Monday, April 29, 2013


Dear Friends, 
I have been both quite touched and quite intrigued by your responses to my last post.  First of all, please excuse any confusion, but I will reiterate that I am not retiring right now.  I believe the ministries that I am involved with are still bearing good fruit, and of course, there is still 15 years left on the mortgage!  
However, the statement, "I am going to retire," was made in all seriousness.  I really believe that my journey to seminary and then into ministry began with a part-time job with Senior Services here in San Leandro.  It was a pleasant job at the community center that was under the umbrella of Parks and Recreation.  We were charged with creating events, newsletters, activities, and services for our older population.  Some of those we served were fully retired; some worked part-time or did volunteer work  Some were in excellent health financially and physically ; others struggled.  Again, the work was quite pleasant, but something felt a bit amiss to me.  I felt that surely there is more to being an elder than just going down to the senior center to check out what was going on that day.   

Honestly, I do not yet have an answer, except perhaps that there is no one answer.  Much of my ministry with SpiritCare is a walk among frail elders, and as you know, I find that walk profound.   However, somewhere, between the community center and the long term care home, many elders reside, and this is the land to where I am bound, even if I never retire.  Regardless, I know I am in the last third of my life.  
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the tale of the death of Moses.  Moses, at the age of 120, still with good vision and strength,  climbs up from the plains of Moab to the top of Mount Nebo.  There, God shows him the whole land, the deserts, the basins, a city or two, and the Mediterranean Sea.  And as Moses casts his eye as far as he can see, God says, "This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I told them, 'I'll give it to your descendants.' I've let you see it, even though you won't be going into it (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)."    I think the last third of this life is much like that.  A looking forward, a looking back, and learning just to be.  We can't do it all; we can't have it all.  But we will have enough
because it is God that leads us ever on.  
Let us continue this journey together.   I find much assurance in your presence.   
Sue Ann  

Friday, April 26, 2013

Deciding to Decide

I have decided to retire.   No, not right away, but I feel the need to get that phrase out in public. There are several reasons.  Tyler and I just signed papers to refinance the last fifteen years of our mortgage.  This occurred just as I was recovering from a staph infection that was successfully treated with an antibiotic.  However, that successful treatment ultimately left me feeling awful.  And that awfulness stayed with me for awhile.  I feel fine now, but I was reminded that I do not get over these things quite as quickly as I once did.  I also am aware that someday, driving up and down Interstate 880 and winding my way across bridges may not be what I should be doing, and I certainly do not want to figure this this out after a colossal lapse of memory or attention.   I also know that someday there will be someone who will more ably and more energetically do the ministry I am doing.  There is no need for me to hang on until my last breath.  Even Jesus told his disciples that he knew he needed to get out of the way.       
I think what really encourages me to boldly state this is that I have just listened to a compelling 4 cd audio book entitled, All Is Grace by Brennan  Manning.  I first learned of Brennan Manning in a recent Facebook post by Dianna Butler Bass that mentioned his passing.  I had never heard of him or his writings.  I am not even sure why I decided to start with his memoir.    

 The book has stayed with me for days now, and I feel I need to pick up a paperback copy as well as read more of his work.  The writing is honest and deeply touching.  His life was far from idyllic, and bouts with alcoholism contributed to serious health concerns in his later life.  Yet, his writing of his elder years (a very small section of the book) is I think what I find most riveting.  Even when writing of his last speaking engagement when he finds himself standing in front of an audience with no memory of what he came to say, his absolute conviction that the God he called Abba never once stopped loving him does not fail him.  Yes, he experienced considerable shortfalls, backsliding, and plain old mistakes.  Yes, in his last years he needed help with just about every task, however simple.  Yet, always, his Abba was there offering more than enough grace and mercy to get him through the days and nights with love.      
I often witness this sort of deep, almost unbelievable faith in my ministry among those in long-term care communities, and I am convinced that neither illness nor poverty nor drastic errors can keep us from God's love.  So, I want at least 15 minutes of retirement before I need to go into long term care.  I have no illusions about retiring to play golf or tennis.  I don't do those things now, so I suspect they will not have much appeal to me then.    Perhaps like Brennan Manning, I simply want to take the time to reflect on this life that often is less than stellar, but one dedicated to expressing the love that I know is real.   
I cannot conclude with a quote from the book, but quotes are easy enough to find in a Google search.  I leave you with this one for now.  It is time to do some laundry. I may have decided to retire, but there are still about 15 or so years left to go. I might as well try to look like I am paying attention.  Dear Mozelle reminded me of this yesterday.  She had just come from the hair dresser, and looked beautiful. When I mentioned that to her, she replied, "Oh, thank you, darling. Yes, they try to keep me clean here.  That really is quite important." 
 I'll try.  
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” 
― Brennan ManningAbba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

Sunday, April 14, 2013


This morning when I ran across this poem by Mark Strand, my first thought was to send it on to all of you.  However, I felt certain  that I had done so in the past.  A search revealed that to be true.  I actually have sent  twice over the years and that made me laugh.  Yet, the poem is so beautiful, and many of you have seen it, so I shall send it again.    
It was interesting to read this devotional that I sent on May 8, 2010.  As soon as I read the first line, this day came back to me so clearly. 
What also comes back to me is that Jesus' ministry was remarkable simple.  He touched people.  He listened to their stories.  He broke bread.  He laughed more that we give him credit for. He often walked in solitude.  Most importantly, he loved and dared to let it all go.     

When I arrived at the care home, many of those who had been gathered were sitting quietly in their usual circle in their wheelchairs and gurneys, with a few sitting at tables just outside that circle.  As is my common  practice, I turn off the tv and begin my general greetings as I set out what we may need to create a sense of worship space.  I walk around saying more hellos and handing out  song sheets.  Many I greet by name with a gentle touch or handshake.  "Hello.  How are you?  Oh, so good to see you."  This is a pretty predictable pattern that helps me to settle into a home and get a sense of how people are doing. 
When it came time to serve communion, I broke the bread (well, wafer) and then lifted the cup.  Suddenly, all changed.  We were no longer individuals with finite, failing bodies.  In front of me was a timeless sea that I can only describe as love.  At that moment I knew beyond any doubt that the living Christ was among us, and it is the living Christ that I serve.  I wept.  Please forgive this clumsy description, but such love is beyond words.  I think many elders know this.  Many have already journeyed to the far edges where land and words begin to give way to this vast sea.  I am not there yet.   I stand at the shore and simply try to touch one more time those who are passing through.  I periodically look up and gaze at the distant horizon, and the wonder of it all.   

One night when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become---and where I would find myself—
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far-off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.                                                     -
Mark Strand, “My Name,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2005, p. 68.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it and bread...
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them. 
John 21:9,13   

Friday, April 5, 2013


A few of you know that I have been awarded a scholarship for a one week training with Memory Bridge (, a foundation dedicated to nurturing respect and communication with those with dementia.  I am very happy about this, as their dvd and website helped me settle into my ministry with SpiritCare.  A statement in the reward letter mentions the hope of enriching and deepening "all of our understandings of the profound relational needs that we humans share, no matter our cognitive capacities."    In so many ways this is the hope of the ministry of SpiritCare, and I look forward to the last week in June.  
Mozelle lives in a home dedicated to the care of those with Alzheimer's.  It seems she has traveled extensively, and she tells me that she has lived in Bethlehem and Mumbai.  Her cognitive challenges are not readily apparent until you hear her answer just about every question with, "We are Jewish. Every one of us."  I admire that deep rooted identity.  I may yearn to hear more of her story, but she does not seem to yearn to tell it.  She expresses herself through her love, faith, and cultural identity.  That is where she wants, and deserves to be met.  It really is a delightful meeting ground.  
When the pianist and I are preparing to leave, Mozelle will often say, "We are all Jewish here, you know. But you bring us love, so that it okay.  Give me a kiss, darling, and do come back."    I admire her for having adopted everyone around her as Jewish.  By doing so, she has made all the residents and staff her family.  Therefore, she is home, and free to love everyone, even a couple of wandering Christians who drop by to sing and pray. 

 Blessed be.