Archive for April, 2010

The Tuesday Wedding

I was straightening and cleaning up my office on Tuesday when a young man appeared in my doorway. He was in his early thirties with a short-cropped beard, wearing a dark brown polo shirt and dark pants.

He asked if the pastor was in, and I said that I was, and he looked surprised but continued, “Do you think you could perform a marriage ceremony for me and my fiance?” I said I could; when was he thinking about having the service? “Well, right now,” he stammered. “She’s sitting out in the car.” Years in the ministry never really prepares one for that answer, so I asked the next question that concerned me, “Do you have the license?” He nodded. “And is there something I need to know before performing this ceremony? Are you a fugitive from the law? Will I be putting myself in some kind of trouble by marrying you two?” He looked shocked, but then assured me that no, they had no skeletons in their closet, they lived in another county and were passing through, thought the town was pretty and decided to get married. Well, ok then–go get your bride, I said.
“Thank you, thank you!” he said and I showed him how to get out and which door to come back in while I gathered up my Book of Common Worship and found a pen. I was pleased that I had chosen to wear a skirt on this particular day, since I would hate to officiate at any wedding wearing long pants!

As I emerged from the office, the groom was opening the outside door. Coming behind him was his bride, a short, roundish young woman with a pleasant smile. She was wearing a navy blue t-shirt which had on it some clever saying about the internet. She held the hand of a small blond-headed boy, about 5 or 6, who had a buzz cut and big brown eyes. He waved enthusiastically at me with his left hand. “Hey, are you going to marry my mom and dad?” Well, yes I am, I replied, and then looked to see that behind them came an older woman (truth be told, she was my age–I now fall into the category of “older woman”) who was carrying a younger, smaller version of the little blond-headed boy. I asked their names. The older one, who told me he was six, was named Corbin which he said with a lisp because he had a tooth missing. It sounded like “Corwin.” His brother was Clint, and he was three. There was a sister, Sarah, who was home sick. She was five, and then Corbin told me in a loud whisper, “I have a brother who is eight but he don’t live with us; he lives with his daddy.”

This seemed to be everyone, and so we went into the sanctuary together. Corbin’s eyes got even bigger as we walked in. “What IS this place?” he said, and his mother said to me, “He’s never been in a church before.” I told him it was a church, and gave a brief description of what a church was. He walked all around, very solemnly and said, “This is so pretty.” Clint just sat in his grandmother’s lap on one of the front pews.

I asked the couple, whose names were Mark and Kristan, to stand beside each other in front of me, and I began reading from the Book of Order, Christian Marriage Rite 1, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For the vows, Mark and Kristan held hands and as I asked Mark to repeat after me, his voice quivered and shook with emotion, and at one point he stopped to wipe away tears. They held onto each other’s hands tightly and unlike many couples, I didn’t have to remind them to say their vows to each other and not to me! They stared steadily into each other’s eyes. When Kristan completed her vows, I asked if there were rings. They nodded yes; and into my hands they placed a high school class ring, and a small novelty ring encircled with maybe dolphins or it could have been flowers. Kristan said, “They ain’t much but it’s all we got.” I assured her that the value of the ring was in the faithfulness they represented, and they looked at each other and nodded.
After the prayer, I pronounced them husband and wife, told them that what God had joined, let no one separate, and then asked if they wanted to seal their covenant with a kiss. They did indeed, and after their kiss, he said to her, “I love you so much, Kristan” and she said, “I love you so much, Mark,” and they both cried. Then Corbin clapped and Clint smiled and the grandmother took pictures with the camera.

The floral arrangement from Sunday’s service was still in the sanctuary so I removed one red rose, handed it to Corbin and said, “take that to your mom,” which he did. Then grandmother took more pictures of the happy couple, then the happy couple with children, and finally the happy couple with me.

Corbin asked me if he could ring the bell (I had mentioned it earlier) and he ran to the back of the church and rang the bell so hard that it carried him up off the carpet with every pull of the rope. He laughed.

As they were leaving, the couple thanked me for performing the service. I took that moment to ask Mark and Kristan why, of all days, did they choose today to get married? Was there something special about today or the date? Mark answered, “It took us awhile to save up the $90 for the license.” But Kristan looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you think it was about time?”

Corbin gave me a hug and told me he’d see me Sunday, which was unlikely since they live in another town. Still, I hope they do find their way into a church on Sunday. On Tuesday, I was glad they found their way into ours.


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The Hair Lady

“Consider your call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, that no one might boast in the presence of God.” 

–I Corinthians 1: 26 – 29

My 89-year old mother lives in an assisted living facility, but due to a recent bout with pneumonia, she had to spend about 30 days in either the hospital or a nearby nursing home while she regained her strength.  The day that we brought her back, I ate lunch with her in the dining room.  It’s like every other dining room in any assisted living facility:   tables for four and some for six; most chairs have been pulled away so that wheelchairs can be pushed right up to the tables.  There are three or four servers in white shirts bringing food and filling glasses.  

On this particular day, however, as we were eating lunch, a lady with long, white hair appeared and began weaving her way among tables where the residents were seated for lunch.  I’d seen her many times before, getting on and off the elevator but I didn’t know who she was.  Everytime I’ve seen her, she’s been dressed in loud colors and wild prints, had brightly colored, manicured fingernails and wore clunky sandals so her painted toenails were visible.  This day was no exception: she wore a green and white and yellow striped tunic top, blue print pedal pushers, and of course, the sandals.  She was not especially young, but she didn’t seem old enough to be a resident of the assisted living facility.  But one thing was clear:  she knew every person in the room by name.  She moved from table to table, kissing the tops of grey heads and bending down to hug the shoulders of others, touching and patting hands all around.  She passed out compliments like she was serving dessert:  “Oh, Mrs. Smith, I love that scarf!”  or “Miss Hays, doesn’t that color blouse make your eyes sparkle!”  Her smile was broad and constant. 

Finally, she made her way over to my mother, gave her a big hug, a kiss on each cheek, squeezed one of her hands, and putting her cheek right next to my mother’s cheek, she said, “Oh! I’ve missed you!  I’m so glad you are back!”  My mother beamed at her, and patted her hand, “I’ve missed you, too,” she said. Then the lady said, “I’m coming to get you next week.  Don’t you worry about a thing!  I’ll come wheel you down and take good care of you.”  Then she kissed my mother again on the head, and turning to the woman seated beside my mother, said, “Ready to go, Mrs. Northern? Let’s go!” and grabbing the wheelchair handles, pushed the elderly woman toward the elevator.

I turned to my mother.  “Who is that?” I asked, expecting the answer to be physical therapist, LPN, or yoga instructor.  My mother said, “I don’t know her name but she’s the hair lady.  She’s wonderful. She’s going to cut my hair next week.”

The hair lady.  She’s the beautician who runs the salon located there in the assisted living facility.  I thought about that woman’s cheerful demeanor and I thought about how she knew everyone’s name.  I thought about how carefully she had connected with every person who was there, and how, when she spoke to them, she made them feel special.  She made them feel welcomed. She made them feel loved.  I only had to look at my mother’s face while the “hair lady” focused her attention on her to see that her gift was not cutting hair, but loving people.  It wouldn’t matter what she would do with the few wisps of hair my mother has left.  What matters is that when she wheels my mother back to her room after next week’s hair cut, my mother will feel wonderful.


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Saving a Seat

My brother was the first person to save a seat for me, and really, it wasn’t so much that he actually saved it for me as he allowed me to sit beside him on the school bus that first day, thus ensuring that I did not sit alone or be forced to ask “is this seat taken?” After that first day, I found a friend, Patty, whose bus stop came before mine so that when I boarded the school bus every morning, she had saved me a seat. It wasn’t a crowded bus but that didn’t matter. I was only five years old and already I hated the thought of NOT having a place to sit. Now I am over 50 years old and thought still fills me with apprehension.

I accept who I am. I am a person who loves any airline that gives out seat assignments (however, I’ll give up having a seat assignment over paying for my bags to fly!). I love guaranteed reservations a a restaurant and am especially pleased if the table is marked with a “RESERVED” card. I have been known to wait until an Oscar-winning movie has been seen by everyone within miles just because I didn’t want to risk having to search for a seat (and in the dark, no less!). Or worse, arriving at a movie only to find it has been sold out!

Some people find this “saving the seat” thing peculiar and some find it downright dull. There are those who live for the adventure of seat-finding. The challenge of having to find a seat in a crowded restaurant or night-spot or movie theatre gives them an adrenaline buzz. Not knowing where to sit–or even if I’ll get to sit–makes me feel slightly nauseous.

My fear carries into every setting. Not too long ago, while attending a conference with about 53 other ministers, my heart sank when, on the first day, the leader said, “Group yourselves in threes and discuss the following questions.” I didn’t even hear past the words “group yourselves in threes… ” Finding two others in room full of people I didn’t know absolutely terrified me. This was right up there with my high school gym teacher’s instructions to “find a partner” for a relay race or the camp lifeguard who wanted us to “buddy up” for swimming tests or the drama of emerging from the cafeteria line in school with the unholy task of having to find someplace to sit. It is the reason why, to this very day, whenever I lead workshops or meeting, I assign partners or put groups together in some clever way. I figure there must be one other person in the room as anxious as I am about finding a place or a partner!

And what finally happened during that conference really was my worst nightmare–TWO of us were left standing awkwardly in a room full of groups of threes, already happily discussing away! So the conference leader signaled for us to get together and then said with a sigh, “I guess it’s ok to be a group of two,” as if we had failed in our task. Oh, why couldn’t he have simply numbered us all off??

So here’s what I love: I love it when workshop leaders prearrange the small groups. I loved it in school when the teachers would assign pairings instead of saying, “Find a partner.” I love it when I arrive at some popular event and see that my spouse or my friend has arrived early and saved a seat for me. I love it when there are place cards at a dinner party. I love it when we go to some kind of public performance and we know the exact location of our seats.

There are those who will accuse me of playing it safe, of having no sense of adventure, or even wonder about the amount of my faith. And certainly it won’t always be a given that I’ll have a place to sit or a group to which I can belong and I’ll survive. But my anxiety reminds me that there are lots of people who get left out; and that sometimes we forget to save a place for another.

But wouldn’t it be great if what we do in this life imitated what will happen in the life to come? Theologically speaking, I can back up my earthly desire to have a guaranteed place to sit in the sure knowledge that in the life to come, Jesus has saved me–saved us all!–a seat. In this life, I’m not confident; in the life to come, I’m quite at ease because “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling place. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14: 2,3). Until then, I’ll try to make sure that in this life, no one has to worry about where to sit or to which group they belong, and at least try to alleviate a little earthly anxiety.


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Feeding the Grackles

Recently, I bought a bird feeder, a pole on which to hang it, and bird seed to put into it.  The birdseed that I selected claims to be a mix designed especially for songbirds, and has these lovely photos of cardinals, goldfinches and other beautifully plumed birds on the package.  The bird feeder that I bought is one that is designed to keep out squirrels and “large predatory birds.”  That means turkey buzzards, I guess, even though I suspect they would prefer a dinner of dead possum over a bunch of seeds.

After a bit of discussion, Will and I decided to put the feeder not too far from our big kitchen window so I could watch the birds as I ate breakfast, lunch or dinner but not too close so that the birds wouldn’t be anxious and stay away.  We “planted” the feeder, filled it with “songbird seed” and I looked forward to seeing a variety of brightly colored songbirds dining on the birdseed, my binoculars close at hand.

No birds came the first day, nor did they come the second day, although I think they were in the nearby trees, discussing it.   On day three, however, after arriving home from a long day, groceries in hand, I looked up from putting away the food to see little house sparrow and a female cardinal enjoying the bird feeder that I bought for them.  The same little birds came back on the fourth day.  However, on the fifth day, while I was pouring my coffee, I looked up and saw a great big bird with bright yellow eyes, too big to perch on the feeder but smart enough to swing the feeder so that the seed tumbled out of the little openings and onto the ground. And there, on the ground, were many more of these bluish-brownish big birds with bright yellow eyes gobbling up the fallen seeds and making hideous clucking noises.  These were not songbirds!  I looked up these intruder birds in my handy birdbook and there was the picture:  the birds eating my birdseed were grackles.  Oh, not exotic or rare grackles, but COMMON grackles.  
The first thing I did was go out and close up two of the four openings, the openings closest to the pole so that the grackles couldn’t cling to the pole and siphon off the seed.  But I watched as they figured out that even though they couldn’t hang on the pole and reach an opening, they could perch just long enough on the little ledge meant for the sweet songbirds to tip the feeder so that the seeds continued to drop out on the ground.  One grackle was sufficient for this task while the other grackles huddled below, eating as fast as the seeds fell.

One day later, all the seed was gone from the feeder.  I knew it wasn’t the songbirds, for whom the seed was intended.  It was the grackles who ate all the seed, and not only that, they scared away any of the dear little songbirds who risked feather and beak to perch on the feeder.

It irritates me that the grackles eat the seeds that I put out for the songbirds.  Part of me wants to take down the feeder so the grackles will have to go back to whatever diet they enjoyed before feasting on my songbird seeds.  Part of me wants to let the feeder “go dry” and then not replace the seed anytime soon.  A friend of mine suggested that I get another feeder, one that prevents grackles and other big birds from pilfering the seed.  
I may put up another feeder, but in all probability, I’ll just keep feeding the grackles.  It is annoying that they eat all the songbird seed; even more annoying that grackles are neither attractive in looks at or song.  And their size betrays the fact that they don’t have any trouble finding food.  I’m just adding to their bulk, I suppose.

On the other hand, whether I like them or not, these are birds that God made and these are the birds coming to the feeder.  I can think of several Bible verses that apply–“consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (with songbird seed, no less).  Or there’s the parable Jesus told about the sower, who “went out to sow, and as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them up”  (according to Luke’s version, the birds are the Devil, which I would support!).   Then there’s a non-bird verse about casting pearls before swine, and that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall under the table–causing me to wonder about whether I am justified in trying to keep these grackles from the songbird seed.

A wise friend of mine wrote, after reading my e-mail complaint about feeding the grackles, “Whether you intended it or not, your statement about feeding the grackles felt incredibly deep.  As you offer others a feast of Word and Sacrament this Easter, I would hope that some beautiful birds would make it in.  I pray that you get to see the plumage and grace of those who take in the joy that He is risen.  But even if the grackles prevail, someone’s getting fed. It may not be pretty, but it is provision.”

So I’ve decided to keep stocking the feeder with songbird seed and let the grackles eat.  Maybe a few songbirds will appear on occasion and I’ll rejoice in their beauty and grace.  And maybe I’ll just learn to love feeding the grackles.


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