Final Words

About two months ago we celebrated my father’s 90th birthday. When I arrived at my parents’ home the night before the event, my mom handed me a typed page that said at the top: “Dad’s Final Words.” It was rather startling. I wondered if I had missed some family news!

What the page contained were Dad’s remarks for his birthday celebration the next day, which he intended to be the “final words” of the event. He asked me to edit them, which I was happy to do. Before I began, I asked him his goals in the remarks, and he quickly listed three of them: 1) to express thanks and gratitude to everyone in attendance; 2) to make a Christian testimony, especially as he experiences cancer which has spread to the bone; 3) to express a lighthearted tone. Knowing his intentions, I was able to help him tighten words here, and add words there. The end result pleased both him and my mother.

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Your LinkedIn Profile: An Obituary in Progress?

As I updated my Linked In profile today, it felt like I was writing an early draft of my obituary. Perhaps the difference between the two documents lies mainly in timing. A LinkedIn profile covers work in progress. An obituary doesn’t show up until our work is done.

Since LinkedIn is a professional tool, the information has to fit certain parameters: keep it positive; use active verbs; highlight results; quantify accomplishments. I tried to do those things. But as I crafted my profile, I thought about the transitions from one position to another. Words on paper convey a certain inevitability; they even create their own reality. But the real reasons for job transitions might be different from the ones we announce. After all, we know that professional transitions are supposed to look seamless and logical. Defensible. But transitions are rarely seamless, and in my life, at least, might appear to make little sense. Yet there is more to life than logic.

Why did I leave a successful church position in order to write a book, for which I had no publishing contract? What about salary, benefits, pension? Why did I take a lowly job as an administrator when my previous positions had entailed significant responsibility? What about the career ladder?

To an outsider, my decisions might appear daft! But I did not make them based solely on bettering my finances, or climbing a ladder. Like many people, I was following my sense of the Spirit’s leading.

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2015 Intentions

One of my blogposts was among the 14 most-read Christian Century blogposts in 2014. Perhaps I should use foul language like “stinkin'” in my titles more often! My thanks to all of you for reading, and to the good folk at CC, especially Celeste Kennel-Shank and Steve Thorngate who curate a tremendous amount of blog material related to church, religion, spirituality, culture.

Onward to 2015! Do you write Resolutions or Intentions? Some people scoff at the practice, but each year I choose a phrase to remind me how I intend to live my life in the year ahead. It helps me focus. My 2014 intention was Do the Work. I often muttered this to myself as I sat down to write. It was so helpful that I even renamed this blog, which used to be Work in Progress. I prefer the verb: Do.

My 2015 intention is similar: Love the Work. (You might remember that I’m borrowing the phrase from Gordon Lightfoot.) May all of us love our work in the year ahead! Isn’t that one of the secrets of happiness? Work is one way we become ourselves.

Want to share your intention for the year ahead? I’d love to hear it.

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Free Wi-Fi in Church: Three Uses

Many restaurants offer free Wi-Fi. In fact, people often expect it. Wi-Fi is used for more than surfing the Internet while people eat. This article lists some applications:

~ ordering (by touchscreen)

~ digital menus (on iPads)

~ real-time reviews (social media)

There can be a downside. In some restaurants people are too preoccupied to order their food properly!

شراء الذهب من البنك الاهلي But it got me thinking. How might churches make use of free Wi-Fi during worship?

~ responding to the preacher’s questions (by touchscreen)

~ digital hymnals or liturgy (on iPads)

~ real-time tweets, reviews, and invitations for upcoming events (social media)

What might be the downsides? (and would they be Twitter-able?)

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A Reversal of Communication

Today I got a haircut. The stylist is competent so I have a level of trust.  In fact, I wonder why she works at Hair Cuttery. (Though I’m glad she does.) English is not her first language but we communicate well enough. I mentioned that I was letting my bangs grow out a bit and was pushing them to the left side. She proceeded to cut the hair and style it from the right side. Then she admired her work.

Oh well. A right/left mistake. An easy fix once I get home, right? Dyslexia exists in every language! I was proud of my ability to forgive her.

Then, as I stared in the mirror I realized the error was mine. You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you? Mirror reversal. An elementary error.

I wonder how many of our communication problems are sometimes at this elementary level. A miscommunication between two people who have some measure of trust, revealed in a moment of thought, rectified with ease, and conquered with a smile.

But if this mistake had involved a scissors and the lopping of many inches of hair, we’d be at a whole different level of conflict, right?

Maybe I’m thinking about communication and conflict because the General Assembly of the PCUSA is meeting right now. I’m holding the commissioners in prayer.

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Protect that Work-in-Progress!

Mockingbird vs. Kitty

Wrangler, the Poet.

Wrangler, the Poet.

There are mockingbirds nesting in our neighbor’s tree. Whenever our cat, Wrangler, goes outside, one of the mockingbirds flies over and dive-bombs her. So Wrangler streaks across the yard looking over her shoulder, then escapes into the storm drain.

I feel for the mockingbird. Some work-in-progress needs aggressive protection!

I wonder if Wrangler will want to write another haiku.

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Amish Fiction vs. House of Cards, Utopia vs. Dystopia

paradise-valley-by-dale-cramerEarly in the week I read a novel about an Amish family that moves to Mexico to begin a new community where no one will force them to send their children to school.

I’d never read Amish fiction before so I thought I’d try it. Cold February nights call for warm diversions.

The story is simple and sweet. Although there are moments of tension, everything turns out well for the main characters, who are noble.

I thought: Why do people read this stuff?                            It skates over the difficult parts of life.

house-of-cardsLater in the week I watched the first episode of the newly-released Season 2 of “House of Cards” about Frank and Claire Underwood, who will do anything to become more powerful, including lie, cheat, and murder. (According to the Motley Fool, 600,000 people binge-watched the entire season last weekend!)

The story is complex and upsetting. Although the sounding bass of the theme music frequently indicates impending drama, everything turns out well (so far) for the main characters, who are amoral. (From one season to the next I had forgotten just how amoral!)

I thought: So this is why people read Amish fiction. Because life is difficult and dark enough.

How about you — do you prefer Utopia or Dystopia?

EDITED TO ADD: Check out this interesting blogpost by Peggy Noonan in the WSJ, about the real life politicians who are spouting the lines of the fictional characters, on camera no less. Yes, let’s “pretend” our politicians are amoral because nothing could be further from the truth, right?

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From The Waiting Room Today

IMG_3859

from last summer

I’m thinking about my husband’s face.

He’s in surgery right now, outpatient surgery on his foot. Routine, they say.

Still, as we went through the pre-op protocol, I found it hard to tear my eyes away from him. I love his face so much.

He has expressive brown eyes and his brow is starting to look kind of craggy. His hairline has receded and the lines between his nose and mouth have deepened considerably.

a wedding photo

a wedding photo

When we met, on 1 July 1983, I thought he was very cute. But it was his deep voice and capable hands that were an irresistible magnet. Plus he made me laugh, and he bounces a little when he walks. I loved that about him.

Of course I haven’t always loved everything about him. Just to be clear. We will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this August, and we have had our share of difficult times. Our relationship is not a volatile one, but life can be hard and takes a toll on any two people.

Each of us has had many career ups and downs, and managing two careers between one couple has not been easy. Because of our commitment to an egalitarian relationship we have moved across the country three times for job relocations. In ministry we talk about “following a call” but that should not be interpreted to have a glossy sheen; it has been very challenging and Doug has sacrificed (perhaps unduly) for my call.

We have also raised two children. As any parent knows, that means we have had to learn to love two more people unconditionally. The loving isn’t the hard part. It’s the navigating how to love wisely that’s difficult.

So many times I have had to choose to keep loving him. I have had to pray for the patience and wisdom to love him well. I know he would say the same about me. How many times have we had to recommit to the primacy of our relationship above all others?

Now when I look at his face I see all of this. I see the concerns that have creased his brow, the smiles that have wrinkled his eyes. I can hear his laugh. I want to stroke his hair, hair that I have cut more times than I can count. I have made meals to please him, and I have laundered his underwear. He has done the same for me.

All of these things fill my mind when I look at his face. Is he still cute? I can’t say. I just know that there is no other face I’d rather look at. I feel fortunate to look across the table at a man I love.

As a minister I have spent time with older couples. I just didn’t know what they saw when they looked at each other.

If Hollywood were to truly understand this, someone could make a lot of money. Somehow. Because it changes everything we know about “attractiveness.”

In a few hours I’ll see his face again, post-surgery. I look forward to it.

Thanks for waiting here with me.

UPDATE: The surgery took 2 hours, as scheduled. The doctor found more bone fragments than he expected to find. Doug should have a very good result. We are home now and all is well. Thanks for your support!

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2014 Intentions: a Word

As the old year ends, I like to choose a word or phrase that captures my intention for the new year. I might put this phrase on a card over my desk, or at the bottom of my emails, somewhere I’ll see it with some regularity.

My 2013 phrase was: “Be Lighthearted and Gracious.” My mental image for that phrase was a fluffy white feather. The extended version — the commentary, or midrash, or hashtag — was: “Remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

The phrase was helpful to me, especially during a time that was professionally difficult. I won’t pretend I succeeded in being gracious, but the intention did serve as an anchor, which is the point.

My 2012 phrase was: “Close the Loop” which is still a mantra of sorts. At any rate it helps me get the clothes out of the dryer, or empty the dishwasher.

Now I’m choosing my 2014 phrase. I’m entertaining this one: “Do the Work.” I have a massive amount of writing to plow through and it is rather intimidating.

Do you choose a word or phrase for the year? Want to share?

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The Secret to Happiness: Want What You Have

I know the secret to happiness. Do you?

If you don’t, just ask my daughters. I’m forever telling them. Which is super-annoying, I’m sure.

“Want what you have.” Isn’t that easy? Four words that lay out the path to happiness. Embrace what you have.  Don’t want what you don’t have.  Find the gift in this circumstance.  This relationship.  This job.  This season of life, whatever it is.  Want it, and dig into it.

“Want what you have.” Four words that are easy to say, but difficult to live.

For the past three weeks or so I’ve really been struggling. I haven’t wanted what I have, I’ve wanted something different. It’s pretty non-creative actually. I want to have more money. I want my book to be a bestseller. I want to have a flat stomach. I want to be the minister of a congregation again, but not a real congregation, a dream one that doesn’t make any demands on me.

The truth is that I’ve made some difficult choices in the past few years, by leaving ministry to write. To earn some money I do administrative work on a part-time basis. I answer the phone and take care of correspondence. I’ve learned Excel and Quickbooks. The work is for a worthy organization. But sometimes it’s hard to work for an hourly wage after I’ve had the status of being “the minister” for so long. I’ve been the one giving the administrative person directions, not receiving them.

But I want/need to contribute to the family income. I have been going halve-sies on income with my husband for almost 30 years now. We have an egalitarian marriage and that has always included finances.

“Want what you have.” But the truth is that I want things I don’t have. Money. A bestseller. Professional status. A flat stomach.

But there is a deeper truth. What I have is enough. We have enough money for our modest life. My book is not a bestseller, but the writing between the pages doesn’t embarrass me. And while I’m grateful for my decades of ministry experience, I was also ready to move on. The reason I moved from parish ministry into writing was because I felt called to it by God.

And do I really want to fall into the female pit of thinking that how I look — a pound or two around my middle — is the difference between happiness and unhappiness? Would I want my daughters to think such a thing?

I’ll tell you what clarified this muddle for me. I noticed a posting for a ministry job and immediately had a surge of powerful feelings. I thought: I could do that, I need to do that, I would be somebody if I did that.

Then my Sub-conscious spoke up. She said: Don’t you have a book to write? Don’t you want to love what you already have?

It was an epiphany, like popping a bubble.

So I’ve decided to love what I have: the work.

And I will exercise my faith, and trust that God will lead me to the next place. Seems like the thing to do during this season of Advent.

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