Waiting for my Friend to Die

            About a year ago, the woman who had been office administrator at the church I serve was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and after surgery, brain cancer. She was given up to a year and a half to live. I was with her when she started to forget little details. I was with her when she was in the emergency room and learned of a large mass in her frontal lobe. I’ve sat with her in the office and at home talking about the past and what the future might be like.

            As a minister I spend quite a bit of time with families  dealing with death. I have loved getting to know families after a loved one has died as we sit down together to share stories in preparation for a service of remembrance.  It’s a time that helps me get to know the one who has died better but I also get to know their families so much better too. It is sacred time. It’s harder though,  journeying through that death with an entire family.

            And this time it’s different. It’s harder. Denise was not just our office administrator. She is my friend. And I’ve walked this walk pretty closely with her. It’s been difficult. I can’t deny that, but it has also been an incredible gift, to journey toward death with someone who means so much to me. This experience, of course, has brought me closer to her husband, her daughter and her son. I’ve been given permission to step into their lives as they each deal with what is probably one of life’s most difficult situations~ caring for someone who slowly disappears as a devastating cancer takes over the brain.

            About three months ago or maybe it was six~ the time has gotten away from me, we sat down together, Denise and I,  and we started to plan her funeral, just the two of us. She wanted it simple, and not expensive. She insisted that there was no bigger waste of money than going all out for a funeral. I asked her if she wanted me to write her eulogy soon, so that I could read it to her before she died. She said yes, so I did that. She and Tom were both in the downstairs of their condo on the afternoon I arrived ready to read it to her. Tom looked a little stunned at first when I explained what I was doing, but once I started to read he seemed happy for being there. After I finished Denise looked at Tom and asked, “Are you crying, Tom?” Tom said that he was. I think that perhaps this experience helped the two of them. It may have opened a door that allowed them to communicate a little more openly about what was happening.

            The hardest part is to begin the conversation about death and about dying. It can become the elephant in the room, and the people who most love the one who is dying can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that this person that they love so much is dying. I know this because when my mom was dying thirty years ago now, we never even mentioned the subject with her. I think that experience may be what has pushed me to become pretty good at being with people who are dying. It takes practice, I’m afraid.

           Later, Tom told me that Denise had wondered to him what it would be like to die. He told her he thought it was probably just like falling asleep. You never know when it will happen. When you wake up you never remember what it was like to fall asleep~ you just go away for a little while. Death is like that, he told her, except that you don’t wake up again. But you don’t know that. He said he thought it made her feel better.

Leaving Home

Just found this is my WordPress file. It’s interesting to read at the end of my first year in St. Clair. Makes me smile to remember, and quite honestly, I’m so happy that God called me to this place!stained glass

Today is a big day for me: for us. At noon we’re leaving Oberlin with our two hybrid cars filled to overflowing, because I’m moving to St. Clair, Michigan. God asked me to do this so I said yes. It means I’ll be leaving behind my son Matthew  and his wife Tammy and my two grandchildren, Solomon who is 13 and Elias who will be 4 in a few weeks. I’m also leaving Zack although he moved to Columbus, Ohio a few years ago, so I’ve gotten sort of used to seeing him only once in awhile. And I’m leaving David. This is the change that has caused people who know me some confusion, some concern and has a raised a lot of questions for them and for us too, quite honestly. It has caused us both to change but in a good way. We’ve been married for 42 years come May 11, 2016. We’ve known each other for 45 years, so yes, this is a big step and I understand the concern.

We’re excited, David and I. He just told me that the temperature tomorrow will be 19 degrees. Actually, he gave me a complete 24 hour weather report for St. Clair. This big change in our lives has inserted a new energy and a new found sense that there is still so much life to live and as I approach age 64 and he settles into age 67 it feels like we’re about to embark on an adventure. He has been every bit as excited about this move as I have been. First of all, St. Clair, Michigan has so much to offer. It’s a small town right on the St. Clair River which connects Lake Erie to Lake Huron. Lake Huron is about 20 minutes away. Sarnia (not Narnia) Ontario is just up the road and across the river and this, for some reason is something we both delight in. We’ve had some wonderful days in Toronto and in Niagara-On-The-Lake, so it makes sense really that we’d be drawn to this aspect of the move.

The people of the church in this small community that I’ll begin serving beginning tomorrow do seem an exceptional group, of course. This is one of the reasons I’m going there. I’ve been told by those who know, that this particular church is a gem; extremely healthy, mature, happy and wanting to move into new areas of ministry. Heaven, right?  I’m not naïve though. I know that after a year of getting to know one another we’ll begin to learn about the issues that we’ll want to work on during our time together. No congregation is perfect since they’re all made up of people. Right?

I’ll be living in a parsonage and this will be very new for us. We’ve spent this past month moving furniture, books and household items in one large moving truck and several car trips. But, it’s been great fun. David and I love car travel and moving in the past has always been exciting. It still is, we’ve learned. The house looks great. Most of the furniture is now in place. Our dog Betty who will live with me, has been to St. Clair once already. I have to note that this morning as she watches us scurry around moving suitcases and stacks of clothing that she seems a little bit edgy. But, she’ll adapt to our new routine. On our last visit, I made the mistake of opening the back door after our first night there, and let her out into the yard, I thought.  She took off. David reported to me that a short time later there was a knock at the door and a bunch of kids, aged 6-12 or so, all stood in a circle around Betty who had followed them back down the street and to our new front door. “Is this your dog? She came up to our house where we were playing outside.” Betty has already made a nice group of friends. She may not remember today, as we fuss with last minute laundry and car stuff, that she had a great time on our last trip to St. Clair.

So, let’s do this!

A Certain Kindness

Thanks to Matt Fitzgerald, for his meditation on the very brief Scripture verse, “Do good, O Lord, for those who are good.”

The United Church of Christ Daily Devotional Matt wrote is posted at the end of these thoughts. It reminds me of the cruelty that often existed in the daily life of the Junior High School many of us attended years back. I’ve noticed in young people of that age today a certain kindness and sensitivity that we did not possess. I know this has been encouraged and taught. And, I also know that very many of the young teens I encounter today are very kind, very loving, very accepting.

I dropped my grandson Solomon off at school a few days ago. He complained a little about the car in front of us being slow in dropping off the student on board. When he saw who was being dropped off he said, “Oh. Never mind.” His classmate in front of us was a person with a mobility disability. The child’s dad removed a tuba from the back of the car and set it onto the sidewalk. The young man began to struggle as he pushed and pulled his tuba toward the back door of the school. Almost immediately another student came along, picked up the tuba and carried it to the door as they walked together, both looking very happy, into school. Yeah. That’s what I saw.

Thank God for parents and teachers who have learned that the most important lessons to be learned in school don’t necessarily revolve around subjects taught like math, English, history and Science. Thank God for students who open their hearts to others in a much more accepting way than we ever did when we were in Junior High School.

Imperfect Love  by Matt Fitzgerald
“Do good, O Lord, to those who are good.” – Psalm 125

“Pray for your enemies.” Only God knows what such prayer might do for those people, but if you’ve tried it, you know that Jesus’ prayer kills the enmity that lives inside your own heart. It may be the closest we ever get to being Christ-like. As Kierkegaard says, “Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy.”

But such prayer is agony. It kills us. So Psalm 125 brings relief. It issues no challenge, just asks God to be good to those who are good. I love this. Christianity doesn’t need constant effort. Sometimes it is easy. Pray for those who are good.

I live across the street from a middle school. At recess the tweens separate themselves into castes and cliques. They are too old to play. They act cool. Except for one girl who wears unfashionable long skirts and runs across the playground, bursting into one group after another. She suffers from some disability. It’s obvious. Yet each time she runs into the middle of a group—the Goth kids, the gossips, the athletes, the introverts—they all make room for her. They give her a pound or a shoulder hug. They smile. She smiles. Then she turns to run toward some other group.

I think back to the cruelty of my adolescence and I am simply amazed at the goodness on display.

Prayer
Oh God, give goodness to that good child who refuses the boundaries of adolescence. And pour goodness over all those good children who see her with eyes of love. And give more goodness to the parents who have shaped them. And rain goodness down on our world as it changes for the better. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.

SEASONS

Listening to the breeze; the wind in the trees,
Leaves spin and dance and fall.
Flutter, Rustle and blow away,
So many colors, earthy and bright; large or small’ maple and oak and beech and….

Fall is almost here.
Chilly air. Warm air. Shadows and sun.
Indian summer will come for a day or two and then
Darker nights. Shorter days, it’s almost time
to settle in for the winter we know will arrive.

And we’ll continue our ticking off of time.
And we’ll continue our ticking off of days
Until at the last all our years have come and gone.
Until at the last all our years have come and gone.

Preparing Room

Robin LaBolt writes about our struggles with forgiveness reminding us that by holding onto anger we hurt others and ourselves. Advent is a great time to let go of unforgiving feelings; the world needs more love.

goandtellwithgrace

If I had to guess, I think most folks would expect that since I’m a pastor I practice what I preach.  Let’s just say, I try.  I’m not so different from the folks who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday.  I’m human and I’m imperfect.  Shocking, I know.  I struggle with all the same things everyone else does, including forgiveness.

The good people, let me correct that, the awesome, faithful people I serve, have heard me preach many times about forgiveness. Jesus teaches us to forgive seventy times seven and to turn the other cheek after all. And from time to time after one of those sermons, I have had someone approach me and tell me they feel like a bad Christian because they are struggling to forgive what seems to them (and me sometimes) the unforgivable.  Their stories of pain wrench at my heart and there are times when all I can say is, “Dear God.”  They want…

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Reading Like a Fiend Lately

I have been doing a lot of reading since leaving the church I served for eight and a half years and searching for a new call. (You didn’t ask but that process is going very well. Truthfully, I’m fascinated by it but I’ll save all that for another post.) It’s such a gift to be able to sit on the couch for an hour or two and just read without any other care in the world. Right now I’m reading my second Thomas Perry, Jane Whitefield book. The Face Changer is a book I’ve read once before but I’m reading it again. The main character, Jane Whitefield is of native American decent, Seneca maybe because she spends a lot of time in New York state. She helps people who are good, yet in danger, to disappear. The stories are fascinating, well written and exciting.

I also love Connie Willis, a Science Fiction writer. She writes time travel books and I got hooked on her when The Doomsday Book was assigned in my Church History class. It takes place both today and in the Middle Ages when the plague was taking so many lives. I’ve read it twice and will most likely read it again as soon as my husband finishes with it.

I’ve been catching up on the church leadership books that have been piling up on my nightstand too. Real Good Church by Molly Phinney Baskette is one of the most liberating books I’ve read of that church revitalization genre. It’s full of great and effective ideas for making a church more welcoming and gives the reader permission to do all sorts of crazy, wonderful things in the church.

I just happened to finish The Emergent Church a few weeks before receiving the sad news that Phyllis Tickle died. It provided such great explanation for the course our churches are on, considering where they’ve come from. I’d heard her speak at conferences and, of course, I’ll be reading more of her books.

Pope Joan is another book I loved. Based on the myth that one of the early popes was actually a woman who managed to pass for a man most of her life, Joan is educated during a time when women simply aren’t and she proves herself to be of astounding intellect. This is one of the books I reported on at my book club a few years back.

One more, for good measure, and this is also a bookclub book. Places Left Unfinished at the time of Creation by John Phillip Santos is a book I’ve wanted to read again. Of the books I’ve mentioned it might have the most that could well be worked into a sermon. It is the amazing story of the Santos family history as they leave Mexico to settle in Texas. It is a book that opens our eyes in a very important way.

Family Dinner

Last night, Labor Day, we had the nicest family get together. David started fussing on Sunday afternoon over what to prepare. We shopped and then he made a beautiful peach pie.
 
On Labor Day evening Matt, Tammy, Solomon and Elias came over. Zack drove up from Columbus and arrived before 7:00 p.m. David was already busy outside roasting buttery potatoes in foil, keeping an eye on a sizzling mixed grill of sauced chicken thighs, bratwurst and pork loin. I’d made a tomato, white onion, basil, mint salad and a ‘special treat’ (inside family joke…. sorry)~ deviled eggs. This rendition included black pepper mayo and horseradish.
 
Before and after dinner, Solomon shopped on the web for basketball shoes to match an outfit (I kid you not….. looking for the perfect giant sized men’s shoes in blue and green.) We all marveled at how Solomon was no longer scouring the web for the latest Lego set. Matt teased about how 8th grade boys are concerned about shoe colors and styles and the girls are all a foot taller than the boys. Elias puttered back and forth from toy basket to his fort located under an umbrella propped between the coffee table and TV cabinet. He’s become the regular excellent leader of our dinner prayer.
 
We commiserated with Zack whose ears have been blocked for weeks and even a visit to an urgent care doctor was no help. We talked about Syrian refugees needing help in Europe and we talked about the latest “This American Life” podcast that explained how to interact properly, improv style, with people who have Alzheimer’s disease.
 
As we chattered and laughed and bemoaned difficulties, Tammy, sitting under the lamp light at the end of the sofa, leafed through the latest Sundance catalogue sharing with me the items she liked best. David fretted over whether or not everyone had enough to eat and as usual, stepped in to finish the clean up I’d started after dinner.
 
I sat and watched all of this and marveled at the gift that a family can be as we drank decaf and ate peach pie with vanilla ice cream. Elias finished his and then asked for a popsicle too. We indulged him when he asked for four bowls so he could pretend to serve us ice cream.

A Neutral Pulpit

This coming Sunday I have my first neutral pulpit ever. How have I been in ministry for eleven years yet am only NOW having a neutral pulpit? When I graduated from Seminary I stayed at the church I’d been serving for three years as Director of Youth Ministry to become the Ordained Associate Minister for Youth and Families. After leaving that position,  I began serving as Interim Minister at a nearby church. I was then invited to preach during August that summer at a church whose pastor had died in a tragic accident the previous October. Their interim had gone away for the month. My Association Minister wanted them to ‘try out’ a woman pastor. It was an Evangelical Reformed church of mostly older members. They’d never had a woman preach in their church before. In the fall after completing their church profile that church contacted the Associations Minister of my Conference to ask if I would come to be their pastor. He sent me their hand-written profile and I said yes after meeting with the church leadership. I remained there for eight and a half years. After aiding them as well as the other wonderful congregation I was then serving, in the process of becoming a brand-new church start, God has asked me to make a move; to do a new thing.

This neutral pulpit will be strange for me. It feels very much like an audition, and I suppose that is what it is. The two churches attending this neutral pulpit will be looking for certain qualities in my worship leadership style and preaching. Granted, I’m not sure just WHAT they will be looking for so this is where God comes in.

I am asking God to help me be myself as much as is possible considering I expect to be a total nervous wreck. But, I want to be chosen because the congregation members who select me feel that God is directing them to make their choice. I am asking God to be with me as I continue this discernment process and figure out very honestly where I am meant to be. And I am asking God to bless all who will be part of that worship service on Sunday.

I am so grateful to my colleague who invited me to share worship with his congregation on Sunday so that a neutral pulpit could happen on such short notice. I am grateful to the churches who are considering calling me to be their minister, for making the trip to this neutral spot. I am very grateful to the members of the congregation hosting us, all members of the church where I was ordained. It will be a blessing that many who will be at Sunday’s worship have been part of my lengthy faith journey. I am also grateful to my family for their willingness to consider all the possibilities as I consider the future God has in store for us.

I ask for prayer. I ask for supportive thoughts as Sunday, 10:00 a.m rolls around. I know for sure where I will be. And I also know I’ll be needing to know that God is there too.

Counting my Blessings

Hummingbirds coming to the feeder on the deck in the early morning.

Dry laundry brought in from the line outside- stiff and reminding me of childhood.

Listening to old recordings of Matt and Zack playing songs together.

David

Having time just to sit and be.                                                                                                                                                      

12 miles on the bike-path, almost to Elyria.

Responses to my church profile from places near and far

David

The sounds of Cardinals’ ecstatic chirping from the grapevines on the deck                                                                          

Dahlias- so beautiful and a gift from Tom McClements
  DahliaDahlias2

Looking forward to the River’s Edge silent retreat I begin on Thursday

David                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Quiet evenings, computer and knitting and books                                                                                                                            

The quiet purrrrr of Jub Jub, next to me on the couch

Grandkids who never cease to amaze me

David

It All Started with a Wedding Cake

Check out other posts at my blog. Would love for you to follow!

The Accidental Minister

Pastors love telling their call stories. It seems that most of us know the exact time, the exact moment when we first felt that nudge from God telling us we had bigger fish to fry.

For me I suppose it didn’t really start with the wedding cake. It really all started with my mom making sure my three siblings and I got to church, at least for special Sundays. We were very involved in our Ukrainian Catholic congregation and learned Ukrainian dancing. We were taken to catechism class for the prescribed year but at a Roman Catholic School (Mary, Queen of the Universe- I love that name.) When a nun came to our front door one evening carrying a box with a clear cellophane window containing a bright red confirmation gown just the right size for me, my mom firmly turned her around explaining that in OUR church babies were…

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