Seeking and Searching on a Tough Day

Monday evening brought tragic news to our family.  A beloved family member died, and we are all feeling so very, very sad.  Our loved one will be so deeply missed.  And of course – everything feels so much more complicated when you can’t wrap your arms around each other – when you can’t gather together as an extended family.  When you can’t do what we are used to doing during times like these.

The new normal feels anything, but normal . . .

We will do all of these things eventually – but for now – we have to make phone calls, send texts, pray for one another, and wait.    And we will probably have to wait some more.

And so today I was very deeply in need of reminders of God’s presence in my life – in all of our lives. 

It is amazing to me how our Lord always provides reminders of his presence when I allow myself to seek him – when I open my eyes and my heart to his presence in my life.

I know God is with us always.  I believe God is with us.  And William and I were in hot pursuit of reminders of God’s presence.  And we quickly found reminders of God’s presence all around us. 

Rainbows! 

On a friend’s driveway . . .

Rainbows – rainbows – rainbows. . .

Right outside my office door . . .

Rainbows are everywhere these days. 

On one of the bags of groceries we are donating to FCHUM on Thursday morning . . .

And Genesis (chapter 9) tells us that rainbows are a reminder to God and to all of us of the covenant God first made with Noah following the flood. 

On the cradle roll banner in the hall at the church . . .

Rainbows can remind us that even in tragedy God is present. 

On a neighbors’ front door . . .

We are not alone.

On one of the old sanctuary doors . . .

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’ – Genesis 9:8-17

An accidental rainbow of tomato cages . . .

How are you seeking God’s presence in your life? 

A neighbors’ front door . . .

Where have you seen God’s presence?

On my knitting needles today . . .

Seeking Wide Open Spaces and A Little Learning

Saturday was another absolutely gorgeous spring day. So beautiful in fact – that Jason and I decided that we simply couldn’t stay home (inside) all day. 

I am guessing that the McFarland sons may not have agreed with us, but our household is not always a democracy.  Frankly – the old peoples’ votes often carry a lot more sway in our household – especially when it comes to things like fresh air, exercise, and nutrition.   And the medical experts are all on television backing us up right now. 

Those brilliant doctors keep telling us to get enough sleep, to eat really nutritious meals, and to get plenty of exercise – so on Saturday the McFarlands did just that.

Bright and early Saturday morning – we were in the truck and headed for Perryville, Kentucky to the Civil War Battlefield for some seriously awesome hiking.  We also snuck in a little learning too.  (Jason and I are sneaky like that . . .)

The museum and gift shop are closed, but all of the 10 glorious miles of trails at Perryville are open for hiking.  Don’t worry – we didn’t make the boys hike all 10 miles on Saturday.  We just did 5 miles.

Perryville is only about 1 and 1/2 hours from our house and worth every minute spent in the car to get there. Plus – Jason always drives so I just get in more knitting time – bonus!

Views like this and wide open spaces – felt amazing. It definitely was where I needed to be for a few hours.

William learned a little Civil War history. And Jason was the family historian.

(Wow – that’s a head scratcher . . . )

We spotted fast running deer!

We spotted slow crawling caterpillars.

We spotted rare teenagers in trees . . .

We spotted less rare seven year olds in trees.

We were reminded that spring has arrived in Kentucky. God is indeed with us. In fact – God is making his presence abundantly clear all around us. We are not alone in this world.

You are in my heart and prayers.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Sharing Spring at Saint Stephen

William and I had a few things we needed to get done at the church this afternoon.  We needed to check the mail, because our faithful postal workers keep bringing the mail every day (except Sunday – of course).  We also thought we should make sure there weren’t any important phone messages on the church voicemail, and I needed to make some photocopies. 

Our church home

Most importantly we wanted to look for signs of spring around the church to share with all of you.  Since we can’t gather for worship at Saint Stephen right now – almost everyone has been missing out on just how beautiful it is at the church these days.  And I must say that Saint Stephen is looking particularly lovely right now.  Everything is looking so colorful and lush and green.  It is just plain gorgeous.

I am told that Lucile Duke planted these.

Our founding mothers and fathers chose very wisely when they picked this land along Bardstown Road.  It is just plain lovely – especially in the spring.  Especially when the flowering trees are blooming. . .

Our tree in the front parking lot
So many shades of pink. . .
Chuck Ziemba planted these years ago. They have certainly thrived! These daffodils remind me of him each spring.
Something pretty is actually growing in the front flower bed of doom and disaster. If you want to know what I mean – ask Cheryl . . .
A wild Lutheran found in a tree.

After I read this sign to Will, he asked why our church was named Saint Stephen.  I explained that our church was named after a really neat man from the Bible who did great things for God (Acts 7:54-60). 

Will thought about it for a moment, and then he asked why the church wasn’t named after me. 

I smiled and said “that is so nice honey – but churches are usually named after people who were alive during Bible times.” 

To which my sweet William responded – “I always thought you were alive then too . . .” 

Carry that with you for today folks.  My seven year old thinks that I am at least 2,000 years old!

You are in my heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and With Love –

Pastor Kerri

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM BISHOP WILLIAM O. GAFKJEN REGARDING COVID-19 (MARCH 26, 2020)

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM BISHOP WILLIAM O. GAFKJEN REGARDING COVID-19 (MARCH 26, 2020)

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop William O. Gafkjen

To the People and Communities of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod

Regarding Extended Life Together at a Distance

I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. (Isa. 42:16)

My previous pastoral letter to the synod as a whole was written on March 6. Twenty days seems like a lifetime ago. Of course, I have communicated via email, Zoom, and phone with scores and scores of individuals and groups and I sent a pastoral letter to our rostered ministers (pastors and deacons) during these last 20 days. It is clear that the world has changed in this short time and it keeps changing as we wander together through this coronavirus wilderness toward God’s unfolding future. These are fear-filled, anxiety-provoking, tragic, and confusing times, dear people of God.

Nevertheless, God is with us. God is guiding us. God promises to stay with us and to lead us by paths we have not known. “These are the things I will do,” says the Lord, “and I will not forsake them.”

Entrusting ourselves to that promise, we are finding ways to walk together on this new path, even at a physical distance from one another. We pray with and for one another, for those who are most vulnerable and marginalized during this time, and for all whose lives are touched directly by COVID-19. Even at a distance, we encourage one another, we remind one another of the powerful presence of the crucified and risen Jesus with us and in the world, and we entrust ourselves and our world to the promises of new, abundant, and lasting life that are as true now as they were a month ago. Together, we turn our attention to serving the neighbor, every neighbor, especially those who may be overlooked or set aside by others, with the cross-formed love we see and know in Jesus.

Thank you, people of God, for your willingness to put your trust in God and to walk together through this wilderness. Thank you for your openness to trying new things, for embracing new-to-you technologies and ways of being together. Thank you for being willing to experiment and fail, and for your grace with and support of one another and of those who seek to lead us forward.

And thank you, deacons, pastors, and other ministers and leaders who serve across this Indiana-Kentucky Synod and on synod staff. Every one of you stands in a long line of leaders who have accompanied and guided God’s people through intense, confusing, threatening wilderness wanderings through the centuries, reaching all the way back to Genesis. You are leading us through this particular coronavirus-induced wilderness with grit and grace, commitment and creativity, and deep, abiding trust in God’s presence in the midst of it and God’s promise to get us through it, the promise embodied in and now walking the wilderness with us in the crucified and risen Christ. Thank you. Please make sure to take care of yourselves and those who are close to you along the way.

Here are some things that are important for you to know and tend to as we continue this wilderness journey together:

• Given the CDC’s continuing recommendation that meetings of more than ten people be suspended through at least May 10th in order to continue slowing and staving the spread of the coronavirus, the Synod Executive Committee and I strongly recommend that all in-person worship and other congregational or ministry activities be suspended through the middle of May. I am aware, of course, that this pushes us through Easter Sunday toward the 6th Sunday of Easter (May 17th). The weekend of March 28, I will send a communication to our pastors and deacons (through our conference deans) offering some guidance for making decisions about worship, including Holy Communion, during this extended time of physical distancing. That letter will also be made available more generally through the synod’s website (www.iksynod.org) and social media. Should you decide to have an in-person gathering of ten or less people, it is crucial for the sake of the participants and for the common good that all appropriate COVID-19 protocols be observed, such as no touching, maintaining 6’ distance, use of sanitizing methods for hands and surfaces, etc.

Please continue to share your offerings with your congregation and your congregational mission support with the synod in any way that you can. Gospel ministry continues during this time. In fact, local and synodical ministries have intensified and many of us are actually growing ministries in service to our neighbors. If your congregation has not yet set up electronic giving, check out this website for a couple of “preferred vendors” which offer discounts for congregations of the ELCA: https://elca.org/preferredvendors. The synod uses Tithe.ly.

• In alignment with Indiana Governor Holcomb’s “stay at home” order, the synod office will remain closed at least through April 7, and possibly longer. All staff are working from home. We gather for prayer via Zoom on Wednesdays. Essential staff go into the office on Wednesday just long enough to take care of paying bills, making deposits, and other essential tasks. We have also suspended staff travel and canceled or postponed synod events/gatherings through the month of April. The best way to contact staff, including me, is via email.

The 2020 Synod Assembly has been canceled. Per the synod’s governing documents, the Synod Council will do the business work that would have come to the Assembly (including synod council membership and budget, for example). We will also work toward planning three regional one-day worship/fellowship/information sharing events in the fall, or whenever we are able to host large meetings again.

Synod staff members are providing video sermons for Sundays through mid-May. The sermons are available for download via the synod’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE5dD18sLTN2rJ2a5Za7h2w), Vimeo, and other sources each week. Deacon Cory Driver is also offering a short video lectionary reflection each Thursday, also accessible through the YouTube channel.

If you do not follow synod ministry on social media, now would be a good time to do so. By way of these media we offer links to resources for congregations and their leaders, prayers, and accompaniment and support for the people of this synod. Search for Indiana-Kentucky Synod and Bishop Bill Gafkjen on social media platforms and you should find us. Many of these resources can also be found on the synod’s website (www.iksynod.org/covid-19-resources/). Also, if you do not receive the weekly eNews, please email Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Dan Fugate (dfugate@iksynod.org) to be added to the mailing list.

It is clear that we’ve still got some distance to go through this wilderness, dear people of God. It is also clear that we, the church, and the world will all be different on the other side of this. It is so important that we go the way together, that we be gracious and gentle with one another as we each deal with the situation differently, and that we do all that we can to keep the common good and love for and service to our neighbor near the center of our commitments, right alongside our trust in the steadfast love, presence, and promise of God that we see and know in Jesus. For thus says the Lord, “By paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.”

Peace be with you,

The Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen, Bishop

I Tried to Play it Cool . . .It Didn’t Work!

After keeping me company at the office for most of the day, William was ready for some outside time and some adventure when we got home.  I could not blame him at all.  Yesterday may have been gray and rainy, but today has been all sunshine, singing birds, and blue skies.  It is just plain gorgeous out there – a perfectly lovely spring day!

Almost as soon as we walked through the front door of our house Will requested to be given permission to go on another scavenger hunt adventure with Jack.  It was music to my ears.  I tried to play it cool, but let’s be honest I don’t do “cool” very well (never have – probably never will – sigh).  They knew right away I was giddy at the prospect of them heading outside for vitamin D and exercise.  (I am their mom.  They have met me…)

I had paper and a Sharpie marker in my hand as fast as I could find them (and in our house craft supplies are always close by).  I was already mentally prepared, because I had been brainstorming new scavenger hunt ideas on my drive home from work at the church.  After all, I would much rather be thinking about things like this than worrying about global pandemics, hand sanitizer, and TP shortages. 

Less than two minutes after I had finished writing out their next scavenger hunt, the McFarland sons were off on their next adventure together – and they were EXCITED (parenting victory)!

1) Find a yellow bush.

2) Find a purple flower.

Totally not what I expected them to find. One of our neighbors has a massive inflatable Easter bunny – but hey this works too!

3) Find a huge rabbit.

4) Find an interesting stick.

Our whole family was shocked and appalled by the tree “trimming” this poor tree got last fall. Jack was particularly appalled!

5) Find something totally disgusting!

Always call before you dig!

6) Find something pink-ish.

That one was easy as long as the family goof was around!

7) Find something funny.

Jack’s paving stone from Michigan.

8) Find something you made (it has to be outside).

This one was HARD! Apparently there were not very many clouds today.

9) Find a cloud.

10) Find an impressive rock.

Reminders of our God’s presence truly are all around us – even now during these truly unprecedented times. I encourage you to keep your eyes and your hearts open.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri

Setting Sail with a Guest Blogger!

William has asked to have a go at blogging. So here is a post about one of Will’s greatest passions in this life – ships. Will loves ships. (Will is particularly fascinated with naval disasters.) Will has many, many, many models of ships. Some of his ships he has made from Legos. Some Jason has constructed using glue and a kit from the hobby store. Some Will has made using wood, nails, and glue (William wants you to know that these were a lot of work to construct). Others Will and Jack have devised using origami, paper, and markers.

Will is sharing some of his favorite ships with you today in the hopes of spreading some joy during these difficult times!

I thought that starting here was a great way of helping us keep our perspective! We have lots of models of the Titanic.
This is a cargo ship.
William has added his own caption letting you know that this is a “fake” ship meaning it came from his imagination.

William is always planning new ships and new ship designs. He will keep you posted!

Stay safe out there sailors.

Love –

William and Pastor Kerri

Seek and You Will Find

Jason and I are (and probably always will be) “those” parents.  We believe quite passionately that daily fresh air and exercise are essential to living healthy, balanced lives.  We even practice what we preach.  Each evening before supper – Jason and I go for a walk outside unless it is really cold or raining.  If the weather is unacceptable then we head to the basement treadmill for a walk.  These “weather rules” are rules I have created, because I hate being either wet or cold.  (You may have noticed all of the wool hats and scarves!) Jason seems to be impervious to both!

We have always encouraged (sometimes cruelly demanded that) our beloved sons get outside every single day too – unless the weather is just really, really rotten. 

We try to make outside time as fun as possible.  Jack and Will own bikes, scooters, and an assortment of skateboards.  They have swings and their very own shed in our backyard that is all theirs.  (It is a very nice shed!)  The shed contains all sorts of cool boy items in it from chalk to weaponry to nails and hammers and the items needed for constructing a fort that I could have only dreamed of constructing as a kid.  They spend a fair bit of time outside scootering, skateboarding, kicking balls, shooting arrows, pounding nails, and tackling each other.  They can be “old school” boys.

This morning before I left for the church I left them with an extra special mission.  It was a scavenger hunt. (I did NOT call it a God Sighting Hunt – even though that may have been what it was . . .) Jack and Will did it this afternoon and Jason and I will do it this evening during our walk (if the rain holds off long enough.)

I love seeing the world from their perspective. 

Nice hat!
  1. Find a person. (I appreciated how seriously they took social distancing!)

2. Find a yellow flower.

3. Find something really weird! (Jack)

the leaves (not the boy’s hand)

3. Find something really weird! (Will)

A worm! They did not eat the worm, but you could eat a worm. Apparently they are a decent source of protein . . .

4. Find something you could eat (but you don’t have to eat it)!

There are puddles everywhere these rainy spring days!

5. Find some water.

6. Find a really cool tree.

Jack and Will want you to know it is the very busy intersection that is dangerous NOT the Baptist Church sign that is dangerous! We love our Baptist sisters and brothers in Christ.

7. Find something dangerous.

The green on the male mallard duck’s head and neck.

8. Find something green (not grass).

The boys both agreed that the dog was beautiful.

9. Find something beautiful.

The huge purple dump truck was noisy and surprising.

10. Find something surprising.

I know these are incredibly challenging and even frightening times.  I know our world has been turned upside down and inside out.  We don’t know when things will get back to normal or how long it is going to take to flatten the curve. 

I encourage you to take some time today and every single day to notice the beauty of God’s world too. Maybe you will want to join us in these scavenger hunts. We plan on doing several over the next coming weeks.

In spite of all of the scary news – our world is still an awfully lovely place. The world in which we live is full of reminders of God’s love and God’s constant presence with us.

You are truly all in my heart, thoughts, and prayers.

In Christ and With Love –

Pastor Kerri

Feeling Homesick on a Sunday

Sunday wasn’t the easiest day for me.   In spite of getting to spend the day with my beloved and truly amazingly awesome and shockingly patient and loving nuclear family – I was not where I wanted to be. 

I wanted to be at Saint Stephen.  But I didn’t just want to be at the church.  I wanted to be surrounded by and immersed in our vibrant Christian community.

Trunk and Treat at Saint Stephen 2019

I wanted to be matching wits with my Sunday school class.  I wanted to be passing the peace.  I wanted to be singing God’s praises with my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I wanted to sit with the children of our Christian community for the children’s sermon.  I wanted to share the Good News of God’s grace, love, and mercy with you.  I wanted to officiate Holy Communion.   I wanted to receive Holy Communion.  I wanted to hang out with everyone in the fellowship hall after worship just so we could talk and be together.  I wanted to be with my people, and I really wanted to hear how you are all doing!  

Two of my incredibly awesome Sunday school students at
Trunk and Treat 2019!

Quite simply – I wanted to be with all of you – really – really badly.

The fellowship hall just the way I love it – full of Lutherans!

In spite of being at home.  I realized that I was feeling seriously homesick!

Look at those faces!

I wanted my life – our lives – to be carrying on like they have for over nine years now.  (I am one of those people who stink at change.  I am “change averse.”  I go the bed at the same time 7 days a week.  I have literally knit the same washcloth pattern over 1,000 times.)

I was restless and just plain not very happy.  I am sure that the McFarland men found me rather annoying.  (Thankfully – for the future happiness and continued success of – what I hope will be our ongoing relationships – they refrained from telling me just how annoying I was!)  

So – we played games like Yahtzee and Scrabble.  (Jack and Will skunked me!)  We did some yard work.  I played on the swing set in our back yard with Will.  (I have to say – adults should probably go swinging more often – it feels great!)  Will and I played “Simon Says.”  Jason and I read.  Jack and Will did not read.  Will made Lego ships.  Jack made art.  I did some knitting.

Jason’s spring kale

And then we went to Broad Run Park later in the afternoon.  The paved trails there mean that Jack and Will can absolutely fly on their skateboard and scooter.  Sadly – the paved trails don’t make me any faster.  I remain a middle aged pastor, but hey you can’t win them all!  

We walked, scootered, and skateboarded for a bit and then we headed to the river to look for river glass.  I have had a thing for looking for sea glass or river glass or lake glass since I was a kid, and I have converted/convinced/brainwashed my family that this is a cool pastime. 

Treasure!

It was just what I needed to soothe my tattered soul.  Wandering along the muddy, rocky shore of the river I soon I felt much more peaceful and centered.  I noticed the signs of spring literally springing up all around me.  I heard the birds singing.  I heard the distant voices of other families getting some fresh air.  I watched the muddy water flowing in the river.  I observed my sons and my husband and was reminded of what incredible blessings from God they truly are (just don’t tell them I told you that!).   I found broken, busted up pieces of glass that had been smoothed by the tumbling river water.  I remembered that God was with me all of the time. 

I know it is cliché – but I found myself singing softly to myself “when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul . . . “ 

“When Peace Like a River” has always been one of my favorite hymns.  And as I was singing it to myself – I realized I could hear my sisters and brothers in Christ singing it right along with me.  I could hear Brenda playing.  I could hear Matt and Lori right behind me in church singing.  I could hear Bill and Fred singing and Charlie and Phyllis too.  I could hear Pat, Paul, Rod, Cheryl, Bobby, Clint, and Rita joining in from the other side of the sanctuary along with Marilyn and Steve and Karen and Glenn.  I could hear Buddy and Peggy and Elaine and Marcia from my side of the church . . . I could hear ALL of you (I miss you all so much I thought about listing all of you – but then decided that maybe I was getting a little weird).  I could hear all of you – because I have literally worshipped with you 100’s of times and we have sung 1,000’s of hymns together. 

We are a vibrant, loving, blessed Christian community.  I truly do give God thanks for each and every single one of you.  I am thinking of you and I am praying for you.  You are in my heart.

We will gather together in person for worship again.  In the meantime – I truly do pray that it is well with your souls.  And remember – our loving Lord is with us always – holding us in the palm of his hand.

In Christ and with Love –

Pastor Kerri