CANCELLING THE FLAGS

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The back wall of our church was decorated with the flags of every nation where the church supports a missionary, until our sanctuary renovation earlier this year. We took the flags down and we have just never gotten them back up. Today was supposed to be the day we returned them to their posts. But we walked into the church this morning to the sound of two warning alarms:One from our fire system, and the other from the sump pump off of the fellowship hall. We soon discovered that the church was completely without power. A branch in the night took down some lines and the whole highway was out.

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So without lights in the sanctuary or enough light from the windows to safely use the ladder we cancelled the flag project and rescheduled it for tomorrow.

The day itself has felt very discombobulated. I got up a little later than usual and threw off my morning schedule. All day long I have been dealing with a distracted mind. I am constantly having to call myself back to focus. I am leaving jobs half done all around me.

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Maybe I will just go back to bed for a bit and start over after lunch. I do have some jobs to do that I really need to concentrate for!

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The Heaviness

A heavy snow has fallen in Winchendon Massachusetts. We got about 8 more inches of heavy wet snow along with a mix of ice.

The snow has painted everything white and crystal. It is absolutely beautiful…. and dangerous.

The branches are weighted down with the heavy white stuff. Many areas of our community lost power for almost twenty four hours and some areas just to our north have been without power now for two days.

There is a word in Hebrew for glory, “chabod”. It means “the weightiness of God’s presence”….”the heaviness of God’s presence”.

As I am walking through this first season of fasting and prayer in 2023 one of the truths I have begun to see very clearly is that the work ahead of us is filled with “chabod”. It is heavy lifting. It is work that is beyond me or us. It is breakthrough in a region that currently walks with the burden of massive addiction, abuse and mental illness. I am feeling in my spirit that the time has come for the church to step up and out of its comfort zone into the place of joining with the rest of our community to address the deep needs of our region. We bring to the table the power of our God. If we do not step up or if we fail at this endeavor I sense that our community may well break, like so many of our grand trees, under the weight of these heavy burdens.

Everything in me cries for comfort from the weight of the work I see ahead and yet there is this space in my heart that is filled with an incredible sense of anticipation for the answers to so many of the prayers we have prayed over the years.

Still Life Broken and Repaired

The season has changed again. We are right back to winter overnight. This is one of the warmest winters I remember. I have only worn a coat one or two days this year. Maybe it’s just my thick northern blood, but something is changing. All season we have been going back and forth between freeze and melt. Today the ground is covered with snow. Tomorrow we could be back to the mud. It’s a change.

I am currently taking part as a reader in a book launch for a friend. Poet and story teller Tracy Rittmueller has written a book of poetry entitled, Still Life, Broken and Repaired. The book is about life changes, especially those changes between life partners as aging happens. The effects of dementia on relationships is a key theme in her poetry. Right now this book is speaking to me about the plethora of changes I am walking through with my own Mom and with my life long friend Grace.

In her poem, “Healing Is a Never Ending Departure”, Tracy writes

“Life calls us
to our never ending story.
All is still well.
Take heart, dear heart.
Release, that you may heal.”

Excerpt From: Tracy Rittmueller. “Still Life, Broken and Repaired.” Apple Books.

Right now life is requiring a constant releasing. My mom’s life, Grace’s life are like this winter. Some days you get warm sunshine and all is well. Other days are filled with mud and confusion. And then there are the days where the cold chill of the future just sort of sweeps over you. Each day requires a releasing of what was and an acceptance of what is now. My world is busy and grand in its smallness. On that note I leave you with these thoughts from Tracy’s poem, “In A Cove In The Yorks, Maine, I Dare To Hope Again.”

“And so I sit here for hours intent to hear the healing
beginning of another pilgrimage, any conscious progress
to inspire our next, necessary transformation.”

Excerpt From: Tracy Rittmueller. “Still Life, Broken and Repaired final.” Apple Books.

I am embracing the change whatever it may be. I know God has us in the midst of it.

If you would like to read more of Tracy’s work you can find it at TracyRitmueller.com

HEY KIDDO!

One of my goals for 2023 is to lead my church into greater community outreach. Our missions statement is,

WHILE DOING LIFE TOGETHER

WE WILL REACH THE LOST

BY SENDING THE FOUND

AS WE DISCOVER OUR GIFTS

WE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.

Some have suggested that the word lost is a “hot button” word. I think it’s honest. “Lostness” is a condition we humans often find ourselves in. It’s that place in life where we wonder “How’d I end up in this mess?” and conclude “I have no idea where to go from here.” In matters of faith to be lost means to be separated from God and being unable to find your way back to Him. As I said it’s an honest assessment of the human condition.

Foundness is another matter. I have learned well and paid the price of assuming everyone who goes to church is “found”. Foundness is not really about what a person does at all. It’s a condition of the heart. It’s that position of feeling centered…known…seen…and cherished. In matters of Christian faith it is that condition of having had an experience of meeting Christ and knowing that He is now with you on the journey of life no matter where you may go. This fulfills the old adage “not all who wander are lost”.

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I long to bring the answer I have found to my lostness to my greater community, so that those who would choose it could walk into this thing I call Christian faith as well. As I have prayed one of the projects that has sparked my interest in partnership is a project our local library is doing in conjunction with the YMCA, the public school system and a local private school (called The Winchendon School), the local Community Action Center and a few other local organizations. It is called The One Book One Community Project.

The town is reading the graphic novel, HEY KIDDO. The library is hosting 5 town wide seminars throughout the winter and into the Spring to bring awareness of the book’s themes which are : domestic violence, trauma in the life of children, what makes a family, and issues surrounding addiction and the family.

I attended the first of the seminars last Saturday. It was so informative and challenging to me as a pastor. It both excited me and sobered me to what lies ahead. Here are a few of my take aways so far:

THE AMOUNT OF WORK BEFORE US IS ENORMOUS.

WE WILL NOT FINISH IT BY OURSELVES. IN FACT IT WILL NOT BE FINISHED WHEN JESUS COMES TO TAKE US HOME.

IT IS NOT OUR JOB TO FIX PEOPLE. WE ARE JUST HANDS EXTENDED.

WHERE WE CANNOT MEET A NEED THERE ARE OTHERS WHO CAN. WE HAVE TO BE WILLING TO PARTNER AND REFER.

I DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. BUT I KNOW WHO DOES.

Psalm 11

For the director of music. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
    they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
    at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
    his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
    fiery coals and burning sulfur;
    a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
    he loves justice;
    the upright will see his face.

Birds and Such

One of the loves may grandmother passed on to me was bird-watching. I can remember that on Saturdays, especially in the winter when it was too cold to play outside, Gramma would set me at the kitchen window with her favorite bird book and she would tell me to identify as many of the birds that came to her feeders as I could. She had chickadees and sparrows, goldfinches (she bought special food for them), purple finches, woodpeckers, bluejays, titmice, mourning doves and in those days evening grosbeaks.

My feeders today have most of the same birds with a few extra. I have two nesting pairs of cardinals on The Vicarage property. They really love the Japanese knotweed for their nesting place. I also have cowbirds in the spring and redwings blackbirds.

In addition I have God’s own quantity of gray and red squirrels and a new addition within the last year (besides the rats which I am dealing with) …..rabbits.

This morning as I took the dogs for their morning walk their were two rabbits playing on the side lawn.

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Of course what I call the side lawn is actually a giant patch of frozen mud right now.

The work at The Vicarage is not done. As we move to the end of this season of fasting and into February the landscape planning is beginning. That pile of rocks…..it’s my new stone wall.

A STORYTELLING FAMILY

It’s 7 A.M. I have spent time: in the presence of God, walked played with and fed the dogs, finished my Bible reading, made myself a tea and now I am catching up on writing both blogs and Storyworth.

For those who might not be familiar with STORYWORTH here’s a link. I purchased the program as a Christmas gift for my mother. As many of you know she is walking the pathway of vascular dementia. As the disease slowly takes pieces of her mind and body from us, her world becomes smaller and smaller.

One of the things she still has is her past and so Storyworth is helping me to preserve that for her in a story book we are creating together through the weekly question/ conversation starters the website offers. The questions open discussions which lead to other questions the answers to which sometimes take a day or two to ferret out, but I am learning a lot about my mother and her family which I never knew. One of the chief things I have learned is that stories were not often told in her house and so this experience is new for her.

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I guess as I think about it even I did not grow up in a house that told many stories. But my father did. It is through his parents that I know a lot about the history of the Lillie side of my family. Growing up I spen Saturdays at my grandparents house. Each Saturday I spent was well scheduled. I was allowed to watch a cartoon in the morning with breakfast, Then I was sent out to play for a bit. At ten A.M. or so we went grocery shopping. After that we would take a ride in which my grandparents would use the journey to share a story about the history of their family or the town they grew up in. Then we would go back to the camp where they lived, on Packard’s Pond, and have lunch. While my grandfather watched bowling, Gramma and I would play a game and she would share with me more of the stories of their life.

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It was from here I drew my love for writing and creating stories. As I think on this, I am fascinated by the idea of how people become storytellers.

WAS YOUR FAMILY A STORYTELLING FAMILY?

EARLY MORNING AND ACCOMPLISHED

I was up well before sunrise this morning.

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I am many mornings but particularly on Sundays. I NEED to get at least two hours of prayer in before I preach at church. I find that Sunday mornings are one of the most productive periods of my week. This morning I:

prayed

read thirty pages in one of the books I have assigned myself ( I actually finished HEY KIDDO, by Jarret J. Krosczka which I am reading along with many citizens of out town in the ONE BOOK ONE COMMUNITY PROJECT sponsored by our local library)

read the Bible

Made my bed (if you want to be a success start by making your bed)

washed the dishes (I should not have left them in the sink last night

Did about 40 minutes of filing and cleaning

Fed the birds

Emptied the dehumidifier

Filled the furnace with water for the day

Had breakfast with Amanda

set up Mom’s pills and gave her her morning pills

Got myself ready for church

And now I am getting the writing done in “NOTES”!

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Maybe I didn’t scale Everest, but I feel accomplished.

I was with a friend at breakfast yesterday and we were talking back to the ATOMIC HABITS class we took last year. We were talking about how making small changes really had revolutionized our lives. I am not yet at the point where every morning is like this, but at least four or five mornings a week are. That is a huge change for me and it has upped my feeling of well-being. I was going to say my productivity but as I think about this, this whole atomic habits thing has not been about productivity though I think it is definitely affecting it. It is about helping men change how I view myself and the potential God has put in me.

As I finish up this morning Mom is sitting on the couch with the cat. Mom is really frustrated with her life and what she cannot do anymore. She often gets upset about the fact that she can no longer walk much farther than the front hall. She feels less than because she sometimes needs help changing her clothes. I have praying about her quality of life and God has shown me that I might try some small things for her that can restore some of her confidence and some of her joy. I think that is why I felt so strongly about STORYWORTH this year. The weekly questions have been good to open up conversations about more than the weather. I have been jogging her memory daily and taking her back through the life she has lived. I am wondering what other small things we can do to give her more of a sense of life and hope.

WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL ACCOMPLISHED?

FIRST DAY OUT OF QUARANTINE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND LEG PAIN

Today was day one out of quarantine. I still have to wear the mask for a few days in public, but I am feeling almost 100%.

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Truth be told I am feeling better than before I got COVID.

I have been struggling with significant joint and muscle pain in my left hip and knee for about six months. The week before I got COVID I had begun preparing for our church’s 21 Days of Fasting and prayer. This prep called for a draw back on caffeine and processed sugar. This week as I got COVID I launched fully into the Daniel fast which is a vegan fast which I will be on until the end of January as our church seeks God for spiritual breakthrough.

I have noticed each day my muscle and joint pain has been decreasing! I have less pain and less swelling leading to greater mobility. Greater mobility has not meant much since I have been stuck in my house for the last week, but today when I had to start taking appointments again it meant the world to me.

I started with a breakfast meeting, which consisted of fried potatoes and gluten free toast and herbal tea. Then at 11 A.M. I attended a seminar being sponsored by our town library on the subject of domestic violence. The seminar was soooo…. informative and the feedback I have gotten from congregants who attended with me is showing me that God is about to open up some powerful doors in the area of community involvement. That said, the stools we were given to sit on at the event I think were originally some kind of torture device. Some of our church members actually didn’t make it through the event in those stools. They had to move to other chairs at the back of the room or to a standing position. Honestly, I was a little worried at the end that I may struggle unfolding myself from the child size pizza pies. A week ago I would have probably needed help getting up from that stool after two hours of sitting in it. But today not only did I get up under my own power, but the pain in my knees didn’t last more than five minutes as my muscles readjusted to being straightened out!

It was a great day of learning and of discovering that my injury may not be an injury as much as it is a food sensitivity!

THE ARRIVAL OF RATS

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2020 COVID brought more than disease and quarantine to our house. It brought rats. My family has lived in The Vicarage for something like 45 years and up until pandemic I never saw a rat in the neighborhood. Then in 2020 they were everywhere. I started seeing them on the side property. I would meet them on walks at dusk or dawn with the dogs over by the Catholic Church. Then I started noticing their leavings in our cellar. I put out poison in the cellar. Bought sonic deterrents. Filled in holes where I thought their dens might be. Cleaned out the cellar and sprayed strong fragrances.

The rats went away and I have not seen them again ….until. Today.

You may remember we had the old stone porch taken off the house this past summer. It was falling down and had become a hazard.

We also had to dig up all the pipes in the side yard and have them replaced. Some of the rock that was in the stone porch got buried in the refilling afterwards. Also a couple of larger stones (boulders really) got left in the front by the flower garden. I thought they Made a great lawn ornament. That is until this morning when I noticed that something has taken up residence under the boulders.

I waited to see what would come out of the hole and wouldn’t you know the rats are back. Or at least rat is back. But with Spring coming on I don’t want to have rat babies so…..it’s time to prepare for rat battle again!