One Day, I’ll Go…

In the Disney-Pixar movie Moana, the song that sets up our protagonist’s inner conflict is How Far I’ll Go. It sets up the hero’s quest, even as it gives a nod to the teen desire to find one’s place (which rarely is at home)

It’s on a Disney music playlist that I like turn on when I need some energy on a short run. (along with Touch the Sky from Brave and Go the Distance from Hercules.

Anyway – How Far I’ll Go was one reason I named my first triathlon training bike Moana. Moving from the sprint to olympic distance rides, the lyrics of the refrain felt both descriptive and aspirational

The line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, how far I’ll go

The other day, though, I felt that pull in a completely different setting.

I had just climbed up to the Clingmans Dome observation tower. It was a gorgeous morning in that part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountains were verdant and lush, and just peeking out over their trademark blanket of misty clouds.

I had seen on the maps that just beyond the paved path, I should be able to locate where the Appalachian Trail intersected with the far western end of the North Carolina Mountain-to-Sea trail. I’ve been hoping to walk a few more stretches of the MTS while I’m in the state, so why not track that down?

I followed a sign and scrambled down a few rocky steps to find myself in that exact intersection. I walked a ways down the MST, until the canopy and the wildflowers and their insect friends started crowding the path.

And then I realized the repellant was in the car, not on me.

So I went back up to the trailhead and looked in the direction of the Appalachian Trail.

And all of a sudden, my heart leapt. And started singing..

The line where sky meets the trees? It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes

One day I’ll go...

There something about the beach that calms me and something about cities that energizes me.

But there is something altogether different about the trail
The marked and yet always evolving paths
The challenge of getting up and over and down and across obstacle
The light through the canopy, the crunch underfoot and the birds overhead

It calls me. And next time, I’ll have my gear.

And when I cross that line, there’s no telling how far I’ll go.

And she wondered, where are all the words?

The other day, I sat down with a little bit of time, thinking I might do some writing that wasn’t for work.

And basically, I had nothing. I had run out of words, which is really odd. I started doing inventory, and realized why I was hitting this wall. In any given week, I craft

  • 2 different sermons
  • Portions of 2 worship services
  • An email about our interim process
  • 1 or 2 emails with prayer and news for the congregation
  • Multiple emails and texts to members and leaders of the congregation
  • Multiple emails and texts to family
  • Facebook posts and messages (church, family, friends)
  • Extemporaneous Facebook live devotionals every weekday

That’s a lot of words in normal times, but these are pandemic times. It takes so much more energy to do almost everything, since there is so much more going on in my brain ALL. THE. TIME.

And, I suppose since so many of these are on FB or YouTube, it feels like they are already out in the world.

Never fear – I do have lots of thoughts about lots of things and haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Just tethered a little farther away from here.

Pentecost Thoughts and Prayers

Adapted from an email sent to Shallotte Presbyterian Church for Pentecost

I went to the beach this morning to record the Acts scripture on video. I thought maybe I could add a reflection afterward, something more timely than what I recorded for today’s worship- back on Thursday afternoon.

The truth is that my heart has been troubled the last few days – It’s hard to read about tongues of fire bringing about good things while cities across the country burn.  

After I read Acts 2:1-36 (and posted here), I took a walk, collected some sea shells and collected my thoughts.   

I realized that what I want to do is completely beyond me, beyond my ability, beyond my scope of work: I want to make sure that all God’s children, everywhere, are ok.   

I know.  It’s not my job to heal the world. It’s not my job to make sure that all people have houses and jobs, that no one goes hungry, that no one gets murdered in the street or beaten in their own home, that no one is shunned for who they love, that no group is left behind financially. 

But I see so much hurting, so much sorrow, so much righteous (and unrighteous) anger being shouted from streets and rooftops. It breaks my heart.  I know it breaks God’s heart. 

I believe this because God has shown us what love looks like. It looks like Jesus: feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, setting the captives free (Luke 4:16-21); Love looks like the church: sharing from its abundance and healing the sick (Acts 4:32-37; 5:12-16).   

The good news of the gospel is quite simple. The world doesn’t have to be this way.  God sent the Spirit to the church, so that the church can go to the world.  Friends, that means WE are God’s plan for seeking out the scattered and broken, so that they might know the beauty of belonging.  

Let us pray:

For the cities and towns across the country where voices are being raised in protest against true injustice. And for those who would use these gatherings as opportunities to sow seeds of mistrust and chaos. May your church in these places be a place of sanctuary and a voice of truth. 

For the households in which illness and sorrow are have taken up residence. May your church be the voice of hope and compassion and your Spirit bring peace. 

For the families who are struggling and unsure how to the navigate financial, relational and spiritual challenges they face.  May your church nourish their hungers, tangibly and faithfully. 

For the challenges we will face as congregations, learning how to be church in a world that is not likely to ever look or feel exactly like it did before.  May your church be courageous, creative and loving, bearing witness to the faith, hope and love that always has and always will abide. 

Lord, in your great mercy, hear our prayers.

Amen. 

Courage is a Rock

It is one of the rare tchotchkes on my desk that I honestly can’t remember where or when I got it.

I remember picking it up. Whenever.

And feeling the weight and coolness in my hand. Wherever.

And I remember being drawn to that the inscription: Courage

It’s come with me to a few desks now. Courage.

It can bear witness to times I stood firm,
times I was uncomfortably vulnerable,
conversations I wished I could avoid,
moments of truth-telling,
decisions that were right but so very very hard.

It can bear witness to tears I never shared with anyone.

These days, it is my rock.

I know I am not alone in the leadership of our congregation. I have a wonderful group of elders and deacons, active and “resting.” I have mentors and coaches and folks who inspire me from afar.

But I am on my own most days.
Socially responsibly working from my house.
From my house that is not actually my home.
Connecting with all those leaders and helpers, mostly online.

Which means I alone
And alone can be discouraging

Sometime early last year, I picked up a copy of Padraig O Tuama’s Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community. It quickly became part of my devotional practice, as his playful words and poetic sensibility feel like the voice in my head (if it had grown up in Ireland, that is).

One of the prayers he shares from the Corrymeela community’s work for reconciliation is the Prayer for Courage. I have prayed it for myself, for communities, and for other friends on many occasions.

This morning, as I read it again during morning devotions, I almost stopped after the first few lines.

“Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God,
the Croi of all being.”

Croi, he explains in a footnote, is an Irish word (pronounced Kree) that means heart. But it is also the name of the chapel space in Corrymeela, in which prayers and silence and dialogue are shared. It has a living roof, and is filled with the spirit of the living, reconciling God.

I read those lines this morning and looked over at my rock.
Courage comes from the heart. Huh.

We are always welcomed by God,
the heart of all being,
from which courage is birthed.
Whenever I need it.

We are always welcomed by God,
the sanctuary of all being,
the room of requirement,
the space that is always held for me. Us.
Wherever I am.

Courage is a rock.


Not exactly what I signed up for

I finally sat down to watch Spider-Man: Far From Home tonight. I like a good comic book flik. And the Marvel ones tend to have enough redemption and hope built into the story lines that I can enjoy the ride.

I might not always need a ride with pretend dangers and heroes that find their way in the end. Right now? Yes, please.

I won’t spoil the film, in case you’re as behind as I am on movie-watching. But here’s what you need to know. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a brilliant and decidedly awkward high school student who just happens to have superpowers. MJ is far from the mostly helpless blonde versions we’ve seen in recent films. She’s every bit his equal, and brown-skinned to boot.

They’ve survived the narrative arc of the Avengers films and the trauma specific to Spider-man: Homecoming, so they are very ready for their class trip to Europe. A summer escape from the responsibilities most HS seniors looking toward college or the rest of life has looming.

Peter is dealing with the additional weight of grief, having lost a mentor in Tony Stark/Iron Man. Peter knows that his powers come with responsibility to more than just himself and his dreams, but he knows that they also come with a price.

The big trip is interrupted by what looks to be another alien invasion, but without the Avengers to save the day. Mysterio – a new hero- shows up, and Spider-man is recruited to help. But he’s torn. He finds himself sitting at the top of a tower (in Venice, I think?).

Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) flies up to check on him.

Quentin Beck: How are you feeling?
Peter Parker: I didn’t think I was going to have to save the world this summer. I know that makes me sound like such a jerk. I just, I had this plan with this girl that I really like, and now it’s all ruined.
Quentin Beck: You’re not a jerk for wanting a normal life, kid. It’s a hard path. You see things, you do things, you make choices. People look up to you. Even if you win a battle, sometimes they die.

I so feel you, Peter.

The pandemic-related work I’m doing for my congregation isn’t about saving the world, but it’s not what I had planned. I was going to come in, meet some good people, take them through a fairly straight-forward process to find their next pastor and move on. And now…. well.

We’ve all been thrust into a world where the risk is real and very confusing. We have to make choices based on the best information we have, and that gets harder the more exhausted we get. And I do feel like a jerk when I just want to take a break and stop caring about ALL the people. Until I talk to a friend who gets it.

After this pep talk, Peter says to Beck something like, “It feels good to have someone to talk to about superhero stuff.”

My colleagues wear stoles and collars, and we tend to shy away from the idea that we are heroes, much less super. But in our conversations, I see great power – fierce love, fervent hope and deep faith. And I see that we all need a reminder that we’re not jerks when we just want something to go to plan. We are simply being human.

May we come through all of this with our humanity intact, still clinging to the faith, hope and love that abide.

How’s the Weather

It’s raining here today. Will be all day, apparently.

The weather app shows big wet blue bar from 6am to 4pm, and the radar image reminds me of an outer band of a hurricane – all ragged stripes of various colors.

But standing on my front porch or listening to it fall as I look out the windows of my sun room, I don’t see what’s coming. Just what is happening right now around me.

No anticipating, just experiencing and trying to make sense of what that means for right now.

That’s not the only way today’s weather is a meteorological metaphor for the entire month of April.

This rain has followed the intensity pattern of the emotions I’ve been feeling all month… a little light sadness followed by a deluge of frustration. A slow down as I find my footing that is followed by a wave of grief. And then a little more sadness that feels like it’s tapering off, only to have exhaustion come thundering in.

All of it natural and real and, ultimately, life giving… but not the sunshine I prefer.

And then I remember that all sunshine and no rain leads to drought.

So… I’ll watch the rain and trust that the sun shines on behind the clouds. I’ll cry and cuss and trust that the joy still abides.

The ground will soak up the water, the earth will be nurtured.
And I will press on, live on, too.

Things I’ve learned this month

I swear, April 2020 has lasted approximately three years, and we’re not even to the end yet. As a fan of Doctor Who, I have known for quite some time that our western linear understanding of time is not nearly sufficient to explain how we experience time. That’s more about trying to keep commerce and transportation coordinated.

Time as we experience it? That’s stretchy and squishy and completely unpredictable. I mean, who hasn’t felt like a day flew by, even as it lasted way longer than its 24 allotted hours?

But that’s not what I came here to babble about. I have actually learned a few things this month that I want to make note of:

  1. Mangos are really hard to cut. They are quite fibrous and very awkwardly shaped. But they taste amazing.
  2. Turnips are edible, and not just by rabbits and other characters in farm- or garden-centered children’s books.
  3. Trail shoes are really important if you’re going to run near a lake after a rainy week.
  4. No matter how resilient you think you are, some days are just shitty and hard and your bounce-back tools will fail you.
  5. I am capable of making my bed for several weeks in a row.
  6. You never really outgrow dyslexia, so always always always check the numbers you write down.
  7. (or 6.A) When you are adapting a recipe and doing math, write down the number you just figured out so that you don’t have to re-figure it every time you look at the paper and can’t trust that you’re remembering the fraction properly.
  8. Going up and over the bridge toward the ocean is roughly the emotional equivalent to driving under the archway onto Walt Disney World property.
  9. Silence can be a really lovely companion. Until it’s not.
  10. Practicing the hard work of living with integrity and vulnerability is 100% worth it when things go bonkers in the world and you don’t have the emotional or intellectual bandwidth to do/be anything else.
  11. Peeps and animal crackers make really bad s’mores. Even with good chocolate.
  12. Chocolate bunnies can be melted and globbed onto very fresh strawberries for a tasty treat.
  13. Low-carb ice cream left to melt for a little while can be a fine substitute for whipped cream (handy if you have more strawberries than you have chocolate bunnies to melt)
  14. Life really is more about improv than performance, more adapting than planning. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan or act with intention, but it require loosening our grips and opening our minds.
  15. Pay the money for a good chair at the home office.

Things I Want Today

I just don’t even know when I was on here last… Doing gobs of writing for emails and sermons and liturgy… but not here.

Why? Well, moving 4 times since February 13 didn’t help. Nor did trying to get to know a new congregation with 2-3 times as many folks as the last congregation I served. Then there’s the pandemic and all the ways that shifted congregational life into the digital space.

But today, I have a minute. Not a lot of words, but a minute to sit and think.

Here’s where my brain went: You know what I want?

I want things to be easy.
I want a hug
I want to be able to focus on 5 things instead of 15
I want to go home.
I want to be able to follow through on the things that I keep meaning to do.
I want people to not need me to follow through.
I want to make plans that I won’t have to change because of this damned virus.

I want a donut. A really good donut. Made at an actual donut shop where the grease smell has permeated the walls. And they put just the right amount of glaze on the apple fritters, so that the edges are crispy. (if you know, you know).

I want someone to eat dinner with.

I want to cry.
I want to be able to stop crying, so I won’t be afraid to cry.

Basically, I want this to be over.
Not because of all the things I want, so much as the things I don’t want.

I don’t want to see my friends unraveling under the stresses of this bizarre new normal way of being.

I don’t want any more caregivers or cashiers or postal workers or delivery people to have to put themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us.

I don’t want more of our poorest and most vulnerable tossed under the bus and into makeshift graves… to make room for those who are recently unemployed and uninsured

I don’t want anyone else to die alone.

I want to be we again.

I know I am not alone in this.
Even as I sit here alone.

The Accidental Nomad

Moving without moving is a tricky thing, it turns out.

Usually, if you move your job to a new city, you pack all your belongings and transport them from one abode to the next (or get professional help to do so). Depending on logistics, you might have temporary lodging or your things might arrive on a different timeline than you do. But you move. Your things move with you. And your people and critters, should you have them.

But sometimes, you move-ISH.

I knew when I contracted with SPC that I was going to need to do a quick turnaround – like 3 weeks from end date to start date, with one of those being on a continuing education retreat (thanks be to God for RevGals).

I also knew that there was no way I sign a lease without walking through a place, especially since I was going to need something furnished. I mean, it’s one thing to look at generic hotel/condo art for a week or three, but a year or more? Nope. Gotta feel like home.

There was no room in January for a reconnaissance trip. But – I could see, as I did my research from afar, that there were all manner of rental options in the area – weekly, monthly and annually. A couple of weeks on the ground to get a lease signed seemed very do-able.

So… I packed enough clothes to get me through a month of late winter, a few kitchen items, health and hygiene essentials, workout gear, my pillow and essential home office stuff. And my husband and mom. And we drove up to Condo #1. Running distance to the beach, great neighborhood to walk and explore. Almost no kitchen utensils. Not home.

I did find a great little place, walked through it, met the landlord and signed a lease in the first week. Great!

Move in on April 1. Less great. Because March.

So, back to the rental listings and AirBnB and VRBO and more math and calendar work I went. Turns out, if you time it right, you can get some good deals. But last minute also means you have to work around folks who book way earlier. And are not at all concerned with traveling on the ides of March.

March 1, I packed the car and moved to Condo #2. Where I hauled my gear up three flights to a cute little unit with a balcony overlooking pine trees and a pond. Not as close to the beach and not a great neighborhood layout for running, but the kitchen was well-equipped.

When I managed to find a place for the end of March, it left me with a 4-hour gap between check out and check in…

Thank goodness for a refrigerator and freezer at work (where, thanks to COVID-19, the kitchen isn’t in use). And the weather was nice enough for a trail run. So, boxes and bags come back down the stairs and into the car. And the slow motion move goes on.

I’m unpacked. Again
I’ve noted the magical door code. Again.
I’ve stocked the pantry. Again.
Today I’ll restock the fridge. Again.
I’ll figure out the new route to the church. Again.

And I’ll probably drive by my cute little place.
And cross another day off the countdown to doing all of the above
For One. Last. Time.

At least until 2021.

Ashes.

It’s February 26, a month since I preached the closing service for 1st Titusville.

I hadn’t really thought about the date, certainly wouldn’t have marked it. Not given the way my calendar is bursting at the seams with meetings and meeting people.

But then, as I prepared the ashes and the table-scape for the chancel, I realized I would be marking the day. Just as surely as I would mark the foreheads of a whole new community of faith.

Our hearts -so well-known, so beloved. Our bodies – wonderfully and fearfully made. And ultimately, finite. Mortal.

Our need to hold life and death and transformation in tension. The co-mingling of hope and sorrow that compels us to persist. The reality that nothing – aside from God – is eternal.

All of this is true of each of us. And our congregations and communities. Say what you will about Paul the apostle… he got that body metaphor right.

Remember you come from dust.

Gathered with love and purpose

Formed into the image of God

Filled with the breath of life

Claimed and commissioned for work

And on your way back to dust.

You (pl), too.

We are not promised any more time than the time we inhabit. No more days than the one we are living.

So mark them. Live them.

Work for the healing of your corner of creation. Together.