Camp Casey


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!

Family Friendly

I made a late-night run to Fred Meyer this week and chose a checkout line that seemed to be moving quickly. As I waited my turn, I noticed a flag marking this particular checkout line as “family friendly”. Looking around me, I wondered what exactly this designation meant. Candy, gum, and toys were all resting in their splendor at perfect child-height, so I knew at least that my definition of “family friendly” was not theirs. When I made my way up to where the checker stood, I asked her as she scanned my items what “family friendly” meant in this context.

“I’m the only one who is nice to kids” she quipped. “Seriously, though, it means that there are no magazines in this particular aisle.”

Looking around I realized that, indeed, I had learned nothing about Angelina Jolie or a Kardashian while waiting. Interesting that I hadn’t even noticed.

“My boys care much more about the Hot Wheels and chocolate than they do about the Booby magazines!” I told her and she laughed. We then compared notes about our kids and she asked me if I was sending my kids to a local Vacation Bible School that is apparently very fun here in Shoreline. I told her that no, I wasn’t, and she proceeded to share with me details of all the local churches and what they offered in terms of VBS programs.She made a comment about how she sends her kids to as many of them as she can and that it is nice to have a bit of time to herself. “You definitely should do it!” she told me, in that one mom looking out for another mom kind of way.

I mentioned that we did attend our church’s VBS and that I work at our church. Her countenance changed, and she spoke differently to me at that point.

“You see, I didn’t grow up with anything having to do with the church,” she said with tears showing in her eyes. “It means so much to grow up learning about God when you are a child. I never got that. I had to wait far too long and I made a lot of mistakes in my life. It just means so much to get it when you are young. I want my kids to have that, since I never did.”

I thought of the comments I made last summer about families that hit up a different VBS every week. I think I looked down on this a bit, like “oh, people are just taking advantage of basically free childcare and not having to deal with their kids for a week!”

I was reminded that most of the time, we really don’t know what is going on with people: the stories behind their decisions, what their motivations are, and we are far too willing to fill in the blanks and offer our judgment.

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

Jesus for Joshua

This question was posed on a friend’s blog recently:

The other day, a friend of mine, who is also a mother of an autistic child, asked the question, “When should my son get baptized?” I’ve been thinking about this and other related questions a lot these days. Specifically, I am wondering, “What does spiritual growth and connection with God look like for a neuro-atypical person like Joshua?”

I so appreciate her honest pastoral, personal, and maternal response, and I am posting an excerpt here:

He [Joshua] understands tangible explanations like “First we are going to go potty then we will go for a ride in the car.” but there is no way that he is going to understand anything close to “Jesus died for your sins” or “You can trust God to give you peace in your heart”. Not even close.

So a verbal, conceptual link to God is out of the question for this kid. Unfortunately, this wipes out a lot of how I have come to know God and the spiritual life. Both of Joshua’s parents are English majors who have spent a heck of a lot of our lives teaching the Bible and conversing with people about our personal spiritual journeys. If talking and concepts are out, then how am I to understand how God is going to reach this child?

Does Josh have a spiritual journey too? Does he have choices that he will make to chose God? Is there a witness in his world that speaks to Josh of the love, grandeur, wonder, mystery and delightfulness of God? I’m pretty sure that the answer is “yes” but I’m at a loss to imagine how that works.

She concludes with this:

…I think that the question of Joshua and the spiritual journey is one that I, as a mother, will have to “ponder in my heart” for a long time. As the person who has the most up close seat to the drama of Joshua’s life, what will I come to see about how God reaches this amazing and precious person? I think that this is a parable that I will have for my whole life.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing yours and Joshua’s journey with us.

Sabbath as noun

“The Sabbath, I said, is not only an idea. It is also something you keep. With other people.”
- Judith Shulevitz

This is an excellent post by Lavonne Neff, one of my new favorite reads. Like her, I commend Abraham Heschel’s book on the Sabbath to anyone, and hearing her rank this new offering as second to his in the must-read category certainly gets my attention.Unlike her, I have never been a part of a faith community that takes the Sabbath seriously. I have been with people who don’t even mention the idea apart from some Sunday School lessons given to children, as well as with people for whom the Sabbath has evolved to a verb, as in “I am sabbathing today”, with the emphasis on the “I”.

The understanding of the Sabbath as an individual pursuit in contrast with a communal celebration has bothered me. Shulevitz’s book appears to address this, and I am eagerly placing my Amazon order now.

Elijah William

Last night I was single-mama putting the the three kiddos to bed while Doug was at Fuller remembering how to do Greek Exegesis. It was getting late and Elijah, who is typically my very easy little guy at bedtime, simply could not settle down and go to sleep. After all the normal bedtime routines of stories and prayers and songs and that one particular way he likes his blankets to cover him, I shut off the light and closed the door.

It was barely a breath later that Elijah began to scream, and I ran back into his room to find him sitting up looking terrified. “Elijah, what is wrong?” I asked him.

“When you turned the light on (he gets his opposites confused) and closed the door, there was a monster in my room,” he sputtered.

I reassured him that there were no monsters in the house and that monsters aren’t real, and I closed the closet door just in case there were any shadows inside that might frighten, and I prayed for him. Then I shut off the light and again closed the door.

There were a few moments of quiet while I attended to the squirrelly siblings in the room beside his, but then the screaming resumed.

When I entered his room the second time, he was again sitting up with tears running down his cheeks. “Elijah, what happened? Why are you crying?” I asked.

He sputtered: “When you turned the light on and closed the door, there was a second monster.” He looked at me gravely. “And a fifth monster.”

My attempts to push back the smile failed, and I laughed while I again sought to soothe him. I was dying to ask him about the third and fourth monsters, but opted for a simple cuddle instead.

A 2009 Benediction

It is no secret that there has been little activity here this past year. It has been a year of great transition, and I have found myself in a more quiet, internal place as I find my footing in life’s new landscape. I have not always known how to speak freely here, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I struggle to speak without transparency.

But I also do not feel finished with blogging, and in this new year hope to discover what it is I have to offer and say from this green, wet land I again call home.

Tonight the house is strangely still. The kiddos were asleep hours before what normal has been these past days in a large house filled to capacity with family and friends. Doug is driving the last of our guests to the airport and the silence feels thick after the sudden departure of so much chaos and activity and noise.

Snow White is resting next to the animals inside the Playmobil Pet Clinic Mercy got for Christmas, and a hearty stash of Aaron’s Hot Wheels are nested in the couch cushion beside me. Baby Jesus safely sleeps next to a brown bear beneath the lip of the coffee table with John Goldingay’s last volume of Old Testament Theology offering him shelter. The stack of metal folding chairs borrowed for Family Feast 2009 are stacked in the doorway ready to be returned to the church building and I am simply ignoring the laundry reality of piles of sheets and towels in every room.

As I sit in tonight’s quiet, I offer this New Year’s Eve benediction:

Elijah received a cool drawing pad from his grandparents, and it is the kind where you have both magnetic shapes and a magnetic pen that “color” on the white tray and can be erased by sliding a little yellow lever along the bottom. It’s a bit like an etch-a-sketch only without the shaking. At one point yesterday, Doug came up to me and said: “Your daughter has a story to tell you.”

I came out from the bathroom where I had been changing Elijah and found Mercy on the couch with Elijah’s drawing pad on her lap. “Mercy, tell me your story”, I said sitting down beside her.

Taking the blue square, she quietly and steadily began shading in the entire right side of the tablet. Her little hand moved quickly, side to side, until everywhere she had colored was grey.

“This is death,” she said, finishing her last swipe across the board.

Putting the blue square down, she moved her hand across and reached for the yellow lever. Sliding the lever across, a line of white took over from the left, pushing every last black pixel away until the tablet had been swept clean.

“And this is what God did,” she said in a sober voice, her own eyes glistening.

Tonight I remember the loss of a friend’s wife and son two years ago, and the loss this past year of a dear member of our community here, and I cling to and celebrate the truth my daughter shared with me yesterday.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

Erika Carney Haub’s musings on life and God from South Central, L.A.