Sunday, September 14, 2014

weaning.

I don't think pastors mean to hyper-function in the fall, but we do. It spills over into programming and ambition that demands the attention of everyone in the pews and on the mailing list: Rally Day! Big events! Special Sundays! Capital appeals! Aggressive fellowship! Sunday School Revamp! Every summer I mean to avoid this sprint into autumn…and every September I realize I'm already 50 meters in.

I have told you about Zion's tired leaders. We don't need more to do and so the big experiments are happening in place of things that are dying or stagnate already:

Third Sunday Bible Studies are now a collaboratively hosted confirmation program for all ages. Competition, Lutherisms, and baptismal promises rediscovered - but mostly story telling, faith sharing, and eating soup together. Some might come from Bethlehem and I will only be leading a few sessions.

Only one or two of our Sunday School kids can attend on Sunday mornings this fall. So what if "Sunday School" is on Wednesday evenings before the community dinner? What if parents have the option to hang out during it? What if older kids help and neighbor kids wander in?

After three years of polka on Rally Day, we decided to invite the MN Adult & Teen Challenge Choir to lead worship with us this morning. They shared stories and sang for us - we shared communion and a good word about Abraham's blessing. I could hear them resonating with the Recovery Worship elements that were present in the service. Some live just a few blocks away and I know they'll be back.

Several of us hosted a space at Nicollet Open Streets this afternoon. Jasper provided warm hospitality to everyone under 40" in height while we helped kids make bracelets, apply fake tattoos, and told them about the little church just 2 blocks away.  Together we created a prayer garland filled with hopes, dreams, and peace. It adored the ugly shed and fence behind our table, an eyesore that has always longed for TLC. After a few hours, I stepped back and just watched - the people of Zion are so good at loving their neighbors without a hidden agenda or motivation. 

I am trying to step back more often these days. As I bless leaders releasing their dutiful burdens at Zion, I am watching them rediscover what excites them. They bumble while asking for permission to do the most beautiful, spirit-led things. And then I do my best to say YES! OF COURSE! without stepping any closer. I am weaning from so much doing and finally learning to lead.

* * *

Sometimes when I come home late in the day, the girls don't want to nap. Instead, they want to be held on each hip and smothered in kisses while they bury their milky mouths in my neck. I can feel their fatigue through the giggles, but they do not give in. Cuddling takes priority.

So my aching body held them all evening - while directing train table traffic with Jasper, while microwaving another mediocre dinner, while talking to Matt as he sat in the Michigan airport, while singing grace, while watering the grass seed. 

It was uncomfortable holding their wiggly bodies to my chest because I am weaning them as well. I am retiring from the dairy business this weekend, which is emotional but welcome. It has been a privilege to feed people - to nourish them with my body. Everything about carrying and laboring and feeding these girls has been intense compared to Jasper and life before babies. Stepping away from that causes me to ache - mostly because life in hours and ounces has been my habitat and vocation for so long. But also because I will never share my body like this again and there is great grief in letting go.

I put them to bed and then lay down on the living room floor, my back relieved by the clock and the silence. Laundry! Dishes! Trash! Unpack the van! Roll up the hose! Mail pile! Wash bottles! Pump!

The list echoed in my head, but I decided to stay on the ground until I could hear my own body and the inner voice I'd been missing. So I listened for a rhythm beyond hours and ounces that used to guide me through the day. I took deep breaths when the list got loud and waited patiently for my body to tell me something - anything - I'd been ignoring for all these months. I cried a lot. And then I heard her:

Thank you for listening.
Welcome back.
Did you know you have to pee?
Also, there are ice cream sandwiches in the freezer.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

226.

Today the air is heavy and moist. I walked by the river all morning. The flowers are changing this week…not that I'm a master gardener. But each August, the hydrangeas turn green, the tiger lilies dry up, and the black-eyed Susans erupt. Summer is almost over! it screams to ensure I don't blink and miss it. The parkway smells like wet earth. It reminds me of early mornings at a campsite when everything is damp, but the oatmeal and flannel shirt warm you up.


Later this afternoon, once the kids were safely in the hands of grandparents, I drove 226 miles west. Matt usually drives my Corolla these days, so the car and I were like old friends reunited. Music blared and the warm wind whipped in and out of my hair. Chaska. Glencoe. Olivia. Marshall. I slowed down in each, taking in the old signs and friendly faces.

I have deep memories of these roads that lead through southwest Minnesota. We spent many summer weekends in Cottonwood when I was growing up. Street dances and corn feeds were magical events. I remember chiggers stuck to my legs after a lake swim and hours tossing water balloons. Cousins I now call friends seemed light-years older than me. I wrote my name on the chalkboard inside the Little Red Schoolhouse every summer, in awe of my own addition to the infinite memories that place held for my family.

The wind farms just east of Tyler were beautiful. The clouds rolled above us, stirring my songs and my memories. They propelled me across the boarder somewhere brand new.

And then I checked into my hotel. Though the rich yellows and greens of the plains know my heart and my ancestry, I was still a tired City Mouse without children underfoot(!)  So I fell into a king-sized bed of pillows and fluff. I buried my head in the covers and disappeared for 8 hours.

Alone. At peace. Completely still. And maybe (just a little) lonely.

This is only the second time I've had so much sleep in a full year. My body and mind are always carrying more than themselves - and have been for quite awhile. But, for a night, it was just me and the plains and a bed to myself. I did not listen for whimpers or crying. I did not write sermons or do dishes or vacuum or take phone calls. And I did not rise until I was ready.

From this place of restoration, I ironed my clerical wear and my alb, signs of just one of my calls. I dressed for the ordination of a friend and spent the morning listening to his promises, his gifts, and his willingness. It made me feel grateful and glad.

And then I drove 226 miles back through open fields and small towns, into the warm and wet heat of the city. And there I gathered beloved babies into my arms. They giggled to each other and nestled into my neck. They did not know how far I'd gone, but they were so glad to have me back. Before dark we walked through the yard with them, pointing out the verdant hydrangeas, the wrinkled tiger lilies, and the joyful black-eyed Susans. Don't blink, girls, or you'll miss it.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

bath.

Solveig and Tove,

Last Sunday was beautiful. It was a clash of worlds in the best kind of way.

Baptism is one of those moments when the universal and the abstract become acutely personal and tangible. We gathered for worship on the lawn with stones in hand at 10:00am. These stones represented the heavy, sinful, and worrisome things we carried with us that morning. And then, during the confession, we let them sink into the font. Water rushed over them and the Promise defeated their power. They rested below as I splashed you and people vowed to support you in faith.

Sacraments are supposed to be both mysterious and simple, but sometimes they are just plain confusing instead. So I want to be clear about why you were baptized on Sunday July 27, 2014.

Solveig with a disapproving look. Too bad, honey. God chooses you!

Tove is surprised and whimpers until her hair is dry again. Glamour first.
We care about your sense of self getting tangled up with the Holy Story. You are bound to ask the four big questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? What's my purpose? Where do I find hope? You will find friends, hobbies, and clubs along the way. This is different. Baptism declares your deep belovedness over and over, forever and ever.

We care about your sense of community getting tangled up with Jesus. The fastest growing demographic in America is people who have never experienced genuine community before. Many in our generation are aching for something they've never known and don't know how to describe. The same will be true of you and your peers. And so we are introducing you to the community Jesus creates  across time and space. Your Godparents have made your family a little bigger, signs of the way Christ knits us together as the Body. This community is good, Dear Ones. You don't need to wait to choose it later on - God is already choosing you and that's the whole point. You will find belonging and purpose here from the very beginning.

We care about your sense of God becoming scriptural, not just skeptical. People say all kinds of things about God - usually without being in relationship with God. So we will teach you the story and you will become familiar with God's reputation for coming down, startling systems, and saving us all the time. You will know that God always chooses working with us over efficiency. God finishes things we can't and trumps things we fear. That's a God worth knowing and proclaiming.

Baptism will not remove the obstacles or pain that awaits you in this life. But it does cover you with strength and grace to move through it. It does promise that you are never alone, forever tangled up with a holy identity, home, purpose, and mission. It does mean you are surrounded by voices and hands and hearts that will challenge and champion you. It does declare God's dying and rising love for you - universal and abstract, but also intensely personal and tangible.

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. (Whether you like it or not.)  Thank God!

Love, Rev. Mom

Thursday, July 31, 2014

weeds.

I'm learning about the difference between technical and adaptive challenges this week. I'm reflecting about all the quick fixes and surface treatments church folk use to deny systemic issues and avoid real loss. Sounds fun, right?

And so I find myself thinking about church while pulling weeds with Jasper tonight. He yanks them out by the leaves, but the roots remain buried deep between the cracks of stones and steps in our backyard. He's eager to make a pile and have something to show for his work.

I don't blame him. It takes time to get at the roots! Your fingernails get dirty and you need tools from the garage. This is slow work, surrounding the stems with your patience and perseverance before a tug sets them free and they head to the bucket. Going deep is hard.

I'm also learning about how to listen to the longings of others who are not yet in church community. I'm learning things I already know, but have had no language for:

People have come to the church in search of their 'belovedness' - affirmation that they are known and claimed and chosen and saved by a God who loves them fiercely - and instead we hand them importance and duties.
Until our longings match or outweigh our fear of loss, we cannot access the new behaviors necessary for saying YES to the Spirit's call.
Good faith leaders help people recognize their giftedness in, but especially beyond, the congregation.  
The largest growing demographic in America is people who have never experienced genuine community before. They are longing to be listened to and told about their belovedness.
Church goers have long been able to articulate the importance of membership, but not the benefits, the transformation, or the joy. In a corporate sense, they are disconnected from the call they received in baptism to Live, Hear, Proclaim, Serve, and Work for the sake of the Kingdom.
I'm learning (again) that it's easy to pull weeds out by the leaves. It's much harder to poke around at the roots: wondering about systems, listening well, asking courageous questions, and casting a vision that might face some opposition. It's much harder to look at people who are comfortable doing church and teach them how to be the church.

We are a bunch of pastors sitting in a room at the Hilton. Our brains are spinning about our leaders, our challenges, our dreams, and our fears. We are inspired, but tired when we start to think about the work ahead of us. Mission development and redevelopment is exciting, but exhausting work.

But then you go home and you sift through your mail pile. And you find proof that the Spirit is stirring up baptismal promises. It is causing a witness to be proclaimed. It has leaders restless and eager and refreshed by the water and the Word.


I cried reading Carolyn and Stan's letters to my children. They are already keeping promises and being the church and going deep by confessing the power of community and sacrament. They are leaning into the idea that baptism is a new beginning for Solveig and Tove, but also for their leadership and faith.

1 Peter says,
"Be ready to give an account of the joy that is within you."

And so it is not about the pile of leaves, the quick fixes, or the sense of importance. It is about the belovedness. It is about listening to each other and then proclaiming that which is beautiful and holy because God is among us. It is about dirty fingernails and a spade gentle and firm. It is about leaders who can

testify to the joy and go down to the roots.

Monday, July 14, 2014

sleep.

Jasper doesn't nap anymore. 

But he rubs his eyes and his lashes flutter. His pupils roll back and he shakes his head when you ask if he's tired. It's hard running races and playing cars and reading books and dancing all day without slowing down. 

When we plow through the day without pause or rest, it can hit us like a ton of bricks. Or, in this case, like a plastic picnic table.



We spent the 4th of July weekend up north with 14 adults, 3 kids, and 5 babies. Parents were always bouncing or rocking someone to sleep. They were cat-napping when they could. We shushed each other so little ones and sleepy adults could find peace around the clock. Sleep was lust-filled - we wished away fireworks and late night campfires. We dozed on the couch or crept away for something more substantial.


Sleep is illusive with little ones. I wake up every morning eager for 9:00pm, vowing to turn in earlier and sleep harder than the night before. Without good rest I am cranky and distracted, sensitive and very inconsistent in my parenting.

And so I am grateful for the strides we've made this month with the girls. They are sleeping well. They wake up looking rested. Even after those tearful nights of crying it out, they awoke with joyful smiles and warm eyes. Last night they fell asleep at 7:00pm flat on their backs with their arms over their heads. When I crawled out of bed at 6:30am today, it was silent. Our three little ones were still dreaming while we prepared bottles and the coffee quietly dripped.

Teaching another person to sleep - to notice and own the basic rhythms of this world - is so much harder than I thought it would be. With Jasper and again with the girls, it stirs up compassion and vulnerability, frustration and fatigue, self-doubt and hormones. We take two steps forward and one step back. Teething. Travel. Illness. Daylight Saving Time. Thunderstorms. Attitude. But in-between the hurdles, they get it! They learn to self-soothe. It starts to click. And while there are so many more challenges ahead, the house is quiet for a moment and there is hope.

I'm an hour late, but off to bed. Today has hit me like a plastic picnic table and I surrender.