Friday, May 23, 2014


On Good Friday I took a brown Sharpie and masking tape to the wood paneled wall in our sanctuary. I aimed to outline a stocky, barren tree trunk and it kind of worked.

Since then, we've been adding leaves. Every Sunday and Wednesday bulletin has a green sticky note in it. And we write down one sign of resurrection in our midst. There is new life everywhere and twice a week I get to declare it on the tree.

This week I wrote "Patricia Lull". She's the newly elected bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod and I'm thrilled. A great leader right next door!

I shared my enthusiasm with Matt since he has met and enjoyed P. Lull. "Can you believe it? My presiding bishop and the two local bishops are both strong, brilliant women. And I'm a 32 year old solo pastor - this didn't happen thirty years ago! Time are changing - it's exciting."

"Yeah. Now if you can just get that church of yours to stop dying."

Sometimes my husband is a Wet Blanket Truth Teller. This was one of those times. He's sort of right, of course. The ELCA is in a nose dive (and has been for my whole life). One woman, one bishop, and one pastor cannot change this fact.

But he's not all right. I'm not sure "don't die" is the call. And it's not my church. Then native instincts emerged as foreign words I'd never spoken before:

"The big church - the Holy Spirit's church - will be just fine. But my little congregation and denomination probably won't be. Yet it's not my job to stop them from dying. In fact, I think I am called to help them die with dignity and grace. We can rebrand and reimagine and reignite all we want, but these efforts are shaky at best when our hearts and gaze are focused elsewhere:

We are terrified of dying. And we will be terrified of dying until we actually die. And until we actually die, it will be hard to multitask the fear of dying with growth that comes from really listening to the Holy Spirit's desires."

I startled myself. I guess I knew this somewhere in my heart, but I was most caught off guard because the realization didn't make me feel sad or guilty or worried. And so, like the chatty extrovert I am, I continued:

"I am not afraid of this death. My denomination has been in decline my whole life - I don't remember the good old days, so I can't lust after them! But I refuse to believe that this death is an ending because, in Christ, death never has the last word. So I believe part of my call is to be fearless and to name things that make folks uncomfortable and ashamed. I believe I am called to carry the death clothes and perfumes and oils. I believe I am called to remain calm when it looks like the end and I believe I am called to watch the tomb for resurrection. Because this rebirth will be so much more beautiful than all the things we've been carrying. And God gave me a big voice for announcing and shouting and proclaiming. So I'm gonna use it."

I don't think this death and life will happen all at once in the church. It will not be found in the changing of the guard or bureaucracy or property management or membership or statistics or dollars. But it will be found in white knuckles relaxing and risks taken and stagnant ministries laid to rest. It will be found in new discernment and compromise and collaboration and whenever egos are checked. It will be found on sticky notes and in vulnerability and wherever people put down their fear of dying to carry God's stuff for awhile.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


My love for little Tove is wrapped up in those early days at the Special Care Nursery. Visiting your child means you feel like both vagabond and queen. Each morning I packed my back of food, pumping parts, baby gear, and big sister Solveig for several hours near machines and wise nurses. Each day was about gaining confidence and breath.

I'm so grateful for the SCN, which caught things this sleepy mom would not. Tove had a very low resting heart rate and forgot to breathe sometimes. Her little body was a bit immature and she needed to grow into some basic skills before coming home with us.

I watched her mouth turn blue on three occasions. Once I was alone with her when the beeping began and I couldn't jostle her back into breath. I ruffled the scruff on her neck and begged her to breathe. But she didn't comply until a nurse intervened. Remembering those moments still makes my voice quiver and my eyes well up. I am grateful for this Peanut Brittle and the color that filled her face again each time.

This apnea process has been both scary and reassuring. She's always been in good hands. We were well trained to bring her home with us. The monitor gave us three months of good confidence - we slept well on the quiet nights and were up in an instant whenever we heard beeps.

On Friday her nurse called and gave me the big news: we could stop monitor use immediately! Someone would come pick it up on Monday. I was thrilled, of course. The false alarms are annoying and the chord is never quite long enough. She's been doing really well and we knew the day was coming. But as much as I hated the monitor, I also loved it. I relied on it for deep sleep and some assurance that the littlest one was still with us.

I thanked her and said goodbye while wanting to celebrate a new beginning - while becoming ready to banish the fear and lean forward into this gift of new life.

But when I hung up the phone, I noticed a text message from Matt: "Grandpa Wally died at noon."

Matt's grandfather has had a really low heart rate for the past year - as low as 22 beats per minute on one occasion. I remember his grey skin and slow speech last autumn. Dementia symptoms increased and his physical balance disintegrated over the winter months. Last week he broke bones in a gruesome fall. After thirteen months as a widower, Wally's slow beats gave way to to beeps.

During the funeral yesterday, I starting thinking about Wally's view of life and death this spring. He met the girls just once - a few weeks ago - but was certain he'd seen them dozens of times. He was impressed with little Tove's alert eyes and sneaky smiles. And he was confident about her progress regarding the monitor. "Oh yes, she's doing just fine. She's going to be just fine," he'd say.

After the service I watched Tove with awe and gratitude. She was passed around freely from aunt to cousin to friend without the short leash of monitor wires slowing her down. Oh yes, I said to myself. She's doing just fine. She's going to be just fine. And then I banished the fear and leaned forward into this gift of new life.