Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Think Potential, Not Penitence

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential." - Ellen Goodman

New Year's resolutions remind me of things my friends would give up for Lent. We could resist chocolate for 40 days, but could hardly wait for the chocolate bunny in the basket. About New Year's, Mark Twain said, "Now is the time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week, you can begin paving hell with them as usual."

My resolutions this year are to be more present and to appreciate more of the simple joys that I experience every day. I will continue my resolution to be better to myself than I have been, caring for my inner child as if she were my own daughter. I also resolve to let people that I love and care about know that I care about them, regularly, frequently, hourly if needed.

Here's a toast to the journey with all its twists and turns. The challenges and the pain and the joy that surprises us when we least expect it. From the bittersweet moments of watching children grow up before our eyes, and seeing our older loved ones changing, those of us in the middle of our journey seem to be pulling more of our load these days than we did 20 years ago. If for those reasons alone, we should resolve to be our own best friends and stop being so hard on ourselves. Let's resolve to set down the baggage we've been carrying around and unload the 800-pound gorilla from our back and continue on without them. I wish you the peace that will certainly come from leaving all that behind.

Lots of people make predictions for the year to come. I don't know what's ahead and wouldn't dare to venture a guess. What I know for sure is that it will be different than it is today and I'm staying open to what comes next. I wish for you all the promise that a New Year can bring, with no regrets.

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man." - Benjamin Franklin

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hospital Hospitality


Not hard to see why these words are spelled similarly when you read this. I'm proud to be an employee of Grinnell Regional Medical Center.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Children of the Heavenly Father

The power of music is potent, particularly in a worship setting,
particularly on Christmas Eve. There are few who don't get through a
Christmas Eve service without a catch in their throat as the
congregation sings "Silent Night," especially in a sanctuary with only
the glow of candlelight. I'm certainly one of those people and I try
to harmonize in an effort to keep from getting too blubbery and
embarassing myself.

This year, there was a new song in the Christmas Eve line-up. It's
not a carol, but a Swedish cradle song that is nearly guaranteed to
bring any grown man raised in a Swedish community to tears.

"Children of the Heavenly Father" is a sweet and lovely lullaby that is
traditionally heard at Swedish funerals in these parts. When the
small family group rose to sing this song as the service started,
I knew I was in trouble. I held my own with only my chin
trembling, until they sang the last verse... in Swedish. That was it.
The tears flowed and it was so beautiful. The family who sang are
people my family has known for generations.

The song speaks to the children of God who are lovingly cared for as a
father loves his children. It is a beautiful song that is comforting
to those who mourn and hearing it at Christmas was a way to hear the
words in a new context. The realiziation that we are children of God,
just as Jesus is a child of God.

For a short time, I worked for a Lutheran nonprofit organization,
Bethphage Mission. The original mission was started by Lutheran women
in Axtell, Nebraska, who dedicated their lives to ministry in a way
similar to Catholic nuns. They provided a home for children and
adults with developmental disabilities. I remember a story told to me
by the chaplain there, who being new to the community, found a new
hymn to sing during a chapel service. He was surprised when most of
the residents and the sisters wept openly through the hymn. The
pastor, of German American heritage, was distressed as well and asked
one of the sisters what had happened after the service was over. She
lovingly explained to him that the only time many of the residents had
ever heard "Children of the Heavenly Father" was when someone had

My uncle Riley, grew up in the Augustana Lutheran Church and joined
the Episcopal Church as an adult. When he died in his late 60's, the
priest of the Anglo-Catholic parish he was a member of, presided over
a dramatic requiem mass that Riley would have loved. For us, it was
foreign territory and as family, it felt a little like the rest of the
congregation was having the healing experience we were looking for.
That is, until the organist began to play, "Children of the Heavenly
Father." That's when our catharsis began. Many Swedish Americans
will half jokingly tell you that it isn't a funeral until they play
that song.

For many Swedish families, Christmas Eve service at midnight is the
pinnacle of the holiday. It was the night my family spent with my
Swedish grandparents having meatballs, herring, and a Swedish custardy
cheesecake known as ostkaka. Those spirits of Christmases past seem
to hover closely on Christmas Eve. Their presence is as strong as our
melancholy can be. Hearing this beloved cradle song at church that night brought them to
the place where we were on the most holy night of all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hijacked by God

I've been contemplating getting into formal ministry since I was 15. Something else always came up and I told myself that God needed good lay people as much as clergy.

Since October, I've been the interim Christian Education coordinator at our church. For years, I have done pulpit supply, written and edited the monthly newsletter, served on every board, lead as moderator - even through a successful open & affirming process, and lovingly dubbed as "the pope." But this is only the second time I've ever been paid by the church to do a job. The first time was as the nursery attendant when I was in the fifth grade.

I took on this CE role in the hopes that some wonderful person would emerge from the search process and feel called to be the permenant director. With two children in the program, I have a vested interest. I offered to do it for three months since we had planned on having a new person in the job in January.

My full-time job even cooperated to allow me to work 36 hours a week for the time being so that I could spend an afternoon at the church. But without a real Sabbath day, I was getting burned out. Last Sunday, I had my speech ready to tell the pastor and the CE board chair that I was tired and would not be able to continue into January.

And then, I was hijacked. God used people in my job to find a way so that I had no choice but to apply for the 20 hour job and go part time in my "real" job. If you were in church this past week or following along at home, you may recall Isaiah admonishing us that we do not know the time, or the place, but we must be ready. God has opened the door of the airplane at 10,000 feet and has shoved me out with the parachute and has said, "Finally! I've been trying to get you to fly since you were 15!"

The first 24 hours were terrifying. But I am constantly reminded of the times that I have taken a small step from my comfort zone, God has provided for me. Another step, God is there. It's still scary, but it is starting to feel pretty good. Advent is about waiting, about preparing, about hope and about what is to come. Advent just got very interesting.