Thursday, October 31, 2013

Preparing the Way ~ Or Not: A Holiday Retreat for Bereaved Parents

Nothing elaborate.  No charge.  No counseling. Not a substitute for mental health care.  No private site. Not even an extra site.  If you'd like to comment or discuss, go for it.  If you prefer to maintain your own counsel, no one will know.

All I'm offering is a weekly or so very brief meditation and/or quote and suggestion for prayer or contemplation or meditation or pondering, whether in your designated quiet time or in a small group or as you go about your daily life.  I will post the links in the tab above, so that you may catch up at any time, visit or not as you please, or simply have a sort of table of contents.

The general point of view will be a Christian one, but you shouldn't be surprised to find material and reflections occasioned by other religious traditions.

If you are interested, please stop by.  The focus will be on bereaved parents, but you may find a nugget or two worth your while even if you are facing a different sort of loss. 

Why?  Truthfully, I find the pathway through the end-of-year holidays to be a winding, often rocky, root-strewn trail, one over which unsteady boulders loom at every bend.  This will be our sixth holiday season without our son, and I still frequently think that if I had only myself to consider, I would pull the front door closed and retreat into the comfortable darkness of my library until mid-January. 
Nonetheless, the sixth year is different from the first.  Although I write about it here and post material on FB, I seldom discuss my own loss during my daily interactions.  I care for a lot of people who have their own troubles, and my task is to help them, not to douse them in my own sorrow.  And I do, on a daily basis, find much for which to be grateful, in my son's short life, in the lives of my other children, and in most of the other experiences into which I stumble.  It's possible that I'm at a point at which I might be able to concoct something worthwhile for others.
But don't look for sappy sweet here.  Don't look for platitudes.  Don't look for pretend.
Look for the real. 
If you are thinking about smashing all the ornaments against the brick fireplace wall as you are simultaneously considering the perfect location on the tree for each one, this might be the place for you.


Transitions - I

I spent some time at New Church this morning, meeting with the secretary, meeting one of the member-volunteeers, meeting the day care staff, meeting the morning exercise class, and poking around a bit. My office is in the process of receiving a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting, so there's nothing I can do about that space yet other than to imagine making it my own.
I drove down the main street, checking my odometer: exactly half a mile to the nearest small lakefront park where I can walk a short distance along the water. 
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Almost Former Church and  . . .
what I know now that I wish I had known then ~
what I didn't do and say that I wish I had done and said ~
what I did do and say that I wish I hadn't ~
what I have appreciated and what I have overlooked ~
what on earth I've been doing and what it could possibly be that God has been doing.
I haven't yet gotten to the point at which I can think clearly in terms of the future.  There is a lot from the past two years through which to sift first.
But here's an intriguing thing.  We have a small Bible study one night a week.  One of the women who comes is the sister of two of the other women; they belong to our church, but she doesn't, and I've never seen her at any other church event.  She is very much a country woman, with the difficult family background and conservative outlook so typical of the area in which my church is located.  She's often quite articulate, and thinks deeply about what we are discussing, but I've had no idea, really, what it's meant to her to come each week. 
When I arrived the other night, she was the first one to speak, and what she said was, "I'm going to miss you.  You have awakened in me a spirituality that had been slumbering for far too long."
As I said, I had no idea. 
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Pastor.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Years Ordained Today!

Fall 2005 - Opening conversation at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, taking place in a small office at John Carroll University, where I am taking a course on Ignatian spirituality and have decided to dive in and make the Exercises with my professor.  We barely know one another.

Me, former lawyer, teacher in Orthodox Jewish school, Presby elder: 

I'm thinking that I might be, you know, called to ordained ministry in my own denomination, but obviously that would be ridiculous, so there's no need for us to discuss it.

Spiritual director, 75-year-old Jesuit: 

Umm hmm.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I stopped by the assisted living facility today.  Very funny morning.  (Ignore if you've been reading FB.  Photo from there as well; I'm just in the mood to post some oldies but goodies.) 


Conversation overheard while waiting for elevator, after dog has been seen walking down the hallway:

"People are allowed to bring pets to visit, and sometimes therapy dogs come."

"I don't like animals. Never have. I would never harm an animal, but I wouldn't want one either. They're a big responsibility."

Pause, and then the same lady adds:

"I don't like plants either. You have to take care of them, too."

At that point I burst out laughing, and thus was discovered standing behind them.


90-year-old man's assessment of sermons at assisted living facility: "They don't preach sermons for old people here! They preach about Jesus and love and all that stuff; we've got that down."

Me: "What would be a good sermon for old people?"

My parishioner: "Celebrate us! Celebrate our lives of work and service!"


Wife: She's 100 years old. She looks pretty good, don't you think?

Husband: Oh, yeah. She certainly doesn't look 100!


Monday, October 28, 2013

Small Church Small Church

A few weeks ago I told Professor Who Preached at My Ordination that I was at my wit's end.  I will never have the kind of career trajectory that younger pastors might have once expected (of course, these days, they probably won't either): small church, larger church, tall steeple church.  If I am lucky, I will have another decade in active parish ministry, after which I intend to do spiritual direction, lead retreats, write something-or-other, and take my grandchildren to the beach (the last being the activity of primary importance). 
I just wanted to find a way to make the most of this decade in whatever form it takes.
And so I spent a lot of time in prayer of the most restless and haphazard sort, and talked to some churches, and observed my own church and what I was doing there, and drove about a million miles (seriously, my car is going to require some major recovery time).  And now, in a month, I will become the pastor of a small church in an inner ring suburb, a church with no children or youth, no choir, and an income largely produced by building rental rather than church stewardship.  A church which has accomplished a lot in the way of self-reflection over the past three years and is poised for . . . the future.
Task 1: Re-watch all the episodes of the wonderful British series Rev.
This church will require of all my creativity and ingenuity, but if offers me the opportunity to serve a church and its local community in ways that have been impossible in my current situation, with my congregation located one and one-half hours from my home.    It's a ministry that will enable me to resettle into my own house (a mess), be around as my children settle into adult relationships and careers (fascinating, to put it very mildly), perhaps help my husband retire, and re-connect with neighbors and friends.
I am planning to steal a page from the Benedictines for the next decade.  Benedictine monks and nuns take a vow of stability in addition to the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and I am much focused on stability these days.  Stability has not been a feature of the last six years of my life, and I know better than anyone not to bother with predictions for even the next five minutes, but I am going to do everything possible to hold high the ideals of stability of place and community and focus for the next ten years. 

Most especially where my church is concerned.
Then can we please move to the ocean?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Open Secrets (Book Review)

For the last several months, the practice of rural church ministry has been an increasingly problematic challenge for me. So many dimensions to my difficulties:
The hour and one-half commute, meaning that I stay overnight in Small Church Town two-to-four nights a week.  I have noticed, as time has progressed, that I am making an effort to limit those overnights to as few as possible.
The task of making friends.  In my two years there, I have found one potential good friend among the clergy, a Methodist pastor who left after one year.  Others are cordial, and we often work well together ~ but we are not connected in that ineffable way that makes for deep friendship.
Country life.  I expected to enjoy it, but by the time one of my older members told me, only some months into my pastorate, that she and her husband were in the process of a move out from their very small community "because I'm really a country girl at heart," I had realized the opposite about myself.  I was, honestly, surprised; I grew up in a similar locale and my father, at 81, still lives down the road and across the creek from the house in which I grew up.  But the truth is that I went off to boarding school at age 12 and that, even though for many years I studied at institutions located in rural areas, the schools themselves were bustling and diverse communities.  Yes, even my Catholic boarding school, out in the middle of Ohio cornfields: South American and African girls, Baptist and Methodist and agnostic girls, and nuns with advanced degrees, hearts for the poor, and minds for social justice, opening their arms to the changes wrought by Vatican II.  And I have lived in cities ever since I arrived in Providence forty years ago.  I love backcountry hiking and canoeing, but I want to live in the city.  I really, really, really want to live in the city!
The ever-widening gap between my own willingness to consider just about anything and everything as possibility, and the inherent conservatism of central Ohio rural life: political, social, economic, and theological.  I could write a book, but someone else has taken care of that:
As I have struggled to make sense of life and ministry over the past several months, Seminary Professor Who Preached at My Ordination suggested that I read Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery by Richard Lischer.  And so I put down Nadia Bolz-Weber's Pastrix, which might have spoken  to a reality I'd prefer, but not to the one I've been living, and devoured Open Secrets in less than a day.
Every line spoke my reality.  Richard Lischer is a Lutheran pastor, now a professor at Duke Divinity School,  who arrived at his first church filled with the enthusiasm of a newly-minted Ph.D. and discovered that he had been assigned to a small, rural congregation in the Midwest.  His portraits of the geography of the town, his rendition of his conversations with his congregants, his attempts to dispense with certain traditions and his reluctant accommodation to others, his family's efforts to become part of the life of the church, and his discovery of the narrative underlying each interaction ~ every word rings with the clarity of truth lived.
The conversation "in which the pastor seeks to remove the flag from the sanctuary" and comes to grasp that the flag is not about misplaced worship, but is about the story of beloved community, is completely, if not exactly, the story of my experiences with Veterans' Day and the men for whom the memory of comrades lost constitutes the proclamation of the good news.
The recounting of the story "in which the pastor's wife hires a babysitter so that she can sit out back in a lawn chair and read and work on her dissertation" and the manner in which the church comes to accept her behavior is a very funny rendition of how pastor and congregation circle warily around one another  and finally meet in a place approximating the middle.
How much of myself I see in this book!  Insight, denseness, hopefulness, love, arrogance, determination, relinquishment, compassion, frustration, and a simultaneous sense of being in exactly the right place and completely the wrong place.  And perhaps most of all: coming to the realization, as Richard Lischer did, that I have missed a great deal, despite trying so hard to be present and appreciative.
I'm getting ready to move to a congregation in the city, or at least in an inner-ring suburb, but I am going to treasure this book as a reminder to be attentive and appreciative to what lies right before me.
(P.S. Amazon is selling the book under two slightly different titles; hence, the picture above, which differs from my Kindle version.)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Esq - Almost!

At 7:00 a.m. this morning the Supreme Court of Ohio posted the list and yes! son Matt has passed the bar examination!  My phone rang at 7:04; apparently neither one of us got much sleep last night.

In another ten days we get to go to Columbus for the swearing in.  Here's what I remember of my own:

1. My beautiful black wool suit with my deep tan (?) silk blouse with black piping at the wrists and collar.
2.  I drove from Columbus on down to see my family and show off my new certificate.  My grandmother burst out laughing at the "Esq.", which bewildered me until I learned that "Esquire" means "gentleman."
3.  My grandfather immediately ceased and desisted from all lady lawyer jokes and began introducing me to his friends as "my granddaughter, the attorney."
This one will be much better, simply because one's children's achievements mean so much more than one's own.  And, like his sister, Matt has completed his formal education under the most challenging of circumstances, has excelled, and is employed in his field.
Well done!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hymn to the Eternal Flame

My friend Rosa is making a 30-day retreat and somehow found the time to send me this amazing gift.

Josh ~ Chicago Graduation
Family ~ Arizona
Memorial Service for a Young Woman
My Mother and I
Igantius the Pilgrim  ~ Guelph Retreat Centre
Boats in Poulsbo WA
Family ~ Adirondacks
My Birthday
Marissa and Ursuline Sister Agatha
Matt ~ Law School Graduation
Heart Glass ~ Ordination Gift from Rosa
Chapel of the Martyrs ~ Montmartre
Tanner's Annunciation
Wernersville Jesuit Center
My Mother and Brother
Josh ~ Lake Michigan

Breast Cancer Courage

Cheryl of A Song Not Scored for Breathing has posted her post-mastectomy image today to mark the first anniversary of the day she awoke from anesthesia without a breast.  She's participated in a photography project in which she's the first woman (in that particular project) to allow herself to be photographed without some sort of illusionary covering designed to conceal the bare naked truth.  I don't know whether she'll post in her blog, but here's her FB link.
I'm not posting it here because, truthfully, I'm not as brave as Cheryl where this one's concerned.  I've had reconstructive surgery, but I can't say that I look much different that she does.  And when I look at her photo I'm reminded of the conversation I had with either my surgeon or her nurse practitioner a year ago, at my one-year check up:
How do you feel about this?
I think it's hideous.  I cringe whenever I accidentally look in the mirror.  I'm so sorry I bothered with the reconstruction - months of pain so that I could more closely resemble Frankenstein.
Wow.  You know, most women do pretty well with this.  Would you like to talk with someone?
Not particularly.
Most women do pretty well with this.  I've wondered, once in awhile, what that meant.  Or why, once again, I was subjected to a comparison to those mythical "most women."  Most women just want it gone.  Most women follow their doctors' recommendations immediately.  Most women don't experience this type of pain.  Most women are grateful for their foobs (fake boobs.) 
Of course, I understand.  The doctors really are in the business of healing, and they project their own hopes - women will do well with disfigurement and loss and pain ~ and two years later continuing tenderness and discomfort and mystifying challenges related to getting dressed ~ because those are better than the other options.  As indeed, they are.
Most women do pretty well with this.  Let's see.  I have loved and cared for my family, I was ordained and have pastored a church for two years, I have done all kinds of speaking and writing on behalf of suicide prevention, and, which may have taken more guts than all the rest of it  . . .  do I really have to look in the mirror at the mess on my upper torso and say "Great!", too?
Nah.  I don't. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Night Musings

. . . A significant ten days lies behind me.  Chicago last week-end and the suicide prevention walk today.  What do I notice?  That no matter how hard we work, no matter how far we walk ~ eight miles all over Hyde Park, four miles in Cleveland ~ Josh does not come back. 
I do not understand this at all.  Where is he?  I need him to come back, right now.
I found myself wondering, off and on all day today: When I die, will he be there?  Will all be resolved?  Will none of this matter?  Or not? 
I have said it before and it remains the case: I have no particular kind of idea or sense of anything about life after death.  I guess I probably never will.  Until, you know, after death.
. . . I spent some time today talking with a good friend of whom I no longer see nearly enough.  The mother of one of Josh's best friends, her husband was seriously disabled when the boys were nine, I think.  A long time, twenty years.  My God, our lives have been difficult.  I told her that I think that sometime around the age of 50, we seem to break into two populations.  For some of us, as one of my seminary professors posted on FB a year or two ago, "life just gets better and better."  (Yes, I did resent that post.)  For others, not so much.  Deaths of spouses and children, strokes, cancer, unemployment, completely unbloggable trials . . . it would be unbelievable, how dramatically life can be altered in a matter of seconds, if it weren't so pervasively true.
. . .  I have been grading college papers this week.  My students are writing about all kinds of things in response to Paul Tillich's concept of "ultimate concern," but two topics stand out.  They are so innocently confident in the possibilities of romantic love.  I don't think that I was ever ever ever as hopeful and naïve as they are.  They are impossibly sweet.
At the same time, they are all profoundly aware of and concerned with jobs and material success.  They are all in college to prepare for careers.  (This might explain why I have not a single religion major in my intro class -- the vast majority of them are majoring in either the sciences or in fields like marketing and business and finance.  A class full of Mad Men wannabes.)  I was never ever ever as career focused as they are, either, at least not at their age.  Perhaps I should have been.  Perhaps if I had been I would not be making less money now than I have at any time since before I turned 30. 
. . .  Saturday night, Sunday morning worship only 12 hours away.  I should probably be having some profound thoughts about God.
This is as close as it gets.

Don't Judge By Appearances ~ Sermon (I Samuel 16)

Have you ever felt overlooked?  
Have you ever felt as if your gifts were going to waste, as if your abilities were unrecognized, as if your training was lying dormant?

Have you ever felt unappreciated?  Have you ever labored hours over a thankless task – in the barn, or in the office, or in the kitchen – to discover, in the end, that it was indeed thankless, that no one uttered a word of gratitude?

Or have you been in a position in which you have come to expect nothing ~ because you were the youngest, or you were a girl, or you were the smallest, or you were the least co-ordinated,  or you were the step-child, or you were the ex-spouse, or you were too old?

Life is filled with opportunities for us to feel as if we have little to offer, as if our voices do not matter, as if we are always  overlooked.

And our culture often confirms our own self-assessment.   Our culture looks for the beautiful, the graceful, the brilliant, the charismatic, the one naturally inclined – or so we think – to leadership and responsibility.

And so, perhaps, it has ever been. 

Let’s look at our story today.  First, some background:

The Hebrew people were ruled for many years by judges.  Today we think of a judge as having a specific role in a courtroom, but at that time the role was much larger and more generalized.  The judges not only made rulings in disputes, but generally governed and led the people as rulers and even as military commanders.

The Hebrew people, however, looked around and saw that other nations had kings, and thus they wanted a king, too.  And so God told Samuel, who had been called by God as a child and who had as a judge led the people to victory and achievement, to anoint Saul as their first king.

Saul, however, made a mess of things, refusing to obey God’s commands , with the result that God turned away from Saul and spoke again to Samuel, saying, “I have someone else in mind, and I want you to go and anoint him.  Go to the house of Jesse, in Bethlehem, and from his sons I will point my choice out to you.”

Samuel was not enthused about this new task; in fact, he was frightened.  “Saul will kill me,” he said.  But unlike Saul, Samuel was always obedient to God’s commands and so, reluctantly, he went, under the ruse of going to Jesse’s house to conduct a sacrificial offering.

You have to wonder why Samuel was so frightened.  It seems that others were intimidated by him.  The Bible tells us that when he arrived in Bethlehem,  the elders were trembling, were apprehensive and anxious.  He assured them that everything was all right and that he had merely come to lead them in worship.  He also made sure that Jesse and his sons were there – at least, that the seven eldest of his eight sons were there.

Now here’s where we begin to see that being left off the team is not a problem which first arose in contemporary schoolyard games.  Because one of the brothers isn’t there.  David, the youngest one, the one whom his father refers to as “the runt” in today’s translation, is off keeping the sheep. 

I wonder whether David was used to that sort of treatment.  The youngest of eight brothers – was he overlooked most of the time?  We think of him as the master of the slingshot, the courageous shepherd boy who killed a giant.  We think of him as a poet and songwriter – tradition has long had it that he authored many of the psalms.  We think of him as a great military commander, leading his people to the victory that would return the city of Jerusalem to them.  We think of him as a great king – and we may, if we are honest about these things, also think of him as a deeply flawed human being, as a man who committed grievous sins to get what he wanted, to obtain that to which he was not entitled.

However we think of David, we do not think of him as someone easily overlooked.   And yet today, he isn’t even invited to the grand occasion.  Were his feelings hurt?  Was he resentful?  Was this oversight so typical that he took it in stride?  Or did he even know – did anyone bother to tell him?

We might pause a moment here to consider those times in which similar things have happened to us, times in which we have been the one left out, and to recognize that such experiences do not reflect who we are in the eyes of God.   Perhaps everyone else is ignoring us, but that does not mean that God is ignoring us.  In fact, God may call upon us at exactly that moment in which we seem to be the least likely to be noticed by anyone at all.
“The last shall be first” – do those words sound familiar?  Words uttered by Jesus, David’s descendant. in the Gospel of Matthew, at the end of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, in which he tells the story of workers hired at the end of the day who are paid as much as those hired at the beginning.  And as we get to know that God of the Bible, we discover that God seems to have a preference for those whom human beings overlook.  The youngest, the poorest, the least, the last.

Now we might pause again.  Because while we might feel a sense of identity with David as the youngest brother, the one who spent hours with those troublesome sheep without a word of thanks from anyone, without even an invitation to the grand event over which Samuel would preside, perhaps that to which we are really called to pay attention here is our affinity with those on the other side of the equation: those who ignore David, or who forget all about him.

How often have we done exactly that?  How often have we made Samuel’s mistake?  Let’s look at what he does.

Jesse’s seven sons show up, his seven eldest sons, and Samuel takes one look at the eldest of all, Eliab, who must be tall and good-looking, and says to himself, “There’s the one!  Obviously that’s the one whom God has anointed!”  He must be thinking, “This won’t be so difficult after all.  One name and I’m out of here.”
But God says to Samuel, , “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

And so Samuel goes down the line of brothers: Abinadab and Shammah, and four more, and each time God says, “That’s not the one.” 
At this point, you might think that Samuel would give up.  All visible evidence of God’s plan has been eliminated.  Not one of Jesse’s sons is acceptable to God.

But Samuel, with a lifetime of attentiveness to God’s instructions, a lifetime of obedience to God behind him, has had instilled deep within him a sense that he is not finished; that what he sees with his own eyes is not all there is.  We talk sometimes about spiritual practices: about the practices of prayer, and study, and generosity, and hospitality.  And we  work on those practices in part so that they do not desert us at times of crisis or challenge.  If we are accustomed to praying, then at just that juncture in life when all has gone wrong and we are  most likely to give up and least likely to turn to prayer, we pray anyway, because that it what we have been trained to do.  And Samuel  has been trained by a lifetime of practice to listen to God, to the God who has told him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons, and who has further told him that “I judge people differently than you people do.  I judge not by appearances, but by the heart.”

And so he listens and responds, even when it seems that it is pointless to do so.
So Samuel turns to Jesse and asks, “Any more?”  And thus he learns about David, the youngest, the ignored, the boy left off the team.

Now, ironically, when David appears, he is the very picture of physical beauty.  Listen to some of the descriptions of David from various translations  of the Bible:

Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to (KJV).

Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome (NRSV).

He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking (CEB).

He was a healthy, good-looking boy with a sparkle in his eyes (CEV).

He was a fine looking boy, ruddy-faced, and with pleasant eyes (Living Bible).

He was brought in, the very picture of health—bright-eyed, good-looking (The Message).

Isn’t that interesting?  God’s calls are based on the heart, and not on appearance, and yet the one God chooses in this instance is remarkably handsome, with eyes which are a delight to look into.
Of course, sometimes we overlook the beautiful, too, don’t we? This can be a particular problem for women  - haven’t you heard a woman’s intelligence, or leadership qualities,  or scientific  brilliance , or caring insight dismissed because she’s beautiful, or young, or cute?

“Irrelevant,” says God.  “All of those things you deem so important, for good or for ill, are insignificant beside the standard that I employ.  I judge not by appearances, but by the heart.”

And isn’t it also interesting that we are offered, today, another element of vision?

We’ve talked off and on for several months about enlarging our vision.  We’ve talked about paying more attention to the wide, wide world that surround us, and to its people who are in so much need – of clothing, of food, of education, of evidence of God’s love.  Just last week, with Simon here, you got to hear a bit about the world of Rwanda, and at other times this past year, we’ve learned about both Methodist and Presbyterian missions in Liberia.  Today, we are reminded again: 30 households for ACCESS! And Christmas boxes for children around the world.    We are enlarging our vision every day.

We’ve talked about focusing our vision: on seeing the gifts of God that lie right before us.  On seeing the presence of Jesus, in the bread and the cup of communion, in the many ways in which we ourselves are nourished in the deserts of our lives.  And on seeing Jesus himself in the people right in front of us.

And today, we are called to see as God’s sees:  To look into the heart, rather than to linger on outward appearances. 
One of the very best parts of my job as pastor is to try to see with these eyes with which God encourages Samuel to look.  And I need the reminder as well – because how difficult it is, in the daily press of life, to remember to look into the heart.  But I do try, every day.  And just so you know, here is some of what I see in our community:
§  I see older people who appear frail, perhaps a bit unsteady on their feet, who perhaps can’t see or hear as well as they once did – and I see hearts of great courage and adaptability .

§  I see people who do nothing to promote themselves, who make no effort to stand out or be counted, quietly supporting and nurturing children  and nieces and nephews and grandchildren  and caring for husbands and wives and parents and grandparents – and I see hearts of perseverance and flexibility. 

§  I see people who are ill or injured enduring tremendous hardship  – and I see hearts of patience and strength.

§  I see people whose own lives have been filled with challenges knitting sweater after sweater or filling Christmas boxes or offering countless volunteer hours at the hospital without asking for anything in return – and  I see hearts of generosity and love.
Do you see those things, too?  How large is your vision?  How focused is your vision?  Do you judge not by appearances, but by the heart?  Do you see what is overlooked?  Do you see the many, many ways in which we are called by God, ways in which the standards of the world are irrelevant?.

And so: Enlarge your vision.  Focus your vision.  And look for the heart, for the inside, for the place where courage, and adaptability, and perseverance, and flexibility, and patience, and strength, and generosity, and love reside.  Amen.


Today in Cleveland


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Friday, October 18, 2013

Les Oiseaux

It's been a beautiful week for walking, my foot is healed, and I am much in need of solitude these days. 
This morning a loon floated serenely on Horseshoe Lake and a bald eagle stood guard over Lower Lake.  We're about four miles from downtown Cleveland here.
Pretty good morning, I'd say.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pilgrimmage Sunday

Chicago Marathon Week-End!  Who knew?
Our primary mission for the week-end involved ashes.  We had planned to be up and out early, as this particular activity requires great discretion, but the marathon schedule moved us even further upward and earlier.  We were probably the only people trying to EXIT downtown at 6:15 a.m. 
We spent most of the day in Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago.  Josh's friend joined us again, and helped us find the apartments in which Josh had lived at various points in his college career.  We visited the Point on the lakefront, the Medici bakery from which I have purchased so many croissant-and-juice breakfasts, the quads and dorms, the Midway and the Masaryk Monument, and the 57th Street Bookstore.
I found as we wandered the campus and its environs that I was filled with gratitude that Josh had been able to attend such a beautiful and incredible university.  I loved imagining him walking the same paths and streets that we covered; I even loved remembering his 2:00 a.m. calls from the library as he headed back to the Shoreland, an ancient dorm on the lakefront ~ not the safest walk on campus.  I recalled many of our visits, including my last overnight in one of his apartments when I went to visit McCormick Seminary during his senior year. 

It was a long day, capped off with an evening downtown and dinner at a fabulous restaurant with RevGal Teri, who is beautiful and brilliant and gracious in every way.
And all day and all evening I kept thinking, despite having poured out those ashes early in the morning: If I just keep wishing hard enough, surely he will come walking down the street toward me, smiling and laughing and loving Chicago.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pilgrimmage Saturday

I didn't know what to expect.  My husband and I last went to Chicago five Octobers ago, for the purpose of emptying Josh's apartment and bringing his belongings home.  It was a horrible, horrible day, one on which my feet felt like lead as we surveyed the rooms that had remained untouched since the night he had died and met with the detective who had handled his "case" to extract what details we could.  My husband and a good friend (a VERY good friend) dismantled furniture as Josh's girlfriend and I sat and talked, trying to discern meaning in his belongings and from the events of the previous months.
And so I didn't know what to expect as Marissa and I drove west.  Would I make a U-turn as soon as the Chicago skyline came into view?  Would we check into our hotel, the same one in which Josh and his dad had stayed when he came to college (I was in Columbus, delivering his twin brother to Ohio State), and be overwhelmed by sadness at the thought of all the hopes and dreams crushed only five years later?
I felt as if I were constantly checking my emotional pulse, but it remained steady and strong.
A little last minute investigation had indicated that only one of Josh's close group of friends remains in Chicago, and he agreed to meet us for dinner downtown.  As we all talked, I began to relax and to realize that the week-end might offer the prospect of a small increment of healing.  It was wonderful to hear stories we'd never heard, to fill in some of the blanks of his college life, and to confirm that he had found joy and mischief and friendship in those years.
It was especially wonderful to spend time with a young man able to recall the past and to talk easily about it.  We wondered afterward if he had perhaps also been in need of conversation about his friend who had left us all so suddenly and so completely without warning.
Very few people mention my son Josh to me.  A couple of months ago, I broke down in the local garden center when I ran into a mom from Montessori middle school days who mentioned that she has a picture of him on her bulletin board and so sees him smiling every day. 
If you have occasion to share a memory or a story with a bereaved parent, go ahead and give it a try.  We miss them so much.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pilgrimmage - Preparation

I did not want Josh to go to the University of Chicago. 
I wanted him to go to Carleton, Grinnell, or Davidson.  A small liberal arts college in a bucolic setting, not a huge university in a city.  And he was admitted to all three ~ outstanding schools, every one of them.  I was beside myself with delight as I anticipated his future.
But Chicago drew him like a magnet.
We went up there for the Admitted Students' Week-end in April, which did not help my cause.  I went to presentations for parents; he stayed in a dorm and hung around campus and went downtown with his hosts. My hopes crumbled further with each hour of his indoctrination into the culture of the College.
The Gothic architecture hung heavy and loomed oppressively over the sunny spring days.  He was enthralled.  I noted that there is an island in a little lake at Carleton.  "How could you not go to a college where there's an island?"  He pointed out a pathetic little mess of grass in the middle of a small fountain in one of the quads and said, "Chicago has an island!"  As we wandered the campus on Sunday afternoon, I mentioned that it was empty of students.  "A beautiful day, and no one is outside."  When I met with one of the financial aid officers, she told me that no doubt they were in the libraries.  "I've worked at several schools, and I've never seen anything like the way the students here study."
I came to love it, too, of course. We all did.   Sometimes we visited as a family; sometimes I went alone.  Together Josh and I enjoyed the architecture of Hyde Park, the Indiana Dunes, the city at Thanksgiving, Grant Park in the summer.  One year he and I walked the seven miles along the lakefront from Hyde Park to downtown on the day after Thanksgiving.
And I'm happy to report that it wasn't all about studying.  Last night as I tried to make arrangements to get together with any of his friends who might still be there, one of them related these episodes from the summer of 2006:
"During the summer when we lived together, Josh, his girlfriend, and I would regularly grab lunch on the Midway right next to the Masaryk Statue.  It was conveniently between my job, the museum, and the Press [where Josh worked] .  I remember us all just lying out there in the sun.
Earlier this year my mom asked me whatever happened to this split bunk bed I'd brought from our cabin in MN down to Hyde Park - its story always makes me laugh and think of Josh.  You see, this bed was peculiar in that aside from being half of a bunk bed it was designed with this enormous and heavy wood-composite slab to support the mattress with no box spring or wooden slats.  The rest of it was some kind of heavy walnut.  It was sturdy.
Well, it went from me to V, but after he moved out and Josh moved into Madison Park, Josh inherited it.  That was rather a quiet neighborhood and toward the end of the summer it almost seemed a challenge.  I don't recall how we convinced each other, but we decided it'd be a good idea to throw a dance party at 2 AM blasting The Strokes and Regina Spektor.  And by dance party, I mean just the two of us singing at the top of our lungs and jumping around.  Anyway, at one point Josh was jumping up and down on this beast of a bed when the whole thing split apart. Of course no one was hurt, but the whole thing makes me laugh thinking of it.  The rest of the time we lived there, Josh would sleep inside the bed frame on the floor.  Whenever I'd wake him up, I remember he'd pop up from his nest between the frame."
I have not been back for five years, almost to the day.  But my daughter and I are headed there this afternoon. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Carol Craig 9/32 ~10/5/60
Dudley Craig 10/11/59 ~ 10/5/60

No, I don't even know my mother's birthday.

I've been reading the two letters I have, two letters that she wrote to my (paternal) grandparents from the house on Vero Beach at which this picture was taken, mailed together on April 25, 1960.  I found them in my grandmother's attic decades later. Long, chatty letters in which she describes what we were all up to, laments some of the challenges of young motherhood, anticipates summer at home in Ohio, and reveals herself to have been a thoughtful and articulate young woman with a gift for self-expression:

"One of the things I really miss here [in Florida] is the freshness of spring.  Sometimes I think that's what a lot of the alcoholics here need ~ a change of season to sort of cleanse and re-charge their souls and spirits."

I wonder, sometimes, who she would have become.  She would not even have been fifty when we all finished college; I imagine her returning to school herself, reveling in the opportunity to study.  She and my dad had been planning a permanent move to Florida; maybe she would have become a master gardener, or a teacher, or a photographer, or a writer.  She had a beautiful singing voice; she would have been overjoyed to hear my daughter sing.

And Dudley, who might he have been?  No clue at all.  What if we kids had grown up on the beach, instead of in the midst of corn and soybean fields?   Would the two of us still here be different people? 

And me, now?  My mother would be 81.  Would she have come here and stayed for weeks after Josh died?  Would we be talking on the phone every day?  Would I be looking for a way to move to Florida ( Would I have ever left?) to live nearby and help her out?

What if we could have just skipped this particular day in 1960?