Sunday, September 30, 2007

Authentic Ministry

From the get go of my journey into ordained ministry, one of the most important hallmarks and hopes has been authenticity. As a student, I was inspired by those who were truly themselves - those pastors who did not turn into "official, super-hero, formal pastor" upon donning their alb and stole. I was lucky and blessed to have numerous examples of authentic ministry during my journey. Today, more than ever before, I lived it out.

When I got to church this morning, I wrote up a one page statement to read at the beginning of service. I knew I would not be able to be fully off the cuff with my words, so the statement gave me a set of notes from which to speak. Basically, I said:

I didn't think it would be quite so difficult to stand before you today… I want to take a moment to thank you for the lovely flowers that were sent to Dad’s funeral and to thank you for all the cards, notes, memorials and hugs. It is indeed a tough time and the grace of God shown through the love and prayers of others are what get me through the day.

In the last 9 months, we’ve all been through a lot. There’s been change around BLC and change in our lives outside of church. As a church, you’ve welcomed a new pastor – a girl pastor at that! And a first call pastor who has fulfilled the stereotype of trying to change too much too soon. For some of you what I say next will be a welcome relief: the coming months will hold some shifts for us as well. You may find that your formerly bubbly, enthusiastic pastor is a bit listless. I won’t be doing as much or pushing as hard. I may cry at the drop of a hat. I may share memories of my dad in our discussions. My pace will slow. Such is the reality of grief.

But as your pastor, I also want to say that my own more measured pace is no reason for us to step away from our ministries and the opportunities before us. Instead, this is an opportunity – a calling even – for you to shine. This is a congregation of gifted, wonderful, beautiful people with talents and time and abilities to share for the glory of God. If you have pondered stepping up your involvement, now is a wonderful time to do so. If you’ve always wanted to try leading an adult education class, now is a time to stand on your colt legs and have a go at it. If a certain ministry is beckoning to you, consider heading it up or organizing some fellow members to work with you.

At all times, the church is God’s church, the church of Jesus Christ. The church is not my church. It is our church. Together we lead it, together we create and tend to its ministries and, as you’ve shown me in the past few weeks and months, together we live in both our celebrations and in our grief.

At the first service, I got about a sentence into it before crying - not just getting misty and teary, but crying. I took some deep breaths, I paused, I resumed, I cried some more, then I said, "I'm not going to stop because this is real. This is grief, it's what it looks like and what it is." I looked out at my congregation and saw many misty eyes and even a few crying eyes. We were bonded in a new way - pastor and parish, brothers and sisters in Christ. It was grace. It was beautiful.

At communion, we used the same liturgy I used at my dad's memorial - the same words we use every week at Jordan. Tears fell from my cheeks during the words. At the beginning of the distribution, the tears were nowhere to be found. But for some reason, midway, they began and I continued to walk around the altar and distribute the bread and say, "The body of Christ given for you" with tears falling all the while. When I got to Darrell, who looks like my dad (and knows it), the tears really fell. Without knowing he did so, Darrell grabbed by hand just the way Dad used to do when I served Dad communion.

I was showered in hugs and shared tears after the service. It was so true, so real, so comforting. When Darrell came up to me, I leaned into his open arms and received a hug. I whispered, "I'm sorry you look like my dad..." and he responded, "I'm not. I'm glad I can be here for you." God incarnate strikes again. I am truly blessed.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

19 Days Later

I guess the time has come to post something.  It's been awhile.  Lately, it's hard to get much of anything done.  I find that my thoughts drift and wander like never before.  I say things backwards (like, "Where are my keys car?" and "Did you mail the pick up?").  I head into one room and forget where I'm going and why before I reach the original destination.  I have a tough time getting out of bed each morning.  Being social is equally challenging.  I'm tired all the time. Such is grief.

Grief is an old acquaintance (I can't begin to give it the level of 'friend').  In the late 1990s, Rab and I lost 10 people in an 18 month period, including his dad, his beloved great uncle, my grandmas, my uncle and two friends about our age.  At the same time, we were going through Rab's year-long diagnostic mystery.  At times, the doctor warned us it could be fatal; it ended up being a very treatable but lifelong endocrine disorder.  Somehow, we survived it...after much therapy and, well, grief.

However, even though I've lived in deep grief before, this time is different.  I think there is nothing like losing a parent.  Since my dad died, I've found amazing amounts of comfort from those who have also lost a parent.  When I talk to them, there is an unspoken, immediate assumption that they understand the depth.  Then, the minute the first words are out of one of our mouths, the cathartic tears begin to flow.  Never have I appreciated the beauty of shared suffering and community the way I do now.

When I left Portland, I thought it might be hard to grieve because I wouldn't have all the reminders around me.  It's strange, though.  Even here, the gas tankers come to fill up the storage tanks of the gas station.  When I see that, I think of Dad's lifelong dedication to his "service station" -- God forbid anyone call his place a "gas station"!   I pet my dog and remember Dad because Dad paid the adoption fee as a Christmas present to the boys.  I go to the liquor store and see "Old Fart Wine" and think, "I've gotta get that and send it to Dad.  He'd think that was hilarious!"  And then, I remember...

I suppose this isn't the most enjoyable post - but it's where I'm at.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again

In memory of my dad, Allen. August 20, 1939 - September 10, 2007.

Phantom Of The Opera - Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again Lyrics
You were once my one companion . . . you were all that mattered . . .
You were once a friend and father, then my world was shattered . . .
Wishing you were somehow here again . . . wishing you were somehow near . . .
Sometimes it seemed if I just dreamed, somehow you would be here . . .
Wishing I could hear your voice again . . . knowing that I never would . . .
Dreaming of you won't help me to do all that you dreamed I could . . .
Passing bells and sculpted angels, cold and monumental, seem, for you the wrong companions - you were warm and gentle . . .
Too many years fighting back tears . . . Why can't the past just die . . .?
Wishing you were somehow here again . . . knowing we must say goodbye . . .
Try to forgive, teach me to live . . . give me the strength to try . . .
No more memories, no more silent tears . . . No more gazing across the wasted years . . .
Help me say goodbye. Help me say goodbye!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Spiritual Direction Training

We've reached Day Two of training. I am absolutely loving this experience! It feels great to be so centered and filled.

Here is last night's review (I didn't know I could get online until tonight!):

Yes! Yes! Yes! Aaaahhhh…a night of laughter, of enjoying the company of the people around me, of seeking and experiencing God. I’m gonna love this spiritual direction stuff!

The main leader, Mr. Humble Authenticity, is just amazing. Mr. Humble Authenticity is very real, very funny, and very good at leading retreats (at least so far). He reminded each of us, in such a convincing way, that God loves us as-is. I actually almost believed it. The Two Sisters who co-lead our training are adorable, gentle souls. They led a worship service at the end of tonight’s session that was centered around the theme of weaving. It was so creative, so fresh, and so fulfilling. I feel renewed and recentered. Amen!

After the initial session, there was a wine and cheese social hour (man, I love this place) and I ended up sitting with Sister Mary and a bunch of other nuns. I told them that tonight I finally learned what all those initials at the end of their names mean (it refers to their nun gang – for example, SBM could mean ‘Sisterhood of the Blessed Mary.’ If I had one, it could be FPRC – Fire Pit Revelers of the Castle – or LOP – Loyal Order of Parrotheads). They thought it was so fun to have a non-Catholic to educate. “Oh that rotten Bishop so-and-so, he thinks such-and-such is a mortal sin,” one of them complained. Sister Mary looked at me and said, “I’ll bet you don’t know what a mortal sin is.” I answered, “It sounds pretty bad…that’s all I know.” For the next 20 minutes or so, the nuns had a great time explaining the difference between a mortal sin and other sins to me. We also talked about women’s ordination and open table communion. We’re all more on the same wavelength than I would’ve thought. They absolutely howled when I told my story about Rab at his bosses’ dad’s funeral (have I told that here before?).

Sister Mary is an absolute riot. What a dear lady she is! What an amazing pastor she’d be and what an amazing minister she is! She is a great listener; somehow our conversation went from laughing about women’s ordination one minute to me spilling my heart out about the craziness of life the next then we talked about some things weighing on her heart and mind. SM has a new job all picked out for me – she knows a Lutheran pastor with such a unique job that I can’t even tip my hat to it here. He’s hoping to retire in a few years, and she asked me if she could give him my name as a recommendation. “You’d be absolutely perfect for it!” she exclaimed. Funny enough, as I drove up here tonight, I was pondering other paths this pastor gig could take in the years to come. SM tells me that’s the Spirit at work; I’m worried that it sounds great because the grass is always greener somewhere else.

Day Two reflections:
It was another wonderful day. It started off a bit funny. I woke up at 9:00 a.m. with a panic. Breakfast began at 8:05 and our first session began at 9:30. I knew I had set my alarm, so I checked out the clock to figure out what had gone wrong. It ends up the time was set 12 hours off - as in, it said 9:00 but it thought it was 9:00 pm.

Our morning began with an overview of the 3 year program. I'm a bit concerned about one component: a 6 day directed retreat. It sounded like fun initially in the bulletin - 6 days away from the rush of life...maybe I could even pack up and bring my scrapbooking!! Ends up it involves 6 days living in a hermitage all alone, with one hour a day daily in spiritual direction. The 1 hour per day sounds great. The 23 hours per day sound terrifying! 23 hours x 6 days = way too many hours without social interaction, noise, the internet, conversation and people! Yikes! Oh...and it gets crazier....we prepare our own meals for those 6 days too. Yeah, those of you who know me, go ahead and roll on the floor now.

Somehow, our long day and full schedule passed so quickly. I can't believe it's almost time to return home. We had three main sessions today - all rooted in prayer and worship followed by some personal stories then some small group time. Each time we went into small groups, we received a new facilitator and new groupings. It was amazing to hear such beautiful stories about God and how God works in our lives. The first session focused on our expectations and what brought us to this step in the journey. The second session asked about the shepherds on our journey - those people who've made profound impacts on our lives. The third session dealt with how our image and understanding of God has evolved and changed throughout our lives. The evening ended with another social - this time, they served beer. I don't like beer :(

I feel more serene and centered than I have in a long time. I am so thankful for this time away to regather and recall the roots of who I am, how I'm called to serve, and how God continually sustains me. What an amazing blessing to regroup and be fed so fully.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


For the last 2 days, Minky has been telling me he doesn't feel good. On Wednesday, he would have convinced you that he was on his last leg. Then, when he was waiting at the bus stop, I peeked out the window and saw him playing tag and acting happy as a lark.

Today, I let him sleep in and drove him to school. He kept trying to convince me he was deathly ill. I took advantage of the teachable moment to explain that his days of faking illness and of telling stories are catching up to him.

After school, he came home and looked pretty queasy. He promptly threw up.

Minky (as he's escorting me to the bathroom to see his barf): "See, Mom! You should have believed me!!!!"
Me: "Yep, Minky, it's hard to know (insert more teachable moment conversation not worth repeating here)...when you're a dad, you can decide whether or not to believe your kid when they say they're sick."
Minky: "But I'm not going to have kids. They're too much trouble."
Me: "Really?"
Minky: "Yeah. I'm gonna buy a motorcycle and play with my friends and goof off when I'm a grown up."
Me: "How are you going to pay for a motorcycle and a place to live?"
Minky: "My wife will take care of all that. My job will be to play."

It's so reassuring to know I'm raising such a go-getter.

This Made Me Laugh

Anyone else want to order one of these? You can get t-shirts, bags, mouse pads...

Spiritual Direction Training Here I Come!

Tomorrow, I head to the Franciscan Spirituality Center to begin my training as a spiritual director.

The kids, predictibly, are both sick with stomach flu. The dog needs to be groomed - he's stinky and no longer huggable. One of my favorite parishoners is in ICU. I could work all weekend and still not be 'caught up' on everything. And, instead of reveling in the glory of my life, I'm escaping for 48 hours of anticipated sanity and serenity. Aaaaahhhh...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Today, I Did My Job

After the week I've had, it was a little tough to head to church this morning. But, somehow, it also felt right. On the way there, I picked up one of my favorite little ladies and had a wonderful conversation over the next 8 blocks to Jordan.

Then, during service, I looked out and saw all those grown lambs looking to me for leadership and words of grace. These lambs have no idea (or at least little idea) about all the fuss brewing on my back burners. They haven't heard all the detailed panic and woe of the leadership or the budget crisis. They came to church on a Sunday morning. They came to worship and to share their faith with their brothers and sisters in Christ. As I stood before them, the resounding message was clear - I'm called to pastor this flock. The entire flock. And the other resounding message was equally clear - forget the frustrations and the challenges and the worries that weigh me down and live out the call. Truly live it. Live it and breathe it and trust God with the rest.

After service, I headed to the ICU of a hospital about 30 miles away. A family who has had one hell of a year has someone in the hospital. Since I arrived, challenge after challenge has arrived at their doorstep. "Pastor Skdo, no other pastor has ever had time for our family." These words were spoken by a crying parishoner's daughter in the ICU waiting room. She was crying because she'd been judged, admonished, called into question harshly and then ignored. Her story, which I believe is true and accurate, is heartwrenching. Even if only 10% of her story were accurate, what happened was still unfortunate and unnecessary.

I'm not sure what I feel more strongly: assured that I've been used by God to bring God's love, reconciliation and grace to those most in need or ashamed to be in the same profession as some of my colleagues.