Like an Old Glove

Someone asked me a few days after being back in the office following my sabbatical’s end, “How does it feel – being back?”

I responded, “It’s like slipping on an old glove.”

And that’s the truth…I started back on September 1.  The staff at HTLC welcomed me with a table laden with good foods, warm smiles, eager requests to hear my stories, and joy that I had truly missed.  For my part, I brought gifts that I hoped would convey my gratitude and affection for each of them and a desire to jump into the ongoing, never ending treadmill that is the church.

I was pleased to discover that it took me a moment to remember some of my computer passwords, where on the shelf some of my go-to resources are, and where I kept little things like stamps.  I guess that means I really did disconnect while on sabbatical…Yay!

Some of my first emails and phone calls were to say “thank you” to those who helped out over the summer – guest preachers, volunteers who kept the website going, etc. Of course, I wanted to connect with some of the people whose loved one’s died while I was away.  I’m still going through the stack of mail that greeted me.  And there are final reports about sabbatical that need to be written.

But it really is nice to slip back into the routine of asking about and hearing the ups and downs of people’s lives, praying for those in need, reading and studying God’s word, and preparing to offer words of grace and hope when I stand before the congregation on Sunday mornings – or in conversation – or at hospital beds.

Like an old glove that I don to tend to my yard and home, the glove that God has called me to wear as I tend this precious garden – God’s people growing strong and beautiful – I fit.  I fit into that glove and I know my usefulness and purpose.

It’s good to be back.  My thanks, and thanks again, to all who made this Journey a wonderful one.  The gloves are…on.  And I’m ready to work.

Ps

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Goodness and Harmony

Since I last wrote a lot has happened.  Forgive me for not writing sooner, but in the Canadian national parks, Glacier NP, and at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp internet access was kinda sketchy.

I’ll list some of the highlights… Big mountains, lots of animals, river rafting, walking on a glacier, beautiful lakes, hiking in the rain, 6 bears, 2 moose, a train ride to British Columbia, horseback riding, wonderful food, an eight point elk, a wine and cheese picnic, cabin living, camp worship, kids, canoeing, sailing, wine tasting, 5773 miles, and the company of my beloved.

In short, it was the most amazing adventure and the very definition of all goodness.  We are thankful for the opportunity to have been in such gravure and loveliness.  Jana put it best when she said, “I keep thinking of all the people that made this trip possible.”

And now I embark on a different kind of adventure. I am in Nazareth, PA to work in the shop of Dale Unger, craftsman and luthier. Work began today on a guitar that I can call my own – built by my own hand. I can’t wait to see how it turns out…and how it sounds!  

  
Sights…and sounds.  Blessings to be sure!

Ps

Face to Face

I read somewhere that true friends are the kind from whom you can be apart for years, but when you do get together you pick up right where you left off.

That was the case this week as we had the chance to spend time with several friends who live way up here in Alberta, Canada.

First we drove to Red Deer, about 100 kilometers (that’s how they do it here!) of Calgary.  Brad and Stacey live there with their two little girls.  Brad had been the new doctor in town (his first job) right about the same time I was the new pastor at my first church in eastern Washington. Stacey became a good friend to Jana when she was a new mom and we all kept each other sane while adjusting to life in a small town (although none of us stayed for long!).  

Next we travelled south to Calgary where we met up with Mark and Sue and Scott and Gina.  Mark and Scott and I were classmates in Seminary.  Scott and Gina live in Calgary with their pre-teen daughter, but  Mark and Sue, with their three girls, came all the way from Wisconsin to share the week with us.  What a great time we had exploring the Calgary Stampede and venturing into Banff National Park, but the greatest gift was sitting together in the same room (Gina’s kitchen!)

True to that old saying, we picked up as if it was yesterday when we saw each other last. We recalled old stories about one another, learned about our growing families, and shared bits of wisdom that we have picked up along the way.  The bonds of friendship run deep, and there is a grace that holds us together. 

In today’s world of instant messaging and Facebook posts, it’s hard to remember that nothing compares to the blessing of seeing a friend face to face.  To be able to touch their hand or shoulder. To see the tear fall from the corner of their eye. To feel the explosion of breath from their lungs as they and you laugh.  These and so many other blessings are why it is so important to take the opportunity – if only once in a great while – to spend real time together.  It is part of each of our journeys….a gift of goodness, mercy and harmony.

 

More Church than Work

I’ve been at Campfirmation this week.

new campfirmation logo - small“But wait…” some have said… “isn’t that church work? …You’re not supposed to be working on Sabbatical.”

True, it is church work – but more church than work.

This is my 15th year working with over 30 adult leaders – pastors, youth leaders and volunteers – from almost 20 churches around the Phoenix area and throughout Arizona, to put on a camp for Jr. High kids that has become a key component of our confirmation programs.  It’s a week away with time built in for Bible Study, Worship, Team Building, and Recreation.  And the primary purpose – the main reason we bring these 120 kids, along with 30 high schoolers who serve as counselors – is to build community – to remind them in concrete ways that relationships are at the DSC02346heart of our faith and our life as people of God in Christ.

They let me lead music here at camp.  I get to live out my dream of being a rock star on stage.  I get a few others to jump in on drums, bass, guitar, keys, and vocals, and together we lead praise songs once or twice a day and again at campfire at nightDSC02349.  The kids clap and dance and sing along, they join hands and sway to the music, and the energy is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit among us.  I don’t play and sing all that well, mind you…but God is praised and we are blessed regardless.

Over the years, as adult leaders of Campfirmation, we’ve learned something simple, yet profound.  It’s a lesson everyone needs to learn at some point or another.  We all need this week of camp – adult leaders as much as the campers.

Let me tell you what it means for me…

Camp is a time and place that allows me to be reminded of who we are in the eyes of God.  Nestled within the beauty of creation, removed from the trappings of our busy lives, and united with the community of God that gives voice to our prayers and our praise, camp is the embodiment of Goodness, Mercy, and Harmony.

So that’s why I chose to do a little church work while on Sabbatical.  That, and because I’d much rather be here in the mountains where temps are in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, than in the Valley where it’s 100 degrees plus!!!

Sabbatical is a time to remember that our faith is all about relationships with and for one another.  God is in the midst of us.  And camp is a perfect way to live that out.

New Words

I learned two new words this week during our time in Hawaii…well, one new word and a word that we all know, but perhaps not to its fullest extent.  The first is, of course, aloha.  More than just a greeting, aloha conveys the spirit and hospitality of the islands.  People use it not just to say “Hi,” or “Hey, what’s up?” but in genuine interest for your well being.  At first I was kind of cynical…they’re just playing the tourist game, I thought.  But welcome and blessing are a true spirit of these people that live thousands of miles from the rest of us.  Perhaps it’s because in their relative isolation they know they need each other and us…friends and strangers, locals and visitors, even tourists like me.  Aloha is a word that reminds us all that we are one with each other and with all of creation.

The other word…the one I didn’t know before I came to Hawaii…is mahalo.  Mahalo means thank you.  But like aloha, mahalo is often more than just a word.  It might mean “Thanks for your business,”or “Thank you for holding the door,” but most of the time it conveys something of a blessing.  To say mahalo means “Thanks for sharing your soul with mine” and “I have been blessed because my spirit was able to dance with yours for a little while.”

Together, aloha and mahalo have reminded me a bit about God’s desire for our life together.  We are meant to come close, to share, to learn from one another, to bless and show gratitude, and to be changed by allowing our spirits to dance for a while.  Jesus simply said, Love one another, but sometimes those words lose their meaning for hearing them too much.  In Hawaii Jesus says Aloha and Mahalo.

I look forward to using these words more…when I return to the islands, for sure – because we are definitely going back! – but also at home. They are part of the ongoing journey of goodness, mercy and harmony that God is leading us on.  

Mindful

We arrived in Hawaii on Thursday and found our way to our condo for the week…a beautiful location overlooking the ocean (sort of…its out there past the golf course! 


But no worries…we found our way to the beach easy enough.  Wow, what beautiful blue water and majestic hill sides!

  
Our other adventure these last couple of days was tubing…  You see, back in the day when they irrigated sugar cane plantations in the valleys, someone got the great idea to channel the water from the mountains down to the fields.  But to do so, they needed to blast tunnels through the rock…some up to a mile long!  Well, they don’t grow that much sugar any more, so the channels and tunnels are used to float through…for fun!

   
   All that plus lots of great food, fun people, some shopping, lots of amazing sights, and time to relax and reflect.

But I’m ever mindful that this journey couldn’t be possible if not for the generous outpouring of love from so many at HTLC and beyond. And what’s more, the journey that each of us is on is only because of our God who gives us goodness, mercy, and harmony each and every day.

Blessings and Aloha!

Ps

The Blessing of Goodbye

The goodbyes and farewells have started.

“Aren’t you leaving soon?” “Is it this week that you leave?” “Did you already go on your trip?”

These are all things that I’ve heard over the past couple of weeks.  In truth, my last Sunday here at HT is May 31.  On that day there will be a sending and commissioning service that I’m sure will remind all of us of the blessing that this time away will bring.

It is starting to feel very real – not that I am eager to get away…but I have an app on my phone that tells me the days, hours, minutes and seconds!

Image-1Leave taking is part of the gift, though.  Part of the blessing is saying goodbye.  It’s not a bad thing – otherwise why would we say “good”bye?

Included in the goodness of our journey of life is the opportunity to leave the people we love, to spend some time apart from our home and all that is familiar.  And although saying Goodbye is hard – we know that our homecoming will be all the more special because we were willing to rend our ties.

In John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting his disciples prior to his impending death he says to them, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not…the Advocate will not come to you.” (Jn 16:7)  The Advocate or Helper is sometimes understood to be the Holy Spirit, the way that God leads and guides the disciples into a life of bold and courageous proclamation of the Gospel.  Jesus says that this life of giving and sharing love to the world will happen without his own physical presence in the world.

I think that in the same way (and without the overtone of impending death!) our absence from one another allows God to help us in a similar way.  In our separation from one another God can lead our lives into journeys of blessing and grace for ourselves and others along paths that we would not trod otherwise.  In short, God will bless us and help us to grow because we say Goodbye to one another.

And of course, goodbyes anticipate joyful reunions…and every reunion is a foretaste of that blessed day when God will gather us as one in our eternal home.

Goodbye is a blessing.  I am living that blessing in these 23 days, 0 hours, 21 minutes, and 46 seconds that I have before I leave on this Journey of Goodness, Mercy and Harmony!