Wednesday, August 02, 2006

God's mysterious gifts

The honor of the job ..........
I love my job. It’s like a dresser with lots of drawers. I’m in and out of them all day. The daily push and pull is interesting all by itself, but over time I have noticed unspoken perks. Lots of them. I get to see many different sizes, ages, types of people, but I don’t have to spend a great deal of time with anyone in particular. There is not enough time in the day for that- but I get to know lots of folks and I get to learn little bits of their stories. That’s a big perk. Every now and then, I am allowed into their lives, and those times are the most precious.

The Pastors play a large part in helping people through hard times. I see people experience the mourning and the joy that life gives them. My office offers a short-stop respite where the Pastors’ offices and sanctuary give deep and lasting comfort and peace. I’m a dot and a dash where the Pastors offer parentheses. ( ) warmth and love.

There is a member who brings pictures in almost weekly, for me to mail out. He keeps the church memories alive with random and spontaneous photos. Another comes to my office with questions about this and that, and she always writes down my answers in shorthand. One man shares my interest in Tai Chi, and he comes to grab a handful of discipleship bracelets every few months, so he can distribute them when he’s out and about. A young adult comes to water my plants and to inquire about the chronicles. He keeps me on task when I’ve let too much time pass without writing. Small, miniature members enjoy my treasure chest. I keep happy meal toys and stickers in there for little visitors. Brief Encounters, these special friendships. Brief and very very important. Each one different, and unique. A kaleidoscope of the world passes by my office each day.

Lately, an angel has touched down in my nest. She came carrying a huge burden of challenges. Her basket became too heavy to carry, so she had to drag it alongside her. I watched her grow into her sadness. I watched God take hold of her heart and open it to others. She formed a close connection with her Bible Study group. They extended their class into the summer to keep the connection strong. She walked a frighteningly unknown path every day. Even so-she allowed herself to be comforted and nudged along the way, she stayed on a clearly spiritual path. When her sadness reached fruition, her grief was surrounded, in situ, by so many who had grown to love her. She didn’t see what I could see.

She was wrapped tight with knots of pain, and was held and rocked with soothing friendships she had formed through her sad experience. She is unaware of the effect she has on those around her. They are so focused on her that they don’t see it themselves. It’s surely a God thing. Doesn’t God want us to be community to each other? To grow that way? Reciprocal relationships? Pure and simple love? It’s all there- the continuum of love and support is strong. She calls for and receives, and by that, she gives SO much that goes to those around her. It’s a win-win situation. The pain is there, but so is the love and with that comes the promise of better seconds, maybe minutes- and hours to days.

There was a time that the waiting was cumulatively hard, I could find no particle of ease to give her- so I “hired” her to be my admin asst. It was all make-believe, but I called her when she was late, I gave her things that needed doing, asked her advice, put her name on the sign in board… At first, she thought it a joke, an attempt at kindness from someone who didn’t really know how to help her but wanted to. After a few days, she began to wonder if maybe I was delusional, the front desk receptionists asked about the new staff member on the check in list and I said, “Leave it there a while- tell her she needs to do a better job at signing in and out- the next time you see her.”

I brought a more comfortable chair into the office and called it hers. We cleared a place on my desk for her to work. I begged for her help. She helped me clean out my closet, and I taught her the church chick secrets of mixing mixage for my desk.

She helped me do lots of things, but mostly, she helped me to know her better. We laughed, and we played office. We took a long lunch one day. When her best friend left town, I was the checkpoint for how she was managing. Time passed. Her darkness came, she lost a big part of her heart in the loss of a child-the grief that she carried lingers- I imagine it will for a long time to come. How can it not?

From where I sit, I see that she will remain surrounded by the friendships she has built. And if all else fails, she’s always got an office to hang out in.

Dear God,
Thank you for giving when it feels like you are taking.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

TisSHUE or NOT to tissue...

Tissue or NOT to tissue???

I’ll bet you think that the most important staple in a church setting is a Bible, second may be the hymnal, right? Ohhhhhh, friends and readers, I am here to set the record straight. The single (although I prefer TWO-ply) most important item a church needs, and a church secretary in particular, needs to have on hand is tissue. That’s right. Double ply, soft- as -a -baby’s -bottom- tissue. Emotions run amuck in the corridors of the church, and the number one job of the church chick is to be prepared. If you don’t have good strong, soft tissues on hand, well, you may as well write your own pink sheet and call it a day....or- Move on to a new career. You’ll never make it without a sheet to blow your heart out on. People come in to vent a little, celebrate a little, and often times to wait for their turn to unpack their hearts and souls in the Pastor’s office. The waiting can be drippy at times.

Tissues come all sorts of shapes and sizes. Their textures reveal their purpose. Note: If you ever run into a Pastor who has a box of fake tissues on his /her desk, run. Run like you have never run before. Fake tissues are slim sheets of cardboard stuck in a tissue box. It happens. There’s a company who manufactures paper towels, toilet paper and tissues specifically to curtail overuse by visitiors. Pastors who are not authentic, who would rather spin in their chairs than lend a true listening ear, will house those types of products and believe me, God is not in there anywhere.

Kleenex work pretty well, Puffs tries harder, and Fluff Outs need to be discontinued as soon as possible. Fluff outs blow out on the first dab. They smear makeup, scratch skin, and are moisture resistant. There is nothing more discouraging than having your tears run right down your face, and off of the tissue to the floor.

Some tissue companies offer combo products. I don't know why they can't just leave well enough alone. It's enough to make a grown chick cry.Lotion tissues will smear your glasses. Anti-bacterial will keep you from getting malaria, but they also leave you with a repulsive odor.
Tissues that include blood clotting agents, insulin-strength, foaming cloth varieties, they are all out there- but it has been my experience that less is best. Go for simply soft cry rags and you’ll be safe. Keep boxes on hand, and if you find any of those hard sheeted tissues, toss them, or use them to start a campfire.


We have an organist who, like many church organists, as well as many artists, chooses times to work/ practice when he thinks he will not be noticed,(or maybe when he thinks he won’t be bothered is more accurate.) I find this consideration amusing. How can you NOT notice an organ playing? Especially at odd times when most staff are gone…. the building is pretty much sleeping? the birds are napping, all is quiet in the church corridors? Yet, this is the time that at least two of my favorite organist artists choose to practice; to bond with their keys. At my home church, I sometimes will venture into the building on Saturday night, just to hear the pipes percolate their finest notes.

At my heart of home church, I have a permanent reservation in the balcony, the cushion indentions give away my idenity after all this time. Much like a glass slipper, the cushion fits me perfectly. On occassion, I have been known to enter quietly and sit in the dark balcony simply to absorb the melodies that fill the sanctuary. When the worship space is empty, he tends to test the ability of the pedals and keys and the pipes sing out with vim and vigor not always released through Sunday hymns. I love those moments. The organists that I know are true artists. Their music comes from their hearts, and the pages that hold the notes are sidebars.

At work church, I’ve become amused at the attempts of the organist to practice when no one is visibly around. It’s like an elephant in the room. No one acknowledges he is there, the anonymity seems to help put him at ease. Sometimes I sneak in and lay on a pew where he can’t see me. Only once did I walk right in and straight to the organ. I sat beside him in a choir pew and realiazed that the sound does not resonate as well from the source. I prefer being away where the notes can intermingle and play well together. I have become comfortable with Phantom of the Opera serenades on Friday afternoons, in fact, I found myself taking the time for granted.

One day, I was multi-tasking by secretary-ing and cooking for a work event, and I could not get the jar of pickles I was serving on the pickle tray open. It was God, me, and the organist in the building. So I took my jar to the keybord. He opened it for me willingly, and continued playing after I left. A few weeks later, the UPS guy stopped in and commented on the beautiful French toccata that the organist was playing last week. He said that he had gotten the organist to sign for a package and then had lingered to absorb the notes before he finished his deliveries for the day. I could easily picture the uniformed guy standing in his brown shirt and shorts, listening. There’s nothing like music to calm a tired soul. Having the setting be the sanctuary has an added plus. Soulful music with a prayer on the side sounds perfect. AND it is good to know that our organist multi-tasks well. Oh those artists….

mow-hair cardinal

The bird feeder that I have suctioned to the outside of my office window has become a Holiday Inn for many feathered flirts this summer. The clear plastic house has been around long enough for at least two migrations, and I’ve noticed that we are beginning to have seasonal regulars.

Last year, a pigeon on the fly came around for a while, parked along the brick sill at times; tried to eat at the fly by feedery other times. He was bigger than most, but became a friend to us all. I thought he may stick around, but something bigger than life called him away, and I haven’t seen him in a year now.

This year the most frequent flyer award goes to an oversized and very bald headed cardinal. It’s a bird! It’s a plane!! NO!!! It’s a mow-topped cardinal approaching the feeder these days. He is not the most attractive sort on the outside, which only leads me to believe that he is an angel at heart.

His beak (glow in the dark red )would fit a small parrot, and sometimes I wonder if he has signed the necessary papers to be a beak donor. Although his feathers and fluff are oversized and brilliantly fluffy, it is clear his outward appearance is misleading. He has some distinct self-esteem issues, as he is a shy flyer. He waits in the trees outside the alley that houses my bird sanctuary, until lunch rush passes, then he zips in for his fill. I can hear him crunching through the window when he is consuming the feed. He munches and then looks around every few seconds, to be sure he’s still alone- there must be comfort in solitary consumption…. My own Mr. Elephant Man Bird. Sounds like a case for the Pastor, but his time is stretched pretty thin between God helping him,and he helping the human congregants, so I hesitate to ask him to pray with my little red friend, but no doubt, time spent with our worldly Pastor would do anyone good.

So instead, the membership secretary and myself have adopted him. She noticed his impressive physical attributes way before me. I keep a mirror on top of my monitor, so that I can see the birds as they fly in behind me at the window, but usually, any movement on my part will send them away, so the first few times she gasped in amazement, I missed the show. Now, of course, he’s a regular and I can hear him flying in and crunching at the bird deli.
We have enlightened others about him, and over time he has moved from being an object of curiosity for us, to a sought after wonder. Clearly, he has overcome many obstacles, and has succumbed to some trying times. We wish we knew his history. Where is he from? Who broke his heart? Who mowed his head? Who is his family? Where are they now? Where is he headed?

It is instances such as this where nature parallels faith. We see the beauty, we recognize the challenges , we wonder wonder wonder wonder about all the rest, but he keeps coming back, offering us opportunities to know him better. We’ve formed a community who supports him, and we hope that his bird friends will one day do the same.