Saturday, December 28, 2013

a glimpse of community in winter

Someday, when I have sold Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and begun my life over again,  these are the days I will miss the most.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases and a New Year filled with hope and joy.

This photo set is our year in review.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

zweifelt (reprise)

Today, I went to the ballet and to the abattoir. Neither is particularly unusual; both were necessary.

My life is strange. Mostly I like it that way.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I've been bending your ears (eyes) a lot about grief, so here's a happy diversion inspired by the Friday tradition over at soulemama to post a photo of "A simple, special, extraordinary moment."

The surprise arrival of these living ornaments in the mail jumpstarted the holiday decorating inside Rambling Farmhouse this week.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


There are few people in the world from whom I will tolerate a harangue. My grandmother is one. (If you've met her, I'm sure you're smiling knowingly.) My friend Sasha's mom Lyudmila is another.

Lyudmila is usually soft-spoken, but every once in a while she takes up the mantle of the Russian Babushka and let's you know what's wrong with the world. (If you've ever had a grey-haired woman you've never met walk up to you in a public place in Moscow and tell you that you'll never get a man if you don't dress better and put on some makeup, I'm sure you're smiling knowingly.)

Several weeks ago, I stopped at Sasha's to visit for a bit. While I was taking my coat and boots off, I heard tsking behind me, and when I stood up, the harangue started:

"Still in black! Katyusha, why? How long has it been? Months! This is not what Adam would want. You are so young! He would want you to live and to be happy and to finish your studies. To live. Not this. Katyushenka, it's time."

Then she went to make the tea.

It was the most loving harangue I've ever received. And she was right. It's time.

Moving back to color is not as easy as embracing black was. The line of demarcation is much less sharp. I didn't have a choice about entering this space between end and beginning; Adam's instant and unexpected death plunged me into the wilderness. Moving through and emerging on the other side, however, has to be my choice. It's not necessarily an easy choice. I've gotten used to the wilderness, I've adjusted to the landscape, but I know I can't stay here forever.

So, I'm trying on color again. I haven't unpacked all the things I put away, just pulled out the warmest things or the things I missed. And there may be some days that the black that has represented me to the world for these months will offer the most comfort.

My friend Erin, who pointedly complimented my purple sweater when she came to visit this week, gave me a beautiful image for this process of moving toward beginning. She said that at first I looked like I was carrying a burden that bowed my shoulders and weighed me down, that she could see it in my posture and hear it in my voice. But now, when she looks at me she sees one of those women who carry baskets of produce or jugs of water balanced neatly on their heads with beautiful posture and seeming effortlessness. (If you've ever experienced what a klutz I can be, I'm sure you're smiling knowingly.)

I am so blessed to have wise people who can tell me what they see kindly and lovingly and just when I need to hear it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Sorting someone else's things is profoundly intimate.

I violate private space to empty the desk and the dressers.

I judge the value of objects:
worthwhile memento
useful bit
questionable mystery
worthy of donation
worthless trash

I create categories:
office supplies
foreign currency
drawings and calculations
garage debris

Many objects remind me of something about their owner. Some objects reveal what I had never known.

Each decision feels like not only a decision about the object, but a decision about the person.

I want to claim the corners of this house that have been unused since Adam died. I want to fill them with life and purpose instead of dust and cobwebs.

I purchase the space with my tears.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Today was the disposition hearing (juvenile court equivalent of sentencing) in the matter against the teenaged driver who caused the accident that killed my husband. Unlike the preliminary hearing, this time I did not go alone. Adam's parents, his sister and brother-in-law, his best friend, my mother, and the children went with me.

Taking the children was a bit of a controversial decision. Sofia especially did not want to go, but her reasons were all based on unwarranted fears (of having to meet people, of having to speak). I wanted the teenager to see the faces of the lives her actions have impacted, and I wanted the girls to see that she is a regular person, not a monster.

I did accept the invitation to speak in court. I said, "Your mistake has affected so many lives, and you can see some of them here. No punishment this court can impose can bring my husband back. The only thing you can do is serve the sentence the judge gives you, get a good education, and share your gifts with the world. Because that is what my husband was doing, sharing his gifts with the world." At least, I'm pretty sure I said all of that. It's what I meant to say, but it was punctuated by a lot of sobs.

I think everyone on the prosecution side of the courtroom cried. Even the judge cried when she was reading from the victim impact statement I had submitted ahead of time. (My submitted statement included a printout of the Wikipedia page about Adam, and the judge had it with her at the bench. If the author of that page is reading this, please know that you have my thanks.) The prosecutor cried, too, when she met us in the hall afterward.

The teenager has been sentenced to an additional 30 days of home detention, which includes attending school. She has already served 60 days of home detention, but more time can be added if the probation officer requests it. Probation will be at least 15 months and include mental health services. She is also required to serve 1,000 hours of community service and make a modest financial restitution.

Today's events have made emotions raw again. If you've been praying for us, please include all those who were involved in the hearing today. This was not easy for anyone.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

walk in the light

This sermon was delivered Sunday, December 1, 2013 at the Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference). The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Year A, First Sunday of Advent were Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, and Romans 13:11-14.

My favorite part of Advent is the candles. Seriously. I think we do not have enough holidays that involve candles. They’re pretty awesome.
In the storms a couple of weeks ago, we were without power at my house from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday evening, and I spent more time with candlelight than I have in a while. I was reminded that the flame of a candle is different from electric light. It’s more glowy, and it doesn’t penetrate as far. A single candle, like the one we lit this morning, or a small group of candles, like the ones we will light in coming weeks, can illuminate the space immediately surrounding them, while at the same time highlighting the darkness at the edges of the room, outside the circle of light. This limited range of candlelight draws people in, pulls them into the illuminated space. I suppose electric light works the same way, but on a grander scale, and the circle of light from one light bulb intersects with the circle of light from the next such that we notice the darkness less and we are not drawn together.
It’s no coincidence that Advent comes as the days are getting ever shorter, or that we celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of year. Have you ever noticed how many religious and cultural traditions celebrate a holiday this time of year? There’s Christmas, Hannukah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, African Kwanzaa, Buddhist Bodhi Day.
The common theme of all these holidays is light. Hannukah celebrates the light that lasted eight nights despite having oil only for one. Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing. Kwanzaa uses colored candles as a mnemonic device to remember the Seven Principles. And Bodhi Day commemorates the light of wisdom coming to the Buddah.
There is something wonderful about a light shining in the darkness, a candle pushing back the night with its wee little flame. This morning, as we lit our first Advent candle, we began preparing for our own celebration of the Light of World, the birth of the one prophesied in Isaiah, who will teach us to walk in his paths.
Isaiah 2:5 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.What a beautiful vision. Imagine that for a moment. Imagine a world where everyone felt safe enough to transform their weapons into tools. That looks like a pretty beautiful place to me.
We often read this verse as an impossible pie-in-the-sky vision for the future. Something that maybe our children’s children’s children will see. However, this verse taken in the context of the passage from Isaiah and Psalm 122 and the passage from Romans does not have to be a vision for the distant future. If we accept the call from Isaiah to walk in the light or from the writer of Romans to put on the armor of light, we can work to realize this vision here, now, in this world where we live.
For centuries, Christian thought has regarded this present world as unimportant, an imperfect and broken world from which Christ will lift us on his second coming. This idea of the world as an imperfect shadow of the perfect reality elsewhere can be traced back to the Neo-Platonists, a group of Greek philosophers contemporary with the early church.* This idea, however, does not originate within the church. Rather, it is an example of secular culture overlaid onto the narrative of creation, fall, crucifixion, resurrection, and return. At some times in our history, Christians have argued that this world does not matter, that we should live our lives as a means to get to the Kingdom of God in the afterlife.
The passages from Isaiah and from the epistle to the Romans, however, each include an invitation for the present. They propose that we “walk in the light of the Lord” and “put on the armor of light.” But what does that mean?
Increasingly in recent years, there has been a movement among some Christians to live in the kingdom of god right here and right now. To endeavor to make this present world a better place by loving our neighbors as ourselves, turning the other cheek, caring for the creation, and working for social justice. A commitment to living the kingdom into fruition has broad implications for the way we live our lives and where we spend our limited time, energy, and resources.
We can join the Evangelical Environmental Network, which embraces creation care projects around the world. We can support missionaries from the United Methodist Church and from other denominations who lead the fight against disease in the world’s most poor and war-ravaged countries with projects like Imagine No Malaria. We can support organizations like Friendly PlanetMissiology who are working to aid the development of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Katanga region by riding their bicycles through jungles and war zones to pray with local pastors and offer their helping hands. We can support UMCOR’s relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines. [At Wakelee: We can support Ruslan and Olga in the Ukraine or the Alliance for Smiles as we did with our collection this morning.]
Organizations and projects that live the kingdom into fruition exist around the world, but they are also happening right here. My friends Rob and Kirsten Vander Giessen-Rietsma, whom you might know as the founders of the World Fare store in Three Rivers, are doing wonderful work of kingdom building. Their organization *culture is not optional and the related Huss Projectmodel and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond” and “aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.” ** Rob and Kirsten and their board of directors took a huge leap of faith when they bought the old Huss School building on Eighth Street with the vision of a community center that includes space for public use as well as studio space for artists. Their faithful work has made so much progress. At their annual FutureFest, people who attended Huss mingle with the young people involved in the community garden and local artists, and the neighborhood around that building is rebuilding its sense of community. In this town of Marcellus, the work of the kingdom is happening, too. As the Marcellus Area Food Pantry offers nourishment to the body, this church and especially the Kids Rock program offer nourishment to the soul.
The world is so big. The creation is so very big, and it is so very broken, and sometimes the magnitude is overwhelming. It can be hard to choose where to commit our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.  With limited resources, we can only do so much.
But I think sometimes our commitment to projects and organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned this morning become a way that we pat ourselves on the back. We say, “I am supporting the mission of the church in Marcellus, or Three Rivers, or the Philippines, or the Congo. I am doing good work for the kingdom of God.” The greater challenge, at least for me, is to walk in the light in our daily lives apart from projects and organizations.
When we hear that line about beating our swords into ploughshares, we think of peace at the level of nations, but I think we also need to think of peace at the level of daily interactions. A sword is a tool for punishment, for killing, for aggression, and for domination.  A ploughshare, on the other hand, is a tool for nourishment and for sustaining life.  For the past few years, I have been working to interact with people using a ploughshare rather than a sword. You may remember the last time I stood in this pulpit talking about living God’s love in the world. It has not been easy to break out of the patterns of aggression and domination and to build life-sustaining habits of love in interpersonal interactions, and I’m not always successful. I still sometimes lose my temper and yell, just ask my children. The effort I’ve directed toward living love, though, has made me a better parent, a better teacher, a better co-worker, and a better spouse and friend.
My commitment to walk in the light of the kingdom of god by living love in my world was sorely tested this year. In June my husband was killed in an automobile accident caused by an unlicensed, teenaged driver who had taken her parents’ car for a joyride. She raced through an intersection without stopping at the stop sign and struck Adam’s car, spinning it into oncoming traffic at highway speed. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
            A lot of people expected me to be angry. A lot of them were angry themselves. They told me to “sue the pants off” the teenager’s parents, to "take them for all they're worth." They told me to demand the harshest sentence possible, to make sure the driver was tried as an adult, and that she served time in jail. The people who were angry wanted me to take up the sword.
Friends, that’s not what I did. I bent the sword into a ploughshare instead.
I prayed for the driver and her family, and I asked those who offered to pray for me to pray for her, too. I have been wounded and frustrated, but I have not been angry. This girl has seen the results of her poor choices in a very real way. She can not unsee the carnage of the accident or unknow that her actions resulted in someone else’s death, and that is a powerful sort of punishment that she will carry her whole life.
I do think that this teenager should face formal consequences for her actions, and the mechanism we have for consequences in American society is the court system. In conversation with the prosecutor’s office, I agreed that some combination of home detention, probation, and restitution through juvenile court would be appropriate, and the judge will make that decision tomorrow afternoon. In reality, though, no amount of punishment in a court of law can restore my husband to me or replace his unique contribution to God’s creation. To destroy the life of the teenager with the harshest punishment available would be to rob God’s creation of her unique contribution, too, and that would compound the tragedy.
This is me living love in a broken world. This is me doing my best to walk in the light. This is me saying with the psalmist, “Peace be within you,” to the people whose lives intersect with mine.

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar. We start our year in the growing darkness with time set aside to prepare to welcome the light back into the world at Christmas. There are many ways to answer Isaiah’s call to walk in the light, from the international to the interpersonal. I’ve mentioned several this morning. I invite you this Advent to join me in reflecting on what it means to walk in the light in our daily interactions with one another.

* More on this here.
** From *cino's mission and vision statements.

Correction: "Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing." This sentence has been changed. I mistakenly said that Saturnalia and the Solstice mark the moment that day and night are equal. I know better, and I appreciate the reader who pointed out my mistake. Thanks, Mel.

Update: This sermon has been reposted to the Spirituality Column at Spectrum in modified form.