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

Grace-Ribbons

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 Christians.....by our love.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stuff

I like stuff.  If I had to choose what to do on my day off, I would probably go shopping for awhile.  I would buy a cute new outfit or something to hang on the wall in my house full of stuff.  I'm conflicted about my love of stuff - because Jesus told a rich young man to sell everything and give it to the poor.  That's what that guy needed to do so he could enjoy eternal life.  That makes me think.  A lot.

But I like the stuff of God, too.  When I take time to enjoy the "God Stuff" of this world, I'm pretty sure I like it more than the other stuff.  

I like the trees because they remind me that it's ok to change.  In fact, changing is actually more beautiful than staying the same.  And if part of the tree dies - well - it comes back the next year - stronger, and fuller and even more beautiful.

I like the lakes and oceans because they make me feel like I can jump right into God and be engulfed by love.  I can dive in and the part of me that feels heavy and unrelenting suddenly becomes buoyant.  That makes me think of grace.

I like the mountains the most of all.  The mountains overwhelm me with the sturdiness of God.  Even though the grass withers and the flowers fade - I can count on God to be that rock, that mountain, that shelter and hiding place that I need just to make it through the day.  

Yep - I like stuff.  And God must love me a lot to let me enjoy the stuff that He made even though I'm drawn to all sorts of stuff that I surely don't need.  I guess the beauty of God's stuff is a reminder that no matter how the clutter of life surrounds me - God's love is always more beautiful, more magnificent, more peaceful and steadfast than any of that other stuff.

Thanks, God.  I like the stuff you made!

Monday, February 11, 2013

This month, I am linking to another blog by Nada Bolz-Weber.  I love her no nonsense suggestions for things we can all do to make Lent more Holy.  Blessed Lent to all of you!

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/02/house-for-all-sinners-and-saints-40-ideas-for-keeping-a-holy-lent/


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Look for the Light


These past few days I have been all over the map with my emotions.  I see pictures of sweet little seven-year-olds and I weep and cry and ache for their parents.  I tuck my sweet little seven-year-old in for bed and I weep and ache with gratitude – but also with a sense of guilt as I feel the empty arms of mothers and fathers just a few states away.  That I still get to hold her and feel her breath slow as she settles into dreamland seems unfair. 

I read news stories and get downright angry that these killer’s faces and names become iconic figures to the American people whilst some will-be terrorist fantasizes about his name in lights and his face emblazoned in the minds of millions. 

I feel fearful as I kiss my children goodbye and send them off to school on that big yellow bus.

I feel anxious for teachers all over the country who will be comforting their children and looking over their shoulder in what should be just another day enjoying the freedom to learn.

I feel empty when I think about the fact that thousands of children die in the streets of our cities every year – from hunger, from violence, from abuse, from neglect. And it takes THIS for us to stand at attention.

I feel immobilized as I think about the billion-piece puzzle that needs to be disassembled and put back together with leadership that is calm and steady, confident and faithful – yet also passionate about securing a safe future for our children who will always be our most precious earthly treasure.

-       Some say the problem is gun control
-       Some say the problem is access to mental health care
-       Some say the problem is the isolation that our independent society fosters in people who are already predisposed to reclusiveness

I say “Yes” to all of those. And I say “No” to all of those.  There is no ONE problem.  To try to clear the fog until the picture is clear simply will not happen.  It will never make sense.  There are no easy answers.  There are no overnight solutions.  What this will take is each and every one of us admitting that we are broken – that we need each other – and that we all need God. 

Woah - wait a minute.  Did you say we need GOD?  Don’t talk to me about your GOD.  Where was GOD when those 26 souls perished in a flash of violence?  Where was GOD when those parents couldn’t kiss their babies goodnight? 

It is a legitimate question.  I understand where it comes from.  I would be lying if I told you I had never asked the question myself.  Even Jesus – hanging from the cross – screamed out – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Here is what I know to be true.  God did not protect even His own Son from the violence of this world.  In fact, God intentionally sent Jesus into the darkness so that we would know that even in our darkest hour; especially in our darkest hour – GOD IS WITH US.  God has wept these same tears of agony.  And God weeps with us today.

All over scripture – and especially in the Psalms, people cry out to God with a sense of abandonment.  It is natural to feel God-forsaken in times like these.  The thing is - God did not promise that our lives would be void of pain or that our world would be free from tragedy and violence.  In fact, He says quite the opposite.  In John Chapter 16, Jesus says – “In this world YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE.  But take heart.  I have overcome the world.”  You see – God’s promise to us is not that things have been made all right already.  If that were the case, we would not have choices in this life.  God’s promise to us is that ONE day, when God’s Kingdom of Love has come on earth as it is in heaven -  the lion will lie down with the lamb…we will all live in love together. 

Jesus came to earth, wrapped in skin, crying human tears – so that we would know that GOD IS WITH US in all things.  And he came to show us that there IS another way to live.  For those who follow Jesus, that WAY is to turn the other cheek; to look at the world through eyes of love; to care for the orphan and the widow; to weep with those who weep; to speak healing words into the pain; to believe that God is LOVE – and anything other than LOVE is simply not of God.


This is what I choose to believe and what I know to be true.  That as those terrified children took their last breath; it was God who was holding them. God did not choose this.  God did not will this.  There is no “heavenly purpose” for this tragedy to have taken place.  God doesn’t need more angels in heaven and those who were killed were not “taken” from us by God.  They were taken by the evil actions of one man who made a choice.  One man who, himself, was in the unfathomable terror of his darkest hour.  God did not take them – but God receives them into the fullness of love and light and peace. Those children know no more pain, no more sorrow, no more suffering.  Only pure and complete love.

I know it is hard to believe right now.  And God knows that too.  But if we turn our backs on God in the midst of tragedy – then we have surrendered to evil.  The one thing that evil desires most is to separate us from God.  Our faith tells us that even in the midst of deep darkness – there is a light.  It might only look like a flicker right now – but the darkness cannot overcome it.

So I encourage each and every one of you to look for the light.  Look for the places where people are helping.  Look for the tender hearts that are weeping out of love and compassion.  Look for the ones who are entering into the pain of the other – offering hugs, meals, prayers, hope. Look for the ones who are bringing light.  And be a light-bringer yourself.  When you are feeling God-forsaken – show someone else the light of Christ through a hug, a listening ear, a warm meal, a place to rest.  That is where love is found.  And that is where God is found.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness HAS NOT, WILL NOT, CANNOT overcome it.  (John 1:5)







Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm NOT going there.

NEWSFLASH:  We are living in a politically charged environment.  As a Pastor, I am often asked where I stand on political issues.  My answer?  I'm NOT going there.  Many of my colleagues in ministry would disagree with this approach.  They would encourage me to stand for SOMETHING. (And most of them would prefer that I stand for what they stand for).  And I would guess that some of my congregation members would like me to stand on one side or the other.  It is said that if you don't stand for SOMETHING, then you don't stand for ANYTHING.

Well - here's the thing - I stand for Jesus.  And I stand with Jesus.  

I know people who would argue this with me as well.  Jesus, they would say, was political.  He entered into the politics of his time and he stirred things up.

This is true.  Still not going there.  It is my job to represent Jesus - not to be Jesus.  He entered into a specific political environment, at a specific time for a specific purpose.  How would he handle THIS political environment?  I don't think any of us want to hear the real answer to that question.  

I'm pretty sure Jesus would do what he normally did when he encountered people.  He would gently point out that there is another way.  It's not your way.  It's not my way.  It's God's Way.

So I stand with Jesus.  I pray for God's will to be done.  I do my best to love all people.  Sometimes that is easier said than done.  But Jesus would have it no other way.  He loved Zaccheus - and he loved the Woman at the Well.  He loved Nicodemus - and he loved the criminal on the cross.  He loves Romney - and He loves Obama.  And for some strange reason that I haven't figured out yet - he loves me.  And He loves YOU.  

Of course, I will vote in this election.  But as I do so, I will keep praying for another way.  God's Way.  

Thy will be done, O God - on earth as it is in heaven.