Showing posts from 2010

Boxing Day

I don't have many Christmas traditions that are set in stone. When I was in grade school, we spent many years as a nuclear family running around the beach in sweatpants and filling our hair with the smell of salt before a picnic or presents. When we moved back to the Midwest, we traded the beach for ice skating on the back pond and sledding down hills before bedtime. When I reached adolescence, some of my Christmases were spent far from family in Bangladesh or Antarctica. All of these memories are good, tying me more closely to the reason for the season than to something specific my family invented along the way. Christmas was mobile, fluid and always faithful.

My Christmases in Bangladesh have given Boxing Day special meaning. After such communal joy on the 25th, I've noticed that I often get quiet and pensive the next day. The 26th makes me attentive and vulnerable because I have sensed Emmanuel most deeply in the wake of Christmas.

On December 26, 1998 I stayed back fro…

Stillness and Planning

I’m a planner. I like to dream and scheme about things down the road.We moved a few times when I was younger and I would always sketch out my future bedroom the night we closed on a new house, eager to imagine the layout and get things organized.These days, the liturgical calendar allows me a similar privilege.I can be steeped in one season, but am always thinking ahead.While the sanctuary is filled with evergreen and light, I am also wondering about Lent, repentance and springtime.There is always something new to wonder about as we plod through the same seasons and stories year after year.There is always something new to unfold or proclaim or digest. And I love that.Ever since that first stick had two pink lines and the second stick had two pink lines and the third stick read a definitive, digital YES, I have tried to live more in the moment than usual.I have tried to learn about what is happening each week and to appreciate each stage of this journey.I have tried to make good time f…

It's a lot to take in.

Andrew didn't grow up in the church. Saying grace, scenes in stained glass, Bible stories and liturgy are all converging to form a new language he is learning each week at St. John's.

Andrew wandered into St. John's because his girlfriend was planning her grandmother's funeral. In death, he heard the truth about life and started asking questions about what we believe and what it all means.

Watching Andrew worship is worshipful. His joyful curiosity is contagious and you can see the radical message that seems familiar to many washing over him with power and mystery. I stand in the pulpit telling people that God knows all of who they are - the good, the bad and the ugly - and desperately loves us anyway. I say it to a lot of people who have heard it a million times. They look at me and listen as quiet transformation trembles. Andrew looks at me like this is the best news he's heard all week and it's performing all kinds of demolition and reconstruction in hi…

Control the Controllables

This is my view. From my perspective, I no longer have toes. My belly is 38" around, mostly in front, but I'm sure my addiction to ice cream drumsticks will eventually settle in wherever it likes. I'm technically in the beginning of my third trimester now, but still confused about how 'they' divide that up. The first is 12 weeks, the second is 13 weeks and the third is 15 weeks?

I've also felt pretty invincible lately. I've been able to work long days, don't need naps and haven't had to pay for stretching myself. We had a nasty storm last week and I chased our patio umbrella around the yard before wrestling it into the garage. That was dumb, but I felt fine.

This week, things are a little different. We had two funerals and Reformation Sunday was also our stewardship celebration. Friday was a long day of errands and phone calls and writing that had my whole torso tense and shaking. My body was begging me to slow down and put my feet up, but I couldn&…

Chalk. It. Up.

Sunday was one of those Sundays for the books. But it was memorable in a sneaky way. You could almost miss it and I would hate for you to miss it. So here are a few reasons I will always remember September 26, 2010 at St. John's.
Two young couples joined our ranks. One is getting married in December and I'm doing their wedding. The other helped plan a grandparent's funeral here last spring and it has felt like home ever since. I love new people and watching others gather around getting to know them and showering them with welcome. One of these newbies has not yet been baptized. I look forward to splashing him with holy promises and new life in Christ.
It was Pack the Church Sunday. We tried this last year and our worship attendance increased by 80%! This year our worship attendance wasn't much higher than usual, but just about everyone brought a visitor. It was fun to meet the friends, family and neighbors who came and hear what they loved. One had been exclu…

Two Tablespoons of Gudrun

I have a lot of wild aunties in my life. One of them is a tall and generous woman named Gudrun. She sprinkles her speech and storytelling with Norwegian phrases that warm your soul and snaps her fingers when she forgets the next word. She gets tipsy at family weddings and teaches old people the electric slide, busting so many joyful moves that she needs a Cortizone shot in her knee the next day. When her life changed with the removal of her reproductive organs, she gave them ceremony and burial while rejoicing for the children they helped make. She lives out loud, naming things that are lovely or hard and, often, both.

Gudrun lives on Lake Superior. Her backyard unfolds into a sandy beach and you can find her there walking with her dog and handsome husband. She's the one with wind whipped hair and arms filled with trash she picks up along the way. She's the one you see and think yourself I'll bet she is worth knowing well. And she is.

I am blessed to be welcoming a …

Retro Stewardship Posts

I told Erica I would repost these two pieces.

Money and More: The "M" Words

Everyone Has a Stewardship Story

The first was written shortly before graduation in 2008. Jerry later included it in the Stewardship Newsletter resource. I include the link from this page because I think it provides two lessons: the first is my take on the M words. The second is don't wear pigtails on your first day of seminary. I already looked young - I didn't need to look like an escaped Wee Care kid on my ID card for four years and neither do you. You're welcome.

The second is something I wrote after this same Financial Coaching event last fall. It was exciting to hear Nathan Dungan's enthusiasm and see so many students interested in the coaching program. It gave me energy for our stewardship season at St. John's.

Oh, I just found one more from last fall, too. It seems I was on a soapbox about financial pledging and why I hope my generation can get on board with this valuab…

First Week

It’s First Week at Luther Seminary.New students are being inundated with information about campus, classes, candidacy and everything they need to know as the crazy journey begins.I remember getting a parking ticket the first day of First Week six years ago.Maybe that irritating $35 fee played into my decision to sign up for a financial coach that day – I know several things did.
I’d never taken a loan out or balanced my checkbook for more than a few months at a time.I had spent the whole summer applying for scholarships and grants, but needed to buckle down and organize the responses I was getting.I was several steps away from forming a realistic budget and didn’t even know if I'd have the gumption to stick to it.
I signed up for short-sighted and personal reasons.I wanted to become a money person according to my own definition – I wanted to be wise and generous and self aware and confident when I left seminary a few years later.While working with a coach helped me achieve these goa…

The Lord be with you.

We've been preaching familiar tales from the Old Testament during August. On Sunday we hear about David and Goliath. I write my sermons even later in the week when they are not based on the lectionary. It is a blessing to wander outside the structure I am used to - choosing stories I like and texts that interest me - but it is also a strange curse because my mind and heart tug the sermon in so many different directions, it takes awhile to get legs and move. On these weeks my sermon preparation mirrors the children's book If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, finding new tangents and distractions around every corner. But that wandering is one of my favorite things about life and scripture, so today I'm taking you with me.

The first thing I noticed about this tale is that David approaches the battlefield and his brothers as an unwelcome runt. They hear him yapping that Goliath is no match for the living God. His comments make them defensive and David continues his naive and ad…

These are my favorite people under 40 lbs.

This was last winter, so they're bigger now. And even cuter, believe it or not. I stopped over to see my goddaughter and her equally fantastic little sister today. They knew I had a "baby in my belly" and when they didn't see a huge bump, their disappointment was palpable. We caught them sneaking glances at my stomach during lunch, probably hoping it would be bigger and more impressive by the time I left.

B had a question right away, "Meta what's your baby's name?" We brainstormed for a little bit and after considering our three names they decided on "Baby Shortcake". I like it.

L asked if I could feel it kicking yet. "Nope, but when I do, I'll come over so you can feel it." Then we colored and she helped me shop through her beautiful momma's maternity clothes. "Meta, I like this tank top on you. It's cute. Try on the capri pants again!" I got some good stuff and I made a mental note to be a refere…

Great. Tell me about it.

I officiate a lot of weddings.I love the adrenaline rush when there are lots of details to get just right.I love to speak words of value on their big day.I also enjoy the counseling sessions that proceed the chaotic event, although I've noticed that the same conversation seems to begin most of our sessions.
“And we wanted a pastor to do the service because we were both raised in the church and, I mean, we are still very spiritual.We definitely believe in God and a higher power and want that represented in the ceremony, but I wouldn’t say we’re actively religious.I guess we haven’t talked much about our spirituality – it’s more of a personal thing – but we are both definitely spiritual.”
Great, I reply.Tell me about your spirituality.
This is the depressing part.It would be one thing if couples consistently convinced me that their personal spirituality is satisfying and shaping their everyday lives in radical ways...but they don’t.They seem apologetic, sheepish or defensive when it co…

I do not recommend morning sickness on a moped…

…or ten minutes before worship on a Sunday you’re preaching.Or at your husband’s favorite fish restaurant in Skagway, Alaska.But sometimes that stuff happens.And all you can do is take deep breaths, be quick on your feet to the bathroom and laugh about it.
It turns out I’m pregnant.We found out a few days before my brother was proposing to his beautiful girlfriend and just a few weeks before my mom got really, really sick.So we kept it quiet, enjoying our secret and waiting for the right time to tell our families about the little fetus I’m baking.
The first few weeks we knew, I thought I would explode.I wanted to spray the good news all over random strangers and thought I felt it dribbling down my chin in front of friends and family.But instead of buying billboard space or making t-shirts that said FEB 9! in enormous font, we would come home at the end of each day and talk about it with each other.We would research its growth and what I shouldn’t eat online.We would exchange naïve smil…

This is how I cope.

My mom's brain was bleeding last week. It was scary and painful and has meant too many days in two different ICUs before doctors decided it was a clot and blood thinners might slowly break it up.

My mom is the hub in our family's communication wheel, so without her gift of gab and trusty cell phone, we have scrambled to provide information to our loved ones. On the evening I was most frightened and stressed, I created a Caring Bridge page. I hoped it would mean less time spent on the phone discussing all the maybes and I don't knows that drive me batty. It was a functional way to channel information to caring people while showing gratitude. It was a sneaky way I was able to steer clear of so many conversations that tugged at my heart strings and dared me to break down sobbing. (I'm Nordic. Sometimes we like to keep it inside until we know what's going on outside.)

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick w…

Cause for Celebration 6.0

Uff da.

Pastor Mark took this Sunday off, so he missed out on the heart-racing hilarity before worship today. Ten minutes before worship began, the sound system wasn't working and communion was not prepared. I had enlisted our sole eighth grader to be my assisting minister, but she hadn't been able to practice with a microphone. People asked me if so-and-so was doing okay. I had no idea and threw her on the list of prayers anyway.

These ministry moments are both entirely draining and energizing because there are two choices. I can wear the anxiety like an alb and freak everyone else out or I can invite them into the chaotic backstage of worshiping God, lightening the load and finding the humor together.

Larry and Bob became detectives and tracked down the missing key to the sound system. Within minutes, it was up and running.

Kari arrived with the bread and found Gladys, who was already in her pew and had forgotten about preparing communion. Together with another recruit, t…

Cause for Celebration 5.0

The fifth week of Easter was less about worship at St. John’s and more about my grandmother’s last days.At 92.5, my grandmother finally said something entirely vulnerable to me.Watching her set her stubborn independence aside, she peered up at me through her fingers that guarded the window’s light from her tired eyes and said, “I just want to stay here.I don’t think there’s anything the hospital can do for me.”
I was really proud of her.This old nurse and her young granddaughter with chaplain tendencies sat engulfed by this life’s only guarantee.Death was coming.And something even better than fighting pain, fragility and boredom lay on the other side.That day and the next were some of the best moments I ever had with her.Too tired to worry or provide pessimistic commentary, she was funny and relaxed in her wakeful moments.It was surprisingly good to watch her let go and I dreamed about her twenty two years of widowhood ending, her sight and strength returning, her back straightening an…

Old Baggage

I remember the day I found this bag. I carried it around the store for more the an hour, waiting for a long conversation with an old friend to end before I approached the register. I had my cell phone in one hand, the bag in the other as I shared the big news - I was moving to Arizona for pastoral internship.

I browsed clothing racks while confessing that I wasn't too sure about this whole "pastor" thing. I'd come to seminary hoping to study theology while avoiding pulpits and clerical collars. Suddenly, two years were almost over and I'd been matched with an internship site I was actually excited about.

I bought this red bag on one of the last days of class. It came with me to every day of CPE at Fairview Ridges in Burnsville that summer. It held my occasional services book, pastoral care resources and my smallest leather bound Bible while I moved from room to room, patient to patient. The bag came with me while I learned how powerful it is to represent God…

Cause for Celebration 4.0

Newcomers brought their coffee into the lounge to learn more about St. John's today. One couple brought their small children and I chuckled watching them eat donuts. Like so many of our youngest Sunday schoolers, they chewed the frosting off the top of the doughnut and then handed the leftovers to a parent. Mouths colored with sprinkles make me happy.

Each visitor shared their St. John's story - how they came upon the church and what keeps them coming back to find out more. It was good to learn what they need and notice. Hooray for new members of the Body! When the building was finally empty, I locked the door and headed into the overcast day wearing a frosted sprinkle, hope-filled smile.

Cause for Celebration 3.0

We have a lot of Alleluias to sing and a lot of candles to light during the Easter season. I make a lot of dumb jokes to the acolytes because they a) make funny faces that suggest they're mostly unimpressed b) have nowhere to hide from my comedy routine during the prelude c) need to know that what they do is a big deal.

More than two dozen candles await them and, this morning, James took his time making sure they all found flames. He came back into the narthex pleased with himself, but I later noticed that one never took. A wall of fire was missing one, small light.

And I kind of like it that way. In a church of imperfect people singing glory to God, that dormant candle reminded that God still chooses this quirky, lovely worship over no worship at all...and that each Alleluia that reached a high D was perfect in God's ears, even if my high D is far from pleasant.

Cause for Celebration 2.0

Today I stood outside the Sunday school area as class was coming to an end. Engaged in conversation with a parent, his son approached with a coloring sheet. Hoping up and down, desperate to interrupt, he finally got our attention.

"Dad, he was in there, but now he's not there anymore. It was empty. When they looked in there, Dad, it was empty!"

The coloring sheet was waved in front of us like an Easter parament or a resurrection flag. We nodded and rejoiced and affirmed his proclamation, but it wasn't enough for him.

Again he interrupted to tell the story that was captivating his little mind and heart. He mom soon appeared and his witness had a new audience. With the same urgency, he told her the truth he couldn't hold in. Mom said the coloring sheet isn't going in the recycling bin anytime soon.

It's a banner of faith and, on this less spirited, less attended Easter Two, I'm glad he waved it wildly for all to see.

Is there a pastor here I could talk to?

When I hear these words from outside my office door, I put down my sermon or book and turn to see The Stranger.

The cynic in me prepares for an embellished story about a relative's funeral in South Dakota and how they need gas money to get there and how they've tried all the social services in town and no one can help. (Some even add a frosted layer on top of their story like, "The other pastor has helped me when I've come here before" or, "I just thought the church would be the place to turn since you guys are in the business of helping widows and orphans".)

Today, it was a big, bleary-eyed fella who had hard work spelled into his hands and face. He wanted to see a pastor because he is piecing is life back together after a break up and a few weeks of sobriety. He doesn't believe in much of anything and couldn't quite explain why he'd dared to come inside this limestone fortress.

He wasn't after the tangibles: a bus ticket or gas card or…

Cause for Celebration 1.0

I've decided to note seven reasons I love celebrating resurrection at St. John's, one for each week of the Easter season. Here we go...

The sanctuary was filled with 260 people this morning. I do my best delegating on busy mornings like this, inviting people to participate and lead well in advance so I can roam around chatting and preparing for worship. Today's egg hunt had several saints behind it. Anne stuffed the eggs last week before heading out of town. Val supervised the herd of youth hiding them for the little ones. And Maria, a very responsible ninth grader, was given my camera to take pictures while the smallest kidlits went on the prowl for pastel plastic and sugar.

Sitting in front of my computer a few hours later, I uploaded the photos to have a look at the action I'd missed while dressing for worship. There, in the corner of Maria's pictures were some of the most grace-filled moments I've seen at St. John's. A prayer partner connected wit…


Two friends asked me yesterday what I love about being a pastor. They wanted to know what I do all day and why I am nourished by work in a small congregation. These questions are my conversational gateway drugs. I start talking faster and faster, smiling wider and wider as I tell about the beauty of being a generalist in ministry. I ooze gratitude for the lessons I'm learning and the people who whisper their sacred sorrows and joys in my ear.

Yesterday, for instance, was an ordinary day. I put the key in the door to my office expecting to do a few particular things, assuming I would not get to others and waiting for the "interruptions" that always call me into true ministry.

I read and prayed and scribbled sermon ideas for Palm Sunday. I wandered through the sanctuary, preparing the space for worship. I read the children's book "Benjamin's Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs" to get a sense of the Sunday school project this week. I answered em…

Dust to Dust

The season of Lent begins with a dimly lit sanctuary and Psalm 51. The remements of last year's palms are mixed with oil and lodge under my fingernails as I paint them on the foreheads of my fellow sinners. The mark of our faith is often traced with water, oil or just a finger itself. Tonight we make our humanity visible in the ashes, signs of this life as creatures of God.

Tonight was especially worshipful as I watched the people of St. John's welcome my favorite season with all of their strength and gifts.

When Brian and Kevin realized that we didn't have any ushers, that offering baskets had been placed near the perimeter, they convened in back to debate how they could help during the communion liturgy. Their leadership is part of how they worship and I smiled with gratitude during their summit.

Deborah and Sarah acted faithfully when they noticed how slowly we were moving through communion without the help of an acolyte. They came alongside us with quiet grace becaus…

glitten up the gray

Christmas brought snow. The new year brought ice. Epiphany brought a deep chill that has settled over much of the country, pressing down on us during the short days and dark nights. These are the things of winter gray and they can make us do silly things.

I love the tundra because it is never too much for the seasoned veteran. Once you agree to plan ahead and put fashion aside, you are warm enough - even on days like today. One of my favorite pieces of winter equipment? A pair of glittens - that's glove|mittens. Every pair I own are colorful with a hoodie for my fingertips when the wind starts to whip or I'm scraping my windshield. They are stuffed into pockets, purses and glove boxes, worn so often that my parishoners have started to notice my manus flair.

Today I was visiting a beautiful woman I see often. She loves to tell stories and I listen, wondering if I only care about each random collection of tales because I care so deeply about her. Some were new and some were…