Monday, April 30, 2018

A Reflection on Installation Sunday: Psalm 21.1-7, 13

The Psalms have been the voice of God to me in prayer lately. Yesterday, I was installed as Pastor of Bethany Covenant Church in Lyndhurst, Ohio. This day was a long time coming, in more than one way, and in some ways it is still hard for me to fathom. It was a beautiful service, a beautiful day, blessed with dozens of little graces. And yet, it wasn't until this morning, as I sat at my desk in my study (I have a study!) and opened my Bible to read the Psalm for today, that I was truly struck by what the Lord has done for me.

Psalm 21 is from the perspective of the king, in this case King David. I am not a king, but I am a child of the King, and a member of a royal priesthood. As soon as I began to read, I somehow immediately substituted pastor for king and she for he. Here is how verses 1-7, 13 read, adapted this way.

The pastor rejoices in your strength, Lord. How great is her joy in the victories you give! You have granted her her heart's desire and have not withheld the request of her lips. You came to greet her with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on her head. She asked you for life, and you gave it to her—length of days for ever and ever. Through the victories you gave, her glory is great; you have bestowed on her splendor and majesty. Surely you have granted her unending blessings and made her glad with the joy of your presence. For the pastor trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High she will not be shaken. . . . Be exalted in your strength, Lord; we will sing and praise your might!

As I wrote the Psalm this way in my journal, I finally felt at my core—in my splanchna—the weight and the joy of yesterday's events. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant (Luke 1.46b-48a).

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

We Shall Be Comforted

In our church family in the last few weeks, three of our beloved older members have died. Tonight was the third, a dear friend who, although he was advanced in age, was much too young to leave us. Sitting in my grief, I couldn't make myself go to bed, so I began rifling through old files in order to delete documents I didn't need any more (staying busy with one portion of my brain while grieving with another). I came across this short piece I had written some years ago in response to one of my friend Erika's sermons. I don't know if I ever used this piece elsewhere; at least I can find no record of having done so. But it brought me comfort to read it tonight. If you are grieving or suffering, perhaps it will bring you comfort, too. I bring it to you unedited from the original composition.

We Shall Be Comforted

I have been thinking about Pastor Erika’s sermon several weeks ago on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,” and her assertion that mourning what is wrong with the world—death, sin, waste, abuse, pain—is a necessary step to receiving comfort, the comfort that only Jesus brings, a comfort of ultimate hope.

            We understand, to some extent, the suffering caused by the sinful choices of humanity.  But suffering seems to be the very fabric of the natural world, too.  The reality is that for some to live, others must die.  For me to have dinner, some plants and animals gave their lives.  Annie Dillard in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek notices the ridiculous measure of death in nature.  For a few spiders to live, thousands more will die.  When trees grow, they feed off the dead remains of previous plant and animal life.  Female praying mantises eat their mates during the act of reproduction!  When Jonah was sitting under a shady vine waiting for Nineveh to be destroyed, a worm came along (at God’s command) just doing his worm-thing, trying to get some lunch out of the vine, and the vine withered.  “The Circle of Life” tries to prettify it, but lions do hunt down and eat other animals, and those animals suffer.  Death is the way of life here on earth.  Do we mourn that?

            Yes, we do.  The necessity of death is what we mourn.  We rightly long for something different, better, more whole, something that recognizes the goodness, the God-ness, in all of creation, not just humanity.  But when Christians mourn, we shall be comforted.  We will see a day when the lion lies down with the lamb, when death is no longer necessary for life, when we are not subject to aging nor surrounded by the detritus of decay.  Our darkness turns to dawning, as the song goes, because God has promised us a different kind of life.  That life has been planted within us, so sometimes we sense the gruesome disconnect between what is and what shall be, but someday we will see “face to face.”

            For us to live, Jesus Christ had to die.  But he did not remain in death; instead, he conquered it.  The poet John Donne said, “And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die!”  Jesus showed us the way to that new kind of life, and now because we have tasted it, we know what’s coming.  Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to mourn and a time to be comforted.  Today we mourn, but that time to be comforted is coming; it is God’s promise to us, sealed in the resurrected Jesus.  We mourn, but we shall be comforted. That is the ultimate hope in which we live.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dear Shoreline Cov

Today I announced at Shoreline Covenant Church that Darrel and I will be moving to Ohio where I have been called to be solo pastor of Bethany Covenant Church. Following are approximately the remarks I made.

This past week I was the third wheel with Doug and Erika Haub at the ECC Midwinter Conference for Pastors in Chicago. It’s a good thing I have other friends at Midwinter, or it could have gotten awkward.

On Monday, I took part in my final ordination interview, and I was approved for ordination.

This photo is me with the final ordination interview panel, celebrating with me. Apparently, it’s become a tradition to take a selfie with the interview panel, so we took the selfie!
On the screen you will see a copy of my Midwinter nametag. Look at it closely.
It does not say Shoreline Covenant Church. It says Bethany Covenant Church in Lyndhurst, Ohio.

You may have wondered why Pastor Erika was hugging me as if her life depended on it in the middle of the aisle right before church began last week. Moments before that hug, I had received a text that said: “We did vote to hire a new pastor. Her name is Debbie! Alleluia! We just completed the vote, and it was nearly unanimous!”

A week earlier Darrel and I had been in Ohio, where I preached, and where we ate a lot of potluck food and met almost everyone in the church. Last Sunday afternoon, I accepted the call to become the new pastor of Bethany Covenant Church. Here is a photo of the church. Yup, traditional white church with a steeple and a fellowship hall in the basement.

Darrel will be retiring from his teaching position in Seattle Schools where he has served 40 years. I will be leaving my position as Bible teacher and Junior High Chaplain at Bellevue Christian School. In a few short weeks, we will have everything packed up and we will move to a place where, until a couple of months ago, we knew no one.

We have not decided on a final timeline, and there will be plenty of time to share our departure details, but today I want to tell you the short version of a story about you and Darrel and me.

I married into this church. Darrel brought me here to visit before we were even dating. From my very first moments at this church, I knew I was home. I knew I had found something I had been longing for my whole life. I have been a believer since I made a profession of faith in a Baptist church in Germany when I was six years old, but I’d never truly found the home I was looking for until I came here.

Darrel and I got married almost 10 years ago. Shortly after, this church called Pastor Erika to be our associate pastor. I had come from a tradition that did not affirm women in ministry, so this felt a bit strange to me. But Pastor Mike did an excellent job of educating us about how it was completely biblical for women to use all the gifts that God has given them in service of the church, even pastoral gifts.

I saw for the first time that biblical women such as Deborah, Huldah, Mary, Hannah, Junia, and Priscilla were not aberrations, but women whose lives revealed the truth of Joel 2.28 and repeated in Acts 2.17: Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.

Still I felt no pastoral call on my own life. I did, however, need to do some continuing education for my job as a teacher of English and Bible at Shoreline Christian School. I decided to take a couple of classes at Fuller Seminary so I could be a better Bible teacher.

After I had taken my first class, I knew that God was calling me to go to seminary. I still had no inkling that I was being prepared for anything else. But I quit my job and enrolled full time.

When I told Pastor Erika that I had done so (and you have to remember, at that time Erika and I were not friends yet), she immediately said, “Oh, then let’s get your internship set up.” I wasn’t even sure what the internship was supposed to be, but she and Pastor Mike did just that.

Then one Sunday, Laurel Idso, whom I didn’t even know, plunked herself down next to me in church and said, “I hear you’re going to seminary. Are you planning to get ordained?” I had up until that moment no intention of even considering ordination, but Laurel opened up the future for me in that brief conversation, and she has been faithfully praying for me ever since.

She and Sue Kerrigan and Florence Gustafson, three women I didn’t know very well, became my prayer support team during the time I was completing my seminary studies—basically the prayer dream team.

A few days before the first time I preached here, I was at a gathering with Phil and Barb Whitmarsh. Phil said, “I hear you’re going to preach Sunday.” I said, “Yes, I am. Will you be there?” Phil’s response is forever etched in my memory. He said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

For my second internship, Mike Matteson made it possible for me to do an internship in the chaplaincy program at the King County Jail where he had been faithfully serving as a volunteer chaplain since his retirement.

You released me to serve as Associate Pastor of Renew Covenant Church, and you supported that multiethnic church plant with financial gifts and people and worship teams for two years.

And when my time at Renew was over, you again offered me opportunities to lead and teach and preach and influence this body, but really you were the ones who influenced me.

This church taught us to love deeply. This church helped turn me from a person who maybe wanted to take a couple of Bible classes into a pastor. Who knew? Apparently you did.

God has called us to leave Washington, leave our children and grandchildren, leave our jobs, leave our friendships, and leave Shoreline Covenant Church to go to a state where until recently we literally didn’t know a soul.

We are deeply saddened by the necessity to leave so many meaningful relationships behind, but the call of God on us is sure and compelling. As much as we hate to leave you, I also can’t wait to be there, doing what God has called me, and that you have helped prepare me, to do. We go with the wind of Shoreline Covenant Church under our wings. You are the reason we can go, and you are the reason it is so hard to leave.

I have been asked to tell you that the people of Bethany Covenant are deeply appreciative of you, truly grateful to the people of Shoreline Covenant for your investment in me, and for your nurture of both of us in such a way that this moment in time is possible.

Please pray for us: for the transition and all the details associated with it, and for the new work that God has given us.

Let me finish with this shameless request: We would love to spend time with you before we leave. Invite us over for dinner. Take us out for lunch. Let us be with you as much as possible. We are who we are because of you, and we want to celebrate that with you. And then we will depend on Facebook and messenger and email and Skype and Christmas cards and airlines and road trips to keep being Jesus to one another.

Thank you for being my church. Thank you for being family for Darrel and me. We love you.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Word for 2017 . . . and 2018

For the last several years, I have not made New Year’s resolutions. Rather, my daughter has challenged me to choose a word or phrase for the year, and most years I have done that. The “word for the year” has proven to be a gentle reminder to orient my choices in the direction I want to go, or maybe more accurately, the direction I believe God wants me to go. This has always been a spiritual task for me.

Last year at the time I would be making such a choice, I was at Darrel’s bedside in the hospital as he was recovering from major spine surgery. This, as many of you know, was a much more arduous road to travel than we expected, and it consumed much of our energy for the year. One day back at work, I slipped on the ice in the parking lot, fell hard, and wrenched my already aching, arthritic knee. The very next day, while running an errand before driving to the rehab facility where Darrel would spend a month recovering after nine days in the hospital, I slipped on the ice again and wrenched it even worse. I could barely walk.

I went to the doctor that day, and it turned out the immediate damage wasn’t that bad in spite of the extreme pain, but I decided I was tired of living with subpar knees and I scheduled myself for physical therapy. That proved to be challenging to fit in my schedule, and I didn’t love that first physical therapist nor the dungeon-like location of the PT clinic in the bowels of the hospital. I quit going for a while.

Then my daughter’s boyfriend (and a former student of mine) suggested I come in for a fitness analysis at his workplace, Experience Momentum, which offers physical therapy, fitness classes, massage, nutritional counseling, and more. I accepted his challenge, but after the fitness assessment he said that he thought I should start with physical therapy to address my knees and improve mobility in my shoulders after nearly three years of frozen shoulder that no other treatment had successfully addressed long term. So I decided to try PT again at this new venue.

I love the Experience Momentum approach to health. Everything was oriented towards my personal goals and functional living. The therapists listened to me when I described what was happening in my body, and made adjustments accordingly. If I couldn’t do an exercise they gave me, they modified it so I could do it. When I told them I hated the exercise bike, they put me on the rower instead. If I hadn’t been able to do my home exercises, they never shamed me, but they invited me into greater health every time. I learned to use different muscles to do my daily life; my favorite new skill was learning to walk up and down stairs without pain! I sometimes felt like a toddler—how on earth can I not know how to climb stairs?—but relearning such skills was worth it. I saw quantifiable gains.

The success I had there transferred into other areas of my life. During the summer, Darrel and I swam several times a week, and I became strong enough to actually swim laps and not just splash around. I figured out I could do moderate walks if I used hiking poles, a simple and inexpensive adjustment that enabled increased activity. When my younger daughter and I traveled to Arizona to help my mother move into a retirement community, we stopped in Disneyland as an early birthday present for her; the hiking poles helped me get through our long day of extreme fun with minimal discomfort.

When school started in the fall, I felt ready to face some new challenges. My job assignment had changed, so that in addition to teaching Bible 8, I would also take on the new Junior High Chaplain position, working with a small chapel leadership team of Junior High students to plan and present our weekly chapels. At church I became Pastor of Confirmation for this year, working with seven wonderful Junior High aged students to review the whole Bible and church history and, we hope, grow in their faith. I continued to preach as needed in areas churches.

When I told my physical therapist that I wanted to start taking some of the exercise classes, but I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to succeed, we agreed that a good intermediate step for me would be to do some personal training. I signed up for and completed ten sessions with a personal trainer, also at Experience Momentum, again with the goal of improved daily functionality and specific preparation for the kinds of movements I would be doing in the yoga and boot camp classes that they offer. I never worked so hard in my life! And because I was paying out of pocket for the personal training, I wanted to get the best bang for my buck, so I actually did my home workout assignments each week. And if I ended up skipping one because of life or health or whatever, I chose not to shame myself. Indeed, I actually missed my workouts when I couldn’t get to them. I went to my first yoga class last week and signed up for a month of boot camp and yoga classes!

Somewhere along the way, I realized I was ready to tackle my diet again. I started every day drinking a glass of water. I began carrying a large bottle of lemon water to school each day and made sure I drank the whole thing; sometimes I filled it up again and drank a second bottleful. I cut my Diet Coke consumption in half. I went back on my ketogenic hot chocolate breakfast routine, had salads for lunch whenever possible (not always possible with our schedules), and prepared healthful dinners in the evening. I mostly quick snacking. If I did want a piece of birthday cake in the teacher’s lounge, I ate it with gladness and joy, and then backed off of sugar for the rest of the week. I didn’t make Christmas cookies this year. We mostly kept junk out of the house. I have lost a total of 25 pounds over the last three years from my highest weight, about 10 of it in the last four or five months.

I have more energy. I can do stairs. I can carry groceries in without feeling winded. I have learned to be gentle with myself when I need to be, and push myself when I can. I say to myself, “Do it now,” and most of the time that helps. I have been able to say yes to many life-giving activities, such as preaching and confirmation and gatherings with friends, in spite of the extra time that exercise and new assignments take.

All of this not to congratulate myself, but to say that my word for the year was a retrospective. I didn’t start 2017 with a word, but I ended up with one: self-care. Somehow God showed me that I was worth the effort, the money, and the time it would take to be healthy. I finally gave myself permission to invest in my longevity. The women in my family live a long time, and I knew I didn’t want to live those years as an invalid, constantly struggling with health, weight, and pain. I didn’t want to retire from serving God! I also came to terms with the fact that health, especially at my age, takes intentional effort. In taking self-care seriously this year, I have had more margin for ministering to others, more joy, more gratitude, more capacity for generosity, more ears to hear and eyes to see what God is doing in me and my loved ones and my world, less need to self-protect. 2017 was my year of radical self-care.

So what about my word for 2018?

I decided that a couple of sessions with a counselor to sort out some interpersonal struggles would be beneficial. I’ve been in counseling before, and I’m a believer in its value. But this time I contacted the insurance company representative who can obtain referrals for us, got the names of some therapists, and finally made an appointment (it was a four month journey from the first contact to the first appointment, but I persevered).

My new counselor invited me to be present with my own feelings when I have a visceral reaction to a difficult situation—to notice what is going on in my body, to name the sensations and sit with them before I try to solve the problem at hand, before I try to minister, before even I try to have empathy for the other. She wants me first to have empathy for myself! She likened it to the announcement they make on airplanes: “Put your own mask on first before you assist others.” I must not rush past my own experience. I must take care of myself not instead of taking care of others, but in preparation for taking care of others. Then I can truly and authentically be the non-anxious presence that others sometimes need from me—as a friend, as a teacher, as a pastor, as a family member, as a neighbor, as a citizen of the kingdom of God.

So my year of radical self-care has led me to my word for 2018: presence. I want to live into the calling to be truly present—with myself, with my body, with God, with my family, with my reality, with my church, with my world, with whoever God brings into my sphere. I want to put down my phone more often, listen better, react less, read more, and be more available to the Holy Spirit’s whispering in my life. I’ve begun again the practice of contemplative breath prayer.

This won’t necessarily be easy for me. I’m a multitasker; I can be easily distracted, as my husband and children will attest. My brain is often full of ideas and tasks that mentally take me away from what’s right in front of me. I’ll need discipline. But one thing I’ve learned from my year of radical self-care is that God will give me what I need to move forward into the next thing I need.

I am confident in this, that he who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1.6 paraphrased)

What word is God giving you for 2018?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Farewell, Spring Break! 2016

Today began with church.  I had a 10-minute talk to do in our Sunday school class; by all accounts it went well.  Then service.  Being at my home church is restorative for me.  I've written about this before; our church is not flashy or slick, but it's a place of worship, contemplation, family, and joy.  I always feel "home" there.

Then Darrel made tacos for lunch lunch while I worked on Jen's laundry. Then Darrel turned on golf on TV and I took a two-hour nap.  Sundays so often these days include a nap.

I finished Jen's laundry, and we played a couple of games.  I made bacon and eggs for dinner.  We decided to watch a couple of episodes of Dr. Who, so I got out some origami paper and folded bookmarks while we watched.

Then I decided to tackle some baby cards.  Since I only had an idea of the design, I had to make a prototype, which took some time, but I liked the finished product.  I've been working at my standing desk in my craft room, which makes it easier to grab things and maneuver and, oddly, to put things away when I'm finished.  I cut and stamped the cards, punched the shapes, Sizzixed the word bubbles, and assembled the dimensional pieces.  Tomorrow I will put the dimensional adhesive on the loose pieces and finish assembling the cards.

I'm so glad I blogged my spring break.  Not only did I record the various tasks that I accomplished during the week, but the act of recording caused me to wake up each morning with a sense of anticipation.  What can I accomplish today?  Blogging also helped me to recognize the time I spend with family and friends as tasks worth accomplishing rather than interruptions to my productivity.  I know the weather helped, but I am refreshed and happy.

I've made such good use of my week that it almost feels odd to think I'll be back at work at work tomorrow.  I'm so glad I did two weeks of planning before I left last week.  I won't have to get there particularly early, just early enough to double-check my plan book, update the journal topics and assignments on the white board, and make sure I have copies of any handouts I'll need for the day.

Come on, fourth quarter!  I'm ready for you!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Joyful Tasks: Spring Break 2016 Day Nine

I made it to Fuchsia Saturday at Fred Meyer, and after standing in line for a long time which seemed shorter due to the glorious weather, I got my hanging basket filled with fuchsia starts, creeping charlie, and bacopa.  Many years I miss Fuchsia Saturday all together, and even when I have known the date and made it on time to buy fuchsias, I have never had the patience to wait long enough for the employees to pot my purchases before.  I just buy my starts and take them home and plant them myself.  But today I waited.  Many of the other customers standing in line were in a sun-induced,  jovial mood, as was I.  The elderly man who potted my starts was pleasant, too, and I enjoyed my few moments with him as we chatted about how to arrange the plants in the hanging basket I had brought from home.

I picked up a few other things at Fred Meyer and then headed to Jen's new apartment in the U Village. Jen and Darrel were already there.  We spent several hours unpacking Jen's boxes, arranging her kitchen, sorting through items that had been in storage as long as three years.  She made a large pile for Goodwill, and Darrel took multiple loads to the recycle bin as we emptied boxes and discarded packing materials.  It was hard, sweaty work, but it felt good to see the progress we made.  I brought home a huge pile of clothes, sheets, blankets, and pillow covers to launder to remove the musty smell of storage.

Arriving home, I put out my new fuchsias on the deck, put away some treasures I rescused from Jen's giveaway pile, and started laundry.  Mountains of it.  I also finished making the birthday cards I began last night; I'm pretty pleased with the results.

I wanted to make baby and anniversary cards, but I ran out of time.  And energy.  My body is feeling the fatigue of the very physical labor I did today.  I got my workout today!

Darrel came home after dropping Jen off and taking his dad shopping, and we cooked dinner and played another game of Qwirkle while we ate.  Darrel finally broke my winning streak.  Then we watched a couple of episodes of Dr. Who.  We are slowly getting into the rhythm of the new season. Just as Clara and the others must become accustomed to the new doctor, so must we.

The day went fast, filled with joyful tasks.  And spring break is going faster.  One more day.

Broken Knives and Free Workouts: Spring Break 2016 Day Eight

It's going to be over too fast!  It's been a full week, but boy-oh-boy I could get used to this.

I slept well last night, the best night of sleep all week.  Maybe all the tiptoeing through the tulips yesterday had something to do with that.  And then today has been another glorious day of sunshine and warmth.

I was going to sew all day but I accidentally hit a pin while using my serger which caused the knife to snap, even though the knife is a pretty thick piece of metal.  The repair shop's "serger guy" wouldn't be in until Monday, so I decided to start taking it apart to see if I could troubleshoot it and repair it myself.  That's when I discovered the broken knife.  I took that in to the repair shop, but they didn't have that piece, so they ordered it for me.  It probably won't be in before Thursday.  Sigh.

I can sew without my serger, but it does some tasks so much better and faster than my regular sewing machine that I decided to wait.  All those cut projects will remain in pieces a bit longer.  While I was out, though, I ran to Costco for bacon ($110 for bacon?  I didn't even get a cart.  How on earth did I spend $110?), then grabbed some lunch, and stopped by Safeway to see if anyone had turned in the magnetic sunglasses that came with my prescription glasses and which are impossible to replace without a ridiculous expenditure, and, yes, someone had!  So happy to have them back.

Darrel got home shortly after I did, and we decided to run to a local gym that is having a $10 per month/no contract offer.  They wanted all of our contact information, including our birth date, "for liability purposes," before they would even show us around.  Why do they need our birth dates for a liability waiver?  The guy didn't seem interested in just telling us how it works and showing us around without that information, so we left and came home.  Frustrating and scammy.

We knew there was some limited workout equipment in our condo clubhouse, so we checked it out. It took some finagling and reading the posted instructions, but we got several pieces of equipment to work.  My favorite is a sort of rowing machine that looks a bit like a bicycle and is very easy to operate and still a decent workout.  I went to the gym in the first place because I wanted access to a rowing machine.  Darrel said we could start working out together for free in the clubhouse after work. Free and convenient. The only downside, really, is that the workout room is dark, dank, and poorly lit.  After two years, my frozen shoulder is starting to improve, finally, so I'm hoping that if I am careful, I can ease back into exercise without making it worse and finally being doing something physical.

So we came back to the condo, cooked dinner, played Qwirkle, and watched a little TV; Darrel finally found a site where we could watch the recent season of Dr. Who for free.  I put all the sewing stuff away for now and began working on a card-making project.  I didn't finish any, though, because I was doing some hand water-coloring (with water color pencils and an aqua pen), and that takes time.  It's enjoyable but not speedy.

I'm coming to the end of spring break, and I feel just the tiniest bit of that amusement park anxiety.  I haven't done enough and it's almost time to go!  Tomorrow has some planned activities that will make the day go too fast, and then Sunday is church and gearing up for the week and then--back to work.