Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother

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

Friday, August 12, 2016


Lord you have assigned me my portion and my coup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.--Psalm 16:5-6

Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things are innumerable there, living things both small and great. --Psalm 104:25

break through sand;
army of soldiers
mottled green armor.
No lines,
no road to follow
only empty colors
of white shell sand,
orange-red sky
and a liquid topaz horizon.

the wanderer,
the lone survivor
makes her way to saltwater.
the tide pulls her
into the curve
of God's smile
where water meets land;
a foam sea baptism. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Surviving Versus Thriving

I've been reading a book by a colleague, Rev. Dr. David Keck, entitled "Healthy Churches, Faithful Pastors: Covenant Expectations for Thriving Together." I began this book in expectation of the calling of our Pastor Nominating Committee to elect a new Pastor/Head of Staff in the months to come.  One point that the author makes is in chapter 6.  "Faithful pastors expect healthy congregations to believe that churches are called not to survive but to thrive (p. 106)." This language resonated with me; the difference between surviving and thriving.

Two years ago I was a new mother.  Kemper and I had spent our first six weeks together at home.  I had been ill before his birth so a large part of those first weeks was simply healing and restoring my body and spirit, even while sleep deprived and completely out of my element.  In the first month of Kemper's life outside the womb I learned a valuable lesson in the difference between surviving and thriving.  Because Kemper was a preemie, and because my body had been under such duress, breastfeeding was quite difficult for us.  Kemper had difficulty latching and I was simply too exhausted to try to push the matter any further.  But, I was committed to exclusively pumping for my child.  I was told that if I stuck with it, eventually my milk would come in.  I was told that even to supplement with formula was okay, because he was getting much needed nutrients.  In actuality, my son was really a formula baby, with small portions of breast milk interspersed. He was doing fine.  He was gaining weight at a steady rate.  Meanwhile, I was spending large chunks of time once he fell asleep pumping, when I should have been sleeping myself!  After a month, feeling like a complete failure I spoke to my mom in tears.  She said to me, "Loren, if you're not thriving, stop doing it.  Kemper is thriving but you are not. He needs you to be present, enjoy this time bonding with him. You both need to be well."   Wise woman; always.  I decided that day to stop pumping. I decided that day to stop worrying about something that I had no control over. We were surviving, but that day I moved from what I thought I was supposed to be doing (read here: "what a half of women in today's mommy-shaming culture say a mother must do for a healthy child"), to what I needed to do to thrive in motherhood.

Keck speaks of this language in regards to many churches.  In this day and time, many churches find themselves in survival mode.  Often churches lose their sense of purpose, just trying to hang on in the midst of decline or lost in doing things the way they have always been done.  Survival, in some cases seems like a fine goal if we are okay with the status quo.  In some situations it is a matter of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

If churches are only in the business of merely surviving, how are we serving God?  Keck writes, "God does not call churches to survive.  God calls churches to thrive--to thrive with the power of God at work in their midst.  Thriving takes on many forms--meaningful worship, steady ministry, deepening prayer lives, greater financial commitment, transformed lives.  Machines and buildings do not thrive, but living organisms do!  Churches that flourish thus exhibit the characteristics of healthy living things; they develop and respond to changing circumstances by adapting (p. 106)."

People who visit a congregation will quickly recognize whether a church is excited to see their shadows cross the threshold because they are trying to survive (i.e. keep the lights on, or find warm bodies to fill a committee) or because they are enthusiastic about their mission and vision for the future--such as loving God, loving people, making disciples. 

How do you feel about your present situation or context?  How are you contributing to an atmosphere of survival or thriving?  Are you busily counting heads in the pews (because big numbers equal big success in today's culture) or are you busily counting the ways these heads might bring the gospel message beyond the sanctuary doors?  Do you feel weighed down with worry about how to keep the lights on?  Are you fearful about all of the studies and reports that tell you the church is on the decline and will need to look vastly different to continue?  Or, do you find opportunities on the horizon for spiritual renewal which can lead to a stronger sense of community and purpose?   These are real questions for the 21st century church.  Are you merely surviving?  Churches that merely attempt to survive, don't.  We must seek to thrive. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


One of my favorite poems that I have ever written.  I like to revisit it now and then.  Though it was reworked in 2008, I believe it began in a draft much earlier than that, maybe as early as 2002 or 2003. You might recognize some places...familiar homes to me, my childhood home in Hurt, VA, Montreat, Woodcreek Road, Camp Fincastle (which no longer exists as it did), and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Places where I would go to find sanctuary.  Places I still like to go.  Where do you seek sanctuary? 

Being an only child
I would run out
Into the center of a sun-ripened plain
Flop my tiny body
Into the weeds and look
Up into a satin sky
Watching cotton balls
Detach from one another
Forming their own identities
Being distraught by a boisterous crowd
I walked down the root-veined path
The clay soiling my toenails of opal
Beside Lake Susan I found myself
Perched on a protruding stone
I saw that it was lonely and wished
To be submersed in depth, just as I
Being one who loves to stargaze
I went out into the late-night world
And searching for warmth
Reached the road and sprawled
In the middle of its stretch
I wished on falling stars
Until the tangerine sun
Burnt away the violet sheath
Being lost in my faith
Feeling out of place stirred in
With the praise band
And the over-friendly psalm reciters
Who somehow misplaced my existence
I walked out onto a rickety dock
Standing in the middle of a freezing, filthy pond,
And saw Jesus' face wink
At me through the muck
Being depressed as to why he left
I drove up the curvy parkway
Then wound back down again
Until a reached a clapboard church
Where I could overlook his valley home
Cry amongst the dead whose names I did not know
And mourn thoughts of reason
That should have brought me hope

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Mother's Prayer

"Thanks to your hidden providence, O my God, your hands did not let go of my soul."--St. Augustine

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."--Jeremiah 1:5

In July of 2002 my parents were hit by a drunk driver which caused my mother to suffer severe injuries.  While my mother lay in a hospital bed (at Roanoke Memorial) recovering from her deflated lungs and broken pelvis, experiencing the baby steps of which can only truly be understood when in full walking rehabilitation, she remained remarkably upbeat and faithful to the Lord, while I drew further away from the God which I no longer understood.  I questioned God's motive in our lives.  Why in the world would this happen to my family?  While I was thankful that my parents were alive and my mother remained so positive, I could not help but wonder why this was allowed to happen in the first place? What purpose did this serve?  Furthermore, how in the world was she not as angry and frustrated as I was?

There is something you need to understand; my mother could do laps around me before all of this happened; she was quick and sharp and witty.  Now her vision was impaired, her breathing was weak, and she had no appetite to speak of.  Despite all of her physical challenges and her mind's fogginess due to strong medications she rejoiced in the tiny miracles she experienced.  This included her going to the bathroom on her own and walking to the end of the hall and back without feeling dizzy from lack of air filling her scarred lungs. 

During her time of rehabilitation (at Lynchburg General), which I refer to as her "superwoman" days, she took her first Communion since the accident.  It was a fall afternoon.  Our pastor, Rev. Gaston, brought with him a female ruling elder from our congregation who had been through much of what my mother had gone through. When the elder was a teenager; she had been left mostly blind due to an accident.  My mother was so frightened by the double vision that she was experiencing, but this kind woman brought her a sense of God's peace, that everything would work out according to God's plan.  I can now look back on this through my own lens as a pastor and see how carefully and compassionately planned this encounter was by our wonderful minister and friend. 

My mother told me later that she prayed to God that evening in fervor.  She said to the Lord that she was not strong enough to live like Abraham, to be willing to sacrifice her child to God.  However,she realized that she was merely a vessel and that I was God's child.  She told the Lord that she would give me over to God and prayed that God would use me as God's instrument in the world.

A year later I told my parents that I felt called to Seminary.  So much healing happened for our family in that time, both physical and spiritual.  My mother's unwavering faith in God's grace and mercy was a driving force in my understanding of God's work in our lives.  It was her utter humility and forgiveness regarding the events that had passed in our lives that humbled me and returned me to my faith in God's providence.  What once seemed a tragic and terrifying time in my life is now revealed to be the actions of God's unseen hand, calling a seemingly unlikely candidate, to a seemingly unlikely ministry. 

My mom still has "superwoman days." She made a great recovery. And while some of the injuries she sustained still impact her health in other ways, she can once again run laps, this time chasing her grandson. A few days ago my mother posted on Facebook about the 14th anniversary of the day God gave her and my father a second chance at life.  And how thankful she was to witness my graduation from college, my marriage, my ordination, and the birth of her grandson who is an every day joy  It is we who are the lucky ones.  Myself, my husband, my sweet son, our extended family and everyone who knows them.  Because to know them is to be known and be loved not only by them but by our God as well. 

God is good.