Monday, September 29, 2014

National Coffee Day

Today is National Coffee Day, which I as a coffeehouse contemplative always make a point to celebrate on this blog.

I first started drinking coffee in college, as perhaps many people do. But it didn't start with late-night cramming or paper-writing. Instead, it was an early morning in a hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Classes were already out for the year, but I traveled with a group from Heidelberg's campus ministry to a young adult ministries conference sponsored by the National Council of Churches called Come to the Feast. We'd taken a big van down and wanted to get an early start on the long drive back to Ohio.

I was having some issues with the hour, so I opted for a cup of coffee to help me out. At that time, I needed cream and lots of sugar, which is blasphemy to me now. But the overall experience was marvelous, and that was the beginning.

Since then, coffee has accompanied many hours of reading, writing, waking up, hanging out with friends, and prayer. I associate it with times of relaxation and times when I need a little extra energy. I drink it in the dead of winter to warm up and in the middle of summer despite the temperature. It's been my go-to drink of choice for almost every occasion, day or night.

Lately, as much as I joke about being a coffee addict, I've been trying to cut back. I actually have some issues with acid reflux, and it turns out that coffee is one of those food items that doesn't exactly help the situation. While reflux for me isn't an enduring, overwhelming problem, the most recent flare-up I experienced a few weeks ago was enough to get me to make some necessary dietary choices. I'm aspiring to be a coffee appreciator rather than addict. I'm even drinking more pretend (decaf) coffee now. I'm down to 2-3 cups from 4-5. This needed to happen a while ago, if I'm honest with myself.

So, today I celebrate coffee. I celebrate it every day, but of course today is especially the day to do so. You can look up a list of places, corporate and independent, that offer coffee at discounts or for free. While you're at it, read up on Fair Trade and the advantages and benefits it gives to farming co-ops that otherwise wouldn't have much of a chance in an economy where big corps that produce nasty crap generally rule.

Happy National Coffee Day from Coffeehouse Contemplative.

Friday, September 26, 2014

September 2014 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for September…

1. While reading up on a certain Seattle megachurch's ongoing drama, I came across a statement from one of their many satellite campus worship leaders, Dustin Kensrue. This was from an article on Facebook, under which were a bunch of comments joking about a Thrice reunion. So my natural question was, "what the heck is Thrice?" So I fired up Spotify and picked an album at random (Major/Minor, if you're really curious), and encountered this Creed/Alter Bridge/[insert typical Christian rock band here] sound: the lyrics hint at spiritual themes, the music is inoffensive hard rock. I wasn't really drawn in by it, but I wasn't turned off either. I then found out that their earlier stuff is harder, and clicked on Identity Crisis, which is more of a thrash metal/punk sound, but still with the vaguely religious lyrics. But the latter was more interesting to listen to.

2. I recently read The Mainliner's Survival Guide by Derek Penwell, the review of which you can read here.

3. So, being an iTunes user, I was one of the millions of people who automatically received U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, on my computer. I've kind of been a contrarian when it comes to U2. They've basically been deemed the house band for emerging/progressive Christianity, and I just started to get sick of hearing about them. Don't get me wrong: Bono does great advocacy work and I do enjoy some of their music, but I just can't bring myself to put them on the level that so many others do. Despite that, I decided to listen with an open mind, if for no other reason than it was free and I might as well. Honestly, this sounds like pretty much every other U2 album you've ever heard: the guitar strumming and occasional riffs, the drumming in sync with said strumming, the electronic enhancements…it's been done many many times. A few tracks stood out, such as "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)," the crunchy "Cedarwood Road," and the haunting "The Troubles." The lyrics are personal and interesting, but musically this is the standard sound that the band has put forth for decades with very few surprises.

4. I recently read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, which I was able to do in an evening due to how brief it is. This is Brother Lawrence's beloved classic, in which he reflects on how to cultivate an awareness of God in all things. One of his best-known lines concerns finding God in washing dishes just as much as in the eucharist. It's a marvelous little book in which he speaks of holy habits; constantly finding God in the most mundane of activities.

5. I've been finding the past few years that some of my favorite musical artists have been the ones I stumble upon by accident. This month during a Spotify search, I discovered Grace and Tony, a self-described "punkgrass" band from Tennessee. They might remind people a little of Mumford and Sons, although there's something a little more raw and intimate about their sound. I first heard their song "November," from their album of same name. Here it is for your listening/viewing pleasure:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Short Prayers


For the disoriented...

God of grace, losing an illusion of possibility and promise may throw us into chaos and despair. The search for a new horizon can be long and disheartening. In the wilderness of disillusionment, be a guide by cloud or fire, by encouraging word or trusted companion, that your reality may ever come into better focus. Amen.

For the depressed...

O God, for those wrestling with depression's pain, the ability and energy to help others understand is an added burden. And yet you stake a cross in the midst of sorrow, inching the downcast toward resurrection hope. When others’ empathy fails, yours does not; may it lead to a newfound dawning of joy. Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Meeting

The opening of the door causes a small bell attached to the frame to jingle. The scant number of patrons and workers remain fixated on their own tasks and conversations. I gently stomp some of autumn's excess moisture off my shoes before moving further into the room, navigating around a few tables to reach the counter.

The barista, a younger woman with a lotus tattoo on her wrist and a streak of red in her dark hair, greets me with a soft smile and asks, "What can I get you?"

I look up at the chalkboards listing the options, glancing out of the corner of my eye to spot the one with whom I am meeting. I just go with a simple mug of the house blend. After I pay, I make my way over to the table by the window where my partner sits by himself.

He's dressed simply, a grey turtleneck sweater over dark blue jeans. His black peacoat is draped across the back of his chair. It's all familiar to me as I remove my own coat and similarly arrange it on my own seat. I sit across from him, nursing my mug as he does his. He doesn't acknowledge me during any of this, preferring to stare into the black liquid in front of him.

I am content to wait, choosing to study his face in the meantime. His glasses help to mask modest circles under his eyes, betraying a fatigue that I'm sure I'll hear about when the time is right. His hair, which I once knew to be dark brown, now has hints of white sprinkled on his temples. He is young, but these features reveal his worries and responsibilities.

The silence persists for a while longer as the acoustic version of a Regina Spektor song starts playing over the speakers. This of all things seems to be what brings him out of his revelry.

"A while ago, somebody told me that I was a good writer," he begins without looking up. "It was a silly thing I was doing at the time, writing stories based on a wrestling character I'd created. E-fedding, they called it. I was actually considered one of the best storytellers on that website for a little while."

He takes a sip of coffee before continuing. "Eventually, I didn't want to write like that any more. But I took the feedback to heart, and started writing in other ways. I figure, hey, I just started my career. I should write about that, use the internet to process my first years, connect with others, all that stuff."

I nod. I know this story. But he wants to tell it, and I want to see where he's going with it. He takes another sip, running his thumb across the rim to catch a wayward drip afterward.

"It was great for a long time. A long time. I kept getting feedback, even got myself some notoriety here and there. That was a little freaky. But I liked it. I figure hey, I gotta keep this up. I gotta keep my audience. Keep writing, keep contributing to the conversation, blah blah blah. Once I stop, they disappear. And then what?"

He notices a couple walk past the window, and this breaks his monologue for a moment. He takes another sip and I do the same. Something the barista says to another customer causes him to turn partially around, then he faces back toward the table. For the first time, he looks up at me.

"At some point, doing stuff the same way gets old, you know? Writing the way I did...I don't need to write that way now. I'm on my second gig, I'm not the new guy on the block any more..."

He trails off, as if trying to find how to phrase his next thought.

"It's like...it's like that Beckett quote. 'I can't go on. I'll go on.' You know? I write, I want to stop, I keep going, because I really don't want to stop. You know? That's, like, the nature of a discipline. Right?"

He falls silent for a time, savoring a few more sips, noticing people passing by the window. Finally, his gaze focuses back on me.

"It's ridiculous, isn't it? I mean, I think I complain about this every few weeks, don't I? 'I don't want to, I want to, I don't, I do.' You get tired of it, I get tired of it. On and on and on it goes. And what changes? What do I end up doing about it? I can't not write. I can't. I have to."

He holds my gaze for a few moments. I wonder if he actually wants me to respond. My mind races to fill the silence as he leans back in his chair. He raises his glasses so that they sit atop his head and folds his arms. I try to buy myself time by taking another sip, watching the window, playing with a cuticle on my left hand.

Just as my mouth finally starts to open, he leans forward again, still looking directly at me.

"There's so much out there, man. Books, music, having kids, the church, this new spiritual direction gig. What am I complaining about? Seriously. I should just suck it up, because that's what real writers do. So if I want to keep pretending to be a real writer, I have to keep going."

I nod, stifling a laugh.

"I dunno. Even the most dedicated ones feel the need to just sweep all their papers and stuff off their desks, right? Be all like, 'the hell with this, I'm gonna go raise pigs,' or something. It happens to all of us, whatever it is that we do. But then the next morning we wake up, make the coffee, and go back to work."

My lips start to move, but he keeps going.

"Well, whatever. Sometimes I just need to hear myself talk it out, you know? There's a lot more to write, a lot more words. Back to work, back to work..."

His voice trails off as he looks back out the window, nodding to himself. He starts tapping his finger on the table. Both these actions become more intense the longer our silence lasts. The traces of a smirk form on the corner of his mouth.

For as long as we sit together, he doesn't say another word. I finally make it to the bottom of my cup. He just keeps watching the street, tracing his mug handle with his finger. I stand, don my coat, and walk my empty mug back over to the counter, where the young woman gives me the same polite smile as earlier. I open the door, once again tripping the bell. He still sits and watches, though what he notices is known only to him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: The Mainliner's Survival Guide by Derek Penwell

The purpose of this book, however, is not to lead cheers for the death of mainline denominationalism. But neither is the purpose to help mainline denominations hang onto dying systems just a little bit longer. My purpose is to help mainline denominations and their congregations get a correct read on the situation, embrace death as a liberation from having to “succeed,” and learn how to live. - Derek Penwell, The Mainliner's Survival Guide

I don't visit popular bookstore chains very often any more. There are at least three reasons for this, the first two of which are more practical. First, I don't really have the time. The closest store to my house is a good 15-20 minute drive, and I haven't been able to justify the trip. The second reason is related to the first, in that ordering online is faster and in many cases cheaper. I suppose I'm contributing to the death of the physical bookstore in this way, which I feel bad about, as I do think there is something valuable about their existence.

Anyway, my third reason for no longer frequenting such stores is my knowledge of what I'll find there, at least in the "Religion and Spirituality" section. There will be rows of popular preachers and D-list celebrities smiling (or if they're younger, trying to look indifferent) while touting their success stories, as well as countless titles purporting to share the Big Secret Of Why Churches Are Dying And What Can Be Done To Fix It.

It's easy for me to ignore the first set of titles, outside of a few personalities that I still admire. And after years of lapping up every new guide to fixing the church, I've largely given up on them, too.

It's not that the books fitting this latter category aren't helpful. A good deal of them are. Increasingly, clergy and church leaders have been given access to books that seem less interested in quick fixes and magical growth models, and more interested in getting an accurate read on the cultural climate so that we really know what we're dealing with. These are slower to propose solutions, arguing that we need to have a real understanding of the challenges first.

Don't get me wrong. These analyses are helpful and needed. It's just that I've read so many of them that I wonder what yet another book on the subject could tell me that would seem new and fresh and worthwhile. What's more, most of these books are geared more toward an evangelical church culture rather than those old mainliners, who each perhaps have different entry points and different needs when it comes to realizing what is happening and planning how to address it.

Derek Penwell's The Mainliner's Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World has a few things going for it that sets it apart from the pack. While raised in an evangelical tradition, Penwell eventually was ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and as the title suggests, he seeks to address mainline denominations such as his own in particular. By "mainline," he means those denominations that largely had their heyday in the mid-20th Century such as the United Methodists, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), and a handful of others including his own.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is a brief historical treatment of Christianity's varying place in the United States. He spends quite a bit of time in the Revolutionary War era, describing a decline in church membership for a time after the war that picked up again thanks to the Second Great Awakening. He notes parallels between that era and our own, particularly a questioning of where authority lies. Just as people in the newly free colonies questioned and tested their freedom of and from religion, so we are experiencing a similar exploration of religious authority today. No longer can denominations and their structures assume that their authority will be recognized. Thanks to the wealth of information and social options now at our fingertips, authority no longer looks the same. I found this the most interesting and novel section of the book, as I had not previously heard this treatment of early American history and the wrestling with religious authority that accompanied it.

The second and third sections might be familiar to those who have encountered similar books. In the second, Penwell explores some of the features of this new landscape, particularly as it relates to younger generations: they/we are more apt to embrace the term "spiritual but not religious," are more likely to embrace diversity and inclusivity, and are more technologically savvy. These factors, as one might imagine, are important to consider when attempting to understand what speaks to younger generations.

The third section makes a few suggestions, or at least presents some broad features of what churches and denominations might need to look like and be in order to embody faithful discipleship for this new reality, namely taking social issues seriously, recognizing that places such as pubs or coffeehouses tend to serve as one's "third place" more regularly than churches, being environmentally aware, becoming more welcoming to LGBT people. To varying degrees, these chapters will not be very surprising especially to mainline churches who perhaps have already been observing them. The difference, Penwell argues, is in how well mainliners communicate that they care about these things. In this cultural climate, people may be less apt to embrace denominational institutions, but might find more meaning in local church involvement if they see such churches are taking these issues seriously.

Penwell presents the issues facing mainline denominations with historical perspective and a casual, accessible approach to the modern incarnation of our situation. This would serve as a great introduction for a church-wide study. Even for those wearily browsing bookstore shelves, there is something new to be found.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions About Spiritual Direction

I've received a few questions lately about spiritual direction, and it seemed worthwhile to address some of the most common I've heard and even asked myself the past few years in one place. This list isn't exhaustive, but hopefully it hits most of the obvious ones.

What is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is helping another nurture his or her relationship with God. They do this by making suggestions regarding prayer practices, listening to and helping name another's experience, and celebrating, honoring, and respecting how the person and God are relating to each other. For a much longer explanation, read this.

How is spiritual direction different from meeting with a pastor for counseling? People seek pastoral counseling for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's for advice about a difficult life situation, sometimes it's for resources regarding a faith question, sometimes it's for a referral to some other service that could help address a need. And only sometimes is it for help with the sort of awareness mentioned in the last answer. Whereas pastors may be considered general practitioners, one approaches a spiritual director for the more specialized reasons mentioned above. And, on the other hand, spiritual directors are not meant to provide the other things for which one may seek a pastor.

How often does one typically meet with a spiritual director? For more open-ended, less structured types of spiritual direction, the most common setup is monthly. However, if one wishes to take on a prayer retreat such as journeying through Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, meetings would likely be more frequent such as daily or weekly depending on context.

How do I find a spiritual director? One of the easier ways to find a spiritual director might be to peruse the website of Spiritual Directors International. They have a "Seek and Find Guide" where you can type in your location and see where spiritual directors registered with that organization are located nearby. Another possibility might be to Google certification programs near you, as they may be able to refer you to people who have completed their program. Local retreat centers might also have directors with whom they work or who regularly make use of their facilities.

Are there fees involved? Some spiritual directors engage in this ministry to make a living, either full-time or bi-vocationally. Others use it for supplemental income. Regardless, spiritual direction is a helping vocation that requires an investment of time and resources on the part of the director in order to provide a service to directees. There are no standard rates for such a service, but directees should probably anticipate a conversation about this during their first session with a director. Some have rates that they work with, but most take into account the financial reality in which their directees live and adjust accordingly.

Are there different kinds of spiritual directors? There is no uniform training program or list of requirements for becoming a spiritual director; thus, spiritual directors come from a variety of religious backgrounds and are trained in a variety of traditions and practices. For instance, my background is United Church of Christ, but I am certified through a Catholic program that focused on the thought of Ignatius of Loyola. In similar fashion, other directors will work primarily through other practices or thinkers. Even though the background and training of each is different, a spiritual director is meant primarily to listen and respond to the experience of each individual directee rather than attempt to conform him or her to the tradition out of which the director comes.

Does someone have to be certified in order to be considered a spiritual director? Like most everything else nowadays, one is perfectly free to do some studying and practice on one's own and could probably call themselves a spiritual director. However, one who has gone through a formal program has been through an intensive and intentional time of study that has included theology, technique, and professional ethics. If a mentor or incredibly spiritually insightful friend can be helpful to you, then they could in some sense be considered a spiritual director to you. But a spiritual director who has been through an official program has been trained to approach your needs in a formal capacity, and is more accountable to his or her peers as well.

How can I be certified as a spiritual director? Much like how to find a spiritual director above, the SDI website has a page to search for formation and training programs. Similarly, a Google search or inquiry to local centers might also yield some leads. As mentioned, no two programs are alike: each will have different requirements, emphases, and backgrounds. It might be worthwhile to weigh several options, although that might not be possible in all cases.

What could I expect to experience in a typical spiritual direction certification program? Again, this will vary. Mine took two years and several thousand dollars in tuition, not including the cost of books. Spiritual direction programs aren't exactly on every street corner, so you're probably in for a commute as well. In terms of content, you can probably expect an introduction to the tradition(s) and practice(s) you'll be working with the most, some theology, some sessions on boundaries and ethics, some paper writing, and a supervised practicum. The specifics will be different for each program.

Will you be my spiritual director? I'm not really ready to hang out my shingle just yet, which is why I haven't joined SDI. I'm taking each request as it comes, but right now time won't allow for me to take more than a handful of directees at the most. That, and I'm limiting myself to the immediate area. So basically, probably not. But asking wouldn't hurt.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Small Sips Needs To Get Out More

Free-range pastors. Joseph Yoo shares some thoughts on pastors keeping office hours, and how helpful such an expectation might be:
Whether good or bad, the pastor becomes the biggest representative of the church. The reputation of a church often hangs on the reputation of the pastor. If you truly think your pastor is wonderful, then why are you keeping him in the office and not allowing other people to get to know him? 
That's not to say that the pastor should forgo office hours completely. Some time in the office is important. But the church should encourage the pastor to get out more. If your pastor talks about inviting people to church, hold her accountable by making her go in the community and start connecting with non-church members and invite people to partner with what God is doing in your faith community. Let your pastor engage with people of the community more by perhaps letting him set up shop at a local coffee cafe to get the feel of the people who live in the area. Encourage your pastor to be a little league coach or join book clubs. In other words, be willing to share your pastor with the community instead of hoarding him.
I used to keep hours in a coffeehouse, and it was some of my favorite time of the week. I'd chat with regulars, connect with community members, and be introduced to people. Drop-ins from church members weren't all that frequent, but they didn't need to be as my main purpose simply was visibility and familiarity. When I got to a point where the workers would reserve an apple fritter for me, that's when I knew I'd arrived!

I haven't yet established community hours in my not-as-new-anymore pastorate, but it's definitely on my to-do list. Being seen by the community is very important for both the pastor and church.

Go Team! That was awful. I'm sorry. Robert Crosby makes the case for churches to use teams in their structure rather than committees:
One of the first recommendations I have for a church determined to live and act as a teaming church is this: If at all possible, get rid of the word “committee”. I know that in some cases this may require a change in the verbiage of your church constitution and in some cases it is not possible, but here’s my rationale: Many people have come to view committees in churches, and often in businesses and government, as the sure-fire way to kill any good idea. Unfortunately, they often see a committee as something you “sit” on instead of “serve” with. So, if your congregation and constitution will support it—change from the word “committees” to “teams” or “action groups”. Or, at least, start to informally refer to the committee as a team. If you cannot officially lose the C-word, at least determine that you are going to train your committees how to function like true teams. The church will thank you for it.
One might argue that this is just semantics. After all, if you rename your committee a team and nothing else changes, then you haven't changed much. But renaming them teams is one of a list of changes that can be made to encourage a different mentality. By itself, it won't change anything. But as part of a larger shift in mindset and approach, it can make a big difference.

Because YES. Maren Tirabassi composed a poem about the ALS ice bucket challenge:
Of course, they’ve borrowed
our sacrament, 
the one we let become warm
and small and personal and private
and cheap. 
They got it right –
a big splash in front of everyone,
for the sake of those
living with ALS, 
a wild, re-jordaned
cold compassion, soaking –
holy defiant dove and all
to heal
lou gehrig’s disease.
Read the whole thing, because YES.

YES AGAIN. My colleague Julian DeShazier on why ministry matters, via the SALT project:



"Funny if it wasn't so sad" epitomized. Brant Hansen occasionally writes "if Jesus had a blog" posts, which are basically paraphrases of a story from the Gospels. The post is then followed by a series of made-up comments, which tend to hold up a mirror to Christianity as we know it today. The latest blog from Jesus begins as follows:
Quick thought while we’re out and about. (BTW, borrowing Peter’s iPhone so forgive typos, thanks. I got one of those “Go” phones but it stopped…) 
People love arguments. They love dividing. 
But here’s what I want for MY people: I want unity. Bear each other’s burdens, love when people are unlovable. Show the world how it’s done. They’re watching.  
Unity. i want unity.
The punchline, as always, is in the made-up comments section. Read it and laugh, and possibly also weep.

Wibbly-wobbly cello-y wello-y. Here's the Doctor Who theme on cello. Why, you ask? I ask WHY NOT:



Misc. 10 Christian stereotypes that Brett Shoemaker hates. My only gripe is the Corona picture. There are so many better options, man. Let's just make autumn resolutions. Jan on in-demand pastors. Gordon Atkinson on being nobody. Reese Roper with a great story about wandering around New York City.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Process of Change

I'm a big fan of change, especially in the church. My upbringing as a pastor's kid kind of ingrained change into me; it helped me accept change as a natural, inevitable fact of life. This has been a helpful asset for me in ministry.

The church needs to change. We've been hearing this for years via countless books, articles, speakers, workshops, conferences, and blog posts. It's a new era and a new culture, we're told. The church can't just make the same assumptions about its place in the world any more. Both in terms of the way it functions internally and the way it interacts with the surrounding community, the church needs to face the reality of each and make changes accordingly.

There are at least two ways to go about making changes.

The first follows the adage "it's better to ask forgiveness than permission." I've used this method plenty of times as I've tweaked worship, altered the way I structure confirmation and other programs, established my approach to visitation, and even when I've changed the way I've greeted people before worship (seriously, this was an issue at one point).

Usually, this first method may be used with smaller things, or perhaps when a pastor is still new and establishing that he or she probably will end up doing things a bit differently than the last person. Depending on the issue, it could be used with larger items as well. There do come points when something is so obviously broken that ministry staff and/or the governing board could get away with an executive decision and then put out a few fires afterward.

The second way to make changes is a little more complicated, and a bit slower. It recognizes the complexity of a church system and carefully weighs the impact of a decision on that system. This second method recognizes all the moving parts involved and understands that it needs to take its time, to evaluate, to consult.

Let's be clear about something with this second way: change really is going to happen. Sure, some churches use the process as an excuse to put off a decision until everyone gets so worn down that they stop caring and nothing happens. But that's not what I'm talking about. Instead, I'm talking about a process where the ones in charge of making a change do their homework first. They are propelled forward by a certain urgency, but they temper it with enough patience to make sure the people and programs it will affect have given their input and will have appropriate consideration in order to adjust.

Taking the time to go through such a process doesn't mean change isn't coming. It just signals a desire to gather enough information and lay enough groundwork that the impending change comes in light of proper account of what it will affect. How will this change affect staff? How will it alter program schedules? Do people in charge of those programs know about the change we're considering? How will this change affect visitors? What impact might this change have on various demographics of our congregation, e.g., young families, the elderly, etc.? What might this change do for our relationship to the community?

These are questions worth pondering for a while. If you're asking them just to put off a decision, you're doing it wrong. But if you're asking them because you love your fellow members and want the best for your church as a whole going forward, then you're taking the time to do it right.

It is indeed better to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes. But other times call for a little more time, consideration, and care. Discerning which calls for which is the first step.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Vintage CC: Gas Bubble Smiles

Coffeedaughter's first birthday is today, so this post from just last year, September 2013, came to mind. Much of this has has played out: she's discovered her own laugh and reasons for happiness, and they have been a joy to see develop. I've loved this first year with her, and look forward to what the next will bring.

If you attend more than one wedding that I officiate, you'll likely notice that my homily is some variation on the same theme: today is not the most important thing. Today you are awestruck, and everything is beautiful, and everyone is smiling, and the future is as pure and pristine as it possibly could look through the lenses of this big overly expensive celebration. Tomorrow, of course, it will all be different: everyone will have gone home, and there will be bills to pay and careers to juggle and inevitable hard situations to manage.

It's the classic "wedding vs. marriage" schtick that many pastors talk about in many weddings on any given weekend. No matter how much time and money and energy you've spent planning for this time featuring fancy dresses and carefully prepared food, this will not be how it always is. Eventually, you actually have to start figuring out how to live with each other, quirks, warts, bad habits and all, preferably for a lifetime.

The wedding is the living out of a fairytale for a day, but we never hear the story about how Snow White always yells at Prince Charming for peeing on the toilet seat and how Charming has to occasionally nudge Snow White during the night to get her to stop snoring. It always stops with the shiny happy hopeful moment before all that stuff starts.

This doesn't just apply to marriage, of course. Pick any grand moment that one may celebrate: graduation, a new job, and news of a pregnancy and eventually the birth. Any of these may be marked with that same big moment featuring congratulations and smiles and indulgence, but then again, everyone goes home and it's time to actually live into this new reality, whatever it is.

The birth of Coffeedaughter, as expected, was that kind of a moment. Announcing it on Facebook probably brought the record number of "likes" for anything I've ever posted there. Likewise, well-wishes and celebratory words came from Coffeewife's co-workers, my spiritual direction classmates, and other friends and family in other ways. And don't get me wrong, it was truly wonderful to finally see her, hold her, begin interacting with her. I looked forward to having her home, having Coffeeson meet her, and all those other things you imagine before they actually happen in real time.

So naturally, when Coffeedaughter actually did come home a few days later, that was something to celebrate in itself. But that's when the fairytale ends and reality begins. We knew it would; we'd been through this before. At that point comes meconium-filled diapers and feedings at 2 a.m. and crying fits that seem to have no justification whatsoever. Then comes actually learning what it means for a family of three, who have established their little routine and have come to know each other's preferences and idiosyncrasies, to learn what it means to add one more. Eventually will come reconsidering how work schedules affect the family system and making sure that Coffeeson gets to where he needs to be on time and eventually the inevitable clash of siblings. No more fairytale; no more high moment of blissful delirium pretending that this is how it will always be.

On the third night of this new-yet-familiar experience, around 3 o'clock in the morning following a sequence of giving Coffeedaughter a bottle, changing a poopy diaper, needing to give her another bottle, and worrying about the onset of carpal tunnel trying to get her to burp, I set to trying to rock her gently back to sleep so that I in my zombie-parent state could maybe get a little myself. As it turns out, my new little bundle of basic needs wanted to take a moment to check everything out instead. Her eyes, as wide as I had ever seen them up to that point, were looking around the room, at the ceiling, at me. And then, as if satisfied with her little survey, she slowly began to close them. And she smiled.

I know that, developmentally speaking, this was not really a smile of amusement or contentment. It was not an emotional reaction to something in her surroundings. Instead, the most likely culprit was a bubble of gas making its way through her tiny frame. No, it will be a while before she can express happiness and joy.

But for me, running on the endurance energy that parents dig down to find in those early morning moments, I caught a glimpse of what I can look forward to. There are aspects of these first fairytale-squashing months that suck, which I'll be glad to leave behind as we start to establish a regulated sleep and eating schedule. But there is and will be joy: of holding close this delicate little person, of watching her grow and discover herself.

And there will be smiles. Real ones. The ones that come from seeing some silly thing that her daddy does or gentle tickles from her mom, or from wanting to be involved in whatever her big brother is doing. There will be laughter, too, the infectious high-pitched full-bodied kind that only the littlest among us can pull off. And there will be reciprocal love in the midst of this joy; that causes it, really, and that will get us collectively through each day of new coordinating challenges and each night of hoping to string together a few hours of rest.

And really, that's the closest to a fairytale that one could hope for.