Giving and receiving joy within this gift of life

There are those moments, I know you all have them as well, where it seems rather surreal how you got from there to here and full-circle back again in the rhythm of life. 

Perfection not required

Memories are a funny thing.  I once wrote a poem about my dad entitled Lickety-Larrup Louis.  I don’t know if lickety-larrup is a specifically western Kansas phrase, or it has its origins in Greek or Latin philosophy with Aristotle or Plato.  But in western Kansas lingo, it means someone who does most everything at break-neck speed. Annnnnnd, google has everything.  I just looked it up and the phrase appears in what’s known as “the Reverse Dictionary” and under phrases from the past, of course, it is defined “with great speed and vigor – American Dialect, 1907.”  Not quite as far back as Plato and Aristotle, but I’m certain had they thought about it, they would have used it.

As I’m sorting through my files, yes the old-timey kind with folders holding pieces of paper, it’s occurring to me that I may be related to my dad. I’m not certain how you all at Grace, or North Cross, Asbury, or Baldwin 1st put up with my lickety-larrup-ness.  Could I have tried to have us start more things and have more things going all at the same time without pause?!!?  Seriously?  I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but I have to say, if I were making an assessment, it would seem to me I do have some challenges with letting things settle into a breathe-able rhythm.  I do remember not long after starting at Baldwin 1st and then Grace, that I had folks come through the line after church and invite me to slow my preaching down a bit so they could hear it better.  I thought at the time it was their hearing limitation, ummmm, I think not so much.  There was also that one Easter where a fair amount of you asked how many cups of coffee I’d had before church that morning as I was a bit energetic in my presentation.  A politically correct way of saying I was a bit over the top in speaking speed and presentation that day.

God blesses each of us, without leaving anyone out, with particular gifts, and then we are invited to process those within our own imperfections to try and live into and grow our discipleship and service to offer those gifts to the world.  Even the Apostle Paul talks about a “thorn in the flesh” . . . “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this that it would leave me, but the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:8-9a, NRSV).  Some have speculated Paul had epilepsy, others that he had a stigmatism with his eyesight, others that it was his own arrogance.  I’m not sure getting caught up in the specifics is really the point.  Essentially God says, of course you’re imperfect, it’s my grace that allows you to serve.  And remember with me Moses when God is calling him to go to Pharoah to release God’s people from slavery and Moses tries to say no five different times, his final reason in vs. 10 of Ex. 3: “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  And God answers, “Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (Ex. 3:10,12, NRSV).  Some have speculated Moses had a cleft palate or stuttered or spoke with a lisp.  Again the specifics are less important than God reminding Moses that he has the gifts God needs and he simply needs to walk forward in faith acknowledging his limitations and trusting God.

Please hear me, I am NOT claiming status with Paul or Moses for oh so many reasons, what I am saying to all of us is that we each have limitations and imperfections and God’s promise in grace is that perfection is not what is required, faithfulness is.

It’s sometimes easy in celebrating a retirement or a leave-taking of any kind, to begin imagining that the person leaving was actually more than what they really are.  Our memories can soften weaknesses, not a bad thing necessarily, to allow us to celebrate with joy.  That is a wonderful gift that God gives us in relationship with one another.  The challenge on the other side of that is sometimes not being as open to someone new coming in that is not the same.  That is not what we will do at Grace, I know our hearts will be open when a new pastor is appointed and arrives.  I still want to lift up that someone with different gifts and yes, different limitations – we all have them – will need our openness and one of our best gifts at Grace, our sincere hearts that are willing to love leaders into their best selves, strengths, limitations, and all the rest of our messy complex humanity that makes us who we are.

Pastor Nanette leads the Grace 150th Anniversary service in 2008 (click to enlarge)

I do not believe you all have any illusions about my limitations, you know them quite well and have found a way to accept them and work with them all these years.  And while it is hard for me in my way of being, I also know you are far more willing to share gratitude for my strengths than I am willing to acknowledge in myself.  Some of you have nicely and quite firmly shared some frustration with that, and please know I am working on it, usually for about 10 minutes on Mondays. snort  What I appreciate is our shared desire to live authentically with one another without either false humility or blind arrogance, but rather a heart for seeking, even in our hardest moments, to know each other as wholly as possible with acceptance and a good dose of humor to lighten our steps along the way.

Both my dad and I are slowing down in these later years – and I’m guessing we both bless and curse that in our own unique ways.  Not running with the same lickety-larrup-ness each day is a bit unsettling, and at the same time, it offers an opportunity toward a more sacred rhythm into which God can speak with ever-present and abundant grace.  And what goodness there is in God’s patient understanding, and God’s power and faithfulness for God’s vision to be done with we imperfect but quite entertaining human beings that God creates and loves, quite literally, the h-e-double-toothpicks out of. 

Sorting files HAS to be the most pain-staking and suh-looooow part of packing, and there is very little positive reinforcement of seeing what you’ve accomplished.  But the glimpse they have given of our shared past has been eye-opening in so many ways.  This old girl still has so much to learn and a good bit of ministry of some kind still left to do.  And you, you my friends also have so much great ministry to do with the leader God will bring with excitement, new vision, and new and glorious ways to help lead and empower you toward what God is already blessing.  Let’s celebrate with each other this next Sunday afternoon and know that in the celebration God is already at work for the best for each of our next chapters!

(Link to video)

Info on Celebrating Pastor Nanette on 1/22 and 1/29:

We simply kept walking

There’s a can of Coke sitting on my desk that’s been there for a rather long while.  I could use this opportunity to go on a rant, which I do every now and again for entertainment, about the decision to remove the pop machine that sat right outside the offices for at least 17 of my nearly 20 years of ministry at Grace.  It was old, it didn’t work a fair amount of the time.  It would be refilled and then someone would look at the dates on the cans and they would have been in the machine for years.  I suppose pop finally spoils, I know it can get flat and lose its fizz.  I may resemble that remark.  When I was throwing a fit that it was being removed for which I had agreed earlier, probly more about the opportunity to be dramatic than about the decision itself, I was asked how often I purchased pop from the machine.  I shared that was rather a personal question that I didn’t believe I had to answer.  I missed the old girl when she was gone.  Now replaced by a nicely appointed Keurig coffee machine and drawers of different kinds and makers of lovely coffees and even some little cups to make hot tea and hot chocolate.  A marvelous change, but I still yell around intermittently about the pop machine being gone, mostly to keep up my reputation for being a curmudgeon.

As I’ve started – nearly three half-filled boxes so far – packing up my office, a good friend suggested I start with my desk.  That if I could get that sorted, thrown away, and/or packed, I would be able to see progress and that would be positive reinforcement.  Plus, that leaves a clear flat space on which to place other stuff I need to sort, shred, keep, or simply throw away.  The top of the desk indeed got cleared first, and the Coke can is still there.

Now that I’m a short-termer, I can probably offer a few confessions.  One is that I am sometimes prone to high anxiety – I know you’re totally shocked and surprised. snort  My first Easter here was one of those moments.  I had never seen so many people in my life, and I might have fractured a bone in the top of my foot I found out later, from coming up to Grace about 11 p.m. the night before and setting up more chairs. Hospitality is a thing for me, and if new folks come and don’t see a place to sit, they don’t feel welcome. There had been so many people on Palm Sunday, I knew we had to pack in more chairs.  By fire code we weren’t supposed to have that many chairs in that room, and the office administrator had the custodian set up the number we were allowed.  So I waited until I knew the fire marshals would be abed, and no one would be stopping by the church to witness, aide, or abet my premeditated criminal action, and I added chairs. 

Anyway, we survived that Easter morning and that afternoon I had a bit of an anxiety attack.  Cold sweats, nausea, trembles and shaking, and some vertigo.  I called a friend who came over and said let’s go get something to eat.  I’d had a few bites of lunch earlier, and eating was the last thing I wanted to think about, but we went to Ruby Tuesdays.  Yes, it was back that far when there was a RT on the northeast corner of 119th and Strang Line.  When the attendant came to our table to ask what we wanted to drink, my friend told him that I would have a coke. I looked at her and she nodded and said that yes, I would be having a coke.  A real coke.  Not a pepsi, not a diet coke (coke zero wasn’t even a sparkle in anyone’s eye), not a decaffeinated coke or a cherry coke or vanilla coke, an original from when coke was invented, coke.  I was still quite trembly and shaky and thought that was probably the worst idea anyone ever had.  It came and on insistence I began to drink it.  In about 10 minutes I started feeling more “normal.”  My heart rate reduced, my brain slowed down, of course then I noticed my foot hurt like the dickens, but at least I knew I was likely going to be o.k.

Over the years I’ve had some intermittent anxiety, maybe not quite that extreme, and a coke always makes me feel better.  Maybe it’s a placebo, maybe it’s the chemicals that will also, as recommended on FB, cut through rust stains in an old toilet bowl, but it almost always brings me back to center and a calmer perspective on experiences that in my way of being, have been a little overwhelming. Perhaps having a Coke can still sitting on my desk is not that surprising.

Because I’m me, I’ve wondered what would be the last thing I would put in a box or my briefcase on my last walk out of my office.  Of course the go-to is my old red bible that has walked with me since seminary – and it will probably be the most treasured.  But I now know the last thing I will pick up to take will be this can of Coke.  I frankly didn’t know that when it sat alone on my desk after that first day of packing, but when I came in the next, it was stoplight red clear to me – that has to be the last thing.  It simply represents both the hardest year of ministry for me, and the first chapter of a book that I believed at that time would likely only have one chapter, one year, maybe two at the most at this place called Grace.  And yet as hard as everything was, the glory and intensity of the day of Resurrection was, as always and everywhere regardless of circumstance, a pinnacle and height of faith that is unsurpassed.  And this old can of Coke reminds me of that.  How God must shake God’s head . . . really?  A can of Coke is what brings Easter alive for you?!?  Well Okey-dokey artichokey.

I look back at that pastor and shake my head at how much she did not know, at how generous this congregation was to stick with the journey at this place through such difficult circumstances, and how strong we became through commitment to walk together in the midst of things that hurt like h-e- double toothpick, and required a commitment that likely went beyond any one of our abilities or willingness to do it on our own.  I believe because of faith alone through God’s grace, we simply kept walking . . . Perhaps that’s why poet Jan Richardson spoke into Epiphany for us last week at the beginning of worship in “An Epiphany Blessing” the start of which says:

If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
undertake it,
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping,
step by
single step.

The poem continues from there and I would highly recommend reading it completely, she is such an artist and speaks into so much of our reality with such beauty.

I don’t know if I’m done with all the Coca-Cola moments of my life, I’m guessing God is probably the only one who does, but I’ll risk saying that I’m oddly grateful for the ones I’ve experienced up to this moment.  As uncomfortable as they sometimes have been, they also have deepened my faith, invited a growth toward small facets of courage, and continue to remind me that whatever it is God has for us to do, the first step is recognizing we cannot do it alone.

Please know I will never stop giving thanks for God’s grace, for Grace, and for God’s grace through Grace, for all of us. 

And from 1971 . . . “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company . . .”  Those of you old enough now have an ear-worm, and you’re welcome! 

(Link to video)

Where do we start?

Where do we start when starting started 61 years ago in life, 35+ years ago in calling, 20 years ago in this place called Grace?  I guess where we always start, with the moment at hand.