Sunday, July 19, 2015

Leaving Home

Later this week the movers will arrive to load up our stuff and take it to a new place. We have lived at our current address (a pleasant ranch-style house on Pleasant Avenue) for nearly 15 years.

We moved here because I was the pastor of a small church in town.  There are many posts on this blog about my life as pastor of the place once known as Jubilee Assembly of God.  When I arrived, Jubilee AG was a place with an extraordinarily difficult history and had already been a struggling congregation for many decades.  There were at least two points in its life when it probably should have closed.

Still, I arrived with a large amount of hope and a firmly-held belief that things were going to turn around.  How hard could it be to genuinely love people, preach reasonably good sermons, be honest and transparent and find ways to be a blessing in our small town?

While I will always love the people I met here, and while I affirm that God was often present in some wonderful ways, things did not turn around in any sort of permanent sense.  We grew. We shrank. We grew. We shrank.  After ten years of trying, I resigned.  Even now, more than five years later, typing those words makes my heart hurt.

I had stayed longer than any pastor who had been there, except the founding one. After me, Jubilee had an interim pastor and then two more pastors and a second name change before finally closing its doors a while back.

I have avoided driving past the church building for quite a while now.  There is going to be a "restart" that will be spearheaded by a large church about 20 miles away.  I hear it will begin this fall.  Last week I drove by.  There was a pile of stuff out by the trash--I think maybe cupboards, and a man was mowing the overgrown lawn.  I'm glad something may still happen there. I wish them the best.

Why we stayed in this town for five years after I no longer served the church is a complicated story. But now it is time to go.  If you have seen my neglected little blog lately you know that my husband, Ken, has been in poor health for about three years.  I thought a condo or senior apartment might be suitable, but Ken hated the idea (truth be told, I did as well) but his days of shoveling snow and lawn care are behind him.  We are moving to a large, two-family home south of here.  Our daughter, Kristina, son in law,Daryl, and granddaughter, Trinity will live upstairs in a nice apartment.  Ken and I will live downstairs.  It is a beautiful old house with lots of character.

The movers are coming in three days, and the house is mostly packed up.  I still have quite a bit to do, but this morning I sat out back with a cup of coffee and enjoyed my home.  The house is nothing special.  As I said, it is a pleasant ranch house. It has always seemed a bit small--mostly because there was nearly always some extra family living in it.  I won't particularly miss it.  However, I will certainly miss our one-third acre yard.

Right now, our tree-filled property is lush and and lovely.  We have a nice little deck out back.  In the long, grey days of winter I look out the kitchen window at piles of snow and I long for warmer days when I can sit in shaded seclusion.

This morning is beautiful.  It is supposed to be hot later, but right now it is pleasant and a breeze is blowing. I made coffee and went to "sit a spell" as my Texas-born mother used to say.

My elderly mother moved in with us about the time we moved to this place.  She was lonely, and it was hard to adjust from living in the south to living in the north.  She never really got over being homesick, and Wisconsin's  harsh winters were difficult. One thing she did love about Wisconsin was how green it is in summer. We used to have a covered swing on the back deck, and she spent many hours there. She also spent a considerable amount of time pulling weeds!  This morning I could almost see her in her jeans, striped cotton shirt (she pronounced it "stripe-ed") and large straw hat, sitting out near bushes on our fence line happily pulling up my poppies.  Poppies really do look like weeds until they put out flowers...I never told her.

My relationship with my mother was always complicated and usually strained.  I loved her very much though, and I was sad to see dementia take an increasing toll.  A friend from the church became her patient  companion for a while (thank you, Laurie), and then a stroke caused me to make the painful decision that a nursing home was needed.  She spent two years there before she passed away.  They were difficult years, made somewhat easier by an excellent CNA who knew her from church and loved her dearly (thank you, Kristen) and visits from a friend (thank you, Pat) who loved her like family.

Not long after my mother died, Ken's disabled brother, Kevin moved here from California to live with us. Kevin lived here for five years before moving to an assisted living place in Sheboygan for several months before his death.  This morning I closed my eyes and listened to the soft cooing of mourning doves and the trill of a cardinal singing from the top of our large birch tree.  Kevin used to comment a lot about the number of birds we had.

Taking a sip from my cup, I smiled thinking of sitting outside next to Kevin in his wheelchair, drinking coffee on a Saturday morning while Ken was still asleep.  Kevin was a character--and Kevin had "issues" and it was not easy having him here. I am glad we did though, and happy that he knew, at the end of his too-short and rather tragic life, that he was loved and valued.  How he enjoyed being part of a family.  He adored his grandniece, Trinity. And I can still see him waving at little Noah, our second grandchild, and saying "Hi, Baby!" because he had a hard time remembering his name. I will always miss Kevin.

Kris, Daryl and Trinity moved in when Kevin moved out.  It has been crowded, but we made it work. Now we move on to what will likely be our last house, and a new chapter of life.  Part of me looks forward to it, and part of me fears it.  There are lots of unknowns and things to be concerned about. But for this morning I sat on the sun-dappled deck and sipped coffee and remembered.

I thought of my mother and of Kevin, of course. But I also thought of my friend Honey sitting in the rocker in my living room and praying for the church and for me.  I thought of many conversations in the back-deck swing with Pat as we pondered the meaning of life and talked about family and read scripture and prayed. I thought of beautiful Tara sitting on the lawn with me and sharing hopes and fears. A few years back I travelled to Tennessee to conduct Tara's wedding. She is now in Florida and her husband is starting the process to become a missionary pilot.  I thought of a birthday party we had in the back yard, celebrating my 60th and Kevin's 50th year of life.  I thought of Kelly and John and Steve and Donna and Gene and so many others who have been on my back deck and shared a slice of life here. 

With deep sadness, I remembered my sister, Darlaine sitting in that same deck swing, beautiful blue eyes filled with sorrow, holding her husband's hand as we talked about her Alzheimer's diagnosis. I thought of my other sister, Paulette, visiting me and our mother as things began to deteriorate.  I remembered our shared sadness and shock at our mother's anger and paranoia.

I thought of David and Mark painting Kevin's room.  I thought of Thanksgivings and Christmastimes and how glad we were when Keith, Ken's youngest brother came to see us here. I thought of sitting with Joshua, our son, as together we pondered the implications of his approaching role as daddy.

Living in this town has been somewhat difficult for me. There have been plenty of perplexing and even frightening moments at this address.  I have walked the floor, cried, prayed, and sometimes fumed.  I have wondered if Ken was going to make it.  I have wondered who I am and how I can go on. I have felt exuberance and hope and I have felt like a pathetic failure. I have answered the middle-of-the-night phone calls with my heart pounding.

But there has also been much discovery and growth and love and laughter and joy.

I have moved many times since marrying Ken.  We lived in military housing, couples housing as we studied for the ministry, parsonages.  When the movers come on Thursday it will be move number 15.  I hate packing, loading, unloading, the mess.  I have never gotten better at it, even after 15 opportunities to improve. 

It is good to have something different ahead and I'm more than ready to say good bye to my home and hello to a new one.  It is time.  Past time, probably.

But leaving a home is always a little nostalgic.  Today I took time to say good bye.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Red and Yellow, Black and White?

I haven't blogged in a long time.  It has been hard to find a voice or anything worth saying in the current sorrow, doubt, anger and weariness that seems to characterize my life at present. 

It has been a long time since I preached a sermon. 

It has been a long time since I felt anything stirring in my heart that needed sharing.  Right now, in the aftermath of the news about precious brothers and sisters being murdered while at prayer, I am longing to be standing behind a pulpit this Sunday.  So much is pounding in my heart that I want to share. 

But if I am truthful, I do not have the energy to attempt to be profound. 

Truthfully, I fear that this blog post will sound trite, but somehow I need to speak, and I am struggling to say something difficult, so please bear with me.

Something my close friends and family know about me is that I really like variety. Look closely at my belongings and you will see it in what I choose in clothing, in books, in music, in food, in flowers. 

When I'm eating Mexican food I don't pretend it is just the same as Thai food.  Both are delicious.  I don't pretend not to hear the differences between classical, jazz, rock or doo wop.  I like them all. Variety keeps life from being boring. My favorite bouquet is not a dozen roses.  Not a bunch of daises...etc.  My favorite flower is the daffodil, but my favorite arrangement is a mass of different shapes and colors.  I don't pretend not to see the differences between the rose, the lily, the carnation and the daffodil.  I enjoy the differences. 

Don't say you are "color blind" or something similar. We don't need to pretend we don't see racial and/or cultural differences.  But maybe, like mature people can do with food, flowers, music....we can celebrate variety and diversity in the human family instead of avoiding it or being frightened or threatened by it.  We can affirm that differences in skin color, accents, hair type, even names, are superficial, temporary and, at best, can add flavor and joy to life. 

Yes, I said it might sound trite.  But if we can start with a seemingly small thing--might it grow into something larger and stronger?

Remember the song some of us learned in our earliest days in church..."Red and yellow, black and white...they are precious in His sight...."  Such a trite little song.   

Might people be a sort of sacred bouquet?