Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Christmas Letter

Christmas letters were a lot of fun to write when my children were little. I mean, really little. “So and so took her first steps this year. Sure to be the beginning of an illustrious future as a track and field star!” Or, “6 year old you-know-who received a perfect attendance certificate at school this year. Hope they give those out at Harvard! Ha ha ha!” Those were the years of suppositions and projections.

I remember the year I stopped writing a family Christmas letter. Actually, I wrote one that year and wrote our family truth in it and, as I always would do, showed it to my comrades in arms at the homestead. The letter was met with unanimous silence; a disapproving silence and promptly shelved.
It was a banner year for the Maxim clan and I was compelled to share it in all its glory. It went something like this:

“Greetings family and friends! Whew! What a year! Let me give you the lowdown on what’s been happening in our little nest.
Eldest child finally came out of the closet (bet you didn’t see that one coming, ha ha!) and promptly became a pseudo goth/punk high school freshman. That ought to help her make loads of friends, don’t you think? She’s played ‘I’m A Creep’ a few thousand times each day this year; we’re really getting to appreciate Thom Yorke.
Our youngest once again failed math, but hey! At least she’s consistent! We’re hoping her deep interest in brushing her Barbies’ hair prepares her for future in either dog grooming or beauty school.
Dear husband’s parents are living with us for the next year! Doesn’t that sound awesome?! Yep, that’s the same mother-in-law who wished me dead, but, hey – this will give us time to bond!”

Yeah… that letter never went out.

And the subsequent years haven’t engendered any letters for one simple reason.
Not because there haven’t been projections or dreams or illusions. I could never have imagined the blessed life I have been gifted with, the marvelous unfolding of my children’s lives and the treasure of their accomplishments.

Simply put: I cannot begin to capture the wonder and surprise that is life.

How do I explain the life-giving conversations with my daughters while we cuddle in bed? Or the profundity of looking at my spouse of almost 30 years and still feeling dizzyingly in love with him? Or the privilege of having my parents and sister near me, of the wonderful times we share? How do I express my satisfaction of seeing my little girls grow up to be remarkably well-adjusted women?
Not only am I feeble at finding the words to write, but what a boring letter.

No, you won’t be getting a family Christmas letter from me. Probably not until grandkids start arriving and taking first steps and I get caught up in exclamation points once again. Until then though, know that life – as usual and unusual – goes on with us. In all its glory.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Killing Cathy

Shortly after arriving in this country, someone – probably my parents – gave me my first doll. She was Chatty Cathy, a large size hard plastic doll with a pull string in the back of her neck, blond wavy hair, unreal blue eyes and a fixed smile.

My greatest joy was that Cathy spoke to me personally, in my language. When I pulled her string, I became convinced that among her many utterances, she stated in a clear loud voice, “Que rico Colombia!” (loosely translated to “How wonderful is Colombia!) I look back now and realize the complete nonsense of my belief. There was no way Mattel was going to personalize Chatty Cathys for homesick immigrant girls.

I know I ran around pulling that string like crazy, demonstrating to anyone who would listen how brilliant my doll was that she was able to know where I came from and how wonderful it had been there. My parents humored me and nodded with what I assumed was melancholy for the homeland but was probably pity for their clueless child.
There were naysayers, well meaning folks who’s greatest desire was to educate me who were quick to point out that Chatty Cathy was American and therefore only spoke English, that she could only repeat 11 English phrases, that I needed to listen carefully and so on.

And so I did.

Eventually. I pulled the string over and over, listening closely to Cathy’s message to me and it suddenly dawned on me that no matter how many times I pulled the string, she was no longer saying “Que rico Colombia”.
She said “I love you”, “Take me with you”, “Can I have a cookie” and other meaningless phrases, but she no longer said what I needed to hear.

I remember that evening undressing Cathy and without my parents knowing, took her in the bath with me. A strictly forbidden activity because of her talking mechanism. I’m not sure what I was thinking or if it was intentional. But that was the night I silenced Cathy.

For a few days afterwards she gurgled a bit when her string was pulled, but eventually she just smiled silently at me. A little mockingly, I believe.

Chatty Cathy was relegated to a shelf in my room. At one point I took her down and with a marker scribbled something on her forehead and put her back on the shelf.

I never had another doll again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All American

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and the three matriarchs of the family are busy slicing, dicing, stuffing and baking. My mother is queen of the turkey. Tonight she is lovingly marinating the bird and preparing her now famous stuffing. The entire time she’ll worry the bird is much too big and there’s no way any group of human can nor should consume this amount of food. My dad awaits his cue; it arrives tomorrow. He is the mashed potatoes man. Simple, easy, yet those creamy peaks of buttery goodness are his domain and he knows he has us salivating from the moment he brings the dish to the serving table.
Meanwhile, 5 floors down in the same building, my sister will be creating her signature contributions to the table – the world’s most exquisite pies. Pecan, apple, pumpkin. A little something for every taste, she has perfected these sweet offerings over the years to the point where no other pie can compare. And woe to whoever should try!
A few minutes away, I am in my kitchen watching the cranberries jump and split, thinly slicing shallots, stuffing sugar pumpkins… I am the side dish lady. Saddled with two vegetarians in my household (who of course bring along other vegetarians on this fowl centered holiday) I was delegated the vegies. Each year I try something a little different, hoping to sate the obvious loss those vegetarians must feel upon seeing the gloried golden bird arrive.

What’s funny about this family scenario is that Thanksgiving was a complete mystery to my family of origin when I was growing up. It was labeled as “an American holiday” by my parents, and they seized the wonderful advantage of not having to work their assorted jobs and shifts but that was it. Turkey? Heavens no! That was for Christmas! Cranberries? Mija! They look poisonous.
At some point, either my sister or I insisted on something special for the holiday and my parents began taking us to Wan Q for dinner on Thanksgiving.
A Polynesian themed restaurant, you couldn’t have designed a kitschier stereotype of all things Asian. But they had cloth napkins. You ordered from a menu, family style. And so it was deemed “our special Thanksgiving”.

We did this for many years until one year my mom’s baby sister, who had come to live with us and was a freshman in college, somehow convinced my parents to join the millions of other November-turkey and cranberry eaters of the country. I don’t really remember that meal. What I do remember was missing the fake tiki torches and canned ukulele music from Wan Q. I missed the fried rice (hold the peas and carrots ‘cause who puts that in their arroz con pollo?), the crispy won tons with unnaturally red sweet stickiness and the mysterious fortune cookies.

Tomorrow afternoon we’ll gather around my parents’ dining room table; my sister and I contributing not just our culinary offerings, but husbands to help in the cleanup; my 98 year old father in law missing his beloved wife; my daughters with their special friends. We will all hold hands as we say grace, thankful for another year of blessed bounty and unity.

And I will be remembering Wan Q and a season of thankfulness in a strange land.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Baby turns older...

There is no other reason for my absence from the blogging world than sheer unadulterated laziness. Plain and simple. Having confessed, I will await absolution.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my 25 plus years of parenting. I’ve been blessed with two remarkable daughters, each one unique and beloved, each one extraordinarily gifted and singularly quirky. I’ve savored each season, every phase of being their mom. Some were sweet, others tart … but regardless, each one molded and shaped me into the person I am today. It also gave me an appreciation of then and now, the richness and profundity of what has been, but also the wonder and excitement of what will be.
Last night, my eldest (now 25) came home with a friend after having dinner out. They came home in a most grown up way – to have a cup of tea and chat. And although the evening began that way, soon my daughter was hiding in a large box breathlessly waiting to jump out and scare her dad when he arrived. I could hear her breathing heavily, suppressing giggles inside the box while her friend hid in the bathroom also laughing.
I recognized this young woman, professional graphic designer and musician, as the same little girl who would devise complex mazes and art installations for her father to inspect and experience when he came home from work.

Today we’re celebrating my youngest daughter’s birthday.

In years past, that would have meant baking a Barbie cake, and making a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese. There would be two presents to her from us– a “need” (usually a winter coat) and a “want” (Barbie and her accouterments). There would be significant cuddling and a retelling of the day of her birth. It was a perfectly sunny but crisp Monday morning, yes Dad was in the delivery room, no it wasn’t as long as her sister’s delivery, yes I got to hold her right away, no she didn’t cry but instead looked around the room inquisitively and yes – yes! She was the most beautiful little baby in the whole entire world, absolutely perfect in every single way.
This would usually lead to a round of tickling and more cuddling, perhaps even a viewing of old videos of her as a baby, learning to walk, babbling in her made up language and of course, the now famous (in our little world) of her at 6 years old, twirling at her friend’s house declaring “I’m the most beautiful girl in the world!”
Now, at 23, my little girl will come to dinner with her sweetheart. Her menu of choice includes spinach risotto and halibut steaks in a balsamic pomegranate reduction. Gifts will be practical per her instructions and there will be little to no twirling. Although her large expressive brown eyes still twinkle with laughter, she is more reserved, thoughtful and will converse about her upcoming college graduation, month-long trip to Venezuela and other future goals.

And there will be cuddling. Oh yes, plenty of it. There always will be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I’ve always been a scribbler.

I enjoyed writing stories for my sister when we were growing up, then reading them aloud at night. I wrote news stories and documentaries in my former career. I read voraciously- some would say (like my better half) a bit obsessively. And as a preacher, I’ve labored over multi-page manuscripts, working words and crafting phrases that would communicate what was in my heart and in my head.

I love words. I love how you can paint pictures with them and inspire, crush or rescue the human spirit with them. I love how they look; organized and orderly, marching across the page ready to carry out their job.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to move from being a “manuscript” preacher to a more extemporaneous style. A dangerous move. This means standing up at the pulpit without a sheaf of papers. I liken it to walking the tightrope with no net below.
I’ve been moving in this direction slowly, until one day, I hope to walk into the pulpit with just my Bible and some words written in the margin of the day’s text.
For now, I am working with a one page outline.

It takes twice as much preparation to do this, I’ve discovered. I have to know the Biblical text well. Really well. I have to practice my sermon several more times than usual – all in my head. It has to sound right. It needs to flow effortlessly. It needs to feel absolutely natural and comfortable. Whatever words I do write down have to mean so much, they each must carry a huge burden of responsibility.

So why do it this way? Besides the fact that I am stubborn and restless (challenging personality faults), as much as I love the written word, I love even more being able to engage visually with the congregation. The manuscript doesn’t afford me that in the manner I’d like.
And perhaps more illogically, I want to be surprised. With or without manuscript, the Spirit of our Lord is faithful and present when the word is rightly preached, but there seems to be more gracious space when I’m not bound to the sequence of page after page. Perhaps this is simply one person’s experience. Mine. Perhaps this is a relative newbie speaking. Yet when I am able to physically move away from the anchor of the pulpit and preach, I feel a part of the congregation and the Word becomes incarnate in all gathered.

This certainly isn’t the way to preach or meant for everyone. Fred Craddock wrote, “Every method [manuscript and extemporaneous sermon] pays a price for its advantages. Those who prefer the freedom and relationships available to the preacher without notes will not usually rate as high on careful phrasing and wealth of content. Those who prefer the tightly woven fabric of a manuscript must … accept the fact that a manuscript is less personal and its use is less evocative of intense listener engagement. ‘(Preaching, p. 216)

God continually calls us to risky places. This is one for me. All I can do is say yes, prepare the best I can and then let go. I’m not sure I’ll be successful at this. Time will tell. But the journey alone will be exhilarating!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Part Time Gig By Any Other Name...

I'm feeling like a substitute teacher.

I'm sitting in the pastor's office at the church where I have been asked to serve for the next three months as their pastor. I chose to bring my own stuff - pencil, notepad, Bible, laptop. Everything is so tidy and in it's place, I don't want to mess things up. What if I don't remember where everything was originally when I have to turn the office keys back to the "real" pastor?
Everyone is really nice. Very polite. But I can tell they're watching me. Checking me out. Testing the waters.

I remember one year in elementary school my class had a substitute teacher from South Africa. She was white with blond hair and reminded me of a flight attendant. A 1960's flight attendant, otherwise known then as a stewardess. Adorable sweater sets and perfectly coordinated pumps. She had a cool accent. And she subbed in my 3rd grade class when my "real" teacher broke her arm walking backwards leading our class line back from recess. The sub was pretty cool. I remember she brought us matzo crackers. Was she Jewish? I don't recall, but she was exotic.

How delightful to find out the following school year that she was now on staff, a "real" teacher at my school. And I got to be in her class!

The woman turned out to be a monster.
She shoulda stuck to part-time work, stayed on the substitute teacher career path. We were too much for her, day in and day out. She yelled. She screamed. She slapped us on the back when she couldn't read our penmanship. Her once charming accent became obnoxious and shrill. No longer exotic, she was always trying to cram something new down out throats. Haroset? Are you kidding me, lady?

I will not be charming in my temporary pastor gig. There will be no special treats and I am most certainly not updating my wardrobe. What they see is what they'll get week in and week out.
I will just love them as best I can in my regular old usual way until it's time for me fade away and their "real" pastor returns...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ordination Day

Ever have the experience of being so emotionally exhausted you can’t begin to express yourself? That your heart is so dang full, your lips are incapable or even willing to utter a word?

Saturday afternoon I looked out at the congregation gathered for my ordination and was humbled by God’s extraordinary grace. Colleagues from seminary stood beside members of my home church who stood alongside members from various immigrant fellowships and sundry committees from my presbytery. Children who had loved and taught me theology joined with seminary professors and ordained pastors from several denominations.
This is my family. This is the community God used and continues to use in order to remind me, “I have called you by name. You are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you.”

Heady stuff. I am elated, blessed, thankful. And humbled. So humbled.

Because as I looked out and saw my beloved cloud of witnesses, these angels who have journeyed with me, I was reminded that God has claimed each one. Each precious, honored and treasured by the Creator. And each person there has embarked on their own journey and they too have their champions, their stumbling blocks and their blessings. I am humbled because so many have allowed me to journey with them and once again witness God’s enduring faithfulness.

Okay, so now I have a framed ordination certificate propped up against my office bookshelf. I have a tailored robe and cool stoles. I can use Rev in front of my name. But the greatest thing to have occurred Saturday afternoon was that God showed up in a most wonderfully tangible way – like water from a rock or the birth of a baby – by casting an extended sacred embrace to a large group of people, calling each by name, claiming us for service and ministry, equipping and empowering us to boldly go out in the world in God’s name.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Of Fish and Paint

The last time I painted by daughters’ bathroom, I armed myself with a quart of baby blue and another of sea foam green, a mish mash of assorted bright colors and set about converting the space into an indoor seaquarium. Handmade, cartoonish and frankly, quite amateur. But I lovingly painted rainbow fish swimming among green kelp and rolling waves for my girls to enjoy. In the last few years, the fish have faded and the waves seem created by a 5 year old. The talk of the family is when – quick!- can that corny bathroom be painted.

Today, the bathroom is being painted moss green with white trim. Serious. Modern. And oh so grown up. I still refer to it as the girls’ bathroom although only one daughter lives at home. But in some ways, it’s the last vestige of an era gone by.

I suppose it signifies yet another turning point in my life. In all our lives. And today, tired little rainbow fish are painted over by intense moss green. They’re not gone. They’re hidden. And only they and I will know they once were welcomed by two little girls oohing and aahing over mommy’s cleverness. And I will treasure all these things in my heart…

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Still Mom

Last Wednesday morning I was awaken by a phone call from my 24 year old daughter. She wasn't feeling very well and would I mind going with her to the doctor?
I quickly looked at the calendar on my cell phone and mentally ticked off all the appointments, meetings and projects I would cancel because - truth be told, my first obligation today, 20 years ago and 20 years from now, will be to my girls.

Since that day, my child has been tucked into bed in her old room. The walls still have her art work on display; the bookshelves hold her old yearbooks, awards and photos. I can hear her talking softly on her cell phone, and every so often her younger sister and her chat about this or that. My heart soars to hear these familiar sounds once again. Her humming in the shower. Her belly laughs as she watches some quirky online show. Her cough in the middle of the night, which still gets me to rise and go check in on her regardless of the hour.

Yet her body seems to be too tall for her twin bed and every so often she mentions how badly she wants to "go home". I catch myself from correcting her. And I have to remind myself that I already let this one go, saw her fly away before to create her own nest elsewhere.

So I return to guard her sleep; make sure to keep the fever in check, a pot of homemade broth simmering on the stove, gentle reminders to hydrate. And remind myself that I walk on holy but temporary ground. She will soon feel strong enough to pack up her overnight bag, give me an appreciative kiss and disappear back into her grownup world, with the coolness of my hand on her warm forehead a vague recollection.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I stretched out on my daughter’s bed in her cozy little apartment and listened in as she explained sketches to her dad. We had come for lunch and for my dear husband wanted to consult her on some design ideas for a web page. She spoke clearly and confidently about “negative space” and “rezzes” and “opacity”. I lay there wrapped in wonder and mystery. I couldn’t help but consider that this person who was speaking in tongues (as far as I’m concerned) was the same one once coached in phonics.

I suddenly was reminded of the many times she would require I not enter our old dining room. My chubby cheeked 6 year old would be busy rearranging furniture, drawing pictures, assembling these items to create an art installation of her imagination. She would sternly remind me not to touch a thing until her daddy came home from work so he could appreciate her “project”. Her face was all seriousness, her long curls bouncing up and down and it was all I could to refrain from squeezing her.

Our children display their corner of the world, their personal secret garden of imagination to us when they still trust us. How many times have we not been invited to participate in their world of illusion? And how many times do we support this burst of creativity melded with their confidence in our appreciation?

My younger daughter had no patience for creating objects or works of art. Yet she would spend hours on end weaving intricate story lines for her Barbies to experience. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to be swept up in one of her dramas that I realized my little girl was processing her own emotions. Friend troubles, missing loved ones, challenging homework. All these topics, which could have been opportunities for whining and defeat, she instead used as material for her ongoing sagas. I sat watching her cry real tears when Skipper announced to Barbie she was moving away and they would no longer be friends. I wanted to put my arm around my little girl, but instead she whispered in her famously raspy voice, “mom, your turn to talk. Tell Barbie everything is going to be alright.”
My Barbie –playing child is now 22, and I overhear her consoling her friends on occasion. “Everything is going to be alright. I’m here for you.”

My daughters taught me about respecting the inner creativity we all possess. To take the time to listen , watch and wait for it to bloom. I will relish this perfume forever…

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tick, Tock...

I’m getting old.

Perhaps it’s this countdown to my mid-century mark this year that has me suddenly aware of every creak and ping of my body, but the fact remains the same. I am getting old.

After 15 minutes on the elliptical, my knees pop and scream. When I stretch out in bed at night, there’s some strange cracking in my back and hips I’d never noticed before. I seem to be “touching up the roots” way more often than I used to. And Lord, when I look at myself in the mirror, there’s some saggy, soft version of myself staring back at me. It’s not quite my mom (she’s in way better shape than me), but damn, she looks close.

People around me seem to be younger as well, which in turn makes me older. In a couple of months my eldest daughter will be the age I was when I gave birth to her. At my youngest daughter’s age, I had been married for almost a year. I could swear the cop that gave me a friendly warning and called me m’am can’t be a day over 17. And watching parents chasing after their preschoolers at the mall exhausts me. Just watching and I’m wiped.

I’m getting old, that’s true. But I think I may be getting a bit wiser as well.

I don’t seem to care much what people think of me and my life choices. And when I don’t feel like doing something, I just say, “I don’t feel like doing that” and don’t.
I spend time doing the things that really mean something to me, and surround myself with people I really care about.
I love more deeply and perhaps more passionately and unconditionally because I’ve realized I’m probably half-way through my allotted time to love on earth.
I learn for the sake of knowing and have no compulsion to prove myself or my knowledge to anyone. Love me or leave me. It’s all good.

I peer into the mirror and indeed, time is marching on.
Creases and lines make their way across my face and suddenly I see a wayward, misplaced pimple. A reminder that youth with all its frailties and temporariness hasn’t quite waved the white flag. Not yet anyway.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


In my line of work I come across all sorts of philosophies and theologies. Some are nicely packaged like a Nordstrom gift; perfect silvery box with color coordinated bow. Some are messy and unfinished, bits and pieces tossed into a nondescript paper bag. Some are quite bountiful and generous, others the first attempts at assembling a thought, a belief.
All of them, in their various states of completion, elaboration and decoration are housed under the umbrella of Reformed Christian. Presbyterian, to be more precise. And I find myself reveling in the diversity of it all. As a wise man once said, it’s easy to be of one mind when you’re with your own kind. I like contemplating others’ positions on issues. I like considering other interpretations of scripture. I like hearing the evolution of someone else’ thought process.

But in my line of work I also come across the misleading gift.
That’s the one that is beautifully wrapped with expensive heavy wrapping paper and a real satin ribbon. It’s the one that feels heavy when you hold it and makes mysteriously enticing sounds when you gently shake it. It’s the one you cannot take your eyes off for fear of losing one single magically lovely moment.
And you open it.
And you are suddenly hit with the stink of rotting flesh. You spy one lone item in this decorative masterpiece and it’s slimy, cheap and minuscule.
The misleading gift. It’s not just available in my line of work, in theology or philosophy. I see it in relationships, policies, manners. I see it all around, these misleading gifts.

That’s the one where someone tells you you’d be a better wife, husband, mother, father, child, friend if only you would…
That’s the one where someone smiles in your direction but it’s just their lips curling up while their eyes glare coldly at you.
That’s the one where society tells you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but you’re barefoot.
The misleading gift is the one you receive with an open heart, excitedly run home with it tucked under your arm and then spend hours weeping in your pillow.

I was the recipient of such a gift today. But I won’t weep.
And I won’t rewrap and regift.
I’ll hold on to it for a bit, just so I can try to make sense of life, of humanity. And then I will let it go, like an unwanted balloon growing tinier and tinier in the vast sky.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Shaping A New "We"

Recent articles in the mainstream media have reported Britain’s recent proclamation that “multiculturalism has failed”. Political leaders in the UK go on to delineate their supporting arguments for this statement and several others across Europe nod their head in agreement.

The church’s commitment to multiculturalism has fared better, though we cannot yet claim victory. The church has one great advantage over economic, political and sociological frameworks. She can call upon our common source of unity – spirituality – and from there build upon diversity in the hopes of fulfilling the vision of a beloved community.

This begins with our ability to recognize and respect our different forms of worship, an obvious difference we can observe. Many of our fellowships within the Seattle Presbytery do not limit their services to an hour, but to however long the Spirit leads. Dancing is a form of sacred expression, and spontaneous testimonials are not uncommon. In turn, the quiet reserved worship of many our established Presbyterian churches reflect the reverence and engagement with the holy centered on the church’s historical identity.
If we were to solely look at these outward expressions of worship, we would indeed be “us” and “them”. Thank God, we are more complex than that. We are capable and we are meant to be “we”.

Professor Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar and recent keynote speaker at Seattle University Searching for Meaning book festival, said, “As created beings of a great God, we must acknowledge each other’s complexities. I am as multidimensional as you are. Do not limit yourself to know me by my periphery, but come to the center of who I am. Know my essence.”

We are challenged by our differences as well as our call to unity and inclusion, but this is indeed who we are called to be as the body of Christ. There is a healthy tension when we embark on the adventure of being the whole people of God and together fulfill God’s dream for humanity. We do it with the confident knowledge that at each of our core is the divine spark of our Creator.

Open wide the church doors, there are many who seek your spiritual partnership!
Open wide the church doors, there are many who await you in their community!

Friday, January 28, 2011

25 years ago I was 7 months pregnant with my first child. I was determined to not allow a simple thing like a pregnancy change my life whatsoever. What can I say, I was young. Very young.

I worked in a newsroom. High paced, frenetic, male dominated and incredibly competitive. Any little whiff of an event was possibly the next Big Story.
And it was an early morning 25 years ago to this day that I sat in the newsroom bullpen with other producers anxiously scanning wire services and newspapers for a lead. Yet another shuttle was being launched that morning and it already been determined by our boss who would cover the landing out in the California desert when it returned. Another formulaic, predictable coverage of a formulaic, predictable event. The joke was you could write the script on the drive out to the desert. Or better yet, someone else chimed in, use the same script from the last landing.

So it was with mild interest that many of us gazed up as the shuttle launched. Challenger. There was a school teacher aboard, and an African American astronaut. And then some seconds after the take off, someone in the room uttered words I cannot forget. “It doesn’t look right.”

It wasn’t right. It wasn’t predictable or formulaic.
It was a disaster occurring in front of our eyes.

In a room where there was a constant and almost deafening noise all at hours, there was suddenly stillness and silence. In horror, we were all riveted to the large screen. In what seemed like an eternity, but in reality were few minutes, the shuttle Challenger erupted into fire and disappeared. With the teacher. With the African American astronaut. And with any delusion I may have had that anything in life is routine.

Over the years I have gained a deeper understanding of the temporality of life, but more importantly, the role I play in it. What seems like just another day of packing lunches for the kids and quickly gulping a cup of coffee might be the morning you could have noticed one of your children hesitant to go to school. But you send her off. It’s just another day. But is it?
Or you drive unthinkingly down a familiar road and once again see the same vagrant on the street corner with his cardboard sign. He’s just another street person looking for a handout. But is he?

What if I open my eyes and take in the day for what it is in that very instant and I treat it as if I had never lived a day before? What if I could revel in the ordinariness of life? What if I replaced complacency with wonder?

25 years ago I thought most of life was routine and I could jump in when things got interesting, when it became A Story. 25 years later I realize I live THE story in each moment and there is no routine. Just life.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Although I grew up in a loving, nurturing home, as it want to happen, there were outside negative forces that created challenges and tension. Finances were always tight – both my parents worked full time outside the home, with my father usually also working a second job. And nostalgia ran rampant in our home. Immigrants tend to live longing for a place and a time that no longer exists.

I spent most of my time with my nose buried in a book and there was a particular season when my obsession rested on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of books. I imagined myself facing the brutal mid-western winters in our Southern California backyard and with the help of my little sister, built a lean-to for us to escape.

And escape we did. We would sit back there for hours, weaving stories of hardships completely unknown to us except for Laura’s input. Sometimes I would be stricken blind with some outdated malady, other times my sister would be lost in a blizzard. But we always made it home safely to our lean-to.

Somewhere along this journey of play, I began to save up my weekly .25 allowance, realizing that if I saved 4 of those shining quarters, I could purchase a pint of truly American blueberries. For .99, I could eat the fruit of the prairie. My mother didn’t quite understand why I insisted on forking over a month’s worth of allowance for a precious pint of these blue orbs, especially when she always made sure we had our fill of bananas, oranges and the inevitable papaya.

But blueberries were something special.

Sitting in our makeshift lean-to, slowly popping one berry in my mouth after another, I savored what it meant to provide for myself. My imaginary crop failures, blizzards and assorted 19th century ailments were so much easier to handle than my mother weeping at night for her family back home, my father exhausted and frustrated at not making ends meet and the inevitable negative people and forces life sometimes thrusts upon a 9 year old. But here I stood. Hunched over our little “house in the yard”, the taste of survival, self-reliance and yes, belonging, lingering on my lips.

Dare I say it? Blueberries taste of victory.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preacher Lady

Another Thursday comes around, and I find myself once again with my trusty and worn Bible in front of me. It’s time to begin the journey of preparing a sermon for Sunday.

I’ve developed a sort of routine or maybe it’s a ritual of how I come about this sacred and humbling exercise.

Today I will read the pertinent Scripture. The text. The lesson. The Good News. I will write it out in long hand in my trusty moleskin notebook. And I’ll pray.

I’ll think about who will be hearing the message. The faithful who sit in the same seat in the same pew Sunday after Sunday. The ones who might wander in purely by chance that particular Sabbath. I will pray for them all. “Lord, help me to make sense. Help me to be relevant and grounded. Bless each person who will come to worship; let it be YOU they hear, no me. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for not letting me throw up during the sermon.”

And then my favorite prayer, the one I utter every day dozens and dozens of times a day. “Use me, Lord.”

Tomorrow I will re-read the passage. Pray a little more. And then dive in head-first in research. Do my seminary professors proud – I will exegete. Word studies, historical criticisms, and of course, selected commentaries. And then set it all aside so I can sleep on it.

Saturday I will re-re-read the passage. Read it slowly. Savor the words. And then begin to write. And write and write. No, there is no outline. No three-point structure. I just write.

I’ll finagle with the manuscript several more times, reading it over and over until I ultimately think it’s at a place where I can read it to my number one critic – my husband.

Most of the time he’ll just nod his head and say “slow down”. Other times he’ll point out a section I need to elaborate more. But always he gives me a smile and assures me God will be with me.

When I climb into the pulpit with manuscript in hand, I must confess I am no longer really present. Something extraordinary comes over me and there is a mixture of my not really being there with a sense of aliveness I’ve never felt in any other situation. I find myself using my manuscript sparingly and elaborating extemporaneously. God, indeed, has been faithful and once again shown up.

I love to preach. I love it because I get a front seat to witness the remarkable grace of God, the anointing of the Holy Spirit on all who desire to hear the Word and my most fervent prayer answered. “Use me, Lord.” And indeed I am.