Friday, September 12, 2014

And now for something completely...bizarre

I've been in ministry for 14+ years.  I regularly work with people, which means I regularly see strange things.  Most don't merit storytelling, but I was recently reminded of one particular incident that is too bizarre not to share on an otherwise blah-looking Friday afternoon.  There is no moral or inspiring message to this story.  I'm not sure if I handled it right or not, but it's an incident that I'll never forget.

So it was the Sunday after Christmas, a Sunday when some folks figure the church must be closed, to recover from all the Christmas festivities.  In recent years, we've gone to 1 Sunday service on that day, to make the sanctuary seem vibrantly full, rather than being a let-down after the crowded Christmas Eve services.  Most of our regular ushers were gone, so we were making-do with the few worship assistants we had.  Erik had just finished reading the Gospel, and I was in the chancel, serving as Presiding Minister for the morning.  As the congregation began to sit down, a woman entered the front of the sanctuary and walked right up to him.  He asked if he could help her.  Chuckles came from a few worshippers, assuming there was a skit to follow. 

The woman said, "I'm here to preach!"  Big silence.  Erik said, "Well, today, I'm preaching, but if you'd like to sit down and listen, you're welcome."  Again, she said, "No, I'm here to preach!"  Then my dear husband said, "Pastor Jennifer will be happy to talk to you about that if you just step outside."  Gulp.  At the time, I was a young mother, working half-time, delighting in the fact that my half-time status meant I didn't often have to deal with the difficult situations that arose.  Yet here I was, leaving the security of the sanctuary to meet with this strange, insistent woman.  Alone.  I think when the congregation saw the deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, they started to realize that this wasn't something we had planned.

So I left the sanctuary and met the woman, who calmly asked me how she could get Erik and me booted out of the church, so she could preach.  Not knowing how else to respond, I told her it was a lengthy process, since the congregation had called us to be their pastors, etc.  I was surprised that she was talking about something so absurd in such a calm way, as if she was talking about the weather.  She said, "Can I take it to court?"  I said, "You could try."  She seemed satisfied with that and said, "Okay."  Then she started to tell me about how she'd been murdered the night before, describing in graphic detail what had happened to her.  I wanted to say that she looked remarkably good for someone who had been through all that the night before, though I held my tongue.  "Because I'm Jesus, you know," she said.  Okay.  It was at that time that two dear worshippers left the sanctuary to see if I needed any help.  I'm not sure they knew what we were dealing with, but they kindly spoke to her and listened to her, and she left shortly after.  Police officers we talked to after the incident said they knew who the woman was, and said she's got mental illness issues.

A year later, the same woman joined us halfway through another worship service.  She refused a bulletin and sat down.  During the sharing of the peace, I could see her starting to approach me, so I did the chicken thing and rushed back behind the altar, as if it was my shield from whatever this woman wanted to bring up in the middle of worship.  Oddly, it worked.  She sat down and was quiet for the rest of the service.  After the service, she made a bee-line for me, stood 3 inches away and told me she'd witnessed a murder the night before.  The people surrounding me gasped and looked panicked.  I said, "Did you call the police?"  She said, "No, there's a warrant out for me.  I'm not going to jail!"  I said, "If you call 911 from a pay phone, they won't know it's you, but you could report the murder."  She paused for a minute and said, "Okay.  Can I have a cookie?"  I gave her one, and she left.

I have absolutely no moral to this story, though I suppose it could be, "If you enter ministry, you'll never be bored." 

Monday, June 2, 2014


It's been a long time since I blogged, and I've been reminded that nobody's seen updated pics of the puppy I posted so much about earlier in the year.  Well, here she is, in our favorite "spread-eagle" position.  Do all dogs lie down like this?

Here are some highlights of the last few months.  After Ginger made quick work of chewing up shoes (only one really important one), coasters, pencils, toys, drinking glasses, and many other things, after twice eating her own droppings and refunding them on the carpet (worst smell ever), and after she jumped up on us one too many times, we called a trainer.  He came over for a day and showed us how to use a pinch collar.  It's amazing how well it worked in teaching her to not jump, and particularly, how to walk without tearing our arms out of their sockets.  We saw marked improvements in her behavior within days, though she still had some challenges. 

Once the mounds of snow melted in our back yard, Ginger discovered that in some places, the fence doesn't reach the ground.  And knowing that there's a whole wonderful world outside the fence, she dug out several times, to go visit neighbors, who kindly brought her back.  Soon after that, we installed a long leash, so if she's out there for a long time without supervision, she can't even reach the fence.  Needless to say, this didn't make for a happy puppy.

The other major challenge is an indelicate topic.  But as new parents discover that they can have whole conversations about their baby's poop, puppy-owners find themselves in similar conversations.  Ours weren't so much about frequency or consistency as location.  Long story short, Ginger absolutely refused to do her business while on a leash.  Didn't matter if she'd been walking for an hour or tied up in the back yard in total privacy.  She just wouldn't do it.  Ever. Several times, we had her on the long leash in the back yard, knowing she needed to go.  And as soon as we'd give up and let her in the house, she'd immediately poop on the carpet.  This does not make for joyful puppy-owners.

The good news is that after a few weeks of morning walks with Erik this spring, it seems that she's getting the hang of leash-relief.  She gets richly rewarded for her new skill.  But as she trots along, happily chomping her treat, I wonder if she thinks, "I thought I was being thoughtful by pooping in the yard.  But if carrying my poop in a bag on our walks is that important to you, who am I to question it?"    

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In Meowmory of Sheba

13 1/2 years ago, Erik and I got married in my home church in Cedarburg, WI.  After our honeymoon, we drove his truck, filled with wedding gifts, to Conrad, MT, where we were serving as pastors.  On the way, we stopped at a friend's house, knowing that they had kittens they were giving away.  We met a few kittens, and a cute little gray one seemed to like us.  So we added her to our haul and brought her home with us.  Sheba was the first pet that was ever just mine.

She was part-Siamese, which made her very vocal.  Even when she was full-grown, she had a high-pitched yip and would have yipping conversations with me from time to time.  Perhaps thanks to a couple over-excited little girls she met when she was a kitten, Sheba wasn't fond of strangers.  I always described her as "curious but not friendly."  She'd often sniff people, and when they'd try to pet her, she'd decide she didn't want any of that, and would walk away.  But she always loved us, even when we tried to drug her and take her on a 2-day car trip to Wisconsin when we moved here.  The drug only served to slow her down and make her meow sound drunk.  I don't think she slept more than an hour in the car.  It was a long 2 days.  She still loved us, even when we brought screaming babies into the house. 

I took her to the vet maybe 6 months ago, and she had pneumonia.  They gave her a shot and declared her well a few weeks later.  She still coughed occasionally, but otherwise, she seemed okay.  She was less okay when we brought Ginger home.  When she saw our energetic, excited, jumpy puppy, I could see her thinking, "Really?  I'm too old for this crap."  She calmly walked away from the puppy, down to the basement, where she sleeps and eats.  And that's where she's lived, by choice, for the last month.  She's snuck upstairs a few times, and we've brought her up a few times, but she always quietly walks back down to the basement, as if to say, "Thanks for thinking of me, but I'd rather escape the puppy madness."

For the last few days, we've found Sheba in odd places - under our bed, in our bathroom, sitting outside our shower.  Yesterday, we came home from church, and she was more howly than usual in the basement.  Within a few minutes, she came upstairs to the living room, which she hasn't done in over a month.  She quietly laid down on the carpet, and within a couple minutes, she had died. 

The girls and I were shocked.  If she was still sick, she hadn't shown it.  13 isn't that old for a cat.  We talked a little about losing pets and our sadness, and we just held one another for a while.  Later, when I told Scarlett that maybe someday we'll get another cat, she said, "It would just die."  You've gotta love a 5-year-old fatalist.  :) 

Losing a pet is hard.  Sheba's been a part of our family for longer than our kids have.  We have lots of memories of her, from various stages of our life together.  We may get another cat (long after Ginger is better trained and chills out a bit), but it'll never be Sheba.  We're grateful that she was a part of our family. 

We love you Sheba - we'll miss you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Instant toddler

I am not a dog lover.  I'm more a fan of cats.  I appreciate that cats are independent, can live fine without much help, and that they have to get to know you before they decide you're wonderful.  Dogs are a lot of work.  They make bigger messes, have bigger needs, and they lick and sniff everything, which I've never quite gotten used to.

Erik loves dogs, as does Scarlett.  In fact, we've always suspected that Scarlett was part dog.  She too, would lick and chew anything in her path.  She loves to walk on all fours, and her barks are indistinguishable from real dog barks.  Erik had a yellow lab, Dakota, when we got married.  She was a mellow dog that lived outside most of the year.  When she died about 18 months ago, we knew we wouldn't be replacing her.

But things change.  I could see how much Scarlett would benefit from having her own dog, and I knew Erik would like one.  Besides, I figured it would be good for Sierra to become less afraid of dogs.  So we decided we'd get a puppy after Christmas.  The girls were very excited, and I think their dad was too.  I liked the idea of a cute little puppy, but the pragmatist inside me kept brooding over how much work a puppy would be.

So on December 26, we went to the Humane Society near where my family lives, and we met several puppies.  We finally met "Teddy," a 2-month-old female puppy who was the same color as a teddy bear.  She seemed much more mellow than the other hyper puppies we met.  So she became the newest member of our family.  We renamed her Ginger.  She's part German Shepherd, part mystery.  We've done a little research, and it seems she may only grow to be 25 pounds.  Her mystery ancestors must be much smaller breeds.

I very quickly learned that we had brought a toddler into our home.  We had to start putting things up and away like we did when we had toddlers.  And the nighttime routine was more like having a newborn.  Erik slept on the couch for nearly a week, letting Ginger out at least 3-4 times a night.  Thankfully, she's sleeping a little better now.

Probably the most wonderful discovery in the last 2 weeks has been that Sierra is an exceptional caregiver.  For the kid who was afraid of dogs, she's now fallen in love with ours.  She jumps up to take her outside, she holds her with a smile on her face, and she loves to play with her.  It's been really fun to see how our 9-year-old mama-wanna-be has finally found something to mother appropriately.

I'm still very practical about how much work it will be to own a dog, but Ginger is one of us now, and it'll be fun to see how she grows, and how we grow with her.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Photo: Amazing cake for a great celebration.
If I ever thought I wasn't appreciated, the last month has me eating my words, as well as lots of cake.  A month ago, I turned 40, and my husband orchestrated a surprise birthday party for me.  We're not just talking about a nice dinner party with my 8 closest friends.  This was a party attended by family, friends, colleagues, and parishioners, totaling over 140 people.  What?!  I guess I didn't even know 140 people liked me.  Must've been the free food, I figured.  :)  But I was incredibly humbled and grateful that so many people came to celebrate with me.

I have confidence in many things about myself.  I know I write well.  I'm a good mom.  I have a nice singing voice.  But I was very shy as a child, and it's never been easy for me to make friends or get to know people.  People have often perceived my shyness as snobbiness. I work in the church, so I feel like people think I'm dull, weird, and judgy.  For these and other reasons, I've never been confident that people actually liked or appreciated me.  But I suppose we've all got an insecure 7th grader threatening to burst out of us.

Yesterday, our congregation had a potluck to celebrate that we've now done ministry at Our Savior's for 10 years.  100 people came, and many others wished they could've come.  Numerous people came to tell us how much they appreciated us and how we've touched their lives in these 10 years.  We got verbal and written greetings beautifully sharing people's gratitude and excitement about continuing to do ministry together in the future.  It was almost surreal.  For most pastors, such appreciation is saved for their farewell party.  When we left our previous call in Montana, the most stoic, quiet people who hardly said a word to us in our 3 years there, came and tearfully recounted the reasons that they loved us and would miss us.  Yesterday, we heard, "We're so blessed you came here.  Thanks for all you've done for us."  It sounded very much like what we heard in our last call, but there was no, "Goodbye and good luck" at the end.  Because they're going to see us next week.  And next month, and for a long time after that.  I don't think I was prepared to hear such rich words of love and gratitude from people who I'll continue to preach to, worship with, laugh with, and cry with in the foreseeable future. 

I think pastors expect to be underappreciated.  So much of what we do goes unseen.  After all, "Pastors only work on Sundays," right?  But in the last month, I realized that I was unprepared to hear how deeply we are appreciated.  We put a lot of time, creativity, energy, and thought into ministry.  Often, just doing ministry is enough to satisfy and excite me.  But hearing how much people appreciate what we do and who we are to them, has been a most unexpected delight.  It reminded me of the power of words and gratitude, and inspires me to verbalize my thanks even more often.

So who do you most appreciate in your life?  Have you told them?  Why not tell them now?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm Pedi-"Cured"

You know how some people say, "You can't tickle yourself,"?  They're wrong.  My feet are so ticklish that I can easily tickle myself.  Before you take this as an invitation to tickle me the next time you're in my presence, understand this - when people tickle me, I want to slug them.  Seriously.  Some people find tickling to be fun and cute.  And don't get me wrong, I love the giggles that erupt out of my children when I tickle them from time to time.  But hear this now - if you tickle me on purpose, I cannot be responsible for what harm may come to you.  Being tickled flips a switch inside me that makes me want to lash out.  I feel immediately irritated and angry, and my teeth, jaw, and fists clench.

This is the #1 reason I was never interested in getting a pedicure, closely followed by the utter lack of understanding of why any human being would choose to minister to the feet of strangers.  Yeah, I know that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and I've washed people's feet before.  But to make a career out of cutting toenails and sanding callouses off other people's feet is outside the realm of my comprehension.  Sure, it can be fun to polish somebody else's toenails, but the rest of their job gives me a big case of the icks.  I love shoes.  I do not love feet.  They're goofy-looking, often dirty and smelly, and just plain gross sometimes.  I never understood why people would get pedicures - I can tend my own feet and polish my own toenails, thank you very much. 

My first pedicure was a gift from my parents, just before Scarlett was born.  I was terrified.  I was just certain I'd kick the woman in the face.  Repeatedly.  Honestly, there were several moments of sheer ticklish terror, as she sanded the bottom of my feet.  But overall, it was a pleasant experience.  I can't say that it was relaxing, as I was too focused on not jumping or squealing, but at least no injuries ensued.  And my baby was born to a mother with soft, pretty feet.  Phew!

I've had a few pedicures since then, and it gets a little easier each time.  It's nice to have someone care for me in such a unique way.  As I got the above pedicure while on vacation last week, I started thinking about the people (mostly women) who earn their living by caring for other people's feet.  It's not a glamorous job, but it is an intimate one.  They see where we're sensitive and where we're toughened.  Pedicurists may not know where we've been in life, but they see how our paths have affected us, in a small way.  They cradle and massage the parts of our body that get us to important places in our lives.  So last week, I looked upon my pedicurist with a profound respect.  This woman probably doesn't make a lot of money, nor does she get much respect in the world, but she cares for strangers in an intimate and quietly profound way. 

So can I finally find pedicures relaxing?  Not quite.  But I have a deeper understanding of why people get pedicures, and a true respect for those who give them.  You might even say that I'm pedi-cured.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Forty Years

I'm in my 30's.  For about 9 hours.  Or 22, if you take into account the actual time of my birth.  On my 30th birthday, I was sung to by a whole congregation of people, just before I had to tell them that Erik and I would be leaving 4 weeks later.  Not my favorite birthday memory, though my 30's have truly been the best decade I've ever had.  I got 2 fantastic kids, a great congregation, a better sense of who I am, and some special friendships out of my 30's.  Not too shabby.

I'm not bothered by turning 40, so bring on the, "Lordy, Lordy, Jennifer's 40!" if you must.  What other words rhyme with "forty" anyway?  Sporty, shorty, snorty, warty, Gordy, Morty.  Not a stellar selection of rhyming possibilities.  Even if you're a little bit more creative with words, I'm not sure I need a birthday rhyme about the health of my aorty or my fondness for Havorty cheese.

In thinking about everything I've experienced in 40 years, I started thinking of what else I could've been doing.  A lot of things happened in the Bible "for 40 years."  Just think, I could've been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, eating manna and quail and complaining about everything.  Several passages talk about how the Israelites' clothing and shoes didn't wear out in those 40 years (wow!), and apparently, their feet never even swelled while doing all that wandering.  I also discovered that the length of my life is the same as the length of David's reign and Solomon's reign.  And in Judges "the land rested for forty years" a whole bunch of times. 

I'm thankful for the amazing people and experiences I've had in the 4 decades of my life.  Since I'm not a beer-lover, I'll slightly twist the lyrics of the popular country song, and then it's a pretty good representation of things: "God is great, life is good, and people are crazy."  Crazy keeps life interesting.  My life is plenty interesting. 

I'm confident that my 40's will bring me fewer diapers to change and more sleep.  I'll worry less about whether I'm doing well enough at all my roles, and I'll be more confident in what I'm able to do well.  I'll spend less time wondering if people will like me for who I am, and I'll spend more time trying to get to know people for who they are.  I expect I'll accumulate a few more wrinkles and a couple more pounds in my forties, but even if they do come, I hope they'll be wrinkles coming from joy and pounds coming out of great fellowship.

I guess that's enough for now.  I've gotta go enjoy the rest of my 30's.  The 40's are coming, and I'm ready.  Almost.