Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Sister

My sister Ellen passed away this morning.
She had fought cancer like no one I have ever seen and now the fight is over and she is at peace.

A week before she died I was at her home and said goodbye to her. I told her that I loved her and I would miss her. Now I am going to learn how much I am going to miss her.

This Friday we will have a small memorial service and Audrey and I will lead that. And already I am thinking about all that I want to say.

About her sense of humor - she is the funny aunt, the cool aunt to my kids. She is always up on what is current in everything. There are some things that may be genetic and she and I share a very similar outlook on what is funny. It may be a "Gersen" sense of humor - but she and I laugh at the same things.

About her generosity - I look around my house and see all kinds of signs of the ways in which she and Tom have given us material stuff - like my dining room table, for instance and the camel hair coat I wear in the winter. But it is more than that. When I was installed at this church - Karl Road Christian Church - the family came down to surprise me. That's the kind of things that they have always done.

About her love of her family - She loved her kids and would do anything for them. Period the end.

About her strength - amazing strength. She was diagnosed with cancer last April and given 6 months to live. She made it over twice that. She worked after most people would have gone on disability, she amazingly made it to a cruise for my birthday in February and she hung on through her daughter's graduation - yesterday. It was sheer grit that kept her going - her strong will.

And so May 31st 2009 is the day of her passing. She died exactly a week to the hour after I said good bye to her. My faith tells me that her suffering and pain is certainly over. I believe that she is in a place of peace with my Mom and Dad.

My heart tells me that I will miss her for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pentecost Preparations

I am starting to work - work, not just think - about my sermon for this Sunday. It is Pentecost which is the time that we celebrate God's gift of the Holy spirit.
It is the 3rd big holiday of the church year - and the one that nobody knows about except Christians.

Over the years, I have more and more identified myself as a "Holy Spirit" person.
Right now I think my sermon is going to be about the way that the spirit re - creates us and creates new communities and empowers us. I found this quote from a Blog by Nanett Sawyer

"Though humans crucify, God resurrects. Though humans divide and dominate, God communicates. God has the last word, and the word is wild. It changes everything. It rebuilds broken community. It breaks boundaries and enlarges the house. It makes possible understanding where before there was not understanding."

That is what the spirit does. It is hard in the midst of day by day drudgery to recognize how the spirit is working. That's the problem with preaching - to see it, name it and proclaim it.

But I am working on it.

This is a beginning maybe.

Monday, May 25, 2009

From my visit to see my sister Ellen


A serious little girl stands
beside the woman's bed
silently watching

The woman whispers "My legs hurt"
One hand curls around the bed rail
The other makes a futile gesture to us.

Her daughter bends low to listen.
"Do you want some water?"
She shakes her head.

She removes the bedclothes and we see
Legs that are like spindles
With mottled overhanging skin

The face of the woman twists in pain as her legs are carefully shifted
The daughter replaces the sheet and smooths the blanket
"How is this, Mama?" "Better, for now"

The woman closes her eyes
The little girls looks at her solemnly
Then she walks away

Friday, May 22, 2009

Give Up Control

I have been thinking about that lately.
GIVING up control.
Giving UP control.
Giving up CONTROL

Last Sunday I gave up control and had a wonderful day. We were in Washington State the day after my uncle's memorial. That day had been busy and full. I had a pastoral responsibility in doing the little service for the family before the memorial. I visited with cousins who I had not seen in years. We met friends of my Aunt and stayed with one of them. It was a good day - but a full day.

Sunday Wayne, Gail, Audrey and I had a free day. A free day. After we dropped Geoff at the airport we just spent the day driving around Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma. And Audrey and I sat in the back seat and made only one decision - that we didn't want the urban shopping experience.

Wayne drove and he and Gail mapped out the day. I had officially GIVEN UP CONTROL. It didn't matter how long we spend at the Wildlife preserve we went to. Our lunch was long because there was no meeting to attend afterwards. We rode in the car (in the backseat) and talked and Audrey took silly pictures and it was just what I needed.

. As soon as I came back from Washington, I could feel myself start to get tight. I had to schedule a memorial service, go to Chicago, do some papers for class and of course take care of church responsibilities. How was I going to do that? I felt tired - really tired at the prospect of it all.

But it seems like God is opening everything up for me. The memorial service is now scheduled, I leave today for Chicago and will miss church this week and that is okay. One of the papers I was concerned about is supposed to be ONE page. And of course, over and over I learn that I don't have to do everything - I can give UP control. We have lots of capable and caring folks at church who can do ministry in my absence. I can Give UP control and trust that God will give me what I need as I stop trying to put myself in the drivers seat.

Last night we had a wonderful Bible study on the two accounts of the ascension. And I just keep seeing Jesus going UP - and the fact that we are supposed to give UP control to God. And there was this other part - which was blessing. As Jesus is leaving his disciples all he does is bless.

And so, I begin this day accepting the blessings that are mine. and Praying that today I might give UP control.

PS - Why - at the age of 60! - am I still having to learn this!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Family Weekend in Washington State

I just returned this morning from my first trip to Washington State and it was a memorable time.

The occasion was to attend the memorial service for my Uncle Sam. He was married to my mother's only sister Shirley and they have 5 kids who are my only cousins.

His memorial service was - as I knew it would be - inspiring. He was a man who had deep faith, a great work ethic, dedication to the community and devotion to the family. The three people who eulogized him spoke of him as a leader in the work place, a dreamer and passionate worker for a library in their community and as a father who exemplified all the attributes of a boy scout. Uncle Sam really was the real deal - a big man in every way and I loved hearing the stories about him.

One of my greatest appreciations of him and my Aunt was their willingness to drop everything when my father got sick while traveling in California and spending I think 6 weeks living in a motel and helping my mother cope with his care until he was able to be put on an airplane. And visiting this weekend I heard many stories of that kind of above and beyond responses to friends and family in times of need.

But the service offered more than that. My 5 cousins - Pam, Harry, Scott, Natalie and Valerie - all sang "Today" at the end of the service. Three of them were playing guitars. They are all in their 40's and 50's now but I sat there with images of them in their teens singing the same song.
To go to a service like this and see family members who you only see every 5 to 10 years, who were still part of your childhood is just a gift. I had these moments of remembering who they were and we were growing up - remembering some vacations, some holidays, some other occasions and it just takes you back. It is hard to see the generation above us leaving us - my Aunt Shirley is now the only one of our parents who is left. But to see these adults who are themselves scientists, engineers, teachers and pretty good singers was wonderful. The service started with two women singing "I was there to hear your Borning Cry" and that really was the theme for me - God has been there through it all.

I spent Sunday with my brother Wayne and his wife Gail and Audrey just driving around the area with no plan and no destination. We spent a long time at a wildlife preserve just looking at nature and listening and looking for birds. We also had a long lunchl outside at a restaurant in Olympia by a dock. And had no plans for anything at all. This is so different from the rest of my life as I am always aware of the next meeting or event I have to go to. Audrey took lots of pictures which was a lot of fun too. I really feel that God is trying to show me that I need to do more of this kind of thing. The coolest part is Mount Ranier which was visible often from different directions - like a reminder that we are in Washington State. It was a beautiful weekend.

We also always have in the back of our minds and in our hearts our sister Ellen. She is now in hospice care and I think of her so often these days. I can make sense of an 84 year old saint whose body has worn out. But my 54 year old sister with stage 4 cancer is hard to understand and to accept.

All I can do is pray for her and Tom and Sam and Sarah.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting Ready to Leave

Or dying.
One of the saints of the church is dying and I have just come back from visiting her.
This weekend it became clear that everything is shutting down.
She wasn't quite ready - in fact last weekend when I stopped by her home on Saturday night she told me that she was "still kicking."
But this weekend it is clear that she is going to be leaving soon.
Friday she told her daughter - "I want a party." I let people in church know that and all day people came by to visit with her. She had balloons and flower in her hospital room. It was all good.

Now she is at home in a hospital bed. Her daughter is taking care of her. She is leaving just the way I would like to when it is my time.
The balloons and flowers are in her room and there are people coming and going and just sitting with her. I sat with her for about a half hour. I said the 23rd Psalm and prayed with her. And just sat in silence. There is music playing softly in the background.
At one point I said, "What are you thinking." and she said "You're the greatest."
Whether she knew who I was or not is not important. That is definitely who she is.

At some point she was talking to someone who was not there about leaving things in the past. And she did say "Mama." She is getting ready to leave. She is partly here and partly where she is going.

Her daughter was going to go back to work tomorrow and realized yesterday that she just couldn't. And then someone sent a check in the mail and her mom's social security money came into the account and she realized that God had provided the means for her to stay home from work this week.

and so, a holy time as she is preparing to leave.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Celebrity Apprentice

It is over now - season 8 and Joan Rivers won and I am glad about that.

Celebrity Apprentice is one of my (many) guilty pleasures. I like the tasks and watching the way in which the celbrities interact and problem solve together. I also like the sort of "behind the scenes" views that we supposedly get into their lives.

There are some things that get on my nerves however:
1. The product placesments are ridiculous. Besides whatever the products that they are pushing that week (like Kodak) there are people who are drinking coffee that is prominently Starbucks throughout the show. I think that is no accident.

2. The editing is really suspect. When Melissa Rivers went ballistic after she was fired, you could not help but think something was left out. Maybe later somebody will write an "Inside the Apprentice" book and we can find out the real truth :)

3. And finally, Donald Trump is so irritating. He tries to get people to say mean and rude things about each other and then somehow stops conversations arbitrarily. It is frustrating to watch. I could not stand any of the conversation that he had with and about Dennis Rodman. Trump seemed both condescending and clueless about his drinking/ alcoholism.

This season the person I really grew to like was Jesse James but somehow he never made it to the top probably becuase he was so low key and was not going to bring in his wife (Sandra Bullock) or her money. Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

It's over for now and it was fun to watch this spring.

Mother's Day

As I write this I am eating popcorn and watching the finale of the celebrity apprentice.
Mother's Day is pretty much over. And that is a good thing.

I really don't like mother's day very much. It seems to be it is a tricky day.
Some mothers are always going to be unhappy on mothers day. They are not satisfied with whatever the children do or don't do. And sometimes they seem crabby with their husbands who are not going with the program of sort of making them "Queen for a Day." And I think when I hear them complaining I always thing - at least YOU don't have to work on mother's day - which I do. (do I sound like a complainer or just like I am telling the truth here?)

Then there are those whose mothers have passed away. And it can be sad to remember.
And then there are those whose mothers have been not very nurturing and it is especially irritating to go to church and hear people extoll the wonders of mothers
And then there are those who are not mothers and wish to be, or those who have lost children.
It is tricky - especially with what to do in church. Tricky.
And I say, let's skip it.

Having said that - I had a pretty good mothers day. My husband came through and made me "Queen for a Day" and fixed fried chicken, baked potato and Greek Salad. No complaints there.
And Kacey and Marnie bought be a wonderful gift - table and 2 chairs for sitting outside.
And Lisa called and Audrey called.
And I got to sit on the front porch for a while with Dawn and Marnie and Chuck and watch Jason help Reagan try to ride her bike without training wheels. And she did for about 30 seconds.
It was okay. In fact, it was a very good mother's day. For me.
Everybody should be so lucky - or rather so blessed.

I don't know about mother's day. I really don't - but this year was a good one for me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Ruminations

In my morning devotional this weekend I found this quote:
"We live a life that cries out for healing in a world that keeps our wounds open"

Serving the church means serving an movement that is trying to be a place of love and healing and it often is. Sunday my sermon was about the ways that we are trying to reach out to others.

At the end of the service we sang "Here I Am, Lord." Again, Doug came forward - not to join the church but to receive prayer. I asked Joe to come forward and we laid hands on his shoulders and I asked the congregation to place hands on each other's shoulders as we prayed our closing prayer.

The thing about working in the church is that we encounter people very up close and personal who are in situations that are very, very hard and our role may just be to stand with them. Period.

I think I wrote about Doug before. He is 55 years old and now lives in a nursing home. He had a stroke and he cannot go back to work. He has some issues mentally. But he is so unhappy where he is. So he comes forward and we pray for him and hope that somehow he experiences God's presence and our love for him.

He returned to church after the gospel praise service at 7:00 P.M. At this point I am ready to go home. It has been a long day. The nursing home where he lives is right down the street from the church. So I sat with him for about 20 minutes and heard his stories about life in the nursing home and invited Chuck (God bless him) to join me.

He talked about his 57 year old roommate who is in a wheelchair and has neurological problems after an accident and about the 102 year old man he like to eat with. This guy sounds pretty feisty. He talked about how the nurses withhold ice, of all things. And how you have to wait for what they have to give you. And much of his conversation is entertaining, but the truth is that I still wanted to go home and have dinner. And so, I asked Chuck to take him back to the nursing home over his objections. But that's what I needed to do.

There are some things I know. That ministry is daily, that love is listening and that there are times to set boundaries. But none of this is easy.

I write this remembering Sunday morning and my hand on his shoulder and singing "Here I Am, Lord" :
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

None of this is Easy.