Hi My Name Is

Shortly after my appointment to start the Pilgrimage with Missions Door, someone, who I think was trying to be sympathetic, said, “I don’t know of anyone who has struggled as much as you to know God’s will for your life! It sounds as though it’s becoming clearer, though.”

I’ve done a lot of different stuff and been a lot of different things in my adult life, so I guess I can see why it would look like that. Maybe it really is like that. Or maybe trying to do God’s will doesn’t always (for every person) look like doing exactly the same thing your whole life, but more like, say, a Pilgrimage–where the goal is always the same, but the path meanders through different places and looks different accordingly. (There might also be different understandings of “God’s will.”) But–I don’t know–I guess I used to think all the things I’d ever done were unrelated except that I did them because I thought or hoped God was asking me to at the time. From this vantage point, though, I’m wondering if they’ve really just been different iterations of one thing all along.

At the beginning of my summer CPE internship, we had to write a short paper on our first impressions, and at the end of mine, I said, “I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I hate initiating introductions. And I have just signed myself up for an entire summer of doing basically that. What was I thinking?” Maybe this. Observe:

024_22London, late 90’s

“Hi, my name is Jenn and this is ____________. We belong to [Local Church]. We are right around the corner from you and we wanted to let you know about some of the services we offer our community which are available to you … ”

Slide20Living History Museum, early aughts

“Good day, my name is Anna Russell. I’m the minister’s daughter … ”

CostaRica 146

Obviously, I am not at Starbucks in this picture. But I am on a coffee plantation that sells to Starbucks. In 2007.

Starbucks, mid aughts

“Hi there–how’s it going? What can I get for you today?” [I pretty much never had to actually introduce myself to anyone at Starbucks. Enough people are regulars that names were more or less learned by osmosis. Lots of conversations happened, though.]


Previous Church, late aughts

“Hi, my name is Jenn, and I’m the director of Christian education. Would your kids like to join our Sunday school? … Would your teens like to join our youth group? … Would you like to buy a loaf of Mission Bread? … Would your company like to donate items for our next fundraiser? … How about volunteering?”

The Hospital, 2015

“Hi, my name is Jenn, and I’m a chaplain intern. I’m visiting the patients in this unit today and was wondering if you’d like some company …”

The Pilgrimage, 2016

Okay. I don’t actually know how I’m going to introduce the Pilgrimage to participants yet, exactly. Although I’ve been doing a whole lot of putting myself out there for the support-raising piece so far, I guess.

Evidently at least part of God’s will for my life has to do with getting out of my comfort zone. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s God’s will for everybody’s life. It’s how we learn to trust God better–when the Comfortable is not around. Maybe another piece of God’s will that’s consistent through all of the above is that, by getting me out of my comfort zone, opportunities are created for conversations and interactions in which God can show up. At least, I hope so. I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I hate initiating introductions. If God shows up, though, I’m in. He’s worth it.

The Pilgrimage is funded by your generosity. Recurring or special tax deductible donations may be sent to: Missions Door, 2530 Washington St, Denver CO 80205 or visit www.the-pilgrimage.org and click “Donate.”





Family Ties

Family Friday

In case you were wondering why, even though I’m not taking courses at this time of year, the posts at this blog have been sporadic, I’m about to tell you. One of the reasons, anyway. Summer, as the Faith Formation and Outreach Director of Now Church (formerly known as the Christian Education Director), is always busy. I am having a little trouble remember, however, a busier summer than this one. It’s been one of the happier ones I can remember, but nonetheless I’ve been going almost flat out since 6 July, so I’m really looking forward to my week of at-home vacation next week.

Starting on 6 July, one other Now Church adult and I took a group of 7 teens to join a whole bunch of other adults and teens at a WorkCamp in Vermont. The youth groups were all shuffled together and then divided up again into crews, and sent out every day for a week to various homes where they did everything from roofing to landscaping to painting. I’ve painted before, and been part of a crew like this before, but I’ve never led a paint crew before. It was challenging, but fun, and the concentrated time with the kids in my crew reminded me why I’ve been working with kids since I was only 16 myself. At one point during the week I said to the girls in my own youth group something about not having my own kids, and they looked offended and said, “But we’re your kids!” And I smiled and decided I liked that idea. (Also that they would say so, because let’s face it, I’ve felt like they were my kids before now.)

It’s a good thing I decided I liked that, because that week ended and one day later I was on a plane with four of the same kids, plus one more, and two other adults from Now Church, on our way to this year’s ICCC conference. We went to Omaha, which is a very hip city, by the way. If I had to move Midwest, I’d consider it.

How could you not want to live in a place with these things?

How could you not want to live in a place with these things?

We got back home a week after that at around 4 o’clock one morning, and that same morning, an influx of Layte and Grosser extended family began showing up in the area.

Drawing by TWCN 2014

This is TWCN (The World’s Cutest Niece–who is soon going to be old enough to need a new epithet) and me, actually from our trip to see THEM in May. I’m a fan of the matching dresses.


We had a wonderful two weeks with various combinations of family members, including a big old party right here at the Cottage, where about 30 people from both sides of the family attended. Plus there were day trips with one of our young adult nieces in particular. I love me some day trips. Besides, our niece is an excellent travel companion.

Block Island (photo credit Jocelyn Layte)

Block Island (photo credit Jocelyn Layte)

Then everybody went home and we had VBS (Vacation Bible School) at Now Church. And this week I’ve been getting things ready for our annual Youth Conference out at Camp in Boondocks, New England.

Last Saturday there was one more “family” event, which I didn’t even know about until the last minute. The Living History Museum where I worked for nine months shortly after leaving London had its first ever “alumni” reunion. Given my brief tenure, it was kind of amazing I knew anyone there at all, but I did, and the Museum is such a soothing place to wander around when you need to get your Introvert on, that it was worth the trip.


After the introverting, there was a group photo, but that was where I ran into most of my Museum family, so that was all right.

photo by . . . some OSV employee, whose name I do not know, even though everybody else seemed to.

photo by . . . some OSV employee, whose name I do not know, even though everybody else seemed to.

If someone had wished me a “family little summer,” the couldn’t possibly have imagined just how “family” it would be.

Love you, Youth family, Layte family, Grosser family, Now Church family, and Museum family. Oh, and you! The Readership family, too.


Remembering 1838

Memory Monday

Let it be known that Martin Luther King Day (which is today) is my favourite Monday holiday. I even like it better than the Fourth of July. But I have nothing else to say about it, so I hereby acknowledge it, sincerely wish you a happy one, and am now going to talk about something else.

I have really early memories. I mean really early. But I’ll bet you didn’t know they go all the way back more than 130 years before I was born.

Back then, my name was Anna Russell.

Welcome, friends.

Welcome, friends.

I was the daughter of a Congregational minister. (These days, I’m the daughter of a Baptist one.)

Yo, 1830's Dad.

Yo, 1830’s Dad.

In 1838, I was 18, commuting to a nearby town each week and boarding with an older couple, so I could teach children in a one-room school. I would travel home, usually by wagon and the kindness of some passing tradesman on the weekends. While there, I would visit neighbours with my mother, knit, sew, draw and write. I joined the Ladies’ Charitable Society and many of my handcrafted clothing items were sent to mission efforts in wilder parts of America or sometimes even other parts of the world. I liked to take walks on my own or with a friend or two in the fields and paths of my small New England town.

We used to walk in the woods and pray. For reals.

We used to walk in the woods and pray. For reals.

I had two older brothers, one of whom had disappointed my father by taking a degree at Harvard, that somewhat newly Unitarian school. My parents and I were staunch Trinitarians and I was very serious about my faith. My other brother was a lawyer. We didn’t see either of them very often.

I was keeping a diary in those days, recording my hopes and dreams. There was a young man who had been paying attention to me, and I was intrigued by him, but also afraid, because I knew he did not share the same beliefs about God and the Bible that I did. I was contemplating joining a mission to the Indians (sorry–that’s what we called them in 1838) out west–like Ohio or something. This may have been because I genuinely wanted them to hear about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ–but it also might have been because I was afraid of my feelings for that young man.


Okay, not exactly, but kind of. This was my character when I worked at the Living History Museum in 2002. (They don’t role-play there anymore, but I’m sure glad I got to be there when they did.) The name, family and vocational details were all made up by others and assigned to me, and I made the most of it. How great is it when you want to spend your life talking to other people about Jesus, to get assigned to the one place in a secular job where you can talk about Jesus as much as you want? I made up the part about the guy, because there really was a guy working at the Museum at the time who seemed to be interested in me, but we truly didn’t share the same faith and he already had a girlfriend. But it was okay because I also really was going out West–as far as Denver, in fact–to get a degree at a seminary. Then I quit and started working at Starbucks instead, but that’s another story.

When the BroFam was here we visited the Museum together, and then I went back with two friends on New Year’s Day, and I am pretty sure that this means Anna Russell’s diary–completed and expanded–is going to be my next novel.

Playing Hooky

Family Friday

I’m using up my last vacation days of the year (minus one) this week, and TheBro and Sister-in-Lu pulled TWCN out of two days of kindergarten so we could all have some Family Togetherness out here in New England–also with my parents, Auntie Susan (who normally lives in Costa Rica) and today, my two grandmothers. Grandma M’s 93rd birthday was last week, and Grandma G’s 98th birthday is in December, so, since this many family members were around at once, my mother is throwing a little party at Cranberry Corners this afternoon.

Homework and other things have been filling in the time-cracks of the week, but there has still been some kind of get-together with The BroFam almost every day, and every one of those seems like a party, actually, because TWCN and Smiley-Guy are so exuberant about everything. We have also finally met Third Time’s a Charmer (aka T-TAC), who really is one, although so far he’s usually quieter than his two older siblings.

I’m not allowed to post photos of the children on the internet anywhere. According to TheBro, “that’s what happens when you’re famous.” Obviously he hasn’t read the post yet about how I’m not. But I respect his caution, so you shan’t be seeing any photos of the kiddies here. I would just like to tell you, though, that my Paul and I read stories to them on Sunday, and on Tuesday they all came over to the Cottage for a ride on the Pontoon and TWCN and Smiley-Guy each caught multiple sunfish and we sat by the bonfire in the dark, and yesterday I went with Mom and Dad and The BroFam to the Living History Museum where I used to work and wandered around feeling nostalgic for my youth in the good ol’ 1830’s, and then TheBro and I had lunch and philosophy, which is what we do (only usually it’s beer instead of lunch), and then my Paul had TheBro and Dad over for dinner while I was at seminary.

It’s been a lovely week. Since I can’t show you too many of the lovely people, I’ll show you some lovely New England instead. The colours this year have been unreal.

The World According to LARP

Anna Russell, minister’s daughter–was not much of a reach.

I’m not sure that you could really call me a LARPer, although I have in my travels once worked for nine months at a place where I suppose you could say I got paid to LARP professionally. Either way, sometimes I like to pretend I invented the concept. (I seem to be using a lot of acronyms and semi-acronyms lately. LARP stands for Live Action Role-Play.) When I was very small, my grandmother gave our family some songbooks illustrated by Swedish children’s author and illustrator, Elsa Beskow. (She’s the one whose books made me realise I wanted to “write stories,” incidentally.) The songs were all in Swedish, but the illustrations were glorious and my grandmother told me what was happening in all the stories that the songs were about. Then, when she or my mother would play and sing them, I would prance around the living room or hide next to the piano or whatever the characters in the songs were doing (I even knew what was happening verse by verse), acting out the stories.

After a while I started to do this with any song at all, and sometimes with unsung stories when they were being read to me. The rest of the time I would pretend that I was some sort of animal character, the identity of whom I would announce at the beginning of my imaginary shape-shift, and then I would get very upset if my parents (or some other adult) addressed me by my real name. I used to think everybody did this (and I know some other children do, because TWCN used to do this exact same thing and I never even told her to), but as I grew up and interacted with more children I began to find that most other kids with whom I was surrounded found this kind of play a bit of a stretch.

As a teenager, I tried to write a (not very original) fantasy tale about a girl who has to save an entire country from an evil queen, but in the process becomes a slave to this queen for some time. On Saturdays when I had to vacuum my room and clean the bathroom, I would pretend I was that girl, and my mother was the evil queen (did I mention we didn’t used to get along when I was a teenager?), and when I was finished with my tasks I would go off wandering in the woods behind our house and pretend I was escaping. The plot never progressed very far, because the same thing happened every week.

It was at about this time that I learned about Dungeons and Dragons, and at first I think my parents thought this would be a fun game for me, but then some people in our conservative Christian circles started talking about how that stuff was demonic or satanic or something, and we just never really looked into it enough to be sure. I suspect my parents remained ambivalent, but as I was not only imaginative but also a very serious young person who saw things in a fairly black-and-white manner, I immediately viewed the entire enterprise with great suspicion and avoided that section of our local bookstore (where the game was featured for quite some time) as I avoided “the magazine aisle.” (I avoided that one because I was told that my dad and my brother should. I dunno. Given my propensity for donning other personas, maybe I thought I’d accidentally pretend to be a “wanton woman” if I got too close.)

photo by random Ren Faire lady 2012

I know, you’ve seen both of these photos already. But finding other ones would involve photo extraction from my parents’, and scanning.

After that I toned the whole pretending thing down, but when I was halfway through university, one of my friends who at the time insisted that everyone call him Corwin and who, when I first met him, was at that very moment crafting a chain mail shirt, started up an on-campus club called The Court of Logres. It might have been joinable by invitation only, and since Corwin had a very charismatic personality and all the young women he invited probably had something of a secret crush on him, the group got very large very fast. (It also closed down about a term later when Corwin got too busy with studies to attend its meetings and so no one else felt like going either.) That was when I found out about “real” LARPing and discovered that some people kind of do it all the time. I never did–I waited until the club had a scheduled event, like Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party, or this one time when we went to a professor’s home and built a bonfire in the backyard and cooked potatoes and turkey drumsticks in it. I made a Medieval Dress to wear to these occasions (before that it had been a blousy top–thank you 1990’s–and a long skirt) from a diagram and some cheap muslin Corwin sold me, and I dyed it myself, too, and embroidered some green and burgundy “braid” around the collar.

A lot of love and care went into this thing, which is probably why I still can’t bring myself to get rid of it. When the Youth Group went to an almost-local Renaissance Faire last weekend, I retrieved the dress from my parents’ house, even though all three of us were skeptical that it would still fit me. On account of its having been made by diagram instead of pattern, the thing hasn’t got zippers, and every time I wear it I think it’s going to be the last, because it gets more and more difficult to get off afterward. To my surprise and delight, however, I was able both to don and doff it once again, so it lives to see another day.

The weekend my Paul and I went to Maine, we took a very long, exhausting but exhilarating hike up a mountain along the Appalachian Trail. I don’t remember what made me think of it (although the disheveled thick long beards of every single serious male climber might have contributed to the idea–along with the reminder from experience that as a woman, there might be some advantages to hiking in a skirt), but at one point I said, “Someone should totally start a LARPing club that hikes the entire AT in character. Everybody could pretend they were in the Lord of the Rings, on a quest.” It might, I suppose, clear the Trail of people who are actually there for the Trail, and not for living out their pretend identities. On the other hand, it could also be fun. As long as there’s a Prancing Pony somewhere as a way-station.