When Grief Sucks Us Dry

how to rehydrate creativity

My little church experienced two unexpected deaths in two weeks — fatal heart attacks of otherwise healthy persons. During that same period, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within a month.

I did all the things a pastor does. I visited hospitals and put together funeral services and preached the resurrection. But I surely felt the toll of all that emotion, both my own grief and the grief of others. I felt sad and shriveled up.

I wondered how — and even if — I could replenish my well of creativity. I stumbled across one answer unexpectedly. Months ago I purchased tickets for the whole family to see a musical, “Fun Home.” It was to be an early Mothers Day celebration. Our daughters were excited about the show and that was enough for me. I like to experience a show with a blank slate, so I was glad I didn’t know much about it — only that it was a memoir set to music, and much of it takes place in a Funeral Home.

As life would have it, my friend’s memorial service was set to take place at noon on the Saturday of the show, in downtown DC. The matinee began at 2:00, just a few blocks away. I wondered if it would be better to sell the tickets and book something for another day. I worried that we might all experience emotional whiplash, going from a real funeral to a staged one.

In the end we decided to do both. The show was near the end of its run and rescheduling would be impossible. Besides, my friend who died, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Krehbiel, had been the type to live large. He would smile to know of our plans. So we attended the memorial service all together, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The sanctuary is gorgeous and historic and the service was a beautiful testimony to a life well-lived. We listened to every word, shed tears, sang the hymns, greeted a few people (far too few because of our rush), then got ourselves to the theater.


Share This:

Preachers, Please State the Obvious

what to do if there's a Confederate battle flag flying outside your sanctuary

Over the holiday weekend, my husband and I went on a road trip into the Shenandoah. We’ve explored Staunton before, so this time we headed a bit further south, to Lexington. Those thirty extra miles made a huge difference, dropping us from northern Virginia into southern Virginia. Or perhaps it was the timing of our visit.

Uppermost in our mind was the federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But it turns out that the Lexington area simultaneously celebrates a state holiday called Lee/Jackson Day. We were clued in by seeing a group of people marching and waving flags — the battle flags of the Confederacy. It was a disturbing sight.

The corner where they were marching happens to be the site of the Lexington Presbyterian Church. (Being church geeks we slow down and read the sign of every church we pass.)

On Sunday we returned to that corner to worship at that church. The congregation is obviously a strong institution doing many things right. The greeter and other worshipers gave us a warm, but not obnoxious, welcome. The music featured a gorgeous organ. The texts for the day were taken from the lectionary, and the preacher had a fine sermon based on the passages from Isaiah and First Corinthians.

But something basic was missing. During the service, not a mention was made about either holiday, or what they mean. Perhaps living with institutions like Virginia Military Institute and Washington Lee University inure a person to certain historic realities. Whereas I was still catching up with some basic facts. I hadn’t realized, for instance, that Lexington was the burial place of Stonewall Jackson, or that Robert E. Lee had actually served as President of Washington Lee University. (DUH. I know.)

Still, if I were a visitor with no ties to the Presbyterian church, I would assume that the church didn’t say anything about the matter of racial equality because it has nothing to say, even on the confluence of these historic days. That grieves me.

Please, my preaching friends, let’s take time to state the obvious. Because to too many people — even fellow Christians — certain things are no longer obvious.

As Christians, we stand against racial injustice, in its historic forms, and in its present forms. We stand with Jesus for the full equality of all humans. Racial inequality is sin.

As church leaders, the question is: How does that stand drive our church’s mission? The answer will depend on context. I’ve never pastored a church in the South, so perhaps I’m missing some foundational fact. But it seems to me that when you stand in a place that waves confederate battle flags on Saturday, the church needs to have a clear message against racial injustice on Sunday.

Share This:

Benediction: Christian, Jew & Muslim @NationalCathedral

My footsteps echoed in the marble chamber so I lifted my heels to keep them from hitting the tile floor. In the transept, the “great choir” was singing Evensong. The unaccompanied voices drifted through the nave like wisps of pure music, beyond words.

liturgyI was in the National Cathedral to attend an interfaith prayer service held in the War Memorial Chapel. The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF) was beginning its annual conference this new way last Monday evening, and I attended as a visitor.

At the service, sacred scriptures were read by three military chaplains: a Christian pastor, a Jewish rabbi, and a Muslim muezzin. There were prayers and liturgical responses. There was also a meditation by a Christian professor-type, who talked about the three reasons that military chaplains are indispensable. To close, the three faith leaders put arms around shoulders and each gave a blessing from their tradition.

I was glad to be able to worship in this venue. The War Memorial Chapel is a significant location, bearing testimony to the unique relationship between our nation and its religious life. This is an Episcopalian place of worship, but one dedicated to be a house of prayer for all people. This was the place where the names of all 58,000 American soldiers who died in Vietnam were read — a service that spanned 5 days — as a prelude to the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in 1982. There is a National Roll of Honor housed in the chapel. Various works of art each bear history. Of particular note is the cross made from pieces of the Pentagon in the wake of 9/11.

As an outsider, and a “religious professional” it would be easy for me to point out some mis-steps of the experience. Outsider eyes always notice the inconsistencies and the just-missed. But I have no interest in being critical. Instead I cherish and applaud the good effort I experienced.

As I sat in the War Memorial Chapel, I couldn’t help but reflect on what a difficult undertaking freedom of religion is. What a perilous thing it is. What a crazy experiment that democracy itself has proved to be. No wonder it is so stressful for our nation. How can we expect to pass this “way of life” to the whole world — this vision of freedom and harmony — when no single faith group seems able to embody it?

I sit down to write about this experience a few days after it happened — and in the meantime news of a fracture within the Episcopal Church is in the news. The Anglican Church (worldwide) has sanctioned the Episcopal Church (United States) for the next three years, over disagreements about same-sex marriage. The news was shocking, and in hindsight, not surprising at all.

In truth, trying to stay in fellowship with people with whom you disagree is difficult. Religious precepts always feel fundamental, so to hold those precepts loosely enough to stay in dialogue is asking a lot of people. Maybe the only way forward is baby steps like the one I experienced Monday night. When a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim, arm in arm delivered a benediction in our nation’s Episcopalian “National Cathedral.”

Share This:

“I Cannot Live Without Books” Touring the Library of Congress

My family toured the Library of Congress last weekend, with alumni from Juniata College, our daughter’s alma mater.

The Library of Congress is in downtown DC, just behind the Capitol building (next to the Supreme Court). The LOC spans multiple buildings, but the one open for free tours is the Jefferson Building. The historic building now houses many exhibits, as well as a concert hall and a public reading room.

The building is gorgeous and we saw it in its holiday finery.

IMG_2507I enjoyed seeing the Gutenberg Bible and the Bay Psalm Book, along with lots of other Bibles and religious books. They have a great pamphlet you can take home. I also enjoyed seeing the St. John’s Bible displayed. It called to mind the wonderful weeks I’ve spent in Collegeville, MN at St. John’s Abbey.


Share This:

Honor Flight: a WW II Veteran Reflects

a guest post by my Dad

The following is by my father, Nicholas J. Huizenga, in which he describes a Talons Out Honor Flight he took on May 16, 2015. He died a year later, in June 2016, almost a year ago.

Nicholas Huizenga, USA private

Nicholas J. Huizenga, 1945

Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

Nine days ago I joined 105 veterans of World War ll on a trip to Washington D.C. mainly to see the war memorials. The average age of the vets was 93 years, and each had an assistant and a wheel chair. It was a long day, which began at the Gerald Ford airport in Grand Rapids at 5:30 a.m. and ended after midnight. During breakfast we heard the old songs of the War era by the Great Lakes Male Chorus before a grand send-off by scores of people, who applauded and shook our hands with expressions of appreciation for our service.

At the Ronald Reagan Airport in D.C. we were again greeted by scores of people while a professional group of women in their 60’s sang some of the old songs. Police cars escorted our six busses down the streets of Washington, while tour guides shared information about the buildings and monuments.


My family was able to meet Dad as he came off the bus at the WWII Memorial.


Share This:

Happy Presidents Day!

Here’s a picture from Mt. Vernon, where we visited on a cold Sunday last November. We topped off the visit with chestnut soup to warm up.

Look who greets visitors to Mount Vernon!

Look who greets visitors to Mount Vernon!

If you’re in the mood to read about other monuments in DC, here’s a post about a presidential kind of a jaunt from Presidents Day 2012. I hope you’re able to do something enjoyable and out of the ordinary today.

Share This:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — We Salute You!

One of the great things about living near our nation’s capital is the chance to visit the monuments. Last October when my parents visited from Michigan, I took them to the MLK memorial. We had the place to ourselves.


Notice the “mountain of despair”


We read all the quotations aloud, taking our time.


My parents chose this quotation for their portrait.


It’s a big monument, for a giant of a man.


Standing at the feet of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s another time I blogged about a trip to The Stone of Hope.

Wishing you a day of rest and remembrance in honor of a great man and a legacy of work that is still unfinished.

Make a career of humanity.

Share This:

My First Sailing Adventure — Annapolis, MD

Gulls flap. Ospreys dive.

Tankers growl. Speedboats buzz. But

no motor = Quiet.

sailing Annapolis MD

All Aboard the Alibi!

sailing Annapolis MD

The Bay Bridge in the distance.

sailing annapolis MD

What’s that tanker doing?

sailing annapolis MD

Wouldn’t that red capsule make a fun ride?

sailing annapolis MD

Share This:

Enter the Haggis

Last night Doug and I heard a band called Enter the Haggis at the Wolftrap Barns. We had never heard of them before, but we like to get to the Barns at least once every winter. I read this description and decided to bite:

  • Mastering a wide range of instruments from fiddle, accordion, whistles, and ukulele, Enter The Haggis’s diverse instrumentalists include Trevor Lewington, Brian Buchanan, Craig Downie, Mark Abraham, and Bruce McCarthy.
  • “Rock, fusion, bluegrass, traditional Celtic fare, agitpop, folk, even Latin flavors. Sounds awfully confused, right? Wrong. Enter The Haggis is one of those rare jewels that actually pulls it all off.”—Celtic Radio

You gotta love a band that includes a bagpiper, right? They’re Canadian and have been playing for close to 20 years. I’ll post the setlist and embed two videos of songs we enjoyed. The first is Let Me Go.  The second is One Last Drink/You Can Call Me Al (that one has the bagpipes and involves drinking, of course.) Enjoy!

Year of the Rat
Can’t Trust the News
Down the Line
Another Round
To the Quick
One Last Drink / You Can Call Me Al
The Litter and the Leaves
The Basket or the Blade
Devil’s Son
Let Me Go
Lancaster Gate
The Flood
Maggie’s Pancake Mix
Street Spirit (Fade Out) (Radiohead cover)
Lanigan’s Ball
White Squall (Stan Rogers cover)
Up in Lights
Copper Leaves
Down With the Ship



Share This:

White House Christmas Card 2013

Look what “popped up” in the mail last Friday:


White House Christmas Card 2013 front


White House Christmas Card 2013 inside


White House Christmas Card 2013 inside close-up

White House Christmas Card 2013 inside close-up

It’s the biggest perk of my MCA job so far!

Share This: