Monday, December 27, 2010

Year in Review 2010

1. Was this a good year for you? Yes, I had a pretty amazing year filled with some high points. But, there were some rough spots. However, I've learned so much about myself through it all.

2. What did you do this year that you'd never done before? Lead communion, baptized a baby, performed a wedding, moved into a house, became a pastor...a year of many firsts!

3. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I vowed to be happy in 2010 & for the most part, I was. For 2011, I want to fully live my life as a fabulous 30 year old woman!

4. What was your favorite moment of the year? My ordination in February

5. What was your least favorite moment of the year? My examination on the floor of Presbytery - especially when screaming & fighting erupted on the floor while I was out of the room. Disappointing to hear it all.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked this year? More confidence in my abilities as a pastor

7. What date from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why? February 5th - my ordination as a Minister of Word & Sacrament in the PC(USA)

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? surviving the first year as a pastor:)

9. What was your biggest failure? Stressing out way too much!

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Yes. In April, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease after being hospitalized for a bad reaction to an iron infusion. I had severe iron deficency anemia as well. In September, I fell in the shower & suffered a mild concussion.

11. Whose behavior merited celebration? Jane DeFord, the fabulous moderator of my Presbytery who stood beside me through this first year. She is the best mentor a girl could ask for!

12. Did you breakup with anyone this year? nope

13. Did you make any new friends this year? I did. Lots of great people in my Presbytery.

14. Did you travel outside of the U.S. this year? Not this year. Hopefully...

15. How many different states did you travel to this year? Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Washington DC.

16. Did you lose anybody close to you this year? No, thanks be to God.

17. Did you miss anybody in the past year? My dear friends from seminary, Alper

18. What was your favorite movie you saw this year? The sad thing is that I can't think of one, but I am sure there was one...

19. What was your favorite song? Blackberry Time by Luka Bloom

20. What was your favorite album? The Canadian Tenors

21. Favorite TV show? The Daily Show

22. What was the best book you read? American Freak Show - Willie Geist

23. How many concerts did you see this year? none:(

24. What was the funniest moment of this year? having my neighbor's cat Damian learn that he could come into my house. He's too much.

25. What did you want and get? I wanted to lose weight & it happened. I feel healthier than ever before.

26. What's one thing you wish had happened this year? I wish I had more of a social life

27. Did you do anything you are ashamed of this year? Perhaps, but why focus on the negative?

28. How much money did you spend this year? see next question...

29. Where did most of your money go? Well, I bought a new car & new computer, along with new bedroom furniture & a bunch of stuff for my house

30. What was the best thing you bought? My fabulous car - 2010 Ford Focus

31. What was your most embarrassing moment of the year? Falling in my shower & suffering a concussion.

32. If you could go back in time to any moment of this year, what would it be? The moment when I officially became a Minister of Word & Sacrament. It was an amazing feeling.

33. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Going to the National Cathedral in DC to hear David Axelrod speak.

34. What song will always remind you of this year? Blackberry Time

35. Compared to this time last year, are you
-happier or sadder? Happier
-thinner or fatter? Thiner
-richer or poorer? Richer in more ways than one

36. What do you wish you'd done more of? Spent more time exploring the area beyond Lancaster & West Chester

37. What do you wish you'd done less of? Worrying & stressing out

38. How did you be spend Christmas? I was in my house, drinking cups of coffee & watching movies. The week after Christmas, I spent with family & friends in Savannah

39. Did you fall in love this year? yes.

40. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned the big 3-0 this year. I celebrated with family in Ohio. On my actual birthday, I was flying home to PA

41. What one thing that would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Having a partner in life to share all of this with

42. How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year? Moving from student mode into professional mode. Lots of pearls!

43. What kept you sane? God, family, friends, red wine, days off

44. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Rachel Maddow. She is amazing. Also, Mika Brezenski. Got to meet her this year. Pretty amazing.

45. Who was the best new person you met? My friend Tim Dooner.

46. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned this year: Stay true to who you are. Don't try to be who others want you to be.

47. What are your plans for the next year? Go to New York City, two weeks in Montreat this coming summer, remain happy

48. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Everything is possible in God's time
But nothing is for sure
All our hurts to wade through
And we still find
Blackberry time

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2010

This is my first time preaching on Christmas Eve. I am so looking forward to celebrating with my church folk tomorrow night. Merry Christmas!

God’s Gracious Gift
Preached at First Presbyterian, Parkesburg
December 24, 2010 – Christmas Eve
Text: Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

As a lover of stories, this might be my favorite one. This story has been told for generations upon generations - in different spots across the globe; in various languages; in church sanctuaries, open fields, in rooms filled with loads of people or rooms with just a few souls; told from memory, read from Bibles with pages worn & tattered, or those with shiny, glimmering gold edges; from pulpits to pastures, it is the well-known, beloved birth story of the Christ child.

Many of you who have attended Christmas Eve services for years might even be able to recite this story by heart. Or, when you begin to hear the words, “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” you automatically know which story it is. And, it is stories such as this one that warm our hearts & make us feel the peace & comfort of this night, despite the chill.

And, we really do need this story. We live in a world that is fast-paced, instantaneous, and where the real & the not-so-real blend together in such a way, that is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish between the two. And, so we crave reality. We crave it deep in our hearts – we long for something as pure and as real as the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God.

Christmas has become a commericialized, jazzed-up production. I am reminded of one of my favorite movies of this season – A Charlie Brown Christmas. In the film, Charlie Brown has become pretty disgusted with the way the world is celebrating Christmas – from lighting contests, to overblown Christmas play productions, to his sister Sally’s long list to Santa Claus. When Charlie is charged, along with Linus, to pick out the tree for the play, he returns with the saddest little tree. After receiving much criticism, Charlie Brown wails, “Does anyone know the real meaning of Christmas?” Then, come Linus’ monologue about the true meaning of Christmas – the story of these lowly shepherds in the fields and the angel appears to them to say: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

As Linus so eloquently points out, the real meaning of Christmas is God’s gracious gift unto us: Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. It is not about big, fancy Christmas trees. It is not about big piles of gifts. It is not about picture perfect scenes. It is about Christ. The real story of Christmas. It is about this night, this holy night, where we pause in joy and in wonder, for the gift that God has given to us. And, upon hearing the story, yet again, our hearts no longer yearn, but are filled.

And we are able to exclaim from on high: Alleluia! For unto us this night, a son is born, Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Last Tuesday, I was in the Washington National Cathedral, listening to a fabulous panel of speakers sharing their reflections on the need for civility in the public discourse. The panelists were David Axelrod (senior advisor to Pres. Barack Obama), Joshua Bolton (chief of staff to former Pres. George W. Bush), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Rev. Dr. Barry Black (Senate chaplain), Michael Beschloss (presidental historian), and Bob Schieffer (CBS News). It was an honor to listen to each of them speak about their thoughts & experiences of the lack of civility within our government & one another, especially over the last few years. I was struck by the commonality between Mr. Axelrod & Mr. Bolton's experiences within the White House dealing with the lack of cooperation and willingness to listen to others when working on important issues. I was also struck by Dr. Black's reflections on his work at the US Senate - he holds a weekly prayer breakfast that is attended by many on both sides of the aisle, as well as a weekly Bible study where members share their own faith journey stories with one another. What a powerful witness of connection and trust that does not seem to exist on the Senate floor, not to mention throughout our country. (I must admit - I really want to take Dr. Black's job at some point...being the Senate chaplain would be an amazing experience! We shall see what God has planned for this minister...)

Over the past week, I've been thinking about and chewing on this idea of embracing civility, especially with those whom we might disagree with. All over the airwaves, all we hear anymore is candidates attacking each other, using hurtful words about one another. Election seasons are always heated times, but I think we have moved into a new season of incivility that is destroying our abilities to speak with one another & talk about hard issues. I am certainly guilty of calling a candidate for office "a poltical baffoon" and "an unqualified crazy person on the absolute fringe of society". I know this is not helpful and I should be much more tolerant - I consider myself a pretty tolerant individual. And, I believe all of this negative name calling, loud shrilling on television and radio is really impacting our call to be brothers & sisters in Christ.

Today, I was at a lovely lunch gathering with several other area pastors from my Presbytery. We gather monthly at the home of a retired Presbyterian minister & his wife to share a meal and engage in often interesting and thought-provoking conversation on a range of issues. This particular gathering has been going for many, many years. I was invited to join the conversation in February, shortly after arriving here. Today was especially poignent, as the couple are preparing to sell their home & move into a retirement community. Several around the table had been there for over 10 years, sharing the same simple meal of soup & chicken salad, and talking about many different issues. What struck me was the level of civility around the table - it is a safe place to bring our thoughts, our reflections, our experiences, knowing that it was okay. We talked about theology & preaching, especially about how we each approach our preaching preparation and writing. We talked about focus & function statements (made me think of being in Anna Carter Florence's intro to preaching class!), chiasms (memories of Bill Brown!), the homilectical loop, and much more. We all take a different path to our sermon preparation and certainly different approaches to social issues, but we all are able to come to the table. Each of us had a place there and it was safe. And sacred. Holy time spent around a simple meal and great exchanges of ideas. It was a prilivage to be a part of the conversation. I learned a lot and gained wisdom from those who are experienced pastors. I am honored and consider myself blessed to be in their company.

Civility is possible. It is about meeting each other, around a common table, and be honest & open about who we are. That is where it begins.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Reflections

I took this photo last fall. I was traveling home from my third interview in two weeks & stopped for the afternoon in Montreat. I hiked up the hill to the area where there is small lake which feeds the creek that runs down the mountain to Lake Susan. It is my favorite place in Montreat, because it is quiet and absolutely beautiful, especially in the fall. I walked around the lake, stopping to take photographs of the gorgeous scenery, with the bright leaves shining in the sunlight. As I walked & took photos, I was discerning and talking with God about my future. At that time, I had no idea who would call me to be their pastor. There was nothing else I could do but leave it up to God.

So much has changed in a year. I was called. I moved. My life completely changed. I am thankful, even though life has not been the easiest over the last eight months.

I am sitting here today, looking out my window of my study, watching the leaves on my trees in the backyard. I am reminded of change - with each new season comes change and new opportunities. That is a gift we are given by God and one I needed to be reminded of today. Thanks be to God.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Authenticity & Honesty

This past week, I was on retreat with other pastors from three area presbyteries. It was such a meaningful time - being in a comfortable space where we could open up about our struggles and dreams about ministry. We could be honest and authentic to who we are, which we often feel we cannot do within our own ministry contexts. I believe that being authentic and honest about ourselves is so important, especially as pastors.

I've been at my church for eight months now, which hasn't been the smoothest time in my life. I've suffered from strange fatigue and heart issues, leading to a diagnosis of celiac disease & iron deficiency. I had a rather interesting introduction to my presbytery, by way of a tough (some might say unfair) examination on the floor - complete with shouting & yelling while I was out of the room. My church is facing an uncertain future in the midst of a tough economy. There was pressure to be a status quo pastor & preacher - try not to rock the boat too much during the first year. But, situations came up where that just became impossible. It's not an ideal situation for a first call pastor, but I love my people. That is bottom line for me. I am not going to bail on them.

And, through all of this, I've discovered myself in new ways. I feel so much more confident in the pulpit, by just listening to my gut and being authentic with my preaching. It has made a world of difference for me and, I hope, for my congregation. I've decided not to let the opinions of a few drown out the rest of the conversation. I am trying to be honest and authentic in all that I do now, because I have nothing to lose. I am going to be myself and I think that is where people connect the most. They want authenticity, honesty, and passion in their pastors.

I want to live with no regrets. So, coming home from a "mountain top" experience, I am committing to being me. Just me.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Sermon 8.29.10: Remembering

Text: Hebrews 13:1-8

Do you remember where you were five years ago today?

I was moving into my seminary apartment, unpacking boxes in my living room, watching the news, filled with unforgettable images. Little did I know at the time, what I was seeing that day would leave a lasting impact on me and shape me profoundly in so many ways.

Five years ago today, the raging storm known as Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, sending massive amounts of water and wind on shore. Five years ago today, people were huddled inside their homes, hotels, shelters all over Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana trying to ride out the storm. Five years ago today, thousands were barricaded within the Louisiana Superdome, watching the roof ripping off. Five years ago today, people were watching the water rise and praying it would stop soon. Five years ago today, so many people’s lives would be changed forever.

It has been five years. It’s easy to forget what happened in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama because so much has happened since & the news stopped covering it after a while. However, those who experienced the storm first hand and those who witnessed its aftermath will always remember what happened. We owe it to those who lost their lives in the storm, those who went through it to remember.

Our text from Hebrews says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them…remember those who are being tortured, as though yourselves were being tortured.” Even though people were not in a prison or being tortured by others, they were imprisoned by a storm, tortured by the overwhelming power of waves and wind. And in reading these words, I remember my experiences in Mississippi and Louisiana during the weeks, months, and years following Katrina.

Just six weeks after the storm hit, I found myself in a car heading down to D’Iberville, Mississippi, a hard hit town near the coast, with six other Columbia students. It was during our midterm week, so after we finished our Old Testament exam, we packed up and headed down the road to see the devastation for ourselves and lend a hand. For the remainder of the week, we lived in a makeshift tent city set up by the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on a baseball field. We slept on military cots in tents, showered about 20 minutes away at a local gym. We ate our meals at a local community park with storm survivors, city officials, and volunteers alike. I remember sitting in the midst of the people, listening to their stories. I remember drinking water from aluminum cans donated by beer distributor who stopped production of beer for weeks on end – the only clean drinking water available.

And, I remember the smell. I’d never smelled anything like it before and have not smelled anything like it since. I remember driving all over the area, on streets barely passable, looking at scenes I’ve only seen in movies or on the news from overseas. Concrete slabs where homes used to stand – the only evidence people used to live there; debris everywhere, no people around, no birds, no visible signs of life. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and like it wasn’t even real. But, it was.

One day, our group was assigned the task of cleaning debris on a street. We were told to push all the debris out to the curb so the city dump trucks could remove it. All day, we walked down that street, pushing the stuff to the street. All I could think was we were pushing the contents of people’s homes and lives out to the trash. These were their memories, all mixed together.

We also spent time working at the POD, or the Point of Distribution. There were no stores open in the area, no restaurants, no convenience stores. This was the place where people could come to get food, clean water, cleaning supplies, clothing, and other services. It was basically a large building that used to house a grocery store, which was gutted after the storm and turned into a POD for D’Iberville. I remember seeing the faces of people coming through the line as I handed them cans of food. They looked ragged, tired, sad, yet a glimmer of hope in their eyes. They knew they would be able to eat that night. Their families could eat. The basic needs of food, water, clothing were being met. That was enough for that day.

I remember coming home from Mississippi, just a four hour drive to the north, back to our normal lives. But, life wasn’t normal. The images of what I witnessed remained with me. It shaped my view on how I read scripture, thought about God and the world, and my experience of seminary in a profound way. I don’t think I was ever the same again.

My second trip to Mississippi was in December 2005. This time we were in Gulfport and Long Beach, where the water washed out much of the town. Our group put a new roof on a home for a woman. She had evacuated the town before Katrina hit, and returned when given clearance by the military, but her roof was badly damaged by the wind. I remember that she was profoundly grateful for us coming to help her.

As we were working that week, we came to know another local family – a father, mother, and their three sons. They lost their home in the storm and were now living a FEMA trailer. We spent time listening to their story of what happened – how they lost everything, but how grateful they were to still have each other. Our group took up a collection, some of us went to the store (some actually were open again!) and bought the kids new school supplies and backpacks. We also gave the family some money to help them get on their feet again.

One of the most powerful experiences was going to God’s Katrina Kitchen, a makeshift soup kitchen out on the beach. This was a place where locals, volunteers, anyone could come to get a hot meal. It was completely staffed by volunteers and others, housed in a large tent, and full at every meal. We sat at tables with people from the area, listening to their stories and sharing fellowship with one another.

There was so much damage still, but life was returning again to the area. People were trying to clean up and rebuild their homes, businesses, and lives. It was a long road ahead, but hope was there. God was there.

I returned to the Gulf Coast for the third time in February 2008, returning to the Long Beach neighborhood. I remember what it had looked like 2 years before and it looked so different. Houses had roofs, walls, and people actually lived there again. Life was indeed returning to the area.

I worked with a team on a home for Moses and Miriam. They were living in both a FEMA trailer and the part of Miriam’s home that wasn’t damaged. Although we were there to sand, mud, and prime the drywall in the house, we spent much of our time getting to know them. As a wonderful act of hospitality, Miriam would make food for us each day. At noon, we would gather together for prayer and a wonderful meal of fried chicken, red beans & rice, and cornbread. Most of all, it was the conversation that happened around the table. Moses and Miriam shared their story of surviving the storm. They didn’t have much money before Katrina, and certainly didn’t have much afterwards. But, they were alive and that’s all that mattered to them.

Moses and Miriam were witnesses of what happened to their community. Just as the countless others who survived the storm and tell their stories. I think in telling their stories, it is healing for them. And, I wanted to share the story with you all today, as we remember the power of natural disaster and acknowledge that it could happen again to any of us.

What would you do if your house was suddenly filling with water? What would you do if you found yourself clinging onto a tree or standing on a rooftop with no means of escape? What if you evacuated your town only to come back to find your home no long there, just a concrete slab with your memories scattered?

It is important to be mindful of how this can happen to us at any point, and this did happen to thousands of people five years ago today. But, their stories live on as witnesses to hope in the midst of such tragedy. Life can change in a complete instant – one minute things are normal and the next can bring about a new reality. But, as our text says this morning – “Since God has assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you’, we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what, who or what can get to me?” Even though such tragedy strikes, we can be comforted by the fact that God remains with us through the pain, the aftermath, the rebuilding.

God was there on August 29, 2005 when the water rushed through the streets. God was there when the wind was ripping roofs apart and snapping trees. God was there when boats and helicopters came to rescue the people. God was there when teams of volunteers arrived to begin the long clean up. God is there. God is with them and with us. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sermon 8.22.10: Sabbath Healing

Preached August 22, 2010 at First Presbyterian of Parkesburg

Luke 13.10-17 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Vacation seemed to be a hot topic in the news this past week. The President is on vacation with his family in Martha’s Vineyard for the next week or so. Many in the media have made a big deal about him taking off on vacation during hard economic times, a contentious midterm election season, and pressing domestic and international issues ensuing every day. No matter your particular political beliefs, there is something there – what does it mean to take time off, especially when we are faced with a very busy work and family schedule? There were experts interviewed who said taking vacation time, time away from the everyday pressures, is good for our health – physically and mentally, and I would contend spiritually as well. When we do not take the time away, we can suffer in so many ways.

The woman in our scripture this morning was suffering. She had been bent over, unable to stand up straight for eighteen years. Eighteen long years, she suffered without any relief. Imagine what her world looked like – her line of vision limited to the patch of ground around her feet, having to walk oh so carefully, so she didn’t trip and fall over something; not being able to make deep connections with people through looking at them when she spoke – a whole myriad of problems which set her apart from the rest of the community.

I wonder what made her come to the synagogue that day. Did she always come there? Was it a part of her normal routine? Or did she come because she knew Jesus was there? What is peculiar is she doesn’t ask him to heal her – Jesus noticed her first. He called to her and had her come over to where he was. And, Jesus unbound her from her ailment and she was finally able to stand up again, after eighteen long years. She was healed, by simply allowing herself to be in the presence of Christ.

Of course, the leader of the synagogue was quite upset with the scene they just saw between Jesus and this woman. They were operating under the tradition of Sabbath that does not include doing any kind of healing or work. He was lecturing the crowd about how they needed to come back another day to be healed – it is not proper to heal on the Sabbath. However, the Lord is quick to point out their hypocrisy of untying their animals so they could go for a drink – saying this woman was just as worthy of being unbound from her pain and suffering. Sabbath, to Jesus, is more than simply ceasing from work. It was about healing. It was about being unbound from suffering. It is about creating space to allow God’s healing presence to come to us.

Sabbath is really about freedom from bondage, from being bent down. We all have times in our lives where we feel bent down and bound up by life’s circumstances. What is keeping you bound up and bent down? And, what might it mean to allow God to heal us during our Sabbath time, rather than just simply ceasing from our work?

A friend of mine from seminary recently finished a summer Sabbath. Lucy, along with her husband Daniel, spent the last several months traveling across the United States working at farms and living in community with others as a part of the WWOOF program. She blogged1 about her experiences and shared her reflections, especially drawing inspiration from the writer Wendell Berry. In her first entry, Lucy reflected on her motivation for taking this Sabbath time – ceasing from work. She writes, “I have again come to a wall. A wall where I face exhaustion, but also an emptiness spiritually, emotionally, vocationally, and even intellectually. It is time, again, for active cessation. Time for tending to God, to Daniel, to family, and to self.”

Lucy, as so many of us often do, work and work and work, most of the time to the determent to our souls, our health, our very lives. We hit these walls, where we cannot seem to move forward, where we are emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually empty and tired. We are bent down by the weight of our own exhaustion and emptiness. We are the bent down woman in this story. We are bring bent and pushed down by the busy pace of life, pressures we face at work, at home, in all areas of our lives. And, when we go and go at such a pace, before we know it, we are no longer able to see what is front of us or able to think clearly.

This week, I heard an interview on television of a Presidential historian who noted that several of our former Presidents were literally unable to make decisions and they were quite frustrated when they were exhausted. She said these Presidents would often head to their private estates or on vacation simply to clear their heads, to get some much needed rest and perspective. The same is true for us when we are overworked and overwhelmed. We begin to lose our way, and if we are not careful, we get struck in this place of feeling bound and bent.

So, how do we get ourselves unbound and standing up again? How do we cease work and take time away? Keeping Sabbath is not easy for us, especially given the availability of distractions such as computers, cell phones, and a myriad of ways to remain in the fast pace of our world. But, our health depends on it. Not just our physical health, but also our spiritual health. We desperately need to be released from what keeps us from living in freedom – stress, worry, exhaustion, brokenness.

Sabbath is truly a space of healing. It was for the woman. It has been for countless people. Early this morning, I received word that my friend Todd had lost his battle with cancer. He was bound up and bent down by this awful disease for over two years. He endured numerous different treatments at hospitals all around the country. In the end, he simply wanted to come home to be surrounded by family and friends in his last days. As I was reading the words of his passing, it struck me that Todd experienced a Sabbath healing. He is finally free from the pain and suffering that kept him from living into freedom. At midnight, he was released from the captive grip of cancer into a glorious freedom of resurrection life.

Life passes by too quickly, and we often lose sight in the busyness of it all. But, when we truly keep the Sabbath, when we actively cease from our work, we are able to open ourselves up for God’s healing presence to come to us. In doing so, we will be refreshed and renewed for the journey ahead of us. We can see with clear eyes, have open minds and rested bodies. Our relationship with God will deepen and we can listen for what God is trying to say to us.

I want to close with a poem that Lucy shared on her blog by Wendell Berry, a writer, who lives on a farm in Kentucky. He regularly practices Sabbath by wandering about his property in silence and writes poems about his Sabbath time. I invite you to hear his words -

Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path

Is worn but wears its makers out
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what it is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed by us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it. 2

Let us rest in God this day. Amen.

1 Lucy Waechter Webb blogs at and is a Candidate for Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
2 Taken from Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, 1979: II)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Hope my week isn't too nutty...

Well, I posted a status last Sunday (August 1st) - "I hope my week is not too nutty". Wow, I shouldn't have done that! This past week has been completely insane. It started that night when I cut my thumb on a can lid from my recycling bin. I went up the street to a church member, who is a retired nurse, and she bandaged me up. But, my thumb started hurting pretty bad, so went to the doctor who sent me to a hand surgeon. I have an infection. Of course. So, I started on antibiotics and had a tetanus shot. And, that meant not using my left hand as much. That made things a bit more difficult!

And then on Saturday morning, I called my mom's phone. My dad answered & said he was at the hospital with my mom. She had gotten pretty sick that morning, and after she passed out & aspirated on her vomit, he took her to the ER. Once she got there, she passed out again & flatlined for about 20 seconds. She was then transferred to a major medical center about 45 minutes away. During this time, I quickly called & got a flight to TN from PA for that evening. I arrived late Saturday night & have spent the majority of my time at the hospital.

She ended up getting a pacemaker put in this morning to help correct her atrial fibrillation and slow heart rate, which was causing the dizzy spells, vomiting, and passing out. The surgery went well, she is up and alert, and doing much better. She will be coming home tomorrow.

Thanks be to God that my dad came home Saturday morning & found her. If he hadn't, she could have died there at home. And, if she wasn't at the hospital when she flat lined, she could have died. I am pretty thankful she is still here with us. And, that my church allowed me to get home to be with my family. Mostly, I've been caring for my dad and doing some things for my mom. I've realized how much work it is to care for aging parents, and they are still young in the grand scheme of things.

I am heading back to PA on Wednesday morning. And, now I know not to post a status such as hoping my week is not too nutty. Hopefully, things are looking up from this point. Hope that doesn't get me now...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

I apologize for not writing for a long time (yet again). As the title implies, it has truly been a whirlwind of craziness this summer thus far. When did it become almost August? Here's a bit of an update on what's happening in my corner of the world:
  • On the health front: I'm doing really well with eating gluten-free. I actually very rarely have cravings and/or miss regular bread stuff. I eat lots of fruit & veggies, along with yummy homemade hummus & black beans. I do eat gluten free pasta & bread, but not on an everyday basis. Overall, I'm feeling much better than ever before - TBTG! But, I am still fighting the iron deficiency stuff & have weekly iron infusions scheduled for the month of August. Bummer, but hopefully these will be the last ones!
  • At the church: attendance has been pretty good throughout the summer, despite vacations. Had two good sermons (according to others) these past two weeks - hoping to produce another one this week. We're facing financial strain, as many mainline churches are, so we're working hard to get our stewardship up and get some new activities planned for the fall.
  • I spent a week in Montreat! Youth Conferences are the best - I always have a blast. My small group (aka The Goon Squad) was truly amazing! It was also good to see friends I've not seen in two years, which is far too long. Made some new friends as well. Good times.
  • On the personal front: my mother came and spent about three weeks with me here in PA. It was super nice to have her around! We saw Mika Brzezinski at Barnes & Noble in Lancaster! Met her, listened to her talk about her book, took pictures, and even met the Governor of PA - Ed Rendell. Amazing.

That's what has been going on here. Working on sermons for August, planning confirmation class for this year, working with the stewardship & finance committee on budget stuff. The basic pastor stuff! I promise to update more often - I always say that, but I will make an effort this time!

Remember that you are loved! Blessings!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I can't even begin to describe the last few months of my life. And, there are some things I just can't talk about right now. I've been in my call for five months now & it's been a rough five months. There were some very bright times - installation, worship, spending time with people in the community garden, lots of laughter over good food. But, I am struggling with knowing how to work with a church that is struggling too. I love them so much & I want to do everything I can to help them discern what God is calling them to do & be in this world. I cannot imagine myself anywhere else. I really can't.

But, it is hard. Ministry is not easy. I didn't think it would be. But, there are many days when I wish it was a bit easier, not so hard. There is so much to balance & I hope I am not losing myself in the process. I hope the money will come to balance the budget. I hope people won't bail. I hope I won't bail. Hoping for peace, for clarity, for wisdom in discernment.

All I can do is pray. And hope. And trust God will lead me & the church in the right direction.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Illness to Wholeness

I'm sorry I've not posted in so long.

I've been struggling with feeling not well for probably three months now. I couldn't really figure out what was going on with me - headaches, extreme fatigue, feeling cold all the time. After many, many appointments with a family doctor, a cardiologist, hemotologist, GI specialist, and neurologist, and more blood drawn than I care to think about - I was diagnosed with celiac disease. This is what was causing my severe iron deficiency anemia (like a iron of 2 - worst my doctors have ever seen & hemogloben hovering around 8.5 to 9) & all of my crazy symptoms. The diagnosis came on April 20th, after a two day stint in the hospital with a unrelenting migraine & nausea, possibly caused by a five hour iron infusion earlier in the week to treat the anemia.

At first, I was pretty upset. You see, I love bread. I've been eating bread, pasta, and basically all things gluten for the last 29 years. But, when I realized the gluten was killing the insides of my small intestine & making me so sick, I knew giving it up would be worth feeling much better than I ever did in my whole life. So, I've been gluten-free since April 21st & feeling good. It's had its rough moments, especially when I had to clean out my cupboards & come to terms with giving up easy options for meals. This diagnosis has given me a reason to learn to cook for myself & make things from scratch, so I am sure they are safe for me to eat.

I had a follow up appt with my family doctor yesterday. She had some results of the latest blood work - great news! My iron has gone from 2 up to 62, hemogloben almost at 12, and the best news was that I've lost 10 pounds in the last two & half weeks. All of my clothes fit better, except my pants, so I think I need a new belt. I'm not needing to sleep 12 hours at night anymore, just to make it through the day. I wake up around 6:45am & ready for bed at a much more reasonable hour of 11:00pm. All in all, this gluten-free lifestyle is amazing.

That doesn't mean there won't be hard times - going out to eat is pretty tricky still. Plus, I need to make plans for having gluten-free communion bread for next month. But, I don't want to eat stuff that makes me sick anymore. The option is eat bad stuff & increase my risk for developing small bowel lymphoma or stick to the diet & live a healthy life. Cancer or life? Not a hard choice!

My church allowed me three weeks of medical leave to give my body a chance to adjust & begin the process of recovery. I'm really grateful & very much looking forward to stepping into the pulpit tomorrow morning. There is a lot going on with my church & some hard things ahead in our life together, but I think I've got the energy to face it head on. Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 26, 2010


One of my favorite songs of late is "Swim" by Jack's Mannequin. I first heard the song sometime on the fall when they performed on The Daily Show & instantly fell in love with the song. Honestly, it speaks to me. There's been a lot happening lately around here & it gives me strength to keep moving forward.

You've gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you're not so sure you'll survive
You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven't come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won't end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends
Yeah you've gotta swim
Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don't see their greed as a flaw

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There's no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you've gotta swim
Don't let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it's not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Swim, swim
Just keep your head above

So, I swim. And, I know I'm not alone. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Lost. I'm not talking about the TV show that everyone watches (except me). I'm talking about the feeling of being lost in the wilderness of life. Tomorrow, I am preaching on the parable of the Prodigal Son & talking about the feeling of being lost & then found by God's extravagant grace. It seems I've been feeling lost of late. I'm facing some challenges I've never faced before & it's thrown me a bit off course. It's easy to get wrapped up in challenges & begin to lose focus. I think I've lost my focus. It happens, even to pastors.

So, it's hard to write this sermon. I feel like I'll be preaching to myself as much as preaching for the congregation tomorrow morning. Perhaps God is trying to tell me something.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On keeping Sabbath...

I'm the first to admit that I am bad at keeping Sabbath. I always talk about the importance of Sabbath days and harp on friends who are not doing it, but since beginning my ministry here in Pburg, I've not really taken a full day of Sabbath time. What is completely ironic is that over the next three weeks, I'm teaching the adult Sunday school class on Sabbath as Resistance. Yep. The irony is not lost on me.

There has been so much going on in my church & in my own life that I've neglected one of the most important things to keeping my own sanity in check. I feel overwhelmed & I know this is not a good place to be when you are a pastor. Any time off is being devoted to unpacking boxes, getting necessary things for the house, etc. This does not equal to true Sabbath. I'm finding it so hard to even sit down for five minutes without thinking about something that needs to be done. I've never really been like this before. I did a good job before of taking Sabbath time. What has happened?

Life and church stuff happened. Not an excuse. Just reality.

I'm going away for 24 hours to a retreat with other pastors. It's technically continuing education, but there is time for worship and reflection. I'm a part of a new group of pastors committing to study, gather, worship, support each other over the next 24 months. We're all new(ish) pastors with under 10 years ordained from my Presbytery. I'm headed there today. I am desperately hoping for space to clear my head. I need it. I do.

I hear my friends telling me I need Sabbath. I hear God telling me I need Sabbath. Perhaps I will find it today & tomorrow. We shall see. Thank you to those who are strongly encouraging my need for Sabbath - I need you to keep reminding me of it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Finding the moments of grace

There is so much going on in my life right now & a lot happening with my church. Needless to say, I am feeling the stress of being a solo pastor. But, I was reminded yesterday of the need to find the moments of grace in life each day. While sitting in Barnes & Noble, a song came on my iPod called Life is Beautiful by Vega4. It has a line - "stand where you are. we let all these moments pass us by". It reminded me of paying closer attention for grace.

Here are my moments of grace -
- having coffee & great conversation with my women's clergy group
- seeing three nuns walking together into the bookstore, smiling & laughing
- finally seeing the sun for the first time in a while, knowing the warm weather is coming...

Despite all that is going on right now, I am thankful for these moments of grace & so many more. Hope you find your moments too. Peace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent is upon us now

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing." Joel 2.12-13

As I write this, I've just finished with my first Ash Wednesday service. I have another one tonight at 6:30pm before my Session meeting. Seven faithful folks arrived at the church, almost at the exact time, to worship at the noon hour. The service was one filled with scripture, prayer, and silence. Near the end, I marked their faces with the sign of the cross in ashes. While I've attended many Ash Wednesday services, leading one on my own held great meaning for me. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the power of the beginning of the Lenten season and the significance of marking oneself with the sign of the cross. We are indeed embarking on a journey with Christ towards Jerusalem, yet once again. We, in all of our sinfulness, have the privilage of walking with Christ this Lenten season. It is a time for penitence and self-examination. We prepare ourselves, over these next forty days, for the celebration of Christ's death & resurrection.

There is often conversation about giving up something for Lent. We are called in scripture to fast during this season. For me, I am choosing to incorporate more intentional time for reading scripture & writing. I feel that life often gets filled with so much distraction & this is certainly the case for me. And, as a new minister, I'm always running from one thing to the next. So, during this season of Lent, I am committing to do better & make sure I take the time to be in conversation with God. Holy conversation.

Friends, Lent is indeed upon us this day. May it be a season filled with self-examination, penitence, and humble learning as we journey with Christ towards Jerusalem once again. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Newly Reverend

It has certainly been a week filled with ups and downs. I traveled home last Friday morning to Tennessee for my ordination weekend. The scene at Philadelphia International Airport was one of complete chaos! It seemed that everyone came to the airport to attempt to get on earlier flights and avoid the impending snow storm. It got so bad at our gate that the gate agents had to announce there were simply no more seats on my flight & they would attempt to get them on the next one at 2pm. I was one of the lucky 160 people who were able to get on the flight to Atlanta. By the time we arrived in Atlanta, the 2pm flight had been cancelled due to weather. I felt incredibly blessed, but also felt for those who were unable to get out of Philadelphia. I made it home to East TN around dinner time & spent time with my family.

Last Sunday afternoon, I became the Reverend. It was a truly beautiful service, filled with people who represented so many different parts of my life. I'm so very thankful for all those who were able to assist in worship & those who came to witness. It felt like a blur, but I will never forget the words "you are now a Minister of Word & Sacrament in the PCUSA". It was the most incredible feeling. After the service, there was a beautiful reception. I didn't even get a chance to sit down, as I greeted & spoke with all of my home church family.

I returned home to PA on Monday, in between the two massive snow storms, to a scene of winter wonderland. There was about 2 feet of snow on the ground! And, more was on its way. But, I also returned to news of a death in the community & a request to officiate a funeral on Saturday. This was a well known man in this area & had grown up in my church. He had not been active for a number of years, but his widow requested the funeral be at my church. I met with her before the snow struck again & began to prepare the service. Then, I was snowed into my house for the next 36 hours.

It was certainly a strange feeling being snowed into the house all alone. I did get a lot of work done, but I really missed being with people & the freedom to come and go. On Thursday, I emerged from the house to begin the long process of shoveling. We got another 18-20 inches on top of the 2 feet from the weekend. I knew I couldn't do it all by myself & thankfully, a man with a plow came by & plowed me out! I was so grateful. In the process, I met my neighbors across the street & ended up having dinner at their house that night. What delightful people! We enjoyed lots of laughs & great conversation, not to mention wonderful food. This is what my friend Whitney would call a glimpse of grace & it certainly was!

Saturday brought my first funeral. I've assisted with three funeral previously, but this was my first to handle on my own. I did not know the person nor did I know the family, so I made due with the information I could gather. The family appreciated the service, which is all that really matters in the end. But, the whole experience left me rather exhausted. Literally, I came home & crashed. Yesterday was another first - communion. That went well too. These are the things that keep me awake at night - worrying about whether or not things will be okay.

The life of a pastor is unreal. There are moments of great stress, great joy, and total exhaustion. My hope is to find some sense of balance in the middle of it all. We shall see what this week will bring.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Wordle: Ephesians 3
Ephesians 3.14-21 - the main passage for my ordination service this weekend.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Three Week Mark

Today marks my three week mark of being here. I am really falling in love with living in Pennsylvania. Over the last few days, I've begun to get a sense of trusting that God called me here for a reason. Despite all that happened with my exam on the floor of Presbytery, I feel very empowered as a young, progressive female pastor. I had coffee last week with several area female clergy. It was great to meet others in the Presbytery and feel supported in this new ministry. Then, I was blessed to have lunch with a seminary friend who happens to work in a church about 20 minutes away. There's something very comforting about having a Columbia person not too far away - I suppose in Presbyterian circles we would refer to that as being a connectional church.

Last week, I had the opportunity to lend a hand at the Mobile Food Pantry here in Parkesburg. It happens on the fourth Wednesday of the month & people can come to receive assistance. It certainly opened my eyes to the extent of poverty in this area of Chester County. Chester is one of the wealthy counties in PA, but there are significant pockets of deep poverty and struggle. I am thankful the area churches & the Chester Co. Food Bank are able to help as many as we can in this area.

It has certainly been a crazy, exciting three weeks! I know there are lots of challenges ahead, but I am committed to remaining thankful for it all. I'm now setting my sights on this weekend - I am headed back to TN for my ordination service on Sunday afternoon. It's been such a long journey to get to this point. I'm not sure the full extent of it has sunk in yet. This whole thing feels surreal, but I plan to enjoy every moment of the weekend.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Gal in PA

I've been here in PA for almost two weeks now. Most of my time during the first week was unpacking boxes. This is a monumental task - in fact, there are still many boxes inhabiting in the dining room. There are still boxes of books in my study that need a home. In the midst of all the unpacking, I got aquainted with my church office and the wonderful secretary; managed to get my car insurance secured; got a PA driver's license; got cable & internet hooked up in the house; and figured out what I was going to say on my first Sunday morning (sermon was done before I arrived, but all of the other words). My first Sunday went well - sermon was well received, didn't screw up too much, and there was a fabulous welcome lunch that followed worship, which included the BEST welcome basket ever. I love them already.

However, week two proved to be an interesting one. It started off with spending MLK day volunteering at the Chester County Food Warehouse down the street from my house/church. We packed bags of food for the mobile food pantry, cleaned up the warehouse, and generally had a good time. The morning also included a lovely brunch downstairs at the Parkesburg Point (the youth center supported by area churches) and hearing 10 kids from the Point tell us about their dreams. Pretty powerful stuff. I was asked to give the blessing over the food - the first of many public prayers, this am I sure of. I loved being there & enjoyed getting to know the community.

Tuesday brought its own set of challenges. This was the day of my examination for ordination on the floor of Presbytery. I was thrilled to have three church members present with me as my cheering section of sorts. Well, it didn't go as smoothly as I had wished - difficult questions from the floor, which I didn't mind in the least. However, after I left the room for the discussion/vote, it turned ugly. There was yelling. There was harsh opinions and judgments flying around about me. The worst part was being on the other side of a poorly insulated wall and hearing it all go down. I felt awful for my congregation members in the room listening to this & unable to say anything (they did not have voice on the floor as non-Presbytery commissioners). Needless to say, it was a long ten minutes or so. In the end, I was approved (thanks be to God) and came back into the room & was prayed for by some pretty amazing people. Afterwards, I had a lot of people come up to me to give their support and welcome to the Presbytery. I was shaken up, but also felt very empowered. I stood my ground. I know that I'm "alternative" due to my use of 'parent' rather than 'father' language for God, and that I am admittedly a universalist. I accept this about myself and will never push these on people, especially from the pulpit.

Well, Wednesday brought a breakfast meeting with the new Presbytery exec, who I think is amazing. Throughout the day, I received numerous emails and phone calls from people apologizing for what happened the previous day. I was touched by their outpouring of support. The day ended with a letter being issued from the Presbytery with a formal apology and commitment to do better on all sides. The Presbytery exec also came to my Session meeting to explain the situation and smooth it over. All is good on that front, thank goodness.

Needless to say, my week was rocky. But, I made it through intact. A little bruised, but okay. I did have dinner with two church members on Thursday at a little Irish pub in the middle of nowhere. And, I had dinner on Friday night with a new pastor friend at her house. Loved talking about seminary, life in the church, and about cats (she has two). It certainly refreshed my soul, in more ways than one. The whole week made for difficulty in the sermon writing department. However, in the end, the Spirit came through, as she always does:)

I'm happy. I really am. My sights are now set on my ordination, which is in two weeks on Sunday, Feb 7th. I am thrilled to go home to TN and be surrounded by some of my favorite people. After my rocky ordination process, it will indeed be a sweet day that I will remember for the rest of my life. On a separate note, I will share the day with the Indianapolis Colts playing in the Super Bowl. While I am a devoted New England Patriots fan, I do love some Payton Manning:)

Life is good, despite it all. God is here. That's all that matters in the end. Peace!