Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Five ~ 'It's Almost Christmas' Edition

RevGal RevHRod writes, " I love stories, so I hope you'll tell some about your favorite Christmas memories."

What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?

I remember a trip to a kitchen store with my Dad to pick out a teapot for my Mom. Apparently I paid close attention to the one she admired and told my Dad, "It's this one." I'm not sure if this is an actual memory, or one that has grown out of stories I've heard over the years... But either way, I smile when I think about it.

What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.

Lobster Stew was always on the table when I was growing up. My grandparents would come over and we would enjoy a little 'taste of Maine' in the middle of the winter. It was a simple stew, but oh-so delicious! Lobster sauteed with butter in a milk based broth. Always served with oyster crackers. For dessert is was 'Favorite Pudding' ~ chocolate whipped cream layered with graham crackers. Make it the night before so the graham crackers get just-the-right-amount of soggy. Since Gary does not eat any milk based soup and Ben does not eat lobster, we have lasagna on Christmas these days, which is pretty good too.

What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)

For my family of origin, it was the annual trek into the woods to cut down our own Christmas tree. This was not a Christmas tree farm, mind you.... but just 'the woods.' It was cold and the kids (mostly me) would complain. But it was fun... Friends would come over and there was always lots of hot chocolate and cookies after as we sat by the wood stove and warmed our freezing toes.

These days, a not to miss tradition is the Christmas Cookie baking and decorating. I think I posted some pictures from last year's adventure. We use cookie cutters, but also try some 'original designs.' Last year Nicky's likeness was captured in a cookie.

Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?

The first few years of incorporating family and church were quite stressful... being a new pastor and a new stepmother were stressful enough on their own. Throw the holidays into the mix and my family ended up having to deal with a crazy woman! Each year it's gotten a little easier, though, and this year I actually feel a sense of calm.....which I am hoping will last through Christmas Eve! As for traditions, ours are pretty, well, traditional. One thing I like about our situation, though, is that for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traveling is not an option. Christmas Day ends up a quiet day just to unwrap presents, eat good food, and enjoy each other's company. The day after Christmas we hit the roads and make the long drive to visit family, which is great... but Christmas Day is a special day to celebrate, unwind, enjoy and relax.

If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?

Lately Gary and I have been tossing around the idea of going on a Cruise for Christmas next year. Instead of spending lots of money on presents, we would be sharing an experience that would last forever! We're still not sure if we could make it work (with all the 'church' responsibilities and Ben's school schedule and family stuff), but it's still on the table. A less drastic change that I hope we can make next year is to incorporate more charitable giving into our presents. For example, instead of spending $50 on someone, we might spend $40 on 'gifts' and give $10 to a charity of their choice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Rush

The Christmas rush is almost on, and amazingly I don't feel too stressed about it this year! Gary flies out to get Ben tomorrow... making the round trip to Detroit and back in just over 12 hours. Friday will be a day to settle in and grocery shop, followed by a weekend of Christmas activities: Caroling, Pageant, Brunch, Gift Deliveries, Concert and Cookie Baking. Two services on Christmas Eve (7pm and 11pm) will give way to a quiet Christmas day at home. It is our tradition to open our stockings, have breakfast and then dive into the rest of the presents. Lasagna is on the menu for Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas we will drop Nicky off and the kennel (umm.. 'spa'...that's right) and go to Maine to visit with various grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins. Hopefully the weather will hold out. Then it is back home for Sunday and a morning's worth of services.

This all sounds very hectic, but it will be so nice to be with each other and extended family over the next week. Two sermons to go (I've been working on them) and then I can relax and simply enjoy. The presence of family... the gift of relationships... the opportunity to give and receive... and the most amazing gift of all... Emmanuel...God with us.

Hope your Christmas is blessed! Peace to all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Speaking of Joy

This fall we got the great news that one of my dearest friends is pregnant. What joy! I am so happy for her and excited to be with her and her husband as they anticipate, plan, prepare and look forward. The truth is, I can't wait to love this little bundle. In fact, I already do. I saw the sonogram picture and it was love at first sight. Of course I cannot possibly know what my friend and her husband are feeling... but it is wonderful to just be a part of it all.

Of course, this leads to the inevitable question (which I have already been asked a couple of times), "Doesn't this make you want to have a baby?" Probably at first it did, a little. But really, it doesn't. Gary and I have been clear for quite a few years that we do not feel the urge / desire / call to have children. I joke that its because I don't like kids, but that is not really true. I love my step-son, Ben. And I enjoy all the children and youth at the church. My life is richer because of them. They are 'my kids' and they fill me with joy.

So why no children for me? I don't have one single answer. There are many reasons I can cite: The life of the pastor's family is hard.... I don't want my kids to have to go through multiple moves.... I don't feel I can chose between my calling and my family... I don't believe I am a person who can do both well.... I like my freedom. But none of these reasons would mean anything if I felt called in my heart to have children.

Our families know about our decision, but it is not something we broadcast (until now, I guess!). When parishioners ask me about having children I just smile and deflect the question. It really is none of their business. But honestly, I think I am afraid of the questions and quizzical looks that would result from such a statement: "We've decided not to have children." What? Why?

In her book Grace Eventually Anne Lamott (mother of Sam) writes a very thoughtful reflection (in her own direct, rather blunt, style) on this subject. She affirms, "Let me say that not one part of me thinks you need to have children to be complete, to know parts of yourself that cannot be known any other way. People with children like to think this...that those who have chosen not to breed can never know what real love is, what selflessness really means... This is a total crock.... The exact same chances for awakening, for personal restoration and connection, exists for breeders and nonbreeders alike." I thank Anne for her words which give voice to my thoughts and (justified or unjustified) concerns. I know that I will be missing something by not having children. But don't we all.... miss.... something.

So I am overjoyed... over the moon... absolutely thrilled that my dear friend is welcoming a new member into her family. I look forward to sharing the love and admiration I have for her with this new little person, who will be both a part of her and its own little self. Praise God for children and for the parents and 'Aunties' who can shower them with love.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What have we done?

Mid-afternoon yesterday the Senior Pastor and I consulted and agreed that we would indeed cancel today's services. This meant no Christmas Pageant, no pancake breakfast, no Christmas Candlelight concert. Certainly the weather forecast was NOT GOOD, but it still felt weird to cancel... it is the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy. And I was looking forward to that joy!

It was my job to call the TV stations so our cancellation notice would run at the bottom of the screen. I also sent and e-mail to all parishioners with known e-mail addresses, put a notice on the website and updated our voicemail. Hopefully everyone got word. By 9:30pm I was in bed reading a interesting novel and ready to sleep in... on a Sunday morning no less!

But my conscience had other plans. I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. I had been dreaming that I was frantically flipping TV channels only to find that none of our cancellation notices were listed on the screen. I was able to assure myself that I had indeed taken care of it and fell back asleep, only to wake up a couple hours later with an overwhelming feeling that we had made a horrible mistake. The storm probably went out to sea. What do the weather forecasters really know, anyway? I was sure that the roads were fine, that no other churches had canceled. What have we done?! At 6:00am I could not get back to sleep. I finally turned on the TV to hear that the storm had come, the roads were bad, and almost every church in the area had canceled. At that point I heard the sleet pelting against the windows and I relaxed.....but so much for my lazy morning!

Joy did come with the morning , though. (Eventually it always does, doesn't it?) We had our own pancake breakfast, baked some bread and cookies and did some Christmas wrapping. I finished my novel and even watched some football! Not the Sunday I was expecting, but Advent teaches us that we can never know what to expect. The problems come when we think we can have everything under control ~ have it all figured out.

So I have another week to look forward to the Christmas Pageant, pancake breakfast and Christmas Candlelight Concert. I'm not sure what to expect, but I know it will be filled with joy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Five ~ Rejoice

In the words of RevGal Mother Laura. "Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice! Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness."

What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?

When I was a child I hated waiting. (I think maybe all children do!) Time seemed to go so much slower and I remember keeping track of my 'Christmas Countdown' on the back of one of my spiral bound notebooks...marking off each day when I took my notebook out at school. Now I am not nearly as impatient. In fact, waiting is a full and rich experience all on its own. Waiting gives us time to prepare... not just by shopping and baking...but also spiritually. If there is no time of waiting and anticipation, how can we truly enjoy it when the time arrives?

2. Darkness?

Living in New England, the days get short quickly and darkness starts descending around 4:30pm each night this time of year. While I think I do suffer from some seasonal depression, part of me loves this time of year. I like closing the blinds early, lighting candles and wrapping up in a blanket by the fire. It is a time for going to bed early and sleeping later... hibernating. Darkness is simply the absence of light... knowing the light will come makes the darkness easier to bear.

3. Winter?

Having just come through our first major snow storm of the year, I must admit that I am a little shocked by winter. We have another snow storm on the way for the weekend. Winter has not arrived this early for the pat four winters we have lived in Connecticut. However, I remember Thanksgivings in Maine with two feet of snow! Winter is unpredictable and surprising. It is a time of snow days and canceled plans. I love looking out the window to a beautiful, undisturbed blanket of white. That is winter.

4. Advent?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've experienced Advent more profoundly this year than ever before. I rejoice in this Advent experience and pray with quiet longing, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon."

5. Jesus' coming?

Kingdom living. Justice. Mercy. Rejoicing. Celebration. Everything being made right again. Beauty and truth and love. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Amen. Is there anything better? Let us rejoice!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

That number cannot be completed as dialed...

A couple nights ago I had an interesting dream. At first I dismissed it as being interesting but irrelevant. But then, all of a sudden it hit me. "Oh, that's what that was about!" Duh...

In my dream I was at a retreat center or camp... somewhere away from home. I was with friends and church people and Gary. Some kind of crisis occurred and it became very important for me to call my parents. I grabbed my cell phone and started dialing... 998-2577... But when I punched the numbers in the key pad other number showed up on the display... 998-2377... 998-2587...998-2579. It was very frustrating and I kept trying again and again, very deliberately. I would think that I had finally gotten it right, only to look down and see the wrong number. I woke up before I was able to resolve it.

Growing up and separating from home is not something that happens all at once. It is a process. I've been on my own for over ten years... married for five. That phone number has not been 'my parent's number' for at least four years. Yet it still signifies something important to me . Safety. Security. That everything will be alright. I will probably never forget it. Truth be told, I probably thought that number would never go away. But even if it hadn't literally gone away, it still would have gone away figuratively. Through growing up and establishing my own family my security, my safety, and my sense that everything will be alright has changed.

That number can no longer be completed as dialed. Yet I am blessed that what that number represents remains, even if in a somewhat different form ~ People who love and care about me ~ People who won't forget me ~ People who will answer when I call.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Should've Known

Sure, the weatherman said it was icy, but it couldn't be that bad. Nicky needed a walk and I wasn't going to let a little freezing rain get in our way. So we suited up... me with my boots and anorak... he with his red leash... and headed out the door. At first everything was okay. The plow truck had been by to sand. But then my foot slipped. I reached out to catch myself, but I still hit pretty hard. I was on the ground and Nicky looked at me as if to say, "Get up, Mum. You're embarrassing me!"

We limped home. Embarrassed. Sore. And even more sore this morning when I woke up.

The weatherman did say ice. I should've know... but I guess I didn't. I learned a lesson though. I don't bounce like I used to. And the dog can survive without a walk once in a while ~ whether he likes it or not!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Five ~ Advent Preparations

In keeping with the theme of my last post, RevGal Sally questions, "...whether you are the kind of person that likes everything prepared well in advance, are you a last minute crammer, or a bit of a mixture?"

Here then is this weeks Friday 5:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting (or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how
do you cope?

Try to get us much as possible done ahead of time. I am much better at planning ahead than I was just a few years ago. This has cut down on my stress considerably! At the beginning of the week I try to map out my days as much as possible and try to chip-away at things a little every day. (Of course an unexpected funeral can throw every thing off.) For the most part this works.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?

Order out. Cooking is not something I can do spontaneously. That is why God made delivery!

Three discussion topics:

3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....

Yes... I've only recently come to appreciate the connection between Advent and Lent. I think this is one reason that my Advent preparations have taken a different turn this year.... less about Christmas and more about waiting, anticipating and expecting that which is about to come into the world.

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....

Going with the flow is not one of my strengths, but it is something I need to do as a pastor more often than I would like! I suppose that what Sally suggests is true, though. Being present to the moment is the only way to really experience those little miracles of life.

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...

Yes and no. Even I think there is such a thing as planning too much! Otherwise, how will the Holy Spirit get in!

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?

Decorating ~ finished
Cards ~ sent
Shopping ~ almost done
Packages ~ mailed
Wrapping ~ started
Baking ~ in the oven
Christmas music ~ playing in the background

I think I am pretty well prepared. (But ask me on the morning of December 24th when I am trying to finish my Christmas Eve sermon!)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

The tree is up, the stockings have been hung, and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Even the New England weather is cooperating, with temperatures in the 30's. It looks and feels like Christmas.

So why don't I feel like Christmas yet? I'm not quite sure. I've done all the necessary things... I've sent my cards, done my shopping, wrapped some gifts and even done some baking. I've been listening to Christmas music, but I just don't feel very Christmas-y.

In our Advent study book Karl Rahner is quoted, "Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: 'Come!'" I think maybe I don't feel Christmas yet because I am feeling Advent. That expectation and hope and anticipation for what is to come. It is joyful, yet also a little scary. I'm not sure why my Advent 'waiting' is stronger this year than others... but I am willing to go with it and see what unfolds. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Yes, I think I am beginning to feel a lot like Advent.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Real Life ER

There was a minor tragedy this morning at breakfast. Nicky's favorite toy, 'Moosey,' suffered a rather unfortunate accident resulting from what began as playful rough-housing. As my mother always says, "First you're laughing... then you're crying!"

I've seen things like this on Grey's Anatomy, but I must admit that this is my first real life experience with limb reattachment. How hard could it be? I think I'll give it a try. Anyway, Nicky is hoping for a Christmas miracle.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Personal Time

This morning, while driving to the mechanic's to pick up the Jeep, Gary and I heard a report on NPR about the millennial generation and their views on work. Apparently 'work' is cutting in to their personal time to the detriment of their social lives. When I heard this I asked Gary, "What is this 'personal time' that they speak of? I don't think I am familiar with this concept." Gary smiled and said something like, "That's because you don't work... you have a vocation."

True... very true. But in light of yesterday's post, it is interesting to consider when my personal time begins and my work time ends. I consider Friday personal time... I watch TV, lounge around in my PJ's and try not to think about church stuff. Also, I consider the hours between 6am and 9:45am personal time. I read, eat breakfast with Gary, catch up on the news, and walk the dog or go to the gym. But it is also true that at any moment I could be called to the hospital or to the side of a parishioner in crisis. As long as these are true emergencies, I really do not mind the intrusion on my personal time. Also, during my personal time I enjoy reading theology and reflecting on the spiritual life... and during my work time, I sometimes blog!

While I enjoy my personal time and my work time, I think life works best for me when I don't compartmentalize. My work time informs my personal time and my personal time impacts my work time. (That's not to say I don't need time off... away from phones, e-mails, deadlines and the day to day concerns and complaints of church members!) The best of all would be to live a whole life, balanced by work and leisure.... covered by the umbrella of the vocation and guided by the Holy Spirit.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

All in a Day's Work

There is an interesting conversation thread going around about "The Pastor's Schedule." Coffee pastor started it with his post and I've decided to add my $0.02. I am going to use the format that Beth Quick employed in her post.

1. Days Off: I try to take one full day off each week. For now that day is Friday. Friday does not afford me the opportunity to spend a whole day off with Gary, but it does allow me some uninterrupted alone time, which I always crave at the end of the week. As an introvert, I really need some down time to recharge for the weekend. I also try to take Saturday mornings off, when I am able, which seems to be less often lately.

2. Office Hours: I don't have set office hours, but I am usually in and out of the office between 10am and 5pm Monday through Thursday. The office manager basically knows where I am so she can find me if necessary. There is always the cell phone for communication, too. (Only the church staff has my cell phone number, not the general congregation.) Saturday afternoons I am also in the office. This is when I make most of my baptism and wedding related appointments since most of those folks work during the weekdays.

3. At the Office: At the office I work on my bulletins and sermon, prep for Bible Study and Confirmation classes, work on administrative tasks, write my piece for the newsletter, make phone calls, answer e-mails. I try to get my bulletins and any class preparations done at the beginning of the week and save the end of the week for sermon preparation.

4. Visitation - I don't have any set times for visitation. Being the Associate Pastor, I am responsible for hospital visitations at the beginning of the week (Monday and Tuesday) and Saturday. As for other visits, sometimes I will go out Wednesday or Thursday afternoons. Some weeks I will go to several homes for short visits with communion in one afternoon. Other times I go to one home and visit longer. Sometimes I go out on visits with our Director of Parish Visitation, which adds another dimension of fellowship to these times.

5. Evenings - Like most pastors, some weeks I have many meetings and others are more free. I can usually count on having meetings Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday nights are usually blessedly free from meetings. Thursdays I sometimes have board meetings for the Council of Churches. Saturdays are occasionally busy with concerts or fellowship events. Sundays are reserved for Confirmation (which I lead) and Youth Group (which I don't always attend).

6. Weekends - I think I basically covered weekends above. Whenever possible I try to take Saturday mornings off to spend with Gary. Saturday afternoons are filled with appointments and sermon writing. Sometimes the sermon writing carries over to the evening. Sunday mornings begin at 7:30am when I arrive at church for the 8:00am service and last until 1:00pm, when I finally leave after the third service. There are usually a couple free hours in the afternoon before I have to return for Confirmation and / or Youth Group.

Of course there is much variation on this schedule week to week, depending on specific things that arise (funerals, weddings, denominational meetings). Also, I find there is wonderful flexibility to the 'pastors schedule'. I can make doctors appointments during the day, sneak off for the (very) occasional afternoon nap, or just decide to 'work from home' one day.

Thanks, Coffeepastor, for this thread. It has been fun, and a bit enlightening, to really think about how I spend my week!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wicked Good

In Maine 'wicked' is a synonym for 'really' or 'very.'

That lobstah was wicked good... ayuh.

(Okay, that was a bit stereotypical.)

Last night Gary and I stayed up way past our bedtimes to go see a performance of Wicked at the Bushnell in Hartford. We had good seats in the mezzanine. The story was touching and funny. The sets were amazing. The actors were great. It was a perfect way to spend an evening. Great company... great entertainment... and when we got home at midnight we had a 'midnight snack' of apple pie and ice cream. Yum!

In short, our evening at Wicked was wicked good.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Day

RevGal Singing Owl writes, "Ah, the day after Thanksgiving--groan! Fortunately, I love Thanksgiving leftovers.Thanksgiving is the American holiday when the greatest number of people travel somewhere else to celebrate. I am posting this from my son’s home in Minnesota where we are recovering from the food shopping and the preparations and the meal and the clean up. It is difficult to think of anything requiring much energy today, and I am enjoying my sweet baby granddaughter, so I will keep it simple. For those of you not in the USA, I apologize for the nationalistic tone of this Friday Five!"

1. Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?

Our town has a huge road race on Thanksgiving every year (10,000 people participate). The church is located right in the middle of all the road race festivities and one of our major fundraisers for youth missions is "selling" our parking lot to those coming in for the race. This year we made $2,200! So that is the long way of saying that we stayed home. No visitors this year.

2. Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different?

Our very good friends invited us over for Thanksgiving. However, Wednesday night we got a call that they had to leave town due to a family emergency. They gave us their turkey and a couple delicious side dishes. We are roasting the turkey today. It will be accompanied by stuffing, squash, green bean casserole, pumpkin bread, cranberry and apple pie. Our prayers are with our friends and we look forward to sharing the leftovers with them when they get home.

3. Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year?

The road race is a new custom that we enjoy. Did I mention that we walked the race this year? It took us about 80 minutes... not bad for a five mile "race." The winner finished in 21 minutes.

4. The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between?

No way! I wouldn't be caught dead in a shopping mall today. Shopping is not my favorite thing to do anyway, so I would rather pay more for something on a less busy day just to avoid the hassle and crowds.

5. Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up?

Today! Okay, since we are going to the theater tonight, maybe we can wait until tomorrow. But, no matter what else we have to do this weekend, the house will be decorated by Sunday night! (Please say a little prayer for patience for Gary!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Charge Conference Reflections

Charge Conference is done for another year. I wouldn't necessarily say it is a relief, but it does feel good. All in all, things went quite well. I would have to say, though, that the honeymoon is over. I have been here three years and Mark has been here four. It is time to get down to business! I'm not complaining, mind you. I think I am ready to get down to business, particularly in the following areas:

1. Contemporary Worship - Something definitely needs to change. While the service is valued by those who attend, we need to do something to grow. Our numbers have been steadily declining and people are getting discouraged (which does not promote spiritual growth). I would love to see us adopt an Emergent Worship model, explore more of the ancient-modern practices, and incorporate more faith sharing and fellowship.

2. Stewardship - We have not paid any Mission Shares yet this year. (Ouch!) Last year we only paid about half. If we keep going in this direction we are going to lose staff. We need to get to the root of our stewardship problems. We need to look at this as a spiritual issue, not a money issue.

3. Evangelism - Okay... this is not my strong suit. But I'm willing to stretch myself. The fact is, we need to become more visible in the community. We need to believe we have something worth sharing... not just because it feels good, but because it is life-saving. One local pastor is having office hours at the Dunkin Donuts. Apparently people are willing to talk to him about faith there who would never step foot in a church. We need to do some things like this.

These are my thoughts for now. Hopefully I will have a chance to expand on them later. Now it's on to Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for these challenges, and all the blessings that come with them!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Five ~ Think about these edition

RevGal Songbird reminds us of the upcoming Thanksgiving Epistle lesson:

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8, NRSV)

She then suggests: "Friends, it's nearly Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it's the time of year when we are pressed to name things for which we are thankful. I want to offer a twist on the usual lists and use Paul's letter to the church at Philippi as a model. Name five things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise. These could be people, organizations, acts, ideas, works of art, pieces of music--whatever comes to mind for you."

So here I go....

1. Having my amazing husband back from Louisiana where he was on a mission trip. (His first one!) Working in a "haz-mat" suit... demolishing houses that will be rebuilt... I commend all that Gary did and the worthy work of the Northshore Disaster Recovery Team.

2. The work of our church this past year. Sunday is our annual Charge Conference and we will celebrate the ministries of 2007 while we look with hope to 2008. Much has happened in 2007 ~ some of it difficult but all of it opening up new opportunities for the Spirit to be at work within us.

3. Swirling leaves and the promise of snow and the ability to just relax and enjoy it. I'm working on this one... the relaxing part, that is. It's hard to practice unbusyness when Charge Conference is on Sunday! I really am trying, though.

4. The newborn baby, Isabella, held this week. She spit-up on my new sweater, but I didn't even care. New life... pure adorableness. It's intoxicating!

5. Chocolate chip cookies made by Mom... tucked away in the freezer for an anytime snack. Pleasing... excellent... worthy of praise. A little taste of home at a moment's notice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Extravagant Unbusyness Continued

Two weeks ago twelve women from my church spent a weekend away. Our retreat leader led us in a time of peaceful reflection. Our theme was "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World." We laughed about our Martha ways, celebrated our Mary ways, and acknowledged the need for both. It was a great weekend.

We spent part of one afternoon making prayer beads to remind us to trust in God's presence. We were encouraged to keep our prayer beads somewhere close to us, so I am keeping mine on my key chain. At the end of the weekend, as we received Holy Communion, we put a rock in the dump truck on the worship center to represent the busyness or the burden we were leaving behind. We also placed our prayer beads on the table for blessing. It was a moving experience... and a good reminder to balance our Martha and Mary and practice some times of unbusyness.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Friday Five ~ Tuesday Edition

It's true. I have not been keeping up very well with my blogging lately. It's not that anything in particular is getting in the way... just the little things of life. But I could not pass up this great Friday Five. I love the term "extravagant unbusyness." Please excuse me for waiting until Tuesday. Better late than never!

RevGal Sally writes, "I am writing in my official capacity of grump!!! No seriously, with the shops and stores around us filling with Christmas gifts and decorations and the holiday season moving up on us quickly, for many the time from Thanksgiving onwards will be spent in a headlong rush towards Christmas with hardly a time to breathe.... I am looking at the possibility of finding little gaps in the day or the week to spend in extravagant unbusyness (a wonderful phrase coined by fellow revgal Michelle). So given those little gaps, name 5 things you would do to..."

1. care for your body

Sleep seems to be high on my list these days. Sleeping fitfully and waking up tired has become my recent pattern. Napping sounds good... for both body and soul!

2. care for your spirit

As I wrote in an earlier post, my morning devotions allow my 'soul catch up with my body.' I can't skip this important time between me and God just because the holiday craziness is approaching... or, should I say, especially because the holiday craziness is approaching.

3. care for your mind

Reading books of all kinds ~ novels, theology, church growth, biographies. I love to read and I need to make more time for it.... time during the day, that is, before I'm completely exhausted and ready to fall into bed.

4. bring a sparkle to your eye

Date night. Need I say more??

5. place a spring in your step

Nicky is the one responsible for the steps I take... the steps I take outside, at least, walking him around the neighborhood. I call him my personal trainer. Because of him I can do two miles in less than a half an hour. Woof!

Enjoy the time to indulge and dream.... and then for a bonus which one on the list are you determined to put into action?

Which one ? All of them I think. In fact, I think I will practice "extravagant unbusyness" as much as possible between now and Christmas. Anyone with me?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A New England Weekend

Last weekend I played 'hooky' from my usual Saturday activities and went leaf-peeping with my wonderful husband. Most weeks Gary, and I do not share a day off ~ my day off being Friday and his being Saturday and Sunday. So this was a special treat!

We planned our day away a week in advance, so we had no way of knowing it was going to rain. Oh well...we went anyway! We drove out to western Connecticut and enjoyed the colors of the leaves through the fog. When we got to Kent we decided to hike up Kent's Falls. It was beautiful. Then we shared a late lunch in a cozy restaurant in Litchfield, CT. It was a great day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Puzzling

Serving a church can certainly be puzzling. You try to maneuver everything into the right spot in the right order, but you still come up with gaps and holes and pieces that don't quite fit together. Then something comes along that sweeps everything off the table and you have to start all over again. Puzzling.

Maybe that is why completing this actual puzzle felt so good. One thousand pieces that all fit together perfectly to make this beautiful picture. Done!



That is, until this afternoon when I carefully took all the pieces apart and put them back in the box. Another puzzle is waiting for us. I'm glad to have one puzzle done... but I am also glad to have the other puzzle in progress. The one that will never be finished, that is, because the Holy Spirit is is still molding us ~ shaping our edges, rounding our rough spots, transforming us into a beautiful mosaic to the glory of God.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Follow Up

This is a quick follow up on my previous post, "Not Interested." Marian (our parish visitor) and I looked into Otis' situation and found that there was a simple misunderstanding. The day I tried to visit, Otis' regular caregiver was off and the woman I encountered was her substitute. When I came to the door the substitute caregiver didn't know what to do. Although I found her brusque attitude disturbing, it is good to know that she reported the incident to the regular caregiver. When Marian called, the caregiver apologized.

We also learned that Otis is doing well. He is going to group therapy three days a week where he is making connections with other people. His depression is lessening. He also adopted a cat! God is good!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Five ~ Pumpkin Edition

RevGal Singing Owl suggests the following 'seasonal' Friday Five:


1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?


First there was the church Halloween party where we would get all dressed up, bob for apples, eat donuts off strings, and have our pictures taken by Sunday School class. Then, on Halloween night, my Mom would drive me around town to trick-or-treat and we would meet my Dad at the town Halloween party where there would be games and a costume contest. It was a fun time of year.


2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?


Now I don't do anything for Halloween. In fact, Gary and I think we will go out to dinner this Wednesday so as to avoid any trick-or-treat-ers. The door bell constantly dinging upsets the dog and we don't know many of the kids in our neighborhood anyway. I know.... it's sad.


3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?


We have a couple pumpkins out on our front steps. Usually the squirrels end up eating them or they get stolen and splattered in the street! So far, so good this year. We haven't made any Jack O' Lanterns, but we have had stuffed pumpkin and baked pumpkin seeds.


4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.


Yes. As I mentioned, our front steps are adorned with pumpkins. Also, we have some inside decorations.


5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?


No, I don't like to dress up. Maybe something small like a weird hat, but nothing elaborate. But, as you know from prior posts, this does not stop be from dressing up the pets.

"Bat Dog"



Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones.



Stuffed Pumpkin


Clean one medium sized sugar or regular pumpkin.


Brown:
1 lb. hamburger
1 lb. loose sausage
1 med. sized onion
1 med. sized pepper

Mix with four or five cups of mashed potatoes.

Add:

1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Dash celery salt
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash chili powder

Stuff pumpkin and bake in 350 degree oven for one and a half hours or until pumpkin is cooked. Slice and serve.

Yum!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Laugh or Cry

This is one of those times when I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Some major changes are taking place with our Contemporary Service. People who have been instrumental in forming and supporting the service are leaving the church. Our Praise Band has shrunk to three brave souls. The congregation is beginning to panic. Some are beginning to wonder if maybe the Contemporary Service has run it's course. I have had my moments of panic myself.

But then yesterday I gathered with five faithful and dedicated folks, some of whom came to faith in Christ through the Contemporary Service, who are not ready to throw in the towel just yet. We talked for an hour and a half about our hopes and dreams for Contemporary Worship. We came to a consensus that it cannot continue as it is, which is, I believe, speaking the truth in love. Yet there was a very definite sense that the Spirit was leading us to try a "new thing."

There is still grief over the departure of our fellow church members, the loss of a dream that began six-plus years ago, and the loss of what is and what could have been. But there is also hope and excitement and vision. How exciting is that? Sometimes tears come with laughter, thanks be to God!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Five ~ Food Edition

RevHRod gives us today's Friday Five in honor of the reality show Top Chef. I haven't seen it, but I'll play along anyway!

If you were a food, what would you be?

Probably a traditional New England dish. Something hearty yet not too spicy.

What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where?

A while back I ate at a local restaurant that I heard was great. I'm sure the food would've been good if I hadn't been distracted by the fly that had died on top of my penne pasta. I won't name the restaurant since others have had good experiences there....

What is your favorite comfort food from childhood?

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies. We almost always had them around and they were always delicious. makes me feel good just thinking about them!

When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit?

My stand-bys are Lime Pear Salad (a jello dish with cream cheese and pears) or Pea Salad (canned peas with cheddar cheese, celery, mayo and bacon bits). The Pea Salad sounds kind of gross (at least to me... canned peas?!?), but it is really good and everyone seems to like it.

What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate?

I'm a recent convert to sushi. Eating raw fish still kind of freaks me out, but it is surprisingly good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Playing Catch-up

A fellow UM New England blogger shared the following story on his blog. I had heard it before, but something about it struck me this time:

Ruth Fry was a distinguished explorer who was working in the Amazon with natives as guides and bearers. On one trip, the party made extraordinary progress through the jungle for the first two days. On the third day, however, the natives were just sitting around looking solemn and making no preparations for further travel. The chief explained that the natives couldn't go any further because," they have to wait for their souls to catch up to their bodies."

Morning devotions have become very important to me in the past couple of years. Before that I basically practiced devotions on a hit or miss basis... depending on my schedule or how tired I was at the end of the day. Since I have been regularly reading the Bible, praying and meditating early in the morning I have felt closer to God and more balanced in my work and life. As a result, I think I have come to a deeper appreciation of the needs of my soul.

When reading the story it struck me that on those days I don't do that (yes, there still are some days!), it does feel as though I haven't given my soul that time to catch up with my body. Instead of operating on soul-strength ~ nourished by the presence of God ~ I am trying to operate on my own strength. I can get by a couple days like that, but in the end, it never works out. So all the more reason to stick with my spiritual discipline.

Thanks, ministry and moments in Maine, for the inspiration and reminder!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fall - ing

The past several years I have noticed a change in my spirit during the fall. I begin the fall with excitement and anticipation, which soon dissipates into exhaustion and apprehension. It is not so significant that I would describe it as depression, but it is noticeable enough. Maybe it is the decrease in sun light, the effect of Charge Conference season or stress from upcoming holidays. Maybe it is the let down from the months spent gearing up for the new fall programs. Maybe it is just the way my spirit works.

Whatever the cause, it just seems that it takes a little more effort to get things done. Housework takes longer. Sermons don't come so easily. Sleep is more fleeting. Getting out of bed is a chore.

I don't write any of this to make you feel sorry for me! I write it simply to acknowledge that it has happened and is happening. I don't want to deny it, so I am owning it as my reality. Life is full of ups and downs. Knowing the ups are coming makes the downs more tolerable. At least that's what I'm telling myself. And, as I said in an earlier post (quoting John Wesley), "The best of all, God is with us."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Not Interested!

After seven years of ministry, I experienced a first yesterday. I'm sure there will be many more firsts, but yesterday's first was getting a door slammed in my face. I knocked on the door of a parishioner's home to pay a pastoral call, only to be met by a grumpy caregiver who took one look at me and said, "Not interested!"

Here is a bit of the back story. Several weeks ago I officiated at Dot's funeral. Dot and Otis had been married more than 50 years and never had any children. In fact, they outlived all of their family except a couple of nieces who live several states away. Despite the fact that Dot was on hospice and had been experiencing dementia and failing health for a long time, Otis thought she was getting better. Her death shocked him and he has been severely depressed ever since. So, as his dutiful pastor, I have been visiting him regularly.

Otis currently has 24 hour care, which is good. I hadn't seen Otis in a couple of weeks when I stopped by yesterday to find a different caregiver answering the door. She looked at me suspiciously, which is understandable, so I introduced myself and gave her my card. It was clear that she has difficulty speaking / understanding English. I asked her to tell Otis that I was at the door. Instead she proclaimed, "Not interested!" and slammed the door in my face.

I will certainly follow up on this, but it left me with some questions. Is Otis being mistreated? Was this caregiver trying to hide something? Since he has no family to check up on him, it would be easy for someone to take advantage of his situation. In fact, I suspect that he has few if any outside visitors. What is my role as his pastor? How is my role seen in the community? (In some ways the Pastor's role in the community has diminished over the past few decades.)

I'm sure I am over reacting to a simple misunderstanding, but I can't help but wonder what I would / could do to be a voice for parishioners who have no family to advocate on their behalf. Although Otis has no biological family, he has a church family and that should count for something.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Between

In between posting videos of my cat and participating in fashion shows, I've had a pretty busy couple of weeks. Here is a quick run down:

Attended a District Clergy Retreat
Officiated at two funerals
Suffered through three migraines
Endured the dreaded 'parsonage inspection'
Interviewed three candidates for our church Office Manager position
Went to three doctors appointments
Had two rather stressful medical tests
Found out everything is normal (Thank God!)
Went out on a date with my husband
Visited the Durham Agricultural Fair
Didn't bring home a bunny, even though I wanted to!
Stopped going to the gym
Started back going to the gym
Finished two books
Attended an Ecumenical Clergy lunch
Watched two movies

In the midst of this rather busy time, one thought has stayed with me.... "The best of all, God is with us." (John Wesley's deathbed confession) No matter what life brings, that really is the best of all.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Check out my Cat Walk

It was fun.... and for good cause.

Manchester Area Conference of Churches "Fashion for Good".

PS - This may take a minute to load.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I'm it!

This has been going around with some of the Rev Gals.

Pink Shoes writes, "Consider yourself tagged if you want to play." So I guess I'm it!

This one comes in sets of four. They're a collection of strange little tidbits.

Four jobs I've held:
Genealogist's Assistant
Customer Service Representative
Library Work Study Student
Pastor

Four films I could watch over and over:
Mixed Nuts
Pretty in Pink
March of the Penguins
Miss Potter

Four TV shows I watch (Tivo):
Grey's Anatomy
Brothers and Sisters
The Dog Whisperer
Monk

Four places I've lived:
East Poland, Maine
Bangor, Maine
Holbrook, Mass
Manchester, Connecticut

Four favorite foods:
Chocolate Cake
Lobastah
Corn on the Cob
Fried Dough

Four websites I visit every day:
"The Google"
YahooMail
Comics.com
Bloglines

Four places I would love to be right now:
On a cruise
At the movies
Getting a massage
Hiking in the woods

Four names I love but would/could not use for my children:
Drusilla
Dorkas
Tristan (I would use it, but Gary vetoed it!)
Lucy (Ditto the above)

And you can consider yourself tagged if you want to play!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Five ~ De-clutter Edition

RevGal friend Sally writes about her twins moving off to college and the resulting sorting, packing and recycling:

"Making the most of our resources is important. I have been challenged this week by the amount of stuff we accumulate. I'd love to live a simpler lifestyle, it would be good for me, and for the environment I think...With that in mind I bring you this Friday 5:"

1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?

I'm hardly a minimalist, although I would like to be more of one. I love my knick knacks. However, I do a pretty good job of getting rid of stuff I no longer want / need / like. Church fairs and tag sales help in that regard. There is always somewhere to bring those unwanted items. (As long as they weren't gifts from parishioners!)

2. Name one important object (could be an heirloom) that you will never part with.

This is a hard question to answer. My first thought is my photos. I always think my photos would be the first thing I would grab (if i could) if the house caught on fire. (Okay, I'd probably grab the cat and dog first). I also love the quilts that both of my grandmothers made and my grandfather's oil paintings. Then there are the stuffed animals I love from my childhood.... I could go on and on.

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit???

I'm pretty sure I still have a sweatshirt from my Junior High years. (Twenty years ago... yikes!) Yes. It still fits.

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ?

I hate yard sales. I don't particularly like going to yard sales and I really hate hosting yard sales. I much prefer to give my stuff away to Goodwill or church fairs and let other people deal with it!

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into.

I probably just need to take greater advantage of the recycling opportunities already available. I'm still looking for a place to recycle some old batteries. Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Change ~ No Thanks!

Okay. I admit it. I don't like change. In fact most everyone who knows me knows I'm not crazy about change. I cried on my eighth birthday because I didn't want to be eight. I liked being seven just fine, thank you very much. When my parents would get a new car I would miss the old one. Recently my father sold the old "Scamper Camper" we had enjoyed so much when I was a kid. He didn't tell me about selling it until after the fact because he knew I would protest.

As an adult I've had to get better about dealing with change. Going to school, moving and serving churches has required quite a bit of change in my life over the past few years. Marrying and becoming a step-mom has required even more change! Yet this fall I'm being pushed to my limit. New worship schedule and new Sunday School programs have prompted quite a bit of angst. (Sleepless nights. Anxiety dreams) I know the change is good for the church, but its taking it's toll on me.

Yet we are a people of change. I am a person of change. Christians are a people who don't (or shouldn't) accept the status quo. Caroline Westerhoff writes in her book Good Fences, "We Christians claim our identity as threshold people every time we make that assertion about Christ's dying and rising and coming back again." Christ didn't die and rise again just so we could keep doing things the way we always had. Standing at the threshold of these changes, I think I'm about ready to take the plunge and see what happens. Even if I'm not ready, I'm going to have to do it! Just like with turning eight there's no stopping it. Ready or not... here change comes!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

How do I know it's fall? Yes, the trees are beginning to turn and the air is crisp, but the most telltale sign of fall is all the meetings. I've come to that time of year when a night without meetings seems weird. Trustees, SPRC, Finance, Stewardship, Nominations.... they have all reconvened and there is much work to be done. With most meetings at 7:00pm, Gary and I have just enough time to sit down for dinner before I have to rush out the door. By the time I get home I'm ready to fall into bed!

While all the evening meetings are exhausting, I do celebrate the hectic pace of the fall because it means that our church is active and busy. During most of our meetings we manage to accomplish something and send folks out to "do good things" before we meet again. It is much easier to go to a meeting where things actually get done than to go to a meeting only to rehash what was talked about for the past six months.

Tonight is one of those weird nights when I get to go home, relax, put on my sweats and enjoy some time with my wonderfully understanding husband. I plan to really enjoy it, savor it in fact, since next week I'll be mostly on the run.... Youth Group, UMW, Stewardship, Worship Team... oh yeah, and the couple that want to have their baby baptized.

In fact, I think I'll get going right now! Even blogging takes a back seat to some much needed R & R this time of year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Holy Spirit

She was certainly invited, but her RSVP must've gotten lost in the mail. I was anxious that she wouldn't show and our promise of 'Spirit Sunday' would turn out to be a misnomer. She tried to reassure me, although I didn't quite catch on at the time. That dream I had, reminding me that no matter how much I plan all really is out of my control, should have been a clue. Why don't I ever trust that she will take care of everything, as she always does?

In the end she showed up. In fact she got there early and stayed late. Everyone reveled in her presence. Children played. Adults laughed. Hamburgers and hot dogs multiplied and fed all the guests. The glory of God was made known in those moments. I'll try to remember for next time that, as far as she is concerned, no RSVP necessary.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Thank you Miss Potter

I just finished watching the wonderful movie Miss Potter. In addition to learning much about the life of Beatrix Potter, it brought back many wonderful memories of Miss Potter's friends. Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail and Peter were my friends too! My mother collected all things Beatrix Potter. Sometimes I would stand in front of her hutch full of Beatrix Potter figurines just to look at them. I even have a Peter Rabbit dish towel hanging on my oven handle today.

The best thing about the movie was seeing what a strong woman Beatrix was, especially in her day. She was unconventional and independent. She was a woman ahead of her time. Maybe that is why her stories continue to captivate audiences around the world. Thank you, Miss Potter, for welcoming us into your world and giving us a wonderful example of a life well lived.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Taking Wonder and Delight!

At Pastor's Assembly much of the conversation revolved around how to stay fresh and re-freshed in ministry. One question we were asked was, "Who do you respect and why?" The first person that came to mind was my Gram. Gram always took delight in nature ~ everything from the smallest flowers at the side of the road to the beauty of the grandest landscape. I remember one night laying out under the stars watching a meteor shower with her and a friend of mine. My friend thought it was pretty neat that my grandmother would get up in the middle of the night to lay on the grass and watch shooting stars. Thinking back on it, I think it is pretty neat, too.

One way I stay refreshed in ministry is by taking the time to appreciate God's creation. Yet, when things get too busy, it is easy to let the wonder of the world go unnoticed. That wasn't the case during my hike up to Bald Knob. Here are a couple pictures which will hopefully keep the memory fresh in my mind.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Leading Causes of Life

Friends
Laughter
Fun
Faith
Days Off
Ice Cream (in moderation)
Play
Vegetables
Vacation
Being Silly
Exercise
Sleep
Honesty

This is what I learned last week at Pastor's Assembly. Instead of focusing on all those things that are 'killing' us, we focused on what keeps us healthy ~ what leads us to life! In that spirit, I hiked up to Bald Knob with a group of clergy and their families. After about an hour of scrambling over the rocks we took in a beautiful view of Lake Winniepesaukee. God sustains the birds and the trees and the chipmunks and the fish and the snakes and us... what an amazing thought! Thank you, God, for leading us not to death, but to life!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Happy Blog-iversary

Yes, it has been one year and 89 post since I began this little adventure! Thanks to all of you who tune in to read occasionally. I've enjoyed it, so I guess I'll keep it going for another year.

Virtual cake and ice-cream for all!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pizza on a Stick

One of the meals we enjoy making while Ben is here is Pizza on a Stick. You take all the toppings and skewer them on a kabob. Then you wrap pizza dough around the toppings, cook it in the oven, sprinkle it with mozzarella cheese and dip it in pizza sauce. This year the dough was a bit undercooked, but it was still pretty good. Ben gets excited about pizza on a stick, and that is what makes it most fun!

Ben left last Saturday. We'll see him again at Christmas. It is always sad to have him go... and he changes so much between each of our visits. (Six months is a long time in the life of a kid!) Yet we have much to look forward to...more bike riding, camping and pizza on a stick!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

You look lonely

After worship it is usually my job to greet people at the side door of the sanctuary as they go into the reception hall for coffee hour. It always takes folks a while to make their way over to shake hands with me, as they often first greet their friends and others sitting in their pew. This often leaves me standing, for a few moments, all by myself as joyful conversation rings through the sanctuary. One of the first people over to greet me every Sunday is Melva. She will take my hand and say, "You look lonely!" After Melva the line usually starts to move as people make their way to coffee or to pick up their kids from Sunday School.

A week ago Melva left us to take up residence in her heavenly dwelling place. It was cancer that took Melva away from us. She had lived a good, long life, but it was still too soon.

Last Sunday Melva didn't come over to greet me, but another member of the congregation made his way through the crowd to shake my hand. Ray, an elderly man who is legally blind, smiled at me and said, "You look lonely." I'm sure that he did not know that he echoed the words I had heard so often heard from Melva. Yet he was right. I was lonely. Our whole community of faith will be lonely without our wise and witty Melva. Thank you, Ray, for recognizing that and giving it voice. I'm sure I did look lonely.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Five ~ Stress?? What Stress??

RevGal friend Sally writes:

I am off to spend a few days at the beach chilling out after a hectic few weeks and before I head off for Summer School...So with that in mind this weeks questions are looking at how you deal with the stress monster!!!???

1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff ?

I think I would have to say the small stuff... a messy house, shopping that needs to get done, appointments that haven't been made. I guess it is when all the little things pile up that I get most stressed. Things like unfinished sermons, funerals, wedding, etc., don't stress me out too much because I know they HAVE to (and will) get done.

2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting (or maybe something else) ?

Chocolate.... then exercise!

3.What is your favourite music to chill out to?

Depends on if I'm 'angry-stressed', 'tired-stressed', or 'overwhelmed stressed.' I have a playlist of angry-woman-music that helps me get through the tough times. Otherwise, I like to listen to Dar Williams or The Manhattan Transfer. (My taste in music is pretty eclectic.)

4. Where do you go to chill?

I head to my couch... with a good book or a DVD. Or, sometimes, I clean the house. Taking my frustrations out on the vacuum cleaner can be a cathartic experience.

5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk?

I'm definitely an introvert. I enjoy my time alone when I am stressed... a nice walk or a quiet day around the house. Sometimes, though, a good 'bitch-session' with a friend over coffee does the trick.

Bonus- share your favourite stress busting tip!

Ring-Dings (also known as Ding-Dongs) ..... mmmmm. The chocolate coating, the cream, the cake... Perfect for a mid-afternoon stress break.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Inflatable Obstacle Course

As promised, here are the pictures from the inflatable obstacle course at Youth 2007:
Despite being evenly matched in the beginning....




















Stephanie won by a landslide. I'll get her in 2011!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

He did it!

Way to go Ben! We are back from our week of vacation at our cottage. Campmeeting was a wonderful time of relaxation, visiting with friends, worship, and learning to ride a bike! Here is a picture of Gary giving Ben a push. He doesn't need Dad's help anymore, though. He can do it all on his own. The campground is nice because you don't really have to worry about traffic. Now that we are home, Ben will have to be a little more careful of cars.

Ben's first solo bike ride was quite exciting for us as parents. As Gary said, we have missed so many of Ben's firsts, it was nice to be there for this one!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Five ~ Nice Weather We're Having!

A RevGal friend writes.... "Here in the UK we are struggling with floods, other parts of the world have similar problems without the infrastructure to cope with it, still others are badly affected by drought.... With crazy weather in mind I bring you this weeks Friday 5..."

1. Have you experienced living through an extreme weather event- what was it and how did you cope?

I lived through the Ice Storm of 1998 in Maine. It was an amazing experience. It seemed that the whole world was covered in ice. The streets were impassable due to fallen limbs and trees. The ice encrusted trees were beautiful, yet I would say it was an experience of the fierceness of nature. When the ice storm hit I was staying with my Gram for Christmas break. (My parents lived next door.) We manged through several days without electricity by feeding the wood stove. The stove provided heat and a place to warm up canned soups!

After a few days we found out my seminary apartment in Bangor had electricity, so my mother decided to drive my grandmother and I up there ~ about two hours away. Three of us in the cab of a truck, plus a cat and a rabbit (my pets) made for a cozy ride. Yet it was nice to be back to civilization. My mother took a quick shower before heading home to help my father care for my other grandmother and several elderly neighbors. My parents were without electricity for 12 days. (And if you have a well, which they did, that means no water, too!)

2. How important is it that we wake up to issues such as global warming?

I think it is extremely important to pay attention to global warming. After watching An Inconvenient Truth I started thinking more seriously about how the small things I can do to care for the earth can make a big difference. The major obstacle we face, it seems, is confronting our consumerist culture.

3. The Christian message needs to include stewardship of the earths resources agree/ disagree?

Amen and Amen!

And because it is summer- on a brighter note....

4. What is your favourite season and why?

Fall! The air is crisp and the trees are beautiful here in New England. I'm glad to live in a place where I can experience all the seasons! (Even mud season ~ you folks from Maine know what that is!)

5. Describe your perfect vacation weather....

Well, we are leaving for vacation on Sunday and I am hoping for warm days (80's would be nice) with no humidity and cool, clear nights! Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Relaxing with Harry

Relaxing with Harry Potter after a busy day of Vacation Bible School! Ben has the newest Harry Potter book, but has to finish The Half Blood Prince first. He's making a good dent in it though! Gary and Ben also saw the latest Harry Potter movie last weekend. I am totally out of the loop ~ having not read any of the books or seen any of the movies!

Apparently I don't know what I'm missing!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interfaith Reflections

We live in the interesting situation of being an interfaith step-family. Ben's mother is married to a Muslim and they, as a family (along with Ben's two half siblings), follow Islamic customs, holidays and traditions. We don't know how observant they are on a daily / weekly basis, but Ben's life is certainly influenced by Muslim traditions and culture.

Yet our life here in Connecticut is very different. As a United Methodist Christian I am a follower of Christ. When Ben is with us he is immersed in Christian traditions. One of the traditions he is now participating in is Vacation Bible School! (Avalanche Ranch anyone?)

One of my initial concerns was that it would be confusing for Ben, being brought up in two different worlds. Yet he seems to be quite comfortable with it. When we say grace, he reminds us that we are supposed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. At Christmas he celebrates not just the presents, but the birth of the Christ child. It all seems to make sense to him. As far as I can tell, he sees no contradiction between these two faith traditions.

I am currently reading Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. (Yes, I do feel like the last person in the world to read this book!) McLaren writes, "I do hope all who feel so called will become Buddhist followers of Jesus; I believe they should be given that opportunity and invitation. I don't hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion. But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus." His point was to draw a distinction between the Christian culture and the Christian faith.

Who knows were Ben will ultimately come down on the Christian / Muslim decision ~ or if he will even feel that he needs to make a decision. Yet, as he grows up in these two different traditions, I hope that the Christian faith he is exposed to will be valuable to him. Being Christian is more than just self identifying as such. It is loving justice, standing with the poor, supporting the outcast, loving our neighbors and walking in the way that leads to life for all God's children.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Muggle Arrival

Muggle - a person who does not have magical abilities.

Our muggle, namely Ben, is set to touch down at Bradley Airport in a few minutes. He is arriving for his month-long visit. As both Ben and Gary are Harry Potter fans, this is a good time for him to come. We've already pre-ordered the book. (Hopefully it will arrive today.) Gary is already planning for them to see the movie this weekend!

Our non-wizard activities this month include Vacation Bible School. Campmeeting and various visits with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. It should be a busy time! First on tap, though, is the big 8th Birthday party. Could he possibly be 8 years old already?? As all parent-type-people wonder, where does the time go?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Looking back... Looking Forward

Friday 5 Looking back, looking forward......

1. Share a moment/ time of real encouragement in your journey of faith

Hearing my Confirmation Youth preach on Confirmation Sunday and realizing that they really DID learn something and grow in their relationship with God through Christ during our time together.

2. Do you have a current vision / dream for your work/ family/ministry?

This is an interesting question at this moment. I'm currently working on a form for my District Superintendent which will guide our One-on-One Conversation in August. One of the questions is, "Do you anticipate a move in 2008 or 2009?" Several months ago I would have said that I was ready for a move. Yet something has gradually shifted within me. (Possibly the working of the Holy Spirit??) There are several things going on in my appointment that I would like to see through ~ things that will likely take more than one year to bring to resolution. I'll just mention a couple:

First, we are undertaking a major schedule change, rearranging worship and Sunday School. This could be a great opportunity for growth. Yet, knowing that changes like this take time to shape and form and mold a congregation, I would like to see this change into its second year. I think I have a lot to learn, and something to give as well, as we redefine what it means to be a people who take worship and education seriously.

Second, our Contemporary Worship is in a time of transition and change. We have lost a major leader in our praise band and some of the other members are feeling burnt out. I anticipate that the next two years will be a make-it or break-it time for this service. It could be a time of great growth and opportunity for those who have, up until this time, played more of a supportive role. Who knows who will feel the call to step up into a leadership position? Only time will tell. As for me, I feel called to journey through this time with them, wherever it may lead.

My District Superintendent likely has her own ideas about where and when I should move. Somewhere between the institutional discernment process and the tugging on my heart is the Holy Spirit ~ Thanks be to God!

3. Money is no object and so you will.....

do mission work in some exotic part of the world!

4. How do you see your way through the disappointments? What keeps you going?

The difficult times are bearable because I know that no matter what happens God is with me. I have come to truly trust that, "...neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

5. How important are your roots?

I celebrate that my roots have, in part, molded me into the person who God has created me to be!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Slight Reservations

After sharing how amazing Youth 2007 was (which it truly was), I feel I need to address some slight reservations I brought back from the experience. One of the best parts of the week was being able to hear some great Christian bands. Yet something about their 'performances' just didn't seem right to me. The bands gave great shows. The music was loud and exhilarating. The lyrics were positive and infectious. But when I looked down onto the Coliseum floor and saw hundreds of kids jumping and reaching out their hands to the band and 'moshing' and crowd surfing in the midst of what was supposed to be a worship service, I wondered, "Who are we really worshipping?"

It is not my intention to 'dis' the bands in any way. And I certainly don't think music has to be boring to be worshipful. It was actually nice to feel the rhythm in your bones as the coliseum pulsated with the music. Yet I couldn't help but wonder whether the screaming youth were more excited about worshipping God or the cute boys on stage.

Either way, let me say that I would much prefer my youth group kids to be dancing and 'moshing' and crowd surfing to this music rather than some of the stuff you hear on the radio. My pondering really is more focused on the question of what it means to worship. What makes worship worship. I know there are changes with every generation, so maybe this form of worship doesn't speak to me as much because I am getting older. (There's nothing like being a chaperon for six teenagers for a week to make you feel old!) That said, how does one create a meaningful, worshipful experience for youth that they will connect with on more than an entertainment level?

The bands at Youth 2007 did a great job creating energy and enthusiasm which, then, the speakers engaged toward the theme of the week ~ Seek, Pray, Learn, Act, Teach. Maybe that's the key in this media savvy age. I thank Youth 2007 for igniting these questions within me.... Who knows what I'll be pondering after Youth 2011?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Splatted

I have definitely been splatted! Two days out from Youth 2007 and I am still exhausted. But I am also exhilarated by the experience. There were amazing speakers, great bands and even an inflatable obstacle course. The most amazing thing was seeing the Greensboro Coliseum filled with some 6,000 United Methodist youth. That there are that many youth and youth leaders willing to raise the funds, travel in planes and trains and vans, take time off work, and be together to praise God is certainly something for which to be thankful.

I'll post more about Youth 2007 in the next day or two... I may even include a picture of me in the inflatable obstacle course. (Who knew such a thing even existed?!?)

And by the way... my new favorite song is "Me and Jesus" by Stellar Cart... even if I didn't crowd surf ~~~~~

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Going (to) SPLAT

Wednesday morning I leave for North Carolina to attend Youth 2007 ~ aka SPLAT (Seek, Pray, Learn, Act, Teach). This is they quadrennial gathering of United Methodist Youth and Youth workers from all over the world. I can't even begin to imagine what it is going to be like, but I'm sure it will be crazy and hectic and fun.

I never had the opportunity to do anything like this as a youth (the youth group / church I was involved in was too small) so it is neat to be able to go as an adult. The part I'm looking forward to most is the opportunity to get a glimpse of the present and future of our worldwide United Methodist family. I celebrate the worldwide nature of our denomination and this will be an opportunity to see it first hand.

There are two other adults (Jake and Stephanie) and six youth attending from my church. Along with the going to the convention, we will be spending a day doing mission work in the Greensboro, NC area. Pray for us as we travel and pray that we will be open to meeting new people and learning from the new things we will be experiencing. May we see the face of Christ in all we meet and may we be the hands and feet of Christ ~ willing and able to do his work in our little corner of the the world and beyond!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Things that go bump in the night...

Slam....... the sound of the wind blowing the bedroom door closed in the middle of the night.

Squeak......... the sound of Zeke's paws on the wrong side of the closed bedroom door.

Zip...... the sound of Zeke getting confined in his pet-taxi for the rest of the night.

Meow.......

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Blessing Day

Today we had a Service of Animal Blessing at our Contemporary Worship. It was a beautiful day and the service was outside at our Sonrise Garden. We had a wonderful congregation of two-legged and four-legged friends. Everyone got along well and several of the dogs even joined in prayers and sang along with the band. There were big dogs and small dogs, a puppy and three cats. (The most stylish pet was a cat wheeled in a fancy cat stroller!) Only one of the dogs nipped at me while I was giving him his blessing. Fortunately he was easily distracted by the treat my worship assistant held in front of his nose!

Even our boy was blessed. Here is his 'blessing day' picture. Aren't we just the proud parents??

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fast Friday Five

Today, what are you:

1. Wearing

Blue shorts and a green and blue t-shirt ~ day~off clothes.

2. Reading

Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. I started it a long time ago but got side~tracked, so I'm trying again.

3. Eating

Strawberry Shortcake ~ Strawberry Shortcake ~ Strawberry Shortcake

4. Doing

Going through some things in the house and making a pile to bring to Goodwill ~ pending hubby's approval, of course.

5. Pondering

How to handle the logistics of a 200+ wedding with Communion. (We UM's don't have many weddings with Communion, at least in this part of the country.) For starters, where does the wedding party stand so as not to get in the way?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Year 6

Six years ago this evening was the worst night of my life. I will never forget what happened on July 5, 2001. In fact, I believe it is something I will remember on a physical, emotional and spiritual level for the rest of my life, whether I want to or not. In fact, toward the end of last week I began feeling tired. I noticed that my energy level was low and I began to wonder why. Then I realized... It is almost July 5th. It is as if my body remembers before the rest of me. This same exhaustion is something I have dealt with on and off since July 5, 2001. Sometimes in long stretches and sometimes in short spans. One of the many symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

For those of you who don't know the significance of July 5th, it was on that night that I was assaulted at gun point and terrorized for more than two hours in my own home. I survived by the very awesome and amazing grace of God ~ I have no other way to explain it. For that I will be forever thankful. The details of the assault fall within the scope of my unbloggables. In fact, it takes courage for me to blog even this. It is not something I talk about often, even to my closest friends and family members.

Yet it feels right to acknowledge this day on my blog, where I share bits and pieces of myself and my family and my journey with God following the Way of Jesus. Being a victim and survivor of trauma has shaped who I am.

On the first year anniversary of the assault I found someone to cover the pulpit for me and Gary and I got away. One of my parishioners (who was not happy about me being away) asked, "Why do you need to leave town? Are you going to make a big deal about this every year?" My answer is yes. I am going to make a big deal about it every year. My 'big deal' may be as simple as blogging about it or going for a hike or staying at a bed and breakfast or enjoying lobster with friends, but yes, I am going to make a big deal about it every year because July 5th is a big deal.

And I thank God every day that I am here to make a big deal about it. My prayers are for the families of the women and men who have gone through similar situations and who are not here to make a big deal about it. Maybe if more of us make a big deal about it (about violence, about gun control, about dealing openly with mental illness), instead of ignoring it or sweeping it under the rug, there will be less violence and our world may reflect more fully God's peace.