Monthly Archives: December 2009

Retail therapy . . .

So, we’ve entered the lesser known stage of grief known as Retail Therapy.  It’s still driven by productivity, but the productivity took the show on the road as Ry and I did a little shopping today.  I wasn’t going to write about it, maybe everybody’s sick of listening to the aftermath of our loss of Ry’s dad.  But then I thought, well, it’s not like anyone is being forced to read it and maybe, just maybe, someone else out there on the planet will happen by and find some helpful information here.  Either way, the bottom line is the writing of it is helpful for me.  My blog.  My prerogative.  🙂

So.  Shopping.  We did some shopping today.  We dropped the kids at my mom and dad’s.  When I set it up, it was just going to be long enough for us to go to the grocery store and make one other stop.  But when I was leaving the kids, I bamboozled my mom into keeping the kids until near bedtime.  So, Ry and I made a date of it.

We bought a bookcase for our bedroom.  It’s a part of our “Let’s Clean Up the Second Floor” Chicken-with-its-head-cut-off dance.  I’m excited about it because I’ve been collecting piles of books and papers and junk in our bedroom for quite some time but we only have this one, teeny tiny bookshelf in our room so stuff is spilling out all over the place.  I have a cardboard box of books, a laundry basket of books, and some piles of books and folders on the floor.  Hideous, really.  I’m hoping when we return to the at-home version of the the Headless Chicken Dance tomorrow, that we’ll find more of the office space and I can shift my files over to there.  Old sermons, old academic papers, old lesson plans.  Things I need to store, but don’t need lined up on the floor of my bedroom.  So, tomorrow a new bookcase will go up and be filled immediately, but then my room will be neat and tidy.  Well.  Almost.  There still the tops of our dressers to deal with. . . .

Let’s see.  What else?  Got a new pair of jammies, super on sale.  And Ry and I picked up some miscellaneous little things at the Great Big Home Improvement store.  I honestly can’t remember what, exactly.

There was one thing we didn’t buy, that Ry’s wanted for some time, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to authorize tonight:  a boat.  Or a canoe.  One of them.  It seemed like such a fitting tribute to his dad.  But, alsas, alack, it’s not to be.  Not this time anyway.

Best part of the evening was going out for Mexican at a restaurant I absolutely love.  Everything there is the best.  The best salsa.  The best warm, fresh chips.  The best booths and tables.  The best staff.  The best food.  The best margaritas.  And.  Bonus!  Tonight (Wednesday) was margarita night, so my drink was half off.  Anyway, it was wonderful to sit at table with Ry, feel my margarita, talk about his dad and cry a little bit.  It was good.  For both of us.

Our date ended with a romantic trip to the grocery store.  I had to get the supplies for our annual New Year’s Day pork chop and sauerkraut dinner.  We have my sister and her husband and daughters up.  It will be fun and yummy.

See?  I am feeling better.  More optimistic.  It was the shopping.

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Grief’s a funny thing . . .

Not a hee-hee, ha-ha kind of funny–which, I presume, you knew–just odd.

So, today, my beautiful, wonderful, grieving husband was on. FIRE! cleaning stuff out, hanging up pictures we haven’t seen in who knows how long . . . Actually, now that I think of it, I do know how long it’s been since we’ve seen these pictures.   They were wrapped in newspapers dated April 2002.  Yes.  2002.  They were wrapped up by helpful friends who helped us move out of seminary housing (our second time) and into the very first house we bought.  I was 8 months pregnant, ready to deliver Isaac in a month, contracting all over the place, two weeks from graduation, days from completing the semester’s classes.   Anyway, we’ve moved again since then.  And four more years have passed.

Today.  My husband picks today to unload a box that’s been packed up for nearly 8 years.  Grief’s a funny thing.

Our home office space got cleaned out, I sorted through heaps of clothes:  hand-me-downs as well as clean laundry that just never made it to the drawers.  We have 5 kitchen trash bags ready to be given away and another three bags of trash, clothing and otherwise.  We have hope of finishing it tomorrow.

Today.  We pick today to clean out a messy room that’s been a hideously cluttered wreck of a room for 18 months.  Today we start cleaning it out.  Prompted by my ambitious husband.  Grief’s a funny thing.

So, Ry’s on fire, all charged up and being productive all over the place.  He barely ate all day, but no matter, there was plenty of coffee on hand and the fuel of grief ablaze within him.

I myself thought I’d be just fine just shuffling around in my sweat pants and fleece pullover.  I wandered rather aimlessly, beyond the couple of minutes I decided to help Ry by sorting through those clothes.

I was more content to dig through the old boxes of his dad’s stuff and his dad’s dad’s stuff, which included some of his dad’s brother’s stuff and his mom’s stuff.  I found a 116 year-old Bible that belonged to Ry’s great-grandmother.  I also found some 110 year-old books of Bible stories and some other cool book things.  Also found some interesting military paraphernalia from Ry’s great-uncle who served in the Pacific during World War II.  Lots of fun stuff like that.  I pulled out the box and slowly pulled stuff out and looked, and packed back up, all while Ry cleared out and unpacked and hung up and did all manner of running about.  Grief’s a funny thing.

Our hearts are heavy.  My heart, on my sleeve, weighs down both of my arms and my feet and my head.  I don’t know how it works, but Ry’s heavy heart must throb extra blood to his extremities as he runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Grief’s a funny thing.

We laugh a lot.  We cry some.  We hug most of all.  We know.  We both know that grief’s a funny thing and that we who are, by nature, so very, very different are slogging through that grief in two completely different ways.  But it’s OK.  We’re going through it together.  We’re grieving together in the way that’s right for each one of us, all the while trying ever-so hard to look ahead to the healing and restoration that is to come.

But for now. . . . For now we rend our garments and toss 8 year-old newspaper and 100 year-old book dust upon our heads and wear pajamas all day.

We’ll get there.  We just have to slog through it.  Slog through the grief.  You can’t go around it.  You have to go through it.  Grief’s a funny thing.

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A Christmas Eve Meditation from the Bereaved

The following is the meditation my husband gave at our church’s Christmas Eve service.  Ry’s father died at the age of 64 Saturday evening after a six-year journey through dementia.  Ry and I left early Sunday morning to drive 529 miles to spend the days following with his father’s devastated widow (Ry’s step-mother) and her children and grandchildren.  I had strongly encouraged Ry to find someone else to fill in for him on Thursday evening.  He refused.  I encouraged him to skip the meditation, simply to do lessons and carols.  He refused.  I didn’t see him do it and I’m not even sure when he did it, but somehow, someway, he came up with these words.  This week, and most weeks, this man is my hero.  I give thanks to God for the husband he gave me and I pray that together and in all things our lives will be lived to His glory.

I don ‘t have very much to say to you tonight. And for some I suppose, that’s the best Christmas gift a minister can give to his congregation.

What I do want to say to you is thanks. Thank you for the support and prayer and concern that you have extended to me and my family since my father’s death on Saturday.

Thank you for giving me the confidence and the freedom and the assurance I needed in order leave town, to be with my father’s wife and family, even on the Sunday before Christmas, knowing that everything and everyone here would get along just fine.

Thank you for being the kind of church that cares for its pastor in the same way that you would like to be cared for.

As you might imagine, this has been a tough week. Lee and I pulled into our driveway at 3:00 this morning, and right now I’m not sure how ready for Christmas I am. But here we are.

Having spent the last few days looking back over my dad’s life, over his long illness, mourning his death, it feels a little strange jumping right back into the holidays – the celebrations and gatherings, the feasts, even the gifts. Yet here we are, Christmas Eve, and ready or not, Christmas morning is closing fast.

And even though I don’t have all my presents wrapped, even though Isaac and I still have more lights to hang on our house – this year I am especially grateful for Christmas. In the wake of my father’s death, this one thing I know, now more than ever – we need Christmas.

When I say that, I don’t mean that we need all the trappings and trimmings. Not the trees and the ribbons, the wreaths and the greenery – as beautiful as they are.

I don’t mean we need gifting and the giving – though what a wonderful way to show the people you love how grateful you are for them.

I don’t mean we need the big meals and the piles of cookies and sweets – I know it may surprise some of you to hear me say that, especially you who have witnessed firsthand just how much I love food.

When I say we need of Christmas what I mean is that we need this event, this remembrance, this reminder of Jesus’ life – the advent, the arrival, of God with us – we need Christmas because in times like this, when the realities of life are hitting hard, Christmas answers questions.

Jesus’ birth – God, taking on flesh, God stepping into our world, answers the question, “where is God?” God is here – as threatening, as hard to reach out to as a newborn baby.

Jesus’ birth in the manger, poor and alone, answers the question, “has God forgotten me?” No, God has come for you. There is no place too far, too hard to reach, for God to find you.

Jesus’ birth – his life of healing and teaching and service, answers the question, “will God leave me broken?” No, God has come to make you whole. Whether in this life, or in the life to come, God will make all wrongs right.

Jesus’ birth – his sacrifice, his death, his victory over death, over darkness, answers the question, “is there hope, and release, and rescue?” Yes, God has opened the way to life as God intended for all his children – life of peace, joy, for all time, life in his presence, life of celebration.

No matter what our circumstances, whether we’re ready or not – Christmas comes, because Jesus came – bringing with him proof of God’s love – God’s hand to hold, God’s Word to hear, God’s life to share.

Jesus came, for you, for me, for light, for hope, for life beyond this broken world. Thanks be to God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Life’s Miscellany

Ummm . . . let’s see. Apparently I gave up writing for Fall. Who knew it was a traditional time of fasting?

What else? . . . I’ve just discovered Pandora Radio. Not more than ten minutes ago. Who knew there was a way to find more music like some of the random songs I’ve come to find and enjoy? Maybe I’ll start listening to music again. I’ve been on a bit of a music hiatus for . . . Oh, I don’t know . . . a decade or so. I’m actually kind of excited, because I’ve been missing having music in my life.

OK. . . . Now what? Apparently Christmas is coming. Some might say it’s only ten days away, but I’m skeptical. Because if it were indeed only ten days away, surely I would have at least a present or two on hand and I don’t. No tree up. No presents bought. Well. Maybe one is on the way in the mail via a catalog order, but it’s for the one other fully literate member of my family, so I won’t give away anything more than I already have. Otherwise though . . . nothing. zilch. Noodle!! (ten points for the one who gets that reference.) No tree. An Advent wreath-like thing that’s been lit approximately three times so far and we’re, what? twenty-two days into Advent now? Oh. We do have lights on our house. That deserves a separate paragraph . . .

My Boy. Just call him Clark.  Specifically the Christmas Vacation version.  But really, Clark in general.  In fact he’s at least the fourth generation Clark.  Isaac.  Ry.  His father.  And his father before him . . . These men.  These men with their grand ideas.  Grand ideas borne of such noble motives.  Eternal, anything-is-possible optimism, never-say-die determination and perseverance.  Along with an inexplicable susceptibility to bad luck.  I love these men.  Every one of them.  So, Isaac’s latest manifestation of his inner Clark is his commitment to turning our house into a Christmas light extravaganza.  Given the fact that Ry and I, in our 15 Christmases as a family, have never been motivated enough to decorate any one of our homes–and this is our fifth Christmas-time dwelling–beyond a single strand of white lights once or twice in one apartment, we’ve given Isaac free reign and dubbed him King of Christmas Decorations.  As a result, my house looks like it’s been decorated by a seven year old with two good trips to K-mart.  It’s beautiful.

In other news . . . I’m getting a job.  Starting in January I will be the “Worship Leader” for the teeny tiny Presbyterian church in my teeny tiny town.  I’ll be leading worship (including preaching) every Sunday and doing crisis visitation.  It’s an absolutely minimal time commitment, which is simply perfect for where my family is right now.  I’m hoping the session of our family’s church will move the time of the service from 9:30 to 10:00, that way I’ll be able to get from the 8:30 service in our town to our family church in time for the start of worship, or at least by the end of the announcements.  I’m still committed to being with my kids as they grow up in the church and grow in their experience of worship.  I think Isaac and I came up with a wonderful solution this past week though.  He came to worship with me in our town, then we went to where his dad was preaching in time for Isaac to attend Sunday school there.  Best of both worlds.  It’s been to-my-core important for my children to worship with the rest of the believing community on Sunday mornings, but I’ve struggled to balance that desire with my kids’ comfort and enjoyment of their overall experience with church.  The church already runs most of our life, I want them to enjoy the fun and fellowship with their friends that is the added blessing of being part of a congregation.  Anyway, that’s really a whole other post . . .

Back to my new job . . . apparently I’m going to preaching every Sunday from now till I die.  Give or take.  That’s a little intimidating.  Scary.  Exciting.  Exhausting.  Scary.  And I admit I have some fear of alienating most to all of my Christian friends who are, for the most part, part of traditions that do not see women serving in preaching and teaching ministries to be in keeping with Scripture.  Just Saturday I watched a woman’s face fall as I shared with her that I’d be leading worship at the church in our teeny tiny town.  We just had been enjoying a conversation about our struggles with deciding whether or not to homeschool, determining the best educational path for our children when they move from our rather insulated elementary school to meeting up with the worldlier children from the southern part of our district in middle school.  There we were, bonding over our shared faith, our shared concern for our children’s moral and spiritual well-being, feeling like we had found a sister in the plight.  And I mention my leading worship and . . . confusion followed by polite head nods.  Anyway . . . there it is.  My used-to-be secret concerns about my vocation.

That’s enough chitty-chat chatter for one post.  Each of those paragraphs could have been a post in itself, probably.  Of course, my intention was to write far less.  But once my fingers start their little tippity-tap dance, they just can’t stop.

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You Go. I’ll take care of this., part IV

My title for these reflections is “You go. I’ll take care of this.” And I want to tell you why. My reflections on this passage have left me with this image in my head. You go to your grandmother’s house for a family dinner. After the feast, the dishes are piled in the sink. And just as you’re rolling up your sleeves to get started, Grandma says, “No, no, don’t worry about these, you go . . .” play, work, do, whatever. Grandma’s going to take care of the dishes. I feel like that’s what God is saying here. But instead of talking about the dishes he’s talking about the food itself, and your clothing, your basic necessities. Not so you can sit down and do nothing, but so that you can go. Go out into the world and do the work of his kingdom. Maybe it’s because I’m a homemaker, this image is so strong for me. It’s God serving as the homemaker. The homemaker who takes care of the day-to-day needs. Does the cooking, does the sewing, the basic daily chores, managing the home so that her—and sometimes his—spouse can go to work.

Now, obviously we have some sort of part in this all. Turns out you do actually have to go to the grocery store once in a while. The point is, that the stuff . . . not just the fancy clothes and cars and houses, but the simple things like a roof over your head and a shirt on your back . . . the stuff is not what should be driving us, steering us, moving us from point A to point B. No, the defining catalyst in our life is God’s kingdom.

This passage in Matthew is a very comforting passage. Don’t worry about tomorrow, today’s worries are enough for today. But there is a “so what?” When I was in seminary, that was the critical element in our sermon writing. What’s the “so what”? Where does the rubber meet the road? Here it is: God is providing for our needs, making us content, not in order that we may be complacent. No, God is assuring us that our basic needs will be taken care of so that we are free to seek first and foremost his kingdom.

This is real, everyday stuff with practical implications. I invite you to consider over the coming days, really to consider continually: In what way am I furthering God’s kingdom in my workplace, in my school, in my community? Am I living the life God has called me to? Why do I really want this promotion? For the greater financial freedom or because it’s really what God is calling me to do to further his kingdom? Do you “give to everyone who begs from you, and not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you?” Yeah, that’s in there. Chapter 5, verse 42. Read it. And then keep reading on in the pages that follow. And as you do so, ask yourself, what can I learn and do from this passage that provides lumber for building God’s kingdom? How can I today, witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ? By the power of his Holy Spirit, may God keep that mission ever before our minds. Amen.

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You go. I’ll take care of this. part III

The Sermon on the Mount is a tricky part of our How-To Manual. This is crazy stuff. Big demands. I encourage you . . . challenge you . . . no, implore you to go home today and read it. Begin in Matthew, chapter 5 and continue right through chapter 7. Really read it. Read it not as a pat on the back, but as instructions for how to be. Not as “blessed are the poor in spirit, so yay me if I’m poor in spirit.” NO, BE poor in spirit. DO hunger and thirst for righteousness, Do be peacemakers, do be persecuted and rejoice in it. You murder if you are angry, so you had darn well not be angry with someone. You commit adultery if you lust. Tear out your right eye if it causes you to sin. No, really, turn the other cheek to one who has already struck you. Love your enemies. Really. No kidding. Be perfect as God is perfect! Do not store up treasures on earth. Seriously? How am I going to eat?!

Ahh. How am I going to eat.

The sermon on the Mount is so radically counter-cultural. It really makes no worldly sense. Reading it in its entirety leaves us with few options for response. I think people tend to look at it in one of two ways: either as something other-worldly and mystical, which is how I think many non-Christians view it; or as some sort of unattainable ideal, as I think many Christians view it—I fear in order to rationalize our failure to achieve it. But It’s neither. Because if it were either of those, it wouldn’t have made canon’s cut. There’d be no reason to read it. Jesus is not a mystic, he is not other-worldly. That’s the core of our faith. Our God is a pragmatist. He. Put. On. Flesh. And. Dwelt. Among. Us. He lives among us. He’s not in some far off land. It wouldn’t be like him to give us a pile of fluff to dream about. He gives real, concrete guidance. The first draft of the Ten Commandments was written in stone by his very hand! Talk about concrete!

That leaves us with one final option: Jesus really meant it. He meant it for his disciples. And we are his disciples. But how are we to devote ourselves to a primary vocation of proclaiming God’s kingdom?

I think I’ve brought us to the same place Jesus’ first disciples were when they heard Jesus’ words on the mountain: Ok, Jesus, this is all sorts of crazy stuff you’re telling me to do. It all sounds so good, and it sounds so right, but you want me to leave my family behind? I’m their breadwinner you know, and now I’ve got no job. You’re telling me to go off and live this way. It sounds so good, be poor, be meek, don’t store up treasures on earth, don’t serve money. But I have to eat. I have day-to-day needs. How can I meet them? How am I going to eat?!

I can almost hear Jesus pulling up here. Noticing the widened, fearful eyes of his disciples. Wordlessly pleading, “How are we going to do all this?” And Jesus takes some time out to say these reassuring words:

“Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about what you wear. Worrying won’t do you any good. Haven’t you seen how God cares for his creation? Aren’t you part of his creation? Don’t you think he’ll care for you in the same way? It’s the world, the ones who don’t yet know me, who strive for food and drink and clothes. You don’t have to worry about these things. He knows you need them. You Go, seek out God’s kingdom. Give yourself up to his use in building the kingdom, live the life that he’s called you to. He’ll take care of the rest.”

We serve an all-satisfying God. I think on our best days we tend to only go so far as to believe God is providing our spiritual needs, we lean into him to help us face tragedies or even simply weariness. But God is all satisfying. He will provide our every need. Even our very food and drink. Remember that image of the nursing mother. It’s not just heady imagery. It’s literal, it’s practical. A tiny baby doesn’t know how the whole milk thing works, he doesn’t even think to his next meal, but he knows where to go when he needs it. He knows that mommy is magic and she provides this amazing stuff and all he has to do when he’s hungry is turn to her. So it is with us. Not just when it comes to spiritual fortitude, but with our actual, literal hunger. We are free to seek God’s will in our lives, to follow where he calls us, no matter the consequences, knowing that God will take care of the rest. He will provide our basic necessities. He will give us our literal bread to eat, daily.

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