Thursday, June 30, 2011

Finding Encouragement

FaithBarista_FreshJamBadgeGJoining tonight with Bonnie at Faith Barista and Ann at A Holy Experience.  And because I FINALLY think I've gotten this done in time, with Emily for her wonderful meme "Imperfect Prose." The topic? In what area of my life am I feeling I need more encouragement?  Not sure I'll stay completely on theme, but I'll give it a whirl:





 

Is It Really About Me Now?
My 5-year-old granddaughter did something scary this year: 
she learned to trust herself enough 
to ride her 'pink and puhple' bicycle 
without any training wheels.
She beamed with well-deserved pride as she sailed down 
the driveway and into the cul-de-sac where she lives.  
She did it! 
Visibly tense, but still determined, she did it

At the tender age of 5, she conquered that niggling, 
wriggling worm of fear and self-doubt 
that can too often gnaw away at us, 
keeping us from trying something new, something scary.
Sometimes that's true because we're afraid we'll fail
that we'll fall down and skin our knees 
or otherwise embarrass ourselves. 

Sometimes it's true because we're really afraid of success 
and how that success might change our lives,
change our image of ourselves, 
change the expectations of others about us.
If I take a running leap off that particular cliff,
and if, by the grace of God and exactly the right wind currents,
I somehow manage to land on my feet,
then what else will I have to do?
How will being successful change how I see myself?
How others see me?
For the last two and a half years, I've been meeting with 
a remarkable man for spiritual direction.  
His name is David and he is trained in depth psychology 
as well as 'missiology,' 
a topic probably more common for Benedictine abbotts.
He works with dreams - I mean, the things you see and experience when you sleep - and it has been the most fascinating, enlightening work 
I've done in a long, long time. 

He, and another trusted counselor, have been gently preparing me for this next, last stage of my life. A stage that could last another 20-25 years,  
given my genetic history,  
but nevetheless - the last stop in a long line  
of different experiences and identities:
daughter,
sister,
student,
friend,
girlfriend,
wife,
mom,
church volunteer,
choir member,
soloist,
Bible teacher,
women's ministry leader,
florist,
seminary student,
preaching TA,
pastor-in-training,
associate pastor,
occasional writer,
grandmom,
retired pastor. 

So...here I am. At this end of that long list,
that long, interesting list of different hats I've tried,
different roles I've played,
different personae I have assumed. 

So the question becomes: who am I now?

What adventure is left for me to leap into?
And will I have the courage to make the leap?

Abbot David has been saying things like this to me  
over the course of these last 2+ years:
"This next phase of your life is about you, Diana." 

Say what?

I am learning that what he means is that in retirement -  
as I move on down the road to crone-dom!! - 
I am no longer bound by the needs of others.  
No children to raise, 
no congregation or institution to satisfy.
Caring for the needs of other people is no longer
at the top of the list for the use of my time and my gifts. 

And to tell you the truth,
this thought is so foreign to my own experience and understanding  
of myself that I find it terrifying

All of my life, I took care of others,  
believing that was what girl children did. 
And all of my life, I tried to be 'big enough' to handle that massive job! By God's grace and a whole lot of therapy, I worked my way through the more neurotic and anxiety-producing parts of that mindset,  
but it still shows up now and again.

An ever-growing part of me believes - and will fight for the rights of other women to believe - that each and every one of us needs to find time and space to care for ourselves - to do the things that nourish and flourish us.
But I admit that there is still a part of me that clings to the strange and partial version of feminity with which I was raised, the part that says,
"You're just being selfish if you pursue your own interests - if you read too much, if you like to make things with your hands, if you want to write your heart out." 

So...I'm trying to learn to do some really serious inner listening, trying to find that place inside of me that is really and truly me.  
The part that was told in the 5th grade that I had a gift for writing, a gift.
The part that was told in the 11th grade that I had a gift  
for spoken communication, a gift.  
The part that was told in seminary that I had a preacher's heart  
and a preacher's voice, a preacher's gift for words.
The part that is literally driving me crazy these days,  restlessly moving me to this keyboard at all hours!  

And this is what Abbott David is trying to say to me, exactly this.  That this is a time to push inward, to find the center, to explore what I've learned and what I've experienced and who I've become over this life of mine. 

I don't know the answer to all the questions yet: Will I be brave enough to take the leap?  Can I set my face like flint and drive down that driveway? Jump off that cliff? Follow that dream? 

What I do know is that I don't make the leap alone.
I have a Savior who holds my hand and says, "Let's do it together.  
That's why I'm here, you know.  
To partner with you as you continue to grow  
into all of who I've designed you to be."  
Maybe I'll get there yet.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Counting Blessings

Linking with Ann's community over at "A Holy Experience" to list again those things for which I've been especially thankful these last two weeks.  Got a little behind last week - sometimes life is like that, you know?







This week included a number of sweet and poignant moments of grace, each of which served to remind me of how truly blessed my life is, how marvelously I have experienced the faithful presence and guidance of God over the course of these years.  Using my camera to help me catalog and remember these gifts has been a meaningful and moving way to learn more and more about rejoicing, even in the middle of painful times.  So, here is the next set of images and words on my way to 1000!
 

42.  For the opportunity to write words of tribute to my dad (which I've posted here) in a comment on one of Sarah's posts over at SHE magazine.


43. Sharing in the celebration of my husband's spectacular fathering and grandfathering gifts with these gorgeous covered strawberries.
44. Finding scarlet amidst the growing green in our veggie garden.
45. Sitting in the warm sunlight, staring out the window at these beautiful heart-shaped red leaves.
46 -49.  Laughter because of this small sparkplug's amazingly plastic face - such a joy to us!
Yes, there are teeth lurking behind the famous curling tongue!
Now the tongue is curled the other way, creating a particularly fierce and serious look.
Oh my, terrible twos, here we come!  (She just turned 16 months)
Or maybe, she's actually right on the brink of becoming a particularly petulant 14 year old boy, who knows way so much more than his parents, don't you know!
50-53. The sweet pleasure of watching the evening fog roll softly inland, coming on 'little cat feet' to cover the foothills.
From this clear view at 5:30 p.m...
...to tiny patches of cloudy gray at about 5:50 or so...
...to fuller and fuller cloud cover by 6:05...
...to just the tiniest bit of mountaintop still visible by 6:15.  Lovely to watch and savor.
54. Finding a home for this tile and metal cross, purchased originally to mark my youngest brother's gravesite (read more about that story last year.)
It was too big for that location and didn't have a 'leg' of it's own, 
so we hung it on the fence just opposite where my brother rests.
 55. Standing in front of the sweet metal angel which does mark his grave, remembering him and offering thanks for his life...and for his death.
56. This tall king palm, one of my favorite trees on our whole property, a reminder of majesty and shouting throngs, and the King who was honored with its branches.
57. The bright, shimmering green of the gingko tree in full flush of spring/summer.
58. This lovely resting place at the end of the day, rhythmically saying thank-you for all of the gifts found therein.
59. These vibrant hydrangea, finally blooming richly 9 years after transplanting them following some construction work on our home.
60-62. Taking a trip down memory lane.
Our first home, bought in 1970, sold in 1975, to which we brought our 2 daughters, 
ages 2 and six months, and from which we moved with the addition of a son to...
...the second home we owned and where we spent our primary child-rearing years, 
from 1975-1988 - how we loved this place.
The third and last home we owned in Altadena CA before moving to Santa Barbara for me to begin my pastoring life here.  The house from which our son graduated from high school and college, I began and finished seminary, our middle daughter came back to live (and our son, too) after college, where our future in-laws lived for a few months as relationships developed in the crucible of shared living space (thank goodness for guest rooms!), and the home to which our eldest girl brought our first two grandsons to visit for the first time.  
We lived here from 1988-1997.
63.  For the long-remembered deliciousness of Chinese food from one of our favorite Pasadena eateries - still fabulous and we still ate too much of it!


A Father's Day Addendum

Last week, I was privileged to read a post by Sarah of "Emerging Mummy" over on the website of SHE magazine, a favorite new ezine I'm reading a lot these days.  In that post, titled "Let's Write a Line for the Good Man," she paid tribute to her father in a moving and eloquent way.  And she invited her readers to write a 'good line' for dads they knew when they commented.  I took that opportunity to write the following memory piece about my good father and found it to be an almost cathartic experience.  It helped me to get back in touch with the Dad I knew for most of my life and to move beyond the grief and pain of his last few years on the planet.  I'm posting it here so that I have a record of it on my own blog.

I am missing my dad today. He’s been gone for six years and the hole in my spirit is still pretty dang big. He loved me from the moment I was born – and I always, always knew that. I have a letter in his handwriting that I treasure, written to his sister after I was born and it is exquisite in its tender wonder at this gift in his life. There is no substitute for knowing this reality as you grow up: that YOU are your dad’s best gift.

He was a quiet man, a brilliant man and a good man. He had huge hands, which he used to play the piano, to ‘fix’ things that were broken (including my heart more than once), to build killer campfires, to write a textbook (on statistics, of all things…I am most definitely NOT my father’s daughter in this respect) and to love my mom, me and my brothers with careful, gentle affectionate touch.

He loved ribald humor (especially British humor), butter on his bread (which was always white, not wheat), well-thought out biblical teaching (with absolutely NO tolerance for ‘fluff,’ simplistic sermons or over-spiritualizing of any kind), music of many different styles (I can still see him ‘conducting’ opera or symphony while listening to LPs checked out of the local library – and he learned to play Sondheim and Lloyd Webber in his old age, and to play it beautifully). And he loved my mother. He really, really loved my mother. And what a gift that was to a girl child growing up in the 50′s and 60′s.

When I entered seminary at mid-life, he was a bit puzzled but cheered me on. When he came to hear the first sermon I ever preached, he was overwhelmed with pride and joy, poking my mom in the ribs and exclaiming, “That’s the best Advent sermon I’ve ever heard in my life.” Just a bit of an overstatement – but exactly what his daughter’s heart needed to hear that nervous day.

I blogged this week about the sadness that came with illness and old age, the loss of this good man by pieces. But today, I just want to thank God and to thank you for helping me to remember the best parts of being his daughter. I used to think my testimony story was boring, even unimportant, because there was nothing startling or dramatic about it. I have lived long enough now to fully embrace the truth that my story is gift, pure and simple. A gift of grace and undying love, modeled in my home as I grew up.

So in the middle of missing him today, I am filled with gratitude for who he was and how he helped to form me, how he guided and encouraged my husband, and how beautifully he loved my kids and my older grandkids. Thank you for the invitation to reflect, Sarah. Thank you.


 

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Does Welcome Look Like?

Posting these Sunday thoughts on Monday night for Michelle DeRusha over at "Graceful" for her weekly "Hear It, Use It" meme:


"You're Welcome!"
As predicted, we did make it back to church this week. And we were glad to be there. It still feels a little strange, a tad awkward. It's tough to move from being a leader in the service every week, to coming in just before things begin so that we can slip in quietly and sit near the back. Here's hoping we get used to it, because this is the only church we've ever called home in this place. Starting over is tough, but sometimes it's required. Time and experience will tell.

The quote-for-reflection-before-worship printed at the top of the worship folder on Sunday was this one from Arthur Sutherland:

"Hospitality is the practice by which the church stands or falls."

That is a big statement. And I think an accurate one. This author goes on to say that our communal worship of God is not intended to be a time for either entertainment (where our every wish for lovely performances and personally acceptable preaching/teaching is met) 
or for some kind of perverse competition (where we try to out-sing, out-pray, or out-anything the guy standing next to us). 

It is not a 'natural' thing at all. It is rather that time and that place where we together are bound to one another and led by the Holy Spirit - led into joyful celebration of God's truth, love, joy and welcome. In fact, God's goal for us is always homecoming; God's deepest desire is to give us a new name and to call us by that name - beloved. Our worship is a response to this beautiful truth. 

And when we open the doors of the sanctuary (or the doors to any church-related activity), we all need to be welcomers - welcomers of one another, welcomers of the stranger, welcomers of the little ones in our midst.

The text for the day is at the end of Matthew 10, three short verses which follow a relatively long stretch of red letters, consisting of Jesus' instructions to his disciples as they head out on their first missions trip.  (Which was a perfect text for the morning, as we prayed for and commissioned 12 high school students and two adult leaders who flew out of our local airport Monday morning for 17 days of service in Thailand.)

These instructions are sobering. Jesus prepares his friends for a whole lot of rejection and conflict and then he completes the lesson with these words about welcome. The word is used six times in these short verses and with them, Jesus clarifies the truth that every one of his disciples heads out into the world as a personal representative of Jesus himself. So, Jesus says, when the going gets tough - remember, they're rejecting me, not you.

And when we're in tune with the Spirit, and things are ticking away to the rhythms of grace, this is somehow easier for us to believe. The other truth, of course! is that, much of the time, we're not actually living in tune with the Spirit. So we make mistakes, we say or do stupid things, we are overly sensitive about our own feelings and numb to the feelings of others. In short, sometimes we make it about us instead of about Jesus. And how welcoming is that? Ouch.

In this brief passage, Jesus addresses not only his motley little band (whom he calls 'you' here) but also three other groups, groups that sound a lot like the assorted parts of a believing community in any age, including today: those who are like the prophets, speaking truth in new ways and new places (maybe current-day missionaries or teachers/preachers); those who are 'the righteous ones' - the faithful, committed members of any congregation, the ones called saints in Paul's epistles, the 20% who do 80% of the ministry in almost any church in the world today; and the 'little ones,' those who are wounded, broken, on the road to recovery, needing extra love and attention. 

But no matter which group we fall into, our call is to stay on task - to be worthy representatives of Jesus, the one whose name we carry,
and whose mercy carries us.

All are welcome at the table of the Lord. And all of us are called to spread that welcome into the world, bringing a sweet aroma of gracious acceptance, loving accountability, genuine service, and joyous community.

That's a tall order, right? But such a loving mandate: to welcome people to the love of the Lord, to invite them into genuine kingdom living, to love them as Jesus does. And it's about welcome.

A brief P.S. with a few additional thoughts as I have continued to prayerfully mull over this passage this week: 

As Jesus talks about those three groups of people the disciples are going to meet in the process of being his representatives, there is the promise of 'reward' when true welcome is given. That's sometimes a hard concept for us when many of us are still struggling to truly believe the good news of the gospel. You know what I mean - that great good news that tells us there is nothing we can do to earn membership in the kingdom of God - it is only possible because of Jesus and it is in his grace that we stand, his grace alone

I need to remember that Jesus addresses this promise of reward to those who have already stepped into grace, to those who are already folded into the kingdom of God. It's after we receive the gift of grace that our behavior needs to be examined in light of the model of Jesus himself. 

And so the question I am left asking myself is this one: Do I welcome everyone I meet as if I were welcoming Jesus himself? Because, according to this passage, not only am I a representative of Jesus Christ, but there is a reflection of the image of God, the radiance of Jesus, even the presence of the Holy Spirit to be found in each and every person I meet in my day. 

Now those persons may or may not have 'activated' that image by saying 'yes' to God. But they are still carriers of the divine imprint, they are still to be viewed as ones in whom Christ is met. THAT's where the rubber meets the road for me in this text. Am I consciously aware, from moment to moment, from person to person, that each encounter is an opportunity not only for me to image Christ to another, but for them to image Christ for me?

What do you think about this idea?
Is it helpful as you think about welcome, about true hospitality??


Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Joining with Jen at "Finding Heaven" and the women at Soli deo gloria:
And, at the end of the week, choosing this one for Amanda's great linky party at "Serenity Now":


Weekend Bloggy Reading
This little journey to yesterday began on Wednesday night of this last week.  My husband's first cousin was in town for a conference - he teaches physics at a famous university in northern CA and we seldom see him.  The two men are six weeks apart in age, and until late in high school, they did a lot of growing up together, never living more than a few miles apart. 

He sent Dick an email and asked if we could meet for a late meal after his workshop, so we made reservations at a favorite spot. The dinner was good, the conversation interesting and it was really fun to re-connect. 

But it was also a little disconcerting. Sometimes we get so used to our own faces in the mirror, that we can brush over the fact that we are getting older as the years go by. Then you see a face you haven't seen in a while...and you remember.  Both he and his wife are doing well and look terrific - they just look a little bit older than the last time we saw them!  Funny thing about that - it happens to the best of us.

I refuse to make these pictures 'large,' for obvious reasons. {smile}



On Friday, we drove the 120 miles south of here to spend the night at our daughter's home so that I could meet with my Birthday Breakfast Club (which I wrote about here ) on Saturday morning, and on the way, we opted to get off the freeway early and drive around our old haunts. We have owned four homes in our 45 years of marriage, three of them in Altadena, California, a foothill suburb of Pasadena. This is the first one, found for us by my mother-in-law, the one to which we brought our 2-year-old and newborn daughters in 1970.
When we lived in it, it was about 1400 square feet of living space with an added on 'lanai' that was long and narrow across the back of the house.  It has been added onto a couple of times in these intervening thirty-six years (!!). 

The driveway was asphalt and very cracked and there were tree roses lining the walkway.  I also made the hideous mistake of painting the house 'green.'  We had NO money for a paint job by a professional, so I went to the local hardware chain and bought what I thought would be a lovely, soft yet cheerful shade of green.  And I rolled that stuff on the front and driveway side of the house and proudly crossed the street to admire my handiwork. 

Where I was SHOCKED to discover that the house was now a vibrating shade of chartreuse. Many additions of white pigment later, it was toned down enough to look at without going blind.  Oh, the joys of youthful enthusiasm. 


After our third child arrived in 1972, we began to look for a larger place, one still in the same school district because our eldest was thriving there and her sister was just about to join her.  I looked at so many houses!  Finally, in 1975, we had an accepted offer on a larger home on the very same street, so we listed ours and it sold pretty quickly. 

Then the owners of the house we had bought backed out - and we were panic-stricken.  I was sure that we needed a 4-bedroom so that each of our kids could have their own room, and that we would never find another house so well-suited to us as the one we had just lost, and..., and...And then, the Sunday after escrow fell apart, we heard an excellent sermon about keeping our wants in line with our needs - and I prayerfully said, "Time to look smaller than I thought, right Lord?" 

The next weekend, a very small, for-sale-by-owner ad showed up in our local paper.  It immediately caught my eye. I went to see it the next day, and thought it might be TOO small, at least as much as I could see of it from the street.  But then the owner opened the door, and lo and behold - the hallway just stretched right on back! And we were SO blessed to find this wonderful place:
Our children were 7, 5 and 3 when we stretched ourselves to buy this home (it was a few thousand dollars more than the one we had originally tried to buy - but remember this was in 1975, long before the housing boom! And the subsequent crash of the last few years...)  We lived there for 13 years and loved, loved, loved it.   We had some great neighbors who became lifelong friends (she is in my BBC group) and my kids all remember this house as the one where they grew up.
It's been 23 years since we lived here.  This oak tree was a lot smaller then and where the hedges are, we had a beautiful white picket fence that another of my husband's cousins built for us.  Our eldest daughter left this house to get married at the tender age of 19 and our middle girl went off to college from here. 

When our son was the last one home every day, we bought this house.  Sort of a strange purchase for us, one that we debated about a lot.  But it turned out to be the perfect place for us at this stage of our lives.  It was the largest of our homes - sort of strange as your family is getting smaller, right?  But guess what?  Funny things happen when your kids leave home - they come back.  
When we lived here, there was an absolutely gorgeous bougainvillea climbing up the left side of the house, framing that balcony.  Hated the thorns, loved the vibrant magenta blooms, even when they fell and coated the walk with their color. 

In this house, our second daughter's future husband and our son's future wife came and lived in our guest room while they each explored the possibility that God might be bringing them together. That was a great experience, one for which I have always been grateful.  And I went to seminary from this house, using that downstairs room with the large front window as my study, pulling way too many all-nighters for any age, but especially for a woman in her forties! And our older daughter brought her first two babies to visit us in this house - what a joy that was!  I was 46 when Ben was born - and now he's 20! 

We had so much fun driving this neighborhood, remembering our story.  It was lovely to see that each home still looks loved and cared for - a reminder that new families are learning and loving and growing and changing within their walls. 

And as we drove from house to house, we were each simply overwhelmed with the goodness of God, with the faithfulness of God's leading, with the ways in which we learned how to be a family of faith in each one of these special places.

We finished this little remembering journey by eating Chinese food at a favorite restaurant, eating way too much Honey Walnut Shrimp, Beef and Broccoli and Mu Shu Pork.  When they brought out the Pan Fried Mixed Noodles, we knew we had overdone it and wrapped it all up to take out to my mom's the next day. All three of us enjoyed the leftovers as we gave my mom a photo memory book of her special party (the one I talked about here ), the one celebrating her 90th birthday.

How many times in scripture are we called to remember?  Over and over again, God reminds the Israelites and God reminds us that it is in remembering our story, our journey with the Lord, that our faith is strengthened and we are reminded of grace.

When is the last time you've taken a trip down this particular lane, the one where the memories are?

Sunday: Scripture & a Snapshot

Joining with Katie and her friends who encourage a single snapshot which illustrates a scripture verse:
 

 Too late, I realized I had typed '29' instead of '28' for the verse!

 This swing hangs in an oak tree in our front yard and it is one of my favorite places to 'take a load off.'  I like the image of a two-seater: sharing any load somehow makes that load more bearable. 

This respite spot is particularly inviting late in the afternoon, as the shadows lengthen and the evening breeze picks up. A good place to remember that I am never alone with whatever burdens I may be carrying on a given day, that there is rest to be found in God's presence. 

When I first began working in my last pastoral position, a member of the congregation asked if I would be willing to visit with a friend of his who was in town for treatment.  She lived in Arizona and came to the local clinic for a lung cancer drug trial.  I was so grateful that someone in my new congregation would trust me enough to do this.  And when I met Helen, I knew that God had brought us together for all kinds of good reasons. 

Helen's very favorite section in all of scripture was this verse and the two that follow it - "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

I never read or hear these words without thinking of Helen: her gentle spirit, her deep faith, her love for her husband, her children, her grandchildren and her desire to live for their sake.  Yet, while she waited and while she hoped, she also lived with a calm assurance that all would be well, no matter the outcome.

Helen did die, about five months later, and during those months, I met with her frequently. I was privileged to plan and conduct a memorial service in her honor for friends and family who lived locally. We used these verses on the worship folder, in my meditation for the service and printed on cards with a lovely photo of Helen, a small reminder of who she was, something tangible for friends and loved ones to carry with them in their grief, in their missing her.

Helen lived the truth of these words better than almost anyone I've ever known.  To be with her, to pray with her, to hold her hand and look into her lovely brown eyes - all of it was gift, a holy space in the midst of whatever other brand-new-pastor-busyness was engulfing my life at the moment.

So I often think of Helen as I softly swing in the evenings. One of her sons was a builder and about a year after she died, her family sent me a lovely announcement with a picture of a beautiful, adobe-style, very small prayer chapel, built by her son in her memory.  A place to sit and remember that Jesus promises rest for the weary.  Oh, rest in peace, sweet Helen.  You are missed still.

Also linking up with Laura at the Wellspring and LL at Seedlings in Stone:

On In Around button

Friday, June 24, 2011

Five Minute Friday: Wonder

And...it's that time again.  Already.  Friday morning and time to sign on with Lisa-Jo for her writing prompt.  This week's word?  WONDER:  (pictures added later)










GO:


She sleeps beside me as I type.  Small, fierce, funny.  She will be 16 months old tomorrow and she spends one or two days a week with us while her mama takes care of patients, offering love, wisdom, training and calm presence to so many people. 

She is the littlest of our eight, a gift straight from heaven as we move into the full openness and clear-sightedness of retirement.  And she reminds me to touch that child who still lives inside this spirit of mine, the small one who looks out at the world with eyes wide and heart open. 

She points and gestures wildly, communicating her wishes with grunts, inflection, occasional clearly English words and frequent smiles, kisses, gentle pats on the face or arm.  She is also a curiousity child, wondering and wandering around our home and property, always within sight of one of us, torn between breaking away from us and running straight toward us.

Isn't that what wonder is about?  Some sort of balance between moving out and moving home?  Openness to the new and deep appreciation for the familiar?  That sense of open-mouthed, wide-eyed delight in beauty, spectacle, small and large, right alongside the affectionate embrace of all that we love and lean into as we live these daily lives? 


STOP