Saturday, February 28, 2009

Little Big Foot - North Woods Chapel

If you would like to read my "Little Big Foot" posts, there is a link in the sidebar under LABELS. Click on Stories; Little Big Foot, and you can scroll down and read from the beginning.

For a moment, Dee Anna wondered if Ted Turner Boy was actually flirting with her, but then, remembering the Pat Robertson question, she decided he was just being his apparently blunt self. She smiled as she shook his hand and replied, “Thank you, Chad. It seems I am perhaps the only female preacher North Woods Chapel has seen, so that wouldn’t be difficult!”

The sanctuary was lovely, though simple. The piano was a small spinet. There was an organ, and two guitars stood to the side of the platform next to a drum kit.

On the back wall hung a large wooden cross. Stained a warm golden color, it was highly polished, gleaming beneath a subtle spotlight. Dee Anna suspected that the raised platform beneath the cross concealed a baptistery. Sunshine poured through tall windows that were open to the pleasantly warm air. The floors were warmly gleaming hardwood. A runner of royal blue carpet extended across the front and down the center aisle. There were long kneeling cushions near the altar area. The pulpit and communion table appeared to have been designed to compliment the larger cross. The pulpit was simple, making Dee Anna think of Danish furniture. Like the large cross, it was highly polished. A cross was carved into the front-- a smaller version of the one above it on the wall. The communion table held one candle and a colorful arrangement of summer flowers. These appeared to have come from someone’s garden. The whole effect was esthetically pleasing in an understated way.

Dee Anna thought of the beautiful old sanctuary in Madison, the stained glass, the pipe organ, the ornately carved pews. "We're not in Madison anymore, Toto." She pushed the image from her mind and quietly placed herself towards the rear of those who had already gathered in the pews. The pews were cushioned, Dee Anna was glad to see, in a shade of blue that coordinated with the carpet runner. A few more people entered and greeted those already seated as they found their places.
She leaned back in the pew and relaxed, enjoying the warmth and simple beauty of her surroundings. This lovely sanctuary was a surprise. She realized she had expected something like the parsonage--tacky at best.

Sunday School was uneventful. Jim “Portly Bald Guy” Johnson was a good teacher. Dee Anna realized that she had not expected him to be particularly interesting. It was obvious, however, that he had spent time in study and that he was an educated man. What had she thought—that he was a lumberjack? From the interactions it seemed that some in the class were familiar with scripture, but others were not.

"A good sign that some people are new" Dee Anna mused. She had chosen not to talk during class. She was dimly aware that she had stereotyped the congregation as soon as she had passed the town's welcome sign. She disliked snobs—had she been one?

Comments during class revealed that Jim had retired from the local school system after 20 years of teaching and several more as the principle of Little Big Foot High School. Jim had introduced her to the class by saying, “Well, you folks probably have figured out that our visitor is the preacher for today. Please welcome Pastor Dee Anna Hanson.” A few people turned around in their seats. Some stared with undisguised curiosity. A few smiled. A few frowned.
Dennis and Marla Whitewater were near the front. Marla smiled and gave Dee Anna a friendly wave as though they were old friends.
As the class progressed there were the usual comments, questions, and one guy who talked too much. “Always has to be at least one of those,” Dee Anna thought, feeling sympathy for the teacher. About halfway through the lesson she became aware of a distinct scent of wood smoke. It was powerful, though not unpleasant. She wondered about the origin.

Afterwards, some time was spent sipping coffee and munching donuts. These were in a small fellowship room that was located to the side of the sanctuary. Dee Anna greeted each of the deacons and met their wives. She shook Dennis' hand and thanked Marla for the nice breakfast in a basket.

Jim Johnson had an equally ample wife. Her name was Lorene, and she had a notable amount of steel grey hair piled on top of her head in what Dee Anna's mother used to call a “Pentecostal beehive.” Dee Anna smiled to herself when she thought of that term, wondering if Lorene was an “old timey Pentecostal” who kept her hair long. She was pretty sure of it when Lorene called her “Sister Hanson.”

Deacon Chad, Lorene confided, was single. Dee Anna wondered if Lorene had overheard the compliment he’d given her in the entry. "He is all of 25," she thought, "pretty young to be a deacon." Chad nodded to Dee Anna from a corner where he stood sipping coffee and talking with two other young men.

Bearded Crew Cut Guy, whose name was Lee Coats, approached with a sweet-faced woman who he introduced as “My better half, Mary.” Mary shook Dee Anna’s hand self-consciously, not meeting her eyes.

The parents she had seen earlier approached, and Deen Anna discovered that they were the source of the pungent scent of smoke. They introduced themselves as the Halvorsens. "I'm so sorry we weren't able to have you at our house for dinner," said the woman, whose name was Brenda. "One of the kids was really sick yesterday. Must have been a 24-hour thing though. Hopefully the other two didn't catch it." Mr. Halvorsen said, "I'm Tommy. Pleased to meet you. I brought you something, so wait after church and I'll fetch it."

Dee Anna was relieved when the break was over. She never was much good at small talk, and she was growing nervous. As someone began playing prelude music on the sanctuary piano, most of the people exited. Dennis Whitewater gestured for Dee Anna to remain. “We’d like to pray with you," Dennis said, extending a hand.
She didn’t much like holding hands with strangers, but she’d learned to deal with it. It was still part of being Pentecostal, it seemed. Back to that world?

“Nope,” she briefly thought. “But I can deal with it.”

As they entered the sanctuary, Lee told her she could sit on the platform. Dee Anna hadn’t noticed the two chairs near the drum kit. Imagining clashing cymbals, she told him she preferred to sit on the front row. She noted that someone had lit the candle on the altar table, and had apparently added the communion plates under a white cloth.

The service proceeded in an unremarkable manner. Jim Johnson led the congregation of about 100 in a responsive call to worship. A brown-skinned middle-aged man directed the congregation in singing three hymns. “A relative of Indian Chief Whitewater?” wondered Dee Anna. An elderly man played the organ, but there was no sign of musicians for the other instruments. A women's trio sang an updated version of “The Lord’s Prayer” during which she scanned her sermon notes. Someone prayed for the offering and plates were passed. "So far, so good," thought the preacher of the day.

Dennis Whitewater stepped to the pulpit and provided a brief introduction, noting that Reverend Dee Anna Hanson was sharing the elements of communion and was preaching for them as part of the process of a possible call to their congregation. She stepped up to the pulpit, thinking "Oh Lord! Shall I let these deacons know right after church that I am not the pastor they are seeking?" Aloud, she said, "It is a joy to be here today. Thank you. Please bow your heads with me and let us pray together."

As she said, "Amen" she silently added, "Here we go, God." Help them like me, but not too much. Remember?"

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Five: A Fork in the Road

I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, I asked the Rev Gals and Pals to share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?

Choosing only five was very difficult. Here are mine:

1. I attended a California private high school. Our school did not have a "Driver's Training" class, but taking the class lowered insurance costs. So I went with a classmate and friend to her boyfriend's high school so we could enroll for the summer class. Her boyfriend had a friend. They introduced us. I married him (four years later). What if I had decided to just pay the extra cash? Wow! So here we are, 37 years later.

2. My Marine husband and I moved from Camp Pendleton, California to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I never thought I would be anything but Southern Baptist, but we ended up, through a chain of events, doing something I NEVER thought I would do. We visited First Assembly of God, Jacksonville. I found out that there were actually women preachers in the world. And here I am.

3. I attended Rev. Rosa Mae Wead's class, "Women in Ministry." I thought it was for people who were going to be pastor's wives. I was wrong. "Sister Wead" challenged me, the Holy Spirit challenged me too...there was no going back. And here I am.

4. Okay this one is personal. I decided that lovemaking "just once" without using my usual birth control method would do no harm. (I was married, but only for three months.) Our daughter Kris was the result. (Ask me about why I think using a condom is NOT safe sex.) We freakied out--but we managed. What a joy our daughter (and now HER daughter) has been.

5. Ten years ago I answered the phone and spoke to a nice woman deacon who asked, "Would you like to preach at our church as a fill-in while we look for a pastor?" And here I am--for two more weeks anyway!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes

Over at Abbey of the Arts, Christine once again welcomes us to a poetry party where she posts a picture and invites us to submit a poem. The theme this time is Ashes to Ashes. All are welcome to come and read (or post).

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
From dust we are, to dust return.

By caskets standing,
We hear the words
from priest
or preacher..
or from

Melancholy though it is,
Our lives are frail
and short
and gone
as if
They never were.

When leaves are green and life is new
No thoughts of life's brief mystery!
Our bodies feel the green
of life
And live false immortality!

As life goes past and we begin
to feel the brevity of time,
We know the truth
of "dust we are..."
And wait for when
our time
Will come.

Sometimes through fear,
or grief or pain,
Sometimes through darkness
Leaves grow dry
Now life is dim and dust
and ash,
Sweet green becomes a memory.

And as the strength of nascent life
Turns brown and crisp
and fleeting, blown
by winds of time and loss and age
Our souls begin
to long
for Home.

As we release
The trees of earth,
Our fragile frame,
"this mortal coil"
From dust we are,
To dust we go,
O Death, your
is cold!

But wait,
This earthly phase is not
Our final place of bursting green!
We feel the surge of life and growth
and fresh hope of Infinity.

Yes, dust we are,
Yet hidden here,
Divine spark of eternity!
To dust we are, to ashes go...

Eternal Tree of Life begins!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Little Big Foot -- A Pretty Preacher

Dee Anna adjusted the bomber-style jacket of her favorite suit. It was sage colored and had a soft flowing skirt that elongated her rather short frame. Wondering if the temperature would rise and she would melt, she stepped into green pumps. They were comfortable but stylish, and they were just the right shade to compliment her suit.
As she retrieved small jade earrings from a side pocket of her suitcase, the Reverend Dee Anna Hanson recalled the afternoon she had purchased those shoes. It had been spring in Madison. She had taken advantage of an unusually warm day to enjoy lunch near Madison’s federal-look-alike capitol building. Sitting on a stone bench, she had rejoiced in the vivid colors of the tulips that filled the flowerbeds of Capitol Square.

On a whim, she had decided to wander down State Street. She always enjoyed “people watching” and State Street offered plenty of opportunities. A mix of students, artists, musicians, state employees, and aging hippies gave the area an aura unexpected and rare in the Midwest. The shoes were on sale at a pricey boutique. Her budget did not allow for shopping in the eclectic stores of State Street and she had planned to window shop, not buy. Still, they were perfect to go with her favorite suit--and on clearance! She would be foolish not to buy them, she had thought.

She remembered placing the shoebox on the floor in her closet with a feeling of satisfaction. She loved shoes. She loved her house. She loved her neighborhood. She loved the beautiful church building in which she worked—loved its grey stone, stained glass, and sense of history. She loved jazz in the park, and street vendors selling hot dogs. Aloud she said, “I love Madison, God.”

Now, why had she said that?

Dee Anna stepped to a mirror that hung on the outside of the closet door. She knew she was reasonably attractive, and she knew she dressed well. The face gazing back at her was round and a spate of freckles splashed across the nose. “Too round,” she always told herself. Her eyes were green and her short hair was copper colored. She did like her eyes, but her nose, she thought, was too short, and her mouth was too broad to be perfect. Her hourglass figure, like her face, was a bit too round to be stylish in a world that valued stick-thin glamour.

She wrinkled her nose at herself and adjusted her gold cross. The cross was an anniversary present from a few years ago. The design was simple but elegant and she usually wore it when she was preaching.

Satisfied, she sat on the edge of the bed and reached for her Bible where she had placed it on the vintage nightstand. “I’ll bet they got that nightstand at Goodwill” she thought. “Nothing but high class in this parsonage. Yah sure, you betcha.”

Checking her watch, she saw that it had only taken her five minutes to finish dressing. She had twenty minutes until Sunday School was set to begin. She was thankful that she only had to preach the sermon and close the service. Others were taking care of various elements of the worship.

Taking a deep breath, she opened her Bible and prayed, “All right then, Lord. I do not know why I am here, but I guess you must know, so I give you the day. I cannot imagine a place more unlike home. I wish I had known before I came. Still…sorry, God. I am rambling.”

She took another long breath and began again. “Holy Spirit, please be with us. I know I need your grace to preach well. I need your presence with me. May you speak to those who are listening, and may they hear what you say, not simply what I say. And…God, please don’t let them like me too much.”

That made her laugh out loud. “Amen” she said, and reached for the ribbon in her Bible. It marked where she had stopped reading the previous morning before she had climbed out of bed to deal with a sick dog and a distressed child. Yesterday morning seemed a long time ago to Dee Anna. She thought of loved ones at home and for about the tenth time she scolded herself for not bringing her cell phone charger. She wondered about the dog—and then she began to read from Isaiah, Chapter 57:

And one shall say,
Heap it up! Heap it up!
Prepare the way,
Take the stumbling block out of the way of My people.”

For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“ I dwell in the high and holy place,
With the one who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

She stopped, aware of an indefinable change, a shift somewhere. The room felt deeply still. After a few moments she quietly asked, “Lord, are you trying to speak to me?” She read the passage again, and then again. The words contrite and humble spirit seemed highlighted.

“The High and Lofty One lives with the one who is humble” Dee Anna thought. “And that infinite, holy God wants to revive the heart of the contrite ones. The contrite ones.” Suddenly, with uncomfortable clarity, she thought, “I am asking God’s Spirit to be with me. Am I humble?"
Again she was aware of a strange stillness. “God, are the people feeling faint? Are they needing to know that you long to give them renewed hope and life?” She sat still, almost afraid to move. “God?”

A crow cawed loudly outside the open window. The stillness passed. Dee Anna decided she was just tired and, therefore, fanciful. Fanciful—a word her mother had often used, and not kindly. She stretched and glanced at her watch. Like her entire ensemble, the watch was simple and elegant. Eight minutes before nine…time to go. She closed the window. She pulled her sermon notes from her suitcase and thrust them into the Bible. Hurrying down the stairs, Dee Anna was aware of butterflies in her stomach. “What is that about,” she wondered. “It’s not like I haven’t preached before. And not like this is a big deal.”

She felt self-conscious as she stepped out from the doorway of the parsonage. The church was so close she felt she could have touched it from where she stood, and she saw a family with three children approaching the glass doors. She smoothed her skirt and stepped across the driveway.

The small church building was surprisingly southern in appearance. It was close to the street. A front porch with a triangle-shaped roof supported by white pillars graced its red brick. A white steeple pointed into the blue sky. She had been too stressed yesterday to notice much except the glass doors and the four deacons. Now she saw that there was a wide lawn and a parking lot behind the church.

She stepped inside the small foyer. Children’s voices drifted up the stairway from somewhere below. The nursery, where she had met with the deacons was on the right. The pastor’s study was on the left. There didn’t seem to be a church office. Dee Anna realized that, oddly, she had not seen anything of the building except the nursery and the small restroom where she had made a quick stop the day before.

Ted Turner Boy stood by the doors that led into the sanctuary. He smiled. Dee Anna had not seen him smile before. It softened his intense appearance, and Dee Anna thought, “He may look too much like Ted Turner, but he really is a young guy.” She struggled to recall his name. Chad. That was it. And she knew that Portly Bald Guy was the teacher. His name was Jim Johnson.

Chad tossed his hair back from his forehead and extended his hand. “Hi, Pastor Dee Anna.” Welcome to North Woods Chapel.” He eyed her rather intently. "You are without a doubt the prettiest preacher this place has ever seen."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life Marches On

Today the pastor who will be serving as the interim at my soon-to-be-former-church came to preach a sermon. He won't be "official" until after I am gone, but this gave folks a chance to hear and meet him before I am gone.

I was snowed in at my daughter's! So I didn't show up till he had started the sermon. But the part I heard was great....a sweeping (Old and New Testaments) look at God's amazing grace. One line that I recall is, "We are not seeking victory. We live and move in the victory that God's love provides."

Afterwards I gave him and his wife a quick tour of the church building. And he said, "I was so happy to see all the young people! And there is a good feeling here, a good spirit...these are good folks here."

Yep. I am proud of my little flock. Last year at this time I could not say that. I rejoice that I could say with total honesty, "Yes. We have come through some deep waters, but they are ready for what comes next." I believe it is true. Thanks be to God.

I was comfortable most of the service, though it did feel strange to be sitting in a chair near the back. (We came in late, remember.) Only at one moment did I feel the sadness and finality of that. A wave of grief washed over me, but it was soon gone.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Five: Taking a Break

Over at Rev Gal Blog Pals, Songbird says, "Where we live, it's February School Vacation Week!Yes, that's an odd thing, a vacation extending President's Day. But it's part of our lives here. Some people go South or go skiing, but we always stay home and find more humble amusements." I only have a few minutes before diving in to a very busy day, but I'll quickly play along, and I am assuming that money is not a problem.

She asks that we share how we would spend:

1. a 15 minute break
I would make a cup of tea or coffee and spend some time catching up with blogs I like.

2. an afternoon off
I am about to have too many of those, but I'll ignore that for now. I would go shopping, preferably with my daughter or a friend. I want SPRING clothes. Don't remind me that it is frigid outside. I do not care. I need color.

3. an unexpected free day
I need pampering. I think I would like a great haircut and style, a pedicure, a manicure, and a really good massage, please.

4. a week's vacation
Assuming I have a plane ticket and plenty of money, I would head to California and visit Betsy and Sophia and Presby Gal, and others. I'd eat California Mexican food, spend a couple of days in the mountains, and the rest of the time I'd veg on the beach. The beaches will, of course, be empty because it is February and Californians think it is too cold to be at the ocean.

5. a sabbatical
I had one a while back. I posted about it. It was the most stressful sabbatical imaginable, because while I went to some lovely places I was wrestling with the Lord for six weeks. I'm surprised that I didn't come back with a permanent limp (like Jacob). This time would be different. I would go somewhere with a beautiful church, a lovely setting in nature, and a fabulous library. I would study and study and pray and sit and....go to church in completely different traditions than my own.

The garden at St. Norbert's Center for Spirituality, De Pere, WI.
I spent some time there on my sabatical.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Little Big Foot -- A Visitor

Dee Anna’s watch beeped insistently. Fumbling under the pillow, she slowly realized it was still on her wrist. Without checking the time, she turned off the alarm. Dimly realizing she was a little chilly she pulled up the blanket. A front must have moved through after she fell asleep.

Where was Charlie?

Suddenly she started awake. “Oh no! What time is it?” Looking at her wrist, she was relieved to see that it was only 7:30 a.m. Sighing with weariness, she laid back quietly, wondering if she dared set her watch again so that she could manage another half hour of sleep. What a long night it had been.

The morning air was pleasantly cool. Yesterday’s humid haze was replaced by a clear blue sky. Dee Anna could see part of the upper branches of a large maple tree outside the window. Birds were chirping. It looked like the beginning of a beautiful day.

Yesterday she had noticed that someone had left a coffee pot on the kitchen counter, along with a package of muffins. Ugh. She wondered if she could manage to shower, dress and still fit in a breakfast at the diner she had found the previous evening. She was hungry, she realized, as her stomach growled loudly. Maybe she could go to Lumberjack Shanty. The portable sign on the lawn out front had advertised large Sunday breakfasts. No, better be on the safe side. One late entrance was enough! Besides, it would be no fun eating alone. She felt a little lonely, she realized. Well, she would soon be headed home.

Rising, she glanced out the window. Enjoying a sudden pleasant breeze, she said aloud, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. All right, Lord, this day you made has started with a lovely morning. Thank you for birds and blue sky. I ask you to be with me today, and help me to be a blessing. Thank you for the opportunity to be here. I pray that you will bring the right minister to this town. You know what person will be best for these people. Someone with...” Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by loud knocking on the front door.

Pulling on her robe, she called out the open window. “Be right down.” Who was knocking on the door of an empty house? Well, empty except for her.

Down the turquoise stairway, across the pizza carpet, and to the door she went, suddenly realizing there was no way to view the front steps. “Well, I hope whoever is out there is friendly” she thought as she opened the door a bit cautiously.

On the doorstep stood a small woman dressed in a simple blue pantsuit. She was lovely, Dee Anna noted, with dark hair and eyes, and an olive complexion. She appeared about forty. “Good morning!” she said, with a wide smile. “Are you the lady preacher? “

Stepping in before Dee Anna could reply, the visitor headed for the kitchen. “Foolish question! Who else would you be, a woman standing in her robe in our empty parsonage?” She laughed and placed a basket on the counter. Dee Anna hadn’t noticed it till now.

“Oh,” Dee Anna said quickly, “Excuse me! Please come in and…” She stopped and they grinned at one another. “Uh, I guess you are in. Well, yes, I am Rev. Dee Anna Hanson. What can I do for you?”

“Yesterday when I was mopping the kitchen floor I saw the muffins from the Kwik Trip.” She wrinkled her nose. “Who could preach a decent sermon with that junk food for breakfast? I baked some real muffins last night.” She gestured toward the basket. “They’re in there, along with some fresh squeezed orange juice and a hard boiled egg. I put some jam in too. I hope you like pineapple apricot jam.”

She headed toward the door. “I won’t stay. I know you have to get ready. I will see you at the church.” As she stepped lightly out the door she turned back and said, “Oh, I think I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Marla. Marla Whitewater. Dennis Whitewater is my husband. You know, he’s one of the deacons.”

“Indian Chief,” thought Dee Anna as she extended her hand and found her voice. “Oh, yes. I met him yesterday. I’m afraid I made them all wait.”

Marla laughed again, a sound that would make anyone smile. “Ha, serves them all right for not callin’ you themselves. Susan always does mess stuff up that way. Yep, I heard, and I said, ‘I bet it wasn’t the preacher’s fault.’” She moved down from the small porch. “See you soon. I’m looking forward to today. I haven’t heard a woman preacher before. I thought only Methodists had lady preachers.”

She waved as she closed the door of a blue Toyota truck parked in front of the house. “Bye!” Dee Anna waved back, feeling a bit overwhelmed.

In the kitchen she opened the basket. Inside she found the items Marla had mentioned. She also found a cross stitched cloth napkin, a plate made of blue glass, a small knife, a fork, butter, a tiny set of salt and pepper shakers, a sturdy blue mug, a tiny Mason jar with cream inside, two packets of sugar, and two packets of Sweet ‘n Low.

The coffee pot was already full of water, and fresh grounds were in the basket. Turning it on, the preacher of the day headed for a shower.

By eight thirty Dee Anna had fixed her hair, dressed in her underwear and a pretty slip, and applied her make up. She was sitting in her robe on the chair she had left in the living room. She finished the last of the two muffins, and brushed the crumbs from her lap.

Maybe she would still have a few minutes to read her Bible and collect her thoughts. After all, the church was right next door.

Heading up the stairs to find her clothes for the church service, she remembered that her garment bag was hanging in the closet that looked like Hell. She chuckled a little. Then she smiled, thinking of her cheerful visitor. What a charming woman. She obviously had packed her basket with consideration and care. A nice surprise.

“What other surprises might be in store for me today?” Dee Anna wondered as she opened the closet door.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Last" Things

As I've posted, I have resigned the pastorate of Jubilee, and my last Sunday there will be March 8th. That is not much time.

As I have gone through February, I am acutely aware that I am doing things for the last time. The last pot luck. The last business meeting. The last board meeting with the deacons. The last donut consumed at the ministerial association meeting. The last Thursday prayer meeting in our lovely prayer room. Next week will be the last time I will sing with the worship team.

Yesterday was my last sermon. ( I will be sharing my thoughts and farewell "wisdom" with the congregation on March 8th, but it will not be a sermon. Next week the minister who will be serving as the interim pastor will be preaching. The following week, Ken will do the honors.) Soon it will be my last time to bless the bread and cup. I do not want to think about that.

Two years ago.

Yesterday could have been so difficult. I chose to do a series on Gideon, one of my favorite Bible characters, before I knew it would be my last series at this church. Yesterday was the forth and last message in the series. God knew, and preaching this has been more Holy Spirit led than I could have dreamed. Yesterday was not difficult, though I did get teary-eyed a couple of times. Instead, the presence of God was so real, my joy in preaching so profound, the response of the people (as we gathered around the altar area and sang "The Battle Belongs to the Lord") so heartfelt, that I have felt like I am soaring.

I am not saying it is all peaches and cream and glory. I have cried, been afraid, questioned--pretty much run the gamut of expected emotions. But over all I am so full of expectation. I believe God hand-picked, so to speak, the man who will serve as interim and lead the church through the transition. I can say with total honesty that I believe the church is more healthy that it has been in the last 25 years. I envy the pastor who will come, because there is a very different group of people than when I arrived. They are ready to embrace change in a way that is astounding, and they are sadder but wiser. The three deacons will share honestly with each other. They will pray earnestly. There is not much likelihood of tense undercurrents or of completion.

Last night was the last Valentine's dinner. I did not want to attend. I thought it would be sad or difficult in other ways. It was not. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. We all laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. The connections between us were wonderfu and it was fine to realize that those connections are about to change forever.

What a wonderful group of people about to be baptized (last summer).

I know our last Sunday will be difficult for me, but I believe that God's grace will be sufficient, as I have experienced already. I am totally confident that now is the time for me to go.

The thing that brings tears to my eyes, that brings a catch in my heart, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is the awareness that these "last things" will perhaps not just be the last at this church, but the last. Period. That is a real possibility. If I have learned nothing else over these last ten years, I have learned that there are no guarantees. I will stand on three things;

1. God loves me.
2. The Lord has promised to be "with me" till the end.
3. God's plans and purposes are not for me to know. Maybe in the life to come, but most certainly not in this one.

About 15 people have said or written the same thing about my future, something I don't want to share here yet, but something good. I hope they are correct, but I have no assurance of that. Sometimes things just make no sense. Sometimes life is totally unfair. Sometimes dreams are shattered. Sometimes faithful servants of God are overlooked and forgotten. Sometimes unfaithful ones appear to prosper. I used to think (how naive I was!) that if I did the right, honorable, ethical, obedient thing, God would bless and prosper my ministry. I now know, as I said, that there are no guarantees and I can have no expectations upon the Almighty but those of love and presence.

Where does that leave me? Clinging to God with all my might. Other than that, I have no idea what to expect.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Little Big Foot -- The Interview

The sound of crickets filled the room. The night was warm and a humid haze hung in the air. Wasn’t it supposed to be cool in the north? Dee Anna tossed restlessly, turning her back to the window. The relentless glare of an orange-tinted streetlight cast shadows on the wall. They were so vivid Dee Anna could, she thought, see them even with her eyes closed. What had they done with the curtains? Maybe the former minister’s wife had taken them.

Sighing loudly, she swung her feet to the floor and felt for her watch, which she had stashed under the lumpy pillow. It was two in the morning. Retrieving her robe from the foot of the bed, she draped it around her shoulders. “Why am I bothering since no one is here?” she thought. She snapped on the switch by the bedroom door and squinted as florescent light assaulted her eyes. “There is no way I’m coming here. No flippin’ way!” she said aloud.

Her eyes felt grainy from lack of sleep. She padded down the narrow stairs in bare feet, absently wondering what would happen if she tumbled to the bottom of the steps. Alone with no phone in the mostly empty house, would she lie helpless until morning when someone finally came to look for her? It was stupid to have forgotten her cell phone charger.

Had there ever been an uglier carpet, she wondered as she stepped into the empty living room. It looked like a shaggy pizza—orange, gold and green spots splashed over its reddish surface. “Even by streetlight, it is horrid,” Dee Anna thought crossly.

The refrigerator in the kitchen hummed loudly, and Dee Anna decided to drink one of the soft drinks she had stashed there. “I bet they’d be mad if they knew I wasted electricity by plugging you in” she said to the refrigerator.

An old kitchen chair was pushed against the wall. She pulled it into the living room and sat looking out the front windows at the empty street. Sipping her Dr. Pepper, Dee Anna pondered the previous day’s events. She had already been doing that most of the night. Her thoughts combined with the heat had kept her awake, the images and sounds curling back in a seemingly endless loop. She couldn’t seem to stop, even though she knew she needed to be rested the next day. “It doesn’t matter if I am sharp or not,” she thought, “since I’m not staying.”
No, that wasn’t right. She must never take the privilege of standing a pulpit for granted. She said aloud, “I’m sorry, God. Help me to share something from Your heart, even though I know I won’t be coming here.” She wondered how her sick dog was feeling, back home. She'd be glad when tomorrow was history.

She grinned as she pictured the sight she must have been as she uncurled herself from the front seat of the Falcon after an eight-hour drive. Since the deacons had been waiting nearly an hour already (how had that happened?) she had told them she would not delay them further by changing clothes.

They had met in the church nursery, sitting on uncomfortable metal chairs; Dee Anna had tucked her dusty feet under her chair as far as she could. Portly Bald Man began with prayer. It was a good and warm prayer, and Dee Anna had felt grateful for that.

It was a positive sign, she had thought, that two of the men seemed quite uncomfortable in their suits and ties. Crew Cut Man had continually run his finger inside his shirt collar as if he were choking. He clearly wasn’t used to dress shirts. Portly Bald Man had eventually taken his coat and tie off, saying, “Man, it is hot!I hate those things. Why should we be puttin’ on airs anyhow?" That brought a laugh from one of his peers and a frown from another.

The interview had not been at all what she had expected. She was prepared to share about her pastoral experience, her philosophy of ministry, her strengths and weaknesses, her goals, her theological views on some tricky topics. Instead, they had asked about her upbringing, her family, her marriage, and why she had decided to become a minister, “being a woman, you know.” That last was from the third deacon. He was lean and wrinkled but had an engaging grin. He looked Native American. It was impossible to tell his age. The others had nodded in interest at the question. She couldn’t remember what she had answered.

At one point a mostly silent younger man with a thatch of hair that fell over his forehead had blurted, “So, what do you think of Pat Robertson?” Her mind had raced, wondering why he would ask that question. Was she supposed to love or hate Pat Roberson? It was obviously an important issue to Ted Turner Boy. He was more animated than at any other time in the hour they spent in the nursery.

Mercifully, the church phone rang in the office across the hall and he, being closest to the door, had risen quickly to answer it. By the time he returned, Indian Chief had asked about her views on the end times and the Great Tribulation. This had led to a heated discussion in which she remained silent. The deacons hadn’t seemed to notice.

As she was attempting to gently turn the conversation to her own questions, Crew Cut Man said, “It’s late. I gotta be getting to the barn. Those twenty Bossies are gonna be bellerin’. Immediately the others rose to their feet, looking relieved. Stepping back in the room, Ted Turner Boy announced, “The Halvorsens were supposed to take this lady to dinner. That was Brenda on the phone. One of the kids is throwin’ up and they can’t make it.” The men looked uneasy. After an awkward silence, Portly Bald Guy said, “Well, I’ll take you over to the drive in and you can order whatever you want.”

Dee Anna had immediately thanked him but said she would like to drive around town for a while and would eat later. They all looked relieved and headed for the entry and the glass church doors. Each shook her hand as they left. Crew Cut Man had said, “You already know there’s towels next door. The bedrooms is upstairs and my wife brought over some clean sheets. It’s a spare room for missionaries and such, so there’s a bed left in there. It belongs to the church, you know.”

Indian Chief added, “Church starts at ten, but Sunday School is at 9:00 sharp. Would you like to teach the class?” Once again, her mind raced, but she had decided to diplomatically decline. “Oh, I’d rather hear the person who usually teaches. Is that all right?” Portly Bald Guy looked pleased and said, “Sure. Hey, can I get your suitcase for you?” She opened her trunk and he retrieved her small suitcase as she plucked her garment bag from the back set. “For a woman you pack kinda light.” He grinned for the first time as he headed for the stairs.

In another three minutes, they had all climbed into their cars and departed. That, apparently, was that.

Dee Anna had gone directly to the small bathroom and stood under the shower for a long time. Deciding against make up at this point, she ran her fingers through her short hair and dressed quickly in a clean pair of jeans. She fished her tennis shoes from the bottom of the garment bag. Maybe she’d find a park or something.

Driving around the town, Dee Anna had felt a little as though she were in a bad movie. Many of the building had false fronts, and the Paul Bunyan look-alike she had seen on the town’s welcome sign appeared two or three more times. She could hardly imagine a setting more foreign to her personality and experience. Nope, no way she was going to pastor a church in this town.

She’d found a small diner that advertised “home cooking.” After a meal of meat loaf and mashed potatoes she grew lonely and a bit depressed. She had driven out into the woods surrounding the town and sat in her car praying for a while. The heat had lessened by only a few degrees and the effects of the shower had long since worn off.

Returning to the little parsonage, she’d taken a closer look around. Hideous carpet. Undulating floors. She wondered what might be hidden by the abundance of paneling. The colors had been a bit shocking: a chartreuse kitchen (though it was nice and big), a dark purple bedroom, a bright touquoise stairway. The upstairs room in which she found the bed was, mercifully, a neutral beige. She had opened the closet to hang up her garment bag, pulling the string on a bare light bulb. What she had seen had caused her to gasp aloud and burst out laughing.

It looked like Hell. The closet was painted the color of a florescent pumpkin.

Nope there was no way she’d fit in here. In the darkened living room of the parsonage, Dee Anna thought of the orange closet upstairs and shook her head. She looked at her watch. Four a.m. Okay, maybe she could finally fall asleep. She headed upstairs and climbed back into bed. She said a quick prayer that she would get some sleep. Her last thought before dozing off was, "Lord, Little Big Foot sure is an odd name for a town."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Five: Pets

Several of the Rev Gals have recently lost, or are anticipating possible loss, of beloved pets. Most recently was Molly, Songbird's beautiful companion in life and ministry too. Sophia hosts this week, and she asks us, in memory of Molly and others, to tell about our five most memorable pets. This is an interesting topic, and a difficult one for those of us who love animals and have had many of them share our space. Hmmm...she did not say favorite. She said most memorable.

1. Myrtle the Turtle. To be precise, Myrtle was a tortoise. It is now illegal to cart off a California desert tortoise, but back in the day when it wasn't, my dad returned from Lockheed missile testing in the desert with Myrtle. She was about as big around as a dinner plate. No, she was not particularly affectionate and did not come when called, but we loved her (or him?) anyhow. She would, if we were gentle, stretch her neck out and allow us to scratch her scaled head, which felt like dry leather. She hibernated in winter, but in summer she often could be found grazing in the grass of our yard. Her favorite foods, which we never tired of watching her devour, were rose or hibiscus petals. Myrtle was left behind when our family disintegrated. I've wondered more than once, since desert tortoises live a long time, if she still has a burrow under the house on Woodman St.

2. Pete the Parakeet. We had several of these charming little birds when I was a kid. Pete was not charming. Oh, he was pretty, with his bright green and yellow coloring, but he was mean and would bite if given the slightest opportunity. He will forever live in my memory because of the cricket hunt he sent my family on. My mom suspected a cricket infestation and we looked everywhere for about a week trying to find the loud but elusive little insects. Eventually we discovered that Pete, living in a cage near a window, was imitating the night sound of crickets. That parakeet could sound like a dozen crickets were in the corner. It was amazing!

3. Freddy the Three-Legged Frog. Freddy wasn't a pet, exactly. He lived in our flower bed. One day my dad and I discovered that Freddy had somehow crushed one of his back legs. My dad did an impromptu surgery on our wooden picnic table. I, the surgical assistant, held a string tightly across Freddy's leg and squeezed my eyes tightly shut. Dad amputated the crushed part of the leg and gently places Fred under a sheltering oleander. I figured he was a goner, but soon we saw him hopping around as happily as ever. For a frog with three legs, he could jump!

4. Blinkers. This was the dog that followed me home. At least that is what I told my parents. Actually she was coaxed by a chunk of bologna. Blinkers was the pet of abusive folks several blocks down the street. I had watched them hit, taunt and abuse this sweet and beautiful little doggy that they called "Tootsie" and I decided to take matters into my own hands. About a week after Blinker's abduction, one of the brats to who she formerly belonged banged on our front door and asked for Tootsie back. As for Tootsie, now named Blinkers because of the black circles around her eyes, she shrank back and cowered in fear. My dad sent me to my room. I don't know what transpired, but Blinkers was my dog after that, and the child never asked for her again. She was the most loving dog I had ever had, and she knew she was mine. We were not a family who allowed pets on the furniture, but little Blinkers would sneak on my bed after all were asleep, and she'd creep slowly up till I could rest my hand on her head. Sadly, we were in a relatively poor period of our family life, and we did not get Blinkers to the vet for shots. She evidently hadn't had any, because she developed distemper and had to be put down. The night before the deed was to be done, we fed her Oreo cookies. Later we found some "buried" under the throw rugs. I remember my last sight of her as I rode away on the school bus. She had been very sick, but that morning she rallied, running along the fence and barking good-bye to me. I hoped this meant she would recover. It didn't.

5. Cassie the Wonder Dog. This is the dog our family will never forget. We aquired her from a family who had two rather dopey labs, and Cassie (a name we did never liked). Cassie was the brains of the trio. A sheltie/husky mix, she had the husky size but the sheltie appearance so she looked like a collie. Cassie would hunt down porcupines because she loved to sniff and find things. The two galumping labs would then end up with noses full of quills. After several episodes of this, they gave two-year-old Cassie to us. I could write a book about Cassie. I will just say that she was brilliant and we know she would have talked if she had had the vocal chords for it. She was funny, sensitive and sweet, protective and loyal, prone to sneak cake (and pay for it later), very perceptive about people, and we also suspect she could see spirits--angelic and otherwise. My son has her collar, and we still talk and laugh about her. She lived a long and happy life. Her end, however, was traumatic. I won't describe it. She's been gone for about fifteen years, but if I ever have to play a part where I cry instantly, all I will have to do is recall Cassie's last hours. Ken and our son, Josh, took her to the vet and both held her as she breathed her last, both of them crying like babies. We loved her so much that we grieved a long time. We will miss her forever. We buried her in a field. She is waiting for us beyond the rainbow bridge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Little Big Foot - First Impressions

Dee Anna hated being late. She stepped on the gas, finally passing the dirty red truck pulling a horse trailer. It had been slowing her down on curving roads for the last 20 minutes. She was running late for the interview with the deacons. A sick dog, a flat tire and a wrong turn had all contributed to the delay.

Fresh clothes hung in a garment bag in the back seat. Good thing. With the heat and humidity off the charts she’d need fresh clothes, especially since her ancient Ford Falcon’s air conditioning had long ago given up the ghost. The thick woods she had been driving through for the last hour looked green and cool. "Looks are sure deceiving" she thought grimly, wiping her neck with a leftover McDonalds napkin.

“Oh Lord, please help me find the church with no problem,” Dee Anna implored the Almighty, wondering if the fact that she was driving 15 miles over the speed limit meant that God was not obligated to listen to that request. What a day. She had planned enough time for a relaxed drive followed by a shower and change of clothes before the interview. So much for the relaxed drive.

The parsonage was right next door to the church. She’d been assured that fresh towels could be found in the bathroom. It was strange to think of showering in an uninhabited house that might, or might not, become her home.

A nervous glance at her watch as she turned onto yet another county road showed that time was running out. Then she saw a large sign on the right. A moose stood by a waterfall and a man in a black and red checked shirt waved a greeting. Welcome to Little Big Foot, population 5,004. Ah, at last!

Dee Anna drove anxiously down Main Street, wishing she had time to take more note of the town. The church was on the corner of Main and Seventh streets. She passed several taverns, a Kwik Trip, a Ben Franklin Store, a Piggly Wiggly grocery, and two Lutheran churches. She'd slowed to check the signs as she passed those, admiring the stonework, in one case, and the contemporary design, in the other case.

Ah, there it was, North Woods Chapel. Whew, only 15 minutes until meeting time. “How fast can I shower?” she wondered, thinking it was a good thing she could do her makeup in less than five minutes.

She pulled into a parking spot halfway between the front doors of the little brick church and the front door of the parsonage, spinning a little gravel. She swing her feet out the door, noting the dirt around the edges of her flip flops. Wrestling her garment bag out of the back seat she thought, “Okay, now for a super quick shower. I sure hope somebody remembered they were supposed to leave the parsonage unlocked…”

And-then she saw them. Four men stood in a row, each staring at her though the glass front doors of the church. They were dressed in suits.

In addition to the flip flops, Pastor Dee Anna was wearing jeans and a cotton "big shirt." She could feel that beneath the shirt, in spite of it’s roominess, her bra was sticky with sweat. She briefly thought of her interview outfit, chosen carefully two days ago. A twinge of panic chased the thought away.

She had fifteen minutes, didn’t she? The woman's voice on the phone had said they would meet at five p.m. It was 4:45. “Did you have trouble?” One of the men. large and balding, held the right-hand door ajar. “We wondered after we’d been here for about 45 minutes.” He frowned. “Come in.”

“Oh, I am so sorry. I must have misunderstood. I thought we were supposed to meet at five. I had planned a shower and…” Her voice trailed off as she looked at three more unsmiling faces.

“We thought maybe you’d call since you were so late” said a tall, bearded man with a crew cut. “I got cows waiting for milking.”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again -- or "Pastorette Without a Pulpit"

Our Dist. Superintendent at a rededication of our building, about seven years ago.

Long-time readers will recall that last year in a strange series of events, I resigned from my church and then (before it went into effect) returned. I suspected that the return would be of short duration, but what does "short" mean?
It has become clear that the time is here. Some changes are happening that will likely open up some doors of opportunity for my dear congregation, so this time I am leaving with expectation and joy at what God may be bringing to pass at Jubilee AG. That remains to be seen, but I am very hopeful.

It is always difficult to say good bye to those we love. I have invested almost ten years of ministry here. What has made this more difficult is that I had hoped to know where I would be landing before I jumped. Such is not the case.

I will share more as time goes on. My last Sunday will be March 8th. I guess that means my plans for a Lent sermon series won't happen. It all feels a bit unreal and strange.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Poem on Candlemas

Being a warm-weather lover and living in the northland is very difficult this time of year. I wait and watch as the days, bit by bit, grow longer. It is never my best time, but combined with several losses and some deep uncertainties, this year is worse than usual. Abbey of the Arts periodically posts an evocative image and invites readers to submit a poem. I wrote this poem on Candlemas, Feb. 2nd, the day that is halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

O God,
How long...
this winter of
my heart?
The sky is gry
and my feet walk
on ice.

Passing the shop
Sweet purple shoots...
Spring hope.

O God,
The ground is crisply
and numbing ice

O God,
My dreams are gone
and slippery Ice

O God
My world is numbing
and muddy ice

O God,
My heart is weeping
and frigid ice

Are you sleeping… absent… dead?
O God of Cold and Ice…?

O God,
Somewhere inside,
Sweet…Spark…of Life
and Purple Hope.

O God
I search for you, ,
I pray… Seek… Long
For spring

In me.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Five: Favorite Things

My nephew's wife, my late sister and mother, with me, by a sparkling stream in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

Songbird, one of our beloved matriarchs over at Rev Gals hosts the Friday Five today. She says:

In a week of wondering how various things in our family life will unfold, I found myself thinking of the way Maria comforted the Von Trapp children in one of my favorite movies. Frightened by a thunder storm, the children descend upon her, and she sings to them about her favorite things, taking their minds off the storm.So, let's encourage ourselves. Share with us five of your favorite things. Use words or pictures, whatever expresses it best.

1. Sunlight! It probably was significant that my first word was "light." I am so happy that the days are growing a little longer, and even though it is still bitterly cold the longer rays of sunlight in the evening and the increased warmth of sun rays (like when sitting in a vehicle) makes me feel so much better. You can take the girl outta California, but you can't take the California outta da girl!

2. Music! My son, Josh, brought a large number of CDs for me to put on my IPOD. I am grinning as I look through his collection because he is like me--has the most amazingly eclectic collection of music. All the way from Frank Sinatra to Dylan to Coldplay to Third Day. I love to sing, love to listen to classical, jazz, rock, blues, folk, hymns, contemporary Christian...what a marvellous gift from our Father in Heaven.

3. Genuine friends! Perhaps I am thinking of this because I just listened to Joe Cocker (on Josh's "Greatest Songs of Woodstock" CD-LOL!) singing "Help From My Friends." But what would life be without people? People can drive me crazy, but I love them

4. Mexican food! GOOD Mexican food.

5. Mountains! Those who know me well know how much I miss the mountains. I feel best when I am in them, or at least looking at them. When I make a rare trip out west I realize how much the sentinels of my childhood affected me. I always looked up at the mountains, loved camping in them (one of the few happy times my family had), love the blazing blue sky that looks different in the mountains, love the pine scent, the sound of streams, the rocks. I hope I can retire to mountains.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

This and That at the Owl's Nest

I will be sharing something significant soon, but until then:

The group Barenaked Ladies are not women. They are guys. And they ROCK! Who knew? (Thanks, Josh.)

Being a grandmother is a wonderful thing. Especially when one's grandchild is the cutest and smartest toddler on the planet. Well, seriously, Trinity just had her number two birthday in January, and a well-baby checkup last week. She is way tall for her age. It looks like she is going to be a lefty. She is healthy and she is smart. I mean, she scares me, a little! She has a wonderful mommy, however. I am proud of my daughter. I am so happy that they relocated from the Twin Cities to about 10 miles from our house!

I have officially reached the longing-for-spring grumpy outlook that occurs with me every year about this time. It is cold...sub zero cold...outside and, groundhog not withstanding, there is still much more than six weeks of winter in store. Sigh. Lord, give me strength.

I am preaching better than I have in a long time. Something extraordinary was taking place in church last Sunday. No, I have no idea why.

It is possible to have one's heart break again and again and again, and yet still smile and move on by God's grace. This morning was one for me. I could have gone a long time without hearing some of what I heard...

Ah, *&%$, I have to have another colonoscopy.

My blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. are good. My weight is not. Oh, surprise, surprise!

I miss my mom. I miss my sister. I feel disconnected.

I still don't care about football.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I Have Friends!

Presbyterian Gal and Kievas Fargo both gave me the "Blogging Friendship Award." Aw, you guys...I like you too!

Here are the details:

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

A decade or so ago if someone had told me that I'd be good friends with people I have never met except on the internet I would have laughed and rolled my eyes, but it is true that cyber friendships are real, if different, than face-to-face ones. I hereby and forthwith award the Blogging Friendship Award to (drum roll) tadaadadadadadadadadadadad.....

Much 2 Ponder (she's a real life friend indeed, but she does have a blog too!)
Psalmist (who is taking a bit of a blogging break, but I hope will be back soon)
Questing Parson (almost, he persaudeth me to be a Methodist ;-) )
Chartreuse Ova (waiting, waiting, too, CO...)
Amy (an AG seminarian and chaplain-to-be, and one of those people I reallly wish I lived closer to)
Jules (smart, growing, pondering, and a fabulous photographer)
Lil Kiss (I'll love her always for more reasons than I can share here--she is new to blogger)
Truth (wife and mom and seeker of God)
Follow the rules if you like, or if you don't (like Kievas), you won't hear a peep outta me.