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.