Sunday, March 29, 2009

A watched pot boils all day.

Every spring, my girlfriends and I head to the Northwoods of Wisconsin for a ritual we've all grown to cherish. Our dear Strom is a woman of the woods and her parents still live in a beautiful log cabin they built on the river 25 years ago. As the waters thaw and the trees come alive, it is time to sap Maple Syrup and stand together in fellowship while it boils all day and night.

We play a very minor role in this tradition and are mostly sedentary over a brunch complete with blueberry pancakes or in lawn chairs near the fire. Some even dare to brave the river in canoes, though I have refused to make amends with the first bend since I tipped over three years ago and sat clinging to a log in my icy float jacket! I am still mocked for my superstition - that only this river has it out for me. So I held Strom's dog, Leinie, back as they loaded canoes. She was eager to join them and only causing tippy chaos with her 3 year old enthusiasm.

We wander through the woods, through trees tapped and draped with sap bags like catheters. It's time apart from the city and the weekend errands that usually plague Saturdays. Time with Strom's parents is an annual prescription for sanity. I stood in the kitchen with Lynn and we talked while she made a salad with wild rice from this land and fresh fruit that looked crisp. She has known me since I moved in with her daughter on our first day of college. Lynn has known of every major considered, boy dated, and house rented over the years, so the conversation is easy and appreciated. Nine years later, there is married life and a career to inquire about.

Outside Papa Phil is giving a tour of his work shed, anticipating rice season with satisfaction and pride. He's got rules about how close we can stand to the fire and thinks everyone should have another hot dog, giving us ample opportunity to tease and test him like good daughters. And he loves it. When I get him good, he comes back with a dare to brave the river this year. Maybe next year, I concede.

Today the temperature has the sap frozen in the bags and our usual task of hauling it up the hill is cancelled. It is just cold enough to choose red wine over beer, and we pass the Tostitos with lime back and forth, useless stumps. As I cuddle with a friend to keep warm, good conversation and fresh air wash over us. What Holy Communion.

These photos were stolen maliciously from Maren's Facebook page. Thanks, Mars.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Suddenly...Nothing Happened

The day flew by and I was lost in the rhythm of chaos. What? Chaos doesn't have a rhythm? It does when you do it for a few days in a row. With the rain pouring down outside, I was keeping busy at church and getting very organized for spring and summer.

The rain fell harder by dinner and I found shelter in my car. Traffic inched slowly north as I headed to Pastor Mark's house for a meeting. The sweet probability that his wife, Jody, would serve wine kept me alert and entertained as I migrated slowly from the city.

My CD player changed and my favorite song came on. I'd never heard it until my brother put it on a "Christmas Hit List" he made me this year and it is the ultimate comfort as I drive through this dulling recession, an aggressive winter and the day's general ambiguity. The song is my prayer for anyone holding her breath and waiting for life to increase, calm down or brighten up. I mysteriously tear up when I hear these lyrics and think about those waiting for a job interview or news about a new chance at a dream. Take a minute and listen. I'm curious about whether it says anything to you.

Click Here to Listen to Colin Hay Band's "Waiting for my Real Life to Begin"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Church Basement Ladies - The 2009 Edition

Ten years ago I went to Bangladesh with 12 other teenagers. Today, I made brunch for three of them, the women I lovingly refer to as my fellow Church Basement Ladies. We all grew up actively involved at Normandale throughout adolescents and young adulthood. Though I didn't attend high school with them, some of my favorite memories stem from our time together on the other side of the world or leading senior high groups since then.

Annie was the first one to find me when I got sick in Dinajpur. I went to college with Sarah and later, we attended seminary together for a year. Sarah and Katherine and I worked at Bible camp together, forming new summertime bonds. Katherine was by my side in 2004 when we returned to Bangladesh, fell in love again, and wiped tears as we said goodbye to a place that holds our hearts. I sang in the choir at Annie's dad's funeral and still think of him during Lent and when I hear the hymn Day by Day.

A small part of me is grateful for the recession and the push it gives women my age to invite people over for affordable, homemade time together instead of meeting out for drink$ or dinner. It was good to have these spiritual sisters in my home, sharing and laughing over good food. We talked work, love, gossip and (of course) Church. In this new age of America and faith, thank God for great traditions plugging on in new form and new bodies. The Church Basement Ladies live on!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I've never been so excited about Texas. The happy recipient of a free flight and free lodging, I've spent the past few days in Fort Worth with the Gophers Baseball Team on their spring break, playing in the sunshine.

Our hotel room doubles as the training room, where athletes come to get electronic stimulation or ultra sound. Matt stretches them and checks in with their rehab care on our bed. Meeting these guys in such...intimate circumstances means learning more about Matt's 33 illegitimate children - the athletes who come to him with their head colds and muscle tears. Before their weight lifting afternoons or evening games, I get to watch Matt work. It's hard to describe the pride I feel while he works patiently with each player. He knows the whiners from the tough guys, how to prevent injury and how to help them bounce back from it. They seem to adore him.

When he wasn't working, we wandered the stockyards of Fort Worth or sat in the sun. He vented and bragged and now it was much easier to empathize and celebrate. Once his afternoon duties began, I would relish the alone time - little bits of solitude and vacation. At night I would brave the metroplex traffic and bring extra clothing into the stadium. As the sun set, I would slowly add a layer or find a hot dog for dinner while cheering on the Gophers with parents and fans. I would watch one player's grandparents in their lovely ritual - he would give her his windbreaker for extra warmth while she sat and he would pace below, too excited (and cold?) to sit down, but still close enough to talk to his beloved between innings.

Matt would turn and smile every now and then, as if to make sure I was really there. And I was. - cheering and yelling plenty. After the game, I would meet Matt back at the "training room" with a pint of ice cream and a few minutes to ourselves. Then the players would come, bringing their scraps and aches before bed.

I head home thinking about how different our jobs are, but how similar our vocations are: listening, healing, helping, connecting and hoping. It was good to be off duty for a few days and to watch him be "on".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I have a green ball.

It's funny working in the same building as an energetic child care center. Kids are everywhere, marching up and down stairs, playing in the fellowship hall/gym and stinking up the copy room hallway by late afternoon.

One of these tiny toddlers was the first to welcome me for my first interview last March. I had come through a thick snowfall and opened the dark doors, shaking the snowflakes from my hair. Inside, a train of little people were holding hands and walking from one room to another. A black-haired little girl broke rank and walked right up to me, in awe of the snowy day that blew by as the door closed behind me. "Well, hello there!" she said with pure happiness and welcome in her voice.

Well, hello. I still see her around and she makes me smile - the first of many signs that St. John's would welcome me inside.

This morning I walked through the fellowship hall/gym when the smallest kids were making forts and pretending to be animals. They had their teachers laughing hysterically as they roared like lions. Coming back from my errand, a little one toddled up, pulled up his shirt and pointed to his belly button with proud satisfaction. His words were a pre-English blurb I couldn't decode until a little girl came up beside him. "And I have one too, but yours IS big!" More gibberish followed. "My dad is like is same grandpa too." So cute...but huh?

Others joined, coming out of their forts to check me out. "I have a green ball," one would declare. Then another would approach with their own prop. "My ball purple!" Soon, they were all playing catch with me at once and I laughed, trying to keep up. When my day gets long or I need a smile, I know that these belly buttons have the power to cheer anyone up with a roar or a green ball. So I listen for them coming in the hallways, testing the echo and squealing with joy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Seeking the Story

Depression Breakfast - Sugar Cookies and Coffee

By clicking on the link above, you'll find Depression Cooking, a YouTube subscription that features a 93 year old woman in her kitchen making low budget dishes from her past and sharing stories about life in the 1930s. Clara's first episode in 2007 has been watched by more than 200,000 fans.

Ten years ago, people my age might not have shown interest in Clara's ingenuity and sharp memories, but today viewers post thoughtful comments about how funny and sweet she is to share. Something about our current climate and context has linked young people with her, causing us to look to Clara and her generation for wisdom and comfort.

More people have been coming through the doors of churches lately, perhaps fueled by a similar nostalgia and curiosity. Where do I come from? What is my story? They ask important questions and are willing to wait while the bread cools or while Clara opens a can of peas. Then she sits on her sofa with an old photo album, pointing to black and white photographs that fuel her tales and invite us into the story.

Here are the photographs that prove we survived and grew stronger. Here are the people who wandered the Great Depression's wilderness and found faith in the little things.

May Clara graft you into her story and may the church to the same, calling you into the Lenten journey and through the darkness into Promise.