Friday, December 12, 2014

For Waiting and Rushing

On the morning of my ordination, I spilled coffee on my Darling Husband's children's sermon.

I woke up half an hour later than I had planned.  I hurriedly braided my hair, put on my black collar and a full skirt.  I shimmed into my tights and heels.  All the while wondering why I had agreed to a pulpit supply engagement when the ordination service I had planned and dreamed of was looming out in the afternoon.  

I came downstairs to a kitchen full of breakfasting guests-- my in-laws and two friends up from the City.  I had hoped to be a better hostess besides, helping them through a modest breakfast spread.  Darling Husband had been awake for awhile, I hoped it was he who had brewed the coffee.  He was going through the Sunday morning preacher ritual like usual, being across the yard at one of the church's which he pastors.  Probably making sure the communion cups were filled and the Advent blue was making its appearance on the altar and the pulpit.  

And he left his sermon and illustration for his children's sermon on the makeshift kitchen table.  Every other time it is our breakfast nook, kitchen table, office space, and paper dumping ground.  This morning with four extra guests, it was serving central.  The piece of real estate I could carve out for my store-bought muffin and my hurried cup of caffeinated joy, was right over his sermon.  Which, of course, I spilled coffee on.

The illustration was of a city landmark in our old neighborhood.  At the crosswalks crossing busy streets there is a walk sign which also has a sound cue for those who are blind or sight-impaired.  While the "do not walk" red hand blares, so does a cue which says "Wait, wait, wait".  When the signal changes, there is a "Safe to cross" cue.  It seemed a little strange to use such an image of our old urban life while talking to children on the prairie.  None of their towns even have a stoplight.  Still the command to "wait, wait, wait" could stick in imaginations for an Advent season.

The last few months I have feel as if I have waited often.  And not with the kind of patient expectation of Advent devotion.  I brought the papers in a rush over the sink to brush off the coffee spill, sponging off the excess.  Noticing the time, I went to wake the vehicles from their winter-y naps.  Mine, in the garage, started fine.  Darling Husband's car, parked behind me in the driveway, was another story.  Our overnight guests worked creative stunts to jump his car's dead battery.  Eventually, needing both vehicles for reaching our Sunday pulpits, we pushed his car out of the way.  There is some kind of joke there, if only I could figure out the punchline which makes it funny.  "How many pastors does it take to move a dead car?  Three, as long as two are in heels and there are two laypeople to supervise."  It's a work in progress and not really funny yet.

Once freed, there was twenty minutes before my first service started, at a church thirty minutes away.  One of our friends from the city and seminary, Dear Becca, came along.  As I sped down the country roads, I chatted nervously about the expectation of the service that afternoon.  About the sermon I had written for this morning.  All the while, the late November morning was coloring the sky beautifully.  The golden light in the sharp cold got little notice to the rush of being late.

Out of breath we arrived.  My friend, the regularly scheduled preacher who took a Sunday off to lend me his pulpit, greeted us after he lead the lighting of the Advent candles.  "There is a sermon from Luke on the pulpit. Don't use it."  I nodded thumbing to the location of the opening hymn-- "My Lord, what a morning."  I giggled all through the first apocalyptic verse.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

While You're Waiting: Beet Harvest edition

The land here is so sweet, they grow sugar in the ground.  Quite literally.  All around our new hometown are fields which grow sugar beets.  And when it's fall and you are looking for part time employement, working the harvest seems like a good plan. 

One of the jobs I had while waiting for my call to be a pastor was in the tare lab for the sugar beet harvest.  Which is, for those of you gentle readers who are all ready confused, is where a sample of the beets grown in the fields are brought for a series of tests to determine how much sugar can be extracted from the beets and therefore, how much the farmers will get paid for their crop. This was truly a cultural expericence; a view into how the people and the land are sensitive and responsive to each other's rhythms.  For a short education of the beet harvest, watch this video first aired on Sesame Street and shot on the fields around my new hometown.

Now imagine working on an assembly line, machines blaring and whizing, solutions dripping through funnels.  And me, sitting in front of a scale and a button, moving a styrofoam cup with a red-grey-ocher-amber-brown solution to be diluted to the proper amount (all automated, mind you) and then ceremoniously dumped into a filter funnel on a round assembly line-- all while this song is going through my head. 

It wasn't a bad job really.  I enjoyed meeting some new people, lovely folks who were anxious to teach me about beets, harvest, farming, and life on the prairie.  The company was delightful.  My boss was good-natured and very generous.  The hours were very long.  And I just pushed that button, on average, 93 times per hour. 

With my active imagination, I got really bored. To entertain myself, and to push away the catchy "Beet, beet sugar beet" jingle, I listened to all of "Great Expectations" on audio book.  I wrote sermons in my head. I hatched plans for an ordination service. I made up a game where I would create a color name for every sample I got, because they could vary quite widely in color.  There was ocher-orange and silver-lining-grey, peachy-pear delight, too red, bad tattoo crimson and so on.  Some were crayon-box worthy, others would make no sense to anyone but me. 

All in all, it was a job.  Not a bad one, just a boring one.  I liked the paycheck when it came.  And, you'll be glad to know, I have almost stopped smelling like beets though it lingers a bit in the corners of my purse.  The locals just shake their heads, "smells like money," they say.  All I know, I will never be able to look at a styrofoam cup the same way again.  It might be awhile before I can drink coffee from one again... without trying to name the color of the brew.

Friday, October 17, 2014

While You're Waiting: Itinerant Preacher

I have been waiting for call as a pastor for almost six months now.  Being half of a pastor couple is never an easy job, and to be quite honest, it's been a bit of a vocational frustration for the Darling Husband and me in the last few months.  DH works hard at forming and learning his new congregation, and I have been working hard at both finding the right call and finding employment in the meantime.

So while I've been waiting, I have had the following jobs: itinerant preacher, substitute teacher, recess supervisor, guest blogger, knitter for hire, storyteller, beet harvest worker, and accidental domestic diva.

In the spirit of honesty and to keep you in news-y reflections of life on the prairie, I introduce a series of blog posts chronicling my journey in occupational strife, success, and humor.  The last few months I have been kind of a crabby and sullen version of myself and my Darling Husband has felt a majority of the weight of this loss.  I had no idea of how much my own idea of myself was tied into my ability to find meaning in work.  This has been a humbling experience for us, and so I blog, gentle readers, with as much delicate authenticity as I can currently muster.

Part One of the Unemployment Chronicle: Itinerant Preacher, or how I start to answer the question: what is it that you do for a living?

I fill other people's pulpits.

On an invitation only basis (and often out of dual desperation) I have been substitute preaching for pastors who need a Sunday off.  In no particular order, here are some of the things I have learned:

1) Travel: This taken me to many near exotic locations throughout the western Minnesota and near-eastern North Dakota landscape.  It has involved driving very early on Sunday morning to destinations.  I have dodged beet trucks at 5 AM.  I have watched the sun rise, golden over crops waiting to be harvested.  I discovered there are bluffs in North Dakota.  Like hike-able bluffs worthy of a couple days camping.  No kidding.

2) People: Being in a new church every week, you meet new people of the church every week.  It is astounding to me what connections can be made of cross networks.  The "do you know" game is a vibrant one in the communities I have visited.  When I meet people who know and love the same people as me, it's a little bit like discovering a piece of my heart and my home in a friendly stranger.

3) Preaching:  I pride myself on being a creative preacher.  But who would have thunk it-- but I have a preaching formula.  Insert personal story, biblical context, question, tie the three together.  The gift of itinerant preaching: 1) there are new people each week who will never know I follow a formula. 2) there are new people each week who won't get bored with my formula and I can develop my skills in that direction.

4) Telling Stories: Preaching with people I don't know well is really hard.  I have to tell them when something is funny.  Which ruins the joke, I know.  I don't know who to look at to see if I have lost them completely or caught their attention.  When you preach with developed relationships with those who listen, you engage them differently.  I miss being able to tell their stories back to them.  I just end up telling my stories.  Or, like I may be doing this week, I tell stories from two Sundays and two locations ago to this Sunday's place.  No matter they are several hundred miles apart and half-step culture apart.  I guess I bring stories of the larger church in small segments, in half-steps away and not half-worlds away.

 It's now the third season of waiting for call.  I have been wondering, what is it like to share a call or share a pastor's work; one Sunday at a time?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Beauty (Enough)

"We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it." --Mary Oliver

Lewis Carroll once wrote about thinking seven impossible things before breakfast (in Alice in Wonderland, of course) I have been thinking lately about seven beautiful things with breakfast.  Since my mornings have been slow and reflective, I find I have different eyes to see what is all ready around me.  I have learned: the thing about beauty is not just in the eyes of the beholder, but also in the experience of the beholding. It is not just a thing, not something beyond the self, it is a kind of noticing, appreciating and praying.  Beauty and noticing it is as much of a practice as chewing or breathing-- though I suppose its a bit of both those things.  You don't notice mostly how you're chewing or how you're breathing, it's just a doing.  Could Beauty-breathing-chewing-noticing be the same?

Seven beautiful things while breakfast:

  • Zinnias in a mason jar, cut from an abundant garden after a lovely dinner.  With scissors in hand, mud still on the blades, I waded through the newly dewed grass in the gathering dusk to pick from among a hedge of beauty just enough blossoms for two jars.  To look at them now reminds me of the gorgeousness of that evening.  And also of a day about a year ago now, when zinnias in mason jars were on vintage table cloths, friends and family gathered as I married Darling Husband.  The bright blossoms exhuberating a joy of a year, and a joy in beginning new.
  • The smorgasbord of flavors in today's morning coffee.  Having just run out of usual beans, we supplemented with the flavored coffee (not usually my thing) gifted to us last Christmas, plus some grounds "borrowed" from the church kitchen next door.  On first sip, it was strong enough to chew and explosive in Frankenstein-ish flavors.  An interesting delight in making due.
  • A bowl of very ripe tomatoes.  Which I normally would not eat, being squishy in consistency, they are lovely to behold.  This morning I see possibility and confidence in new skills.  Maybe I could make and can them to be salsa or spaghetti sauce.  Possibility is a beauty to behold.
  • A new day of sunshine glowing golden on the trees in my backyard.
  • The rumble of nerves in my stomach in facing new challenges-- today an undertaking of work in a new setting, caring for kids in their daily in between: school and home life.  Beauty in accompany and anticipated play.  I hope they like me.
  • My father's birthday celebrated just yesterday.  A beautiful thing to be 60 years and one day.
  • The blossoming capacity to see graces of beauty in this day.  (Which is sort of cheating, but the practice itself is a noble and worthwhile enough to hold beauty of its own)
Could you name seven?  May your mornings, noons, afternoons, and evenings be full to the noticing of beauty abundant.  Be very well, friends.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Day in the Life of an Emerging Prairie Woman

For the first time ever I was asked, "Do you work outside the home?" Having never planned to be a house-worker and finding this only as a default setting-- I wasn't sure how to answer such a question. I wanted to answer, "Not on purpose," but thought it impertinent.  But it brought on a question about how to best notice the beauty in my in-between time. Gentle readers, here is what my between work-working looks like in our new North Dakota home, I present a day in the life of an emerging prairie woman.

Here's where the day begins.  I have been waking up with Darling Husband as he gets ready for his day.  There is some talking, but there is mostly coffee and gentle tip-tapping.  He for emails, me (guilty) cruising the pins on Pinterest.  We conspire about our days ahead: we set goals, we make plans, we slowly work to make this new place feel like home.

For this day it is laundry.  Which is a bit of a trick since our laundry room is not yet assembled.  It means a walk down the street to the laundromat where I read National Geographic as the clothes spin in avocado green machines.  I put the prairie summer sunshine to work with me as I hang the clothes on the line.  When I step back to look at our work, I think the hanging clothes look very much like prayer flags.  I begin to bless, thank, and pray as I pin each one.  "Thank you sunshine for your help.  Thank you kind prairie winds." "Bless this shirt to shield my shoulders."  "Thank you for this dress, and the chance to bless wedding love when I wore it last."  "Thank you for the grace of clean clothes ready to begin again."
For this day it is also new skills.  Every prairie woman must know how to can the goodness and bounty of their garden, and so I am determined to learn.  I use my sister's recipe, shared through my mother, as explained to me by Darling Husband; for Dilly Beans. These are delectable: crisp and crunchy, both slightly sweet and spicy. Since we moved just this summer, we do not yet have a garden to produce such goodness.  Luckily our neighbors have some to share.  They are anxious to welcome in the form of vegetables, still warm from the sun.  I dance round the kitchen as the beans pickle and seal in their new homes, and I dance with gratitude for free gifts graciously given.  I think of ways to share the pickled bounty forward still-- I envision potlucks or dinner parties, good conversations or giving jars back to those who first gave us the beans.  In simple things, I have been graced and blessed. 

A day full of simple things, really.  Simple and beautiful things.  Gracious and free things ready to give and give again.  Thanks be for the summer to work, the prairie sun to join, and the Creator who makes it shine. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Joys of Moving. Or the Tragedy of not being able to locate the Coffee Mugs.

Oh if I had a dollar for all the times I have uttered: "It's in a box somewhere."...

My Darling Husband has been ordained.  Together we have embarked on a new adventure: living and thriving in rural North Dakota.  We now live in a community of 250, and we are their newest plus 2.

I am sure, gentle readers, that our new small town and our living here will be the subject of many blog postings to come.  For now, a couple of thoughts about relocation.

Generally, I hate it.

Or, more positively, it's not my favorite thing.  My family moved often when I was a kid, and "it's in a box somewhere" might just have to appear on my family crest.  Every time I utter it now, I still shudder with the chill of uprooted-ness.  I like feeling rooted, settled, and comfortable.  I am trying, with my Darling Husband's urging, to embrace the gypsy-spirit of moving.  He craves the newness and the stacked boxes do not seem to faze him.  Each box still packed gives me a queasy, anxious feeling as if their fullness might devour me.

I am trying.  And I am finding small ways to make myself more comfortable.  Like packing the coffee- pot and bean-grinder along for one of our first trips to our new house.  They were like a familiar friend sitting next to me on the seat, enjoying with me the sunflower streaked roads which wound round to our new home.

Now if only I could locate my coffee cups.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Best Laid Plans

Stressed is not the right word for how I have been feeling the last few weeks.  It's more accurately "squeezed".  Deadlines are looming.  Endings are coming.  The pressures are coming from outside, and finding fortitude and perseverance enough to meet these are seemingly lacking.

I find in times where I am squeezed, I escape in lists.  Making lists helps to make it all seem more organized and having a plan makes what is squeezing seem less constricting.  These days I have been making lists and then forgetting where I put them.  They find their way to scratch pieces of paper before disappearing into oblivion.

Today I was making a packing list with my husband for our upcoming honeymoon.  It will be a delightful camping road trip with stops for frivolity and playfulness.  We had made our first honeymoon list some weeks before, when we didn't even know the destination yet, including all the things we would hope for.  Things like: buying matching t-shirts, camping on a beach, eating pie in sunny cafes, roasting marshmallows.  Through that list, I could breath into the dreams, escaping into the borrowed sunshine of a trip yet to be.

Today's list was more technical.  Our camping gear is spread out to three different locations: somewhere in our apartment, heaped in Michael's childhood bedroom, and mounded in my parent's basement.  Where are our tents (yes, plural.  We might have 6 total)?  How many stakes do we have? Do we need to buy extra fuel tanks/a different sleeping bag/more wool hiking socks?  What kind of groceries do you buy for a month long camping extravaganza?

Not surprising, I spilled coffee on the scratch paper list.  And I didn't even clean it up for a good two minutes, just letting the small puddle be on the coffee shop table.  I have an inkling that it was my way of letting be the squeeze.  It exists, and it is temporary.  In the meantime, the only way is through.  A little coffee stain in the corner doesn't hurt to content.  Though maybe I'll type out this list as well...

Happy Travels and spring blessings, dear friends.