But her heart was huge and her sweet smiles and soft words reached out to dozens of friends. 

That was almost seventeen years ago. And every time I drive up that hill, I glance to my left, to the street that sloped up and around the bend. And I remember the gift of Helen, the first of many friends I walked with to the end of the road.

STOP

2 extra minutes

On Retreat – February, 2009 – Archive-Diving

A remarkably beautiful weekend away with women pastor friends, words and photos I want to save, memories that are precious to me.

Last Friday morning, my husband was kind enough to drive me to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on his way to work, so that I could catch a flight to Seattle.

Since the mid-1990s, I have been 1/6th of a group of women pastors ordained in the Evangelical Covenant denomination. Sometimes I wonder what sparks friendship, what bonds people to a commitment to one another. I think we found a certain commonality in our mid-life call to ministry, our shared experiences within the denomination and a rather off-beat sense of the absurd. (As a fine example of that last point, we called ourselves the Ya-Ya Goddesses. Yes, we did.)

About once a year, we tried to gather for a period of retreat – usually about a week long – with days spent in silence and solitude and evenings spent in conversation and community. We searched for someplace beautiful and quiet, some place that would allow us time to savor the goodness of God in the natural world while at the same time enjoying the conveniences of indoor plumbing and cooking facilities. Due to a long list of stresses in all of our lives, it has been almost 5 years since we have attempted to get together and now a weekend opened up for 4 of us and we grabbed it.
I met my friend Nancy in the Seattle airport, picked up a rental car and drove 2 hours north through rush hour traffic to the Stanwood exit, following lovely 2-lane country roads to one friend’s spectacular home and guest apartment on Camano Island.

Oh, my. 
      What a view. 
           What a house. 
                What a welcome. 


Because we have been unable to squeeze out travel time in these last five years, this year’s gathering was filled with catching up, story-sharing, lots of laughter and a few tears here and there – in addition to fabulous food, cooked by Diane and Vicki and cleaned up by Diana and Nancy.

Basically, we had 2 days together rather than our usual 4 or 5, as one whole day on each end was spent in travel. During these years since our last gathering:

     one of us has lost a daughter to breast cancer, 
     one has lost a son-in-law to the after effects of cancer 
               treatment many years ago, 
     one has survived (successfully) a drawn-out lawsuit and 
               built a new home, 
     one has endured terrible disappointment in her job 
               situation and has very recently both remarried and 
               moved from one state to another.

So there was LOTS to talk about.

And talk we did, until fairly late into the evening on Friday and Saturday nights. And on Sunday night? Well, on Sunday night….we ordered pizza by the boxload, enjoyed hot fudge sundaes AND watched the Red Carpet and the Oscars. What more could you ask for?

Diane’s home and apartment mirror each other architecturally and are both lovely to look at and live in. The apartment is dedicated to providing retreat/renewal space for weary pastors – what a glorious gift to offer the church!

When I went back to work on Tuesday, my boss asked me what I had gained ‘spiritually’ while away on retreat with my friends.

At first, I was stymied – this gathering was filled with more talk and less silence than most. But as I thought about his question, I was once again reminded that often very profound things can happen spiritually when you least intend it and seemingly don’t plan for it.

I went away this last weekend in a spirit of openness to whatever God might do with our time together. And it was so good for me to hear something of each of their stories — in order to make better sense — or perhaps to have a better sense — of my own.

For of the six of us, I am the last remaining pastor serving in a local church. Two work in retirement community environments, one teaches, two are ‘retired,’ though both are active in the parish churches they currently attend.

My pastoral role has been a gift to me, to my family and, hopefully, to the churches that I have served. And as I reflected on both the question I was asked and on my time away from the routines of life and work in Santa Barbara, I discovered (or re-discovered) these important truths about myself:
          1. I am a person who needs regular exposure to God’s beautiful creation to function well in ministry and in life.

          2. I am a person who needs some kind of regular interaction with long-time, hold-me-accountable, encourage-my-gifts, listen-to-my-crap friends, friends who know something about me in my local setting but are not a part of that setting.


          3. I am a pastor who is called to serve the Lord in the local church.

          4. I am a pastor who sometimes needs reminding that taking a break, setting a boundary and stepping out of the routine are necessary and important things to do from time to time.

          5. I am a person who, despite being in the throes of long-term, low (and sometimes high)-level-anxiety-and-concern-now-moving-into-grief – I am a person who needs to have some order around her. And that sense of order has just fallen off the cliff during these years of illness and worry in our family.

After seeing the lovely, quiet and restful spaces that Diane has created in her home, I am encouraged and challenged to make such spaces around me in my work environment and in my home office environment. Slowly, slowly, I am going to purge my book collection, get rid of extraneous paper and create workspaces that are conducive to reflection, writing, thinking and prayer.

          6. I am a person who will very likely apply for the next go-round of the Center for Spiritual Direction, offered by our denominational seminary and ministerium. It’s been on the back burner for a number of years, and I think the Spirit is nudging me to move in that direction NOW. (Applications are due March 31.)


So, yes, it appears that some things did happen spiritually during this time away. Thanks be to God – and to really good friends.

Nancy and Diana with Diane
Nancy and Diana with Vicki (Maybe next time, we’ll master that automatic picture-taking thingy.)

Time Out… Archive-Diving, 2008

Written originally in the fall of 2008, right after the death of our son-in-law, I am once again diving into the draft archives as I prepare to move my blog after Christmas. This is a travel post and I’m saving it primarily for us, as a record of a fun getaway we put together during a particularly difficult time.

Both Dick and I have realized an ever-increasing sense of urgency about taking time out for a few days. A need to leave all things familiar and nest somewhere else together. It’s been quite a year. Enough trauma for a few lifetimes, it sometimes seems.


So after Sunday’s sermon (which was a sermon I needed to hear, and apparently a few others did as well), we went online and found a great deal at a Pismo motel we had never visited before. An ocean-front, two room, 2 bath suite for a great price.

Yes, it’s foggy in Pismo this time of year.
Yes, we already live in a beach community.

But we don’t live on the water and this place isn’t home, with its telephones, messes needing attention, and other assorted distractions – and that, for a little while at least, makes a huge difference.

So we drove up Sunday afternoon, had dinner at a quaint place where, if you like, they’ll throw an entire pot of 3 different kinds of shellfish, corn on the cob and roasted red potatoes all over your table for dinner. That was a little too much for us our first night away, so we settled for some fabulous homemade soups and seafood louie salads. Perfect.

The next day, after sleeping in a bit and enjoying what is euphemistically called a ‘continental’ breakfast at this lovely resort (it actually consists of a great deal more than that, including two waffle makers into which you pour a cup of batter, set the timer and enjoy), we got in the car for a little exploration.

I love to explore new places! Get in the car and drive, then get out of the car and walk. First we drove to the Pismo Pier, which we walked. (The top photo was taken from the pier, looking back toward our motel.)

Next, we went to Arroyo Grande – a charming member of the Five Cities here on the northern central coast. This is their ‘famous’ swinging bridge, which like everything else in the downtown area and environs, is exquisitely well-maintained and fun to see. After you cross the bridge, there is a small historical building site – with a schoolhouse, a Victorian home and a barn (all, only open on weekends, so no tours) plus a lovely town park with a regular River City bandstand in the middle.

They are currently tidying up their town for this weekend’s ‘world famous’ strawberry festival and we had a wonderful conversation with a woman, about my age, who was very happily painting pictures of strawberries on the store windows of the downtown area.

“How’d you get into this business?” I asked. “Well, 35 years ago, I was working for a bank and they knew I had an art degree. So they asked me to do some windows at the bank. I hadn’t a clue, but began to make friends in the sign industry and gradually, just built up my own little business. I’ve been doing it ever sense. It’s a great job – allowed me flexibility to raise my kids, takes me to all the surrounding little towns and I love being in the outdoors!”

Cool!
The flowers in this small berg are beautiful, as you can see from these floribunda roses which were screaming out at us in front of the one-room schoolhouse. And soon, there will be new trees all down Branch Street, which is the main drag.

All in all, a very fun outing. We had a flyer for something called “Doc Bernstein’s Ice Cream Laboratory” which we found and entered with enthusiasm. They invent their own flavors and we each enjoyed two scoops as a finishing treat to our walkabout. As you can see, Dick LOVES ice cream.

Next, we decided to follow the road out to Lopez Lake, a spot we had often wondered about, but never visited. Lovely drive, but probably no return trip planned anytime soon. It’s another of California’s large reservoirs that are labeled lakes and allow boating and fishing but no swimming. A few nice campsites out there and this small deer, chomping away.


We ended the afternoon at the 10-plex movie theater, watching “The Soloist.” I had read such mixed reviews on this film that I was hesitant, at first. It is a bit too long and sometimes confusing to listen to – but I think in many ways, that was intentional. I love the director – Joe Wright (of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” fame) and I enjoy both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, so it was absolutely worthwhile just to see some of the interesting directorial choices and the acting chops of these two fine performers.

And it was deeply troubling, too. The condition of the homeless mentally ill in the city of Los Angeles, indeed, in all cities in our country, is simply devastating.

And there was a voice-over line at the end that just tore at my heart, especially in light of the sermon I had worked on last week. It went something like this. “Nathaniel is still sleeping indoors and he is still mentally ill. Some experts have told me that the simple act of having a friend for a year may actually change his brain chemistry enough to help him stabilize a little.”

Having a friend can change brain chemistry??? Who knew? I think perhaps Jesus understood this powerful truth when he told his disciples, “I have called you friends.”

I’m so glad I am enjoying the gift of a few days alone with my very best friend.