Pastor’s Blog

Charlene Ruth Beethoven

On Thursday, we celebrated the life of Charlene Ruth Beethoven as we proclaimed the hope of resurrection. Char and I first met at the beginning of our second semester at UVA. I had not yet become a part of the Wesley Foundation or Wesley Memorial UMC. I was still actively engaged with conference youth activities. I wanted to go to a retreat on Christian ministry as a career at Blackstone but didn’t have a ride. Another friend—Mike Campbell at R-MC in Ashland–put me in touch with Steve Turner, who was getting a ride to the retreat from Charlene. Steve introduced us and we discovered we were both in Dan Via’s Intro to the New Testament class. Riding to the retreat and back was an amazing experience. We sang practically the whole roundtrip. In fact, I was committed to join the choir at WMUMC before I had ever attended. This led naturally to being a part of the Wesley Foundation, a significant turning point in my life.

At the service, one of the three non-clergy to speak in witness spoke of Char as a “restorer.” She had welcomed him in to the fold of her sons’ friends which meant for all intents and purposes being welcomed into her family. He spoke of how she helped mend the crack in his foundation largely by being herself which meant to embrace people and receive them joyously no matter what they might have done in life. This is grace in action.

We all know of Char’s eloquence in the pulpit, of the beautiful weddings she celebrated, of the magnificent and almost unending table she spread, and so much more. I also know of the depth of her spirit. While decades-long friends, Char and I also served as pastors to one another. Even when the miles on I-95 were too tough to travel, we spoke on the phone, listening to one another, asking the questions that helped lead to discernment, offering challenges from different perspectives. We heard each other’s grief and pain. We celebrated together. In gatherings, I often sat at the edge of the circle—as I often do—observing the breadth of her embrace of everyone. I watched as I also knew her insecurities and fears which only made the whole of Charlene more beautiful. She was, and is, a deeply complicated woman with so many rich textures and tones in the folds of her life. I see in her an intricate patterned weaving where the yarns are varied in hue and texture. I hear her in a glorious melody enhanced with haunting harmonies. I look into the pools of her brown eyes and see love.

That love will never leave me. She is a part not only of the fabric of my life; she is part of the dance of our God who is ever moving in the give and take of grace—pure concern for the other. We will continue to dance together.

From dust we have come; to dust we shall return. And in that dust we are with God with is the very ground of our being.

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Charlene Ruth Beethoven

On Thursday, we celebrated the life of Charlene Ruth Beethoven as we proclaimed the hope of resurrection. Char and I first met at the beginning of our second semester at UVA. I had not yet become a part of the Wesley Foundation or Wesley Memorial UMC. I was still actively engaged with conference youth activities. I wanted to go to a retreat on Christian ministry as a career at Blackstone but didn’t have a ride. Another friend—Mike Campbell at R-MC in Ashland–put me in touch with Steve Turner, who was getting a ride to the retreat from Charlene. Steve introduced us and we discovered we were both in Dan Via’s Intro to the New Testament class. Riding to the retreat and back was an amazing experience. We sang practically the whole roundtrip. In fact, I was committed to join the choir at WMUMC before I had ever attended. This led naturally to being a part of the Wesley Foundation, a significant turning point in my life.

At the service, one of the three non-clergy to speak in witness spoke of Char as a “restorer.” She had welcomed him in to the fold of her sons’ friends which meant for all intents and purposes being welcomed into her family. He spoke of how she helped mend the crack in his foundation largely by being herself which meant to embrace people and receive them joyously no matter what they might have done in life. This is grace in action.

We all know of Char’s eloquence in the pulpit, of the beautiful weddings she celebrated, of the magnificent and almost unending table she spread, and so much more. I also know of the depth of her spirit. While decades-long friends, Char and I also served as pastors to one another. Even when the miles on I-95 were too tough to travel, we spoke on the phone, listening to one another, asking the questions that helped lead to discernment, offering challenges from different perspectives. We heard each other’s grief and pain. We celebrated together. In gatherings, I often sat at the edge of the circle—as I often do—observing the breadth of her embrace of everyone. I watched as I also knew her insecurities and fears which only made the whole of Charlene more beautiful. She was, and is, a deeply complicated woman with so many rich textures and tones in the folds of her life. I see in her an intricate patterned weaving where the yarns are varied in hue and texture. I hear her in a glorious melody enhanced with haunting harmonies. I look into the pools of her brown eyes and see love.

That love will never leave me. She is a part not only of the fabric of my life; she is part of the dance of our God who is ever moving in the give and take of grace—pure concern for the other. We will continue to dance together.

From dust we have come; to dust we shall return. And in that dust we are with God with is the very ground of our being.

Read more →

In the Fullness of Time…

In the fullness of time…

Have you ever had a desire to do something and you wanted to do it now, or there was something you wanted and you wanted it now, however for whatever reasons, known or unknown, nowwas not the time? I have certainly experienced the frustration that can go with the thwarting of my desires. I have also faced questions when something seemed the perfect answer or direction, yet I could not go there at the time. It then comes as a surprise almost when it does open up in the fullness of time.

I have thought about this in terms of both my sons. Jeff and I were thwarted for so long in our desire for children. After twelve years of marriage, and nine years of trying, suddenly we were gifted with Andrew. Another six years went by, no longer trying, when we were completely surprised by the advent of Max. In the fullness of time, our miracle sons were gifted to us.

Over the past couple of years, I have been sensing that a new adventure was just out of my sight. Anytime, I tried to see what it was, I could not. I was being drawn forward without knowing where or when. I continue to be invited into a mystery that is being unveiled. In the fullness of time, I will know more. In the meantime, I know that I am held in the awesome web of belonging in God’s grace.

Ephesians 1:8b-10

With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Godself, things in heaven and things on earth. 

Read more →

In the Fullness of Time…

In the fullness of time…

Have you ever had a desire to do something and you wanted to do it now, or there was something you wanted and you wanted it now, however for whatever reasons, known or unknown, nowwas not the time? I have certainly experienced the frustration that can go with the thwarting of my desires. I have also faced questions when something seemed the perfect answer or direction, yet I could not go there at the time. It then comes as a surprise almost when it does open up in the fullness of time.

I have thought about this in terms of both my sons. Jeff and I were thwarted for so long in our desire for children. After twelve years of marriage, and nine years of trying, suddenly we were gifted with Andrew. Another six years went by, no longer trying, when we were completely surprised by the advent of Max. In the fullness of time, our miracle sons were gifted to us.

Over the past couple of years, I have been sensing that a new adventure was just out of my sight. Anytime, I tried to see what it was, I could not. I was being drawn forward without knowing where or when. I continue to be invited into a mystery that is being unveiled. In the fullness of time, I will know more. In the meantime, I know that I am held in the awesome web of belonging in God’s grace.

Ephesians 1:8b-10

With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Godself, things in heaven and things on earth. 

Read more →

In the Fullness of Time…

In the fullness of time…

Have you ever had a desire to do something and you wanted to do it now, or there was something you wanted and you wanted it now, however for whatever reasons, known or unknown, nowwas not the time? I have certainly experienced the frustration that can go with the thwarting of my desires. I have also faced questions when something seemed the perfect answer or direction, yet I could not go there at the time. It then comes as a surprise almost when it does open up in the fullness of time.

I have thought about this in terms of both my sons. Jeff and I were thwarted for so long in our desire for children. After twelve years of marriage, and nine years of trying, suddenly we were gifted with Andrew. Another six years went by, no longer trying, when we were completely surprised by the advent of Max. In the fullness of time, our miracle sons were gifted to us.

Over the past couple of years, I have been sensing that a new adventure was just out of my sight. Anytime, I tried to see what it was, I could not. I was being drawn forward without knowing where or when. I continue to be invited into a mystery that is being unveiled. In the fullness of time, I will know more. In the meantime, I know that I am held in the awesome web of belonging in God’s grace.

Ephesians 1:8b-10

With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Godself, things in heaven and things on earth. 

Read more →

Random Thought in the Midst of Transition

Random thought in the midst of transition:

My sister-in-law Barbara and I were close to finishing our journey with Frodo and Sam to the fires of Mordor where the ring of power could be unmade. As they stood overlooking the valley which they had to traverse, orc encampments with their fires nearly filled the space. The two hobbits were daunted by the sight, wondering how they could possibly make it to Mount Doom, when Sam said simply, “Let’s start by going down this hill.”  Every journey, no matter how long or hard, starts with a single step. I was reminded of a piece of sage advice from 12-step programs—“one day at a time.”

As I stand at the beginning of this next phase of my pilgrimage, I find myself peering ahead with Frodo and Sam wondering how I am going to make it through all the changes which loom before me. Like them, and those who have gone before me, all I can do is take one step, one day at a time, trusting that the One who is the Ground of my being will accompany me.

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The Goal Is Not Agreement

“For Bowen[i], the goal is not agreement.” This statement made me sit up and take notice. While I believe this, and wrote my doctoral paper from the perspective that unity does not mean unanimity, hearing it so simply stated felt like a blast of cold water on a hot day. It got my attention.


Today on my walk up a fairly steep hill in Kerrville, TX, with the humidity so high it felt like struggling through a hot cloud and I would have welcome an actual blast of cold water, I refused to look at my Fitbit to see how many steps I had traversed already. I thought back to an exchange with my nephew Ben when I first got my tracking device. I made some comment about having walked 10,000 steps and it was around 4 miles. He said for him to get in 10,000 steps meant going way more miles than that. I replied, of course, your legs are about twice the length of mine! I imagined walking with Ben where I would have to walk almost two steps for every one of his. It was a humorous picture in my mind.


When Jeff and I used to stroll together, not a fitness walk, but a companionable gait, we would try to get into a rhythm that worked with each other especially if we were also holding hands. Otherwise, it felt awkward. Sometimes it seemed in our lives we kept wanting to try to make ourselves, or the other, fit into a pattern or rhythm that agreed with each other. For us, agreement was not an easy state. We were both of such strong wills that to create agreement often meant that one of us really had to remain silent, or simply go along with the other.


While there are moments when this can be important, after all only one person at a time can drive a car, I have often felt somewhat guilty that I could not simply be quiet and go along. After all, isn’t that what love means in our world? Well no, it does not mean that. Love means being able to hear where the other is, and when there is not agreement, sitting with the differences. It does not mean pretending to agree.  It means allowing the other to think differently while not looking down at them for it.


What would our world be like if we could truly disagree but continue to live together in the unity of the Spirit with peace?

Ephesians 4:2-3

Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.


[i] The Bowen referred to is Murray Bowen, the psychiatrist who developed Family Systems Theory. I have been engaged in studying and learning the concepts of this theory for nearly ten years now, with Roberta Gilbert, Kathleen Cauley, and Kenton Derstine.

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grief does not end; neither does healing

This week at the Festival of Homiletics has been amazing—deep, rich, challenging, and so much more. I have met new people. Last night, a new friend from England and I continued sharing talk and stories. We had been brought together during an impromptu prayer time in response to an incredibly vulnerable and healing sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber. My friend is a newish priest in the Church of England, working fulltime in publishing, and caring for her husband who had a stroke a few years ago. I shared a bit about my journey with Jeff through his cancer and death.

Today, as the prayers of the morning were shaped around a poem by John O’Donahue, I found tears of grief winding their way down my cheeks, praying that Jeff has found healing, and thankful for random moments of healing for me. I also prayed for other relationships where conflict has seared “the ground between,” that I may be gracious and able to find reconciliation in carrying the “chalice of our love.”

As there is no place where God is not, grace abounds in the words, in the silence, in the holding, in the letting go, in the broken heart, in the healing heart, and every where we can see.

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grief does not end; neither does healing

This week at the Festival of Homiletics has been amazing—deep, rich, challenging, and so much more. I have met new people. Last night, a new friend from England and I continued sharing talk and stories. We had been brought together during an impromptu prayer time in response to an incredibly vulnerable and healing sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber. My friend is a newish priest in the Church of England, working fulltime in publishing, and caring for her husband who had a stroke a few years ago. I shared a bit about my journey with Jeff through his cancer and death.

Today, as the prayers of the morning were shaped around a poem by John O’Donahue, I found tears of grief winding their way down my cheeks, praying that Jeff has found healing, and thankful for random moments of healing for me. I also prayed for other relationships where conflict has seared “the ground between,” that I may be gracious and able to find reconciliation in carrying the “chalice of our love.”

As there is no place where God is not, grace abounds in the words, in the silence, in the holding, in the letting go, in the broken heart, in the healing heart, and every where we can see.

Read more →

Holding Loosely

There are different ways to hold on. Standing while riding on the the Metro sometimes requires a firm, if not tight, hold onto the bar. For me, riding a roller coaster leads to a death grip on the bars. Firmly holding the hand of a young child while crossing the street is prudent.


There is a difference between holding on tightly and having a firm hold. The first implies a fear or responding to a threat. The second suggests more confidence while still offering some security. Holding loosely takes a large step towards trust.


This time of transition in my life is necessitating discernment in how I am holding things in my life. I find temptation to hold on tightly and yet I know I am must let go. Last week, I wrote about how Moses is my biblical mentor for this phase. As he could not enter the Promised Land to which he had had faithfully led his people, he had to let go of his own hopes. Of course, he regaled the people with a retelling of the entire story. I promise that I won’t go Deuteronomic on you! I also said last week that I don’t plan to follow Moses’ path to the “t” as I have no plans to die soon.


A wise friend reminded me a couple of days ago that all the times we have to let go in our lives are part of the practice for our death. This brought to mind two deaths to which I have been most intimately close. As my mother faced the knowledge of her impending death, she chose the route of embrace rather than avoidance. Two of my close friends—one, Elmer, who was facing his own death from cancer just over three months later—called this “doing a Mary Grace.” Elmer chose his own style of doing a “Mary Grace,” leaving even as he knew we were not ready to let him go.


The other death intimate in my life was Jeff’s. Even though all the signs indicated that his death was soon to come, he was actually fighting it all the way, to the point that he was combative with the hospice staff even as he was unconscious. They discovered how much muscular strength he still had. His fearsome grasping eased when Sister B., Linda, and the others prayed the Rosary surrounding his bed with healing presence.

I pray that in all steps of my journey I am able to hold loosely, trusting I that I am in God’s presence at all times, as are those I love.

Psalm 131

Lord, my heart isn’t proud;
        my eyes aren’t conceited.
    I don’t get involved with things too great or wonderful for me.
No. But I have calmed and quieted myself
[a]
    like a weaned child on its mother;
    I’m like the weaned child that is with me.

Israel, wait for the Lord
    from now until forever from now!

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