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.