Thankful for…

At this hour, standing in this place, I am thankful for…

  • A family that gives me nothing but love and support – and nothing I would write to an advice columnist about
  • An interesting new thing to do that has me excited in new ways (Nanowrimo)
  • A job I enjoy, doing good work with amazing people
  • An extensive collection of pens
  • Two cats, who are equal parts snuggly and annoying
  • A son who is working hard to learn an instrument I love
  • Another son who is the snuggliest human I’ve ever met
  • A dining room with high ceilings and an amazing finish, that is much warmer
  • The opportunity to review my wonderful year in pictures as I attempt to find one that will work for Christmas cards
  • Green tea
  • That studies show coffee is good for you, not terrible for you
  • The safety and security that surround me, and which I consider normal
  • Living in an ancient town with layer upon layer of stories
  • A vast wealth of friends and friendly faces
  • Social media, which I tremendously enjoy
  • Good books. I look forward to eventually reading some again.
  • That incredibly soft fabric they’ve invented lately – and a stars and crescents bathrobe in that material
  • A full cupboard and ‘fridge
  • Teachers who care so much about my sons
  • Stoneham finally has a great coffee shop!
  • Audiobooks for commuting
  • The Economist that keeps me informed without making my blood pressure spike through the roof.
  • The joyful anticipation of a holiday season, as seen through the eyes of a seven and ten year old.

And most of all … you.

Six shall ye labor and on the seventh rest

Which of the 10 commandments do you break most? If heaven and hell are decided by how we adhere to the 10 commandments, I’m going to need a whole lot of grace for my complete failure to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for us, not us to keep the Sabbath… but the truth is I don’t keep it.

But today, well, I pretty much had to.

Mocksgiving was amazing. It was, I think, our biggest Mocksgiving ever. I believe over 30 grownups simultaneously sat to share a meal. The total attendance was something like 48. I had friends who labored intelligently, diligently and cheerfully in the kitchen to help set the meal. I had friends who did the same to make sure I didn’t wake to mounds of dirty dishes the day after. (Some of those were the same people. I really hope they, um, just like doing dishes? Yeah, I think I probably need to have them over for a dinner they don’t have to cook pretty soon!) My brother did an amazing job keeping the kids happy and engaged and quiescent. But I’m happy to report that the turkey was excellent, there was enough stuffing for even Mike, and all were sated with food and friendship. It had that ineffable Mocksgiving quality that makes it what it is. Also, I can sit 30+ people for dinner.

I did feel the shadow of the attacks in Paris. I do not forget that half of the Syrian people have been driven out of their homes – that bombings are frequent enough to blur together in the strife-torn middle east. But I think Paris hits close to home for those of us in the West because so many of us have been there, or it seems so familiar. We react more strongly the more we see danger threaten people who could be us. I wish I could think of a thing I could do other than pray for those who went out Friday night and will never come home again, or those whose homes are a continent behind them, or those who face the choice to join with evil or die. I’m pretty sure that making sterner lines between “them” and “us” will not make any of use safer. But, as so often before, I lack the imagination of spirit to see what I can do to influence that outcome.

My novel progresses. I’m at 17,000 words. I’ve managed to move forward to some plot points. (Although my plotting is rather mirroring my discovery process, in which the protagonist finds something cool on the internet – not sure that’s a page-turning technique there.) I managed to write 250 words yesterday, which is about 10% of what I should be writing a day, but 250 words on Mocksgiving day seems like rather an accomplishment.

One thing I like about Mocksgiving (and I like many – most of them people) is that I no longer feel resentful of the imposition of Christmas that seems to happen earlier and earlier. (I’d love to see the studies that show that people buy more when you hammer them with Christmas carols in 65 degree weather eight weeks before the high holy day…) But hey! I had my Christmas so bring on your tinsel, Madison Avenue!

Do you remember back when my posts used to have a central thesis I’d write about? Yeah, me too. I’m sure that will come back in December, when I’m not doing all the writing on the side. Right? Right.

So I made an offer to my Facebook friends. If you’re DYING to read my novel (you know, my unedited, stream-of-consciousness write-as-many-words-as-possible attempt) drop me a note with your email and I’ll share my document with you.

This feels so much like a letter, I am finding it hard to end without a proper closing.

I remain your faithful friend,

Brenda

Mocksgiving Eve on the Sixteenth Year

The groceries are in the fridge. The Mocksgiving week to do list is half scratched off. I’ve indoctrinated a new set of coworkers to the sacred holiday that requires me to take a day off. And I woke up bolt upright last night remembering who I’d meant to invite but forgotten to.

Ahhhh… the sacred Mocksgiving traditions! (As I just said to my brother, “I should be making pie instead of updating my blog about how much pie I need to make.” This is also a tradition.)

If you’ve never encountered me writing about this before… back in the mists of time when I was a young newlywed who had just turned 22, I invited my inlaws to Thanksgiving dinner. In prior years we’d eaten in a restaurant and my horrified prim self was convinced that this was just not the way Things Were Done. But even my clueless self knew that cooking that turkey on Thanksgiving day for the first time ever was hubris that would set me up for an epic fall. So two weeks ahead of time I bought a small turkey to practice on. Since two people cannot eat even a small turkey, I invited a few friends over to share it with me.

And thus the first Mocksgiving was born.

An early Mocksgiving, but not the first Mocksgiving
An early Mocksgiving, but not the first Mocksgiving

We didn’t end up hosting Thanksgiving that year (the story of why is lost in the mists of time). But everyone had SO MUCH FUN at that first practice (or mock) Thanksgiving that next year we invited everyone back to do it again – plus a few extra.

This year marks the 16th year that I’ve been hosting friends for Mocksgiving. I join other friends on Thanksgiving day for theirs – and it’s usually beautifully low key. So Mocksgiving is an authentic celebration of Thanksgiving. And I’m so thankful for it, and for all the people who come to celebrate with me. Every year there are new faces. This year, my early RSVP count is for 33 grownups and 16 children for the main meal. This is all held in my home. Board games spring up in various locations like weeds. (Pretty much any door you open in my house that day will lead to a board game.)

Front porch game playing
Front porch game playing

It’s also logistically maxed out. My number 1 stressor at Mocksgiving is not the 5 loaves of bread, 5 pies, 10 pounds of potatoes, maximum sized turkey, two batches of stuffing, butternut squash or beverages. It’s the fact that I can’t ask everyone I’d like to. Once or twice in history I threw it open to everyone who might want to attend. That’s just not possible anymore. (On the list of humble-brag problems I’m lucky to have, eh?) So if you’re feeling slightly droopy that you weren’t invited, it could very well be that I woke up in the middle of the night realizing I hadn’t invited you.

OK, I swear I’ll quit apologizing for hosting a fun party now. Did you know that when I had knee surgery I woke up from anesthesia worried about whether I’d been rude to someone in that period I couldn’t remember? True fact.

And now I’ll quit procrastinating and work on the lemon merangue pie crust.

Thane's first Mocksgiving - less than 3 weeks after he was born.
Thane’s first Mocksgiving – less than 3 weeks after he was born.

Stoneham History

The murder of Jacob Gould
The murder of Jacob Gould

The weekend before Thanksgiving, the Stoneham Historical Commission held their annual two-hour opening of the Old Burying Ground. For years I’ve wanted to go, but that was usually the time I’d hold Thane’s birthday party. It also coincides with the town Trick-or-Treating. This year, Grey and Thane decided that they were too big/cool/old to do that. I have mixed feelings about that, but grabbed the chance to go visit the cemetery I’ve long wanted to see. It’s usually closed since it’s not quite safe for wandering. There are leaning tombstone and depressions (marked off with yellow caution tape on this day). While this makes for good daydreams about the haunted cemetery, it’s less good for someone who really would like to wander it.

One of the first gravestones I checked out was one of the most dramatic. It stood higher than my head, and had outrage practically dripping off the chiseled headstone. It detailed the 1819 murder of Jacob Gould “who was barbarously murdered by some ruffians in his own dwelling”. There were deaths heads and warning epitaphs and poignant poems (all the things I love best of old graveyards), but this was one of the most intriguing headstones I’d seen.

When I got home, I looked it up on Google. You see, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I decided to do it this year. (Because I’m crazy. That’s why.) So I was on the prowl for a good novel premise. Murder by ruffians seemed like as good a place to start as any. So I had a reason for my investigation.

My very first search on “Jacob Gould murder” hit the biggest paydirt imaginable; namely “A Brief History of Stoneham, Mass, From Its First Settlement to the Year 1843: with an Account of the Murder of Jacob Gould, on the Evening of November 25, 1819” by Silas Dean. Silas (I feel like he and I are on a first-name basis now) wrote an absolutely hilarious and riveting account of Stoneham. It includes ancient ruins, naked dudes, wolf attacks, haunted houses, Indian raids, aggressive bugle players, people who died of stupidity, mysterious springs, ne’er-do-well pranks of the first water… I could hardly tear myself away from reading in order to start writing. It’s possibly the most entertaining primary source I’ve ever read.

Ruins in the Fells in Stoneham - this might well be the house where Jacob Gould was barbarously murdered.
Ruins in the Fells in Stoneham – this might well be the house where Jacob Gould was barbarously murdered.

I felt like I won the novel-writing primary source lottery. And I started to get really into the research of the early history of the town (before the boring shoe-making bits). Once I started pulling at the thread of local history, I pretty easily uncovered more fascinating details.

For example…

Wright's Tower
Wright’s Tower

Boston commuters pass Wright’s Tower every day. I’m standing next to it in this picture. Well, Elizur Wright for whom the tower named was kind of amazing. He:

  1. Was an abolitionist, who was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act for
  2. Basically invented actuarial tables, which make life insurance possible for all of us. He read life insurance literature for fun.
  3. Invented and manufactured two new kinds of faucet fitting type things
  4. Ran a newspaper, which got sued for calling out liquor manufacturers
  5. Translated La Fontaine’s Fables and wrote a foreward to a book of poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier
  6. In his copious free time, also pushed for the eventually successful passage of the Massachusetts Forestry Act, which is why we get to hike in the Fells and why they erected a tower in his honor

I mean, I’m impressed with myself when I get my blog post out on time. I didn’t make major contributions in four or five totally different spheres. And yes, he did find the time to marry and beget children too. I’ll admit – I’m kind of a fangirl now.

Anyway, I have these wild and crazy thoughts about how to get this really awesome information about this town out there. Who, living in a town founded in 1725, wouldn’t like to hear about some of the hijinks that happened nearly 300 years ago where they currently stand? I’m going to contemplate that question while I see how many other really cool things I can uncover in my research.

I’d also like to beg your indulgence. I’m attempting to turn all these cool facts I’ve uncovered into a novel. NaNoWriMo requires about 1668 words a day if you’re going to write a 50k novel in the month of November. I’m already well behind. But it’s going to be extra hard to write a thousand word blog post on top of the 1600 words I need to write every day to have a hope at completing this thing. So I might be… terser than usual this month (and/or obsessed with Stoneham town history).

Mysterious constructions in the Fells
Mysterious constructions in the Fells

All Saints Day

Time for another bullet points update!

1) The dining room is finished!!!

Dining room beforeDining room before

It looks much the same, but feels spacious and warmer
It looks much the same, but feels spacious and warmer

After three months of working nights and weekends (and taking a bunch of Fridays off) the dining room has now been completed. The difference is hard to see on camera, but the extra six inches in the ceiling are remarkable. The room already feels more comfortable (with, you know, actual insulation in the walls…). And it is such an incredible feeling to get both the room and the husband back! Adam did a phenomenal job on the work.

I have put together an (unedited) album of all the stages of the work. You can see it here.

2) We trick-or-treated like bosses

The Chestnut Street crew
The Chestnut Street crew

There’s a chance this year will be the high water mark for trick-or-treating. We started around 5:30 or 6. The oldest kids and grownups didn’t roll back in until well after nine. The candy bags were HEAVY. We fell in love with the house that handed out water bottles. I love these nights when the streets are alive with friends and neighbors. My mother-in-law did an amazing job feeding everyone, manning the door and welcoming the little ones when they returned. It was a great night in which to get an extra hour, so we didn’t pay as high a price for the hijinks as we might!

3) We gave Thane a great 7th birthday party!

They played in a vast melee for HOURS
They played in a vast melee for HOURS
Happy 7th rotation around the sun, sweet child
Happy 7th rotation around the sun, sweet child

Thane said he wanted “a neighbor party”. Usually this means “as long as there are Doritos I’ll be happy”. My incredible mother-in-law made this happen with her usual sang-froid. I ordered a really cool cake from The Mad Cake Genius (I’m still surprised at how affordable her cakes are for the works of art they also are). The kids were insane, like always. The grownups were happy to see each other. They just played, and we just watched (and blew balloons – the true test of friendship). It was so lovely to see the kids being with each other and enjoying each other’s company. Thane thought it was an awesome party, and is so grateful to his friends. In fact, the biggest challenge was that Grey was super jealous of his brother’s awesome party.

4) I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year
Because I’m crazy. I sure am not bored, and November is never a good month for this. But honestly, I love writing. And I have a friend whose writing I really want to read, so I’m dragging her into NaNoWriMo with me, which means I have to actually do it! So, um, please feel free to ask me how I’m doing.

5) It’s been an amazingly busy and rich fall

A cloaked apparition amongst the graves.
A cloaked apparition amongst the graves.
Thane ran hard all year.
Thane ran hard all year.
You can always tell when we did something on Sunday because my jewelry and clothes don't align.
You can always tell when we did something on Sunday because my jewelry and clothes don’t align.

Just looking at my pictures, I am amazed at how much we’ve done this fall. Hikes in the Fells. Family visiting. Birthday parties, hosting and attending. Construction projects. Apple picking. Soccer. Church. There are about two weeks left in the “high season” before things quiet down again.


You can see all the pictures from the second half of October here. The first half of the month can be found here.

Thane turns 7

My almost 6 year old
My almost 7 year old
How I still think of my Thane
How I still think of my Thane

I find my youngest son an absolute delight. Thane is an extremely sweet child. (It’s funny how that can simultaneously be true with a phase that finds the word “poop” HILARIOUS.) He is incredibly affectionate and snuggly. I accused him the other morning of stealing my snuggle pills in order to become more snuggly. Showing that he’s internalized our attempts to instill a growth mindset, he replied, “I haven’t been taking snuggle pills, mom. I’ve just been practicing.” And so he has. I’m treasuring every moment that he leans that cheek on my shoulder.

Thane loves his medallion
Thane loves his medallion

It has been interesting to watch his early inclinations and gifts flower into more grown versions. For example, he can still put together a puzzle like a boss. But that intense focus and physical understanding have been turned to more abstract things. He’s approached Pokemon with a scientific mind to put Linneaus to shame. He’ll lay out his stacks of cards sorted by type, carefully reading each, and memorizing the (extensive) evolution paths. He can spend hours with them, quietly singing or talking to himself, and laying out his cards. I’ve been thinking how nice it would be if there were, say, Geography cards that made learning something useful as easy and engaging as it is to learn something that will be less helpful when he’s 30. But his learning skills are growing, regardless of subject.

Thane loves math. He’s probably better at mental addition and subtraction than I am. He doesn’t have multiplication tables memorized yet, but has good strategies for getting to the answer. He can do some division. He is in first grade. I have sought out some mathematical problem books that are age appropriate, but not things he’ll be spending the next three years learning. So far, he’s learned how to be gracious and appropriately attentive in a class where he’s already mastered the key material, and his teachers have done a good job of supporting his interests.

Possibly my favorite moment
Possibly my favorite moment

He also loves to read. This spring, he turned the page on his reading ability and started picking up chapter books. He then methodically worked his way through all 53 books in the Magic Treehouse series. Interestingly, it was REALLY IMPORTANT to him that they be read IN ORDER. Through his hard work and attention, he made sure that happened. Since he wrapped that up, he hasn’t really started another series. But I’ve discovered he will read more or less any book I leave next to his book at bedtime. Muahahah!

One thing I’m struggling with is that Thane, well, doesn’t prefer the name Thane. I intentionally gave both my boys names that were proper and normal. The names on their birth certificates are great names, but I love their nicknames. It’s hard to even call it a nickname when many people who know my sons don’t know their proper names (although I do trot them out when they’re in trouble…). But at school, Thane has opted to go by Nathan instead. Now, I love the name Nathan. It’s one of my favorites. And so far he hasn’t asked that I change what I call him. But I find myself sadder than I would have anticipated to think of NOT calling my sweet boy Thane, even while I remember that this is exactly what I thought about when I first laid a name on my child.

Thane at Soccer
Thane at Soccer

This year, Thane has played soccer. He’s pretty decent for his age group. He’s played goalie pretty well a few times. I’ve been impressed by his attention to his task, and his physical durability. The primary things he’s working on are a) not falling down all the time b) being aggressive on offense. He is still tall for his age – at the 91st percentile for 7 year old boys. He doesn’t seem to notice pain very much. The other day he took a playground swing to the face (leading to a doozy of a black eye!) and didn’t even cry.

I mean, I'd cry...
I mean, I’d cry…

Thane loves Pokemon, board games, books and his brother. (The two of them are thick as thieves.) He is self-contained, but so loving. He can be shy (which surprises me every time), and incredibly goofy. There are few things in this world I find sweeter and more precious than this beloved child of mine.

Gaming with his daddy
Gaming with his daddy

Being Church

I was invited to give the sermon in church this week, as part of our planning and discernment to figure out where our church is going next. I’ve had a lot of thoughts banging around in my head regarding the future of the church, and this is where I landed this week. If you’re after the full experience, here are my scripture & hymn choices too.

NT Lesson: Matthew 18:15-20
NT Lesson 2: Acts 17:22-28

Hymn 1: An Upper Room Did our Lord Prepare
Hymn 2: Come Sing, O Church, in Joy!
Hymn 3: Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples

Jesus started his ministry hip deep in a river. Over the course of his ministry, Jesus taught from temples once or twice. But he mostly preached and worshipped from fields and hilltops, from lakeshores and from the remote mountains. He gave us the Beatitudes sitting on a boat just offshore so that throngs gathered could hear on the beach. You remember the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof of someone’s house. I always felt bad for the homeowner with the hole his roof after that miracle was done. Many of his miracles took place as he walked from place to place, like the healing of the woman who was bleeding. At the end of his ministry, when Jesus gave communion to his disciples that Maundy Thursday, it wasn’t in the temple. Communion started over dinner in a believer’s upstairs spare room. When Jesus went to pray before his betrayal by Judas, he prayed outside in a garden.

The earliest building that we know was dedicated specifically to Christian worship is a house in Dura Europos – an ancient abandoned town in Syria preserved in its third century form by sand and rubble. That first church building was in use in approximately 240 AD – just over 200 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So why, when we talk of the church, do we talk about a building? What exactly is the church?

The first gospel lesson we read today, from Matthew 18, is the only time in all the Gospels Jesus uses a word we would translate to mean church. I asked my pastor brother to help me out with the original Greek in this passage. Where we use the word church, the gospel writer used the word “Ecclesia”. The word means a collection of people, those “called out” – just as Jesus called the disciples. It could also be called a convocation, or congregation. In this passage in Matthew, the church – that gathering of faithful people – listens. And the church speaks back to the Christian. Buildings and organizations don’t speak – people do. Jesus promises in this passage that the barrier for the Holy Spirit to be with God’s people is a very low one. “For where two or three come together in my name; there am I with them.”

I have worshiped with you – my beloved friends – for fifteen years. When I first sat in that pew over there, I was 21 years old and had married for two weeks. We have been together through my entire adult life. It was in this building that I heard you vow to nurture both my sons in God’s love – and you have. I was with you when we went through those sorrowful days when Vicki and Whitey were laid to rest and we sang “Lord of the Dance” through our tears. We’ve eaten countless meals together, and dressed up in our favorite ‘60s outfits. We’ve carved pumpkins and enjoyed coffee hours. I love watching your familiar faces around the circle of communion twice a year. We’ve inscribed crosses of ash on each other’s foreheads in the dark night of Ash Wednesday. You’ve inspired me with a generosity of spirit that is willing to give a kidney or a liver to a brother or sister in Christ. One of the greatest strengths of this church, and we do many things well, is how deeply and sincerely we love each other. And in case you didn’t know it, I love you.

So… when I think about the possibility that this church change, or be different, it’s really hard to imagine. I don’t really want the church I love to change. But when I think about what the future holds, I don’t think we honor God’s calling to us by staying the same. When we kicked off the Mission Study Taskforce, I asked my fellow teammates to think about what the church would be like – not in five years, but in fifty. The world today is very different than it was in the ‘60s when we were founded. And I think that in fifty years, it will be even more profoundly different. When I’m sitting in my rocking chair, and my grandchildren are graduating from college, what will the church look like then? What are the cores of what it is to be a church together that the Spirit will continue to inspire? What of what we do now may fall away as unnecessary?

I’ve thought a lot about what it is I come to church to find – what it is that keeps me getting up on Sunday mornings when I’d rather sleep in. I’ve come up with four things that define the role of the church for me. Your keys might be different, and in the coming weeks I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My four pillars of what I look to the church for are community, worship, teaching and sacraments.

Community is what I’ve been talking about – the way that we love and support each other. Honestly, I think we do a wonderful job of this.

We worship right now. I feel like worship is both a strength and a challenge for us. I’ve heard our sisters and brothers from Ghana talk about how much they love the familiarity of this most-Presbyterian service. I’ve always loved the old hymns and prayers. But how many people miss our worship because they’re teaching Sunday School, are setting up coffee hour, or have outside commitments on Sunday mornings? It’s easy to lose the spirit of worship in the busy tumult of a Sunday morning. It can be hard to keep worship as uplifting and God-focused as we might want when we also need this time to talk about our announcements and handle the business of our church. I miss most of the worship this congregation does together, because I’m teaching our children. I really feel that lack in my life.

But that teaching is such an important part of what our church offers that we can’t do on our own. We teach now, during the sermon. We teach our children during Sunday School. We teach in adult Bible study, and in our Thursday morning women’s group. The teaching is why we have specialists, Teaching Elders like Pastor Mike and my brother, who spend three years in seminary learning what the original Greek of Ecclesia means, and how theologians have interpreted it, along with many other things. The depth and breadth of that learning is one of the things I find most valuable about the Presbyterian Church.

Finally, we have those most sacred moments. There are the weddings and funerals we have been a part of here. There are the baptisms and confirmations. There is that meal that we share of Christ’s body and blood. Perhaps my favorite are the ordinations – with the Pentecost red and laying on of hands.

Those are the four things I look to the church for: community, worship, teaching and sacraments.

Now for the scary part, and I admit I’m nervous talking about this… I find myself really tired by all the things that need to be done to keep this church in business. Our church is funded by donations and run by volunteers. Our expenses are about $180 thousand dollars. We need one full time and two part time staff. We spend thousands of dollars on snow plowing alone. The electricity bill for this building is appalling.

We have three primary boards (session, deacons and trustees), with a total of 25 people, that meet at least once a month for several hours to figure out how to meet the needs of the church. Then there are about seven secondary committees, such as Christian Education, Hospitality and Worship, that carry a heavy workload of organization, planning, and leading. There are Sunday School teachers and choir members. For a Christian, especially for those with a family and job, who called by the Spirit to the church by the time the tithe is given and the church work is done, there can be little money and time left over to do the mission and outreach work God calls us to do. I have the deepest gratitude and admiration for those who work with People Helping People or the Food Bank.

When I think about what Jesus calls us to do, I come back time and again to Matthew 25: 31-46. Jesus says “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.” I judge myself by those things, and honestly – I don’t do a very good job. But so much of the time and money of the faithful members of this church are given to the church, it can be hard to find more to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick and visit the prisoners. To put it very bluntly, does God call me more to serve on session, or find a volunteer opportunity at a food bank? Which one does God want me to donate to more, the needs of this church, or the needs of Syrian refugees? As a church, we’ve always tried to make sure 10% of our budget was directed to mission, but that can get harder and harder if our expenses are greater than our donations. I’m not suggesting that as a church we sell everything we have and give it to the poor.

But the radical question I find myself asking is… is there a way for us to serve those core functions of the church while turning our money and volunteering energy to those tasks Jesus calls us to in Matthew 25? How many of those four pillars I outlined require us to meet the way we do now, in this big old building. Can we be a community without this particular space? Is it possible for us to worship, keeping all the things that make worship precious, in any ways that keep worship special and include everyone? What if we didn’t have as many chores to do in order to keep our church running? Are there ways that we can teach and be taught that are different than the traditional Sunday School template? We’ve already lost many of the most sacred moments. When is the last wedding you attended in this church? I’ve been to exactly one. Do those sacred moments need all infrastructure the last generation so generously gave to us?

I do not have the answers to these questions. They’re big ones. I’ve been thinking about them for months, and I still find them scary to contemplate. I’m not sure anyone knows the answers to these questions. I’m not even 100% sure they’re all the right questions. But I do know these things:

I know that the future will be different than the past. We Christians need to be different too if we want to bring the Good News of the Gospel to people where they are. We need to share God with people who are not interested in a Sunday morning worship service, and who think that Christianity doesn’t want or welcome them.

I know that our church, Burlington Presbyterian, is at a new moment in its life. We are at a wonderful time to start asking these questions about how and what God really wants us to be together.

Finally, I know that the Holy Spirit is with us. The church – that collection of God’s summoned people – is at no risk of being lost. This is an opportunity, not a threat. We may be transformed, but we cannot be destroyed as long as the Holy Spirit is present with us. And the Holy Spirit will be with us wherever two or more of us are gathered in God’s name.

In the next few months, we’ll be asking you to come together in small groups to talk about some of these questions. I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to find the time and energy for extra church meetings. But I’m asking you to start thinking and praying now. What do you long for from this community of God? What is God asking us to do? What seeds can we plant now that will help the church flourish and grow both now, and in the next generation? Let us pray, work and plan together to hear God’s intention for us.


Edit: I’m lucky enough that the sermon was recorded. If you’d like to hear my slight divergences from script, or prefer listening to reading, this is your big chance!

Grey turns 10

Milestone birthday don’t come much bigger than 10. There are only two times in life you can change the number of digits in your age – and the second is hardly guaranteed. On Tuesday, Grey experienced that first one. He took it well in stride.

Let the games begin
Let the games begin

I’ve been thinking a lot about my eldest son lately. (As opposed to normally, where I think about my kids all the time…) The who of him is coming through clearer and clearer. At the same time, I’m seeing growth and changes in some of the ways I’ve most deeply hoped. He’s an incredibly complicated kid, with a richness of personality that he will spend a lifetime uncovering and revealing to those he loves.

And therein lies the rub. As I sit in front of the keyboard wanting to tell you, his fan club since the day he was born, who he is I find myself constrained. Because increasingly it is his story to tell, and not mine. A mother is a terrible point of view character in the hero’s story, and he’s becoming ready to be the narrator in his own adventures. So I’ll run all this past him first. Still, here are a few observations on my first-born.

Doing his homework with stuffie help on Library/Pizza night.
Doing his homework with stuffie help on Library/Pizza night.

1) He’s deepening his ability for hard work
This has always been an area where Grey has had work. Early on, we ran into challenges with things that were hard: guitar, soccer, homework, chores. In the last year or so, I’ve watched a profound change in Grey where he’s started to be able to shoulder his load without complaint. He has played hard at every soccer game and soccer practice. Not once this year has he stomped off the field because he’s too tired or worn out. I think his body is stronger, but his mind is much stronger too. He has taken on trumpet and is fighting the heaviness of the horn, the relentlessness of practice and the hardness of doing something you’re bad at. And he’s embraced it. His homework this year has gotten for real. He has 7 different things he needs to do every school night, and they take over an hour. Understand we don’t get home until 6 pm. Dinner isn’t ready until 7. Bedtime is at 8:30. Have over an hour of homework in that span means he gets very little “downtime” at home. But he is doing what needs to be done, often with grace.

2) He has some great friends
Friends are one of the great protective elements in life. In my life, the friends who surround my days are peace of mind, fun, and a warm sense of belonging all wrapped into one. Grey has some deep and powerful friendships (even if listening to them you become convinced that 90% of the 4th grade brain power is Pokemon-centric). And I must say that the friends he’s picked for himself are exactly the friends I would pick for him. They’re kind, low-drama, fun, cooperative, smart and well behaved. Mostly. I watch them walk together and see how their shoulders just casually bump into each other, and see a group of boys who have each other’s backs. That’s what I would wish for my son.

These four are quite a tribe.
These four are quite a tribe.

3) Grey is incredibly emotionally astute
I might spend my time observing him and coming to poetic observations. But the truth is that he does the same to me. The richness of his emotional vocabulary is astounding – and kind of scary. I wonder how someone who feels as deeply and powerfully as he already does at 10 will deal with his first heart break. And he is knocking at the door of the next stage of his life, when we feel most deeply. But at this moment, I am just in awe of his empathetic understanding.

Sliding down the sides
Sliding down the sides

4) I really like my kid
Of course we love our children. But it’s an extra special bonus to like our children. I really enjoy spending time with Grey. He’s funny and thoughtful and kind. He knows things I don’t know. (When does that start?) Sometimes I find it hard to put him to bed because I’m enjoying spending time with him. (Also because bed time is hard right now – he’s having trouble falling asleep which leads to a tired kid and a cranky mom.) He can beat me at board games. Grey is simply good company, and I love spending time with him.

Here are pictures of his birthday celebration, plus our apple picking Saturday!


Greys 4th birthday writeup
Grey at 5
Grey’s 6th
7 – the year of Legos
How did he get to be 8?
Nine years, not nine months

A decade old

The full retrospective of ten years of Grey is going to be next Monday’s post, but I feel as though it’s wrong to let his birthday pass without note.

Grey, my son, is 10 years old today. I have only one child left in single digits.

Then
Then
Now
Now

The trumpet shall sound

I was strictly rationed on how many pictures I got during the rental.
I was strictly rationed on how many pictures I got during the rental.

In my imagined version of what it would be like to raise children, those children picked up where I had left off with music. They loved to sing before they could even talk. When I introduced early piano lessons, they spent hours dedicated to wringing skill out of their fingers. They practiced guitar until their fingers were red.

Those were not the children I got. They sing – but only when no one can hear. Practicing was a huge struggle when we tried it. They just weren’t ready.

In first grade, arguments about practicing guitar were frequent and unpleasant.
In first grade, arguments about practicing guitar were frequent and unpleasant.

Now with music, there are different entry points. The world class violinists start at 3 or 4. The pianists 5 or 6. Even Thane is probably too old to be world class in some instruments. But… a child is physically too small to play a brass or wind instrument until they’re around 10, which is perfect since that’s much closer to the age at which a (normal) kid is more ready to spend long term focus working on a remote goal. (Well, at least my kids.) So although I’ve watched that particular parental daydream disappear – along with any girl-daydream and my quiet dark-haired poet daydream – I prefer my actual real children over my daydreams.

But my parents thought I was not very musical after years of piano lessons in which I didn’t really focus or practice or excel. And then I hit trumpet and the world was a new and beautiful place and music took a central place in my life. So, there is hope.

And then, last Tuesday, a huge moment came. Instrument rental night. My last best hope for a child to follow in my musical footsteps.

A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.
A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.

Now, I tried really, really, really hard not to make this too big a deal for Grey. I casually asked if he wanted to do band. (Please note: band is at 4 pm on Monday afternoons. School gets out at 2:20. So I had to switch Grey’s afterschool to school afterschool instead of Y afterschool on Mondays to make this work. SO MANY LOGISTICS. What a terrible time for a working parent!) Then I lightly inquired if he’d thought about what instrument he wanted to play.

“I want to play trumpet!” – words every parent wants to hear.

When asked why, there were many answers. “It only has three buttons! It’s the easiest!” “I love how it sounds.” Then in a quiet, vulnerable moment… “Because I want you to be proud of me.”

Ah. How clearly our children see us. It breaks my heart a little that my son is searching for ways to win my approval, as though it is some elusive and difficult substance. But yet… he is right. I cannot stop my heart from glowing that he picked my instrument. He’s asked me to teach him, and begged me for lessons every night since. I am not sure I have ever seen him more excited than he was the night we went to get his instrument. “I’m not actually sure I’ve been more excited myself, mom.”

I hear him working his way through to “Hot Cross Buns”. I remember a little girl on her front porch, some 27 years ago, doing the same. And I can only hope that he has as much joy of his instrument as I had and still have of mine.

Welcome to brass, my son.

First trumpet lesson: posture and hands
First trumpet lesson: posture and hands

Enjoy some pictures of both King Richard’s Faire and rental night!