Rain. Reign.

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I had other plans for this weekend. Spreading mulch and doing weeding, some errands to the garden center… which the downpours have postponed. And I’ll confess it made me a little cranky.

Then I broke a favorite glass…

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And  I have to pay bills… do laundry and dishes… All which were  beginning to put me in a foul mood. Instead, I focused on the loveliness around me…

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The first Peace rose of the summer…

Deb-irises

Irises from our garden…

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The wisteria having a party on the pergola…

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Grandma’s peonies about to pop…

And while I’m still a little cranky about the weather… there’s a lot of beauty to appreciate. And the discipline of gratefulness to practice… even when the weather (or people like me!) are just a wee bit ugly!

Henri Nouwen wrote in Return of the Prodigal Son:

“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.”

I choose to be grateful and keep trying to show love. Even when I don’t feel like it. Especially when I don’t feel like it.

Pruning

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”
John 15, TNIV

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It’s an old, stately crabapple tree. Every year I wait with anticipation for the first blossoms to unfurl. Every year, it is covered, almost overnight, in these deep pink blooms, and the sound of the bees reveling in the branches is like a dull roar. Every year, the petals drop off and cover the front walk with a pink confetti. It’s the first of many trumpets of spring at our house. And it seemed pretty healthy for an older tree…

Yes, there was some sign of disease. There was some dead wood further out from the trunk, but most of that branch had lots of green leaves, and the crabapples had set on after blooming this spring. To our surprise, in a wind gust Sunday, the branch cracked and fell to the ground, blocking the entire driveway! Yes, it was not the healthiest branch on the tree. But it looked OK. At least, it appeared to be.

As my husband sawed it it apart and cleared the driveway, we saw that part of the main support for this branch was hollow all the way through. It appeared alive on the outside. And it was dead, completely dead on the inside. There was no way to sustain life. No way to support new growth. And much of the rest of the branch was well on its way to self-destruction.

BAM. Critical mass reached. Tipping point engaged. Good-bye, branch!

In my studies in church growth, church planting, and chaplaincy, I have learned about the phenomena of a “sick system.” This is when a constellation of relationships appear to be a healthy system, but are actually a very “sick” system. Under stress, or continued neglect, that which appears to be working for the moment is disastrous in the long-haul.

The bottom line: when the pressure comes for new growth and new direction, faking it doesn’t make it any more.

I’ve been reflecting on this as I read the latest round of op-ed pieces on church health, church growth and church sustainability. Millennials will engage if we do x, y and z. Boomers and Busters need a program which includes a, b, and c. I read lots of church gurus’ suggestions and mandates. I hear about innovative approaches. I meet passionate, praying, and caring pastors who are following the latest trends and hoping this will be the “multi-vitamin of Jesus” that their anemic church needs. And… I note that the very cancer which has been dogging their footsteps has never been treated.

What might this “cancer” be? Self-centeredness. Anger. Self-righteousness. Prejudice. Misogyny. Homophobia. Transphobia. Entitlement. Exhaustion. Fear of change.

Church… we gotta get over ourselves. That’s the plain facts. The issues we “church people” argue about are not only unimportant, they don’t contribute to the overall health of the church! People OUTSIDE the church really and truly don’t care about our sacred cows and holy hobby horses. They DO NOT CARE.

Really… NO ONE CARES if you had Sunday School at 9 and worship at 10:30 since Solomon built the Temple.

NO ONE CARES if you wear robes/collars/vestments/T-shirts/open-toed shoes.

NO ONE CARES if you use a rock band/pipe organ/bagpipes for worship. (OK, maybe I do care about the bagpipes.)

NO ONE CARES what version of the Bible you use.

NO ONE CARES if you do all sorts of things for God, but never just sit and BE with God.

NO ONE CARES who uses which bathroom.

No one, that is, EXCEPT the people who perpetuate the system. (cough cough: look in the mirror :cough cough)

It’s simply comes down to this… if we (and I am the first in this line of “we”) do not grapple with the things which make us ineffective and dilute the power of the Holy Spirit in our churches, our lives and our world, we will never change. And, more importantly, we will not succeed in bringing about change and hope to those who are desperately seeking it. And if we (and again, I include myself!) do not consider where we have made the Church into a hobby and not into a passion, we doom our energies from the start.

I don’t think we (ahem — I) need a another new start or a new program. The journey to healthy growth begins in the heart. It is the pushing, the challenging, the reshaping, the pruning by God. It is the consistent, guiding hand of God. And then. when I’ve mastered some baby steps in change, it points to other places where I need to prune some more. A lot more, actually. It’s shaping the pastor who prays and leads and prays some more.

The result? Pain. Loss. And amazing new growth. In myself. In the work that God calls me to. In the people around me that God cares about more than I possibly can. That’s what I’m going for. Change that means God gives… and takes away.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord…
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say,
“Blessed be the Name of the Lord”

Blessed be.

Pizza box flambé

One time I put cat food in my daughter’s lunch. 

I left a child at school after a concert and had to go back and get her. 

I have left sugar out of apple pie and burned dinner on many occasions. 

And in the interests of full disclosure, tonight I forgot we had left pizza boxes in the oven… and set a pizza box on fire. As in, real flames and smoke. 

Holy cow, what a mess!

Then as I tried to hastily get the smoke out of the house, I stepped on a cat’s tail and overturned his water dish. 

And then — because apparently that wasn’t enough — I discovered as I started getting ready for bed that I had worn my sweater inside-out ALL DAY. All the freaking day. (I guess I should be grateful for unobservant friends…)

In all of this mess that is a pastor-chaplain-mom-wife-friend-relative… There is still love, joy and grace. There is a large serving of humble pie, and a genuine attempt to obey the 11th Commandment:

Thou shalt not take thyself so damn seriously.

I think I’ve fulfilled that one today. 

Who me? A nominee?

Shannon put my blog up for the blogger-driven Liebster Award. I confess I wandered around on Google for a while to discover that it is, simply, an award given to bloggers by bloggers. The “rules” very from being a newbie blogger with less than 200 followers to no restrictions, and to answer a list of questions of the nominator’s choosing… Since I’ve been blogging for many years, and have many followers, I’m not exactly a noob. But I’ll play along and will, as requested, nominate some of my other favorite bloggers for you to visit.

What is your favorite topic to write about? (This may or may not be what you write about most often.)

Real life. Stuff that makes me laugh, scratch my head, get a little weepy. Usually there’s photography involved. I do a lot of photo-blogging.

What are your highest goals and aspirations as a writer?

I’d love to write a book. Possibly historical fiction, based on the life of my great-great-great-grandmother, Ellen. She kicked butt in an abolitionist, pre-feminism, suffragette kinda way.

Do your family members read your writing? If so, what do they think of it?

They do. They are hugely encouraging. I do my best not to embarrass them (or myself) with too many family photos.

What is your best travel story?

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to places where my family emigrated from in Germany, England and Ireland. I am not a genealogist, but I have family members who are! Being able to walk in and near the places where our immigrant ancestors lived was an incredible experience. I even got to try my hand at playing a pipe organ in an ancestral church!

What is your favorite piece of writing OR what piece was the hardest to write?

Probably the blog post on my dad.

What is your favorite movie and do you believe it’s the best movie you’ve ever seen? (It may not be!)

Mona Lisa Smile hands down.

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever voluntarily done?

I went on one of those high-ropes-challenge courses as a “team-building” exercise. I have now checked that box. I will absolutely NOT do it again. Period.

Who is the biggest celebrity you have ever met?

Artur Rubenstein, a concert pianist. I was probably 11 or 12 years old. My piano teacher arranged for her students to meet him… and all I can remember was how huge and muscular his hands were. A favorite quote by him: To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings – it’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life miracle to miracle.

What is your favorite children’s book?

Oh dear. There are so many… Probably the James Herriot short stories for children. Well loved and read many times over!

Where is your favorite place to have lived?

I really love where we are now, right here in Narnia.

What was the best part of your day yesterday?

I got to spend time with family, good friends and like-minded Christ followers! WIN-WIN-WIN!!!

NOW THEN… I nominate…

MINDY!! at Bits and Odd Pieces of Mindy’s Kingdom

JAN at A Church for Starving Artists

TERRI at Seeking Authentic Voice

JAN at Painted Prayer Book

DENISE at Soula Scriptura

Did I forget you? Please nominate yourself!

AND… here are my questions!

1. Why blog in an era of Facebook, Twitter and everything else?

2. I can’t, for the life of me, finish Eat, Pray, Love. Tell me a book that you can’t finish (and if you can figure out why, share that, too.)

3. Oxford Commas, diagramming sentences, and cursive writing. Discuss.

4. A photo of the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited and share why it stirred your soul.

5. Write a haiku about cats. Or dogs. Or having to write haiku. 

6. The craft or hobby of your choice. Bonus points for a photo.

 

An Embarrassment of Flip-flops


‘Tis the Season. Of cheese graters and power sanders on the gnarly heels of women everywhere. Of pedicures and fresh nail polish. Of creams and lotions. And of flip-flops and sandals.

I went for a pedicure with The Jobnnie when she was home for spring break in March. We were in between snowstorms so it was only fitting that we allow ourselves a bit of pampering. A pedicure was just the ticket. And I thought we’d just grab flip-flops on our way out the door. Except… I could not find a single pair of flip-flops anywhere. Not a one. Not in my closet. Not in the garage.

How could this be?

Well… When it was snow boot season, we put all the boots in easy reach. And I, being logical, tucked all of the warm weather foot gear into the boot bin.

And we found them ALL today. Right where we left them. Because I was putting winter boots away and…

Sigh…

You know how there’s collective nouns? A murder of crows… a herd of cows… and I’ve decided it must be an embarrassment of flip-flops.