Saturday, April 29, 2017

Transition ≠ Change

Change is a part of life.
picture from Psychology Today
Some people say that the only constants are death and taxes. Maybe we can count on them, but - if you'll pardon the oxymoron - change, too, is constant.

I used to think, "Maybe people didn't notice back then," but a quick look at "Change" on Wikiquotes destroys that notion.
"Nothing endures but change" and
"You could not step twice into the same river;
for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
Heraclitus, Greek philosopher who influenced Plato and Socrates
More recently, Charles Dickens wrote:
"Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast" in Martin Chuzzlewit.
And, of course, Bob Dylan sang:
"The Times They Are a-Changin'."
So, change happens. Nothing we do will stop it. All that's left, then, is to decide how we'll respond. Will we face it squarely? Bury our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich? Will we embrace it, or whine and fuss?

So, change happens. Nothing we do will stop it. All that's left, then, is to decide how we'll respond. Will we face it squarely? Bury our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich? Will we embrace it, or whine and fuss?

I'm facing changes this summer as I prepare to leave the church where I've served as associate pastor for three years to lead another congregation a hundred miles from here. Shall I look back or ahead? Grieve what will end? Celebrate new beginnings?

Something I learned last week: change and transition are completely different things. Change is the stuff that happens – whether we or someone else initiate it, or it just happens. Transition is how we respond to the change. Ah, I'd never realized!

I'm one of those odd ducks who (often) embrace change. Change is healthy and keeps us vital. When churches stop changing and growing, they start dying. So do we as individuals; I'm sure of it. That's not to say transitions are easy or fun. (Maybe sometimes, but often not.)

Since I'm moving, I only have two more rehearsals with the amateur orchestra I joined last year. I've loved being part of this group. Even when I don't make time to practice, I look forward to Tuesday evenings as a time when I can make music, laugh, and be simply "Jayneann" instead of "Pastor Jayneann." This week as I looked around the group, I felt my eyes get teary. After rehearsal, I had to sit in the car for a few minutes before they cleared enough for me to drive home.

If there's a message in all this, it's that,while change will happen,we have a tremendous amount of control over how much pain or joy we'll experience. I'll soon be leaving behind many people I've come to love, but it can't be helped. I grieve yet I also celebrate the new adventures in store for them as well as for me and for the faith community I'll soon come to love, I'll make a point of enjoying the next two rehearsals, and subsequent concert, and when I gt to my new situation, I won't wait a year and a half to join whatever community music ensemble is offered there.

The seed has to stop being a seed if it's ever going to produce fruit.  John 12:24

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Shining, or Authenticity


No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine ... Matthew 5:15-16

Nancy probably has more garden than lawn. She’s an avid gardener, and her and her spouse’s yard has beautiful beds of shrubs, small trees, and perennials all around the house. (He helps ’though I hear he’s the labor rather than the creativity or passion.)  Soon after my mother moved into her new home, she walked me down to her friends’ home, and Nancy and George gave me the grand tour. (That’s also when they shared some variegated Solomon’s seal with me. ) Now when I visit my mother, I always enjoy taking walking down the street to see what’s new there. And since they live on a corner of sorts I can see quite a bit from the road without intruding.

When I take walks or bike around home, it can be hard to resist walking into strangers’ yards when I see an attractive arrangement, a plant I don’t recognize and would like to look at closer, or a particular way they set up their bed.

That’s the thing about people who find something they’re passionate about – whether it’s gardening, dirt bike racing, art, learning, God, or anything else. Once the interest captures us, we want to discover how other people interpret the passion in their own lives. We want to share our enthusiasm – our learnings, our frustrations and successes – and the fruit of our labors of love.

I planted those Solomon’s seal at the parsonage where I was living at the time. When I moved to Appleton, I brought a few roots with me and gave them a new home under a spruce in the backyard. Yesterday, I saw that their noses poking out of the soil. Fourteen. Exciting!

Last summer I was only at my mother’s for a day. I had time to do walkabout in her yard, though not to go down to Nancy’s. BUT, I learned that she’d been busy when my mother handed me a bucket of about two gallons (!) of daffodil bulbs. It seems Nancy had been thinning and moving her spring flowers.

What treasure! How exciting! Still, as I contemplated those dozens and dozens of bulbs, I remembered how full my weeks are. I’d feel terrible if I didn’t get all of them in the ground before the snow flew. So I asked my mother for three brown paper lunch bags and had her, my brother and sister each take as many as they thought they could use. (In October, I also shared some of the last ones I hadn’t gotten to with a local gardening friend.)

Nancy’s gift added beauty to my springtime and to at least four other people I know of. I’m sure others who walk past have also appreciated them. (I also have other great treats coming up, like the dog tooth violet Elle shared a couple years ago.)

I’ve known a few people who were less than enthusiastic about having to share other people’s passions. My former husband used to say I cared too much about too many things. (He was right.) Still, we were made to share who we are. That’s the best gift we can offer the world.

Let your light so shine!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rest


But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work\– you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. Exodus 20:10

I’m tired. My legs, shoulders and back are tired. My mind’s tired. It’s been a full week and it’s not over yet. Still, I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m going to rest on Saturday. I’m going to play. If it stops raining, I’ll spend time in my gardens. I’ll do as much “nothing” as I can. I may read or play piano. I’ll laugh with Kay and have lap-time with the cats. I’ll sabbath.

What do you do when you’re weary? Even-breathing-is-an-effort drained? The biblical cure for this is sabbath – that thing God did on the seventh day of the first creation story, and later told us (over and over again) that we should do.

I admit that’s the reason I began sabbathing, but it’s been years since I was concerned with such rules. And I’ve never stressed over whether Sabbath is on Saturday or Sunday, or if it should start at sundown. In fact, I usually write sabbath instead of Sabbath, because for me it’s an everyday word, not a dress-up-for-Sunday-meeting one. Still, there’s wisdom in this old, old idea.

According to BibleGateway, sabbath appears 93 times in the Hebrew Bible and 57 in the New Testament. I believe it was an ancient culture’s God-inspired way to give people permission to care for themselves, their animals and their land. Like the blue laws of the last century, sabbath made it easier for people to stop their work, spend time with family, and rest. Employers would’ve known that they ignored this law at their own risk.

The time of enforce rest has passed, at least where I live. We might say nothing’s sacred (more on this another time.) Some people are working sixty or more hours a week but at what cost? The Protestant work ethic – suggesting that hard work and worthiness go together – is actually a distortion of that movement’s awareness that God’s grace is gift given freely. 

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman wrote that “Americans have notoriously fewer vacation days than workers in any other industrialized country.. … Even more remarkable than how few days we get is how few we take. … And in an Expedia poll, one out of five workers said they feel guilty taking vacations.”[i] 

Taking care of ourselves isn’t encouraged. In fact, people look at us funny when we say we’re taking a break. Use the word sabbath, and they might think you’ve joined a cult.

Yet, we need rest. We need time to step away and play, watch the grass grow, take a walk, exercise, or simply do nothing. Before agribusiness, farmers knew that the land needed fallow times as well. We all need sabbath, not because of a law, but because we’re better for it. You probably know this, but are you practicing it? 

If you need permission, I give you permission to stop. Rest. Play. Be. If not today, carve it into your schedule for another day. Make a weekly date with yourself – 2 hours when you do only what pleases you, 20 minutes each evening, or if you can swing it, 24 hours when you only listen to the spirit within you. Protect that time fiercely, letting nothing but blood or fire (as I used to tell my kids) interfere. Think of it as God’s gift to you. And revel in it. 

You’re worth it. 

———
[i] Ellen Goodman, "America's Incredible Shrinking Vacation." Boston Globe, August 7, 2003. dev.autonomedia.org/node/2168

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mending fences and spring cleaning

For now the winter is past,
      the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
      the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
      is heard in our land.
            Song of Songs 2:11-12
My backyard neighbor’s having her fence replaced. I looked out the window yesterday to see where the pounding was coming from. Workmen were removing the old panels, stacking them in a truck. I saw my neighbor’s yard for the first time.

The grass looked greener than mine with manicured beds with shrubs, young trees, and maybe soon, flowers. My yard is full of bronze patches where creeping Charlie crowded out the grass, a humped area from last year’s attempted vegetable garden – I’ll be putting veggies in the front with the flowers this year – too many areas of river rocks (the previous owners’ preferred mulch), various young shrubs most of which were eaten to nubs last winter, and … well, you get the idea.

Anyway, I liked the visual distance that came with the removal of the fence. I wondered if she might consider not putting a new one in that section of the yard. Once the lilacs leaf out, we’d again have separation without that hard, flat surface. (It’s not likely, given the above descriptions. Still it’d be nice.)

It was a sunny day, so I did a walkabout, noticing where the bleeding hearts and rhubarb were beginning to show, picking up debris, dreaming what I’d like to do this season. Back by the lilacs, I stopped to look closer at her yard. Up close, the grass wasn’t greener. It looked fine, but also thin, like it’s had to deal with too many petrochemicals or been mown too short. There was a neat section of bricking, mossy and green, where I’d’ve never seen it but for the fence being gone.

Spring is a time to notice what needs mending or has outlived its usefulness, what’s good and healthy and primed for growth and what isn’t. She will do this with new fencing. I, with creating a rustic patio area from reclaimed stone pavers. They're stacked and waiting. Most of them are good, though I’ve noticed one is actually cement.

The witch hazel I planted last summer may not be salvageable after the rabbits ate so much of its bark. (As Eeyore said, “If you ask me, when a [thing] looks like that, it's time to find another one.’) Rabbits also ate away the base of the Sweet Autumn clematis that looked so full on the fence next to the lilacs last year. But it’ll come back.

In spring we clean up our yards and air out our homes. We celebrate the freshness of new beginnings. Spring can also a season to reassess the things we cling to that no longer serve any good purpose.
  • That fence looked nice, but do good fences really make good neighbors?
  • I’ve kept these earrings for years because they were Grandma’s, but I don’t wear earrings. Am I ready to give them away?
  • Jill’s finally realized that Pat only uses her to make herself look good. She says she’s letting that friendship go.
Making changes in our lives can be uncomfortable, but almost always leads us in better directions. That squirrel – flicking his tail more wildly than I’ve ever seen one move – might be at a loss without the accustomed highway across the fence to the garages, but I’m sure they’ll find another path. I’ve almost never regretted giving away anything in my path to simplicity. And we all deserve to be surrounded by friends who value us and act like it.

Until next time, have a blessed Holy Week.
I have some earrings to put in the donations bag.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tuck-Pointing


When I was getting ready to start a blog two years ago, I made a point of visited others’ sites and reading some of their material. I saved a few links to return to later. One was John Kobara’s “What is your story? Understanding your narrative and where it is taking you.” From the first sentence, he drew me in: “I have found that people do not appreciate their own stories.”

I’ve noticed this truth in my own life and as I listen to others. Only rarely do I hear a piece of someone’s story without their adding a dismissive, “It’s not important” or “I don’t have anything worth sharing.”

Yet our stories are our lives – the good and the bad, the amazing and the dull. Most of us realize we wouldn’t want life to be all the same, but we seldom value what it actually is – myself included. The ordinary stories are often treasures, yet we relegate them to the folder marked Not Worth Sharing.

My mother and I talk on the phone about a lot of “nothing”: movies we’ve watched, conversations we’ve had, and what’s we’re looking forward to, little stories about friends or silly things we did. None of it is earth-shattering but it helps us stay connected even though we’re a thousand miles apart.

Maybe you do this with someone, too. But what about with someone you see each week (or every day) when they ask, “What’s new?” Do you say, “Oh, nothing”?

A week has 168 hours in it. If it’s true that absolutely nothing happened, could we bear it? Realistically, “nothing” seldom – if ever – happens, right? We’ve just gotten used to not sharing the ordinary stuff of our days.

And that’s a shame.

We’ve trained ourselves to think of the “everyday” as: unremarkable, unexceptional, colorless, humdrum, mundane, unmemorable, prosaic, dull … (and that’s only a few of the synonyms I found!)

Yet, ordinary happenings are the mortar that binds us together. And lately, we’ve been isolating ourselves so much – for a variety of reasons – that we could all do with a bit of tuck-pointing to keep our relationships intact. (I have tuck-pointing on the brain right now. At First Church, we’re into a capital campaign to raise funds for needed structural work – like tuck-pointing, that mending of the grout between brickwork. And I’ve been reminded of how much I like the word.)

I get that not everyone is an introvert, and that’s great. (You’re probably more popular at parties.) Yet there’s something to be said for introspection, particularly for my topic today about knowing your own story. And sharing it.

Most of the people whose stories I hear think theirs is nothing special. They apologize for taking my time and belittle what they’ve said, but I feel like I’ve been blessed as they shared a piece their story.

In college, I took a class on oral history. I was moved by the idea that everyone has stories that are lost when we don’t share them. At the time I was thinking about frontier women or women of the Depression who held their societies together, unnoticed and unthanked, or people whose cultures were disappearing, like that in Appalachia.

Still, it’s not the big stuff that binds us. (As in: where were you when you heard… Kennedy was shot… Challenger exploded… about the bombing of… ?) As momentous as these events are, sharing how we respond to everyday life is what draws us together – like holding a baby for the first time or a friend who just lost the love of her life, like laughing over our mishaps and empathizing over each other’s sorrows. This is a huge part of what life’s supposed to be about. Are you doing it? Are you savoring every bit of what life offers, down to the marrow? And are you gifting others with your bit of the experience?

Only when we’re connected can we do this.

Today marks my one-hundredth blog entry. I’ve been sending these out into cyberspace most weeks, like bread on the water, hoping that they make some small difference in people’s lives.
Thank you for being a part of my story.