The journey of running fast in cleats….

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, but I’m still celebrating. (I’m one of those people who likes to celebrate birthdays and stuff for an entire week.) The day came alive for me yesterday evening as I watched our little girl take part in her second T-ball practice ever. She’s still figuring out the logistics of making the bat and the ball collide in just the right way, but Daddy (who used to play baseball himself) is at the ready to help with that. When it comes to catching the ball and, especially, running the bases, our girl is fierce! She loves to run, and my heart takes wings, too, when I watch her. I really love watching the kids do a free run from one end of the field to the other. There’s one little boy who is known as the fastest on the team, but our girl is not deterred by that. The “soccer mom” (or really, more of a “stage mom”) that arises in me wants her to beat him–and all of the rest of the kids, while she’s at it. She’s not far behind the first-place runner. She could take him! Go, go, go!!! But, then, I remember I’m a pastor and supposed to be a decent human being and supportive of all children. Funny thing, though. . . . As I’m experiencing this moral dilemma within myself, I look up at her, flying across the field with her ponytail bouncing, her long twiggy legs galloping, hot pink cleats pounding the red-brown dirt, face beaming with determination, exertion, and exhilaration. And I realized–who cares who wins? This is pure JOY!

To me, she is the essence of International Women’s Day, right there on our community baseball field. In that moment, she is being absolutely herself. Doing what she loves doing. She has space to thrive. She is championed. She is free. She is seen.

Cheers to our brave, strong, joyful girl–and all women–today and everyday.

The journey of carrying small children through long lines….

It’s Monday, and I’m sitting at my desk again after a delightful vacation with my sweet family to Disney World last week. I began my morning-back-at-work-at-church by scribbling a list of to-do items and catch-up items, and I’ve already struck through several points on my list. I’m one of those over-achievers.

To feel inspired and carry that Disney magic with me into this new week, I’m wearing my green shirt with the sparkly golden design of Princess Merida and her mum in bear-form from the movie Brave. This shirt carries wonderful memories made last week–of huge smiles and wide, amazed eyes, of joyful laughter and spontaneous squeals and twirling from our children. But I also remember feeling very, very hot and sweaty under the Florida sun in this shirt. I remember desperately seeking shade at mid-day in the theme parks. I remember craving just a sip of water or one of those frosty, fruity drinks. I remember–at various points–carrying one of our children, with pink cheeks and damp curls stuck to their forehead. I remember long lines and swarming crowds. I remember the frenzy of hurrying from place to place. Frustration jumbled in with elation. It was an amazing week, but vacation was hard!

Toward the end of our time at Disney, we also heard the news of what’s happening in Ukraine. And I saw haunting pictures of crowds, of lines, of terror and destruction, of desperate and frightened parents carrying small children. The images pierce my heart. I feel along with those families. I know what it’s like to struggle to get one’s children safely from place to place, to make sure everyone is okay, to keep it all together. But, then again…I really don’t know anything, do I? I’m not over there.

I preach this Sunday, and the Scripture passage given to me for a pre-planned theme is from Luke 2:25-35. Mary and Joseph are presenting their young child Jesus at the temple, and prophetic words ring out from a man named Simeon: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed . . . and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (2:34-35). Falling, rising, opposition, pain. A sword that pierces one’s soul. Mary knew that feeling all too well, as she experienced the journey of motherhood to her very special son. I feel it as I watch my own little ones. The parents of the Ukraine surely are feeling this to the depths of their souls right now. I am limited in perspective. I am privileged in my relative place of safety and peace. But my heart and soul are with them and all families this week.

The journey of wearing orange….

I’m wearing an orange dress today. My friend, who’s an elementary school teacher, reminded me yesterday that today is #Unity day, when we take a stand against bullying. As a former introverted, pale, freckle-y, and rather nerdy teenager who, as an adult, is still quite introverted, pale, freckle-y, and nerdy…this issue is close to my heart. And I’m a mom now. And my heart hurts when I think of how cruel this world can be sometimes.

So there I was wearing my orange dress at our local gas station putting fuel in the tank, when I noticed something unusual on the gas pump. It was a sticker with an incredibly unflattering (to say the least) picture of President Biden, mouth gaping open and finger pointing, with the words “I did that” underneath. Whoever put the sticker there had placed the finger-point strategically close to where the gas price is displayed digitally in red. Ah. I got the message.

It’s been a hard day for me emotionally already and seeing that sticker just tipped me right over the edge. The next thing I knew, I had scraped the sticker off and dumped the shreds of it in the nearby trash can. It took me three tries, but it’s gone. (Until the sticker fairy returns.)

But now, let’s calm ourselves. This reflection of mine honestly has nothing to do with my feelings about this President. Or any U.S. President past or future. What it does have to do with is kindness and love. And stopping bullying. And an awareness that hate is like a cancer eating away at us as a society. Can we learn to disagree without mockery and ridicule? Can we dislike a stance or policy or idea without seeking to destroy the person who shares it? Can we teach our children to respect differences, protect the vulnerable, and—very simply put—be kind?

So I wear my orange today. With hope. With determination. With love. I invite you to join me. And I might just wear something else orange tomorrow.

The journey of kindness (with an Irish blessing). . . .

Yesterday, I was driving down one of the main roads in my town, and I noticed that the car in front of me looked . . . different. As I moved closer and squinted my eyes, I saw that there was a hand-written message scrawled with white marker across the back windshield. It was a pretty angry message. And I didn’t need to stop the driver and talk in person to realize that they were greatly displeased with certain issues in our country and in the world. Just by reading that windshield, I felt as if the driver were shouting–at me, at others–and shaking a fist at the sky. So much anger. Kindness, grace, peace, and love were certainly not there.

And then, just a few days ago, I experienced some church-folk who seemed to forget Christ’s call to love and serve others. Kindness, grace, peace, and love were severely lacking in their words and behaviors. So much anger there, too.

I could easily follow these two recent experiences to a place of despair at the “state of our world today,” but–surprisingly–another kind of experience came to my mind this morning. And it’s keeping me going. It’s a story that happened this one time in Ireland. . . .

A few years ago, my husband and I were traveling in Ireland with another couple of friends who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, like we were. We had started our adventure in Dublin, in the east, traveled across the country to Galway in the west, and were making our way back around to Limerick near the center of Ireland. We stopped for lunch at a pub as we visited Limerick that day. And as we listened to the fiddles playing and the dancers tapping, we found a high-top table outdoors near the river. We and our friends were sitting there, chatting and laughing, recalling fun events from earlier in our vacation, when a most interesting individual appeared near our table. He had long, rather dirty-looking hair. A scruffy beard. An old Led Zeppelin t-shirt with stains on it. An unusual twitch in his eyes. A mysterious sniffle. But he was just as friendly as he could be! He started conversing with us, warmly and casually as if we were old buddies of his. He asked us how we were enjoying Ireland, about the sights we’d already seen. Made recommendations. Bantered. We smiled and engaged his conversation. But I have to admit those smiles were tense. And as he wandered away after a little while, you could feel the tension release from our group of friends. We laughed nervously and admitted that we all had had an eye on our friends’ expensive digital camera they had placed on the table top. Because our mysterious visitor just looked like the kind of person who might steal expensive items from unsuspecting tourists. 

            We returned to our lunches and our previous conversation, when—all of a sudden—our friend appeared again! He chatted some more, and then said the most outlandish thing. “I’d like to give you a blessing. A blessing for your travels. A blessing in my language.” And he fumbled about in his pants pocket looking for something to write on and something to write with. He pulled out an old, dirty envelope with frayed edges. “Pension envelope,” he said sheepishly. And he found a pencil. Then he wandered away to an empty table to write. Meanwhile, I was skeptical. “A blessing in your language!” I thought. “Even with your Irish accent, you’re speaking English just like we are.” I might have gripped my purse straps a little tighter as I watched him.

            When he returned to our table, he proudly put the frayed piece of paper down in front of us. He had sketched a shamrock and these words in Irish Gaelic: “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat.” “May the road rise to meet you,” he declared warmly. And all of a sudden I felt so stupid and so ashamed. “May the road rise to meet you.” The traditional Irish blessing that I know from so many choral anthems I’d performed in the past. And, of course, Irish Gaelic was his language. How foolish, how arrogant of me to forget that more than English was spoken here. 

            Once he shared his blessing with us, he wandered away again. And we sat in shock. “That was awesome,” one of our friends whispered. And my husband was inspired and said, “Let’s ask him if we could get him some food or something to drink . . . something.” And the guys called him over yet again and made our offer of a refreshment. But our unusual new friend simply smiled at us and shook his head graciously. “No. . . . No thanks. It costs nothing to be nice.” And he wandered away from us for the very last time. . . . 

            “It costs nothing to be nice.” That phrase has stuck with me for years now. We all know there’s so much anger and ugliness and sheer hatred in our world. We feel it around us. We feel it within us. It’s awful, overwhelming, exhausting. But there is kindness. Kindness is something we can choose. And the “cost” of kindness is totally worth it. 

            My challenge to myself today is to choose kindness and do kindness. Will you join with me, wherever you are? 

The journey of walking down aisles carrying lighters….

(This is my latest article for Columns from Georgetown Presbyterian Church…. I love how simple actions we do on a regular basis can have meanings more profound than we realize!)

With the arrival of fall, I often think of how different the light looks this time of year. There’s a certain golden glow to the sunshine and a slant to the way the light falls on the earth. It makes me feel excited about the changing of the season, but also comfortable and cozy. It’s amazing to experience the power of light, to feel its effects.

Over the past several months, we’ve been enriched with the return of our acolyte ministry at GPC. On Sunday mornings, these children and youth don a white liturgical robe and, during the first hymn, bring the “light” up the aisle to the two candles on the communion table. At the end of worship, during the last hymn, they carry the light back down the aisle and out of the sanctuary. Their work of bringing the light in and carrying it back out is more than an elegant-looking movement to grace our times of worship. It’s beautifully symbolic of the Light of the World, Jesus, coming into our worship gathering—and into our world—to be with us and, then, calling us to go back out into the world and be the light for others. A powerful image! 

Another powerful image is the fact that we have two candles that are lit on our communion table. In the earlier years of the Church, these candles would have been present to help the priest or pastor see to read the liturgy! Over time, though, people also began to associate the two candles with the dual nature of Jesus—mysteriously and at the same time, human and divine.

Our acolytes, then, help us to experience the Gospel message in action. They testify every Sunday that Jesus, fully human and fully divine, is the Light of the World and calls us to follow him into our world—a place of beauty and mess, light and shadow, pain and joy. Let’s remember to watch our acolytes as they minister next Sunday morning. May our eyes follow the movement of the flame. May we be comforted by the light’s presence. And may we go with the Light as we return to the world.

The journey of my job today. . . .

She squinted her eyes and scrunched her nose and then sat in what felt, to me, like eternal silence. I could tell that she couldn’t hear me. So I dialed up my speaking volume and said with great enunciation, “So how are you feeling today, Miss Peggy?” “Not so good, not so good,” she hollered back at me. But she said it with a smile, so I knew that the situation wasn’t too dire at the moment. “What’s wrong? What doesn’t feel good?” I bellowed, using what little bit I know from my voice teacher husband about using my diaphragm muscles to get the sound out. “Oh, nothing much,” she admitted. “Just feeling lazy today.” “Lazy is okay!” I reassured her. Then, I pointed to the vase of brilliantly colored flowers the church had sent for her. They were velvety red roses with indigo blue, bell-shaped blossoms along slender stalks. I knew that this could at least be a talking point with Miss Peggy. “Beautiful, beautiful,” she responded. And then she began to leaf through the worship bulletin I had brought her from the previous Sunday. She mumbled, “I just love getting these. . . .”

And this is how it goes. This is what we do. This is, in fact, part of what I do in pastoral care. Pastoral care feels like one of the oddest “jobs.” I’m learning more and more each day how to do it–through experiences that are simply awkward as h*#!, through the gentle guidance of pastors much wiser than I, and through trying and failing and trying again. I’m learning that it truly is the little things that matter, that show love and care. Birthdays, anniversaries, surgeries, graduations, defeats, triumphs, fears, joys. It’s life. And it’s glimpses of God’s love and grace that we find–or that find us–in this life.

I’m delving into this “job” today. How are things with your calling?

The journey of Good Friday….

Good Friday homily

April 2, 2021

We believe—and we say we believe—that Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. We believe that he was truly and fully God, while being truly and fully human. This is a great mystery. Nothing we can prove. Something that could make our brains ache if we think about it too hard, too deeply. It’s beyond us human creatures. 

We celebrate Jesus’ divinity and humanity at Christmastime, when our hearts swell with joy. When we sing along with the angels. When everything feels magical and fresh and new. When we gaze down at the precious baby, whom we believe to be God in the very flesh. 

But on Good Friday, we gaze on Jesus, and we see the full weight of humanity bearing down on our God-in-the-flesh. He feels incredible physical pain and suffering. He feels incredible emotional pain and suffering. He knows what abandonment feels like. He knows what injustice feels like. He knows what hopelessness feels like. He knows what fear and sadness feel like. For any time any of us humans may have cried out in the last year, “I can’t breathe!”—whether from a deadly virus or from cruel injustice or from the weight of anxiety—Jesus cries out, too. For any time any of us have suffered violence, Jesus bears the marks of violence on his body. For any time any of us have felt broken, alienated, mistreated, disillusioned, terrified—Jesus’ heart aches along with ours. 

We humans have great hope in the promise of Easter—that pain and darkness and death are not the end of the story. They do not have the final word. But today is not Easter. It’s still Friday. And Friday is still part of our journey. So we sit in silence, holding the pain.

Yet, there is still a goodness in Good Friday. Our comfort today is that we have a God who knows what it’s like to be fully human. Who knows our pain and chose our pain. We have a God who truly is with us. Amen.

The journey of Welcome

Also, on St. Patrick’s Day, as I found ways to celebrate and bring joy to my precious little daughter of Irish heritage and spend time with my beloved family, I later discovered that eight people—six of whom were women of Asian descent—were killed in Atlanta. . . . What else can we say? Have we not said it already? Enough with the hatred and violence against Asian people. Enough with the hatred and violence against women. Enough with the hatred and violence against Black people. Enough with the hatred and violence against any person of color. Enough with the hatred and violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Enough with the hatred and violence against ____________. Enough with the hatred and violence. Enough, enough, enough. 

In a recent class I was teaching at church, I remember saying something to the effect that when the pain of this world is bigger than we can handle or feel like we have any power to effect . . . We can still do something. Even a little something. And do it with determination and Love. 

So, last night, my little girl and I read a book that was an impulse buy from her recent preschool book fair. I just happened to see it before clicking “proceed to checkout.” It’s All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. It’s a picture of what this world should be and could be, through the eyes of sweet schoolchildren. My little girl loves this story and the beautiful, colorful diversity that unfolds before her eyes. Her heart is open and loving and pure. May we be more like her—more like children with welcoming hearts. 

We’re reading this book again tonight. 

A journey of green and gold glitter. . . .

So apparently, on St. Patrick’s Day, preschoolers get really excited about leprechauns secretly visiting us and making mischief for us. (As a mom of two young ones, I truly am learning something new every day!) Our little girl went to school this morning with a green striped dress, white frilly socks (a la Irish lace), and my green glitter hairband in her gingery brown curls. I, of course, am wearing green myself as a celebration of the whatever percentage of Irish that discovered in my genes. 

And, right around lunch-time, I had the sudden pressing need to stop by our local drugstore and buy St. Patrick’s Day goodies to surprise Little One when she returned from school. I found shamrock socks, glitter shamrock and rainbow stickers, and a few other creative activities to keep her preoccupied and delighted while Mommy and Daddy finish their respective workdays. And then I saw friends posting pictures of leprechaun “footprints” around their homes—much like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus making a visit and leaving surprises. So here I sit with the sides of my hands covered in dried, bright green paint from making tiny faux footprints on paper cut-outs strewn around my office floor. And there was gold glitter, too. And I love it. Because in creating joy for her, I also found great joy myself. 

So how did this desire to be so festive all of a sudden emerge?

Because I’ve been preparing to teach a class this evening at church on a “Lenten journey through Narnia,” and tonight’s topic is “Living with What We’ve Been Given” . . . or contentment.  And there’s a question from the study guide about “Do today’s children get too many toys or too much amusement?” The answer could be Yes—with all of the gadgets and tech toys and privilege that some in this world do enjoy. But the answer is also No. We need to let our children be children. To delight in Play—which is also Work for the child, as Madeline L’Engle said somewhere in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. We need to let children revel in imagination and creativity and joy. To celebrate when we have the chance to celebrate. And we adults need that, too, quite often. And it’s our mission, too, to help others find ways to celebrate and live in the fullness of life . . . this life with its soaring heights and painful depths, its darkness and its light. 

So let’s get messy with paint and glitter, and let’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or something—anything. Let’s get lost in bringing joy to another, and may leprechauns surprise us with joy ourselves. 

The journey of lighting the candle anyway. . . .

We publish a monthly newsletter from our church, and this is the brief article I shared as an encouragement during the season of Lent 2021. As I was typing it, I thought to myself, “This would make a good blog post, too!” And I just love candles. I really do. (As evidenced by the number of candle pictures I post on this blog.) And, as I mention in the following article, the dear friend who makes candles is the lovely lady behind The Sudsery Soap Studio. Check out her gorgeous candles and soaps on her gorgeous website at Light a candle. Take a soothing bath. Love yourself, and love others. We’re going to get through this together.


            One evening, recently, I lit one of my favorite candles and put it on the kitchen counter. Just because I love candles. There’s something so special for me about lighting a candle . . . seeing a blackened wick change and burst forth with a golden glow. And, over time, the wax surrounding the wick starts to melt and pool, and a warm, beautiful fragrance starts to fill the room and wrap around me like a hug. I especially love this particular candle, because 1) my talented and creative friend made it and 2) the scent is spicy and sweet and cozy, like toasting marshmallows over a campfire. The ironic thing, though, about my lighting of this candle is . . . I can’t smell it now! I lost my sense of smell and taste with my recent bout with COVID. I knew that, the other evening, but I lit the candle anyway. 

            Perhaps this will be my guiding thought for this Lent of 2021. The world might seem dark. We’ve lost things, great and small. But we light the candle anyway. Because it sends out light and hope. It creates warmth—even if just a little bit. It offers the promise of a lovely fragrance—even if we can’t experience it right now. Even if we can’t experience it quite yet. It reminds us of people and things we love, and it sparks a sense of community across time and space. So we light the candle anyway.

            Friends, let’s journey through this Lenten season together. Even if the days seem dark, we walk together and we walk with God. We learn and grow together as we go. And let us fix our eyes on the hope ahead. Let us light our candles . . . anyway.