Friday, December 22, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.....REALLY?

 Warning: I’m going to get real here. If you’re in the mood to be “Merry and Bright” you might want to skip this. But you will find good news if you keep reading. The best news. I promise.

This morning, I was walking around my house feeling pretty blue. The song that was stuck in my head? “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” All I could think? “That’s a lie”. It’s the darkest week of the year. For a Pastor, it is the highest-pressure time of the year. And for me, it can be the saddest time of year. It didn’t used to be this way. But after having lost both of my parents, the woman I called “Grandma Gladys” and my brother by the age of 42, Christmas has taken a dramatic shift.

In my family room sits a big, comfy chair in which two people who really like each other can comfortably sit. I bought this chair because it reminded me of the chair in my growing-up-home. It was a typical 1970’s brown and orange striped chair in soft velour. The one in my house is the early-2000’s slightly-updated version.  I love this chair. But this time of year, every time I look at it, I have a feeling of emptiness that wells up in the deepest part of me. Most of the time I can push the feeling down, but sometimes it overtakes me and turns into deep sadness.

In our house, Christmas used to go like this:  The girls would wake up too early for this Pastor-Mom who had been at church until 1:00a.m. on Christmas Eve. But the joy in their voices overwhelmed me and I would hop out of bed, eager to witness their excitement. Before my feet hit the ground, I would call my Mom who would happily get out of bed, get dressed, and come bounding into our house about 20 minutes later. (A small miracle as my Mom’s speed was approximately that of molasses). When Mom arrived at our house, she would plop down in my favorite chair. Sometimes I squished in there with her as we watched my girls open their presents with shrieks of delight. This was the same tradition we had with Grandma Gladys when I was a kid. My sister and I would run around the house going completely crazy with anticipation until Grandma finally arrived and we could tear into the wonder of Christmas. After that, we ate eggs with ham chopped up in them and moved from Santa gifts to family gifts where my Dad would sit in the big striped chair and pile all of his presents on his lap with a cheesy grin on his face. My brother, who was quadriplegic and could barely talk, would often be wearing a Santa hat and a huge smile. I can still hear his roaring laughter as he watched my sister and me tearing around the house all hopped up on Christmas cheer.

While my Mom was still around, I had all of the good memories from Christmas past, and would occasionally feel the sadness sink in at the reality of empty seats at the table. For the most part, though, I could be in the moment – thanking God for my beautiful family and delighting in their Christmas Joy. But the year my Mom died, there was a tectonic shift in the season. That year, there was no early-morning phone call to Grandma. That year, I begrudgingly rolled out of bed, more dreading than anticipating the day. My kid’s cheer felt gut-wrenching to me because I simply couldn’t get there.

That year, the big-striped chair sat empty until I finally crawled up in it, wrapped myself in a blanket and let the tears flow. I remember thinking I was being a huge bummer. But that feeling of raw grief was too overwhelming to mask with Holiday Cheer.  As soon as my family saw what was happening, they immediately piled on top of me, which was so sweet and comforting. We held each other and talked about Grandma. It was a horrible and beautiful moment, reminding me that although my Mom was gone, I was not alone. It didn’t take away the sadness, but it did spark in me a tiny bit of joy in the midst of grief; a flicker of light in deep darkness.

I have to admit, this is what it has been like for me the past three years. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many parties I throw or how much Holiday Cheer I try to manufacture, I cannot get there. I can’t push back the darkness. I can’t pretend “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” because, quite frankly – this is the time of the year when all of the memories come flooding back and my heart, like my favorite chair on Christmas morning, feels more empty than full. But in a strange way, this time of year has also become more real and more meaningful to me. No longer do I pour all of my energy into shopping, cooking and manufacturing a mood of good cheer. Instead, every ornament I hang, every sermon I write, every song I sing, every gift I buy has new meaning. I have come to realize how precious this gift of life – and how fleeting. And when it comes to Christmas, I have a strong desire to dig more deeply into what it means that God comes to be with us.

As I write this, I know of a family who is saying goodbye to a beloved husband, father, grandfather and friend. As I write this, I think of the many heart-breaking and untimely deaths I have witnessed this year. I picture the children who have lost a parent, the spouses who have lost a partner, the parents who have buried their children. I know the emptiness. I know the feeling of loss and heartache. And my heart aches for them as they face this first Christmas.

I am reminded though, in the midst of all the pain and emptiness, that this is why Jesus came to earth. He didn’t come to bake Christmas cookies or play the part of Santa Claus who grants every last wish. He didn’t come to manufacture happiness or good cheer. For Jesus there was no such thing as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Jesus came to show us that God is WITH US in our suffering. Not just this time of year but every day for all of our lives. Jesus came in the midst of a world that can sometimes be cruel and heartless to show us that we have a God who does not stand next to the empty chair and feel sorry for us. We have a God who piles on top of us, love upon love, grace upon grace and says, “I am here. I am with you. I am for you. I love you.”  Jesus comes as a flicker of light in the darkness, a spark of joy in the sadness, a fulfillment of all the emptiness that we feel in this life and this world. Jesus is God with us. Emmanuel.

To all of those walking in deep darkness this Christmas, may you know that God is with you. May you know that although everyone around you may seem “Merry and Bright,” there is so much more beneath the surface. Christmas – the real Christmas is about the fulfillment of love. At the birth of this baby, all heaven and earth rejoices in a deep, earth-shaking, life-changing way. God rips heaven open and comes to earth because He simply can’t stand to see us alone and lost in darkness. This is the God we worship. A God who piles upon us, grace upon grace, love never-ending, and life everlasting.  

May the real spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Jesus Christ, sink deep into your hearts. And may you always know – you are not alone. You are never alone.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
- John 1

Monday, September 5, 2016

Come and See

From August 22nd to August 29th I traveled to Haiti with a group of 12 other people including my daughter, Annika. This is a blog I wrote for the Healing Haiti Mission Trip page after our second day in Port Au Prince. I'm still processing all that we saw. I hope to write a few more blogs about our experience - if for no other reason than to get the swirling thoughts and feelings out of my mind.

In the Gospel of John, one of the very first things that comes out of Jesus’ mouth is the answer to a question posed to him by the Disciples.  “Where are you staying?” they ask. Jesus says to them, “Come and See”. And then Jesus leads them into the hearts, homes and lives of people who are lost, lonely, broken, trapped, oppressed, imprisoned, hungry and beaten-down. Jesus basically shows the disciples that where he is staying is here. His feet are firmly planted on the earth and he is on a mission to show the world that no matter your circumstance, God is here to stay.

Before our group left for Haiti, we had people asking us over and over again, “What are you going to DO?” It’s a hard question to answer because the purpose of this trip is not so much DOING as it is SEEING, EXPERIENCING and BEING WITH the people of Haiti. This trip is about being immersed in a place whose culture, language, terrain, government, architecture, education, food, commerce and just about anything else you can think of are drastically different from the life we know. In other words, Jesus has invited us to “Come and See”.  And as painful as it has been to see some of the things we have seen – we are surely witnessing that God is here to stay. 

So what are we seeing?

On Tuesday, some of us went to the “Home for Sick and Dying Babies”. It is basically two large rooms with metal cribs lined up row-by row and four sisters whose job is to care for all of those precious babies, each of them there for reasons unknown to our team. Our only job was to be with them. We fed, we sang, we held, we played, we prayed. Our hearts broke when the visiting hours for the parents who came to hold and nurse their babies ended and a chorus of cries and screams rose up. Were any of us in that same situation, we would have a Ronald McDonald house to stay in along with the option of sleeping on a recliner next to our little ones all night long.  So as their parents left - we sang, we held, we smiled, we tried for a few precious minutes to offer the human contact they craved. It was a helpless feeling because in the grand scheme of things, what we were able to offer made a difference only in the moment.

But our eyes were opened – and we saw beauty together with brokenness. We saw parents who don’t have the resources to care for the babies they love. We saw women who followed God’s call to work at this Holy place care lovingly for God’s children entrusted to them. We saw some babies who were incredibly malnourished and some who seemed to be growing and thriving. We will never see them again. But we came and we saw, and now we know. God is there with them. If Jesus were walking the earth I’m convinced He would spend a lot of time holding and healing those babies.  Our prayer is that Jesus will hold them now. That as they sleep, as they heal, as some enter into eternity that the grace of God will cover them and the love of Jesus surround them.  

That was what some of us saw on Tuesday.

Believe it or not, we saw even more difficult things on Wednesday.

Wednesday was “water truck day”. This was the day I had heard so much about from my Sister-in-Law and my niece. On water-truck day, Healing Haiti teams take water into Cite Soleil which is the poorest district in the Western Hemisphere, built on an old landfill and jam-packed with somewhere between 200,00-400,000 people. The truck drives into a neighborhood and people line up with buckets to receive as much water as they can carry for the day. As my sister-in-law described water truck day to me, she struggled to find the words and kept telling me “you just have to experience it”. In other words, “Come and see.” 

For me, water truck day was filled with the most difficult things I have ever seen. Here’s how it went: We drove into Cite Soleil in the “Tap-Tap” which is our form of transportation while we are in Haiti.  It is basically a truck with a cage on the back where we sit as we ride through the city. As we drove into Cite Soleil, 50+ kids chased after the Tap-Tap screaming “Hey You! Hey You! Hey You!” When we opened the doors to the Tap-Tap and climbed out, there were immediately kids begging to be picked up. I picked up one little girl who clung to me for the next 45 minutes. I would occasionally put her down to help someone carry a bucket of water and she would follow me until I picked her up again. When another child wanted my attention she would fight them off and cling to me. Most of our team experienced similar things. Some had two or three children hanging on them at all times. One team member was handed an infant the minute she got off of the Tap-Tap and struggled to find someone to take her when it was time to leave. 
At one point, my little girl kissed my cheek with a kiss that lasted a solid 30 seconds. That was beautiful and I will hold onto that interaction for a long time. 

However, my heart broke into a million little pieces for lots of reasons……

-       - One little boy threw up the minute I picked him up. As soon as he was done throwing up, I simply set him down on the ground in his bare feet with no ability to do anything but leave him standing there. No caring adult in sight who would ever know that he needed attention.
-       - Many of the children were naked and very few wore shoes.
-       - The structures the families live in are constructed of metal sheeting and most consist of one very small room where lots of people pile on top of one another.
-       - The women and children were the ones doing all of the work. Some young men helped fill and carry water but 90% of the people we saw were women and young children.
-       - I learned later that the neighborhoods in Cite Soleil are run by gangs and Healing Haiti is one of the few organizations that is allowed to come in because of years of relationship building.

Yes, Jesus loves me....
Still, I saw Jesus. I saw him when the children began dumping buckets of water on one another’s heads in the hot Haitian sun. They laughed and clapped and danced as they splashed one another with living water. I saw him in the graffiti on the wall that read “optimistic”. I saw him in the eyes of the older woman who grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes and smiled a knowing smile. I saw him in the church and school that are being built by Healing Haiti in cooperation with the Haitians who live in the neighborhood and long for something different for their children. I saw Him when we were visiting the church, locked in for our safety…. there were three little Haitian girls who somehow snuck into the courtyard of the church. Annika, Lara, Madi and Fiona (our four fifteen-year-olds) noticed the kids and started holding their hands under the door of the church. They must have lain on the floor for a solid 20 minutes holding hands through the crack beneath the door. And as they held the children’s hands, they sang to them: “Jesus loves me this I know….” 

As it turns out – when Jesus says “Come and See”, you better be prepared to have your vision changed, your perspective reoriented, your world blown up. Because once you see – you can’t un-see. And then the question becomes – now what will you do with all that you have seen? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Creepy Crawlies Under My Skin

My journey with anxiety began when I was six years old. I went to school every day feeling like  my stomach had been carved out like a halloween pumpkin. I didn't know what it was. I thought I missed my Mom. Or maybe I was getting sick. Whatever it was, there was something wrong. There was a hole inside of me and I couldn't do anything to fill it. I sat by myself on the playground waiting for the kids to come to me. They didn't. They hung from the monkey bars and played foursquare while I looked on. I wasn't afraid of them - I just knew they had something that I didn't. I felt like an outsider looking in on a world of which I desperately wanted to be a part. I went to the nurse hoping she could make it better. She couldn't. Finally, I refused to go to school one day, and then the next day and the next. I'll never forget my Dad saying, "You are going to school tomorrow or I will spank you all the way there." Huh.

I went to school the next day. Obviously. From the outside looking in I was a perfectly happy and healthy little girl. I was a good student, a great musician, had a few friends, a loving family and all of the outward signs of success. But on the inside things were not right. I stopped talking about it when I was six out of fear. But recently it has broken open again and I feel pestered - maybe even called by God to come out of the closet and name this beast for what it is.

Those who have anxiety know that there is no magical formula to make it go away. There are medications, meditations, counselors, diets and exercises to hold it at bay. But at the end of the day anxiety is a disease to be managed and a precarious balance to maintain. And it can be exhausting. It's a constant companion that you don't want by your side. It is creepy crawlies under your skin day and night and sometimes the only thing that makes it go away is going to sleep. Sweet, blissful sleep.

Sadly, research is showing that anxiety is passed down from generation to generation, which clarifies why my Mom always told me that I reminded her of her 'crazy grandmother'.

There are lots of things I would have liked to pass on to my children. This is not one of them. But what I'm hoping and praying is that we have come far enough along in our understanding of mental illness in our society that my daughters will have the opportunity at a much younger age to name those creepy crawlies for what they are. No, my beautiful daughters, you are not worry-warts or hypochondriacs. You are not crazy or manipulative. Oh, and while we are at it, you having anxiety does not mean that you don't have enough faith or that you aren't praying hard enough. PUH-LEASE.

If I could take that hole-in-your-stomach-mouth-watering-pretty-sure-I'm-going-to-throw-up feeling away from you I would take all of it on myself. But I can't. What I can do, though, is start talking about it. What I can do is be a part of de-stygmatizing mental illness in our society and pointing out that people who have anxiety, depression, bipolar, you name it - can have a full, successful and beautiful life.

People come into my office all of the time and share things about their lives with me. They tell me that relationships are crumbling, that they are struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, that their kids are struggling with grades or that they are looking for their life's calling. But there is no conversation that seems to involve more shame and negative self-talk than conversations around mental illness.

Every time I hear one of these phrases it breaks my heart in two:
"I don't want to go on medication because I feel like that's a crutch."
"I feel so weak, why can't I be stronger?"
"I keep praying and praying and it just won't go away. I don't have enough faith."

I spent many years hiding my anxiety out of shame and fear that I would be seen as weak. I worried that if people knew I had this 'weakness' they wouldn't trust me as their Pastor because if I couldn't overcome this, how could I help anyone else? And how was this anxiety being faithful to God? Did I not trust God enough with my life? I mean, think about this Bible verse from Philippians:

"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

I love that Bible verse, I really do. But I also kind of resent it. Because if I could - like the quippy saying goes, "Turn my worry into prayer" - believe me - after all of the hours spent on my knees - I would be comatose.

While prayer helps me remember that God loves and holds me; while prayer reminds me that I am broken and in need of God's mercy; I can honestly say that begging God to take away my worry only made my anxiety worse. And it is NOT because I don't have enough faith.

Over the past two years, through a journey of grief and with the help of an amazing counselor, I have decided that authentic living is a lot more joyful than pretending to be someone I am not. I have learned that in naming my anxiety it has lost its power over me. It hasn't magically disappeared - but when I feel it coming on, I no longer panic. Instead, I notice it - have compassion for myself and make the needed adjustments to my life in order to nurture myself back to a calm and joyful place. 

And I've come to believe strongly in the concept of a wounded healer. When someone has walked a mile in your shoes and is still walking they can walk with you. I've come to believe that hiding this part of my life is not only dishonest but it is unfaithful to the work God has called me to do.

These days, whenever someone tells me they are struggling with anxiety, I just look them straight in the eye and say, "Me too." In return, I always receive a look of shock. "You? But you seem so confident and strong! You are always so calm and reassuring to other people. You stand up and speak in front of large crowds and you seem to have it all together." Ummmm...nope. For many years I learned to shove it down, put a face on it and "push through." Let me tell you - that behavior only perpetuated the vicious cycle of anxiety.

It has taken a LONG time, but I have learned to have compassion for myself. I have come to realize that there was nothing the six-year-old me could have done to make the anxiety any better because the adults who surrounded me had no ability, no education, no possible way of giving it a name or giving me the tools I needed to face this giant every day of my life.

You see, here's the thing. I HAVE anxiety but anxiety does not HAVE me. I am at a point in my life where I can look at this disease and know that while I don't believe God GAVE this to me - I know for certain that God has used it to shape me into the person I am today - and I would not trade that for the world.

  • Because of my anxiety I am more compassionate.
  • Because of my anxiety I am more aware of my surroundings. I believe this helps me appreciate the beauty in life to its fullest.
  • Because of my anxiety I am more in tune to and better equipped to parent children who have anxiety.
  • Because of my anxiety I am able to feel both deep pain and deep joy.
  • Because of my anxiety I have been forced to trust that despite how I feel today, there is hope for tomorrow....and THAT is where my faith in God has been strengthened and renewed time and again.

As I write this, I am well aware that some people might think this is "TMI". There was a point in my life where that would have immobilized me. Today I can honestly say I'm good with that. For some it might be "TMI". But if the knowledge that someone else has walked this road and is willing to talk openly about it gives even one person a spark of hope - then God has moved mountains.

I guess all of this is to say - If you have the creepy crawlies - I'm right there with you. You are not alone. You are never alone.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Third Way

Conflicted. Caught in the middle. Confused. 

That's how I'm feeling a lot these days. There is a tectonic shift going on in our country and around the world and everyone around me seems to think they know the right way to respond to so many things. There are no shortage of opinions on Facebook, in casual conversation, in restaurant bathrooms, at the gym. And it feels like everyone thinks they have the answer. And if they don't have the answer, then their candidate of choice has the answer. 

My problem is that I'm not able to see the answers as clearly as everyone around me. Just when something makes sense to me - I see or hear another perspective that makes equal sense.

For example, a bunch of my Facebook friends have been posting pictures of the Nativity and claiming that since Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees - if we aren't accepting refugees we are denying Jesus. The first time I saw someone post that on Facebook I thought, "Huh. Good point." But the more I thought about it - I thought how hurtful that is to someone who doesn't share that opinion. Are you saying they are less Christian or even not Christian? And by doing that, aren't you accomplishing the opposite of what you set out to accomplish which is creating a spirit of welcome?

Then I see someone posting pictures of refugees-turned-terrorists around the world - and I think - "Huh. Another good point." Let's not make ourselves more vulnerable to evil. Until I realize that fear has gripped me and I'm giving into exactly what the terrorists want. Plus, I know that the God of scripture is a God who invites us to practice radical hospitality to the stranger. Which brings me full-circle back to the whole Nativity picture. But that's not where I want to be either!

So - I'm conflicted. Caught in the middle. Confused. I'm realizing that I'm neither as liberal as my liberal friends nor as conservative as my conservative friends. Then again, conservative and liberal are labels that don't even resonate with me anymore so I'm left shaking my head and wondering if anyone else feels the same way I do.

What is the hardest for me to understand is that we seem to be in a place where we have forgotten how to listen to one another and honor one another's opinions. It seems to me that right now in our world NO ONE and I truly mean NO ONE has the right answer. Obviously, what we are doing isn't working. Racism is still rampant, terrorism is frightening, my daughter keeps asking me if this is what World War III looks like. Muslims and Christians are scared of one another, Christians are pointing their finger at other Christians and coming down on polar opposite ends of every single issue - and where is Jesus in all of this mess?

I'm just wondering aloud if there is a third way. Not your way, and not my way. But God's way.

There is no candidate for anything that is going to fix the mess that we are in. There is no president of any nation, no leader of any organization, no commander in chief who is going to march us all in the same direction. 

So - is there a third way? Is there a way that we could approach one another with more questions and fewer answers? Is there a way we could let love lead? Is there a way that we could find Jesus together in all of this? Because quite frankly, he seems to have gotten lost in the mess. 

Not that this is surprising news. The very first thing we say in our Baptism service in the Lutheran church is "We are born children of a fallen humanity." No kidding. You don't have to look very far these days to be reminded of that simple truth. 

"But by water and the Spirit, we are re-born Children of God."  Re-born. That sounds  quite wonderful right now. Re-born. Is it possible that we could set aside our agendas for just one second and allow Christ to be born anew in this world and in our lives? Could we ask, pray, beg God to show us a new way? The third way? Not my way, not your way - but God's way?  I do not claim to know what God's way is in any of these situations, but I do know that it begins with all of us admitting that we are broken.  

I am broken, I know that for sure. I am broken and flinging myself on the Amazing Grace of the One who gave His life that I might be re-born. And if there's anything that makes sense to me right now, it's that God loves each of us the same. In our fumbling, messy ways, God looks at each of us and says, "You are my child." Now - if we could start looking at one another through God's eyes - that's where we will find new life.  

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 55

Holy God - Show us a third way. Show us YOUR way. Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Other Side of Horrible

Oh how good it is to be on the other side of horrible!  Let me explain. You all know what this year looked like for me. My mom was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and died in what felt like just a few breaths but was really six weeks. One month later, my Uncle – who was an incredible mentor and role model in my life passed away as well. One of those would have been difficult to navigate. Both at the same time was simply too much. And the icing on the cake was that both my Mom and Uncle were members of Easter Lutheran Church– which meant their funerals were in the very space where I go to work every day. I love this place. It’s my holy place, my sacred place. It’s the place where I have come to know and love so many people; it’s the place my kids love and call home. And yet – I found myself unable to get through a worship service without crying; Unable to walk the halls without having flashbacks to one of the saddest days of my life.I came to the point that when asked, “How are you doing?” I just wanted to say, “horrible” every single time. Instead, I looked in people’s eyes and said things like, “Oh – you know, I’m OK.” Or put on the smile and said, “I’m good….” And walked away. The truth was, I wasn’t OK. I was crumbling on the inside – feeling like if I just kept going, things would have to get better.  

It was the Sunday when the choir sang “On Eagle’s Wings” and the congregation sang “Beautiful Savior” that finally did me in. Like – really did me in. And I knew that to just keep going was the worst possible solution. To walk around with a plastic smile on my face while my insides screamed – “I’m NOT GOOD! I’m not even OK! In fact, I’m HORRIBLE” was simply not an acceptable way to lead this congregation, not a healthy way to raise my children, not a faithful way to live my life. That is the moment that I believe God gave me a STOP sign. It was big, red and bold – and I knew that if I chose to drive right through it – I would be choosing the expected path, but not the faithful path. 

So I stopped.It was a hard decision. It felt like a risky decision. I was plagued at first with thoughts of self-doubt. “Why can’t I do this?” and “People’s parents die all of the time, other people seem to be able to handle this, what’s wrong with ME?” and “Will people think I’m weak?”  But thank GOD for the people in my life who said no to all of these things. Instead of shaking heads and pointed fingers I heard words like, “You are so brave,” and “I am so proud of you.”  When I talked with church leadership about my struggles, it was their suggestion that I take some time to heal, to grieve, to be there for and with my family. Sometimes the people who know us best know what we need before we do.So in March of this year I began a three-month sabbatical for healing, for restoration, for perspective. It was the single best decision I’ve ever made (next to marrying my husband) – and now I’m on the other side of horrible.
So what did I DO for three months?

Month one – I grieved. Plain and simple. I cried, prayed, screamed, cried some more, cleaned out my mom’s house and ate too many cookies.

Month two – I joined a gym. (Read, too many cookies)…. I know that God has designed us in such a way that body-mind-spirit are all intricately woven together. Lifting weights and sweating bullets helped to cleanse my body as well as my mind and spirit. (I’m really strong now, watch out!)AND I started meditating. MEDITATING? If you know me, you are laughing out loud right now. My grief counselor suggested meditation might be a good practice for me to develop. I laughed at him several times. But one day I sat down on my floor, closed my eyes and said, “Holy Spirit, Come”. And then – I SAT there. Still. For five minutes. It was a loooonnnnngggg five minutes. But for some reason, I did it again the next day and the next. And I felt peace creeping back into my heart  and pretty soon I was anticipating my meditation times not with dread but with a Holy expectation.

Month three – I started thinking about coming back to work. I knew by the beginning of month three that three months would be enough. I started to miss being around the amazing people I get to share life with at Easter Lutheran Church. I started asking myself how things would be different now. Have I learned to slow down? Have I learned once again to let God lead? Have I learned to be open and vulnerable – to tell people how I am REALLY doing and ask for what I need? Have I learned that the weight of the world isn’t on MY shoulders? (God took that one on along time ago..)

I have now been back from sabbatical for three months and I can say that it did what it was supposed to do. I still have days of stress and sadness – but who doesn’t?  Mostly, I feel blessed to be on the other side of horrible and to have people who were willing to walk with me through that valley. My eyes still well up when I look at a picture of my Mom or think about this time last year when she was first diagnosed. But I know those tears are signs of having loved and been loved – and I hope they never dry up.

Times of suffering can do one of two things. They can crush us, or they can re-focus us. For awhile, I thought it was going to crush me. I could feel the weight in my whole body every day. As it turns out – God was there the whole time inviting me to turn to Him. God was in the people who showed up at exactly the right time. God was in the food and the prayers. God was in the people of Easter, my friends, my family, even people I’ve never met who prayed for me and welcomed me back with open arms. God was in all of the tears of empathy. God was at the gym and in my counselor’s office. And the whole time, God was saying – “Look to me, I will bring you to the other side of horrible.”

While I am on the other side of horrible – it is not the same place I started. Somehow, life is more beautiful than before, my work more life-giving than before, my heart more thankful than before, my family more precious to me than before. My heart more open than before. I don’t think God did this TO me – but I do think God used this valley to show me what life can look like at the summit again.Thank God for the other side of horrible.

“I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the mirey pit, setting my feet upon a rock and making my footsteps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” – Psalm 40

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Every life has its seasons. Some we can expect, some just knock us off our feet and leave us lying flat on our back, staring at the ceiling asking "how did I get HERE?" Most of you who have followed this blog in the past know that I am in one of those "hit-me-out-of-nowhere-can't-believe-I'm-in-this" seasons of my life. It's a season called grief. It's not unfamiliar to me. I've known my share of grief in this life. But each season of grief is different, just like the four seasons are different every year - last year the front of my driveway was piled with snow from Nov. - March. This year, not so much.

I'm going to re-start this blog. Sometimes I will write about my grief. That's not all this will be about. It will be about my family, my church, my ideas about this and that. But mostly, it will be about the ribbon of God's grace that is woven through every season of life. Sometimes the ribbon is beautiful and silky smooth, and sometimes it feels more like sandpaper - but it's there - and it holds me together day by day.

If you want to know more about the season I am in - you can read the CaringBridge journal my sister and I created when our mom was suddenly diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer and our world shifted.

Mom died on October 11th, 2014. She was 75 years old and lived a full life to say the least.
But it's always too soon. I don't care if someone lives to 45 or 100 - if you love them deeply it most certainly leaves a hole. The size of the hole and the size of the love are in direct proportion to one another.

I feel the hole every day. Some days it feels like a cavern and some days it feels like it is getting filled up with all of the love that is poured in by people in my life. I am so profoundly blessed and humbled by my kids, my husband, my extended family, my friends and my amazing church community. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't acknowledge the grief - either with a hug, a card of encouragement, a small gift of remembrance. I wonder - why am I so surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses? People who don't forget six months later - who still hold us in their hearts and prayers. What blessings. What treasures. It seems that most people in this world think that grief lasts until the end of the funeral and then it's time to move on. Not so with the people in my life. They get it. That's the ribbon of grace. Even in the rainy season - that ribbon dries the tears and mends the heart.

Tomorrow begins the season of Lent in the church year. We begin with Ash Wednesday when we trace the cross on our forehead with ashes. There is lots of history behind this practice but the bottom line is that in the tracing of the ashes, we remember that we are finite.

I certainly don't need that reminder this year.

Watching mom breathe her last and open her eyes to God's eternal promise was enough of a reminder for me. Hearing "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" at her graveside as we gazed on the graves of my Dad and my Brother was a moment I don't ever need to relive. Nope. I don't feel like receiving the ashes on my forehead this year - because - well - I feel like  it's going to be pretty redundant.

But - I'll do it anyway. First of all, it's my job.

Second, even though it's a startling reminder of my mortality - I'm choosing to believe that it's also a reminder that God's love is more. I might be finite. But God's love is infinite. When I lean into the finite nature of life on this side - I find a promise that is even more startling than death itself. A promise that extends that grace-ribbon to places beyond my imagining. The ashes remind me that I am not perfect and I am not God. The cross reminds me that NOTHING stops God's love. Not my sin, not my stupidity, not my disbelief, not my grief. God's love is infinite and shaped like a cross.

Yep. I'm made from ashes. So are you. But we are also made and shaped by God's promises. Ashes may be what we're made from But God's love is what we are made of. Let THAT love define you. And as you receive the imposition of ashes - may it remind you of the ribbon of grace that weaves your whole life together. That ribbon is made of God. And it's there - even in the ashes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By Our Love

This Sunday's sermon topic is "Love".  Oddly, I'm having a really hard time with it.  It's such a broad topic.  The text is this:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - John 13:34-35

It seems so simple. Jesus just got done washing the disciple's nasty feet. He cleaned them up nice and shiny and then said - that's how you love each other.  And when you do that, people will know me.

Oh my, how we have messed this one up.  It's such a simple formula.  Love. Serve. That's it.  And all will know that we are Christians.

Notice what Jesus didn't say:

"Condemn people to hell"

"Use fear tactics to get people to accept me..."

"Judge the way other people live"

Sad.  Just sad.  I wonder what Jesus thinks of all of this......

And so we begin again.  We come to the cross and we ask God to fill us with love.  We wash people's feet - not so they can be all squeaky clean - but so we can show them that God is one who chooses to dwell in the dirt with them.  

And they'll know we are our love.