Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Love Letter


Dear Pre-Pregnancy Pants,

I can't stop thinking about you. I used to think you were drab and boring and plain, but I was so wrong! You have been so patient waiting in my closet all these months. I never appreciated you when we were together and now I regret the many ways I took you for granted. Winter is here and I miss you more than ever!

But I have a plan. And for the most part, I'm sticking to that plan. I have already reunited with two of you and I'm coming for the rest of the pile. It's just an uphill battle this time of year...no, I don't mean to make excuses. Those peanut butter and chocolate Santas didn't sneak into my grocery bag - I bought them with my own free will. You're right. It's time and I'm trying. We'll be together again soon. In the meantime, stay where I can see you each morning. Remind me how close I am.

Hang in there, old flames. You are more than a New Years Resolution. You're my Valentine, too.

Love, Meta

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's been awhile.

Happy Thanksgiving! It's been awhile since my last post and that's becoming the pattern here at tangled up in grace. Work has meant a lot of writing lately and I think stewardship season and preaching are using all of my thoughtful word juice. Since November has come and gone, it's time to catch up. This time, I'll use pictures.

Jasper has outgrown most things about the baby stage. He knows how to manipulate us for attention now. He's scooting and crawling and pulling himself up on stuff. He can hold his own bottle and loves crunchy carbs like his momma. When he's not ready to fall asleep at night, he sits up in his crib and sings to himself, swinging his legs between the bars and twirling his nook in his fingers.

I took a vacation day recently and packed up all the baby stuff. The blessed Bumbo chair is gone. So is the Boppy pillow and most of our other modern baby supplies with silly names. As you can see, I was freakishly organized about his baby clothes. I washed and stored everything by size. The moment he outgrew something in his dresser, it all got packed away and new bins came out. This way, I knew he wore everything at least once and when people asked whether he'd grown into an outfit they gave me 11 months ago, I could answer with confidence instead of staring blankly and wondering, "Wait...which outfit? It's all a blur!"

Jasper wore his first pair of jeans Thanksgiving weekend. They're "skinny jeans" from Target. Yes, Target sells skinny jeans for babies, but I bought them knowing that they'd look like normal jeans on my little beanpole. And, sure enough, they do.

I sent him to daycare yesterday because, after four straight vacation days with the little booger, this momma needed a break from her momma's boy. I got all kinds of cleaning done around the house and ran long, lazy errands holding a coffee cup instead of a diaper bag. I made applesauce, froze more baby food and made these delicious popovers from the December issue of Real Simple. It was divine and picking him up was a happy reunion.

Matt's soccer season is over, so we all get home about the same time most nights. Our tree is lit and decorated with dainty decorations it can handle. We bought this little Norfolk Pine shortly after we got married and it's been our Christmas tree for four years now. I suggested getting a smaller, Charlie Brown tree this year, but Matt can't bear to part with its growth and history and splendor in the corner of our main room. So here it sits, ready to celebrate another year of joy and hope with our little clan.

I am still trying to figure out what to do for our Christmas card picture this year and instead of buying a stocking for Jasper in the next month, I'm giving myself until Christmas 2012 to knit all three of us stockings. I haven't knit anything for 11 years, but it's time to give it a go again.

So that's November in my world. Some things are lovely, like a cute apron and the smell of fresh popovers on an afternoon home alone. Other things are piling up, like baby clothes in Rubbermaids, holiday catalogs and the list of new things I hope to try in 2012. And this time of year, the piles are just as much fun.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the great shuffle


I looked back at recent posts and realized a lot of my writing lately has been about rhythm. Each morning since Jasper arrived, our chaos is held together by a singular goal - we've got to get out of here on time. Each evening we burst back through the door, my arms filled with baby, groceries, purse and mail. Usually I'm holding something in my teeth or Jasper holds the keys. Today I realized that I've always lived in this rhythm at work, which is why it seems so familiar at home.

Being the pastor in a small urban congregation means I ride two currents each day. I urge my people out the door - go serve, go share, go invite! This place is for a quick rest before heading back into the world. Grab some gospel and get out there!

All the while, I'm inviting strangers inside - come see, come taste, come receive! I know our doors are heavy and our liturgy is high, but there is something here for you. And you have something to share here, too.

Today I attended the Ending Homelessness Together Annual Luncheon downtown. One of our members is a community builder and invited me to sit at her table. We heard stories about Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, projects we've supported and projects just getting started. Half the folks around our table were from St. John's, celebrating their call to go outside our walls and make a difference. It was an hour of my brain and heart celebrating with YES YES YES!

Late this afternoon the phone rang. It was a woman wondering about our worship services and Sunday school. She's looking for a church and lives in the neighborhood. Then, she admitted, she was standing right outside at the bus stop reading our sign. Come inside! It hadn't dawned on her, but her son did need to use the restroom and she was right here. We wandered around the building talking about church and her life and my life and every once in awhile her son would chime in with a comment about this funny building. Soon they left feeling welcome and eager to come back inside on a Sunday morning. It was fifteen minutes of my brain and heart celebrating the other current with YES YES YES!

That's what I do all day, most days. I do my best to inspire movement. I cheerlead. I point to God's commission. I connect people and try to relate with them. I remind myself and others that God is already working in rooms before we enter. I pray for the great shuffle out and in, out and in. And every once in awhile, when it clicks for a moment and I get to watch, I celebrate with YES YES YES!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

thank you, autumn

my favorite things about fall

crunching leaves

the secular world speaks stewardship...
...sometimes even better than the church

the way jasper tugs at the ears on his monkey hat,
causing it to slide further down his face

walking by the river

every sunny day is a gift

scarves, tights, boots, sweaters

apples, sweet potatoes, squash

the earth smells sleepy

my birthday - and this year i felt really special

so much going on at church

coming home to the smell of a hard working crock pot

watching jasper discover wind and crisp air

holding matt's hand and leaning into him for warmth

Sunday, October 16, 2011

they were amazed

Sunday, October 16 ~ Matthew 22:15-22

Ugh. For several chapters now, Jesus has been slamming religious piety and pretentiousness while teaching in the temple and people are getting pissed off. The Pharisees send some of their religious students together with the far more political Herodians into the crowd armed with cheap flattery and an impossible question. You see, there’s no way Jesus could answer their riddle without committing major heresy against the temple or the empire – and they don’t care which way Jesus falls off the fence. They just want to be there when he does.

But Jesus is no fool. He can smell their charade from a mile away. It would be like answering a knock at your door to find John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi standing there hand in hand, smiling and saying, “Well, that’s a great color on you. And you smell so nice! Say, we just have a quick question for you since we care so deeply about the way we represent you personally…”

Gross. Jesus knows they’re hoping he’ll make a huge public gaff and suggest a tax rebellion against Caesar, but he’s not about to fall for it. So just as quickly as their question tries to divide our life into categories of allegiance and importance, Jesus blows their question out of the water with a radical word of unity. And they never see it coming.

The crowd gathered at this scene is not unlike crowds gathering today, anxious and polarized by leaders and issues. The Jews were feeling misrepresented and nervous about their relationship with the Roman Empire because a mortal leader playing god right in front of Yahweh, the one true God. It was a delicate balance everyday – nodding and smiling at the Roman Empire just enough to keep their basic rights to Jewish worship and culture. And everyday they wondered whether they were compromising or selling out.

I wonder if God had these kinds of moments in mind when the Israelites begged for a king of their own back in the book of Judges. God so desperately wanted the people to live set apart, operating differently and experiencing authority in a more radical way than their neighboring nations. But Israel pleaded and nagged God, convinced that having a king would mean more freedom and that it wouldn’t affect their loyalty to God.

The Pharisee and Herodians sound self-righteous, convinced that the answer should be black or white, but even they are living in the grey. One presents a coin with Caesar’s face on it - something no one should possess inside the temple walls and a Pharisee shouldn't have at all. When they show Jesus the denarius, they prove that being faithful isn’t easy – and it isn’t black and white.

And so at first, Jesus’ answer seems simple. Give the emperor what he is due and God what God is due. And if we take his answer at face value, it doesn’t seem very radical at all.

But the gospel says the crowd heard and they went away amazed. And for that reason, we have to take another look. Therefore, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Without any further explanation of what belongs to either party, Jesus leaves us to consider all the grey stuff about authority and allegiance ourselves. He doesn’t give us the answers or draw a line in the sand. He doesn’t fall off the fence onto one side or another. In fact, he doesn’t divide at all.

Maybe the crowd is amazed because, while the seal of Caesar on coins and doors and decrees and armor, they realize that God’s face is plastered all over creation – on everyone and everything – a testament to God's uniting power in this world.

Maybe the crowd is amazed because Jesus didn’t shun the empire or deem it evil. Sure, this empire will put him to death, but it will also fund new roads, thwart piracy and (accidentally) make it easier for the gospel to travel all over the world for generations to come.

Maybe the crowd is amazed because Jesus had the guts to name the grey places no one else was naming, the tricky space in between that wrestles for our time, our priorities, our checkbooks and our values. In the face of black and white, Jesus’ simple answer points to daily living that isn’t simple – the choices we make about what belongs to God and what that means for our lives.

And maybe that’s I should stop typing because Jesus didn’t lay it all out for the crowd – instead, he entrusted them to worship and life in the Body of Christ where, together, they would find out what belonging to God looks like day after day, week after week. Together, they would form one body with countless expressions of discipleship in the grey, each person experiencing giving to God in a different way and adding to the Great Story that never ends.

You have the face of God all over you – you’re marked with Christ, sealed by the Spirit and the gospel is causing unity in the face of all that divides you. And that's good news! May God bless you in the grey places of this week, guiding your recognition of all that belongs to God.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hard but Good

Jasper and I took a quick trip to Chicago this weekend because my cousin Ross was getting married! While the rest of the family drove with our luggage, Jasper and I flew with just a diaper bag. Our trip there was so slick and he impressed all kinds of people with his travel savvy on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, he was also developing a low grade fever and got passed around a lot. My Aunt Kris was going to babysit during the wedding, but we changed our plans when she had a last minute family emergency. My whole family was so flexible and accommodating - I was still able to enjoy most of the festivities and Jasper got plenty of sleep all day.

But Sunday was a different story. The poor guy was burning up and uncomfortable all night. I stumbled into the airport on 3 hours of sleep with a fussy boy in the front carrier. I loaded a plane and found my seat surrounded by people avoiding eye contact and leaning away from me and my crabby baby. I got the hairy eyeball from a woman reading a book about the beauty of Catholicism. She, ironically, rolled her eyes at me while reading a page that said, "God comes to us in the most unexpected times and places". I prayed for her mercy to no avail.

This was Jasper's sixth airplane ride and until this moment he'd been a total trooper. I think I'd become a little self-righteous about this fact and melted sheepishly as his wails filled the plane. I was alone and miserable on a precious Sunday "off". I wanted to cry, too.

When we got home, Matt joined us for a family trip to the Urgent Care. He was ready to see a doctor for the same crap. So we loaded the car with a tired mom and her two sick guys. As each hour passed and we moved from waiting room to waiting room, Matt and I exchanged shrugs, bad jokes and empathetic eyes. We had been looking forward to the afternoon for weeks - the rare blank space on our calendars this fall freed for football and relaxing. Oh well. It was good to have the band back together, even if we were spending that time with every sick kid in St. Paul.

While Jasper was sent home with an expensive and prescription-free "let's wait and see", Matt got some drugs and we were home by five thirty. I got Pete and Repeat set up with a bottle and clean diaper before getting back in the car and heading to my goddaughter's house. Time with Liv has fallen through the cracks a lot lately, so I wasn't about to call and back out. I needed time with a family I admire - a family who knows Urgent Care well and always lives to tell the tale.

I fell in love with the Enstads long before I got married and started my own family. I've watched the way Carrie and Chris compromise and find humor in the hard stuff, show the girls love even when they're exhausted and I adore their fierce commitment to juggling it all with honesty and grace.

I arrived to find delicious chili and homemade cake. The girls had painted fall leaves and made cards for me, Matt and Jasper. We decorated the house for Carrie's birthday. Berit brushed my hair and they both danced and had meltdowns during the evening. It was perfect.

It always helps to watch Carrie with her kids. I have such love for her perspective and faith as a working mom. I channel her often when this parenthood thing gets tricky, calling on the strength and grace she's shown me. Toward the end of the night, Liv invited me to watch her play her violin, something I've been eager to hear for months.

But there was a catch. I could not act excited about it. She would not face me while she played and I could not clap when she finished. I remembered my own shyness about success and praise at that age and understood. We headed to the basement where Carrie could accompany her on the piano and I learned a great lesson.


Carrie, too, pretended it was no big deal. She gave Liv all of her attention without pushing any of the buttons that would shut Liv down or make her blush. As Carrie played the piano and guided her gently, something in my own heart clicked. I needed this scene of accompaniment to help me rise out of the day's ashes.

When Liv finished playing, I clapped twice. I'd forgotten the rules and my excitement slipped out for a moment. She's really, really good. And I was really, really proud. But then she shot me a look and I packed it away. No big deal. I'm not excited, but thanks for showing me. And we moved on.

Driving home I thought about Carrie's posture next to Liv. She was coming alongside her, not taking control of too much and letting Liv define her role. That's what the Spirit does with m e and that's what I needed to do with Jasper. I didn't need to fix the fact that he felt like crap. I wasn't a bad parent because his head was hot and he felt crummy. I'm not a doctor or a magician - I'm a mom. And that means I come alongside him, snuggling and kissing and helping him drift off to sleep until things get better. Watching Carrie do that, remembering that God was beside me and believing I could do it for Jasper redeemed my day off, my precious Sabbath day I thought had gone to waste.

When I came home, I crept quietly into Jasper's room and marked his forehead with the sign of the cross. Jasper, I love you very much and so does Jesus. His brow was warm and his light snoring filled the room with peace. I sat down in the rocking chair and closed my heavy eyes for a moment, basking in his breath and the darkness. It was a good place for a tired prayer, simple words and lots of gratitude. Gracious God, today was hard but good. You were there and looking back I can see all the kindness and hope, not just the heavy stuff. Thank you for the dancing and the meltdowns. See you tomorrow. Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nice Hair

Dear Jasper,

You are suddenly very busy. You eat oatmeal and fruit in the morning, arms extended like airplane wings and your eyes so focused on the spoon. Your thighs are growing because of these simple solids and they're a perfect spot for raspberry kisses.

You have great hand-eye coordination. It took you awhile to get interested in using your hands for exploring anything other than your mouth, but now you know how to use your thumbs and you can even turn pages in the books we read. You sit up so well and are finally getting antsy to move around. Any day now...

We all get the giggles a lot. You have a sense of humor and think all kinds of things are funny. Rubbing noses, popping out from behind a door, tickling, flipping you upside down and pretend snoring all make you burst into laughter and I love it.

Yesterday we went to Target and I decided to put you in the front of the cart. While I had to turn corners at 2 mph, you did really well balancing and your head whipped around looking at everything. You squealed with joy all the way through the produce section, especially when we picked up speed. I suggested you pace yourself and, sure enough, you were hitting the wall by the time we got to the diapers and wipes aisle.

While Dad was out of town last week, you attended two retreats with Mom. Mormor and Marma helped and we were all impressed with your flexibility. Three different beds in three nights! When we got home on Tuesday, Dad was so excited to see you. It had been too many days and I left you two to play until bedtime. You kept looking at him and shaking with excitement, reaching for his face. Pete and Repeat, you two. It was a happy night.

Believe it or not, you had your first salon haircut with Marma this week and it was prior to this picture of you at Target. Untamed! It has been confirmed by the pros - your hair is "unique" and "tricky". I love it. Every day it's different, as if the weather and your mood decide what stands up. It's sassy when you are serious and serious when you're sassy. I hope that cowlick never gives in.

Jasper, I write this letter in part because I feel guilty. You are so cool and doing so many new things but I haven't pulled your baby book off the shelf in awhile. So I've rambled here before I forget, pausing just long enough to tell the world how wonderful you are before you start growing and changing again. Sleep tight, buddy. See you (and your hair) in the morning!

Love, Mom

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tidbits.

It's been awhile. Lots of little things to share and instead of choosing one to write about, I'll try to share several in Twitter form:

We started a book club at St. John's. Our second book is a historical piece about Benjamin Franklin's time in France and how he invented American foreign policy as he went along - sounds a lot like ministry and I'm glad to be reading something I never would have tried on my own.

I spent Friday night and Saturday morning in Chaska with really, really generous donors to Luther Seminary. I got to tell them about seminary and first call. I got to hear about their love for the church and came home inspired.

I went to a conference for local pastors and our interim bishop scolded us. It was awesome. He pointed his finger at a room full of pastors and told us to stop preaching from our heels. He told us to preach from our toes, unafraid and trusting the Word. Amen.

I was changing Jasper's diaper the other day and he squished his poopy butt into my engagement ring. The diamonds were covered in poop. What a great metaphor for romance and parenthood.

Matt and I were apart for 5 nights, then back together for one before two more nights apart. Work and life are silly and busy, but last night was great. We laughed a lot and so did Jasper. It was good to be together.

Jasper is at my favorite age so far. (I know, that's so cliche.) But he shakes with excitement when he sees me in the morning. He laughs when I give him a raspberry on the chest, eats all kinds of solids, talks to himself and reaches his arms out when he wants you. He's funny and is the best reason to leave dirty dishes in the sink.

Our washing machine broke. And our furnace needs to be fixed. My phone battery suddenly lasts just three hours. The good news? Crap like this usually comes in threes, so I think we're good for awhile.

Two funerals this weekend. One passed unexpectedly and that's hard. One was 104 years old and that is amazing.

The weather today was perfect! Sumac leaves are starting to change and living near West River Road this time of year is beautiful. Life is good.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rhythm

Matt got home late last night after a long trip for work. When we heard Jasper at 6:30am, I got up and tried to find things we could do that don't make too much noise. This is his happiest, most active time of day and my goal was to wear him down within an hour so he'd take an early morning nap. I wanted to go back to bed, too.

At least that's usually my first thought on Monday mornings. I always rise thinking about my day off "Pre-Jasper". Mondays used to be lazy and quiet, but now they begin with a diaper change and making all kinds of noise in the kitchen before 7am.

Jasper was very vocal this morning, so we soon headed outside, both in our PJs, to find all kinds of neighbors out and about. His little cowlick blew in the breeze as we stood on the corner near our house watching traffic file into the high school parking lot. Cars, minivans, trucks and buses joined us slowly at first and then in a steady stream until the first bell rang. Kids walked down the sidewalk carrying new backpacks and clean notebooks and new resolutions for the first day of school.

We walked around outside, barefoot with bedhead, for almost two hours. I told Jasper all about school - the best stories I have from Kindergarten and making new friends and pop quizzes and writing notes to cute boys and locker combinations and spelling bees and the smell of the seats on a school bus.

Soon I forgot about wearing Jasper out and heading back to bed. We were busy watching cars, waving to strangers and giving each other the giggles. Seeing so many people fall back into the rhythm of school made me miss being a student myself. There is something so familiar about new pencils and shoes in the fall and my life could use a hint of routine these days.

When the traffic slowed down Jasper and I returned to our front steps and sat side by side singing songs. I looked down at this little peanut - this kid old enough for oatmeal and haircuts and sitting up with just my hand behind him - and thought about how amazing our chaos has been.

Matt and I both work some evenings and portions of every weekend. Each day begins and ends at a different time and each night we celebrate the small miracle of holding it together one more time. While our rhythm is currently lacking, well...rhythm, we are blessed with plenty of humor, love, good health and Monday mornings I never knew until now.

Later this afternoon I took Jasper to an open house for our first ECFE class together. We explored the room, met our teacher and mingled with other moms and kiddos. By the time we got home, teenagers were pulling away in cars with the stereos turned up. The school year is officially underway.

Maybe this rhythm can be ours, too. Maybe it already is.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Exhale

Today has been a highly anticipated mental health day. I took Jasper to daycare bright and early. The rest of the day has been filled with get to's instead of have to's.

My only goal today was to read all three Marie Claire magazines that loomed unread on our dining room table this season. They were a sign of leisure lost and today was all about remembering how to relax.

You know you're having a good day when your stereo is pumping really loudly for the first time in ages and you get sweaty dancing around your living room. You know it's a beautiful day when you cancel the massage you had planned because it feels like too much structure and you'd rather be outside.

Today was one big exhale. I needed it and I'm glad I'm surrounded by wonderful people who reminded me to make room for it. Sigh. :)


Monday, August 1, 2011

Yum.

I rarely cook and when I do, I tend to kill a recipe early by failing to follow instructions carefully. I had never used a food processor until yesterday. But since this baby food adventure began, I've already made fruit smoothies and guacamole. I'm totally hooked.


Now I know I'm supposed to want to make baby food because it's all about the baby. It feels so good to know exactly what's going into your child. True. It's so much cheaper than buying baby food. Sure. It's less wasteful than getting buried in dozens of little glass jars you might never use again. Okay. But none of those reasons got me off my tail and into the kitchen.

Instead, it was this lady!

My lovely sister-in-law squealed with delight as she pureed beets and their explosive purple color made her giggle. Cara adores good cooking, kitchen gear, old cookbooks and The Splendid Table. I could listen to her talk about food all day, describing textures and ingredients with such joy. We spent the afternoon collecting yummy, fresh foods from the Kingfield Farmers' Market and the Seward Co-op before peeling, boiling and pureeing like crazy. It was beautiful work. Jasper thought so, too. He was fascinated by this raw carrot I let him hold. He stared at it with such fierce concentration until the Cuisinart would start whirling and then he'd look up, his eyes wide. That's the sound of your lunch in a few months, kid.




And thank goodness Cara got me into the kitchen because now I know what will keep me there: the sheer hubris of it all. While I can't make anything too impressive for grown ups, people tend to react with such awe when you say you make baby food. If they would just think about it for a minute, I'm sure they'd realize it's not that amazing and it's certainly not hard. But there's no way I'll admit it to their faces. Instead, I'll just smile like a snotty mompetitor, aglow with happy success.


Beets, Carrots, Green Beans, Pears, Spinach

Amazing applesauce not pictured because we ate it all before it made it to the freezer. So, so good.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven is Weird and Wild.

Sunday was our third week in the parables of Matthew 13. The kingdom of heaven is like a seed. It's like leaven. It's like a merchant or treasure. It's like a really big net. They are familiar stories, but sometimes when stories are familiar they lose their bite. Sometimes we peel right through them and forget to notice the weird stuff about Jesus and heaven and God's reign. And that's the whole point. I had two things to say about these parables on Sunday:

1. While we usually associate Jesus' parables with abundance, Jesus chooses imagery here that seems unsustainable and fleeting. Weird.

· A mustard bush grows wiry and strong like a weed, but at the end of the season it withers like every other annual, often turning to tumbleweed and dancing away.

· Hiding leaven in three measures of flour sounds sneaky and uses enough to feed 100 people. With that small bit of leaven, she ruins her whole supply instead of making only what she needed…and unless she’s planning a big dinner party we don’t know about, the rest will go to waste.

· The merchant doesn’t think twice about his kids’ college education, his mortgage, his retirement or how to care for his ailing parents when he sells everything for that silly pearl. What will he tell his financial planner…or his wife?

· And this net scoops up everything, taking the good the bad and the ugly before untangling and sorting its contents. But even good fish go bad. Whether they are sold for market price or rot in the sunshine, their goodness in and of itself is not eternal.

So much of what we believe about the kingdom of God declares longevity far, far away. But Jesus uses images that are signs of life and work in this world to show how God’s kingdom can come among us in a flash – that it takes shape in our priorities, our relationships, our jobs and our dreams. It can be recognizable one moment and then, because our context is always changing, it begins to stink and rot when we try to hoard it or forget to use it generously.

2. So while Jesus is calling us to keep our eyes peeled for the kingdom at work right here, this text is not content with a bunch of disciples merely reacting and waiting around feeling faithful. Jesus chose ordinary people and items for these parables because he wants us to know that our lives are filled with glimpses of the kingdom – our hands and feet and hearts are equipped by the Spirit just like this net, seed and merchant. Wild.

Through baptism we have all been claimed by heaven’s bizarre jubilation – a kingdom that breaks into our lives with little respect for our social constructs and it rarely manifests in responsible, frugal ways. God’s love is careless and wasteful and smelly and must be passed around for all to taste quickly before we have time to keep score or get scared or feel lazy. Because while these stories are two thousand years old, the kingdom can take these ancient truths and make them brand new everyday, shoving them in front of our faces so we, too, are inspired to proclaim their passion, urgency and foolish extravagance.

The kingdom of heaven is like an old man who waters and cuts and manages his lawn with meticulous care. And when it is perfectly lush and the envy of the block, he buys a Slip ‘n’ Slide, turns on the sprinkler and invites all the neighborhood kids over for messy, muddy water games.

The kingdom of heaven is like a small congregation that depends heavily on its foundation to stay afloat. And one day a man comes in asking for help with his rent money and instead the congregation uses their foundation funds to buy him a house.

The kingdom of heaven is like a bunch of Lutherans who make simple cardboard signs, each claiming one thing they believe and holding it for all to see on a street corner. Not because it's comfortable or because it's a synod sponsored event or because it will yield measurable results, but because discipleship sends them out to tell the truth to anyone passing by.

The kingdom of heaven is like a crowd of people who trust God so completely, they eat wafers that taste like Styrofoam and cheap wine from bottles with screw top caps week after week, believing with their whole hearts that Jesus is right there – forgiving and redeeming and untangling their good from their bad.

The kingdom of heaven is like a young man whose neighbor moved to a memory care nursing home, so he goes to visit her every weekend, holds her hand and lets her believe that he is the son she never had.

When Jesus finishes this proclamation of parables, he turns to the disciples and asks if they understand everything he’s just taught them.

And they lie. They boldface lie to Jesus with a word, “Yes”.

Jesus knows that every generation of disciples will be tempted to moralize and simplify these stories, forgetting their true purpose: that they reveal God’s spontaneous and backwards kingdom among us, signs of God’s life right here. And Jesus knows they can’t begin to comprehend how weird and wild the kingdom is – that his claim on all of us complicates our lives and our desire to see things as black and white.

But Jesus also looks at them with love, knowing that they say yes because their desire to understand everything is so great. They are hungry for this abundance that comes among them so quickly, that wastes if it is not shared. They long for a kingdom that breaks all the rules and calls them to break some, too. They say yes because each glimpse of God’s untamed adoration for the whole world stirs them up with nervous excitement…even though they do not understand how or why. And we’re right there with them.

Thanks be to God for sending the kingdom among us – heaven that rushes out through the pearly gates and into our lives with merciful demands and a call to spread weird and wild generosity all over the earth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

on the road again

Things I learned (but already knew)
on this summer's road trip down the west coast:

1. Matt and I plan each summer road trip about nine months in advance. There's a lot of hype leading up to these two weeks away because our work schedules so rarely line up with time off. We both work some evenings. Matt works some Saturdays, I work Sundays. Clearing two weeks to be away together so far in advance makes us feel giddy about the plans we've made and the time we're securing for an adventure together. And that's always worth the hype.


2. We dream of buying a little land on a river or lake someday and having a simple cabin with bunk beds and an outhouse. After staying in yurts on the Oregon coast, we changed our tune. Now we want a yurt! It was a cozy way to spend a few nights. Jasper wore a warm hat and fell asleep early while we enjoyed dinner and an audio book at the picnic table outside. That simple "date" at the end of each day recharged our batteries - priceless!


3. Living out of the car with an infant is hard. He's old enough to get bored sitting in the backseat on longer driving days. His sleeping and pooping got thrown out of whack. He was fussy sometimes and we were tired. But I am in awe of our teamwork on this trip. We did well taking turns without score keeping and waiting for the other to rebound before having a meltdown ourselves. A lot of things went wrong, but we usually got the giggles when things completely unraveled. I found myself watching Matt with Jasper several times each day, so glad that this is my family and that I get to be with a guy this good.


4. Jasper is awesome. This kid is flexible and funny and up for adventure. He loves watching traffic and met some firemen who turned on their lights and sirens just for him. He loves nature. He can be throwing a fit and as soon as we walk outside, he's completely taken by the trees, birds and sunshine. I smiled watching his eyes bug out at the ocean. He was consumed by the breeze on his face and the sound of waves crashing on shore. While so much about this trip was exhausting, he made it worth the trouble. I can't wait for next summer's adventure...and Jasper seems pretty jazzed too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Living Lutheran Creed


More than 350 church leaders are planning to participate and invite others to join in. Spread the word and let me know what you think! Is this something you, your family or your congregation would do? Why or why not?

Lutherans often describe their congregations with words like 'friendly', 'welcoming' or 'hospitable'. Super and probably true, but I consider this to be part of our Lutheran problem. These are lovely but reactionary descriptions of God's people. They all require others to make the first move.

It's hard to initiate - to meet people outside, to tell our story, to be proud proclaimers when our (spiritual) heritage prefers stoicism and quiet humility. But maybe it would be easier and FUN to practice making that first move together.

What if a bunch of Lutherans - I mean a bunch - all make signs stating something we believe in and all stand on corners in our neighborhoods on the same day at the same time? What if church and community leaders got people together with markers and pieces of used cardboard to talk about what we stand for and what our faith means? And what if we all got outside our walls at the same time forming a really, really big creed?

And what if people bump into it? People will drive by, see us and have all kinds of reactions. They might notice that we were holding messages of abundance in spots that usually scream scarcity or that instead of asking for money, we're just saying something that's true. They might be annoyed. Or they might be curious. We might be awkward. Or we might be awakened.

So I'm throwing it out there. Tell your synod office. Put it in your church newsletter. Make it your own - the idea is vague and that's the whole point. This experiment has just two goals:

1) To stretch us. Standing outside inviting other people to notice us because of our faith might feel scary or strange. We might draw a blank when figuring out what to write on our signs...and that might spark important conversations. But if a bunch of us try it together and then share our stories, it could be really really interesting. I'll make sure a blog or Facebook page is born so people can share photos and experiences - perhaps encouraging a second outing.

2) To many non-Lutherans, we are simply potluck people who listen to Garrison Keillor. Showing people driving/walking/biking by that we are more than a culture - we are people of faith - couldn't hurt.

So I propose a date for those who wish to join in. Saturday, September 10th (10am-noon CST). The next morning is Sunday and everyone will be figuring out what to do with the fact that 9/11 happened ten years ago. I can't think of a better way to be 'friendly' and 'welcoming' and 'hospitable' than by meeting people where they are the day before and reminding them that Church is a people and place where we hash this stuff out. Of course, any day will do.

Any takers? I sure hope so.
But if it's just me and my kid standing near a freeway ramp, that's still something.

Good Goo!


Geez. It's been a month since I've posted and I've got some Lutheran guilt about it. Until I remember that blogging isn't a "should". I write when there's time and while there's still the same amount of time, it's filled differently.

I love this picture of Jasper's first dip in the kiddie pool. That serious, sultry look comes out quite often and I like to think this is the perfect game face for summer. Minnesotans take summer very seriously. Everyone has their weekends booked by April and our sad, pale skin begins to fill with freckles and sun spots by July. We are aggressive about being outside. We talk to compete strangers with passion about the sunshine, proclaiming that each day in the 70s and 80s is just PERFECT and GORGEOUS. Our happiness is laced with anxiety because we know these days are fleeting and we have to drink it in.

So that's what I've been doing. Vacation Bible School and Lake Harriet Worship and long stroller rides and walking from my office to one of the many tempting lunch spots in Tangletown. It's all divine.

This weekend we went to my parents' lake place "up north" for a little R&R. As the weekend progressed, more and more family members appeared ready to eat well, mix drinks, soak in the sun and experience the new tube that gets pulled behind the souped-up pontoon. People, this tube has "ergonomic seating" for 680 lbs. worth of riders. Nearing thirty, I climbed aboard with the same goofballs I shared a much smaller tube with in the 1980s, ready for the drool to fly from my mouth as we were whipped around the lake. That first ride proved that summer is truly here.

We left the little trooper with family for 48 hours while Matt and I returned home to cram a season worth of work into two days. We painted the exterior of our house, killed weeds, cleaned the basement, swept the garage and got organized for our road trip coming up. My shoulders are usually covered in Jasper's saliva, but this weekend they were speckled with sweat and paint.

Sure, we missed him. But it was exciting to hear how well he was doing surrounded by family members who love him dearly and read his cues so well. And without the little bugger around, Matt and found new energy to check things off the list before ordering pizza and eating it out of the box with sticky, messy hands.

He's due back in about an hour and I can't wait to see him. His room has been quiet and I'm eager for an evening to reconnect. I'm ready to trade in my sweaty, paint-covered shoulders for his spit up and drool. Good goo, indeed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Bag Lady

This is the luggage I pack on a light day. If I'm working out, there's an additional bag of clothes. If I stop for groceries on the way home, there's even more to lug inside. Plus a kid. I am a bag lady.

I just finished listening to Tina Fey's Bossypants on audiobook and I can now relate to a story she tells about childhood with her dad: the legendary Don Fey. She remembers making a simple Saturday afternoon exponentially frustrating for him and couldn't understand why until she was a working parent herself. Having a productive Saturday afternoon can help me feel like a million bucks - like I have it all together and under control. That's the kind of facade I'm enjoying today.

You see, Matt doesn't work Saturdays for the next few months. Instead he played with Jasper when I went back to sleep at 6:30am. He mowed the lawn, went through his mail pile and admired his new rain barrel (ask him about it - he's smitten). I enjoyed a short walk with the Nugget and cleaned out our kitchen cupboards. He napped while I updated his baby book and wrapped wedding gifts. Today has me feeling victorious.

But most attempts to seem in control look more like Thursday night. I washed our hardwood floors for the first time since Jasper was born. It was a slow process - I would move furniture out of one room, mop and wait for it to dry before starting another. Jasper was sleeping in his room while I waited to the last section to dry. I admired my work while curled up on the couch paroosing Real Simple magazine, pretending my whole life was organized and delicious and freshly mopped. Until he wailed. And I never made it back to the couch that night.

The next morning the sun poured in through the open door and I noticed footprints all over my clean floor - my footprints. Back and forth, back and forth.

Sounds about right. Life does not always wait for my floors to dry. I smiled and gathered up my bags like a coat tree on the move. It was time to get going.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Splish, Splash!

Sunday was May Day and the second Sunday in the Easter season. What a beautiful day for baptism! Some family gathered for pictures before the service. The font was, ironically, empty so my brothers and their ladies propped him up inside its marble frame. Jasper complied with this priceless expression. I don't know what it's like to be a PK, but I imagine it to feel just like that.

Matt wore a suit and the blue hairs thought he cleaned up nice. Jasper wore the baptismal outfit my brother Gabe wore. I wore a linen dress and sat up front until the baptism was over, Then I slipped into the sacristy and into my pastor duds. I had the classic Sunday-after-Easter text to work with: Thomas wants to see and feel the resurrection for himself. And while we really burn through this story hearing it every single year, I'm so glad Jasper's baptism is tangled up with this story. And here's some of what I had to say about that:
Jesus doesn’t razz Thomas and his demands because Thomas is aching for exactly what the others have already received: a sudden encounter with Jesus. Thomas has been longing for Jesus to come and find him. He is desperate for Jesus to show him what this resurrection means and that’s exactly what Jesus does.

He breaks through the locked doors and into this hiding place to find a vulnerable Thomas who thinks he’s missed the good news. And then Jesus holds out his hands and asks Thomas to touch. With a sudden presence, a word of peace and the invitation to see and feel what’s real, Jesus pulls Thomas back into community and back into the Great Story. Thomas was met by the God who comes to us – the God who finds us when we’re lonely and taking cover because we’re scared.

We have seven weeks of Easter because we need time for news of the resurrection to sink in. We need to hear stories about the disciples and the early church trying to figure out what new life in Christ means for our everyday lives. We need this whole season because it draws us together in worship, constantly reminding us that we didn’t earn this gift, nor do we have to track it down ourselves. Christ comes to us – he finds us and shows us what’s true again and again.

That’s one reason I’m so glad we’ve witnessed a baptism today. The promises spoken over the waters pulled us out of our own stuff – the things we’re trying to control, the things we loose sleep over and the things that isolate us. The service of baptism is rich with stories about God keeping promises since they very beginning – tales of God coming all the way to wherever we are (on the ark, in the desert, but also in depression and addiction, loneliness and anger). Here God finds us and redeems us with breath and water causing new life.

Jasper is not the only one who received these promises today. We have all been renewed by hearing them again, remembering that they are for us, too. We have all been restored by welcoming another sheep to the fold - another child showered with free promises and eternal love. We have all been revived by speaking our faith together, our voices rising up together as one body. God is here, drawing us out of our own stuff and back together into the Great Story – gathering us around the font and the table to touch with our own hands and see with our own eyes that the resurrection is real.

Jasper Wade – you will have your Thomas moments. You will feel left out and want proof and hide in fear sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you are weak in faith or mistrusting God’s gift. It means you are human and you need a Savior who comes to find you wherever you are. It means you will need a village that shares the story and believes in the everyday restoration of baptism. It means you will need to be reminded with each Easter season that the resurrection is bizarre and wonderful and real and for you…even though you didn’t earn it.

There is a cake downstairs that says, “Jasper Wade, you are saved by grace…whether you like it or not!” That’s the truth for this little one and for Thomas and for everyone washed clean in baptism. It’s the story of a love so powerful, it cannot be locked out or hidden from. It’s the story of a God who finds us when we’re lost and brings us back together – back into community and worship so we might be strengthened by seeing and feeling for ourselves.

And together we remember what is true – that God has already done all the difficult things – all the things that demand perfection. And so like Mary, Thomas and all the disciples, we are suddenly free to go and tell that Christ has risen! He has risen indeed.

And then there was cake. And people held him and others wanted to hold him and some pointed out that they hadn't yet held him. And people felt for themselves that new life was real. They remembered that resurrection and birth happen all the time...but sometimes we have to touch it to believe that it's right here in our midst - that Jesus comes to us in water, bread, wine and through each other. And then we thanked God for this little one we have all promised to show and tell the story to. Again and again and again.

Friday, April 22, 2011

WHY?

I’ve noticed that some of our youngest friends at St. John’s are in the WHY stage. They are curious about everything and demand a reason for tying their shoes or taking only one donut or holding Dad’s hand before crossing the street. This stage can demand a hefty amount of patience from their parents, but most of these WHY questions do have a reasonable answer.

It’s just that when several WHY questions are strung together, we continue backing up and backing up until there are only a few universal answers. The two I hear most often are because I said so and because I love you.

Tonight we hear God telling people to do some pretty peculiar things and I can’t help but furrow my brow and wonder WHY?

In Exodus, the Israelites receive really specific orders about choosing a lamb and how to eat it. They have to get their neighbors and calendars and kitchens involved before following yet another set of instructions about a trip – packing lunches and a suitcase.

But WHY does the lamb have to be a year old and male? WHY do we have to burn the leftovers? WHY do we need to scarf it down? WHY does God pass over some houses, but not others? These instructions for Passover elicit all kinds of WHY questions.

And then in Corinthians, Paul gives us the first biblical account of the Last Supper. Jesus tells his followers to eat bread…but that it’s no ordinary bread. It’s also his body and they should do it to remember him. Then he passes a cup of wine around and tells them that it is also his blood, together a tradition that will remind them of Jesus’ presence in the days and weeks and years ahead. But Jesus, what exactly are we remembering about you and WHY do we need to eat this stuff to do it?

And as if these weren’t enough strange instructions for tonight – enough random routines and objects and words tied together into rituals that beg the question WHY – we have the servant Jesus in John’s gospel. The disciples have just started to wrap their heads around the majesty and holiness of Jesus when he trades his robe for an apron and sits on the floor in front of their feet. Their dirty, smelly, sticky feet. He takes a bowl of water in his hands. His soft, clean, for-eating-only hands. And then he makes their dirty feet clean by getting his clean hands dirty.

Peter is appalled. He would rather keep his dirt and vulnerability out of Jesus’ hands thank-you-very-much. He not only wants to know WHY Jesus would offer something so strange, he flat out refuses the gift. That profound touch is too much to bear and too close for comfort.

Feet still carry this offensive stigma. When I would pick my brother up from high school soccer practice, I made him put his shin guards and socks in the trunk because the stench was so terrible driving home. On the day Saddam Hussein was executed, the media showed pictures of Iraqi citizens slapping their shoes against posters of his image, a symbol of profound disgust and hatred. Even today, it’s clear that Jesus is crossing a line and making moves that have us asking WHY.

Maundy Thursday tells of Israelites hurrying to put their shoes on and disciples hesitant to take their shoes off. It's about a people hurrying to keep up with God and a people slowing down to relish their last meal with God. We hear about the very first Passover with an innocent baby lamb and the night God transformed Passover with the innocent Lamb of God. They are complex stories God has given to us along with a solitary command: remember me.

WHY all these rituals and traditions and details?

Because when God describes something just so, he draws us in to see the delicate and specific ways he is always present at the pivotal moments in our history.

WHY?

Because by remembering where we come from and walking through the stories with scripture, food and other believers, we end up learning about where we are going.

WHY?

Because God doesn’t throw out promises that could get picked up by a breeze and swept away before they reach us. God ties his promises to things we can see and hear and taste and smell and feel. He gives them weight, like when he ties the promises of baptism to water and the promises of communion to bread and wine. He creates experiences around these promises that ensure we’re not alone. And he calls us together because together it's easier to remember.

There are so many answers to these WHY questions – so many ways God is moving ahead of us like that pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness. But when we chase those WHYs all the way back to the very beginning, through all of God’s gracious and wise and love-soaked replies, we are left with the two answers every patient and kind parent knows by heart:

Do this in remembrance of me…because I said so and because I love you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Playdates and Posers

Sometimes moms can't help themselves.

Sometimes babies can't either.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting Our Feet Wet

At five weeks, Jasper and I boarded a plane for fun in the sun. Life is still hazy, but we decided to take our gong show on the road to Sanibel, Florida for a few days with family.

He did so well on the plane, but once boarded I realized it wouldn't have mattered if he screamed for all four hours. A flight to Ft. Myers during spring break season is jam packed with noisy and smelly children all screaming and wiggling the whole way. What's one more?

It felt good to sink my feet into the sand. I am an ocean child raised on the beaches of San Diego, so time at the beach feels more "coming home" than "getting away". We spent the first night standing with our faces into the sun waiting for the green flash with hundreds of other beach bums. I marveled at our numbers and was reminded of our deep need for ritual. The crowds hushed as the ball of orange sank and a collective breath was held as it disappeared. At the end of a day lived simply, everyone had gathered to see something true - to be together while watching for something they could count on. I closed my eyes and imagined pews in the sand as people resumed conversations and wandered off to find dinner.

Jasper spent plenty of time with aunties and uncles, which left me free to walk the beach. I was grateful for the salty wind in my hair and the shells that littered my path. I kept my eyes peeled for one that reminded me of him - something I could put in his baby book as a reminder of this first trip south filled with so many other firsts.

I walked away from the condo feeling relief and glad for a brief break from motherhood. I filled my head with other thoughts - friends and love and work and play and dreams and...well, everything except Nuks and breastfeeding. It felt good to put space between me and the barnacle for a little while.

And that's when I saw this shell. I smiled and scratched at the sea-wart that clung so tightly to it's ridges. Yup, I thought. This is us. I let the ocean spray wash over it and gripped it in my palm. I stopped for a few minutes and looked around before deciding that this was all the space I needed. And then I turned back toward the condo and motherhood and long nights and loud cries and stubborn burps and laundry loads and my precious barnacle. I kind of missed him.

Besides. It was time to get his feet wet in the most literal sense. Baptism is coming and what better preview than the shoreline? I couldn't wait to bring him down to where the sand turns soggy - where we straddle land and sea and get a little sloppy trying to navigate the two.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Baby Steps


I'm getting a little bit more sleep. I'm gaining confidence in what I know and how to love this kid everyday. I'm biting my tongue when people share advice that feels condescending. I'm grateful for the cloud of witnesses listening to him and learning from him so they can help him grow. I'm proud of the way Matt and I are working together to make room for another life in this family.

Some days I'm lucky. Laundry and dishes happen. I get a chance to go through the mail or answer emails. Other days packages addressed to Jasper sit on the porch unopened because the whole day is consumed by this little person - his fits and his cuddling alike. Oh, who am I kidding? Those are lucky days, too.

These eight weeks at home with Jasper are flying by, but I take comfort in everything I've learned and the deep bond we already share. The thank you notes and vacuuming can certainly wait. Then again, if I wait for an unlucky day to do all those things they'll never happen. What a lovely predicament for this sleepy, happy momma.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Now I Know.

It has been one week and one day since we welcomed Jasper to this world. When they plunked him on my chest, I was overwhelmed by how familiar he looked. Yes, this was the person I had been feeding and holding and loving for months. This was the person who had been kicking my ribs and sticking his skinny little kneecap into my side since the weather turned cold in November. He even looked familiar.

I am humbled by how much I don't know about this baby thing, but I am also proud of the lessons I've already learned since last weekend. Here are a few of the things I now know. They make me feel stronger than ever.

1. Labor. Everyone says you just know when you've gone into labor. Not only can your body rise to the occasion, but it invites your brain along for the ride, giving you wisdom and confidence for the whole nine yards. I spent Thursday night and Friday tuned into my contractions, noting how they crept closer together and became more aggressive by evening. Every fiber of my being knew I would give birth the next day. Still, our first trip the hospital ended when I didn't dilate at all in two hours. I couldn't walk the halls and was doubled over with back labor pain, but they sent me home. I didn't speak up, but I knew that was a bad idea. My body knew better than they did.

2. Epidurals. Some people avoid pain medicine during labor because they want to be fully present. I spent only three hours at home that night before calling out to Matt from the bathroom floor and bouncing over potholes back down Lake Street. We arrived to find that I had dilated more than 5cm while at home and there were only a few minutes for an epidural. I mustered all the interactive social skills I had at that point to sign the consent form and in a few minutes, my labor experience was transformed. The pain in my back melted away and I saw Matt for the first time in hours. Oh, hello there. I was like a feral dog successfully re-socialized. I understand that they aren't for everyone, but my epidural was fantastic. I could still feel the pressure of my contractions, but I was able to recover before it was time to push and could hear (with grateful ears) Matt supporting me until Jasper arrived. Instead of making me less present, the epidural welcomed me back into the process and helped me feel so strong.

3. Sleep. Everyone says to sleep and rest. This is true, but it's also annoying. Contractions kept me up on Thursday night. Going to and from the hospital kept me up on Friday night. Saturday and Sunday nights in the hospital were more educational than restful. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to sleep deeply. Matt would send me down to the basement for a nap in the afternoon and I would jolt awake after twenty minutes, too tired to relax and disappointed in myself that I wasn't achieving what everyone made sound so simple: Sleep when baby sleeps. Instead, I started taking time for myself - reading a magazine, listening to music and just resting with no expectations. Eventually I found sleep again, but it didn't happen right away and that's okay.

4. Feeding. Waiting for my milk to come in was discouraging. I didn't expect the first few days to be so bad - to dread his hungry cry and to hurt so intensely - but I also didn't expect the tide to turn so quickly. On Wednesday night I finally broke down and had a good cry. I couldn't tell if he was getting anything substantial and I was exhausted. Matt and I sat in front of the bouncy chair watching Jasper break it in. He looked around suspiciously before quickly barfing all over himself. Just like that, my tears turned to uncontrollable and joyful laughter. Look at everything I was making! He was getting enough! Suddenly, it became a privilege to meet someone's needs so completely. I've become proud of that time we have together and my ability to fill him up with good stuff that's making him grow.

And it's just been a week. I wonder what next week will teach me...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Velkommen til verden, Jasper!


Jasper Wade Carlson
February 12, 2011 at 12:58pm
7 pounds, 6 ounces
19 3/4 inches

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Can't Hurry Love


Last week Matt and I bought the biggest bag of clementines I’d ever seen. We let them spill all over our kitchenette table and wondered how we’d ever eat them all. “By the time we finish this bag, we’ll be parents!” But once that assumption was made, I noticed we were both eating two or three clementines a day. Now there are just two left and I’m about to peel one of them.

Last week I was begging this baby to stay put until a funeral was over. We celebrated new life last Wednesday with a beautiful service and confident hymns. Since then, I have been waiting for a different celebration of new life – one that does not have an official time and date to print in the paper. Each day further convinces me that I’m terrible at “real life Advent”, the intense waiting and watching and wondering moments in life.

I have distracted myself with wives’ tales about inducing labor all week, but have instead checked dozens of tricks off the list as defunct. Yesterday was my due date and I have decided instead to make lots of plans for the next few days in hopes that they will all need to be canceled and replaced with one, grand un-planned event.

Each day I show up to work I am greeted with exasperated looks. It’s both entertaining and discouraging to have so many people surprised and disappointed to see you. Today a funeral director asked me when I’m due and I got to respond with a smirk (as I squatted to get something off a low bookshelf), “Yesterday”. My uterus is like a rent controlled apartment on the upper east side – awesome and hard to leave.

I got to sit in a back pew for the service today since Pastor Mark was up to bat. My eyes welled with tears as grandchildren took turns telling stories about their grandmother – the races she ran until age 86, her delicious cooking and her love that shined brightly through dementia. I watched her three grown children play their clarinets to Just a Closer Walk with Thee and How Great Thou Art. My heart filled with their gratitude and memories.

I cried watching this sister and her two brothers make beautiful music for God and everyone in the sanctuary. I gave thanks for my brothers and the friendship we share. I don’t think we’ll ever form a clarinet trio, but our bond and genes and humor and adoration for each other feels a lot like good music.

Every family tends to gloss over the hard or unfavorable stuff at funerals and this family is probably no exception. But in the end, people come together to remember the best things they will continue to treasure. They speak of deep relationships, solid values and the way love highlights the good stuff.

I left the sanctuary today convinced that we celebrate the beginning of life like we end it – focused on the beautiful things, showing gratitude for each other and making really good music together. We don’t get to know when or how it will happen, but when it does we come together in celebration of the good stuff.