Archive | December, 2009


27 Dec
I have a new friend. We’ll call him C. and he is three – maybe four – years old.
When I invited the children forward on Christmas Eve, C. was the buddy who sat next to me at the second service. As part of the sermon, we hid under a sheet and read a story with a flashlight. (Thank you to Karen G.’s ideation for that one.) As I was reading under the sheet, I would glance over at C., he would look up at me with a huge grin on his face, and just nod his head over and over. He was totally eating it up.
At the end of the children’s sermon, I handed out glow sticks to the kids, we said a glow stick prayer, and I sent them back to their parents. After the service, as we were greeting people on their way out, C. ran up to me, said merry Christmas, and thanked me for the glow stick. Then we gave each other a fist bump. The beginning of our friendship.
Today, after church, I stopped to talk to C. in fellowship hall. He yabbered and gabbered on and on about his new helicopter and how he slept with the glow stick and how now the glow stick has ran out of energy. “And what’s that?” pointing to a picture on the wall. “And what are you doing? Are you going to have a treat? You can have a treat like my treat. I’m jumping.”
As his parents insisted it was time for him to leave, C. followed me about fellowship hall for a few minutes, jumping and running and trying to convince me that the cinnamon rolls were really good. I’m glad to have a new friend.

Christmas Day/December 27 sermon

27 Dec

(Our Christmas Day service was cancelled so I may have just recycled that sermon to use on the following Sunday. We’re still in the Christmas season so it works.)

Grace and peace to you from God our father, Jesus Christ our savior and Lord.

The town of Bethlehem set the scene for our Christmas day, the day we celebrate Christ’s birth. In the town of Bethlehem, the streets are dark. No streetlights or headlights. It is night and we imagine people are escaping the darkness of night by being in their homes. The streets are empty but for a lonely couple. Joseph and Mary. Weary from traveling, tired with child. They cannot find a place to escape the darkness of the night, the darkness of their tired travels. Each opportunity, each knock, becomes a disappointment. Finally Joseph and Mary find a place to rest their heads – a stable. With livestock and straw. They escape the literal darkness of the streets but the darkness in their hearts remains – the darkness of uncertainty, anxiety, the worry of giving birth. Are they safe? Can they stay warm? What is to come next?

Suddenly something changes. Into the darkness breaks light. We sing – quietly at first and then evermore boldly – “yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” The true light, to be for all people, to dwell with us in grace and truth. The light breaks in. The darkness is no longer what dominates. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Christ is born.

We have prayed for Christ’s coming. We have waited. We have prepared. We light all the candles on our Advent wreath. We think we are ready. We think we are ready for the coming of the light, the coming of the Christ child. We wait for the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

We know darkness. We know what the streets of Bethlehem were like that night. We can feel the darkness of night. The kind of darkness when you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. We also know the darkness of sin. The darkness of uncertainty, of loneliness. The kind of darkness when you don’t know where your next step will land, where your next day will lead. The dark places in our lives are heavy. The darkness weighs us down, presses upon us. Our darkness are the things that shame us and the things that drag us down.

So we try and hide our darkness in our closets. We don’t want other to know what shames us or what presses upon us. We send out Christmas cards with the perfect family picture. The Christmas letter with the highlights of everything good from the past year. We conceal our darkness and our shortcomings. We put a smile on our face even if it hurts us. Even if we are living in pain, we don’t want others to see. We hope that we can keep those disappointments to ourselves, letting few others see the shadows. We don’t want others to see our messes and imperfections.

Our darkness grows. It changes. Darkness is maybe different than years before or maybe it is the same struggle. We mourn the loss of a loved one and face the first holiday season without them. We are stressed financially in tough economic times. We’re unemployed. We struggle with addiction. We face the reality of old age. We have been abused. Physically. Mentally. We feel the need for deep relationship but have found none. The darkness of loneliness. The darkness on my heart today is spending this Christmas season away from family, far from the people whom I love and who know me as a daughter, a sister, a grandchild. We all have darkness, whether we share it with others or keep it deep within ourselves. Darkness that presses up against us, that we fight day in and day out.

But today we sing that in the dark streets shineth. Shineth the everlasting light. We have prepared our hearts and our minds through the weeks of advent, awaiting the coming of the Christ child, the coming of the light of the world. The darkness in our lives are the things we want unseen, the problems, addictions, and secrets we want no one else to know. Those things are still present in advent, in our preparation. The light comes. Light breaks into our imperfect world and we are filled with joy and with hope. Light breaks in, the Word made flesh appears. Who is with God and who is God.

The Christ child is a great gift, the greatest of gifts we are given each Christmas. The word became flesh and lived among us. God comes to earth, to dwell with us, to live with us. God loves the world so much that he sends his only son to be with you. With me. With us. In Bethlehem we see the baby, born of Mary. The one who was with God and who is God. We know the rest of the story – we know where it goes from here. This is only the beginning of the rest. We know that this great gift will become a great sacrifice for our sins, to reconcile us to God. We know this and we celebrate this.

The light shines in the darkness and we are mesmerized by the light. In this Christmas season, we hang lights on our Christmas trees. We light candles. We welcome and invite light into our lives. The light comes to illuminate the world around us. The darkness cannot overcome it. But no where does it say that the darkness leaves. The darkness cannot overcome the light but the darkness is not gone.

The darkness in our lives has not miraculously vanished with the dawn of Christmas day. Culture models that this season is one of cheer and love, miracles and community. To feel anything but is to be called a Scrooge. We place so much emphasis on the joys and hope of Christmas that it is a disappointment when the cancer is still there. Your loved one is still gone. Broken relationships still exist. The light that comes illuminates the world around us. We see again the deep cracks and stains that are in our lives; dark corners still remain.

I used to feel this as kid. The hype, the excitement for the day of Christmas kept growing and growing inside of me. Anticipation of how special the day would be. Of how wonderful that single day of Christmas is. The excitement mounted on Christmas eve and my brothers and I barely slept that night. We were too excited. The day after Christmas was always a disappointment. Things were the same again. The way they were before Christmas but with nothing more to look forward to. It was a let down. Christmas was over. And had anything really changed except that the presents had been opened and the house was a mess?

But there is something different. We’re reminded again that Christ illuminates the world around us. Christ lights our path, our going in and our coming out. Christ, as a light, goes into the darkest places, into the struggles and brokenness of our community and our lives. Are you ready to let someone into your darkest places? To open the closet where you have hidden your struggles, disappointments, sins? We may not be ready, we don’t want our cracks and shadows to be shown, to be known by others but we can’t stop the light.

Light has a way of breaking in, of flooding all the space it can find. It pours through the air, through the cracks, through the space that surrounds us. Think of your bedroom at night. Even in the place of night there is light. The street lamp streams through the window, between the closed blinds. The light from the hall peaks from under the door. Wherever there is the opportunity to spread, the light is there. The light reveals where darkness has been, where our struggles lie. There in those places, the light spills out, Christ with you in the midst of depression and loneliness, sickness and struggle. Christ as the light of the world cannot be contained.

The Word became flesh and lived among us. Christ, the light of the world, became human, born a baby to an unwed teenage girl. Visited by shepherds. Born in a building with sheep and cows. Christ lives among us; he dwells with us. There is more here – the verb used for lived can also be translated as tabernacled – Christ tabernacles among us. Not necessarily a word in our everyday vocabulary. A tabernacle is a tent – Christ sets up residence with us. He sets up a tent in our lives and is here for the long haul. He did not come for a fleeting moment but the light of world came and stayed. Christ tabernacles with us like God tabernacled with the Israelites in the wilderness. God with us. Christ with us. Setting up a tent and camping with us in the midst of our broken lives.

In the darkness, in our struggles, God is with us. Emmanuel. We celebrate the coming of the light in the midst of our darkness. In the dark streets of Bethlehem and in the darkness of our lives, there is light. Light illuminates the world around us and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light of the world comes and is present even when the darkness seems overwhelming. Light spills into every space possible. It feels for every opening. Christ, as the light of the world, the word made flesh, feels for every opportunity to enter into our hearts and minds. To flood our life with the knowledge of the love of God. The everlasting light shines in the streets of Bethlehem and in our lives. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Amen.

the crazies.

27 Dec
I have the crazies. I’m going a bit insane, being snowed into my tiny apartment alone. I was stuck here on Christmas day and the day following. I tried to entertain myself, to keep busy, and to maintain sanity for as long as I could. I cleaned. I quilted. I talked on the phone. I watched (a lot of) Friends. Lord of the Rings. I did laundry. And it was okay. On Friday and Saturday, things were okay. I didn’t go crazy.
But now it’s Sunday and I’m stuck here again. The crazies have attacked me.
I got out for church. We only had one service this morning and it was all me. Pastor Kendall is on vacation so I did it all. Sermon. Liturgy. Announcements. I did everything but turn my microphone on properly. Opps. Luckily a few members ran back to the sound board to make sure things were working so only the announcements were missed. The church service went well and then I stuck around with coffee and congregation members for an hour.
But now I’m back at my apartment. I glimpsed the outside world but now I’ve returned to my shell and I can’t handle it.
I was going to drive to Watertown, SD to meet up with a friend and visit the glories that are Starbucks and Target but the roads don’t advise such travel. So close to getting out and yet, it’s a no go. I could drive 20 minutes to the next larger town, Montevideo, but the only thing I could do there is walk around Walmart and I’m just not sure that is appealing either.
Here I am. I will survive but as I told my mom when I called her, I just needed to complain a bit first.

quilting continues.

26 Dec

Being snowed in gave me the perfect opportunity to pull out the fabric and the quilt squares again. I still have ten quilt squares left to cut and create but I’m getting bored with connecting my three inch squares in patches of nine. I want to start putting it all together … thus I began to lay out the squares. Add some white borders and a little less carpet, a preview of what my quilt might look like …
26 Dec

snow crazy.

26 Dec

(Above: Bicycles outside of my apartment building on Thursday morning.) Beginning on Wednesday, western Minnesota has had constant snow falling from the sky and it has yet to really stop. Add a little wind and the blizzard conditions begin.
We were one of the few churches who held services on Christmas Eve. We had two services, 4pm and 6pm. It was a delightful service with lots of special music, readings, and candle lighting. I was involved in much of the service but my main part was doing the children’s sermon. I called the kids forward and we talked about Jesus being our flashlight. It was fun.
After services, I went to the Stelter’s home (my supervisor and his family) for dinner, gift opening, and a fun game of CatchPhrase. We had meatballs and potatoes, wine and coffee, gifts and games. It was a lot of fun. I wasn’t able to be with my own family but I was thankful to be with another family and a bunch of church ladies. The four older women from church who were there stuck around until midnight, through a long game of CatchPhrase. Hilarious.
I made it back to my apartment after midnight but barely through the snow drifts – I nearly got stuck at one point. Further proof that the next time I’m in a bigger city, I must buy a snow shovel to carry in my trunk. Because the snow was still falling and the wind was blowing, we cancelled our Christmas day service at Grace. My Christmas day plans were also put on hold due to the snow and thus I stayed in my pajamas all day long, watched a lot of Friends, and quilted.
Bicycles on Saturday afternoon
Today, Saturday, was another day in my pajamas, sticking to my apartment as it continued to snow and blow outside. Estimations would lead me to guess that we’ve had over 15 inches fall in the last three days, if not a few more. The old man with no teeth who probably shouldn’t still be driving but parks his maroon van next to my Corolla at the apartment building told me that we have gotten over thirty inches; we only talk when we both happen to be at our vehicles at the same time. I don’t even know his name so whether or not he is a reliable source is still questionable …

Christmas approaches.

20 Dec
It has arrived – Christmas week. In these next three days of work, I have two sermons to write, a children’s sermon to prepare, visits to do, Bible study, and a women’s group potluck. (The last one is optional but I’m strongly encouraged to attend. It is a potluck. With church ladies. My favorite.)
At Grace Lutheran, we hold two services on Christmas Eve (4pm and 6pm) and one on Christmas day (10am). Following the Christmas Eve service, I am invited to my supervisor’s home to celebrate with his family and on Christmas day, Pastor Lori invited me over for a leftover lunch and a movie in our pajamas. (Sounds perfect to me.) The Saturday following I will be traveling to Willmar to party with the Gieseke family and then I preach the next day, Sunday. Phew.
Despite the Christmas carols, the tree in my living room, and my mad rush to send out Christmas cards, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Eight hours away from home and the holiday seems lacking. I am appreciative to the people of Grace and coworkers here who are trying to make me feel as at home as can be and thankful that I will be busy. Turns out the Christmas season is about home and family and friends. Makes one love and appreciate the time at home, the time with loved ones much more.


20 Dec
The introvert in me has been going a bit haywire in the last few weeks and – not blaming, just saying – that the duties and joys of a pastor are wearing on me a bit. I need a break. A release. Time with friends, family, and people I know well. That time seems a bit far off for the time being and so the pastoral-care-a-lot continues. Here is what has been stressing me out –
– Three funerals in two weeks. (Four actually for the church of Grace but I was only involved in three.) In my first three months of internship, I had to assist in no funerals and suddenly, in the fourth month, we have four in two weeks. Phew. I had to lead prayer services the night before the services and then I have an assisting role in the funerals. (Poor Kendall has had to write four funeral services in two weeks.)
– Before Christmas, we try and visit all of the shut-ins at Grace. Between scheduled visits with shut-ins and hospital visits, my last Thursday consisted of only pastoral care visits of sorts, four in total. They were all lovely conversations and wonderful people to chat with but the introvert in me was killing.
– Listening to others, caring for others, and being there for others seems to be high on the pastor’s plate of priorities. I’ve known this all along and being a number two on the enneagram, I love to help others, to care for others BUT there comes a point. A point when I need others to listen to me, to care for me, and to be there for me. This point has arrived. Currently accepting pastoral care offers. For those of you who have been on the other end of the phone when I have called recently or been patient with my outpouring of emotions, thank you for listening. Thank you for offering the pastor some pastoral care. *wink*

Release time

20 Dec
Each of us have a unique design, created to be especially us by God. The third graders I teach on Wednesday afternoon for release time are no exception. (Here in Dawson, first through fourth graders get out of school for an hour to walk across the street to the church for religious education. Small town.) I have a class of 14 third graders, a rambunctious crew who don’t like to sit still or really listen at all but I love my time with them nonetheless.
As we talk about how each of us is special and loved by God, we decided that we would make paper replicas of ourselves which express who God has created us to be, with our talents, personality traits, and skills. Here are the beginnings of the project; some are quite hilarious and resemble alien-like creatures instead of third graders …

Luke 1:45

19 Dec

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!

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