Sunday, December 30, 2007

Unfamiliar View from the Pew

I had the rare pleasure of being a worshiper in the pew at my brother's church instead of worship leader today.  This happens only 2 or 3 times a year, so I try to put the "pastor-leader-critical evaluative" part of me towards the back, and be the open receptive worshiper instead.  This, I am reminded of again today, is hard.  When you so rarely get to NOT be the one making sure things flow smoothly, the one preaching the message, the one staying aware of what is coming three steps ahead, it can be a challenge to JUST BE in worship.

At least it is for me, worship nerd that I am.

Here's an example of what was going on in my head:

The music is being beautifully played and its a joy to sing (man, I wish I had musicians in my area!)

The liturgy is being spoken  (I wonder why he chose to cut out all those parts?  I wonder where they got that confession, I like it.  Too bad they had to cancel the baptism today, that could be a bear to reschedule.)

The sermon is being delivered (boy, he really does need to work on his delivery!!, but I really like how he's tying in how the difficult text of the murder of the innocents and the flight to Egypt shows us Jesus really is Emmanuel, God With Us in the reality of this world, which is a dark and violent place.)

And so on.

I and my Rev hubby did appreciate worshipping together as a family (normally we aren't even in the same county on Sunday mornings) and we were able to BE worshipers pretty much.  It was nice, and nice to be with my family.

The highlight of the service was the children's sermon.  Their director of youth and children's ministry called the children up, and Lil' Princess went up with her cousins.  The director pulled a figurine out to show to the kids, and asked them who they thought he was.  She got guesses of "Jesus" and such, which is what she wanted.  But then, my little sweetheart piped up nice and loud.  She said, as she bounced up and down in excitement, "It's Joseph!!!"  Which was exactly right, God love her.  But this was not what the director was expecting.  She was planning on giving them a number of clues, and was going to help lead them to figure out that she was going to tell them about Joseph.  But she hadn't planned on my girl.  It was like someone spilling the punch line of your favorite joke before you'd gotten the first line of the joke out.  The director recovered pretty well, she showed them some of the clues she had been planning on using to help them figure out that it was Joseph, and then skipped ahead to her little lesson about how Joseph was so great because he listened to God.

My hubby and I smiled at each other and murmured "That's our girl!  Leave it to the preacher's kid."

So it was a nice Sunday morning, the Gospel was preached, God was praised, and worship did not go as planned but was just fine nonetheless.  

Not that I was analyzing it, or anything!  ;)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Bliss

So I'm at my brother's place for my side of the family's Christmas celebrations.  My hubby and dad just got done with a wild wrestling session with the three grandkids, and now my dad is telling my daughter and my two nephews stories about when he was little boy.  They are enthralled!

My mom, brother and sister-in-law are cleaning up the kitchen after a wonderful meal.  They're letting me be the bum on the computer.  Late tonight my other brother will fly in, and we'll all be together for the weekend.  

So many things went wrong this year, so many things wait for us at home to deal with, but at this moment, on this weekend, it is just so good, so blessed.  I'm so glad that we get to end the year this way.  It helps put things in perspective.

So I am grateful.  And meditative, and hopeful for the new year despite it all.  

Have a great New Year's celebration, and Happy New Year!  Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It's been a lovely Christmas day. The service responsibilities were over last night (3 services, finally got home for good at 9:30 pm). Today, we slept in, lounged around in jammies until after noon. I learned how to use my new Belgian waffle maker, which is fun and easy (even for me!) so we had a yummy brunch. Lazed around, watched Lil' Princess play with her new toys. Had a turkey dinner with stuffing, peas, cranberry pecan orange bread, and sparkling apple cider around 3 pm. Watched my Christmas present, The Sound of Music. Had a late snack of pears and apples in the candlelight. And now our sweet girl is drifting off to dream land while dad and I continue to try to digest.


Earlier today I told Lil' P that tomorow she and I would spend our time packing what we need for our big trip to her cousins' while daddy went to work for a little while in the morning. Her repy to this was, "I always have what I need in me, Mommy. I have love."

It just doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sermons, sermons everywhere

So I have three different sermons whirling around in my head.

I have a funeral sermon to deliver on Friday morning based on Luke 15:3-7 (parable of the lost sheep).

I have a Sunday morning sermon to deliver 2x based on Matthew 1:18-25 (Joseph's dream of angel telling him to marry Mary).

I have a Christmas Eve sermon to deliver 3x based on the theme of the nativity scene of Mary, Joseph, angel, and Baby Jesus.

For the funeral: Among many things, this man was a sheep farmer. I'm thinking of tying and weaving together the lost sheep parable, the shepherds watching their flocks by night who are led to Emmanuel, and the life of this farmer who was a hard worker and very kind man. Not sure how, but that's the germ of an idea.

For Sunday: Going to tell the very funny story of our first Christmas tree and of how I had planned such a perfect first Christmas together, and how it all fell apart. Then connect it to how Joseph must have had expectations and plans for his life too. He had it mapped out, but then the angel visits, and blows him off that map. I'll reflect on how "God With Us" does that, takes us off our small finite human maps, and puts us in God's cosmic plan. Can be exhilirating, frustrating, frightening, overwhelming, joyfilled, etc. It opens us to a wider a world and a greater vision, but also often means in practical terms that we are called to be faithful in the "small" day to day stuff. Which doesn't seem big, or to matter, but it does. Marrying a girl who is carrying a child that isn't yours is not glamorous. Hauling a pregnant girl across the countryside so the oppressors can tax you more effectively isn't a thrill ride. But it is about trust, and trying to be faithful, and surrendering to another's will.

For Christmas Eve: Something about how this manger scene, and this story, is our story. It is for us, for us all. Imagine the animals rustling and making their noises. Imagine their smells. The feel of the rough wood, the rope to tie up the donkey. The feel of a newborn baby's skin. (involve all the senses) Imagine it, and place your self there. This is our place too, because he came for us. We carry this scene, and this place with us through the rest of the year.

Well, something like that! Some first thoughts, anyway.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ready, Set, GO!

The insanity has begun. I had a death call at 2 am this morning, was at the parishioner's home till around 3:15 am. Daughter woke up with a 101 degree temp, so home sick from school. Was difficult and clingy all day. Had to get my Sunday bulletin AND my monster Christmas Eve bulletin done today, along with having early Christmas celebration with in-laws.

Tomorrow, meet with family to arrange funeral, attend text study, finish Christmas shopping.

Wednesday, go to daughter's school Christmas program. Do prep work for and lead confirmation class along with the special Christmas treat I promised them and have yet to come up with. Do prep work and lead Advent Bible study. Meet with Sunday school superintendent to iron out bulletin for Sunday School Christmas program for this Sunday.

Thursday, hopefully meet with family again to do final chat before funeral. Have parent/ teacher conference for daughter, have doctor appointment for me, have evening family prayer service at the church 30 miles away. Oh, and there is no school for daughter from today until the new year.

Friday, funeral in the morning at the community center. Sometime later that day, I will collapse for a good cry and nap, if at all possible. But it probably won't happen, cause something I have yet to foresee will come up.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Giggle and a Full Day

A former parishioner of mine passed this on to me. For some reason it hit me just right today, and gave me the giggles.

We had council at one of the churches in the parish tonight. I'm SO pleased that they voted to go ahead with the elevator project! Now it will go before the congregation at the annual meeting. The basement of this church can only be accessed by some very steep steps, and this is definately an ageing bunch, so the need is great. Just today, we had the Christmas Tea, and it was truly scarey to watch some of the elderly ladies make their way up and down those stairs. And some ladies who would have loved to come (and need a chance to get out and socialize) didn't because they didn't dare try get downstairs. So I'll be cheering on this project, which actually will be pretty affordable, since it's more like a lift instead of an enclosed elevator. The goal is to have the project done before the church's centennial in July. Oh, please, please, please!

The Christmas Tea was lovely. Lil' Princess got to come too, and charmed all those ladies by building tall towers with Lego's, pretending to make snow angels on the floor, and telling them that they were all mermaids who needed to watch out for the mean witch who was hiding by the Christmas tree. We had such scrumptious treats, and a nice program. The skit even entranced Lil' P, so it was a great afternoon. And all I had to do was show up! And eat! And chat and laugh! Gotta love it, empowered laity rocks!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Uff Da

Well, it's been a quiet week at Lake Woebegone...


I think I'm losing my mind. As I look ahead at what I need to do this week, nay even at the hour ahead of me, I might as well hide under my covers and cry "uncle!" If I were given to cursing, this would be the time to bring out some of the big guns. Since I'm not, I'll have to resort to my grandfather's expletives:

when the cows get out - "uff da!"
when the cows get out AND the big storm is coming - "uff da -fee da!"

It's an "uff da - fee da" kind of day.

On the upside, I'm very glad that I've been invited to be a part of the revgalblogpals webring. I've enjoyed reading their blogs for a while now, and it will be a pleasure to be a part of that online community. Plus, mom, you'll maybe have company when you read this blog, now!

Today's big task is getting ready to lead tonight's session of the Advent Bible study. We're covering Matthew 2:1-18, and discussing how Herod's actions point us to an awareness of the intersection of suffering and incarnation. As the study says, "God's method of deliverance, his initiation of salvation does not immediately rid the world of evil. In fact, it makes it more pronounced - God's incarnation heightens the painful reality of this broken world."

We've had some excellent discussions in this challenging Bible study series, and I'm interested to see where this leads us tonight. These folks have been willing to be made uncomfortable and ask some hard questions in this Advent season, which I really appreciate. I'm expecially interested to hear how they'll anwer this one tonight: "The sound of Rachel weeping sharpens our awareness of suffering in the world and runs as an undercurrent to the celebration of Christ's birth. How do we react to her refusal to be comforted? Can situations of suffering be transformed?"

That's a good question for all of us to consider in this season of extremes.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Something to Celebrate

Yat-dat-dat-da! (trumpet flourish)

I am ready for Sunday morning, and it is only 9 pm Saturday night!!!

For me, this is something of a record. Granted, it's because I was able to rework an old sermon from my previous call, but still, it FEELS GREAT!

Sermon's done - check
Children's special Advent message props and message ready - check
Copies of next week's Advent Bible study session ready to hand out - check
Outfit picked out and ready for tomorrow - check
Prayers of the People ready to go - OK, so there's still one thing left to do.

That and I need to practice the messages, which I'll do in the car on the way to the first service. It's a 30 minute drive, so might as well use the time for that!

Right after my last service tomorrow, Lil' Princess and I go to one of her Dad's churches for a special lunch. They're having their Christmas program followed by lunch, all of which they specially rescheduled just FOR ME, so that I could make it in time for the meal. They want to meet me, and get to know me. No pressure!

So, I'm going to bed now. Before midnight! Now there's something to be thankful for.

Friday 5, just making it under the wire!

Here then is this weeks Friday 5 from RevGalBlogPals:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
Try to get as much sleep as possible, take tea breaks whenever I can, get some hugs from my little girl, eat chocolate, and complain to my husband.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
Spaghetti is my tried and true life-saver. Who doesn't like spaghetti? That, or we go out to eat, to give them "an experience of local culture." Works for me!

Three discussion topics:
3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....
Repentance is definately less emphasized during Advent than in previous generations. It just feels like it "belongs" in Lent. However, with the obnoxious things that go along with the pre-Christmas season culturally, maybe a braceing dose of call to repentance is exactly what we need.

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....
Absolutely. Life is complicated, and things NEVER go the way you plan or expect. You have to be ready to duck and weave. If you allow yourself to relax and not get uptight about it, some sweet blessing can come of it. Some of the best laughter I have shared has come out of these kinds of moments, as well as some of the sweetest shared tears.

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
I learned that from the first senior pastor I worked with. You save yourself so much headache and heartache if you just are mindful of all the little stuff. Not that I am good at this, however, but I do try. I know how much it can matter, and not just to make things convenient for folks. Small details can be incredibly pastoral to people who are suffering or going through a tough time.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Well...I'm getting there. I'm about half-way done with most everything; presents, decorating, cards. No baking done yet. I'm not hyperventilating yet, though. That will come the night before the Parsonage open house on the 15th that I was crazy enough to agree to!

Friday, December 07, 2007

There Goes John Again, Stirring up the Neighborhood!

The other day I led the communion worship service at one of our local nursing homes, and I read Luke 1:39-55 to them, which covers Mary going to see Elizabeth after getting the angelic news about Jesus, and Mary's Song of praise to God. When Elizabeth sees Mary, the baby in her womb kicks in recognition of who it is that is coming to their door.

I was struck by that last fact today. Even before he was born, John the Baptist was pointing towards the Christ. His life was fully given over to this task with an intensity and single-mindedness that blows me away. He was passionate, fully committed, and determined. And certainly NOT diplomatic. If he was around these days, he would be considered severly mentally ill, perhaps OCD with all his baptizing and yelling of "Repent, repent!" The Pharisees would have a restraining order out against him.

This coming Sunday's Gospel lesson, Matthew 3:1-12, highlights John and the message he was sent to proclaim. It is an uncomfortable one. I imagine he was an uncomfortable man to be around for any length of time. His zeal and focus would be exhausting to us average mortals. Yet, he still speaks to us. His energy, his passion still gets in our faces, and won't let us go. We tend to like the baby in the manger, but we're not so sure about the Messiah John talks about, the one who comes with the winnowing fork in his hand, who will "clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Ouch!

We need John. We need someone to hold up the mirror to our faces, and show us our hypocrisy. We need someone to remind us that God has a will for us and for this world. Most of all, we need someone who will kick us too, to help us see Christ. In the manger, on the cross, in the faces of the "least of these."

So maybe this Sunday the exhortation will have to be about being made uncomfortable, and about allowing the smelly, camel's hair wearing, locust and honey eating wild man a place in our Christmas preparations. Our expereince and understanding of Emmanuel, God With Us, will be better for it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I am now on DAY 5 of my migraine, and am ready to be signed up as contestant for the "Demon Mother and Wife of the Year" award. Arrrrghhll. This, of course, feeds into all my guilt about not being good enough in all the various parts of my life, I start getting depressed, weepy and lonely again, and...

I hate this "dark side of the moon" part of my life, but I just keep reminding myself that this too shall pass. I count my blessings, call my friends and family, and keep singing "I am weak, but thou art strong."

And if it doesn't pass, (O gracious God, please let it!) then it's off to the doctor's office for a prescription. I HATE the dark hole of depression. It looms in the distance, and makes my stomach churn as it swoops closer. I've only had to actually be on drugs for a while after my girl was born, but the hole has been around for a long time. It's such a relief when it fades into the distance, but there is always the awareness that it can come back.

It's interesting, I think, that so many in the ministry profession know exactly what I'm talking about. I can't remember my statistics right now, but depression and related issues are quite prevalent among those in the ministry. Why is that, I wonder? Is it the personality types that are drawn to ministry are also prone to depressive issues? Or is it the type of work itself which makes us more susceptible to these things? Or both?

The national expression of my denomination offers us a certain amount of counseling sessions covered under our insurance, and helps pay for drugs. It also is pushing a big health initiative, trying to basically bribe us to take better care of ourselves. But is it enough? I sure don't remember any classes at seminary about how to stay healthy in ministry. Our synods do little to help with this, beyond a yearly official check-in to see how we're doing. And is it really their responsibility, anyway?

Well, I need to dash. Have to pick up Lil' Princess from school, make some visits I've been putting off, and pick they hymns for this Sunday.

Maybe today is the day the headache will go away...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday's Advent Moment

The picture is of my husband, myself, our daughter, my husbands parents, his sister and her husband & her three children after my hubby's ordination service this summer.

It's been over 3 months now since my husband was ordained, and it has been a joy to watch him embrace this new life. He's already got some great stories to tell!

We were driving back from the pancake supper and auction fundraiser at one of my churches tonight, and talking about the ups and downs of our Sunday, when I was suddenly struck with such a sense of joy and gratitude. We have FINALLY reached this place in our lives. We've waited so many years, and gone through so much, and now we've taken this great next step together. Thanks be to God, who has been faithful, even when we've been tempted to give up hope.

My Advent moment today was the sweet savoring of hopes fulfilled, and the excitement of new dreams opening up.

And then we got home, our daughter was really tired & whiney, my darling husband got all snarly, I'm exhausted, and in a weak moment I would have traded them both in for a week's cruise to the Bahamas.

Ah, well. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sermon Musings

You know what? Migraines and sermon writing just don't mix.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent, I'm starting the special Children's time in worship to emphasize the season's themes, I've got the confirmation students lined up to do the Advent candle lighting and readings...

A sermon would be a good thing to have ready too, you'd think! I'm still not used to preaching every week, and this grinding migraine has definitely gummed up the works this weekend. So what in the world am I going to say tomorrow?

I've just finished a whole special series that touched on death, heaven, and the Second Coming. I really don't want to go there again tomorrow. I suppose I could do a straight "Welcome to Advent" sermon, but that feels like I'm ignoring the texts. Hmmmm, I have much more mulling to do, but it will have to wait until I get done preparing for and leading tonight's Advent Bible study. (and whose dumb idea was it to schedule a pastor-led Bible study on a Saturday night, you ask?? Why, that would be crazy me, who needs to learn how to say "No"!)

At least the migraine is beginning to back off, and I can think again. So it's off to the races!