Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother





Thursday, December 7, 2017

Covenant Advent Devotions: Peace

Season's Greetings! For the month of December, as we live into Advent, we will have guest blogs from church members who have written devotions for us.  Our second week of Advent explores the idea of "Peace" and is written by one of our talented members and Christ Connections teachers, Tom MacMichael. Thank you, Tom!

Second Week of Advent: Peace

Scriptures: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15, Mark 1:1-8

By: Thomas MacMichael

Inspiration: “PEACE” - One of the great promises of our Lord is the promise God will give us peace! Peace was elusive in the days of Mary and Joseph and seems elusive now. But the promise remains and is real. Psalm 85 says: ”I will listen to what God the LORD says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants”. The Christmas season reminds me of this. Advent is a time to re-center my efforts; to accept the peace of Christ and pass it to others - family, friends, even people I view or am told are enemies. Mark 1:8 says “we are baptized by the Holy Spirit”. A great work has happened and is happening within each one of us!  Advent is a time to remember when this was not yet so: the time, the night, the star, signifying the HOPE and PROMISE of the coming of the LORD. We are blessed with the Good News of His indwelling spirit. It changes everything! C S Lewis once said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Advent is a time to see everything from a renewed perspective: the perspective of the promise of peace.

Reflection: Our culture seems a mine-field against good news and against peace. It is saturated by electronic media with messages of doom, gloom - virtual conveyor belts of scandals and disappointments including at the highest levels. We are not unique in this regard. There was plenty of bad news surrounding the stable and the manger 2000 years ago! It was a terrible time to be a first-born male infant, even worse to an unwed mother! And yet, God worked the greatest of his promises into what seemed bad news all around. Now is the time to remember WE can be the peace of God in our world. We must be. WE are God’s children: His prescription for bad news. This is the meaning of being a Christian: to bring the Good News! How easy to forget, given the world as it is! If we forget the peace given by Christ, how will we ever be able to pass it along? Advent is a time to begin again, to keep first things first. Steven Covey said: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”.  The Advent season reminds us about the main thing: the Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Prince of Peace, help us receive the peace of Christ, remembering His command to abide in Him and to love one another. Give us the strength and willingness to accept the peace that passes all understanding.  Help us to be the Good News in the world, to “keep the main thing the main thing”!  Amen.  





Thursday, November 30, 2017

Covenant Advent Devotions: Hope

Season's Greetings! For the month of December, as we live into Advent, we will have guest blogs from church members who have written devotions for us.  Our first week of Advent explores the idea of "Hope" and is written by one of our talented deacons, Karen Jackson. 


Scriptures: Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, 1 Cor. 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

 
Inspiration: I’ve always thought of hope and faith as twins of sorts, but have considered hope to be the firstborn of the two. Without hope, without that yearning for what might lie beyond the silver lining, the world is indeed dark. Rich in Biblical history, the Old Testament is rife with tales of war, slavery, and human suffering, but all the while encased in hope, reminding us often that the best—Jesus Christ—is yet to come.

Remember “hope” when you were a child, particularly in anticipation of Christmas morning? I recall almost painfully hoping that I had been good enough all year to have Santa bring a certain baby doll, and my brother desperately hoping that the tiny little incident at school didn’t make its way to Santa’s or Daddy’s ears! Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t ever have to be in fear of being “good enough” to receive the best gift of all, and that we can hope without ever having to take a personal inventory in anticipation of missing out on unwrapping God’s gift of love for us.

As we celebrate Christmas and the Advent season, let us remember that hope does indeed spring eternal, beginning with the tiny babe in the manger who brought light to a dark world and hope to those who needed it most, and still offers the torch of hope to us today and always.          

 

Reflection: What have you experienced or witnessed in recent days that gives you hope, especially when we are surrounded by incidences of senseless tragedy? How will you share—and wear—your personal hope this season?

 

Prayer: God of hope, hear our prayers and remind us daily that our hopes have been fulfilled in the birth of your Son. Guide us as we share the gift of hope with those around us, and keep us forever in the cleft of your hands. Amen

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Generous In Every Way: Part III

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, pray, love: one woman's search for everything

At Covenant we dare to believe that the more we give the more we receive.  As we discern how we can be generous in our own lives, we will reap the rewards of a faithful life filled with deeper meaning in which we see God's Spirit working in and through us. 

Our final reflection comes from church elder and chair of both The Learning Ministry Team and the Congregational Nominating Committee, lifelong Presbyterian and parent of one awesome third grader, Laura Jane Ramsburg. Thank you for your enthusiasm and faithfulness, Laura Jane!
 
 
When Scott and I started attending Covenant in 2002, we knew what we were looking for in a church: a strong music program that drew from older and newer traditions, preaching that made scripture relevant to daily life, welcoming members, and a well-structured Sunday service (we are Presbyterians, after all). We found that Covenant was a good choice for Sunday morning—that was all we wanted, and this church provided it for us. Over time, we realized that Covenant had more to give. We got involved with music programs on Wednesday nights; I attended a Woman to Woman event; Scott joined a Christ Connections class.

As years continued to go by and I got more engaged in Covenant’s mission, I started to see not just what Covenant could provide for me, but ways I could be helpful to my church. A background of grant writing and documentation were useful as we worked through the transitions from Bob and Dusty to Loren, to Carl, and now to Kyle. I’ve been honored to serve on nominating committees and the Vision Team. I have the joy of co-teaching senior high Sunday school and chairing the Learning Ministry Team.

Covenant has blessed me and my family with the astonishing variety of all it has to give. The programs and outreach are completely driven by the church’s members; having seen generosity in action, I want to be generous, too.


Laura Jane Ramsburg

Elder, class of 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Generous In Every Way, Part II

Paul urged those under his care in generosity.  He wrote to the Corinthians encouraging them to give an offering to the church in Jerusalem, "You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity."--2 Corinthians 9:11

Covenant is on the precipice of a new thing.  God is constantly at work in us through the Holy Spirit forming and shaping us for the future.  We are continually being called as Christ's hands and feet in the world.  Such service is fostered by our generosity of time, talents, and treasures. 

Receive these words below from member of the Diaconate, Karen Jackson. Thank you, Karen, for your creativity and your willingness to serve in many ways!


Why I'm in the Covenant Family

I grew up thinking about Jesus' words, "In my father's house there are many mansions..." As a child, I could just picture a huge house with bay windows and wraparound porches, and my view has changed very little over the years.  However, I've come to realize that, if I am anticipating the promised special treatment in Heaven, I'd be wise to start preparing for the gift while here on earth.

So...if I want a mansion in Heaven, how can I best prepare?  By dwelling in a house on earth that is God's--my chosen house of God, Covenant Presbyterian Church.  At Covenant, I feel His presence at every corner, from the weekly worship service to the various committees on which I serve to the community and world benevolences to which our members so freely give of their time, money, and talents.  I've been a faithful churchgoer all my life, but have never witnessed the degree of commitment to God's mission that I am privy to each time I step in the church door.  Best part is... it's not merely hard work for the purpose of fulfilling the church and God's mission, but labor mingled with pure joy.

Am I still dreaming of my Heavenly mansion? Absolutely, but have been blessed beyond measure by being a member of a wonderful church "house" and family while I wait--Covenant Presbyterian.

Karen Jackson

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Generous In Every Way: Part I

In one of his writings, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says this of God's generosity that comes to us as grace:

Grace is, quite literally, "for the taking." It is God eternally giving away God--for nothing--except for the giving itself.  It is the life energy that makes flowers bloom, animals lovingly raise their young, babies smile, and the planets remain in their orbits--for no good reason whatsoever--except love alone.

For the next few weeks I will have some guest writers on the blog.  Several members of Covenant Presbyterian Church have written about how they sense God's generous grace at Covenant as we recognize that God gives to us freely out of his deep love for us and all of human kind.  In light of God's grace then, how do we respond?  Generous in every way.  

This week's note comes from current Chair of the Diaconate, Jonathan Fiedler.  Thank you for your tireless efforts and support, Jonathan!



Dear Covenant Family,

Covenant has always shown me the value of giving back to our community and world.  This selflessness leads our church forward towards embodying Christ's mission.  It is this spiritual inspiration of altruism that draws me in.

But there is another personal factor.  After my car accident in 2001, my family and I were submerged with support in many forms.  The same is the case for my mother's bout with cancer in 2014 and father's cardiac scare in 2016.  This congregation lifted us up with unrelenting support.  Droves of others have been assisted and cared for during trying times.  We are blessed to belong to such a compassionate congregation.

The money and time that we donate to Covenant multiplies with the fruit that it bears.  The world news is not always uplifting, but the heart of Covenant's members and congregarional initiatives to feed the sheep are praise-worthy.

Always,
Jonathan

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ordiversary

Today I am celebrating my seventh ordiversary!  What is that you ask?  On September 11, 2010 I was ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).  A pastor's ordination is a big deal.  It's sort of like a graduation, sort of like a birthday, sort of like a wedding.  A person seeking ordination (at least in my denomination) spends three to four years in graduate school, alongside three (or more years) in conversation with presbytery committees, and must pass a series of ordination exams.  They must also have experience in multiple internship settings in order to gain practical experience in various aspects of ministry.  It is A LOT of work.  And just because you have all your ducks in a row at graduation does not guarantee you will have a call to a church right off the bat (yes, all kinds of cliché metaphors today)! Some students spend months, years even, seeking a call to the right church.  Imagine how disheartening it can be, for the candidate and the church to discover that perhaps it wasn't even God's timing or the perfect fit for them. 

I have been so fortunate in my ministry.  My dual degree and my supportive presbytery allowed me ample time and opportunities to be ready for ordination as soon as a graduated from seminary. My first call to Appomattox was met with a great peacefulness in my heart and a swell of welcome so large that I could never have doubted the intention of God for me to be present in the lives of that congregation.   My call to Covenant was different--I was no less certain that it was the right move, but this time I felt grief and joy all at once, to leave Appomattox was difficult but a new challenge presented itself.  So I thought that today I would take a few moments just to reflect on some of my favorite memories over the past seven years of ordained ministry. 

Weddings:  Weddings can be a lot of stress for a pastor but those which I have been blessed to lead have been beautiful and fun.  I've performed the ceremony for  six of my friends--one college sister (my first wedding, thank you Jeremy and Corinne) and four high school friends (Carly, Hunter, Katie, and Anitha).   One of the first communion services I did after being ordained was at my dear friends' Crystal and Zach's wedding at Three Chopt in Richmond.  Have you ever presided over communion in a full length bridesmaids dress?  I have.  It was awesome.  And just last year I was able to be a bridesmaid and officiant for my best friend Jennifer's wedding.  It was such a blessing to be able to serve in both of those special roles for someone so dear to me.  I officiated one wedding in Appomattox, for Shana and Lee.  They now have two beautiful children, one of whom I was privileged to baptize.

Baptisms:  Baptisms are such a holy experience for the pastor and the family.  The first child I baptized was also in the Appomattox Church, sweet Olivia Joy.  She was a long awaited child by her family and so adored in that congregation.  She was the first child to be born into that church in quite some time.  To have the nursery go from zero to four in my time there was truly amazing--and it made it very hard for me to leave them because I so wanted to foster the faith of those children and families.  The couple, Crystal and Zach that I mentioned from Richmond, I was honored to baptize their daughter, Hana while I was pregnant with Kemper.  I have baptized several children and youth at Covenant. It is wonderful to see families growing, and for church member's children and grandchildren to return for the sacrament of baptism.  Baptizing youth is a special gift, because you know that everyone participating will remember the moment, I know that was special for me as a youth. 

The Railroad Festival: The town of Appomattox has a festival every fall and it seems like everyone (and their brother) comes out for it.  Appomattox Court House Pres does a hot dog stand and they raise money for their yearly missions from the proceeds of their stand.  I loved this event because everyone came together and worked as a team.  You had to have people there to set up the tents and tables, people cooking in shifts and serving hot dogs hot and ready to the citizens of Appomattox.  It was just a great way to be together. 

I also loved the Saturday nights when The Swanson's & Debbie Rush would play music at Baine's Books and Coffee in Appomattox.  Such a great evening for fellowship, there was always a great church turnout.  And they always showed up on Sunday mornings too! :)  The Evergreen Lavender Festival was another of the Swanson's endeavor....such dedication in bringing enjoyment and fellowship to the community.  It is a great annual event. 

Youth Ministry:  We had one Youth Sunday at ACHPC--it was marvelous.  The youth there made a movie of the prodigal son and centered worship around the film.  It was so well done and it fit their comfort zones as much as possible.   I served as an advisor for the Presbytery of the Peaks Youth Council for about five years.  It is amazing to see youth from all over our presbytery, from churches large and small, come together and lead their peers in study, worship, recreation.  It's how I met Mary Mac!  What a blessing it was to know Mary and a handful of youth from Covenant before moving here.  Trust me, seeing their faith in actions spoke volumes about the character of Covenant.  I continue to enjoy Youth Sundays and other projects the youth lead at Covenant and I look forward to experiencing more with them in the future. 

Children's Sunday: What a risky idea--that elementary age children could lead worship in much the same way as the teens of the church.  It takes a lot of adult guidance, not only my own but the wonderful Christ Connections teachers--but what a beautiful job the children do in singing, leading liturgy, reading scripture and offering prayers.  The first one solidified my hope that this will become a beloved tradition of the congregation. 

Other, little memories...there are too many to name.  I remember Bonnie Tillotson would leave me special flavored creamers in the church fridge. Sisters in coffee, yes. And her daughter babysat Kemper for me long before he could talk or walk. Thankful for the chances she gave me to judge 4-H speeches in the local elementary school.  Visiting late into the afternoon with Cecil & Eston Harvey at their apartment in Westminster Canterbury. Going with Choir members to sing Christmas carols at the bedside of Cliff Harvey before he died of cancer.  Easter Sunrise services at the Surrender Grounds--no one else can claim that kind of special community worship.   Blessings for Jennifer & Randy, Shana & Lee as they prepared for the births of their children.  Breaking down in tears when I told the session of Appomattox I was saying goodbye.  And on the other hand of that--pulling up to Covenant with my car loaded down with books for Mark to help me move into the office.  Having Covenant members bring us dinners as we moved into our new house--especially Angie Miller, who gave us beautiful hand made bags which we use all the time! My installation service (in both of my churches) being beautiful and hitting just the right note.  The good-natured banter I have witnessed from the elders I have served, and the two incredible clerks of session I have worked with, John Redding, and now Meg Munton.  A good clerk of session is priceless! Bright Sunday--the creativitiy and fun of it--how will we ever top the Doubting Thomas musical?? Seeing the store-rooms filled floor to ceiling with craft supplies, so beautifully organized thanks to Tricia, Pat, and Mary.  Oh my, I love organization! I am blessed with a superb staff at Covenant, they make going to work in the office so enjoyable.  And all the pastors I have worked with and who have mentored me--I have been so very fortunate to have strong leadership and colleagues who believed in me.

Being a minister has many challenges.  You invest yourself in the lives of so many people--in so far as you can--without breaking down the boundaries of self-care that you must see to for yourself.  There is only so much you can do in the span of a day and often you are left feeling that you've neglected someone or something.... it isn't just being on call 24/7--it's more that ministry is a way of life and some part of your mind is always there with your congregation.  Sundays are long.  Whether you are together for one hour or six, Sundays are long.  They take more energy than I ever understood until I was living it myself.  Even if you are extroverted (I am). Even if you enjoy writing and preaching (I do)--being "on" for everyone in those hours is taxing. 

It never gets easier to visit someone in the hospital.  It never gets easier to put words to unspoken concerns and prayers for another individual or family.  It never gets easier to serve families in a Service of Witness to the Resurrection--even if you preach daily about grace and eternal life. 

But there is such beauty wrapped around all of the challenges.  There are births, baptisms, weddings, and anniversaries to celebrate.  There are milestones to rejoice in both large and small.  There is laughter in a greeting and warmth in a handshake.  There are members who truly see you and value the expansive work that you do...those moments that are taken to encourage a pastor mean so much.  So. Much.  I love the first Sunday returning for Fall events at church.  It is such a full day and so much work goes into its preparation--but seeing energy and enthusiasm is heartwarming.  Any Sunday where I don't flub a prayer, mess up a hymn, or trip over my robe is a great Sabbath.  The smiles from children who want to "help you" or just can't wait to answer during Children's Time (ask questions at your own risk) is priceless.  As are the teenagers who make their presence known in any number of ways, through participation in missions or worship services. 

The gift of being a pastor is we get to see the beauty and the chaos--as a part of it, but also separate from it.  And we are tasked--for better or for worse--with helping lift the moments of grace from every day ministry, polish them, and present them to you--so that you too can see Christ reflected in your midst. 

Some days I think it would be nice to move back to Richmond and sell children's shoes....but I'd just spend half my paycheck on shoes for myself.  I think, in the end, I'd much rather be in this crazy boat with you. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Stories To Tell: Part XIII

Saving The Best For Last

The last few weeks have been hectic with a much needed vacation and returning to work to kick off the new year with wonderful new ministries and a brand new Head of Staff.  These things, combined with some unexpected events has meant putting off my final summer story installment until after Labor Day.  I hope you've enjoyed these little windows into my life. As promised,  I've saved the best for last.  

When people ask me where I met my husband I tell them, "I met him at Hollins." Then they ask if he attended school there and I get to remind them that Hollins is a women's university. The truth is that Michael was living in Roanoke, not far from where we live now and he grew up with some of my hall mates.  He would come over and hang out with friends and that is how we met.  This is the boiled down version--lots of stuff happened in between. We began dating the summer between my first and sophomore years and we have been together ever since.  I think that Michael probably has almost as much nostalgia about Hollins as I do.  He spent weekends hanging out on campus, he fought against dressing up for formals, he made sure we were all safe at parties. He was the first Hollins Husband!  

I love Michael for his big heart.  He can have a temper.  He can become focused on negative aspects of things. These are not new concepts to me--I am exactly the same way.  But, at the end of the day, most of those emotions flow out of having a caring heart.  He will give the shirt off of his back to someone.  He will do what he can to help friends when they are in need.  He is deeply devoted to his family and protective of me.  He strives to work hard and do his job effectively and efficiently.  He is also a terrific cook, which compliments my lack of skill perfectly.  He is probably the only person that can make me mad and make me laugh in the same breath. 

Michael has been at my side and with family when we have lost loved ones--my grandmothers and my uncle.  He has walked with me and encouraged me through each transition in my life, from college to seminary and finding my first call upon graduation.  Michael grew up a pastor's kid so he understands the pressures of ministry and is sensitive to all of the successes and struggles of pastors.  I tell everyone that for him to be a PK and have married me anyway speaks volumes of his love for me.  He could have cut and run early on!  I am fortunate that Michael respects my job, and his father's job, even if we don't always agree on the theology or the methods of this calling.   Most of the time I am thankful that he continues to ask questions and challenge me to think about my faith! 

Michael and I never lived in the same city until we were married.  For much of our relationship Michael lived in Charlottesville so our weekends were typically spent in one city or the other. Well, except for that semester I spent studying abroad.  Boy, did we run up a phone bill!  After my first year of seminary Michael's lease was up and we had discussed not wanting to ever live with anyone else.  We decided that it was time to do what we had been dreaming about for several years and get married.    We told our parents on April Fool's Day and they didn't believe us.

 We were married in June of 2007 (yes, that is 10 years)!  Our wedding was small with family and close friends there, Michael's dad led the ceremony.  It was HOT!  The funny thing is that we got married in Bedford, outside in the Wharton Memorial Garden, which is next to the library.  Someone, a few months before the wedding drove a car into the gazebo! It had yellow tape around it up until the week of our wedding!  I remember bits a pieces of the day.  My best friends were there to help me get ready--but my hair wouldn't hold a curl for anything. And Michael refused to get a haircut.  I ate leftover steak for breakfast--because what do you eat on your wedding day? I tuned out a lot of the service because Michael's dad was saying really kind and lovely things and I didn't want to cry.  My Aunt Nita made a beautiful tiered cake decorated with star gazer lilies.  My two best friends from college took photos of the wedding.  Michael's friends--and likely his sister--decorated his car with car paint, which he absolutely did NOT want to happen.  And after we left the 'after-party' at my parent's house, my childhood friends rented movies and had a sleepover at Mom and Dad's house.   

We moved from Richmond and our tiny, hot apartment in June of 2010 to Appomattox...into a lovely manse, which solidified the concept of a 'man cave'.   Let me insert here that Michael has moved for our marriage 3 times now.  These have each been difficult in their own right but Michael has always encouraged me to go where I felt we should go.  He always says, we are a team.  And through every rough patch we have experienced, we have circled back to that. 

Adding A Rookie

Few people are aware that we tried for several years to get pregnant before Kemper came along.  We even had a very early miscarriage the summer before I became pregnant with Kemper.  The days following were tough for me.  In fact, it was after we really stopped trying that Kemper came along.  One week night, right in between our birthdays we just had a hunch.  I took three tests before I believed it.  Right before my 30th birthday.  

For a full story of our experience with Kemper's arrival in the world, you can visit the blog I keep for K at Junebugs and Pick Up Trucks.  Let's just say--he came early and not in the way we ever imagined.  Michael was a miracle baby, I was too, and so is Kemper.  A family of preemie miracles.  

When Kemper was born, circumstances caused Michael to be the parent who swaddled, fed, and changed our son for the first days of his life.  Michael would go home from my bedside and watch videos of how to do all the things I thought I would be teaching him how to do.  Michael cared for our tiny bear and nursed me back to health in those days.  

We now tell Kemper that he is part of our team.  Truly, he is the MVP.  I can't imagine our lives without him; he brings so much energy and joy into our lives.  Michael is an excellent father.  I knew that his big ol' heart would make him a great Dad, but I didn't imagine how much I would enjoy looking for parts of him reflected in our son.   

It's not all sunshine and roses around here.  We have hard days and our own share of "first world problems." Laundry piles up and the cats leave trails of cat hair and dusty bunnies in their wake as they beg to be fed.  We have moments where we lose patience with our toddler and each other.  But at the end of the day, if Kemper isn't at home with us, we miss him. Some nights, by the time we get Kemper to bed we are tired, and all we can say before we fall asleep is that we miss each other.  But, we're a team and every day we learn how to be a stronger unit together.