by Deacon Erica Larson
“You’re my favorite.” This was an oft repeated phrase this summer, whispered in my mom’s ear as we hugged goodnight, or when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed with my love for her. The greatest joy of my summer sabbatical was the time I spent with my mom – more than five weeks together – one of the many gifts of this special time away. As I grow older and my parents move further into the last third of their lives, I am becoming acutely aware of the precious gift of time spent with those we love. It’s one of the things the COVID-19 pandemic took away from us; and I’m grateful for every moment of time I was able to spend with my friends and family this summer.
I had several goals for my three-month sabbatical away from Lake Nokomis Lutheran, and some of them were accomplished! Others went by the wayside as new opportunities arose. By far the most significant and special part of sabbatical was the four weeks that I spent at my parent’s home on Lake 15…so small it doesn’t even have a real name! But it’s a beautiful and serene lake that I enjoyed as I spent hours in my favorite place on earth, laying in a hammock, reading books, listening to birds chirping, and taking lazy naps under the trees.
I read 28 books during my sabbatical, including the wonderful “Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry” by Ross Murray. I attended a three-week book club with the author and other ministry professionals, talking about the often painful and difficult journey our LGBTQ friends take as they navigate the world and our communities of faith. Church is more often than not an unsafe space for those who don’t fit into our “boxes” in this world. As I read this wonderful book and listened to others, I began to imagine ways for Lake Nokomis Lutheran to become an even more welcoming and safe community where all people know that they are deeply loved by their creator God.
Wonder of wonders, I also bought a FitPro this summer, and began taking daily walks. This is just one of many places of growth as I worked with my life coach, Dawn Trautmann. Many of the women in our congregation will remember Dawn from our 2018 Women’s Retreat. Dawn is an absolute joy, and she is helping me develop some new healthy habits, tackle personal goals, and organize my life! I look forward to utilizing new techniques when we’re able to move into our new offices in a few months time.
Even though I was on sabbatical, I continued to ponder what comes next for Lake Nokomis, and for the worldwide church. Some of my reading was focused on answering those questions. Early in May, I was surprised to receive an email from Joy McElroy, the Executive Director of Cherish All Children (CAC). CAC is one of our ministry partners, working with congregations and leaders to prevent child sexual exploitation. They are now under the umbrella of Lutheran Social Service of MN, and Joy had begun developing a youth guide and curriculum about safe and healthy relationships. Joy asked if I would like to help write this curriculum, so we spent the summer writing a four-session resource with a leader and youth guide. I was thrilled to be able to ask one of our young adults, Sarah Zaepfel, to create art pages for the youth guide; and, they did a brilliant job! Our work will soon be available on the Lutheran Social Service website, and I hope to be able to use it with our youth this upcoming school year.
In addition to time under the trees, working with Joy McElroy, and meetings with my life coach, I also took a week-long water color painting class and discovered that I not only love to paint, but also find it to be a meaningful spiritual practice. As people of faith, we often make the mistake of thinking that time spent with God has to look a certain way. But in my journey of faith, I have learned that God is everywhere, and the Spirit will show up in surprising ways. As I learned brush strokes and painting techniques, I found myself smiling and pondering the wonders of creation. I was the youngster (52) in a class of 55+ painters who were such a joy, with God’s Spirit shining through; and I reflected with our instructor about the need for us to have a safe space to share our stories and find the freedom to express ourselves. She shared, “I feel like this is my calling from God, to create a safe space for people as they learn to paint. I wanted to tell you that because I thought you would understand.” I sure do, Mary Lee!
For my last week of sabbatical, I took one last trip to mom and dad’s for a very special week. For the first time since 2017, my brother and his family came home for a visit. My nephews Henry and Evan FINALLY got to meet my cat Simon, and now they are even more obsessed than they were when they just got to see him over Facetime. Every morning that week I would hear the thump, thump, thump of boy footsteps as they made their way to the basement to see the cat. I was just the bonus. But I did get some snuggles out of it, my cat delighted in all of the attention, and I grew to love those boys even more. At the end of the week, our friend Hazim stopped by to say goodbye before he was deployed oversees to serve as a linguist for our armed forces; and we took some family photos before our tearful goodbyes.
And now I’m back at Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church, tentatively dipping my toes back into ministry. I’ve come back to a building under construction, continued COVID-19 protocols, a single basement office/storage room shared by the entire staff, and so many unanswered questions about what comes next for our beloved community. To say it has been slightly overwhelming is an understatement! We have been living with uncertainty and change for not just a year, but several years. And just like the rest of the world, we are starting to show signs of stress and trauma and grief. As we sat in staff meeting this week, I shared that it feels like we are in a season of winter. It feels a bit like we’re buried underground. Pastor Sara laughed and said, “We literally ARE underground!” We were sitting in the windowless basement Nokomis Room, so she was absolutely right.
But, do you know what comes after winter? Spring. New life. The rain falls, the dirt is washed away, the sun shines, the trees and flowers begin to bloom, the animals come out of hiding, and life begins anew! And THAT is what is just around the corner for us!
Our community has been through so much in these past few years…changes in leadership, changes in ministry partners, changes in the faces around us, changes to our building, and more changes to come. It can be overwhelming and anxiety producing, and it will take an extra measure of patience and love as we navigate these new waters. So, we will remember that we are STILL beloved community, centered around our creator God and Savior Jesus, asking the Spirit to move and show us exactly where God needs us to be. There is a community and world that needs our faith and our hands and our love. If there is anything I’ve learned during my time away, it’s that we need each other! We’ve all been buried…in our homes, in our makeshift basement offices, in front of our computer screens and Smart phones, away from the people, places and things we love. But we won’t be buried forever.
I’m excited to re-engage in our precious community of faith. You are all so very loved, and I look forward to seeing your faces, hearing your voices, and sharing the joy of the Lord with you. You matter! Let’s come together to dig our way out of the ground and experience the wonder and joy of new life! I’ll see you soon.
The gifts of sabbatical
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