Sunday, June 24, 2018

An Island Funeral

I love a good funeral.

First of all, they are So. Much. Easier. than most weddings. With weddings - yes, you have the beautiful celebration of love, the hopeful unfolding of two souls journeying through life together and all that that may bring (at whatever stage of life the bridge and groom are at). But they can also be full of stress and anxiety as the couple (or others) projects their expectation of perfection upon the day, from the flowers to the cake to the flawless ceremony. Weddings are beautiful, yes; sacred, yes, but can also be stressful.

Funerals, on the other hand, especially in a place like Chebeague, are sacred and transcendent; a place where the entire community gathers time after time to witness to life. On the one hand, it's a gathering to remember a physical, concrete life of an islander with family, friends and neighbors who are grieving; on the other hand, it's saying goodbye to a way of life that is slipping through our fingers (more slowly here than in most places, thanks be to God).

Today, Chebeague buried another saint - Joan Robinson. I have gotten to know her over three years and in that time, have walked with her through some dark and difficult times, have shared with her our son Michael and seen her delight in him (even when he would steal her cane repeatedly during Whalers' rehearsals), and witnessed her faith in action. I will miss her dearly, and I know my son will too (already when we talk about visiting the Commons, the assisted living facility on the island, he wants to see Joanie).

But even more than this sacred time of storytelling, this communal grief-sharing, this time of thanksgiving that she rests healed and whole in God's presence was the beauty of community coming together to participate in the unfolding of this wondrous remembrance. Flowers from the gardens of community members - and from the Inn, who gave the church the flowers of the wedding that happened on their grounds yesterday. The Ladies Aid pulling out all the stops, marshaling everyone at their disposal for food, setup, cleanup, logistics - everything relating with the reception, and pulling it off with seamless effortlessness, even though I knew how much behind-the-scenes work it took to make it happen. The slideshow of pictures of Joanie that rotated before the service began (late, of course, because so Joan was in life, so she was in death). The sound system and rain-contingency plan that we had in place for church-overflow (although I should have known that Joanie would not have let it rain on the day of her burial...again, so she was in life, so she was in death). The straightening of the pews and hymnals and programs and all those little details that people knew needed to be done and that I didn't even have to ask about. Making the bus between the stone pier and the church happen. The serendipity of Joan's casket being in the chancel and right behind her was the altar given in memory of her grandmother. The Bible, that suddenly appeared with flowers on the altar, that she had signed and given to one of her Sunday School students when she was Superintendent over 50 years ago. The song that her "favorite nephew living in Bangor" had written and performed for us. The stories shared from drives around the island to inaugurations to welcoming in children to humorous breast cancer screening "what is love" and to daily phone conversations with your dearest friend that happened every single morning...I am constantly overwhelmed by the amazing beauty of this island that comes together when it matters most, and I am humbled that I am able to be in that space with them, to walk with them in those deep, sacred places, and that I can bear witness to how God is so present in those moments, it makes me want to weep with joy.

Ultimately, that was the message I took away from this afternoon's remembrance: Joy. Deep joy - and trust in the One who is the Source of that Joy. I love seeing the community - and I mean the whole community - gather together, funeral after funeral, and watching how they show up for each other and remember those who have passed and be there for those who are still living. I am incredibly blessed to be living here in this place, and I am incredibly blessed to be able to be present to these moments of mourning and celebration, of remembering and thanksgiving.

Joanie's service was a hard one, because she is the first funeral that I've done where I've really had the blessing of getting to know her and her story personally. A few others I've done here have also been hard - some through personal connection and a couple through circumstance - but Joan's was more personal because of that relationship in church and in Whalers and how she let me in to some of the more difficult places in her life. I will be forever grateful for that.

God bless you, Joanie. We'll miss you here...but as we all know down here, we know you're up there...and we know who's calling the shots now.

(For an adorable video of Joan reading to Michael on his first birthday, click here).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Day After

This morning I have sat around in a sleep-deprived stupor, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through my Facebook feed, heating and reheating the same cup of coffee as Michael's needs have kept me away from actually sitting down, mindlessly munching some peanut M and M's, and all in all trying to be my better self.

Truth be told, I don't want to be my better self. I feel angry and sad for what our country is and what many in this nation consider acceptable moral behavior from their leader. I am angry about the fear and hate that Trump gave voice to and I worry for my friends whose lives are under threat. I grieve for children who are fearful for their friends that they may be deported or that sexual assault will now be legal or will now think that racism and misogyny are OK. I also fear for our family - what will happen when we lose our health insurance, especially in light of managing a chronic condition with expensive medication and regular screenings?

I think part of the challenge we have here is to acknowledge that Trump represents the part of our country that many of us have the luxury and privilege of denying. The (dare I say) silver lining in his election is that it exposes the reality that many minorities and those of differing religions or sexual orientations have had to grapple with every single day of their lives. We need to acknowledge and claim our complicity in creating the environment which this reality can flourish. But we have the choice to do something about it.

I know the answer lies in continuing to hold out hope for others -- we know we live in a broken world  in a nation with deeply divided core values, that government cannot legislate how we act toward one another, and that there is fundamentally good and beauty in the world. We each can individually commit to kindness and peace in our interactions with others, and to practice compassion for those we struggle to love. We can seek to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. We can also continue to fight for justice - to push back against the racist and misogynist and homophobic and xenophobic policies and practices that are in place and will undoubtedly unfold.

We can trust that God's kingdom is at hand and that we who claim the name of Jesus can work on behalf of bringing that kingdom into being, in both small ordinary ways and in extraordinary ways.

It's just damn hard sometimes.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Six Months In

I don't know how it happened, but all of a sudden I have a little boy who crawls, can sit on his own, has cut a tooth, and pull himself to standing. He has this silly little sigh he makes when he finds something amusing (he's not a particularly giggly baby) and has a quick smile for just about everyone he encounters. He loves fabric and music and scratching things and beating time with his hands on objects (particularly the dog's food bowl). He enjoys grabbing my face to suck on my nose and bouncing up and down on his legs. He's got such a charming personality that's really shining through, though we've seen the seeds of it from when he was very young.

I can't believe that only 6 months ago, we had this small, completely helpless newborn on our hands and I was pretty much living inside of a pillow fort between the nursing sessions and general discomfort in the aftermath of delivery. I had night duty and Ben had day-duty so I could rest. Television was essential for survival - mostly so I could stay awake to nurse. We counted wet and dirty diapers and hours since feeding like it was some kind of touchstone to reality. I won't tell you how many google searches I made for "normal" - spit up, poop, sleep - you name it, I searched it. 

Yet now, the sleep-deprived haze that induced hallucinations has receded into a mild fog that leaves my brain slipping gears only a few times every day. Clothes are gradually fitting better. It's not a production to take him places with me. There are more normal days than not. I've hardly googled anything strange recently.

Even though everything seems to be going smoothly and this tiny baby is fast growing into a tiny person, it is still hard. There are days that leave me exhausted, knowing that I'll be awake at least twice during the night to feed him and up for the day as early as 6. I worry that nursing him to sleep for naps and at night, or holding him when he fusses in his crib, is just going to bite me in the butt later on, but right now it's the stress-free (or at least, less-stress) way to get him to relax enough to fall asleep. There's a lot I can't do while I watch him because he is so mobile (and into everything!) and I try not to let that stress me out. I finally had to delete the email app on my phone because I was thinking to much about work while on Michael duty (and I should probably stop watching all my Michael videos when it's my turn to work, *sigh*).  I am really struggling with this part-time work-largely-from-home "balance" that seems so elusive. Part of it is that there's *always* something to do - the sermon to write, the meeting to prepare for, people to visit, and as much as I try to think several weeks ahead, it's a challenge not to become a slave to the urgent, That and I tend to also be thinking about dinner that needs prepping and laundry that needs washing and so I'm multitasking work and home all the time.

I don't feel like I'm trying to be super mom...and I don't feel like I'm trying to be a super pastor either. I'm just trying to survive and not let the whole ship go swirling away into chaos. Most days are fine, but the bad days....well, it's a good thing that take-out Chinese is an impracticality, else those clothes wouldn't be fitting nearly as well. It's a reminder for me that I'm probably my harshest judge, that I'm only three months in to figuring this work/life rhythm that will be an ever-changing dance. It's a reminder that grace covers a multitude of sins and I am certainly not the only new mother who has wrestled with these same questions and had to come up with their own solutions.

What mine will be remains yet to be seen. But I trust that it will come - and when it does, it'll be time for another change!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sleep when the baby sleeps...and other things I didn't do.

 Tomorrow marks one month back from parental leave. Michael is a thriving, healthy, active, delightful four month old (how did that happen already?) He's most certainly not a newborn anymore and will smile at anyone, talk at anything that grabs his attention, and reach for whatever Mom or Dad happen to have in their hands.

Life seems to be settling in to a new normal -- whatever that might look like. I get a glimpse of it more days than not. We're not "by the routine" parents -- I nurse on demand, we put him down for a nap when he looks to be sleepy, our bedtime rituals vary a bit -- though a discernable pattern is starting to emerge over time. Ben and I split our parenting into blocks since both of us work part time mostly from home -- I work, Ben watches Michael, Ben works, I watch Michael. Negotiate as necessary. It fits us pretty well, except when it doesn't, and we adjust and work through it. My capacity for sleep deprivation is slowly increasing, though sometimes it takes a bit for my body to catch up. There are more good days than challenging ones.

Looking back, I wonder how we survived the fourth trimester, even though we had a gentler transition into parenthood than I imagine most people have thanks to an island community meal train and a relatively even-tempered child! Unfortunately, in reading over journal entries from that period, I make more note of Michael's firsts and accomplishments than I do about my own state-of-being. 

However, a few things stick out from my time of survival that I think it's helpful to pass along to other parents-to-be expecting their first child:

1) Sleep when the baby sleeps is crap. Honestly, when the baby sleeps, do whatever you want to do (or whatever your baby will let you do). That may be sleep (it wasn't for me)! It may be that pile of dishes in the sink that won't give you any mental peace until it's done. It may be a shower - even if it's the second shower you've had that day. It could be mindlessly staring at the television -- even though that might be what you have been doing as you nursed/fed your child to sleep. It may even be holding your kid as they slumber. You are in full-on survival mode. Eat that carton of ice cream while they nap, if that's what it takes.

2) You will not enjoy every moment. Yes, this time is fleeting. Yes, you will probably miss the baby snuggles and that little face trying to make sense of what in the world is going on out there. But it is not all fun, and there will be times you are sitting on the couch, crying your eyes out because you can't get out of your pillow fort lest the kid wakes up and you really need something to eat and no one is home. Or times when you wake up in the middle of the night, dreading the torture that your child is about to inflict upon your sore nipples. Not fun.  It does get better -- but even now, I don't enjoy every moment.

3) Self-preservation is key. This goes along with #1. You really do need to do whatever it takes to keep your sanity. For me, it was making sure I had plenty of snacks within arms reach and taking a shower and a bath every day. My husband coped differently. Don't think about losing the baby weight (unless you really want to) or wearing clothes (unless you really want to) or getting anything done (unless, again, you really want to). Only you and your partner know what the both of you need.

4) Be willing to throw your plan out the window. We had all kinds of hopes and dreams for how we were going to parent Michael. Most we've been able to see through - cloth diapering, for one. Some have taken a bit of time to grow into (babywearing, for example - mostly because woven wraps are too expensive and we didn't put any on our registry). Others we haven't done at all (elimination communnication). Know that everything depends on your baby, your time and energy, and your partner's time and energy. You won't ruin your child if they wear disposables or if you put them down in a swing for 15 minutes. There are practices you can always pick up later once there is space in your life to take them on.

I'm sure as the weeks and months go on, I will be able to add to this list. Right now, I like how Ben and I are being intentional with our parenting, but not rigid. We're able to hold everything lightly, trust ourselves and our instincts, and go on from there.  Here's to the next few months!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

One Month In

The day Michael was born!
Michael turns one month old tomorrow. I can hardly believe that only four weeks ago, I was feeling the first stirrings of contractions late in the evening. Our house was in chaos - we thought we had another whole week to prepare at least (after all, aren't first babies normally born late?) The nursery had yet to be painted, most of the baby stuff was strewn across our living room, and I had only just finished prewashing a few loads of baby laundry and assembing the co-sleeper. (Nesting instincts are wonderful things, however, I had been too busy up until that week to fully listen to them).

Thanks to a wonderful network of family, friends, and the island community, the household came together with a decorated nursery, clean kitchen, and meals. Ben and I haven't had to worry about anything which has allowed us to get to know this tiny person and experience this new life together as a family.

Michael and I at just over 3 weeks!
The transition, all in all, has been a relatively smooth one. Sure, there have been moments (and days!) when one and/or the other of us has been completely overwhelmed. Michael has had his fussy moments. His parents have had their fussy moments as well.There are times of exhaustion, when I haven't been able to think through the simplest of things. But by and large, the predominant emotion I've experienced this past month is the overwhelming love I have for Michael. I couldn't help but feel this desire to love and protect him from the moment he was placed on my chest, crying and wailing at the unfamiliar world. It's amazing to think that I love Michael simply for existing (it makes me think a lot about God's love for us). It feels like I've been entrusted with this precious gift of this new little person and it has been such a delight to watch him day by day change and grow - from seeing his eyelashes darken to noticing his chubby feet to seeing him hold his head up for a few extra seconds to having him stay awake just a few minutes longer to noticing him pick our voices and faces out of a crowd of people.

This past month has been so surreal; never has time passed so quickly and so slowly. I find myself caught between wanting to document every single moment and simply experiencing the gift of the present. There are times when I'll turn off the television and simply stare at him as he sleeps in my arms. I know these days will be over before I know it so I'm trying to cherish each one -- even the tough ones. Soon I'll miss the 3 am feedings where it's just me and Michael (and sometimes Netflix), I'll miss the newborn chirps and squeaks (that escalate into cries sometimes far too quickly!), and I'll miss the snuggles of a baby sleeping in my arms.

It's pretty amazing, this time we have as we begin this adventure called parenthood. I'm looking forward to where the journey will take us.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


Labor Day weekend has come and gone. It's as if the whole island has exhaled as the energy of summer starts to disappate with friends leaving for their winter homes, school starting, and businesses shifting to fall hours. There suddenly seems to be more space available in the lives of those who live here year-round. The ferry holds a higher percentage of familiar faces. Life seems to be settling from its frantic summer pace into a more sustainable pace.

Of course, these are my conjectures, not having lived here during the fall or winter yet. Perhaps it's because I personally feel more settled on the island. Perhaps it's because I've made a few more connections with people and orginizations these past couple weeks. Perhaps it's because I have the fall more or less planned out through Advent and Epiphany Plus with worship and group studies (even if content creation isn't quite finished...thank you Marica McFee and the Worship Design Studio workshop!) Perhaps it's because I'm not quite as tired as I was during the first trimester of my pregnancy.

Whatever the reason, everything suddenly doesn't feel as overwhelming as it did before. For that, I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Island Living

We are living on an island.

To say that it has been an adjustment would be a bit of an understatement....the least of these being the nearly irresistible urge to start belting Lonely Island's "I'm On A Boat" every time I take the ferry. (Just to warn you, the video is completely NSFW).

In all seriousness, I've discovered that life runs by the ferry schedule. Island wisdom dictates that "there is always another ferry" so if you happen to miss one, it's best to have a list of errands you can get done before the next boat. However, it does restrict what you can do on the mainland. No more late night movies unless you have a friend willing to let you crash on their couch. Lunch dates end with "Oh crap, I have to catch the boat" and a mad dash up I-295, ending with running from the parking lot with a huge pack of toilet paper in your arms (because, of course, batching errands is important) and sliding into a seat right before the engines engage. (No...that situation was completely hypothetical...really...)

This means planning has become a lot more important - because emergency ice cream isn't always available at 7 PM from the grocery store (not unless you want to drag yourself to the Yarmouth Hannaford on the 8 PM boat and not get home until 9:45 at night). Fortunately, I haven't hit the pregnancy cravings...yet. We did buy some frozen pizzas and dumplings from Trader Joe's just in case though. Buying in bulk has become a life-saver, as has Amazon Prime (thank you dog food deliveries...because I really don't want to be lugging a 30 lb bag on the ferry...although with your recent reports about your company, I sadly may have to reconsider our Prime membership). Fortuntely, we do live in the kind of place where, if you run out of sugar, you can, in fact, borrow a cup from a neighbor (which we did earlier this summer).

I'm still figuring a lot of stuff out. Moving here in the middle of the summer was a bit like drinking from the firehose of people, places, events, faces, names, and connections (oh, *you're* so-and-so's daughter, married to another-so-and-so's son...and are you here year round or for the summer?). Add starting a new job to settling in to a completely different way of life (not to mention the minutiae of moving to another state) to being in the middle of huge life changes and...yeah. Life's been intense this summer. Good, but intense. Things start to quiet down around Labor Day, and then again around Colombus Day, as I am told. I'm looking forward to getting more settled in the fall.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

A Vacation of a Lifetime

"It's the first adult vacation we've ever taken together!"

It dawned on me a few times after we had said it that this sentence might be misconstrued to mean something other than what we had intended.  Granted,  we'd always elaborate, saying that it's the first time we've ever really vacationed anywhere that wasn't either visiting relatives or owned by relatives or relatively near relatives.

Calling this a "grown up"  vacation doesn't really fit either, even though we've certainly consumed enough "grown up"  beverages for it to qualify.

This is our first time out of the country together,  discovering a new place together, really travelling together and we've kinda joked around saying it is our second honeymoon. This August will be eight years married for us.  Ten years together.  Almost fourteen years since we first met and became friends. So -  I think the terminology fits,  especially since we are unlikely to get another vacation in like this for a long time.

So far,  it's been pretty awesome. We've both felt the need to unwind and relax,  which has basically translated to two full days on the beach and evenings out on the terrace in the hammock.  Today we didn't even venture in to town (which is about a 25 minute walk along the beach).  I can't remember when I've had no responsibilities beyond whether I should swim before or after lunch.

Tomorrow we're hoping to be a bit more active and venture in to Puerto Viejo for some shopping and cheap empanadas.

One thing that is on the shopping list?  A hammock.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Things I Will Miss About Haverhill

We closed yesterday. It's a bit surreal and it hasn't quite hit me, even with the large check in hand and fewer keys on the keychain. We were saying goodbye to various places as we were driving by on our way to the closing. Here is a list of a few of the things I will miss (aside from the many friends in Haverhill):

- Running in Winnekenni Park (well, maybe I won't miss the running part as much...I will miss Winnekenni)
- Our neighborhood (which was pretty awesome in many ways - beautiful houses, easy walking distance to the downtown, good neighbors)
- The Love/Hate relationship I have with Market Basket (maybe not)
- Seeing the American Dog by Exit 48 on I-495 S done by the amazing Dale Rogers Studio so frequently
- The amazing restaurants downtown and in Bradford (Wicked Big, the Artist Cafe, Keon's, Lakeview Kitchen, the Barking Dog, to name a few)
- being a part of so many great community organizations
- All the places to get Roast Beef
- Walking Downtown
- The Farmer's Market
- The River and Classical New England (thank goodness for streaming)
- Massachusetts Politics (especially given LePage's current ravings) and Affordable Health Insurance (we'll see about this last one?)

Anyway - thanks for the past 7 years, Haverhill. Before I moved there, you were just 5 exits off of 495. I'm glad I learned that you are so much more.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Goodbye to Haverhill

It's hard to believe that our time in Haverhill is coming to a close. When we move at the end of May, we will have lived in this city for almost 7 years. There are parts of this community that have shaped me in ways that I am grateful for - especially the relationships and connections between so many people who were about making this city a better place. I've learned a lot about leadership, investment in place, community organizing and civic engagement from my time here.

On a more personal level, the friendships and spirit of this place I know I will carry with me. Haverhill is a city that is slowly remaking itself and breaking away from the negative reputation it has been given. Out of its glorious, industrial past through a period of difficult times, a greener, more creative, vibrant and thriving city is emerging. I'm grateful to have been a part of many organizations helping to make that future happen.

Over the next few weeks we'll be saying goodbye to this city that has been home for this season of our life. Since leaving my hometown, it's been the place where I have lived the longest and have learned what it means to begin to set down roots in a place and begin to truly "know" a community. It was here in Haverhill that I came to fully appreciate the value of locally grown food and getting to know those who grew it. I've come to love local business and being able to walk down the street and greet my neighbors. I enjoy going to the grocery store and running into people I know.

So thank you, Haverhill, for all that you have given me for these past 7 years. It's been a good run. You are full of good people doing good things, and I know that you will thrive. Thank you for letting me and Ben be a part of your story for a time - and here's wishing you all the best on all the exciting things to come.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Rhythms of Life

(Note: this post originally appeared in Ben's monthly newsletter. If you haven't subscribed yet, head on over to his website and do so! The version I'm posting here is slightly expanded from the original article). 

For the past few months (since October, really, when our ministry with The Vine ended), I have been working as a barista/cashier/bookkeeper/whatever-they-need-me-to-do-staff-person at a local specialty food shop. The work has been a nice change of pace on the whole; the hardest part was transitioning from setting my own schedule to working every day from 11:30 AM to close. (The other fun change transition was one from being sedentary to being on my feet all day. I eventually adjusted to running around the store: from the counter to the kitchen with orders, empty baskets, coffee urns, and dishes.)

Now I find myself at the end of this six month adventure, getting ready to move back into professional ministry and its own rhythm of life (goodbye lazy Sunday mornings!) as the pastor of the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church (more reflections on this exciting news to come later!). There are a few learnings that I am planning on taking with me from this employment experience:

  1. Weekends are awesome, and everyone needs two days off. Sundays and Mondays were my “weekend” days where I didn’t have to be at work. One of the biggest pieces of customer feedback was “you should be open on Sundays!” to which we’d respond “we need weekends too!” So, as I head back into the ministry, there will be two days off. Consecutive days off.
  2. Scheduled time. I know that ministry blurs the line between “life” and “work” and there will be times when I’ll have to negotiate that boundary. Scheduled time for “work” (sermon prep, Bible study, administration, worship planning, visitation, etc) allows me to be more focused and productive, and then when I’m “off” I don’t have to feel guilty for not doing “work”.
  3. Mastering small talk and taking conversational risks with people. I am an introvert (Ben and I disagree on this sometimes). This job forces you (in a good way) to talk and interact with a lot of people all day - and sometimes meaningful conversations arise. It’s been great to be able to realize that talking with strangers can be lots of fun.
  4. Being more active! I definitely don’t want to be sitting at my desk all day in front of a computer as I prep. Taking walks around the island with the dogs and running more are two things I’m looking forward to. I’ll have to be really intentional here so I don’t slip back into old patterns.
  5. Good food. Oh. My. Goodness. Being surrounded by good food every day was such a gift. My usual lunch at work was a bowl of soup and I found that that was enough to get me through until dinnertime. It was so delicious (and most of them on the healthier side). It really made me value sitting down and appreciating the food in front of me and savoring every bite. (And, to be sure, I'll be stocking up on the Chinese dumplings they sell).

I start July 1st. I’m excited to see where this journey takes me as a pastor (and Ben as a pastor’s husband!)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

2015 - The Year of Less Stuff

I wouldn't say that I'm a hoarder (probably most hoarders wouldn't say that they are hoarders either). Really, I'm not --you don't have to wade through piles of old magazines to get into the kitchen, or shove mountains of clothes to sit on the couch. My office floor is visible and I have open spaces on my desk.

I just have an emotional attachment to my stuff.

For most everything I own, I can remember (1) who gave it to me, and (2) where it comes from. To entertain the notion of giving things away makes me feel like I am offending the person who originally owned this item and that it somehow belittles the relationship we have to even think about removing it from my possession.

Or, for the items of mine that aren't so sentimental, I have this "I can/will use this someday" attitude that is not really based in reality. Magazines will somehow magically become collages, yarn will one day become comfy afghans, candles will be burned and bookmarks will be used. (Note, I never, ever use bookmarks.  I generally remember the page number of the books I am in the middle of).

During the first half of this year, Ben and I are going through the house and down-sizing. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the biggest one is that we have way. too. much. stuff. There's just so much that we've moved from apartment to house to house that has never gotten unpacked. There are books we will never read again, or games that will never be played again (there are so many games that are way better than Monopoly), or papers that we'll never need again (honestly, notes from a meeting taken 5 years ago from a church that no longer exists can hardly be that important).

So thus begins the year of detaching myself from stuff. I will work through this idea that getting rid of the knick-knacks received over the years doesn't diminish any relationships or my memories I have of the people who gave them to me. I'll have a cleaner office and a less cluttered house. I'll have a few extra bucks for the date jar from all the stuff we sell. And I'll probably be a more healthy person at the end of it all.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Old Habits Die Hard

Since The Vine's ministry ended in October, some of you have wondered what we've been up to.

The same week we held our final worship service, I started working more regular hours at Lakeview Kitchen, a specialty grocery store that offers delicious paninis, soups, baked goods, chocolates and everything that is wonderful about food. I have joined the ranks of those who are on a regular work schedule - Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 AM to close.

I enjoy what I do. I get to talk to customers, advise them (to the best of my limited knowledge) on purchases, make lattes, stock shelves, assist with record-keeping, take orders, and generally be hospitable and helpful. Connecting with people is great. In some ways, it's not too different about certain aspects of our ministry in Haverhill, except my interactions with people are (1) way more limited and (2) very fleeting. But I feel like if my conversation or interaction with someone can, in some small way, make their day better, then I've done my job well. Even on difficult days, I have a sense that if the people who visited the store had a positive experience, then it's all worth it. I enjoy my coworkers, my bosses are great; it's a lovely place to work.

Plus - everything in this store is delicious. I'm surprised that I haven't gained weight working here because literally, I am surrounded by amazing chocolate, delectable cheeses, mouthwatering scones and cookies, and much, much more. I'm also surprised that I don't spend my whole paycheck every week on yummy things to eat! (Ben would probably not appreciate it if I did that...)

The challenging piece of all this hasn't been the work. Work has been easy. It's how everything else fits in that has been difficult. Over my time in Haverhill, I've accumulated several different community hats, many that fit authentically with what I enjoy doing with my time and energy and that also fit well within the framework of how I envisioned my ministry in the city. I've found myself having to choose and prioritize how I spend my time (something I'm not great at to begin with). Add this to the mix of still being so unsure of what comes next long-term, evaluating options, wrapping up loose Vine ends, being worried about the present and its demands, and it's pretty stressful. There hasn't been a lot of room for good self-care (I take whatever I can get, which usually ends up being mindlessly watching TV in the evenings when I am home and football marathons on Sundays).

Most of the time, I don't let myself think about it. I have so much on my plate and I know how to deal with being overwhelmed with multiple demands, so it doesn't bother me as much as it really should. Juggling is familiar. Overworking is familiar. Going in fifty thousand different directions is familiar.

I know this pace of life isn't sustainable. It hasn't really allowed me to process or grieve the loss of the Vine. It hasn't really allowed me to start preparing for whatever might be next for us. It hasn't really given me the space I need to listen to God's call and to think about who I am apart from this thing called pastoral ministry. (I've thought about all these things some, I just haven't been able to really reflect on it all). I keep telling myself that it's just for a season - just until after the holidays, just until January, just until the next vacation or whatever. In reality, though, I'm not sure I know how to live differently.

I'm in the process of transitioning out of a few things I'm involved with in the community - some sooner and some later. The challenge will be to rearrange my plate so that the important things get priority...and not to get back into bad habits.

There is grace in all this, somehwere. Grace is in having a wonderful, loving husband who patiently puts up with me rushing everywhere and running out the door five minutes behind schedule nearly every morning. Grace is having a supportive family who will listen when I'm having a stressful day. Grace is going for a morning walk with the doggies and seeing a beautiful sunrise (when I'm up that early). Grace is having an unexpected quiet evening at home, snuggling with the dogs and with Ben and having a Parks and Recreation marathon. Grace is dinner with friends. Grace is knowing that despite the crazy, busy, unsustainable pace of life -- it'll all work out in the end. Grace is knowing that life is good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You can lead a horse to water...

Ben's been writing a lot about his story and experience of The Vine over at I'm sure many of you that read this blog also read his, but if you haven't found your way there yet, I encourage you to take a look. The process (and especially some of the feedback he’s gotten) has helped me think a bit about my own journey and about the purpose of church and community.

One of the (many!) lessons this journey has taught me is that church is a place where people were being discipled so that they could go out and in turn make disciples of Jesus. I don't care how that disciple-making happens - if you make one or if you make 200, if you talk about your faith non-stop or if you just to live it...a disciple of Jesus makes other disciples of Jesus. Faith is not a consumer product, something to be plucked off the shelf at the WalMart of Life along with your other feel-good items for Good Living. Faith is a daily, lived out process of learning to follow Jesus and teaching others to do the same.

However, we often treat the church as a provider of religious goods and services and not as a place for disciple making. (Incidentally, it makes me laugh everytime I see the line “other than intangible religious benefits, no goods or services were provided in exchange for this donation” on giving statements from churches).

I think this is the most challenging concept for us in our culture to understand, and certainly one I think few in our churches understand. We’re used to evaluating our lives based on what gives us the most benefit - spending time on the things we value, spending money on what is important to us, connecting with the people who can give us the most in return. This kind of consumer thinking certainly played into my leadership (whether I was always aware of it or not). It feels good when people come to worship and get something out of what you have to offer. It’s great when you plan an event and everybody has a great time. It’s wonderful when people start financially supporting your ministry. But - that doesn’t necessarily mean you are making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t want your time or your money or your relationships or your programs or events. Jesus wants your life. All of it. Not in piecemeal chunks (as if we could make a monthly….or weekly...payment), but everything - in one down payment of 100%. For me, that means I have to carry myself in the world as Jesus did. When I look at the way Jesus lived and how Jesus taught, I see this kenotic, self-emptying life that looks nothing like the consumeristic lifestyle our culture eats, sleeps, and breathes.

If we’re really trying to follow Jesus as a disciple, I don’t think we can place value on Jesus or church on what benefit it is to us as individuals, but how it benefits our community and our world. When those who participate in the church are primarily in it for how it benefits them, you get a community of people looking inward to their own needs and wants. It forms a community that is dependent upon its leader for all its spiritual needs. Discipleship is viewed as spiritual self-help, something that helps me and my own.

However, if we think about following Jesus in terms of the impact on the world around us, discipleship is less about us and our needs and more about others. Discipleship becomes about learning and growing in the ways of Jesus so that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that needs to be reminded of the hope and redemption that waits for us all. Discipleship becomes about how we are the body of Christ, called to go out and disciple others. Following Jesus in community with others means that at some point, the discipler steps to the background and lets the disciples step up, trusting them with the vision and mission of being the church out in the world.

I've always felt like my role as a pastor was to put myself out of a job (not, incidentally, in the way that happened with The Vine.) As a leader, my role was to disciple and empower people to take ownership for living out their own discipleship (including how they were discipling others) as well as ownership to live out their own sense of vocation in ministering to others. I've seen some wonderful examples of this in church settings from faithful commitment to volunteering at a local thrift store to working for agencies that help the homeless to investment in personal relationships to people encouraging one another using The Artist's Way.

I celebrated when there was something going on in the church that I, as a pastor, did not plan. I gave thanks when the seed of an idea took root and I knew there were capable leaders in place. It was wonderful when there was something I started that I could hand over to someone waiting in the wings because it would be an opportunity for them to grow and learn in their leadership and discipleship.

To be sure, I didn’t do this perfectly - in my own discipleship or in my own leadership. Our community wasn’t perfect either; you will always have a mix of people with a variety of motivations for being there - and that’s OK. The church is imperfect because we are all imperfect people.

But I believe that as the church adapts to the changing culture, it needs to rediscover this principle of discipling others to make disciples. No longer can we stand out in the market square, offering our religious goods at a discount price, because there will always be something better out there. Instead, we need to be living like Jesus, engaging others like Jesus did, trusting that as we do so, our world will be transformed.