• From our family to yours:  we're all well and I hope and pray you are too.
  • Mindy went to Wisconsin this past week to help babysit with her niece Isobel, giving Alison and Nelson a little bit of a break.  Daycare there has been shut-down.
  • Scarlette and Tristan have been at home with their two, Sean has not been able to go to daycare either.  So far, everyone seems still sane.
  • I've been sending out daily emails to my congregation, including humor I'm finding on other people's FaceBook pages.  If you are really bored and want to receive these daily congregational updates, drop me an email and I'll put you on the list.
  • Just finished reading Sarah Watson's debut novel, Most Likely. It's a delightful, easy read, well done with some humor, empathy, and suspense. It covers four high school girls in their senior year, one of whom will later be elected president of the United States.  The writer kept me guessing all the way until the end. I've started, and am enjoying Kevin Nguyen's debut novel, New Waves, about a young man in New York reflecting on technology, relationships, death, and love.
  • If you didn't make it to church today, allow me to nudge you.  Since we are closed for all gatherings, everything we offered today is online.  If you can stand a sermon from me, the tech work was beautifully done by my associate Jordan.  Click Here for either our traditional service or our contemporary one.

March  22, 2020
Sometimes It's Easy, Sometimes It's Not
Some skills and strengths have come easy to me:  talking, writing, driving a car, empathy, organizing...
But my learning curve on some other matters has been brutal:  tying knots, dancing, patience with others, learning a foreign language, etc.  

Since my work requires me to be around people, I've had to house-break my impatience. And I haven't been able to avoid wrestling with foreign languages, as my wife and hundreds of friends are Chinese, and the Bible was written in Greek and Hebrew.  I've had to acquire a few tricks and keep them up my sleeve to get by.  

But I still dance like a cow.  And my fingers, when it comes to tying things, are no more agile than my feet when I dance. Now that I have to wear tie-up shoes (due to advanced plantar fasciitis) I grump every time I have to bend down to secure them (which is a lot since I live in a Chinese/American home.)
As all of us make adjustments for this indeterminate season of COVID-19, I'm taking inventory of what I need to learn.  Like every other season of my life, some learnings come easily and some are hard.
Learning to be isolated doesn't come as hard for me as for some other people.  Here's a meandering story that explains why:

When I was about six years old, my parents hosted the district superintendent (D.S.) and his wife one night for dinner. The D.S. was my dad's boss.  For that one night, my mom got out the good china, cooked her best meal, and dressed us kids in our Sunday outfits.  We were strictly instructed to be on our best behavior when the great man came into our presence.   
The great man himself seemed rather gracious, but silent through the dinner.  His wife, however, liked to talk.  I can only remember one thing she said at that dinner:  She was telling us that her teen-aged son was hard to punish.  Her preferred manner of punishment was to send him to his room.  But then, she reported, the boy actually loved to go to his room, for he had so many interesting things there to occupy his time. 
I came away from that dinner thinking two things.  First,  I wished my dad would have taken the hint from the woman, as he was still into old-fashioned spankings.  But alas, the spankings continued.
And second, I decided right then and there that I HAD to get a bedroom for my own self and fix it up so I would have a neat place to occupy my time, in case I was ever confined to it.  This was going to be a challenge, however, since I had to share a single bedroom with my three younger brothers. But we DID have a spare bedroom in that house, and I took to begging my mom to let me sleep in there on regular occasions.  
When we moved to our next parsonage, the house was big enough that I was able to have a room to myself.  Being by myself, and making my space interesting, has always evoked energy in me and the challenge has come easy.
So, the "Shelter in Place" order given to Illinoisans by our governor seemed relatively easy and doable to me.  But what is easy for me can be excruciatingly difficult for others.
There are some things these days are hard for me. I have trouble trusting other people.  I'd rather do things myself, my own way.  But with restrictions put on all of us, I'm having to learn to trust.  I also have trouble trusting God.  That may sound odd, coming from a pastor.  I believe we should trust in God, it's just that for me, it's something hard to learn and do. Other stuff and other people seem more real to me: this virus... and the incompetence of some of our leaders. It's not that I can't trust in God, it's just hard for me.
It's also been hard for me to learn new technical skills in a hurry.  Every church leader is trying to build new organizational infrastructure to keep the church together and strong.  We are getting crash courses in podcasts, movie-making, social media, and online video meetings.  And some of us geezers are dusting off some old school ideas: snail mail, assigning care group leaders, and telephoning.  For myself, some of this stuff is fairly easy (AKA fun) as I've dabbled in it for years anyway.  
But the work load has been a little hard.  I'm only three months to retirement, and I'd planned to take the three weeks of vacation I have left for part of that time.  I also didn't plan on starting anything new this late in my ministry here in Mattoon.  But suddenly I'm having to work extra hard to come up with fresh sermons, Bible studies, financial plans, communication platforms, committee gatherings, and pastoral care... all in new venues.  I don't have quite the energy I used to for all this crash learning and organizing.
Everyone is finding something hard these days.  And some are certainly feeling overwhelmed by what is facing us.  Please know that if this gets to feeling too hard for you, I am available, personally, to ANY of the several hundred people who read this each week.  Many of you are treasured friends, relatives, and church members.  And even if I don't know you personally, you are important to me, simply because you take the time to receive my stories and ideas each week.  So, if you need some of my time, just let me know and we'll talk.
The first hard thing I can remember happening in life occured when I was four.  I had the measles and had to be quarantined.  

At the time, we lived in Naperville.  My daily routine had been to eat breakfast, ride my tricycle around the block, collect candy from all the neighbors, come home, eat lunch, take a nap, and then make my afternoon rounds to all the same people.  I was four, a really good talker, and reportedly good entertainment for the neighborhood.   My favorite person to visit was Flossie.  She and the women who lived with her laughed the hardest at my antics.  And they had the best candy.  

It was torture to be quarantined with the measles.  I didn't even feel sick from it, so the lock-up was especially confusing. On the first day I was allowed out of the house after my quarantine, I headed straight to Flossie's.  But she hadn't gotten the word that I was "clear."  As an older woman who had grown up in a time when measles was more deadly, she was terrified of the virus. 

I can still see the four-year old me, knocking on her door with uncontainable exuberance and joy.  My favorite friend opened the front door, but not the screen door.  And when she saw that it was me, there was no joy on her face.  She told me I couldn't be there, I would have to go home. And she closed the door. 
I was only four, but this was now the worst day of my life. 
My mom must have later called Flossie and updated her on my condition.  And the next time I went there, she opened her doors to me and let me in.  And we had a glorious reunion, complete with my antics and her candy.
So, maybe I didn't learn empathy the easy way.  I guess I learned it the hard way.  But it comes easy now.  So, if anyone needs to talk or write to me... it won't be hard for me to give you attention back. Stay well, and stay in touch.  

My personal motto these days is this:

Practice curiosity, community, and creativity.
Treasure hope, humor, and health.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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