Tuesday, June 9, 2015

sisters and butterflies.

Darlene called me early this morning with news that Bev had just died. Darlene and Beverly lived together their whole lives - and with their brother Earl until he died several years ago. When they were young, Beverly would leave for work first each morning. She would call from the doorway, "This is the day that the Lord has made." Her siblings would reply, "We will rejoice and be glad in it." 

It has been a difficult 18 months - since Beverly moved into a care center. Darlene has grown both weary and resilient through these daily treks back and forth. Like many caregivers, she has poured her whole self into this bedside role and seeing Bev decline this week has been a mixed bag of dread and relief.

I changed into a black pencil skirt before heading down Lake Street toward the Carlson sisters. This would be the last time I would see them together. I turned north on 11th Avenue, forgetting that it dead ends just a few blocks up and I have to wander west in search of a thru street to Franklin. I have made this mistake several times since February 2014 and find myself on the corner of 10th and 26th when raw emotions overwhelm me and I start weeping. Every time.

That is the last stoplight on the way to the Mother Baby Center at Abbott. Sitting at that light brings me back to the early mornings right after unleashing my daughters. I would coo to Solveig in the backseat, assuring her that we'd see her sister at Children's in a matter of minutes. I would take a deep breath for strength as the opposite lights turned from green to yellow:
You can carry all of this stuff in there.
You can own that space next to Tove,  even though you feel like a visitor.
You can feed your babies, even if the lactation consultant fails to come again today.
You are doing the best you can.
You are helping them be together in a new way today and that is a worthy mission.
Sitting at that light still makes me weak in the knees, overcome by my unraveled life that is now...normal. Their birth and those daily treks first felt like a jar of marbles dropped and scattered. Waiting at that intersection confirmed again that my marbles are still strewn about - that my heart is still beating in my own chest, but also toddling around in Tove's and snuggled up inside Solveig's. My arms were covered in goose bumps and my eyes welled with raw love-soaked tears.

I pulled over until I could compose myself. This morning was about a different set of Carlson sisters, but something would be familiar: I got to help them be together in a new way today and that was a worthy mission.

When Bev's body was ready to leave her room, friends and staff gathered to walk alongside her. "It's called a butterfly sending - a chance for everyone to accompany her well from this place to the next." Darlene smiled with gratitude as her marbles slowly scattered about beneath us. Everything was unraveling for her as we moved outside and Bev rode away.

Not ending. Just scattering and unraveling. 
Just becoming something wildly different.
Just daring to live anew.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


I am especially giddy about my call these days. Some strategic planning has begun. Systems are being challenged. Interns are coming and going, leading and learning. People are digging in while also letting go. Signs of deep belonging and belovedness are everywhere. Summer Wednesdays are filled with feisty potential.

And while my heart is leaning in and I am easily swept away each day in the vitality of this work, I am also being called to step back a little. There are a few good reasons.

One. These interns know what they're doing. All are capable, communicative, brave, and bright. While it is my job to build connections and reflect with them, I also need to get out of the way. 

Two. I am coming up on seven years of ordination. Many pastors take a sabbatical every seven years - a few months away from their call for rest and renewal. I will carve out my own mini-version of this for ten days in August and I can't wait!

Three. A fabulous and generous grant organization emailed me last week with a daunting and exciting proposal. They've got $10,000 they'd like to gift Zion. What would we do with ten grand that could be transformational for this little community and her mission? They're holding the funds while we propose some ideas this month. I will need to step way back and see the bigger picture if I am to notice looming transformation.

Always transition. Always moving and rearticulating and listening and sharing and challenging and being convicted and resting and regrouping. My whole generation of ministry is interim ministry. We are wedged between the way things once were and the first moments of something still unfolding.  I feel all of it with great awe for the present moment and the rush of its intensity. Stepping back will continue to balance all that leaning in and being shaped with good perspective and pace.

We are on the cusp of more beauty at Zion. I can feel it in the sanctuary and on the lawn. I can feel is driving down Lake Street in the morning. I can feel it when I see photos of Zioners camping or eating together on Facebook. This threshold fills me with gratitude for the last seven years and eager joy for all the years to come.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Last Sunday we blessed and sent a couple from Zion off to Canada for pastoral internship. We made them promises and prayed and anointed their foreheads with oil.

After worship, three more came and asked to be marked with the sign of the cross. They carried grief, regrets, enthusiasm, and nervous energy. They asked to be marked because of these things.

I don't take these moments for granted. I get to stare deep into people's eyes as I declare promises much bigger than either of us. And, while I'm shouting, they are staring back at me. They are soaking up the words and the grace and the trust we share because of the Pastor in front of my name. It is lovely, transforming work.

Tove is toddling around now. She is covered in lasagna sauce and hiding in cupboards and shouting across the house for her sister when they get separated by a few rooms. Tove is wild and sneaky and full of good ideas. She makes this face that shows her humor and determination in the form of big lips. I just love it.

Every night at 9:30pm she starts to cry. I creep up the stairs quietly and find her sitting up (still sleeping) in the middle of her crib. I hold her against my chest and whisper in her ear, "This is not a nap. This is nighttime. You're not missing anything." Then I kiss her cheek and she kisses my neck. She is peaceful and cuddly, so I continue to meet her in these moments. Tove is usually busy being goofy during the day and snuggles are rare.

Something about our moment and my words anoint her for the night. Tove's fear of missing out and the day's energy fade away as she relaxes into my body. And then I put her back down, still asleep until dawn.

There is great power and privilege in my roles and words. I get to say so many things with confidence (even when I am not confident) because these gifts or truths do not belong to me. But I do get to share them. I am entrusted with a voice and arms and eyes.

I am made for naming and anointing, holding and releasing. And for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

maundy wednesday.

Jesus, Bread of Life,

You offer yourself as bread and wine to the disciples.
 You make God suddenly physical and familiar
to our most intimate senses.

You urge rituals that infect
our memories and motor skills
with signs of your love and life.

“Do this to remember me.”

What is it like to empty yourself?
How does it feel to be broken and poured out
for the sake of us?

We take and eat and drink because you tell us to.
Because we have no choice but to place hope
in your gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life.

In doing so, we are humbled by your humility.
We are broken and poured out
every time we kneel, extend hands,
or hold our breath while listening for the promise.

This meal goes after our hunger and our thirst,
            our memories and our pride,
            our sins and our mortality.

Holy morsels and sips.

Fill us with your love. Amen.

The Prayer of the Day
Recovery Worship - April 1, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


My job has been more exhausting than usual lately.

We've become a healthier place in the last three years. I've been picking at systems and procedures. I've been listening intently to people who disagree with me. I've been startled by how many people are on board with my leadership style and vision - that's both scary and exciting. I've been urging people to put things down, simplify, and learn from failure. I've been asking big questions:

  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Why don't we do what we don't do?
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?
Now it's time to notice and name relationships and roles in need of great care and challenge. I'm poking at people, control issues, comfort zones, and default plans. I'm stirring the pot, being confrontational, working through conflict, and daring to say things no one has the guts to say.

I go into each dialogue feeling nervous and overwhelmed.
I leave feeling tired and courageous.
We have always been pretty healthy and it's only getting better. Slowly.

There's a lot to process lately and that's hard to do as a solo pastor. There's great solitude in being the truth teller, the boss, the leader. I share some of my thoughts and feelings when and where it's constructive, but explaining it can take time and energy I don't seem to have. So much of my planning and debriefing happens internally and in prayer.

Good pastors are both proactive and reactive. The relational conversations I've been having require a lot of forethought and compassion. I need to carve out time and protect them from interruption and distraction. And so I've been missing the reactive piece of my call - the openness to detours and subtle hints from the Spirit about where the real ministry lies. 

Today I had just one proactive thing on my list. I asked my pastor, Paul, to lunch. I called him on Sunday and said I was in need of a "vocational high five". Lunch would be my place and my space for active processing with another human being today. The rest would be reactive. And so it was.

One (Awkward) Compliment
I arrived at my desk in time for emails and mail. I looked through contacts I hoped to make and called a few people back. Before too long, a member was standing in my doorway. David lives with mental illness and feels the world intensely. Sometimes tears stream down his face while he asks after my family or compliments my "figure" because his sensitivity is so great and his desire to connect is so strong. Together we navigate appropriate commentary - it's always a delicate conversation. Then I got up and went with him to Bible study a little early. We talked about the glimmers of triumph in Matthew 21 and prayed for peace.

One (Important) Feast
I crunched numbers before a meeting with Cooking Matters staff and told them we look good for a spring session at Zion. The four of us reminisced about the wild and tender dynamics of the winter cooking course that prepared the Lyndale Community Dinner each Wednesday and dreamed about what's next for neighbors feasting in April.

One (Resurrected) Tire
I blew a tire on my way to meet Paul. Something sharp dragged through my tire as I bumped the curb parking. It was a tired and lazy mistake that sounded like a fierce hissssssssss the moment I stepped out of the van. UGH.

There was a wait at the restaurant, so Paul came to see my tire. It was already flat. We explored the manual, found the spare, and he kept morale high while kneeling on my old Redhawk letter blanket from the trunk, his tan suede shoes dangerously close to the gutter slush. We would soon share conversation about ministry in transition - leading through the birth of something new - and how easy it is to feel solitude when you're doing the hard stuff.

Let me be clear. We weren't talking isolation or loneliness. We have good colleagues and leaders and teams. We were speaking of the solitude that comes with the call to be out front a few yards, taking daggers and gaining trust, setting the pace and the tone. Solitude implies some peace that comes with God's present in the wilderness.

An unlikely stranger was able to coax off my stubborn, stuck tire. My world filled with gratitude and humor while Paul secured the spare and we returned to find plenty of free tables at the restaurant. We laughed about the weird church and the beautiful gospel. I was renewed.

One (Tearful) Drunk
My afternoon continued with two trips to the auto shop and a visit from Drunk Tiffany. She's new to the doorbell at Zion, usually ringing on days she's homeless and hammered. Tiffany usually deflects with laughter and gives a lot of hugs, but today I sat long enough to see her cry. Her blue eyeliner faded each time she wiped her red eyes. "What? Do I look old? Do I look ugly?" she would ask whenever I looked at her too long without speaking.  She offered me vodka from a Vitamin Water bottle.

"No, I'm just seeing you. I'm just watching you be really brave and honest."

My answer startled her, so I explained. "I'm guessing you don't cry in front of people very often. I just want to make sure your tears are being seen today because what you feel and think matters. It matters to God and it matters to me. Let it matter to you, too." 

One (Honest) Giver
After an evening meeting, Grant asked to speak to me. We closed up the building and lingered in the lounge near my office - in the same chairs I'd shared with David and Tiffany. He confessed that he was ready, after many years, to become a planned, regular giver. But it was coming from a place of guilt and regret instead of joy. He felt late to the party. And all while he didn't know if Zion should be his forever or only place.

He is not alone. There are so many Grants - at Zion and everywhere. I was glad for his truth - the part he knew and could articulate, but also the mystery about what else might feed his spirit. We'll listen. We'll pray. We'll figure it out together. In the meantime, I'm glad and better off for all his fragmented, honest intersections with Zion. 

One (Good) Day
I drove home through light flurries on my new tire, grateful for a day filled with a little less solitude and a little more reaction. I am blessed by my pastor who has ears to listen and hands to help. I am blessed by the tears of the vulnerable and brave people I serve. I am blessed by the movement between
   process and recess,
   breaking and mending,
   solitude and community,
   exhaustion and pure joy.

I change people's names sometimes.