upheaval: deciding is half the battle

ImageNot one box has been packed, and no progress has been made in eating our way through the eleven cans of tomato soup in the cupboard – eleven cans I will not want to pack when the time comes. Just the deciding part of our latest venture has taken a lot of talking time, and thinking time, and meeting time, and even research time. Then there’s the TV time that is required to bring sweet relief from all of that thinking, and talking and deciding.

Even the mere decision to change your life and up heave the lives of the little ones who depend on you to not do something crazy – like up heave their lives – takes more time, and energy, and emotion than I remember. And we’re not even to the actual upheaval.

We are a pastor’s family, and the job of pastor, like many other jobs out there, usually involves a move or two, and leaving a church and a community that you love, because you get an inexplicable nudge that becomes impossible to ignore. That move can easily require thousands of miles, and new license plates. For us, it’s a few miles, a few zip code digits, and a new dentist.

But it’s still a world away.

We’re leaving our quiet cul-de-sac where we slow down for deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys, and we’re crossing the bridge back to San Francisco, the city where John and I started as fresh-faced newlyweds with bus passes and a poorly insulated apartment. We’re leaving a beautiful, wonderful, supportive church on a suburban hill, for another beautiful, wonderful, already supportive church on an urban hill.

The life-changing  jobs we’ve had for the better part of a decade come to a close this week, and the goodbyes are well under way – a not-so-easy process for a notoriously long goodbyer, who hails from an impressive line of long goodbyers. My family is a stand-on-the-porch-and-wave-until-the-car-is-out-of-sight bunch of goodbyers. We are “just one more thing before we hang up!” goodbyers. And I absolutely, positively, will not allow any air of finality when I bid someone adieu. You could tell me you are really excited to get started on your 200-year cryogenic hyper sleep project, and I will tell you that I will, for sure, talk to you soon.

I’ve probably hugged some people 45 times already. I’ve cried at inopportune moments, which stinks because I’m an ugly crier. Other moments, I’m giddy with excitement about the possibilities, and the newness, and the guaranteed proximity to dim sum. The kids’ friends think a move to the city is cool, and not really a big deal because their parents go to work there, like every… single… day.

We haven’t nailed down a new home address, and I don’t know quite yet know what I will do for a living, but I’ve been around the block, and trust that we’ll figure that part out.

So that’s where I’ve been, and where I will be for a few more weeks. And one day, some day, I’ll be sitting in my yet-to-be identified living room (too presumptuous to hope our new place in the city will fit a couch?) lazily taking iPhone pictures of the cat and tinkering with a blog post about cakes, or the bus, or bugs, having (fingers crossed!) gloriously shaken out the writing cobwebs. Maybe for a moment I’ll miss the excitement, the nervous stomach and eye twitch that accompanied months of a not-knowing limbo defined by this narrative: “should we really do this….I mean seriously, should we?” which was capped off with the answer. “Yep. We’re doing this. It feels like we’re really supposed to do this.”

Wait! One more thing….I will for sure talk to you soon.

soup

one small candle

This is a gratitude emergency.

Last year, for weeks before Thanksgiving, my Facebook news stream was full of little things that people were thankful for. This year, not so much.

Ok, so things in the world aren’t exactly perfect right now. The air out there is charged with the uncertainty that accompanies transition and that moment just before hope is lost.  On the scary scale, uncertainty is right up there with mannequins and clowns.

Jobs are uncertain, relationships are uncertain, health is uncertain. The news is dismal, the weather is weird, and people are cranky.

However, there is something about today that has just got to be great. Start small if necessary. Was your pancake good? Are you wearing your favorite sweater? Is your chair comfortable?

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about my blanket. I was so stressed and tired that I thought I had lost my mind, with the telltale sign being my proclivity for wearing this blanket as a cape. Eleven months later, I am again wearing the blanket as a cape. It’s fine, I get it. I’m a lady who wears a blanket for a cape as I sit typing in the dark early morning hours. It’s soft and warm and I’m happy to have it, even if it makes me look crazy.

You may, as I do, hate the idea that Black Friday starts on Thanksgiving Thursday. Let’s be thankful we can protest by refusing to go out there and get in a shouting match over a panini press with a stressed out woman in a Santa sweatshirt. My plan instead, is to eat an extra piece of pie and lay around, hard, just to make a point. Join me, won’t you?

The Muppets are back, and early reviews are good. You can say “wocka wocka,” and do your best Janice impression (everybody needs to have a Janice/Swedish Chef/Beaker impression at the ready in their backpocket.) Your kids will get it finally and you can feel relevant again!

Don’t forget the people. Of course we are thankful for the people  who love us unconditionally, and support us no matter what. Let’s not forget the ones who show up out of nowhere, and bring a little sparkle to the day, even if they don’t mean to.

Our church campus doesn’t get quiet during Thanksgiving week – it comes even more alive. Part of my job is to organize a large Thanksgiving Eve dinner that leaves me depending on an army of volunteers to show up the night before Thanksgiving and help welcome and serve a couple hundred people. Without fail, I have my annual dream a few nights before the dinner, that this is the year the volunteers forget to show up. That dream, along with the one where I am treated to unlimited shoe shopping, has yet to come true. Instead, on Thanksgiving Eve, I am once again surrounded by people who are happily hauling vegetables, counting spoons and lighting candles, though there are plenty of other places they could be.

And then, sometimes, the most significant wallop of gratitude comes from the smallest moment.

Part of John’s job is to oversee our church’s hosting of a shelter for homeless families the two weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. The campus practically bursts at the seams with our lovely guests and the volunteers who arrive in droves to tutor, cook, clean, sit and visit. I walked in on the action a couple of nights ago….not to lend a kind and helping hand, but to track down someone who had something I needed. I came in with an agenda, stomping around in a hurry, when a shelter guest approached me – a boy about 11, the same age as my eldest son. He shook my hand and introduced himself with a strong voice full of cheer and respect. He chatted for a moment before he excused himself, book in hand, to find a quiet spot in the shelter to read. I wanted to yell after him, “When the day comes, you have my vote!” Instead I stood dumbly staring after him as he disappeared behind a curtain.

“That kid’s amazing; he’s going to do great things in life,” John gestured to the boy, after noticing I’d been struck speechless by confusing emotions –  awe, sadness, guilt, frustration that there are kids in crummy situations, and affirmation that kids  – any kids at all – are capable of such poise and manners. I had come in to the shelter with my thinking eyebrows and gameface on, and that boy was the one who had graciously welcomed me to his very temporary home, which on most days is just our church’s Fellowship Hall. I left, not brimming with gratitude for my house, hot meals or creature comforts, but thankful that I’d met someone who is out there doing what we are all tasked with….reflecting light, joy, hospitality, and kindness into a world that could really use it.

“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle.” – Anonymous

I am thankful for you! Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

ode to a pastor on Easter

Being married to a pastor, and working at the church myself, has caused Easter to be thrust into the forefront of our consciousness. Big time. The church calendar is built around it, and thusly, so is ours.

If you’re in some form of Christian ministry role – whether you sing in the choir or set out the coffee or give the big sermon –you might be doing your stretches, and warming up the old pipes tonight. You’ve been thinking about Easter for weeks, nay, months. If you’re a Presbyterian, you get to wear the white stole, and pack away purple for a few months. You’ve spent the week guiding people through the darkness in anticipation of the light. Hopeully you’ve said, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s comin’” because that is fun to say.

Maybe you’re on for the sunrise service and heading off to bed. Maybe you’re trying to find someone to be a parking volunteer, or a last minute replacement for a sick usher. The bulletin’s done, and the sanctuary is clean. You know that you’ll see people tomorrow you’ve never seen before, and you’ll likely never see again. I don’t know how you guys on the chancel do it on the regular Sundays – you get up there and you’re funny and warm and engaging and eloquent (I’m looking at you Johnny!) You don’t break into a sweat with all of those people staring at you.

And then there’s Easter. The place is packed, and everybody is like, really staring at you. They’re uncomfortable in their itchy outfits and tight shoes. They’re ready to hear what might be a very familiar story in a new way, but it can’t be too out there, or you’ve ruined Easter. No pressure.

It doesn’t matter how many people are sitting in your seats. It’s not their butts you’re interested in, but their hearts, right? Tomorrow, you’re busy, yes, and you’re the one everyone is looking at. But don’t stress, because if all goes as it should, you’re not the one everyone is thinking about.

Happy Easter. Sunday’s comin’! Enjoy your nap.

(weirdsies)

After a dozen or so false starts (again), I sat down with my box of cookies to plunk away and finish up this post. (I might magically find more time to write if I committed to bring a box of cookies every time I go to the computer). I noticed a pattern in what I’d already fitfully written. Nearly every kooky and meandering phrase I typed was kissed by a parenthetical thought (oh my gosh, I love that). This is where the weird part of me who loves to edit would go through and clean them up, (and roll my eyes at myself, while I took another bite of cookie). But in a roundabout way, (hang with me here) it kind of illustrates how there’s a second layer to everything this month. Nothing’s been straightforward or expected or without my editorial input (much to the dismay of many, I am sure). So I’m going with it, and I’m leaving the parentheses, which I suppose is darn close to putting one’s inner monologue out there for the world (scary). So, for you grammar lovahs, instead of wincing every time you see a misplaced paren, have a cookie.

February is the most deceptive of the months. So unassuming and short, and then when it gets here, it’s like, “what in the h-e-double hockey sticks is going on? I’m a mess!” It feels really quite anti-climactic to say, “Well, it is after all February. We’ll get through this.” And “We all know what February is like,” nudge, nudge. Oh yeah, smart guy, what’s it like?

On paper, it’s great. You’ve got the Superbowl, Black History Month, Groundhog Day, two 3-day weekends (thanks Abe!), Valentine’s Day, the Grammys, and of course, the grand dame of late-winter-though-every-year-I- forget-that-it-doesn’t-take-place-in-the-spring event of the year…that’s right, the Oscars. And this year, we’ve thrown in bizarre weather (which has given us my new favorite word, snowmegeddon), an honest-to-goodness revolution, and a skeezy congressman with an iPhone (this is not a political statement. I’m just anti-shirtless dudes inviting you to the gun show, while snapping a picture of it with a camera phone, and then having it run repeatedly by every news outlet in the free world, that’s all.)  However, in our house, we’ve thrown in our family’s first experience of having to manage three overlapping sports, drama, choir (I’m obviously not the one in choir), a few major endeavors at the church, a flat tire, John’s noble reentry into academia, (I can’t not think about macadamias when I hear this, which is probably why I’m not the smarty pants who has to do all the fancy reading) and a cat that has figured out how to crawl all the way inside Zachary’s box spring and who insists on drinking out of our water glasses. (We are now forced to all drink out of, what John will only refer to as, sippy cups). And February doesn’t even get Fat Tuesday this year.

Last week, I sat around a table of bright, funny women, and we were discussing Revelation. Yup, the book of Revelation. (It was assigned and pre-planned and everything – it doesn’t just happen, like I thought it would when I went to work for a church.) That book is full of weird stuff that people throughout history have been pointing to as sure signs that the end is most certainly, nigh. (I’m pretty sure my dad would have thought the four horsemen of the apocalypse would be clad in bellbottoms). Anyhow, I brought up the weirdness I was feeling and observing, and everybody chimed in with their own tales of weirdness and February misgivings. Since we’d ruled out Armageddon with nervous chuckles, my first question, as it always is, was, “Is it a full moon? It feels like a full moon.”

“No but, it’s a strong crescent,” somebody said. That makes sense too, I thought, while I nodded thoughtfully and solemnly. (This absolutely supported my unsupportable hypothesis that the stupid moon is going to make us all crazy.)

Part of my problem, was that I was in the middle of a calendar crisis. Just that morning, I had stood in front of my color coded whiteboard calendar, with a hot cup of tea and a frown. It looked like a clown had thrown up on it, and I was depending on a lot of people, and a lot of grace, and maybe a miracle or two to get through the week, and perhaps even, the month. Everybody I know who plans events, me included, were starting to run out of months where we could put something on the calendar and actually expect people to show up. You can’t pick January because people are still recovering from the holidays, or they’re in Tahoe. You could do March or April, depending on how Easter & spring breaks fall, and how many Tahoe ski weekends people are trying to squeeze in. May is out – sports! June’s busy, nobody’s around in July or August. September is completely taken up by school stuff. October is a veritable cornucopia of harvest carnivals and soccer games, and then people will unapologetically laugh at you if you suggest November or December. Hello? We’re in Tahoe, duh. And sure, yeah, the holidays.

My 2nd favorite book from childhood is Mexicali Soup (the first is Miss Twiggly’s Tree, of which my own childhood copy is being lovingly cared for by Jacob). A large family moves to America from Mexico. The unfailingly patient mother is making her signature Mexicali Soup, and one by one the family members insist on the omission of an ingredient from the dish for a variety of reasons. By the time she serves her meal, it is a big pot of hot water. February was the last month I was clinging too before I was left with a big pot of hot water.

So just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, and that I’m ready to go and kick February in the shins out of sheer frustration, I’m surprised again. Granted, we’re just now half-way through the month, (and though I promised myself we wouldn’t, preparing to deliver the sugariest of sugary Valentine candy to pre-schoolers no less). But suddenly, the projects I thought I could never pull off at work have been fine, fulfilling, worthwhile, and dare I say, fun. A few extraordinary people have stepped in at exactly the moment when I needed them the most. We discovered that Trader Joe’s is still selling their candy cane sandwich cookies (or what I like to call, writing companions in a box), Girl Scout cookies have arrived (TV companions in a box), and I’ve seen two of the movies that have been nominated for Best Picture, (that’s 1/5th of the nominees, a spectacular ratio considering how many babysitting hours that amounts too.) And alas, the package I thought was surely lost in the mail, arrived safely.

February may be completely weirdsies, with that wayward r right there in the middle of its spelling. But its quirkiness is what makes it most representative of what life is like…unpredictable, hectic and living in the shadow of the longer more robust months. It’s full of hearts and sweets, furry rodents, political and historical relevance, inclimate weather, and just enough sun to seed the hope of spring. And of course the people. The people who can mysteriously and simultaneously bring me great joy and great frustration as they drift in and out and around…on their way to Tahoe.