Category Archives: seattle

A Confirmation Blessing

For your head: may the words you have committed to memory today return to you often to guide, encourage, and sustain you. And may this day mark the beginning of a habit of lifelong study and learning. There will not always be a hefty notebook and tests, but there will always be those with something to teach you and those needing you to teach them.

For your mouth: may you continue to speak aloud what is true about God; may you regularly confess your own faith to those who understand and affirm it and to those who do not; may you learn to pray often and to sing loudly.

For your heart: may the words of faith you have spoken here today take up residence in your heart and may they define you. May you never forget how very deeply you are loved by your Father in heaven and may you cling to your identity as His child. Do not listen to any voices that seek to tell you differently.

For your hands: may your profession of faith today take on flesh through a life of service: service to God and service to others, when it is comfortable and convenient and when it is not; when people are easy to love and when they are not; when it takes you down the paths you expect and when it does not.

For your feet: may you understand that the story you have told us today; the story of God and the people of faith; that is your story. You are the next pages of this history, and there are adventures to be had and roads to travel. May you walk boldly, knowing that God is with you, the Good Shepherd who knows you by name; the One who will never leave you nor forsake you.

“And God looked at all he had made…and it was very good.”

Amen.

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?”

Still Alive

Since moving back to Seattle, I am pretty sure that I have heard a Pearl Jam song every single day. I love Pearl Jam, so this is fine with me, but it still feels kind of amazing that at some point in almost every day I will hear one of their songs. Restaurants, malls, the radio…someone, somewhere, will play some Pearl Jam. Today it was a restaurant in Ballard, and once on The Mountain.

Holiday

This past weekend brought home to me how very different our life feels up here. Apparently in Shoreline, when the law says that fireworks are illegal in the city, people for the most part comply. The night was a far cry from the Kenwood war zone we encountered during our first Fourth of July in L.A. I remember that first year actually being frightened when Doug went out on our little front porch, and begging him to come back inside. I remember not being able to see the apartment building across the street due to the wall of smoke.

This year, Doug and I packed up the kids and made the very long journey to 178th (we live on 180th) to spend the weekend at my parents’ house. We grilled and played in the yard and took a little day trip to Puyallup to see my cousin and her family. Mercy really wanted to see fireworks, so she and I and my dad drove down into Edmonds and sat perched on a bench next to the beach and watched the city show held in a stadium nearby. Aaron is terrified of fireworks so he opted to stay home and cuddle up with On-Demand TV and his grammy.

As we walked along the beach, we passed a quinceniera that was being held in a beachfront community center. Mercy stopped in her tracks and gazed at the dresses and hats and the sheer volume of brown skin that has already become foreign. The bounce of the music was familiar to her and it made her smile. “Mercy, that was the music you went to sleep to for many, many nights,” I told her, smiling as well. This was a serious quinceniera too. There was a tour bus parked outside of the center and a fleet of very fancy cars in the parking lot.

Mercy still asks me a lot of questions about Los Angeles. It’s almost like she wants to make sure that she keeps a hold of her memories. I think we all miss it more than we know how to say.

Confirmation Sunday

Our congregation celebrated Confirmation Sunday a few weeks ago, and Pastor Mike asked me to say a few words to the confirmands before they received the gift of their Bibles. I stood before them and our congregation proudly holding my own burgundy, leather confirmation bible from so many years ago, and offered this:

I remember receiving this Bible in this room almost twenty-two years ago on my Confirmation Sunday. The name on it reads “Erika Carney” which is not my name anymore and the inscription inside says that it is given to my by North Seattle Covenant Church, which is not our church’s name anymore. The date written inside is June 1987. I was thirteen.

I remember how shiny and perfect it looked then. The edges of the pages were gold and shimmery. And I remember thinking it weighed a ton!

It became my Bible. The one I read and used and carried around with me to youth group and Hi-Tops rehearsals and Winter retreats and mission trips and CHIC.

It was also the Bible that sat on the nightstand beside my bed. And it was the one I committed to reading every night before going to bed.

It was the Bible that came with me to Cascades Camp where I worked as a Wrangler. One week I got roped into counseling and I can remember sitting in the grass, with my cabin of girls, and leading them in our afternoon Bible study from these pages.

It was the Bible that came with me to Venezuela and Mexico and South Africa. It was the Bible that came with me into the inner city of Chicago. I can remember standing in a lodge in Wisconsin where we had brought close to a hundred city kids for a weekend retreat, one of whom would later become my brother. And I stood in front of this crowd and read from these pages and told them that they could “choose life” and that Jesus loved them.

The first sermon I ever preached, in a little storefront church in Chicago, was preached from this book.

I don’t know when the shimmery gold rubbed away or when the spine came off, or when the cover and all of the edges became so cracked. I know that an elderly woman in another church where I served was so embarrassed by the condition of this Bible that she promptly went out and bought me a new one.

I used that new one for a while. And then I went to seminary, and you buy a LOT of books in Seminary. And I had to get a different translation to use for my classes. And of course I had to buy the Bible in its original languages of Greek and Hebrew. So for a few years, this Bible saw a bit less use.

I don’t remember exactly when it became “my Bible” again. Sometime before moving up here in December.

But it has again become my companion. And a few weeks ago I was sitting next to Howard Thompson during church and I looked down at the Bible he held in his lap. And my eyes were immediately drawn to the duct tape holding it together along the spine of the book. I don’t think I need to feel embarrassed here by my shabby Bible. In fact, I think I’m in pretty good company.

Two weeks ago, I went to the hospital to visit Dale Harper. This Bible came with me. Bob and Joy Drovdahl had also stopped in to see Dale, and when Dale saw the Bible in my hand he said with a smile: “Ah, she brought the good stuff.”

Today, each of you receives a Bible. It is shiny and perfect and its edges shimmer. And you too will think that it weighs a ton!

My hope and prayer for each of you is that this Bible you receive today is for you a companion as mine has been for me. As mine continues to be for me. Don’t let it stay too shiny; too perfect. It is not intended to be something pretty to be admired from a distance.

When I was handed this Bible twenty-two years ago, I had no idea the places it would go with me. I had no idea the life that was in store for me and where my journey with Jesus would lead me. I certainly had no idea, as a thirteen year old, that someday I would serve the church as a pastor and cling to the truth of these words with all of my life.

And as Dale reminded me the other night in a hospital room: may it be for each of you that when you see this Bible, you too might smile and remember: “This is the good stuff.”

Sermons

This past Sunday was the first time that I led the service at our new church home. Pastor Mike took a much-earned day off, and our other Associate pastor was gone for the weekend, so I was entrusted with the Sunday morning gathering. Other than leaving out the greeting time at the beginning of the service and forgetting to invite the children to Children’s Church midway through the service, things seemed to go well.

I preached a little too long, as well, which has less ramifications now that we are on our summer schedule of only one service. I think I have done a pretty good job of adjusting from the almost-hour-long sermons in L.A. to the much shorter format here, but it seems I still need to pay close attention to how much material I plan to share.

We are preaching through the book of Isaiah right now, and I was given the second chapter to preach from this past week. Isaiah two is actually the text I preached my very first sermon from in a little house church back in Chicago. I can remember sitting in a stuffy apartment with a small gathering of folks form the neighborhood with my Bible open on my lap. There were no microphones or stage and and while I remember feeling a bit nervous, I can also remember that it felt right to open the scriptures and speak about them to people that I loved.

That first sermon emphasized the beginning of Isaiah two: visions of plowshares replacing swords and all nations gathering together in one reconciled place. That word was especially significant for a community that knew a great deal about violence and was made up of people from all over the world. This pas Sunday, I preached the second part of the chapter that speaks to the fullness of the people of God: a fullness of power, wealth, and idols. And it offers a sober vision of every high and lofty thing being brought low, and every idol being cast aside at the end. It raises the question of where our allegiance is at present and where the paths we are taking now ultimately lead. It challenges us to consider what we truly worship. As a community that has so recently come face to face with the the fact that this life ends, this was a good word for us.

Living with the end in mind

Tonight our church family will gather to remember and celebrate God’s grace and goodness in the life of Dale Harper, a dear member of our congregation I have known for most of my life. We will also gather together to declare our confidence in God’s saving mercy and the truth of his promises of resurrection and eternal life. We will certainly cry and most likely laugh a great deal as we celebrate a life so well-lived: a life so fully devoted to loving God and neighbor.

Yesterday I sat down for a bit to work on my sermon for Sunday, and I was struck by how fitting the text is for where our community finds itself this week. The second chapter of Isaiah makes some pretty bold and profound statements about the different things we can pursue in life and where our allegiances and confidences will ultimately lead us. I won’t preach the sermon here, but let’s just say caves filled with bat and mole dung play a big part…

Since moving up here, what always struck me about my time spent with Dale was that it was as if he had already been given his eternal eyes, so to speak. The things he was excited for and committed to and anticipating were so clearly the places where God’s spirit was moving and working around him. It was like a veil of sorts had been lifted and he was able to plainly see what God was doing: and he wanted to be a part of it.

We all talk about wanting to “join God’s work” or “follow God’s spirit”, and most of us struggle most of the time to genuinely know and sense and follow where we see God lead. Dale had such clear vision, it seemed to me. He had been given eyes to see. The fruits of his eternal life were already being made manifest in our midst.

Dale’s life offers the opposing witness to the judgments found in Isaiah two. Dale did not waste himself on pursuits that lead to dark caves or treasures that end up covered in dung. Dale knew what the good stuff was. Dale knew what it meant to accept the prophet’s invitation and “come…and walk in the light of the Lord.”

I praise God for Dale and all that he was in our life together. I praise God for the witness Dale was, in sickness and in health. I praise God for Dale’s healing, which is now complete.

I will remember Dale with a lot of joy and thanksgiving in my heart. And I will miss him.

Default

I am almost always eligible for the carpool lane. With three babies four and under, I have grown accustomed to traveling in groups, and when I am on the freeway or coming up an on-ramp, I barely even think before moving myself into whatever carpool lane is available.

Since beginning my job here in Shoreline, however, I now find myself occasionally on the road by myself driving to a hospital visit or a lunch meeting. And I am constantly having to resist the urge to drive in the carpool lanes when I am in fact driving solo. I remember one night in particular where I moved into the carpool lanes and stayed there the entire drive, never once realizing that I did not belong there and luckily not winning the attention of any police officers or vigilant drivers just waiting to dial 764-HERO.

Just today I found myself inching toward the carpool lane and had to stop myself. And I was struck by how my identity as someone who, for years now, almost always has babies in tow, is just sort of assumed. My default setting is “carpool”.

I was thinking recently about the ways we can get stuck just going through the motions, assuming that the things we believe define us are indeed central in our life. I know that I have certain understandings of who I am and what shapes my identity, and I can go days or weeks just assuming these things are true and evident in my life. And then one day I look around and realize that that single, shaping force in my life that I care so much about has been ignored or squelched or tossed out the window altogether and has no actual bearing on my day to day. And it’s like realizing I am in the carpool lane with a bunch of empty carseats behind me.