Cardboard Assault

There is a smell here of both hope and anxiety. It is a smell that is fresh but acrid as it attacks my nostrils, triggering memories of days gone by while making my eyes water as I focus on the days to come. It is a smell that carries weight itself even as it gets weighed down with the possessions of life. It is a smell accompanied by promise, even as it is locked tight with the screech of tape rubbing against its surface.

It is the smell of cardboard. My house is filled with its aroma.

I’m an itinerate preacher in the United Methodist Church. This year I join with thousands of colleagues around the connection as I pack my belongings and prepare to move to the place my Bishop has assigned me to go. On the surface, that seems like a simple thing: Jobs change. You pack the boxes and you move. This is life.

I have a friend in the Army who has moved 19 times in 31 years. I don’t envy him. I don’t even want to think about moving that much. However, I think it’s different for him. Sure, we both signed up for an itinerant life. But there appears to be so much less understood about the preacher that moves her or his family from town to town than there is about the multitude of soldiers who move from base to base. And maybe that is part of it. When soldiers move, they are almost always leaving with others or arriving with others. They are moving out of and into a community of “movers.” Preachers and their families move from and into communities of “stayers.”

The ones I am leaving behind have been taught by me, frustrated by me, and joined me in the worship of Someone much bigger than all of us. I know their stories. Some families have been here so long the roads and buildings have their names on them. And they know each other. Their houses are known not just by the community of faith but the whole community. Their place is here. My place will soon be “not here – but there.” And the folks there have more than likely been there a while as well, rooted in the area and each other. Familiar with worship, with one another, with the jokes that have gone on for generations. Sure, they know we are coming, but what does that really mean? They’ve had preachers arrive before. They are watching one leave now. How does that affect everything? I feel for the loss at both places. But the smell of cardboard reminds me that I am the one moving. I am the one without a place.

IMG_20190516_214216.jpgI take one of the old boxes that I have used to move before, unfold it, and let the dust assault my senses. I fix the box for filling and start packing in the contents of life. But it is more than stuff that is going into these boxes. It is memories. This is the place my two youngest graduated from high school. This is the home they left for college, and left again for grad school. I will fill the boxes with some of “their” stuff and even more of “our” stuff but when they get to the new place, something will be very, very different. And when I smell the low-grade heat of the adhesive tape locking away that stuff, I smell that which is getting left behind.

Sometimes I take a box and start filling it with my life, and the aroma that arrives is one that reminds me that there are new things headed my way. New challenges. New friends. New experiences. New mistakes to make. New. New. New. It is hopeful and promising but just like holding one of my newborn children there is something frightening in all that newness. The responsibility of it all. The knowing I am going to a place where everybody knows my name, but I don’t know theirs. The new routes I will have to learn. The new celebrations I will share in. The new ministry that will take place. The hope of all this newness is weighty, even heavier than the cardboard filled with the dishes from the china cabinet.

Sometimes I prep a box for packing and the aroma that reaches me gives my mind a shot of racing fuel in the form of adrenaline. Are the movers sure they can do this job? Are they really going to show up? Am I going to get to say good-bye the way I want, to everybody that I want to say good-bye to? Is my spouse packing that stuff or am I? And who is sorting through that part of life over there? Will this break en route?

Will anyone be here to say, “So long. We love you.”? Will anyone be there to say, “Welcome. We love you.”?

Sometimes I get a box from the stack of recycled moving materials and even though it is empty, I have trouble moving it. A dense and heavy fog surrounds the box. The fog interrupts normal conversation modes between my spouse and me. It makes me tired, oh, so tired. It overwhelms me. To borrow from an all too popular show on TV: Moving. Is. Coming. And with it comes the change in the relationships even in my house. Excitement. Grief. Excitement. Grief. It wears on any marriage. I’m just fortunate enough to have a spouse who patiently keeps on packing, even when it seems it will never end. Because in the end, we want to be together. We choose each day to love each other and no tension, not even the tension of finding the right box for “that” will end that choice.

My house smells of cardboard. It is hopeful. It is anxious.

It is dust – held together by pressure and glue. Someday it will be dust again. Then again – so will I.

So will we all.

My house smells of cardboard – a holy smell leading me away from and towards the place that is not quite home.

Advent Study and Invitations

Today (and hopefully every Sunday during Advent) I will be sharing with you an Advent Study that has been prepared for us by our bishop, Bishop Sandra L. Steiner Ball.

I encourage you to not only use this devotional material at home, but also to follow the Advent Invitation at the end of each devotion. I would love to hear – in the comments – how following these invitations are encouraging you to have a different kind of Christmas this year.

BTW – I am “giving up” at least one gift this Christmas – both giving and receiving – in order to help “Imagine No Malaria” and the “Nothing but Nets” campaign.  I will be sending the text message “MALARIA” to 27722 to donate $10 and I will be doing this during our worship time at First UMC each week during Advent. I truly believe that Christmas is about miracles for the world and one of my Christmas wishes is for this disease to be eradicated .

An Advent Study for the
Home
Prepared for the Family and Friends of the West Virginia
Conference
Advent 2012
Bishop Sandra L. Steiner Ball

Advent Service for our home
FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT THE PROMISE
THE READING: As we prepare to light the first candle on our Advent wreath, our thoughts go back to the promise of the coming of Jesus foretold by the prophets. As the followers of God waited for the day when
Jesus would come, they prepared themselves for the fulfillment of this promise. They had heard God speak through the prophets and could hardly wait for Jesus’ coming. Similarly, we find it difficult to wait for
Christmas. Let us take time to prepare ourselves for the promise of this great day.

THE SCRIPTURE: ISAIAH 9: 2,6
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon
his shoulder, and his name shall be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
(Light the first purple advent candle)

BISHOP SANDRA’S ADVENT CALENDAR INVITATION 2012
December 2: As we begin this Advent Season I will allow God to be involved in all my preparations and activities. I will use the home Advent service. I will listen for God’s voice daily.
December 3: This season I will worship as much as possible with my home congregation and community. I will commit to daily prayer at lunchtime seeking to see where God is at work and seeking to join God there.
December 4: I’ll remember that Jesus calls us to not lose our childlike faith in God.  Today I will have some contact with children and allow myself to have fun with them on their level.
December 5: Bake (or buy) a Christmas treat and take it to a neighbor – Just to be a WV Blessing – sharing God’s love and care with someone else.
December 6: Today I will share a glory sighting, where I have seen God/Christ at work, with family and friends.
December 7: I will write a special “Good News” note to 2 persons I know to share just how much they are a blessing to me.
December 8: This day I will do something special for or with my family.

A Challenge from Our Bishop

God still speaks!

A prayer challenge from Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball to the
West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
excerpted from Bishop Steiner Ball’s sermon on 10/13/12

“West Virginia and Garrett County members of the West Virginia Conference I am challenging you to join me in intentionally building that God connection. While most of us have morning or evening daily devotions, I am inviting you into something different.

Every day at or around noon we either think about or take a lunch break.  So here is my challenge:  Join me at lunch time in conversation/prayer with God.

Ask these two questions:

Where have I seen Christ at work in the last 24 hours and in what ways can I or the church partner with or support that work?

In the last 24 hours where has God been at work and I missed it, walked right by, failed to hear God’s voice, failed to turn aside?

And end that prayer time by asking God to give you the eyes of Christ, the ears of Christ, and the courage of Christ to risk faithful acts and actions in this world.

If you have 15 minutes for lunch – whether you eat or not – try to stop and pray on these things for at least 1 to 2 minutes.  If you have 30 minutes – then try at least 2 to 3 minutes, if you have an hour, try to pray on these things for 5 to 6 minutes. Prayer is powerful and to practice this communally will put each of us and our congregation more in touch with God’s will and action, and we will be better able to hear God’s voice.”

God still speaks!

This is a challenge I intend to take up from our Bishop!  Will you join me??