The Talisman: a Writing Prompt

I am a person who wrestles hard with major transitions in life.
I never want to move too quickly, to make big changes
in the routines and patterns I am used to
without a lot of thought, prayer, and discussion
with trusted friends and family.
I surprised myself when our senior pastor was hired in 2005,
midway through my time as associate pastor.
I thought I would retire; that had been the plan.
But then . . . he came, with his high energy,
and his working style that was so different from anything
I’d ever experienced before,
and he knew so much about the liturgical calendar,
and, and, and. . . 
I realized I could learn a lot from this man,
things I hadn’t done, in ways I hadn’t done them,
so I decided (and he graciously agreed)
that retirement would go on hold for a while.
 By July of 2009, it was becoming increasingly clear 
to me that my time as a member of a church staff 
was coming to and end. 
What, I wondered, comes next?
Who am I without this title, 
this role, 
this connection to the 
community of faith 
I’ve worked alongside all these years?

So, I took a leap of faith – gasp! –
and enrolled in a post-graduate learning
experience, this one in Chicago,
to see if spiritual direction might be what the Lord
was moving me toward in this last stretch of life.
I flew to Chicago for a very intense week.
A good week, a rich week, an exhausting week – 
“Like trying to drink from a fire hose,” 
is how I described it to my friends.
And at the very beginning of that week,
we spent a day on retreat, in silence,
with periodic worship times spaced 
throughout the day.
I took a walk around the grounds of that retreat center,
discovering a small gift shop with jewelry for sale.
Almost immediately, I spied this Jerusalem cross 

(second from left above) and snatched it up. 

Somehow that small, silver ornament became a

picture of God’s promised presence amidst all the
things that were shifting in my life.
I wore it daily for the rest of that year.
It became a sort of touchstone,
a reminder that I was not alone as I
navigated the changing scene before me.

And I began adding other symbolic pieces to the chain.
The small bee, which says, “just be,” on the reverse
and the beautiful spreading tree,
with, “free spirit,” on the back.
Both of these, plus the charm with my first initial,
reminded me – as I caught sight of them 
in the mirror or fingered them while
reading or praying – 
that my deepest need is for stillness,
for practicing the presence of God,
for sitting in the silence, 
in the Mystery.

About a year later, six weeks after my retirement
became official, my husband and I took a 
lovely trip to Hawaii,
a place of my heart for the last 32 years.
So I added the heart with the palm tree on it. 

That summer,

after being too ill the previous year to continue
the program in Chicago with my own denomination,
I stepped into training with the
Such a gift. 

So the last piece added was the medal
of St. Benedict.

Taken all together,
this set of charms,
of talismen,
speak to me of who I am becoming,
of where I am finding space and gift and grace now,
without the title,
without the role,
but with a life. 
A rich, wonderful, Spirit-graced life. 

During the hardest months of

this time of change – from about October of 2010
through May of 2011 – I took it off only to shower.
Somehow, the weight of it called to mind
the immensity of this time in my life,
this move from active ministry
to a more quiet and quotidian way of doing life. 

Gradually, this way of living became the new normal,

and as it did, the necklace sat on the counter more and more often.
I still love to look at it. 

And I still tend to wear it when I’m 
feeling uncertain or anxious.
I wore it every day during my

last two weeks in community with the Benedictines
in July and August. 

And I’ll likely wear it every day that I’m on 
retreat at Laity Lodge.
But I don’t wear it to bed anymore.

I don’t wear it every day or even every week. 

Because I’m here.

I’ve settled – as much as it is possible for
a person of my personality to settle anywhere!
And I am grateful,
so, so grateful for what I’m learning,
what I’ve been invited to do,
how God is working through me
and in me and around me
even here, even now.

I’m glad I took that particular route as I walked around 
the grounds of that retreat center in 2009.
And I’m glad to have this tangible reminder
of God’s faithfulness in the midst of major life changes.
It’s just a necklace.
But it’s also a story, an Ebenezer of sorts,
a marker of how the LORD has been here,

right through the shifting sands of change.
I look at it and say,
“Thus far, the Lord has helped me.” 
And I say, “Thank you. Thank you.”

My thanks to Amber Haines and her new writing prompt each week. The word this week was ‘necklace.’ I cannot write in poetic majesty as she does, but I very much enjoyed thinking about this one. So, thanks, Amber. You can click on this sentence to find her beautiful reflection and to find links to others who have taken up her challenge.
I will also link this to Jennifer’s, Emily’s, Duane’s, and Ann’s gatherings tonight.


The Pulse of a Church: Faithfulness

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

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

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

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

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