Category Archives: Family

Are you writing these down?

Elijah, from the couch yesterday afternoon:

“Hey! Did you know the alphabet has a space for ALL the letters?”

Elijah, while eating his dinner and discussing the baby’s upcoming first birthday celebration:

“Mommy, why does everyone have to have a birthday on the day that you lay a baby?”

Vacation to LA

I was preparing for an announcement I hoped to give during our worship service last week and found the following reflection written close to six years ago. I am now on the other end of this, planning and recruiting Seattle folks to join in a week of service and kinship with Church of the Redeemer. This was a good reminder for me of the many ways God uses outside groups to come alongside and bless an existing community.

On April 14, 2005 I wrote the following post, titled “My Burden Is Light”:

I love my baby. I love holding her, playing with her, talking to her, bathing her. I am one of those moms who simply cannot get enough of her little one.

With that said, when someone asks to hold her and I pass her into the arms of another, there is that moment where I straighten my back and shoulders and stretch my torso a bit. There is that feeling of release, relief, and the easing of a weight or burden, even if for only a few minutes. There is that sudden freedom to go to the bathroom by myself, or sit down and eat a plate of food unencumbered, or sit at the computer and read an email without her little hands grabbing at the mouse and shoving bills and papers onto the floor.

This week our church is hosting a group of kids and adults from my home church in Seattle, Washington. They are here this week to serve our church and our community through morning service projects at our tutoring center and at homes of church members, and through afternoon sports and dance camps for neighborhood children. It is an amazing group of people who chose to spend their spring break, many of them as families, not in Cancun or at Disneyland, but in the gritty streets of South Central.

I have been close to tears many times this week:

-leaving the home of one of our church members who is widowed, wheelchair bound, and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease where four members of the mission team were scrubbing walls, priming rooms for painting, scouring behind toilets, picking dropped pills up off the floor, and helping to organize the contents of a kitchen so that things could be accessed from a wheelchair;

-standing in the middle of the street talking to a neighborhood woman and her son who had nothing to do with any of our camps or events but who had driven by our gathering time of singing with the kids in the park and had stopped their minivan to find out who we were and why we were doing what we were doing;

-sitting in the auditorium of our local grade school watching a beautiful high school senior who is an accomplished dancer in Seattle teach dance to more than forty little girls—and remembering holding that young woman when she was the same age that my own little girl is now;

-walking into the back classroom of the tutoring center I have directed for the past three years and having someone flip the light switch to reveal a brand new ceiling filled with new recessed light fixtures that fill the room with bright, warm light–no longer will young children and their tutors squint to learn new words on book pages that are barely illumined by a lone fluorescent light.

I love my life here in South Central. I love my church and the people I call neighbor and friend. I love the opportunities I have daily to wrestle with Jesus’ call to love mercy and to walk justly. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing.

But it is not always easy. And it can sometimes feel lonely. And so this week I am feeling that deep sense of a weight lifted, of responsibility shared; of partnership, companionship, and relief. I have stood on the sidelines of camp programs, free to chat with the watching moms. I have stood in the back of the group of kids singing, free to engage stopped minivans and curious neighbors in conversation. I have stood in the middle of a newly painted tutoring center, and watched others bend and sweat and cover themselves with paint so that children I love can be welcomed by cleanliness and beauty.

This week, twenty-nine people have come into our life here and humbly asked: “Can we hold your baby?”

October 22nd

Ten years ago they took you
Past the place where any of us could reach you,
We could not pull you back to where you belonged
With us

I never saw the blood-covered seats
Or met the girl they murdered beside you
But I saw your shoes
And paid for the flowers
And sat for hours in that funeral hall

I kissed your tight cheek
As cold as your smile was warm
before they took it
Thieves and killers wearing courage
like a bad Halloween costume

My kids know your name
They know stories about you
You smile down on them from our refrigerator
My Elijah William, he’s three
His smile and charm remind me of yours

Ten years later
My heart’s hands still hold you
Tightly, fiercely like a mother
Grieving, like a mother
Who should never have to bury her child

Jamar, you knew the Jesus I preached about
And I know that same Jesus loved you
My son, Aaron, caught me crying today
And said with confidence:
“But Mommy, he will be alive again on the New Earth”

May it be so.

A little afternoon eschatology from the four-year-old

“Mommy, do you know Molly has a new, big, three-hole puncher?”

“Yes, Aaron, I saw that.”

“Mommy, when I become a baby again and get bigger and have to learn how to poop in the potty again, will you buy me a three-hole punch like Molly’s as a prize?”

“Sure, Aaron, I’ll do that. But I don’t think you can become a baby again!”

“Mommy, of course I can. When the new earth comes and I am born again.”

My time is more valuable than this…

“Life’s too short to clean your own home.”

The words on the brochure accompanied a sweet, domestic shot of a mother and daughter cuddled on the couch in front of a laptop and a father and son playing together. Inside the shiny brochure were package and pricing options for hiring a national company to come and do your dirty work.

It was ironic that I found this while doing a major sort/clean of stacks of papers that had accumulated in and around our kitchen and eating area. We spent our holiday weekend in deep cleaning mode: we are preparing to welcome a new addition to our family and needed to reconfigure our downstairs rooms. If anyone could read this brochure as gospel, good news, it would be us.

Life is too short…that declaration screams a set of assumptions about what is “worth” our time, nowadays.

I was reminded of two things I read recently that I think address some of these assumptions about our time. The first was from a minister discussing how well members of the clergy take care of themselves, and she wrote quite pointedly about how the basic acts of preparing and eating food have become expendable in our daily schedule: “And you know what you’re supposed to do for self-care, but you just don’t have time to do it because your schedule is so stupid that it’s a big special deal to do something like cook a meal…”

The second was from a college professor who has small children who wrote a great reflection on how what is right before us, our real life, can be the last thing we want to embrace, choosing instead whatever set of ideals and distractions seem so much more appealing:

The breakfast dishes (the ones that have to be done by hand) gave me opportunity to practice awareness – when you’re doing the dishes, just do the dishes. But, many of us say, it’s impossible with young children (“it” being growth, progress, enlightenment, meditation, awareness, focus, and so on)! I spent nine minutes washing the dishes and was interrupted at least six times to settle a conflict, wipe a bum, admire what someone did in the potty, find a battery, comfort an owie, and help get a shirt on. I saw anger arise – “Hey kids – get the hell out of my way so I can practice serenity!!”

But it wasn’t the kids that were interrupting – it was my mental formations. On top of all I already have to do, how do I manage to add worries (I’m mismanaging my career), ruminations (I should have picked a different major years ago), plans (need to buy steel cut oats and milk), regrets (I’ve doomed the children by not signing them up for swimming lessons this summer), and judgments (what kind of human being wants applause for going in the potty?).

I was trying to do the ideal dishes – the ones that need to be done in a sunny kitchen in a quiet house.  It’s true, I can’t do those dishes, but I can do the dishes I have – the ones in this messy, loud house where there’s always a child’s needs squeezed between the bowl I’m washing now and the knife I reach for next.

Both of these women speak of a gospel that differs from the good news announced by the national housecleaning company. As I gently unpacked the remaining pieces of my Grandma’s everyday dishes this past weekend and set them out on the dining room table, I thought: is life not sometimes found exactly in the act of sifting flour, spooning ingredients together, setting a pretty table, and scrubbing the dishes after it’s all over? What does it say about us when those acts become obsolete or a luxury or something to be “free of” in our daily lives?

Last night I clicked on a friend’s blog and read a gripping entry where she described how a beautiful, laid-back day with friends turned into her worst-case scenario with her special-needs son involving extensive poop clean-up and later a bed full of vomit. I was struck by a realization: when we believe that life is too short for time-consuming tasks, mundane chores, and messes, this has consequences that reach for beyond our housekeeping. The “life is too short for this task” list can become a “life is too short for this person and the work it requires to love and welcome and care for them” list, and woe to us when that becomes our ideal. Because there will always be someone to hire to spare us from doing it ourselves.

Life at the lake

We just returned from ten days at our family’s lake cabin near Spokane, Washington. We lived in our swimsuits while we were there, and as always when I am in the sun a number of freckles made their jolly appearance all over me. One night as I changed Elijah out of his swimsuit and into clothes before dinner, he pressed one of my freckles and told me: “Mommy, I take my freckles off.”

“Really?” I asked. “When do you take them off, Elijah?”

“At night.”

“Where do you put them?”

“On the floor.”

Seems as good a place to keep them as any!

Seafair theology

I was tucking Elijah in last night and this happens to be the time of day when we have some of our sweetest moments of conversation. Perhaps it is the simple absence of larger, louder siblings or it is an effective sleep-avoidance ploy: I don’t really care. It is precious and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Last night during our cuddle, Elijah asked me some ridiculous question that I barely understood and I gave that age-old cop-out: “You’ll have ask God when you get to heaven.”

“Mommy, can I ask Jesus?”

“Yes, of course, Elijah. You can ask Jesus.”

“And who is the other one?”

“The Holy Spirit, Elijah.”

After a pause, Elijah continued: “Could Jesus be the mommy?”

“Sure, Elijah,” I said.

“And who would be the friends?”

“Maybe the angels could be the friends, Elijah.”

“Yeah, the blue ones.”

Camp Casey

campsite1

We just got back from a three-day camping trip with a number of families from our church. This is an annual event for our congregation, and while my family did not attend when I was growing up here, I completely understand why this event is such a hit! Most people spent the better part of last week up at the campground at Camp Casey together; we opted for the three-day version. In Doug’s words: “Let’s want to go back next year.”

A number of people hooked us up with all of the gear we needed, and we enjoyed three days of dirt-covered, s’more-slimed bliss together. Favorite memories from the trip include:

Elijah’s fearless swimming, and his mastering how to swim the entire width of the pool unassisted.

Elijah closing the shallow pool due to swallowing too much water during said fearless swimming and throwing up a bunch of watermelon.

Triple-decker s’mores, roasted Twinkies, and Elijah’s indignant response: “It’s not a SNACK, mommy, it’s a S’MORE!”

Mercy and Aaron’s first night sleeping in a tent. “It’s not even as dark as our bedroom!”

Mercy washing my grandparent’s old orange patio dishes in green basins just like I remembered doing as a little girl.

Elijah and I doing a three-legged gunny-sack race.

Mercy running wild with her “pack” of other kids, making forts, going on hikes, and building streams.

Elijah sneaking candy bars and eating them under the picnic table.

Daddy’s “Plercy” story in the tent (there are Plaaron, Pelijah, Plommy and Pladdy and Plingrid stories as well).

Elijah’s speculations about what wildlife we might encounter.

Aero Press coffee every morning!

The Kyllos’s sharing their crepe breakfast with us our first morning there.

Fog, sun, dew, and rain!

Afternoon swimming with fighter-jets overhead, much to Aaron’s (and Daddy’s) delight!

The mama and baby deer that visited often.

Singing by the campfire with people I love, and watching my kids learn the words to songs from my childhood.

Watching older kids take care of younger kids.

Hearing, “It gets better every year,” from knowing moms after Elijah threw a giant temper tantrum during Sunday morning worship.

Doug’s pancakes.

Already looking forward to going back!

Giving thanks

My church had planned to celebrate my recent ordination this past Sunday, however a trip to the ER Saturday evening with a sudden illness meant that I had to spend the day at home in bed. I wrote this letter to be read in my absence.

Dear SCC Family,

Well, this is not at all how I had imagined this day would go. As I sat in the ER last night, and as it became more and more clear that I would not only not be preaching today but I would not even be there with all of you, I was overcome with sadness and had to fight back tears a number of times. It meant a lot to me that I would have a chance to celebrate my ordination with all of you, and I am so sad to miss the festivities planned for today. I want to thank Pastor Dennis and my mom, Vicki, especially for all of their hard work and planning in preparation for today. It means a great deal to me that you went to all the trouble you did to make this a special day for my family and me.

I asked Doug to read this letter on my behalf so that you might at least have this opportunity to receive my personal thank you for all of the ways you have, as individuals and as a body, supported me and my family through this long and involved process of becoming an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant denomination.

So, thank you.

Thank you for being my Sunday School teachers.

Thank you for helping to send me to camp to learn how to ride horses and become a disciple of Jesus.

Thank you for teaching me to share my faith through music and drama.

Thank you for teaching me to study the Bible.

Thank you for Confirmation, CHIC, mission trips, and service projects.

Thank you for being my mentors, teachers, and friends.

Thank you for loving my family: the one I was born with and the one I have now been given.

Thank you for inviting me to preach when I was young and didn’t know what I was doing.

Thank you for supporting my mission work in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Thank you for publishing things I had written, in the Pacesettter, and inviting me to come and teach at adult Sunday School and retreats.

Thank you for calling Doug and I to serve as pastors here, and allowing us to lead you.

As we moved through the ordination process, the one thing that we were always reminded of was that taking the vows of Ordination is a recognition of God’s call in our lives as seen and affirmed by a multiplicity of voices in our life and our ministry. We cannot alone decide to “become” ordained. A Seminary education does not entitle us to ordination. Our local church cannot ordain us apart from the broader consensus of the conference and the entire denomination.

That moment in St. Paul where I took my vows and received the laying on of hands from those who have gone before me, represented the agreement of a great many people that God has indeed been at work to call and gift me for this ministry. It was very much a “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” kind of moment and I felt your presence there with me in a profound way.

That is what I want to bear witness to today through this letter: that you, as a community, were faithful partners in my call to ministry. And also, to encourage us all to continue to pay attention to the Holy Spirit at work in our midst as we affirm what we see God doing in people’s lives here at SCC. Let us not tire of teaching Sunday school and sending kids to camp and leading mission trips and mentoring our young people. Let us not grow weary of helping people go to seminary. Let us not stop taking risks by inviting people to preach and teach and lead even when they don’t totally know what they are doing. I am sure we have future ministers in our midst. We just don’t know yet who they are. Let’s make sure we pay attention, together.

With my gratitude and love, and for God’s glory.

Pastor Erika