I laid in bed full of anxiety, needing to sleep, dying for sleep, but sleep would not come for a long time and I knew it. My husband was away at a conference and a 96-year-old church member was close to death. I expected the family to call at any moment. But I prayed to God that they wouldn’t. I prayed to God that the family wouldn’t need me, or maybe wouldn’t even call until the morning, after I had dropped my two young children off at daycare and was free to be the pastor I knew I could be.
Editors note: It may seem a little early for Advent, but since it takes time to create, it seemed appropriate to publish this idea well in advance. This method involves not only personal creativity in planning a way for a congregation to experience Advent visually, but also facilitating communal creativity, as members of the congregation are invited to join in the process.
My husband, our two-year-old daughter and I are moving to Nicaragua in a week, to serve a three-year term as missionaries with Global Ministries (the UCC/ Disciples overseas presence). The past few weeks have been overloaded, stuffed with the events, tasks, and emotions of packing up our material possessions, leaving our home, loading a truck with the bulk of those material possessions to be shipped across the country for storage...and many, many goodbyes to friends and family. I’ve noticed that I ask two things in almost every parting conversation. First, “When are you coming to visit?” And second, “Do you Skype?”
She is concentrating deeply. She holds the doll and bends over the bowl. She then looks up at me with a question in her eyes. “I baptize you in the name of the Father…” I say. “The Father” she echoes me, and splashes the doll liberally with water. “…and the Son…” I continue. “The Son.” And the doll receives another generous handful of water. “And the Holy Spirit.” “The Holy Spirit.”
The doll now has water pouring all over her head, but she looks happy anyway. The girl quickly tries to baptize her baby again, but the other children have been jostling for their places in line, and they know every child is only supposed to baptize the doll once. So the girl has to give the doll to the boy who is next in line and she places the white stole over his shoulders. Patting the soaked doll on the head, she steps aside to let the next four-year old have his try at the sacrament.
He holds the doll by its neck. There is water everywhere. The beautiful knitted baptismal gown is wet; the table cloth under the bowl is wet. Even the floor has been doused with baptismal water. And it is all beautiful and holy.
The assembly hall was packed, but I had managed to get a front row seat, so I had a clear view as my good friend and her family were commissioned as missionaries in the Christian Church. Later this month, they leave for Nicaragua, where Laura Jean will teach theology and Tim will teach science and math. When they come home in three years, their daughter Quinn will be almost six.
They are perfect for this job.
We had dinner together the night before their commissioning. I, endlessly fascinated by the details of their new adventure, couldn’t stop asking questions. Where would they live? How often could they come back to the States? Would they need malaria medication? How would they find a pediatrician for their daughter?
These are questions I will probably never consider for my own family.
I had originally planned this article under the banner ‘Last (Single) Woman Standing.' Before I get mown down in the stampede of other young, single, female clergy (for I know I’m not really the only one), I suddenly realized, while driving to meet a single, male (and gay) friend, that among the network of people who are my regular truly and deeply supportive community-- not family, not congregants, not generally helpful colleagues, but the people who have gained admittance to my personal cell phone contacts list...I am the last of the single women.
This change in status came about when a close friend announced her engagement to her partner. I was and am delighted and wish my friend and her fiance all the very best in the blessings that God might confer as they plan their wedding and anticipate their future marriage together.
This summer has been no different than any of the other summers experienced in the decade I’ve spent as a youth minister: campfire smoke, bug spray, a few thousand miles packed sardine-style inside rental vans, silly bands (this year both on the radio and on teenagers’ wrists), mandatory abuse reporting, saggy twin mattresses, sultry summer heat, teenage (and adult) drama, work gloves, water bottles, revelations of church happenings received via smartphone or email (or not received at all), and at least a hundred daily activities sandwiched between early-morning meditations and late-night giggly conversations.
Understandably, after three weeks of camp, a week-long youth mission trip, extra out-of-town meetings, a couple sermons and a few Sunday School classes squeezed in for good measure, I am exhausted.
Fumbling Toward Ecstasy provided the soundtrack for my first major mourning period following a high school break-up. Every night of that fall, I put the tape -- dubbed off a friend’s CD -- in my Walkman and curled up, staring out the window, letting Sarah McLachlan’s richly ethereal voice sing me to sleep.
We will not discuss the fact that this mourning period most likely lasted longer than the relationship itself.
"I Will Remember You" was our prom theme. But Sarah wasn't the only one who spoke to the collective frustrations, joys and longings of my circle of friends. We'd memorized whole albums from the Indigo Girls and Fiona Apple, and knew the recent singles from many other female artists, women who gave voice and melody to our experience. We loved "Give Me One Reason to Stay Here" and sang along -- cause I'm too old to go chasing around, wasting my precious energy -- without irony. We felt so deeply, and so frequently; we were old souls.
There was really no question as to whether we would go to Lilith Fair when it got to Chicago in the summer of 1997.