Saturday, December 30, 2006

Challenges of Christmas

Christmas ~ the most wonderful time of the year? Certainly, in some ways, that statement is absolutely true. The celebration of God in flesh ~ come to live among us. No matter that Christ was probably born in June rather than December ~ no matter that the commercialism of our culture has all but blotted out the real meaning of Christmas ~ as Christians we celebrate a God who would take on our form in order to show us the way of justice, peace and love.

Christmas is also a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends. Christmas cards and phone calls and visits from those who live far away remind us of what is truly important in life. Gary and I are certainly lucky to spend Christmas with Ben each year. Since we don’t have the chance to see him on a daily basis, we treasure the chance to share this time of year with him. Seeing our parents and visiting with family is a great part of the season.

But there is also a lot of pressure associated with Christmas. The pressure to create the perfect Christmas experience. The pressure to buy the perfect Christmas presents. And, as a pastor, the pressure to write the perfect Christmas sermon! Admittedly the pressure comes mostly from within. If I were honest, I would admit that most people aren’t even listening to the sermon on Christmas Eve. They are thinking about their Christmas plans and presents and meals! But there is the hope that maybe just one person will be touched by the true magic of Christmas…. will experience the mystery of God come into the world.

As a pastor, I struggle with the holidays. I want a wonderful Christmas for my family while serving my church faithfully, and I find there isn’t enough of me to go around. One way I deal with this is by shopping and decorating and doing my Christmas cards early. I plan meals ahead and make out shopping lists so everything will go as smoothly as possible. I bake mini-breads and put them in the freezer. But still, my attention is divided…. at least until the last person is greeted at the end of the Candlelight Christmas Eve service. While decorating Christmas cookies, I am thinking about a certain transition in my sermon that is not going smoothly. While shopping for that last minute necessity, I am thinking about the woman who is spending Christmas in the hospital. I suppose this is a tension I need to accept, to live within, since I imagine I will have the same basic holiday schedule for the next 30 years!

Yet, as one pastor has said, “In this midst of our mess, Christ comes.” In the midst of our stress and tension and feelings of inadequacy, Christ comes. I imagine that this truth is the best news of the season. Is Christmas the most wonderful time of the year? Probably not for the reasons we usually think, but I would say yes… it is.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Part One and Two

Living in a step-family situation, Christmas tends to have multiple stages, both for Ben and for us. One time, a couple of years ago, I commented to Ben how lucky he was to get so many presents. He had opened gifts from us, Grammy and Grampy, Grammy Liz and Grampa Larry, and Grampa Howard and Debbie, not to mention his family and extended family from his mother's side. Ben did not hesitate to set me straight. He said, "I am lucky because so many people love me."

As I write this entry we are on Christmas part two. Christmas part one started a week ago when my mother arrived from Nebraska. Mum and I grocery shopped and got everything ready for Ben's arrival a couple days later. The weekend was filled with church services ~ and preparation for church services ~ although we did squeeze in a trip to Ikea. Gary, Ben and Mum hung out while I finished sermons and visited people in the hospital. On Saturday we went Christmas Caroling at a local nursing home. Here's a picture of me wearing my red scarf.

The Christmas Eve services were certainly a blessing. It was a joy to preach at the 11:00pm Candlelight Service. I must, say, though, that it was a relief to wrap-up the services and head home. I managed to get about four hours of sleep on Christmas Eve night!

Christmas morning was great fun! Since we have decided not to post any pictures of Ben on this blog, I can't show you him with all his 'loot.' However, I can show you the Christmas cookies he decorated....

As for gifts, he particularly enjoyed his giant flying bison (something from the Avatar series) and his voice changer. Gary and I made out pretty well too! 'Grammy Liz' provided the favorite pet gift again this year ~ a squeaky raccoon that Nicky just loves! After breakfast was done and presents were unwrapped, Ben and Gary settled down to a game of 'Life' and I went upstairs to take a 2 hour nap, which did me a world of good. Christmas dinner was lasagna, bread, salad and Nebraska wine!

The next morning, after shipping Nicky off to the kennel and putting two huge bowls of crunchies down for Zeke, we set off for Christmas part two in Maine. We stopped at Genie and Tom's to drop Mum off and they treated us to lunch. We arrived at Grammy and Grampy's house (Gary's parents) where we were greeted by Grammy, Auntie Sue and a very grown-up little Garret. We opened presents and had dinner of pork pie, chicken casserole and pretzel dessert! (Thanks Nadine!) Ben is looking forward to spending the day today playing with his cousin Andrew.

Christmas part three will take place on Friday when we meet my Dad and Debbie for lunch on our way home. After visiting and opening presents with them, we will head off again, pick up Mum and arrive back home sometime Friday evening. Mum returns to Nebraska and to Larry on Sunday. Ben goes back to his family in Michigan on Monday and will likely be treated to Christmas part four. Christmas part four for Gary and I will take place on a Cruise boat somewhere in the Caribbean in about a week and a half!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Alzheimers Unit

Every other month it is my responsibility to lead worship services in three residential facilities. One of the places I go would be considered a 'regular' nursing home. Another is a mental health facility for adults and elderly people. The third place is an Alzheimers Unit. I would have to say that the place I most enjoy going is the Alzheimers Unit. It may be because my grandfather was in a similar facility for several years and I visited him regularly with my parents. Watching my grandfather's gradual decline with Alzheimers was certainly a painful experience. However, strange as it may sound, there was a certain joy in the Alzheimers Unit.

I can feel that same joy among the staff and the residents where I led worship last week. Month to month the residents certainly do not remember me, but are always happy to see me and joyful at my arrival. This month they sang their Christmas Carols with un-self-conscious joy. When I was about to leave one woman pulled me aside and said that I was a 'gift from heaven.' Well, I think that may be a BIT of an overstatement, but it certainly felt like a gift to be there at that moment! It was truly a reminder that wherever we find ourselves this Christmas season ~ healthy, overburdened, joyful, afflicted by physical or mental disease ~ God is in our midst. Jesus is our Emmanuel ~ God with us.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Outdoor Lights

As promised, here is my post about our outdoor Christmas lights. This was a big year for us, adding both a lighted deer and spiral Christmas tree to our outdoor light display. We had a chance to do things a little differently since the church removed the over-grown bushes from the front of the house and re-landscaped. I think the white lights look particularly good on our new little bushes. What do you think? Some of our neighbors have much more elaborate displays, including Santa and the Grinch hanging-out with the Holy Family. I don't know about you, but I prefer our understated look.

We tried several different settings on our digital camera, but I think this was the best picture. Can you find Nicky, Gary and I in the photo? We are the three shadows on the front step!

Apparently Nicky has decided that he enjoys unwrapping presents. While we were out yesterday he snuck into the "wrapping-room" (an unfinished room in our basement) and tore some more presents to bits. He didn't do any actual damage to the gifts, but the paper was strewn all about. What message do you think he is trying to get across? Anyway, he got a stern talking to ~ and the "wrapping-room" and Christmas tree are off limits for him for the foreseeable future!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Neighborhood News

Our normally quiet neighborhood has been a buzz with activity over the past few days, and not in a good way. Last Friday Gary, Nicky and I bundled up (coldest day yet) and headed out the door for a walk. Much to our surprise, we found two fire trucks right in front of our house The firefighters were at our neighbor Virginia's house doing something that involved a long extension cord and a fan. We stood gawking for a few minutes until I suggested, "Let's go for our walk and then, if the fire truck is still here, we'll see what's going on."

Yes! I know. That was not my most sensitive remark ever. Gary was much more in tune with being the helpful neighbor and went over to the firefighters to see what we might do. Apparently Virginia's furnace malfunctioned and the house filled with smoke. Luckily she had just changed the batteries in her smoke detectors. The fire deputy asked if we could take her over to our house until the smoke cleared and the furnace repair tech came. No walk for Nicky, but we did our good deed for the day! And Nicky did too~ sitting next to Virginia and comforting her while she patted his head. There was no damage at Virginia's house and she was able to return home after joining us for a cup of tea.

Then, on Saturday night as Gary and I were returning from our Dining Out Club, we saw two police cruisers parked in front of another neighbor's house. Again we gawked until a police officer came over to ask us some questions. Our neighbor's house had been broken into and the officer wanted to know if we had seen anything. Of course, we hadn't ~ apparently no one had. The thieves got into the house through a window that was unlocked and stole money, among other things. This is rather disconcerting on our nice, quiet, and supposedly safe street. Thank God no one was hurt. The officer told us not to be unduly alarmed, but to keep our windows and doors locked ~ No problem!

Since this incident we heard of another house nearby being burglarized. Kind of makes you wonder about this "peace on earth, goodwill to all" thing. Then again, circumstances such as these point to the very reason we need Advent and the hope that springs from the 'root of Jesse.' Peace on earth! Goodwill to all! (And just for good measure, pray for our neighborhood.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cat in a Basket

A certain camera-shy member of the family has been feeling somewhat neglected blog-wise. While his photogenic brother has been featured in any number of different poses, he has not made an appearance since the earlier "Meet the Gang" post. His only consolation is that he appears in my member profile photo, so at least he is seen regularly.

So here is Zeke's latest photo. Surprisingly he didn't run when I pulled out the camera. I suspect he may have been stuck in the basket, as it did take a while for him to extricate himself from it!

I may have mentioned before that Zeke does not have the best reputation among our friends and family members. Overnight guests insist on locking the guest room door for fear he will sneak in and perform some sinister act while they sleep. He has developed a particular aversion to my friend Stephanie, hissing and growling whenever he catches sight of her... and she's the one that feeds him while we are away!

In other family pet news, I was glad to hear today that my Aunt Diana's little girl-dog Bissy has not had anymore kidney stones. Yeah! Thanks for the e-mail, Aunt Diana... and thanks to everyone who reads my blog!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mood Snow

Our first snow came to Southern New England last Tuesday. In true New England fashion, it was a day later than the forecasters predicted! Stephanie said that the TV weathermen were calling it 'mood snow.' While I had never heard that term before (I think that weathermen lay awake at night thinking this stuff up) it does rather capture the effect of the snow on that chilly early December morning. There was just enough snow to accumulate slightly before the sun got to it. Gary and I stood at the window for a few minutes to watch the snowflakes float down. It did rather get me in the 'mood' for winter!

In other news: As I write this e-mail Nicky has been caught getting into the Christmas presents. A wrapped gift for a co-worker's dog apparently smelled too good to pass up. Wrapping paper has been torn and spread around the room. I guess there is more wrapping to do after all. Bad Dog!

And finally, to end the suspense from the Advent word game of two posts previous.... (oddly enough, no one offered possible solutions!) .... "Please be patient, God isn't finished with me yet." Amen? Amen!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Splish Splash

The signs of Christmas have arrived at our cozy abode. As I shared last week, the decorations are up. As of today, most of the presents are wrapped! Christmas cards and packages are mailed. Christmas bread is baking! Christmas services and sermons are being written. Christmas, here we come!

And meanwhile, in the midst of all this extra activity, Nicky has developed a skin condition which requires us to give him a bath with special medicated shampoo twice a week. Bahumbug! Could it be a result of the Christmas related stress he is feeling?

Now, giving Nicky a bath is no small feat. Until a week ago, we had never even attempted to give him a bath in the house. In the summer we bring him out back with the hose.... the rest of the year it is off to the groomer for him. This picture is from his third indoor bath so far.... He does seem rather resigned to it, though, doesn't he? (Humiliated might be the better word.) What this picture doesn't show is the coaxing and prodding we had to do to get him in the tub, which did no good anyway. We (Gary) ultimately had to lift him in!

How do you like his little soap-suds mohawk? That was my handywork. We have to entertain ourselves somehow while we wait the prescribed 10 minutes for the soap to soak in and do its magic.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bath! Ho Ho Ho!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tree Trimming

Advent has officially begun, so I share with you our adventures in decorating for Christmas! I do admit, though, that we decorated slightly before Advent ~ just a week early! But Advent began later than usual this year.... that's my excuse.

First, I had to do the yearly 'wrestle-with-the-lights.' Why does it seem that the lights get extra tangled every year. They were just placed in a box! They weren't stirred, or tossed, or shaken. What could have happened in there since last year?!?

While I would prefer to have a 'real' tree, Gary and I have settled upon a nice looking faux tree. We decided that it is better than the dog-drinking-out-of-the-tree-water, worrying-about-it-burning-down, needles-shedding-all-over-the-place hassles. Here is the finished product, as Gary places the tree-topper as the final touch. I think it looks pretty darn good!

Along with the tree we have a creche given to us by Gary's mom, Nadine. We also have a few lighted churches and a glass lighted Christmas tree that sits on top of the piano. Stockings are hung by the chimney with care, waiting for Ben's visit from Santa Claus. We also have outdoor decorations up, but I will save those for another post.

Our holiday decorating would not be complete, though, without supivisor 'Nicky' making sure everything is in place. He oversaw the whole process from his comfy chair. He did let us put his "Ho Ho Ho" bandana on for the picture, but not the reindeer ears. (But really, can you blame him?)

As I mentioned before, today is the first Sunday of Advent.... the season in the Christian year when we prepare for Christ's coming. This preparation is not just for the coming of the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Day, but also preparation for Jesus' future coming into the world. The theme for the day was "Hope." I gave out stickers to the congregation that had the letters PBPGIFWMY printed on them. Each letter is the first letter of a word that spells out a sentence that expresses our Advent hope. Any guesses?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Nicky's Story

Just to be clear, this is Nicky writing. Mum and Dad are out Christmas shopping, so I thought I would take the opportunity to blog for the first time. Mum did mention to you at one point that I might make an appearance here. As you can tell from all the pictures, I've made more than an appearance. I may as well be the star!

As Mum mentioned in an earlier post, I adopted her when I was a mature pup. I decided to adopt Mum because I needed a family, after so many years on the road, and she seemed pretty nice. It's turned out quite well. A warm bed, a comfy chair, a walk almost every day, and the occasional scrambled egg. I've adapted quite well to domestication.

If you want to read about all my adventures, you can buy my new book Sheep. It's actually written by Valerie Hobbs, but Ms. Hobbs captured the essence of all the misadventures of my young life. (She's a very talented writer!) Just click here to have a look! The ending is fictionalized, but I'm sure you can understand my desire not to risk losing my anonymity. The paparazzi and all! Anyway, living with a pastor is almost like living with a shepherd ... and herding a congregation is kind of like herding sheep... except I get in trouble when I nip at their heels!

Friday, November 24, 2006

El Guapo


Meet El Guapo ~ our Thanksgiving Turkey. Since he didn't get a Presidential pardon, he had the honor of being the center of our feast. Doesn't he look great? You can probably tell that we didn't cook him! We had the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving with our friends, Jake and Stephanie (yes ~ the same ones who ran the big race in the morning) in their new home.

Since the race, along with all the festivities and fundraisers that accompany it, is such a big part of our community, we have opted not to travel for the past three Thanksgivings. We miss our families, but feel very much at home with El Guapo and his crew. This year Jake's parents, brother and grandparents came for Thanksgiving. The table was beautiful (as you can see) and the food was delicious.

To represent our family traditions, we brought several side dishes to share. Lime pear salad and pea salad from my side. Cherry bread from Gary's side. And green bean casserole for good measure. Everyone got plenty to eat. And the pies that Jake's grandma brought were superb. We even brought a little 'doggy bag' home to Nicky! Thanks to Jake and Stephanie for inviting us to be part of such a special day.... And thanks to El Guapo for the ultimate sacrifice!

So as a follow up from my last post, you can see how our Thanksgiving day did improve. As you can tell from the picture, we warmed up and dried off (although my hair is still a little flat!) I hope you all have friends that are as good to you as Jake and Stephanie are to us. And I pray you all had a blessed Thanksgiving!

Rainy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving day here in southern New England was pretty much a wash out. This made for a quite uncomfortable beginning to the holiday! The town where we live hosts a 5 mile race every year which attracts over 12,000 runners, not counting spectators. Since the race route goes right by the church, we take advantage of the opportunity to make some money to support Youth Missions and our after school program. We were standing out in the rain at 7:00am to rent out the spaces in our church parking lot. At $5 a space, we raised over $2,000, which is great for our Youth Mission Fund. It made for some pretty soaked volunteers, though! I have to admit that I wimped out. At 8:15am I decided I needed to go in and 'prepare' for our 9:00am Prayer Service. (Sorry Stephanie) By the time I went back out to the parking lot, I was dry and warm and everyone else was miserable.

The rain ruined any hopes that Gary and I had of walking the race route ourselves. Gary did make an attempt, but decided against it after standing in the soaking rain for 15 minutes just waiting for the race to step off. My most heartfelt admiration for our friends that did participate in the race - Stephanie, Jake, Norman, Loren, Marnie, Shelia.... Way to Go!

Nicky was bummed out by the rain as well. It meant no Thanksgiving Day walk for him. Here is a cute picture of him getting dried off after coming in from the back yard. It was a good thing for all of us that Thanksgiving improved markedly after the soggy beginning.... I'll write more about that later today!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

It's a date!

Sensing that I was more than a little stressed, last Friday night my wonderfully thoughtful husband took me out on a date! "The Queen" was not a movie that Gary was particularly interested in seeing, but he gladly drove several towns over through rush hour traffic so we could see it together. Popcorn and soda at the movie, plus a Friendly's Fribble and chicken quesadilla rounded out the evening. It wasn't fancy, but it was certainly special. It is surprising how easy it is to forget to do those little things together!

As for the movie, I thought it was quite well done. Of course much of it was based on speculation about what the Queen and Royal Family might have been thinking, saying, or doing in the days following Princess Diana's death. Helen Mirren was wonderful as she transformed herself into the Queen. It's hard to believe she is the same actress who was the ring leader in 'Calendar Girls!' The best part of the movie, though, was the little corgi dogs that faithfully followed the Queen around wherever she went! Watch out Nicky...

I would recommend seeing the movie.... and I would definitely recommend going out on a date! Don't forget to treat yourself and your loved one, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend every once in a while. (Especially during this hectic holiday season) It doesn't have to be fancy... it just has to be fun. And, believe me, it can do you a world of good.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Remembering Gram

November 11th would have been my Gram's 89th birthday. Wow... 89 sounds so old, yet I always thought she would live forever. Sledding with me at the Grove. Walking Twinkie in all sorts of ice and snow. Surviving cancer, heart attack and a stroke. When I was a child I thought she was invincible.

It has been almost two years since her death. In some ways it seems a lot longer than that, but in other ways it feels like just yesterday. This time of year I remember how she would tie red bows on the low hanging branches around the campground... a special holiday treat for those entering the Grove. I also remember making peanut butter cups together to give to the neighbors for Christmas.... our own recipe! They weren't pretty, but they were delicious.

My relationship with Gram certainly wasn't perfect. She used to bug the heck out of me sometimes... and I'm sure I bugged the heck out of her too! But I would say that my relationship with Gram was genuine. And I think that is the most important thing about any relationship. That it be genuine.

Because of this, while I do miss her, there really isn't anything I regret... anything I wish I had said or done. And I look forward to that day when I can sit next to her at God's heavenly banquet... and maybe even share some homemade peanut butter cups!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Happy Birthday to Gary

Yes, it has been a while since I have 'blogged.' I have decided not to make a big deal of it, though. No excuses. No trying to play catch-up. I will just move ahead from this moment! My attempt to live in the 'now.'

Our most recent exciting happening is Gary's Birthday. On Wednesday he turned ~ don't be mad at me for telling everyone, Gary ~ 38! We celebrated with ice-cream cake, presents and dinner at Vinny'T's. Here is a picture of Gary and his cake. Life has been so busy lately that it was a joy to just be able to spend a whole evening together, with no Commissions meetings, Wonderful Wednesdays programs, late work nights or studying to do. Gary had some nice birthday calls and messages ~ and was even serenaded on the answering machine with "Happy Birthday to you!" Once by Ben in Arabic!

Nicky and I tried our best to carry a tune while singing Happy Birthday ~ me in English, Nicky in dog. Unfortunately we don't sing at the same pitch... and I think his 'woofing' was more about getting a piece of ice-cream cake than about genuine well-wishes for his 'Dad.' Lucky for him, he got a few bites of mine. It isn't really a birthday until the dog gets ice-cream all over his face!

With all the festivities over, today is a day of rest, followed by an evening of Christmas shopping. The storage room is already piled with gifts. The cards are done. The wrapping paper is at the ready. Peace, Good-will, and many excuses to celebrate, to all!

Monday, October 09, 2006

My New Mantra

Happy Columbus Day! Today Pastor Mark flies off for some exotic European cruise, so I am the 'Pastor in Charge' (aka 'Iron Pastor'). It seems that as soon as Mark leaves town, I get a call from the funeral home to do a service. And yes... it has already happened! I have a funeral scheduled for Saturday after having no funerals since August. I told the funeral director not to call again for at least 3 weeks. Not only is Mark gone, but my Ordination Exam is in less than 2 weeks! Of course the funeral director laughed... I guess it just doesn't work that way!

This brings me to my new mantra. After six years in ministry, I think I finally understand what it means to say that ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. For the past several years I have 'sprinted' from one occasion to the next, thinking that as soon as I 'got through' Christmas or Easter or the Mission Trip or whatever I would be able to rest, regroup, relax. But I have found that the time of rest never comes... there is always something else, one more thing to do, another occasion just around the corner. I have to learn to pace myself and appreciate the joys as they happen. If I don't do that, I will miss a lot of life along the way!

So with that perspective in mind, Gary and I enjoyed a lazy morning, nice breakfast and a walk with Nicky out in the crisp fall air. Although it is Columbus Day we both still have to work. Gary works at the library from 12-8 and I have to get ready for an evening Ad Board meeting (considering I am the 'Iron Pastor', at least for the next 2 1/2 weeks). Yet, having to work on the holiday is made more bearable by enjoying some quiet time in the morning.

My Aunt Diana asked now Nicky is doing since his trip to the vet. Unfortunately he has to make another trip... the 'problem' has returned, which is not unusual. Aunt Diana's little sheltie Bissy has been through quite an ordeal herself. I am glad to hear she is better!

Enjoy this beautiful New England Day (and if you're not in New England, I hope it is beautiful wherever you are) and may God bless all creatures, great and small!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Comfort Food

Fall is the time to indulge in some comfort food. It seems that fall officially arrived here today. The air was crisp and the changing leaves were noticeable to me for the first time. Also, a sure sign of fall is that the outside air is warmer than the inside air at church! I had to go outside to warm up today. When I was actually in my office I sat with a throw around my shoulders. Brrrrr....

Another sure sign of fall is the head cold. I have avoided it so far, but half our church staff was out sick today. Since it was so cold and lonely at church, I left early and came home to indulge in some comfort food. Oatmeal cookies, baked beans and toast hit the spot perfectly. I've warmed up, watched some trashy TV (Desperate Housewives - dare I admit it!), and am ready to work on my sermon!

The Scripture is:

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert;and pray for you do not know when the time will come." Mark 13:32-33

I wonder what the message is here...... Hmmmm....... I sure hope he doesn't return while I am watching Desperate Housewives!

Be blessed and enjoy some comfort food - whatever that is for you - today!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I am blogging in a state of sleep deprivation this evening after spending the night at a Lock In at the church with the Youth Group kids. It was a fun night, with bowling, snacks, big booty and sardines, but way too little sleep. Actually, I opted out of the sardines (a hide and seek game - I'll tell you about big booty later!) to stretch out on the youth lounge couch and read Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was 12:30am! Stephanie and I were the only adults, and Stephanie is great with the kids. She played sardines and was the un-defeated champion with her partner... I guess that makes me the party pooper!

I slept pretty well from 1:30 until 7:30. When we got up we ate donuts and waited for the parents, most of whom were on time! I arrived home at 9:30 to find Gary still asleep in bed! Nicky and Zeke were fast asleep too. After Gary got up (finally) Zeke joined me for a nap from 10:00 -12:30. I thought I would try to make it back to church this afternoon to catch up on some miscellaneous things in the office. Around 3:00 this afternoon, though, I thought better of it. I think the Lock In counts for overtime!

Gary and I are grieving over the end of our favorite show. Saturday evenings at 8:00 were reserved exclusively for Monarch of the Glenn. The last episode aired a few weeks ago and now we don't know what to do with our Saturday nights. (I'm not sure what that says about us... or our social life!) One pleasant surprise, though, was the replacement of Monarch with All Creatures Great and Small. While I don't remember much about the story-lines, I remember watching All Creatures with my Mom when I was young. Watching the episodes now has a comforting, familiar feel. I think I'll go now. I'm off to spend my Saturday night with some old friends.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Nicky to the Vet and Other Adventures

Admittedly, my blogging enthusiasm has waned a bit since I first started. My excuse for not posting much lately is that nothing very exciting has happened in our lives! The most interesting thing (which Nicky didn't find interesting at all) was a reluctant trip to the vet. I say reluctant because Nicky certainly didn't want to go.... and I always get queasy when I bring either of the "boys" to the vet. The problem was a relatively common issue for dogs. (I won't get into all the gory details, but it did involve a rubber glove.) My gentle and kind little boy had to wear a muzzle... and I had to put my head between my legs.... but we both survived. (Picture right of Nicky NOT HAPPY!)

Church has been busy, but that is to be expected this time of year. I am teaching a Bible Study on Esther that is going well. We have several women and one man attending the class. It is the study I designed for the Board of Ordained Ministry, so it is fun to teach a class I designed from scratch!

Well, since I don't seem to have anything creative to write, I'll go clean the house or read John Wesley or do something productive. I bought some new glasses (new frames) so I'll post a picture of me in my hip new frames soon. Also, Nicky has a special post he is waiting to put up with a picture of his girlfriend! (Yes, Fizzy, that's you!)

Spending time with Wendell Berry and Garry Wills

It has been quite a while since I posted. I have been preoccupied with church business (Charge Conference coming up!) and with some reading I have been doing. I should be reading for my UM Doctrine class, but instead I have been reading some Wendell Berry and finishing What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills. As of today my attention turns to John Wesley and the Way of Salvation!

I want to share a few things that I found particularly interesting from my recent reading:

I loved this Palm Sunday poem Wills quoted from GK Chesterton:

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Wills writes in the chapter "The Death of God."

"All have dressed Jesus in borrowed political robes . They will not listen to the gospels, where Jesus clearly states that his reign is not of this present order of things. The political power they claim to exercise in his name is a parody of his claims, like the mock robe and crown put on him by the Roman soldiers." (p.110)

Related to this, Wendell Berry writes in Blessed are the Peacemakers:

"Any observer would have to say that Christianity is fashionable at present in the United States. This might be a good thing, except that the observer, observing more closely, would have to conclude that it is loosely fashionable. It seems to have remarkably little to do with the things that Jesus Christ actually taught." (p.3)

It seems that both of the above are timely, especially as we approach an election in November! Our Senior Pastor stated in a recent sermon that we need to be careful of politicians who quote Scripture, because they are likely trying to sell something.

Going back to Wills for a moment, he writes about the meaning of the incarnation:

"Perhaps the Incarnation is just God's way of saying that, no matter what horrors we face or hells we descend to, he is coming with us." (p. 118)

Finally, Berry writes about the abundant life Jesus offers:

"We don't need much imagination to imagine to be free of hatred, of enmity, of the endless and hopeless effort to oppose violence with violence, would be to have life more abundantly. To be free of indifference would be to have life more abundantly. To be free of the insane rationalizations to kill one another - that surely would be to have life more abundantly." (p. 63)

Just a few disparate thoughts for reflection. Be Blessed!

~ Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. (Mark 9:37)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Little House


Here are a couple pictures of our little cottage. It is the custom of those who have cottages on the campground to give them names. Our cottage is named "The Little House."

As I implied before, it is very rustic! Two rooms and a loft ~ electricity, but no water. When Ben stayed with us this summer he had to get used to the idea of walking all the way across the grounds to go to the bathroom! He did like staying up in the loft all by himself, though.

Gary and I are thinking we will re-paint the little place next year. Any suggestions of colors that would look good?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

What Jesus Meant

While in Maine I began reading the book What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills. Pastor Mark (our senior pastor) lent it to me with a high recommendation. I would like to share a few quotes from it that I found particularly thought provoking. I share them here both because I think you might appreciate them, and so I will be able to refer back to them at some future time. I just hate to spend my sermon-writing-time hunting down that perfect illustration or quotation from a book I read, but can’t find. I have yet to come up with a filing system that works, so I tend to rely on my memory. As Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that working for you?”

I have found this book insightful because Wills looks at Jesus’ actions and words from the perspective of what Jesus meant ~ not what we want Jesus to mean. How often do we ask in Bible study, “Did Jesus REALLY mean that?”

Wills begins his study by questioning our popular tendency to slap cloth bands around our wrists with the slogan WWJD. The truth is that we don’t really want to know what Jesus would do. If we did we would have sold all our material goods, taken up residence with the outcasts and disowned our families. We have reduced Jesus to a kind, humble man, with easily understandable motives. We have taken the radical-ness out of Jesus. To truly understand who Jesus was we need to appreciate the radical nature of his humanity and divinity, his life and death, his teachings and actions, and honestly assess who we are as his followers in light of it all. That is what I have gotten out of the book so far (about half way through).

Wills identified the journey that led him to write his book with the words of Saint Anslem, “…faith out on a quest to know.” I hope that I continue to embody that quest, the quest to know, in my journey of faith as well.

So, from What Jesus Meant by Gary Wills:

Writing about the story of Jesus’ birth, life and death: “As Chesterton (Gilbert Chesterton) said, his story resembles the great myths of mankind because be is the fulfillment of the myths. When someone said that other stories tell of God’s voice coming from heaven, and so does the scene of Christ’s baptism, therefore his story must be just like the other ones, Chesterton asked, ‘From what place could a voice of God come, from the coal cellar?’” (intro. xxvii)

Wills quotes Romano Guardini: “The statements of the apostles are guides to him which never quite do justice to the fullness of his divine-human natures. The apostles never state more about the historical Jesus than he actually was; it is always less.”

Writing about Jesus’ miracles: “His miracles are targeted to teach lessons about the heavenly reign he brings with him, and one of the main lessons is that people should not be separated into classes of the clean and the unclean, the worthy and the unworthy, the respectable and the unrespectable.” (p. 29)

Blogging from Maine

(I originally thought I would be able to both write and post this entry in Maine, but due to a malfunction of my wireless connection, I am writing this in Word and will post when I get back to Connecticut!)

It has been a while since I posted, so I will first write about our Labor Day weekend. For some reason it turned into a weekend of watching classic movies. Gary and I watched both Boys Town and Gone with the Wind. We wanted to see Boys Town after visiting the site of the original Boys Town (still in operation) in Omaha, Nebraska last May with Mum and Larry. The movie was wonderful and it was hard to believe it dates back to 1939. Gone with the Wind was, for me, a bit of a disappointment. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read the book, nor had I seen the movie until last weekend. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting. However, I was left feeling cheated when the credits rolled, after watching nearly four hours of film! Anyone else have thoughts about this movie, or suggestions of other good classic films?

To celebrate our rest from labor on Monday, Gary and I went bowling. We had coupons left over from when Ben was here. It was fun to bowl, although neither of us is very good! The first game I won and the second game we tied. It looked certain that Gary was going to win the last game….. until I came back in the final frame with two strikes in a row! I finished the weekend by polishing off the latest Anne Tyler novel, Digging to America. It was truly a masterpiece. Her best novel in recent years. She dealt creatively with the issues of race and what it means to be an American post 9-11, weaving in questions of American family life and faith. I would recommend this, or any other Anne Tyler book, to most anyone. She is my favorite novelist by far. My only regret in finishing this book is that I will have to wait another three or four years for her next.

And now I am in Maine. I will be taking a class on United Methodist Doctrine at Bangor Theological Seminary on Friday. For the meantime, though, I am staying in my wee cottage (I’ll post a picture when I get back), enjoying a day and a half of rest. The sun is shining and the chipmunks are rustling around in the bushes. There is a definite feel that fall is approaching, with the slanting of the sun and nip in the breeze. I had to sleep with my sleeping bag and two comforters last night, since our little cottage has no heat. It seems to me that there is really nothing more beautiful or refreshing than fall in Maine.

During my day and a half of rest, I’ve had a chance to visit with Dad and Debbie, over dinner at Cole Farms. I’ll also be seeing two of my good friends before I head south on Saturday. Then it will be good-bye to our cottage until spring. When we come back, after the snow melts we will be greeted by a different set of Maine blessings ~ mosquitoes and black flies!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Where I Serve


For the past six years I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I have been in my current appointment, as an associate pastor, for just over two years. The picture was taken during the fall of 2004, when we were selling pumpkins on the front lawn! Our own "Pumpkin Patch."

The church, which is a rather imposing structure, was built in 1924. I feel blessed to serve at such a beautiful location, but the people really make the difference! The church has about 900 members and three worship services (two traditional and one contemporary). I preach at the contemporary service primarily, but once a month the senior pastor and I switch and I preach at the traditional services.

As far as the 'process' goes (the UMs out there will know what I am talking about), I am a probationary member, having been Commissioned at Annual Conference in 2004. This year I am eligible to go for my Ordination exam and I am going to give it a try! Last week I mailed in the last of my ordination papers, to my great relief. The exam is in October. Keep me in your prayers!

Today I preached at the traditional services and used the Lectionary Gospel lesson. The Pharisees catch Jesus' disciples eating without first washing their hands! (Gasp!) The title of my sermon was "Getting Our Hands Dirty." However, I just love the Old Testament reading for the day from the Song of Songs.

"My beloved speaks and says to me: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. "

~ May your Beloved speak to you this day. May your time of singing come.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Gang

Since my blog will be focused primarily around the happenings in our household, I thought I would lay the foundation by giving you the cast of characters.

First there is Gary and I. We have been married since 2002. Gary is a reference librarian in an academic setting. I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church. We have been at out current location for the past two years. We have family in Maine, Michigan, and Nebraska. We enjoy camping, going out to breakfast, watching Monarch of the Glen and taking the dog for walks.... Which leads me to our next 'character.'

Nicky was 'adopted' by me in 2001. I found him at a kennel during one of my visits to Maine. He was hitched out in back of the kennel (I later found out that was because he didn't get along with other dogs) and as soon as he saw me he began barking. He captured my heart and I knew that he had to come home with me. As soon as I brought him to my parents house, where I was visiting, he peed on my mothers wicker love seat. This did not go over well! I was just beginning to date Gary when I 'adopted' Nicky. When I told Gary what I had done he said, "You did WHAT?!?" Little did we know that less than a year later Gary and I would get married and he would become Nicky's 'Dad.'

Nicky was full grown when I got him, so we are not sure about his age or background. His breed is part Border Collie, part something else. He keeps pretty quiet about his past, but we're sure he had some exciting adventures. Maybe he will share some of those on this blog. For now, though, he seems content to spend his older years in the quiet and comfort of family life.

Speaking of family, there is one member of the family that Nicky has not won over. Zeke was very used to being the 'only child' when Nicky arrived in 2001. I adopted Zeke when I moved out of my parents house in 1996. Zeke accompanied me through seminary and was with me when I began my first appointment. While he is very loving to Gary and I, he has very definite opinions that he does not hesitate to express. (This might explain the comment from Stephanie on my first post.) Some have described him as a guard-cat. Others have said he is just plain mean. Either way, at 10 years old, he isn't going to change. We have to keep Nicky and Zeke separated in the house by using s series of gates and doors. It's just what we have to do to keep the peace.

There is another important member of the family who is not pictured at this time. Benjamin is our seven year old son. He lives most of the year with his mother in Michigan, but spends Christmas and the summer with us. Right now he is into Harry Potter and playing with his cousin Andrew. We decided not to picture him because we have heard all the warnings about posting children's pictures on the web. We are going to wait a while to see how this bloging experience goes before we post any pictures of him. In the mean time, just know that he is an incredibly handsome boy!

Be blessed everyone!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Welcome to my Blog

Welcome to my Blog! This is my first attempt at doing something this technologically savvy, but since everyone else is doing it..... I'll be including in my blog updates about Gary and I, our life and adventures with the 'boys.' I'll also share some thoughts about my ministry and professional experiences. I will try to post pictures every once in a while.

Don't expect me to post every day... As I'm sure most of you know, I can barely answer my e-mail once a week! I would be happy to hear from you on my comments pages, although the comments will be hidden, so don't expect to see them right away when you long on to the page. I will be moderating and posting them! If you are new to blogging, and would like to post a comment, just click on the comments link below. Write your post and click on 'anonymous' (just remember to sign your post so I know who you are!). By clicking 'anonymous' you don't have to register with blogger.com.

If you have a blog, let me know and I will add it to my list of feeds. Thanks for visiting! I hope to see you here again.

~ Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)