A RAINY DAY

As I write this, we are experiencing what some might consider a typical Nova Scotia April day: it is raining, the wind is blowing. It is dark, dreary and feels cold and damp even with the heat turned on. The gloomy day is made gloomier because April in Nova Scotia is a real in-between month. We have no snow, which deeply pleases most people. But the trees are still barren sticks, lawns are a brown mess of dead grass, left over leaves and fallen branches. A rainy April day in Nova Scotia is filled with nothing—everything worthwhile is either gone (cross country skiing, winter trips to warm places, the TV series) or yet to come (green grass, leaves, sunshine, summer vacation).

So what, I wonder, do I do on a rainy day in April? Well, to start with, I am not going to get depressed. Even if this rainy day is the first of four or five rainy days we have been told to expect, the gloom isn’t going to push me into depression. I tend not to react to the weather that way—I get depressed for other reasons, which have to do with my reaction to life events, not the weather.

Nor am I going to get frustrated about the things I can’t do because of the rain gloom of April. I don’t much like mowing lawns to start with and so looking out on an expanse of brown, drippy grass is somewhat satisfying to me—I don’t have to mow it. True, I could be out raking the leftover leaves and picking up branches but I don’t like that even on sunny days so not being able to do it now is also somewhat gratifying.

Just to make things a little more complex, I actually enjoy a nice rainy day. I like being able to look up from the keyboard and watch the rain through the drop spattered window. I am sure some of that come from our time in Kenya where rain is seen as a blessing. But even without that, there is something relaxing to me about watching the rain. I don’t get the full impact these days because we live in a well insulated house so I can’t actually hear the rain—but I will make that sacrifice to feel warm as I watch the silent rain. I may not be as enamoured with the rain at the end of this four or five day rainy season but for now, I can type, look out the window and enjoy the rain.

It isn’t like the rain is going to actually change any of my plans. We don’t live in a flood plain and the roads I need to travel today are all well above the highest water marks. The house has a newly shingled roof so it won’t leak—and if by some chance it does leak, the roofers have to come back to fix it under their warranty terms. Between my house, the car, my rain gear and the places where I go, I am not going to get particularly wet no matter how far I go. And, by the way, I kind of like driving on rainy days as well.

Rainy days do upset my wife’s dog—he doesn’t actually like getting wet and so avoids going out as long as he can. When I am in charge of the door, that is an added benefit for me—the dog doesn’t keep coming to me to go out and then have to be let back in all that much.

So, in the end, I am going to enjoy the day. I am warm and comfortable. I don’t have to get up for the dog a dozen times. I have stuff to do and places to go. So, let it rain. The dog might be less content than he would be on a sunny day but I am comfortable, not depressed and have lots of stuff to do. Eventually, the rain will stop, the grass will grow, the leaves will come out and the sun will shine. I will enjoy all those blessings—well, maybe not the grass growing once I have to start mowing but I will enjoy most of those blessings.

But for today, I will enjoy the blessings of a cold, windy, rainy day in April in Nova Scotia.

May the peace of God be with you.

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FREE TIME?

I have mentioned before that one of the places where I preach basically closes down during the winter. The combination of aging buildings, aging congregations, heating costs, winter driving conditions and winter anxiety mean that we close down except for one service a month. This has been our pattern since I have been there and I have learned a few things about the free time this arrangement gives me.

At the beginning, I had large plans for this time. It was unscheduled and uncommitted and so I could finally have time to do all the stuff that got shoved on the back shelf of the to do list: coffee with friends, some research into interesting topics, some woodworking, some cross country skiing, a bit of relaxing and doing nothing. In my mind, I pictures pleasant days of comfortably enjoying the potential of free time.

I soon discovered that free time for me really doesn’t exist. It kept getting eaten up. First, there were increasing requests from a congregation where I was supposed to be preaching only during the time—but as pastoral needs like funerals and hospitalizations piles up, they asked me to provide some pastoral care. It was only for this one thing but soon one more and one more and a junk of free time disappeared.

That was okay because there was still some free time. But then there was this request to see someone that I had helped a few years ago and who needed a booster shot of pastoral care. There was a meeting with denominational people that I had forgotten I volunteered for. And the mentoring process for the theology student was still ongoing. That first year, the small woodworking project that was going to be the beneficiary of all that free time did actually get done—well into the return to work time when I actually found the time to get it done.

After discovering the reality that free time seems to invite activity, I approached this year’s shut-down with a different mindset. I didn’t plan a woodworking project. I didn’t plan on writing that best-selling book that has been on my mind for a while. I didn’t plan on coffee with friends. I did have a few ideas of things that needed to be done but none of them were things that absolutely had to be done—and none of them were all that important. Sorting and organizing my file cabinet drawer of computer and media cables wasn’t a high priority and wouldn’t make much difference if it got done or not.

Interestingly enough, by not actually planning for my free time, I discovered a bit more free time. There were lots of unexpected things that kept popping up, a lot of them having to do with medical appointments connected with the surgery that is coming in the near future. But there were also the unexpected unexpected stuff like funerals and pastoral visits beyond my regular pastoral duties.

Because I didn’t have a long list of things that I wanted to get done, I am half way through this shut down with less frustration and anxiety. I am not actually trying to find spots in the less than free time to enjoy the free time. There are no projects that need to be done and no coffee times that must be arranged before the start up. And, interestingly enough, I have made better use of the actual free time.

I have read several books that have been sitting in my ebook accounts. I have coffied with friends. I even got the cables organized—now, when I or someone else needs a triple RCA connector, I know how many I have and where to find them. The fact that people rarely use triple RCA connectors these days is something I will ignore for now.

More importantly, I am finding and using time to relax and rest and look after myself. Because I don’t have a long list of things to accomplish during this break, I can relax a lot more because when I am sitting reading, I can actually read rather than think about what I should be doing to make the best use of my free time. I can actually enjoy the free time and will probably head back to work more rested, except of course for the surgery which promises more free time of s different and probably more frustrating kind.

May the peace of God be with you.

A MOMENT IN TIME

It was a hot, muggy Sunday evening. The humidity and heat made the thought of getting out of the air-conditioned car painful, especially since I knew that the church building where I would be preaching the evening service would be uncomfortable. I was also pretty sure that our attendance would be down that evening—a good number of our people were travelling or having family events or not planning on attending. About the only positive note for the evening was that the tide was coming in and that might mean a slight drop in temperature.

I arrived my usual half-hour before worship time. I could hear the organist practising the music for the evening. The building is located high over the water and as I looked down to the water, I could see the tongue of fog that sometimes accompanies the tide on hot days like this. I picked up my jacket and carried it, my briefcase and my water cup into the church. The building was as warm and stuffy as I expected it to be. The organist and I had a talk about the weather, our week and the music for the evening. I organized all the stuff I think I need to have organized for the service.

Then, as the organist began to play over one of the hymns we were going to use for the introductory hymn sing, I went outside to stand on the steps where it was just a bit cooler. I stood and watched the fog rolling in—from the building steps, I could look down from above the fog. In the background, the organist was playing Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, one of my favourite hymns.

I would like to say that everything changed in that moment: the temperature dropped to more comfortable levels, the humidity disappeared, the people who wouldn’t make it to the service all changed their minds, I wasn’t tired and uncomfortable any more. None of that happened. But I did have the opportunity to watch the fog roll in, enjoy the slightly cooler temperature that the incoming tide and fog brought with it and listen to the music in the background. It was a moment.

There was no earth-shaking revelation; no major re-alignment of priorities; no miraculous change of attitude. There was just me on the steps, watching the fog and listening to someone play one of my favourite hymns well. It was a moment of peace and relaxation in a busy, uncomfortable day.

After a few minutes, the hymn ended and the organist began to change the hymn numbers, the first cars bringing worshippers showed up and I remembered a couple of things that I hadn’t yet done. The evening worship service was beginning. I greeted people, we talked about the heat and our need for rain. We discussed health issues and family issues. We laughed and talked and settled in for worship, which moved along at its own pace.

I did my pastor thing: talking and listening; leading worship; preaching the sermon and pronouncing the benediction. My moment on the building steps didn’t make much difference to that whole process. It didn’t change who was there and who was away. It didn’t make me throw away the sermon and do something different. But it was still an important moment, a time to slow down and enjoy something that doesn’t happen all that often. I can’t say it brought me a deeper sense of peace or connection with God; it didn’t slow the rushing of my mind; it didn’t reconnect me with my inner self.

But it did make a difference. I slowed down for a bit. I appreciated the beauty of the creation around me. I gave some thought to the physics of cold water and warm air producing fog. I really listened to some good music.

Had I not had that moment, things that evening would have followed pretty much the same pattern. But I did have that moment and it was and remains important and valuable. I probably won’t be telling my grandchildren about it when I am old(er) and grey(er). But it was important and I do appreciate it and it did make a difference so I thanked God for it and went on with life, a bit better because of that moment.

May the peace of God be with you.

A SUNNY DAY

Question: What do you call a bright, warm, sunny day after two days of rain and cool weather? Obviously, the answer is Monday. Rainy, cool weekends are the ultimate indignity for most normal people, those who work Monday to Friday and count on the weekend to rest, recreate, work and play doing all the stuff that there is no time to do during the work week. Or at least, that is what I understand—I have never actually had a job where I had the weekend free.

For me, the weekend always involves work. I am aware that this is true for others as well—lots of us work on the weekends while others have the time free to do what they want. In fact, those of us who work on the weekend make it possible for many others to do their thing on the weekend. A popular weekend activity for some is weddings—and although the number of weddings is declining in our region, most still happen on Saturday. If I didn’t work on weekends, the wedding would be a lot more difficult to organize and carry out.

Of course, when I work a Saturday wedding, I don’t have the option of sleeping in on Sunday as most of the wedding goers do. I still have to get up and lead worship and preach—and since I have two services on Sunday, that doesn’t leave much time on the weekend for much more than eating and collapsing in front of the TV.

The bottom line for me is that a rainy weekend often doesn’t make a lot of difference in my plans. It does mean that the arthritis in my knees makes its presence known a bit more; the church building will likely be seriously over-heated; the congregants will be somewhat down because of the dark and dreary weather and a few may develop a phobia about getting wet and stay home from worship. But in terms of getting things done, well, most of my stuff on the weekend involves work and my work can be done rain or shine. Even outdoor weddings always have an indoor back up plan—that is one of my requirements for the couple getting married.

So, when it rains all weekend, I am not as bent out of shape as the members of my congregation since I am not really missing anything. But when a rainy weekend fades away and Monday dawns bright, sunny and warm, well, then I am all set. I generally have Mondays off—nobody ever gets married on a Monday; not much goes on in churches on Monday; my personal work schedule calls for study to begin on Tuesday. So, Mondays are mine, except for the occasional funeral or must have meeting that can’t fit anywhere else.

This Monday morning is bright and sunny and warming up—and it rained yesterday and was cool on Saturday. So, what am I going to do with this day everyone wanted yesterday and didn’t get? I don’t actually know. I am going to work on my blog—an activity that parks me in the living room with a perfect view of the sunny day illuminating the emerging leaves on the trees surrounding the neighbourhood.

I might get out and plant a few seeds—some to produce plants that the deer will probably eat and some that just might produce something that we can eat. I might go for a walk, depending on how much the drive to be out in the sun overcomes the anticipation of the pain it will cause. I might do some preliminary work on my next woodworking project. I might enjoy the sunny view as I finish that book I started last week and am enjoying. I will definitely take a nap—I may actually combine that and reading the book.

It is something of a frustration that my time off is generally at odds with the majority of people I know. But it isn’t frustrating enough that I am going to give up the time off I do have. And to be honest, while having a day off on a nice sunny day is a plus, I can and would enjoy the day off even if it is raining and dreary. For me, the bottom line is that I recognize I need to take time to relax and rest. It is nicer to do that on a sunny day but the sun isn’t a requirement.

May the peace of God be with you.

THE SNOWSTORM

As I mentioned in the last post, I had a crazy, overly full week that required me to work more than I wanted to, including on my day off. But there was more to that week than that. The week began not only with my awareness that I would be too busy but also with the awareness that there was a snowstorm in the wings that just might develop into something major. It is late in the year for major storms but they are not unheard of and can sometimes be worse than a storm at the appropriate time.

My first worry was that the storm would come before the predicted time—creating problems for the funeral that was coming. Funerals are difficult enough for families and to have to wonder about postponing it or attempting it during a storm would add another level of difficulty. Fortunately, the storm didn’t arrive early and we held the funeral.

But that put the storm on track to disrupt plans for the next day, when I have a class scheduled for some church people interested in seeing if they could preach. This was to be our second meeting but if the storm came on schedule, we would have to cancel and plan another time. I am Canadian and have spend most of my life dealing with Canadian winters and so I had a backup plan which I emailed to the class members. We would make our final decision an hour before the start time.

I have to confess that I was a bit conflicted. It was a crazy week and I had a lot to do—as well as the class preparation, there was the sermon and worship that needed to be done sometime. I was looking forward to getting together with the class members—we were having fun with the process. On the other hand, if we had to cancel the class, well, that would give me some time to work on the sermon.

Well, the predicted storm began. By the time we were to make our decision about the class, it was pretty clear we would be rescheduling. After a brief flurry of phone calls, the class was postponed and I suddenly had most of the morning free—or at least unscheduled. Suddenly, the day—and week—got less constricted. I switched gears and worked on the sermon and worship service. It was one of those sermons that pretty much flowed onto the screen. The worship planning was just as easy.

Suddenly, it was about 11:30 and I was done everything I needed to do for the day and everything I could do for work that week. There was more work that needed to be done but that was scheduled and involved other people and I had to wait until the next day. So, there I was—I was finished all that I could do and while there were tons of things that I could be working on, there was nothing critical or time sensitive. Thanks to the snow storm, I had some options, several of which didn’t involve work in any form.

And I opted to take the non-work options. There was a book I have been struggling to find time to read—I spend some time there. I spend some time idly doing unconstructive stuff that didn’t require thinking or creating or much of anything. I napped—a real nap, unconstrained with having to sandwich it in between things that needed to be done. I played a few games on the computer. I watched the storm grow and develop and pile up snow. Basically, I relaxed and took things easy.

Thanks to the snowstorm, I had some free time, which I put to good use by being non-productive. I gave myself a vacation—a short one, measured in hours, but a vacation nonetheless. I didn’t feel guilty about not working; I didn’t tell myself I should do something constructive; I didn’t fret over what the storm was causing me to not get done. I accepted the gift of time that the storm gave me and I enjoyed it.

I am pretty sure that God didn’t send a snowstorm just to allow me the opportunity to have some free time during a too busy week—but it did come and I can thank him, if for nothing else than the fact that he designed the world so as to produce snow storms that sometimes give me some free time.

May the peace of God be with you.

A CHRISTMAS GIFT

Christmas is almost here.  The outside decorations are in place, the tree is up, the presents are (sort of) wrapped.  And like any good pastor–and even the not-so-good ones, I am busy trying to keep my head above water as I deal with all the stuff that churches and our culture have built into this season of the year.  There are extra worship services, extra social events, extra shopping, extra cooking–it seems like there is extra everything except time.

I realized a few days ago that I am waiting impatiently, which seems to be a culturally  acceptable response to Christmas.  We expect it mostly in children but it is still acceptable for adults, even senior-discount qualified adults.  However, I am waiting impatiently for something different.  I am eagerly awaiting the lasagna and movie that are our Christmas Eve ritual.  It will be nice to open the presents on Christmas day.  I am looking forward to cooking the turkeys and making the gravy for the church sponsored Christmas dinner.  I am even happily planning on turkey leftovers.

But as nice as these things are, they are not what I am impatiently waiting for.  They will come in due time and I will enjoy them.  But what I am impatient for begins on the day after Christmas.  No, it isn’t Boxing Day sales.  What I am really waiting for is the free time that comes between the week between Christmas and New Years.

That is a great and wonderful time.  All the special stuff in the church is over.  Even the regular programs like Bible study take a break.  The cultural bash takes a break as we digest Christmas dinner and wear out batteries.  New Years is coming  but we don’t need to do much about that.  People tend to hunker down and rest up from the strain and stress of the holiday.

And all that means that aside from working on a sermon for the next Sunday, I don’t have a long list of things to do.  As long as the sermon and worship service are put together, my week is pretty much free.  We have some plans but mostly the week will be about unwinding, relaxing and taking it easy.  We will likely take a day to see a movie that we want to see, which will include a meal of course.

We will sleep in.  We will watch movies.  We might go cross country skiing, although the weather predictions make that look less likely.  We will eat at strange times.  We will spend some time reading the books we got for Christmas and eating the goodies that showed up in the Christmas stockings.

I am looking forward to that relaxing and relatively unscheduled time.  The Advent/Christmas season is busy and hectic and demanding.  I do what I do voluntarily and willingly but it is tiring and gets more tiring each year.  But I learned long ago that that week between Christmas and New Years is another gift, a gift of time.

Somehow, our church culture and our actual culture have come together to produce a week of dead time, a few days where nobody expects much of anyone–and that includes pastors.  I could call it a happy coincidence.  I could spend a lot of time exploring how the church and the culture end up with a space at the same time.  I could research the development of this time in history.

But truthfully, I am not likely going to do any of that.  I am going to enjoy it to the fullest.  I will write a sermon and plan a worship service.  But for the rest of the time, I am going to treat that precious time for what it really is–a gift from God to all of us who are tired from the Advent/Christmas activity and who need some space and time before we step into the New Year and all its activities.

However it came about, these few days are too valuable and important not to see them as a another sign of God’s grace.  And so, I wait in eager anticipation of the time to relax and rest and sleep and do whatever.  I like Christmas–and I really like the break following Christmas.

May the peace of God be with you.

WHAT NOW?

Christmas is pretty much over for this year.  All the rushing and spending and planning and cooking and giving and receiving–it is all pretty much over for most of us.  Some may have some gifts that still haven’t shown up yet and they will be a pleasant little blip in the after Christmas let down.  But basically, the focus now is on resting a bit, thinking about exercising a bit and wondering when the pack the Christmas stuff away.

For many, there is an inevitable let down after something like Christmas.  All the activity, all the work, all the energy expended has to come from somewhere and when it is over, we need to pay for it.  We are tired and worn out–and the bigger the Christmas, the more tired we are.  It might be tempting for some to lapse into a depression, especially since the after Christmas let down can easily provide a spring board for the beginning of seasonal affective disorder.  And if not depression, then there are other ways to deal with the let down, many of them as undesirable as depression.

I think we should recognize a couple of things.  First and most importantly, we don’t live on a holiday high all the time.  Holidays like Christmas are bright spots in life, times and places when we can have some fun and do something different.  But these high spots take time and energy which need to come from somewhere.  When we elevate our time and energy expenditure, we are draining reserves.  At some point, we have no more reserve and we are forced to cut back to normal levels.

Christmas and any other high energy event in our lives is going to produce a slow down–a slow down that will express itself in physical, emotional and spiritual ways.  It isn’t that we have done something wrong; it isn’t that we have lost the real meaning purpose; it isn’t that Christmas or whatever event wasn’t good or worthwhile–in the end, it is just because we lived beyond our limits and now we have to get back to our regular pace and rebuilt the reserves that we used up.

And that brings us to the second reality.  When we party, we need to pay.  Now, I am not suggesting that we pay for our sins or anything like that.  Rather, it we use our energy, no matter how much we enjoyed it, we have to slow down and take it easy for a while.  So, relax and take it easy.  Read the new book you got for Christmas and don’t worry about how many times you fall asleep in the process–the words in the book won’t disappear if you sleep more than you read.

Relax–and don’t get too bent out of shape about how much you over-ate during Christmas.  You probably don’t have enough energy to consistently do too much about it right now anyway.  A walk might be a great idea but whether you do it today or after a couple of days of taking it easy isn’t going to make all that much difference.

Relax–things will get back to normal soon enough and if we allow ourselves to rest a bit before that, normal isn’t some soul-destroying rut that we hate and want out of.  Normal is normal and if we rest and relax a bit after the party, we are ready for normal–we will even welcome it because it is normal and comfortable.  We had the fun, enjoyed the party and the season–now we rest and then get back to the reality of normal live which necessarily is lived as a different pace, one that in the end, we probably enjoy more than we want to admit.

So, for now, relax and enjoy whatever slow down and in-between time you can get.  I plan on taking it easy this week, relaxing, puttering in  the workshop, spending time with my wife and enjoying the break.  Christmas is over, things aren’t quite back to normal yet and so I can use the in between to rest from the party that is Christmas and be ready for next week, when things begin to slip back into the normal routine, where I will be until the next high point, whatever that will be.

May the peace of God be with you.