Wedding rings

I was driving home from dinner when I realized that my hand felt funny. I looked down and realized why. My wedding ring was missing.

I searched my pockets, the inside of my gloves, my pockets again. When did I lose it? I had taken it off this morning to put on lotion, but I was sure that I had put it back on. I would have noticed sometime during the day if I hadn’t. I did a quick U-turn and headed back to the restaurant, afraid to hope that I would find it, but not willing to believe I wouldn’t.

It’s replaceable, I told myself. We can afford to buy a new one. But I didn’t want a new one. I wanted this one. I wanted the one my daughter-to-be had carried in her basket of flowers down the aisle, the one my wife had slid on my finger with tears in her eyes. A new one would be bright and shiny. I didn’t want bright and shiny. I wanted the beauty of a well-worn ring.

I thought of John and Angie. We celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary one Sunday during church, and after worship Angie and I were chatting. She told me how excited she was when John gave her a ring. “I fell in love with it,” she explained, “because of the rose gold flowers circling a wide gold band.” I looked down at her hand to admire the ring and saw only a plain, thin gold band. “What happened to it?” I asked rather stupidly. She laughed and said, “Well, Honey, after sixty-two years, it wore off!”

I was 45 when Jackie and I married. It is quite unlikely that we will live long enough to celebrate a sixty-second anniversary. Plus, our rings are titanium, which is much harder than gold, so they will not wear away like Angie’s did. But no matter how many years we are given together, I want my ring to mark the time. I want it to show the journey, the way our laugh lines tell our story.

When I returned to the restaurant, I searched the space where I had parked, my path to and from the restaurant, and then the table where we had sat. I moved the chairs, looked under the table, then backed up and looked again, my panic growing by the second. And then I saw it, peeking out from under the base of the table, visible only to someone who was searching. I grabbed it and slipped it back on with a huge sigh of relief. In that moment I looked up and saw a woman staring at me. She had a worried but hopeful look on her face. I nodded, and she grinned. “My wedding ring!” I mouthed. She nodded again, knowingly, smiling all the while.

I don’t know how my ring fell off, but I’m so glad it’s back where it belongs. The blue etching isn’t as bright as in the picture. In fact, it looks rather gray. And I am thankful.

I’ll Help You

Help_SignMy office at my new church is the closest office to the outside entrance. That also means it is the closest office to the emergency food pantry. Our regulars know the drill. They know to request the food the day before they come. They know to bypass the pastor’s office and head straight for the secretary’s. They know to wait on the landing for the food to be brought to them.

But it’s two days before Thanksgiving, and it’s not all regulars today. An older woman peered into my office, wearing a crocheted poncho over several layers this cold morning. “I’m here to fill out a form?” It was both statement and question. Before I could answer, our secretary called cheerfully to her from the next office. “Right over here! I’ll help you!” A few minutes later I heard a different voice–a younger woman–saying, “Oh, thank you soooo much!” She drew out the “so” long enough for me to know she needed this food. I don’t know her situation–we don’t ask questions–but the relief in her voice sounded to me like a mother who now has enough food for her children.

Our business manager came in to my office and said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to leave for a few minutes. One of the people who came for food doesn’t have a car, and I don’t want her to have to walk home carrying these groceries.” Of course I didn’t mind. She had already told me, “I don’t think I’ll get anything accomplished today but give out food. And that’s just fine with me.”

I am blessed to be serving alongside staff members who understand that helping is part of their job, and blessed to be serving a church that agrees.  I am blessed to hear gratitude echo through the halls.

All day the words have stuck with me: “Right over here! I’ll help you!” And I wonder how different our community would be–how different our world would be–if every day we found reason to say it.

I’m right over here. I’ll help.

Carpe Diem?

Carpe Diem motivacionWhen I was in college, I loved that phrase. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It was a reminder to make each day count, an encouragement to follow my dreams, and a challenge to live a life of excellence. I wanted to live boldly, bravely. Carpe diem was the answer.

Now I am a little wiser.

Now I know that on some days, the best you can hope for is mediocrity. Excellence is a wonderful goal, and we should strive for it personally and professionally. But we also have to strive for sanity. Sometimes we just don’t have enough energy to be excellent.

Now I also know that hard times come when you can’t possibly “seize the day” because you are just trying to hold on. You are clinging with all your might to the cliff’s edge, and one more “to do” or one more disappointment or one more loss, no matter how small, could make you lose your tenuous grasp. You can’t seize the day when you’re just trying to survive it.

Plus, now I know that seizing the day means seizing all of the day . . . all that the day has to offer. And most days offer sorrow as well as joy, anxiety as well as fearlessness. Am I willing to seize all of that?

Take this week, for example. This week I started in my new role as Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of South Portland, Maine. I am excited beyond words. From the moment I read the church profile, I felt drawn to this place. From the moment I met the search committee, I felt drawn to these people. From the moment I accepted the call to be their next pastor, I felt drawn closer to God as I seek to follow in the path I believe is God’s next right step.

But there is also trepidation. Every new pastor feels some anxiety in starting at a new church—or at least every honest one I’ve ever met. There are many uncertainties. Will everyone be pleased with my leadership? (Experience suggests that the answer is no.) Are they ready for the changes that will inevitably come with a new pastor? (Maybe.) Will I be everything they think I am? (Probably not.) Will the church be everything the search committee said it is? (And more!)

It is the beginning of a new journey, a new relationship, and I am a little nervous, yet certain. I am cautious, yet ready to be bold. I have already taken the plunge, a step into the only-partly-known waters of this congregation. But I am certain that I will swim. And I am certain that when I can’t, I will be held up. You can’t ask for more than that.

So I will seize this day, with all that it has to offer. And I will remember that I am seized, held, embraced, by God. Carpe Diem. Carpe Deum.

Spam

I don’t like spam. I am not referring to the “precooked meat product” but to the ubiquitous electronic spam that clogs one of my email accounts. Usually these emails fall into one of three categories: phishing scams, ads for products and services I don’t need, and ads for the treatment of medical conditions I don’t have. My answer is always “no.” No, I will not give you my account number even if the money is to further the Lord’s work. No, I am not interested in meeting other Latino singles, as I am neither Latino nor single. And no, I am not interested in increasing the size of my “manhood,” as the only male in my household is the dog and he’s perfectly content the way he is.

Usually I find spam annoying, but in the past three days I have found it frightening. The emails in question contain innocuous subject lines such as “Momentum may get bigger this week” and “It’s time everyone has a chance.” But it’s the content of the messages that sent chills down my spine:

“It’s your turn to make money on war! As soon as the first bombs get to the earth in Syria, stone oil prices will go up as well as Monarchy Resources Inc share price!!! Begin earning cash today!!!”

When I read the first of these emails, I immediately felt sick to my stomach. It’s my turn to make money on war? I don’t want to make money on war! I don’t want to profit from violence. I don’t want to benefit at the expense of innocent people I have never even met. I am appalled at the suggestion.

Perhaps the timing of these emails has increased their affect on me. Today is the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a day of terror beyond any our nation had known since Pearl Harbor. The date also marks the beginning of American retaliation in the name of justice. So many lives have been lost. Why would I possibly want to make money on war?

Experts with much greater knowledge than I possess have outlined again and again who profits from war — from which corporations make the most money to which countries benefit from other countries being at war. A recent article on the website The Motley Fool asked, “Can You Profit from a Syrian War and Still Sleep at Night?” The author declares that he could sleep just fine if he bought more oil stock in expectation of a war because, after all, you should “hate the game, not the player.” I can’t make those kinds of distinctions.

On the other hand, maybe I already do.

The prosperity of the 1950s enabled my parents to go to college, which changed their lives and consequently mine. But that prosperity was won, at least in part, by U.S. involvement in World War II. I drive on an interstate highway system built by Eisenhower for the purpose of making troop movement easier. This blog would be impossible if computers hadn’t been created by and for the military.  Then there are our more recent military actions. How have they affected me? Do I have more consistent access to fuel? or at a cheaper price? How do I know I’m not already profiting from war?

I already know that I profit from inequality.  I already know that I profit from unfair labor practices. Am I doing anything to change those systems? Even the most diligent among us is buoyed by the status of the U.S., in ways we can’t begin to identify. So what’s a little more profiting at the expense of others?

I could argue that the difference is knowledge. I don’t knowingly buy clothes made in sweat shops. But do I turn a blind eye to easily available information in order to protect my ability to not know?

Perhaps the difference is intent.  I don’t intend to profit from war. My status as a U.S. citizen means that I may unintentionally profit, but that’s not my fault, right? I don’t have the goal of making money from violence.

I have this argument with my daughter all the time: the difference between responsibility and blame. I know she didn’t intend to break the glass. I know she didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident. Nevertheless, she dropped the glass. Is she to blame? No. Is she responsible? Yes.

I am not to blame for the results of U.S. military actions around the world. But I am responsible for my silence.

Now Is When

Flying birdsToday I let go of my daughter. Just a little bit. Or I guess I should say, just a little bit more.

Today she started middle school, and that means big changes are on the way. Now is when we begin loosening the reins just a tad. Now is when we begin trusting her to make more decisions for herself. Now is when she will start learning more about the responsibility of freedom. Now is when we begin to see if all our rules and guidelines have taught her anything.

So far so good. A few months ago, at a school dance, she sought me out thirty seconds into a song to declare, “Seriously?! They’re playing ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ at a fifth grade dance? This is soooo inappropriate!” I loved that her words echoed my thoughts. But will her values still be mine in three years? And if they’re not, will she be clear enough about her own values to make good, safe choices? Now is when it starts getting hard. Now is when it starts getting real. Now is when we have to learn to trust.

I have parishioners who, just a few days ago, took their babies to college. I know their letting go was harder, more significant. But this is the farthest I’ve gone, so forgive me my desire to hold on.

Today I let go of my daughter. Just a little bit.

Tomorrow I will let go of my son. For good.

You could say that he is not really my son, since he is my foster son. And you would be right. And you would be wrong. Because for eleven months and eleven days, he has been mine. Ours. Part of the family. And tomorrow he leaves us to go live with his grandmother. She loves him, and I know she will do her best to keep him safe and healthy. But he has lived with us for more than 70% of his little life. We are the ones who helped him learn to roll over, who encouraged him to crawl, who watched and applauded his first steps. We are the ones who discovered that he will eat anything as long as it has pesto on it, and that he thinks the best way to comfort someone is to bring them gifts and then hold their hand. We are the ones who know him best, and we have done our best to fill every growing inch of him with love.

And now is when we let go. Now is when we let someone else be his shelter. Now is when we have to learn to trust—trust that we have done our best, trust that he is in good hands, trust that even if he doesn’t remember, he will still somehow know that there are three extra people in the world who will love him forever.

Tomorrow I will let go of my son–my foster son, who was never mine to keep. And then I will want to hold even tighter to my daughter, for I know that my letting-go has only begun. And I know that although today I sent her to middle school, tomorrow I will take her to college.

God help me not to hold too tight. Now is when I need to learn to trust.

Truth and Typos

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Today is April 16, 2013, just one day after the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Today is also the day I was supposed to attend a conference on responding to trauma. But instead I am sick at home, the cold I’ve been fighting for over a week finally having knocked me on my well-padded behind. If I had taken better care of myself when the cold first arrived, it would probably be gone by now. But based on how often I repeat this same mistake, apparently I am incapable of learning this lesson.

Anyway, between naps and reading about the tragedy in Boston, I read my parishioners’ Facebook posts with more attention than usual. One of my people posted a request yesterday that everyone please be careful what they repost, as so much false information was being repeated. In response, a friend of his commented that some media outlets are so intent on being first with the news that they don’t check the accuracy before reporting. Then he wrote, “I don’t want the first. I want the truth!”

Well, that’s what he meant to say. But one little typo–one tiny missing letter–changed his intended meaning.  Instead of “I don’t want the first,” he wrote “I don’t want the fist.”

I don’t want the fist, either. I don’t want the violence. I am sick of the cruelty and the carnage. I am sick of funerals for six-year-olds. I am sick of helping my eleven-year-old think through how she would react in such an attack. Yesterday she asked if we would be mad at her if she gave her life to save a friend. I wanted to scream “Yes!” But I couldn’t.

I don’t want the fist. I don’t want the violence. And I dread the violent response. It is too soon for us to know who perpetrated this act, whether it was domestic or international, whether it was an individual or a group. I find myself praying it was one person, so that our thirst for revenge will be limited. I find myself hoping this one person is white, heterosexual, and either non-religious or even–I’m sorry–call himself a Christian, so that we will not use this as an opportunity to target people of color or gays or Muslims or anyone else we want a reason to hate.

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. And truth will not come through the fist. It never does. Facts may, but not truth. Truth is far too powerful for that.

At this point you’re probably expecting a “Love wins” message. And frankly, I’m tempted. But my friend and colleague, Rev. John Gage, pastor of the United Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, had this to say today:

[It's] not that I don’t appreciate all the “love wins… eventually” posts going up in the wake of yesterday’s bombing. Hell, I posted one myself a bit earlier. But, honestly: No, it doesn’t–not unless we make that happen. Love doesn’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air. Love has to have hands and feet. Love needs wisdom and the courage to act now… and now… and now to root out the hate, not with the sword, but with the ploughshare. Far-sighted faith in love’s eventual victory may sustain us in low moments, but love doesn’t actually grow unless we plant it and tend it and defend it at every opportunity. Love is a garden, not a given.  

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. I want the love garden we all tend.

I pray that this is a lesson we are capable of learning.

It Shows

Young Woman Sitting in Front of a Computer and LaughingYesterday I tried Skype for the first time. I had heard others talk about it, and I thought video chatting sounded great, but I had never tried it for myself.

I finally took the plunge—downloaded the software, set up an account, and bought a headset—and then yesterday I got to visit with Valerie. Valerie and I became best friends when we were in high school, and although our relationship has gone through many changes over the years, I still count her as one of my very best friends. I could call her at any time of the day or night, and she would be there for me. She also can tell how I’m doing by the way I answer the phone. If something is bothering me, I can be sure to hear “What’s wrong, chica?”

Valerie and I don’t get to see each other very often, and she recently moved to London so I don’t know when I’ll see her again. But via the wonders of Skype, yesterday I got to see her (virtually) face to face. I got to see where she works. I got to see her smile. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed her.

After we disconnected, my spouse said to me, “You’re different when you talk to her.” When I asked what she meant, she explained: “When you’re on the phone, I can tell by your tone of voice whether you’re talking to a friend or an acquaintance or a stranger. But your whole face is different when you talk to Val. I’ve noticed it when you talk to your parents, too. Your face is different when you’re talking to someone who you know loves you.”

Although I’ve never thought of this before, it doesn’t surprise me. There is a wonderful sense of security that comes from knowing you are loved, and surely it shows.

But this conversation made me wonder: Is my face different when I pray? After all, I’m talking with someone who I know loves me. Does it show? Does it show on my face? Does it show in my life?

Sometimes I wish I could Skype with God. Yes, I know I am limiting God by anthropomorphizing God, but still . . . sometimes I just want a God I can see and talk to face to face.That’s when I am particularly thankful for people in my life like Valerie, and my parents, and my spouse. Not that they are God! But they do help me catch a glimpse of God’s love through their love for me. And I think it shows.

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