Horror in the Hen House

“Chickens rarely die of old age.”

I’ve said this countless times, usually to the youth that has volunteered to watch my flock while I’m out of town visiting family or attending a conference. Their eyes always grow wide at the possibility that a predator will sneak into the coop while under their watch- I say it to preemptively let them off the hook, just in case something happens. It’s not your fault, these things happen, it’s the circle of life… chickens rarely die of old age.

I whispered these words to myself this morning, sometime between 4 and 5am as the sounds of frantic birds and a wild animal woke me from sleep. I admit, with only a little shame, that I did not race down the stairs as I usually do at the sound of a disturbance. It was clear it was already too late, so I laid there, listening, reminding myself of the circle of life.

I was certain we had lost them all, so you can imagine my surprise when my husband shared that we still had three hens unscathed. How do we keep them safe? With no clear sign of entry, how can we make sure our remaining three make it through another night? This is how I will spend the rest of my day: checking the perimeter, reinforcing weak spots, fixing the sliding door to the coop so that they can be securely locked away at night.

Yesterday in church I preached about the parable of the wedding banquet, about our need to break down barriers that have been constructed to keep others out. About our need to extend an invitation to those who have been outcast, to welcome them around the table in order to bring forth the kingdom of heaven. Now I wonder if I should have taken a cue from Saint Francis and preached instead to the animals. Perhaps I should have reminded them of Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kingdom, where “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, NRSV) Where chickens can live safely beside fox, raccoon, and fisher cat.

Peaches

Auden, age 5, enjoying a peach

I’m not sure where I read it- if it was Barbara Brown Taylor or Anne Lamott, Nadia Bolz Weber or Heather Murray Elkins- but I read once that grace is like a ripe reach. That it is so sweet, so freely given, there is nothing we can do to earn it but take a big bite and relish in its juicy goodness. I’m not a huge fan of peaches myself so the image was always a little lost me, yet it has stuck with me over the years. Grace is like a peach.

On a Saturday in August I was running errands with my daughters in tow. As the afternoon dragged on our energy and patience began to wane. The library was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back; torn away from the tablets and promise of the playground too soon, my daughters melted into puddles of tears. Only two more stops, I promised, trying to sound cheerful as I wrestled them into their carseats.

I thought our next stop would cheer them up, a trip to Farmer Tom’s produce stand. With list in hand they carried the basket which we quickly filled with corn, tomatoes and zucchini. Look at the peaches! one of them exclaimed. We want peaches, we want peaches! How can you say no when your children want to eat fruit? Only one each, I told them. Which quickly turned into two- one for each hand. They were happy— until it was time to check out and they saw the packaged snacks for sale, strategically placed by the register. Pirate Booty, gummies, and granola bars were snatched up by little hands and dumped on the counter as quickly as I put them back, my admonishments to stop, not today, put it back falling on stubborn, hangry ears. You’re getting peaches! I finally snapped, apologizing to the young woman who took me card before hustling my offspring to the van. There were tears, and squabbles, and refusals to get into their seats until I finally lost my cool. As we drove to our final stop, through sniffles, one of my daughters asked for a peach.

I wanted to tell her that peaches aren’t car food. I wanted to tell her that they’re messy, and sticky, and would drip all over her. But one look at her tear-stained face softened my frustrated heart. Just one, I said softly, passing them each a fuzzy piece of fruit.

Then…

silence.

No more crying, or sniffles, or protestations.

No requests for songs, or questioning when we got to go home.

Only the sound of their teeth breaking the skin, sinking into the ripe flesh of the fruit, juices flowing.

Every now and then a hum of pleasure as they relished the goodness of this gift they had been given.

When we finally returned home they showed the pits proudly to their father, then asked for another. We sat in the side yard as they enjoyed their peaches, the stress of the afternoon set aside. They munched on their peaches, juice dripping down their chins and onto their dresses.

A taste of grace.

Spring has sprung

Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce… Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
Isaiah 29:5, 7

Auden and Amelia spent the afternoon coloring outside, under the flowering tree

There’s a powerful line in the musical Hamilton that says:

“Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
-Lin Manuel Miranda

This isn’t completely original to LMM- there is a similar iteration found in the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and I believe it’s roots are in an old proverb. It also echoes this passage in Isaiah, where God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to bring a word of hope to the Israelites who find themselves exiled, strangers in a strange land. As a pastor married to a pastor serving in an itinerant system- meaning we go where the bishop sends us- I easily connect with this passage from Isaiah.

I’ve already lived in plenty of parsonages. For those outside the church-world, a parsonage is a house owned by a church where the pastor and their family resides. Living in a parsonage isn’t always easy (that’s a post for another day!) but it does have its perks!

We have lived in four different parsonages over the last 10 years- in fact, my daughters, who are currently five, lived in three different houses by the time they were four years old. That’s a lot of packing, saying good-bye, moving, and setting up a house in a new community. One of my favorite parts of parsonage living is the first spring living in there- it’s always full of surprises! In my denomination (United Methodist) we usually receive word that we’re being moved in the winter, which means our first visit to our new home is when everything is dark, and bleak, and dead. It’s doesn’t make for great first impressions. When we move at the end of June most of the spring flowers have already bloomed and shriveled up. So it isn’t until the following spring when we finally get to see what the gardens will give us.

What a gift they’ve given us this season!

Vibrant, magenta hued azaleas. Lily of the valley. Beautiful clusters of lilacs. Hostas bigger than a tire. A flowering tree (I have no idea what kind it is, only that it’s extremely hardy. I’ve been told it’s been cut down to a stump multiple times only for it to grow back bigger than ever). And of course, the odd Easter lily and hyacinth, leftover from Easters past.

Ever since we moved last summer I’ve been dreaming of my own gardens. While I enjoy flower gardens, it’s edible gardens that I really love. After battling with a bed of ivy for three seasons, I finally gave up on turning that patch of tilled earth into a vegetable garden and made a raised bed. Between an existing raised bed, plants in containers, and the new raised bed we made we should have a hearty haul of vegetables come mid- to late summer.

We’ve already planted corn and sunflower seeds, which desperately need to be transplanted. The pre-existing raised bed is now an herb garden, with basil, oregano, parsley, dill and nasturtium (an edible flower) seeds planted. Four different varieties of tomatoes are in pots, as is a blueberry plant. Soon we will plant peas, string beans, eggplant, cucumber, and squash.

Putting down roots in a new community isn’t always easy- but it’s bound to be an adventure! I can’t wait to see the fruits of our labor as this new season passes.

Psalm 51 Prayer

Note: I wrote this prayer for evening worship at the Academy for Spiritual Formation through The Upper Room.
Psalm Prayer: Psalm 51 (theme, confession)

O God- my God,

I confess that there are some things I cannot do.
I confess that I make mistakes- daily. Sometimes I’ve made a dozen before breakfast.
I confess that I don’t always know what you want from me,
or what my community wants, or my family wants, or my church wants.
I confess that the one thing you desire from me is often the hardest thing to give.
If you wanted the first fruits of the harvest I would plant you garden.
If you wanted a fatted calf burned upon an altar I would build a barn, and buy muck boots, and learn how to care for and then kill a cow.
If you wanted my money I would gladly write a check.
But none of this would please you, God, and I confess
that sometimes it seems impossible to give you
the one thing you want:
my heart.
Help me to give it to you gladly.
Even when it is crushed from the cruelty of the world.
Even when it is bruised, but still beating.
I wish I could scrub it clean myself, but I can’t.
Only you, my God, can make it whole.
Please tend, mend, and cleanse my heart,
and then give me the courage to offer it to you
again
and again
and again.
Amen.

Lipstick & Imago Dei

 

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It is Sunday morning and, as usual, we are running late. I am standing in the bathroom that I share with my daughters, blending concealer and foundation onto my face, the counter lined with cosmetics standing at attention like little toy soldiers. Amelia wanders into the room, still in her pajamas, and watches as I go about the work of putting on my face. She grabs the tube of concealer and I quickly snatch it away- it’s expensive, and it’s only a small tube, and there’s so much that needs to be covered. I have to make it last. “Mommy, I want to wear makeup too,” she says, at first absentmindedly, but becoming more adamant. “Mommy, give me makeup. I need my makeup now.” I hand her the brush- she likes the way the soft bristles feel against her face- and begin applying eye shadow to my eyelids. “Why do you need makeup, baby?” I ask, not sure that I like the color I chose. “I need to look pretty.”

Her words stop me cold. I look at my beautiful, compassionate, funny child and wonder how, at three and half, she already thinks she needs to do something to herself to make herself pretty. “You are already pretty,” I tell her, at a loss for words. She goes back to stroking her cheeks with the brush, every once in a while looking in the mirror. I want to stop and get down on my knees to talk to her, talk with her, but there’s no time. We’re running late, and she’s still in her pajamas.

I want to tell her that she is fiercely and wonderfully made. I want to tell her how she has been made in the image of God, just like her sister, just like me. I want to cup her cheeks in my hands and tell her that I see God in her face, so please don’t cover it up. I want to tell my daughter all these things, but I don’t. Because she is insisting there is not enough makeup on the brush- I tell her that there is (she’s right, there isn’t, in fact there’s none). She demands that I get lipstick for her, and I tell her that it’s lost, which is a lie. I know exactly where it is; tubes of varied hues ranging from the natural color of my lips to a radiant red have all somehow found their way to the bottom of my work bag, each one coated with the powdery flakes of crushed communion wafers, thrown in hastily after serving Eucharist at the nursing home. Lipstick mixed with the body of Christ.

I want to tell her I see God in her face, but then I wonder: why do I cover up the imago Dei in me? When did I stop seeing God in my own reflection? And if I wipe this covering away, what will God show me?

 

Welcome Letter: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Hello, Neighbor!

It may be a bit soon to be calling you that, Neighbor, because I most likely haven’t met you yet. It is with great excitement (and a little nervousness) that my family and I are packing our belongings in preparation of moving to your neighborhood. It is with equal excitement (and perhaps a bit more nervousness!) that I prepare to step into the humble role of Pastor at Hurdtown and Lake Hopatcong United Methodist Churches. I imagine that you may also be feeling excited and nervous- after all, you’ve never met me either! It’s perfectly normal to have mixed feelings in the midst of a big change- and getting a new pastor is definitely a big change. When my daughters get nervous about something new we often sing a little song that we learned from the children’s television show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that goes like this: When something is new, holding a hand can help you.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a spin off of the classic children’s television show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Fred Rogers, or “Mr. Rogers” was a Presbyterian minister who used public television to engage children of all ages and to teach them valuable lessons about emotions, how things work, and living in community with one another. The theme song, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, is the title of a recent documentary that is being shown in theatres now, and is also the inspiration behind our worship series for the month of July as you and I get to know one another. Each week we will look at a key element, character, or lesson from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

July 1st: Loving Ourselves & Loving Others

July 8th: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

July 15th: Look for the Helpers

July 22nd: In Some Ways We Are Different

July 29th: The Neighborhood of Make Believe

Before we meet one another face to face let me tell you a few things about me that may answer some questions you have. First, if you ask where I’m from I may stare at you blankly for a second or two before answering. You see, I’ve moved six times in the last ten years and have called many different neighborhoods Home. I will most likely tell you Towson, Maryland, as that is where I was born, raised, and my family still resides (I have a mother, father, three sisters, a brother in law, a soon to be brother in law, and two nephews. Family gatherings are really loud!). You will probably meet most of my family over the next few months, as they love to come visit us here in New Jersey. You will also meet my husband Evan, who is also a pastor (so you probably won’t see him on Sunday mornings).

Outside of Sunday morning when I usually wear a robe you will most likely see me in a clergy collar, a sweater (if I wasn’t a pastor I’d probably be a librarian), or an apron. Sometimes I might be in all three at once! I’ve also been known to wear some pretty wild leggings from time to time- life’s too short to wear boring clothes!

Finally, I’m often asked what I would like to be called. The two names most frequently used are Pastor Amanda and Mama. I have four year old twin daughters named Auden and Amelia who you will see quite a lot. Together we are Triple A, ready to save the day! I consider both roles, pastor and mama, to be my calling in life, and for me they go hand in hand. I would not be the mother I am without my experience as a pastor. Likewise, I would not be the pastor that I am today if I were not mother. If you would like to follow along on our daily adventures or sneak a peek at old sermons or other pieces I’ve written you can check out our blog, MamaPastor

Mr. Rogers’ had a favorite quote that he carried with him that read, “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” I am so looking forward to hearing your stories and getting to know you over these next weeks and months! So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, Since we’re together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor?

                                                                          Grace and Peace,
                                                                                  Pastor Amanda

 

Blessing a Bed

God of soft and safe spaces

Thank you for our bed.

 

Thank you for the giggles in the morning

As I pretend to “make” my daughter’s into the blankets

Drawing the sheets over their heads.

 

Thank you for the whoops and shouts as it

Is used as a playground or trampoline

As “five little monkeys” jump, and fall,

And jump again.

 

Thank you for the dolls and stuffed animals

That get carefully lined up and then

Tucked ever so gently under the blanket because

The girls are playing doctor and their

“Babies” are “sick”

and that’s how you take care of

Something you love.

 

Thank you for the evenings when we sink

Into its warm embrace, a child nestled

In the crook of each arm.

 

Thank you for the plaid flannel sheets

That make me think of Maine,

For the fleece blanket that my mother made

Which carries within it the smell of

Incense and lavender that was burned

The night before.

 

Thank you for the safe space

Where my daughters are fed,

Where we say evening prayer,

Where we whisper “I love you”.

 

Thank you, O God, for this bed

That holds each one of us safely as we slumber

As if in Your own hand.

 

Thank you for this intimate space

That is big enough

For all of us.