Thursday, June 14, 2018

Mourning to Morning

When I arrived at Trinity Lutheran Church, there were numerous groups already meeting as a part of the ministry here as well as outside groups that use our building regularly.  One of those groups was a "Bereavement" Group that had been meeting for years.  It was a small group of widows that after awhile dwindled to just one person.

I had thought periodically about starting a new one and have thought more deliberately about it in this past year following my  own husband's death.

Yet, the word "bereavement" or "grief" seemed like such sorrow filled words that I didn't even want to approach them.  I got hung up on them even as much as I knew (and know) the benefits of such a group both for me personally as well as people in the congregation and community.

Its not that I - as well as others - aren't sorrow-filled over the death of our loved ones.  But it seemed that this time is about so much more than just tears and grief.

It is about letting the tears flow when they need to along with waking up to each new day.  It is not forgetting the past or our loved ones, but taking them with us in a new way as we embark on what life now holds in store.  It is living in just this moment - because sometimes that is all that we can do.

It is about living from "mourning" to "morning".

I also thought about the different kinds of grief and mourning - not just the bereavement from the death of a loved one.  People experience all kinds of losses in their lives - loss of job, health, divorce, other life circumstances, purpose, homes and the like.

So the question arose about how might a "grief group" help all of us in whatever kind of mourning we experience?  Yes, there are different kinds of challenges with each kind of loss.  However, that is true as well in the death of our loved ones - each relationship is different and filled with its own changes.

How do we - as a people of faith - live "mourning to morning"?  How might we as fellow children of God walk with each other through not just our grief but the changes and challenges that we face daily?

We begin by gathering and sharing where we are in our journeys, our time of mourning.  We pray with and for one another.  We cry together and we laugh together.  We share the comforting grace of Christ.

No program, no agenda to force us through our mourning; just the love and grace of God that washes over us and can bring us peace.

If you are interested in being a part of such a group - contact me ( as the first date and time are determined.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Grief “rules”

May has often been a difficult month for me - despite the arrival of spring after a northeast winter.  There is this lingering melancholy that floats in the air around me.

My father - Charles J. Manske - died at the end of May.  He was listed as “missing in action”for barely 24 hours on May24, 1969 before declared dead after his plane went down in the South China Sea during ther Vietnam war.  The date of his death “fittingly” often falls on Memorial Day weekend.  I was just a month short of turning four years old and regretfully have no memories of my own, only those that I have borrowed from family.  Yet, there is that part of myself that is “missing in action” becasue of his premature death.

For the past ten years and until this past year, I had the celebration of my husband Michael’s birthday on May 11th (he was actually born on Mothers’ day) to bring some joy into an otherwise sad month.  That all changed on July 31, 2017 when after years of health problems, he died.  A deeper shadow now falls across this month that is otherwise marked with the new life of spring.

Though I have dealt with death both in my personal life and as a pastor, it is different when your spouse dies.  Even though I knew when we got married that death was a very real presence in our lives, you still don’t fully understand its depth until you face the days and months (and later years) after the death of your spouse.

I have read a few different books about grieving and widowhood - many of them about each person’s own experience with death.  What I have really learned from them - as well as from my own experience - is that for each of us death and grieving is different.  Not just because of who I am or what I have experienced, but because of the very nature of each life that was intertwined with my own - be it Michael, my dad, stepdad (Lee), grandparents, parishioners, etc. or those deaths that have touched your own life as well.

(Grief also takes on different forms and ways of being experienced as we face other “deaths” or changes in our lives - such as the loss of a job, changing health, other family and relationship situations)

The only real “rule” for grief that I have determined is that there are no set rules and that we each need to let our grief evolve and flow as we each need and experience it.  There is no set timeline for our grief nor an “ending date”.  It doesn’t expire, but rather it adjusts and morphs as we experience and live in and through it.

I am by no means an “expert” in grief - not even my own.  Yet, I remind myself that there are no “shoulds” to grief or proper or right ways to grieve.  Some will openly grieve; others will do so in private; still others will try to hold it at bay for as long as they can (yet grief buried will reveal itself at some point and in a variety of ways).  There have been days when I’ve felt as if “I’ve moved on” until it catches me off guard with a seemingly insignificant trigger.

No one can tell you how or when to grieve.  I believe that there is not a wrong way to grieve.  There is only my way or your way to grieve in our own time, through all the ebbs and flows of it.

There are certainly books that can flesh out the different stages of grief (though there is nothing chronological about them, but rather they spiral and circle around us).  And there are books that do share the experiences of others that can be helpful to just hear another voice that understands some of what each of us is living - though it is not as an exact replica.

A number of years ago, I titled my blog as “On the Way” which is apt for my life now as a widow.  Destination is unknown, but that is true for whatever any of our lives look like.  It is the path that we trod - sometimes wandering off to sit on the side of the road, contemplating where we have been.  Other times, we struggle across treacherous terrain and wonder if we will be wounded and then healed in the process.

There are times that others accompany us - in companionable silence as they reflect on their own journey; or who want to help us along the rough road.  Still others might try to rush us faster than we are ready to go or tell us where where we need to go

Still it is our feet that we need to put one in front of the other as we make our way.

I don’t know always know where I am going nor what is around the next curve.  What I do know , as a person of faith, is that Christ walks with me.  Assuring me that I am not alone and that when I’m undersure or weak or not sure about what I am doing on, that Christ is walking with me, offering me strength, hope and guidance.

I may from time to time continue to share this journey with you as I make my way.  Know that my prayers are often with all those who grieve as I am experiencing and living into this grief that is part of my life and that leads me towards hope as well as new life.

Blessings always!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Flexible struggles

A few days ago, I got a paper cut on the inner part of my right index finger, right behind the knuckle.  Thankfully, it has already begun to heal, but for that first day, it seemed that every time I bent my finger, I was reminded that it was there.   I have had numerous paper cuts over the years and this surely won’t be the last one (I am a bit clumsy after all).

Yet, as I reflected upon it - I realized that if I somehow avoided bending my finger, I didn’t have to deal with the pain.

About 20 plus years ago, I broke my pinkie on my right hand (which warrants its own blog post somewhere down the line).  I had to have a temporary pin put in as it was also right at the knuckle.  This was followed by weeks of hand therapy.  Yet, despite that, I cannot fully straighten or fully bend that finger.  It is still a bit crooked.

With the supposition that everything can be a sermon illustration, I got thinking about this small slice into my index finger in relationship to my crooked finger.  In not bending either finger, I was able to avoid pain and discomfort but I also was limiting its usefulness and my ability to do a variety of things.

Could we not say that about the way that we live our lives as well?

In our reluctance or inability to be flexible, do we not also limit our lives, our perspectives, our abilities to grow, stunt the growth of our faith?

We might think that it would be too painful to change, to be open to new things.  Or that it will be too  difficult to try.  That we aren’t somehow up to the challenge.

Yet, if we remain immobile, the muscles of our faith can atrophy.  And like my crooked pinkie, we limit what could be possible, what we might yet experience.

Change requires movement, flexibility and even discomfort and pain at times.  In changing, we find new things are possible - new ways of viewing our lives, our relationships, our perspectives.  In doing so, we open ourselves more fully up to God, remembering that with God all things are possible!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Longest Night reflection (2017)

Of all the services for the Christmas season, this one has become my favorite.  It has seemed the most genuine, not marked by the trappings of a more secularized Christmas.  It highlights the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph faced as Jesus was born among us
–  difficult travel over rough terrain when 9 mos. Pregnant
-          Under the control of the Roman gov’t that could demand such a journey
-          No place to rest after a weary journey except amongst the orders of a stable
-          No welcome or hospitality – could it have been b/c of the questionable situation regarding Mary’s pregnancy

But this year, while I knew that I needed this service, that I need the grace of this service, I have been scared as well.   Do it want to face my own pain?  How can I pastor others in the midst of my own sorrow?

This service invites us, invites me to be vulnerable, to touch those tender and hurting places that I have tried to keep busy and ignore, push aside for another day or just take a deep breath and endure.  It offers a place of rest and comfort away from my own attempts to be strong and carry on

I looked through a variety of books and other resources so that I could avoid my own sorrow and focus elsewhere.  There is surely someone else’s words that will suffice and will be acceptable under the circumstances.   I have gotten fairly good at putting aside my own emotions, for the most part, over the years.

Death and sorrow are no strangers.  I have faced many deaths and leavings throughout my life
-          From the time of my birth when my twin sister died
-          The death of my birth father before I was four
-          While I was blessed to have five sets of grandparents, all 10 of them have died – the last and most difficult one being my Grandpa Berg to whom I felt the closest
-          The death of my stepfather a year or two before I met Michael
-          Have presided over at least 100 or more funerals in my years as serving as a pastor (with as many as 10 of them in the past few months)
-          I have experienced a kind of death when I resigned from my last congregation and was on leave,  from call, unemployed, for a year
-          As well as the ending and changing of various relationships over the years

Death is no stranger and I have even “prided” myself on being a survivor amidst all these deaths; pulling myself up by those “proverbial boot straps” and getting on with what needs to be done until my grief catches me off guard and slides down my face

But this service, these words that I speak, that we share together this night are calling me to face the pain, the sorrow, the grief – to be honest with myself in the presence of God.  It brings us to the manger, along with Mary and Joseph in the harshness of their own reality, in the dark nights of our own souls.  And it is here that we meet Jesus.

God knows the pains and sorrows of our hearts better than we ourselves.  While we may not always be able to name them – God knows them.  When we don’t even want to voice them, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words.

Christ was not born to brush away all the sorrows of this world, to whisk them away on the wind so that we would live a kind of “don’t worry, be happy” kind of life.  We are met by Christ at the place of our sorrow.  We are met by the One whose love is so powerful that it would face death itself, showing us that love never does end, that love overcomes death and sorrow, offering healing, hope and peace.

We come this evening to name our sorrows, our frustrations, our pain.  In the naming, we are offering them to the Christ-child, not to “fix”, but to help us carry them.  In the words of scripture, we hear the words of hope spoken by those who have gone before us, those who have faced pain and sorrow of their own.  They share their own journeys through the “valley of the shadow of death”, knowing that God accompanied them in those times.

As we come to name before God our own sorrows on this longest of nights, we come seeking the peace and comfort of Christ.  We come, magnifying the name of God – for he is the One from whom light shines in the darkness.

I end with a Blessing for the Longest Night written by Jan Richardson, following the death of her own husband a few years ago.  May her words shine Christ’s light on us as well.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Womens Day

As I sit here in my red shirt in my office (no, I didn't "strike" today), I am reminded of countless women who have been influential in my own life and so I want to honor them here with brief tributes (this is most certainly not an exhaustive list; and I suspect that I will continue to add to it).

Amanda Peterson Alquist, my great-great grandmother who came from Sweden by herself at 18 to build a new life in the US (we still make her Swedish rye bread today)

Edla Bloomquist, grandmother of my grandfather who spoke only Swedish raised my grandfather and took in boarders to make ends meet

Margaret Berg & Altjie Manske, maternal & paternal grandmothers who's gifts of hospitiality, faith and love reflected throughout their lives.

Elaine Berg, mother extraordinarie who lives as an example of living your life to its fullest no matter the obstacles, setbacks or curveballs that life throws at you.  She showed us what it means to be a "right on woman" and to not accept any less

Marilyn Dyer, "wicked" stepmother whose does celebrate life in all its fullness with love and laughter

Cristina Dyer-Droback, "favorite" sister whose creativity finds its expression in work and play, setting the example for the next generation of "right on women" with Serena

Consciousness-raising women (Mom, Bernice, Pam and Dorothy) who, while they didn't "burn their bras", sought to be and raise "feminists" in their midst

De Brown who helped me to "not take any shit" from others and stand up for myself

Marie Jerge, pastor/bishop/friend  whose gracious leadership and spirit-filled faith serves as an example to me daily (she is also a mentor)

Female Clergy Prayer group (Susan, Ruth, Marie, Maryann) with whom I journeyed in faith during my time in WNY.  Their prayerful support and witness continues to undergird my journey today

Clergy sisters (Lena, Nicole, Stephanie, Lydia) with whom I meet with now as we share the joys, struggles and laughter of parish ministry

Patricia Lull, pastor and internship supervisor helped this "PK" (pastor's kid) find her own voice as a pastor, challenging me and helping me clarify "why I wanted to be a pastor"

Marion Love, Theatre dept. chair at college who encouraged and supported me both in quite literally finding my voice as well as in the discernment process of going to seminary

Through her-story
Suffergettes such as Susan B. Anthony, Sojouner Truth and so many others that we do not know their names who fought so hard for their own rights as well as the rights of others so that I have the privilege and responsiblity of voting

Historical figures like Sybil Luddington, Abigail Adams and the like who only seem to get a footnote in our history books and yet played much larger roles in our history than they are given credit for

Nobel peace recipents like Malala and Leymah Gbowee  for standing up in the face of injustice, despite the dangers, to bring peace and hope into the lives of others

Celebrities like Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Ellen and Oprah who don't like the world define or direct their identity

I thank God everytime that I remember each of you and pray that, inspired by your life and witness, I may help others find their own voice and be bold in the use of our gifts for the sake of all people 

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Gift of Life

As a pastor, I am often with families who are going through difficult times in their lives - many of them life-changing.  I pray and wish that I could do something to help allieviate the pain and suffering that they are experiencing.  I long to be able to turn back the clock and prevent a particular event from taking place.  I want to be able do something - anything to help.

In the past week, many of us have watched helplessly as Jessi-Ann's heart failed and she was placed on a machine to keep her heart beating.  We hold onto every bit of news that brings us hope as we wait to see what will happen.  We want to be able to help, to do something - anything to bring the healing and hope that we all long for.  Yet, we must live in the midst of the uncertainty and the waiting.

As one who has been by the bedside of a loved one, waiting and watching, often with uncertainty, it is difficult to tell others how they might help.  What we want the most is healing and renewed life and that rarely happens overnight.  It is not something we have to give to those who long for it.

Jessi-Ann's family has had numerous people ask how they might help.   And as I thought and prayed about what we could realistically do, I thought about Jessi-Ann and her life that she has lived with such abundance since her heart transplant.  She is more than just the receipient of a transplant but an advocate and support for others who are in need of a transplant themselves.  The gift of life that she was blessed to receive is a gift that she celebrates to its fullest.

Yet, New York state has the third-lowest donor registration rate in the country, but it’s ranked third-highest among all states by the number of residents in need of a transplant.

I believe that one of the greatest gifts that we can give is the gift of life.  I personally am blessed by the gift of life from a bi-lateral lung transplant that was given to my husband, Michael over 21 years ago.  We would've never met if that young man's family had not offered this gift in the midst of their own sorrow.  Jessi-Ann would not have had the life she's had thus far without that gift of life eight years ago.

While we may not be able to bring the quick healing for Jessi-Ann that we all pray and long for, we can honor her life and her love that has touched us all.  Think and pray about registering to be an organ donor (see the link below) or donate blood at an upcoming blood drive.  Talk to your family about your decision as they will likely to be the ones who will be faced by it.  Invite your friends and other family members to do the same (let's see if we can change those NYS statistics!)

As we have been blessed by the gift of Jessi-Ann's presence in our lives, let us promise to share the gift of our lives with others.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Eat, Pray, Love series

During these summer months, we have been gathering following worship for a time to share a meal together and learn different ways to pray.  I included a couple of things in my previous post but wanted to share a few more.

Prayer during different seasons of our lives
   Summer is a time of many different kinds of events
-          What events are you attending/participating in this summer?
-          How do you mark them?
o   What kinds of things might we pray about for these events?

    For everything there is a season
           Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
-          Other kinds of milestones in people’s lives (good or bad)
o   examples
§  Retirement
§  Moving
§  Losing job/getting new job
§  Teen getting license
§  Empty Nest or new family
§  Specific holidays

                    * What kinds of prayers might be lifted up for these kinds of milestones in your life or the lives of others?

Tangible ways to mark these seasons
o   Laying on of hands with prayer
o   Prayer shawls to surround and uphold them(not just when people sick)
o   Lighting a candle
o   Make a collage of pictures (not just for funerals)
      For Everything a Season; Blessings for Daily life by the Nilsen Family
      All Through the Day, All Through the Night: Family Prayers & Celebrations by David Batchelder

Praying with Color
   One of the newest trends is coloring books for adults.  You can find them just about anywhere.  Pictures and images can even be downloaded online.

 In this session, we used coloring pages that had Psalms connected to them.  
        They became a kind of meditation as we focused on the verse as we colored in the picture.

Another way is to do your own drawing, using this framework from a book called Praying In Color by Sybil Macbeth (the following is from her website: )

 Reasons to pray with color:
1) You want to pray but words escape you. 2) Sitting still and staying focused in prayer are a challenge. 3) Your body wants to be part of your prayer. 4) You want to just hang out with God but don’t know how. 5) Listening to God feels like an impossible task . 6) Your mind wanders and your body complains. 7) You want a visual, concrete way to pray. 8) You Need a new way to pray.

 Here’s how to get started :
1) Write your name for God on a piece of paper. Draw a shape around it or just start to doodle. The drawing becomes a prayer space, a small prayer closet.                     

2) Add marks and shapes. Focus on the name you chose. Ask God to be part of your prayer time with or without words. If words come, pray them; if not, enjoy the silence

3) To pray for a person, write their name on the page. Draw around it. Add color, if you want. Keep drawing as you release the person into God’s care

4) Add other people to your drawing. Think of each stroke of your pen as a prayer for them. Take a breath or say “Amen” between each person