Category Archives: Small Town Life

Brick by Brick

There are parts of the world that I am not dying to see, and art exhibits that bore me pretty quickly. One thing inhabits both of these lists: Egypt. Whenever I’m at the Art Institute with my sister, she could spend all day in the ancient Egypt collection while I quickly get to the point where my brain is screaming “oh look: another chipped clay pot, just like the last 700 you’ve seen.” My desire to visit Egypt is lessened quite a bit by its recent political climate, but I have to say, the biggest draw for me are the pyramids that showed up in the background of story books when I was a child.

They aren’t amazing because of what they look like, but because they are a testimony of greatness and power. Over decades and decades, thousands of nameless people slaved -literally- to turn crappy limestone into something great enough to house the holiest, most esteemed people of their society. One brick at a time, they carried and stacked. Each brick unimpressive on its own, like millions of tons of other limestone rocks all over the planet that go unnoticed every day.

A year ago, my life felt as barren, hot, and miserable as that desert must have been. I wanted out, but to imagine successful life on the outside was as insane as the ancient Egyptians dreaming up the first pyramid. I wasn’t the first, though. Thank God, I wasn’t the first. I had two in particular who were my own pyramids, Cory and Christin. Both had left and built their own pyramids, so I wasn’t as afraid to build mine.

How long would it take you to build your life if woke up tomorrow with no job, home, car, phone, insurance, credit, and only $374 to finance your move to another state? It’s a hell of a thing to envision, and even imagining it beforehand is nothing compared to living it.

No one, and no previous experience prepares you for building your pyramid. I wasn’t on my own – I had family and friends who have been an unquantifiable amount of help, but it’s both a solitary and community effort. Every tangible bit of building a pyramid is the result of the mental work that goes into it. Sometimes, the mental work involved was coming to the weary, humbling conclusion that I needed someone else to carry and place a brick for me.

And the only way to see any results is to just keep going.

Ten months and fourteen days ago, I packed everything I owned in a uHaul, unloaded it into my parents’ garage, and started over, covered in scars that still feel raw from time to time. I did a lot of pride-swallowing and took the exact job I swore I would never take after college and worked enough to buy a car. Stock up on some interview clothes. Pay for my coffee at Starbucks where I used their free WiFi to look for a job that I didn’t hate.

Slowly, bricks were laid, even when I wasn’t looking. Wounds healed, friendships unfolded, nightmares lessened and dreams took their place.

Today, I signed the lease on an apartment. A one bedroom apartment at the end of a street lined with old trees in a small town just outside of a university bubble. It feels like a very significant brick. It’s just a couple miles from where I live now, in a town that has managed to feel more like home in three months than anywhere has in a long, long time.

I’m going to move in over the next week, with the help of more friends and family. For the first time in three years, I’ll get to put my Christmas decorations up. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’ll have a space to invite friends into – until now, it seemed like I either had space or friends nearby, but rarely the two together.

My pyramid has a really long way to go, but today feels good. It feels like I get to finally believe that I wasn’t crazy to think about the possibility of life of the outside. Individually, the bricks laid in the last year aren’t much to brag about, but let me assure you: they were heavy, they were necessary, and they took a hell of a lot of effort. So when I look at these little silver keys in my hand, they are a lot more than just keys. They are big, gigantic bricks in my pyramid.

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Gigantic bricks disguised as tiny silver keys

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My Friends, the SuperHeroes

If I had to choose, it really wouldn’t be much of a contest between Marvel and DC Comics – Marvel would win just about every time. That said, I happen to be friends with a family of superheroes that would probably fit right in with the DC gang.

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SuperEwan being interviewed by the press on an Adventure Day!

Like every legend, it didn’t start out as a way to get publicity or notoriety; it started in the kind, epic heart of a little boy named Ewan, who wanted to help people who are homeless in Detroit, near where he lives. His parents decided to put Ewan’s heart into action, and through the magic of social media, it has become a cause that not only the family works on, but one that the community is helping make happen. Elderly widows, Boy Scout troops, and random strangers contact SuperEwan’s mom, Ange, and twice a month, they load up vehicles and take food, clothing, and other supplies to people who struggle. No questions asked. No names collected and turned into any agency. As far as I know, no one has ever been turned away.

SuperEwan is humble, silly, empathic, and smart. It’s no surprise that he is such an admirable kid when his parents are such welcoming, open-hearted people who continue to impress me with their honesty and grace. His younger siblings, a preschooler and a toddler, get in on it, too, packing baggies of toiletries and tagging along on “Adventure Days.”

If you haven’t seen his page already, pretty pretty please check out http://www.SuperEwan.org! There, you’ll find links to articles about their adventures, television interviews, and more. There are also ways for you to get involved, whether it’s a donation or reblog or other effort. There is a Facebook page, too, and he gets really excited about new likes/followers, do even if you can’t donate, a “like” will make him smile – and he has a great smile. SuperEwan is a nonprofit organization, meaning donations are deductible.

Gas Station Pastor

I should be sleeping. I have to be up for work in a few hours, and I’ll no doubt regret this in the morning, but I won’t sleep if I don’t write it.

A few months ago, my friend and fellow pastor told me about how often people seem to be drawn to him for the kind of listening ear and compassion that is the earmark of a good pastor, even when they don’t know he’s a pastor. I get it: he’s often a pastor as well as a friend to me, even though he didn’t necessarily sign up for the gig. I remember telling him that being a pastor doesn’t have to do with a title.

And then I resigned my role as professional pastor, and felt like my pastoring days were over.

I always felt weird thinking of myself as a pastor. I often feel like people are a huge mystery I’m always studying, only to find myself more and more bewildered by them. I certainly care for people, and have tried hard to maintain that, despite whatever hurts I’ve experienced. But pastor? I’m no meek Mother Teresa. I’ve spent days at hospital bedsides, but I can’t even wager a guess about how much of that time was painfully boring. Do you have any idea how often I (and the rest of the pastoring population) think “oh mercy, will you people stop talking and complaining for five stinking minutes!!!!” — only to immediately feel horrible for having had that moment of humanity? It’s in the billions of times, often before our first cup of coffee is done.

So because I felt so human in my pastoring, I often felt like I was missing something. Surely if I was a better pastor, I would feel less human. Less cranky. Less “strong-willed.” Don’t get me wrong: I spent all those hours in hospitals and listening and serving because it was what I wanted to do. It’s the only way I know to be, despite how human I am.

Officially, I am anything but a pastor now. Given the total crap economy in this former industrial city, the best job I could get with some measure of immediacy was as a manager at a truck stop. In a lot of ways, I hate it.

“I have to eat at work, because we have no food at home, other than what I can afford for my daughter,” explained one employee, as she ate the overcooked hotdog that had been pulled from the grill and had been destined for the garbage. A single mother whose oldest kids are in college, she does what she can to make it while her youngest is still home. Last month’s paychecks fell just so that it looked like she “made too much” for food stamps, so she is cut off until next month, when the state will deem her poor enough again. I hadn’t asked about – or particularly noticed – her eating the hotdog. I hate that we throw food away, so if anyone wants to eat it, fine by me. Yet for some reason, she felt comfortable offering such personal information. Maybe she was afraid I’d be mad at her for eating it, but I doubt that’s the case. It was shortly after she had asked about my tattoo (Deuteronomy 6:4; a giveaway that I’m a person of at least some kind of faith). Later that shift, she told me about her shaken faith, nearly obliterated by the death of her grandmother, who had been the religious glue in the family.

“You know, I – I – *sigh* I’ll be honest. I’ve just gone through a real big transition, and I just – I needed a new start. I got a new career, a new life, and so I painted the house. Then I colored my hair. Then I got my neighbor’s scissors, flipped my head over, and I chopped. Then I flipped my head up and chopped some more. And then I thought, ‘OK, now I’m ready.'” All I had done is compliment the in-store Subway manager about her hair. I didn’t expect for her to share about her tough season, or how she was eager to start over. Those are the kinds of things people tell pastors, not gas managers.

I’ve been trying to think about why my employees/coworkers seem to be so open and candid about their struggles. None of them know I was a minister. None of them necessarily know I go to church. I do listen a lot, though, whether it’s because I don’t know what to say or because I think they just need ears to hear their words. I don’t really offer solutions or answers because I don’t feel it’s my place as their boss to weigh in on how to deal with personal matters, so I say a lot of social worker sort of things like “I can see how that would be really hard to deal with.”

A lot gets said about the “ministry of presence” and “active listening” when in seminary, but I almost think I have more time for it now than I did when I was a professional. Instead of trying to figure out how to get hurting people to come into my church to be ministered to, I’m the one they see for hours every week.

I wish that these two things were taught to the lay people in our congregations. They are the ones who have the most contact with the outside world. How different would the church be if it was made up of people who were present and listening in their own communities? Not beating them down with immediate evangelism or invitations to some overly programmed Women’s Ministries function, but just listening.

I didn’t have a congregation for a few months while I was unemployed. I got to join a new congregation that I absolutely love. While I still kind of hate my job, the last two days have helped me see that while I may not be where I would pick, and while I am still trying to figure out how to not feel so embarrassed about my job, I am still a pastor. It’s a continual lesson in humility, but it’s not like I’m the first person to find themselves in an unorthodox, unofficial ministry position.

Hopefully, I’ll remember this tomorrow, when I am stupidly tired and maybe a little more cranky – and human – than a pastor should be.

Patchwork

Today, I woke at an ungodly hour, loaded a few bags in the car, and headed off to a small town in Michigan to spend the holiday with family I’d never met and to whom I’m not related.

I don’t know how long ago I “met” my friend Ange in a Facebook group. It feels like I’ve always known her. Smart, funny, humble, and more than anything, loving, Ange has become like another sister. It’s no surprise that she invited me to come spend Thanksgiving with her and her family, but it’s quite a privilege.

I was really excited last night when I heard some other friends from our group would be here, too. Kelsie, Phil, Cassie, and Angela were here for Ange’s annual pre-holiday party, too, and though almost all of our communication has been through Facebook, it felt like seeing family.

One of the best parts of being an adult is the ability to pick my own family, to an extent. Somewhere along the way, my path crosses with someone else’s we unconsciously decide to “keep” one another, stitching ourselves together kind of like patchwork. Not the precisely tailored pieces that are so carefully planned out, but irregular bits of material that somehow fit together in ways that are sometimes unexpected.

Coming to Michigan has been good for my soul. It’s a real-time reminder of the support and love I have. It’s a welcome distraction from my daily thoughts about what is going to happen next. It’s fun to watch her 14 month old try to sneak another cookie from the table and it was exciting when the otherwise shy three-year-old decided I was OK to talk to. To get hugs and smiles and feel a little more alive again is well worth the drive.

For as long as I can remember, vacations have usually involved crashing on a couch or spare bed while I visit my patchwork family. Perhaps a huge bed with a zillion pillows would be more comfortable, but how lucky am I that I have people who welcome me into their homes like this? Not everyone gets to bunk with Feenie and fall asleep listening to Crosby giggles from downstairs.

Free Lunch

They only come for the free lunch, I’m told.
Someone said they’re always high.
I’ve seen them come a time or two before,
But they usually don’t settle in.

They wore red when they came in today,
Heads lowered and eyes averted.
They sat in the back pew
As if stillness made them more silent.

I had just started preaching about light.
About hope and kindness.
He started brushing her long hair,
And I thought it must hurt to work out all those knots.

She took over brushing and they stayed.
They seemed to be listening this time.
Who’s to say they didn’t listen before?
By the end, her hair was smooth and tied back.

We sang and I prayed,
Asking for us to be refilled with light, love and grace,
Unable to offer anything in return,
Because when it comes to faith,

We’re all here for the free lunch.

A is for Apple

One of the best things my mother said to me and my siblings over and over again was to not assume that everyone has had the same education we had. She usually said this while we were talking about how someone had done something really stupid and should have known better, or we were bring flippant about someone not knowing something that we thought was basic knowledge. If I were a betting woman, I would pretty safely place my money on the supposition that my mother told us that more often than not while we were in the kitchen, because that’s where she spends an awful lot of time, either cooking, cleaning, or doing dishes. While we managed to weasel our way out of a lot of cleaning and dishes, we usually didn’t fight against cooking too often. Like every kid young enough to know everything, I was gracious enough to whine an “I know, Mom!!” while I thought to myself that while they may not have had the same education, they should know these things.

A few years ago, celebrity cook Jamie Oliver decided to take on some of the school lunches that kids are eating in the United States. In one of his early episodes, he went to a school in California where a notable number of third graders couldn’t identify a whole tomato as a tomato. I remember thinking that it must have been an exaggerated instance, because really, every third grader knows what a tomato looks like.

When I lived in Illinois, I knew a family that struggled with stomach trouble, and to combat it, the mother was convinced that adding table sugar to everything made it better. The sugar cut out the acid in the spaghetti sauce, she said, and no matter how many times I explained that sugar is an acid and that commercial spaghetti sauce is already full of sugar, she was convinced that adding heaping spoonfuls of sugar to her kids’ plates helped them.

While standing in line for coffee about six weeks ago, I was bored and eaves dropping on the conversation between the women in front of me. One of the women had lost about 15 pounds in the previous few months, and she was gushing to the woman with her that she had swapped fat for sugar “because a teaspoon of sugar has fewer calories than olive oil, so it’s really better to have cake than a salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing.”

A couple of weeks ago, I walked past a young mother with her two kids, none of whom knew what it meant on the outside of the package when it said “early potatoes” – the mother, who looked to be in her early 20’s, didn’t know what an early potato is.

Tonight, while I was teaching my young troop of boys, one of the ten year old boys asked me, in all honesty, if crab patties come from cows. He had just been caught off guard by the information that hamburgers come from cows and was wondering if any more of his food came from them. When I’d heard about the tomato ignorance in California, I had thought that just maybe the issue is that they were kids in an urban area and hadn’t had much of an opportunity to do a lot of gardening, but here, in Iowa, 92% of the land is farmland. There is farmland within city limits, and yet, I find myself having to assure a ten year old that crab meat doesn’t come from cows.

I’m not a health food freak. I eat my share of things I shouldn’t, and too much of it, too. When I was talking to a friend in Australia today, she said that she has a secret desire to go to an American supermarket because she has heard about how very processed our food is. I told her that what I have learned is to try to stay away from the aisles because that’s where the worst of it is. If I stick to the perimeter, I’m more likely to go home with produce than products. While I’ve been trying to eat better, I’ve noticed that many of the processed things don’t taste like they used to. I am not as used to them anymore.

I’m not going to jump on some crazy bandwagon and campaign against Kraft. I’m not going to suddenly believe in the magical power of kale.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that maybe this has gotten a bit out of control. People seem to be increasingly food illiterate because so much “food” doesn’t look like food anymore. I know that heavily processed food is cheaper and faster because they’re so heavily subsidized and marketed. I know that it takes longer to cook real food and that’s time that we don’t always have.

Honestly, though, it breaks my heart a little to know that so many people lack even basic knowledge about what their food IS. If you don’t know what it IS, you don’t know how to make better decisions about the options you DO have. I was lucky to have a mom who was able to teach me what she knows – and is still teaching me. When I have a question about how to do something in the kitchen, my impulse is to call her instead of googling it.

Somewhere along the way, between getting rid of home economics and gutting science classes and parading billions of subsidies through Congress and a broken food assistance program, we made it harder and harder for people to know what their food is. So now, in the age of robots on Mars communicating with computers on Earth, I have kids who tell me that they are allergic to tomatoes except when it’s on a sandwich from Subway and that their “Fruit by the Foot” really is fruit, just like a banana.

My Three-Year-Old Minister

As a minister – a single minister at that – in a small town, it can be hard to find your minister. Tasked with the job of ministering to others, I have often missed the experience of having someone minister to me.

My denomination puts forth a good effort to do that through routine regional efforts,  but more often than not, I haven’t come away from those meetings and retreats feeling recharged. Maybe it’s the setting, maybe it’s that I think too fast to focus that long, maybe it’s that the topic of the moment doesn’t seem to line up with what I need at that time (although, the retreat we had on prayer was revolutionary for me). I think that at least part of it is that I am an intellectual and I am recharged by academic discussions – challenge me and make me dive deeper into scripture, and I’m a happy girl. I’m in the minority of that, and a lot of the meetings/messages aren’t like that, and tend to rely on emotional pushes.

At any rate, it had been a while since I walked away from one of those meetings feeling like I had been refreshed.

While those of us who are full-time ministers may be the shepherd of the congregation, it isn’t uncommon to find someone who ministers to the minister. An elder, a deacon, someone who seems to have the right heart, attitude, words, and actions to breathe life into the shepherd. I didn’t have that in my congregation until about eight weeks ago, when I met my minister as she climbed into the carseat in my van when I was picking her family up for church for the first time.

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Keith and Aaliyah, Easter morning 2014

Aaliyah is the daughter of a Christmas employee. Her father, Keith, is one of the most positive, thankful, and hard-working people I have met, despite having faced some really big challenges. He lives to do right by his family, which includes a wife and three daughters. Aaliyah is the youngest. She is polite, quiet, and doesn’t go anywhere without a backpack full of small toys.

This past Sunday, we sang a song we have been learning, and to hear her sing “Just Give Me Jesus” almost made me cry. She didn’t know every line of the song, since it’s rather long, but she knew the chorus: “Just give me Jesus and I’ll be alright. I know I can make it walking beside. I know tomorrow is safe in His hands. Just give me give Jesus; I know I can stand.” A tiny voice, from a little girl who has no idea how big and bad this world can be, but growing faith.

When it was time to pray, I asked for prayer requests and praises, and when none were mentioned, I started to pray. After a few words, I heard her voice again. By the second sentence, I remembered: her father is teaching her to pray at night by repeating after him. She didn’t know that she “wasn’t supposed to” repeat my words in church, so she did like she is being taught. I slowed down and made my words simpler, and together, Aaliyah and I prayed for everyone’s health, safety, and joy.

It’s hard to pinpoint why her singing and praying overwhelms me in such a powerful way. I think it might be because in her, I see light. When she gets in my van and says “good morning,” she just cannot help but radiate goodness. She has no idea that she is doing it, but she’s ministering to me. I am beyond sad that she won’t remember me in the coming years, given the fact that I’m moving ro Minnesota in a month. For now, though, I will enjoy what time I have with my little minister and hope that she grows up with a faith that’s strong and a joy that she can’t hold down.

Powerful Medicine

This week, I ended up having two consultations with doctors in two different settings, with HUGELY different reactions. One was exactly what we want from a doctor’s visit, the other was why people suffer at home instead of seeking treatment; both were lessons in power.

Good Medicine:
The first was a regularly scheduled appointment with my general physician (GP) to make sure that things are going well, that my medications don’t need to be adjusted, etc. I love my GP, Dr. M., who is 80 minutes away and who is also my sisters’ doctor. I started to see her after she took such good care of my sister, and in short order, she had sorted out problems that other doctors had told me were “nothing to worry about.” I gladly travel so far to see her because she takes time to listen and explain, and doesn’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.

This particular visit was initially just a routine check-up, but last week I got an injury that wasn’t healing like I thought it should. When I told her that I was worried, she didn’t cut me off or make light of my anxiety. When she examined it and explained that it is superficial thrombophlebitis (a blood clot near the surface), she didn’t add to my anxiety. She told me how to treat it and I could be on my merry way. She also noticed my weight loss, was really encouraging about it, and was just all around awesome.

When I left her office, I didn’t feel like I was just a file in her office. She is genuinely concerned for my well-being, like a doctor should be, and I consider her a kind of partner in the taking-care-of-myself mission. Even though I rarely see her, having a doctor who cares (and communicates that) is worth the drive. She is the doctor and I’m the patient, but there isn’t a huge power imbalance, and that works for me.

Bad Medicine:
Today… today was something entirely different. Last night, when I left the gym, I noticed a few red bumps around my right eye. I figured I was breaking out a little – except that there were a few on my hands, too. Then there were a few on my arm. By mid-afternoon today, my face, arms, and torso were covered in red bumps that looked like chicken pox or measles or a million other things (WebMD.com offered anthrax as a possible diagnosis). Since I work with at-risk populations and this rash was setting in so fast, I opted to go to the ER (urgent care was closed and I couldn’t wait until Monday to find out if I am safe to work tomorrow).

I got to the ER and was seen in record time. I tried to explain what was happening, what my concerns were, and why I would go to the ER for something so potentially non-life-threatening. This time, though, the doctor was awful. He practically snarled at me. I tried to give him information that I thought would be helpful, like the fact that I’ve already had chicken pox and am not allergic to anything that causes this kind of reaction, but he cut me off, asking over and over and over if I’d had a sore throat. When he did the examination, he never explained what he was doing and was pretty gruff as he yanked down the waist band of my jeans and poked at my stomach. I’m hardly a prude, but a little respect goes a long way. He suggested it was bug bites, and I said it had been a week since I was around any bugs, and he rolled his eyes and said that it could be a delayed reaction. Well, OK, but I’ve never had a bug bite take a week to show up, and the eye roll wasn’t necessary.

After a few minutes, he said that he thinks it’s bug bites, but he’s going to prescribe treatment for scabies just in case. Despite the fact that it doesn’t look at all like scabies. Despite the fact that the bites are in all the wrong places for it to be scabies. Despite the fact that he didn’t test for scabies. Despite the fact that they don’t itch like scabies. *sigh*

Even WebMD.com didn’t think it was scabies (anthrax, maybe, scabies, no).

I was hurried out of the ER so that I could get to the pharmacy before they close – my whole ER visit lasting 20 minutes from start to finish. He hardly stood in the doorway of the room long enough to ask me who my GP is, gave me grief about seeing a doctor so far away, rolled his eyes when I asked if scabies was contagious enough to keep me from working, if in fact that’s what it is. He was rude. He was disrespectful, and he gave me the impression that I was inconveniencing him by needing to see a doctor.

In left this encounter feeling like my health wasn’t important to him, that my concerns were petty, and that he’d given me a scrip and sent me on my way just to get me out of his way. I know that ER docs serve a different role than GPs, but I’ve never had an ER doc who was that bad at bedside manner. It seemed pretty clear that he was the dominating person in the exchange, and I wasn’t going to get very far, no matter how hard I tried.

Being a pastor isn’t so terribly different. People generally come to me when something is wrong, hurting, or causing them pain. Sometimes it’s something that I think is less important, a problem that shouldn’t be such a big deal, or something that will heal itself in time, and often it’s something I can’t fix. Whether or not I have the answers that they are looking for, I can choose to have the attitude they are looking for. I want to be like Dr. M., ready to listen, to take them seriously, to help when I can. Even on days when people are interruptions, when their problems are mundane and I think I know better, I don’t want to be like the ER doc. I don’t get to choose my patients or their ailments, but I can choose how I treat them.

My Little Microchurch

Three years ago, if you had asked me what my weakest asset was as I was preparing for ordination, I would have said church growth/planting.

If you were to ask me that at breakfast today, I would tell you the same thing.

I hate when people say “that’s not my gift” to excuse for not doing something in ministry. So what; do it anyways. I wholeheartedly accept it as an explanation for why someone finds something a particular challenge, as long as they are still trying. That’s where I find myself now, having watched a dysfunctional congregation go down in flames, swept out the ashes, and started over from almost nothing.

It’s harder than I ever could have imagined. I’ve felt totally alone and often unsupported while I tried to figure out what to do, until one day, when a seminary cohort suggested a mommy-and-me group. I took the idea, combined it with the idea of “messy church” (which is intergenerational and super interactive), and now we have a revamped Sunday morning. Since the start of the month, I’ve picked up one family for church and, along with the other two families that come, we have breakfast, worship, a devotional, and an activity that goes with it. It’s gone pretty well, but I was still frustrated.

Why can’t I be more like Andy and Cheryl, the pastors I had when I was a teen, who started that congregation with great success (knowing they worked hard and had help)?
Why can’t I be like Rich and Linnea, seminary cohorts who seem to breathe creativity and youth ministry?
Why can’t I be like Val, who seems to have a powerful vision that is beyond what I can see?

My little group of 8 people on Sunday morning isn’t even up to “small church” status – it’s a microchurch. I love them. They come because they want to. I know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but why couldn’t I at least have double-digit attendance?

Today, I filled in in the social services office where I met a woman I’ll call A. She was in her fifties but looks like life hasn’t been kind. Her hair was about 8 different colors, leftover from at-home dye jobs. It started like any interaction, until she asked about who she could talk to about a bad experience at another pantry. I told her to talk to the pastor, and she said she would. She said that she has wanted to go back to church, but after how she was treated at the other pantry, she won’t go to church again. Not when people act that way.

Invite her, came the impulse. So I did. I explained that we have services, and that they are very relaxed.

Are there a lot of people? She asked. I froze. What if I told her that we’ve only got 8 people? She might think we’re weird and it might drive her away.

No, there is just a very small group of us. Maybe 8 or so. We have breakfast, sing, have a devotional, and then an activity. It’s very laid-back. We don’t even meet in the chapel; we sit around tables with coffee and cereal. I explained, fearfully.

Oh. Well, I just can’t be around a lot of people. She seemed relieved. Is it, like, jumpy? Like, the music, is everyone moving all around?

Are we going to be lame-os if I tell her we just sit there and sing, partly because almost half the people there are recently injured or disabled? No, we just sing. We enjoy it, and if you want to, no one would mind, but it’s pretty mellow.

She exhaled. Good. I went to a church that I liked, but they scared me with too much jumping around. It was too much for me.

She took the flier I handed her and put it in her wallet.

Well, I hope you’ll come and see us on Sunday. It’s not what most churches look like, but we’d be happy to see you. And I’m the pastor here, so you’ve already got that over with! I smiled and hoped that that was a good thing.

We went about the rest of the social services transaction, and my heart was heavy as she walked away. She was hurting, and I wanted to help. She seemed to have a good amount of social anxiety (which, as someone who struggles with anxiety, too, I get), so I didn’t want to push too much. I don’t know if she’ll come on Sunday. I hope so.

As I was getting ready for the gym tonight, I realized that my little microchurch might look like small potatoes compared to the much bigger churches my friends lead, but it might be what is missing in my community right now. There are plenty of trendy churches with big VBS productions and well-established chapels with 200 gray-haired people in the pews in my town. But maybe, just maybe, my little microchurch has a purpose, too.

My little microchurch is where an unemployed recovering addict brings his preschooler and finds open fellowship. My little microchurch is where a family with children with special needs comes and is excited to learn new worship songs. My little microchurch is where a widow remembers that the kids like cinnamon rolls and bakes them especially for them for Easter, a small gesture that is big ministry. Maybe, my little microchurch can be a place for A, a hurting woman who is seeking worship and fellowship that doesn’t overwhelm her.

It might not be a whole lot to look at from the outside, but from the inside, I can now see that my little microchurch is doing something big.

Fallen Rocket

My feet are freezing as I sit in the coffee shop with my coat over my lap, wearing a black t-shirt and green hoodie, wishing I had chosen the black CuddlDuds to wear under the hoodie instead of the t-shirt. Normally, what I wear isn’t all that important, but today, it is. Today is the day when the residents of my small Midwestern town are wearing the local high school’s colors in memory of a kid named Matt.

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Matt turned 15 years old less than two weeks ago. Skinny and blond in pictures of him with his teammates, he would have fit right in on my nephew’s baseball team. On Saturday, Matt was at a friend’s house. The details of what happened aren’t public, but somewhere, things went horribly wrong and Matt was fatally, accidentally shot.

Matt is the sixth teenager who has died since I moved to this tiny town less than three years ago. The first were two young girls who were electrocuted while detasseling corn. The third, another young boy who was killed in an accident involving farm equipment at his family’s place. The fourth was a girl in my congregation, followed just a few weeks later by her friend, who committed suicide. Now Matt. I only knew one of the kids, but my heart is still heavy.

I struggle to know what to do with this. I don’t have answers, and that is a hard place to be.

I am heartbroken for the kids who have lost their friend. I am sorrowful for the families who are never going to be the same.

Being the practical, Midwestern, Peter-like minister, my inclination is to DO SOMETHING about it. For all his mistakes, Peter, the disciple known best for denying Jesus right before his death, was someone who didn’t like to just sit and wait. He was a fixer. He asked a lot of questions that would have bugged most teachers. He stuck his foot in his mouth more often than he would have liked.  He was a lot like me. He would have been right at home amongst my maternal side of the family.

In this case, though, there is not much I can do, few (if any) answers to find. I don’t know the family, and it would be presumptuous of me to step into their lives without invitation. Though I would be happy to do whatever was asked, I am out of my element on this one. The only scripture that seems to be at all helpful is scattered in the Psalms, bits of lamentation and anguish thrown out into the ether by the authors, often left unanswered, except for the acknowledgment that despite the sorrow, God is still God, and will be praised.

It is hard to praise in times like this. Truthfully, my heart doesn’t feel inclined to praise.

However, I’m choosing to think of praise as one of the things I can do. Wearing green and black while I am drinking my coffee is a way to take my stand with my community. It was an unspoken act of solidarity with the six other people at the gym today who were wearing it as well. In this time of grief for others, I can choose to be a voice of praise. However small, however seemingly insignificant, it is my act of defiance. The action that stands in the face of sorrow and hurt and says “you don’t get the last word here.”