The Newness Of Wrinkles

     Old youth pastors never die they just….Well O.K. they do die. But

this old youth pastor named “Wrinkles” is not quite finished with his bucket thank you very much!

     I am, however slowly emptying my bucket of all things “youthy”. The young man who is my replacement is now fully in place! 🙂

The Replacement, Pastor Brad yay!!!!

     My new role while not yet fully defined will involve worship and the arts (hence the Cornerstone Christian Artist Community) and pastoral care. More music… more teaching… more visiting… and more team-building. This is going to be a blast!

I can’t wait to see what the newness of Wrinkles shall be!


Regret: The Good School Marm

     In Streeter Middle School where I was forced to go as a child (after all nobody chooses to go to Middle School) there was a teacher nobody wanted to have. We called her “Big Bad Bood”. Her real name was Mrs. Boudreau and she owned the reputation of being four and a half feet of pure mean. She taught algebra.

     I began having nightmares about her at the end of seventh grade which continued all through the summer right up until the time I started eighth grade in September. I dreamed about being hit with rulers because I couldn’t balance equations. I dreamed about being forced to inhale nose spray because I didn’t know the difference between positive and negative integers (I know weird :roll:).

    Anyway September came and I met “Big Bad Bood”. She passed out our algebra books and warned us that we would have them covered by next class or face detention. She gave us homework that day and told us how to do it. She taught with no-nonsense and gave us clear direction about what she expected. She answered questions directly and told us “The only stupid question is the one you never ask”.  I learned by the end of day one I had been frightened all summer of someone I actually liked! She was tough. She was a disciplinarian. But if you were willing to work you had nothing to fear.

      I am finding as I enter mid-life that regret is a lot like Mrs. Boudreau. As a young man I never wanted to have regret  just like I never wanted to have algebra. But I have found that regret is a part of life just like algebra is a part of eighth grade. You can’t get through life without it; That’s just part of being an imperfect human being.

    Regret is tough. Regret is a disciplinarian. Regret is a good school marm. It exists to teach us something. If we are willing to learn regret can become a friend rather than a foe. It’s when we sit and do nothing but curse our regret that she turns into four and a half feet of pure mean.

     Listen, we’ve all got regret. It’s how much you resist her teachings that determines how much pain she is going to cause!

What is your regret trying to teach you?


Making the Markers Matter

       I like Saturday morning sunlight better than week day sunlight.     You see, I used to spend Friday nights at my Grandparent’s camp.  I remember every Saturday I would wake up and savor for just a few moments the yellow light that poured through the chintz curtains onto the bedspreads around me.  

      Saturday mornings were always the same. Eggs and toast with orange juice followed by grocery shopping and a historic tour of Athol MA.

     On those morning drives I wrote my first poetry and I memorized the locations of Sentinel Elm, and the homesteads of the Tandys, and the Lillies. I saw almost weekly the three houses my great- great-grandfather built for his daughters and sister. I can still point out the cellar hole of the house my great-grandmother burned down while drying her sons’ clothing over the wood stove.

      On certain special Saturdays my grandparents would take a little longer to complete my education. On those Saturdays Grampa would skip his candlepin bowling and we would make the drive to Erving Where the “first Joseph” was buried.

      I can still hear Gramp’s  gravelly voice litanizing our family history. “You are Joseph Elon Lillie V but we call you the III because your mother didn’t want you to be likened to whiskey…The first Joseph was a wood cutter…father Caleb Elon… his father Caleb senior…all the way back to the revolution…Joseph’s mother-in-law was Susannah Clark they called her “Little Grandmother”…Shay’s rebellion.”

    At least that’s the way I heard it as I phased in and out of consciousness without my grandparents even knowing.

     I didn’t realize it at the time but Gram and Gramps were training me for a job that would become mine in the fullness of time. When they passed, watching over the family grave markers fell to my Aunt Joan and Uncle Walt. Now that they have moved to Seattle to live with their kids I may be the only Lillie who remembers where everyone is!

          This year I took my sister with me to check on the graves. We didn’t stay long. Talking to the dead isn’t our thing (at least not since we came to Jesus) but that really wasn’t the point. I wasn’t there to grieve. I went to make sure the markers still stood, could still be read, to show that the lives they represented still mattered.

     Maybe it’s because I am now on the edge of that phase called middle age, maybe it’s because all my kids are grown and out of the house but I find myself wanting to make things count more than ever. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say “Well that was certainly a waste!”

     My desire to leave a legacy that matters got me thinking about what those who went before left to me:

     As I stood before my father’s marker I could still hear him chiding me “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Give me an answer you can live with.”

     What can I live with? I feel like I am just learning the answer to that now twenty years after his death.


     As I visited the cemeteries this year I realized that these people effected who I am, some of them without ever knowing me. One of them spoke a name that would echo down the generations to their grandson’s grandson. A “little grandmother” lost somewhere in the folds of history has birthed a family that stands for freedom and personal responsibility. Gosh, a couple of these folks have even influenced the way I look at sunlight. They mattered…at least if my life does!

     What will the markers I leave behind matter to those who come after? I want to be more than a potted geranium some grandson I never know buys at his generation’s version of Wal-Mart.

     I’ve been thinking about what I want on my tombstone should Jesus tarry (the way things look that ain’t likely but just say I get hit by a bus or something). I think I want people to say of me “He was someone who really knew how to love. Not the gushy, fake, T.V. romance, messed up love but the real Jesus type of love.”

    I want them to write this in the dash between my years.

      I want people to say “He did it. so can I!”

      As I stood at the graves of my ancestors I realized it’s not the size of the rock that matters but the making of the marker that can only be done by the living of a life.

    I am writing my gravestone as I live each day not so that people will come and leave me pretty plants but so that lives that come behind mine will be changed.

What legacy are you choosing to leave?

Helping Change Along

Things change. Nothing can stop that. Life is a river that keeps flowing. We’re in a boat that cannot find the shore to pull out of the constantly passing scenery.

     We are left with two options: Row with the current and enjoy the ride; Or fight the current and try hopelessly to keep the same scene in our sights for a while.

    I try to be a row with the current guy. I try to find the joy in every circumstance. There are certain things I wish I wasn’t losing sight of.  But who knows, this river twists and turns on itself a lot. Maybe I will get to see those certain sights, I long for, from an even better angle a little further downstream.

    In the meantime I am keeping myself really busy. I’ve decided to help change along by making where I am the best I can make it. Now that’s different from making it the best it can be. Others, I am sure, could do more with what is before me. But with what I have inside of me I am making my best.

In February I planted tomatoes and peppers. Muddy said it was too early.

  “What does she know” I said to myself.

   Apparently she knows more than me. The tomatoes have gotten a little out of hand. I can no

longer put my bedroom shades down! Good thing I live at the back of the house.

    Note to self: When helping change along always take your mother’s suggestions into consideration.

I got tired of waiting for the peppers. So I stuck some butternut squash seeds in the pots. That was the week the peppers started growing. Second note to self: When helping change along don’t rush others who don’t move at the speed you would like. You will be sorry!

     In March I decided it was time to cut down the dead and tangled brush from the side lot. I took two days off to cut down this

And this

And this

And this

In planning to remove the forest I forgot there were trees in it. Trees are big. Chopping’s hard. I’m fat. Third note to self: When helping a big change along,  don’t try to do it all in a day…little steps man…little steps!

     So I figured out I needed more time and I have taken the forest in stages.

     I chopped one day

I burned it up on two days.

I raked it clean another day.

 Then I brought in the trellis.

This probably wouldn’t have taken a whole day if I had actually planned in advance what I was going to do and shared my “infinite wisdom” with the owner of the house.

Fourth note to self : When helping change along, don’t bring big black garden ornaments and slap them in the middle of the lawn willy-nilly without a plan. It makes others nervous.                                                            

Once we made the plan the rest went pretty smoothly. I won’t be chopping down anymore forest this year. The tomatoes are getting too tall and my body needs some time to recover from all this hard work.  Fifth note to self: Before helping change along buy stock in Advil.

How are you helping change along this year?

Fuddy, Duddy, and Muddy Go To The Concert

     What do I do for fun?

     So glad you asked!

     First I get to serve Jesus as a pastor!

I can honestly say there is no better job if you are called to it. I get to pray, preach, and equip the saints of God to be all they can be in Christ! What could be better than that?

     If you have been reading my posts you already know I love to garden. I just moved into my mother’s house. So I have started a massive gardening project to get her house ready for the famine (read all about that in my post, “The Untimely End of the End of the World bunnies”).

     Of course I spend a good deal of time reading and writing.

    Other than these things I love to sharpen my razor wit by sparring with my mother and sister over the latest crossword puzzle, T.V. whodunnit or who’s going home on the evening reality show.

    Now you know why this post is called “Fuddy, Duddy, and Muddy Go To the Concert”.

   Recently the three of us had an opportunity to go see my youngest daughter perform in a chorale at her Bible college. My oldest daughter who stays with me at Muddy’s (my mom’s) several times a week quickly opted to drive down early with a friend. She said it was because her sister had invited her to dinner. I think it was because she didn’t want to ride with Fuddy (me) Duddy (my sister) or Muddy (her you have already met).

     No matter we had a grand time all by ourselves once we acclimated ourselves to the fact we would miss the reruns of NCIS.

    We left early and drove through the snarling traffic on 495. We had Muddy ride in the back. Someday I will think driving an hour to get to a place is too long too. I hope someone is kind enough to put me in the back seat so I can nap on the way. Come to think of it that would be nice now. Kids if your reading this next time we go somewhere far away…DRIVE ME AND LET ME NAP!

     Duddy and I practiced not using our sarcasm bones (read up on sarcasm bones in my postings) on the other drivers.

    We got to Haverhill (which if you’re in Massachusetts is properly pronounced “Hayvrull”) and stopped to eat at. the Longhorn

     We took so long over dinner we were almost late to the concert.  But we made it! And the sounds of those young Bible College students praising God in harmony was thrilling to our hearts.

     Honestly to me this was much more fun than, say, base-jumping!    

     Now I have never been accused of being the most exciting person in the world. In fact most people probably think me boring. I think I am OK with that. As I approach mid-life I have learned three things:

1.Life is not about the recognition, acquisition, or achievement of position. It’s about enjoying the journey day by day.

2. Joy is found by letting God create your moments rather than trying to make life the object of your own creation.

3. If you’re enjoying who, where, and what you are the flash of the world with its offers of recognition, acquisition, and achievement of position lose their allure.

     This Fuddy-Duddy living with his Muddy may sound a tad boring but I am learning the value of godliness with contentment and to me that is one of the most exciting things in the universe.

The Good-bye Girls

    Well year two has begun. Tina dropped Amanda off last week in PA and  Melanie off three days ago in Haverhill. My college children are all officially sophomores!

     I have discovered that empty-nesting is not an event; It is a lifestyle! I thought that when the kids went off to school that would be it. We would go through a period of sadness, loneliness…whatever and then be done. I was not prepared for the up and down road through the mountain passes that Tina and I have walked in this last year. I certainly was not prepared for year two to be worse that year one, but there it is.

     As summer approached my son Joe announced that he would not be coming home at all because he had full time work in PA. That was O.K. It’s not that I don’t miss him, I do! This may sound chauvinistic but somehow his staying in PA seemed right. He’s a son. Making his way in the world is what he is supposed to do. But the girls are a different penny in the wallet. I guess a father’s instinct is to shelter and keep his daughters out of the world as long as he can.  It’s a trend we have to fight in today’s world, but that is more easily said than done.

    I was so glad when both girls announced they would be coming home. Even though Melanie travelled for a month of the summer with her drama team from school, she was home.

    We went to movies. They helped out at the church. We road to church together. We went for walks. We watched ScyFy (“Haven” and “Eureka” all the way baby). Both girls were a huge help with our live-in friends.

    Now they are back in school and this time I am reminded that potentially I have only a few summers  left before the final move out. So packing the van seemed a little more final to me this year than last. I feel a little like New Orleans waiting for Katrina to hit.

     For it all I am reminded that we are responsible to “carry our own weather”. So I plod on and think through to the positive side of things that lie ahead. Tina and I have an increased opportunity to travel and visit the kids. We are moving into a place where we have more freedom and control over our schedules (Admittedly we haven’t really experienced this yet but it is on the horizon). We have walked through the terrible twos, the golden years, the teen years, and now we are entering into our golden years.

     The good-bye girls are harbingers of change. It feels bad just now. But I know these initial feelings are deceptive. I miss the kids but this is an opportunity for all of us to grow. Part of me can’t wait to see where this takes us.

Tell me what you do to conquer sadness.

Reinvention Rehearsed

     The sages of the written word advise that it is always best to “write what you know”. While the current issue of Writer’s Digest may debate that I thought this early on in my life as a blogger I shouldn’t do anything to jiggle the jello bowl before the mold had set; So I’ve written much about life in the church and the challenges believers face today.

    I’m not looking to change the subject matter of “Reinventing the We’ll” anytime soon. But in the midst of the posts on theology and family I don’t want to lose the context or the reason all this began.

    “Reinventing…” was born out of a quaking, as one of our children walked out of our lives “for good” and the other three decided to go off to college together leaving us  empty nesters in…let’s see…two days.

    The blog is about change: how it’s needed, why we face it, how to face it, and those whom we face it with. I don’t just want to discuss the nature of change though or how to go about it. I want us to see a detailed picture of what change looks like in the life of an individual. How does it shape the thoughts, the feelings and the habits.

    You know, it’s all well and good to talk about the need for change in America, or the church, or the school system, or even “those people”, but change is not something we can hold at arm’s length. We all face change and how we face it determines whether change is good or bad.

     So as we deal with the Bible thoughts and the funny family anecdotes, even as you read the youth corner page, never forget the context. Behind the words, behind the thoughts I am always asking these questions, “How does what I am saying help you to change? How does what I’ve just said reinvent you?”

Be Blessed, JE

Salve For The Eyes

     The mysterious “they” say that as  a man ages he finds it harder and harder to deal with change. Maybe it’s a general rule of thumb but speaking as a guy who was never really good at change to begin with I have to say that aging has made me more mellow concerning the subject.

    Maybe it’s just because the older I have gotten the more I have actually dealt with change. The world is always changing in case you haven’t noticed. But I have found changes fall into categories. There are family changes (kids grow, new babies are born, someone dies). There are job changes. There are changes of venue (apartment to house, house to apartment, new town, new roommates). Then there are what I like to call fifty two pick-up changes. These are reserved for those moments when  it feels like God has just taken the deck of cards that is your life and cast them willy-nilly to the wind.

      Funny but thirty years ago I panicked at every change. I remember panicking at the start of every school year because I was going to get new teachers. Gym class was the worst. It took me almost a whole year to establish with the other guys in class that even though I was a nerd who couldn’t dribble, pass, or bat any kind of ball, I was a noble nerd who deserved pity if not respect. Then the year would end and I would have to spend the summer preparing myself to start the training all over again with another class of jocks.

     Back then I didn’t realize change was inevitable. So I continued to hope for the days when I would be an adult, could control my life, and keep everything in balance.

     For a long time I kept that view of things. I kept waiting as the changes continued to take me out of control of my destiny. Every time I fairly freaked as my plans went down the toilet in favor of some new twist in the road.

      Some people say that the end of chapter three in the book of Revelation speaks about the church that would live in the days just before Armegeddon. The letter reveals that church will be lukewarm, lacking passion and possessing an “I don’t care attitude.” This church will be self-satisfied relying on its own strength rather than on the strength of God. Now I don’t know whether this refers to the church of the whole world just now, but I do know that it is a really good picture of the church in America. I know it is a really good reflection of who I have been at certain points in my history as a born again. I think I know why.

    Every generation has faced changes. Some of those generations faced fifty two pick-up changes in straight order. But those generations seemed to deal with change without losing their spark. Our generation has not yet faced its fifty two pick-up but we have been dulled to the core by a myriad of smaller life changes which have left us feeling like we are being pecked to death by chickens.

    John, the author of Revelation, counsels us to “anoint our eyes with eye salve so that we may see.” (Rev. 3:18) 

    There is a connection between lukewarmness and our perception. The way we see situations, circumtances, and changes effects our passion.

     Our generation does not have the benefit of a solid foundation of faith wherein every change is seen in the context of a world under the control of The Divine. Without such a vision every change leaves us swinging in the breeze like lacy underwear in a Texas thunderstorm. It’s no wonder we are plagued by depression, anxiety, and OCD.

     John, the revelator, was right. We do need salve for our eyes so that we can see the changes of life for what they really are. We must somehow get back to the truth that, while the world is going to draw us inexorably into the whirlpool of change, we have a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. All of my life may fall apart with its inconsistency but Jesus Christ will always be by my side to see me through each change.

     If anything this is why I face the challenges and changes of mid-life better than I faced the changes of my twenties and thirties. I’ve got salve for my eyes and I see Jesus more clearly now than ever.

“Ride the Rodeo Wrinkles”

    I youth pastored, in the providence of God, for 17 years. That’s a good run for a youth pastor, in case your wondering.

   It was 2007 and I was judging a Fine Arts Festival several kids from my church were participating in.  I was just minding my own business taking notes on one of the acts when our sectional youth rep brought up a young kid (couldn’t have been more than 20) and introduced him to me.

    “J. this is Rob.” He said. He went on to explain Rob was a new youth pastor visiting our section to see how the Fine Arts festival was pulled off.

    “Why don’t you talk to J. A little Rob? He’s been doing this kind of stuff for years. He probably has a lot of tips that would help your group.” Our rep said.

     “That’s great!” Rob said pumping my hand enthusiastically. He narrowed his eyes appraisingly.

     “How long have you been doing youth ministry?” He asked.

      “About 15 years.” I returned.

      “Wowww! That’s so awesome! I hope I can still handle youth ministry when I’m your a….” 

     I knew right then and there I was the “crypt keeper”. When other youth pastors start calling you grampa, and parents start saying things like “We value your wisdom but are you sure you can keep up?”, you know you have crossed some sort of invisible line in the pastoral world.

    Youth ministry is kind of like riding the bull at the rodeo. The longer you stay on the more points you get. But the longer you stay on the more it hurts. When I started in youth ministry I could do an all-nighter and get up the next morning ready and raring to go. By 2007 sleeping on the floor for youth convention meant for the next week my back would be able to do a rendition of Charro playing the castinets every time I got up from my chair after a meeting.

     Finally by 2008 my senior pastor and I decided it was time for me to hang up my spurs. In 2009 I retired from youth ministry. I handed the group over to a very capable young man. He was great! The kids loved him! He had a vision and has been carrying it out.

      You know man plans and God laughs? I guess God figured if Sylvester Stallone could come back for one more fight with Rocky Balboa I could do the same.In the providence of God (where have I heard that before) my rodeo replacement has been called out and I hear the voice of the Master saying to me. “Ride the rodeo Wrinkles.”

     It’s funny how reinventing yourself often means going back to the beginning and starting again. For me right now it means taking something old in me and giving it a new face. I thought when I left the youth ministry a year and a half ago I would be travelling down a pathway I had never known before. Well it is a new path but it sure has some familiar landscapes. Strangely I feel right at home. Jesus I think I’m ready pull the pin.

Reinventing the We’ll

     I have found only two constants in life: God and change. Now not everyone knows God but everyone is acquainted with change. The human condition leaves us in a constant (there’s that word again) state of flux. It doesn’t matter, young or old, we are always going through changes.    

      Now about us! I say “us” because this blog is not really just about me but about the us that comprises the “We’ll” in our title.

      My wife Tina and I have got to be among the most blessed people on earth…really!! Oh, we’ve got our issues like everyone else but, I have to say, the blessings  far outweigh the curses.

     Together this wonderful woman and I have packed lifetimes of living into the last 23 years. When we married, she was 20 and I was 19. Our first son, Joe, was born in’89. Since then  we have had two more daughters and adopted another son. Our youngest daughter left for college last September.  Can you say “empty nest”?

     Add two puppies, four bunnies, three disabled roomates, and snow bird in-laws who live in the apartment next door and you have a pretty good picture of our life at the moment. Change! Change! Change!

     This blog is about two people, who fell in love half a lifetime ago,  the changes they have met along the way and the God who has seen them through it all.

    Anyway I hope you’ll join Tina and I on this intensely spiritual journey of “Reinventing the We’ll”. Maybe, just maybe something we have seen  along the waywill help you along your own path.