My grandfather had a special mason jar filled he kept in the fridge. When he would come in from the fields after changing pipe or hauling hay, he would stand there right in front of the door and finish it off in one long satisfying go.
Every summer, my family spent a week or two at my grandparents’ farm. My siblings and I don’t agree on many things, but we all concur that time spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s was just the best. By modern standards, there wasn’t anything to “do.” We were expected to entertain ourselves and stay out of the adults’ way. The boys would often join dad and grandpa when he went irrigating. My sister and I most often played outdoors with the dishes and clothes that grandma had stored in a big old trunk in the old chicken coop.
Grandpa irrigated his lawn, so that the grass was like walking on a carpet. You could run in it barefoot without worry of getting a sticker in your foot from thistles or weeds. The big cottonwood tree in the back was the home of the tire swing—that could be anything from a spaceship to a bucking bronco—depending which of us was using it at the time.
There were feral cats that grandma fed table scraps to each day. We would watch her perched in the kitchen sink, because they wouldn’t come if we were outside. Every once in a while, we might catch a glimpse of a kitten in the haystack, but they were wild little things that had no difficulty escaping from our well-meaning attentions.
The only thing we didn’t like about our visits to the farm, was the water. Our grandparents were on a well. When you turned on the faucet, it smelled of minerals and whatever else might be lurking. To a bunch of city kids, this just wasn’t right. Grandma tried to make it more palatable by making pitchers of Kool-aid. They weren’t pre-sweetened back then, and the instructions suggested adding one cup of sugar. I don’t know how much sugar she used, but I always felt that if I suddenly bit down while I was drinking, my teeth would go “crunch.” It helped. And, at least, it was better than the water from the tap.
Except. The mason jar in the refrigerator. I know for a fact that my sister and brothers and I never talked about the mason jar. But there was just something alluring about seeing grandpa guzzle down that cool water that made it seem like it must have come from a special spring—reserved only for him. We had seen him fill it, so we knew it was from the tap. But, there was just something about seeing that jar on its shelf every time we looked in the fridge.
One summer day, I was by myself in the kitchen. I was thirsty, so I opened the fridge. And there it was: Grandpa’s jar. Cool. Clear. Tempting. I’m sure grandpa wouldn’t mind if I had just a little sip. So, very carefully, I took a little sip, or two. It was good. Really good. No one noticed.
The next day, I did the same. Not much, just a little. I’m sure no one would mind. Grandma always kept a store of Juicy Fruit gum in the cupboard for when we came to visit. We never had to ask to have some. We knew it was okay. This must be like that. At least that is what I tried to tell myself.
A day or so later, my sister and I were playing in the back yard and we suddenly heard grandpa’s voice. It was loud. He called us all into the kitchen. I don’t know about everyone else, but my heart was beating really fast. It beat even faster when we got into the kitchen and discovered what grandpa was upset about. He was standing at the door of the refrigerator (letting all the cool air out, as grandma would always complain). He was holding his mason jar. It had about a half inch of water in the bottom. Not nearly enough to quench a raging thirst.
The four of us stood quietly in front of him. “Who drank all my water?” We all looked at the floor. I knew with absolute certainty that Ihad not drank that whole jar of water. I only took a sip or two. Then it suddenly came to me, I wasn’t the only one! Not one of us confessed, because we were all thinking exactly the same thing, “I didn’t drink all your water.”
Grandpa didn’t stay mad long. He requested, in his gruff serious voice, that if we took a sip, we needed to refill the jar. Obviously, that had not occurred to any of us. We had, after all, just taken a sip or two.
Perception is an interesting thing. The well water was undrinkable in my mind. There was no way I would ever willingly drink anything that came out of that smelly faucet. And yet, the picture of my grandfather thoroughly enjoying draining that jar made four children decide that something magical must have happened to make that same water the best thing any of us had ever tasted.
There are lots of things that I might learn from that story: always refill the jar, for one. But I think the thing that captures me about this memory, is that the water became sweet, not because of a container, or a temperature, but because of my grandfather. He declared it wonderful. And so, it was.
God declares a lot more things to be wonderful than I do: people, situations, invitations. Oh, I usually get there with enough prodding. But I wonder what my life would be like if I simply watched God, like my siblings and I watched our grandfather, for the cues that would teach me about blessings, wonder and grace. My guess is that something magical might happen.
Blessing, Pastor Nancy
One day I was walking home for lunch when I noticed a woman and a young girl walking on the sidewalk opposite me. The adult monologue sounded familiar: “Come on! Hurry up!” I smiled: the way of a harried mom and her child—or at least it seems that way to me. We are in a hurry, and they are blissfully unaware of our sense of urgency. I could hear the clip clapping of the little girl’s flip flops as they snapped against her bare feet. The inevitable happened, and I heard a sudden wail. “My shoe! My shoe!” In trying to hurry, she had lost one of her shoes. Her mom went back to help her look. I offered to help. “No, we’ll find it. Oh, here it is!” They went on their way. And I continued my journey home.
As I made my tuna sandwich (to the extremely concentrated stares of two small dogs), I mused a bit on the drama of hurrying parents and dawdling children. I wish I could say that I had never said those words to my sons when they were little…but I know for certain I did. Why, I wonder, was I always in such a hurry? I remember strapping one of my sons into his car seat one afternoon. As I got into the driver’s seat, he startled me by declaring, “I never want to grow up.” I immediately asked why. And being a thought little person, he replied, “’Cause, all you ever do is work-work-work: errands-errands-errands.” Yikes. That was a hard truth to hear coming from a four year old!
On another more recent day, I was walking in the park to get some steps on my pedometer (a health and wellness goal), and noticed a mom and two young children walking in front of me on the path. They were not hurrying. (I’m pretty certain they were not wearing pedometers!) The little boy was scurrying from one side of the path to the other, like a puppy, pointing out this and that. His wise mother let him lead the way and take his time. I have to confess that I hadn’t brought my “puppies” to the park with me for my walk, because they tend to do the same thing. (There are so many exciting things to smell and see, after all.) After a bit, the mom reached down to pick up the little girl and carry her piggyback. By the time I caught up with them, they were just stopping to rest in the shade. I complemented the woman on what good walkers her children were. “They love to walk,” she replied. The little boy came up from behind his mother to let me know that there “are fire ants right over there!”
Children are such good teachers, if I will only take the time to pay attention. They know the secret of meandering, of discovering moments that I miss if I allow myself to be distracted by my busy brain, and the endless list of tasks and worries. Dogs are too.
Being away for the last three weeks has allowed me to slow down. I have had time to listen, to pray deeply, to write, to read. And notice stuff.
I sat in a beautiful garden every day. I felt the sun on my face and waited for the hummingbirds to flit among the flowers. Did you know that Anna hummingbirds make a delightful creaking sound? It reminds me of an old screen door being opened and closed. I breathed in the scent of dozens of different blooms, trying to identify each one that merged into a perfume that nothing in the world could replicate. And then I took some yoga classes and learned how to really breathe. (It’s harder than it looks.) I watched a stranded helium balloon in a tall tree in the neighborhood, feeling sad that it ruined the profile of the great tall oak–until the slanting sun turned it into a molten golden orb against the darkening sky. I rediscovered the delight in small moments. I savored. I stopped hurrying.
Now that I am home, the temptation is to go back to everything I left behind—the busyness, the eternal demands of the calendar and the never-ending lists. My head is filled with all the to-dos of fall. I look forward to what lies ahead. But I hope that I can hold onto the lessons learned from children, and from taking time away. May it be so for all of us.
Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy
I am writing this week from Eugene, where I am attending the Oregon-Idaho annual conference. Methodists have held annual conferences since the time of the Wesley brothers. In our tradition, ordained elders and deacons hold their membership, not in a local congregation, but in a conference. For many clergy, these yearly meetings become something like a family reunion: seeing folks you may not have seen all year long, catching up on the news—personal and professional—and getting recharged for the coming year.
This year is a particularly interesting moment among our numbers. We are trying to sort out what is going on with the larger denomination, and how the Oregon-Idaho, Greater Northwest, and Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist church will respond to the events of the 2019 Specially called General Conference. We will be elected representatives—clergy and lay—who will attend the 2020 General Conference and the Western Jurisdictional Conference.
While I’m here, I am also doing a bit of research on how some of our colleagues in ministry in the Eugene area are working with issues of homelessness in their community. They have worked creatively and diligently on creating partnerships with organizations and our homeless neighbors on finding solutions. So, I am excited to have a chance to see what they are doing and ask lots of questions.
Amanda, Emily, Justin and Jill Plant are all helping out as pages and volunteers to keep things running smoothly. At last night’s worship, the younger Plants assisted in a remembrance of baptism ritual at the end of the service. We were invited to “touch the water” and remember our belovedness. It was a gift to receive that blessing from Emily as I walked toward the front of the church.
I will also be meeting with two clergy who have invited me to share leadership in the Transformation Prayer retreat that will be held at Suttle Lake in September. The registration information is available in the office if you are interested. It will be held immediately prior to our All-Church retreat.
Elders in the Methodist system are expected to do work for the larger church. It is part of our job description from the very beginning or our training and ordination. For many years, I worked primarily with committees, primarily the Board of Ordained Ministry. I also served on Sessions Planning, Leading conference worship, Board of Trustees, Clergy Meetings, was the Chair of the Elders, you name it—if it was a meeting, I probably was part of it.
Being a newbie to this conference, I have managed to stay under the radar in terms of serving on committees (shh! Don’t tell anyone!) So, in this season, I have been able to self-select some of the ways I am serving the conference. This summer, I am going to chaplain at two summer camps—one at Adventure Camp at Suttle Lake, and the other at Magruder. After so many years of long travel days to sit in meetings for hours, I have to say, I am looking forward to time spent out of doors in our beautiful state.
It would be difficult to do these things without our terrific team of folks at Madras UMC—Chris, who always keeps things going, Mike for stepping in to preach as needed, the music team, all the volunteers who do so many things to keep us going. So—in preparation for a few more adventures outside the building—thanks, Team!
Be sure and stay tuned for a variety of our special activities this summer. We have Wednesday Worship starting June 19th, at 7:00 p.m. Ukuleles, reflections, stories, and treats. I can’t wait! The Ukes will then plan on helping to lead worship on our Suttle Lake Picnic Adventure. (Be sure to let Chris know you are coming!)
Jill will be leading a summer choir—we will rehearse June 25th and July 2nd , and then sing July 4th at Sahalee Park after the parade. We will be singing other times during the summer as well, so stay tuned.
Summer Worship is going to have a “Around the Campfire” theme beginning next week. We will be drawing from our camping canon for our music, and interviewing some of our folks about their journeys. It is a great time to dress casually, connect with the beloved, and grow a bit deeper in our faith and life together.
Barb, Chris and I know you will all be out there adventuring as well this summer. We would love to hear about your trips and explorations. We would love to see your pictures. Last summer we challenged ourselves to seeing if we could keep the “campfires” burning without the big “dip” that so often happens when so many of us are vacationing. You all met the challenge! We hope that you will step up again this year, make our treasurer happy, but also remember that what we do here is absolutely amazing! At conference this year, Madras UMC has been named as one of the “Abundant Health” congregations in Oregon-Idaho (they gave us ribbons and everything!) So, again, we invite you to keep up God’s work.
This has rambled on, sorry about that, but I am so proud of our congregation and the commitment we have together to be welcoming, vibrant and outwardly focused! I can’t help but share the story whenever I can.
Have a good week! And don’t miss Mike’s sermon on Sunday, called “God’s Delight!”
Blessings, Dear Ones,
I was a pastor’s wife for many years. Back then, there were certain expectations for pastor’s wives. Number one: you always stood by your man after church. Number two: you taught Sunday School. Number three: you sang in the choir, or, even better, played the piano and directed the choir. Number four: entertained people in your home. A lot. Number five: always looked put together. Number six: provided a free work force for your husband and the congregation. Number seven: keep the home fires burning, so your husband could concentrate on the important work of the church. There were some things that I managed to do fairly well in this role. However, for the most part, I don’t think I lived up to the congregations’ expectations for the most part.
Times have changed—for the most part. Most women work outside the home. And not all pastor’s wives are women. In seminary, when the schedule of life and church work all got to be a bit much, my women colleagues and I would commiserate that what we really needed was a pastor’s wife. Someone who could handle the worries of life while we could just concentrate on the needs of the congregation and the mission of the church.
I am thankful that pastor’s spouses are not expected to do and be all the things that were assumed “back in the day.” There was a lot of guilt, lack of privacy, overblown personal costs in that role. I can remember one day in particular: I had the car loaded and the kids buckled in ready to drive off on vacation, and the phone rang. Yeesh! To answer, or not to answer? I answered. It was a parishioner in crisis, needing my husband. Resentment welled up in my heart, as I selfishly prayed that it wouldn’t derail our trip. I quickly squashed such unworthy feelings, but still. Other times, I can recall getting phone calls from the funeral home wanting to talk to my husband, and if I didn’t know, I would get chewed out for not knowing. It could be a very strange life sometimes.
Memories and failures aside. Can I just say, that I think my husband, Michael, is so much better at being a pastor’s wife than I ever was?
Stick with me here. He isn’t the model of elegance or throw tea parties, he doesn’t play the piano, he doesn’t teach Sunday School, and he doesn’t do the meal planning. First, he is his own person. I tried to be, back then. And sometimes I managed it. Eventually, I created my own space, at the risk of a lot of pushback. But my husband, is his own person. I love that. What he does as my partner, as a part of the congregation, and an extension of whatever ministry happens here, is his own choice. He does not feel obligated to fulfill a certain role or societal expectation. Second, he is my rock. He holds me emotionally, and prayerfully in a way that makes it possible for me to keep going on those rocky days when the world seems to be spinning out of control. I can count on him. I trust him. And he knows when everything has just become too much. (And he likes my sermons…extra credit points) Third, he does indeed keep the home fires burning. Not the way I thought I had two back when I was a pastor’s wife. But I know I can count on clean underwear in the drawer and an emergency grocery run as needed. He has been known to have an uncanny knack for when I might need a glass of wine waiting by my chair when I get home after an exhausting day. AND, he prepares my coffee the night before, so when I get up before him, my coffee is only a button push away. Fourth, how many pastor’s wives will fill in for their spouses on a Sunday morning when they wake up with pneumonia? Just saying.
Marriage is hard. Ministry is hard. None of us is perfect. But today, as I awake to a new day, I just had to take a few minutes to celebrate this man to whom I am in partnership to say, that he is a much better pastor’s wife, er, husband, that I ever was. Thanks Michael!
The “big” girl rode her bicycle in circles in the parking lot of their apartment building. Two “little” girls watching in admiration. The older girl was all of six, but earned the admiration of the littles by the simple mathematics of childhood– she was in school and could ride a bike without training wheels. On this particular afternoon, the big(ish) girl was testing her power. She would circle around to her admirers, who sat watching from the curb, testing their loyalty by soliciting votes. The girls on the curb were required to raise their hands (which all those who went to school knew was the best way to vote) when she called out a question: “Who likes…” There was only one way to earn her praise—by raising their hands at the correct moment.
Innocent enough when the questions were things like: “Who likes chocolate ice cream?” But after a couple of rounds, the questions got trickier. “Who likes me best?” Uh, okay…we do? And then, the show stopper, “Who hates Jenny?” Jenny was apparently out of the bicycle rider’s good books (I’ll call her Carol). Carol continued riding around in circles shouting out questions to her two acolytes. “Who hates Jenny?” she called again. The little girls looked confused. The questions had been easy and fun up until this moment. Do we raise our hands for this one? Jenny isn’t here, after all, and Carol is.
The above is a story from my early childhood. I remember sitting on the curb next to one of the other girls who lived in our apartment complex, watching the older girl ride her bicycle. I remember the game. And I remember the last question. I can’t remember whether we raised our hands or not. It is too painful to contemplate. But my guess is, that we did. I don’t know that either of us even knew the maligned Jenny, but I know we wanted the approval of Carol. We wanted to be noticed. We wanted to be included in her game. We couldn’t have been more than four years old. The memory haunts me.
Human beings want to belong. And belonging is a good and healthy thing. But, when belonging comes at the cost of declaring someone else to be the leper, the unclean, the unworthy, the outsider, the enemy—then it may be time to rethink our definition of belonging. In anxious times, human beings find it easier to circle the wagons, draw the boundary, set the rules for membership in ways that will keep us feeling safe. Then, when things go wrong, we can place the blame on those outside our own circle.
Today, people from all over our Methodist connection are gathering in St. Louis for the special called General Conference. Our representatives will look at the recommendations of the Commission on the Way Forward, and the Council of Bishops. In some ways, the voting (that will occur before everyone heads home next week), comes down to a single issue: How wide are we willing to draw the circle? Of course, it is more complicated than that. But, none of that really matters at this point. The lines have been drawn, as they have been drawn, and redrawn for millennia.
On that day, so many decades ago, I was as confused as any four year old could possibly be when I was asked to choose who would be loved and who would be hated. And though I could not possibly have named what I believed in that moment, something shifted in my little four-year-old self. I would never knowingly “raise my hand” to exclude anyone again.
I hope you will pray for the church this week. We will have the candles and kneeler ready in the sanctuary if you want to come in to light a candle and pray, or just pray wherever you happen to be. I will be around if you want to talk and process. It will be difficult to figure out how much of the action you want to follow online. It will be easy to get sucked in by the drama, the tension, the overflowing emotions. Take care of yourselves. And, on March the 3rd, when everyone has returned home, and the dust has settled, we will worship together and receive communion around the table. Whatever the outcome. And then we will continue being the church that God continually calls us to grow into—to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison—and proclaim the love of God to a world in need of true belonging. And, beloved, we will be drawing the circle wide.
Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy
O, Holy Night
The last of the Christmas Eve crowd headed down the front steps of the church. Snow was beginning to fall. I hoped it would be the “decorative” kind—the kind that looks pretty, but that doesn’t get in the way of those who have to be out in it. A little cosmetic snow was always a pleasant addition to the Silent Night ambiance.
From the open doorway of the church, I could see the Christmas lights shining from across the street through the windows at the parsonage. My son Devin, who was home visiting, would be setting out snacks on the plates filled with treats and cookies we had prepared earlier. We would put on some soft music and pour a celebratory glass of wine as I started the great unwinding that comes when the last service is finished. Mike would be home from his services in an hour or so. His congregations were over the mountains, and I hoped the 60-plus mile drive over the pass didn’t give him any trouble. The snow was starting to look like it meant business.
The joys of being a two-pastor family! Living in a conference that is sparsely populated meant that for most of our married life thus far we had lived in separate towns. Mike’s two churches were only an hour or so away, but one of the primary forms of pastoral ministry requires physical presence. Mike had a little house in Superior, and I lived in the parsonage in Stevensville. We had originally planned to alternate days off in terms of who visited the other—but eventually it was Mike who did most of the driving. My congregation was a bit higher maintenance. It was during this season of our life together that I became a Christmas minimalist. There just never seemed to be enough time and energy to do the little extras that are such a delightful part of the holidays—baking, decorating, entertaining, attending parties. My mantra became: “All I want for Christmas is a clean house.” (Come to think of it, I still say that every year.)
Our lives were not totally devoid of tradition, however. The weeks before Christmas were so hectic, we would just put our heads down and go—and then suddenly, after the last Silent Night faded into the darkness, everything just stopped abruptly. All we wanted to do was come home to each other. It might be 11:00 or 12:00 o’clock before we managed it, but that never mattered. Whoever arrived home first would put together plates of goodies. What kind of plates they were on, and how decoratively they were arranged was also dependent on which spouse made it to the kitchen first. If any of our loved ones were home, they would join us as we decompressed, ate, had a celebratory glass of wine, and opened packages. This year, Devin was the only one home, Judy-dear had stayed in Missoula to attend her church’s service.
I was just re-checking the lights in the sanctuary, when Don, one of my helpers for the evening, came around the corner to tell me I had a phone call. Uh, oh. It was not looking good for getting into my comfy clothes and relaxing. As I walked toward my office, I was crossing fingers and toes that this would be a “little” emergency that wouldn’t require me to jump in my car and drive the 30 miles into one of the hospitals in Missoula.
I was surprised to recognize the voice of a former parishioner, named Dennis. He and his wife had moved a couple of years ago, and were now part of one of Mike’s congregations. It took a beat or two for my brain to catch up with my ears. Mike, my Mike, was in the Emergency Room at the small community hospital in Superior. During the service, Mike had begun acting strangely—repeating scriptures and carols he had already led. Eventually, one of the church folks, who was also an emergency responder, gently led him off the chancel area. The call ended as Dennis gave me the phone number of the emergency room.
After a quick phone call to the charge nurse, I finished locking up, and headed across the street to grab a coat and tell Devin what was going on. He volunteered to come with me. I don’t know what I would have done without him.
On a clear day, it took us about an hour to drive between my church and his church in Superior. Tonight, there was not much in the way of traffic, but the snow was now blowing toward the windshield like the Millennial Falcon wheezing into warp speed. I drove, because I needed to do something, to have some sense of control. Pastors see people in pretty scary circumstances, we therefore know more than is probably good for us. My mind raced through worst possible scenarios. The nurse had tried to be reassuring on the phone, saying he was disoriented and confused. It didn’t appear to be a stroke, but they were going to run some tests.
We drove mostly in silence, the radio, turned down low, was tuned to Christmas music. By the time we drove through Missoula, the traffic lights had already flipped to flashing mode. The streets were eerily empty. The pass was icy and slow going. I slowed down only enough to keep from slipping on the curves.
When we got to the ER, Mike was sitting up in bed, surrounded by several of his flock. He grinned when he saw me, trying for what I can only think of as insouciance. (It didn’t work.) His parishioners told me the story from their perspective, and Mike couldn’t really remember any of it. As we waited for the doctor, those who had been at the service took turns coming in to check on him.
After what I am sure felt much longer than it actually was, the doctor came in to tell us that he was still not quite sure what had happened. The only way to absolutely rule out a stroke was to take an MRI. That would mean driving him to a larger hospital in Missoula.
This time, Devin took the wheel, and I sat in the back seat with Mike. As we turned onto the freeway, he asked:
“Where is my wallet?”
“I have it right here.”
A moment later:
“Where is my truck? Do you have the keys?”
“We left it at the church, we will come back for it later.”
“Have you seen my wallet? Do you know where my wallet is?”
“Yes, honey, I’ve got it right here.”
“Okay. Where are my truck keys?”
Like a record with an invisible scratch, we bounced back again and again to a loop of anxiety and uncertainty. My heart flattened in panic. I tried to reply to each query as if hearing it for the first time. What if the Michael I knew was not coming back?
Superior Community Hospital had called the ER in Missoula to expect us. It didn’t take them long to get him in a room and pop him in bed. And then we waited. It was, after all Christmas Eve—scratch that, “Christmas Day.” We were in for a long wait.
There aren’t very many people I would feel comfortable calling at 12:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, my dear friend Judy is one of them. She was 10 minutes away from the hospital—but I think she made it there is five. The four of us, Judy, Devin, Me, and a still-groggy Mike sat in semi-darkness and waited together. Devin and Judy returned to her place to put together some snacks and coffee—if we were to be up all night, we might as well be well-nourished.
At some point in those timeless hours, we became aware of the sound of weeping coming from the room next door. Our pastor reflexes twitched on. Some family, one whose name and circumstances we would never know, had lost a loved one. There was no comfort we could give. We held each other’s hand and held them in prayer together. For that family, and how many others, would every future Christmas now be etched by excruciating loss.
When Judy and Devin returned we sipped our hot coffee and nibbled on snacks as we kept vigil together. Eventually, I talked them into going to Judy’s to try to grab at least a couple of hours of sleep. Daylight brought twanging muscles from trying to doze in the chair for me and a battery of tests for Mike. By mid-day, the doctors had ruled out stroke, Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), and most of the terrifying potentialities that had been running as a continuous loop in my head. Mike’s symptoms gradually faded. The diagnosis, via process of elimination, was Transient Global Amnesia. It is a rather mysterious condition, no one is sure what causes it. But the hospitalist believed Mike would make a full recovery, and he would likely never be troubled by another episode.
When we left the hospital in the early afternoon, the snow had stopped, and the sun struck sparks of light in the fresh snow. We headed home and after tucking Mike into bed, I climbed in to join him. The dogs, wondering where we had been, but always ready for a nap, joined us.
I have absolutely no memory of the rest of that day. It wasn’t the Christmas we had prepared for, but then again, neither was that first one.