The Value of Mundane Details

A spring evening.

A few months ago I logged out of an online meeting with the realization that I had no idea of the weather report for my colleagues’ locations. I laughed the rest of the day as I shared this odd detail with a few others. It is absolutely true that I can check the weather report for the locations of my colleagues. It is true that the weather they were experiencing did not impact the meeting we were having (there were no storms that day). It is true the sunshine I was experiencing for the first time in weeks changed not a detail of their days, nor had any relevance to the business we were conducting. It is also true that it was odd, bordering on uncomfortable, for me that we did not talk about the weather. As I laughed with others about my seemingly new dedication to weather reports, clarity of my discomfort came.

I know there are lots of jokes, I have even shared a few, about how we revert back to conversation about the weather when we do not know what else to talk about. Yet, the weather is a connection we can all make with each other. It is a starting point for any conversation, we do not have to like the same type of weather, but we can engage in simple conversation that builds a point of contact so the next time we speak to each other we can possibly try another topic. Or if we do not meet again, at least for a moment we connected with another human being, we were each seen and heard.

There are many people I know who are experiencing loneliness, anxiety, depression, grief, confusion, and fear. Sometimes they are unsure how to share what is happening with them. Sometimes they do not want to appear weak, needy, or be an inconvenience. There are many reasons people choose to remain silent in their suffering, no matter how much the rest of us would welcome the opportunity to have them confide in us. Even as we know we cannot fix the pain that person is feeling, we would willingly carry them while they carry their burdens. We are after all created from love and for loving each other.

The weather report might seem like a mundane detail, just like asking what you ate for a meal, or the casual “how’re you doing” as you stand next to someone. These are habits of conversation we fall into, often without real thought. Yet, I think they are good habits to nurture. It matters if we take a moment to greet someone. It matters if we learn their name, remember if they like rainy days, or enjoy the brightness of snow. It matters if we notice when they appear to be carrying a burden, maybe they will not share that burden with us; and maybe if we acknowledge we are together for that moment, we will help them feel a bit more connected to others while they carry that burden.

My discomfort with that online meeting was that I had not made a mundane connection with my colleagues. I did not feel as if I had expressed clearly to them that I care about them, respect them, and am here if ever they need someone to remind them they are loved. My words may be about the weather, yet my intention is about connection, and that is why I love mundane details. That is why I believe they matter to me when it comes to building relationships. I think the collection of mundane details we have for each other build and strengthen our friendships. They are the thousands of little ways we say to each other that you matter enough for me to notice you.

These friendships begin small, with weather reports, and grow each time we share a little more of ourselves. Not all mundane connections will grow into lifelong friendships, but each connection remains an opportunity for us to remind each other of the truth that we are all connected. Maybe if we can continue to make these connections with each other we will eradicate the us vs them mentality that continues to divide us. Maybe if we continue to share our mundane details we will be able to help one more person feel the love that brought all of us into existence. For the realization of that goal, I would gladly remember where you like to sit at a table, what type of weather you prefer, if you are the first to say hi or if you need me to be first, or even if you prefer that I sit in silence next to you while you scroll on your phone, smiling when you turn to me to say hi. It is in these acts of noticing each other that I believe some day we will all recognize how much love there is in this world, and spend our time sharing that love until all the world is at peace.

If the Way Be Clear


Looking out the windshield. 

In Presbyterian Church U.S.A. vocabulary the phrase “if the way be clear” is used to acknowledge though we plan, dream, and hope, sometimes the way forward is not what we imagined.  I was thinking of this phrase yesterday afternoon while I drove my family home through a massive thunderstorm complete with a tornado warning.  We arrived home safely thanks in part to smartphones, internet access, and my husband’s use of those tools to give me guidance about when to get off on an exit to wait out a portion of the storm.

Yesterday I could not see more than a few feet in front of me, I had to trust my knowledge of the road, the tools I had at hand, and the rules of the road.  I could see the yellow dotted line on my left, and the white solid line on my right, that was about all.  I knew stopping would likely result in a crash.  I knew going forward meant I had to trust what I could not control.  I am not the first person, or pastor, to find the act of driving to be a powerful metaphor for life.

I am thinking about that drive home because I feel stuck in the storm.  About two years ago I reached my tenth anniversary of ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  I was elated to reach this milestone and thrilled to be celebrating it with the congregation I had been partnered with for those ten years.  It is not all that common for fresh out of seminary (first-call) pastors to stay with their first congregation that long.  We celebrated and looked forward to the future.

In the two years since that milestone a fair number of difficult experiences have taken place, making me feel stuck in a storm and surrounded by fog.  Each one has taught me a new lesson and helped grow the Fruits of the Spirit in me, but they have left me feeling as if I cannot see more than a step in front of me.  I have the yellow dotted line of my faith, the white solid line of my partnership in ministry with colleagues and the congregation, the tools or spiritual practices of my faith tradition, and my trust that God is in control.  So I keep putting one foot in front of the other confident one day the storm will cease and the fog will lift.  But as driving in a storm sometimes requires a chance to rest, so does life as a pastor.

Our polity as members of the PCUSA states the elected elders serving on the session (governing board) and pastor are partners in ministry.  The congregation takes a vow to support and care for the pastor and family, and the session vows to help lead the congregation with the pastor.  As I have put one foot in front of the other I have shared my experiences with the elders and they have prayed with and for me, they have walked with me through these struggles, they have helped me find joy, and they have reminded me we are partners. Even as I have felt stretched thin as I care for our congregation and community, they have joined me in carrying out our worship and work.

It is from the elders that the idea for us to take a sabbatical came.  In the past year and a half we have prayed, studied, discussed, met with others, and dreamed of what a sabbatical could mean for our congregation and for me.  The dream of a time of rest, reflection, and renewal fills me with hope.  The idea that others would care for me and my family in this way fills my heart.  My family and I have spent over twelve years loving this community and congregation and we have sunk our roots deep here.  Yet, right now, even though I know the road forward is there, the fog of weariness makes it difficult to see.  So, like yesterday while I was driving, it is time to pull off for a bit and rest, to wait out the storm, and trust once I have rested the fog will have lifted.

Life as a pastor is unique and amazing because not only do you get help others be their best self but they get to help you be your best self, and together you get to make the world a better place.  That means sometimes as a pastor you have to let others take care of you and your family, even though that does not come naturally.  I do not know if the way will be clear for a sabbatical, there are more details to work out, but the simple fact that the elders, who I have met in their own storms, are meeting me in mine and are willing to guide me with the tools we have, fills my heart to overflowing.

Ten Years Together


Staircase at Stronghold.

Last month our congregation and I celebrated the anniversary of the worship service when we made our vows to partner together in worship and work.  There were cards, laughter, gifts, good food, and memories shared.  It was a full month of affirmation we had heard God’s call and answered with courage.

Though October was full of joy, our community is often filled with joy so it can be hard to distinguish between regular joy and special joy.  I found myself reflecting on the past decade and wondering how we can be such a joyful community.  I have determined that we are joyful because we have known pain.

We are a worshiping community made up of members who come from many other congregations.  We have closed church buildings and said goodbye to the physical space our ancestors built.  We have watched our children grow and move away to worship in other places, or to not worship at all.  We have learned from experience that when our personal lives are crashing down it is highly likely the person who will come to hold us up under the weight is the very person who vehemently disagrees with us politically and theologically in most, if not all areas.  We have learned to be real people, serving a real God, in the midst of real pain and struggle.

We are not perfect.  We have many more roads to travel, more enlightenment to come, more repentance we must undertake, and we will.  We will do this together.  We will do this joyfully.  We will do this because this is what we have been called to do.  In ten years I have learned from those wiser and more experienced than me, that death is not the worst thing to happen.  The worst is to be isolated and alone, never growing in compassion or understanding.

We are joyful not because we are naive.  Rather, we are joyful because we have known pain and have learned to take that pain to change the world for God’s glory.  I did not know what the first ten years would bring, and I do not know what the next ten will bring, but I am confident that together we will spread joy.