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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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.

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!

BASKING IN THE SON

Here I am convalescing through COVID. 

I had two days of real sickness where I didn’t get out of bed. The rest of the week the sickness has been pushed back to a stuffy nose and a sometimes tickle in the throat that makes me cough. 

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My energy level feels good today and for that I am very happy.

However, Mom tested positive for COVID this morning . She is asymptomatic so I am praying that she stays that way.

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I am still in quarantine for two more days; So Amanda has been holding down the church and doing all the errands and housework. I so appreciate this daughter of mine who is such a talented pastor and who can run things in my absence. Most of the staff also has COVID so she has been the only one in office a few days this week.

This week has also been the beginning of our church-wide 21 Days of Fasting and Prayer…. 30 hours a week of church prayer scheduled and I haven’t been able to make one session in person. 

I am so grateful to Jon Bauver and his team for running these sessions with their ministry, The Worship Room.

Jon’s ministry is a missionary prayer movement dedicated to bringing twenty-four-seven prayer to our region. They opened about two years ago and they are up to twenty hours of regular prayer every week. For the next twenty-one days they have really stretched themselves towards thirty hours a week to partner with us and I so appreciate it.

Of course when the plan was laid to let The Worship Room take the lead on this year’s 21 days I had no idea I was going to be out of commission for the first whole week of the fast. BUT GOD DID!

So here I stand or sit as the case were and instead of leading prayer meetings I get to bask in the radiance of the Son of God as a long distance participant rather than a leader. I am taking these moments to listen deeply and breathe in the grace of God for all the ministry that lies ahead. I am intensely aware that these moments of quarantine without strong sickness are a gift from God to help me prepare. Sometimes God needs to force us to our necessary rest.

COVID POSITIVE

I got home from church and deacon board meeting on Sunday and started feeling sick. By Sunday night I had full on COVID symptoms. I tested, but the test came back negative. By Monday morning I was pretty much relegated to bed. I slept away most of that day. On Tuesday after my second COVID test , which came back positive I slept most of that day too.

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By Tuesday I had gotten word that three more of my staff had come down sick and today a fourth member messaged to say she had tested positive. That leaves my daughter (who has just come out of quarantine) and my personal assistant who had COVID in November running the church.

We have just begun 21 days of fasting and prayer with 30 weekly prayer meetings and the church staff is pretty much in quarantine. My daughter was asking God about this and the answer she got was, “This movement is about the church not about the leadership. The church must rise up and the staff must be put in a position to let them.”

apparently that position is COVID POSITIVE.

So I am joining the prayer meetings remotely and am watching as my parishioners rise up to lead this prayer movement for breakthrough! It is POSITIVE indeed.

MORNING LIGHT

Morning’s are my best time. I find the hours between 5 A.M. and Noon to be my most productive. Something about the first rays of morning light (even when the sky is gray) just fills me with energy to get up and get going.

Don’t get me wrong a good cup of coffee helps too.

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But since we are at the beginning of our church’s yearly 21 days of fasting and prayer coffee is off the table. So the morning sun will be enough along with my herbal tea to get me going in the morning’s.

This morning I have done morning devotions walked the dogs, played with dogs, fed the dogs, made breakfast, read the first ten pages of my daily reading regimen and finished up the second chapter in Storyworth. This week my mother and I conversed about her father. Busyness is coming forward as the chief theme of my mother’s early life. I get the sense she understood the busyness but resented it as a dynamic in her family’s household.

I am finding for myself, busyness is a cautionary theme. I also think that there is a pendulum in my life that swings between busyness and lassitude.

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I think I am looking for a happy medium somewhere between hyperactivity and complete indolence.

Maybe the morning light is my answer. Perhaps the balance is a morning of great productivity and afternoon of slower more concentrated work and the evening of recovery.

I am not sure exactly how that works with my schedule but it surely is something I am going to be praying into in the next 21 days as I seek greater breakthrough.

HERE’S A SONG TO LAUNCH YOU ON YOUR WAY INTO THIS MORNING’S LIGHT.

A FUNNY COINCIDENCE

Once again, the pandemic has come to visit the Vicarage. Amanda has just tested positive for COVID;

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So, she has been sequestered to her room. I am getting ready to super sanitize the bathroom and then I am going to mask up and head out to do the necessary errands in case, you know, I have it.

It’s strange to think that the last time this happened to us we were actually quarantined indoors for 14 days and had to have groceries delivered to us.

My biggest concern now is making sure Mom does not get it. Chances for that are relatively small as she and Amanda have had no physical contact because of Amanda’s schedule and Mom’s living quarters lending themselves so well to social distance. Still I will be doing everything in my power to make sure that we keep this bug shut out.

Mom and I just got word that we are due for our next booster by the end of January so we are at the end of the range of immunity (if such a thing even exists). I have actually been wondering if I can get someone to come in and give her the booster as she really…really hates going out. We have managed to get many of the other medical services mom requires to be in house so… who knows? Anyway I was just thinking about all this the other day and wouldn’t you know COVID puts in an appearance once again. It’s a funny coincidence.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN COINCIDENCES?

THE DAY AFTER THE DAY AFTER

I still don’t really know where this is all going to lead, but at least I am here for another day of on-line journaling. And maybe that is going to be the point. “Notes” might be the brief opportunity I give myself every day to give myself a moment of context, a moment of putting it all in perspective.

The day started as most days do, walking the dogs, making the coffee, making my breakfast and logging in my calories (well that’s new). I bought myself Noom for Christmas as a gift from my Mom. I have got to drop between 60 and 80 pounds. So of course I set my goal for 85 pounds. Does that make me an over achiever?

Anyway, after that first log in I took a shower and got dressed to go to the store for some new pants for the funeral I had to preach today. I popped the button clasp on my old dress pants (hence the Noom purchase). I went to the store and bought the fattest pants they had in my leg length and got them home only to find that they fit as long as I didn’t have to sit down for any length of time (hence the Norm purchase).

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I think though that I have to be careful of not letting the weight thing become too much of a focus. I do have bigger fish to fry this year. As I was sitting in prayer late this morning into the noon time hour I began to hear the voice of the Lord promise me a new level of clarity and power in prayer, but it would only come if I returned to a former rhythm of living within the context of this new wineskin, called lead pastoring. I have a lot to think about during the upcoming season of prayer and fasting (which begins on Jan. 8th). I am thinking by that time I will be moving into that former rhythm within the new wineskin, and the fast will be a solidifying agent for the duration of my ministry prayer life. 

For Christmas this year I bought my mother a subscription to an on line story app called Storyworth. Each week we get a question to discuss and then I spend a bit of time each day writing down her answers. This week our question is, “What was your mother like when you were growing up?” Mom and I have been deepening the answer to this question these last few days. It has been a fun series of discussions leading to conversation about what my mother’s life was like growing up on a small working farm.

After our lunch conversation I headed off to perform a committal at the local Veteran’s Cemetery.

I didn’t know the family I was serving today. Sometimes that happens. When a family does not have a home church or pastor they are connected to, each funeral home has a list of pastors they call upon to meet the need. This particular family was from quite a distance away and it has been many years since I worked with this particular funeral home. But they still had my name and number and when none of the pastors in their immediate area could help they reached out to me. I don’t do many funerals for people outside my congregation anymore simply because of time constraints, but this was a family I could help so….I preached the committal service for them and then went grocery shopping. Ministry is an odd mix of the sacred and mundane. Ministers must minister and ministers must have groceries.

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I guess maybe that is part of the rhythm/ balance I really need to get back to as I enter this new phase of ministry (new wineskin as God calls it). I have to figure out how do I faithfully live in the space between the sacred and the mundane? How do I emotionally navigate the waves caused by the often violent switching between the two mindsets. I feel like I was doing a better job of it during pandemic. Of course at that point so much of the sacred ministry was actually shut down and now….I hesitate to say normal has returned, but new normal does qualify. Sometimes the new normal does look a lot like the old normal.

I think, it is time to rehash some of the lessons I learned during pandemic especially about prayer rhythms. I need to look into how I am supposed to be incorporating those rhythms of sacred breath and mindfulness into this new context.

DID PANDEMIC MAKE YOU MORE MINDFUL? IF SO DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE LOST THAT MINDFULNESS AS WE HAVE RETURNED TO NORMAL LIFE?