Standing Together


It was a timed honored tradition in the little rural village. Every Memorial Day the clergy would gather in front of the old courthouse that was now transformed into a community center. Stories from old timers spoke of how every once in awhile someone locked up imgres.jpgbehind the bars in the courthouse would break out and hide in the cornfields surrounding the building, as well as the cornfields surrounding the school. Perhaps that is why the courthouse was eventually moved out of the village and into a more populated area where cornfields didn’t exist.

Every Memorial Day clergy, including myself—an accidental country pastor—would gather in front of that courthouse. We would gather with the high school band. We would gather with the Boy Scouts. We would gather with families, young and old, who came out for this timed honored tradition. We would gather with the veterans still able to gather, to remember those who died in service to our country. We would gather, then march throughout the village to each war monument, where we would stop, say a prayer, lay a wreath in front of it and listen to the gun salute.

Our march would then continue to the Revolutionary War cemetery and then into cars we would go, heading up the road out of the village to the cemetery where many a Civil War soldier rested. Back into cars and off to our last stop—the cemetery just up the other road out of the village that belonged to the Catholic church. Father Condon, a staple in the village almost as time honored as the Memorial Day march itself, would be waiting there ready to deliver the last prayer of thanks and remembrance in his thick Irish brogue.

There on the outskirts of the village, with the first signs of corn breaking through the ground beyond the cemetery, with the views of rolling green hills and mountains, with the warm breeze blowing the scent of freshly mowed fields, I observed something that would forever change my view of Memorial Day.

I observed community at its best, taking time not to use Memorial Day as a kick-off to the unofficial start of summer, but staying true to the observance of those who gave their lives so that they could have life as they know it in their little rural village.

You see it didn’t matter what differences we had or who was having a spat with whom or who held a 30-plus year grudge against so-and-so. What mattered was for at least one morning in late May we were remembering not only the costly gift of freedom. We were once again renewing an unspoken vow to stand together in community.

As a pastor I just wasn’t there to pray. I was given the privilege to stand with the community by standing by the sides of those veterans who were tasked with the responsibility of laying the wreaths.

I will forever remember the startling feeling of honor that came over me the first time I took the gnarled hand of one veteran. I actually didn’t take his hand. It was more he had to reach out and grab mine to regain a step that wasn’t as steady as he thought it would be. I caught his hand and we continued to walk. With each step we took, I could feel his hand needing to hold on tighter to mine. Each faltering and hesitant step was caught and made more secure as I gripped tighter and leaned in closer and whispered, “I’m standing by you.” And with that reassurance, I noticed his back hunched over with age straightened just a bit and a smile of many thanks graced a face etched with golden and not so golden memories.

It was then I began my own time honored tradition of making sure each time I walked with a veteran to lay a wreath at a memorial, I would take their hand, lovingly squeeze it and remind them of something we would all love to be reminded of no matter what our age.

“I’m standing by you.”

That little rural village showed me the beauty of Memorial Day that I had never seen before nor ever since.  I saw a community putting aside all the things they had the freedom to do on a Monday off, so that they could stand together with those who stood up to the evils of war so many years before. I also saw future generations learning that even in times of peace, standing together should never end.

Who have you stood by today? Have you held the hand of someone who needs support to make their steps steady? Do you realize no matter where community might be—in a church, a civic group, a village, a town, a family, a school—it can only happen when we make the commitment to be there for one another and to stand together.



The Ground Beneath Our Feet

It was early morning and as I laced up my sneakers I could hear my husband’s question coming from the kitchen.

“Where’re you going?”

“Out for a walk. Do you want to come?” I asked.

Sofie, the Bernese Mountain dog who had already begun panting from the heat building up, looked at me horrified as if to say, “Please mommy, don’t take mimages.jpge out in that humidity. My fur will frizz just as badly as your hair!”

With a pat on her head, I reassured her she could stay in front of the air conditioner. I would deal with my hair by throwing it up into a ponytail. Again, I asked the question. My husband sided with the panting dog.

“Okay. I’ll be back when I’m back.”

And with that, out the door I went.

Walking had always been a time for me to clear my head, lighten my burden, slow myself down and talk to God. Lately, though, I’ve noticed my walks haven’t been all that prayerful.

Was it the oppressive humidity that comes with living below the Mason Dixon line? Was it now having to walk busy suburban roads rather than the rural ones I had fallen in love with while serving as an accidental country pastor? Or was it because I had unwittingly invited a long lost, toxic friend to join me on my walks?

Yes, somewhere along the way I had welcomed back Miss Rushed And Frazzled—the part of me that takes away any peace that does exist. The part of me who plays a narrative in my head of all the things that need to get done and keeps on playing it like some one-hit wonder on my playlist that I can’t seem to delete.

Admittedly, there was a time when my walks were anything but prayerful. There was a time when I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath me because I was so caught up in clutter. Hmmm? Clutter? What exactly is the definition of that word? That’s right. Clutter—to fill with too many things. My life was filled with too many things and it was destroying the who God wanted me to be.

Then one sweltering summer afternoon, where the exhaust from the New York City buses mingled with perspiration from people packed onto the sidewalks like sardines, all that clutter fell away.

It was on the corner of 32nd Street and Park Avenue that I, for the first time in my life, felt the ground beneath my feet.

It was there my fast-paced walk came to an abrupt halt when a boyfriend, walking by my side, dared to stop mid-step. Before I could ask why, the boyfriend pointed to our shadows and held them with his eyes as if he was gazing upon a Paul Klee we had just seen earlier that day at the Metropolitan Art Museum.

“Look,” he said, embracing a beauty I was blind to—just as I was to the Paul Klee earlier that day. Personally, I prefer the folksy charm of Grandma Moses. But I digress.

I guess my obligatory, less than a second look didn’t convince him that I was in the moment with him. He insisted again that I look. I did my best, but I just couldn’t see what he was seeing. He was noticing us in a moment of time on a city sidewalk. And he took the time to honor that moment as if it was sacred.

There we were, standing still as a silent liturgy lifted to heaven as the city rushed on without us. A squeeze of my hand signaled to me the sacred moment was over and we could begin walking again. I noticed, though, I was pulling him along as his steps were still so slow and mindful.

“Now what?” I asked with as much patience I could muster. He stopped again.

“You don’t get it,” he said with sad puppy dog eyes.

No, I didn’t. And he was more than willing to fill me in on what I was missing.

It seems I was missing what a privilege it was for me to be able to walk. I was missing what it meant to actually feel the hard pavement underneath my feet and to be thankful for the shoes I had that protected my feet from the scorching heat of the pavement. I was missing that fact that each step taken in my life was a gift leading to something beautiful.

A step taken leads to a cool drink. A step taken leads to arms waiting to embrace us. A step taken leads to hearing a new voice, seeing a new place, experiencing a new experience. Without steps taken forward, you wind up nowhere. I was able to those steps. Be thankful for that, he said.

I didn’t understand, too, that life was like our shadows on the sidewalk, begging for us to notice and savor the moment we are in, for that moment will never be again. I didn’t get it. But he did.

He had spent time in the Peace Corps teaching English to children in Africa. It was there he began noticing for the first time the ground beneath his feet. He noticed how others didn’t have the ability to walk as he did. He noticed how others didn’t have shoes to protect their feet from the sun soaked, drought ridden ground. And it was there in Africa he stopped to marvel at the beauty of his shadow on the earth, for far too many of those children he taught would not have shadows to marvel at as their life was shortened by strife, poverty, war and hunger.

“Do you realize what a gift we have right now?” he asked, looking down at his feet. I stood there speechless. I never knew there was so much to be seen, experienced and celebrated in each step I took. I looked down and stared at my feet on the ground beneath me.

A squeeze of my hand nudged me to begin walking again. Right foot, left foot. My shadow walked with me—and I noticed.

Right foot, left foot. I noticed the pounding of the pavement on the sole of my shoe.

Right foot, left foot. I noticed the gift I had been given. I noticed the gifts that were waiting ahead of me.

Right foot, left foot. My steps were different. My steps were prayerful.

Now, many years later I stand on a noisy suburban road. I find myself stopping again. I need to notice my shadow. I need to marvel at the sacredness of the moment I am in, for aren’t all moments we have sacred?

I drink in the heavy morning air scented with car exhaust from the busy road near the house my husband and I rent, not as fresh as the air in our home in Vermont but at least not as pungent as the air that summer afternoon in Manhattan. It is air nevertheless that fills my lungs and for that I thank God.

Right foot, left foot. I am walking—prayerfully again.

Right foot, left foot. I am walking—with God again.

Right foot, left foot. I feel the ground beneath my feet—again.

Right foot. Left foot. I know each step forward will lead to something beautiful—again.

Rocking Chairs

Drive in circles. Round and round. Airport’s long-term parking lot finally found. Park the car. Write down the parking space number so that I will remember where my car is upon my trip back. Hop on the shuttle bus to the terminal. Hop off the shuttle bus. Weave my way through the long lines. Check in. Check bag. Check. It’s done.

Now take off shoes, take out laptop, turn on cell phone, place in bins. Go through airport security. Put shoes back on. Double check that all my belongings are out of the bins and are once again in my possession. Find some coffee. Rush off to gate.

Almost there…almost there.

Pick up pace. Time is ticking. Mind is racing. Nothing noteworthy to share. Just racing with mindless clutter. Pace picks up, time ticks on, mind continues racing…faster, faster.

Almost there…yes, almost there.

Slam on brakes. Screeching halt. What is this? images

Rocking chairs. The kind you would find on an old farmhouse porch; not in an airport terminal. But there they are. Rocking chairs lined up in a row begging for busy travelers to stop and rest. There they are. Lined up in a row—empty.

Rocking chairs. The kind that makes me remember a simpler way of life that a family of faith in a little white church invited me to be part of years ago.

The kind I remember sitting in while sipping a root beer float well-renowned in the village and beyond, lovingly made by the elderly hands of a farmer’s wife/potter/artist/one amazing woman.

The kind in which I ate melting ice cream over a just-out-of-the-oven berry cobbler.

The kind in which I heard stories of the years when crops were good and the years they were not so good.

The kind in which a long-retired farmer and I would simply sit and listen to the rustling of cornstalks in the hot summer wind.

The kind that invited confession as painful secrets were shared. The kind that granted assurance of pardon as old misunderstandings were rocked away.

The kind I would sit in every night on my very own country porch listening to peepers and watching fireflies light up the sky. The kind I would sit in crying my tears to God. The kind I would sit in singing my praises to God. The kind I would sit in wondering how it was that God led me to this way of life—to my heart’s desire.

Rocking chairs in an airport. Empty.

They’re preaching an important message, but the message is falling on the deaf ears of travelers only concerned with getting to their next “almost there.” But no one seems to stop long enough to look around and ask, “Where exactly is the ‘there’ I’m going to?”

I hear the message, though. I hear it loud and clearly.

Time IS ticking. Slow your pace and ease your mind.

The rocking chair beckons. I sit and I rock. The movement is soothing. My rushed breathing slows. I close my eyes.

Peace that has been missing like a suitcase stuck in some proverbial airport baggage purgatory, reclaims its owner. Peace reclaims me.

Back and forth I rock.

All of a sudden I am sipping that famous root beer float. I taste the berry cobbler once again. I know exactly where those berries were hand-picked. I was there. I have the berry stained shirt still. I hear now the rustling of the cornstalks drowning out the airport noise around me. I see the weathered face of that dear long-retired farmer. I notice his cataract-clouded eyes gazing longingly for glimpses of days gone by. I join him in that search.

I search. I rock.

I rock. I search.

The rocking chair’s sermon is being preached.

Time IS ticking. Slow your pace and ease your mind. Almost there. Yes, almost to the ‘there’ I want to be.

It’s the place where my shattered heart was lovingly pieced together by a precious gift called God’s grace. It’s the place where my steps began to move in sync with that of the Holy Spirit. It’s the place where divine fellowship was shared in the guise of a root beer float and berry cobbler. It’s the place where a rocking chair on a country porch waits for me to come home to. For me to sit and pray awhile.