Hi, my name is Doug.
I write little essays about faith and life.
I also laugh at my own jokes and correct other people's grammar.
I'm far from perfect.
This is my blog.

David and Bathsheba

I’m preaching about David and Bathsheba on Sunday.  So are a lot of other preachers around the world.  That’s because 2 Samuel 11 is the Old Testament reading this week in something called the Revised Common Lectionary (explaining what that is would require at least another blogpost), and many preachers around the world use the lectionary to guide them in selecting scripture on which to base their sermons each week.

By this point in the week I’ve done a fair amount of reading about the David and Bathsheba story, and I’m pretty sure I understand what’s going on.  It’s a sad and tawdry tale.

Much of what I read this week I already knew, which is often the case when I preach about familiar portions of scripture.  But I did come across a couple of new insights.

One is that the sexual encounter with Bathsheba is often portrayed as a romantic interlude – in other words, consensual – when in reality the story suggests something very different.  David sent for her, slept with her, and then sent her back home.

This is not the language of romance.  It’s the language of power.

It’s true that David marries Bathsheba after having her husband murdered, but the circumstances surrounding their first meeting do not sound like a fairytale romance. Instead, the David we meet in this story is bored and full of himself. I’m thinking that maybe God should have allowed him to build the Temple, as he wanted, because without a project like that David has way too much time on his hands.

Maybe my original understanding of this story was shaped by influences other than the actual words of scripture.  For example, the 1951 film David and Bathsheba, staring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, certainly made the relationship seem beautiful and sensual, as sensual as films in that era were allowed to be.

The story, as the Bible tells it, however, suggests something very different.  I’ll need a day or two to process this new information.

The other new insight into this story comes from Eugene Peterson, the Presbyterian pastor and writer.  In his wonderful book about the David story, Leap Over A Wall, Peterson argues that David will forever be linked with two names – Goliath and Bathsheba.

Though these two are different in so many ways, they are nevertheless similar, says Peterson, in that each one was something of a test for David.  They reveal David’s heart.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon about David and Goliath, and I lifted up David’s courage as a model for us.  I suggested that we too aim higher, work harder, and trust God more.  In this other story David is calculating and cruel. So, what’s the message?

That we should copy the behavior we see earlier in David’s life and avoid the sad mess that his life becomes later on?  Sure, but I’m guessing there’s more here.  I’m starting to see that David was powerful in both stories, but in the story of Bathsheba that use of power was distorted.  It was used for David’s own gratification.  It was abused, used casually, thoughtlessly.

This is the exciting part of the week for me, as I squeeze as much of the spiritual wisdom as I can out of the words of scripture.  I know I’ll get there.  I (almost) always do.

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A pastor’s response

Our country has once again had one of those weeks. It was bloody and terrible and senseless, and it’s all of those things every time it happens.

We wake up and turn on the news, and there it is.  We see people running away in fear.  We see people being loaded into ambulances.  We see family members, huddled together and waiting for news, hoping against hope that their son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother, is not among the victims.

It happens at Army bases, in schools and universities, in post offices, in shopping malls, and now in theaters.  No place, it seems, is safe.

Over the last few months, several church members have been engaged in a conversation about security measures we should probably take here … in this church, in a place of worship. That’s a conversation I never wanted to have.

Look, I have no political axe to grind here.  I don’t think these are occasions to score points on one side or another.

But I’m sad.  And I’m terrified.  And I happen to believe that there’s a spiritual side to all of this.  I hope you won’t be surprised to know that.

When politicians rush out to microphones to make their statements in the aftermath of one of these tragedies, they typically use the language of faith.  They mention prayer.  They call us to reflect on the things that really matter.

And even though those words sometimes seem a little too calculated, I have to agree. This is a time to use the language of faith. This is a time to pray.  This is a time to reflect on the things that really matter.

When we reach within and try to find those spiritual resources – and this is a pastor’s worry for his congregation – my worry is that we won’t find much, or that we won’t find enough.

So, my promise to you is to work harder – harder than ever – to focus on those things…to cultivate the spiritual resources we will need to face times like these.

There will be more, sorry to say.  This latest one is just that – only the most recent. There will be others.

And so, all of us – this is my challenge to you – need to find ways to think about what happened.  We need to make sure our spiritual resources are up to the job.  I’m talking about not giving in to anger or cynicism or despair.

I’m talking about finding ways to have hope, to live with hope, to live with confidence about the future.

That’s a tall order!  I know that. But I think that’s what it means to be people of faith. If we don’t believe that we are in the hands of a loving God, then we will eventually give in to the cynicism of our culture.

I don’t want to do that.  And I suspect you don’t either.  So, let’s find another way. The way of hope, the way of life, the way of Jesus, who once said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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A church starts to rebuild

In a recent blogpost I mentioned a church in northern New York State that had burned to the ground following a lightning strike.

I had the privilege of meeting the pastor, the Rev. Bonnie Orth, at a worship grants colloquium at Calvin College last month where she told me that her church would soon be rebuilt and that the ministry would continue.

Here’s a link to a TV news report on the ground-breaking ceremony held on Sunday, July 8…

http://capitalregion.ynn.com/content/590803/mayfield-church-celebrates-ground-breaking-ceremony/

To me, Bonnie Orth is one of the saints in the church today.  Lots of attention is focused on superstar preachers like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren – and they certainly deserve credit for the work they do and the many lives they reach – but I am convinced that women and men like Bonnie Orth, laboring in small towns across North America, are the ones who most deserve our thanks and admiration.

Their churches will never grow to the 20,000 attendees per weekend level, but then the towns in which they serve typically don’t have that many people anyway.  And yet, they work hard and put in long hours and sit at bedside in many hospitals across this country.  They preach on Sundays, but they also lead the youth group and take out the trash and do a hundred other chores not currently in my own job description.

And, in the case of Bonnie Orth, they reach deep into the resources of their personal faith to find ways to rebuild their churches and to move their people from sorrow to joy.

When I go to meetings like the one I attended last month, I can’t wait to meet them and shake their hands and say thank you for what they do.  God bless you, Bonnie.  I’m proud to call you my colleague in ministry!

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Search for authentic faith

The adult education class I’m teaching this summer with church member Mark Schumacher has been especially enjoyable.  I love teaching classes at church, but
something about this particular class has me especially revved up and ready to go each week.

One reason of course is Mark.  He’s someone I met early on because he was a member of the search committee that brought me to Fort Lauderdale, but we had never taught a class together before.  So far as I know, he has no teaching background and no degree in education, but he’s a natural.  He knows how to draw out the quieter members of the class – and how to respond firmly to the more talkative members (you know who you are).  He’s presenting what is sometimes very difficult material in a way that just about everyone can grasp and respond to.

But the most important reason I’m enjoying myself so much is the subject matter of our class.  We’re teaching from Diane Butler Bass’ newest book, Christianity after Religion.

The first few chapters of the book, to be honest about it, are sad.  In painful detail Butler Bass describes the decline of the American church over the last 20 years.  I was surprised that our class members kept coming back, because the news is not good. People are leaving the American church in droves.  At first it was the liberal Protestant churches that were seeing declines, but now the declines are noticeable across the board, Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches too.

Midway through the book, however, Butler Bass makes the case that something good and encouraging might actually be happening. While many people are saying no to church as it has been, they seem to be searching as never before for authentic faith.  In other words, they are rejecting religion in favor of something less institutional, less rules-based, less dogmatic, less building-centered, less hierarchical.

In the chapter Mark and I taught last week about Christian practice – how to live out the Christian faith – both of us were struck by a story Butler Bass tells about her own church experience.  A few years ago, a church member invited her to join the “altar guild,” a group of people who prepare the communion elements each week for the Lord’s Supper.

According to Butler Bass’ description, the church member said to her, “I’ve been doing it for thirty-five years, and I’m really tired. It is time for someone else to do it instead.”

Not surprisingly, Butler Bass turned down this invitation.  Then, later, she wondered “what might have happened” if the woman had asked the question in a different way.

What if, Butler Bass wondered, she had described her habit of waking each Sunday before dawn, arriving to a darkened sanctuary, unlocking the drawers where the linens and silver are kept, and carefully getting them out for use.  What if the woman had said, “I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to set the table for Jesus and his friends.”

Butler Bass says that her answer would have been, “Sign me up.”

I actually wept when I read those words.

The difference between the two approaches could not be more stark. The first invitation was an appeal to duty or obligation, nothing all that appealing.  But the second invitation would have asked Butler Bass to consider the deeply spiritual aspect of the work, an invitation to participate in the mystery of God.

When I read this story, I thought of all the times I’ve said to church members who had been nominated to be an elder, “Well, it’s only one meeting a month,” when I could have said something like, “As an elder we get to practice life in the kingdom of God.”

Church members who serve on committees and boards and who attend to the institutional life of the church sometimes forget the deeper meaning of what they do. And pastors sometimes forget to name that deeper meaning.

And so it’s time we talked more about that, all of us, because people are surprisingly hungry to hear it – and feel it.

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Worship Renewal

For a couple of days last week I did something I truly enjoy – namely, giving away money.  But not just giving it away.  Rather, giving it away for the cause of worship renewal.

For nearly 10 years I’ve had the privilege of serving on the grants review board of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship – yes, that’s a mouthful, I know.  The board is composed mostly of church musicians and worship scholars who make grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 – to churches, campus ministries, hospital chaplaincies, prison fellowships, and more (but mostly to churches).  We give away hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.  And each year we invite the grant recipients – those who are just starting their projects and those who are just completing theirs – to a grants gathering in Michigan.

I tried to explain all of this to my brother in law over dinner the night before our grants gathering began, and he said, “Oh, worship renewal.  That’s where you get rid of all the hymnbooks and sing off a screen at the front of the church.”  Something about the way he said it made me think he wasn’t  in favor.

“No,” I said.  “That’s not quite it, though I realize a lot of people think that’s what worship renewal is.”

So, what is worship renewal?  Hard to explain.  Often worship renewal begins with a pastor’s heart.  My favorite grant story – from a few years ago – involved a hospital chaplain at a children’s hospital.  Families would come from miles around with very sick children, and often they would stay for weeks, even months, at a time.

The hospital chaplain asked herself how worship in that setting could allow parents and family members to express what they needed to express, and not surprisingly her grant proposal made ample use of the psalms, most of which are laments (meaning that most psalms begin with pain, loss, fear, sadness, and disappointment, exactly what the parents and family members in that situation were feeling).  When the grants gathering took place that year, I had only known this person through a seven or eight-page type-written grant proposal.  In fact, I remember tearing up the first time I read this particular proposal.  Her pastoral instincts, I thought, were just right.  I wanted to meet her.

And so, at the gathering, held each year in late June, I made a point of finding her and shaking her hand and telling her how much I loved her proposal and the passion she had for the faith of the children and families who were in her care.

My favorite grant proposal this year came from a pastor in northern New York State whose church’s steeple was struck by lightning a year or so ago and burned to the ground.  Nothing survived in the smoldering ruins except for a couple of wood beams from the support structure.  The grant proposal asked if the church could identify a local artist who would fashion something from the beams – a cross, as it turned out – that could be used in the newly re-built church as a way of remembering what was lost and also as a way of being reminded of God’s great goodness and providence.

I shook this pastor’s hand too and told her what an important ministry she had, leading her people from sorrow to joy.

Sometimes grant proposals grow out of more than good pastoral instincts. Some of the best proposals over the years have grown out of an important question – such as, what is the connection between baptism and spiritual formation?  Or, how about the role of the Lord’s Supper in congregational reconciliation?

The truth is, our little board has read so much over the years that has been so inspiring and uplifting.   So many gatherings of Christian people across North America are working so hard, with such passion and creativity in their worship lives, that we as a board are often left speechless and humbled and grateful.

I always come home to my own congregation with a renewed determination to be as creative and dedicated in my own worship planning as the people who received grants. Their work inspires my own.  Their work gives me hope for the church.

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Psalms for All Seasons

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Joyce Borger, Martin Tel, and John D. Witvliet, Editors; Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, Faith Alive Christian Resources,and Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, 2012

I heard one of the editors of this impressive volume say at a recent worship conference that Psalms for All Seasons was “not born out of market research.”  No one, he said, has been asking the editors, “When is there going to be a new psalter?”

Yet, here it is, in its third printing in about as many months.

Psalms for All Seasons may not have been “much anticipated” (in the breathless language of some pre-publication blurbs), but it is nevertheless welcome, clearly filling a need, and telling us a great deal about where the American church is today.

I grew up singing the psalms in a denomination that has historically valued psalm singing and that sang out of a “psalter-hymnal,” but I don’t think I discovered the power and importance of the psalms until I was well along in my ministry.  Today it would be impossible, for example, to plan for a memorial service without making ample use of the Book of Psalms.  No other book of the Bible expresses what needs to be expressed during such a service quite like the Book of Psalms.

I started out in ministry as an associate pastor in a large church, and I quickly discovered that the senior pastor loved the psalms.  Trained early on to sing opera, he continued to sing following ordination by using the psalms in personal devotions.  I would arrive at the church early in the morning and hear him behind the closed door of his office singing the psalms, many of which he metered for singing with familiar hymn tunes.  (Several of his psalms, in fact, can be found in this volume.)

Writing this review, I thought, called for a different kind of preparation from other book reviews I’ve written. To give an example, I worked with the lead musician on my church’s staff, and together we have now selected several of the psalms in Psalms for All Seasons for use in worship.

On one recent Sunday, when Psalm 23 was the psalm of the day in the Revised Common Lectionary, the congregation sang three different settings of this psalm – from the stately and traditional to the lively and contemporary.  The adult choir sang yet another setting for a total of four very different experiences of this psalm.

What was the effect of all this attention to Psalm 23?  I would like to think that this particular psalm’s message, meaning, and beauty were fully on display – and perhaps that my congregation caught a little of the rich diversity of music now being sung in American churches.

Psalms for All Seasons contains settings for all 150 psalms, including 11different settings for Psalm 23 (only one setting for Psalm 101, but generally several settings for each psalm).  The settings follow a reproduction of the psalm in its entirety (from the New Revised Standard Version), a brief prayer (or collect), and a paragraph of commentary about the psalm.  Outlines of morning prayer, noon prayer, evening prayer, and prayer for meetings and classes are given toward the end of the volume, making it valuable for personal use and meetings as well as corporate worship.

The settings (where there is more than one) range from old to new and are thoughtfully selected to include all or most of the arrangers and writers at work today in the American church.

Here’s a prediction for pastors and worship leaders who select music each week for use in worship: in this volume you will find at least 200 psalm settings that you would never, under any circumstances, think to use, but that means you will find hundreds more that would fit nicely with your worship preferences. The range is sometimes startling, though that would also be a good description of worship life in the American church today.

What the editors of this volume have revealed is perhaps what we’ve known all along – namely, that the psalms have long had, and continue to have, an important place in the worship life of the church.

Companion CDs are available which offer a sampling of the psalms found in Psalms for All Seasons and which give the listener and worship planner an idea of how the setting might sound in worship.

Having sung a great many of the settings in this volume both with my congregation and in other settings, I can testify to not only its usefulness, but to its wonder. What an unexpected and timely gift to the church.

(a book review for Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought, a publication to which I’ve contributed for than 20 years)

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A little bug

I felt it Saturday morning.

Something was happening in my upper respiratory system, and it wasn’t something good.  My voice sounded a little more resonant than usual.  I had a scratchy throat. And so, clearly a cold was on the way.

But getting sick on Saturday is not an option, not for me.  I had a sermon to preach, one that I was looking forward to preaching, one that I was genuinely excited about, as a matter of fact.

So, I did what I usually do.  I powered through.  A little Tylenol, a little decongestant (the non-drowsy kind), and I figured I was good to go.  So, Sunday came and went, and I thought I had dodged a bullet (I don’t like that expression much, but it sort of fits).

Then, I woke up Wednesday morning, and I realized I hadn’t dodged anything.  The bug suddenly had the upper hand, and I was busy cancelling appointments for the day.  I reluctantly called my family practice doctor, who prescribed an anti-biotic, and I had no choice but to give in and – I can’t believe this – take a nap.

My grandparents took naps, for heaven’s sake!  And they were really old.

Spiritually speaking, this little encounter with a flu bug has significance for me, beyond the need to take care of myself.  Getting sick is often a reminder to me that I am, after all, a mere mortal, which is a simple truth I am tempted to forget.

It’s like the smear of ashes on my forehead at the Ash Wednesday service – and then the words “dust you are, Doug, and to dust you shall return.”

I don’t like that reminder because I like to think of myself as big and strong and, yes, very nearly invincible.  Illness is what happens to other people.

Then a little bug comes along – one that’s not even visible to the naked eye – and it lays me out.   And in that moment I realize (once again) that “I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…” (one of my favorite lines from the Heidelberg Catechism).

And this is where I’m supposed to comment on how thankful I am for this much-needed reminder…but I’m not quite there yet.

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Special Olympics

I’m preaching later this morning about leadership which is a big topic.  I gathered a lot of information, and then as so often happens I realized that I couldn’t use everything.
So, I made some painful choices, which is what a film director must go through to get a project down to 90 minutes or so. I figure I’ve got around 20 minutes which makes my job even harder.

What I plan to say is that the Bible teaches us some counter-intuitive lessons about leadership.  When God chooses a leader for the people of Israel, God chooses the youngest, smallest, scrawniest brother in the Jesse clan.  They didn’t even think to include him in the selection process and only brought him out when the old prophet Samuel asked if there was, maybe, one more son in the family.

For anyone who has ever been too young, too small, too scrawny, this is a good
story.  It reminds us that God sees potential in us that, sometimes, others do not see.

The other thing about leadership that I plan to say is that it is self-sacrificing, like the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  I do my best to follow that Good Shepherd in my personal life, but I wish there were more of them today – in schools, businesses, and churches.

Here’s the part of my sermon for today I had to leave on the cutting-room floor: Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, is a curious blend of evangelical faith and liberal politics.  She’s got a quirky and irreverent style that isn’t for everyone, but it’s fun and occasionally filled with insight.  Here’s what she writes about leadership:

If I were going to help people with being good leaders, I would say the most important thing you can do is go to the Special Olympics every single year and bring more and more people there, because that is where you’re going to see the kingdom of God.

At the Special Olympics, if someone falls down or spaces out, the others don’t go, “Oh, great – that gives me an edge.”  They go back for him or her and help, and somebody that has been assigned to help helps everybody get going in the right direction again, and they go off together.

Yeah, there is no more joy to be had this side of glory than a morning at the Special Olympics track and field.

Amen to that.

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I’m not perfect

Over the last ten years or so I have often lamented the existence and widespread use of email.  It’s pretty much made my life miserable – except for those times when I can’t live without it.

Before email, sermon feedback was sparse.  In a church I served early in my ministry, I actually started a “sermon feedback” group for Sundays after the last service. The idea was that we would “continue the conversation” in a classroom setting.  I enjoyed those sessions and still think there’s a place for them.  I found out pretty quickly what people heard, what interested them, or what didn’t make sense.

Then came email.  And since then I haven’t had to ask for feedback.  It just comes, often as early as Sunday afternoon.  To be fair, most of the email I receive in response to sermons is kind and encouraging and supportive.  In fact, I probably receive more words of appreciation for what I do than people who labor in other professions.

So, there’s no need to feel sorry for me (unless you would like to).

And yet, I do receive the occasional email that makes me regret opening up my laptop on Sunday afternoon.  I read it and think, “Really? You needed to say that? I hope you feel better now, because I feel lousy.”

It’s on those occasions that I think back to the time when people actually had to go home and think about their response.  And then they would have to get out a pen, a piece of paper, an envelope, and a stamp.  After it was dropped into the mail, I probably wouldn’t receive it until Tuesday at the earliest – and by then I wasn’t nearly as sensitive and defensive as I often am on Sunday afternoon.

I can be sensitive and defensive on Sunday afternoon.  And that’s because there is something vulnerable about preaching. From the first time I stood in a pulpit, I have felt exposed when I preach, open to criticism, and vulnerable to … I don’t know, something, maybe personal attack.

Early in our marriage, Susan and I reached an agreement that she wouldn’t say anything about my sermon until at least Wednesday, which was when I figured that I could really hear what she had to say.  I value her opinion about what I say, but it’s sometimes hard to hear her so soon after I’ve said it.  And mostly she keeps the agreement, even when I taunt her on Sunday after church with a “So, what did you think?”

Good preaching, I’m convinced, ought to involve vulnerability.  When one of us preaches, we should  be putting ourselves out there.  Our beliefs and most deeply held convictions should be plain for all to see.  But there’s a risk in that.  To be exposed in that way makes us vulnerable.

Last Sunday I mentioned in my sermon that life in my childhood was good and that institutions of government were respected and that things generally were better than there are today.  I said it differently, of course, but that’s how it was heard.

And so – on Monday morning – I opened my laptop to find a wonderful, thoughtful, and gentle email expressing…well, profound disagreement with what I had said. Not everything back in the 1950s and 1960s, she reminded me, was good.  Many women, many African-Americans, and many others do not look back on those times as good at all.

I had to agree.  I told a story from my own limited perspective, and I got it wrong.

Another time, several years ago, on a Saturday night, I was visiting a church – a mega-church 20 miles from my home.  I was excited to go and was enjoying myself until I heard the pastor, who is a nationally-known preacher, say something disparaging about mainline Protestants.  I was so mad that I went home and (not knowing his email address) wrote him a letter letting him know that some mainline Protestants actually do believe in God and that he was a very bad man for implying otherwise (I forget exactly what I wrote).

To my surprise, he wrote back.  It was a nice letter, on personal stationary, and clearly not written by a staff member. He apologized.  He said, “I don’t remember saying those things, but if I did, I hope you will accept my apology.  I blew it.”

Which was not the response I expected.  And I decided to learn from it.  I don’t always get it right either when I stand up to preach.  I have been known to blow it.  I hope I get the essentials right.  I hope the gospel is clear every time I walk up those steps. But I’m not perfect.  And I hate email.

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Next chapter(s) of life

My younger daughter is getting married in August, and I have been given one relatively small chore in preparation – that is, in addition to keeping the checkbook balanced, which is an old, but still effective (I’m finding) little joke about fathers of the bride.

The little chore which has been entrusted to me is to find 50 photographs of my daughter taken at various points during her childhood.  The idea is that my 50 photos will be mingled with 50 photos of my soon-to-be son-in-law, resulting in a nice slideshow for people to watch at the reception, while we all wait for the bride and groom to arrive from wherever it is that brides and grooms go after their wedding ceremonies.

For those who are wondering – no, I’m not officiating. I told both daughters years ago that the only role at their weddings I truly looked forward to was being their dad.  Full disclosure: my daughters are also keenly aware that I’ve been known to cry to the point of embarrassment at times like these, and I suspect that neither one was keen on the idea of hearing me blubber my way through their wedding ceremonies.

Also, fortunately, they’ve got a couple of cousins who are ordained pastors and who can do a fine job of leading them through the vows.

But back to the photos.  When my older daughter was married four summers ago, I seized the opportunity to sort out the entire collection of family photos, including over 20 years’ worth of family vacations, Christmas mornings, proms, school graduations, etc.

Over the years, all of our family photos had been tossed into a large plastic tub – kind of a giant Tupperware container – waiting for me to tackle the job of sorting either in my retirement or in preparation for a wedding, whichever event came first.

So, four summers ago I sorted and categorized, and now the entire collection can be searched according to subject matter and chronological order.

Here’s the thing, though: A project that should have taken a few hours, or maybe a long weekend of focused effort, took days and days.  Why?  Well, you don’t look through 20 years of family history without stopping to remember and reminisce and – at least in my case – shed a few tears.

Those were good years.  I didn’t always think so at the time, of course, because they were also busy and demanding years, but they were good years.   And the photos confirm that we enjoyed ourselves.  We had fun together.  We did all the things that families hope to do.

And then one day it was all over.  Not really, but that’s how it seemed.  For 20 years I devoted myself – and I don’t want to sound heroic about it because I wasn’t perfect – but I devoted myself, more or less, to being a parent and raising two daughters I was crazy about.  And then, in the span of a few short years, they were gone – on to the next chapters of their lives.

The problem was that I couldn’t quite imagine the next chapter in my own life.  The sense of loss I felt at taking my older daughter to college was something I will never, ever forget.  I knew then – that very day – that my life had changed.  And only now am I beginning to see that something new has come along.  A new chapter has finally opened.

And it’s not bad.  I’m starting to like it as a matter of fact.  I like knowing my daughters as adults.  I still worry about them and listen for any hint of trouble in their voices when they call, but I like the people they have become, and I like talking with them, not as children, but as people who have interesting and thoughtful things to say.

I’ve learned something important about loss and grief in all of this.  And it’s that new chapters do eventually open for us.  They’re not necessarily better (or worse) than the chapter that has closed.  They’re new – with new possibilities, new opportunities, and (in the case of my family) new ways of having a relationship.

This time around the photo sorting is a source of joy – with only an occasional tear and twinge of regret that those wonderful days are gone for good. I suppose that looking forward to a new chapter of life is a good description of faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

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