Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Faith's Window

Four panels, double glass
cracked corners, fractured light.

Frost kissed, golden tint
winter scheme; silver stream--
trickling laugh with the dawn.

Yellow spring dream
green tendrils; wild garden
tastes of rain on the tongue.

Summer's half moon smile
dirt road through high grass
cicadas song carried on the wind.

Autumn harvest, even fall
orange glow sleeps through dark wood and birch
smell of thunder. shiver. thirst.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


October 18, 2016 was Tinker Day.  Tinker Day is a Hollins University Tradition spanning more than 100 years!  Each October, Hollins University students are surprised to be woken up by Seniors banging pots and pans through the hallways, ushering in a grand day of festivities.  A breakfast of Krispy Kreme donuts proceeds a special decree on Front Quad in which the University President (at present Nancy Gray) officially cancels classes for the day. All of the students get dressed in the wackiest costumes possible and they then hike to the top of Tinker Mountain where classes sing songs, perform skits, and stuff themselves with fried chicken and Tinker cake (chocolate).  For four years it is the most anticipated day of the academic year.  You know it is coming in October but you have no idea when and the first month of school is spent speculating; comparing the dates of sporting events, knowing it won't be on a Friday, and keeping an eye out for any suspicious Krispy Kreme deliveries on campus.  By the power of social media, now more than ever, Hollins Graduates are encouraged to continue to celebrate Tinker Day.  Many alumnae chapters hold their own Tinker Day events.  Lots of Hollins women reminisce by posting photos from bygone days (see below).  If we're lucky, we get to have Krispy Kreme donuts and stay in our PJs, or plan to at least wear something "funky" to work that day.  Some graduates even celebrate a special Tinker Day with their families and have dinners of fried chicken and chocolate cake in their homes. 

Very First Tinker Day with all the residents of Randolph 2

Senior Year Tinker Day, 2006

What is it about this tradition that makes it so special?  Ironically, even though we mention it so frequently, it isn't about the donuts or the wacky costumes.  It's about celebrating community.  It is about joining other people in a shared experience that creates space for fellowship and provides a branch on which to hang memories and meaning. 

So, that got me thinking about the faith traditions that we celebrate.  What are some things that we do as Christians that we consider to be 'traditions'?  What are the things by which we make meaning in our faith journeys?  What are things that we do by motor memory, time and time again? 

Most importantly, we do the things that Jesus taught us.  We do the things that Jesus did.  We pray the Lord's Prayer, we experience baptism and make commitments to one another as the water is poured.  We also celebrate the Lord's Supper.  We partake in the bread and cup as Jesus invited us to do in remembrance of him. 

 As Christians, we all celebrate these traditions, these sacraments, a little bit differently.  For example,  in the Lord's Prayer, some denominations use the language of trespasses, some use the language of debts, and the ecumenical version as seen here, says sins.  When we communicate the importance of baptism, some denominations favor adult baptisms, some believe in infant baptisms.  In the Presbyterian Church, we do not find age to be an issue, a person can be baptized at any age.  But, we believe that a person only needs to be baptized once in their lives as a sign and seal of God's great love for them.  Communion can be served with wafers and tiny cups on trays.  Communion can be served by intinction, where the bread is dipped in the cup.  You can drink grape juice or wine at the Lord's Supper.  You can celebrate it once a month or every Sunday in worship.  These are traditions that are held in common among Christians.  These are the foundations of our worship life together.  Isn't that amazing to consider? 

If you attend Covenant you may have noticed that we've changed a little bit of worship, especially how we begin our services.  We have (for the time being) tinkered with a beloved tradition known at Covenant as "the entry of the word" as the choir processes into the sanctuary along with the pulpit Bible. We changed this entry to occur during the first hymn and we bring something else along with it.  We bring the Bible as well as the elements of our two sacraments.  We bring in water for the baptismal font and bread and cup for the Communion table.  Word and Sacrament are equally important in our reformed tradition and so we wanted to highlight that each Sunday.

 I wonder if we can bring the same joy and energy to the traditions of our faith as we do to our family traditions or our college traditions.  I love looking back at Tinker Day.... but how often do I really reflect on my baptism for instance (even though I am reminded to do so at every baptism).  Maybe you have a football game day tradition or a college homecoming that you never miss.  Maybe Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas bring about family traditions that have passed through generations. My best friend got married a few weeks ago and her mother brought a ring for her to wear that had belonged to the bride's great grandmother (if I recall correctly).  She wore earrings that her father had given to her mother. This is the same friend who let me wear her grandmother's pearls on my own wedding day, my something borrowed.  How beautiful.  How sacred. 

I wonder if we can come to the Lord's Table each month with the same awe as we do these other things.  Because all traditions find community at the heart of them.  I think we would do well to approach these traditions; The Lord's Prayer, Baptism, and The Lord's Supper, with new eyes.  Instead of going through the motions like we normally do: let us be charged to hear the words that are being read and spoken aloud.  Let us reflect on what we mean when we speak, "Give us this day our daily bread."  Let us think about the cleansing waters of baptism and feel the ways in which gathering around the table for Jesus' feast can be a moment of renewal and healing.  After all, traditions become familiar, that is why we like them.  But each occasion is nuanced.  Each occasion is a new thing, even as we participate in words and actions that are centuries old.  And, if we do it right, can continue long after we are gone. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

October: Pastor Appreciation Month

All week long I had been pondering writing something about Pastor Appreciation Month.  Alas, my dear friend and colleague, The Rev. Charles Jeremy Cannada, beat me to it.  He posted eloquently and from the heart about what pastor appreciation means to us as clergy.  And I would add to that our Chaplains, Christian Educators, and Youth Directors.  It can be a lonely vocation...even when you are often in the midst of many wonderful individuals.  Often times, as clergy, we turn to one another because only we can truly see each other in both our triumphs and our trials.  At any rate, I leave this here for you, posted with Rev. Cannada's permission.  Happy Pastor Appreciation Month to you good sir, I see you, too. --Rev. Lo

This evening, I chatted with a colleague who told me of fatigue, of frustration, and of the deep place that only other vocational pastors can know. Those words reminded me of me.
I don't say this much for various reasons, but I will say this, now. I make no apologies if it is selfish of me, but I will apologize that it has taken me so long to say this: if you're one of my church-attending friends, please express joy and thanks to your pastor. Yes, homemade cookies and a gift ...card to Starbucks are nice, but so is the occasional (and often) simple reminder that you see *us*. That's more valuable to us. That's something most of my friends are too humble ever to say.

We're trying so hard to represent faith and love: something that is big and great. And it's usually with joy that we carry this task with an awe and privilege: we get to be a part of so many lives and communities in ways that are unique, vulnerable, and intimate. But it can also be a burden, because many times our personhood is lost.

While many members express doubt and confusion, we have those moments also. While some members wonder why there are so few people do the work of church, we lament because it means more we must pour in more of our personal or familial time in order for church to happen. While some members share their opinions and thoughts, we sit quietly because we are taught to listen—even as we may feel attacked for doing our job as well as the resources will allow us.
Behind the pulpit... behind the polities... behind the pastorates... there is always a person.

See *us*. Please. See that we are tired. See that we have struggles. See that we give up a lot without saying much about our sacrifices. See that sometimes we need someone just to sit with us in silence rather than asking us to explain the mystery. See that often the best thing you can give us is a firm push to get away from the study, from the congregation, and from the community and to take the time for ourselves that we preach for you to take. See that sometimes we also need to be like Jesus when he climbed mountains or walked on water to get away from the crowds.

These are hard words. But they are good words. Please receive them with my respect. The best gift anyone can give their pastor is the love enough to see our person, because we're striving to lead communities to be better people, too. And that's hard work. It's a hard calling. But it is beautiful.
To my colleague and friend: I see you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Each year during this week I cannot help but revisit memories of 9/11.  Such a pivotal moment in our nation's history.  It has informed everything that has happened in our country since, socially and politically, nationally and abroad.  The question is always asked, "Where were you?"  I was a senior in high school, participating in my elective class, chorus.  We were singing Amazing Grace.  If my memory serves me, we were sent home early from school.  For several days we were glued to the television as reports kept rolling in of the loss, the devastation, the bravery, the calls for unity and action.  As a senior in my creative writing class, I was to create a senior project.  As a poet, words were already flowing from me as I reflected on events and so I decided to write a series of poems for 9/11. It was entitled, Searching.

"When writing this particular book I felt that everyone was and still is searching in some way.  We search for words.  We search for answers. We search for healing.  We search the earth. We search the sky.  What are we looking for? Protection? Danger? Everyone is searching for a different sign, a different path to follow.  A different way to grieve."

Every year since 2001 I have gone back and read these poems.  Like a journal entry they take me back in time to my thoughts and feelings on 9/11 and the days that followed.  I thought that this week, maybe I would take you along on that journey with me.  Perhaps, if you have a moment, you can reflect on how 9/11 has changed you? How have such painful events and all of these atrocities that have occurred since, how have you responded to them?  Are you still searching? What are you seeking?  I know that for my part, I chose to be ordained for ministry on September 11, 2010.  I did not make that choice lightly 6 years ago, and I do not take the weight of it lightly even now.  I wanted to remember the day for something positive and good.  And I wanted to be reminded that a huge part of my call to the ministry is to walk alongside those who are searching and need to be shown God's grace.

Do not speak
of our country's 
Steel resolve.
For steel is weak--
it melts under fire, 
bends under pressure,
and in demise
it buries millions
of innocents.

+He Weeps+
Jesus cries with us.
He is in the rubble.
He would not focus
on the "who" or the "why"
But on human lives. 
He would send the souls
o our Father and let alone
the pointing of fingers.
He would pray for everyone,
even the villains and followers.
Because judgement day will come
tribulation far worse than we could ever give. 

Moth to a flame
they came
by the hundreds
to save the lives
of nameless faces
from the fire. 

They gave their lives
singed wings
collapsing to the ground
only to acquire new ones.
Fallen heroes, 
risen angels. 

Like a caterpillar
to a monarch.
Living for the job
was only the first stage. 
They lived for the Lord
and  he wove them wings. 

We give blood like candy
praying that we might
catch some drop of life
from the rain of blood, sweat, and tears
that fall heavy through the ash. 

We pass out blankets 
to cover cold bodies 
that emerge from the crypt
as if heat will make blood flow
through collapsed veins
while the fires still burn.

We hold our breath
saving the oxygen
for some unsung hero
who we believe
deserves it more. 

+For Two+
Swollen feet stumble
down eighty-two flights of stairs, 
ribcage of the North Tower.
Dodging steel, coughing smoke;
she eats, sleeps, breathes for two. 
Narrowly, through a hole, she escapes.
Closing lungs, collapsing corridor; 
scrambling, screaming, dizziness.
She stumbles for two. 
On the street
She gasps for fresh air.
Her water breaks there.
And feeling like the dying
deserve more of a rescue
she asks a volunteer to hold her hand 
as she traipses two blocks
to give birth to a child
whom she will call, Salam, 
a word for peace. 
She thanks Allah.  

A moment of silence
Silence never screamed so loud

Heads bow to pray
Praying again, for yesterday

A moment of silence
Silence never screamed so loud

The flag waves
waves good-bye to the brave

A moment of silence
Silence never screamed so loud

Blood is drawn
drawn for the healing; from the enemy

A moment of silence
Silence never screamed so loud 

A hero stands strong
strong enough to shed a tear

A moment of silence
Silence never screamed so loud. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Coming Down Is Not An Option

As a liberal arts college, Hollins University has always prided itself on sending well-rounded, educated women out into the world. Hollins required students to take courses in a variety of disciplines, including physical education. Now, maybe you don’t know this about me but I am not an athletics enthusiast. I exercise a minimal amount because it is good for my health. The only time I run is if I am being chased, and I agree whole-heartedly with Joan Rivers who once said,... “If God had wanted me to bend over he would have put diamonds on the floor.” During my final year at Hollins, I had put it off long enough and I needed another physical education credit in order to graduate, as did my friend Meagan. Meagan convinced me that our only real option was Rock Climbing! “Come on Buddy (this is our nickname for each other), it will be fun!” Don’t be alarmed, there was no scaling of the sheer rock face atop Tinker Mountain… Hollins actually has a climbing wall in the gymnasium. After a few weeks of instruction, learning how to tie knots and belay one another, Buddy and I were doing well in the class (in all honesty I grumbled the entire time), but I had yet to make it to the top of the wall. One afternoon I was taking my turn scaling the wall and I called out, “Okay Buddy, I am ready to come down.” It was not my amazing partner who called back up to me, it was Jon Guy our instructor, and he had taken charge of my rope! “No Buddy,” he teased me “you are not ready to come down, keep going.” Here’s another little secret about me, I can be stubborn and down-right defiant! So, I just let go of the wall and swung around in the air while he held me there. I went from feeling a little tired of climbing to an attitude of, “no I am not climbing any higher and you can’t make me.” Jon Guy laughed at me and reminded me that it wasn’t difficult for him to let me dangle in the air, basically he could hold me there the rest of the afternoon so I had a choice to make, but coming down to the floor as not an option… it was either swing or climb. I don’t remember if I made it to the top of the wall that day, but I do remember finally trying. As frustrated as it made me that day, and as difficult as it is for me to admit it, Jon Guy taught me a valuable lesson that afternoon. It was one thing for me to give it my best shot and not reach the top, but it was another for me to give up before I had fulfilled my potential. We all have instances where we want to stop doing something, we feel like we cannot go further or achieve anything better, but I am here today to tell you that in our Christian faith, coming down to the floor should not be an option.

(Originally written as a sermon example in 2012)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

With A Grateful Heart

Monday morning after I dropped my son off at school I made a run to the grocery store.  I have found first thing in the morning to be an excellent time to make this trip.  As I was finishing up my shopping and double checking my grocery list (more in the cart than on the list to be sure) I saw three men from Cave Spring Fire and Rescue doing what I can only assume was shopping for the department.

We have lived in Roanoke for about a year and a half.  We've had the Cave Spring Rescue Squad and the Fire Dept at our home twice.  For the fire department, the first occasion was Kemper's first febrile seizure and the second was just this summer when we called due to a faulty ceiling fan burning up. Each time the department has come to our home they have been nothing but calm, compassionate, and professional.  I know that some would say these men and women are just doing their job, but to me it is a job that requires intentional sacrifice and often places them in harms way.   So, when I saw these guys in the grocery store, several of whom I recognized from previous encounters, I felt compelled to do something for them.

I bought each of them a Starbucks gift card so that they could treat themselves.  I ran over and delivered them as they were in the check-out line.  It was a very small gesture, one which they assured me I should not have done.  I thanked them for their tireless service to our community.  I could not find the words to say how they have touched my family personally.

I tell you this little story not to give myself a pat on the back, but as a reminder that even the smallest gestures can make someone's day.  Your kindness and compassion in the world matters!  Our Christian love is demonstrated in the way we interact with our fellow human beings, all of whom are loved by God! We do not have to look far in today's society to hear of stories that highlight the most broken and destructive parts of our nature.  We must strive more each day to shine Christ's light to others.  Just imagine if each of us could show our thanksgiving of others in a tangible way each day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trading Spaces

I am working toward fall and all that entails for the faith formation of  our congregation's children.  In fact, I have been working toward fall since June. But now instead of me chugging ever so slowly along, I am now seeing light at the end of the tunnel...and that light is rushing toward me at lightening speed! I am delighted to welcome our children back to our Christ Connections classes in a few weeks.  I believe in the curriculum we are using and I believe we have a good team of teachers being formed for the months ahead.  The pressure is on, however, because we may feel like that 45 minutes a week might be the only faith formation these children have time for and we better make it just right!  As educational leaders in the church we must slow down and take a deep breath.  A calm, loving presence for our children is the first step in creating healthy learning spaces for our children.  The rest will come, they receive more than we think they do. 

What I really hope for is that our work is only half of the Christian education our children get. My true hope is that while the children are in their welcoming spaces, the parents will be in welcoming spaces, participating in lifelong learning practices of their own on Sunday mornings.  And then, families can go home and infuse that learning into their own spaces in the ways they engage one another.

 I really couldn't say it any better this week so I will just leave this article here.  Good stuff from Presbyterian Outlook.  The Room Where It Happens