Pastoral Ponderings…January/February 2016

Dear God,

Stories are life. In funerals one of the most significant things is to tell stories. Here’s one of mine.

You remember my friend, Claire Hanson, the mother of my old girlfriend, Jeremy? Claire put me through college so I could become a minister. Her only expectation…that I be a good minister. She’s stood in your presence for years now, but I always pray that she is happy with her investment.

I started dating Jeremy, when I was in high school. She broke up with me in my freshman year of college to date my best friend, Mark. Therein lies this comical story.

Mark, Jeremy, and I decided to meet in La Crosse, WI, for Oktoberfest in 1974.   Mark drove his little Honda 360 motorcycle the 180 miles from Oconomowoc, WI, and Jeremy drove the 111 miles from Stevens Point, WI, in a non-descriptive and often unreliable “college car”. I, on the other hand, decided to thumb the 110 miles from Menomonie, WI.

I’d never hitch hiked before but it was perfect Fall weather and I was lucky to not have to walk too many miles over the entire trip. Thumbing in Minnesota a van pulled over with two guys heading to Oktoberfest themselves. What luck! When they opened the side door the pungent odor of marijuana rolled over me (don’t worry, I didn’t inhale) and I climbed in and sat next to their cooler of beer. It turns out that they were both dentists from Minneapolis who made this their annual “Las Vegas trip”. I was in heaven, but remember, I didn’t inhale!

Over the weekend Jeremy decided she should date Mark who, as it might be noted, was always water skiing and, therefore, tanned, and had long, blond hair compared to my already balding head. OK, so this was all getting a bit weird. She chose a blond-haired version of me: bubbling personality, accomplished, congenial, intelligent, funny, and humble. Go figure, that hair meant that much!

The story gets better. Mark was scheduled to drive me the 110 miles back to Menomonie on his motorcycle…and it decided to start snowing…significantly! It should be noted that a Honda 360 is not intended to take two guys and their gear on long trips. I ended up riding for two hours with my arms around the waist of the guy whom my now ex-girlfriend had just dumped me for…in a blowing snowstorm on a motorcycle with only a windbreaker (remember, it was nice when I left). Jeremy eventually broke up with Mark who still water skies but has lost his shaggy hair. Justice!

That’s one of the stories in life I’ve collected. Can you see why I love stories?

Anyway, back to Jeremy’s mother, Claire. She always said I was the son she never had, (obviously her standards could have been higher), and she treated me as such. She would lovingly encourage me and chew me out with the same words as my own mother would: “Now, Daniel Joseph Herman, do you think that was the smartest thing to do?” (I always loved that question because the answer was so obvious: “No”.) Claire and my mother grew to be the very closest of friends over the years. In retrospect their friendship may have been built on the common bond of exasperation in raising me.

Clair would often tell me, “You are blessed with the gift of gab”, which is something no teenage boy wants to hear. Little did I know how important that gift would be in my life and ministry, but I’ve found this to be especially true around funerals. Because of this “gift” I can talk with people quite easily and they share with me their stories and the stories of their loved ones.

Why do I mention all of this? Because in funerals two things are important. First, people need to hear the reassurance that you will always carry them through the valley of the shadow of death. Second, people need to hear stories of their loved ones life. We remember stories. They can move us to tears, laughter, sadness, and love. These are the stories which are most precious to them: precious enough to share with a stranger and want to be remembered in a funeral service.

Sometimes I forget that I’m creating new stories every day. But when I die I want people to tell many of the stories of my life…the funny and the sad…while always seeing that you have been with me in every breath and step I take. Thank you for walking alongside of me in the stories I’ve made in you.

As always, thanks for listening. I wouldn’t recommend Oktoberfest or a Honda 360!

Dan