Missing her

I’m missing her again.
Her smile, her laugh.

Aunt Elizabeth stands at the kitchen stove, her back to me,
stirring spaghetti sauce for our family dinner.
I’m helping by chopping up onion.

The smell of garlic fills the house.
There’s laughter in the den.
The ballgame’s on.
Ranger’s need to pick it up.

Later, after dinner, we’ll pay cards.
Nertz, or my favorite, Phase 10.

She’ll sit across from me
her huge breasts bouncing
her squinty eyes squinting
giggling at the moment.
Surrounded by her mother, father,
brothers, sisters, husband, children, nieces, nephews.
We’ll laugh together because families are funny.

I’m missing her again (always and always).


Ash Wednesday 2015

Today the journey toward Jerusalem begins.

Today we remember many things. We remember that we are mortal. We remember that we came from the dirt of the earth, and to that dirt we will return. We remember that we are nothing more than dust.

We will die one day. It’s a fact we all know, but we don’t want to think about it until it happens to us, or to someone we know. I see it everyday as a hospital chaplain. People with cancer, or COPD, or heart disease. They all have similar questions: Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong? I thought I was healthy.

Death is a scary thing.

I’m beginning to think more and more that Lent is mostly about death. After all, we practice asceticism with pomp and circumstance, smearing ashes on our heads for the world to see, loudly proclaiming via social media posts what we’re sacrificing in the name of God. We practice “dying” to chocolate, or desserts, or carbs. We want to “die” to bad habits, to enter into a period of going without for the sake of the gospel. It’s supposed to prepare us for the joy of Easter. But is that really what happens? I’m not sure.

Self-sacrifice is a big part of Lent, but I think maybe we can frame it differently. If Lent is about death, then I want to die to self-indulgence when it means others don’t have enough. I want to die to my systemic participation in systems of oppression and injustice. I want to die to the ignorance that blinds me to the suffering of others. I want to die to the myths of the broken world, and rise again with the truth of the gospel in my heart.

So this Lenten season, I am thinking about death, not in terms of going without, but as a way of journeying with Christ toward his own death. Following Christ means obeying him. It means living as a disciple in both word and deed. It means letting him be taken from Gethsemane and hung on a cross. It means deep, deep suffering and loss.

There’s something else it means too. But we have about 40 days (minus Sundays) until we get to that part.

So for now, as I smear ashes on the foreheads of nurses and care partners throughout the hospital this day, as I read scripture and pray for forgiveness, I will remember that without the work of God’s holy Spirit, I would be inanimate and lifeless dust in the ground. But I’m not. I get to be Christ’s hands and feet instead, moving about the earth and proclaiming the good news of the gospel. This annual journey is about preparing myself for that proclamation, to share it faithfully and with great joy.

Let us enter into the stillness of the season. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Let it be. Amen.

Shrove Tuesday

Happy Mardi Gras! It is a fat Tuesday indeed.

My class was cancelled this morning due to the ice storm that has hit Nashville and made for hazardous driving conditions. So, in honor of the day, Stephan and I made pancakes for breakfast.

And I got to wondering, where does the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday come from? Does it originate from all the pancake breakfasts and dinners held in churches all over the country on this day? Is it simply about getting fat before Lent? Or is there more to it?

I went to Wikipedia. Turns out, the practice of eating pancakes dates back to before the Christian era. Wikipedia says that the pagan Slavs believed the gods were fighting in the time between winter and spring, and it was their job to help the god Jarilo win in the battle to bring back spring. So they ate pancakes because they symbolize the sun and warmth. Isn’t that interesting?

So we as Christians, like we do with so many of our holidays, have sort of made this one our own. We eat pancakes following the tradition of “Fat Tuesday,” or the time we indulge ourselves in fatty foods in preparation for the fasting of the Lenten journey. The word “shrove” comes from “shrive” which means to confess, or prepare for repentance, which is what Lent is all about. So on Shrove Tuesday, we over-indulge ourselves, eat pancakes, and prepare for our journey of fasting and repentance.

Thanks Wikipedia.

When I got to work this afternoon (the roads had thawed enough for me to get in), the pastoral care department was also celebrating the day with red beans and rice and a big fat King Cake. It even had the baby inside!  For anyone who doesn’t know, the little plastic baby is supposed to be baby Jesus, and whoever finds the baby in their slice of cake is responsible for buying the next year’s cake. These practices are traditional to New Orleans Mardi Gras. As one of our priests was born and raised in New Orleans, he was our judge for authenticity. He said we passed.Then we listened to traditional Mardi Gras music from New Orleans to celebrate this special day.

And now I’m in my office trying to prepare for my Ash Wednesday service tomorrow morning. This will be the first time I’ve been the one imposing the ashes. I’m very excited about it, but also nervous. But it’s just another chance for me to grow in my pastoral identity! So I’m working on this service and I’m thinking about my own preparations for Lent. We’re all getting ready for a journey towards Jerusalem. As I turn toward Jerusalem, as Jesus did, leaning into the darkness of the unknown, preparing for the suffering and sadness ahead, I have to ask myself: What can I do to help me on the way?

The practice of giving up something for Lent is something I’ve been familiar with for as long as I can remember, even if I haven’t always participated in it. In the past I’ve given up swearing, fried food, and chocolate. I’ve also committed to adding in spiritual practices, like daily devotionals or meditation, which honestly have mostly been complete failures. So what to do this time around?

I’ve been thinking about my body a lot lately. I’m slow. I’m sluggish. I’m tired. I’m resistant to movement. I’m Netflix obsessed. I think part of my Lenten journey will consist of eating better, more nutritious foods, and stretching my body to do things it’s not used to doing, like jogging, and yoga, and dancing. And with every sore muscle I will think about how I’m strengthening myself for the journey.

Now I really have to finish this service.

Happy Mardi Gras to you and yours. Let it be. Amen.

Lessons from Buechner

We have a new devotional text in our pastoral care office here at the hospital. It’s Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life (Harper Collins, 1992). To start the day off with some centering and prayer, I read his words of wisdom for today, February 15th. He writes,

Because the word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word – a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see – the chances are we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling. In that sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.

God’s word is such a tremendous thing to hear. It whispers in the sound of snow drifting silently to the earth (in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow). It floats on Debussy’s piano notes that lift my heart as I write these words. It shouts in the thunder, in the clanging of cymbals, in the yells of delight of friends gathered around a table recounting stories from our past. I hear it in the new growth of the grass in my yard as we prepare for spring. I hear it in my husband’s voice when he tells me how much he loves me before I leave for work in the morning. I hear it in the hands of nurses who softly pat the arm of their patients. And I hear it in my own story, as I listen to my life, God speaking to me and through me.

I hope you listen to your life. Listen for the word of God, that voice that called you forth into being from nothingness, the voice that creates and recreates continually. You know the voice, just as it knows you. We don’t always understand it but, as Buechner says, it is precious.

Amen. Let it be.

St. Valentine’s Day 2015

So after a few days of feeling sorry for myself, today happened.

Today marks the first Valentine’s Day my husband and I have ever truly spent together. Though we’ve been together for six years this April, we’ve never had a full Valentine’s Day to ourselves. This is because Stephan used to coach high school wrestling, and every year the state tournament, without fail, always lands on Valentine’s Day weekend, with practices happening every night leading up to it. Looking back, I think there was one Valentine’s date we shared at the Melting Pot downtown one year, but I can’t be sure that wasn’t an anniversary. Who knows, I can’t remember. My point is that Valentine’s has never been a big deal to either of us. We usually give each other a card and some chocolate to mark the day and conform to heteronormative capitalistic standards, and that’s about it.

But today, Stephan has no wrestling tournament because he has a new career, a career he loves with weekends off! So the fact that Valentine’s Day happens to fall on a Saturday this year, and it’s a Saturday we’re both off, and it’s our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, it’s like God has given us this little gift of extra lovey-dovey, ooey-gooey, “I love you more,” “No, I love you more,” box-of-chocolates, over the moon, crazy about each other madness! Normally I don’t really give a fig about this day, but today feels special. And I know not every Valentine’s Day will be this wonderful, so I want to be sure to remember this one.

We snuggled in bed for an extra-long time. He went out and got me a box of chocolates. I gave him some Jim Carrey movies he loves. We exchanged mushy cards with heartfelt sentiments written inside. We made chocolate covered strawberries together, which are chilling this very moment for enjoyment this evening, along with some champagne. We went for a walk in the brisk of this cool February afternoon with our dogs. We spent some time enjoying the company of some friends from out of town we don’t see very often who are here celebrating the day of love in Nashville. We’ve been talking about possible vacation ideas, and our future, like where we might end up with clergy appointments being made in the next few months. We’ve talked about starting our family, and growing old together. And we both know that no matter what happens, wherever we may find ourselves, we will always have each other, and that’s the greatest gift of all. I’ve never been this mushy before in my life, but I gotta say, I don’t hate it! The rest of the afternoon will be devoted to me forcing Stephan to watch mushy chick-flicks with me. Then we’ll cook a nice dinner and have our strawberries and champagne. Then, since he watched the movies with me, I’ll stay up a little later than usual with him to spend some time with our friends, because that’s how Stephan expresses his love. Through loyalty and friendship. Because we don’t just love each other! We have so much incredible love to share with all those who mean so much to us! And that’s what this day is all about. Sharing the love.

Sorry to be so over-the-top with my love cheerleading. It’s just that my heart is overwhelmed with love and warmth, and I just needed to write about it. So in honor of this day, and reminding myself to be grateful, here are the three things I’m thankful for today.

1) My marriage.

2) Love.

3) Friends.

Amen and Amen. Let it be, let it be, let it be.

Welcoming Despair

Oh, hello again. Can’t say I’m all that pleased to see you.

Can’t say I’m all that surprised either.

It’s been nice with you gone. Really nice. The past few months have been some of the most joyous and life-giving I can remember. I felt like I was accomplishing things. Big things! Did you know I graduated from Divinity School? And I got married! And I turned in a huge amount of paperwork for commissioning and I started CPE. All of these are big things that have happened and they’ve made me feel good. For a very long period of time, I was pretty happy without you nagging me, constantly telling me I’m not good enough.

But you’re back now. Who knows for how long. I guess you came and settled yourself in a few days ago. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what triggered your unwelcome invasion into my life. Things just started feeling pointless again, you know? Of course you know.

The other day I watched Disney’s Robin Hood on Netflix. The one with the animals. It darn near broke me to bits. That mean old sheriff taking the little bunny’s farthing? On his birthday? And I know that sounds funny for me to get all broken up over a cartoon, but that’s what you do to me.

Later, in the car, I was driving through my old neighborhood. And I just got so sad about it. I’m not sure why. Just nostalgic and melancholy for what used to be and isn’t anymore. It’s not like that time in my life was even all that great. I don’t think I’d go back even if I could. But I don’t know, I was just driving, and there’s my old house which I can’t drive in the driveway anymore, and these are the old streets I used to jog on. And it was like the saddest day of my life for some reason.

I blame you.

And then, the kicker, Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” played on the radio. Not the piano version, which is my favorite, but the harp one, the one Mom used to play at night when I was little to help me go to sleep. And all the sudden I’m a puddle in my car just trying to make it to my destination because what am I doing? What does it mean? Life is so tragically short and here I am depressed again for no reason.

They put pepperoni on my pizza when I asked for cheese because I was hungry and of course they did. I got ranked last in a stupid game. It shouldn’t have hurt my feelings, but it did because I feel like a perpetual loser again. Why did that happen? Why are you here? Why do you make me doubt myself?

Here you are, whispering things about how I’m not loved, or wanted, or cool, or funny, or good enough to be friends with who I want to be friends with. You tell me no one takes me seriously, that I’m annoying to those around me, that I’m too uptight, too insecure, too fat, too lazy, too indecisive.

It would be fine if I didn’t believe you.

I can be angry about it, but the fact is you’re here. The one bright side to your presence is that this time, I’m pretty sure you can’t stay forever. Based on precedence, and some therapy, I know that you’ll go away. And I have coping skills for dealing with you now, though they’re rusty. And maybe it’s good you’re here, because you’re reminding me that I’m not impervious to you, like I maybe thought I had become. Like I maybe I didn’t know you that well anymore. Like I was cured. You’re incurable. But you’re not triumphant. You’re never triumphant.

So come on in. I see you. I recognize you. I will walk with you by my side knowing that you are not permanent. And I will tell myself the opposite of everything you tell me, even when I can’t believe my own truths. And I will take care of myself and love myself and love others. That’s what I will do.

And that will be all for now.

Evening Sermon

The bold young blonde preaches in the pulpit.
Her voice echos through the upper room,
witty words, inspiring ideals
floating into young hearts

The evening sermon spills over crowded spirits.
Soon, it softens into humming
background noise
as my thoughts float.

The bold young blonde preaches on
but the sermon I hear comes from
in the babble
and bubbles
and sounds of triumph
breaking through the mouth of the baby
on his mother’s lap
in the last pew
in the back of the upper room.

And I think this sermon is beautiful
and I wonder
where else the sermon streams:

In the soft curl of burgundy hair
spilling down that woman’s back;
In the humming of the vents overhead,
the darkening of the sky around us,
the music in my warm heart, beating.

This evening sermon makes me smile.

Grateful Day 9

My freaking dog got out again. And the other dog left behind is now singing the song of separation at the top of his whine. The one who escaped currently has no collar, because she keeps walking around all night waking us up with the jingle tune of insomnia. So she’s probably out, rolling in dead skunk, and animal feces, and whatever other horrible smells she can track down because that’s what she does, and I’ll have to throw her into the tub and scrub her down, which she and I both hate with a fiery passion. That is, if she ever comes back. She has no collar, remember? DAMN THAT DOG!

I’m finding it difficult to be grateful right now.

I suppose if I try really hard, I can be grateful that I was able to sleep in this morning because I’m working the evening shift today. And I suppose I can be grateful that today is trash day, and that I get to live in a place in the world where someone comes and picks up my trash every week for free. That’s nice. And I guess, if I really reach down deep and dig around in the depths of my curmudgeonly soul, I can try and be grateful for that stupid dog, the dog that can’t stand being fenced in, that just has to get out and explore. The one with the free spirit, who adventurously yearns for the freedom to run at full speed, to track down every smelly event of the past month so that she can report back to base. The one who will come barreling into the house after a morning of scaring her mother to death, who will then act like the bath she receives is the equivalent of water-boarding torture.

I’m trying to be grateful for that mut.