A Moment


My favorite house of all that I’ve lived in was the house in Red Bank.  We moved there when I was just 5 years old, and sadly moved away when I was starting high school.  The house on Broad Street had three stories and a basement.  The top half of the house was red and the bottom half was white, and a porch wrapped around the front.  To a little girl, it felt like a mansion.  

I had my own room at the top of the long staircase that felt like it was designed for a princess.  The colors were blue and white, with wallpaper that was decorated with flowers and latticework designs.  All of the furniture was white, with gold flowers and leaves decorating them.  The handles were made to look like brass.  I had a full double bed all to myself, and lots of floor space to dance to my David Cassidy records and play with my Barbie Dolls.  There was a non-functioning fireplace in one wall, where I stacked my collection of books.

The basement of the house was cold, dark and somewhat dingy.  My mother tried to whitewash the walls to keep them from crumbling, but most of it fell off.  No matter how much she swept or cleaned, it was just a dank, dusty place.  To my friends and I it was a place of mystery.  We dared each other to sneak down there in the dark and walk around, usually running quickly back up the wooden stairs to the comfort of the kitchen as we screamed like only little girls could.  Venturing further into its depths, we discovered,  in the distant corner, a painted image of a skull and crossbones.  Beneath the image was a long, thick nail embedded in the wall, upon which hung– yep– a skeleton key.  We would dare each other to walk all the way into the darkness, to actually touch the skull image, which we did, before running back up the stairs shrieking like we were being chased.

Sometime later, however, when I was in early middle school, my parents purchased a ping-pong table and installed it in the basement.  More efforts to clean the environment failed.  But now we had a reason to go to the basement.

My father, it turned out, was an excellent ping-pong player.  Each of the boys and myself took our turns playing him.  None of us could beat him.  He had a wicked serve that was nearly impossible to return.  Dad was very competitive, in whatever he was doing, so letting me win never crossed his mind.  I kept asking for rematches, and as I played him over the years, I got better.  I began to be able to return more of his volleys, and learned to sometimes return his wicked serve.  Every night after the evening news, I begged him to play.

He still wore his shirt and tie from his day at the church office, but he was a different man in competition.  No mercy.  He loved to win.  I ran from side to side of the table, diving, reaching, jumping, screaming sometimes and sweating profusely.  Dad wasn’t the type to cuddle or have me sit on his knee.  He didn’t tousle my hair or kid with me.  He was very serious, always the preacher or counselor.  Always The Tie.  But for those moments, we got to play.  We had a small transistor radio in the basement that we kept on a current pop station as we played the best of 2 out of 3, which of course, Dad always won.

When we moved to Woodbury, the ping pong table was in the garage.  And we played.  I got better over the years, but couldn’t beat him.  We didn’t talk, except to announce the score as we went.  If we laughed, it was nervous tension, part of the play.  Dad and I weren’t close, he wasn’t always sure how to relate to a girl.  He felt more confident in his role as pastor and counselor than he did as father.  But in those moments, we got to play.  He didn’t give me pointers or tips, I learned simply by trying to return his hits.

Finally, when I was a wife and a mother living in Nebraska, it happened.  We had our own ping pong table in the basement and I challenged Dad to the best of 2 out of 3.  And I beat him.  Finally.  He was retired by then, in his mid-sixties, but no less energetic at the ping pong table.  It was a close couple of games, but I finally beat him.

As we went back upstairs he was a bit sheepish, muttering something about how he’s not as energetic as he once was, as I high-fived Larry and scooped up my baby daughter in celebration.  Mom laughed nervously.  I wasn’t feeling mean or smug.  I simply felt like finally I could beat Dad at something.  Or at least be as good as him at something.  He wasn’t the kind to give praise, so I spent a lot of years trying to impress him.  To get his attention.  It was a small triumph.

He got older.  We didn’t play again after that.  We lived 1500 miles apart and as we moved around, we didn’t have a place for a table anyway.

When I was at clergy retreats, where I never truly felt comfortable anyway, I found that I could at least feel less awkward when there was a ping pong table at the facility.  I beat all the guys, much to their surprise.  I sweat a lot, put all my energy into the games.  I never felt comfortable with all the politicking that went on wherever clergy were gathered, but give me a ping pong table, and I could stand out a bit.

I didn’t play for 15 years after that, as we never had a house that had room for a table.  Two years ago, I was eligible to participate in the Nebraska Senior Games, being over 50.  I’ve never been much of an athlete, but wanted to participate somehow, just to get out of my comfort zone.  So I signed up for the ping pong match in my age category.

I didn’t have anywhere to practice, so I went to the match without having played in 15 years.  It turns out being much like riding a bicycle.  You never forget.  I won a medal.  It wasn’t the Olympics or anything newsworthy, but it felt good nonetheless.  It was one thing that Dad and I had.  I can still remember the sweat stains appearing under his arms, his forehead breaking out in a sweat as he leaned forward with an expression of determination.  And the end, laying my paddle down, out of breath and sweaty myself, as I’d met every volley from one side of the table to the other.  And then the day I finally beat him.

Dad didn’t give a lot of compliments, and when I became a pastor, he liked to remind me that he was the better pastor.  But when I was a hospice chaplain and sat with many of the dying and the suffering, one day in an off-guard moment, Dad said, “You know, you’ve done things that I could never do.”  It was what he could give.

But it was even better than beating him at ping-pong.


Our Story is All We Have


“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” 
― Brené Brown

I’ve always been a teller of stories.  When I see someone whom I haven’t seen for a long time, I tell them stories.  My life is a collection of stories.  I think in narrative.  That’s one reason why when I discovered the preaching of Gene Lowry I was astonished.  He teaches Narrative Preaching.  It was the kind of preaching that I was already trying to do, and here there was a name for it.  And one of the best preachers I’ve known was doing it.

I’m confused when people listen or read a story I’ve told and tell me it’s not right.  There have been people who have refuted what I’ve said.  MY story.  I’m the one that lived it, felt it, experienced it, cried through it, laughed through it, been scarred and inspired by it.  No one can tell another person that their story simply isn’t true.  If my story offends you, that doesn’t make it not true.  Or if my story reveals something that makes you uncomfortable, that’s something you must deal with and ask yourself why.  But no one has the authority to tell someone else that their story isn’t true.  Sure, we do it all the time, and throughout history, it’s true that the stories that make us feel better are the ones that get told.  History has been most often told by the winners.  We don’t like the dark side of our histories.  But it’s there.

It’s life.

Then sometimes we find out that the stories we were told were not entirely true, or were missing key parts.  My father remained a mystery to me my whole life.  He didn’t reveal a lot about himself.  His whole life in India–his first 20 years– is a book that we couldn’t open.  My brother sent me Dad’s Bible that he had when he was just 18 years old, still living in what is now Mumbai.  I cannot imagine my father ever being that young.  I’ve seen pictures of a painfully skinny, darker-skinned, black-haired young man looking like he would get sand kicked in his face at the beach.  But it’s hard to see that young man as my father.

His Bible is underlined in various colors, especially the New Testament.  He made notes here and there.  He was a passionate young Christian, then, eager to spread the Gospel.  He volunteered in a Student Christian Movement that did just that.  He came to the US in 1949, two years after India gained independence.  He was there for the violence of Partition, the riots and killings.  He never spoke of it.

I don’t know what his life was like those first 20 years.  I don’t know anything about my grandfather, Percy, who died when Dad was 14.  Until Facebook, I didn’t even know who my cousins on Dad’s side were.  I’ve seen pictures of other darker skinned, black haired people that are my aunts and uncles, now all deceased.  My grandmother, Jesse, I know, gave birth to 11 children, only 6 of which survived.  She lost 5 children and a husband.  She had to be a tough lady to survive.  I never got to meet her, as she lived on the other side of the world.  I wish I had.

She was Indian, but for some reason hated all things Indian, and raised my father to love all things British.  Until a few years ago, I thought my father was a British subject with a little bit of Indian blood.  But we learned that Grandma Michael was 100% Indian, and Grandpa Percy had a good percentage of Indian in him.  Further back, there’s some English blood mixed in.  But Dad was more Indian than he knew.  Or at least told us.

I don’t know his story, just bits and pieces.  It seems that my three brothers and I all experienced Dad differently.  I came 7 years after the youngest son, and wasn’t a part of my brother’s lives for the most part, growing up.  When Dad was young, with three sons, he played football with other pastors, preached from the Bible, didn’t want Mom to wear a swimming suit in public.  But the father I knew had “graduated” into psychology, and focused more on self-help type sermons, throwing a little verse in there to make it churchy.  I learned the Bible from my mother, or from a variety of other people who crossed my path.  The father I knew wore a tie all the time, would never be caught dead in a pair of jeans, and never played football.  Or played much at all.

The four of us have different stories about our parents.  Being the last in line and the only girl, my stories differ a lot from my brothers’, though some coincide.  For a long time, I was hesitant to tell my stories.  We all form our own impressions of someone who is in leadership.  I do, I know.  I’ve learned that sometimes my impressions don’t always match with who they are at home, out of the public eye.  Of course, with some celebrities we are completely disillusioned.  We don’t want to believe the “other” stories.  Who wanted to give up that fun, loving image of Bill Huxtable, or the guy advertising Jello with little kids–to accept the REAL story?  We’d rather just say it can’t be true.

There are stories I will never know about my father, because he didn’t want to tell them.  He told himself and others for 80-some years that he was a subject of the “British Empire,” and he stuck to it.  It made him feel better than being an Anglo Indian in British-occupied India.  He wanted to side with the “winners.”  Don’t we all?

I don’t fault him for that, but it was confusing to find out that a lot of the stories I was told simply weren’t true.  I know also, that we tell ourselves stories all the time to feel better.  And after a while, we believe them.  Don’t tell us any different.

At my mother’s funeral, I learned from a cousin, that before Mom met Dad, she regularly preached revivals!  My Mom!  Cousin Landon laughed through the tears in his eyes, telling me how he went with her, and was always amazed at how people were literally rolling in the aisles, “slain by the Spirit,” and my Mom kept on preaching the Word.  I never knew that.  My mother was always a devout Christian, studying the Bible diligently, marking them up (she had several translations) and underlining and making comments.  She kept a journal for years, reflecting on the Bible passage of the day and what it meant for her life.  That never stopped or wavered.  But I never got to hear my mother preach.

I would have loved that.

This all makes me realize, of course, that there are a lot of stories that I don’t know about either of them, and may never know.  They didn’t tell.

We’ve learned a lot about our ancestors in Southern Mississippi.  It’s certainly not all pretty, but how can it be, knowing what we know about the South in those days?  I have ancestors that fought for the Confederates in the Civil War– I got to visit their graves.  Some  fought in the Revolutionary War.  Some owned slaves and some were even slave traders.  Those are the hard stories.  They’re unpleasant.  But I believe we have to tell the hard stories as well as the good stories to know who we really are.

It’s human nature to want to be known, to be seen, and to be heard.  It’s hard when someone won’t listen, or refuses to believe us.  Or only wants to believe the good stuff.  We need to tell.  We need to be heard.  We need to be connected.  And believed.

One of the many joys of working as a hospice chaplain was hearing the stories people told me of their lives.  People who are dying want to know that their lives mattered.  The good, the bad, the hard struggles, the triumphs and the failures; all of it is the stuff of a life and is part of who we are.  The images people have of us are no less true just because they don’t know the whole story.  Those images are part of us as well.

I think my daughter knows me pretty well, certainly better than I knew my parents, because I wanted her to know me.  Sure, there are stories that she doesn’t know, and may only discover after I’m gone– because knowing her, she will dig out all my journals and read them!  And I trust she’ll love me just the same.  

In a couple of years we hope to go to India to get a sense of the culture in which my father grew up.  I want to get a deeper sense of that world, so foreign to me, and maybe understand why he didn’t want to own it.  To see the world that shaped him.  And, I think, haunted him.

Maybe I’ll learn something.


On the Boardwalk


When they say “you can’t go home again,” it’s really true when you’re a P.K.  When people ask me where I’m from, I say “New Jersey.”  If they happen to have connections in NJ and push it further, saying, “Where in New Jersey?” I have to say, “All over, really.  Mostly Red Bank and Woodbury.”

But neither of those towns are my hometown.  I spent my childhood in Red Bank, and my high school years in Woodbury.  There’s no house I can go back to in either of those places, because strangers are living there.  Both towns have changed quite a bit, and there would be very few people that would remember me.

The one place that was constant through all those years, and on into adulthood, was Ocean City, New Jersey.  The Southern NJ Conference of the United Methodist Church met there annually, before they merged with Northern NJ.  Before my mother started attending with my father, we waited for Dad at home, knowing that when he returned from Ocean City, he’d tell us whether we were moving or staying.  One of those years, Dad decided to buy me a T-shirt on the boardwalk.  I remember distinctly that I was in fourth grade, because I wore it to school.  But only once.  My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hartswell, who smelled so good that us kids would sniff the air after she walked past, eyed my T-shirt that day and read it out loud.

“Hmmm…” she said.

The T-shirt had a picture of a cat with dreamy eyes and it said, “Stroke me and I’ll purr.”  Clearly Dad didn’t know that this was not appropriate for a child’s T-shirt.  He just knew I liked cats.  Mrs. Hartswell knew.  Somehow the T-shirt got lost in the laundry.

I think I was in middle school when my mother started going to Ocean City with my Dad, and even let me go along.  She got me out of school for three days in mid-June, seeing that it was so close to the end of the school year, anyway.

Their friends from college, the Hughes’, had friends who owned a cottage in Ocean City that they allowed “Uncle Ray” to use for himself and his friends during Annual Conference every year.  There were three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area, bathroom and a living area, all just two blocks from the ocean.  The Hughes–whom I called “Aunt Betty” and “Uncle Ray”– my parents, and a couple called the Ameys all stayed there for those days in mid-June.  I slept on the couch.

I did that every year through high school, and drove down a day or two during college and the two years I was at home after that.  Every morning, the three men quietly got ready, whispering, and eating breakfast, so they wouldn’t wake me sleeping in the living room.  Ray and Jay would joke with my father, who was always lagging behind, and they usually left without him while he went into the bathroom to shave.  He wasn’t thrilled with the all-day meetings and took his time getting there, but Ray and Jay felt that being on time to Conference meetings was akin to obedience to God.  Maybe not, but they never skipped meetings, as far as I ever knew.

I took my time waking up after they all left, taking in the morning light through the front window, and the sound of the wind chimes on the porch.  To this day, the sound of wind chimes takes me back to those days in Ocean City.  I could smell the ocean from the living room, as it came through the screened windows.  That is still my image of pure relaxation;  the sound of wind chimes, the smell of the ocean, and a slight breeze through the window.  And time.  I’m back in Ocean City.  Home.

I’d get up when I heard Aunt Betty, Ruth and Mom start their days.  Aunt Betty was a sweet, loving, short woman.  She never wore make-up because Ray didn’t believe in it and she tried to be an obedient wife.  But she was beautiful, nonetheless, with her radiant spirit, her fun sense of humor and her deep capacity to love.  We spent our days playing Scrabble on the top deck of the house, able to see the ocean and beach from that perch.  Or we went shopping downtown.  We walked the boardwalk.  Well, Ruth didn’t.  I’m not sure she believed in fun, though she was nice enough.  She sat and crocheted, hour after hour and watched us play games, laugh and tease.  And kept on crocheting.

In the evenings, after supper, we all went to the evening worship services at St. Peter’s UMC, where all the conference meetings were held.  It had a huge sanctuary, no air conditioning at the time, so the windows at the top of the stained glass windows were all open.  About 800 people were there for services each night, and we sat about halfway up the aisle.  The sound of seagulls provided a soundtrack to prayers said out loud and in silence, and occasionally one or two of the birds would find their way in and fly across the top of the sanctuary, squawking, perhaps providing commentary on the sermon or the organ music.

It was thrilling for me to sing along with 800 other United Methodists in that space that smelled of ocean and was sticky with humidity.  United Methodists, historically, love to sing.  In the UM Hymnal, it says that historically, United Methodists are a “singing people.”  From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, published in 1761, he wrote in his instructions:  “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep, but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan…”

Pastors and laity at Annual Conference took these instructions seriously, unlike your usual Sunday morning experience in the local church.  My heart would pound with nearly a thousand people belting out, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”  The organist for Conference was also particularly good, so the floor would vibrate with those bass notes, the seagulls would flutter at the ceiling, as if chasing the high notes.  Worship at Annual Conference fed my soul.

After the evening service,  I would search the crowd for my friends;  counselors from camp, my father’s District Superintendent, John Ewing, who’d known me all my life, and people from our own church.  I’d beg Mom to go walk on the boardwalk with me, and usually the Hughes and my parents would tag along.  The Ameys went back to get ready for bed.

On the boardwalk, I’d search the plastic-tagged people strolling by for my friends and mentors.  Ed, who I knew from camp at Pennington.  Greg and Ken, also from Pennington camp.  John Ewing.  Other camp counselors.  When I did find them, my parents and Hughes kept walking as I visited with my adult friends.  I caught them up on my life.  They’d tease me.  I got a lot of hugs.  They were always glad to see me and made me feel like they were focused on just me in that moment, listening and taking me seriously.  Which is why I loved them.  I was like a green plant, growing in their attention.   Pennington camp was always at the end of June, so I knew I’d see them all again in a couple of weeks.

If it wasn’t too late when we got back, or if the men got back early in the afternoon before supper, we’d play the game Probe.  It was a word game where you had to guess each other’s hidden word on a plastic tray, letter-cards face down.  At meals, the men talked about the meetings of the day, what absurd decisions were made or tabled one more time, sometimes laughing at some of the comments delegates made at the microphone.  None of the three men there were ones to ever go to the microphone at Conference.  They gossiped a bit, and Jay and Ray had a way of teasing my father.  Dad would do his usual dinner table pontifications, and whereas some people were intimidated by Dad, Ray and Jay were not.  They knew him as a skinny little foreign student in college.  They loved him but teased him, not feeling inferior or superior to him.  Just amused.  He took it from them, as he knew they meant no harm.  When he went off on philosophical monologues, they just laughed.  Good-naturedly.

Those were easy days for me and my mother, some of our most relaxed times together.  She was out from under the pressures of being a pastor’s wife, not on display, and with her lifelong friend, Betty; one of the few people with whom Mom could totally relax.  Betty treated me as if I really were related to her, teasing me, asking about my life, making me laugh, and playing Scrabble with me when Mom wanted a nap.  She made me feel loved.

Every year at Conference, they remember the pastors, pastors’ spouses and lay delegates who had passed away the previous year.  This year, these many years later, the Conference is now in Wildwood, NJ and includes the Northern New Jersey Conference.  There are very few people left that would remember me or my parents, as Dad had been retired almost 25 years.  Jay and Ruth Amey are both deceased.  Ray and Betty are in the United Methodist Home in Pitman.

I went back this year, when I’d received some money I hadn’t anticipated.  It may not seem worth it to someone else to go all that way to see my parents’ faces on the screen for about 30 seconds, but it was more than that.  Some of our best times were at Annual Conference.  My faith was deepened and nurtured at Conference, albeit in Ocean City, not Wildwood.  After the year we’ve had, even before my parents’ deaths, it felt right to spend a few days at the beach.  To remember.

Ed was there.  Greg and Ken were there; all of them retired now, but all there to honor someone they knew and loved.  Those of us who are family of the deceased were ushered in during a hymn.  It was not in a church, but at the Wildwood Convention Center.  I saw my own face on the big screen up front as I processed in.  We laid an evergreen branch down on the altar, in memory of our loved ones.  Later, we would receive them back to take home and plant.

I stood for Mom. And for Dad.  And for John Painter, with whom I’d been a student assistant pastor in Roselle Park, and who taught me all the practical things I needed to know as a pastor that I didn’t get in seminary.  A young, African American singer sang Sandi Patty’s “We Shall Behold Him.”  Oh.  Unlike our annual conferences in Nebraska or Northeast PA, I sat among a diverse crowd;  people of various ethnic backgrounds.  White, Black, Asian, etc.  There were people with rainbow scarves around their necks representing their support for LGBTQ people, which is an issue presently dividing the UMC.  When that young man sang, we were all together.  I felt pinned to my chair, goosebumps rising on my arm.

An older gentleman stood up and energetically pointed at the singer, “You sing it, man!  Praise God!”

I had tears in my eyes and felt breathless.  That song was worth the whole service.  It spoke of seeing God face to face and how awesome that will be.  The preacher talked about how all our loved ones were experiencing that awesome experience NOW.  As we processed out, I felt Ed’s arms around both me and my husband.  Later, we met and visited for two hours on the boardwalk.  Same ocean. 30+ years later.  Friendship that has remained over major life changes, misunderstandings, physical distance, personal struggles, pain and grace, highs and lows.

It wasn’t Ocean City;  I hope to go there next year.  But it felt right and good to stand for my parents and remember them in New Jersey.  That’s where they spent most of their lives.  That’s where most of their friends were.  Their graves are in Mississippi, and we had their funerals there.  It was Mom’s home, and she loved it.  But I knew them in NJ.  Near the shore.  It felt right to remember them there, with the ocean breeze and the sound of seagulls.  And a thousand tongues singing praise.

And to walk into the hugs of Uncle Ray and Aunt Betty, to allow them to remember their best friends to me.  To share memories and to laugh.  But mostly to hug.

P.K. or T.O.


Some people believe that before we are born, we choose the parents we want to be born to.  I admit I’m skeptical about that.  I have three brothers, and I know one of them for sure would not have chosen to be a pastor’s kid.  Being a pastor’s kid was a very negative experience for him.  It was a mixture of good and bad for me; because our relatives lived all over the world and so faraway, I found adopted family in the church.  Who would I be if I hadn’t grow up as the pastor’s kid?  I’d be a completely different person, as would my brothers.  Better or worse, I don’t know.

But this is my story, which is the only story I have the authority to tell.

When John Wesley came up with the model of itinerant pastors, he wasn’t thinking of the future, necessarily.  The circuit riders, who rode on horseback from town to town to preach the Gospel, didn’t live long lives.  It was a harsh life, and not one conducive to family life.  Yet the modern church took on the model of “itineracy” for its structure.

In the United Methodist Church, you don’t apply to a church that you’d like to go to.  You don’t go and “try out” by preaching for them and letting the church decide whether they want you or not.  In the UMC, you are sent.  By the Bishop.  He or she, in conversation with the Cabinet (yes, the UMC is modeled after the US government–red flag!!), decide where the pastors will live and work.

It’s an arrangement you sign up for at ordination.  The Bishop asks you Wesley’s Historical Questions, (written in the 18th century, mind you), “Will you go where the Bishop sends you unreservedly?”  And you are to say an enthusiastic “yes!”  In my long history with pastors and the UMC, I know for sure we all failed the “unreservedly” criteria.

As you can imagine, it all gets very political.  When I was growing up, they printed the salaries of all the pastors in the annual journal, so pastors were able to compare their salaries to others’ and know what churches to “shoot for.”  They don’t do that anymore, but there are always those churches that some pastors drool at with desire, and hope to be in the Bishop’s good graces so they will be sent to the “prime appointments.”  And, of course, there are churches that ambitious pastors hope to never serve.

It goes the other way, too, unfortunately.  If a pastor acts up, doesn’t respect the authority of the Bishop, and/or offends the Bishop in some way, Bishops have been known to send the pastors to certain appointments to “punish” them.  That doesn’t work out well for the pastor or the perhaps innocent congregation who receives one ticked-off pastor.

Into all of this complicated human mess comes children.  Pastor’s kids.  Or, as one of my mentors back in the day called it, “T.O.”, for Theological Offspring.  They are thrown into this situation without any say.  Of course, one might argue that no children  get to choose their parents’ vocations.  Children of movie stars, political leaders, or any celebrities, also don’t get to choose to be the children of people in the limelight. (Nor do they get to choose their names, like “Elijah Blue” or “Apple.”)  But PKs are unique, and I can speak about the experience with some authority.

I can only speak of the experience in the UMC, which is not like the call system of other denominations, where children can actually go to one school their entire lives.  As a PK in the UMC, you usually move quite often.  I was actually more fortunate than others, as I only moved three times from the age of 3 days to 18 years.  My daughter moved 6 times in as many years, and didn’t move anymore after that only because I left the pastoral ministry and decided to live in one place for the duration of her education.  (You’re welcome, Sarah)

It’s very common for PKs to have nothing to do with the church after they are out on their own, and that is mostly true for my family.  Only one of my brothers, who married a Catholic woman, attends church.  The other two don’t have anything to do with church.  I took the more complicated way of becoming a pastor, and then having nothing to do with Church.

Being a pastor’s kid, as I’ve said before, decided the day I was born.  No kidding!  My father was moving to a new church when my mother was 9 months pregnant, and I was actually due after the moving date.  So the doctor was asked to induce labor over a week early, which as you know, back in those days, inducing was even harder on the mother than it is now.  (My daughter was induced because my water had broken and things weren’t happening, and I can attest, it is not fun.)

I moved when I was three days old, and of course, that move didn’t affect me as much as it did my mother.  I moved again when I was 5, and I don’t remember that being much of a big deal either.  I spent the next 9 years in Red Bank, NJ, and moving away from there at 14 was really awful.  I’d made all my friends from the time of kindergarten through middle school.  I was a shy and nervous kid, so the thought of uprooting and starting all over was devastating.  My friends were all going to the new regional high school in Red Bank, that was brand new with rubber floors in the gym (I thought that sounded cool).

From a pastor’s perspective, you are told what salary you will make, where your kids will go to school, and you move into a house that is not your own.  More pastors are buying their own houses and getting the church to rent out the parsonage, but that causes huge conflicts in the church for the first pastor to do that.  It also causes a mess for the pastor who comes in afterwards and can’t afford to buy his own house, and there’s now no parsonage.  The housing allowance provided is not nearly enough to rent a house, much less buy one.  If a pastor does what he or she is supposed to, and moves into the parsonage, they don’t buy a house until they are retired at 65 or so.  For the less fortunate pastors, this is a huge financial crisis.  They find that they can’t afford a mortgage or their mortgage is over 30 years and they never pay it off.

As a pastor’s kid, you are on display.  The expectations of the congregation for that child’s behavior vary, according to the congregation.  My oldest brother had expectations put on him that I never experienced in my father’s later churches.  If a pastor has hundreds of bosses in the congregation, the pastor’s kid has hundreds of people with an opinion on how they should behave.  And they always share it.

In the last church where I lived with my parents, I had a mostly good experience.  The congregation was very kind to me.  I had lots of adopted family there.  I was very active in the church, in Youth Group, Bell Choir, the Adult Choir, and Sunday School.  I heard people talk about how wonderful my father was, and I also heard about people who couldn’t stand him.  I knew about the biggest church conflicts (like moving the first worship service back 15 minutes and the second service forward 15 minutes so they could have Sunday School in between.  People actually left the Church over that.)

In my new high school, of course, everyone knew I was the new Pastor’s kid.  The other pastor’s kid in my grade, the Baptist kid, went full-out the opposite way of myself.  He grew his hair long, didn’t always bathe, and did drugs.  He wanted it known, for the record, that he was not some goody-two-shoes just because his father was the Baptist preacher in town.

I was the goody-two-shoes, but I’m not embarrassed by that.  I loved Church then, for the most part.  I didn’t think drugs was very good for my body, nor did I like the way alcohol made me feel.  I didn’t have sex with any boyfriends, because I knew that could result in pregnancy (and no one was telling me about birth control!), and I guarantee that would have been a shame that I would never live down.  I couldn’t imagine how my parents would react to that, and I didn’t think  it’d be unconditional love and support.  Sex was a big no-no.  Shame was a big motivator.

However, oddly enough, I did have parishioners who did think I was “too good.”  One in particular, who adored my father and thought he could do no wrong, at the same time told me I should “get laid.”  She thought I needed to live a little.  I was close to her at the time, and really looked up to her.  I cared way too much about what other people  thought (which is deadly for a pastor’s kid) and wanted to please her.  But the stakes were too high.  I wasn’t ready to shoulder the burden of that much punishment.

I didn’t go into pastoral ministry because of my father.  I had a very real, very profound call of my own.  However, I do realize, that because my father was a pastor, I was in the right environment to be “primed” for the call.  But I think that being a pastor’s kid, too, was part of the reason I also had to ultimately leave.  I’d lived the fishbowl life.  I’d already been moved around by someone who didn’t always have my best interests in mind (“Induce labor!”).  I’d seen the underbelly of the Church from my living room.  I’d seen all three of my brothers wrestle through their own struggles with being on the church stage, and ultimately reject faith altogether.  I’d wrestled with the expectations of the church and of my parents, which always conflicted.  I’d undergone criticism for being too “uptight,” “too good,” or “ungrateful.”  I’d dealt with the pain of leaving all my friends 80 miles behind and having to be the new kid in school.

I’d dealt with lifelong anxiety, depression and guilt.  After all those things piled up on me once again as a pastor, I decided it wasn’t a healthy life for me or for my daughter, who remembers all the people in the church that were especially mean to her mother.  She’s not impressed with Bishops and D.S.’s.  She’s seen how cruel they can sometimes be, and how un-Christlike many of them can be in their political positions.  When my husband left the church ministry, his blood pressure went down considerably.  In the ten years that I’ve been out, my anxiety and depression have decreased and I’ve learned how to be healthy spiritually, emotionally and physically.  I think my relationships with my daughter and husband are much much healthier.

All four of us in my family of origin have our painful stories of life as PKs.  My oldest brother and I share those freely and seem to get each other.

I can’t say whether or not I would have chosen the that life before I was born or not.  It wasn’t all bad.  It wasn’t all good.   I did the best I could.

I do wonder how children of John Wesley would have turned out.  I kind of shudder.  I suspect he knew reproduction would not have been a good idea for him.



Let (Him) Eat Cake

Food and Wine:40 Recipes From 40 Years: Steps

When I was in high school in the early ’80s, my mother heard about how high cholesterol could kill you.  Then she discovered that cholesterol was a big problem in her family history.  Our lives changed after that.

Mom never did anything half-halfheartedly.

By that time, I was the only child living at home and so the only one who suffered from her new obsession.  We had a lot of meals that included Tofu, for which I never acquired a taste.  We ate more chicken– without the skin!  We were forbidden red meat and desserts.  I protested that I was only a teenager and shouldn’t have to suffer these restrictions, but she believed the earlier you start paying attention to cholesterol, the better.

Now of course I realize that yes, eating healthier is very important if you want to stay healthy.  But Mom didn’t believe in EVER treating yourself to something fatty.  And the way my mother was– being particularly good at guilt– it was difficult to eat in front of her.  If I ate french fries at a restaurant, she watched me with judging eyes.  I confess I never got over this.  Even as a middle-aged adult, I couldn’t enjoy french fries or even a big meal of any kind in the presence of my mother.

But she was the hardest on my father when it came to food.  My father loved food!  The fattier the better!  Perhaps this was the little rebellious boy in him, but he liked his desserts and would sometimes find a way to get them without her knowing.  It was one of the funny little games in their relationship.  Mom was scared of Dad being overweight; reflecting of course that that could lead to a heart attack or stroke, and therefore death.  Mom just had a thing about fat.  It got much worse when they retired and she had more time to worry about it.

My brothers used to joke about how they didn’t have anything natural in their house; all the food was made of chemicals, assembled to be non-fat and/or no-sugar.  Again, I understand it’s important to eat healthy and keep one’s weight down to avoid health issues that might be avoidable, but Mom was extreme.

When I was ordained in Lincoln and they’d flown out for the event, we stayed at the Days Inn near the airport.  Perkins was open 24 hours, and one morning, Dad confessed he sneaked out of their hotel room in the middle of the night and went to Perkins for a cheeseburger.  Mom never knew.  He was pretty pleased with himself.  For him, so deprived, a cheeseburger was like manna from heaven.

Another time Dad and Mom were visiting us in Nebraska, we all walked over to Subway, just over the viaduct.  The walk wasn’t even a mile distance.  At Subway we ate lunch (the low-fat sandwiches of course) and got ready to leave for the walk back.

“Larry,” my Dad said, “My legs are feeling a bit sore.  Would you mind walking back with the others and coming to get me in the car?”  Mom scolded him a bit for being lazy, as she often did when he didn’t join her for exercise, but we left him sitting in Subway with his ever-present cup of tea.

When Larry arrived at Subway to pick up Dad, he said that Dad had just finished his second oatmeal raisin cookie.  He’d tried to stuff the last bit in his mouth before Larry walked in, but the evidence was in the crumbs on the table.

“Don’t tell Margaret!” he said.  Larry didn’t tell on him, except to me.  I wasn’t going to tell.

Mom was always an excellent cook and baker, and she made a lot of delicious treats for other people to enjoy.  She didn’t ever partake, nor did she allow Rollo to indulge.  I still couldn’t eat dessert in front of my skinny little mother.

At the same time, my father “forbid” my mother to do things she really wanted to do, for fear she would die.  She wanted to jump out of a plane– no way.  Her best friend, Betty, indulged in parasailing in her later years, and my mother wanted so badly to join her.  Nope.  Mom couldn’t do anything that would make my father nervous or anxious for her safety.  Their fears fed each others’, it seemed.  What resulted however, was that neither of them took very many risks.

When I was living with them, Dad tried to restrict me in the same way, but I managed to mostly do what I wanted to do.  However, I was very anxious most of the time, taking on his fears that I might die.  He called me up at college and begged me to change my major so I wouldn’t have to go to the Philadelphia campus for one semester.  He was acting very odd and wouldn’t tell me why this sudden interest in my not going to the city for a semester.

It turned out that a parishioner’s daughter was murdered that week at Drexel University.  I was to spend a semester at Temple University.  It didn’t matter that they were different schools in different parts of the city.   For months he begged me to change majors.  I refused.  I went to Temple and lived to tell about it.  But for years I had panic attacks and trouble with anxiety whenever I did take any risks.

Just a couple of years ago, my parents went to a new restaurant in Brookhaven, Mississippi that had a bakery full of delectable desserts.  They had a nice lunch.  As Dad got older and thought more about his mortality, he started telling stories of his mother.  By that time, he’d told us that when he was leaving India for the United States, his mother gave him a box to take with him.  Inside it was a chocolate cake.

“Ma made the best chocolate cake,” he said.  “Moist, rich…delicious.”

That day at the new restaurant, Dad eyed a huge piece of chocolate cake.  He wanted it!  He told the waitress the story about his mother, and she said it was very moist and rich.  Delicious.  Dad ordered it.  But Mom intervened and said in front of the waitress that he couldn’t have it.  Apparently they argued, and Mom gave him quite the hard time about this cake.

The waitress felt so sorry for him that she put it in a take-home box and gave it to him, free of charge.

I never heard whether he ever got to eat it.

The sad side of these stories is that my parents had a difficult time with simply enjoying food.  Or anything.  Moments of goodness and joy were fleeting for them both, because they ended up finding something wrong with it, or thinking of what could go wrong.  There were times that I did what I could to give them a good time, give them an event of absolute grace.  Their 50th wedding anniversary party.  A trip with us to the Black Hills in South Dakota.  Others took them on trips or out to dinner.  They traveled around the world.  I think they enjoyed those trips, despite not eating any dessert.  But many people tried to get Mom to just let Dad eat his cake.  Or pie.

Sometimes he did, but by that time, he felt too guilty to enjoy it.

The crazy thing is, I know from hearing from people from their pasts, that they were able to give joy and create joy for others.  They just had a hard time indulging in joy themselves.  Or trusting it.

This past week Larry and I traveled to New Jersey for the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  We’d been invited to the memorial service there, held in Wildwood, NJ, for all clergy and clergy spouses that died this past year.  It was a beautiful service honoring all those who have “crossed that final river.”  It was touching and gracious to see each of my parents’ pictures up on the big screen.  It was good for my soul.

After the service, there was a dinner for the family members in a separate room, with the Bishop present to greet us.  We met a widow and her daughter and a District Superintendent, with whom we shared good conversation.  We all shared stories of our loved ones as we ate a delicious meal.  It was truly lovely.

After coffee was served, they came out and served dessert.

A huge slab of rich, creamy, moist chocolate cake. 

I laughed out loud and…

I ate it.  For Dad.

And hoped there are no diet restrictions at the heavenly banquet.



Within two and half months, I became an orphan at 53.

C.S. Lewis, in his book, A Grief Observed, writes:  “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep on swallowing…”

My father died on January 1, 2019.  My mother, who seemed to be a quite healthy, mobile- if not forgetful -90 year-old, died on March 11 after a sudden and short bout of aspiration pneumonia.  I suspect, however, that the main cause was a broken heart.  Though it was no surprise, my favorite Uncle Denver died on March 31 after many years of heart issues.  He was 94.

Grief, I’ve found through the years, is a very individual journey.  No one can do it for you.  No one can even understand exactly how you feel.  Not even my brothers.  Each of us had different relationships with our parents, different experiences, different emotions.  Each of us are experiencing loss in our own individual ways.

When Dad died, we were all focused on Mom and how she was doing.  That shielded us a bit from the onslaught of complicated emotions, I think.  We were concerned about her and how to get her to settle into her memory care facility– and she was not having THAT! When I talked to her every other day,  she was always packing.  She was going home.  It didn’t matter to her that she knew she couldn’t live alone in the country; she’d figure that out, she said.  We pretty much had the same conversation every time.

Meanwhile, I was stumbling along, feeling all sorts of emotions with the loss of Dad.  As silly as it sounds, I asked myself, “What am I supposed to feel?”  And why did I feel like the wind had been knocked out of me, when he and I were never close?

Lewis talks about the “laziness of grief.”  I get that.  I am tired, have very little motivation. I feel a general malaise.  Unfortunately, my father taught me too well that feelings are a  sign of weakness, and you must abolish them, rise above them.  I don’t believe that, but it is still difficult for me to just have a good cry when I need to.  I was trained to keep feelings below the surface.  It wasn’t safe to break down or feel deeply around my father.  So now, it builds up for a long time until a massive cry-storm erupts.  Not pretty.

Mom’s death happened so fast and so unexpectedly.  This time there was no shield.  We were all face to face with suddenly having no parents; so in a way, it felt like we were facing both losses at Mom’s funeral.  She died just two months and 10 days after Dad.  Other than memory loss, she was very healthy and strong!  We assumed she’d go on for a long time.  It seems she didn’t want to do that without Dad.

There’s something totally different about losing your mother. I think, especially, if you’re a  woman.  We shared flesh, bone and blood.  I was created within her body, nourished by her body.  I read recently that the eggs that result in her children are present in our mothers when they are fetuses themselves!  I’ve been a part of her since before she was born.  Literally.  You don’t get more basic, more primal, than that.

I look like her.  We had the same eyes, the same smile, the same laugh.  I have her temper!  I have her capacity to feel everything very deeply, whether joy or sadness, anger and hurt.  I’ve inherited her capacity for creativity, art, teaching, poetry.  Her deep desire to learn.  She was the one who taught me to sense God’s presence in nature, in the world.  She taught me about faith that resides in the heart and soul,  not just the head.

The mother/daughter relationship is an intense one, and hundreds of books are written on it.  It can be volatile, intimate, comforting, joyous.  Women’s psychology says that when boys are born, they are culturally educated to move away from mother, to become individuated early on.  Girls, however, are not given the same expectation.  They are nurtured to stay close to Mom and to home, to move on only when it’s time to marry and have children of their own.  They are never encouraged to detach or to become their own individual.  Of course, that is changing, but slowly.  And like much psychology, it’s generalized.

I didn’t always appreciate being so much like my mother.  Now, I do.  I’m guessing that’s a part of growing up; accepting your mother’s weaknesses as well as your own, and embracing her strengths.  And realizing that she did the best she could do with what she had.  She did what she knew.

Death is still tricky in our world.  We still don’t talk about it well.  I’ve had many wonderful cards and messages expressing condolences and promising prayers.  The people that seem to understand most of what I’m feeling are two women friends who both recently lost their mothers.  My husband, who lost his father prematurely to cancer 28 years ago and who has worked in hospice for many years, also understands.

I want to feel better.  “How long has it been since your mother died?” Larry asks.

“3 1/2 weeks.”

Point taken.  I’m tired.  I go to bed tired, I don’t sleep well, and I wake up tired.  I don’t feel like doing anything, but fortunately, I do have a job that gives me a routine.  Otherwise, I take a lot of naps.  I have managed to go to the gym a few times a week, but I don’t have the same endurance I had a month ago.  Sometimes I’m nauseous.  Anxious.  I jump at loud noises.  I get depressed for no reason.  Well, I guess there is a reason.  It’s always there.  I hear news about someone back in New Jersey that my mother and I both knew and I want to call her up and tell her.  Oh.  Or I think of a question about our family or something that happened years ago, that I want to ask her about.  Yesterday I noticed on my phone under, “Frequently Called,” was “Mom.”  I couldn’t bring myself to delete her contact information.

There’s not a lot of wise things I can say right now, because I haven’t mastered this grieving thing.  I know there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but I don’t see where that tunnel ends, or even if it does at all, but just gets “lighter” somewhere down the line.  The person who has known me the longest ever, is gone.  I might have complained that she didn’t do this or that, or truly understand all the choices I made, but the fact is, she was there the whole time.  We knew each other before I saw the light of day, before anyone else knew who I was, I was a part of my mother.  In many ways, a part of me has died with her.  In another way, part of her lives on in me, and will in my own daughter.

Grief is messy.  I like to say “this is going on and why.”  Maybe that comes from my father who so loved psychology.  But it doesn’t matter why you feel something, when the basic reality, is that you do.  You just feel crappy.  I can have a good day and suddenly feel very, very sad.  One day I laughed out loud, and my daughter burst into tears.  “You laugh just like her,” she explained, as I pulled her into a hug.

I’m still new at this.  I’ve lost many people in my lifetime, but this grief is completely different.  As a pastor’s daughter, I never had a hometown, or the ability to go back to the house in which I grew up.  I grew up in more than one house, and my parents no longer lived in those houses.  So my home was my parents themselves, for better and for worse.  My original home was wherever they happened to be.

I stayed in their most recent house with Larry and Sarah, when we were down to Mississippi for the funeral.  Mississippi was Mom’s original home, the place she always wanted to get back to, no matter where she was.  When we gathered there after the funeral with my brothers, we all went through the house and took what each of us wanted, before the rest of it is auctioned off in an estate sale.  Since I’ve returned to my own home, slowly I’ve incorporated the things I took, into my house.  Somehow the house looks better.  We’ve lived here for ten years, and over those years I’ve painted, moved things around and decorated, trying to make it into our sanctuary.  A place of welcome, comfort and safety.  With things added from my parents’ house, it feels like it finally is what I want it to be.

And I can’t help but think as I muddle through this time of grief–sorting through the ashes of loss and new beginnings– I will begin to feel more whole and complete, as I incorporate the best of who my parents were.  The best of them in me.  Letting go of the disappointments and hurts, and allowing the grace and gifts of them to live on and blossom in my life.

May it be so.



Beyond Words


When I was a student at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, I took a class called White Soul.  It was January of 1992, I’d been a student at SPST for a year by then, and already my life had been changed in many ways by the professors who taught me and the challenging classes I took.

White Soul was a class taught by Dr. Tex Sample, professor of Church and Society, and mysteriously a son of Brookhaven, Mississippi, where my mother grew up.  The class was a look at country music and how it serves as the white man’s blues.  Garth Brooks was at his peak at that point and was leading the way in converting many young people to country music.  I learned quickly that Garth’s “Friends in Low Places” was a favorite on campus, and somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek model of the Gospel.  Jesus was notorious for having friends in “low places,” after all.

The class was available to those outside campus as well.  One particular day, Tex had played a song by Dolly Parton called “Family.”  The first part of the song says:

“When it’s family, you forgive them
For they know not what they do
When it’s family, you accept them
‘Cause you have no choice but to
When it’s family, they’re a mirror
Of the worst and best in you
And they always put you to the test
And you always try to do your best
And just pray for God to do the rest
When it’s family
Some are preachers, some are gay
Some are addicts, drunks and strays
But not a one is turned away
When it’s family
Some are lucky, others ain’t
Some are fighters, others faint
Winners, losers, sinners, saints
It’s all family…”

I think someone made a comment about ideally, a symbol for the Kingdom of God, or the Communion of Saints, could fit this image.  Of course, it, like real families, fall short.  This discussion sparked a pastor among us to stand up and tell us a true story  about one of his young parishioners.

This young man, we’ll call him Dave, went home from college and decided it was time to tell his parents the truth about himself, which was the result of a long journey of struggling and discernment.  He had them sit down in the living room, telling them that he had something very important to tell them.

He was gay.

At first, his parents didn’t speak.  They just stared at him.  Then, very slowly, as Dave stood there very nervously, his father got up and took the elbow of his wife.  He whispered to her to go into the kitchen, which she did obediently.  Without speaking, Dave’s father went to the living room closet and reached high onto the shelf of the closet and brought down what looked like a shoe box.  He gently laid the shoe box on the coffee table.  Slowly and wordlessly, he opened the box and lifted out something wrapped in a thick cloth.  He laid the cloth on the table and unwrapped it, as if it were delicate.

It was a handgun.

Dave’s father stood back up, looked down at the gun, and looked up at his son. His jaw set, he spoke.

“Son,” he said, putting his hands on his waist, “Your mother and I are going to go out for a while.”  He looked down at the gun, and back at Dave.  “You know what to do.”

There was a collective gasp in the classroom when the pastor told that story, and for a moment Tex was quiet.

I never forgot that story and how it made me feel.  I’ve told it in several different churches; usually when I preached on the Prodigal Son and got to the point in the story when he decided to go home and see if his father would take him back.  The father in the story I told was a stark contrast to the father in the Prodigal story who ordered a feast in celebration of his son’s return.

I have no idea how that son in the pastor’s story felt, and what a struggle he must have faced in having to accept that his own father would reject him so viciously.  I’m a white, heterosexual woman.  I’ve known my own share of rejection.  I have my own stories of feeling rejected by the Church that shaped me and helped make me who I am.  So much so that I finally had to walk away from what was once my spiritual home, in order to find healing and strength.  Many dear friends couldn’t understand how I could leave.  That’s ok.  I lived my story.  It is, in fact, my story.  No one else’s.

But despite my claim to deep spiritual and emotional pain at the hands of the institutional church, it doesn’t come close to that boy’s pain.  Or the pain of many, many LGBTQ people who claim the United Methodist Church as their spiritual home, despite everything.

I tried not to pay attention to what was happening at General Conference’s special session last week.  The UMC is not my home anymore, and sometimes I’m sad about that.  I have many family and friends who are, in fact, still very much a part of the UMC.  I care about them and what happens.  I confess I do not understand how LGBTQ persons have persevered so long, banging on the denominational door that remains stubbornly shut.  I’m not that strong.  I was born into, taught, inspired, shaped by, educated by, and employed by the UMC.  It was my home for 44 years.  I get not wanting to give up on your home.  Leaving was a very personal and painful decision for me.

I admire and wonder all these people I see who will not give up on getting those doors opened.  Someone said this week on Facebook, that we need to keep perspective.  That the hungry were fed this week through the food pantry, people were comforted by the ministry of the local UMC, youth experienced learning about God.  And, it was said, LGBTQ people aren’t kept from being parishioners, members of leadership committees or worship leaders.  The restrictions are against “only” marriage and ordination.

But I know a few families from my former parish, whose children are gay, lesbian and/or transgender.  I don’t think it would a comfort to them or their children to know that they can worship or join committees in the church, but they aren’t good enough to have their relationships of love blessed or to be ordained to lead.

When I was in college, one of my professors, who became a dear friend, once said to me that when he’s confused about what God wants, when it seems that the Bible contradicts itself on certain things, he looks to Jesus.  He reads and studies the four Gospels.  He studies what Jesus said and did, who he was and is.  Because after all, Jesus is the one who, as Christians we believe, is the incarnation of God.  The Word Made Flesh.

I’ve always used that approach.  Jesus’ main teaching, the core of his life and death, is Love.  He lived for Love, he died for Love.  Who killed him, after all?  The Church authorities.  The people who lived by the letter of the law.  And I believe the Resurrection is the message that nothing, not life or death or principalities or anything on earth or in heaven can separate us from the love of God.  Not even the Church.

The thing that really ticked off Jesus, was hypocrisy.  That set off his temper in a big way.  He touched, he healed, he lifted up, he invited.  People.  He didn’t ask them who they loved, but he commanded that they love.  Above all else.  The law of God is summed up in the commandment to love your neighbor, love God and love yourself.

Homosexuality or any other sexual identity that is freaking Christian people out, doesn’t even make God’s Top Ten Commandments.  Jesus never ever mentioned it.  He came to invite us all to the party called the Kingdom of God.  To Life, Wholeness, Joy, True Life.

I know the issue is fear.  We’re terrified of what we don’t understand.  I don’t claim to understand LGBTQ people.  How can I?  I don’t live in their skin.  They don’t understand me either.  We love differently, but we all love.  Everybody wants to be loved.  Everybody.

Sex is a thing we don’t talk about.  We sure didn’t talk about in my house growing up!  We didn’t talk about it in church.  Now it’s being thrown in our faces– or at least I think many people feel that way.  You’re going to make me think about what those people do?

I know for a fact that I had people in my congregations that were adulterers (which, by the way is on God’s Top Ten list of Don’ts).  No one talked about it.  They were leaders in the church.  Sometimes, in fact, they were some of the most judgmental people.  I’m not saying we should have kicked them out, but people turn a blind eye to adultery, child abuse, sexual abuse and domestic abuse in the church much too often.  And then we call people who just want to be in a committed, loving, monogamous relationship and to have that blessed in the Church— sinners.  Repugnant.  Perverts.

I don’t get it.  I know sex is a powerful thing, and for many people, a very frightening thing.  But these days, we’re letting our fears blow up into rage and hatred and assure ourselves that God hates all the same people we do.  Anne Lamott, a Christian writer, says it’s a sure sign that we’ve made God in our own image, when we believe that God hates all the same people we do.

I don’t understand the perseverance, the courage, and the relentless faith that keeps LGBTQ people wanting to take their place at the Table of Christ in the UMC when they keep getting battered and threatened and insulted by the leaders of the institution and the the hard, sharp cover of The Book of Discipline.  They are stronger than I am, and I wish them well.  I pray that they will persevere in bringing justice and inclusivity to the United Methodist Church someday.  They have fought this battle for over 40 years.

I have many heterosexual friends, both laity and pastors in the UMC who are fighting that battle with them, and I pray for all of them.  I thank God for them.  Some may say that I don’t have a right to say anything about it, because I left.  Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not.  But in a way, the United Methodist Church is still my family, even though we don’t speak much.  I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

I believe that God will bring about God’s justice, mercy and love in this world and in the next, but apparently, it’ll be a sometimes bloody fight against the ever-powerful forces of hate and evil that claim to work in God’s name.  I believe in the Communion of Saints and the Kin-dom of God (which ultimately includes all God’s people).

And I believe in love.  In all it’s myriad of expressions.  For me, it all stems from the source of all our lives… in whom we live, love and have our being.


The Struggle Not Availeth


“Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain…”
–Arthur Hugh Clough

Now the smoke seems to be clearing since Dad’s death and we’re now more focused on my mother and her slow mental decline.  The grief from Dad’s death is not simple, but I’ve experienced enough losses over my 50-odd years to know that every loss is experienced differently.

I get caught off guard a lot.

My father, in many ways, was a character.  I think he wanted to be.  Unique.  Different.  And he was.

The other night we were watching one of our favorite British shows, Endeavour.  Since discovering cousins in England and later traveling to see them, I’ve been intrigued with the various customs, sayings, different foods, etc. in the former empire.  In one episode, DI Thursday said to Morse (the show’s main character), “You look like you’ve lost a pound and found a sixpence.”

I think I made an involuntary loud noise.  And had to pause the show.

My father used to say to anyone who looked sad, “You look like you’ve lost a pound and found a shilling.”  We thought it an odd saying, since at that time we weren’t familiar with English coinage.  But I usually responded, if I was indeed sad, “Well, I lost a pound but didn’t find any shilling.”

It happened again the following night.  Morse, a very literary, opera-loving detective, read a poem at the funeral of a fallen colleague.

“Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain…”

He went on to read the rest of the poem, but I didn’t hear it.  I might have been choking on my glass of water.  I hadn’t heard the poem in many years, but in my head, the voice speaking it was not Morse, but my father, in his Indian-British accent.

He did that sort of thing all the time, but in the years of his retirement and especially in the months leading to his death, he didn’t resort to poetry anymore.  In many ways, after he retired, he was a man without an audience; a preacher without a pulpit.  A shepherd without a flock.  He really struggled in the 24 years of retirement.  He didn’t know anything else.

But I digress.

I suppose it’s normal when someone dies, but especially a parent, your whole life plays back to you at odd moments.  As I said, now that the weeks after Dad’s death have passed and “things” have to therefore be done and decided upon, I’ve bit hit with these random memories.

As a teenager, I have vivid memories of sitting at the breakfast table before school, and my father would put on one of his many hats, carrying some sort of office-type bag with him and pause with his hand on the door going out to the garage.

“I go to prove my soul…” he’d often say.

Wow.  Heavy.

When Dad was a child growing up in India–with an Indian mother who, for some reason, hated all things Indian–he was immersed in all things British.  My father rarely talked about his childhood or India years, and when he did it was just snippets.  He talked about the mango tree just outside his window, or the view of the Mahim Bay that inspired him.

At some point in his growing up, perhaps as a part of his education, he was made to memorize and recite poetry.  So he was known to randomly blurt out a line or two from one of the many poems he learned as a child.  He never recited the whole poem or even tell us what the poem was about or by whom.  It was as common to him to quote a poem as it was to other men at the dinner table to say, “I had an interesting day today…”

I usually rolled my eyes.  Dad’s at it again.

When one of us would bring home a friend, whether boy or girl, Dad inevitably would recite a line from a poem with great flourish and gestures and then lean toward the guest and say, “Do you know that?”

Well, they never did, and more often than not, they were intimidated.  I think sometimes that was Dad’s intent.  He liked to intimidate– not in a menacing way– but in a playful way.  It just wasn’t always received that way.

If not quoting poetry, he’d ask a philosophical or theological question.  “Is Man basically good or evil?”

We were used to it, but outsiders were not.  And again, if it were, in my case, a boyfriend or in my brother’s cases, a girlfriend, they usually looked to one of us as if to find out the right answer.

One of the old family stories includes the time when my late sister-in-law Barbara first came to dinner.  She’d been warned about Rollo.  She was ready.  When Dad started reciting some random English poem, Barbara cleared her throat and said, “Bill and Tommy were really good friends,…” reciting a poem from her early reading days.

We all laughed.  I think my father was confused.

My father admitted never being very good at small talk.  To cover this, he knew how to get others talking or else he’d go off on a monologue of theology and/or psychology or a mixture of both.  Usually people nodded, not knowing what in the world he was talking about, but when my friends from college came home with me, they just about sat at his feet and drank up his words.

Which irritated me.

They’d ask him questions and get him going deeper into his monologuing.  He had an audience!  He was thrilled.  I usually went to get some sodas.  This could go on for a while.

Instead of asking me how I was doing in any given moment, he used to say, “How is it with your soul?”  Um, I don’t know.  That was a big question.  It wasn’t until I was in seminary myself learning about John Wesley that I discovered that that was a line Wesley used in his pre-denomination covenant groups.  Each person was to say how their spiritual life was going.  Ah, another mystery solved.

I’m realizing, now, that all of us tend to be different people, in ways, depending on who we’re with.  Which one is the real person?  I guess we’re all just a sum of our parts, literally.  I’m an introvert.  But when I was a preacher, someone said I came alive in the pulpit (does that mean I’m usually dead?).  It’s true, that I was more animated, more expressive, even more confident when I was in the pulpit.  I loved preaching.  I loved weaving stories that people could relate to with the Biblical story.  I enjoyed taking them there to the scene of the story to give them a feel of being there.  Of it being less foreign.  It struck my creative cord and something I was good at.

But out of the pulpit, someone might suggest I was a different person.  Quieter.  More introspective.  Preferring the company of one or two people, and not one to “work a crowd.”  My daughter and husband yet different sides of me.  But all of those images of me are me.  It’s always been my goal to be authentic.  Real.  Wherever and with whomever I am with.

The same was true with my father, of course.  He was a character as a pastor and preacher.  The Englishman from an exotic country and a bit of a permanent tan.  He preferred English things to anything Indian, but that’s how he was raised.  I think that was a pervasive thing across the family tree, as I’ve come to learn more.  Dad grew up in India from 1929-1949.  He was present for the struggle for India’s independence from Britain.  He was there when Gandhi was doing his thing.  He was there during the Partition, when things got violent in the cities.

He never talked about any of that.  He only mentioned that he thought of Gandhi at the time, like many of the British then, as a “half-naked fakir.”  The middle-aged Rollo, now a longtime American citizen, grew to admire Gandhi.  But beyond that, Dad did not share any stories about living through that tumultuous time — decades before he would find out from a DNA test that he, in fact, had more in common with the rebellious Indians that the Empire that sought to keep them.

How much does what’s in our blood matter?  He grew up shaped by all things English.  He loved all things English.  Though his accent was a mixture of English and Indian (as I was informed by my cousins), we thought it was English.  After all, like American accents, there are many different British accents, based on region.  I never heard another accent like my father’s until I met my cousin Peter, now a resident of England, who also grew up in India.

I know my father struggled with his identity as an Anglo-Indian.  But he didn’t talk about it.  We’d ask him questions over the years, trying to piece together the puzzle that was him and therefore our ancestry.  He mostly avoided such questions.  His life in India is mostly a mystery.

I wish I could have got those stories out of him.  I wish he could have told them.  The more I learn about Gandhi, the struggle for independence after centuries of being in the British empire, the bloody aftermath, the clash of cultures and castes, etc., I’d have loved to have known what it was like to be there.  What is India like?  I’d love to go there, to get another piece in the puzzle, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get there.

What I’m learning, however, is that we are all more complicated than what we appear.  We are the product of many cultures, influences, dreams, nightmares, struggles, and even identities.  We inherit both burdens and gifts from our parents.  Hopefully we even learn from some of their mistakes.

I always only heard a line or two from my father’s cognitive collection of poetry.  But I looked up the poem by Arthur Hugh Clough that Morse recited in that episode.  Apparently Clough struggled with a lot of expectations of greatness put upon him that he ultimately could not live up to.  He wasn’t as “successful” as he was expected to be, but went into education, and, of course, into writing poetry.

“Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
     And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
     And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
     Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
     But westward, look, the land is bright.”
It’s a poem about hope.  No matter what the struggle.  “Look… the land is bright.”

I trust my father has found that bright land.

God Is In the Roses


I’m tempted to keep saying “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.”  But I stop.  Who cares how I’m supposed to feel?

My father died 2 1/2 weeks ago.  We knew it was coming.  And then, of course, once it happens, things happen so fast you don’t have time to think.  Now I’m home, receiving condolence cards, some from people I haven’t seen in 35 years.  They speak of the pastor they remember in my father.  “A loving, compassionate man.”  “Brilliant.”  “The best preacher ever.”

Just a few years ago, those comments would have made me angry.  “Whoa,” I would have said, “if they only knew.”  But in the last few years, I think I’ve done a lot of healing.  I don’t know why.  Was it turning 50?  Gaining peace from leaving the pastorate?  A lot of Al-anon meetings?  Yes, yes, and yes.  I didn’t want to get to my father’s death and have all that anger erupt then.  I didn’t want to be THAT family member at the funeral.

But I haven’t known what I feel.  When I saw him in the hospice that last day he was unconscious.  I touched his hand and tried to feel a connection to this person.  This was my father.  The person, anyway, that occupied that role for the last 53 1/2 years.  But he seemed like a stranger.  When we viewed the body two days later, same thing.  I tried to feel a connection.  But all I could think of was that night in October in the hospital in Jackson when he tried to have a “significant” conversation with me.

“You were into the equal rights women’s stuff, I remember,” he said, trying to recall memories of my life as he knew it.  I smiled.  No use arguing now.  He never knew that all I ever wanted was to be seen by him as a full, valuable, cherished human being.  He just never got that.  So he dismissed my passions.  Laughed at them sometimes.

That night, once he could not truly remember much of my life, he began to tell me all the “wonderful” things he accomplished.  Then he pat my hand and said, “So, it’s ok if I don’t wake up tomorrow.  We’ve connected.”  I nodded.  I knew that was as good as it was going to get.  The time for wishing for more was long over.

Upon viewing his body, I looked upon a man who never let me know who he really was.  Who kept himself aloof, impersonal, always professional.  His parishioners saw him in his pastoral role; the orator, the counselor.  My warm, personable mother made it possible for them to see him as human.  They didn’t know that they wouldn’t know how to relate to him if my mother wasn’t there.  They saw the role he played, apparently well.  Not everybody adored him.  There were some that said that he didn’t talk about Jesus enough.  He was offended.

But it was true.  He didn’t.

I don’t know what my father believed, when it came right down to it.  I know he was terrified of death.  I know in the last three months of his life he was inconsolable.  They increased his Ativan to the maximum dosage.  He was terrified of being alone, especially at night.  He was not comforted by the presence of his family, he didn’t care if we were there or not, really.  He just wanted a warm body in the room.  He wanted a voice on the other end of the phone when he intellectualized his terror.  His family just could never please him.

The preacher for the funeral was a man whom Dad filled in for in Brookhaven, at Jackson St. UMC.  Pastor Ron was a tall, skinny, effeminate man with a syrupy smile and a very large bow-tie.  Dad would drive into Brookhaven occasionally and visit with Ron.  For Dad, being a pastor was being part of an elite club.  He felt that United Methodist pastors especially, were a special breed of people.  They were above laypeople, for sure.

Dad had prepared a narrative that he wanted read at his funeral, to make sure certain things were said about him.  He’d asked Stan to read it, but I don’t think he trusted Stan to go through with it, so he gave it to Pastor Ron.

My father’s eulogy about himself said that he was a British subject who was born and raised in India.  He served five “really big churches”, with memberships from 600-1200 members.  He was a pastor, preacher, counselor, educator, seminar-leader, keynote speaker, director and “many other things.”  “He led many, many people to Jesus, and he was profoundly committed to his relationship with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Then Pastor Ron talked about how he would invite Dad over for “high tea” in downtown Brookhaven, MS.  Dad had a way of getting people to do things for him.  Pastor Ron got his secretary to provide cucumber sandwiches and a pot of tea for Rollo when he visited.  One day, their visit came after Pastor Ron was out doing his pastoral calls.  He came in and took his coat off, and took out his .357 Magnum pistol and laid it on his desk.  Dear God.

That syrupy sweet smile.  “There the pistol lay between the Word of God and English Breakfast tea.”  The congregation laughed.

I couldn’t help but think that the pastor was a deeply closeted gay man who felt the need to assert his manhood by bragging about the size of his concealed-carry.

How to feel?  My father was not a British subject.  That was the narrative I was fed all of my life, until my brother gave him a DNA test and we came to find out he was more than half Indian.  His mother, Mom-Mom Jesse, was nearly 100% Indian.  The woman who Dad claimed made him embrace all things British.  My father hated the Indian side of him and was verbally racist against “the natives.”  He said once that Britain should never have left India.  In fact, he left when they left.

My father always wanted to be British, and for his entire life after India, built that entire facade of being the Englishman.  Even after the DNA test.

He would take it to his grave.

All of us children agreed that the service was for Mom.  It was in her home church, the people were all “her” people, and it was for her comfort.  Therefore, it was ok.  Pastor Ron led us in a singalong of “Beulah Land,” a song I never learned but was always a favorite of Mom’s.  The highlight for me was when my great-niece Riley sang “Amazing Grace.”  It was the most real part of the entire service, and beautiful.

I still don’t know what my father believed, and neither did Pastor Ron.  My father would never use the phrase, “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and he thought “fundamentalists” were stupid.  He did not talk about Jesus, for fear of sounding simple.  He talked about “life beyond life” and “being accepted,” and a lot of esoteric language I can’t even remember because it made no sense.

He couldn’t tell me what he believed.  What gave him comfort.  What gave him hope.  He never talked about “heaven” or “eternity.”  I cannot imagine my father being at peace.  Because he never was on earth.  He was always very anxious.  Obsessive at times.  But he dismissed the “simple faith” of my mother, of me.

Pastor Ron said he knew that Rollo was laughing, now.  Laughing with joy.  Maybe.  But I cannot imagine it at all.  He never laughed with joy here.  I never knew him to have joy.  My daughter said she cringed when the preacher said that, because she could remember too many times when I was so angry with my father that I couldn’t see straight– and he laughed in my face.  I saw him laugh at my mother when she was furious with him.

I sat there with my arm around my mother, who was comforted by Pastor Ron’s words.  She sang “Beulah Land” with gusto, as I’d often heard her do so in the kitchen many years ago.  My mother taught me about Jesus and God’s love and joy in faith, and how faith can help in hard times.  My mother taught me how to find God in nature, in the woods, in a sunset, in the quiet, by the ocean or a stream.  My mother taught me faith of the heart.

I didn’t cry.  I have cried so many tears over the decades; tears of sorrow over not feeling loved or even seen by my father; tears of frustration when he just wouldn’t listen to me or take me seriously; tears of sorrow when I felt he belittled my mother one more time.  Perhaps there are more tears in there to be shed. Perhaps not.

My mother was comforted.  That’s what mattered that day.  The casket spread was full of roses and pine branches, which gave off a powerful, sweet scent.  As I listened to Pastor Ron say things that were blatantly untrue, the aroma of roses floated between us all, around us, enveloping us.  I remembered Rosanne Cash’s song, “God is in the roses… and the thorns.”  And I was comforted with every inhalation.

I was ok.  I am ok.  My brothers are ok.  They, too, were baffled by my father’s aloofness and lack of ability to feel an emotional connection with anyone, much less his own children.  But we all found healing in our own ways.  Mark attends Catholic Church since marrying Nancy, but the other two want nothing to do with church.  My own relationship with church is like a marriage that has gone sour after too many betrayals and hurts.  Me and Jesus are fine.

The night Dad died, as I went to sleep, I felt a huge relief.  As if a wall that I’ve been pushing against all my life finally fell open.  Dad was always the source of tension.  The person I could never prove myself to, the one who was never satisfied, the man who first dismissed me as “hysterical,” “too emotional,” and “just like your mother”– as if that was an insult.  I stopped pushing so hard a few years ago.  The night he died, it felt like a deep sigh.  A release.

A chance to begin again.

I am sad that he lived such a lonely life inside himself, when all four of his children would have loved, at one time, to be a source of joy and pride for him.  All of us had to finally give up that hope to have lives of our own that were healthy, full of love and relationships, and peace.  I assume he’s in heaven, but I  can’t picture it.  I assume he’s different.  That he finally experiences joy. And peace.

I hope he does.

I Remember


“Now the thing about time is that time isn’t really real/it’s just your point of view/how does it feel for you?/Einstein said he could never understand it all/planets spinning through space/a smile upon your face/welcome to the human race… isn’t it a lovely ride?–
–James Taylor, “Secret O’Life”

This is a strange year for me.  Countless people have gone through what I’m going through, so it doesn’t make me special.  But our family was weird.  I think I grew up feeling that nothing bad could happen to the members of my immediate family.  It just happened to other unfortunate people.  It seems silly to me now, of course, but my family of origin has escaped, not so much unscathed, but a lot better off than some people.

Until now.  My father is on hospice.  My mother is in a memory care unit that she refers to as her “hotel.”  She can’t wait to get back home, and she hopes they’ll “release” my father soon.  Of course they’re not ever going home, but you can’t say that to a person with dementia.

We thought Dad was going to die in October when he had chest pains and they found that two of his arteries are 99% blocked and his valve is 70% blocked.  But he’s still here, just laying in bed.  I think even before the dementia, my mother never really believed he or my father could die.  She didn’t have to think it through, it just didn’t make sense for them to die– to her.  Or him.  My father seems a bit insulted that he might just be on that journey.  Like an ordinary human being.

We lost a dear friend to Alzheimer’s back in May.  Yvonne was a surrogate grandmother to my daughter Sarah when we lived in Pennsylvania.  She and her husband Jim were there for us during some really difficult times.  They were the essence of pure love.  Good, good people.  We saw Yvonne last year when the Alzheimer’s was very advanced, and it was heartbreaking.

Just last week we got news that a friend and former colleague, John, died at the age of 75.  Both Larry and I worked with John as his student assistant, consecutively, back in New Jersey when we attended Drew University Theological School.  I only worked with John for 6 months, as I later transferred to school in Kansas City.  But my time with him was intense and profound.  I learned how to do a worship service from him.  He taught me how to put it together so that the hymns, songs, prayers, rituals, readings and sermon all related to one another.  Parishioners later in my ministry were always impressed by that, but since working with John, I thought ALL pastors did that.

He taught me the basics of doing a hospital visit, meeting with a family about a funeral, serving communion.  At Roselle Park, they had the tradition of people coming forward for prayer during the second hymn.  John and I would kneel with them and say a prayer over them at the chancel rail.  As his assistant, I became a pastor, and I experienced all the things I would love about being a pastor.

We processed in at the beginning and there was a huge cross up front, looming over us that put me in the spirit of awe.  When we recessed out, there was a stained glass window of Jesus with his hand up, as if in a blessing.  On the Sundays that I preached, especially, it felt like Jesus was saying, “Well done, Peggy.”

John celebrated my sense of wonder and awe at the holy moments of worship and pastoring.  Offering communion to people who came and knelt before me with their hands cupped, ready to receive a blessing.  Those who came asking for prayer.  Finishing a prayer in the hospital with someone and find that they had tears in their eyes.  That first day that I put on the white alb that my mother made for me.  It was like taking on the mantle.  John smiled.  He knew.

Our relationship wasn’t perfect, by any means.  He was an active alcoholic at the time.  Later, he referred to himself as a “high functioning” alcoholic, because he didn’t miss meetings or worship, he was able to keep it “under wraps.”  However, I did smell it on his breath often, sometimes on Sunday, and he had a couple of Cutty Sarks at our long lunches.

Despite that, John supported me through some very difficult times, including the decision to move halfway across the country to study at St. Paul School of Theology.  We shared many holy moments in friendship during those brief months– it was intense.

We would have a falling out around the time I left, when I didn’t think we’d be friends again– alcoholics can incite that kind of rage in the people who love them.  But we both made amends.  When we lived in PA for six years, we met John halfway every few months to share lunch.  It was at one of those first lunches at the beginning of the new millennium that he shared his journey into AA and being sober.  It was an intimate conversation that day, as he shared at a level he’d never shared with either of us before.  As he had done with both of us, we celebrated this important step in his life.

In the years since, we’ve kept in touch via emails and Christmas letters.  When I won a sermon contest, John drove over to Princeton to hear me preach in 2005.  He was still sober, still struggling to give up the cigarettes.  He said he was proud of me that day, and we had a good visit.

Through Christmas letters, we were told of his increasing COPD and other health issues, going on oxygen.  I wasn’t too surprised, but yet saddened to get a letter this year from his widow, Tina, telling us of John’s death.

And I Remember.  I’ve been remembering, silently, and out loud with Larry, many moments with John– the profound and the maddening, the laughter and the tears.  There are moments I feel a deep sadness, though I haven’t seen him in 13 years.  When you share such intense moments, God-moments, with someone, it doesn’t matter.  “Time isn’t really real.”  Those moments are eternal.  You don’t forgot things like that, they stay engraved in your heart forever.   When your souls connect with another in vulnerability and trust, in brokenness and healing, it feels like it can’t be broken.  Not even by death.

I remember Yvonne.  The many suppers we had at her house or our house.  The many times she and Jim babysat Sarah overnight, or when they both got down on the floor and played with her.  Many hugs.  Many tears.  So much love.  She was the consummate host, and in her home and in her presence, you felt like you were home.

I don’t know what happens after this life.  I trust that there is life after death.  I don’t know what it looks like or feels like, but I can’t help but trust that it is real.  I’ve experienced such profound connections– other-worldly, timeless connections that aren’t broken by physical absence or even death.  How can we have such holy bonds here if there isn’t more?   At their best, those bonds feel like just a taste of what there is to come, when our bodies don’t betray us.  When we don’t need our minds to remember, for our souls will do that.

So, this Christmas I remember.  As I slowly lose both my mother and my father, I also remember my whole life.  Being a child.  A teenager.  We had difficult relationships, but I’m remembering those moments with my mother, especially, when she and I did connect.  When she could forget all the other things that troubled her and BE with me.  Glimpses.  Moments that caught her off guard.  And it wasn’t so long ago.  In Soul Time.

I will remember, and dwell in those grace-filled moments when I feel sad.  And trust that John, Yvonne, and all those who I’ve loved and lost in this life, will also remember me.

Peace.  It is a lovely ride.