Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother





Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stories To Tell: Part IV

Moving Day


It was snowing the day my parents forced me to leave everything I knew and loved.  It was a process that had actually begun many months before.  In the midst of Pearlie's illness and recovery it became more pressing than ever before that my grandmother needed to move in with us.  Our house on the Ponderosa just wouldn't accommodate her needs.  It had lots of stairs and she would need a more accessible bathroom.  That makes sense to me now--it didn't necessarily feel right then.  It started with Daddy picking up those free magazines in restaurants with house listings in them.  Then we began taking Sunday drives around the countryside.  I remember Mama and Daddy sitting on the front porch one warm evening and telling me that we were moving. I would have to change schools. We were to begin looking at homes in Bedford--a middle ground for my parents who were by that time both commuting to work--Mama to Lynchburg and Daddy to Roanoke.  We would look for a house for Pearlie to live in with us. I ran crying to my room.  I don't think I spoke to them for days.  

The summer before starting 6th grade, I wrote a letter to Whitney outlining what was to come.  I wrote her a letter and gave it to her one afternoon at Pearlie's house because I couldn't bear to tell her face to face.  She read it and we cried together in the late afternoon sunlight streaming in through Pearlie's bathroom window.  I'm pretty sure she didn't speak to my parents for days either.

Looking at houses was kind of fun. After all, I'd never done that before and the prospect of a new room was fascinating.  I remember one ranch home with a full basement and we talked about me having a room downstairs.  That sounded fun.  One old house has a basement room filled with every National Geographic ever printed--no exaggeration.  Finally my parents chose the house on Woodcreek.  It would need some work to fit our family but it seemed to have good potential.  And let's not forget my Daddy can build anything.  And so, on a blustery winter day, Whitney and her parents came and helped us take loads of boxes and furniture to our new house. 

The silver lining was that since the house needed renovations before we could all move in, Mama and I would live with Pearlie and Daddy would live in the Bedford house until I finished sixth grade at Hurt Elementary.  I know how fortunate I was to not be moved in the middle of the school year.  We would all be moving on to middle school the next year.  The year marched on.  I had my first boyfriend who I feel like I've known literally my whole life.  In those days a boyfriend in sixth grade meant buying each other Christmas presents and holding hands at the skating rink.  I got braces which I endured for several years.  Instead of spending every weekend at Whitney's though, I had to go spend the weekends at the Bedford house instead.  We lost Mama's beloved cat, Pete.  He went out in a snowstorm and got lost, we saw him a few times after that but we could never catch him.  

The house transformed in those months, and even more so in the years since.  Daddy took the downstairs master bathroom and created two bathrooms--a handicap one for Pearlie.  He extended the tiny (I mean really tiny) bedroom upstairs out into the attic and created a master bedroom for them.  My bedroom had pink and blue striped wallpaper with baby jungle animals on the border.  We talked about painting it but then I started putting posters all over the wall so that wallpaper stayed up until I got married and moved to Richmond.  I put glow in the dark stars all over the ceiling and used my two attic spaces to create extra playrooms when the weather wasn't too hot or too cold.  

After my sixth grade graduation we moved out of Pearlie's little gray house on Pocket Road and it sold to some friends of ours-- the family of the first friend I ever made in Kindergarten. It was really a blessing to them and so I think that eased my sadness. For a time I kept in touch with those beloved childhood friends.  We used to write letters and have sleepovers.  But as time progressed and we entered into middle school, new friendships flourished.  My friendship with Whitney never faltered.  Although our time was more limited we still spent weekends and vacations together.  She also helped to keep me tied to those old friends. I even went their Senior Prom as a date for that first boyfriend.  

Woodcreek Road became another community all together.  It was different in the sense that we lived in a neighborhood with houses lined up on either side of the road.  And I could ride my bike all around and we could go for walks in the evenings--there was traffic but typically quiet.  Just as it had been in Hurt, we grew to know and love our neighbors.  Kind and generous people who were there for all of my milestones--from high school graduation, to Mama and Daddy's accident, to my wedding, and my baby shower.  As I grew older I came to understand how special it was that my circle of community had grown.  Now I had special people in two towns.  

Nevertheless, I was convinced that when I grew up I would return to hurt and buy back our white house up on the Ponderosa--some of my fondest memories indeed. 




Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stories To Tell Part III

Miracle # 1


I believe in miracles.  I don't talk about it much. It seems personal in a way, to have the Spirit move in your life in such a way that you feel like you've witnessed the hand of God at work.  But, that's what telling the good news is about, isn't it?  This isn't really the story of the first miracle of my life--the first was my birth, but I don't remember that so we'll jump ahead.  

Grandma Pearlie got sick; like really sick.  I was in sixth grade (or was it fifth?).   Pearlie was diabetic and for as long as I could remember she'd been sticking her finger with a needle several times a day, squeezing that dark red dot onto a thin strip and sliding it into a little computer that blinked back a number at her. Then she'd give herself some insulin and go about her way. Most days it was pretty good.  One day, it showed low numbers--maybe it was for a few days, I can't remember.  Anyway, Pearlie drank some orange juice to bring her sugar up.  The problem was, instead of her sugar levels being low, they were actually really high.  Her strips had gone bad and gave her inaccurate readings. She had a stroke.  She went into a coma.

I don't remember what hour of the day or night it was when it happened. But I do remember my mama going into her room and finding her on the bed and saying, "Mama, Mama!" trying to get her to wake up. As a young child, even though I was as shielded from it as I could have been- it was scary.   The ambulance was called.  We spent hours, days, weeks at her bedside in the hospital. Mama tried to talk to me about it.  To prepare me for the fact that she wouldn't wake up. That she would pass away from this world into the next where she would be with her three other sons and her husband who "went before her."  Then as the days turned to weeks the family began to joke that Pearlie was "too ornery to die." That sounds terrible, but it was said with love and a smile to reflect on her tough skin and tenacity.   I began to think that maybe we could put my dark colored dress and shoes back in the closet.  She should have died. But she hadn't yet....and so I believed in something greater than us at work.  The God she'd taken me to church to learn about. 

While Pearlie was hospitalized, I spent the afternoons after school with those beloved neighbors I told you about: Margaret & Kyle and Kent and Barbara.  I got on and off the school bus from their house.  I was even closer to Whitney's grandpa's house so we could still hang out in the afternoons.  Margaret and Kyle always had treats for me. I'd go into their kitchen, all the windows would be open and Kyle would have the Altavista Journal spread across his red marble looking table top.  Margaret, in her flowered house dress would be clipping coupons.  I'd wander across the yard back to Kent and Barbara's.  Kent was a taxidermist. He had a constant twinkle in his eye and two moods if I remember--he'd be laughing and joking or all fired up about something.  Not in an angry tone but in a way that you knew he was serious about what he was saying.  If it was cold, Kent would have the wood stove burning in his shed where he worked.  There were mounts sitting all around and all manner of animal hides waiting to be dressed.  He had a black cat named Malcolm X who followed him everywhere.  Malcolm's tail was slightly bent because he'd gotten too close to the wood stove several times.  Malcolm's mama cat, lovingly named "Mama" blessed Pocket Rd with a litter of kittens twice a year.  All my cats growing up were from Mama.  Aggador Spartacus is probably her last living offspring still lives a cushy life with my parents in Bedford.  He's about 16 years old.  Anyway, her kittens were often running around out back and I'd go spend the afternoon playing with them.  Barbara was always kind, welcoming me into her home and calling me, "baby girl".  

I'll tell you another side story about Kent and Barbara that I'll never forget.  They had a copper head snake in an aquarium in their living room.  His name was Slick Willy.  This was in the Clinton days.  Well one night, late in the evening we got a call at home. They said, "Slick Willy had babies and they got out of the breathing holes of the aquarium and they are all over the house!"  HA! I am pretty sure I stayed at home in the bed and Daddy and Mama went over there to help them.  Slick had a name change "Slick Hilary" and got sent back out into the wild.   

Pearlie was a miracle you see, because in time, she woke up.  She was awake and she could talk and eat.  She had to learn to walk again if I remember.  And she was never quite strong enough after that to really get back into good shape.  She walked with a walker but spent most of her time in a wheelchair.  We put our dark clothes back in the closest.  Pearlie went into assisted living for a time.  And then it was decided for certain that she could not be on her own and she would come and live with us.  Pearlie lived another 9 or 10 years.  Those were not always rosy times.  As I got older I didn't want to listen to Pearlie anymore.  I certainly couldn't be bothered to help around the house even though Mama was doing everything.  But what a gift God gave us--more time to hear her stories.  More time to watch the Atlanta Braves play baseball. More time for me to tell her about high school and graduation.  More time to show her pictures of Hollins and introduce her to Michael.  

Now that I am older I see again that there were lots of miracles.  The miracle of Pearlie, the miracle of family and of friends.  How lucky.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Stories To Tell Part II

Small Town, Big Ideas

BFF

I met my best friend in first grade, Mrs. Mason's class,  at John L. Hurt Jr. Elementary School. Her name is Whitney, or "Whittle" as my Mama has called her for as long as I can remember. Mrs. Mason thought we'd be fast friends because we were both small in stature and only children.  She was right. Whitney was as petite as I was.  When I met her she had blond hair that flowed all the way down her back and when in a ponytail it was as thick as my fist.  Seriously, it was the hair that most grown women dream of.   We basically had the same size clothes and the same size shoes (still do).  We rode the same school bus and shared a love of country music.  In fact, her grandparents didn't live too far from my house. I could get their easily by cutting through the hay-field and a couple of the neighbor's yards.

It wasn't long before we were spending weekends at each other's houses.  One week at mine and one week at hers. We'd play Barbies or house in the early days.We would sleep on blankets on the floor of her room and talk and giggle until we heard her dad come home from his shift at 11.  Then we'd play opossum--which really meant that we finally got quiet enough to drift off to sleep. Her favorite movie was Top Gun.  Did I have a favorite movie back then? I don't remember.  I do remember loving the country band, Highway 101, and I would listen to the tape repetitively. I am sure my parents loved that.  Anyway, both got off the school bus at our grandma's houses and we would then get on the telephone and talk for ages.  What did we talk about? I have no clue.

As we got older we both developed a love of history and our parents would take us on trips to historical places.  I remember Jamestown, Williamsburg, Mount Vernon.  We enjoyed the school field trips to places like Point of Honor and the Lynchburg City Museum. It's funny to think about because now Whitney works for those places. She is in charge of the education programs.   I dreamed about going to college at William & Mary and working in Colonial Williamsburg.

Sometimes our parents would take us to Lynchburg to tag along while they did their grocery shopping or walking around at the mall.  Later on in elementary school we would go on beach vacations together.  We were the closest thing to siblings the two of us would ever have.  After Whitney's grandmother passed away (this was the first funeral I remember and they had been so close) she would spend summer days and after school with me at Pearlie's house.  We were still young enough to have a vivid imagination--probably around third or fourth grade--so we invented an imaginary life where we owned a fashion company, LKT Fashions.  We used Fashions Plates toys and Bride Magazines to create our brand.  We made millions.

Somewhere around that time, maybe even a year or so earlier, it was discovered that Whitney had scoliosis.  Mama sat me down one night on the couch and told me about this. I understood because Mama also had scoliosis, pretty severe in fact.  She had surgery when she was a child but it was not successful.  It was scary as a little kid to think about my best friend going to all of those doctors appointments at UVA and wearing a back brace. It was about more than just wearing a brace to help her spine, she also had changes in her hormones, so her body was changing and developing differently than mine.  These were surely conversations that were tough for Mama to have with me.  But even then I think I understood on some level, how miraculous it was that Mama had experience with something that someone we loved was going through.   I remember going with her on some of those trips to UVA and it became my responsibility to help her out at school. After the disaster that was 4th grade, we were always in the same class at school.  I felt (feel) a protectiveness of my friend, my sister.  In all things, she persevered.  Now, she's better known as Aunt Whitney.

John L. Hurt Jr. Elementary--Go Wildcats!

I remember visiting Hurt Elementary for Kindergarten.  I remember Dad ( I am 95% sure it was just Dad) who left me there to "try it out" for a day.  I cried and cried.  They said I wasn't ready.  I stayed at Preschool for another year.  It was pretty great growing up as one of the oldest kids in the class.  I got to do everything first--get braces (okay that sucked), drive a car, purchase alcohol (for my own party)..... yeah so it wasn't always the best but being the smallest and the oldest was an oddity I took pride in. 

I attended the school my Mama attended. One of her brothers was in the first class to go to the school.   In fact, in first grade she found a desk in my classroom that she remembered from her time there--it had an Indian carved in the top of it.  

I loved elementary school!  I loved learning new things (except math).  I loved reading, my favorite times were going into the library.  When I found The Little House on the Prarie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder I thinnk I probably squealed in delight.  I'd been watching reruns on television.  My parents figured out that I was reading under my blankets by flashlight at night--Little House, Nancy Drew, Babysitter's Club--whatever, and they bought a lamp to hook to my bed so I could read at night.  

Being from the small town with big ideas that was Hurt, Virginia meant that our school was tiny and you grew up knowing all of the kids in your grade.  I think I was the kid that got along with everyone for the most part.  I had lots of friends who played together on the playground, talked on the bus, and ate lunch together.  When you're a child you don't pay attention to the color of a persons skin, what street they live on, or if their parents belong to the country club.  You just run. And imagine. And learn.  

I was inducted into the Talented and Gifted program in second grade because of my reading and language skills.  I remember going into a tiny room at the top of a little staircase by the library and taking tests with Mrs. Fitzgerald.  There ended up being a few other kids from my class in there too.  Every week or so we got out of class for a little while and we would do special stuff together--creative things or practice for the Geography Bee.  I won the Geography Bee once--I have no idea how, pure luck.  This was when I started creative writing.  My first story was based on our dog, Bo.  In this story he had six legs.  I won an award.  A year or two later I wrote a book of poems.  This also won an award. In fact, I had to go sit with Mrs. Fitzgerald and write some poetry in front of her, on the spot, to prove that I had in fact written the poems, and not my Mama doing it for me.  

Some of my favorite memories are of the Spring Festival.  This would happen one Saturday at the school.  It seemed like eeeeeverybody was there.  Our parents would run booths or stand in the shade of the trees and talk while we ran around like banshees.  We'd do all the carnival stuff, load up on sugar, and chase each other with water guns.  Those were the days.  I remember feeling a deep sadness when I completed sixth grade and knew that my days with the Spring Festival had come to an end.  

Friday nights were for going to the skating rink.  I loved Roller Skating. I still do- I will go any time. All the kids from Hurt, Altavista, and Gretna would meet there and skate from opening until closing.  Music blared and the whole place smelled of Pizza and Nachos. I wonder in this day and age if I would feel comfortable dropping Kemper off like that.  I never questioned that I was safe and I knew so many people there I was never alone.  But it just seems like the world has changed from those days.  

Summers were filled with days at the Marina Pool by Leesville Lake.  Whitney and I would play for hours while Mama read a book in the sun.  We'd go inside and get cheeseburgers and french fries. Styrofoam cups were filled to the brim with tiny crushed ice and soda.  We'd play songs on the jukebox--always an Alan Jackson song for Mama.  If I think back I can still smell sunscreen and chlorine. 

The biggest day of summer--of the year in fact-- was Uncle Billy's Day. Always the first weekend of June,  Uncle Billy's is a festival in Altavista, Virginia celebrating the founding of a Trade Lot in the town where people went to market to buy goods.  There was a craft show, a car show, food trucks with funnel cakes, concerts, and my personal favorite--fireworks.  I have t-shirts commemorating UBD from my childhood. At one time I kept them all, each a different color with a variation of the trade lot and fireworks image on the back...now I think I have just a few of my favorites.  It didn't just seem like eeeeverybody was there--eeeeverybody was, in fact, there.  Maybe this is why I so loved to participate in the Railroad Festival in Appomattox with the church there. It brought back those memories of small town pride, and the hustle and bustle of everybody being together, celebrating their community.  

Growing up there was good.  I had good friends my age. I had good neighbors and friends of my family who looked out for me.  Everyone from the bus driver (Mrs. Dalton) to the teacher's aid (Mrs. Midkiff) were beloved members of my school family.  Our neighbors, Margaret and Kyle and Kent and Barbara were always there for me to run over and visit with or stay with if my parents or Pearlie couldn't be with me.  It was a special community.  And isn't that what we all long for? A community to be a part of?  I think that is why Jesus surrounded himself with the twelve.  He did not want to go it alone.  In fact, he knew that he could not.  This is why we are called to worship together communally, to learn and live our faith as a unit.  Because we need each other.  We were created for each other.  It might do our world some good to remember that.  


Monday, May 29, 2017

Stories To Tell Part I

Preface


Carl's sermon got me thinking yesterday... I know, I know, brace yourselves.  :)  First, I must give a little background to that sentence.  For fifteen months or so, I had the pleasure of working with Carl Utley, a fantastic interim pastor and just what Covenant needed to prepare for new leadership. Carl has been a terrific mentor and more than that become a trusted friend who has supported me through some difficult moments in the last year.  I confess I didn't say goodbye to him yesterday, on purpose.  Not only because he is the new General Presbyter for the next few years so I will see him, but because it fills me with deep sadness that our daily work together has officially come to a close.

Anyway, his sermon struck a chord with me.  He said that we all have stories to tell.  Stories that cultivate hope.  These words made me think maybe that would be a fun series of blogs to do share for the summer.  Just some stories from my life, stories that I think cultivate hope from my own life.

Pocket Road

My earliest memories are of growing up "in the pocket" in Hurt, Virginia.  We moved there from Salem when I was about three years old.  My Daddy built our beautiful house on land that was my Mother's family farm.  Our house was white with black shutters and a porch that stretched across the front of it.  My memories of that house play in my mind like a movie flashback, slightly tinted and fuzzy at the corners.  My adult mind recalls that it was probably really hard to keep the red clay from staining that white siding.  And I remember Mama saying you couldn't put a hoe in the ground without pulling up a rock.  But, for a young, only child, that home, "The Ponderosa" we called it--was a magical place tucked beyond a hay-field, just into the forest where fairies lived in the woods, porch railings were horses, and fireflies were friends.   

I remember Daddy letting me pretend to help him build the house.  I climbed on mountains of sand and hammered nails with my plastic tools.  I did all of this shirtless, as I thought that this was a prerequisite for carpentry.  Again, through my adult eyes I can only imagine what my presence felt like to my Dad.  One part swelling with pride that your child wants to be just like you and  two parts exasperated that you can't get anything done with your little shadow following you everywhere!

When I wasn't at home with my parents, I was with my Grandma Pearlie at her house, just down the road, around the curve.  As I got older, I could walk through the woods to get to her house.  Pearlie's house had been her home since she married.  It was a little gray house with a sunny back porch and a little kitchen that was always warm.  She kept snacks for me in the bread box on white counter tops flecked with gold.  I drank flat coke from a skinny orange cup (that is the way I liked it) and to this day I don't know what happened to that little orange cup and it saddens me.  My favorite recollections of the early days at Pearlie's house include pulling out Mama's beautiful dolls from her dresser drawers and making mud-pies in the back yard.  Mama's dolls were tall and thin, they looked like perfect ladies and their blue eyes closed when you laid them down.  One was a bride and one was a ballerina.  Again, I wonder if we kept those in the attic somewhere.   My mud-pies were baked in the sun on three black rectangle trays with yellow flowers painted in the middle.  I decorated them with stones from the driveway and dandelion blooms. 

I would go to Pearlie's house early in the morning, sometimes before the sun came up.  Daddy would get me out of bed and dress me, Mama had already left for her work at the hospital in Lynchburg.  Daddy and his friend Bill would pile into Daddy's Ford with me in the middle and take me down the road to Pearlie's house.  Then they would go on their way to a construction site for the day.  You see, Daddy had his own company in those days.  He could (can) build anything.  A lot of times I would go back to sleep in Pearlie's four poster bed, the scent of her shampoo on the pillow.  When I woke up she would rock me in her chair out on the back porch until I asked for a snack.  To this day I still love Ritz crackers and cheddar cheese.  

I would live in my imaginary world often outside in the morning sun while Pearlie watched me from the windows until lunch time.  Our lunch routine required eating lunch at the bar in the kitchen, I remember eating cheese sandwiches, or hot dogs.  Sometimes Pearlie made me brownies for desert.  There were also Oreo's on top of the fridge.  I don't know who licked the icing out of the center and put them back together.  Then we would watch The Price is Right with Bob Barker, WDBJ 7 News with Robin Reed (yes I've trusted Robin for the weather my whole life) and then The Young & The Restless and The Bold and The Beautiful..... Pearlie would never, ever tell you she watched those shows on T.V., but I live to tell the tale.   Did I nap in the afternoons? I don't recall.  What I do remember is sitting on the brown, fuzzy carpet by the television, or next to Pearlie on the couch.  I remember well her navy pants, that were slightly rough to the touch and her polyester blouses that she made for herself.  Blue was her favorite color.  She always told me that God must have loved blue and green because he made so much of it.  

One day a week we went into town to the Winn Dixie for groceries.  Sometimes we would see neighbors Margaret and Kyle walking the perimeter of the parking lot for exercise.  If it was too hot they moved indoors making laps around the outer aisles.  One morning a week was laundry day. For some reason I want to say it was Tuesday.  And if I remember correctly, one day a week was the day for Pearlie to wash her hair.  When I was really small Pearlie had long hair halfway down her back.  It was pure white and thick.  Mama said it had been that way since she was very young, even when Mama was a little girl it was white as snow.   Pearlie would wash her hair in the sink and then she would go into the bathroom and begin to coil it around the back of her head.  I don't know how she did it, but I wish now that my young eyes had made sense of what her nimble fingers were doing so I could replicate it.  I'd sit on a tall, white metal stool in her bathroom and keep her company while she hummed hymns and put a million bobby-pins in her hair.  

My Saturdays were filled at home running through the hayfields, laying down in the middle where no one could see me and looking up at the puffy clouds floating by.  I remember waking up before my parents and tiptoeing into the living room to turn on the TV.  I'd stretch myself across the blue flowered couch and watch Winnie The Pooh.  At home, I had a Barbie wonderland under the stairs and I would play for hours while Mama undoubtedly made multiple trips up and down those stairs to the washer and dryer.  Mama would always say things to me like, "I love you skinny legs and all" or "Let me have your eyelashes."  She taught me at a young age to say, "Thank you Mama, you're a good woman."  Daddy was always outside building something, fixing something, mowing the lawn.  In the afternoons sometimes I'd go out and see what he was into.  We always had a basset hound never far from his side.  Gertrude LaRue was my favorite, the girl I grew up with.  I remember her chasing terapins, bringing them from the woods and dropping them at Dad's feet in the garage.  Gertie would  get distracted with something else and the turtle would eventually stick his head out and sneak away.  She'd find him and bring him back.  

On Sundays, Pearlie would pick me up and take me with her to Hurt United Methodist Church.  The morning would start off with what I can only assume now was a brief devotion and prayer in the sanctuary.  I would stare up at a stained glass window at the front of the sanctuary depicting Jesus praying in the garden.  Somehow it seems to me that I always understood that the window was placed in honor of my grandfather, Crebo, who I only met once at three months old.  He was a beloved teacher and leader in the church.  Then we would go to Sunday School.  I would climb the stairs with several other children and go into a sunlit classroom where Mrs. Genevieve was the teacher.  We sat around a table with child-size wooden chairs and the stories of the Bible came to life.  After that, we'd return to the sanctuary and most times Mama and Daddy would join us for worship.  I remember going forward and kneeling at the railing for communion. Or sometimes singing with my friends at the front of the church. Most days I just laid down in the pew and rested my eyes while all the adults had church.  I remember when the pastor left, sometime in early elementary school I guess, and Rev. Marianne Byrd came to be the pastor.   She wasn't there very long and I remember the adults talking about how she wasn't really accepted because she was a woman.  Even then, that seemed odd to me.  I mean all of my preschool teachers were female, my mama worked at a hospital and saved lives.  My days were spent with my doting grandmother--all girls--so why was Marianne not a good fit?  

I suppose looking back on these early memories of my childhood gives me hope for the future of my own son.  These years were bound to be hard for my parents.  My dad was trying to build his own business in a tiny town which would continue to lose factories and businesses in those years.  My mom was commuting to her job in Lynchburg and working in a brand new cath lab at Virginia Baptist.  They managed to build a home for me where I felt safe and loved.  As I described it to you, almost a magical kingdom for me and my imagination to grow.  I understand now that for my grandmother to watch me all those years through elementary school was really a lifeline for her. She had a difficult life and she'd lost her husband right after I was born.  And yet as a little girl, even though I heard stories about Crebo, I would never have known or understood that grief.  So, when days are difficult I have to remember that this is a magical time for Kemper.  A time for him to make memories with his parents and grandparents.  These early years instilled in me the importance of children's relationships with their grandparents.  It also makes me value the time he spends with me at church.  It is okay if he doesn't "get it"--the stories and the traditions.  He sees the community, he feels the love of the people, and that is special.  

And so I have to close my tablet now, hit publish and be done.  Because there is a little boy in his pjs, begging to go outside with his bubble machine, ready to start his magical day.  


Monday, May 22, 2017

Paving THE WAY As You Go


As I look over the next few weeks in the life of the church what stands out the most is that we are celebrating Milestones, particularly in the lives of our young people.  This Sunday, we will have Confirmation Sunday.  We have 16 Confirmands from 6th-8th grade and two of them will be baptized.  They've spent the last four months learning theology, Presbyterian practices, world religions, and how to articulate their faith. These Middle Highs should be celebrated and I hope in the midst of all the fun we have as a group, we take a moment to recognize the seriousness of becoming a member of the church--with it comes a responsibility to spread their wings and discern what their God given gifts are and how to use them in the life of faith. 

 On June 4th we will hold Graduate Sunday and we will recognize our high school seniors who are graduating and moving toward new horizons, on to big, bold, bright things!  Our Seniors have been instrumental in the leadership of our congregation.  They've grown up here doing everything from attend the preschool to participating in Sunday School and VBS.  As middle and high school students they've guided us in worship and volunteered to serve as leaders for children's events.  They've served on youth council for the church and the presbytery.  They've chosen to be a part of the life of Covenant, in the midst of all the other wonderful activities in which they've participated.  These elements make up who they are.  

These teens would not have been shaped without Covenant and Covenant could not be shaped without these teenagers.  What a privilege.  What a privilege it is for us to know them and love them.  

What shall I say to these young people?  I'm not preaching the sermon for Confirmation, although I will for graduation.  But, what shall we say?  As adults, particularly in light of our faith--we must walk a fine line between the realities of our day and time and the desire to protect our young people from the harshness of a broken world.  So often we speak of them as the future of the church which dismisses them from being a part of the present.  They have so much to say, so much more understanding than we give credit for, so much energy and willingness to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  

When the prophet Jeremiah was called to the ministry, he wrote, "The word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."    

Jeremiah responded, "Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak, I am only a child."

God replied, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you." 

God has a promise for each of us!  God has a plan for each of us, specifically, God has called us by name and lays out the path for us.  So, at the risk of being cliché or pithy--at the risk of being like those many would criticize in our generation for declaring each of our children, "special snowflakes"-- I would tell each of our youth that they are indeed important! God has big plans in store.  Each of you were born to be someone of greatness.  Each of you were born to be something of endless value.  Each of you were born to go beyond any expectations we can place for you, because you are in God's hands.   Pave the way as you go.  

Sometimes music says it best. Follow the link for some fun, new music from my favorites. 
I WAS BORNPaving THE WAY As You Go
As I look over the next few weeks in the life of the church what stands out the most is that we are celebrating Milestones, particularly in the lives of our young people.  This Sunday, we will have Confirmation Sunday.  We have 16 Confirmands from 6th-8th grade and two of them will be baptized.  They've spent the last four months learning theology, Presbyterian practices, world religions, and how to articulate their faith. These Middle Highs should be celebrated and I hope in the midst of all the fun we have as a group, we take a moment to recognize the seriousness of becoming a member of the church--with it comes a responsibility to spread their wings and discern what their God given gifts are and how to use them in the life of faith. 

 On June 4th we will hold Graduate Sunday and we will recognize our high school seniors who are graduating and moving toward new horizons, on to big, bold, bright things!  Our Seniors have been instrumental in the leadership of our congregation.  They've grown up here doing everything from attend the preschool to participating in Sunday School and VBS.  As middle and high school students they've guided us in worship and volunteered to serve as leaders for children's events.  They've served on youth council for the church and the presbytery.  They've chosen to be a part of the life of Covenant, in the midst of all the other wonderful activities in which they've participated.  These elements make up who they are.  

These teens would not have been shaped without Covenant and Covenant could not be shaped without these teenagers.  What a privilege.  What a privilege it is for us to know them and love them.  

What shall I say to these young people?  I'm not preaching the sermon for Confirmation, although I will for graduation.  But, what shall we say?  As adults, particularly in light of our faith--we must walk a fine line between the realities of our day and time and the desire to protect our young people from the harshness of a broken world.  So often we speak of them as the future of the church which dismisses them from being a part of the present.  They have so much to say, so much more understanding than we give credit for, so much energy and willingness to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  

When the prophet Jeremiah was called to the ministry, he wrote, "The word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."    

Jeremiah responded, "Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak, I am only a child."

God replied, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you." 

God has a promise for each of us!  God has a plan for each of us, specifically, God has called us by name and lays out the path for us.  So, at the risk of being cliché or pithy--at the risk of being like those many would criticize in our generation for declaring each of our children, "special snowflakes"-- I would tell each of our youth that they are indeed important! God has big plans in store.  Each of you were born to be someone of greatness.  Each of you were born to be something of endless value.  Each of you were born to go beyond any expectations we can place for you, because you are in God's hands.   Pave the way as you go.  

Sometimes music says it best. Follow the link for some fun, new music from my favorites. 
I WAS BORN

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Giving In Lent, Living In Lent

Lent is such an interesting season in the church year.  Not all Christian traditions or denominations practice the season of Lent and I can understand why.  Lent is meant to slow us down, to bring our attention to the trials and hardships Jesus faced in the time leading up to his final hours, death, and resurrection.  Lent seems to me a very somber season, one which we begin with ashes, being reminded that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return. For most of us, we'd rather get to the fun celebrations of Easter, the glorious Hallelujah Chorus, and all of the secular enjoyments that Easter brings.  But, you cannot have Easter without Good Friday.  You cannot truly engage in the joy of the Resurrection, without experiencing the darkness and depths of our Lord's suffering. 

Lent is best known as the season for giving up something for forty days.  In a spirit of fasting the way that Jesus did in the desert and in the same way that generations of Christians before us have practiced, we tell ourselves that we are making sacrifices to remind us of our Savior's ultimate sacrifice on the cross. For some people, who are deeply entrenched in this digital age, giving up screen time or social media is a choice. One of which many say is very freeing.  A lot of times this means giving up soda, caffeine, or sweets from our diet.  These are admirable goals (I for one don't know that I can give up caffeine anymore) but I wonder if they truly help us get at the point of Jesus' life and teachings. 

In recent years there has been a movement not to give up something, but to take on something.  There have been special daily devotions written, forty day photo challenges which illustrate the importance of the season--and these things I truly love and have used in my own spiritual practices.  Taking on a spiritual practice for many of us does mean letting go of something else to make room for those practices to come to life. 

This year, I am encouraging you to do both. I am encouraging you to give in a way that is truly sacrificial for you.  What if every day or every week you cleaned out a closet in your home and donated it to a charity of your choice? This is what I plan to do myself.  It is beneficial to other people and to me as well.  What if you gave up eating out in restaurants and for 40 days you saved that money and donated it to an organization for which you have a passion?  What if, you gave up one of your treasured Saturday or Sunday afternoons, or took one of your minimal vacation days to use your hands and feet in service to God and others? 

I am inviting you to give of yourself in Lent.  Just as Christ called you to do--to take up the cross, to leave what is of comfort and familiarity to you, to follow him.  I am inviting you to live into lent and focus on ways in which you can live into your faith.  Perhaps, when the forty days are over, you will not only have made an impact for a season, but changed the way you approach a life of faith for years to come. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"You Have A Great Day, Mommy?"

Last week I wrote about how difficult it has been for my son to transition to a new classroom at school.  I mentioned how at the end of every day, after crocodile tears every morning, Kemper says, "I had a great day."  Last night, on the way home from church after a meeting, Kemper said, "Mommy, I had a great day.  You have a great day, mommy?"  "Well, yes I did have a pretty good day. Thank you for asking," I replied. 

I spend a good portion of my day at my desk reading emails, planning lessons, organizing programs, or working on worship.  These are things I like to do, things I like to think I do well.  And I always take joy in checking things off my 'to-do' list.  But that isn't what made my day great.  The thing that makes my job most enjoyable during the day in and day out tasks of ministry are the people I work with.  Collectively, we get a lot done in a day's time, but we are sure to have fun while we do it.  Sure, there are tough situations to work through, problem solving to be done.  But, in the midst of that, there is an undercurrent of friendship and support. 

I saw a question a few days ago asking, "what do you and your staff do for self-care?"  The biggest thing we do is support one another.  We listen to one another and offer support to each other as we can, whether the conversation is professional or personal, we are present for each other.  I cannot tell you what a gift that is when you are having a hard day and you just need someone to confide in (or vent to). 

Second, we like to laugh here!  If there was not some battle of wits taking place over sports teams or general sarcasm, I would really be concerned.  Lord help us if our new head of staff does not have a sense of humor (PNC, please read this is a must!).    I think that we work so well together because we are willing to share a joke and tease one another all in good fun.

Finally (although this is not an exhaustive list), we trust one another to do our jobs.  There is no need for any micromanaging in this church office.  We have a firm grasp on what our responsibilities are (which isn't easy because it has changed up quite a bit in the last year) and we trust one another to follow through on what needs to be done.  In addition, if one of us becomes overwhelmed and needs help, we know we can ask one another.  If someone is out for a personal matter, illness, or vacations, we all work together to fill in the gaps.  Because we know that health and family are important, in fact they come first. 

So, yes, because of the staff I am blessed to be a part of, I had a great day.  Most of my work days are great days.  Not everyone can say that they walk into work to do a job they love among people that they love, and for people that they love.  I know I am very fortunate.

What about you?  Do you have a healthy work environment? In what ways do you and your co-workers maintain a positive atmosphere? If you don't have that experience, how does your faith inform how you interact with your colleagues?  What could you do to enhance the experience to become more positive?