Archive for July, 2012

The Chest

The Chest.

It sits there on the landing, scarred, dilapidated. The faux black leather peels in places, exposing the particle board underneath. The brass fittings are corroded and leather straps hang broken on the sides.  Across the lid, still visible in fading white paint, is the name F.R. Wheeler.

A chest. It accompanied my grandparents when they sailed for postwar China in 1946.

Now it sits there on the landing upstairs in my house, quiet, menacing.

Which is a ridiculous thing to say about such an object. What’s it going to do? Rise in the night and devour me in my sleep?

No, but its contents could devour big chunks of my life.

It contains all of our family photos.

It’s our story. Photos from the late 1800s to the present. Photos of great-grandparents, my Colorado cowboy-turned-missionary grandfather, my Idaho schoolteacher-turned-missionary grandmother. The Arkansas branch of farmers.

Orphans, missionaries, and churches in my grandparent’s work in China.

Photos of my very young parents starting out evangelizing in the West: California.

Sam’s parents starting out working in the West: Bavaria.

There are pictures of my growing up in northern California, pictures of my husband’s growing up in the former Yugoslavia. Sam’s stint in Tito’s army, our meeting in West Germany, our wedding.

All three of our children’s photos are there. From babyhood. All of them.

The history of our life over the last 37 years lies in that big black box.

What this means, of course, is that, should something threaten our home, like God forbid a fire, we would have to wrestle it downstairs and out the door – a chest with no working handles.

Yeah, right. It would be easier to just summon Captain Incredible.

But there’s more. Like you, I’ve also been archiving photos on my laptop in recent years.

Files and files of them.

The sad thing is that, years ago, I heard two women on Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio program introduce something they had just created called scrapbooking. Instead of putting every photo you take into one of those plastic sheeted nightmares, you select only the most interesting/most meaningful of the pictures. You then place them in acid-free photo albums on acid free pages using only acid-free materials to, and this is important, creatively decorate your treasures.


I was instantly enthralled. This was an amazing idea, and I made a serious effort to get started with my then-current cache. I went to scrapbooking parties and created a number of pages.

However, and this is also important, that particular strain of creativity does not come naturally to me. I suffered from acute intimidation and visual exhaustion.

I fell behind.

And all the while I watched in amazement as that simple scrapbooking idea blossomed into a multi-gazillion dollar industry.

Several years ago, I appointed The Chest as photo storage and felt good about getting them all in one place.

I started sorting.

I fell behind.

Several things have now conspired to seriously get my attention about this matter. I mention one of them here: grandchildren. If I fall too far behind with photos of the grandkids, I will never catch up and will someday die sad.

I now have a Plan! The first part of the Plan is to open the chest.                                                                           

The next part of the Plan is to share with you from time to time some of the things I will be thinking about while sorting through images of this thing called family.

No, I don’t want to do it digitally.

I expect to be done with the entire project in about 29 years.

And I’m counting on you veteran scrapbookers out there for encouragement.

Don’t over-expect. I have a history.

Are your photos under control? Are you a scrapbooker? If so, I’d love to hear your story. If not, let’s commiserate.



“The people business,” my pastor dad used to say, “ is a tough business.”  

This, dear reader, is true.

Time was when the preacher was expected to:

preach on Sunday,



dedicate babies,



serve communion,

and make sure the church building was tidy.

So quaint.

The 21st century pastor must now be equipped to administrate and mediate, and provide counseling for an ever-lengthening list of personal, familial, and social ills.

He should be up to speed on the latest pre-marital and post-marital materials . . .

. . . youth, financial stewardship, and conflict resolution materials  . . .

. . . all the while keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, and the most dynamic blogs and websites.

Ideally, he has a meticulous Evernote filing system for current articles on church trends, social issues, and the latest in the Christian/culture/technology nexus.

He must be able to manage a staff with consummate skill. And I do mean consummate.

Clear positions should be staked out on the latest debates like, for instance, the recent what-exactly-is-hell-and-who’s-actually-going-there thing.

He ought to know what’s trending across all sectors.

And it might help to look hip, act hip, and be hip – at least to some degree.

This is the Short List.

This past Sunday, my husband, Sam, transitioned from 21 years of pastoring to the position of Elder Pastor.

He is a man whose pastoral training was on-the-job.

He loved the Bible, studied the Bible, preached the Bible.

He loved the people he pastored, deeply.

He shepherded his flock through a devastating church fire, and the harrowing and all-consuming work of rebuilding.

If there was physical work to be done, of any sort, anywhere, on the church premises, he was sure to be in the middle of it. (He can, and I do not exaggerate, fix anything.)

Somehow, he, and the Board of Trustees stewarded the church finances in such a way that the entire property is now debt free. This, in Sonoma County, CA.

He raised children who love the church they grew up in and have none of the resentment that is too often the legacy of pastor’s kids.

He did the work of the ministry led by the Holy Spirit.

He did the work of the ministry with a large and generous heart.

He did the work of the ministry with no motive other than obedience to God’s calling.

Two years ago, sensing that our primary work was drawing to a close, we approached our son, Nicolas, and his wife, Dana, about beginning the process of transition. Spiritually astute, culturally savvy, and with an obvious pastoral calling on his life, Nicolas has been our Associate Pastor for the past 2 years.

He and Dana have already made many innovative changes in our church.

The people love them.

We knew it was time to turn the church over to 21st century vision and vigor.

This past Sunday, Christ Tabernacle unanimously voted them in as Lead Pastor.

My husband’s role will be to provide counsel, mentoring, and spiritual oversight as needed. We can now also give more attention and support to missions projects.

Yes, it is bittersweet.

Yes, there were tears, not of regret or sorrow, but of memories and appreciation and a sense of the passage of time.

That we are able to see a son take this work is a precious thing. We are grateful.

And, by the way, Nicolas has a running start on the aforementioned Short List.

Regarding the hip factor, our millennial kids have sweetly – and firmly – intervened in their dad’s wardrobe.  He now owns jeans and shirts from stores he didn’t know existed.

So, make no mistake, he will be the Elder Pastor who will make transition look hip.

And trending.

If you are in a season of transition, what does it look like for you?


A Few Brief Thoughts on a Long Marriage

July is mid-year, a month that begins with a bold red, white, and blue attitude that never wanes the month long.  Bam! it seems to say, I’m finally here and aren’t you glad!   

I am glad.

Sam and I were married 37 years ago this month and my mind drifts back to that hot Missouri afternoon when a booming, midsummer thunderstorm nearly drowned out our vows. We were young, so very young, but optimistic and thrilled with life and with each other.

That we were from different cultures, had little money, and that my parents were, shall we say, apprehensive, were facts not allowed to get in the way of matrimony. We would marry. We would return to West Germany (where we met).  We would work, and lead a small German church.

Then . . . well, we didn’t know. But love would surely see us through.

Wouldn’t it?

Fact is, if you had polled the folks who knew us during that period, it is likely that few would have given our marriage much of a chance. Okay. I have to admit that the odds were very much not in our favor.

We did have one thing in our favor. Although our respective childhoods were poles apart – he was raised in a small village in northeastern Yugoslavia, I hailed from a middle class home in northern California – our religious upbringings were remarkably similar. Very solid. Very strict. A no-holds-barred approach to righteous living as proscribed by our church “organizations.”

We were industrious, a little naive, too unquestioning about a lot of things.

Yet, in thinking back over the years of our married life – some of them hard years – we seem to have simply applied that tried-and-true amalgam of love, hard work, and God.

Ironically, most of our married life has been devoted to pastoral ministry.

Having been raised in a pastor’s home, I remember distinctly telling myself numerous times as a young girl, “I will never marry a pastor. Never.” Well, as the old saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

But Sam has loved his calling. I love him. We made it work.

We have raised a family in the intervening years here in our beloved Sonoma County. And we’ve seen a good bit of the world. Our families are scattered around Europe, Australia, and across the U.S.

Not able to do near enough visiting over the river and through the woods.

So our little family tightened its bonds. And our children, now adults, have made us proud. I had never really thought about how interesting grown kids are until I had them. I highly recommend it. Sam and I, with our ultra-conservative growing up, have stood at times in – oh, what is it? – shock? astonishment? – at the way our kids navigate the culture.

They love God. They love us. They love each other. They love the church.

Ah. New season.

Any parent who can say that has a lot to be thankful for.

During the celebration of my paternal grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary many years ago, someone asked my grandma for the secret of their long marriage. “Well,” she said slowly, her eyes huge behind her thick spectacles, “you make up your mind and stick to it.”

Somehow, Sam and I have done that.

Bam! Aren’t you glad?

I am.

What, in your opinion – or experience, are secrets to a long marriage?

Liberty Lite

Natalia, age 2.

My husband, Samuel, was born and raised in the former Yugoslavia. He grew up in the heyday of Josip Broz Tito, a war hero and shrewd politician who ran the country in a style that might be called “communist-lite.”  After WWII, the government took over farms, factories, and other businesses while, at the same time, Yugoslavians were free to leave. Many did, working in Western Europe and abroad – where jobs and opportunities were – and sending money home.

I tell you this because July 4th is here again and I am thinking a lot about liberty. And its slow demise.

My husband has, since acquiring U.S. citizenship, become a fierce patriot.

The day of the recent high court ruling, he came home for lunch from his office at the church. Suddenly, at one point, he stopped, looking uncharacteristically annoyed. “You know, I’m really upset about the Supreme Court decision.”

It isn’t the analyzing and prognosticating that he finds so dismaying. It is the fact that he has lived under the heavy hand of the political ruling class. He knows firsthand the degenerating effect of “government control”.  And he knows what inevitably follows: loss of liberty.

My dad used to say, “The man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with argument.”

We live in a time when our leaders are squandering the wealth of an industrious, entrepreneurial, freedom-loving people. It’s like an Olympic sprinter being expected to run with a 50 lb. lead ball attached to an ankle.

And it is our own fault. As 19th c. French historian Alexis de Tocqueville put it: “We get the government we deserve.” We certainly get the government we elect.

Sam (Starki) and Isaac

This is a magnificent country. Sam and I would like to think that our grandchildren will grow up, not in the shadow of some liberty-lite, witless, utopian scheme, but in the sunlight of America’s freedoms and opportunities.

We’ll do our best at the ballot box. And on our knees.

This 4th of July, I ask you to join me in

  • thanking God for the blessings of liberty
  • praying that God will raise up leaders of integrity at every level of government
  • praying for wisdom, for all of us, in the days ahead.

So you will be my people, and I will be your God.  Jeremiah 30:22

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