Giving Thanks, 2018

Y’know, in so many ways, I am so, so ready to see the backside of 2018 as it heads out the door in another five weeks. This has been a tough year: the loss of Mary’s dad and my mom were certainly huge reasons to wish this year a speedy farewell. But there were other times of toughness in the family: struggles in school, for one. Watching the nest empty a little, for another. An emergency appendectomy on my 25th anniversary, no less. It hasn’t been the easiest of years.

And yet…

And yet there remains much to be thankful for. It might seem trite, to do a list at this time of year, but Abraham Lincoln may have been onto something in 1863 when he established Thanksgiving as a holiday in the midst of the Civil War. We do need a reminder, every now and then, to stop down and to be thankful for what is going right. And so, in 2018 I give thanks for:

  • The first 25 years of marriage to the one who is still my bride, Mary. Despite the appendectomy on the day, it’s been a good year for celebrating us. Like dinners out, and plans for a week in the UK at New Year’s. Losing her dad and seeing the effect on her mom, made me imagine what it would be like without her. And I shudder.
  • And the kids, David and Sarah, who each have their own path, and that’s great, and it’s terrific to see the young adults they’re turning into.
  • Quite simply, without them I couldn’t have answered the call that I’m receiving, beckoning me towards ordination. They have given me space to explore this and permission where I needed it.
  • Starting seminary this year, and figuring out how to juggle all that entails while holding down a job and doing everything else. Learning how to do online classes, as well as fitting in with the in-person classes…it’s been a shift, and I’m grateful for it, and for the endorsements I’ve received along the way. (Just a couple of weeks until my second semester is over!)
  • David’s trip to Spain (and Portugal) this summer, where he had the chance to complete his field school, refine his archaeological techniques, and learn about grad school programs that are now his choice for what to do after Radford (can you believe he wants to go to GRAD SCHOOL?!?)
  • Sarah and her servant leader’s heart in being the leader for Chrysalis weekend C-99 in the summer. She had to overcome a lot to get it done, and she had to buckle down in some places where it was hard to do so. But it’s easy to see how she simply comes alive in leading worship and bringing others to Christ!
  • My own teaming experiences on Emmaus weekend E-185, Kairos weekend K-75, and soon to be Chrysalis weekend C-100…for Adam, Michael, Shannon, Larry, Hollywood, Joel, and everyone else who got to experience God’s love (and I got to have a front-row seat).
  • Sarah’s job! She’s experiencing the wide world of work, starting this fall at Sheetz and learning how to deal with managers, customers, managers, other coworkers, and managers. Oh, and managers.
  • The beginning of the emptying nest, as David and his roommate Nathan got an apartment…and David promptly emptied his bedroom. Our baby boy is all gone now! (Ask Mary about her new lounge/study/nook room)
  • Good friends: reconnecting with Adam in a way we hadn’t in the last couple of years, and bowling with Ken and Trish each month, and…so many others!
  • Work–having some, of course, and that it pays well helps, and that it’s a little less crazy lately has been an added bonus.
  • The love and support of Sydenstricker UMC in the candidacy process. I was truly touched and humbled by the unanimous vote to recommend me to pursue candidacy. That was a special moment.
  • Fergie. The Pums. The happy puppy. Despite her entering, technically, into “senior dog” status as a 7-year-old this year, and picking up the first couple of silver bits of fur in her black coat, she’s a 50-pound chicken who truly knows how to love. You cannot out-love a dog.
  • Sharing a weekend in Vermont with Glenn, being able to showcase some of my home state to a Texan who’d never seen it before. And all the more, his support over that weekend as my mom passed away. Truly, a brother.

I know I’m leaving things off…but I also know this is so much already to be thankful for. Lord, you give and you give. And sometimes, yes, you take away. But your love is always constant, and I can see it looking back even in years like this. May your name be praised!

Saying “So Long”

The memorial service for Mom was last weekend, November 10, 2018. While not extensively attended, it was widely attended–people there from all aspects of our lives, and it was so heartening to see them all there. As part of the service, Joel, Deb and I each read a passage that Mom had wanted read, then offered our reflections on her. She had asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”), and here’s what I said.

* * * * *

Love. A mother’s love.

I want to share with you some of the stories I have about my mother, and in the process, you can see what she loved, and how she loved.

One of her first memories was being taken at age three to the center square of her hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania, with the throngs of people celebrating V-E day. This began a lifelong love of history for her, and patriotism, and love of everything having to do with America and the Fourth of July, which was always a special day to her. Her love of history and government lives on in my own work for the Federal Government, as well as her grandson’s love of history and his career in archaeology, finding new history.

Her passion was teaching elementary age kids. Her first classroom was a first grade class in Allentown, PA, where she taught for a couple of years while earning her Master’s. Then after being a stay-at-home mom to us, teaching us as we grew up, she returned to teaching, and became the media center director–never just librarian–for Chamberlin Elementary School. She was the first to bring computers, including an Apple Lisa, into the school for the students to use and learn. And she took an old claw-foot tub, painted it, filled it with blankets and pillows, and set it by the check-out desk for kids to curl up in and read. All to enhance kids’ abilities to learn in a fun way.

The mother’s love extended to keeping us out of trouble. In third grade, we moved from Vermont to El Paso, Texas, and I got in trouble in my first day in Miss Escobar’s class. She had asked me a question, and I answered, “Yes.” She said, “Yes what?” I honestly didn’t know there was more to be said! My mom had to be the one to call the school and explain to the principal that “he wasn’t being disrespectful, that’s just not how teachers are addressed up north.”

In the late 1970s she rode the wave of emerging political activism, helping to found a newspaper in South Burlington, VT, and leading the League of Women Voters. She loved her music and arts: when she was at the assisted living home, she loved going with us to see Ben Cook in one of his productions, and telling everyone about it. We had to reassure the staff that yes, she really did know someone on Broadway!

She was a woman of strength. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1985, and after her second husband passed in 1987, she fought to stay independent and live in their home until 2006, when the PD began to expect more of her than she could do alone.

She had her own style. When we were making plans to move her to her assisted living apartment in 2011, and discussing what furniture to take and what to leave, she noticed in the lease agreement that she was allowed to paint the walls in her room. And so it came to be that she moved in with walls I’d painted for her, of colors she’d chosen: slate gray on most walls, and two bright red accent walls. Staff were forever popping in just to see it, a room that wasn’t in institutional white. She was really disappointed she couldn’t do that in her nursing home room. You know, Jesus promised us that “in my father’s house, there are many rooms.” I know one of them right now is painted in slate gray and red, and decorated in Early American antiques.

There were two things she really loved: one was the music of Barry Manilow. I have no idea how she found out, after moving to Virginia in 2011, that in 2012 Barry Manilow would be at Wolf Trap, but she did, and insisted on going. So I took her, in her wheelchair, to the special seating at the back of the arena. There was a comedian who came out first, and he was OK, then the lights went down, they rearranged the stage…and a single spotlight came on, shining on a single man in a white suit as the music started…and my mother started squealing like a 16-year-old at Shea Stadium for the Beatles! I was horrified!

The other thing she loved most was the works of Beatrix Potter, and Peter Rabbit, as anyone watching her PTRABIT license plate around town would see. The last movie she went to was this spring, when Peter Rabbit came out. I took her, and we were easily the oldest people in the theatre, with dozens of five- and six-year-olds there. I would just watch her, enthralled as she was with seeing her favorite character on the big screen. At one point, the action is very slapstick, and the five-year-olds behind us are squealing with joy. Mom leaned over and said, “I’ve missed that sound.”

But what she loved most of all was her grandkids. Nothing would outdo her love of hearing stories of what they were up to.

And so what am I going to miss about my mom being gone? I’m going to miss not being able to take her to her grandkids’ college or high school graduations. I’m going to miss having her over for family dinners, or the times she would make a big production of her own family dinners. I’m going to miss Christmas: mom always made it special, always decorated so much, that this Christmas is going to be hard.

And I’m going to miss a mother’s love. I’m gonna miss my mom.

Now What Do We Do?

At Sydenstricker UMC, we are at the climax of a year-long discernment process, seeking to identify what it is that God is calling us to do and to be. The process, called Next Level Innovations, culminated in a special weekend recently. An outside team of experts from the District came in to help facilitate conversations about what’s special about SUMC, what needs to change, and where we can make a difference. The outcome of that weekend was a report with a set of recommendations that we’re now considering, and will vote on whether to accept later this month.

As the report was presented, we had a special unified service, at which our NLI mentor, Rev Brian Brown, preached on the ripples we make in life. We then had the NLI director, Rev Dr Sarah Calvert, present the recommendations to the church.

The following weekend, Pastor Don was away on conference business, and I had the preaching duty. I spoke on the question of Now What Do We Do? Once we’ve heard from God, what is our response going to be? Give a listen and let me know what you think.