Heart’s Desire

A-hand-drawn-heartFor months, at the urging of my spiritual director, I have been praying to find my heart’s desire, to find that thing (not a person – I have those) that inspires me, energizes me; my flow.  But you pray for something long enough, and the prayer goes unanswered, and eventually you stop praying for the thing.

The last few months have found me in the doldrums. (Excellent word, by the way, with possible origin in the words dull and tantrum.)  Yes, you could say I’ve been having a dull tantrum for a season, the result of an unusually warm summer, a not-fun spring at church, and continued physical pain as my hip heals more slowly than I would like. Plus sometimes I’m just a big baby.

And then I got an idea.  I would write a book, a novel, about a church, because I am the First Pastor Ever to think about writing a novel about a church.  I thought about it all spring, and I thought about during our first week of vacation, and I thought about it some more the week our kid was at sleep away camp.  And then I went away for a week, to the lovely shores of Lake Tahoe with a plum assignment of leading worship once a day.

In my free time, I powered up the ol’ laptop and started writing.

I am having a ball.

Today when I met with my spiritual director I told her I had started writing my book and she commented that light was bouncing all around me.  She noted my energy and joy.  And then she said, “I think you found your heart’s desire.”  I will note that God took God’s sweet time answering my prayer, but a thousand years are but a day, etc. etc.

Here’s the thing: writing this puppy is cathartic, and in twenty years of ministry I have met amazing people who have done strange and wonderful things that inspire the characters.  There’s swearing and liturgy.  Twists and turns.  Recipes.  Lists.  Thwarted romance.  A Yorkie Poo.  It is so me.

Back in high school, I aspired to be a writer, but college and theatre and then seminary and ministry got in the way.  To be truthful, my daughter’s own love of writing has inspired me, and maybe some day we will write a book together.  (I can just hear her saying, in about eight years, “As if.”)

This book will never see binding or a spine or a listing on Amazon.   I’m pretty clear about that.  It might show up on this blog.  It might be a Christmas present to my friends and family. But maybe one’s heart’s desire doesn’t have to have a purpose or action plan.  Maybe one’s heart’s desire doesn’t have to lead to success, fame, or fortune.  Maybe one’s heart’s desire is simply the thing that leads out of dull tantrums to joy.

That’s all for now – chapter nineteen awaits.writing

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Skipping church

It’s Sunday morning and I am home and we’re not going to church today.  We are on vacation, enjoying one of our six Sundays a year not in church, but I’m feeling a little naughty and a little guilty about the whole thing.  The truth is, we could go to church – if not the church we serve, then another church.  A church of another denomination, in our neighborhood, whose pastor we admire.  A church served by one of our Presbyterian colleagues whom we never get to hear preach.  The hipster church down the road which brings in millenials in droves, for reasons we simply cannot fathom.

But no, we’re staying home this morning.  We might go to brunch – isn’t that what people who don’t go to church do on Sunday mornings? We could drink coffee and read the Sunday paper, but I’m the only one who drinks coffee and we cancelled the paper until tomorrow, thinking our vacation would last one more day than it actually did.  Instead, I was up at six (why?????) and the others are sleeping in.

Here’s the thing: pastors (and other church professionals) need a break from church and from Sunday morning worship.  If I were to go to my own congregation this morning, and sit somewhere in the sanctuary, it would be hard for me to let go and just worship.  If there were a mistake in the bulletin, I would see it.  If the sound system was wonky, I would notice it.  I would have to work hard to worship and not to critique, and that’s not fair to those who are leading worship today, or to myself.

And for me, it is hard to do a one-off at another congregation.  It’s hard to go to a brand new church whose traditions are not your own.  Did I sit in “someone’s” pew?  Do we kneel, come forward, stand up, sit down, fight fight fight?  If I sing the alto line to the hymn, will I get funny looks?  Will my child be bored to tears, or invited to leave to go God knows where for a Bible lesson, juice, and animal crackers?  Will the sermon move me or annoy me, or worse, bore me?  Will I be welcomed or ignored?

In the twenty-two years since I’ve been ordained, the most I have not gone to church is three weeks in a row, and that was when my daughter was first born.  Did I miss it?  I was so overwhelmed by my newborn, and breast feeding, and exhaustion, and healing from a C-section, that worship was the last thing on my mind.  But that fourth week, I couldn’t wait to take our daughter to church for the first time.  She was cooed over and held and I was loved and cared for.  We were home.

This morning we are home at our home.  The spouse and the kid are still asleep, and the dog just woke up and is sitting on my lap.  The morning coffee has been consumed.  I might make scones.  I might read.  I might do laundry.  I won’t go outside, because the smoke from the fires east of us is looming over all the city and it’s nothing short of gross outside.

I won’t go to church today; I’ll take the rare sabbath a pastor gets.  I’ll remember that I am not in charge of worship, nor solely responsible for it, nor the only one who does it right.  I will say a prayer – for my colleague who is on her own this morning; for the firefighters who are so brave and tireless; for those whose health and homes are affected by this fire.  I’ll say a prayer of thanks for this morning off, for vacation, for my family and my dog.

And then I’ll go make scones.morning-coffee

“I don’t want to grow up”

My child has no interest in being an adult, which makes me wonder what she hears her dad and me saying. Then it makes perfect sense.

Debt. Black mold. Mortgage. Death. Weight. Loans. Responsibility. Health. Dentists. Voting. Jobs. Work. The economy. Guns. Colonoscopy.

So, yes, if that’s all I ever heard, I probably wouldn’t want to grow up either.

When I was in junior high my older brother and sister were in high school and were being pretty typical teenagers. I said to my mother one day, ” I will never be like them.”  And I wasn’t.  I was much much worse.

Because what my daughter doesn’t  know, and what my junior high self did not know, was that there are these things called hormones which kick in and for a little while take over your life. You learn to manage them – eventually – and by the mid-twenties the frontal lobe finally develops and things begin to calm down. Then before you know it you’re 51 and tired and there’s black mold in the basement and your kid doesn’t want to be an adult.

But in just a few years she’ll start to think boys are kind of interesting (or maybe girls, just to be fair.) She will want to drive the car and have more independence than her bicycle currently affords. She will want to go away to college as far away from us as possible, in South Africa maybe, or the Arctic Circle.

For some (but not all) there is this little golden time when you get your first taste of independence before responsibility sets in. For me, it was at the end of high school and the beginning of college, when my biggest worries were exams and which Icelandic sweater pattern I should start next.

Job interviews were a wake-up call, as was getting fired from my third job. Going to everyone else’s wedding without having one of my own introduced me to the loneliness sneaks up in adulthood. Also, buying my first vacuum cleaner: a sure sign that I was truly on my own.

I pray my daughter will grow up and live every moment between now and then, the good, the bad, and the pimply.  Because as an adult I have learned that life is to be lived, not rehearsed or perfected.

On cousins

IMG_6390I recently spent a few days with some of my cousins on my mother’s side.  Our families share land that is dear to all of us, and once a year we meet there to do some business and have a picnic and get caught up.

I never lived near any of my cousins; the closest was when three of us lived in a hour’s triangle from each other, and mostly we got together for Thanksgiving a few times.  But cousins were never part of my everyday life.  They were a part of my summers, as we would fly or drive from all over the country to meet at the family place near Mt. Rainier, to be loved by our grandparents, to throw rocks in the creek when we were little and to build dams in the creek when we got older.

Now that we are all older, I have a different appreciation for my cousins.  We’re in various stages of child-rearing.  A few are grandparents while youngest child of our children’s generation is just four.  We’ve had successes and less so of careers and marriages and managing it all.  The oldest of our generation died forty years ago, and I hardly knew him.

* * * * *

This week I am away at Lake Tahoe, the worship leader at a conference for church music leaders.  Needless to say, it’s a good gig.  Lake Tahoe.  Gorgeous choral music all day long. Leading in worship, which is one of my favorite things.  Lake Tahoe.  Our church’s music director is here too, one of four music directors who each brought two pieces for the concert we’ll have on Thursday night.

One of the pieces she chose is a favorite of our choir and of mine: “Entreat me not to leave you” by Dan Forrest.  It’s based on the text from the book of Ruth, when Ruth says to her mother-in-law Naomi, after both have been widowed,

‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’

The song begins with a pattern of the voices singing the words “entreat me not to leave you,” building to this anguished plea that ends when the altos come in with one note that stops the anguish.  And then, like leaving a dense forest to walk into an open meadow, come those words: “For where you go, I will go; And where you live, I will live….”

Last  night I sat in on the rehearsal, listening to the choir learn this, and I started thinking about my cousins and my siblings and I and our parents.  Because that’s the other thing we’re doing now: watching our parents age.  I don’t really like this, but I’m not in it alone.  Some of our parents, these siblings five, are doing well and some are slowing down.  The hearing isn’t what it used to be; neither are the joints.  There’s been more talk of “after I’m gone, this will be yours to take care of.”

So when my cousins and siblings and I get together, we don’t throw rocks in the creek anymore.  Our kids build the dams.  But we sit by the creek, sometimes with our parents, with our aunts and uncles, because we know this time is precious and will not last forever.  We’re all the more mindful of that now.

And I think about the commitment our parents made to their spouses, and in a way to us their children, and the commitment we now make to them: where you go, I will go; and where you live, I will live.  We can’t always fulfill that promise, but more true are the words that begin and end the song: Entreat me not to leave you.  I am not ready to let you go, not to follow you, not to live near you or even visit you.  I am not ready for death to part us.

So, cousins, here we are.  I am grateful for you, and I have your back whatever will come.

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