Monday, January 31, 2011

Peace in the Middle East

I remember as a child when Desert Storm stole the fathers of some of my friends in elementary school. We didn't know what the Operation was about or really where the "Middle East" was, but it became common playground lingo to toss up a casual, "Peace in the Middle East," in our most adult voices. While most of my friends' dads returned, the confusion of that place had plagued me well into adulthood.

I've tried to understand the War in Iraq and the accusations some conservative news networks paint as Israeli and Muslim problems (as though the two terms are interchangeable). I've looked at maps as I've read and my twitter feed as they light up with violence and conflict and tragedy... but somehow that hazy cloud of misunderstanding has remained.

But there's one thing most children can relate to: the dream of becoming an archeologist. The pyramids, King Tut, mummies, treasures buried in the sand... Aladdin... okay, I know that Disney doesn't put it all into perspective, but there are major parts of American childhood from the 1990s that include middle eastern interest!

That's why this conflict in Egypt has suddenly piqued my interest so heavily. I do not claim to fully understand what is going down, but I am trying hard to find the news. I'm hitting my knees in prayer for the people whose lives have gone from somewhat normal to absolute frightening chaos. I've read accounts of men-- fathers, brothers, husbands-- patrolling the streets to keep their houses, neighborhoods and families safe. I've read about the internet being shut down and thanked God that I've been able to use this same tool to read about the conflict and strife in Egypt. I've found the sites that are helpful in breaking down what is actually happening: like this site. And I've even been humbled by a blogger when I dare critique American news for failing to really tell the depth of this "conflict" in Egypt.

Even our bishop has written a response to make clear the depth and need for prayer as well as accounting for our own Lutheran brothers and sisters living in Cairo in the midst of this.

I'm still searching for words. I'm still sorting through emotions... but I'm finally getting it. I'm finally becoming more than a contented naive American who is invested in the lives and welfare of her fellow human beings.

And I can't help but see the fingerprints from Sunday's Gospel stamped all over this issue...

When Jesus
saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Tonight, as I sort through this, I pray for the peacemakers & the persecuted. I pray for those who are reviled as were the prophets in the midst of proclaiming the Gospel. I pray for the poor in spirit who lack hope, for those who mourn, the meek and those who stand in the midst of chaos and violence, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

It's not much... but, for now, it's all I can do.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Favorite Lady

Today, six years and ten days after C. Lawrence Hamme, my grandfather, passed away, the beautiful Pauline F. Hamme has gone home. I am alone. I cannot go home until after church tomorrow and I'm not certain I should until closer to her memorial service... which is tentatively scheduled for Saturday.

I woke to the phone call.

I'm both grateful and numb.

I took a shower and then used that ridiculous hair towel that Grandma gave each of us when she first began losing her hair nearly fifteen years ago.

I made coffee in my Keurig because that is what I would be drinking if I were sitting at my Grandma's kitchen table today... and how I long to sit at that table with her one more time.

I'll make warm vanilla milk as I settle in tonight before bed.

I am unsure of what the days ahead of me will hold this week. I know that my Grandma is at rest in peace with her Savior. I know that I am, indeed, not alone... and that the beagle has not left my side all day. I suppose, sometimes whether we are ready or not, we get thrust into our new realities. This new reality means that 203 days from now, as I prepare to walk down the aisle, I will be loving Paulie Hamme from afar.

Love and miss you, Gramma. Rest eternal grant her, Oh Lord.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Today I Laughed...

Usually, upon parting with Jason, it takes me a while to straighten back out. If he does the leaving, I nestle in a warm blanket with the beagle and allow the sleep of impending loneliness to wash back over me. If I do the leaving, I spend four or so hours behind the wheel in silence, sorting out the hopes and frustrations of this life with my Creator.

We spent a whole five days together for the first time since before we became vicars over Christmas. It was amazing. The week back to work was lost somewhere between mountains of work, a summit on poverty and a dizzying head cold. Today, though... today I laughed. I slept in until 8 o'clock with 38 pounds of snoring hound by my side. I took an extended shower, braided my hair, packed my "One Good Woman" tote and filled the travel mug with the last mug of pumpkin coffee for the year.

Together, Tucker and I faced and conquered the 4,000 feet of treacherous curves that separates us from good produce and cheap gas. Well, technically speaking, I faced the mountain and he hid his face in the seat cushion to stave off car sickness... but you get the picture. We arrived at the open air farmers market and loaded up on handmade, crusty breads, farm fresh eggs and an adventure into an unknown squash. Armed with these tasty treasures, we turned a few blocks and discovered the fabric shop of wonders. I only bought a few notions, but plan to brainstorm exciting things for the many friends who are expecting wriggly little ones of their own soon and return.

I made a quick stop at the Brand Name Bookstore further into town and purchased a few new magazines and a book to tide me over until my mind can be made up on good reads to order from Amazon.

And when it was time to load the car back up, I found the local NPR station. I'd nearly forgotten how much "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" makes me laugh aloud. The Subaru, as it breezed through the miles of tree-lined road and bumbled back up and over the mountain, clung to that NPR station until it could no longer be heard through the fuzz. The laughter still clung aching in my cheeks. Lovingly prepared breads, new notions, a magazine on the happenings of the world and a carsick beagle topped off with a heaping scoop of Carl Kassell has brought me back to life.

Today I laughed... and remembered that in the midst of the isolation and quiet, God exists. In the middle of a bobbling beagle and a mountain of great proportions, there is a God who brings laughter and life to the surface.

And for that I am ever grateful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My First Christmas Eve...

It’s early winter in Bethlehem. There’s a chill in the air and the scent of damp straw hangs all around. The cattle are lowing… the stars are shining extra bright. Something incredible has occurred this night. Tonight, for the first time since humanity stood amidst the Garden of Eden, God tangibly comes to us. Pretty incredible, no? This tiny, wriggly baby—Jesus, Emmanuel—is fully human, and fully God.
And, yet, where is the fanfare? God, who created the earth from nothing, had the power to choose anyone on earth to bear and raise his Son… so he chose a young woman, not more than a child herself; and a common carpenter.
It seems like a rather strange way to save the world, doesn’t it?
When I think about raising children, the Nigerian proverb which says, "Ora na azu nwa” comes to mind. Translated, it means, “It takes an entire community to raise a child.” Hillary Clinton made this proverb famous when she named her 1996 book “It takes a Village to Raise a Child.” As a youth minister, I can attest to this notion—that it’s not only a child’s family that influences who they become as they grow up… but also the community, school and friends that surround them.
If I were to choose a family to raise my child, I would require some serious applications. I would want not only to meet the couple, but might require several references, a tour of the community in which my child would be raised and a guarantee that s/he would be raised in a good church.
What on earth could God be thinking, choosing two peasants who aren’t even married yet to raise His one and only son?
What kind of life could he possibly have? Born, not in a warm cozy home where Mary had been “nesting” for weeks, but in a strange land, placed in a feeding trough. This is nothing like the birth stories with which we are familiar. There’s no account of midwives helping with delivery while Joseph paces the floor... There is no mention of warm water or receiving blankets… Jesus was wrapped in bands of cloth.
There was no one waiting outside the room for the good news of safe delivery and the anticipated declaration “IT’S A BOY!” There was livestock. This new family found its humble beginnings lost somewhere in the shuffle of the world’s first census.
But that’s not entirely true, now is it? There were shepherds not far from this strange scene… but why shepherds? Isn’t there an inn with people close by?
One scholar writes that, “[Shepherds] are people whom we wouldn't expect to be worshiping Jesus. Because of their jobs, shepherds normally didn't make it to the Temple worship services. They didn't practice Sabbath day observances. They were seen as ignorant, irreligious, immoral, crude and vulgar Jews – and they smelled bad, too.[1]
Some biblical scholars have even noted that shepherds were so shifty in their business practices—letting their sheep graze on other’s land—that they were not permitted as witnesses in courts of law.[2] That’s right-- men who were not considered fit to be witnesses in court, are the first to witness the Christ child![3]
The angel appears to this motley crew—not the pious Pharisees or Saducees—and announces to them the birth of the Lord, the Messiah… the one for whom the people of Israel have been waiting and waiting.
Let’s recap the story so far. It’s a brisk night in Bethlehem, miles and miles from Nazareth. Mary and Joseph are exhausted from traveling and have just born witness to the birth of this tiny baby, they know to be the Messiah. There is a stillness hanging in the air…no one with whom to celebrate this incredible experience… when suddenly a bunch of shifty, smelly shepherds come stumbling upon the scene babbling about angels and a celestial experience...
It doesn’t sound real, does it? It might even sound a bit… crazy.
If it truly takes a village to raise a child, why would God send his only begotten Son to a community of peasants, livestock and unsavory shepherds?
I’ll tell you why: Because this child—this babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, this SAVIOR—is not to be raised by any village. He came to raise our village. It takes this child to raise our entire community.
This is the story of how our God became human and entered the most neglected, unsavory places on earth, that no one could be left out. This story is not about a virgin mother or a carpenter; it’s not about a multitude of angels or shepherds… it is about God incarnate.

God takes the commonplace details of life and enters in, making them holy. God does not reside on some unattainable throne dressed only in the finest linens. God the Son became human and laid in a manger, wrapped in bands of cloth. Jesus, Son of God, suffered the shock of birth—grasping for his first breaths of humanity—so that we might know the salvation he brings.

No matter what this year, or this decade, has brought: pain, illness, shame, suffering, even ambivalence… this story tells us of the invitation God makes to us, like the unsavory shepherds. Despite who we are or how we’ve acted, Jesus Christ breaks into our world and becomes human like us so that he can die for us and for our sins. My fiancĂ© wrote earlier that, “Tonight we celebrate and remember, not just to give gifts, not just to see a baby in a manger, but to ponder the great gift of eternal life that is wrapped in those bands of cloth in that stable.”

It’s early winter in (_______, West Virginia). There’s a chill in the air. The chickens are roosting… the stars are shining extra bright tonight. Something incredible has occurred this night. Tonight, and for the past two thousand years, our God has walked among us to show us love, compassion and forgiveness. Pretty incredible, isn't it?

[1] Brian Stroffegen,

[2] Brian Stroffegen,

[3] ibid.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

December Newsletter...

"Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth."
Psalm 71:9

I came across the classic poem by Robert Fulghum the other day, titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I’m sure you’ve seen it at some point or another… it brings up everything from the importance of sharing to the universal need for napping. It is true! The world would be an incredible place if we all followed the rules of the Kindergarten classroom. But, while there is a lot of truth to this philosophy, I have learned a lot of important lessons from our residents in the latter stages of life, as well.

- I’ve learned that hearing a story repeated several times can be a gift. Our fast-paced culture is becoming more and more lousy at listening… what better way to practice our listening skills than to hear the same story repeated!

- I’ve learned that there is no such thing as too many hugs. We live in an ever-isolating culture. The best place to give hugs and receive smiles is in the hallways of PM. My loneliest days are brightened with a stroll through the halls!

- I’ve learned that words shouldn’t be wasted. Speak up, annunciate and be efficient with your words…

- And, most importantly, I’ve learned that God is present in the most unexpected of places. Our Creator’s fingerprints are present all around PM… from the ever-quiet woman who yells, “I LOVE YOU!” to the glimmer of relief in the eyes of a perpetually anxious resident.

The holidays are a lonely time of year for many people. Families miss loved ones who have passed… single people miss the company of others… residents miss their families. We can easily be swept up in this loneliness, like the voice in Psalm 71:9. What if we were to reach out to one another? There is so much to be learned from and shared with the residents and staff of PM and people all around us. My prayer for each of us is that we not shy away from opportunities to discover God’s presence among us!

God’s peace to you this Christmas and always!

Jessie Hamme

Monday, September 27, 2010


My grandma ("Gramma") has discontinued her chemo therapy. It has been nearly fourteen years of "fighting" lymphoma. It has been nearly fourteen years of sickness, weakness, sores from radiation... and a few months ago, she stopped. She decided to live and smile and breathe.

She ventured out to my little sister's beautiful little house the other week (with the generous help of my parents) and stayed in a hotel. Ironically, she came through the woods and over the river to see me this past weekend. She's seen four grandchildren grow up and has suffered the sudden loss of a beloved great-grandchild before we could meet him.

It's been a tough year... facing the impending loss of an incredibly strong woman whom we all love so very much... and all coping with the sudden loss of a precious little guy we all loved so very much and anticipated meeting. It's been especially tough living away from everyone as they suffer.

And, so, I've made an effort to honor my family in my new place. I pray differently... without ceasing... in every moment for the ones I love who suffer sudden or impending loss. I snuggle my supervisor's little son more. I weep with the woman who has recently miscarried. I hug the "grandmas" at the Nursing Home and tell them I love them...

Tonight, though, I honored a favorite memory of my Grandma that I had almost forgotten from my childhood. Tonight, as I helped get two sleepy little people ready for bed, I recognized the homesickness in their cries. I knew what it is to miss one's mommy. And, recalling what my Grandma used to do for us, I made Gramma's special warm milk. Sure... it was special for the sleepy little girl... but it brought a new and familiar peace to my heart. These are the ways I honor my family. I knit booties for little ones who are not yet born, praying for their safe arrival. I add a few drops of vanilla to warm milk for a weepy little girl...

I remember that the God I love and cherish is present in the midst of my suffering... holding the baby we all dreamed of holding... preparing a space for a beautiful woman... comforting a sister who mourns... supporting grown children in the anticipation of impending loss...

I remember that my God is also our God and that we are all held in compassionate, all-knowing love.

I remember these things... I weep... and I know that it is well with my soul.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Camfire Marshmallow

I purchased two candles from the local Country General Store. One is scented "Ginger" (it smells like pumpkin...) and the other "Campfire Marshmallow." Campfire Marshmallow scent is the perfect combination of all the best aspects of Autumn in one jar. I think I'll buy a hundred so that I can take them with me when I leave here...

Family is en route from Pennsylvania to these mountains I call home today. I get a little more than twenty-four hours with my parents and my Grandma. We'll go to the General Store, the local restaurant, tell stories, worship together... it's already perfect and it hasn't even started!

I love it here. I love watching the mountains brighten with yellows and reds and oranges as they prepare for winter. I love taking a watering can out to my pitiful flowers in the hopes of bringing them through this awful drought. I love wading in the low river with a happy beagle. I love the small town veterinarian who keeps "office hours" and not appointments. I'm even growing to love the giant mountain which divides me from the convenience of the life I used to know.

There is a peace that comes with Autumn. As Creation gears up for it's weary rest in Winter... I see the artist hand of God in every detail. It's a period of waiting that deepens my understanding and love for God. A renewal before hunkering down in anticipation of heavy snows and depleting resources. Autumn makes any waiting period seem do-able.