When I walk in the fields with Daisy these days I wear a red coat and orange boots, which is kind of silly. I don't even know if anyone's out hunting for anything anymore. I can't keep track of all the different seasons. Plus, it's been really warm. Most mornings I leave the house all buttoned up and overdressed. Daisy, too. This winter she hasn't needed her down jacket very often. It's weird. It's like the winter we had a few years ago when it never snowed. It got really cold, but there was no snow and everyone kind went a little crazy. In the northeast we're programmed for certain things to happen at certain times of the year, and when the snow doesn't come or it rains too much or it's warm in December, it's hard to adjust.
I'm not complaining, though. A Christmas without snow isn't much fun and I feel sorry for all of those in any business that's associated with the weather, but I don't mind not freezing and not scraping the windshield, if only for a while.
Yesterday my brother, Tommy, left for Colorado. Now it's official: all of my siblings live Out West. I don't know how I feel about this. How, I wonder, did this happen, that those upstate New Yorkers ended up in California and Colorado and Alaska? Seems Mom and Dad must have done something right. Those are really nice places to live and work and play and raise kids. But I miss them. I miss them a lot. Especially this week. In a way, I recreated my first family, of two brothers and a sister, by giving birth to two sons and a daughter, but as it turns out, the spin of the Roulette Wheel of Siblings landed in my favor: I adore my brothers and sister and miss them every single day.
But I am kind of delighted that they've chosen to live in places I want to visit. And I look forward to the togetherness we can have, when we can have it, and the stories of our lives apart that we share.
I'm heading into Christmas Week as a pastor, for the first time in my life. which even looks weird when I write it. Eight months into this and I'm still scratching my head. I don't really understand the mysterious workings of this life. A friend of mine, yesterday, said, "If you had told me ten years ago that this would be my life, I never would have believed you." I'm pretty sure that all of us feel that way. And I often wonder why the life we imagined for ourselves turns out to be not at all the life we end up living. At some point, though, I gave up trying to understand it and decided to just let it be what it was going to be. And that's, in part, how this preacher thing happened.
I'm learning all the time. I'm fairly desperate in my hunger for understanding, for enlightenment. But I am learning that it comes incrementally, not all at once, like a whoosh from above. That to make sense of this requires patience and diligence. And humor. Yesterday morning I got up in front of the congregation, and, bedazzled by all of the red clothing folks were wearing, and tired from a 2 AM throw-up session with Coco, I couldn't get my bearings. I forgot the order of things. I was tired and frustrated. I wanted to press Rewind, but that's not really an option once the bell has rung and the service has begun. The show must go on.
Here is what I love about this church thing: the stories. All of my life I have been a reader and a writer, and I will tell you that the stories are at the heart of what I love about this gig. Because they're wild and crazy and funny and full of weird things happening. Not just the stories of the lives of the people I know and love there in our little church, but the stories we grapple with each week. The Old Testament and the New Testament are filled to the brim with some of the best stories I've ever encountered. And though most of them were collected thousands of years ago, they're still relevant to us today. One need look no further than this week's Biblical headlines to see that truth: Unwed Pregnant Teenager Gives Birth to Baby in Inhospitable Conditions. I mean, come on...it's funny! They're in a barn! I'd be willing to bet that Mary felt the same way then that I do now: If you had told me last year that this would be my life today, I would have laughed!
This is what we have in this life: the gift of our stories. Our time, together, sharing with the people we love the stories of ourselves. Which are new and also ancient; funny and also sad; heartbreaking and also heartwarming. They are our frankincense, gold and myrrh. They are what bind us together as humans and they are the thread we have to all the generations that came before. Share them liberally, be generous with the gift of you and Merry Christmas.