Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Remembering Michael

Two years... so many days, so many minutes since Michael died.  How did this time pass - so very quickly and yet....?

Despite the time...or even in the midst of this time...Michael is still very much a part of me.  While he is not here physically in the same way, I feel his presence, hear his voice and see the ongoing spirit that infuses my life.

From a practical viewpoint, I still have so much of his stuff throughout the house - from motorcycles to cameras, from tools to various other items - so many hobbies and interests that he was always trying out and exploring, wanting to learn everything about it so that he could do it right

Doing things “right” (aka as the “Michael way”) was very much a part of how he approached life.  Sometimes, it could be frustrating as he didn’t often appreciate the “Jennifer way” which is a bit looser.  I hear his voice still when I do things, particularly if it was something that he tried to teach me.  Mostly, it was helpful (not that I always admitted that to him).  I know how to use a power saw, understand a bit more about car maintenance as well as some home maintenance 

This sense of looking at things in a particular way found its creative expression, especially in his photography. He saw beauty in things that most of us would miss. His eye would be drawn into the intricacies of a flower, a piece of wood, or an insect. He would look below the surface to find the wonder of God’s creation in ways particular to his vision   


This kind of particular vision found its expression in his views of justice amidst the chaos of the world. While much of his health would consume many of his days, Michael saw his experience as a calling to work for justice for others who struggled in their own lives. He did not let his health limit his concern or his voice for all who were in need.

In fact, his voice seemed to increase in intensity as his health got worse.  He desired the world to be restored to what God intended for all people. While he was unable to formally serve as a pastor in a church, Michael lived his faith as he spoke out against injustice and with concern with those whose voices weren’t heard.   This intensity pissed many people off - even among some who agreed with him - numerous people “unfriended” him on social media (some temporarily, even family).  His sense of rightness wasn’t subtle or always tactful, but you did know where he stood

Part of what amazed and comforted me after his death was the number of people that were impacted by his presence in their life. There were even some friends that he hadn’t even spent much if any time in person that spoke of his influence in their lives

Michael supported and challenged me,  pushing me to look beyond my own worldview and seeing life in different ways.  He loved me when I wasn’t particularly lovable some days.  He taught me and encouraged me to try new things.  And he made me laugh when I got too serious.

While Michael could be pretty intense, there ways also a very silly side to him, when a kind of juvenile humor would surface. His smile was huge and could elicit a smile in return. Even in childhood pictures, you can see that mischievous twinkle in his eye, making you wonder what  he was thinking.  There was a joy to him that liked to play.  And while one of my favorite pictures of him was one that I had to take numerous times to get it just right - he was still able to make it seem spontaneous 

While I wish that Michael had never died. Yet, only if it would be that he was healed fully. I wouldn’t want him to have to suffer again, especially as he did in the year before he died. I knew when we got married that our time would be limited. And as “Mr worse-case-scenario”, he continually “prepared” me for the inevitable. 

As much as I grieve his death,  I am also very thankful for the blessing of having him in my life, 10 years & 10 days as husband and wife. 

My life moves on in a different way, still discovering what God had in mind for me. Michael’s presence in my life continues, just in a different way - with his voice echoing in my thoughts, his vision shaping how I see the world around me, and his life as a reminder that life is precious and each breath counts!

Monday, June 24, 2019

En Camino, day 2 - Guatemala

It was a very full day!
Following breakfast, we went to see various parts of the Misión’s missions, beginning with the school right behind the church.  It is modeled after Montessori.  Entering the courtyard, young children were chasing each other around, playing, etc.  The director of the school - through our translator- told us the history as well as the philosophy of teaching. The school was one of the first parts of the Misión, noting the importance of education - not just learning information, but also life skills like cooking, traditional artisan work and the like
From there, we piled into the back of a truck to head up the hill to the Women's center where they learn various skills as well as giving of their time to the center in various projects.  They create beautiful textile crafts, weaving patterns based on their backgrounds and cultural connections
Back in the truck, we went to the medical center where we learned about its history and all the different care that they provide.  In addition to some medical physicians that visit, they have their own staff as well as health promoters that visit other villages in the area.  They train locals to provide care in their own communities. Last year, they provided care to 26,000 people
The last visit of the morning was to the coffee warehouse.  They work with local growers to give them a fair price for their crops.  They prepare and roast the beans for their own a Misión brand called Juan Ana cafe (named after Father Gregorio’s parents)
After lunch, we went to visit Andreas, a local man who shared his experiences with the injustices that he faced as a Mayan that was treated as less than human by the owners of the fincas (farms) that they worked on.   Through Father Gregorios efforts in conjunction with local people and funds raised in the states, they were able to buy the land of the fincas and build community based farms that provided sustainable livings for all - even as they endured 30 years of Civil war.   Andreas is an amazing man with a great love of God, appreciation for a Father Gregorios vision and work, and commitment to the well being of the San Lucas community.

A bit of local color was visiting the veneration of San Simón which is a local deity/“saint” that mixes various religious aspects of Mayan & Guatemalalan culture (google it for the full flavor of it)

We had a bit of down time before dinner as well as this evening.  It feels as if I’ve already been here a week after one day as we had such a full day

Note: these are initial recollections that I will fill in more later

Sunday, June 23, 2019

En Camino - day 1 (Guatemala)

After arriving on Saturday night in Guatemala City, I was told that a driver would pick me up at my hotel at 7am to take me and another group to San Lucas. Needless to say that I was not ready when he arrived at 6:15am - but then that was the only low of the day
It was a beautiful day with little traffic as we made our way through the valleys and mountains to San Lucas. It is a beautiful country, very lush and green and the mountains are unlike ones that I have experienced elsewhere.
Once I got my stuff dropped off at the hotel and connected with the rest of the group, we took a boat ride across lake Atitlan first to San Juan, then took a Tuk-tuk ( sp.?) to San Pedro for a bite to eat(need to get pix to show what they are).  Back in San Juan, did a bit of shopping before getting back on the boat for San Antonio (no, not Texas) where we visited a ceramics shop as well as a textile coop to learn how they made both.
They showed us how they not want not spun the cotton, but dyed it using plants, wood and even dried bugs that all creat such vibrant colors. Then they wove them into cloth for close thing, table runners and so much more
Back in San Lucas, we gathered at the mission for supper then i got a brief orientation with helpful info such as the following:
1) don’t drink the tap water
2) don’t flush the toilet paper as the system can’t handle it
3) don’t pet any of the dogs that wander the streets as they can either be very protective of their owners or if they are more feral, need to be careful of rabies
4) be back at the hotel by 9pm

I definitely got in plenty of steps today (over 15k!) and that included time in the van and on the boat

The people are so gracious and patient with this gringo with so very little Spanish speaking ability. I am looking forward to meeting many more over the next week and learning more about the various aspects that the Misión participates in
This just barely scratches the surface of today’s experiences, but wanted to give you a brief glimpse (pix to follow on Facebook and Instagram)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Share the wealth

A number of years ago, I kept driving by this one Fire station that had the following on their community sign:
 Share the Wealth
Give Blood

I thought it was a great way to think about giving blood. 

It is something that we have that is purely a gift - we can't create it ourselves or mass produce it. 

It is literally giving from the heart. 

It is sharing a part of ourselves with another person that we will never know. 

It is making a difference - a life or death difference in some cases

As scripture says "we have this treasure in clay jars"...in our flesh, blood gives us life and is a treasure, wealth that we can give to others.

Isn't this at the heart - literally and figuratively - at what it means to live our lives as God's people - to share that which we have received.

We are blessed by this life entrusted to us by God and we are called to be faithful stewards of all that has been given to us.

One song that we sing often in worship is "We are an Offering" where we proclaim that "Lord, use our voices; Lord, use our hands; Lord, use our lives, they are yours: we are an offering.  All that we have, all that we are, all that we hope to be, we give to you..."

And so, we are invited today to share the wealth as we give blood for the lives of others

P.S. My metaphor falls apart when I came to realize that the phrase "share the wealth" was about bingo and not the blood drive - still makes for a good illustration though.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Spiritual diving

I’ve often described and imagined life as an ongoing journey (hence the name of this blog).  Over the years, there have been times when I have been more and then less aware of God walking with me.
I will admit that I have often treated God as a kind of silent companion, always there just in case I needed him.

Recently, it has less of the feel of walking and more like swimming (sing a bit of Dorys ‘just keep swimming’).  I can swim, but I’m not necessarily the strongest of swimmers and don’t really like to swim under water or dive deep.  The reality of this stems from a childhood experience that while I could swim underwater back and forth between my parents at a very young age, after my Dad’s death, I no longer would do it.

This seems to have become a metaphor for my spiritual journey as of late.

As a pastor, I am immersed regularly in scripture, worship and prayer.  I do “pray without ceasing” for others, the church and myself.  I wouldn’t say that I have really ever “lost” faith, but more like I was only skimming the surface and not diving deeply in.   There have been times in the past that I had done so, but it’s almost as if I had “forgotten” or just gotten comfortable with staying on the surface.

The past year or so has been extremely difficult for a whole host of reasons, many of which were out of my control.  Skimming along the surface wasn’t working as I was being pulled down into the depths again and again.   There were days that I felt like I was flailing as well as failing.

Yet, in the midst of this, I finally saw God who was always reaching out to me - not to take me back to the surface, but to learn to swim in the depths.   I have fought to get back to where I was comfortable, but was so weighted down by all that I was bearing that I didn’t have enough strength of my own to do so.   There were days when I felt like I was drowning and wanted to just give up.

God wouldn’t let me and kept sending me companions to teach, support and accompany me in the depths.  

God invited me to explore the depths of my own life.   Through the gifts of others own learning to “dive deep” into their own depths, my eyes were opened from fear and uncertainty so that I could begin to see the wonder around me, even as I was and am still struggling.

I do come up for air, but am more willing to dive a bit deeper, knowing that I won’t drown in these depths.  God has carried me through the currents of vulnerability, belovedness, hope, and a greater willingness to live in the moment rather than worrying about the future.

Like our life’s journey, it is not so much about the destination but about where we are in the present time.  I have learned much about myself and who God has created me to be.  I have grow just a little stronger as well as willing to enter into the deep end of life.   It is still scary many times, but as long as I turn to a God - not to rescue me- but to give me the strength, guidance and assurance I need, I keep on swimming.

Some of the companions for me have been a series of books and authors who have guided me.  They are:
Readings on the Enneagram (which helped me to look more at myself in a different way)
Henri Nouwen (who reminded me of my belovedness in Gods eyes)
Brené Brown (who is teaching me the gifts of vulnerability and rising strong)

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 (revjedyer1@yahoo.com) 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!