Thanksgiving 2019

It seems to have been a bit of a tradition for me, year after year, to take note of the things I’ve been thankful for in recent days. Without further ado, and in no particular order:

  • My first five months as a pastor. God has been unfolding, at a measured pace, the full panorama of what this entails. I am so grateful for it, and so amazed at my friends who have gone in full-time and deal with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g all at once.
  • Over 26 years of marriage. Good start…
  • Thanksgiving dinner with Mary and the kids. We went out again this year, and once again had a lively conversation at dinner that we just never quite seem to do around the house, with everyone going in different directions. It’s special.
  • All the people I’ve met on the journey into ministry who have made it special and have been supporting me at different stages.
  • Greek class is over soon. SO thankful for that ending!
  • Sarah’s 2019, which featured her completing high school, being in her own graduation ceremony, and landing a job in another city that lets her explore the field she thinks she really wants to do. I am beyond grateful that she is loving the work and has such a great opportunity to see what it can be about.
  • Sharing with David–either a steak dinner, or a story and a laugh, or whatever oddity he’s found online that he wants to tell me about. I’m grateful for him and for him wanting to share his world with me.
  • The sacred privilege I’ve had of helping a parishoner transition to death and the promise of what lies beyond. Certainly one of the more moving, significant, and utterly real roles I’ve been able to play since joining the pastorate this year.
  • My new boss at my day job, who has made it an easy transition and who has also been very supportive of my “part-time job.”
  • God’s blessings, abundant such that we can redo our kitchen and make plans to redo the basement without having to take out a loan.
  • Our trip to England in January. Still a highlight of the year, sometimes wish I could be back there.

What have you to be thankful for this year?

Sick? Or Just Exhausted?

I stayed home from work today. Called out sick.

I don’t do that very often: I don’t tend to come down with something; probably the last real sick leave I took was when my appendix came out last year and needed more time than I wanted to recover. But starting Sunday afternoon, and into the front half of the week, I felt like I was moving in molasses, and achy. Didn’t have a stuffy head or anything else, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t flu or something serious. But still, had no energy and couldn’t shake the feeling of blah. So when I woke up this morning and it was all the same, I decided to take a sick day.

While I did work on my final paper for my Worship Leadership class, I also napped. And that felt good. I had been sleeping well enough, I thought, but by early afternoon I just couldn’t focus any longer and needed to get into the toes-up position in the recliner. Two hours later, I felt better: less achy, less sluggish.

So am I fighting something? Or just tired from everything going on?

Does it matter?

In the end, one of the things we talked about in our Vocation of Ministry class last year was how we have to honor our bodies and the signals they put out. I know I’m definitely the type to keep plugging and keep working past the point of tiredness. In Orwell’s Animal Farm, I’m the Boxer the horse, the one whose answer to every setback is, “I will work harder.” Perhaps today was a gift, an opportunity from God to step out of the everyday and to rest a little. There’s no shame in that: the only shame would be in ignoring the signals and burning out before I even began.

In My Name

In John 14, Jesus promises that we can have anything if we ask it in his name. But what does that really mean? Can I ask for a new car? Can I get a loved one healed?

We have a lot of misconceptions about what praying “in Jesus’ name” means. Has it become just a habitual tag onto the end of a prayer? Or does is mean something deeper? My sermon this past weekend dealt with what praying in Jesus’ name really means, and what it means to invoke a name in the Bible. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Empty Nesting: One Month

This week marked one month since our daughter moved out to take her new job two hours southwest of here. How’s life in the empty nest? Some thoughts and observations:

  • I am beyond proud of all she’s done in her first month. Like, JMU had its Parents’ Weekend earlier in the month. One of the highlights took place in her theatre: the comics from “Whose Line Is It Anyway” were performing on her stage, and she ran lights for it. She said she hit her cues well, but then all of a sudden Wayne or Ryan would get up and say something, and she’d have to jump and shift. Yep, that’s improv! But guess what: at age 18, you just lit the guys from “Whose Line.” That’s awesome in any book.
  • The dog is super confused: her pack keeps shrinking. She used to spend a-l-l-l-l day with our daughter. We would feed the dog breakfast, then she would scamper upstairs, push open a bedroom door, and curl up on the bed until our daughter awoke. Now we go to work and the dog is all alone. She keeps looking at us with a very concerned expression: “What did you do with everyone? I’ll be good: don’t send me away too.”
  • Related: Our flexibility is actually a little less now. Whereas previously we could text our daughter to ask her to feed the dog ’cause we’re going out, we can’t do that anymore.
  • The house is quiet now. Like, more so than I’ve ever experienced it. Two old people just don’t make that much noise I guess.
  • To some extent, we still haven’t really figured out this new situation. It’s not like we’re jetting off to Cancun or dining out every night (see: Dog, Feeding Thereof) and Lord knows I still have homework. This is a transition that won’t be flicking a light switch.
  • In the evenings we’ll clean up the dishes and put everything away before going up for the night. For some strange reason, no longer are we coming downstairs in the morning to a host of new dishes that piled up in the sink later that night. That part I don’t mind.
  • We now make a lot less trash and recycling, too. Doesn’t seem very often at all that I’m taking anything to the curb.
  • We saw her briefly last week, and when she pulls out her phone to start showing pictures of her theatre, her eyes sparkle. That’s what any parent would crave: seeing their child light up at something they get to do. We truly are blessed.

Even Pastors’ Wives Get New Kitchens (Sometimes) (Eventually)

For the last six weeks, the main level of our house has been a disaster zone, and we’ve been living and cooking on small table…because after 15 years in the house, and 31 years since it was built, we redid the kitchen.

20190909_072037The “before” panorama shows the aged late-80s cabinets and the laminate countertops that were well and truly tired and ready to go. We really didn’t like the cabinets over the peninsula at the left, and were ready to let go of the useless soffit at the top of the cabinets by the ceiling.

We had talked about this for y-e-a-r-s. Fundamentally, we wanted it to be more open, more modern, and have more storage and convenience. And we had saved for quite awhile, so that we didn’t have to take out a loan to do it. We met with our real estate agent, who gave us tips on what to do, and not do, if we’re looking to sell in the next five years (as we transition into grace-and-favor housing in a parsonage somewhere), and she told us how much we needed to spend (and not spend!) to achieve that. We worked with the contractor who had done all our windows and doors years before, and he was able to keep the costs to within our budget. It certainly helped that we were keeping all the major appliances and the floors!

20191019_095334And this is what it turned into! Brighter lighting, white cabinets, grey quartz counters, a white tile backsplash, and eliminating all the soffitts and overhead cabinet made it so much better. When we moved back in, we surprised ourselves with how much more storage there was. We were able to move holiday dishes out of the dining room and into a cabinet here, where we never could have done that before!

The process wasn’t perfect, of course; no renovation is. The contractors didn’t cap the lines after demo day, and we awoke the next morning to a flood that seeped into the rec room below (so guess who’s now redoing the rec room!). And delays from misordered cabinets meant an additional couple of weeks living in limbo.

But it’s done now, it’s paid for, and it’s ready to host the next Chili Bowl, or even Mary’s birthday party later this year, and Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And it moves us one step closer to being ready and able to move out: not only because the house will be more market-ready, but also because we were able to go through things and donate what we no longer needed. Even that bit of stewardship alone was worth the headaches.

Love Like That

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.  When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’  In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:4-7)

Our new neighbor spent the better part of six hours today trying to coax her new rescued puppy back into her house after the puppy snuck out…twice.

Mary and I spent awhile this evening trying to help corral the puppy, who had been a rescue from an abusive situation about two weeks ago and was in no mood to trust anyone, never getting within 20 feet of us. We tried leaving out treats, and sitting calmly, and so on, but the dog wasn’t having anything to do with us. (We’re told that the puppy isn’t fond of men, so I felt doubly helpless.)

Her new owner, though, was marvelous at trying to build trust. She scampered around her yard like an eight-year-old, trying to get the puppy to play with her. She lay down for a good half hour in the dew of the evening on her front lawn, trying to get the puppy to come close enough. She got some steak and offered the puppy bits of it to try to draw her near, with only partial success.

It occurs to me that her love is part of what Jesus taught about in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Just as Jesus does, she patiently was calling to the puppy, trying to be open and warm and receptive, not angry, not yelling at the dog. She showed what grace is about: the neverending call to come home, to turn back. And through it all, the rebellious puppy was mistrusting of that grace, skeptical that it could really be safe, and absolutely determined to do whatever it wanted to do.

In the same way, we’re rebellious puppies who refuse to believe it could possibly be any better with Jesus than on our own. We’re all cavorting, running free, oblivious to the fact that it’s getting dark and there are foxes in the woods nearby who would love to have a go at us in the night. And we disdain the steak that’s offered in favor of staying (spiritually) hungry, if it means accepting anything that comes with it.

The good news is, there are no strings attached, no hidden agendas. God’s grace and love are freely given, just as our neighbor’s love was freely given, and despite our (or the puppy’s) obstinacy about taking the offer. It’s a valuable reminder that grace shows up in random moments in our days, and that we’re called to love like that: to offer grace to everyone we see, loving the rebellious puppy in each of us, and patiently extending grace until she comes home.

PS: Eventually the neighbor went inside and left the front door propped open. And after another half hour, something got the better of the puppy (curiosity? hunger? desire for warmth?) and she wandered back inside. And there was great rejoicing.

The Emptying Nest

I’ve previously written about a sense that despite the struggles my daughter had in high school, she was about to launch, and launch spectacularly.

We may be at T-minus-ten…nine…eight…seven…

This week we learned that three months out of high school, she has been accepted for a position at James Madison University down at Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she will be working on the staff of the Forbes Performing Arts Center. Working with her supervisor, she will manage two of the campus’s auditoriums: one frequently used for dance and other recitals, the other often used for guest speakers and diversity events. She will be meeting with potential clients–groups wanting to use the space–and helping them prepare their event, then helping run the technical side of the event (lights, sound), for about 30 hours a week on average. She starts in just ten days–so we’re in the midst of trying to find her a place down there and planning a move for next week.

She is super excited about it, and we are super excited for her. She had said her goal for this year was to get a job in the technical side of theatre, to learn more about whether this is what she truly wants to do. Now she has a chance to do that, to learn more about theatre management in the process, and to do so on a college campus–so she can also get experience with that world, and consider whether that’s something she actually wants to do, as well. There are so, so many potentially great things that can come from this, I can’t even begin to list them all.

Of course, we will worry. A little. She’s a fiercely independent young woman, so I’m sure she can take care of herself two hours from home. She will figure things out, she will adapt to what comes up. And I know she will face setbacks along the way, and I pray she brings the resilience to handle them all.

But most of all, I will miss her. I will miss having her around, I will miss being able to share a laugh about something that we both, in our twisted senses of humor, find funny. I will miss hearing her and her friends laughing in some corner of the house, and I will miss hearing the front door chime when she gets home late from visiting them. I will miss sharing Ultreyas with her, and seeing her on the mountain for Chrysalis.

The house is about to become much, much emptier: just me, Mary, and the dog (who will be beside herself–what, all y’all keep leaving!). There’s going to be a little less life around here, a little less of what made this home special.

The nest is well and truly emptying, and while there is that touch of melancholy, I couldn’t be prouder of my kids.