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3.23.20 Showing Up

“I am the boss and say I get more banana bread!”

This was just one of the gems from my 3 year old son yelled today. He had a tough day all around and thereby, we all did! The rain here in Columbia didn’t help as we headed into a the second socially distant week. I’ve heard from several folks that today was hard, and I believe it.

I understand the difficulty by the personal stresses here at the house and the communal stresses of a community trying to figure out how to live as church virtually. I don’t know it firsthand, but I hear the strains from health care workers and can only imagine the tremendous stresses of those sick and dying, as well as those with tremendous immediate financial emergencies.

I think it is important to post on such days–when things feel particularly heavy. It is a reminder that the call to joy is not just a call that comes at the natural moments when things seem smooth. The discipline of seeking joy each day means including the nearly impossible moments when cynicism, fatigue, and heartache dominate.

I consider joy especially now when it doesn’t make social sense and isn’t possible with my parenting to stand on the corner waving to traffic.

What it means to show up for joy in this time?

I don’t know. Living into joy seems easier when I can work with my kids to spell out “joy” with sticks and flowers on a walking path. I’ll keep trying on the soggy days like this one when it’s the last thing that my heart thinks it wants.

img_2435-1Joy often doesn’t present as a broad smile. Sometimes she sneaks up on a ZOOM meeting for stressed parents (as she did tonight) and laughs her way in. Or she looks like my precocious little boy comandeering my hiking boots and trudging them into the kitchen.

How about we let joy have the final say, even at the end of our sufferings: “I’m the boss! There will be more joy!” Hoping to show up tomorrow to whatever energy awaits..praying for you the same.


My favorite quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” 



3.22.20 Balloon Pastor Tales: Broken Pot

A Sunday School Tale for Kittamaqundi Community Church friends and beyond!

Balloon Pastor Tales: The Broken Pot

Listen for my mistake in the following video! Answer Below 

Link to the Youtube Cracked Pot Cartoon 

Copy the below images into a Word document and print. Make two copies of the big pot. Cut out the pot pieces and paste to the other pot.

Broken Pot Coloring Page

Broken Pot Cutout


So, what was my mistake in the video? My daughter caught it! I talked about a man in the beginning part of the video, and then talk about a woman later in the story about the Broken Pot. Good thing we are called to live into our brokenness and imperfections! What do you think, when you consider the story, do you imagine a man or woman going to the well?

Be well, friends!

3.20.20 Letting Go While Also Holding On

img_2382 We are thankful for my son’s school who had virtual circle time this morning on ZOOM so he could see all of his classmates. His teachers have been giving us good “home”work to share, including yesterday’s  nature mandela. Today, we headed out to make some moveable word art. Here’s our “joy” for today. We also collected rocks to serve as our Scribble Stones. Here are our masterpieces pictured with a coronavirus headline.


I relaxed into today–because it’s Friday? Because I am becoming a more flexible mom? A more easy-going person? Hmm. There was less of a schedule knowing we all needed to exhale a bit after many intensive days being the schoolhouse. Don’t worry,  I wasn’t a cucumber. I may have cussed in the garage and lost it when I couldn’t get my bike tires pumped.

I biked the kids in our three-balloon carriage past the waving corner at Little Patuxent and over to Vantage Point. While biking, we saw the church Sunday School Assistant. She was out to get some fresh air. We then saw the kids’ Sunday School teacher also out and about. How good it was for the kids to connect with, even from a distance, these two women who have showered such love on my children.

In the church Sacred Garden, our chalk masterpieces had melted from earlier in the week. So, we shared a bit more. My daughter got really into the foot stones that surround the pond. She was so into her work– determined to pass on uplifting messages. My son was in motion make circles, “Gotta take my run!”

And then “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1,” I gave my kids a countdown as we neared our last turn to head down the hill for our street. How glorious as we all sailed down with sounds of glee. I felt such a release–the balmy wind and the sense of letting go into the moment (don’t worry, I also held onto the handlebars!). That is what I have been trying to do. Let go into the moment. And that is why, I looped the block and we did the descent again!


I must have told my son ten times today that I love him as I snuck a kiss on the cheek. “Me, too,” he would say back–which kind of sounds like he also loves himself (which, don’t worry he definitely does), but it was right back at me and I took it in in a deep breath kind of way. How are you letting go into this wild days? Have you taken a joy ride?


3.18.20 Hope Springs Eternal

img_2320I didn’t know how glad I would be that we live by a golf course. Especially with the golf course closed, there are paths and stretches of open green space. My kids can take a nature walk and romp in our neighborhood without coming across many folks. I went on stretches of paths today I have not in my 21 months of living here.

Beautiful forsythia surprised us.

We also took a bike ride. I wanted to check on the church. That is something we pastors have a hard time not doing. I didn’t go into the building, but I took my kids by bike carriage to our Sacred Garden. I offered up some prayerful messages in chalk in case there were some dogwalkers that would be passing through.

img_2343When my son saw the statue of Libby Rouse and her dog over by our pond, he stopped and crouched pensively. He pointed over: “There’s a dog with her.” We’ve been learning about dogs this week and I was struck by his thoughtful consideration as if this was the first time he noticed the marble canine despite countless times playing in the garden.

My daughter took to chalking–adding her flourishes to my words and copying her own along with balloon squiggles and hearts.

On the way back after crossing near my waving corner, I saw one of the neighbors I have befriended through the season of balloon pastoring. “Hey!” We exchanged greetings and introduced him to the kids as they sat distanced in their little carrier. I wished him well as he headed to work.img_2345

I then looked up to see the man and car that had in the past offered me the middle finger. We didn’t look face-to-face, but I saw him see me and the carriage. Close-up today he didn’t seem so angry.

Funny, because there seems to be a lot of intense emotion all around. I know I myself have spurts of anger that come out during home school stretches. Sometimes it isn’t raising my voice so much as complaining or having unreasonable expectations of my little ones navigating all of these changes. I pray for patience, for guidance as I live into a new role. Pastoring and parenting in pandemic. Day 3 in the books.

May the photo messages of the sidewalk reach you in your sequestering: “Hope Springs Eternal.”–Alexander Pope

It’s supposed to rain tonight and I fully expect that our sentiments will be swept away. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep sending our joy unto the world. For we all so need it…






3.17.20 A St. Patrick’s To Remember

img_2293-2I hope that one day my kids will be saying, “Remember that awesome St. Patrick’s we celebrated at home together?”

May they remember the green scones with green sprinkles, the shamrocks all lined up with string, the shiny green ribbons in my daughter’s hair, the green balloons we attached to their bike riding carriage, and the doing an Irish jig along with Alexa before bath. Schwoo.

May they give thanks for the hour video call with my mother-in-law vet as we continued our learning about dogs. May they remember the long stretches with their parents–more time to play games, and have giggles and explore new wonders.


May they have less memory of the stressed out look their parents exhange, the frazzled and strained moments, the constant sibling rivalry…Day 2 into isolation in the books.

Meanwhile, my church community is plotting some creative ways of being in the time ahead. May signs of life break forth and make their way into our homes and immediate neighborhoods.

As I continue to hear long projections of our socially distanced season, I ask for peace. I lift up continually those most directly in harms’ way right now. I find myself simultaneously wishing I could do so much more as a pastor, and also working hard into the moments that I do have for ZOOM, emails, calls, etc.

Here, on balloonpastor I lay claim to the joy I wish to see and experience in the world– even as we also recognize the suffering and take on necessary measures. So, my world, as yours, has gotten smaller in many respects…but don’t you also feel the ways in which it has expanded as we try to live in solidarity with the health of all?

Somehow, I can do a jig and keep an eye on the end of the rainbow with the deep hopes that our homebound realities mean lives saved. This is what I hope to tell my children one day when we recall the St. Patrick’s of 2020.

*Also, I give thanks for my forebearers who arrived from northern Ireland for indenturted labor (facing all kinds of exposure to any manor of ninteteenth century illness) and worked the railroads before settling in Mississippi.






3.15.20 The Homefront

img_2276Yesterday I had stood outside the church with a member hoping to greet anyone (from a distance) that didn’t get the message about church closure. We held our balloons and were thankful that we could pass on in-person hellos to a dear person as we passed on the news of no worship. I’ve been encouraged by the ways in which church folks are caring for one another into this unprecedented time. I hope neighborhood folks are fairing well.

Today was a long one at home. We’re caring for our 3 and 6 year olds. I’ve got  ZOOM calls as we navigate things for the church. My husband is working from home. This is a profile much like so many families. So many folks are holding so much in this time of social isolation. And there are those on the frontlines of corona realities and care. Prayers are flowing deeply toward you this evening.

I’m committed to signs of joy that echo out from here even on tired days like this one with the prospect of countless(?) days in this home mode. Signs of some uplift in our midst: the efforts for some routine with a wall schedule.

20.03.14 Home School Schedule PEN

A homemade shamrock chain (can you find the four leaf clover?):


And my kids learning about dog breeds in what we are calling “Doggie Week” around here. Maybe one day we will get a dog, but for now we are educating ourselves:) Tomorrow we have a facetime call with my veterinarian mother-in-law to learn about caring for a dog. img_2285

That’s all for now from the homefront. Hoping we can bike out and about on a warmer day tomorrow!

Here’s one last photo of a my daughter’s artwork from the weekend. Balloons!

20.03.13 Balloon Phoebe painting

3.14.20 Bike Ride Ballooning

Hi, Friends, we are deep in social distance readiness at my house. We are trying to remind our 3 and 6 year olds that we will not be going much of anywhere for the coming weeks. This is a challenge because the concept of “tomorrow” is still sometimes a stretch for my son. I think he will be crushed once he really gets it that we won’t be seeing school and church friends for some time to come. We hope to use some video chats to keep in touch.

20.03.14 Balloon Pastor AJVN biking PENLast night before bed it occurred to me since I will be the one with the kids much of the weekdays ahead, I should power up and learn to ride my bike with the kid carriage attached. So, this afternoon, we attached the carrier that both my 35 lb kids can still climb in. We’ll be doing some socially distant biking in the weeks to come…with balloons. I’ll be gaining my strength to tote the kids and biking by the Little Patuxent Corner when weather allows.

There were many folks out and about taking advantage of decently warm weather on the gray afternoon, no doubt getting in moments before the strange turns of the weeks to come set in.

I’ll be away from my little patch on the corner for a bit, but the Call to Joy continues for this Balloon Pastor. As my Spiritual Director emphasized, “We need the joy now more than ever!”

Have evidence of your joy in these odd times? Check out the Joy Photo Page and consider submitting your photo!

20.03.14 Balloon Pastor Orange Yellow Table


3.12.20 A Video as We Social Distance for Pandemic

A video post-corner time Thursday, March 12, is below.

I’ll be continuing to post from on this blog  where I will be with my kids at home for the next weeks. We are committed to finding joy with balloons each day as we make it through this time. Be safe and be well, friends! Prayers remain with you, this community, and the world at large as we adapt with the changing landscape. You are not alone.




3.10.20 Understanding

20.03.20 Balloon Pastor shaded skyI brought both my summer visor and winter hat in the car. I had a tough time knowing what the climate was like on the corner. It was a little all over the place. Mild, but windy in spots. Suddenly sunny, and then quite dark as potential storm clouds rolled. There was a sense of up and down. I found myself humming prayerfully: shanti, shanti, shanti. 

Many inquistive folks: “what is it that you are doing?” One man with window down at stopped light: I see you out here, what are you doing? Me: Hoping to share some joy. He offered a thumbs up and a wave and the words, “I understand.”

Understanding. There is the natural way of knowing as some instinctually wave out into the afternoon. There are the natural skeptics that can get on board. “I understand” communicates that you can take something in and accept it, perhaps even affirm it.

Picking back up on yesterday’s corona thoughts–I can understand why colleges are closing, why we are advised not to board cruises, why public health officials are in overdrive. I get it.

Under the simultaneously dark and light skies of tonight, I acknowledge the difficulty of navigating this time. As we seek to take all the new information in, how do we choose to respond with understanding? Getting it, accepting it, and moving with best responses?

For today, I give thanks for the flapping about in the wind and regular activities of the corner that ground us in business as usual. For choosing the right headwear to meet the unpreditability of the street.

20.03.10 Balloon Pastor balloon hat


3.9.20 The Before Picture

20.03.09 Balloon Pastor AmbulanceAs I was heading down to the corner, I heard an ambulance going down the road and looked up to see several runners stopped at the corner watching it go west. I often see ambulances and pause in my waving to share prayerful thoughts with the medical team and person inside. It seems like a particular apt image for today. The illustrious golden skies of soaring 70+ temperatures–a brilliant day of sunshine right alongside the reality of our fragility as the ambulance rushes by.  So many people out and about enjoying the weather, and no doubt also wanting to soak in every bit of it before a possible quarantine and pervasive state of emergency.

As I walked past Vantage House, a woman offered, “Glad you are heading out on duty!” People generally were upbeat today, no one mentioned the coronavirus or alluded to the larger doom that is occupying our screens. On the contrary, one could be waving on the corner and not have a clue about the virus frenzy. A man yelled from a passenger seat, asking me what I was doing. At the mention of joy, he gave me the thumbs up.

A little surreal–is this the  “before” picture of our out-and-aboutness before we head toward increasing caution? Now more than ever perhaps joy needs a place on the corner.

What will tomorrow hold? Our church continues to consider our preparedness and cautionary measures–encouraging folks to be prudent, and longing to still be able to conduct the more personable aspects of community life. My husband and I continue to try and talk to our young children about what is happening in ways that aren’t alarming.

At the conclusion of my time, a parent on a bike with a baby carriage came back by to cross the road. The little child in the carriage, likely just shy of two saw me waving and kept repeating the word: “balloon” with excitement. I asked the parent if the child might like it and he was grateful to receive the light blue balloon to offer to her. It fit right in the little blue carriage before they biked out into their evening.


I likely won’t be offering balloons or much of anything hand to hand in the time to come. How precious all the little interactions become as we consider that they may be curtailed any minute. One day at a time…continuing to wave from a place of joy that meets us in our fragility.



3.5.20 Tangled

I was embarrassed. I usually have fun with the string when it gets caught on my hat. But, this particular moment I was really tangled. I was laughing it off, unwinding myself, doing a kind of orange balloon tangle tango. Then I looked up and saw one of the usual bus drivers stopped right in front of me. This is one who waves sometimes and often give me the “you are crazy” look. She took the opportunity to shrug her shoulders, stretch out her hands with exasperation, and mouth: “what are you doing??” It is the kind of moment when sheepishness can catch you. Even when you are doing a really out there thing to begin with! I rebounded, waving back to her and her passengers. 20.03.05 Balloon Pastor Orange Tangle

How easily self-consciousness creeps in even when you strive to let go. As much as I seek to give myself to the moment, I am still myself–shame and all.

Thankfully, there was a neighborhood dog to greet me. His good-natured mama extoled his breed and let me kneel and pet him. A father on a bike stopped to introduce himself and his teenage son. Dozens of little children waved with energy from back seats.

I don’t mind a tangle with the string. I like the playful unwinding that ensues. It reminds me of the ways that each of us get bound in the situations of our own making and of the forces about us. It isn’t always that we are so publicly unraveling from our foolishness. Often we do this on our own.

The bus driver today was that internal voice I hold often: “What are you doing?” And the tango dancer within can respond, “I am dancing in the wind!”

Oh, how I hope the dancer’s voice continues to strengthen and amplify along with the freeing energy of the universe. Right along with Rumi:

“You are water, whirling water,
Yet still water trapped within,
Come, submerge yourself within us,
We who are the flowing stream.”

Rumi, Love: The Joy that Wounds: The Love Poems 

What if we all whirl a bit more and invite those observing to enter into the rhythm?

3.5.20 S is for…


As I was coming down the sidewalk to the corner this really bright afternoon, I nearly ran right into a church person and her daughter. It was great to hear her daughter’s puzzling over the last week’s as she saw someone on the corner and had the realization that it was her mother’s pastor. We had some good laughs right there on the sidewalk in front of Vantage House.

03.05.20 Balloon Pastor Pat Robin 2

The sun was out in force again with high temps. There was some good time for waving with hellos here and there to runners and walkers and bikers. I got to meet and pet an elderly dog before heading back up the path…

When I was getting out of the car at home, a neighborhood boy on his bike was there in my driveway and I offered him my yellow balloon. Not to be out done, his little brother was soon at my door: “Do you have any more balloons?” He was impressed when I gave him a choice and blew it up right then at the door and there with the tank.

What a sight to look out at my street and see the two little guys on their bikes with cheery yellow balloons drifting in the wind with them.

As for my house, we continue our daily celebration of the alphabet. Each day my two kids take turns decorating a letter from the alphabet Today was “s” and my four-year old took it on. We keep a look out for words that start with the letter throughout the day and report back in for dinner.

Today’s report: My favorite s word today was sidewalk as it leads me to and from the corner. It was sunny. It was sensational to meet familiar friends. I saw a shit-zu. I sat down with my family with our salmon and salad.

It’s the little things, friends. All these lead to the bigger container of joy.

Now, if only all stores weren’t out of sanitizer! My prayers are with this ongoing corona outbreak–those affected and the overall atmosphere and welleing of all.



3.3.20 Synergy

Soaring temps! 60 degrees and no coat. Just a pair of sunglasses and my trusty bob hat to meet the day balloon in hand. Many people were walking or riding, enjoying the light. 20.03.03 Balloon Pastor Sun Shadow

Earlier, a Lenten study class had been discussing Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved at the church. We got to talking about what we bring into the world and how we are choosing to show up.  One participant referenced the man who had been giving the middle finger and then has stopped lately. We talked about not knowing how we will show up will affect others and how to come to terms with continuing into a call. We can believe in our own belovedness, or chosenness, but not at the expense of others’ belovedness. We trust that each is unique and a part of the motions that stretch through and beyond all of us.

We don’t know what our actions will stir in others. I proceed with some caution while the joy continues to burst from within. Some are in a place to receive, others will go about their ways focused on how they need to be in the world. We as church ask ourselves questions about how we as community choose to show up. How will our energies meet and catalyze?

On the corner, two different church folks stopped by to say hi in the midst of the sun. One got to meet my corner friend who catches the bus. It was fun synergeistically to introduce folks as we all reveled in the weather.




3.2.20 A Paid Gig?

On a rather gray day, a young teenager biking over to the lake stopped at the corner as I was waving with a little hesitation: “Can I ask you something?… Do you get paid to be here?”

A simple answer would have been “no,” but I fumbled a bit. As a pastor, a part of my role and job is to live into my call at church and as life integrates into the world. So in a sense, I get paid to live into this role, but this particular expression is not a “paid gig.” It’s different from the folks that stand with an arrow pointing you toward a big sale. What am I advertising? Joy.

What is the going rate for that? Do I think this is something to offer–indeed. How am I paid? In the joy of it, in the waves, in the opportunity to connect with neighbors and glory in the wildlife taking in our busy streets. In the conversations I get to have parishoners about days on the corner. I tried to get at a little of this, but just indeed with, “No, I don’t get paid to be here.” 🙂

20.03.02 Balloon Pastor Gray Day Green

Not too long after, a bird flew about thirty feet overhead carrying twigs in her little talons, heading for a nest. She’s making her home nearby; she’d determined this is a promising little corner of the world to settle in.

On my walk back to the church, I spied a little boy on a tricycle on the handicap ramp. I asked his father if I could share my balloon. Me: My son gets these all the time, could I share this with you all? He loved watching it bob.

Could this be the birth of future days sharing balloons with neighborhood children? Free balloon Fridays?


2.28.20 The Leap

20.02.28 Balloon Pastor Pedestrian SignLeap weekend begins. I found myself leaning a bit on my little corner mound today. I always hear my third-grade music teacher in my head out there: “Don’t lock your knees!” So, I was moving my stance and leaning a a bit into the afternoon.

Two rugged bikers came and went. Their thick tires and muddy rims were evidence of many adventures on rough terrain. They cheerfully shared about their trails. They seem like the kind of guys that don’t wait for excitement to find them–they are out there ready to meet a new challenge head on.

Here we are all leaning into a leap day tomorrow–this extra day that happens on us every four years. I wondered what the passers by would be doing with the bonus before them. I could feel more energy in the air than mid-week, no doubt people ready to start a weekend.

And many of us carry, too, the trepidation of Coronavirus. All the reports of its spread has us all on edge wondering when it will make its way to Maryland.

As we lean together, hopefully we can take heart.

On my walk home,  I noticed the roots from an aging tree that have in time moved the shape of the sidewalk. No one day did this. It was the little leaps of measured growth that enabled the tree to ripple the walkway.

Along the way, it takes our big jumps of adventure and our steady motion through adversity. May the Bonus of a Leap Day help you take the step into an expedition. Perhaps this deep leaning is just the jumpstart needed for the marathon of slow growth awaiting.  This is often the course of Lent.

20.0228 Balloon Pastor Leap Weekend