Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Recovery

...from taking StrongOpinions to the train station early this morning. She had gone out last evening to spend some time with local friends ("Oh, no, I'm not staying out late, because we have to get up early tomorrow.") Famous last words. She rolled home in the wee hours of the morning. To her credit, she got up promptly in time to get to the train station, although there was some whinging in the car on the way. Then we discovered they didn't have checked baggage service on that train, so we had to find a Redcap to help with her two ginormous bags. Got her onto the train with only minor fretfulness (she doesn't do this kind of transition well, and is still unhappy with her father and half-brothers for not driving her to The Big Apple). So she got to NYC at noon, to discover that her soon-to-be roommate hadn't picked up the keys, that the property manager was out of the office, and what to do, what to do. Finally got a hold of the property manager, who met her and her two friends who are camping out with her for two days at the new place, and she is safely settled in. Even the AeroBed is inflated.

All of this drama just wears me out (and I'm a little peeved with her father and half-brothers as well, but there is nothing to be done about it). I had offered to drive her there (four hours in each direction), but it is just as well this played out as it did. Hopefully she won't do anything overwhelmingly stupid tonight; I'm hoping she'll be too tired.

All I know is that I'm certain I won't be up at midnight!

Anyhow, tonight's menu for PH and me is lobster, a green salad, roasted potatoes with rosemary and sea salt, and a half-bottle of sparkling wine.

PH is leaving for Windy City to visit his family for a few days while I do a silent at-home retreat (bliss) in preparation for GOEs. The sermon is written for next Thursday evening, and I've gotten some ideas sketched out for the sermon for the following Sunday. I figure I'll be useless for sermonating next week.
For all of you dear friends in the blogosphere, have a lovely New Years' Eve and a blessed New Year. I'll check in with you in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Busy, busy

Today was a good but busy day. I met with my Commission on Ministry liaison - a good and useful meeting on job search stuff. I was grateful for 90 minutes of her time. I'm starting to send out stuff for job search and she had some great ideas.

Got food shopping done, including picking up some more stuff for StrongOpinions before she leaves for the Big Apple tomorrow. Dealt with my neighbor's cats, whom I fed and watered while they were out of town, and my other neighbor's mail, while he's out of town. Ran a few more errands, cooked some yummy stuff (curried butternut squash soup, lamb kebabs with herb-jalapeno sauce, couscous, braised cabbage). Now I can chill out and read some silly stuff, alternating with some serious stuff for the two sermons I'm preaching on Jan 8 and Jan 11. And I can knit, for the first time in several months.

I also handled about a zillion emails and a phone call from a troubled friend. I am learning about being more serious about boundaries - StrongOpinions grabbed my cell phone when it rang during dinner, so I wouldn't be tempted to answer it. I think I will get into the habit of turning it off during dinner...nothing can happen for which my immediate response is really that necessary (so she says right now - we'll see how long it lasts).

And - joy of joys - I got two small lobsters to cook for PH and me for a special New Years Eve dinner tomorrow night.

Sighing over the GOE anxiety that seems to be prevalent amongst my classmates - as GOE prep coordinator, I'm suddenly getting a rash of emails from stressed out folks with questions. Most of those questions could be answered by simply looking at the website for the exam. And at this point, looking for prior years' questions is a useless exercise. I just want it to be over, whatever the result. In a week and a half, it will be.

And then I'll really relax!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Random Dots of Post-Christmas Tasks

  • Got my blood drawn - platelets were a wonderful 152. May they stay high until I have my spleen removed!

  • Saw the surgeon - she is a very sharp 30-something woman. She's done many of these surgeries, and she was very clear about the possibilities and risks. I feel good about her doing this. Now all we need to do is to come up with a mutually agreeable date to get it done. I'll be in the hospital for 3-4 days. then another week of recovery, assuming that it can be done laparascopically rather than as open surgery. Fingers crossed and prayers ascending.

  • Spent a good forty-five minutes at the DMV (the eighth circle of hell) to turn in StrongOpinions' plates from her beloved and now departed Saabie. The bad news is that it took 45 minutes. The good news is that I'll get a refund of 47 bucks in personal property tax. That's a little more than a buck a minute. Sweet!

  • Ordered a second pair of glasses for StrongOpinions from our favorite discount eyeglasses site. Took her to Costco (the ninth circle of hell) to get some prescriptions filled and pick up some other items prior to her departure for the Big Apple. Escaped without the credit card melting down or having an accident in the parking lot, something of a small miracle.

  • Stopped at the grocery store for some other stuff necessary for the trip and for tonight's dinner.

  • Dealt with some persnickety back and forth with lay leadership at Saint Middle School. Vacuums of power make some folks feel compelled to fill them immediately. Don't. Like. That.

  • Got the package for the evangelical preaching competition (a really long shot, since I don't really have that kind of a preaching voice) packed up and in the mail.

  • Still waiting for recommendations from the two professors for my package for the Big Preaching Competition (a long shot for reasons of the number of people who are in this one, but maybe a better fit for the kind of preacher I am). Trying not to be a crankypants about the recommendations, and trying to remember not everyone is as obsessive about getting things checked off the list as I am. Uuuuhhhh..wait a minute...wasn't I just complaining about laypersons at Saint Middle School who were doing the same thing? My bad.

  • Trying to remember how whizzed out I was when I went off to school, so I can be sympathetic to StrongOpinions, who is minorly freaking out about logistics. I love her and am proud of her, and know she can do all this. She's just not entirely convinced yet. Ah well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Today's Sermon: The Morning After

Text: John 1: 10-14

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”

In a few days, on January 2nd, my son C will turn 25. A momentous birthday! And even though it has been a quarter of a century, I remember the moment of his birth as if it was yesterday. I remember the twenty hours of labor and a difficult delivery, I can see him, wiggling in the doctor’s hands, and looking at me and his father with the same skepticism and challenge that is still in his face, 25 years later. And I can remember the joy that filled my heart to bursting, the tears in our eyes, his father’s momentary weak knees, the bliss of the moment, as if it was yesterday. It was a gift, one that remains with me in my memory and in C's presence still.

After his birth, exhausted and happy, I fell asleep, dreaming of all the possibilities that awaited my little newborn son in the years ahead.

A few hours later, I woke up. The morning light streamed through the window. It couldn’t be possible that it was time for me to wake up – I was still so very tired – but the nurse was bringing C in for feeding. There I lay, sweaty and lumpy and swollen. Parts of my body that I hadn’t even known about before hurt. A lot. My head ached from the spinal block I had been given. As the nurse gave me the baby, and as that baby latched on for his first feeding, I realized that the blissful dream that had filled my head just a few hours before was being obliterated, replaced by the reality of this child, attached like a leech to a tender portion of my anatomy. It dawned on me that this was the start of decades of him being attached to me either figuratively or literally. Oh, my. What had I gotten myself into?

Don’t get me wrong. I desperately wanted and loved this child, but the reality of motherhood suddenly was a whole different thing from my fantasy of motherhood.

There is that moment when we wake up…the morning after the night before. The pleasure of that night-time celebration is replaced by the prickly fact of the next morning, and the work that awaits us.

Those of you with little children may know that morning-after feeling all too well. You may have gone to a lovely Christmas Eve service, put the children to bed as they dreamed of Santa Claus, and were shocked by that five a.m. wake up call. “Mommy! Daddy! Santa came!” You dragged yourself out of bed – you had been up until one a.m. assembling the new bike – and went downstairs, as the children tore through the gifts under the tree. In what seemed like forty-eight seconds, every gift was unwrapped, the children had already had one fight over who got to play with the new game system first, the living room was a shambles of torn wrapping paper and ribbons, and a long day was ahead. There was work to be done. Not just the clean-up of the detritus of the gift-opening, but perhaps a meal for extended family to be cooked, or a long drive to another relative’s house. Before anything else, though, you need to cook breakfast.

It’s the morning after the night before, and there is work to be done.

For those of you without children, it might be a slightly different story. Perhaps you’re planning a New Year’s Eve party, elegant, with great wine or champagne, delicious food, exquisite decorations, laughter, music…and you will wake on New Years morning with a sour stomach and a headache, knowing when you go downstairs there will be dirty glasses in the sink and the sour smell of the trash you really should have put in the garbage can before you went to bed….a morning of clean-up, perhaps a call to a friend to apologize since you inadvertently offended him with your silly teasing the night before. Work to be done, the morning after the night before.

Once we’ve unwrapped the gifts, once we’ve thrown the party, there is work to be done.

So, too it is with this gospel of John that we are hearing this morning. The remarkable thing about the Gospel of John is that, unlike the other three gospels, John gives us a synopsis of the whole story in just a few verses right at the beginning of the tale. It’s worth repeating:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

Talk about the Cliff’s Notes version of the entire story of our Lord! Jesus Christ, one with the Father Creator, who came to earth….and those who should have recognized him, the great gift of the incarnate God, did not know him. But some did recognize him, and those who did became the adopted children of God.

This extraordinary Christmas gift, this God made man who lived among us, this incomparable joy. How could anyone not accept him?

Perhaps it’s like the Christmas gift we receive that’s so precious that we put it up on a shelf, for fear we will break it. Or that we want to save for a special occasion – I’m thinking here of the discovery that I made after my mother’s death, when I was cleaning out her home to prepare it for sale, and saw a number of gifts I had given her, beautiful soft nightgowns, silk scarves, lambskin gloves, still wrapped in the tissue paper from the gift box, saved for “good” as she would have said. It saddened me that she never got to truly enjoy those gifts as I had intended when I gave them to her. It felt, in that moment, like a waste of a good gift, even though I knew she appreciated the gift, to keep it wrapped up in tissue paper in a drawer, rather than to feel that whispery silk around one’s shoulders, that soft lambskin on one’s hands.

No, we believe that gifts demand their use, demand a response. When the little girl opens the beautiful American Girl doll under the tree, we say, “Let’s call Grandma and say thank you for that pretty doll.” When the little girl’s cousin comes over for Christmas dinner, we say, “Why don’t you and Hannah play with your new doll and your other things? You know how to share.” And when the little girl grows older, you and she decide another little girl, perhaps not so fortunate, would love to have a doll like this, loved and cared for by one girl, then passed along to another, and you donate it to a charity that will find a good home for this precious gift.

Gifts demand a response, and that is the overarching message of these few verses from the Gospel of John. On Christmas, we received a marvelous gift, Jesus come among us, to perfect our relationship with God by perfecting our relationship with each other. Jesus is a gift who demands to be used daily, vigorously, with the same passion and love with which he was given to us. It is the morning after the night before, and we have work to do with this great gift we have received.

We have a choice. We can be blinded by the brilliance of this gift, intimidated by it, misunderstanding its demand, and so we wrap it in tissue paper and tuck it away in the drawer, forgotten, unused. We can hoard it, not sharing it with others who would benefit from its wondrous light and warmth. Or we can put it to use, in so many ways. We can let the light of the newborn Christ suffuse our hearts and souls, and let the warmth of that light translate into good works, to being Christ’s hands and feet in this hungry and troubled world. We can tell those who do not know the story why that light shines within us, so they too can share the gift, and pass it on.

Gifts demand a response. Gifts should not be ignored. That dishonors the giver as well as the gift. The morning after, having said our great “thank-yous,” we have work to do.

So what will your response be? Will you carry the message of our gift, our newborn Lord and Savior, into the world? Will you share that light, that message, those works that affirm the joy we feel in knowing Christ? Or will you be among those who, in denying the insistent song of the gift, turn away from the adoption that gives us new life?

We have a choice. What will yours be?


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

This has been the mellowest Christmas in history, I think. PH and I slept in a bit, then had leisurely coffee in bed before going downstairs for breakfast. PH made us Swedish pancakes with lingonberries - yum!. I talked to the various and sundry kids and grandkids on the phone, we opened gifts, I finished the latest Inspector Brunetti mystery, took a nap, and now am beginning to cook dinner. Roast rack of lamb persillade, potatoes au gratin with Gruyere, Brussels sprouts with bacon and sherry vinegar, and for dessert, "Gift of the Magi" frozen custard (saffron custard with candied cranberries and roasted pistachios representing the various gifts) from our favorite Wisconsin-style frozen custard shop, the Dairy Godmother. That flavor is a once-a-year pleasure. I drove there yesterday morning to get a quart - worth a detour, as the Michelin Guide would say! I am dutifully trying to avoid school-type work for the day, and will go out for a walk to make room for the dinner.

I hope your Christmas is wonderful, and that you get the best of all gifts: the love that God showed us in giving us his son, Jesus Christ, shared amongst all people.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Miracles Abound

StrongOpinions made it safely to the Big Apple last week, found her new apartment in Washington Heights to be even better than expected and her new roommates to be a delight, seems to have lined up a part-time waitressing job very near the new school campus, drove north to her eldest brother's house in Connecticut without getting caught in any bad weather or awful traffic, and is looking forward to a good Christmas with her dad and his family. She will be down with us right after Christmas, which means that PH and I have a romantic little Christmas celebration alone planned after two Christmas Eve services at 5 pm and 10 pm. StoneMason and Litigator will come down in late January (Christmas through New Years' is the busiest work time for them) and StrongOpinions will take the train down to be a part of the fun then.

I've just about wrapped up the package for the preaching competition (am waiting for the two recommendations from the professors) and will be glad to have that project out the door. Whatever comes of it, I've been so honored to be nominated by Big Old Seminary. I'm also submitting a tape of a sermon I will give on Dec 28th for another competition, just for giggles, since they are looking for an "evangelical" sermon, and that's a stylistic stretch for me. StrongOpinions will be my videographer for that one.

Cousins of ours are in the process of adopting two beautiful little girls from a Baltic nation. Our cousins are clear-eyed about the challenges of adjustment for the girls, since they've been doing mssion work in orphanages in these countries for several years. They will be fabulous parents and I pray the legal procedings go smoothly for them.

Beef stew in simmering on the stove, I'm feeling very relaxed about GOEs, the house is semi-clean, and I guess it's time to go take off the pjs and put real clothes on, so I can run a few errands.

Life is good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

It's the most wonderful time of the week. Sunday afternoon, after church and talking with a whole bunch of folks, after coming home to grab some leftover quiche for lunch, after a nap. I can stretch out on the couch for a bit while PH folds laundry (Sunday is also laundry day chez Mibi) and read the paper or a book. Bliss.

It feels odd not to have schoolwork to do, but lovely all the same. I actually have a bit of polishing of two brief exegeses of texts to go with the sermons I'm submitting to the fancy sermon award competition, but it can wait. The whole package isn't due until January 31st, and I know I will get them wrapped up way before that date, so I will avoid looking at them for a few days.

I could also do some work on the thesis, but that can wait, too, as can the research I'm doing for another professor. All in good time.

My supervisor at Saint Middle School has been busy giving me all relevant info (brain dump on how all the pieces of SMS work) before her final service on the evening of Christmas Eve. Today was the children's Christmas Pageant, and even at this one there were tears amongst those who will be sorry to see her go. The evening of the 24th will be a Kleenex-fest, I'm sure. Bless her on this transition and bless Saint Middle School as it adjusts to the change. My role will be to serve as "continuing pastoral presence" as we await calling our next vicar. The priests of our "mother church" - we are a parochial church plant - will be supply clergy during this time, and I will be making sure that rotas are filled, that the bulletins look okay, that the pastoral needs of our parishioners are being tended to. Pretty intense for something that is supposed to be twelve hours a week, but I think I can manage to keep it to a level that is not overwhelming. At least I hope I can!

The next few days will be full of assorted odds and ends: two doctors' appointments, lunch with a seminarian friend, practice for a solo I'll sing at a night-time Christmas Eve service (yes, I'll be at TWO Christmas Eve services, one Episcopal, one Evangelical Covenant), house-cleaning, but mostly reading fun stuff and resting. Sounds like a plan.

And now it's time to make a pecan praline pumpkin cheesecake. That's not work, that's enlightened self-interest.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Random Dots of Friday

  • Strong Opinions left the Windy City earlier this afternoon, headed for Youngstown, where she and her driving galpal will stay at a motel, and then drive directly to the Big Apple (the last leg of the trip). With the exception of a missed connection in Des Moines, this has been a blessedly uneventful journey. May the last leg of it be so as well. She will then drive to her dad's in Little Rhody for Christmas, and will be with me on the 27th for a couple of days, before starting at the Ivy League University in the Big Apple. I signed the guarantee papers for her lease today (gulp!).

  • Litigator and StoneMason will not be down for Christmas because it is their busy season. The plan is for them to come to me in late January, and for StrongOpinions to come down from the Big Apple - it will be fun to have them all here at the same time, post General Ordination Exams and post-surgery, so I can really enjoy their company before the new semester starts.

  • Vestry meeting at Saint Middle School tomorrow morning at 8 am (too early, darn it, since I have to drive 40 miles to get out there), since the one we were supposed to have on Tuesday night got cancelled due to an ice storm. This week, I will have made the drive four times, since on Tuesday I was nearly all the way out there before the roads turned treacherous and I turned for home. They have grand plans for my work there come January, and my challenge is to make those expectations realistic given that I am doing this for free as part of my contextual education. There are only so many hours in a day.

  • I went to tea at the Ritz-Carlton with a bunch of my dear lady seminary friends who are adults - you get my drift - and it was a delight. Got to know a new seminarian with whom I hadn't had a chance to really talk, got a free glass of champagne since our table wasn't ready when we got there, got to talk about things other than papers and exams (mostly), and my good buddy LL gave out little prezzies to each of us. What a gift these women are in my life! And what a perfect way to mark the end of another semester!

  • Pray that the library at Big Old Seminary doesn't go up in flames over the holidays, since most of my library is over in my study carrel there in anticipation of the aforementioned GOEs. My tongue is only slightly planted in my cheek here...

  • PH will go to Windy City to visit his family after New Years' for a couple of days, coming home right before GOEs. I will have a stay-at-home silent retreat, praying and reading and writing (and maybe doing a little walking by the stream near the house). To me, that will be the best way to prepare for those exams. Center myself, remind myself why I am doing this, offer it to God.

Friday Five: Countdown to Christmas

A lovely and apt Friday Five meme from RevGal Songbird, and as usual, I'm late adding mine to the list!

It's true.

There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.

So let's make this easy, if we can:
tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.

1) Eyeball the 12/24 bulletin for the last time.
2) Figure out what I'm going to cook for Christmas.
3) Make Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake (the diet starts again in January).
4) See what clothes I can fit into for the two services - in one I will be in an alb (Saint Middle School's 5 pm service), but in the other, the one in which I sing a solo (at PH's little LowChurchThatLooksLikeAPizzaHut), I will not be in an alb, so I have to be both comfortable and respectable, which don't always go together.
5) Food shopping, house cleaning, assorted dogsbody work, plus two doctor visits.

BONUS: Not. Get. Sick. (that's a direct lift from kathrynzj, and certainly is true for me as well, since I've got General Ordination Exams for a week starting on January 5th).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Roid Rage

One of the mixed blessings of this chronic illness right now is generous doses of prednisone.

Prednisone and related steroids are truly miracle drugs. They're primarily used as anti-inflammatories, but they have other applications as well. They are cheap, work quickly, solve a whole bunch of problems. For me and my thrombocytopenia, they are helpful in keeping my body from eating up all my platelets, in combination with other treatments.

But they also have side effects. Let me count a few: wanting to eat everything within a twenty mile radius, feeling hyper and edgy, overreacting emotionally, indigestion to the nth degree, inability to sleep.

Even as I am tapering down (because you can't just STOP taking steriods, you have to wean yourself off of them slowly), some of these side effects are still rearing their ugly little heads.

The emotion thing: PH and I are used to this now, and it really is worst when I'm on a high dose. I'm normally a pretty placid, easygoing kind of person, but I become neurotic worrywart bag o' tears and fears on high doses of steroids. So it was this past time, but since we'd seen it before, we knew it would pass, and so it has. I am not fun to be around when I am telling my poor husband to take care of the kids when I die, or when I weepingly bemoan the state of my health. This passes. Thanks be to God.

The eating thing: yeah, I try to keep it under control, but it isn't easy, and we take it as a given that I'll add a couple of pounds when I'm on a course of these drugs. The urge to eat is utterly irrational and very. very powerful. Thus, I'm up three pounds and hope it will stop there. If I were at my normal weight, three pounds wouldn't be so bad, but since I've already got thirty pounds to lose, another three is a literal and figurative pain in the scale. Part of the plan of the Jan-May timeframe is to get back onto Fat Club and walk every day. If I have my splenectomy as planned in January, that may put a crimp in my exercise for a week or so, but that's not too bad. Would that the indigestion that is also a side effect would get in the way of the eating, but it didn't.

Insomnia: this can actually be a very useful thing at the end of the semester. I wrote a fully annotated three-page paper a week or so ago at three a.m., because I couldn't sleep. Sometimes the Ambien works, sometimes it doesn't. I didn't take one last night, since I'm down to a pretty low dose of the prednisone and I'm trying not to take them every night. I woke up this morning at 3:30 am -we're talking wide awake, sit up straight in the bed awake - so I went downstairs, wrapped gifts that needed wrapping, packed up the stuff that needed shipping, and will be glad to take several packages to the Post Office before my first meeting this morning. After I finished the wrapping work, I lay on the couch with the laptop and with the headphones on and watched last week's episode of "House" (will House and Cuddy please just get it on and be done with it?). The good news is that I actually dozed off for about a half hour. That means I got 4.5 hours sleep instead of 4. It also means this will be a long day, since I've got nonstop stuff from 9:55 am until 930 tonight, and the night meeting is the Vesty at Saint Middle School forty miles away, and they're predicting bad weather tonight. Fooey.

In its totality, the drug is a useful one. In the particulars, it stinks. But this, too, will pass.

In the meantime, if you need something wrapped, c'mon over to my house at 3:30 in the morning. I'll get it knocked out in no time!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Five: Windows of the Soul

A great and lovely Friday Five from my RevGal buddy Sophia:

1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family?

Deep brown. Since I am adopted and never had the opportunity to meet my birthparents, I don't know, but since brown is genetically dominant, I expect at least one or both of them had brown eyes. My eyes are like my adoptive parents', though. Nature? Nurture?

2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them?

I would love to have violet eyes, romantic creature that I am. StrongOpinions has hazel/greenish eyes, and they are beautiful as well.

3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em?

Glasses. Progressive bifocals. A Necessary Evil.

4. Ever had, or contemplated, laser surgery? Happy with the results?

I had PRK ( a forerunner to LASIK) in 1997 and got excellent results. Unfortunately, when I got MS, the first event was optic neuritis. That affected my vision because of neurological damage, and overrode the surgical correction. It is something that cannot be corrected by laser surgery or by lens correction, which really is a drag.

5. Do you like to look people in the eye, or are you more eye-shy?

I do like to look people in the eye, but I have learned that makes some folks uncomfortable, particularly in some other cultures, so I try to be sensitive to that.

Bonus question: Share a poem, song, or prayer that relates to eyes and seeing.

"His Eye Is On The Sparrow." The very first funeral that I presided over was of a tiny infant. The baby's eleven year old cousin sang it, exquisitely. It reminded me - once again - that God sees what our feeble eyes cannot, and God knows our hidden needs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things Done and Left Undone

...per Rev. Dr. Mom, and other RevGalPals:

Those which have been done are in bold.

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain ~just a little bitty one
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables : most expensive tomatoes ever, but oh, so good!
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors - someday, I hope.
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa: someday, I hope.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65.. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book ~I was just a contributor to it.
81 Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating : does catching and preparing a fish count?
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

I guess my life is more interesting than I think it is!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Platelet Update

I had my blood count done yesterday, and the count is still nicely in normal range, despite the fact that I am tapering off the prednisone. Still, I am in need of a more permanent solution, since I cannot go into the hospital each time I get a cold, and serving a church means I'm exposed to a virtual Petri dish full of bugs each time I stand at the church door. Parishioners might be put off if their pastor used the Purell Hand Sanitizer between each handshake or hug.

So I'm going ahead and having a surgical consult to see about having my spleen out. They do it laparascopically these days, which makes the recovery much easier. One night in the hospital, about a week to bounce back. I can do that, and it is potentially curative, so sometime in January or February I may be on the Mibi Weight-Loss Plan: lose seven ounces of spleen in a day!

Last night was our last class in Anglican Thought, probably the most difficult class I've taken at Big Old Seminary, since the readings were challenging and the level of discussion in the seminar-style sessions was extraordinarily high. I'm glad I was auditing rather than taking it for credit, since I've got plenty enough writing to do right now, but I am so glad I took this class. Yet another "last" moment.

Two more exams to go. One will be a case discussion in Conflict & Congregational Leadership - I'm taking that one pass-fail, and know the approach and material well, so that will be easy-peasy. The other is a take-home for Medical Ethics, and although it is a hard course with a lot of material covered in one quarter, I'm feeling good about that. I'm also wrapping up the written documentation for the preaching award package.

I'm still debating whether I will use the reworked NT sermon from last year that I am recording on Thursday afternoon (I'm much happier with it now that it has been tightened up), or if I will use the sermon I'm writing on John1:10-14 for Dec. 28th as my New Testament sermon for the big competition. I'll definitely tape the John sermon for another preaching competition, just for fun, but if it turns out really solid, it may be the NT sermon for the big competition, since stylistically it will be rather different. Que sera, sera.

The good news is that I've bought and shipped Christmas presents for the out-of-town family and friends. The bad news is that I still have to figure out what to get for the kids and PH. Ah, well.
(BTW, the pretty picture of platelets above is from

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Another milestone

Tonight I sang in the annual "Singalong Messiah" performance at my home church. I've been singing in this for thirteen years, and have been a soprano soloist for several of those years. Tonight was most likely my swan song, since I will (I hope) be working for another church next year. In one sense, it was very freeing - I felt utterly relaxed singing "Rejoice Greatly," including all of the melismas and ornaments, and a whole bunch of Bbs. In other, I was cognizant of the fact that this was probably the last time I'll sing this there, and it marks the end of a stage of my life. Bittersweet.

This has been a long day. I preached at Saint Middle School (it went well, I think) and led the Liturgy of the Word, working with a retired priest who did the Communion. I'm feeling less and less like a seminarian and more and more like an almost-clergyperson. I also led the Adult Sunday School, which was fun.

I'm off to the doctor's to get my platelet count checked in the morning tomorrow. I'm hoping the numbers remain high as I taper off the prednisone. Tomorrow night is our last Anglican Thought class for the semester. It will be a semi-busy week, but the end is in sight, and that's good. All these "last times"... strange sensation.

Sermon for Today: Seeing the Future

Isaiah 40: 1-11

The world collapses around us. Somali pirates take over tanker ships. Hundreds die in a terrorist attack in Mumbai, and hundreds more are injured, as a lone two year old weeps, orphaned in the arms of his Indian nurse. Financial markets are in utter disarray, and worried retirees sign on as greeters at WalMart, only to risk being trampled in the Black Friday rush. Milk is tainted with melamine. Nameless prisoners sit in Guantanamo, sweating in the heat, without due process, without even a sense of who they are anymore. Soldiers who went to fight the war on terror come home with missing limbs and broken minds to military hospitals without the resources to give them the help they need.

Our world collapses around us, and we sit at the foot of the wreckage, immobilized by the relentless images of brokenness. In the moment, our eyes cast about us. We ponder our options. But our choices seem impotent. What other option do we have but to look up, to ask God what the future might bring? We want to see the future. We want to know what is going to happen next. We want to be creatures of hope. When we are at bottom, we instinctively look up, because we want to search and see a future that’s better than where we are.

Sometimes, though, that search is neither rational nor spiritual. If you doubt me, I have just four words for you:

Miss Cleo’s Psychic Hotline.

You remember Miss Cleo, don’t you? Late night infomercials, with a woman with a calypso voice, gold hoops on her ears, a scarf around her head, a crystal ball on the table before her.
Miss Cleo promised you a glimpse of your future, if your credit card was functional. You could call up an 800 number and speak to one of her circle of renowned psychics and find out what would happen in your love life, what would happen in your job, what would happen in the next lottery drawing.

Miss Cleo was so outrageous that she eventually became the object of jokes on Leno and Letterman, and finally was sued by the states of Connecticut and Florida for fraud. The companies for which she fronted reached a settlement, giving back several hundred thousand dollars in customer fees. Here’s the irony of the thing, though: the settlement came about because customers were not told they were being switched form the 800 number to a high-priced 900 line. Nothing in the suit was said about the efficacy or accuracy of the predictions folks were given. Even within the court system, there may have been a tiny segment who wanted to believe the psychic “gifts” of those on the phone. Those who are at the bottom struggle to look upward, struggle to see the future, because they so desperately want something better.

It’s a funny story, and we shake our heads at the ignorance of people who think some woman with an accent and a crystal ball can tell the future. We’re smart. We don’t think that way.

And yet, that desire for knowledge of what is to come is in all of us. You and I know this in our own much smaller way right now at Saint Middle School, as we prepare for Pastor J’s departure and the interim time before we call a new vicar. We’re looking upward with questions: what will happen next? Who will our new vicar be? Will Saint Middle School change in ways we cannot anticipate? Even when the pile is not wreckage, but simply change and confusion, we still look upward, wanting to see the future. And when things are not just confused, but are really bad, that desire becomes even more visceral.

We think the hope for mysterious insights into the future are limited to the uneducated, but the other day in an article in the New York Times, there was a piece about stock traders consulting psychics in the roller-coaster of today’s economy. Thomas Taccetta, a trader in Boca Raton, is quoted as saying “There is no rhyme or reason to the way the market is trading…When conditions are this volatile, consulting a psychic can be as good a strategy as any other.”[1]

Even the so-called educated class are struggling in hard times to look upward, to find out what the future might bring.

This is nothing new, though. That upward glance, that hope that something of the future will be revealed, has been a part of human history from its earliest days. Ancient stories of oracles, reading of goat entrails, of special dice called the urim and thumim that high priests tossed to determine the will of God, all of these were a part of the upward glance. When people are at the bottom of the pile of wreckage, they grab whatever ways they can to look upward to see the future.

Our bad times, that whole Grand Guignol with which I started this sermon, are an eerie repetition of the plight of the people of Israel in the time of our reading today from Isaiah. This particular passage is a marker point, the end of the recounting of all the bad things that happened to God’s people during the time of the Assyrian kings because the Israelites failed to maintain their covenant with God. It is an ending to the story of the Israelites’ exile during the Babylonian captivity, so poignantly told in Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept.” It is a turning away from the bad, a turning of the face upward toward the future. What does Isaiah say? “Comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.” Thirty-nine chapters of the prophet Isaiah telling Israel how she has failed and how the Lord has meted punishment upon her, and now, suddenly, instead of looking backward at failure, at degradation, at anger, Israel’s face is turned upward, to the possibility of a very different future. Here is a future with a new beginning, with God redeeming his people, telling them to get ready: “Prepare the way of the LORD. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”

Now there’s an upward glance.

The time of punishment is past and a new future becomes possible. It is a seismic shift, from God’s wrath to God’s plans for his people…and it is a moment of seeing the future, not in details like lottery numbers or tall, dark strangers across a crowded room. Isaiah shows it to us in metaphor, in emotion, in loving promise. The passage continues:
“Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" …He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
God has not abandoned Israel. God is there, comforting, guiding, forgiving, making a new beginning. The upward glance is a glorious one.

It would be a lovely thing to think that history does not repeat itself, that God’s people don’t find themselves at the bottom of the pile of wreckage, but the fact of the matter is that the Bible is replete with stories of the pain of God’s people. In fact, our Gospel today with its story of John the Baptizer is set squarely in another time when God’s people were in dire straits. The Jews were oppressed by the Roman Empire, and by the Jewish leaders who served as intermediaries between Rome and the Jewish people. The Jewish people survived – barely – only because it was in the interest of those in power to keep them around. It is no coincidence that Mark used the exact words from Isaiah, 600 years later, telling of a change coming. “Get ready. Look up. Watch. Something – someone – different is coming.” Again, the change wasn’t spelled out in graphic detail, it was about the intimation of a promise.

In deeply troubled times, God’s people look upward to see the future.

And here’s the gift we receive when we lift our eyes upward: it is something more, something richer and deeper than a glimpse of the future. It is a view of the perfection that union with God can offer. It is that moment where we finally understand that God is with us, guiding us, even through the times that seem to make no sense, into a new place where all the pain that has risen up before us is leveled by a loving God who forgives and cares for us.

The lesson of Advent, the message that Isaiah tells us, is that in the midst of the incomprehensible, when we are so mired in the question of “why” that we cannot grasp the “what next,” there is a God who is coming to show us that possibility, and it cannot be reduced to mere words. It is loving kindness. It is love at its purest. It is a future that exists because God exists, and because our relationship with him is precious.

We look up from the bottom of the pile of wreckage, and suddenly the smell of decay is replaced with the clear crispness of a winter night, and the darkness is no longer frightening, but a deep velvet cloth around us. We see the possibility because we sense God’s love, and it lifts us from the place where we were mired. It lifts us into that love and bids us give it back and beyond us. That is the future that Advent holds. That is the upward glance to the one who is beyond time. That is our hope, and our joy.


[1] LaFerla, Ruth, “Psychic Open: Love, Jobs and 401Ks”, The New York Times, November 23, 2008, p ST1.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Life as we Know It

The final days of this semester are coming hard and fast, and things are very busy around Chez Mibi. Much of the Christmas shopping is done and shipped, thank heavens, but the school stuff still hangs on. And I'm still on strong drugs, which are in their way harder than the remnants of my illness. I'll go back to the doctor's on Monday to get my blood counts checked again and am hoping the numbers stay where they need to be.

The tail end of this week is challenging, in that we have our Seminary Advent Lessons and Carols service tomorrow night, in which I organize the choir and the handbells (since I'm music TA), sing with said choir, and play Eve in a stylized tableau of the Genesis reading. Why they matched me, a 50-something chubby woman with graying hair, with a twenty-something Adam, heaven only knows, but it will still be fun. The service will be preceded by a full day: Small Group worship, coaching two students for the Church Music final oral exam, including singing the Sursum Corda and the Proper Preface, coordinating a GOE scripture prep session, rehearsing the tableau, etc. Then community dinner and the service.

Saturday is relatively mellow, with icon-writing, I hope, plus Christmas tree shopping and house decorating. I should also do another rev of the sermon - it needs a bit more polishing, since it is one of the ones I'll be submitting for the fancy preaching award competition .On Sunday at Saint Middle School, I will preside over the first half of the service - we will have a retired priest who is doing the communion portion - as well as preach, teach a class on the liturgical calendar and the colors and the lectionary and all that, come home, go to tea at our dean's house, go to ordination of several friends, and then go home and collapse.

One more week of classes, during which I need to finish one relatively brief but thorny Medical Ethics paper. I have two exams - one is for a pass-fail class that I know I'll be fine on, the other is the Medical Ethics one, which will be challenging but not beyond manageability.

Somewhere in there I'll be meeting again with my thesis advisor, but where I am with it right now will probably be where I am when I meet with her. No time to do anything else.

And in the midst of it, StrongOpinions is driving east with a friend from Hippie-Dippy town at the foot of the Flatirons. Pray for traveling mercies for her.

I'm hoping the next few weeks for you is lovely and meditative and not hectic, but I suspect your schedules are just as wacky as mine. Blessings on us all!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Other Names Meme

Thanks for this fun meme, LauraLew! everyone who wants to play, consider yourself tagged!

Other Names Meme:
1. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names): Louise Owen
2. NASCAR NAME: (first name of your mother’s dad, father’s dad): Charles John
3. STAR WARS NAME: (the first 2 letters of your last name, first 4 letters of your first name): Thmary
4. DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal): RedCat
5. SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you live): Frances Alexandria
6. SUPERHERO NAME: (2nd favorite color, favorite alcoholic drink, optionally add “THE” to the beginning): Purple Cider
7. FLY NAME: (first 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name): Mape
8. GANGSTA NAME: (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite cookie): BunnyTracksMilano
9.ROCK STAR NAME: (current pet’s name, current street name): Spooky Ripley
10. PORN NAME: (1st pet, street you grew up on): Sherman Belmont