Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Third Chair

Back in the day, clarinet was my instrument ... high school marching band and playing concerts in the gym. I wasn't very good. In all honesty, I loathed practicing, and when the new young band director came on staff, my upperclassman status didn't count for much. He held auditions. Shuffled things up a bit -- and me down a bit -- from first to third clarinet part. 

I quit band at the end of that semester, choosing instead to audition for the newly-forming flag corps. This kept me in the loop with marching band and football games, without the drudgery and expectations of clarinet lessons.

The flag corps was fresh and fun, requiring skills that came more naturally -- dance, movement, rhythm, precision. Practices flew by as we developed choreography and worked out the performance details -- like the "how to" of ditching our togas after a selection from "Animal House" under the Friday night lights.

No regrets.

As I listen to a podcast from The Allender Center [more] a quote opens a barren chamber in my heart:

"The most difficult instrument to play in the orchestra is second fiddle." 
- Leonard Bernstein

As I struggle in this season of grief and depression, when hopelessness comes in huge and unexpected waves, when drowning gruesomely promises to be easier than breathing, when it feels as though nothing will ever be fresh and fun God opens a barren chamber within my heart.

And I am reminded of the words from the bible that first captivated me:

... what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. [more]

I surrender. I will breath. I will wait. 


Photo: Miss Jacobson's Music blog "Music Stand Humor"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Being Human

The sun is setting over the Meramec River outside my bedroom window, palest pink over a foundation of gray clouds. The trees are just budding out, dark leafless branches silhouetted by the light. The sound of coyotes woke me just before two in the morning, and still resonates a primal predator-and-prey choreography within my being.

The temp will drop to 47 degrees overnight, from the balmy 78 we're enjoying right now. The windows are open and a cool breeze from the north caresses us. Harley, my 12-year-old Papillion, snoozes on the bed next to me. Born in Texas, Harley never really acclimated to the winters in Wisconsin, and he is flourishing here despite his old age.

Ruminating, I become keenly aware that in the midst of the first two work-is-everything decades of my adult life, I rarely paused for sunsets. We rarely paused at all, my husband and I having bought into the American dream, chasing careers, raising kids, house payments, orthodontics, hours spent commuting.

As the sun sets, I am thankful for the third decade, a time of drawing closer to God and to my husband, for putting careers several notches lower on the list and spending more time just being human.

And tonight, my soul longs for Eden.

   Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26


Thursday, March 16, 2017


A mid-week gathering at the big church this week, my first one, opens with pizza and breadsticks, cookies, water, lemonade, or coffee. Afterwards the kids are given over to the care of volunteers in the well-appointed children's ministry area. Adults move from the tables in the church-meets-caribou coffee area near the entrance into the the centrally-located worship space.

The worship space is arranged differently from the Sunday experience. Most of the comfortably upholstered chairs are missing. Tonight we sit in the center section, cozy but not too crowded. The emptied spaces to our right and left are filled with round white tables accompanied by black chrome-and-plastic chairs. The tables are clean and plain, new enough that table clothes are not required. At the center of each table is a basket or visually pleasing plastic container -- but I get ahead of myself.

The teaching pastor is standing up front. Three large panels backlight the stage. To his left and a good distance behind him are a guitar and a microphone. His bible and a computer notebook rest on a tall table that acts as a lecturn in a lighter, more accessible way. To his right and forward is a screen that reads: Understanding God's Will: Compass v. Blueprint. I am pleased and intrigued, having heard him teach one Sunday and finding grace and truth in the message. The people in the seats surrounding me are quiet and listening. I am listening, watching and taking notes.

He teaches a five-point message, weaving together scripture from Deuteronomy, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Matthew, Luke, James and Proverbs. He closes in prayer and asks us to reflect. Sufficient and suitable time passes as we sit in silence, then another man walks onto the stage, a musician. He picks up the guitar and moves the microphone forward, then begins playing as lyrics are displayed on the screen. Those of us gathered stand and sing -- worshiping, reflecting -- perhaps silently praying, asking forgiveness, accepting grace. At the close of a second song we are invited to move to the tables for communion. The basket at the center of the table where I am seated contains communion elements in prepackaged individual portions and a postcard with simple instructions: introductions then communion, read included scriptures -- Jesus' words from Matthew: this is My Body, this is My Blood. 

The sting of tears alerts me to the tenderness of my lonely and broken heart. I miss the crusty loaves of bread passed from hand to hand, all in attendance at worship standing in a circle, diversity and unity, humanity sharing communion together, sharing life together.

This morning -- the morning after -- as I reflect on the big church mid-week  experience I understand that there is structure and efficiency necessary to serve increasing numbers of people, to invite newcomers, to grow a Christ-centered community this size: 1200 people each weekend. There is not enough time nor humanity within the lead pastor and the teaching pastor to be fully engaged with everyone. The connection I once enjoyed in the intimacy of a smaller congregation cannot be sustained at the macro level. The tables for communion offer opportunity for micro communities within the big church. I understand, yet it feels foreign, unwelcoming.

Tears here, flowing again. I so miss being fully known and loved as I was at Fellowship. Did I offer that to others? I hope so. 

I can't ascertain the truth alone; there is difficulty. Seeing myself as others experience me is clouded.


Scriptures more

Photo: Daniel Schwen, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2016


the gift of comfort from Amanda
"If the wise men had been women ..." the joke opens, "... asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable..." diminishing males in applauding females.

My heart is reminded Mary and Martha, sisters -- Mary at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teachings; Martha in the kitchen. It is Martha that Jesus invites into a new role, to leave the kitchen, to sit at His feet and learn.

Later in the story, the roles are reversed. It is Martha who goes out to meet Jesus, and Mary who stays at home.

As the story unfolds, neither woman is diminished. Both are invited, valued, purposed, loved.

If today you find yourself exhausted by the tasks of Christmas, sit down, be restful, wrap yourself in comfort, enjoy the silence, mute the noise.

Listen to your heart. God is there.


Friday, December 16, 2016

and the child grew

In these weeks of Advent my soul is strengthen by the words, the story of Christmas, as told in Luke, Chapters 1 and 2.

Today the words of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, spoke at the birth of his son: And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:76-80 ESV

In these days, the first Christmas following the death of my husband, I miss the words of encouragement, the call to be a person of peace, to grow and become strong in spirit and I am most grateful for his words, spoken over our children for the past 31 years.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

finding rest

an envelope arrived yesterday from the director of the crematory that assisted us in the days following my husband's unexpected death. at first, i did not want to open it, though its thickness indicated it contained material intended to help me, the grieving person. the envelope rests on the kitchen counter for a time, then i retrieve the letter opener - neatness counts - slit open the envelope, remove its contents and read the cover letter. "Dear Renee, During grief, some days are just harder than others. This brochure gives ideas for getting the most from the toughest ones..." 

something in the words acknowledging the toughest days is soothing to my soul. i read every word of the first 8 pages, skip page 9 - a list of books - and move onto the brochure. reading each paragraph, i nod my head in recognition. yes, me too. yes. yes.

note to self: the author of the brochure is the writer whose book you didn't buy, seeking instead to purchase the book by the female author. me being me. predictable. more

the apartment is sometimes empty and unwelcoming. my husband is not here. i am living without sufficient rest. sleeping during the day is easy enough especially the 3 days each week i work overnights. getting into bed alone at a normal time on a normal night triggers weeping. i toss and turn. the sleep that once came so naturally is now illusive. my soul grows weary.

at the same time, i am 3 journals and 3 blogs into this journey. last night i submitted a piece to Red Tent Living for possible publication, something i haven't done in months more. i am weaving together thoughts and words in coherent fashion. i am writing and that signals i am on the road to recovering, to finding my new normal. breakfast with a friend has resumed at Chickadee's; coffee, strategic planning, shared love of God's word with friend-and-pastor has begun again at Caribou. 

today is day 84 and there is renewed hope that someday i will find rest.


God heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

Friday, August 12, 2016


I run from the sanctuary, exit the building, find myself under a tree. I am undone by the music a saxophone playing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, your song, the first one on your playlist, the first song selected as we planned your funeral, the song that drifted through Demmler Park at 2pm on July 2nd as mourners gathered to celebrate your life.

Session Six: Leadership Illusions opened with Bill Hybels challenging us to explore our blind spots through in introspection, reflection, taking inventory, recreating, re-creating, being with God. The invitation to this conference was a gift. This is our second day and it is good to be here. Bill invites us to reflect on the illusion that growth in leadership capacity and growth in our souls can be achieved simultaneously and at the same rate, that as the leadership capacity/speed curve swoops upward the curve of growth in our souls will keep pace. The truth is that the growth curve of our souls flattens, perhaps turns downward, as in our broken humanity we neglect the spiritual nourishment practices essential to flourishing.

My pen was poised over the designated page in our Summit Notebook, my first-born perfectionist ready to meet this challenge. Bill promises beautiful music. A saxophone begins playing ... it only takes a few notes for me to recognize the melody ... it your song, the song ... Hallelujah.

I run from the sanctuary and exit the building. I need to be outside in the open, to feel the sunlight, to see the clouds, to breathe fresh air. I sit on the bench outside the entrance and give myself over to the messy snotty cries rising up from deep within me, embracing what is illusive and rare for me a complete surrender to grief.

Time passes. I open my eyes and look up. I see the tree. I lie down on the bench. The shape of the branches above reminds me of the broom tree in Elijah's story. My tree is mature and young and healthy flourishing with rich green leaves and strong limbs. As I kick off my shoes and get more comfortable, I am thankful for the early-morning decision to wear pants instead of a skirt, and find myself embracing the freedom to recline without shocking someone who may walk by feeling in the moment that even as I dressed this morning God was with me.

Beneath my broom tree I envision the curves on the screen in the sanctuary, my friends continuing on inside the building, my own curves of speed and soul growth. My speed has slowed and flat-lined in the weeks since your death. My soul growth has risen to meet the speed curve then also flat-lined, God weaving the two together for strength and endurance.

In the quiet of surrender I look up and see two large branches that meet, twist making a knot before separating one growing toward the sky and the other bowing low to earth. You are the upper branch stretching to understand the universe, eager to learn. I am the lower branch left here on earth, embraced by gravity, caressed by the rain, brushed by the wind, living apart from you.

Abandoning my recent prayers of please take me too, I accept God's call back into creation, here on earth for as long as life endures.