Archive | January, 2010

Stolen families.

21 Jan
Once a month, the pastors in our conference of the ELCA gather to check-in, worship, and hear some sort of presentation before eating lunch together.  Our presentation today was by Paul Hill, one of the brains behind the former Youth and Family Institute, now called Vibrant Faith Ministries.  A great presentation about the role parents and home play in the faith of a child and what the church can be for youth.  And for lunch was a variety of hotdishes; tator-tot hotdish with corn and a burnt layer on the bottom included.  I probably sound ungrateful – not trying to be – but just find it funny how it is such a classic church dish.  Anyways –
Lori pointed out this picture to me, hanging on the wall of the small country church we were at about 20 miles from Dawson:
An illustrated, old-time Lord’s prayer.  Cool beans.  Now check out the dedication plate —
There were many Stolens in this area years ago … I don’t think so much anymore.  When I first arrived, many people asked me if I was related.  I’m thinking not … but it’s still intriguing to have the connection.  But just because the last name is familiar to people in Dawson doesn’t mean they still don’t make fun of me for it.  One congregation member tells me that he thinks it would be a great idea to open an auto parts store — Stolen Auto Parts.
har har.

paper people project.

21 Jan

Awhile back, I showed you the beginnings of the paper people project with my third graders on Wednesday afternoon.  We finally wrapped up the project yesterday.  They were to trace themselves and then all about their paper body, color and write their strengths, gifts, and “likes” – the things that make them unique as a child of God.  

… they somewhat followed the assignment.  Not completely but it was still fun.  We tried to get a group photo but it didn’t quite work in our space and after five minutes of trying, the sound of rustling paper was driving me nuts so I settled for these pictures:

button excitement.

21 Jan
I was thumbing through a church supply catalog last week in the office when I came across an advertisement for the BADGE-A-MINUTE — a button maker.  I quickly became excited and explained to the admin. extraordinaire that I had purchased one of these for the program I led in Stillwater.  Making one’s own buttons is fun.  
Karen said to me, “We have one of those.”

Grace Lutheran has been holding out on me!  There has been a button maker here, in this building, for the last five months and I only just found it!  Proudly I say that it now resides in my office, ready for any button emergencies I may land upon.  
Today it served Kendall and I well.  We made a happy birthday button for Karen, complete with the number of her birthday in hebrew letters so she wouldn’t feel like she had to broadcast her age to all who saw her button.  (The hebrew is probably sketchy … we kind of just made it up.)


21 Jan

Do Day is the name for the Monday of the month in which the church ladies gather in the basement of the church and sew, cut, pin, and tie quilts to send to Lutheran World Relief.  Last year they sent nearly 100 quilts to the non-profit which then boxes them up and sends them to people in need around the globe.  
I make a point to attend do-day each month, if it’s possible, and tie a few quilt with them.  I came this month with my camera, to be able to share do-day with you, my faithful blog readers.  Because it’s church and because they’re chruch ladies, there is always coffee and goodies to go along with it.  I missed coffee time this past month but when I got there, one of the Dorothys insisted that I get coffee and something to eat.  This is the same Dorothy who insists that I drink coffee and eat something in between church services on Sundays.  She will literally get up from the table, fill my cup, and bring a treat of some kind and set it in front of me.  And you can’t tell forceful old ladies ‘no.’


17 Jan
Honestly, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention until Thursday.  I heard what had happened and may have even turned on the news Wednesday morning as I prepared to go into work.  I listened to conversations about the devastation and the tragedy but I was void of much emotion.  I had no idea.
Wednesday evening it started to haunt me little by little.  The stewardship board at Grace (the last in a string of many, many meetings for me that evening) moved to create a new line item in the budget, so people could give to Lutheran Disaster Response through the church.  (Or something – budgets are still beyond me.  There should be an accounting class at seminary.  Seriously.  I would take it.)  Rumors were also circulating on facebook and amongst friends that a college classmate of mine was in Haiti at the time of the quake and unaccounted for; his cousin and wife who were there with him hadn’t been able to find him.  Prayed.
Thursday I went skiing and focused my energy on not falling down; I don’t think I thought about what was going on outside the ski hill once.  I arrived home and the floods of emails and information regarding Ben Larson‘s death began.  A prayer service was being organized in Minneapolis the next night.  I didn’t even really know Ben – I would not call him a close friend – but suddenly the devastation and tragedy had a face, a face I knew.  At Luther, pretty much everyone knows everybody.  Ben and I were involved in college ministry activities together and had religion classes together.  I didn’t know much about him but his music leadership at FOCUS worship each Sunday evening and the fact that, really, if anyone was ever called to be a pastor, it was him.  
I didn’t know if I should go to Minneapolis.  Could I afford the three hours to get there and the three hours in the car coming home when I had a sermon to write for Sunday?  Maybe a responsible person wouldn’t have gone but I was in the car by 8:30 Friday morning, heading to the cities and I’m glad I did.  It was wonderful to gather as a Luther community and a greater community, to sing, to pray, and to lament together.  Though not under wonderful circumstances, it was great to see a few Luther people that I haven’t seen for a long while, including my roommate from freshman year.  It was where I needed to be.
Keep reading onto the next post for the sermon that flowed through my fingers when I arrived back to Dawson on Saturday afternoon.  I received many positive comments regarding it after service.  I actually made people cry!  (I consider this a small sort of accomplishment.  Not that I want to make them cry but it’s a validation that my words meant something and that the Holy Spirit used them.)  I managed to make it through both services without crying myself, though there were moments where it was difficult.
After attending the service on Friday and preaching this morning, I feel filled with passion to do something about this.  If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to donate financially to the Red Cross or Lutheran Disaster Response.  Right now, financial aid to Haiti is a lot of what we can do but in the months and years ahead, there will be so much more.  I also hope to start a drive to collect items for Lutheran World Relief health kits at Grace.  Build your own kits or send some band-aids or washcloths my way to add to the piles that will hopefully grow here at Grace!

Jan. 17 sermon

17 Jan

(… shout out to my friend, Elisabeth, if she is reading this … I hope it’s okay I used you in my sermon!)

I had read through the lectionary texts for today more than a week ago and was prepared to preach this Sunday on something completely different than what follows.  But suddenly, with the events of the past week, my sermon seemed inappropriate.  It seemed small.  It wasn’t where I was pulled to go.

The way we hear scripture changes.  The words stay the same but based upon where we are in life and what is going on in the world around us, scripture speaks to us in different ways.  A seminary professor of mine makes the claim that we interpret scripture and scripture interprets us.  Both of these interpretations are subject to change based on where we are on our journey.  After a certain event in our lives, scripture may sound different.  It speaks to us in different ways.  We all know this well – a scripture passage read at the bedside of a dying parent or the passage read at a funeral suddenly seems different to us.  The Spirit works through the words and through us.  After Tuesday’s events in Haiti, I looked at the lectionary texts differently.

I felt suddenly connected to the psalm for today.  Psalm 36, verses 5 – 10.  If you would like to read along with me, you can find it on page 473 in your pew Bible.  I read it as a prayer, as hope, as trust in God.  It is a psalm full of promise and I don’t know about you, but promise is exactly what I long to hear right now.  Listen and see how it speaks to you.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,

Your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

Your judgments are like the great deep;

You save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

And you give them drink from the river of you delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,

And your salvation to the upright of heart!

The scenes from the streets of Port au Prince are heart wrenching.  I cannot watch the news and hear the stories without crying.  Thousands upon thousands of people have been thrown into the worst nightmare possible.  Uncertainly regarding the lives of loved ones, no food or clean water, hurt, crying, desperate.  People estimate that the death toll could approach 100,000 people.  A country that has already known its share of pain and tragedy.  What do they have left to cling to?  I cannot imagine in the slightest what it would be like to be in there, to be amid the destruction and brokenness.  The pictures and video clips on the news can be nothing compared to what it is actually like to be in the midst of it.

Questions flood my head and heart – similar questions to the ones that may be on your hearts and lips.  Why?  Why did this happen?  Why are people suffering?   Why was I born in the United States with a roof over my head and clothes to wear when the people born in Haiti struggle to earn $2 a day?  Why didn’t God stop this?  Where is God in all of this? 

I won’t pretend to know the answers to these questions.  No one can know the answers.  Just like other natural disasters, we cannot know why a tragic event like this has shaken the country of Haiti and the world as a whole.  We don’t know the answers.  But we can stand together in our questions, in our anger and in our doubt.  It’s okay to be angry, to question God, to be in doubt.  The psalm writers are perfect examples of this; we lament.  We lament and are saddened together, and that brings us in closer relationship with the God who hears our lament and prayers of sorrow, our prayers of questioning.

I traveled to Minneapolis on Friday to be with a community of people.  People lamenting, praying and singing for the people of Haiti and for Ben Larson.  Ben was the son of two Lutheran pastors, originally from LaCrosse, WI, and more recently from Duluth.  Ben was a senior at Wartburg Seminary and was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, teaching leaders in newly formed Lutheran church of Haiti.  The news was released on Thursday that he was killed in the earthquake.

Suddenly, this tragedy I had watched on the evening news hit much closer to home.  It had a familiar face.  Ben and I were classmates at Luther College.  He always amazed me with his musical skills and the way of his interactions with people.  He walked around campus with a smile on his face, always singing to the music in his head.  He could make anyone feel at ease in his presence and gave wonderful hugs when sharing the peace after church services. 

Ben’s is a face that I recognized, a person I knew.  But he is only one face.  One of tens of thousands.  And for each person who died, there are parents, siblings, husbands, wives, children, friends who grieve.  The death, the destruction, the desolation in the streets of Haiti are hard to take in.  They can’t be understood or explained but yet, that is the reality of today.  The reality of the weeks, months, and years to come.

I struggled to write this sermon, to know where to go, and maybe I’m jumping here too quickly but – there is promise.  The psalm for today is full of it.  It may be difficult to see but we remember that in the times of suffering, there is promise.  In these days of death and tragedy, there are babies being born, people being married.  Life isn’t neat and orderly.  It doesn’t follow our timeline.  Earthquakes are an unfortunate reality, relationships are broken, jobs are cut.  We don’t always know why.  But even on the days that these things happen, babies are born and successful surgeries happen in hospitals.  People pledge their lives to one another in love.  Life isn’t neat.  What we do in the midst of the joys and in the midst of the sorrows is trust that God is there.  God is in the midst of the good days and the horrific natural disasters.  God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens.

I reconnected with a college friend, Elisabeth, while at the service on Friday.  She is also a seminary student, currently doing her internship in Montana.  She was planning to come home to Minnesota this weekend to baptize her godchild when she heard the news about Ben.  And so Elisabeth said farewell to a dear friend in Ben on Friday evening but also helped welcome a new member into the family of Christ through baptism today.  What a stark contrast.  The tragic beauty of life – there is death but there is also life.  Joy and sorrow are intertwined and comingles and God is in the midst of all of it.  God is with us and holding us under his wings, in refuge, in times of suffering; giving us the fountain the life in times of joy.

God is here, God is in Haiti, and there is hope.  We are so saddened by the events in Haiti because our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering.  A part of the body of Christ is hurting.  When they hurt, we hurt too because we are all one in Christ.  The people of the world have gathered together for the people of Haiti, sending financial help, medical supplies, and qualified people to aid in the efforts.  We contribute financially, we voice prayers, and we do all that we can to bring hope and the promise of love to the people of the nation.  God works through us, here in Dawson, to send us into the world.  Christ is active in and through us, bearing his love and compassion to those who mourn, those who suffer, and those who need healing.

Ben Larson’s mom was quoted as saying that if you want to know Ben, listen to his music.  One of his songs include the lyrics – “in times of sorrow/and in times of pain/when sensing beauty/or love’s embrace/whether we suffer/or sing rejoices/we belong to God/we belong to God.” God’s steadfast love has a claim us.  God claimed Ben at his baptism and claims us at each of our own.  God’s love extends to the heavens and God calls each of us his child in our baptisms.  Ben knew and understood the promise of God.  Ben sang ‘we belong to God.’  In living.  In dying.  God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds.  The love of God extends so far into the sky that we cannot know or grasp the expanse of it.  We are God’s and know that he is with us in the midst of all of it.  We belong to God.

On my drive back to Dawson yesterday, I stopped just outside of Silver Lake.  On my drives back and forth to the cities on highway 7, the cemetery just outside of that small town has always caught my eye.  It’s set just off the highway, up on a tiny hill.  In the center of it, is the scene of the crucifixion.  The cross extends high above the hill, the white sculpture of Jesus nailed to the cross.  The women at the foot of the cross, crying, lamenting.  The cemetery has always intrigued me and yesterday I pulled off and stopped.  I put my car in park and walked in front of the scene.  And there, I broke down.  I wept.  I lamented for the people of Haiti.  I prayed for the family and friends of Ben.  For the family and friends of all people whose lives have ended in the midst of this disaster.  I prayed for the body of Christ, for the swift and necessarily help to arrive to our brothers and sisters.  I prayed to feel God’s presence.

We can be certain that we belong to God and that he is with us in the midst of the joys and the sorrows of life.  We are certain because of Jesus Christ.  Because of the incarnate God.  Because God became human and dwelt among us.  And in our suffering, we know God is there because of the cross, because of the scene that is represented in that cemetery.  The incarnate and crucified God is present.  That is the promise we cling to in the midst of tragedy.  God is with us in this and in every day.  We look to God, to the cross, and take refuge in the shadow of his wings in the days and weeks ahead.  Amen. 

badges of honor.

14 Jan
I went downhill skiing for the first time today with the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders of Dawson-Boyd. Kendall invited me; he went along with his fourth grade daughter. He suggested that it might be a fun activity and, since I had never skied before, it would be a good opportunity to learn before the Grace church ski outing. I went back and forth – I wanted to go but yet, I didn’t. Not being athletically inclined, I was worried that I would make a complete and utter fool out of myself while by myself, that I would have no friends by my side to laugh along with me when I fell down or tripped on my own feet. And it’s true – my worries were a very accurate foreshadowing of my day.
Because I had never skied before, I took a lesson. When taking the lesson, I discovered that I cannot stand back up once I’ve fallen down. Some people could without removing skis; I was not one of these privileged few. In order for me to stand back up once falling down, I had to release one of my boots from the skis. I also learned that I was not so great at forming the “snowplow” position with my skis and stopping. For the first hour or so of my time on the bunny hill, I stopped by falling over. It’s the best I could do to not run into people. But then, because I can’t stand right back up, undo the ski, stand up, reattach, etc. Ugg.
Thus began my two hour stint on the bunny hill. The fourth graders and I grabbed onto the tow rope which pulled us to the top of the “hill” and then we skied in and out of cones, practicing our turning, leaning forward, and stopping. Occasionally, the fourth graders and I would exchange tips. The conversations would go something like this:
Lindsay: How’s it going?
Fourth grader: Okay.
Lindsay: This is really hard, isn’t it?
Fourth grader: Yeah.
Lindsay: I have trouble stopping.
Fourth grader: Yeah.
Lindsay: I fall over a lot!
Fourth grader: (insert advice here)
Lindsay: Okay, thanks!
Typically, a while after this conversation would take place, the fourth grader would then smile at me, show me the smiley face on their lift ticket (which meant they could move on to the bigger hills), and say, “I’m going to ski with my friends now!” all sorts of excited. Then I would grab the tow rope again and hang on until the top of the bunny hill. I was not good. I had no smiley face. I had no friends to laugh along with me.
But the story does not end there – I did get a smiley face! I moved onto the bigger hill! I still rode the chair lift by myself and subsequently fell down when I got off of it, but I had moved on. When people asked me how today went, I tell them that I am a better skier today than I was yesterday. (… which really says a whole lot of nothing for my ski skills but it’s true!)
I have two badges of honor and accomplishment to prove that I did indeed go skiing – my lift ticket tag (with smiley face) and the bruise that is gradually taking over my left calf muscle. I think my boot was a bit too tight and it’s not going to be pretty. We go skiing as a church in February and while I’ve had my lesson and learned to stop without always falling over, I think I may opt for cross-country skiing next month.

thurs. and fri.

9 Jan

Thursday: January marks my fifth month at Grace so naturally, the three month evaluation should probably be done, eh? Yes, it should have been done early last month but with Christmas planning, it just wasn’t in the cards. For the evaluations required by the seminary, both my supervisor and I fill out the same forms which ask for reflection/comments on different areas of my internship. Preaching, worship, pastoral care, interaction with the staff, etc. Kendall and I sat down with our laptops and discussed our answers with each other for over two hours on Thursday. Turns out he has confidence that I will be a competent pastor. Phew. After a summer internship that told me the exact opposite, I needed to hear that.

Friday: My day off … except … every other month it is my duty to lead the communion services at the care center and assisted living facilities in Dawson. January is my month so on my day off, I spent my afternoon with old people. (Old people is said affectionately – I like them.)

I was bitter about it at first. I wanted to spend the day in my sweats, watching movies, doing nothing productive. Alas, I put on the appropriate professional clothing, reluctantly did my makeup, and headed out the door. The first service is at the care center and then I walk next door to do the same exact service again at the assisted living facility. (A balancing act as I attempt to carry wine, wafers, and my worship materials outside in the wind. One windy Friday, a bit of Jesus flew off the plate. Opps.) The care center service went well; the bitterness beginning to wash away. The assisted living service takes place in one of their common rooms with a fireplace. I felt myself just melt away in the warmth and the conversation with the old ladies about quilting. Less and less bitter.

When I finish both services, I return to the care center to then deliver communion to anyone who was not at the service, to those residents who mainly keep to their rooms. As I walked down the halls, knocking on doors, delivering communion, I was suddenly glad to be there. (Not that I was totally unhappy before … just a little grief accompanied my duties.) I’m beginning to know the residents at the care center and am struck by how happy they are to have me stop by.

There is one woman, M–, whom I LOVE visiting. Our personalities just work together and she always makes me feel one hundred times better about myself. As Millie and I chatted, prayed together, and held hands, I was surprised at the care she offered me, probably without even knowing it. It might be how she wants to hold my hand or how she speaks so softly and often with a smirk on her face. I could have sat with her all afternoon.

After all was said and done, it was a most excellent day off.

a most excellent week.

8 Jan
As written about previously, my Christmas was … eh. Okay. I was snowed in. I went a bit crazy. It didn’t really even feel like Christmas. I was very thankful that the next week totally redeemed the holiday for me – I had a week of visitors, familiar faces, and lots of friends. Here’s a quick recap:
Sara Stenstrom (a bestest friend, former housemate and coworker from my days in Stillwater) journeyed to Dawson to meet the gnomes and no two feet of snow was going to stop us. We got very cold and very snowy on our visit to gnome park.
My seminary friend, wonderful Ms.Kate, came to Dawson to spend New Year’s Eve with me. We drank a bottle of wine and quilted! These were our fabric accomplishments that evening —
I drove to Willmar (one hour northeast of Dawson) to enjoy the Gieseke family Christmas. The Gieseke family – another Stillwater connection – has basically adopted me into their family since I’ve lived in MN and I love them for that! (Note to self: take family photo + Lindsay with Gieseke’s to include in blog.)
From Willmar, I traveled to St.Paul to meet up with my long lost buddy, Adam Teske, who was in town from Iowa! I have known Adam since my days in Decorah and my fingers are crossed that he will be joining me on the Luther Sem campus next fall.
I spent the night at my college roommate and her husband’s new place (sleepover!), we had a lovely breakfast together, and then it was time to journey back to gnome-town for me. But my, oh, my, the whirlwind week of wonderful people was just what I needed after too much isolation!

So. It’s been cold here –

5 Jan

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