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.

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.

Alex

Alex the kitten went home about ten days ago, and I miss him.

At the end of June, Sarah came to us with the news that a friend of hers needed help. I’ve written about this friend before and his struggles to live independently; apparently he had gotten himself a little kitten, barely 12 weeks old. Well, the landlord got wind of it and said, You can’t have a kitten here; the response was, Fine, we’ll move at the beginning of August then to a place that will allow kitty to live there. But then there was the problem of what to do with kitty until then. Which led him to Sarah, which led her to us.

I love cats, I grew up with them, so it was real easy for me to say Yes! But Mary and David are allergic, so we had to discuss it a little first. We decided to put Alex in the media room downstairs, and keep him corraled there so he didn’t get cat dander everywhere (and also kept him away from our dog, Fergie).

Sarah brought Alex home at the end of June, and of course he was adorable. Dainty little “mew!” sounds, and a purr motor that just would not quit. He’s entirely black, and, as you can see in the picture, has no compunction about curling up on my homework and demanding attention.

Alex is one of those kittens that make people fall in love with cats. He loved being with me, even by the end of the time with us curling up on my lap a bit. He would play, he would purr, he would be appropriate with his razor claws and kitten teeth. He didn’t fear us, he didn’t run and hide under the furniture, he accepted us totally and looked to us for love and attention, just as it should be.

I’ve written before about how our pets can teach us about faith: they are totally dependent on us for food, love, and care, and are perfectly happy in that state. In that regard, they teach us what we should look like in our faith with God–recognizing that God alone is the source of all that we are and all that we have, and turning to him for our source of love and fulfillment. Alex reminded me, once again, what that relationship can look like: playful, joyous, and forthright.

Sarah took Alex home in early August, where he will be one of a menagerie of pets in her friend’s new apartment with his other roommates and their puppy, snake, and turtle. I pray we put Alex on a good path, of trusting humans and being able to love. And that’s not a bad month’s work.

“If God is God, then Why do Bad Things Happen?”

This past Sunday, Pastor Don continued his vacation (first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r he had more than a week off, so good for him!), and I led worship once again. This was the culmination of our sermon series on Questions–the ones that people ask, about God and about faith. And this week was the mother of them all: if God is God, then why do bad things happen?

Here’s the link to the sermon itself; below is the picture that was displayed at the beginning of the sermon (so you can see who these people are), and here’s the link the Switch’s song, Symphony, that I reference at the end.

Let me know what you think!

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What Would *You* Say?

This morning, I picked up two slugs on my way to work. For those not from northern Virginia, “slugging” is the practice whereby a driver (me) picks up two volunteers from a designated place and thereby forms a carpool that can use the carpool lanes in rush hour. There are longstanding rules to slugging: the driver controls the radio station, no money ever changes hands, no smoking or eating…and, the slugs do not talk, out of respect for the fact that this could be the driver’s one and only quiet time of the day.

This morning’s slugs broke the last rule–and it didn’t bother me. Here’s what happened. They clearly knew each other, as they were discussing their weekends before we really ever got out of the parking lot. The man had been to a garden center over the weekend for season-clearance plants, and the woman expressed an interest in doing that…but then allowed as how this might not be the year to do that, as she’s beginning the process of getting divorced and will be moving.

The rest of the drive was spent with the two of them talking about her situation. Evidently there’s a pre-teen child involved, and a trial separation has been underway, and whether her child would need counseling, and her need to find new friends. It didn’t sound like any significant degree of abuse was taking place, which is a relief, but of course there is always emotional trauma in these situations. I was silent, but my heart went out to the family, especially that child. You see, I was 12 myself when my parents separated; it’s not a stretch to say the effects of that lingered another couple of decades, and affected how I related to women throughout college and into my marriage.

So what’s an Associate Pastor to do in that situation? Do I speak up and offer a word? Or maintain silence and just be in prayer for them all? Clearly, from her voice, there is pain about what’s happening; just as clearly, “it’s not my place” comes to mind. If our church had a robust divorced-persons ministry that could be a resource for her, I could have offered that–but we don’t.

What I wound up doing was, when she exited the car downtown, thanking her for coming along for the ride (as is customary), and then adding that I wished her well in her situation. But also left with a nagging feeling–was that enough? I’m supposed to bring healing into the broken; did I fall short?

What do you think?

“Who, Me?” My Debut Sermon As Pastor

This weekend marked my debut weekend leading worship at Sydenstricker UMC as its newest Associate Pastor. I was thrilled and honored to share the story of how it is I come to be in the ranks of the clergy now, and what Jesus meant in the Great Commission, with everyone at SUMC. Click here to give it a listen and let me know what you think.