Sometimes I Really Hate This Time of Year

pregnancy test – negative

We are in the thick of Advent. Inside the church, we are quick to turn our focus to Elizabeth, to Mary, to drawing parallels between the waiting time of pregnancy and the waiting time of Advent. Outside the church, Christmas cards show up in our mailboxes each day with pictures of smiling families dressed to the nines for Christmas portraits, or religious cards with silhouettes of pregnant Mary riding on the donkey, led by Joseph, down the road toward Bethlehem. Singers on the radio remind us that it is “the most wonderful time of year.”

Except when it isn’t.

“Sometimes I hate this time of year,” one colleague admits.

Because for those who long for children that they cannot conceive, for those who know the loss of a pregnancy or the loss of a child, for those who are childless beyond their choice or power, this intensely child-focused time of year is anything but wonderful. Hear the voices of young clergy women colleagues as they reflect on the tension of this season: Read more

The Snow Day

Just call us “Peoples Presbyterian: Church of the Holy Ice Flow”

Just call us “Peoples Presbyterian: Church of the Holy Ice Flow”

In the Shriver household, the morning did not start well. I knew it was cold, so as soon as I woke up, I checked my phone. Yep. School’s closed. Today was a Snow Day. Well, to be precise, today was a Cold Weather Day. The local school district, where my two sons are enrolled, closes whenever the morning temperature is too low. Something reasonable about not wanting children to freeze while waiting for the bus or whatever.

Between my husband and me there was plenty of grumbling, some horse-trading around who had to stay home this time, and a few not-safe-for-church words sent in the general direction of the school district. These past three weeks have been hard. Three sick days, two midwinter break days (why!?), two cold weather days, two snow days, and…wait for it…five regular school days. Five. It hasn’t been a recipe for a happy family or a productive work life for either of us. As I said, it’s been a hard three weeks.

And so, on this cold weather day, we settled on a compromise: Kelly would be home for the morning, John would take the afternoon shift, and we’d both work from home after bedtime. Sigh. Another snow day, solved? Resolved? Resigned to? I don’t even know how to think about it anymore. I’m just so tired.

But then, today, something in me shifted. I was sitting there, on the couch, browsing my phone, keeping one lazy eye on the kids (they were ripping things up, but those documents weren’t that important, right?), and I ran across a Facebook post from a friend. Her school district was open, despite crippling snow in her area, and she was giving thanks. Not to gloat about her ability to go to work, not to rub it in my face that her kids got to go to school, but because the 50,000 kids in her county who rely on free lunch would get to eat that day. And it made me pause: 50,000 kids get to eat.

It took 50,000 kids and a Facebook post to jar my brain enough to pan out and see the larger scope. Like Ana and her melting frozen heart…or maybe I’ve just seen Frozen too many times in the past three weeks. Sure, it was easy for me to complain about lost productivity, but what about the others? What about those parents who didn’t serve a beautiful, compassionate church that allows me all the flexibility in the world when it comes to my family? What about those parents whose partners don’t work in flexible, family friendly offices, or even more so, don’t have a partner to rely on? What about those kids who won’t eat without a free breakfast and lunch? What about those kids whose houses aren’t kept warm enough, because of the heating bill? What about those younger kids left alone, because mom and dad have no choice but to work? What about the seniors whose Meals on Wheels won’t be delivered, because they’re tied to the closure schedule of the local school district? What about the others whose lives are far more deeply impacted by a snow day than my own?

Don’t get me wrong, my lizard brain, the bit of me that dwells solely on Kelly and her perceived needs, is still having a field day with this. I can’t stop myself from worrying and complaining about the personal inconvenience caused by this snow day. It’s selfish, but true.

And at the same time, 50,000 kids and a Facebook post reminded me: I really am going to be fine. Some compassionate part of me is starting to see what a snow day does to the children, families, and community around me. And, I guess, part of me is starting to fight back against my own, selfish lizard brain, melting a bit of that frozen heart. To take notice of the people around me who are invisible, whose inconvenience is far more severe than my own, and to give thanks for my sweet church and my husband’s flexible job.

In a larger sense, as a pastor and not just a mom, I’m being called back, once more, into the pulpit on Sunday morning humbled, reminded that a bit of compassion, a larger view of community, is what God asks of us. It’s a question that for me, once asked, I can’t forget. It’s a question that I feel I need to ask of my church (which happens to sit less than 100 yards away from the town elementary school). It’s a question about how knowing and seeing the needs of others may begin to translate into finding a way to serve and care for the neighbors around us—in the surprising and new ways God may be calling me, calling my family, calling my church, calling us.

Miles to Go

Though it is in our lectionary, our Lamentations text – this prayer of pain and petition – is not something we hear every day. I doubt many of us could quote from Lamentations as easily as we could from Psalms, from Isaiah, or from any of the gospels or epistles. So when we do hear from this book, it may come as a shock to our system. When I’ve told people that one of the texts I would be preaching from this morning is Lamentations, I got very similar responses. There were a few “ohs” and “that’s interesting,” and even an occasional “oh my.” Not exactly the words of assurance a woman would want. But these words did not really surprise me for what we find in this book – undiluted expressions of despair – are rarely the passages we seek out for nice Bible studies or our bedtime readings.

We are fortunate, then, that though we may not seek certain passages out, they surely seek us out. The scriptures which testify to the Word made flesh are not just letters on a page. When engaged with the Spirit, they are a living witness. This living witness is a Word that does not sit quietly, waiting for us to stumble upon it. It relentlessly seeks us out, captures us in its warm grasp, will not let us go until we have thoroughly engaged it.

Though many of us may avoid a book which is consumed with such vulnerable grief, given the recent events in our country, in our world, perhaps it is not surprising that this particular Lamentations text is seeking us out. With its opening words “how lonely sits the city that once was full of people” the passage invokes disturbing images from our recent news reports: images of cities empty of people but full of water; images of homes, businesses, places of worship destroyed by rumbling ground; images of complete and total destruction; of ways of life and life itself lost.

These words recall such images because they were written in the midst of similar despair. Lamentations is a poetic response to perhaps the most traumatic series of events in Jewish history outside the Holocaust, the Babylonian exile. In 587 B.C.E. the people of Jerusalem were invaded by the Babylonian empire’s army. The siege lasted two years and saw the destruction of the city’s walls, buildings, and even the temple; saw a famine where men, women, children alike died from lack of nutrition; saw the deportation of Jerusalem’s king, the murder of the royal family, and the exile of many of its citizens. The lament we have before us, unlike the pain expressed in books like Ezekiel, does not come from those in exile. This lament is unique in the portrayals of the exile for it comes from those left behind. Those who look around and see the invaders in their homes, those who see their destroyed temple, those who see the mass graves. It is this people in this place who cry aloud as Daughter Zion: “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?”

Through Daughter Zion’s words, I can hear the voices of the victims of the unrelenting hurricanes, of the earthquake in Pakistan, of the places – too many places – where war is a way of life. In the face of pain and suffering in a multitude of places on such massive levels, Lamentations cries out to us. It cries out, speaking of loneliness, speaking of desolation. It cries out to God and it cries out to this body, the body of Christ, demanding to be heard. Read more