Thursday, December 17, 2015

this is the time.


this is the time
when things get loud,
when hope gets muffled and fears abound.

this is the time
when we gather together
heaping expectation and judgment and laughter,
hiding the longing, the ache and disaster.

this is the time
when we're fiercely surrounded
but feel lonesome
and foolish
or haunted, confounded.

this is the time
when we fill up our days 
and our stockings with kitsch 
and kitchens with glaze.

this is is the time 
when we trick ourselves 

since everyone else is filled up with cheer
while muted shame lingers right here.

but that is not Truth you precious, beloved:
we are all hiding, all longing, all living with judgment.
we are all breaking, wondering where we belong
and if there is room for us inside the song.

so listen well, Child: lean into the grief
and trust that you are not songless belief
you are messy and worthy -
made perfectly whole
by the One who rubs balm on the cracks of your soul
by the One who saves nations with love crescendos.

this is the time
the whole world is blue!
and Jesus is coming to make the pain new
to strip it of power
to banish all fear
so that life - life abundant - can boldly appear.

this is the time
for your blue to be known
and lived by a God who has hay on the throne
and sung by a scrappy church choir your own
and loved by the babe who makes blue his home.

this is the time.



Merry Christmas, Tangled Ones.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

responsibility.

Fight. Freeze. Flight.

Did anyone else feel the pull last week? Terror rippled in cities around the world. As refugees trudge through a gauntlet of scraps and skeptical stares, handouts and hesitant hospitality, bombs exploded. And everyone felt the earth shake.

If I have to hear that ISIS “claimed responsibility” one more time, I’m going to throw up. When I use this phrase with my children, I'm suggesting the gathering up of both cause and effect, of premeditation and aftermath, of accountability that requires some vulnerability. Hospitals and schools list responsibility as a value cherished and taught. So when we use it to describe braggy terror, I get irritated and queasy.

Like many of you, I felt all of the fight, freeze flight feelings and they got jumbled up together. I wanted to run, but not away. I wanted to duke it out, but with proclamations of dignity and gospel in the face of so much fearful contraction. And I certainly froze: to weep, to listen, to wait, to hold breath with the world.

I’m still feeling all the feelings, but I know that news feeds are not what I need at the end of the day. They’re not what any of us need.

So on Monday I put my phone down and turned off the boob tube. I drove through the drizzle, taking side streets and underpasses, to a little bar in St. Paul where I knew there would be loud and wild hope. I knew there would be friendly strangers smooshed into a room singing important truths into being. 

This is what we need; to be gathered from the drizzly edges into belonging and song.

It’s hard to know what we’re supposed to do and where to start, but I think it helps to watch someone else in her element. I think it’s comforting to stand aside and notice the little ways someone else is redrawing lines and casting nets and adding chairs and saying, “Welcome”.

At Humble Walk’s Beer & Hymns, I watched Jodi do just that. She is the only pastor I know who also ushers. While musicians lead hymns and shakers are handed out and people shout out requests – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Survey says, “No!” - Jodi is quiet and warm near the door. She stands just outside the room where curious onlookers might gather, where shy folks assume the chairs are all taken, where people loiter on the edge of solitude and belonging.

You see, sometimes we’re thinking too big. We can feel the urge to fight or freeze or flight because the task is too heavy and the ache is too great. Then all the feelings get tangled up until we give up or give in.

But I (and perhaps you) am not called to fix everything or find the most ingenious solution to our nation’s foreign policy and immigration challenges. We are, instead, ordinary American citizens. We are people who belong to each other. We are folks who desire a greater good. And we cannot do that alone glued to our screens or hidden behind locked doors.

It is grace when we meet strangers near the door.
It is mercy to set up chairs before people need to ask.
It is Christ’s body when we gather to sing of a faith we cannot carry alone.

Promise me you will move through the drizzle toward the room in the back where strangers are already singing and setting up chairs. Promise me you will break from your lonesome discouragement and fright long enough to be together, seen by others and whispering into the chorus that all is not lost. Promise me you will stand at the edges and usher people in with welcome and warmth.

For in these kinds of gatherings, we truly "claim responsibility". We practice unity and relocate pieces of hope that inspire a multitude of tremors for justice, equity, love, and peace.

May this be your sweet gospel lullabye tonight, dear ones:

We belong to each other for the sake of the good.
So unclench your fear, lean in, and gather.
Make space and sing with shaky joy
For you are not alone.
We belong to each other for the sake of the good.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

hope.

And God's hope does not put us to shame, 
because God's love has been poured into our hearts by the 
Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  - Romans 5:5

My Hope has been feeling silly and ashamed lately.

It is hard to be hopeful these days. Syria. Racism. Guns.
Fear. Blame. Discord. Corruption. Poverty. Malice.
These things eat hope for breakfast.

Maybe you've been aching too. Maybe Hope has fallen to the bottom of your purse or it sits on your dresser without a proper home. Maybe it's stuck under your skin like a splinter that throbs because its being rejected by everything around it. I know the feeling.

But tonight my Hope is rising and I figured the internet might as well know.

I have been with a sick kid all day. His voice is is completely different when his throat is swollen. His head is hot and I can feel his heart racing when he wraps his long body around me and settles into my lap for a sweaty nap. All 36 pounds of Jasper are working hard. He is fighting and repairing and restoring. And then, from his sticky and chapped coma he mutters, "Mom, I am starting to start to feel a little better." I can hear his soft snores coming through the baby monitor upstairs. Resilience.

I drove back through Minneapolis to work and spotted neighbors picking up trash along the sidewalk where corner store wrappers like to gather in crinkled conversation.  I opened the door for a women who apologized for coming to dinner early, who was amazed by my simple welcome and the delicious scents that poured from the kitchen. I watched as neighbors and children made dinner together in the kitchen using both English and Spanish to mix ingredients and friendship for the sake of many who dine together on Wednesdays. I listened as Johnny gave me his order, guided safely to his chair by a sighted-stranger.

I was surprised to find a new mother from ZOOM House in the Recovery Worship circle, her son already wiggling with energy and asking me for chocolate. He was remembering the candy on Patty's desk from last week. We colored on the floor while folks prayed and sang around us.

I got up to uncover the bread and juice, which he could not help but touch. "Are we going to eat this?" he asked over the Words of Institution. His question unraveled this ritual into a conversation about Jesus' presence and enough and promise and sharing. He took the bite and sip with great eagerness.

Before they left, Patty found chocolate and I picked up crayons. Then his mother asked if she could come back on Sunday during worship and Monday during my office hours for communion. "How often can we have it?" she asked on their behalf. "Often," I answered. "If you are hungry and this promise is giving you hope, come often."

Today a heart beat quickly against my heart. Beauty was restored, welcome was extended, a feast was prepared, and a little one could not keep his hands off the bread.  There will always be heartache, most often when I am reading the news by myself and shaking my head; but when I lean in to struggle and feast with others, great Hope never disappoints. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

echoes and balm.

I arrived late to the Why Christian? Conference yesterday and found myself winding through the hallways of St. Mark's Cathedral in a pokey line. But we had coffee and energy and a few familiar faces. And then, armed with my wristband and swag, I followed into the sanctuary. It was packed to the gills. One chair had been added to each aisle, as if for a whimsical flight attendant, but those were filled too. People were singing and breathing and laughing and squishing in. There were bodies everywhere - and so I got goosebumps. I love when bodies embody.

I came alone knowing that I would not be alone. Most of my dorky church friends would be here. They too were stuffed into this holy space. They too were unpacking their fragile hearts while we confessed and chanted Psalms, while we were led and promised with words often left to our own lips.

I was acutely aware of the crowd, but also of the vaulted ceilings. While the square-footage below was brimming with questions and joy and sorrow and pain and wondering, there was so much space above. Our voices carried upwards. And I felt the Spirit hovering gently, tending to our two thousand hands, all holding piles of shit and suffering and hope and faith carried along.

It is good to be surrounded while listening to good storytellers. It's even better when those storytellers are preachers - powerful women who ache with the world's pain and glow with its beauty. It's the best when they fire their wisdom and humor and love at you nonstop for two days, reclaiming and reconverting you all weekend long.

You know that I am called to the margins - the fragmented and addicted and hurting places. But I am also called to be a source of balance and health for my little family. And so these things are always battling for my heart, though they should not stand so very far apart. The pressure of each weighs on me and I waste energy meant for grace on disciplining myself at every turn. It's exhausting.

This weekend I heard that familiar struggle and strength in other women. They told me I am not alone while convicting, absolving, wrestling and freeing me using the same truths I hand over to others everyday. This weekend these things were gifts for me and I white-knucked them every 25 minutes when a new broken beauty stood before me with witness and fierce, defiant love.
__

I have heard from 3 dear pastor|mama friends this summer, each fried and isolated for good reasons. They are weary from this hard work of being church and loving humans and dragging wild grace back into the arenas of shame, despair, achievement, and self-righteousness. Like me, they have seen and heard and carried enough to feel both completely shattered and fiercely compelled. And, like me, they do not always have a preacher when they need one.

Each speaker told us we are broken and beloved and brave. They preached the incarnation and death and resurrection so that our bodies were demanded and declared as well. We heard it dozens of times and with each proclamation, unified sighs would rush over us. We were starving for this news, again and again. It felt new every single time.

We became more convinced our of our own stories and witnesses, mutually inspired by the reclaiming and reconverting we shared with each voice. I called the spirits of my 3 pastor|mama friends from their far corners into the space, wishing they could be emptied and filled with us, wishing their bodies and stories could have been squished into the pews alongside us.
__

This morning the magnificent Rachel Kurtz offered a great gift. Three words into There is a Balm in Gilead, I had tears dripping from my jaw. Please note that I do not cry often or in public. When I do, I well up momentarily like a good Scandinavian, clear my throat and then it's over. But today the song bellowed so forcefully that I believed her. Her assurance and strength washed over me. The tears gushed through my body and cleansed pathways with their departure, then tumbled through closed eyes and down my cheeks. All my open spaces caught the healing gospel. It wedged into every crack and wound and ache. It filled my failures and covered my fatigue. It wrung me out in three short verses, granting deep peace.

When I opened my eyes, I looked up. I could feel others doing the same. Though we sat shoulder to shoulder, the echo reminded us that there are many more stories and saints in this fragile and unrelenting body. And our call is to keep being bodies who embody because there is enough balm for it all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

hello again.

Before bed on Sunday night, I went through my whole closet. I pulled out anything that reminded me of postpartum compromises and pumping milk. I piled skirts with busted zippers and shirts I resent ironing. The bags were bursting and the hangers looked lonely. I took pictures of what remained.

Monday morning involved a bottomless cup of coffee and eggs at my favorite coffee shop. I wrote for fun and slowly made my way through lists and mail piles until my laptop died with grace. Then I wandered toward the mall.

Five things. I used the pictures on my phone to decide what five items would make my wardrobe feel new and versatile and...mine again.

A saleswoman rapped on the dressing room door to ask me if I needed anything. I realized I'd been sitting on the bench in that small room for awhile, just facing the mirror. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in a mall dressing room. It had been years since I'd tried on wild skirts for sheer amusement. And so I sat completely lost in my reflection, relishing big feelings until the woman knocked a second time.

These weeks of vacation and continuing education would be about slowing down in unexpected places. They would be stretches of time apart from a schedule and demands. They would be opportunities to honor myself away from my callings of pastor and mother. And, because these things are so rarely attended, they would be filled with startling realizations and heaps of gratitude.

When I finally stood, I twirled in a skirt I have no occasion to wear. But it looked fabulous. And in it, I thanked my body for the people I've made and the years it has so generously shared itself. I started to cry tears of grief - that stage of my life is over. My body is all mine again.

And when I was done shedding the sadness that comes from saying farewell to something that beloved and well enjoyed, I cried tears of relief. I am happy to have myself back. I am ready to see and love myself for the sake of her independence again. My physical being is familiar but also brand new. I am curves and tones of who I have always been, but I am also very shaped by these childbearing journeys and the sacrificial love I've discovered in becoming both broken and reclaimed.

I'm glad I had an enormous mirror for that moment. Because she is marvelous and I wanted to see every bit of her when I smiled through glad tears and whispered, "Hello again."

Monday, August 3, 2015

chapters.

I was describing my hopes and dreams for Zion's future to an older colleague the other day when he interrupted. "Have you ever thought about interim ministry?" Every day, actually. I think more plain ol' pastors should view what they do as interim ministry.

I don't have anything against the long pastorate - and maybe I'll be called to one someday - but most of my contemporaries are enjoying leadership a few chapters at a time. They are nimble and creative and effecting change quickly. They are acutely aware of the warp speed at which Being Church is changing. We don't make 5-10 year plans anymore - not with our councils and not with our own calls.

Some of us are on a shoestring and a prayer.
Some churches pay their pastors below synod guidelines.
Some are accepting part-time calls even though they long to work full time.
Some churches are living month to month, giving their pastors just weeks or months notice when their position will be cut.

And so we make 1-3 year plans. We are brutally honest with call committees and congregations and committees and leaders. We preach sermons without assuming the text will come around the lectionary cycle again while we're still in the same call. We think about sustainability and lay leadership all the time - because what's the point of pastor-centered transformation when we're serving year to year?

I met with five colleagues last week who were all acutely aware of the chapter at hand. There are beautiful, thriving things. There are exciting things. There are stressful things. There are intimidating things. There are both sprint and marathon things. There are reasons we long to stay for years and reasons we imagine moving on sooner.

Our sanctuary has 27 pews today, but 20 will be unscrewed and loaded onto a semi trailer this Saturday afternoon. There will be a few funny looking weeks while we hodge podge chairs, rip up carpet, and start fresh with pew chairs. We will bless the mess. Some will cry for these perfectly good benches and some will clap with glee when the freshness of September comes. Most of us will cry and clap, for this is what it means to be the church.

We are living and serving in the hinge moment, in between pews and chairs, in between tears and joy, in between Sunday and Saturday. And I can't think of anything better.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

sisters and butterflies.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 6, 2015

threshold


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

anoint.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

maundy wednesday.

Jesus, Bread of Life,

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

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

“Do this to remember me.”

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

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

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

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

Holy morsels and sips.

Fill us with your love. Amen.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

one.

My job has been more exhausting than usual lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I change people's names sometimes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

expectations.

When people ask about the demographics of my church, their first question is often about young families. Many associate health and growth in a congregation with how many young family units attend worship, give financially, and participate in family program ministries.

Well, we don't have many young families at Zion. In fact, if your definition of "young families" is two parents with small children, then that demographic is the Carlsons and…that's it. Seriously.

For generations, we've associated young families with health and sustainable growth in congregations. Sure, we like the sight and sounds of wiggles and giggles in the pews. We are proud of our Christmas pageants and the size of our youth groups. But these families are not feel-good statistics and healthy church trophies. These are, perhaps, our most exhausted and overwhelmed people. They struggle to navigate worship attendance around naps, confirmation around hockey, and pressure to lead when showing up is challenging enough.

Matt told me that he finally sang all four verses of a hymn last week. What do you mean "finally"? I asked. He meant that, since Jasper was born, he's never been able to focus on the worship service long enough to sing a whole song. All that work shlepping little people into the sanctuary by 10:00am for four years and he's only been catching snippets. I thought about all the brave parents who do keep coming to church despite the struggle - how intensely we pressure them to usher and teach and join a committee. Talk about an uphill battle.

So here's how I understand my call to welcome and serve "young families" at Zion:

I will celebrate the fact that you showed up. 
And so will Matt. It's amazing that you are all fully dressed and you arrived together in one piece. Bravo! High fives all around. These are the simple miracles that birthed liturgical dance - I'm just sure of it. The nursery will be ready to receive your little squirrels if you can't wait for an hour of personal space. The sanctuary will also be ready to receive your little squirrels because their noise, questions, distractions, and LIFE are very welcome in worship.

I will guard you from unfair expectations.
All of them. I will notice, name, and absolve the internal pressures you put on your family by reminding you to be kind to yourselves. I will also provide a human shield between you and those who smother you with committee invitations and assumptions about your time or gifts. We will probably get coffee or a beer in the first few weeks - either at my house or while kids play at our ankles. And there I will begin by listening to your story. I will want to hear about your longings, needs, and dreams because I know how rarely you have an opportunity to voice those things these days.

And then I will be honest with you.
I will confess that your church experience at Zion will never be traditional or programmatic. We don't have a critical mass for lock-ins or children's sermons. But we do have sacred relationships that will change your children and your family forever. We have a professional Santa Claus in the choir who can inspire awe and joy in the heat of July. We have an open table where children commune, confident that they belong in the midst of all things. We have people of every age and demographic, ready to welcome kids into their conversations and coffee hour circles.

I will tell you that, on Sunday, my son begged to go to Zion early with me. I reminded him that I couldn't play with him since I need to be Pastor Meta. He replied, I know. I want to play with my church friends or help them get the snacks ready. You can do your work and I'll do my things.

And sure enough. He helped set up the sanctuary and played in the nursery and came up for communion with friends 5 and 10 and 20 times his age. He received the bread and the juice with such sincerity and then sat with them in the front pew while he slowly enjoyed them. Many noticed and smiled - my son relishes this ritual and makes a meal of it. Later members helped him turn an empty cardboard box into a robot helmet. Young adults chased him around, played I SPY, and asked him about his birthday party.

And so I declare to parents of small children everywhere: the future of the church is not your responsibility - the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through and in spite of tantrums and tight budgets. We can figure out how to get along without you...

but we are SO much better with you! 
  you who stumble in during the Gathering Hymn
  you who drop crayons and Cheerios under pews
  you who embody the fierce and weary love of God our Parent.

So come when you can and come as you are.
And, if the stars are aligned and naps cooperate, you just might see my weary husband halfway back on the left hand side. He's the one giving every hymn a shot while holding wipes or Goldfish.

Monday, February 16, 2015

hearts.

I used to hate Valentine's Day. I had all kinds of reasons to despise the Hallmark holiday and its harpy expectations. I'd been barfed on, smothered, forgotten, and ditched on Valentine's Days prior to meeting Matt, so there were no expectations our first February together. I just asked that we would do something unrelated to the holiday. Thus began our tradition of eating at Hardees. After all, true love is a man and a mushroom swiss burger.

But these children have softened my heart to the holiday. I have birthed three babies in the month of February and now celebrate my love for them each year. I help Jasper design his mailbox for school that receives little candies and notes from his friends. I buy strawberries for the class party and cut them into hearts. I make cookies and frost them red or pink. Okay, I bake break 'n' bakes that come with the necessary supplies…but I wear an apron while I do it. You get the point. I'm suddenly smitten with February, but remain the Queen of Shortcuts.

This year we threw a birthday party for all three kids on Valentine's Day. Matt wondered if people might have conflicts the afternoon of Valentine's Day. I reminded him that we're probably not friends with people who "make a day of it". But here we are - making a day of it.

My babies were all born in the afternoon. In birth order. So there were three cakes cut and three songs sung. Jasper blew out all six candles.

Green lips!
Four pieces later he had regrets.
12:58pm.

Jasper came into my life like a freight train. He changed everything and he'll always be my first, my boy. I understand my dad's love for me - his first, his girl - through my love for Jasper. There's nothing like it.

Except, maybe, neon green frosting on a Ninja Turtle cake complete with a Splinter action figure. I know. We're the coolest parents ever.

1:51pm.

Solveig was such a unique birth. She arrived quickly and it was so thrilling - but it was only half over! While I held her on my chest, I prayed that Tove wouldn't spin into a breach position. We had 11 minutes with just our laid back Solveig. I watched her apgar test and talked to Matt while he held her with such pride. Once discharged from the hospital, we had 5 nights with just Solveig until Tove joined us at home. She began a trail blazer, but T would say she's also a really loyal buddy.

I hope they recreate this photo
on their 21st birthday.
2:02pm.

Tove arrived with something to prove. She was fierce grit and trouble from the start. I will never forget the way Matt's hands wrapped around her little body, propping her up with determination at each feeding. She was the better nurser of the two, but he was better at getting her through a bottle. Her dimples are her saving grace and she already knows it.

It was good to be with our family and wide village - our gracious guides through this big year. It was good to sing that song three times over. It was good to cut out paper hearts with little kids and it was good to watch them run to their parents with pride and homemade love.

Later that night, once the kids were all in bed, Matt went out for groceries and came back with some chili cheese fries from Hardees. We ate them in the quiet of our living room, hearts and bellies filled.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

contrast.


Solveig got glasses this month. She tugged at them for the first few hours and seemed confused, but then let them settle onto her little nose. Her eyes were wide, focused on things she'd never seen clearly before. She squealed at books and started beating Tove to their favorite toys. The contrast was - and still is - overwhelming.

The season of Epiphany is also bringing contrast into my bland, chilly winter landscape. The stories we hear on Sunday mornings are pointing out all the reasons I need Jesus - all the ways I cop out and cry uncle on this faith journey. I hear my own hesitation or insecurity in these texts:

I am a Pharisee loitering on the sidelines 
  while John baptizes in the wilderness.

I am tempted by every voice that dares me 
  to prove my worth and power.

I am turned upside down by Jesus blessing the unexpected
  and his urging to pray for God's will instead of my own.

I am hoarding bread and fish, 
  skeptical of my own satisfaction and the miracle at hand.

I am building dwellings for Jesus and the prophets, 
  desperate to serve in tangible ways while totally missing the point.

I need Epiphany. The stories and season offer overwhelming clarity that can change everything. The comfort and familiarity of Christmas gives way to tricky discipleship, wide love, and brave faith.

God, I offer my blurry confusion and tentative heart in exchange for your good vision. Give me eyes that focus with wonder and new joy - just like Solveig's.