Category Archives: Friends

Happy Day

Let’s just say that my husband and four very dear friends pulled the most amazing surprise celebration for me for my birthday this weekend. Highlights included:

• A song written by my husband with the repeated line: “Happy no-bun-in-the-oven-for-the second-time-since-the-weddin’ birthday”

• Walking around downtown wearing a dinner roll with a big X drawn through it around my neck courtesy of my friend Jennifer

• An amazing dinner at Ciudad with two of our favorite people in the world

• Standing in the middle of the Water Court downtown talking to my husband on Steven’s cell phone and not knowing where he was–only to look up and see him standing above me in a lit corner room at the Omni Hotel

• Realizing that our sitter for the evening was actually our sitter for the whole night

• A beautifully large bottle of Bombay Sapphire and four martini glasses

• A card filled with names of people from church, Doug’s office, family and friends who had all chipped in to buy us a new stove for our apartment (our current one is a gas stove that chooses to light one in ten times if we are lucky)

• Leaving the Omni in our fully functional car that had NOT experienced mechanical difficulties after-all but rather was a pawn in my husband’s grand scheme

• Turning thirty-three surrounded by people who love me

An email I just received from one of my favorite people in the world who just discovered my blog:

I have spent the past 30 min reading your thoughts.  In order to do so, I
have had to do a substantial amount of yelling at my children.

“Wipe your own bottom.  I’m reading about spirituality.”

“I can’t read about Christ’s call for love when you are jumping on the bed
and singing.”

Then it occurred to me that is probably not your aim.  So I hugged some
kids, pulled up some pants and complimented them on sharing the candy
necklaces.

Help?

My friend, Michelle, in Portland writes:

I just got off of the phone with the shelter, it’s packed. The rain has brought a ton more kids in off of the streets and they’ll likely wait out the storm before they head back out onto the streets again. Harry’s Mother is a voluntary program for kids in domestic crisis, runaways, and street kids. As it stands right now, when some of them choose to go back onto the streets or for the kids that we have to turn away since we’re full, they will have to go out without much warm clothing…

The problem-solver in me can’t really be convinced that this is okay in a world where people are tearing up t-shirts for rags and making mittens out of old wool sweaters. So… here’s a blatant blog-o-mmercial. If you or your group of friends or your youth group have got warm clothing that you don’t want any more and would like to get it into the hands of youth in crisis/street kids in Portland, send them to:

Harry’s Mother
c/o Michelle Sanders – Relief Coordinator
121 NE 8th Street
Portland, OR 97232

If you’re in town, just get them to me and I’ll save you the postage.

To note: The last four nights we have gotten some pretty big girls into the shelter. I’m not a tiny hiney and these girls were bigger than me. We have NOTHING for them… no pajamas, no shirts, nothing. If you wanna stick something in there for them, that would be incredible.

Because we live in L.A.

Last night we sat outside enjoying the finally cool evening with our Friday night friends. We had spread a blanket in the grass at the park by their house that runs along the bluff overlooking the ocean. Doug brought his guitar and was playing and singing, and suddenly there was this Russian man with a dog who was going crazy over the guitar and who would not stop baring his teeth and barking at it. The two ended up making themselves at home with us on our blanket (Doug finally put the guitar away) and we played with the dog and talked with the man. Turns out the dog had just had his first audition (he is four months old). It’s so funny here–the significance attached to landing that next commercial or movie part is truly indescribable.

Blessed

Scot McKnight had quite the discussion going today about women pastors, and some of the obstacles they face within denominations that support the ordination of women. As I read some of the comments, I was struck by God’s grace to me in my own process of being called, as a woman, to pastoral ministry. It is good for me to remember the different people who, both directly and indirectly, were used by God in the formation of my own sense of calling as fully gifted to preach and lead.

There were Priscilla Pope-Levison and Jodi Mullen Fondell who served as chaplains at North Park during my years as a student there and who gave me some of my first speaking opportunities.

There was Brenda Salter McNeil who came and spoke in chapel when I was a freshman and gave me my first preaching role model.

There was David Nystrom, an extraordinarily gifted minister and leader who was my most significant mentor during my years in Chicago.

There were Mary Miller and Jay Phelan who took my writing seriously and gave me platforms to share it.

There were David Horner and Carl Balsam who, though we did not always see eye to eye, treated me with respect and gave me a place at the table.

There was Glenn Palmberg who made sure that I knew how valuable I was to my denomination.

There was Henry Greenidge, the kind of pastor I dream of being, who invited me onto his staff and into his pulpit.

There was Pastor Mike who gave me opportunities to teach and lead in the church that raised me.

And there were my parents who “opened all the windows” and believed that I could do anything.

May it be that I too would have eyes to see how I might be used to shape the hearts and dreams of those coming after me.

A gift

This past week, Doug and I were humbled by a gift from someone we have never met. An individual on the other side of the country was moved to send us a gift card to help us out with groceries this month. In a letter they sent with the gift, this person shared about how after they decided to do this, they were met with opposition every step of the way. I was deeply moved by not only this person’s generosity of spirit, but by her perseverance in following the spirit’s movement in spite of varied, and obviously frustrating, obstacles.

I am struck by how this is such an accurate picture of what it means to live as people who lay our lives down for others. So often we are nudged, or sometimes slapped in the face, to move toward another in compassion and generosity. And we can feel total certainty that yes, this is God prompting us to see and respond. But so often the obstacles do come, be they our own lives and schedules or other outside forces, and like the thorns that squeeze the life out of a vulnerable plant, they choke us. What was an opportunity to participate in a work of God, large or small, near or far, passes.

My husband is a brilliant musician who has recorded on numerous albums, who has led worship all over the globe, and who writes songs that bring people to their knees. Yet he does not fit the musician mold in one remarkable way: he has only owned one guitar his entire life (it was given to him when he was sixteen), it is a no-name guitar that has no reputation or prestige, and he has never wanted to replace it with anything else. “I was given this guitar at the time I needed it, and it has done everything I have ever needed it to do.” Now, I know a fair number of musicians, and dare I say enough guys in general, to know how strange my husband is in this situation: totally uninterested in the bigger, the brighter, the flashier toy.

After beginning to break multiple strings every week in our worship services, Doug took his beloved guitar in to a guitar tech. They were able to do a temporary fix for part of the problem but, “you have a year max on this thing” was the guy’s diagnosis: it was terminal.

When we got the news from the tech, I told Doug that we needed to pray for God to give him a new guitar. It was not soon after that I received news that our sister church in Pasadena wished to designate a financial gift toward the purchase of a new instrument for Doug (many of them had sat through our worship services and seen the strings fly!). The amount they set aside was exactly half of what it would cost to purchase the one guitar Doug had said he would love to own above all others. I began to pray and scheme and think about how I could raise/find/earn the other half.

Less than twenty-four hours later, an envelope arrived in our mailbox. Inside was a letter with only two sentences written in it: “Please find enclosed a check in the amount of… This gift is to be used toward the purchase of a new guitar.” Inside was the other half of the full amount needed to purchase Doug’s guitar, sent anonymously from someone at my home church in Seattle. I remember driving to Pasadena that day (I think Mercy had a doctor’s appointment) and having to fight repeatedly to see the road through my tears.

It was a year and a half ago that the tech gave us the bad news, and he was right! At about the twelve-month mark, Doug’s guitar broke to the point of requiring some clever use of twine to hold it together (thanks, Rabbi Dauermann!). He played it like this for months until it literally could not be played anymore. It was only then that he used the money given to him and placed the order for his new guitar.

This past Sunday, Doug stood in front of our congregation and led our worship in song with a new guitar in his hands. There just happened to be a family from my home church in Seattle that was visiting that day, as well as a family from Pasadena Covenant, our sister church. For me, these two visiting families who had never met unofficially represented the two church “families” that made Doug’s need, and our congregation’s need, their own. Two families that knew nothing of the other’s intent to give; two families who were somehow nudged or slapped; two families who were paying attention to God and who persevered in making a gift.

And like my long-distance friend, the opportunity to participate in something God was doing did not pass them by. And I am grateful.

Jessica

Today marks a monumental day for someone I hold very dear. A young woman I have known and loved since she was the age of my sweet Mercy leaves the comfort of friends, family and home to move into a tough New York City community where she will, for two years, serve as a teacher through Teach For America. I am blown away by her courage, her steadfast commitment to what she values, and the way her belief in God compels her to go and dwell among the least.

Jessica has been an intimate witness to my own life and struggles in pursuing God in difficult places. Her home in Naperville was one of my places of rest and recovery during tough years of ministry in Chicago. She has had her own share of challenges and heartache in her years, and I know that she enters the inner city as one who knows the language of suffering; she thus enters as one capable of deep compassion which will be her greatest weapon against the injutice and oppression she will most certainly encounter.

We often laugh about the uncanny similiarites between Jess and me, and I know I get blamed (and probably rightly so) for many of them! I can only hope that Mercy will have many Jessicas as role models for how a young woman can boldly walk in God’s calling.

We love you, Jess. May the Lord bless you and keep you, on this journey and always.

Clutter

This past year I have been on a mission. I am determined to eliminate a bulk of the clutter that Doug and I each brought into our marriage as well as the unnecessary things we have collected here in L.A. My husband and I can both be sentimental creatures so this has not been an easy task. So much so that I have turned to an outside source for help in how to think about my attitude toward “stuff”.

This past week I read one of her essays that described how things are not necessary to represent relationships: in other words, that statue or vase or sweater from your great-aunt whoever doesn’t really need to sit in a corner of your house for you to honor your relationship with her. This is where my sentimental butt gets a good little kick!

I am reminded, though, of a promise I made ten years ago to a fourteen-year-old boy.

Ivan was a kid in my neighborhood in Chicago, one of the original “crew” who won my heart and led me into God’s calling for my life. One night I took him out to dinner. Now kids in my neighborhood didn’t “go out for dinner” anywhere. McDonalds was a treat, as was the walk-up Chinese restaurant. But I had told Ivan that I would take him out for dinner as a treat–I don’t even remember now for what. So we went to this little Italian restaurant next-door to the Cubby Bear where I used to work in Wrigleyville.

I remember that the tables had white paper coverings, and each table had little packages of four crayons along with the centerpiece. I remember us coloring on our “tablecloth” and laughing a lot that day. I remember the look on Ivan’s face as he sat in this “fancy” restaurant, ordered a nice meal, and told me that he would never forget this day for the rest of his life. I remember getting ready to leave and having Ivan look me soberly in the face as he held one of the boxes of crayons: “I am going to take these home and I will never throw them away and I will always remember this day.” I looked at him, picked up the other box of crayons and promised him I would do the same.

Six years ago, Ivan’s best friend, another young man I deeply loved, was murdered. I will never forget knocking on Ivan’s door, his grief-stricken face, the way he collapsed in my arms. I will never forget his anger, his despair. And I will never forget walking into his room where he had dumped out a box that held all of his “treasures”. Photos of him and Jamar, most of which I had taken over the years, covered the bed. As I picked up a photo and strained to look through my tears, Ivan reached down and picked up a little white box and held it out to me: it was the box of crayons from the restaurant. “I told you I would always keep these, Erika. I will never, ever throw them away.”

I still have mine too: they have moved with me from Chicago to Spokane to Portland and Los Angeles. I don’t care if that box of crayons is just “stuff” and isn’t necessary to honor my relationship with Ivan. I will never, ever throw them away.

What’s in a name?

I just stumbled across a collection of blogs from folks in my denomination. As I scrolled through the list looking for any familiar faces/voices I came across a blog named “Marginal Thoughts” . Intrigued by the similarity with my own blog name I clicked on the link. To my delight I found a blog belonging to a woman I have known since I was in college. She and I went on a mission trip to Mexico together when she was a youth intern in Mercer Island. I was a last-minute add-on to the trip, primarily because they needed someone who could speak Spanish to join them. I was on crutches at the time following foot surgery and one of my funniest memories is wearing this ridiculous sock on the tip of my open toed cast so that scorpions wouldn’t crawl into my cast at night.

I didn’t see this friend for a few years until she and I later overlapped at North Park Seminary in Chicago. It was great to be in touch once again.

Many more years have now gone by and so my heart is warmed to “see” her again through her blog, and to share a kindred spirit of blog names with her.
Blessings to you, Jo Ann.

from death to life

When I became pregnant with Mercy, it was as if everywhere I looked there were nothing but other pregnant women. It’s the same with cars, right? As soon as you buy a Subaru, that’s all you ever see on the road!

A few weeks ago, I posted about my newly acquired poverty-induced stinginess. Since writing those words, I think every day has offered me some opportunity, some invitation to live generously toward others. Every day has given me desperately needed chances to learn to die.

There was the phone call from a neighbor who was literally down to one slice of meatloaf left in her refrigerator to feed her family of four and who would not receive her paycheck for two more days. Of course I did not hesitate to send Doug to Ralph’s to purchase a grocery gift card for her family out of our church’s benevolence fund. But he would not be home with that until after the dinner hour, so I quickly packed up the last meal’s worth of groceries we had in our cupboard, the food I intended to prepare for our family, and brought them over to her home. Now we did not go hungry that night. But it was a chance for my heart to move toward the other and away from my own self in a very small way. It was a chance for me to live as a slave to love and not to fear. It was a chance to hold loosely and not to cling, to release and not to hoard.

Last Thursday Doug and I were guest lecturers at Fuller Seminary for a course on evangelism. We basically offered our church as a case study for some of the different ways that evangelism can look in different contexts. At the end we had time for a couple of questions, and the last question we were asked was about our kids and how we felt about raising them in this environment. Doug spoke for us both when he answered that they are the first thing to cause us to want to leave. But they are also the thing that makes us stay. In Doug’s words, “I want my kids to grow up not thinking twice about giving away a car.”

C.S. Lewis writes this:

“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’”