A Date at the Convent

One afternoon in Valladolid Jason and I got all wild and crazy and went for a date all by ourselves for a few hours.  In true nerdy-pastor fashion I chose the local convent followed by lunch at the top-rated vegetarian restaurant in town.  It seems that you can take the pastor out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pastor out of her!

The Templo de San Bernardino and the adjacent Convent of Sisal were constructed between 1552 and 1560. 

I cannot get over the age of the churches in Mexico.  As we walk through these churches I am struck over and over again by all of the thousands and thousands of Christians who have worshipped our Lord in these churches before me.  Think of all of the baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, first communions, and worship services that have been celebrated over the past 400 years. 

I have had the incredible blessing and honor baptizing dozens and dozens of my sisters and brothers in Christ since becoming a pastor.  Imagine how many people have been welcomed into our Christian family at this baptismal font!

The churches are incredibly beautiful – but I am also incredibly thankful that I don’t have to worry about helping care for a church that is over 400 years old.  I cannot imagine what it is like to oversee the care and upkeep of a church that is this old.  The ceilings are all towering and the walls are all thicker than I am tall!  The Property and Grounds Committee must have nerves of steel and should all qualify for sainthood.

And it isn’t just the church itself that must take great care.  The church and convent are filled with beautiful religious art. 

Our date at the covent was a delight!  A date at the convent turned out to be a great way to spend our afternoon.

Guess Who Came to Supper

Jack and William approach life very differently than I do.  I like things neat and orderly.  They both delight in chaos and clutter.  I love a good plan and a carefully prepared to-do list thrills me.  They still fly by the seat of their pants. 

I think a well rounded diet should contain essentials like fruits, vegetables, and water.  William has spent the last two weeks trying very, very hard to convince Jason and me to let him live on chocolate chip cookies, Ritz crackers, and Coke.  Without a doubt – William will spend the next four weeks continuing his regular (hourly) petitions to include Coke and chocolate chip cookies into what Jason and I deem to be “healthy foods” while we just as stubbornly insist on disgusting fruits, vegetables, and water.

I may refuse to give in on things like what I believe are a healthy diet, but William and Jack have changed their mother in truly dramatic – even shocking ways.  Jack even has photographic evidence to prove that I am capable of change!

Last week at Casa Hamaca while we were waiting for our supper to arrive – Jack got a little bored and lifted a board on the stone wall next to his seat.  We all glanced under the board – three of us saw a “leaf,” but Jason, the family observer, said “is that a scorpion?”

“No way,” – said my brain “that was a leaf.  We have NOT been dining for the last week with a scorpion!”

As it turns out – both Jason and I were right.  It wasn’t just one scorpion under that board it was two, and the next morning when we checked again there were three scorpions under the board.

Rather than running for the hills, grabbing an industrial sized-can of Raid, or weeping tears of despair, later that evening William actually talked me into lifting up the board once more to take a peak at the scorpions.  Talk about a major change.

I still think that scorpions are creepy looking.  I will still give them plenty of room.  I still check my shoes carefully for invaders every single time before putting them on, but well – even scorpions are God’s creatures and God said that they were good too.  

Oh how the mighty (arrogant) fall flat on their faces!  About two hours after publishing my post on my newfound appreciation for God’s less cuddly creatures I had another encounter with nature.  We were playing on the beach exploring the tide pools looking at tiny fish, searching for hermit crabs, and celebrating William’s talent for eel spotting when we realized that the sun was setting and it was time to head home for the evening.  I volunteered to go get Jack who was down the beach a ways from us while Jason stayed with William.

As I walked along I came to an area of the beach with less sand and more vegetation, but my focus was on Jack and what a wonderful day we had experienced together on the beach.  Then I felt an odd sensation on my ankles and I glanced down, and my friends, it was a snake!  A SNAKE!  A FIVE FOOT LONG SNAKE had slithered right across both of my ankles.  I am not a screamer, but I did in fact scream loudly enough that Jack heard me over the crashing of the waves from 400 ft away.  Poor Jack.

I actually experienced shock and couldn’t walk for a few minutes, but Jason has listened to my description of the snake and has repeatedly reassured me that my life was never in danger.  It was a harmless salmon-bellied racer.

Casa de los Venados

“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

We human beings tend divide ourselves into groups and categories.  Liberal or conservative.  Lutheran or Baptist.  Red or blue.  Apple or Android.  Knitters do the same thing.  Some knitters are product knitters while others are process knitters. 

Product knitters are motivated to knit for the beautiful, custom made sweaters, scarves, shawls, and hats that come off their needles.  Process knitters knit to feel the yarn flow through their fingers and for the way the rhythm of stitch after stitch can be a soothing form of meditation for them.

I am a process knitter.  The end product matters to me, but not nearly as much as the process of knitting itself.  Already this year I have made well over 250 washcloths, because what matters to me the most are the soothing rhythm of the stitches, the feel of the yarn in my hands, the time it gives me to think, the ability to play with color, and the way knitting slows me down and quiets my mind and soul.  I often read and pray while knitting and write sermons with my knitting close by.

The process of knitting has proven to be endlessly entertaining and delightful to me.  I have been knitting daily for over twenty years and still find it fascinating. 

When I am knitting I am more present in the moment.  I am more focused.  I am better able to listen.  I know I am far more patient.  I am kinder and even perhaps more gracious.  Knitting makes me a better person. 

I am a proud, committed fiber freak, but today even I had my socks knocked off by some fiber artists’ patience and dedication to their art.

Today when we were touring Casa de los Venados (House of the Deer) which is a private home in Valladolid with a stunning collection of Mexican folk art, I was not surprisingly – knitting during our tour. 

It was our second tour of the week and my fifth tour since Jason introduced me to the collection on our last trip.  There are over 3,000 pieces in the collection and each time we go back I notice something new that delights and intrigues me.

Today our tour guide David picked up a beautiful pillow off of the couch and asked me with a mischievous grin on his face – “How long do you think this took to make?”

Seeing David’s grin – and knowing that we were in a house full of folk art – I guessed 60 hours. 

“No,” David replied, “it took the weaver seven months.”

Imagine that. 

Imagine spending seven months of your life weaving a piece of cloth about twenty-two inches by twenty-two inches. 

Imagine the focus that would take.  Imagine the dedication.  Imagine the patience.  Imagine the lessons you would learn about yourself.  Imagine the time you would have to pray and listen for God’s response.

When was the last time you set aside some time in your life to pray and to listen for God’s response? 

When was the last time you chose an activity that allowed you the time and freedom to be still and to know that the Lord God almighty is your God?


“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”  – Isaiah 55:12

When I was little one of my favorite things to do was play outside.  I spent countless hours playing in my sandbox, and I particularly loved playing with water.  I would fill all sorts of containers with water, leaves, grass, berries, flower petals, and just about anything else I could find outside.  I loved pretending that I was a pioneer preparing for the long, dangerous winter ahead.  I was content for hour after hour playing this way.

Jack and William also love playing outside, but their play is decidedly more stereotypically boyish.  They especially like to bash, bang, and bust stuff open.  They are happiest if they are doing something at least slightly dangerous with rocks and sharp objects.  They have a talent for finding things to do that make their mom just a little bit nervous – and I have been working hard on developing a tolerance for this sort of thing over the last 14 years. 

On Wednesday after our zoo tour Jack and William found an inviting wooded area to explore filled with coconut palms.  Soon Jack had, with great determination and impressive hand-eye coordination, managed to knock a couple of coconuts out of the coconut trees.  Next up came the bashing, banging, and busting as they set about trying to open their coconuts with nothing more than their hands, some rocks, and shear force of will.

As you can see – they succeeded!  Victory was theirs.    

And then on Thursday morning Jack and William made friends with the gardener at Casa Hamaca who taught them how to open coconuts with an actual machete. 

Apparently coconut bashing is a universal language spoken by all boys, because when he saw Jack and William searching the gardens for coconuts he knew exactly what they were up to and set about helping them right away.  He speaks no English and Jason (our Spanish speaker) was off at the market with our host Dennis and yet we had no problem communicating in the language of “coconut bashing.”

Soon we had a new friend and a yummy very fresh snack!

If you ever get the opportunity to bash a coconut – William and Jack highly recommend it.  We already have plans to do it again tomorrow with Jack’s newly purchased machete!

A Trip to the Zoo

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”- Psalm 104:24

On Wednesday we went to the Valladolid Zoo.  It was delightful and impressive.  I was having a wonderful time taking in all of the exotic creatures like the scarlet macaws,  pumas, crocodiles, monkeys, and jaguars until my beloved husband turned to me and stated in his matter of fact way that all of these “exotic” creatures are indigenous to the area. 

“Indigenous to the area!  These animals can kill my children.  They can’t be indigenous to Valladolid.  They belong in a zoo” were my less than brilliant thoughts.

In that moment I thought I might need to have a quiet lie down near the jaguar enclosure to gather my composure!  I didn’t though, because while jaguars are stunningly beautiful they are also massive, intimidating, and nothing like our neighbors’ cats back home.  They could eat you for breakfast or at least it looks like they could.

After I pulled myself together, we finished our zoo tour.  Jack made friends with the coyote who challenged him to a foot race.

We met an adorable newborn baby peccary that Jack named “Skippy,” because he didn’t walk – he skipped! 

William made friends with the monkeys who spent a long time showing off all of their magnificent climbing skills just for him. 

We met the crocodiles who frankly looked more sinister and hungry now that I know they are my neighbors for the next six weeks.

More than once since we have had our sons, I have declared to Jason that it felt like we were living in a zoo, and apparently now we are!

It is so beautiful here, but we are far from our natural habitat.

Our God’s creativity continues to dazzle and amaze us with its diversity.  We are seeing God’s handiwork everywhere!

Chichen Itza

On Monday morning we were once again up bright and early.  Valladolid may be on Central Time, but the McFarlands are all still very much on Eastern Daylight Time.  Not to mention the fact that Jack and Jason have spent the last 9 months getting up at 5:30 AM.  (Jack’s mother is sadly a much less dedicated parent and has not been getting up at 5:30 AM even though she loves him very, very much!) 

Monday was our day to explore the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza

An early start worked very much in our favor.  The day was sunny and the projected high temperature was going to be in the upper 90’s.  Chichen Itza offers very little shade to protect (delicate, wimpy) Lutheran pastors from Louisville from the scorching sun.

We arrived at Chichen Itza by colectivo which is a shared van.  Almost everyone else riding with us was headed to Chichen Itza to work for the day.  I cannot imagine doing physical labor in this heat!  I just about melted into a puddle from carrying William for half a mile.

Charlie Boston told us that we would be impressed by Chichen Itza and he was right.  It is an amazingly impressive archeological site.  And it is popular – there were people everywhere speaking every language under the sun – or so it seemed to me.  It was like a Tower of Babel moment.

We had a truly wonderful, engaging guide named Arturo who was particularly great with William.  He was full of cool facts and fun information and our 2 hour tour just flew by.  I am pretty sure that I spent more than half of our tour saying not so brilliant things like “wow” – “cool” – and “amazing,” and I may have spent the other half with my mouth hanging ajar in awe.

You hear a lot about how brilliant the ancient Maya were with astronomy and the calendar, but they absolutely rocked at acoustics too.  In the ball field if you clap your hands you hear 8 echoes.  If you clap your hands standing near the central acropolis the echo actually sounds like a bird singing!  Like I said – wow!  Modern day church architects could take a lesson from the ancient Maya on acoustics.

When Arturo learned that William was born on December 21, 2012 – last day of the Maya calendar – he informed William that he probably would have been chosen to be sacrificed to the Maya gods.  The look on WIll’s face was absolutely priceless, because we had already seen depictions of several headless warriors, ball players, and men who had been offered as sacrifices.  William does not think that he would like to have been sacrificed to the Maya gods.

William loved seeing the carved snakes and was intrigued by the El Caracol which is an ancient planetarium not unlike the one our family visits at the University of Louisville almost every single weekend.

We are all having a wonderful time and are learning so much.

All God’s Creatures

We arrived safely in Mexico on Friday evening after leaving home dark and early at 5:30 am.  (Thank you Marilyn for the ride to the airport.  It was such a blessing to have a sister in Christ send us off on our adventure to Mexico with lots of warm hugs!)

William loved all of the modes of transportation that came with our long day of travel.  We traveled in a minivan, planes, a train, a bus, a taxi, and by using our feet!  Well, William wasn’t that fond of the walking.  He thinks that we are doing too much of that!  He has suggested more than once that Jason look into renting a car so that we don’t have to do so much of “this exercising stuff.”  I suggested gently and with love that William remember who his parents are and that he keep walking!

Saturday we visited our first Maya archaeological site – Ek Balam.  Jason, Jack, and I were looking forward to exploring the ancient ruins, but William was looking forward to finding some “creatures.”  As it turned out we all had a great time.  The ancient ruins were as impressively beautiful as I remembered them to be and the vegetation just as lush and green, and there were amazing creatures galore.

Just as we entered the archaeological site we encountered our first creature – a tarantula.  I am so thankful that we don’t have creatures of this eight-legged variety wandering around at home.  It seemed huge to me.

Next up came iguana after iguana after iguana.  Ek Balam has a truly impressive population of iguanas.  Everywhere we looked there were iguanas and they were not afraid of us.  We were able to get quite close.  William couldn’t quite believe that the iguanas were just allowed to wander around in the wild like that. 

Resting right next to the acropolis was a beautiful hawk.  It had been injured, but the employees reassured a very concerned William that a vet had been called. 

Finally Jack spotted some very strange wild creatures who were clearly not from Mexico wandering around Ek Balam from his precarious perch at the top of one of the ancient buildings.

The Song

“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

As Christians we believe God is with us all of the time. We know God is active in the world and in our lives. God is very near, but it takes practice to see God. It takes practice to see God, because we are so busy and so focused on the noisy demands of our daily lives that we often fail to see God and God’s presence. Our busyness blinds us to God’s presence.

One of the primary goals of my sabbatical is to spend time seeking God’s presence in my daily life. I have come to think of these insights as “God sightings.”

God sightings are sort of like bird watching only instead of keeping an eye out for cardinals, hawks, or sparrows – I keep, my eyes open for God’s presence in my life.

(I know that I have talked a lot about God sightings these past few months. In my defense, I have been thinking about God sightings even more than I have been talking about them.)

Sunday was a particularly busy day for me. It was filled was hustle and bustle and activity.   As soon as my feet hit the ground in the morning, I hurried from one task to the next. I spent the early morning double checking things and chatting and making sure that everything was ready. We celebrated and gave thanks for our wonderful Sunday school teachers.   I checked in with the three amazing confirmands. I talked to Jack, and visited lots of delightful Lutherans. I greeted our extended family. I gave William a hug and Jack what I hoped was an encouraging smile before getting ready to lead worship with my mind abuzz with last minute details. Then I spent the first part of the worship service hoping I wouldn’t ugly cry during Jack, Lilly, and Kayleigh’s confirmation, and second half hoping that the caterer would arrive on time.

I was definitely in “pastor” and “mom” mode and not in worshipper mode on Sunday morning, but that all changed at the end of the worship service when my sisters and brothers in Christ slowed me way down with a truly beautiful song – sung with love and kindness and such grace.   A song that was and is a blessing.

As I stood there with Jason, Jack, and a wiggling, mischievous William, I felt so loved, so blessed, so thankful, and I saw God’s powerful presence in my life. You took my breath away!

I didn’t have a camera to snap a picture for the blog, but I carry a picture of all of you in my heart. My Saint Stephen family was my first sabbatical God sighting, and I give our Lord thanks for all of my sisters and brothers in Christ.   I so love being your pastor! You are an amazing gift from God.

In Christ –

Pastor Kerri