Saturday, September 10, 2022

Harvest Moon Reflections

When did Christianity become so disconnected from the Earth? So separate from the rhythms of nature that bring us back to the place of wonder and humility as we find again the brilliance of life rising out of the water?

We headed to the shore this evening to watch the moonrise. I hated the resurgence of the mosquitos, which considerably dampened my experience (but since they have been fairly absent for most of the summer...No, I will not give these minute terrors any excuses as I sit here, suffering from literally 20 bites on my legs. Believe me, I counted them as I slathered on the Benadryl cream.)

A few of us gathered on the beach eagerly awaiting the rising of the moon, trying to guess where it would appear, all the while trying to prevent my children from splashing in the water (in their PJs) or making sand angels. It felt like a holy space, the anticipation of the slow rising of light and the delight in discovering the hazy red glow of the Harvest Moon before us. 

I knew God was there, though there was no Invocation (but for the casual conversations as our eyes scanned the horizon). There was no Prayer of Confession, except, perhaps, for the realization that there are forces at work far larger than us - that even though I don't see the moon (yet), the moon sees me even through the clouds and grants forgiveness for ever doubting its presence. There was no Proclamation of the Word or sermon but for the silent rising that declared the constant presence of a God that bears silent witness to all that is carried in the shadowed places and meets it all with love and grace. There was no Benediction but for the laughter of tired children running back to the car, somehow unscathed by mosquito bites but also sandy as all get out.

How much have we lost by not acknowledging and celebrating these small, sacred moments? Not as a substitute for the larger gathering of the Body of Christ (because, as one of my new favorite quotes from Rev. Lillian Daniel states, "Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon.”) but as equally deserving of notice and attention - a kind of worship that draws us back to creation and our utter reliance upon the very rhythms that mark time and season.

There's something about the island that allows us to come back to that space, that invites us to remember how much we are governed by forces beyond our control, not in a spirit of determinism, but in one that is a give and take of action and response, of movement and stillness, of high tide - and low tide. Certain streams of Christianity would have us think that we (in partnership of God, of course!) are the makers of our own future - that any future we so desire and aspire to is one within the will of God. 

Watching the moon rise, seeing the tide come in, feeling the sun slowly warm the sand, reminds us just how much we are not able to control our lives. 

I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this, except this evening, as I watched the moon climb higher in the sky, as I noticed other people share on social media their own rituals this particular moonrise, I feel the desire to dig deep and acknowledge the ways God is made known in Jesus who walks alongside us, is made known in the works fashioned and sustained by God's own heart, is made known in the gathered body on Sunday mornings and on Saturday nights to watch the glorious moon rise above the water.

I'll Stay Here With You

Right now, my youngest is going through a bit of an unpredictable phase when it comes to sleep. There are nights (and naps) where she will consent to being placed in her bed and will let me walk out of the room. There are other times when she wants to be held. On occasion, I have to pick her up and place her in bed 10 times before she'll stay. Sometimes, the only way for her to calm her body enough for sleep is for me to lie down with her and tuck her in once she's drowsy enough.

(No doubt I'll get parent-shamed for not keeping to a consistent bedtime routine. We've tried routines; they only work until they don't anymore...and our routine up until the actual bed is remarkably predictable).

A week ago, I put Genevieve in her crib upstairs for a nap. She wanted to be held, but I said that I couldn't do that right now, but that I'd stay with her while she fell asleep. 

Hearing myself say that phrase - it caught my attention. "I'll stay here with you." 

I had a conversation over Labor Day weekend with my husband's aunt and uncle who have been up in Maine visiting for the past few weeks. Part of their life's journey have included the death of a child and an MS diagnosis. As we were talking one afternoon, she shared a bit about what it was like in those spaces, to have so many relationships renegotiated because other people didn't know how to deal with what they were going through. They didn't know what to say, or didn't want to burden them with their problems because "yours are so much worse," or they simply drifted away. Over time, relationships sifted out and his aunt shared about the wonderful circle of friends she has now who embrace her for all of who she is.

We all have our share of burdens. So many people I know are carrying heavy loads right now, whether it's feeling the state of the world, supporting hurting communities, navigating personal struggles, or some combination of the three. Oftentimes we don't know how to show up in the lives of our friends and neighbors who are in the thick of it. Pain makes us uncomfortable, so we try to fix it or share uplifting platitudes or put some distance between us and our friend. We somehow think that if we can't make what's happening in our friend's life better, what use do we have?

Over Lent, the church I serve worked through Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie's book Good Enough. Reading these devotionals and listening to several episodes of Kate Bowler's Podcast Everything Happens have reinforced this idea that the impulse to fix or "help" those who are hurting needs to take a back seat to presence. Support doesn't always look like the "everything will turn out OK" lines we're taught to say - support more often looks like "I'll stay here with you. I see your hurt. I see your pain. I don't know what to say, but I will be here with you. I will bear witness in this season."

Isn't that the beauty of being human together? It for sure is about the joyful moments, it is also about the moments we sit with one another in the ashes. There's beauty in the hard places where we stay raw to the hurts and wounds of those around us. 

God stays here with us - so we can stay here with each other.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Finding Lost Things and Other Talents

A few weeks.ago or so , I went to my favorite beach with the kids. We had a morning to kill before heading off-island in the afternoon to run some errands. (I still marvel from time to time that I live in a place where it's so easy to pop off to the beach for an hour or two and not have it be a Whole Ordeal).

The kids immediately wandered off (mostly to dig in the muddy low tide sand) while I set about to my favorite activity (pictured here). Sea glass, sea pottery - all sorts of treasures - wash up regularly on this beach.

Eventually my meanderings took me over to a section of a beach where a friend and her family, along with an islander armed with a metal detector, were combing a particular section of sand and seaweed. A men's wedding ring had been lost the night before, and what had been thought to have been safely tucked away  in a shoe, turned out not to have been the case. A Facebook plea to the community had turned up some help with the search. (One of the folks looking for the lost ring gave me the lovely floral sea pottery piece that I'm holding near the tips of my fingers; it looks like it had once belonged to a teacup).

As I continued my own wanderings (eyes sharpened to keep watch for a white gold metal band), I immediately thought of the Parable of the Lost Coin, where a woman turns her house inside out to find one of her lost silver coins, and when it is found, invites her community to rejoice with her.

It led me to thinking about how we all have our roles and ways of being as it relates to the unfolding of God's kingdom - like in 1 Corinthians, where Paul talks about planting the seed of the gospel among them and talks about Apollo watering that seed (and the growth coming from God). Toss in this beautiful modern remix of 1 Corinthians 12 from enfleshed and there are so many ways to witness and embody God's hopes and dreams for this world. (Of course, I also thought about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, when Chief Engineer Hemmer tells Uhura what his purpose in life is: it is to fix what is broken. Layers of meaning there.)

Finding what is lost. Fixing what is broken. Planting seeds of hope. Practicing resurrection. Communication across barriers. Nourishing others. How wonderful would it be if we could all distill our purposes down to a short, single phrase? Our purposes get incarnated in a thousand different ways over the course of our lifetimes, and even then, we may find that purpose changing and shifting and intersecting each other.

In my household, I joke that I am the Finder of Things. I have an uncanny ability in recovering That Which Is Needed (be it a treasured stuffie, Ben's winter hat, the One Specific Lego, etc). Granted, this is something that I do for the other people in my house; I can only sometimes find That Which Is Needed For Myself. I have a visual memory and somehow my brain just passively notices and stores all these things so that I can locate the car key or the wallet or the phone when required. When looking for a particular quote in a book, more often than not I remember where on the page it's situated.

A couple months ago, I was talking with my spiritual director, filling him in on bits and pieces of what my life looks like right now and the time of transition I'm in as we look to inhabit our Very Much Still In-Process place on Fire House Road. I shared a bit of the story and how this property held so many special memories for folks on the island and how glad so many folks were that we'd taken it on as a project. I joked that that was kind of our Modus Operandi as a couple - the vocational bent of our shared life has been about bringing dead places back to life. He responded sharing that it wasn't just bringing it back to life, but a resurrected, new life. 

That's what we do in this kingdom life. I know others who are Nourishers, Practicers of Radical Hospitality, Revealers of Beauty, Truth-Tellers, Fishers of People. Each brings their purpose into everything they do; it's just part of who they are, as easy as breathing. It doesn't matter if they are pastoring a congregation, farming the land, restoring and renovating a house, retired, or serving lunches at a school. It's not about what they are paid to do; it's a part of who they are.

The ring, blessedly, was found on the path leading back to the main road. There was much rejoicing (which I got to share in.) Surely prayer made a difference; what also made a difference was the volunteer efforts of one man who used his gifts (and a metal detector) to Find What Was Lost, this bringing joy and relief to a family who needed it in that moment. There was a high degree of confidence in his efforts, as during the search he had shared the stories of all the other items he had found for others who had lost them.

We all have our purposes - our parts to play. What is yours? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Random Thoughts on Summer and Adaptive Change

 Summer is here at last. Our seasonal friends (well, they aren't only friends in the summer, just friends that are here in the summer) are returning. School is out. Days are longer and warmer and there's a certain change in the air that is the promise of lots of time at the beach - but only a promise because I look at my schedule and see a rapidly approaching house deadline, several funerals/gravesides/memorials scheduled (in addition to normal Sunday morning worship) and three days of childcare for the small one (and two days for the older one) and wonder "how the heck do I keep my sanity in the midst of everything?" 

There's a certain degree of intentionality with which I want to live and maintain our household, with lots of rhythm and routine (baking the bread for the week, storing the vegetables for the winter - even though I am a sucky gardener at this point, order the house, etc). I am nowhere near that yet. Right now I am in the throes of survival to get to the point where I have enough space to create the life God is inviting me into.

I'll be honest in saying that I'm in a Not Great place lately. I'm tired. The pressure to "make the most of this summer" is overwhelming from every corner. Now that the pandemic is "over", the full court press is on for activities, gatherings, Doing the Normal Things Because That's What We Do, and I find myself feeling out of step from the rest of the world which seems to have no problem returning to Normal with a vengeance. Except so many people are tired, or have reprioritized their lives and are more protective(?) with their time and energy.

I'm not sure that organizations and institutions have really grappled with the fact that the pandemic has changed the landscape of participation. Layer the realities of gun violence, the war in Ukraine, the January 6th hearings, SCOTUS decisions, and we're all just so burdened. The fabric of our society is unraveling - and to be sure, that's anxiety inducing and unsettling. So many institutions - like our churches - aren't immune to the effects. But, anxious organizations hold ever more tightly to those practices that are familiar, give comfort, and provide a sense of stability. Such adherence to the status quo doesn't actually engage with reality; it merely delays any adaptive change that might help move an organization forward and thrive in the midst of anxious times.

To be sure, many leaders had to have Adaptive Mindsets to the Max over these past few years. Yet now that the pandemic is "over", it is not the time to go running back to normal. It's time to step back, pay attention, notice where the energies are actually flowing and partner with that. I think about this particularly with churches. Discernment and curious questions are key in this time. Ask why people aren't flocking back to worship instead of throwing every band-aid solution at luring them back in. Ask why families have been so reluctant to reengage with congregational life. Ask why new leaders aren't stepping up or why new ministries aren't emerging. Ask what is happening in your community that is life-giving to folks. Spend more time there. (I can almost guarantee you that for most people, worship isn't it.) 

Such principles are always easier to talk about than practice. Many leaders - pastors especially - are entrenched in systems that have Acted in Certain Ways for Generations, in communities that have established patterns of behaviors (this gets exacerbated in small towns and even more so in Unbridged Island Communities). I believe, however, that the churches that are going to make it as we move into the future are the ones that can practice this contemplative stance together and who aren't afraid to ditch the things that feel normal for the sake of a thriving body that serves the community.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

One Year Later

 It’s been a year.

Looking back, there were some things I anticipated about the church I serve leaving the United Methodist Church - the enormous amount of work forming an independent entity, the need for finding connection and community in new ways, the importance of my own discernment regarding my relationship with the denomination that formed my faith since birth and the need to figure out where I would eventually land.

What I didn’t anticipate was how profoundly the events of Annual Conference last year would reveal how toxic a system the congregation I serve was leaving.

For those who took the time to call, text, write, or email in the aftermath of those days, I am deeply grateful. I didn’t anticipate how deeply painful those few days would be - from having your future debated without being able to be present to having the integrity of your ministry questioned to the outright manipulation of the process. There are many specifics of those days I do not remember clearly (though I can go back and read the transcripts or see the screenshots of the outright lies shared on social media if I ever wanted to remind myself of how horrific it was) but my body continues to remember these things. It knows the cost. I continue to feel the deep relational betrayal - not primarily from those who were most vocal against disaffiliation, but from the many who sat in silence, including those who had nurtured my call to ministry, supported me as I went to seminary and in the work of planting a new faith community.

In light of how those proceedings were held, even though there was a pathway created for retaining United Methodist credentialing while I considered my own relationship to the UMC while serving a disaffiliated congregation, there was no way I could continue to remain professionally associated with United Methodism and hold on to my own professional, personal, and spiritual integrity.

About a month after the church’s disaffiliation became official, I was asked to surrender the piece of paper that granted my license for ministry, despite it clearly stating on that document that I was only authorized for pastoral ministry until the appointment was terminated. This, of course, would clearly have been given that the congregation was no longer United Methodist. This letter, along with a cursory email checking in on my status before the church disaffiliated and a brief email confirming receipt of my license, was the extent of any official communication from the New England Annual Conference or its committees as it pertained to my experience. I sent in the license (decorated with the signatures of people who continue to affirm my call and ministry) along with a letter to the bishop, which detailed my concerns about the events that transpired on the floor of Annual Conference last year, with copies sent to my former district superintendent and the co-chairs of the Board of Ordained Ministry. (Incidentally, I know of no other local pastor who has been asked to turn in their license upon ending their appointments).

For those people who have reached out to me for conversation and sharing, I am deeply grateful. I appreciate all who have prayed for me and for the church I serve as we’ve navigated this year. For me, it has been a year of mourning, as I grieve the loss of the people called United Methodist in New England, who have been my community since I attended my first Annual Conference in high school. It has been a year of unlearning a lot of assumptions about what connectionalism can and should be. It has been a year of emerging relationships and networks and taking tentative steps into new beginnings. It's been hard and liberating and clarifying and there are times I continue to mourn - for myself and what I had hoped the UMC could be. There has also been incredible freedom in pursuing new paths and new relationships.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve never been much of an institutionalist. I’ve always gravitated toward ministry on the edges and in the more overlooked places, from the streets of downtown Haverhill to the resilient shores of Chebeague Island. I’ve always had a heart for God’s unfolding dream among a people and in a place, and I’ve sought to follow God’s leading faithfully. I’ve also been one to hope that the UMC, particularly in New England, could position itself to adapt to the uncertainty facing the denomination’s future, particularly in light of our changing religious landscape in our country. I also had a sense that God could work powerfully within the system and there were times I served on conference committees, believing that the work made a difference for the church and for the world.

However, last year’s Annual Conference demonstrated that allegiance to institution is the paramount value that drives the denomination, that there is only one permitted way to faithfully respond to God’s call for inclusion which is to stay and fight, and that there are relational costs to pay for divestment. 

To those of you attending Annual Conference in New England this week, I’m sure there will be acknowledgements of how painful last year was. There will be comments about broken trust, the need to heal. An image of the Beloved Community will be lifted up. I’m sure you will talk about brave space conversations and the hope of moving into the future marked by liberation and inclusion. To me, those are empty words, bereft of the work of confession and repentance. You want to “heal” not for the sake of transformation, but to absolve yourself of the guilt and harm you’ve caused - not just this past year, but for decades. I don't want to minimize the pain that others experienced last year, but please don't pretend that hurt and pain was all one-sided.

Jesus said you will know them by their fruits. What I observed and experienced last year - the lies, the manipulation, the weaponized pain, the silencing - demonstrate that there are more serious and systemic issues to grapple with than policy change. While full inclusion is a necessary step for justice, cycles of harm will continue unless deep work happens around how people extend grace to one another, honor pain, and entrust each other to God's care.

As you move forward this year at Annual Conference, please consider what that work might actually look like and have the courage to do it. It won’t be through empty words or hollow resolutions, but through reflection and repentance for the harm caused as part of the disaffiliation process. While there may be no way for me to restore my trust in you as a body or as people seeking to faithfully embody Jesus in this world, I pray that you may have the wisdom to show others more grace than you did me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Why I Hate Summer (at least, Why I Hate This Summer)

 I knew this summer was going to be full. Between the congregation I serve going through disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church, our house renovation project moving forward (with some fun summer surprises), two small kids, the busyness of summer on Chebeague, and the first "post-pandemic" summer (ha!), there wasn't going to be a lot of time to stop and breathe. Certainly no margins for error in our delicate family balance.

What I didn't anticipate was the toll on my body and my spirit from Annual Conference this year (and how that experience basically left me without a faith community or denominational home...I will write about that one day) and the waves of anxiety that come up without warning and render me having to work hard to even swallow.

I didn't anticipate Ben getting appendicitis and having emergency surgery at the end of July. (A huge amount of gratitude for everyone who carried us through these past couple weeks as Ben recovers. The surgeon said one more week and he should be fine to do just about everything again).

And in the midst of one of our busiest weeks, where we had planned to go out for dinner together for the first time since March 2020 to celebrate our 14 year anniversary, I didn't plan on my youngest catching the stomach bug that has been making the rounds, thus upending our Fancy Dinner Plans (not to mention the juggling and shuffling of work that happens when there's a sick kid).

The thing is, most people I know around here are having heavy summers as well. So many of us are just making it as best we can through the shit that has cropped up - whether that is the uncertainty of personal health issues, the anxiety of rising COVID cases, the weight of what’s happening in our world, and everything in between. We’re all just carrying a lot these days - we were carrying a lot going into this summer season, and it has continued to pile on.

Reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s most recent piece at The Corners helped put a lot in perspective for me. That, and the constant jettising of extraneous bits of commitments and the general right-sizing of the expectations I am placing on myself (by which I mean, I’m lowering my standards), and trying to get a better sense of what my actual capacity is these days. It’s always been challenging to find a healthy rhythm and flow between “Pastor Hat” and “Spouse hat” and “Parent hat” and “Insert-Hat-of-Choice-Here Hat”. This season has also exacerbated my overfunctioning tendencies when it comes to my work, which is terribly easy to do in a half time setting. 

I’m grateful that God carries us through these seasons, through the gift of community that steps in to make meals and watch children and through the gift of grace that works beyond my abilities and through the gift of people who will just sit with me and acknowledge the shittiness of it all without feeling the need to solve anything.

I’m hopeful that as the school year starts, there will be a bit more margin for healthy rhythms - both for me in my own spiritual practices (which have gone woefully neglected) and in terms of prioritizing my family and their well-being. I’m hopeful that as the church moves forward into its new season, we can have some good conversations about expectations and roles and responsibilities and communication. Maybe the first wounds can begin to heal from earlier this summer. 

And maybe I can step a bit more intentionally into the spaciousness I want for this next season of my life.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Coming Out the Other End

March 15, 2020 was the last worship gathering we had in our sanctuary space. Genevieve was barely mobile. We stood during coffee hour, distanced from one another (as you can see from the pic barely showing our feet). After worship, my family went to go spend a couple days with my parents. It was the last time Ben and I went out on a date, if you can call restaurant hopping down Forest Ave in Portland and panic buying supplies at Veranda Asian Market a proper romantic outing.

I am thankful that the church had already started having conversations on Chebeague about how to organize a response to the virus in our community. Early on we partnered with the Island Council reminding folks of the resources in the community, encouraging folks to make sure they had supplies of their prescriptions, offering to connect folks who needed help with technology, getting a list of mainland go-fers and volunteers for necessities., reminding folks to be in touch with their healthcare providers if they had any questions. Our food pantry ramped up quickly as Stay-at-Home orders were put in place so that people could have access to food to limit exposure on the mainland. Those early days of the pandemic were a whirlwind of figuring out how to do this without daycare, while preparing for Easter in this weird pandemic reality where we knew so little and what we did know seemed to change from day to day. It was energizing and exhausting and I will forever be grateful for those who came together around our family to help us see it through that time. We all did this for one another.

The summer afforded some degree of normalcy for our family, though the continued lack of daycare was a struggle. At least we could get outside, enjoy the sun and the water, and had some quarantine-before-we-went vacations with each side of our family. COVID testing was available on the island - thanks to the church being the fiscal sponsor of a grant that some dedicated medical professionals put together to serve the island.

What saved our family, however, was daycare and in-person school opening in the fall. What a privilege to have our school numbers be at a place where social-distancing was possible, and where we had a staff dedicated to cleaning, creativity, outdoor learning, and so much more. They have been rock stars and deserve all the praise and gratitude. What a gift to have a Kids' Place open again to create a nurturing environment for the island's youngest residents. The staff there have made such a wonderful safe haven for the littles and it lifts my heart when Genevieve bounds in the door, excited to be there. Both of these critical island resources have saved our family's sanity over and over and over again this winter.

Certainly there are a lot of personal lessons I am taking away from this year - that I am far more resilient than I thought, that asking for help is something I can do, that time with family is precious and fleeting (after all, Genevieve went from being a baby with chunky legs to a full force toddler in this time), that when faced with being tired and miserable or just tired - always pick being tired, just to name a few of them.

But what I also learned after a year of navigating the pandemic with this community is just how lucky I am to live here. So many people and organizations found ways to adapt to the challenges of this time. Technology played a huge part in this, and our island does desperately need better access to the internet. But neighbor-to-neighbor connection got us through as well, with people checking in with one another, going on walks together, forming pods together, and lending helping hands wherever they could. It was hard and contentious at times - as life on Chebeague can definitely be at times - but with the light at the end of the tunnel, we will make it through together.

I haven't given a ton of thought to post-pandemic life; I probably should so I'm not swept up in patterns that I don't want to continue. In the after-time, I plan on saying "no" a lot more, that's for sure. I think the church should wrestle with these things as well, even as we have this major change of disaffiliation from the UMC before us.

I wonder, though, if organizations (and the town?) shouldn't have these conversations as well. How do we want to be going forward? Do we have to go back 100% to how things were before everything shut down? What from this time can we carry with us - and what can we leave in the past, both from the pandemic *and* from life before?

I know that this summer will still be different - the vaccine, while huge, isn't the key to fixing everything. We'll still need to wear masks and practice good hygiene and keep distance. We don't know how long the vaccine is effective for or how well it does against the variants, even as we know it does a good job protecting against severe illness and death. But my hope and prayer is that we won't be so eager to get back to "normal" that we forget what we've learned or that we don't take the time to hold the grief so many have experienced because of COVID. I hope that we will be gentle with ourselves, easing back into rhythms and routines that are healthier for us, for our families, for our communities, and for our planet.

[Two images: the first is mostly bare wood floor, with shoes pointing in from the edges of the picture, showing social distancing. It was taken on March 15, 2020. The second is from March 14, 2021, and shows me with a huge cup of coffee in my Mr. Rogers mug, sitting in my office, right before Zoom worship begins].

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

50 Days

It's been 50 days since I've been off the island. The last time was to visit my family for a couple days in the middle of March as the first cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Maine. My husband and I went out for a date that included stocking up on food and an insane amount of hand sanitizing after every doorknob we touched. At that point, school had been canceled only through the end of March. Daycare had been canceled. Little did I know I had just conducted my last in-person worship service that past Sunday, complete with socially distanced coffee hour and elbow bumps instead of hugs.

50 days. 50 days of social distancing and staying at home. 50 days of evolving news about the virus and how it spreads. 50 days of no daycare. 50 days of Zoom meetings, Zoom cocktail hours, Zoom family hangouts. 50 days of not hugging anyone outside my household. 50 days of not seeing my family or my husband's family. 50 days of figuring out how to do ministry online. 50 days of figuring out how to keep our community safe and together and connected. 50 days of communicating, communicating, communicating. 50 days of bulk grocery runs. 50 days of stealing a minute to work here and there, of interruptions of "Mommy, play with me!", of working after the kids go to sleep. 50 days of watching the numbers rise of cases and deaths and seeing things stabilize - maybe - in Maine. 50 days of worry and struggle and thinking "how the heck can we make it another day, let alone a week, let alone 4 more weeks." 50 days of realizing that, in fact, we do make it. 50 days of realizing that we can never go back to the way things were. 50 days of realizing that it's still going to get harder. 50 days of realizing that we're in one heck of an apocalypse and what it's unveiling isn't pretty at all.

50 days. 50 days of quiet moments snuggling with my oldest during "rest body time", though sometimes I give in to the temptation to catch up on work as he listens to Audible stories. 50 days of Papa Tom Chapin concerts and the new songs that are in our repertoire for lullabies and dance parties around the house. 50 days of Movie Mondays (and the subsequent reenactments and retellings throughout the week). 50 days of watching the baby grow teeth and sit up and devour new foods and express exuberance at just about everything her brother or her father or I do. 50 days of watching my oldest learn new skills, like holding his own part in a round by himself, remembering the opening line of Fur Elise on the piano, of spelling CAT and BAT unaided. 50 days with weekly DnD sanity checks. 50 days of refining my minimal sewing skills in order to make cloth masks, of pulling out my camera for impromptu photo shoots, of baking bread and making yogurt and finding food on our doorstep from a neighbor. 50 days of warmer weather and more days outside and family walks.

50 days. 50 days of daily moments of grace that can only be God's doing because life's a mess right now.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Ashes, Lent, and the Journey of Motherhood

I picked up my four year old as I gave the Words of Assurance near the close of my congregation’s Ash Wednesday service. He had been fidgety and hungry for most of worship; packing a snack had not even crossed my mind in my list of preparations for the evening. Bulletins, yes; candles and decor, yes; ashes, of course; diaper bag for the baby, most assuredly. My oldest had been taking more of an interest in worship so I had assumed that he would either sit quietly and participate or color quietly up front. I had guessed wrong. He ran laps around the sanctuary, occasionally jumping over his baby sister as my husband practiced the hymns, I put the final touches on the evening, and one blessed islander sat in the back trying to spend some time in quiet prayer. That should have been my first clue that being calm might be too much for him.

We powered on, my family and four others making our way through the prayers and the ashes above his soft refrain of “I’m hungry mom; I’m hungry mom; Mom, I’m so hungry…”. As I stood to offer God’s pardon to the gathered congregation he came to me, arms outstretched, and I picked him up. I’ve led worship with him or his sister in my arms dozens of times.

This time, however, was different. This time, his seven month old sister saw him in my arms, and screamed. Screamed. I had never seen her be jealous before. But in that moment, she knew that she wanted to be where her older brother was. I put him down, walked over to the woman holding her and took her back while the opening bars of “Breathe on me, Breath of God” played, and arranged my hymnal on the music stand so I could pick him up too and sing along.

So there I was with my two kids - one in each arm - after having just shared my Ash Wednesday reflection based on the TIME magazine article by Lori Fradkin ( - all about the idea that of course mothers with young kids are not OK - even those who seem to have it all together. (The end of that worship service was pretty much the perfect illustration of that fact). Ash Wednesday is the same - it’s the opportunity for us to acknowledge that we’re not OK in our life with God, even though so often we try to pretend we are. There are always places God prompts us to grow, places in our souls that are dead and barren that God wants to bring new life to, places that we need to turn over to God again and again and again.”Repent and believe the Gospel” the phrase goes.

Except this year, I was drawn to the dust - “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The moment of leading worship with two tired and cranky kids on my arm, as frantic and exasperated as I felt, is fleeting. Time with these two moves so swiftly, like dust being swept away by the breeze, here then gone, leaving faint smudges as the only evidence of their passing before gradually fading away into memory. Saying those words to my four year old this year brought me face to face with that reality - that someday I will be gone, he will be gone, and our energies and our remains will be absorbed once more into the cosmos.

So for Lent I’m leaning into the ephemeral nature of it all to focus on being present for the joys (and the burdens) of it all. I deleted my social media apps and turned off email on my phone. I set boundaries around my usage of Facebook and Twitter. Too often I use these platforms as a method of distraction and disengagement, distancing myself from being present. I feel led to work well when I’m “on the clock” and find healthier means of resting - reading, knitting, cooking, playing with my kids - when I’m not. I want to be here and present, knowing that far too quickly it will all be gone.

At the end of the service, I put my four year old back down so I could have a hand free to give the benediction. I always end the service with this blessing by Jan Richardson (

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Life is messy and life is full and there are days that I am ready to be done, but these moments I have with my kids are real, even when I’m exasperated with them, even when I’m frustrated that my oldest won’t sleep or ignores my requests or when I feel sad I can’t take the teething pain away for my baby or when all I want to do is drink my coffee by myself and my oldest crawls into my lap and demands I read to him. Parenthood is not for the faint of heart, and there are days when it feels like I have made it through the burning. But there is also the awesome joy of it all - and God is in the midst of each moment of it, breathing life minute by minute, second by second.

And that’s what I want to be here for this Lent.

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.