My Grandma and the Paschal Candle

As many of you know, my Grandma, Edna Caroline Wiesman Birkholz, died on Sunday morning, January 31, 2016. I wrote this blog about her nearly four years ago, on her 90th birthday, and I wanted to repost it a couple days before her memorial service to remember her (where her paschal candle will be lit). 

So amazing! She was 90 years old in this picture!

This past weekend, we had an event on the calendar in Tennessee that we just could not miss.

My grandma turned 90 years old.

Her party was on Saturday afternoon and many of her friends and family. She wore pink, she had a pink cake and pink cupcakes, and lots of balloons, flowers, and good wishes.

My grandma may be 90, but she had more energy than many of her children and grandchildren on Saturday. She’s also very, very Lutheran.

She was born on a farm in Wisconsin, and was the 7th of 8 children. Her parents spoke German and the first church she remembers attending, German was still spoken for some services. For her wedding to my grandpa, she rode the train by herself down from Wisconsin to Texas, a war bride marrying her husband and then not seeing him for four years.

She sent every single one of her children through confirmation, and that means hardcore catechism classes every Saturday morning (my dad would tell awful stories about having to take three buses to get there). They drove into Knoxville from Loudon, a 40 minute drive then, every Sunday so they could worship at the only Lutheran Church for miles. As far as I know, my grandma hasn’t missed church maybe ever.

For her gift, because what do you give a 90 year old who’s got everything? we gave her a paschal candle for their new little Lutheran church at the lake.

In the words of most people, even Lutherans: “What’s a paschal candle?”

When the candle was unveiled for my grandma, she had no such question. She raised her hands to her face, and cried. She looked like she had won the lottery.

My grandma knew that the candle symbolized baptism. She knew that it would be lit on the day of funerals, and on Easter, and when we celebrate baptisms and Jesus’ baptism. It is a candle of hope, and of life, and it is prominent in our worship life as a symbol of all of those things. And my grandma knew instantly what a beautiful symbol this was and in honor of her own long life.

I’ll never forget her face, crying for only the third time I’ve ever seen her cry, at this great gift that most of the world wouldn’t even understand, and I thought, “These are my people. This is where I come from.” What a blessing.

Indigo Girls and Wild Goose, revisited

A few weeks ago a podcast came through my app for On Being, and it was the very interview and concert that I have pictures of here: Wild Geese

It was Krista Tippett interviewing the Indigo Girls after, as she describes it, a “biblical” thunderstorm. My daughter and I stood under someone’s shelter as the thunder boomed and the rain poured down in sheets, but I would not leave. When it cleared up, we went back and sat in our soaked chairs and listened to this gorgeousness happen. I didn’t remember the whole interview, perhaps because I had a soaked (though interested) 10 year old with me. 

But this morning, it’s exactly what I needed to hear, about singing ourselves into activism, about how we find God in smoky bars and in church hymns, and that there’s a line between secular and sacred but we can’t always draw it where we think. 

Listen, if you want to feel a little hopeful in the midst of the chaos of Advent, and the world we live in today. 

On Being, Indigo Girls

God of Grace and God of Glory

One of the questions for the past few days was about hymns. I was thinking about our hymns yesterday, because our music staff picks hymns WAY in advance, yet it was perfect for yesterday. We talked some about the events in Paris and how our hearts hurt, again.

I worked in Littleton, Colorado, after the Columbine shootings, and we sang this hymn at services where we needed to hear these words. Yesterday, we sang them again, and they’re still a good prayer to pray, I think.

“Cure your children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to your control
Shame our wanton selfish gladness
Rich in things, but poor in soul.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

This is as applicable to right this minute as it was to Columbine, as it was in the 1930s when Harry Fosdick wrote it. I’m grateful for these old words that have always, always rung true to me and so many others.


I took a couple days off of blogging (to rest! and paint my kitchen a lovely shade of greige!), and was going to return. The blogging prompts are very nice, but nothing can compared to the amazing piece of writing that I finally sat down and read this morning from the Reverend Tiffany Chaney.

I had the honor to meet Pastor Chaney when she was going through candidacy. She is and was a wonderful minister and the committee agreed that she would be up to great things.

PLEASE read her words, all of them.

I have not spoken much on the racism conversation that is happening, because I have wanted to listen carefully as a white person with layers of privilege. And honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to say.

But what I want to say today is this: LISTEN TO THIS PASTOR, today.

The Uber

Nanoblomo Day 5: what’s something you’ve done that isn’t exactly in your job description?

SO MANY THINGS. I think this is common to any of us in the helping professions; something needs doing, you just kind of do it.

A few moments stick out, though. 

When I was seven months pregnant with my second baby, I found myself crawling under a table in my tiny mission congregation, trying to figure out why the plug didn’t work for the coffee maker. I figured it out (light switch on the wall!), crawled out, lugged my huge self to my feet, and made coffee for 30 before preaching the good news.

Just about a year ago, the 65-year-old senior pastor I work with came into my office. He sat down and said, “you know I never pull that senior pastor thing, but I need you to do something for me.” I braced myself, because this is true. He never does pull the senior pastor thing, and when he has, it’s a big deal. A funeral? A wedding? A visit an hour away? I was ready. Instead, he just said, “can you put us on the Uber?” He and his wife had recently taken the car sharing service for the first time with a friend, thought it was pretty cool, and needed help getting the app set up.

Yes. Yes I can. 

What do you see?

NaBloPoMo Day 4: Photo post time!! Take a picture of something you see all the time- the simpler, the better. Write a little about what the thing means, symbolizes, reminds you of… Give us a little glimpse into your world.

This is the view from our sunroom.  Not much sun these days, but in this little room that the former owners added on instead of a screened porch, you can see so many trees. I write sermons here, pray here, and watch my animals try their best to defend us against attack squirrels. 

As someone recently said when they came over, “why would you ever want to be anywhere else?” Indeed. 



NaBloPoMo Day 3: What’s your random obsession? The Tudors, tie-dye, the perfect sauerbraten recipe… Tell us a little something about your secret or not-so-secret love.  
My random obsession is shared by a lot of people these days…it’s the soundtrack from the new musical, Hamilton. 

It started slowly like some obsessions do…I saw friends tweeting about it, my podcasts freaked out about it, and it was, most importantly, free on Amazon Prime. I listened to part of a song and thought, Meh.

But then the other day I was painting my kitchen on my day off, and I thought I’d give it a good listen. Oh. My. Hamilton is SOOO good. Before I knew it, I was singing it all the time, googling the real story, and buying several revolutionary war biographies on my kindle. I’m more and more of a history nerd in my old age, because it’s such an awesome predictor of the future, and I’ve always loved a musical. So this is a totally delightful combination of history and musical nerd-dom that can make all of our nerdy heads explode with joy.

I love the idea that, as the creator Lin-Manuel Miranda says, present day Americans (many of them people of color) can tell the story of early Americans, and while the language is a little different, the spirit of the story is so present. The songs are fresh, totally singable, and you have totally never heard a rap battle about foreign policy until you’ve heard the one on the Hamilton soundtrack. It will also, spoiler alert, make you cry and break your heart when you hear them sing about events that happened nearly 250 years ago. 

I have to put another coat of paint on my kitchen walls tomorrow. Guess what I’ll be listening to?