Posts Tagged ‘in-laws’

When it Rains it Floods…and Makes Lightening

 

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Living in Texas has had its ups and downs for me. I’ve had the joy of getting better acquainted with my in-laws, and the honor of being with my mother-in-law in her dying days. I’ve enjoyed spending time outdoors more days out of the year. But I’ve also had the worry of drought, and the terror of lightening striking my house.

Lately we’ve had massive rains and severe flooding near us and my worry and terror leftover from past calamities have crept back up on me.

We were in Houston the other night with flash-flood warnings blaring from smart phones all night. The power at my father-in-law’s house went way down low–I guess you call it a brown-out–but it never went out completely. It was an eery and restless night.

The next morning, interstates and schools were closed all over the metropolis. I was supposed to go to a conference, but I was prevented from making the trip.

We were able to return home safely, and sleep in our own beds the next night. But more rains came that night too. And there were more flash-flood warnings. And there was lightening–violent outbursts of shocking, white light filling the sky, penetrating the darkness of my bedroom.

The lightening that Tuesday night took me back to that night of the lightening striking my house. My breath felt shallow, my heart was in panic mode. I got out of bed–sleep was not even an option at that point–and tried to outsmart the flashes interrupting the darkness by lighting a candle, and I sang and played on my ukulele until the sun showed up Wednesday morning.

The next few days remained edgy for me. The next couple of nights I defied the wet of rains and floods by lighting a fire in my backyard. This was my own little way of trying to take back some measure of control over elements that are actually far beyond my reach.

Saturday came and I needed to pull myself together to prepare a sermon. I had read and re-read the Gospel appointed for Sunday, and had given some thought to my message. But I needed to get to it for real, so I sat down and read all four of the scriptures that were appointed.

[Sidebar: The Lutheran tradition of which I am a part generally uses a 3-year cycle of scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. Each Sunday has four readings appointed; ordinarily these include an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle (or letter), and a New Testament Gospel.]

And I tell you, I know that no cycle of readings can be perfect, but I am so grateful for the tradition of having a lectionary. It helps tremendously to stretch me to read parts of the Bible that I might otherwise overlook. I mean, favorites are favorites for a reason and worth reading and re-reading, so that’s often what I do when I approach scripture on my own.

But Saturday was a shining example of  how my faith, my life, are enhanced by having a lectionary. I would not have happened upon Psalm 29 by chance. But it was appointed for this past Sunday. And the words of that Psalm washed over me with peace and comfort.

Here are some nuggets:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” –Psalm 29:3-4

“The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” –Psalm 29:7

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” –Psalm 29:10-11

These words spoke to me in my uneasiness about the weather. For all of the out-of-control I feel, God is bigger yet than those flashes of flooding and of lightening. And I laugh at myself trying to defy the elements, lighting my candles and fires, for God is even above my vanity, my folly, my fires.

I don’t know exactly what it means that God is above all these things. I shudder when some attribute vengeance to God, suggesting that God sent floods to discipline God’s created people. I don’t perceive God as working that way.

For me comfort comes from knowing that God is steadfast. God is not shaken by even the most aggressive tempests. God’s love is a constant on which I can rely–rain or shine.

I am in awe of the work of brothers and sisters in the faith who have woven together lectionaries. I am thankful for this Psalm that spoke to me in the middle of the rain. And I am relaxing into the peace that comes from knowing that God is enthroned over the floods and lightening.

You Can’t Kid a Kidder | Remembering My Mother-in-Law

 

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker

One of the most surprising attributes of my Mother-in-Law, Elaine was her sense of humor. Part of why it surprised me was because before I got married I bought into a lot of the bad press that mothers-in-law get. But mostly why it surprised me was because she was kind-of stealth with her humor.

Here’s the thing, I’m a funny person. Hilarious really. And I love to give people a hard time. You can tell you’ve gotten in good with me if I start joking around with you.

So, you would think I would recognize it when someone else is joking with me, right?

Well, not with Elaine.

She was kind and gracious, yet she was very serious a great deal of the time. I mean, there were always meals to plan and grocery trips to orchestrate and chores she needed us to do around the house. We spent a good deal of time around the kitchen table planning our days together–all very serious and important planning.

So, every once in a while I would try to introduce a little levity into the seriously important planning. I might joke about serving a food my mother-in-law didn’t like, or I’d suggest adding something ridiculous to the grocery list.

Then, without breaking her serious demeanor, Elaine would respond. Her responses sounded like she took me seriously.

I would clarify, “You know I’m just messing with you, right?”

“I know,” she would grin, “I was messing with you back.”

And just like that she would get me every time!

She was so serious, you see. But that was all part of the craft of her stealthy humor. She would play along as if she missed my joke, all the while plotting to turn the joke on me.

They say you can’t kid a kidder. And maybe that’s my problem. I try so hard to be the funny one that I miss other people setting me up!

I miss laughing with Elaine, joking with one another, and sharing the hilarities of life with each other. She defied the stereotypes and became someone with whom I could enjoy spending time.

Maybe you can’t kid a kidder…but that never stopped Elaine from trying, and it turns out, she still has me laughing about it all!

Risk, Loss, and Gain -or- What I Gained from Losing

I lost my deaconess pin. Again. And I started on a downward spiral of berating myself for losing something so special. Blessedly, before I got too far down, I interrupted myself and was able to reframe the loss in a way that gave me peace.

Don’t get me wrong, the deaconess pin—made of real silver—is very special. I received it as part of the consecration rite in which I officially became a deaconess. Each of us, as deaconess students, look forward to the day when we will get to wear the pin.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples' feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The deaconess pin is an important reminder of our servant-hearted ministry. And wearing the pin is a great conversation starter with folks who don’t know about our ministry, or about the love of Jesus—the source and model of our serving.

But sometimes even important things get lost.

What really turned around my thinking about losing my deaconess pin this time (it is the third pin I’ve lost), was when I paused and remembered the stories of other deaconesses I admire who have lost pins more than once. “I’m in good company,” I told myself.

What’s more, part of why I lost my pin was because I was wearing it a lot. I wore it everyday (and every night) that I went to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the hospital before she died. I wore it everyday that I planned meals for the Tinker family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death and funeral.

I wore it to remind myself that what I was doing was, in fact, ministry. It wasn’t some ground-breaking innovation in church-work, nonetheless it was ministry. It was ordinary, everyday ministry.

So, the clincher for me was the realization that I lost my pin because I was…using it.

It reminded me of my attitude about the “good dishes.” I know some people have the idea that you don’t want to use the good dishes because something might happen to them!

But my thinking is, if I’m never gonna use my good dishes, then why do I have them? What good are they?

Not much, not really.

I mean, sure they can sit there and look pretty. But tucked away in a china cabinet, they’ll be quickly forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. And even their beauty will fade into the background.

They will be safe though.

Of course, my deaconess pin, like the good dishes, was vulnerable by being used so much.

But what good is it if I don’t wear it? It would be safe in one sense, but not wearing it is its own kind of loss.

And you know all those nights I spent with Elaine? I made myself vulnerable by being of service in that way—my sleep was often interrupted, I was away from my husband and son, and I lived out of a couple of bags for 3 1/2 weeks.

Most of all though, by being there with Elaine—by spending so very much time with her—I came to care more and more deeply for her. And while that bond being strengthened was its own reward, it also made me more vulnerable to the pain of losing her.

But I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the finest china. No amount of silver could replace the ways my life was enriched by being there with Elaine in that time.

I took risks with that pin. And I lost it. But what I gained made it all worthwhile.

Such a Time as This

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My mother-in-law has been having serious health issues that have landed her in the hospital. I’ve come to Houston (where my in-laws live) to be part of my mother-in-law’s care team.

There’s nothing like caring for a sick mother-in-law to bring out the responsible adult in me.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting with my in-laws and I love them dearly.

But, at times, I have behaved, well, like a child, around them. I’m not proud of it, but I know I can be stubborn and rebellious when my elders try to offer guidance or correction.

Now though, with my mother-in-law’s condition being so serious, I am all in.

I can’t explain how exactly I am able to be so fully present as I am now, but I have this incredible peace about being here to help.

It is as if everything in my life up to this point has worked together to prepare me to be right here, right now. I’m sure that sounds strange. But looking back on so much I have lived through and learned I can see how those threads are woven together to clothe me for this time.

The timing alone is perfect. I’m between preaching gigs and between writing deadlines. I’ve relaxed a lot about my rigid online publishing schedule. I’ve done some important delegating. All of these factors allow me the freedom to be right where I am.

But on a deeper level, my spirit is prepared to be here.

I have felt a certain restlessness lately. I came to Texas somewhat reluctantly, then I grew to appreciate it–in large part because of the support my in-laws offered me. But as the time here wore on, I began to feel bound by being here. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And that longing in my spirit, that longing for purpose, is fulfilled in this time.

Somehow, even my resistance to being bound is oddly sated by the fact that I am but itinerant here in Houston. I go back and forth from my in-laws’ house to the hospital with a couple of bags with just enough of my worldly possessions to get by with.

My sister-in-law joked the other day about me being a gypsy. I kind-of liked that.

I can leave any time I choose.

And yet, I choose to be here.

I wish I didn’t need the freedom to “opt out” as badly as I do. But it is that freedom to go that gives weight and meaning to my decision to stay.

And as much as I love my dear husband, I have always felt like I am lucky to have him and never quite was all that certain what exactly I had to offer him. I know my worth isn’t defined by a single act and there are probably more reasons than I can understand about why he loves me back.

Still, this experience of being here now, helping as I am…I think perhaps, at least in part, that I became a Tinker for such a time as this.

 

My Outpost with the In-Laws

20130527-161100.jpgYou don’t just marry your husband, you marry his family!

I suppose some would take exception to this, particularly if the in-law relationship is strained. But for me it is a true and welcome arrangement. Just as my affection for my husband has grown over the past 18 years of marriage, my affection for his family has grown too. Particularly since moving to Texas a year ago, my parents-in-law have nurtured me in ways I never would have expected. Their home has become an outpost for me in my new state.

Our Journey To Texas

My husband and I are from different states. He is (mostly) from Texas and that’s where most of his family still lives. I’m from Ohio and that’s where most of my family still lives. We met in my home state of Ohio when my husband was in seminary. In our early married life we lived a number of years in Indiana, and a short time in Florida. Throughout all that time we always talked about getting back to Ohio–my family was there and my husband had put down roots there as well.

Finally we made it back to Ohio when my son was a toddler. It was everything I thought it would be for getting reconnected with my family. My parents and brother made it to every birthday party for my son, and we got to see each of them at regular intervals in between. I got to go to events for my extended family–weddings, funerals, holidays, family reunions, and more. I was finally home again!

I really thought I would be in Ohio for the rest of my life. When it was time for my husband to find a new congregation to serve as pastor, we tried very hard to find a match in Ohio. Meanwhile, we agreed it would be okay to do some looking in Texas too. I didn’t really take the Texas thing very seriously though. I was sure I was “home” in Ohio, where I belonged and didn’t really want to think about leaving.

The more we talked about it though, my husband made a strong case for getting back to Texas to be near his family. He made a really positive connection with the staff of the synod where we are now serving. Soon after that, this beautiful match came together with our current church in rural Texas. And to top it all off our current church is only 1 1/2 hours away from my husband’s parents.

My Attitude in the Beginning

Objectively, I know this is just part of the price of marrying a Texan–we will never get to live near both of our families at the same time. Naturally, it is only fair that my husband should get a turn living near his family, right?

While I recognize the realities of it, the move to Texas was rather disorienting emotionally. I didn’t take very well to the idea of being uprooted from my home state and my family all over again.

People tried to cheer me up, “Your husband’s family is your family too!”

I have always appreciated my in-laws and enjoyed spending time with them. There have been normal tensions of learning their expectations, but never anything we couldn’t all have a laugh about later. Overall, I’ve had a pretty good relationship with them.

Still, the idea of trading them for my family just didn’t seem like a fair deal. I knew them as well as I could having seen them once or twice a year over the course of almost 20 years of being involved with their son. But I didn’t know them like I knew my own family! And they couldn’t replace my family!

His Family IS My Family

In the interview process we had stayed with my in-laws on two different trips, and when we first moved down we stopped for a couple of nights to stay with them before we completed our journey to our new town. Their hospitality, and their home were familiar things to me in this new state.

After we made the move we seemed to find frequent excuses to make the one-and-a-half hour drive back to Houston to visit with my in-laws. I found that it wasn’t just my husband making excuses to see them, but I was too. I liked being with my in-laws and getting to know them better. Seeing them more frequently meant we could bond more than ever.

I hesitated to say much to my in-laws about the challenges of the move. I didn’t want to “mess with Texas” and I knew they were so excited to have their youngest son back in Texas. But I had become comfortable enough with them that one day I just blurted out a litany of unpacking woes. I shared that I had kind-of stalled out on unpacking having unpacked enough to get by, but not enough to feel really at home.

Without giving it much thought, I rattled off a list of things–mostly kitchen stuff–that I had not yet unpacked that would make life so much easier! The next morning when I came down to breakfast there was a small assembly of exactly the types of things I was missing. My mother-in-law gathered these duplicates from her own kitchen for us to borrow as long as we needed them.

The kitchen stuff was a big help, of course, and I also came to a new appreciation for my in-laws through the whole exchange. It turned out they were not upset by my rant about how hard the move was for me. Beyond that though, they showed that they cared how I was really. Folks for whom I don’t have to pretend to be okay, they’re my people.

So, even though I don’t get to be near the family I grew up with, my husband’s family is my family. I continue to look for excuses to visit them and draw comfort and strength from being with them. I’m feeling more at home in our new town now that we’ve been here for a year, but my in-law’s home is still my outpost where I can go and relax and be myself.

Where are your outposts in life? Who are the people you can be yourself with?