UMC District Newsletter

On Wonder, On Joy

I’ve been thinking about wonder – how it happens, what it does...

Driving back to Portland on Monday from Manzanita, winding along a woodsy coastal highway, I glimpsed through the trees a spectacular view: an expanse of ocean, sunlight breaking through grey sky to bounce across the water, sharp rays of light shooting down through the clouds. These were the kind of light beams I think of as “the Glory.” The Glory from those Children's Bible type pictures of Jesus and other "heroes," where light directs our attention to something important.

Alone in the car, a sound burst out of me, something like, “Ha!” Then, “Oh, my God! Are you kidding me?”

No, God is not kidding. That much wonder really exists and when it takes us by surprise – as wonder, to do its job, must – it feels miraculous. It feels like a bright ping of joy.

This joy is a moment, a shockwave through the regular mist of mundanity, or, in this particular moment in time, through the tornado of worry about the state of our world. For a while as I drove on, I felt a little guilty. With so many troubling things going on around me, around all of us, how do I take this in too? This awe. How does it balance together?

(It’s tricky, the ingrained this vs. that mindset.)

As I thought, this morning, about writing this little piece for you, I knew I’d tell you about that moment in the drive, the laugh of joy bursting out; I knew I’d write about the power of wonder. But why would it matter? How could I even justify celebrating my one tiny moment in the midst of all the struggles, incivilities, and fear swirling through the lives of God’s people (and by that, I mean all people)?

And this scripture-song bubbled up, another relic from children’s church: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I remember it as a silly sing-along song (and if you choose to click that link, you'll see why), but looking at the context of Nehemiah 8:10, the people to whom this line was addressed were not in a silly mood; they were weeping and mourning. Those words were a reminder: “This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

That moment on the road mattered. All of our, “Oh, my God! Are you kidding me?” moments do. Because without them, we lag; without them, we get weak, we get tired of trying to stand up, trying to stay strong. The moments of experiencing God’s wonder that burst into joy – we need them because they are our strength.

Here’s to a summer of wonder, and to appreciating the moments of joy.


This post was written for inclusion in the July 2018 Columbia District Newsletter for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church. 

You Are So Brave

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the
Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

I remember the moment the #MeToo movement came on my radar. I was cruising Facebook late one night and saw a post from one of my oldest and dearest. She wrote only: #MeToo. The hollow of my throat went hot. My cheeks flushed. I heard a shushing in my ears while my heart pounded. I remember the cold of my fingers against my lips as I stared at the screen. I typed in a comment: You are so brave. I love you.

It’s not that the truth of this particular friend’s me too was a surprise; I know her story well. It was the boldness of saying it out loud like that, in public like that, the boldness of claiming her history and taking a stand to say, time’s up. It took me 24 hours to post my own #MeToo and I did it with shaking hands. It’s not because I’m too timid to share myself; it’s because our #MeToo moments have taught us about fear, have taught us about silence, have taught us about shame. The time for all that is up.

Lines from the end of Alice Walker’s poem, “Each one, pull one,” loop in my mind.


I returned to faith as an adult in a very progressive – especially for middle America – Methodist church. I didn’t, at first, even know it was a Methodist church. After hiding in the crowd for a few weeks, I stayed after Sunday worship for an event called “Coffee with the Pastor.” So scared was I to be seen, to let myself be known and to learn whether this was a safe place, my hands shook enough that coffee sloshed down over my wrist. They won me though. They won me with their firm stance on LGBTQ inclusion and advocacy, their talk of prevenient grace, their women at the pulpit, their propensity for deep philosophical conversation. They won me with their boldness in declaring the all-encompassing love of Christ.

And now I’m here, the work of the United Methodist Church shaping my daily life, and I wonder. I wonder at how viscerally afraid I was to come back to church. And at how much that particular community changed my life. I wonder at all the amazing, progressive, Christ-followers I have found around the country and here in my new hometown. But, I also wonder in confusion that a Special Session will meet next year – in the home city of that very church that brought me to United Methodism – to decide if the Church will honor all people or just some. At the failure of Amendment 1 of the UM Constitution. Was that community that embraced and led me to Light the future? Or a growing, blessed rogue?


This links together – the silence, the shame, the shaking. The #MeToo moments that have taught us fear, the churches that have told us we didn’t belong.  I’m over it. Maybe you are too. Time’s up.


In a poem with so many layers it’s unfair to quote just a piece, the Alice Walker lines that sing through me are these: “Each one pull one back into the sun… All of us must live/Or none.”

Prayers for peace and gratitude and connection as we move toward the glorious warmth of summer.


This post was written for inclusion in the June 2018 Columbia District Newsletter for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church. 

Profound Significance in a Ball of Yarn

“One consequence of religious belief is a habit of assuming that life has a profound significance, in its broadest outlines and in its finest details.” Marilynne Robinson (Reform Magazine, September 2010)

It was Mother’s Day 2015 and I hadn’t been to church in a while. A long while.

I knew I wouldn’t return to the particular style of belief I’d grown up with and, since I am an avid devotee of the fiction of Marilynne Robinson, a Congregationalist, my brother suggested I visit a Congregationalist church. I was nervous. Feeling alone, I entered a strange new place. I didn’t know a single one of these smiling, comfortable people. It hadn’t occurred to me on a conscious level that – walking into church for the first time in, well, let’s stick with a long while – I had chosen to go on Mother’s Day.

This was complicated. I was in my late thirties; my mother had passed away six years earlier and it had been nearly a year since I’d lost the capacity to become a (biological) mother myself. There I was in a lovely stone church, metaphorically fathoms away from the church I’d known as a child, on Mother’s Day, without a mother and coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be one.

What’s that old saying? Oh yeah… The Lord is good and his mercy endures forever.*

This was not the kind of church that slips past sensitive holidays like this one, but the kind of church that celebrates them. As talk of Mother’s Day bloomed in the worship service, I felt a sadness seep through me, a weight. Beautiful little ones were called to the front; they were dressed for spring – sweet pastels and bright whites – and carried baskets decorated with ribbon. They had a gift, the speaker said, for every mother in the room. The weight grew until, “Every woman in this room is a mother. Women, please stand and receive a gift.” The congregants paused. “Yes,” the speaker confirmed, “I mean it. Every one of you.”

I’m not gonna lie, there were tears in my eyes as I stood, awkward and uncertain and aching with wonder. A little girl came timidly toward me, this woman she didn’t know, and handed me a small ball of yarn, the rich pink of a faded rose. It wasn’t much, a small bit of string, but it was enough to remind me that I was seen, that the fabric of myself is knitted up with Something Greater. There was a profound significance in the ball of yarn that little girl handed me.

I didn't make it back to that church, but the experiences of the morning drew me into connection with an openness of Spirit I wasn't sure I could find. That ball of yarn was nothing less than a lifeline.

Prayers for peace and gratitude and connection as we move through this amazing month of celebrating spring and new growth and all the boundary-breaking mother-power that surrounds us.

*(I Chronicles 16:34)


This post was written for inclusion in the May 2018 Columbia District Newsletter for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church. 

More to Life

I’ve gotten in the habit of taking a 20-minute walk on my lunch breaks. This means that I head out of the Conference Center building, take a right, take a left, take a left, take a left, take another left, and I’m back at square one. Direct lines, nothing out of the ordinary.

In a recent passing conversation, a coworker suggested that there are nice sights to see around the neighborhood and I decided, yesterday, to vary my route.

I was feeling really good about things. Seeing new sights, thinking about this note I wanted to write for the newsletter and what it might be about. Into my head crept the old Bjork song, “There’s More to Life Than This.” Yeah, I thought. There is more to life than walking the same square at the same time listening to another episode of the same podcast. There is more to life than this! I was looking at flowers, noticing bees. And climbing curvy-sidewalk hills.

You may think you know where this is going. I traveled a new path, found sustenance for the rest of my day, etc. Scratch that. What happened was: I got lost.

I’ll take this moment to tell you that I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s a thing my friends and family have laughed about as long as I can remember. Realizing I didn’t know how to get back, it became all about my phone’s GPS.

So, about half-an-hour into my 20-minute walk, I activated the map on my phone, told the GPS I was on foot, and followed the directions I saw. But, no! It kept sending me back and forth up and around the same curve. I realized the map was telling me to go down a long staircase carved into the side of the hill – a stairway I had passed more than a few times at this point. Quite honestly, it did not look safe. But, I was now 45-minutes into this 20-minute walk and getting a bit desperate. I’d gone down four steps when a man jogging past called out, “You know that stairway doesn’t go through anymore?” I thanked him and climbed back to the top.

Finally, I stopped wandering and trying. I stopped and stood there. I gazed down at Portland First, its bell tower calling me from way, way, way down in the distance. (Bjork sang in my head, “...To get the first bread of the morning. There’s more to life than this…”)

I reset my GPS, told it I was in a car, instead of on foot, and immediately, a familiar path unfurled. I started walking a curving street I recognized.

Once I got back on track, I had time to think about what this frazzled wandering meant.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve made it my mission to follow the path God is laying out in front of me, holding onto this scripture from Isaiah: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” My path for the past year was wild and winding, up and down and all over the place. And that felt very clear and right. Wandering has come to seem like the thing to do. But…

What if, for now, walking this one square in this one place is okay? What if now is not the time to hand my fate over to the GPS system in my phone? What if walking peacefully and thoughtfully a path that’s becoming familiar and known is good, understanding that, even in this sameness, that Voice is with me, telling me to be still, guiding my steps.

As for a lesson, that’s what I’m going with for now. (And yes, today I took the regular lunchtime walk.)

I know there are times when it's important to remember that "there’s more to life than this," but maybe for me, for now, this particular this-ness is actually just fine.


This post was written for inclusion in the April 2018 Columbia District Newsletter for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.