Friday, August 14, 2020
Bishop — 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Later today, I will join fellow Lutherans representing 197 congregations throughout the Eastern North Dakota Synod at our Synod Assembly. This year’s synod assembly was postponed due to the pandemic and then moved to an online format for the first time in its history. We will all meet on A Zoom chat to do the business of the church collective and more importantly elect a new bishop.
Some synod’s have elected to cancel their synod assemblies, especially if they do not have big elections, others have met online as well. We have to have an election for a new bishop since our’s resigned last November. There are 7 candidates on the docket willing to say yes to the Holy Spirit if called by God, their peers and fellow Christians to become our next bishop. Like all things pandemic, this year’s synod assembly has a layer of anxiety upon it. Will the format work, will the business be legitimate and unchallenged, will the bishop be elected in the time allotted or will need more time?
All I know as I head into this required meeting on my part is that I am thankful for those who are called by the Spirit for different tasks in the Church. I am thankful for people who answer that call. I am thankful that we can still meet to elect a bishop even in a pandemic. I am so thankful for God’s gifts and the showcase we will see this weekend. Prayers appreciated for wisdom and discernment for all the candidates who are willing to serve.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
Behind — Hebrews 12:1-3
How is it that no matter how much I seem to get accomplished in a day, I often feel like I am running behind. It makes me cranky to think about it. I try not to procrastinate. I try to stay on top of the daily stuff. I try to manage my time well. But it only takes ONE little thing to blow up a day and then here I am nodding off at my computer at 2am trying to write my devotion for the day.
Why is it so easy for me to feel caught in that catch twenty-two of staying up late to finish things or begin the day behind but with a little more sleep. Someone once told me, “there will always be something” — meaning something that will preoccupy my time, there will always be work, there will always be justification, there will always be something to procrastinate. She said it to comfort me but on my worst days, “there will always be something” makes my anxiety skyrocket! She might as well have said, “you will always feel behind” because today I certainly feel there is no truer statement. It all feels like a race that I can never win.
Which is why the scripture from Hebrews came to mind — “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Days when I wake up already feeling behind, I lean into the day fixing my eyes on Jesus. Head down, persevere, keep moving and trust God’s grace. But coffee and prayers are always appreciated!
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Middle — Revelation 22:13
Being stuck in the middle isn’t all that bad is it? I don’t know if I want to ask a middle child that question or anyone stuck between two linebackers on a plane. But if you think about it, we spend an awful lot of time in the middle of things. Our whole lives are lived in the middle — between birth and death.
A good rule of thumb is if you are still uncomfortable, in pain or distressed, it probably means you are in the middle of things. The story has not ended. You are stuck in the middle of your own narrative, awaiting the next chapter, the next book or perhaps the end. We are all awaiting the next thing and usually waiting isn’t comfortable or all that great at all.
When I am stuck in the middle of things, I like to dream about the next scenario but if that is too anxiety producing I like to remember that God is already there. No matter where our middle is — God is in tomorrow, the next chapter and even the next book. God is already there. Because of my faith, I believe God is already in the future, calling me toward what God has planned for me. And usually, that planned is nothing like I could have ever dreamed. So if you are stuck in the middle of things today — if just means you haven’t reached the end of your story! But do not fear God is already on the next page! Enjoy the read!
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Investment — Luke 6:38
There are all sorts of sayings out there. I’m sure you have heard of one or two of them … “It takes money to make money”; “You get out what you put in”; “You are what you think”; “The best investment you can make is in yourself”; “They say love is the best investment: the more you give the more you get in return.”
Jesus was a bit on the confusing side when He talked about investments … “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” or the parable of the rich man who failed to count the cost before building or “where your treasure is there your heart will be also”.
Personally, I have come to experience that which is most important for people is not money but time. Time has become the new currency. How much time you invest in something tells a lot more about you than how you spend your money. Investments are funny that way. Time is an investment always — an investment in relationship over things, an investment in depth over shallow, an investment in listening rather than speaking, and an investment in compassion and empathy over apathy. Time is amazing currency since how we use it defines who we are and how we view the world. So it goes without saying, how we choose to invest our time matters and demonstrates our character. How are you investing your time today?
Monday, August 10, 2020
Crickets –– Psalm 145:9
Last night, there was a cricket trapped in the entryway of my home. At first, it was a mild distraction. One that made it feel like I was sleeping outdoors. Then it became a puzzling distraction, as I wondered about its whereabouts, how big it was, how it got into my home and why it wasn’t afraid of light.
As the noise of our new roommate dragged on incessantly, I began to wonder how to get it out, what makes them stop cricketing (Is that even a word?) and what scares them (because I would totally be that scary).
Next, as I found myself slowly getting mesmerized to sleep (thankfully), I began to wonder more important things about this little critter. I wondered if the noise he was making was a cry for help or communicating with other friends, or more possibly if he was simply lonely and liked to hear himself talk. I began to wonder if he was missed by family members, why I was so quick to assign him a gender, and if he had a name (it’s probably Charlotte and she is female thank you very much). But I also wondered this: If God created this cricket and loves it as God’s own, how much more must God love us. I also wondered this: If God loves us like God loves all of creation, how hurt God must be that we are so quick to call this cricket a nuisance and how quick we are to put a value on God’s beloved creation when it isn’t ours to do so in the first place. The Psalmist declares — “The Lord is good to all, and the Lord’s compassion is over all that God has made.”
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Gifts — 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
I must confess I didn’t make my goal of 12 full hours yesterday in silence. But I did do some intentional listening. Over and over again, I heard the same message — do what you are good at. Keep doing what you are good at. Keep focusing on the assets and forget the negative. Each time, louder than the last I heard that message… do what you do well and keep doing it.
So my question for you to do is this? What do you do well? And more importantly this: WHERE in the world is your gift needed the most? I think it is not a coincidence that I heard this strong message. The world needs our gifts. The world needs us — and frankly can’t wait for us to perfect our craft before sharing it. So, do what you do well and share it. So? Go ahead and be bold and confident and tell the world what you are good at! The world desperately needs you!
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Silence — Ecclesiastes 9:17
I am planning on spending almost 12 hours in silence today. I am on a vacation without kids and need some extended time listening. I know that for me this isn’t always a natural position. Which is why I need to set aside time, periodically, to listen. Active listening is not sitting down and waiting for God’s voice as you fade in and out of consciousness.
For me this silence is coupled with reading, prayer, journaling, prayer,meditation, prayer, and more prayer. It is a time to be intentional with God, a time to listen intently to God’s response often found deep in the ground of my own being. Silence affords time and reflection which is so foreign for us as Americans.
I have been surprised and dismayed that I have been so quick to go back to my busy habits so easily and quickly as things open up. Old habits die hard, I guess. So 12 hours of silence. Wish me luck and peace to you as you carve out some silence this week too!
Monday, August 3, 2020
Scenery — Job 12:7-10
A change in scenery is always an easy way to get over one’s self. When I am struggling with something, when I am too comfortable with indecision, when I need to clear my head, when I need to understand or when I cannot let go, a change in scenery always helps. I am not sure what it exactly does other than taking one out of the same routine, same environment and same ways of thinking but perhaps it is just that break from the same that does it!
I am thankful for the privilege I can afford to get a change in scenery. Perhaps you have found this to be helpful too? When trying to solve a problem, taking a walk to change things up may help. When trying to do a crossword puzzle and getting stuck, do you try to push through or try a different puzzle or take a breath to “change the scenery” in order to tackle it again? We do this without thinking often.
God gives us the opportunities to naturally try again through a change of scenery. It’s just one more example of grace from God — may we be wise enough to use it!
Friday, July 31, 2020
Homecoming — Luke 15:11-32
There are some pretty epic homecomings in scripture. Jacob when he comes home to Esau, When Moses leads the people to Canaan after wandering for 40 years or Jesus telling us that He goes to prepare a place for us. And who can forget the Prodigal Son story!
Last evening, I witnessed one of the best Homecomings there ever was! Thankful and amazed people all out to welcome Nancy home after beating Covid 19. It was so good to see all the people, family, family friends, roommates and church people all there in procession to welcome her back home. Nancy is a lover and she is well loved! There were many tears of joy and gratitude. SHE BEAT THE DISEASE THAT IS THREATENING US ALL!
That is the ultimate news of hope. For those of us gathered it was a reminder that some people live. That Death doesn’t have the final Word! Thanks be to God for awesome Homecoming stories that move us to tears and remind us of God’s immense love!
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Paperback books – Proverbs 1:7
Today is Paperback Book Day according to my wacky calendar. July’s days have certainly been in my wheelhouse. Chocolate, Ice Cream, Lollipop, now book day! Hooray! I am happiest when I have a number of books going at the same time. Am I the only one who does this? I doubt it but who knows? (I’d love to hear your feedback!)
As of today, I have five I am in the midst of and so I thought I would share what I am reading currently.
(rereading) “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo ( can by found in the church library)
“Sticky Faith” by Powel and Clark
“A Light in the Window” by Jan Karon (2nd in the Mitford series from our church library) “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Reynolds and Kendi
“Canoeing the Mountains:Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” by Tod Bolsinger
Only one of them is a light read so I may have to figure out another novel soon. I love books of all kinds! What are you reading lately?
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Stretching — Isaiah 54:2 & Galatians 4:27
Do you do body stretches regularly? I never used to be a person who stretched. Not even before exercise at the gym or really anytime. Since having an autoimmune disorder that needs more blood flow to all my bones and joints, I have learned that stretching is necessary for my health. So I stretch. I stretch in the morning and at night before I go to sleep. Sometimes, I am surprised how light headed I can become when I stretch. Blood flow is a real thing, y’all! However, mostly I am surprised how I am never disappointed that I did. I don’t go to bed and think, “darn, sure wish I hadn’t stretched”. Doing my stretching never disappoints.
Which got me thinking about stretching in general. All of us have been doing some stretching and bending lately. We have all had our “normal way of life” change in some form or another and it has stretched our patience, our time, our relationships, our minds, our resilience, and our elasticity. So call me crazy but perhaps this time too will not disappoint us with results. Perhaps we are being stretched into being the kind of church, the kind of people God needs us to be! Don’t get me wrong, stretching can be uncomfortable. Change is often so. Yet it is in the stretching that we grow, that we shed our own old ways of being, doing and acting and learn to be flexible. Let’s stretch together and see how flexible we can be! Let’s trust also that God will not stretch us to the point of snapping or breaking! Let’s lean into this new change — new normal — ready to be changed!
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Chocolate — Psalm 34:8
Today according to my wacky calendar is “National Milk Chocolate Day”. I assume it gives one license to consume all the milk chocolate you can handle. I also assume that you can consume it in any of its various forms! Few of us would turn down chocolate. Good quality chocolate is especially delectable. Have you ever had a piece of chocolate or a slice of chocolate cake or a dish of chocolate ice cream and thought to yourself — “This must be what heaven is like!”. No? Just me?
Chocolate is meant to be savored. It isn’t meant as a meal but as a compliment to the ordinary. Chocolate is meant to be tasted, appreciated, slowly consumed. A good piece of chocolate is supposed to melt on your tongue and be deliciously allowed to arouse our tastebuds. But too often we don’t bother to simply enjoy it.
I think we do this with more than chocolate. We do this with people (even those we enjoy). We do this with our vocations. We do this on vacation. We do this with our kids. We are so ready for the next piece we forget to enjoy the one we have. So today, perhaps you could slow down, clown and “taste the chocolate”.
Monday, July 27, 2020
Being — Psalm 139:14
What would you be if the world had not told you who and how to be in this world? We get conditioned so early, don’t we? For myself, I was conditioned to be a good girl, be nice, don’t make waves, keep your opinions to yourself, etc. As I matured, that morphed into sarcasm because humor hid the disagreement or hurt. Now, I am learning that sweeping things under the rug, putting a smile on your face even though you are dying inside, and shallow dialogue make me feel plain uncomfortable. I’m tired of being someone else to please other people.
I am growing in my authenticity and my knowledge that God’s love is bigger than my flaws.
The culture and the world finds it easier if we all fit in a certain box. Polarization in political leanings may make it easier for you to know who not to listen to but it isn’t making us better humans.
Putting people in boxes and writing them off isn’t furthering humanity. So the question still stands. Before you were molded into who you are right now, who would you have been? Would you have made the same choices, done the same things, had the same opportunities, lived the same way?
I have been asking this question randomly in many different platforms. The answers I have gotten have been astounding. One person said they would have been in charge. One person said braver. One person said left handed. Another said a dreamer. Still another, simply said they would take up more space. So, now I ask you. What would you be if the world stayed out of your way?
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Dry — Ezekiel 37
Some days there is just nothing to say. Perhaps it is a time to listen. Perhaps it is a time to just be silent. Whatever it is, today is the day for that for me. I am dry as a bone. I am awaiting God to show up and to make it clear what God is up to and how I may follow. But things aren’t clear so I wait. I feel stupid for trying to even write when my ideas, creativity and passion have dried up.
But I know that this will not last. I know that God is going to blow into my dry bones a new and hopeful breath. But what does one do in the interim? Certainly one choice is to ignore the dry thirst. To go on and try to put it out of our minds. A second and my choice is to drink from the Living Water of God. To drink in the silence with God in contemplation and meditation. To pour over the scripture and bathe in God’s faithfulness, trusting God will quench my thirst in God’s time.
So today, I will be signing off for the weekend. My Sabbath is Friday and will continue to honor it by not providing a devotion that day. In addition, as my responsibilities multiply, I will be cutting back on the devotions. I will be providing devotions Mondays thru Fridays. (My goal is to write Friday’s devotion on Thursdays and continue to stay ahead!) Thank you for understanding, for reading them and for giving me the grace to quench my thirst this weekend to begin again! Peace to you in the dry places of your lives.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Mary Magdalene — Luke 8:1-3
Today, Christians commemorate Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles. She was present at the crucifixion and resurrection. She is named in the gospels 12 times, more than most other apostles. Her role in scripture is remarkable given the patriarchal nature of the biblical narrative. The fact that she is mentioned so much not only proves her validity but her connection to Jesus. She is the first to tell of the resurrection — Jesus, knowing her status appears to her and calls her by name.
Oh how I wish there was a gospel of Mary Magdalene! The stories would prove to show a different side of Jesus, a glimpse into the underpinnings of a movement and the relational aspects of life lived following the Way. Her faithfulness is unmatched. She followed Jesus to the end and right through to the beginning!
As I wonder about Mary’s untold gospel account, I also wonder about the other women like her, caught up in following and using all their resources to make the mission stick. I wonder about women like Lydia, Joanna, Susanna, Lois,and the other Marys. Names that show up in the New Testament but only get made mention. What would their stories hold? Today I give thanks for Mary Magdalene and her faithful, courageous and loving witness.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Support — Galatians 6:2
I just spent an hour talking with my kids about school this fall and what it may or may not look like. I hate when I don’t have answers. I’m sure all of us are feeling this way in one way or another. THE GREAT PAUSE has sure taken away some of our power to know what is next hasn’t it? I remember a time when the greatest problem this time of year was getting to Target or Walmart at the right time to get all our back to school stuff. Now I’m not sure what is really needed for re-entry.
I read and re-read Superintendent Slette’s email and I am certain that as stressful it is for parents trying to figure out what will happen for school in the fall, I’m sure it is far more stressful to be a teacher, or administrator within any district in the country right now. So I am vowing to take a breath, to realize that no decision will be right for everyone, that although my situation with my kids being immunocompromised is scary, they are not the only situation they have to think about. I will remember that community schools are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us and that we all have a part to play in that. I vow to start now, conditioning my kids for extra anxiety, mask wearing and hand washing. I will pray for students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators and all who are spending countless hours worried about these decisions. I will support the school and those who serve it. This too is my Christian and civic duty.
Monday, July 20, 2020
Hope — Romans 5:1-5
I am having a MONDAY …. Ever had one of those? It’s a Monday in which you just want to tell it to “go step on a Lego”! I slept poorly, woke up tired and am cranky with the world. Every annoying thing is bothering me to an out of proportion degree!
So I am so glad I came across this little nugget this morning from Glennon Doyle. Follow her – you won’t be disappointed!
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Pets — Genesis 1:24-25
I don’t really know if God’s plan for us was to domesticate so many of God’s creatures. But I do know that I appreciate all the pets I have had the privilege to have in my lifetime. I will say without a doubt that my dogs have kept me from loneliness, kept me more active and are as of late, genuinely the only living being that is glad to greet me when I get home. Pets are for most of us these very things.
I do know there are lots of studies that show the benefits of having pets. They can lower your blood pressure, lessen anxiety, keep you active, and alleviate some loneliness. There are just as many reasons people do not have pets, however. And for many years as a parent I was sure we wouldn’t be able to have a pet due to my kids’ asthma. Hypoallergenic pets are a great answer to this!
Pets are a good judge of character. I am always cautious of people who don’t like animals. I am especially cautious of those who are indifferent to them. I am extremely cautious of those who hurt them. So today, I thank God for my pets — past and present. I give thanks for God’s immense diversity (think of all the breeds of pets). Will you join me?
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Listening — James 1:19
According to my “Every Day’s A Holiday” calendar, today is “World Listening Day”. It is a beautiful idea isn’t it? I wonder what the intention behind it is. Do we really need a day to tell us to listen? Shouldn’t we be doing so ALL the time?
I fear that this very small but significant thing called listening is what is missing from our society today. It is the very thing that is causing much unnecessary hurt and heartache. We often do not listen to others because we are too busy responding. Many of us just like to hear ourselves talk. Still many more, already have their minds made up and feel no need to listen to even understand much less learn something new.
Dream with me a bit and imagine a world in which we spent more time listening. Imagine if we got actually dead air to process the news story we just heard through succinct sound bites. Imagine a world where true discussion took place in which one person/group sat and listened to understand while the other spoke and such behavior was reciprocated. Imagine a world in which we didn’t talk over one another but were humble enough to listen and respond in humility with gentleness. Imagine a world in which listening was valued higher than talking. Imagine a world where listening produced understanding which produced empathy which produced a response of love rather than hate. Just imagine!
Friday, July 17, 2020
Pastor Nichole’s Sabbath Day
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Disagree — Matthew 18:15-17
Basic conflict resolution is a biblical concept. The reality of conflict and people disagreeing is also biblical. It was and still is expected. It seems most humans like to avoid conflict as a means to resolve it. This most certainly doesn’t work. The other default to conflict resolution especially in familial ones is passive aggressive behavior. Still others will use triangulation. But all of these are not suggested in the scripture. In fact Jesus is pretty clear in Matthew Chapter 18. If a brother sins against you go tell it to them in private. It is really the only way to go. Confront the person one-on-one. It is super hard to do. Inviting a conversation from someone who has hurt you is difficult. But so is living with the rift between you and that person. Usually the problem breaks down when the other side doesn’t want to come to the table. This is painful as well. Which is why the advice is furthered. Then let each side gather others so that a conversation could be had and both sides feel heard and have witnesses. Often we don’t get to this point. It is just too difficult. We either avoid or ignore. All of this is to say this is just human nature.
However, I still believe the Church universal has a role to play in conflict resolution. Which is why we spend time on it in confirmation and premarital sessions. Where else in the world should we be able to practice it with humility and love and grace? Where else should be a safe place to practice conflict resolution with your brother and sister in faith? I wish we did this better as a whole Church. I wish it was part of discipleship 101. I wish that we could do this boldly and invite people to join in learning how to do it well. But if we can do anything else it is this: talk to the person who offended you directly with humility and love. See what happens. You may be surprised at their response!
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
In-Between — Revelation 22:13
Life is lived in the moments between life and death. It is a fact. Our lives are lived in the “in-between”. Our lives are not black and white but often gray. Our lives are not this or that but a mash up. Life is complex. Full of juxtaposition, messy stuff, layered problems and brutiful things. SO why do we always get disappointed when things aren’t simple? Maybe I’m alone in this?
I spend a lot of my day wondering why this or that is “so difficult”. I spend valuable energy pondering how the world I/we got here and less energy on the problem at hand. It is so frustrating. Then I remember that “God is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”. I often want to jump right through from the beginning to the end. But that is where the juicy parts of our story lie. They don’t live in our births and deaths but in our lives lived in-between. So … how will you be living the in-between moments? I know it doesn’t have to be that difficult!
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Moments — Psalm 143:5-6
“Collect Moments Not Things” is what is on my wall. I like it for two reasons: 1. It is true as moments last longer than things as moments become memories. 2. I am really bad at this and need the reminder “moment to moment”. (Ha! See what I did there!)
I have been thinking about memories and moments more these days as many of us are being hindered from making them due to our responses to THE GREAT PAUSE. My mind sometimes gets fixated on all the memories that aren’t being made with extended families until someone reminded me that memories are still being made — they may just not be that exciting. What moments during THE GREAT PAUSE will be etched in my memory bank until I lose them to old age? What memories will my children have of living through this pandemic?
Sadly, my mind went to all the struggles this pandemic has led us to and through including online learning, facemasks, despair, who drew the short stick for the week’s recording and missing friends and family. There were treasured moments too, like bringing back family game night, Hamilton on Disney + and the time to pay attention to things that matter that we had made excuses not to address. Maybe you are simply “OVER” this pandemic and are choosing to live freely and you are out making memories in various places and with many people. I have realized that for us, for various reasons this summer will look like the spring did with social distancing, masks and staying in more than not. What I also know is that we still have time to make moments into memories. In fact, the best way to honor those that can no longer make memories with their loved one is to take seriously our responsibility to make them for ourselves. I still have a chance to make moments count and to collect them …. Now how do I want to remember Summer 2020?
Monday, July 13, 2020
Light — Genesis 1:3-5
Since trying to stay on the path of anti-racist toward being an ally, I have been reading lots of things — books, blogs, podcasts, posts, articles, etc. In my reading, which has been coming more and more to the forefront in my conversations with colleagues is a discussion about light and darkness. I was shocked to see that right from the beginning — literally the first chapter of the Torah and the Bible, we get from the author that there is a judgement on darkness. It literally reads that God saw that the light was good but doesn’t say the same about darkness. And since we know that history and the bible are written by the winners — the dominating power — light was set up to be better than dark– why do you suppose the writer did that?
I ponder this because Light and Dark imagery are all over scripture, our liturgy, the way we talk about Advent and Lent and the forces of good and evil. Who decided this would be so?
I am so glad we have another account of creation but even that has its problems since it seems to throw females under the bus right quick, not to mention it is terribly humancentric.
The attributes of light are inescapable. Plants grow in the light, things are uncovered in the light, light helps us see, light dries, warms, and so much more. But light also burns, it uncovers, it casts shadows, light has an undesirable side too. Just as darkness is so much more than the worst scary movie. We need darkness just as much as light. We need both to appreciate the other. We need darkness to sleep, to repair, heal, dream and be idle so that we can do those things we need to in the light. Darkness is not the enemy, our lack of imagination is. And I pray we can right this wrong and not put so much value on light unless we place the same value on darkness. What say you?
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Holy Sabbath — Exodus 20:8-10
“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” What are the truest intentions of this commandment? Is it simply to get us to not work on Sundays? What about those who can’t? No blue laws to hold us back from shopping on Sundays now! Somehow I don’t think it is just about rest. We often forget the second part — “and keep it holy.” Holy as defined by Merriam-Webster is “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in complete goodness and righteousness” or simply “divine”. So Sabbath isn’t just rest but it is connecting with the Divine.
By extension then, making the Sabbath holy must take some form of worship. It must take some form of extraordinary or to bust out of the ordinary in some way. And also by extension it should be a whole day of holy stuff. We tend to remember the Sabbath with an hour on Sundays and jump right back into the rat race around us. Worse yet, some of us use Sundays to catch up from the rest of the week, whether that is work or household jobs.
What would the world look like, if we all took seriously a 12 hour connection to the Divine EVERY WEEK? How might our world be better, stronger, more compassionate if we all did Holy stuff for a full 12 hours on our Sabbath? What if we rested, connected with family and friends, contemplated and reflected, prayed, connected with nature and took care of our own spiritual and renewal needs? Might we find that in the very least we respond differently to the world? Might we find our rightful place in the circle? Might we find that we are not the Divine sans the Divine in us all? Might we discover true holiness? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could actually utilize the Sabbath for what it was made for? Us.
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Later — Ecclesiastes 9:5
Today my children will watch on some digital platform as their father’s mother, their grandma is buried in Guyana, South America. She died some weeks ago from complications of an asthma attack. (Yes, asthma is still deadly and it is my biggest fear for my own children who carry this legacy as well.) They are taking it harder than I ever thought they would since they hardly knew her — spent maybe a total of a month with her their whole lives. But as my oldest put it, “it’s not the loss of her so much as the loss of memories we will never have”. And it is always hard to watch your dad cry. What death robs us of is not just the immediate or the tangible but the potential that awaits that relationship as well.
As humans we suffer from the terrible condition of believing there will always be time. We believe there will always be time to mend a broken relationship, there will be time to retire, there will be time to take that vacation, there will be time to fix that antique car, there will be time to make that memory with my grandkids, there will be time to record my mother’s voice, there will be time to listen to that uncle’s story, there will be time to go fishing later, there will be time to ….the list gets long.
Covid19, fatal asthma attacks and any myriad of things steal time and memories. So do what you can now, my dear ones. Go fishing, record your mom’s voice, mend the relationship that is broken and take back that which will soon enough be gone. You won’t regret it and it may be the only way the living can fight the sting of death. For what if “later” never comes?
Friday, July 10, 2020
Brutiful — Ecclesiastes 3:11
Life is lived best in the juxtaposition. The world is so brutal and beautiful at the same exact time. I woke up to headlines of tornado damage, homicides, racial profiling in the police department, increases in Covid 19 cases in ND, family farm loss, and uncertainty in the US response to the pandemic. These are just domestic issues — add to that Brazil, our trade issues with Mexico and Canada, North Korea on the edge, China, Hong Kong autonomy, climate change and a host of other ongoing brokenness. The world is so brutal to humanity and humanity in turn has been brutal to the world. It makes my heart pause. It often takes my breath away.
But the world is also full of so much beautiful goodness. Usually that doesn’t make the headlines. I look at the beauty of creation in spite of climate change and the sheer awesomeness of the galaxy, the varied topography, the creatures big and small, the flowers and the grass. Hidden in the stories of catastrophe are stories of beautiful humans doing compassionate things like taking in tornado victims, looking for days for a man who disappeared, the bravery of people of color standing up to racism, Covid recovery stories, farm families who help farm families, and healthcare workers on the front lines of this pandemic showing their humanity in the best and most beautiful way they know how with compassion.
I like to believe that goodness is far greater in this world than evil. I like to believe that goodness wins out always in the end. I choose to stand on the side of hope and not despair. I choose to stand up love rather than turn inward and hate.
Both are present in this world. What we choose to feed is what will win. But the reality is the beast is awake — justice is being demanded and chaos is calling for some order. What we choose in the wake of this time in history is where we will stand for eternity. We can’t see the brutal without the beautiful and we can’t appreciate the beautiful without the brutal. Both are needed but both will not prevail. God is making all things beautiful in their time.
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Thanks — Philippians 1:3
I am so beyond grateful today. As I was writing in my gratitude journal about all the things I was somehow grateful for yesterday, I filled two pages up. Perhaps it was the change in scenery over the past few days, perhaps it was my own deeper reflection, perhaps it was God’s reminding awareness coming forth in my consciousness but whatever it was I am profoundly grateful. The list went from large to small. From near to far and everything in between. I am so simply and profoundly grateful for things like being a citizen of the United States to being able to enjoy a good watermelon. I am grateful for those in my life that show me my humanity and those I have yet to meet. I am grateful for the people I lead and the blessing of time away. I am so very thankful for the people who bless me with favors like getting my packages at the doorstep while I’m away and keeping an eye out for my kids. I am so thankful for love — to be loved and to love. I am thankful for the challenges of parenthood as they remind me that suffering means you are alive. I am thankful for those who listen and those who are trying to stretch their capacity to learn. I am thankful for so many, many things. When you start your day with gratitude, it’s amazing how different your day goes. Won’t you try it with me?
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Soul Rest — Psalm 62
Where does your soul find rest? Is there a certain place or time or circumstance that your soul longs for? Do you honor your soul by allowing it to rest often? If not, why not? I grew up on the prairie of North Dakota. It will always hold a special place in my heart. The topography of western North Dakota changes greatly after Valley City as you travel west. There are hills, less trees, different hues of green and brown, different smells and the sunset just looks different. Just driving on the familiar roads toward my childhood home, seeing familiar farmsteads, and seeing the prairie laid out in front of me is balm for my soul. You certainly couldn’t have convinced me of this in my teens and twenties. I couldn’t wait to leave the familiar prairie then but perhaps time and nostalgia work their magic so that by the time you get to be my age those things somehow feel healing to the soul now. Approaching my childhood home I have noticed my breathing evans, my body takes a sigh and my guard lets up a bit. It is physiological — my body reacts to what my soul longs for.
Some people have told me that this is what happens to them when they mow grass or spend time in their garden or sit on their deck with a cup of coffee and watch the sun come up. Wherever the soul longs to find rest is where this happens. I am always surprised at how tired I am when I get to my parent’s home. It shouldn’t surprise me by now. I always thought it was just because I had children under 10 or teens or a single mom. But honestly it is my body’s reaction to the longing of my soul for rest. There are few places of true rest for me and my childhood home is one of them. Your soul deserves rest.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Monday, July 6, 2020
Sunday, July 5, 2020
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Independence Day — Have a Great Independence Day! Stay Safe and Enjoy the Holiday!
Friday, July 3, 2020
Ignorance — Proverbs 28:26
All of us have a blind side. All of us are ignorant of something — we can’t know everything there is to know. That said, I wonder if many of us stay ignorant because once we know something we may have to change. It is why some people don’t go to the doctor. Once you know you can’t unknow. But here is the thing. After knowing we still have a choice. Staying ignorant only hurts us.
Maya Angelou once said one of my favorite quotes of all time. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I like that advice. It starts in a place of grace and ends in a place of responsibility. It is perfectly Lutheran in theology. Notice that she doesn’t say just ‘do the best you can’ full stop. It is assumed you will not stay the same. It is assumed you will learn something. It is assumed you will not stay ignorant forever. It is also assumed you will take responsibility once you know to do better. What I am simply saying is that that is another choice. It is often not the best choice but it is a choice. But staying ignorant is not a valid choice. It only leads to death.
I think about this in light of our current national situation. You and I may not choose to do anything after we educate ourselves on the issues that plague us, racism, public safety, pandemic, environment, etc. But staying ignorant to avoid them is not an option anymore. As our country gives thanks for its various freedoms, I hope we can also remember our responsibility in that freedom. We do not have the freedom to continue to be ignorant. Democracy was founded on the principle of an educated populace. In this way Freedom isn’t free. What do you need to learn more about? What is keeping you from doing so?
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Community — Romans 12:18
We are made by God for community. Right from the Garden of Eden, God somehow sensed that Adam needed company — equal company. In THE GREAT PAUSE like any pandemic, this is tested. The strength of our communities have not just been tested by an airborne disease but also by differences in pandemic hygiene (mask/no mask), differences in who has been affected (old and vulnerable/young healthy), differences in risk management (six feet apart/small gathering) to differences in how serious we view the pandemic at all based on what we see in the media and our leadership. This pandemic is testing our patience, our pocketbooks, our mental health, sense of community and all our relationships.
That is why I think it is important for us as Christians to model a middle way in all our dealings. Paul writes to the Romans: “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Oh how different the world would be in general if we spent more time pausing before we react and remembering our responsibility in making any relationship work. ‘So far as it depends on you’ means taking personal responsibility for the parts that are dependent on me but also realize that relationships are a two way street. It is a beautiful recipe for community in the abstract. We know it is much more complicated in reality due to sin. True peace is also justice but that is for a different devotion. Today, as we head into our various plans for the holiday weekend may we be reminded that community does depend on us. It depends on us to do the right thing by our neighbor/family/friend and expecting it to be reciprocated. Peace happens when both parties worry more about the other than about themselves. Stay safe and try to enjoy community safely this Independence weekend!
Wednesday, July 1
100 — Various
One hundred is a long time, even in biblical prose. Apparently, Noah was one hundred when his first of three sons was born. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born. The number most often used in the bible for monetary offering is 100 and St. John was martyred in the year 100 AD supposedly. But today marks the 102 day since my family went into what would later be called quarantine. This is my 100th devotion. (Somehow I missed two days in this journey of devotion writing.) When I started out doing them, I certainly didn’t expect to be doing so this long. I’m sorry/not sorry in a way. Thank you for reading them. Thank you for responding to them. But honestly thank you for letting me have space to reflect. That was and still is my priority during THE GREAT PAUSE. I really wanted the pause to reflect. I want there to be some intentionality on my part to this whole thing. I hope you have taken some time during this pandemic to Pause and Reflect over this last third of the year. May we find ourselves ready to engage in this messy world knowing who we are a little better and grounded in the knowledge of Whose we are. God loves you and so do I!
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Still — Psalm 46:10
“Be Still and Know That I Am God”
Monday, June 29, 2020
Hope — Proverbs 13:12
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So says the wisdom of the book of Proverbs. It is most certainly true that our hope has been deferred and continues to be so this year. The year 2020 could be totally summed up in those two words — hope deferred. And it certainly has made our hearts sick. There is a meme on Facebook right now that shows the months of 2020 with each month a different catastrophe to contend with culminating in the final Apocalypse. It certainly feels with THE GREAT PAUSE that the hope for “normalcy” is slipping away with each passing month. Each month brings new troubles to contend with and new plans to adjust or cancel. Hope seems like that elusive carrot that dangles just out of our reach.
So what are we to do then? I think the answer lies in what we already have been doing. We have not given up or given into despair. We have persevered. We have reminded each other not to give up. We do things that take the sting out of loneliness or make us happy. We distract ourselves with work or family and we ultimately pray. We pray for the day and the time when HOPE DEFERRED is just a memory. So take heart, God’s people. This too will be just a memory one day!
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Trust — Proverbs 3:5
— He who does not trust enough will not be trusted. — Lao Tzu
— To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. — George MacDonald
— It’s hard to trust when all you have from the past is evidence of why you shouldn’t.
— Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly. — Frank Sonnenberg
— I do not trust words. I even question actions. But I never doubt patterns.
— Trust is like paper, once it’s crumpled, it can’t be perfect.
Trust is the first step to love. — Munshi Premchard
Which one is most true for you? Whom do you trust?
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Choice — Luke 15:11-32
You have heard it said that staying in love is a choice. Perhaps you fall in love by some random act of fate but daily and sometimes moment to moment you have to choose to stay in love. That is why love is an active verb — it isn’t passive. Love holds us to a real standard. The best definition of love I have heard is: “giving to meet the needs of others without expecting anything in return”. That kind of love demands us to choose it. Will we give to meet the needs of others without getting something in return. Too often love is conditional upon a payback. This love suggests unconditional love and that is true work. It means not expecting people to change in order to love them. It means loving the unlovable parts of people despite them. It means laying aside our needs in order to meet the needs of something else. It means no conditions. The story of the prodigal son comes to mind when I think of this kind of love. After all the prodigal did to hurt his father, his father still runs to meet him and embrace him. Because his love for his child was unconditional. In that moment, the father chose to forgive his son. Which means that love always comes with forgiveness. Let’s be honest no relationship lasts without forgiveness. And forgiveness is always a choice. And not a one and done choice either but a choice made continuously just like love. I’m so glad that we have true role models for this in the Biblical narrative as well as in the world. I think of people like Mother Theresa, Shane Claiborne, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and more. Who are you “giving to meet the need of without expecting anything in return”?
Friday, June 26, 2020
Radical Love — Psalm 63:3
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” That is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and it is a timeless statement of truth. It grieves me that it takes humans so very long to have radical love for themselves in this world. If we could stay loving ourselves past childhood or wherever we lose our worth the world would be a much better place. Radical love and acceptance is the hallmark of true mental and emotional health. When many of us are finally totally comfortable in our own skin we are almost ready to cash our bodies in the resurrection. Why does this journey take so long?
The world is the answer to that question. The world tells us from the time our parents name us and accept our gender identity how to be in this world. There are a lot of opinions. Part of parenting is guiding this new person into the world but too often parents assign how to be instead of discovering along with their child. Too often the world not only suggests but convinces us that there are only certain ways to be in the world and advertising backs those with images of “perfection”. But I have found as I age that living into who God created me to be is a beautiful thing. When I allow myself to be myself suddenly the world is a much brighter, lighter, and healthier place to be. Radical love and acceptance takes practice. But it is amazing the payoff. God has already said we are enough in our baptisms. Why do we let other voices speak louder than God’s? God loves you and so do I!
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Joyful — Ecclesiastes 9:7
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” The Bible does not disappoint, y’all! Did you know this was in the Bible? It’s amazing what you can find to justify your addictions! But seriously. I was looking for joy which is part of my spiritual discipline. (Looking for joy on the struggle bus home. – Nichole’s Rule) So I did a search for joy in scripture and this little nugget popped out!
If we focus on the negative it could look like God is endorsing gluttony and alcoholism but I think the second part of the sentence is the piece that we are to focus on. It clearly states God’s approval of us and that God’s desire is not just for us to live a life of cross carrying and gospel proclaiming but for us to enjoy this life as well. THIS IS THE PART I OFTEN FORGET.
In trying to succeed (whatever that is), or please (figuring out that is impossible) or sometimes frankly survive, I fail to look for the joy. So I am going to name some for you right now! My kids bring joy to my heart in their humor, clever comebacks and surprising wisdom, my dog and how she is often the only one happy to see me, my nephew’s intensity for play and sports, my niece’s sweet face, my mom’s hugs, my stepdad’s dad jokes, my bio-dad’s intense love for politics, my friend’s kind words to me, my soft bed and cool sheets, the beautiful weather lately, a piece of pizza, a cold beer after mowing the lawn — all bring joy to my life. If I don’t search for it, 9 times out of 10 I won’t find it because I will fail to notice it altogether. What’s bringing you joy these days?
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Belonging — Matthew 28:18-20
“You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever!” This is the stamp of belonging we all get in baptism. When actually thought about, it is both terrifying and exciting all at once. Belonging to the body of Christ with fellow walking wet ones is one of the many benefits of baptism. Belonging is the thing we most desire. We want to belong to a group, a family, a church. It gives us identity.
The first identity that shows us where we belong is our name. Names, especially last ones show the world who’s tribe you belong to. When we are baptized we get claimed by another family — one that seals and marks us forever with God’s stamp. This is beautiful in the Lutheran tradition because we get this without earning it, without asking for it ourselves often, and without us having to do any of the work. God does it all. God claims us and seals us and marks us forever as part of God’s family. It’s important to realize the order of things because it is only AFTER we have been claimed in the tribe of Christ that we receive jobs to do. First comes God then comes us. First comes promise then comes response. First comes “YOU ARE ENOUGH JUST AS YOU ARE”, then comes help others know that too.
I think this time in our lives when things are uncertain, when the questions are more numerous than the answers, when fear and anxiety are all too near we need to remind one another about WHOSE WE ARE AND WHO WE ARE. This tribe of God’s is the only tribe that matters. Let that be enough and rest in the tribe you belong in the most!
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Trauma — John 10:10
Trauma permanently changes us. It changes all of us. It is part of the human condition and it doesn’t pick and choose who it can destroy. If therapy and my own journey of healing has taught me anything it is this. Just like there is no going back to “normal” after a pandemic there is no going back to “normal” after trauma. There is hope for healing, there is hope for better, there is hope for an awareness of triggers, there is hope for so much but there is no going back to the way things were before the trauma.
As I reflect on this, my mind immediately goes to all the front line workers in our world who have seen horrific traumas that their minds and hearts will never let them forget. I think of police officers who intervene in domestic violence situations or see one of their own killed. I think of first responders who are the first to see a horrific accident. I think of firefighters who are the first to respond to a suicide. I think of paramedics who are called too late and can’t keep someone alive. I think of CNA’s, nurses and doctors who lose patients they promised to save. Such trauma is devastating, cumulative and unrelenting. How can you not leave work after a traumatic day and not be permanently changed.
De-stigmatizing mental health is a first step. Having awareness of the signs of PTSD and what to do about it are a second step. But honestly the third step is always the hardest because it involves true action. It involves getting the help one needs and for places of employment to make sure people are not penalized for getting it. This is where Blue Lives Matter should also be advocating for — help for those who need it. Perhaps if we de-stigmatize mental health and simultaneously help those who help us get access to help we all might win. Healthy people lead healthy communities. Just a thought.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Faith — Ephesians 2:8-9 & Luke 1:37
“Faith makes things possible not easy.” It is a popular quote. Found on mugs, wall decorations, and T-shirts. How often have I wished that faith were easier however. How often have I wished that those who wished it were easy would not have given up so easily either. How often I have prayed that those I love would somehow understand that being Christians doesn’t afford us special dispensation on this side of heaven. What it does provide us with is the assurance that faith will find a way and that God will be present in the midst of it all!
Being a disciple of Jesus is hard work. It means being called into situations we may not be ready for, praying without ceasing, loving the unlovable and discerning God’s will for our lives all the while forgiving others and ourselves incessantly. But the more I live on this earth, the more I realize that it is the only way to live. Being faithful is the only way to live authentically in this world for me. What about for you? Does faith change the way you would have lived in this world had you been without it? Is it easier or harder? Do you believe that faith makes things possible not easy?
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Fathers — Luke 15:20-24
Father’s Day has become the least complicated for me of all the Hallmark holidays. I have been doubly gifted. I was gifted with a biological father and another father who chose to be one. It is amazing how loved I am in this category. Unfortunately, I spent a good portion of my life not feeling as such. I didn’t realize what a good thing I had until I watched my kids go without. When my biological father wasn’t exactly able to be a father, my step dad stepped up and led the way. He chose to be solid and it is his family that redeemed faith for me. My two dads are slowing forging a new way of being fathers to my brother and I together. This is both simultaneously mature and hard I’m sure. But I am thankful that they do not make me choose. So today I am going to stay thankful, even as I remind my girls to text their dad on Father’s Day and even though I feel guilty they don’t have what I do. I am choosing to feel grateful for all men who create and nurture children. I am thankful for moms who have to be dads too. I am thankful for dads who choose to be fathers to someone else’s child. I am thankful for grandfathers, uncles, brothers, cousins and friends who have shown me what dads are supposed to be like and who are living out that calling faithfully. Happy Father’s Day!
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Newspaper — 1 Corinthians 12:25-27; Leviticus 19:15-18
Throughout THE GREAT PAUSE I have relied on the local news for most of my news. This has been a choice on my part for three reasons: 1) I believe that local news and newspapers tend to be less biased than nationally syndicated ones. 2) Local people are the focus and newspapers provide local jobs. 3) I have been researching the loss of local papers and the projected effect it will have on the fabric of communities in our country. We should definitely be more concerned than we are about the loss of a daily printed paper. We have lost the West Fargo Pioneer all together. The Forum only prints twice a week. If you subscribe you can have the news at your fingertips 7 days a week on the web. (Which I do.) But to me it is not the same as holding a newspaper in your hands.
Right now I am lamenting the local paper and the ways it builds community — no more sharing the paper with your neighbor, no more going out to the box and waving at your neighbor or stopping to chat on the way back in, no more cutting out a piece to share with your church friends. All of that is going by the wayside. And the less print time means those papers are squeezing in all they can and the smaller news items — the feel good neighborhood stories get under reported.
I knew this day would come eventually but on the back of THE GREAT PAUSE it feels like another blow and loss to deal with in an already tender time. So here’s a few ideas … let’s thank those who bring us the local news! Whether that is a letter to the editor, a shout out to our favorite photographer, or commit to keeping the paper! Whatever you decide, thank God for local news!
Friday, June 19, 2020
Freedom — John 8:36 & Galatians 5:1
Juneteenth. Be honest. How many had heard about it before it became fashionable for the states of the world to create proclamations about it in the last week? How many of us knew about it before today? What about Pastor Jehu Jones? Ever heard of him before you began book study? Did you know that inoculation was introduced to the US by Onesimus, a slave of a Puritan minister? Were any of these things in your history books? If so did they show up only once or were they repeated like the stories of Christopher Columbus’ sailing the ocean blue?
I ask because Black history is American history. The ugly underbelly of history is also our history. None of us wants to relive the horrible events but it is the only thing that may keep us from repeating them. And not all Black history is painful. But Black history is part of our history and we need to hear it.
Just this year, I learned about all these historic feats and I want to know more. Maybe the best way to take down racism is simply to listen and study that which we have not been taught. Imagine yourself learning that you were free two years before and you just didn’t know it? Learning about Juneteenth matters because it’s not just Black History but American History.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Bargain — Genesis 18
Have you ever bargained with God? Come on, it’s okay to admit it! We all have at least once or twice in our lives. I have certainly done so. I have bargained about the silly things like, “God if you could just give us let up on the windchill this January, I promise I will not complain at all how hot it gets in the summer!” I have bargained with God for what I call, “small favors” could you please just soften so and so’s heart so they can listen? I have bargained for the big things, “God keep my child safe” when they get in the car with friends, especially those who drive while being black.
I have also bargained for the miracle, “Please God let my child live and I promise I will be a better mom.”
As a pastor, fellow Lutheran disciple and practical thinker, I know that bargaining is really grief manifested to help control the uncontrollable. I know in my head that really I should be praying, what we all pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” But somehow, that is not my first human response to my need. I somehow still want to believe I have some control in what happens in this world. The only control I have in reality is my propensity to ask God for help in the first place, to honestly surrender to God’s mercy, to relinquish my own need to control and to step back and let God be God. Bargaining is really only half surrender. It takes practice to learn to surrender, to end the bargaining and to live in trust that God hears, sees, and will respond. God’s will is not always my own. Learning that takes practice too. May God’s will be done, may God help us to accept it.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Learn — Proverbs 1:7
I have always gathered information. It is part of my personality according to any personality test I’ve taken and it is also part of my Enneagram number (6). I think I got this love of learning from my Grandpa Markovic (my mom’s dad) who always had a book at hand. I was always surprised at what he read because it seemed to be “all over the place”. Looking back I wonder if he too was an information gatherer. What learning makes you realize is that you are never done learning. There is always something more to know. However, our very learning system sends us mixed messages on this. In academia you graduate and pass to the next grade. In church you get confirmed. In your own spirituality you don’t need to do anymore because you already read the Bible once. At work you take an anti-racism class or a boundaries workshop. At home you tell your kids, I have no idea how to do your math — I already went to school. Oh, is that last one just me?
But here’s the deal. It’s pretty egocentric/narcissistic to think that you know all there is to know. It’s silly to believe that the world stays the same as it did when you did all those things. So in all honestly we never can stop learning, growing and learning some more. I am always surprised at all the things I didn’t know. What have you learned lately?
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Church — Matthew 16:18
Chorus: “We are the Church, the body of our Lord. We are all God’s children. We have been restored.” “The Church is not a building, where people go to pray; it’s not made out of sticks and stones. It’s not made out of clay. Chorus. You can go to worship but you cannot go to Church’ you can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search. Chorus. The Church is not a business, a committee or a board; it’s not a corporation for the business of the Lord. The Church, it is the people living out their lives; called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.” This is a Jay Beach song popular in the 90’s in all Lutheran youth events. I love the song’s lyrics. They have been for me a reminder of the Church I have been fighting for in my ministry. The church building is the mere vehicle by which the Church happens. Are Church buildings important? Yes but they are not Church.
Humans are Church. People are the Church. It was built on the foundation of flawed people. Individuals who are flawed, messy, outspoken, apathetic, trying, impatient, loving and so very human are the Church. The Church cannot be anything else but imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people. Our expectations of the Church should thus follow. If the Church hasn’t disappointed you, hurt you, messed up, been too slow or too fast on issues that you think matter, or just plain annoyed you at times then you have found a keeper and you need to keep that Unicorn church a secret! But if the church has done those imperfect things to you, you are not alone. But don’t let a person be the reason you stop going to a church because that wasn’t the reason you started going in the first place.
Instead, wouldn’t it be cool if we could take a minute and see if the problem is with us first. Then if it isn’t, seek ways to change it for the better? Sometimes the task is very large but sometimes it takes a conversation. Because the Church is made up of humans we have a very human obligation to it to do our best and let God do the rest! God hasn’t given up on the Church yet and neither should we!
Monday, June 15, 2020
Wind — John 3:8
The wind blows where it wishes … Which is certainly the case today and for the last week. The wind is getting tiring. There truly is not much to stop it in North Dakota. The significance of wind in the Bible can go one of two ways — it can symbolize danger and it can symbolize the breath of God in the working of the Holy Spirit. Maybe this wind is trying to tell us something? Maybe this wind is simply saying listen to the breath of God — the Holy Spirit which blows where it will.
Too often we look at the wind negatively but it does bring reprieve sometimes, it dries things up for field work to continue and keeps the mosquitoes away. So it can’t be all that bad. Usually the problem with the wind is that it symbolizes unpredictability as well. The wind blows where it wishes … We would rather control it. And just like the wind the Holy Spirit is just as unpredictable.
Perhaps if we focus on where the Holy Spirit is nudging us instead of where it is going we would be a lot less anxious. Perhaps on windy days we could take time to reflect a moment on where God is pushing, pulling,and blowing us to do, share, change. It takes reflection and the desire to listen for the still small voice inside ourselves put there by God. What is God calling you to today? More of the same or something new? What is God nudging you to do today that you have been resisting to do? What is the Holy Spirit up to? The wind blows where it wishes … do you not perceive it?
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Little Things — Matthew 17:20
“Enjoy the little things in life for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.” I have always liked this quote because it challenges us to be a counter cultural set of rules. In a world impressed with flashy, noteworthy things this tells us to pay attention to the seemingly insignificant things. It challenges us to think that ordinary can be extraordinary. That the small things make up the big things in life. Since I am always focused on the next thing, I often fail to see the stuff right in front of me. It takes mindfulness which is what I try to practice every morning. And every morning, I have to remind myself of that which is ordinary, right in front of me and yes the little things. Slow learner, I guess.
The small things for me this day include the sunshine, a good cup of coffee as I sit and pet the dog, hugs from my kids and a great congregation to serve. What are the little things you are stopping to enjoy today?
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Done — Genesis 1
It’s no secret that many of us are not thriving in THE GREAT PAUSE. Even though we have gotten the hang of things, so to speak, we are all in limbo. When in limbo, I think we all gravitate to something that may calm the chaos, create order and unclutter our minds. That for me is list making and baking. Maybe you do something else like organize your tupperware drawer or make your yard immaculate by perfecting the diagonal pattern of mowing. Whatever it is that makes you feel perhaps a tad bit accomplished. For me that is creating and getting to check off tasks completed on lists. I have lists for everything — daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. I have lists for tasks, goals, ideas for committees to think about and implement. I have a list of books I want to buy, people I need to contact, podcasts I want to try, topics that need more research. Nothing makes me happier than a planner full of lists!
The drawback to my lists (in my head at least) is that nothing ever feels all that finished. A daily task list just gets replaced with the next day’s tasks. When I want to feel truly useful and accomplished, I bake something. Mostly for my ego’s sake, I stick to the stuff I am good at and know my family will eat. The best part of baking is the finished product. Sometimes I even take a picture of it to remind myself I completed a task and it stayed done — you can’t unbake it or mess it up further. It is done and you eat it.
I have noticed that baking has become a barometer for me in mental health. If I haven’t baked in a while, I get a little testy, overwhelmed and just feel off. The side benefit of baking is that it has become a way for me to show people I love them. When I bake for my family, girls, boyfriend or extended family for a short minute we all can just enjoy something together. For a moment, they feel loved and I get to share it with them. So when one of them says, “You haven’t baked in a while” or “Can you make me cookies” I am on it! I know I need it too!
How are you creating order in the chaos?
Friday, June 12, 2020
Diversity — Revelation 7:9-17
As I have been listening again to last Sunday’s sermon from our denomination’s Presiding Bishop, I am still appreciative of her explanation that we shouldn’t seek to be colorblind but color-amazed, for in doing so we are honoring the diverse God of creation. Rich diversity seems to be God’s intent for creation from the beginning and this theme is carried through even into Revelation’s apocryphal ending when God will gather people from every nation and tribe and language. It’s a beautiful thought. But a hard reality to achieve.
I am struck however that diversity was God’s plan from the beginning of creation — it wasn’t an afterthought or when God screwed something up in creation — “oops there’s another diverse one!” God intends for all of creation to be diverse in every sense of the word. Think how boring flowers would be without different colors. Think how boring going to an aquarium would be if every fish looked the same. Think how skinny we all would be if every meal was zucchini and rice. Think how depressing it would be if all we saw were bodies unclothed by colors, fabrics, and accessories. Diversity enriches life and it was all God’s intention. Free will and choice are even God’s intention and that was the biggest Divine experiment in diversity there ever was! Today I am trying to look out into the world color-amazed. What amazes you today?
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Bizarre — Deuteronomy 28:53
Alexa (you know the smart device attached to your Amazon account) has been sort of keeping track of the things we have asked her to find more information on during the last 5 months. While cleaning out the app, I stumbled upon this bizarre list. I remember all of these that I am about to share because they were all connected to a larger conversation we had as a family. Please don’t judge us for our eclectic questions. Alexa — “What is the theological definition of the Trinity?” Alexa — “What city makes the best cheesecake?” Alexa — “Is it true that smelling other people’s farts may decrease your risk of cancer?” Alexa — “What is the natural habitat for a platypus?” Alexa — “What is the definition of structural racism?” Alexa — “Can two women conceive a child without male sperm?” Alexa — “Who holds the record for the longest hair?” Alexa — “How many COVID 19 cases in Guyana?” Alexa — “What do you need to make a hydroponic container garden?” Alexa — “Who owned the most servants or slaves in all of recorded history?” Alexa — “How old are you?” Alexa — “Are you dating anyone?”
Yep, when I looked at all those questions they all evoked memories of conversations my girls and I had over the course of THE GREAT PAUSE. Often I was amazed at the depth of curiosity they had. Sometimes I was mortified by what they were curious about and only once did I get to ask one of the questions above. (I dare you to guess which question was actually mine!) What I do know most certainly that often what I learned in our further research of these questions is that ‘real life is often stranger than fiction’. I also learned that quite possibly this is where my “free” time went. But I love that we share curiosity and when we are at our best as a family we rope Alexa into helping us do research. What bizarre things have you done in THE GREAT PAUSE?
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Not Cancelled — 2 Corinthians 13:5-7
I received this from AJ W. this morning and haven’t been able to think about much else. I COULDN’T LOVE IT MORE, so … I am going to share it with you as our devotion today.
“What if 2020 isn’t canceled? What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for? A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw – that it finally forces us to grow. A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year we finally accept the need for change. Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart. 2020 isn’t canceled, but rather the most important year of them all.” – Leslie Dwight (IG: @lesliedwight)
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Overload — Mark 7:18-22
Our family decided to get rid of cable TV last summer. During the early part of THE GREAT PAUSE, I briefly felt that may have been a mistake. However, knowing myself and my tendencies I know I made the right decision. We have survived on binge watching Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. We listen to podcasts and three different news channels on our Alexa. I read The Forum and the Washington Post online through subscriptions. But I do not watch the evening news. I haven’t since 2018. I choose to do this so I do not overwhelm myself with all the buzzwords and headlines and incessant phrases designed to heighten emotions. I get to choose to stop the Alexa or minimize the computer screen to focus on one thing at a time. It allows me to stop the constant inundation of the noise of the media.
The media is relentless however. It is snuck into my podcast commercials, it is easily accessible as I scroll through Facebook and it is readily available on the radio stations in the car. The constant media overload is not and has not been good for my mental health. I have had to learn to turn it off and/or tune it out. Less is more. We humans are mixed up enough without letting the world tell us what to think, how to be and who to believe. I hope you choose who you listen to and digest carefully. Eventually it changes us. Who are you listening to?
Monday, June 8, 2020
Aftermath — Psalm 91
Last night’s storm here was a doozy. We lost some shingles, our garbage and recycling cans and some sleep. We spent some time in the downstairs bathroom because it sounded like a freight train for about 20 minutes when the wind picked up before the rain came. Miraculously all my potted plants survived. I have spent the majority of the morning cleaning up the neighbors’ yards from what appears to be my stuff. I made a rookie mistake and should have prepped a bit for the weather. I hope you all weathered the storm safely.
Storms will always come. It’s what happens AFTER the storm that matters. The true test of a community is what they do in the aftermath of a storm. The storms are raging in the US right now. Politics are polarized without no one listening to one another. Police departments are under scrutiny. The NFL basically said it was wrong regarding their treatment of players who took a knee. Communities are cleaning up literal debris and rubble from businesses burned and looted by rioters. Racism and white supremacy are on full display and black people and communities are screaming for justice. Businesses are crippled with health guidelines and safety measures. Small businesses are accessing whether they can weather the pandemic economic storm at all. Unemployment is at an all time high. The statistics regarding those who have died from COVID 19 are staggering especially those health care workers on the front lines. As reopening continues the cases and death tolls rise. What will we do in the aftermath of these storms?
Will we hope for a new normal and learn nothing or will be a better United States of America? Right now we are divided, what will unite us? We will clean up and learn valuable lessons? Will we change after the storm or go back to business as usual stuffing our problems under rugs and hoping we don’t keep tripping over them. In the aftermath of these storms will we be better or worse? I don’t know but I hold out hope that the God who walks with us in these hard storms and their aftermath will also be on the other side of them pulling us toward wholeness. Will we let God help us unite us? Or will we use religion to further divide us?
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Trinity – John 14:26
It’s Trinity Sunday and I am so thankful that I am not providing another sermon where I try to explain the Trinity. For me the Trinity represents the very real reality that God in all persons is present when any one person is. How that happens is a mystery and that for me is the best and most frustrating part of the Trinitarian theology.
Leaving things to mystery is not our strong suit in the 21st century. Explaining things and providing evidence and proof is what calms our anxiety. Mystery just heightens it. But the real gift of the Trinity for me is just that — the mystery. The reality that I, a human DO NOT have every answer or everything figured out is the best part of the Trinity. It is somehow comforting because I know the God who does. AND I am not expected to know it all. I am just expected to live in the mystery and to trust the God who holds it all in the hands of three persons of the Trinity. However that happens is relational. It is born out of interdependence and trust and love which also the bonus gift for me of the Trinity. If God needs relationship in the very personhood of God, then we also are made in that image — needing to be in relationship with God and neighbor. We are created for it and often like the Trinity we don’t know what to do with it. Today I will trust in the mystery of the Trinity and hold onto the promises of God. In the end isn’t that all we can do anyway?
Saturday, June 6, 2020
Peace — Psalm 4 (vs. 8)
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of God”. The great contemplatives of the world like Saint Francis, Saint Benedict, the Dalai Lama, Buddah, Mother Theresa and others were well versed in how to sink into the presence of God for peace in a world that spun out of control around them. I envy this.
I have spent months trying to cultivate this in the last two years for my own soul and those around me. I find myself spending less time attending to my soul when the world distracts me. But that is precisely when I should be spending more time! So this weekend I am being intentional about practicing a trick I learned at the monastery. It is called simply “The Pause”. It’s really a practice in intentionality.
I have trained myself to pause — 5 seconds to 60 seconds at a time. When I transition tasks, I pause before I start the new one. I pause before responding especially in emails. Sometimes I take as much as an overnight to respond to them. I pause when the Spirit nudges me to notice something — the smell of fresh cut grass, the sunset, the sound of birds. I pause before I respond to my kids’ questions (it helps me understand what the question really is or the fear/motive behind the question). I pause. I believe it is my responsibility as a human who takes up space on this earth to at least pause to take it in. To relish in the reality that I have choices in how I respond. To pause and let the world show me its bounty. So what makes you pause?
Friday, June 5, 2020
Crowds — Matthew 9:36
“When He saw the crowd, He was moved with compassion because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This verse always reminds me of two opposite things: 1. A riot is the language of the unheard by MLK and 2. Be careful when you follow the masses, sometimes the m is silent by anonymous. As Fargo Moorhead braces itself for a day and night of unrest today, I wonder which is really happening here. It seems some groups felt heard the day before. Seems that it went from a peaceful sit-in to a celebration of life at the park. I am not sure what will occur but I know that emotions are high right now.
I pray that peaceful protests continue to end in relationship building and mutual conversations. I pray that George Floyd’s memory is honored properly. But mostly I pray that no more lives are lost — black or blue. When the novelty of riots and protests dies down, the real work for justice begins. What will you be doing for justice in the coming weeks? Will you read history and learn about the other American History? Will you watch African American films about racism and talk about it? Will you write a representative or senator? Will you join a bible study or book study to learn how to be an ally? There are so many options beyond the protests. Will you help give constructive voice to the unheard or just be part of the (m)asses?
Thursday, June 4, 2020
Time — Ecclesiastes 3
The days are long but the weeks are short. That is how time for me has been during The GREAT PAUSE. I have been confused by this now and again. I have wished it not to be so many times but in reality I don’t often know what happens to the week. This week is no exception. The extra time I thought I would have during THE GREAT PAUSE has not materialized. I want to believe that I learned something about time and the way I use it but this week has shown me how easy it is to let time be filled up and slip aw
So It’s Time for me to take back my time for the things that really need my attention. I need to attend to some relationships with my time. I need to spend less time engulfed in the chaos of the world and more time trying to figure out how to respond constructively to it. It’s time for courage and strength. It’s time to listen and encourage. It’s time to shake the systems of injustice and expose our complacency. It’s time to make time for prayer and to obey the Spirit’s nudging. It’s time.
How are you filling your time these days? Are you making it matter?
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Center — John 15
I’m sure you have guessed that I am a bit off center at the moment. I often get this way when the world shakes me to the core. Pandemic, distance learning, Zoom, white supremacy, deaths of those too young, mental health and so much more tend to take my breath away but when they happen seemingly all at once — well it knocked the wind right out of me and knocked me off my center.
For a week now, I have had fitful sleep, hard conversations with people, taken myself off Facebook scrolling, the feeling of the blahs and near tears all at once. I have been reminded of grief, exhaustion, injustice, hate and so much more.
In my off-centeredness I also couldn’t sit long enough with God to listen much either. I would sit in the morning in my meditation spot waiting for the mantra to do it’s thing and take me deeper into “the Ground of All Being”, as the theologian Paul Tillich called it. Glennon Doyle calls it, “The Knowing” or that place where I know most contentedly that I am loved and in the presence of the sacred. I find that through meditation, from being still for a long period of time (30 minutes perhaps) and from listening to my own heart song — the stuff the Holy Spirit brings to me from deep within myself. The stuff I have distracted myself from accessing through food, addictions, busyness, boredom, work, anxiety, anything really.
I re-centered today with my mantra and it took me so long to find that place, I fell asleep twice. In the liminal space of the morning before the world whizzes by with its noise, I listened deeply to the Holy Spirit and what I heard I hadn’t heard before. She whispered, “it’s time”. It made me laugh out loud — because yes it is time for a whole host of things! Which thing is it time for first, Holy Spirit? And then I heard “Be”. I’m guessing it is time for me to be who God has been waiting patiently for me to be — But in my heart I know what God means and what God is waiting for in regards to me. Sometimes when we are off center it is because we stopped listening to God’s desire for us and started listening to our own desires. Sometimes when we are off-center it is because something pushed us off our center. And sometimes, when we find ourselves off just from things we don’t understand or perceive. But mostly the world drags us off center with its expectations and its chaos. For me I went back to the vine and stopped dangling in the branches. I stopped letting the world blow me around and stayed close to the trunk and the roots of the tree of life. I drew from the richness of the eternal, the strength of the divine and the hope of the holy. All I can be is me and it is time to do just that.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Serve & Protect — Mark 8:35
Today Grand Forks lays to rest one their own who was charged to serve and protect. Cody Holte died in the line of duty. A sacrifice few of us are ever asked to make. I can’t imagine how families of officers feel each day as they say goodby to their loved one and can only hope they return home unharmed. I can’t imagine the gut wrenching reality when they don’t.
What I do know is that I am grateful we have officers willing to enforce law and order. I am immensely grateful for the men and women who wear the uniform and do the hard work and training to serve and protect. Their work largely goes unnoticed until something terrible happens. They are called into situations we run from. They have seen things that will haunt their dreams forever. There is something sincerely admirable about someone willingly signing up for such agony. I pray that the cost is not too great for them personally.
For now I bid us all to remember the words of Jesus, “Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for me will find it.” I trust that Officer Cody Holte finds eternal life in the arms of Jesus and in the memories that live on. I pray he enters into the promises of God and that those who love him can find solace in that. Mostly I hope such situations are few and far between. Rest eternal grant him, O God.
Monday, June 1, 2020
Evil — Romans 12:21
If you have ever looked into the eyes of hate, you know that evil exists in this world. I refuse to believe that anyone is born evil. Evil is learned, either through nurture or circumstances that are often beyond one’s control. The evil I have witnessed in this life is often perpetuated by those who don’t care to learn something new and often lack empathy for anyone other than themselves. Surely narcissists fit this description but so do average people who choose to do God’s job of judgement.
We have certainly seen a fair share of hate in this nation in the last week. Senseless use of hate speech and threats beyond imagination. We have seen innocent people being hurt or screamed at and worst of all, people being killed without cause. Social media is full of cowards who say or incite hate and evil deeds and hide behind a screen. But if you have ever looked into the eyes of evil — another human like you and have seen on their face a look of disgust, repulsion, sickening hate or bigotry, you know that evil is alive and well in the world.
Now imagine living in fear of seeing that in the eyes of every white person you meet. As a white person I have not been conditioned to fear or even expect such evil. But my friends of color have had to do this for centuries to survive.
Romans 12:21 states, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I would like to believe that that works for everyone. That non-violence in the face of brutality works. That praying for those who hate you works. That peacefully protesting for justice works. But I am afraid what we are seeing in this country is the culmination of people of color being overcome by evil and desperately wanting to overcome evil with good but knowing that it hasn’t worked in the past and it is time to take back their humanity in the eyes of evil. This America isn’t new to our black and brown brothers and sisters, even though it might be new to us as white people. We are finally getting a taste of the United States they have lived in for centuries and frankly from the looks of the news it is an evil one. I am no longer able to ignore the evil my black and brown brothers and sisters have endured. But I refuse to overcome evil with evil. But I fear that maybe all that is left.
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Desperate –– Habakkuk
After a fitful night’s sleep, I am desperate for words of goodness and signs of hope. So desperate I am turning to the prophet Habakkuk for words of hope. But the words of the first chapter echo my own feelings this morning and my own longing for God’s answers to this pain we as a nation wake up to this morning. We woke up to headlines of marchers replaced by rioters in downtown Fargo last night, of more rioting in Minneapolis and the National Guard being activated, of a state of emergency by the Fargo mayor and a vigil for a fallen police officer in Grand Forks.
I, like Habakkuk am pleading, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed,and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” It’s a bold statement to God. But desperation has taken over.
God’s answer to Habakkuk is that we are to trust and be faithful. In my desperation I am finding it hard to trust God’s promise despite the fact that God is always faithful even when we are not. Maybe these painful and certainly shocking events will be the catalyst for true justice to prevail. Maybe it is time we hear the pain of our brown and black neighbors. Maybe it’s time we acknowledge the rage and fear of those who are called to protect and get them the training and equipment necessary for them to do their jobs. Maybe we need to lay down our fragile white privilege and open ourselves up to the pain that black and brown people have been carrying for centuries. Maybe it’s time for a less biased justice system that affords the same privilege of “innocent until proven guilty” to ALL people. Maybe it’s time to stop talking as if they should and start talking about we should. So today, my words to you are to trust and be faithful. God is using the Holy Spirit to blow winds of change into this nation and world, perhaps even in painful circumstances. I am choosing to trust God — desperation will do that!
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Eternal Life — John 3:16 & John 17:3
Eternal Life is the promise we receive in our baptism. We seem to make it complicated after that. We think that somehow you only cash it in at the end of your life. But for Jesus it was rather simple. John 17:3 states, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God and Jesus whom you have sent.” Eternal life doesn’t hinge on us but rather God. God initiates that promise in baptism and it’s ours forever.
Today more than ever, I need to hear that some things are indeed eternal. That God’s promise revealed in Jesus is forever. I need to know that the pain, the disappointment, the shock, the anger, the fear, the stupid Coronavirus, the dumpster fire that is this world right now, the racism, the hatred, and yes even death is not eternal but Life in Jesus is.
I’m clinging to that today for those who are grieving, marching, protecting their businesses, cleaning up fires, saying goodbye for now to their loved ones, moving their loved ones into different facilities, praying for peace and holding their loved ones a little tighter today. Eternal life for those who know Jesus is the promise that will get me through today.
Friday, May 29, 2020
Listen — James 1:19
I have been wondering if THE GREAT PAUSE has taught us a little more about listening. Hear me out. It is indeed true that just by slowing down we are able to focus better. It is also well known that when we are forced to mute ourselves in a zoom call we are forced to also do some other things: pay attention to who is talking or do something else (the latter being noticed by others unless you turn off the video). When we have to check in one by one on Zoom or a conference call we are forced to stop the cross talking. This should allow us to listen before we respond, not just listen to respond. This is helping us exercise our active listening skills. Not everyone is a natural at this. It takes practice. THE GREAT PAUSE is helping us practice.
It is also true that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. It would do all of us some good to remember that. Pausing before we speak and asking ourselves if we need to speak at all is a gift we can give one another. Not everything we say needs to be said. (If you have ever lived with a teenager you know this all too well.) This is especially true if you are one who often finds yourself in a pickle due to your words. STOP TALKING – LISTEN.
It is indeed also true that the majority of us are lonely. If you believe this NOT to be true for you then it is especially important for you to STOP TALKING and LISTEN. Listen to your brothers and sisters who are desperately needing to talk and to have another show love to them by listening. By listening we just might learn something, make someone’s day or even keep them from harm. The world desperately needs better listeners — less talking — more understanding. YOU and I can help if we just STOP TALKING and LISTEN.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Come Holy Spirit— Romans 8:26-27
I have tried all day to wrap my feelings into a nice tight paragraph of words. Words that sum up the tragedy of lives lost to domestic and gun violence in Grand Forks and a black life lost to white supremacy in Minneapolis, MN. Just add leaving a store to the list of things that endanger the lives of black and brown people. I can’t for the life of me figure out when we as a people will say enough is enough! I can’t help but stand in total numbness to the juxtaposition of white cops getting shot senselessly while hearing of another black human getting killed in front of cameras by those that are supposed to protect. I just can’t. I have no words. So maybe today, in your devotion you take a little time to sit in silence for those that have died — the carnage is all around — from Covid, Gun Violence and White Supremacy. “The Spirit will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words to express…”
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Collective Grief — John 16
Can we be brave enough to say it? We are all grieving in THE GREAT PAUSE. We may not know what to call it? We may even assume it is just a case of the crummies or the mehs! But it is grief. We need to name it so we take away its power over us.
Aside from grieving for the people we love affected directly by COVID 19, we are collectively grieving the past — without masks, physical distancing, distance learning, Zoom calls and curbside to go. Of course we always had all those things but we weren’t forced to collectively use them all on a grand scale.
Many of us are grieving our summer plans being cancelled or severely modified. Many are grieving that the future holds nothing to look forward to. Some are grieving the loss of summer work, some are grieving the loss of reunions, social gatherings, graduations, weddings, parties of any kind. Some are modifying those plans and not knowing what to hope for — what if everyone actually comes? What if everyone stays home? What if someone is COVID positive and it gets traced back to my gathering? What if I miss a big gathering because I am scared of getting sick? Will our relationships be tested by different values when it comes to restrictions, reintegration or safety? We grieve the fact we have to think about all of this just walk outside! You see the grief is all around!
But I know a God who has overcome the world and continues to be present in this world through the Spirit. So in the quiet depths of my soul, I lean, cry, scream and beg for God to help us in our grief. I trust the Holy Spirit to show up in God’s time but in the meantime, I look for God in people and situations of this troubled world — yes I look for God even in grief. Grief after all means we cared. Caring is far better than not. Grief means we were lucky enough to love and that is far better than the alternative too! Jesus says, ““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Goodbye — Hebrews 13:5
God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” It is really the only consolation I can muster for all those who have died alone since THE GREAT PAUSE began taking lives and we have realized how dangerously contagious COVID 19 really is. Dying takes so much work. If you have ever watched someone die, death is often a process that takes time and becomes the exact reverse of being born. When you are born all your organs have to learn to function outside of the womb. In dying, they learn to shut down and everything slows to a stop. Dying like birthing is work, effort and energy.
My heart grieves for people who have to die alone. The person dying as well as the people who should be there to make amends, say goodbye and to give permission for the loved one to go. This is a sacred time and so often the beginning of the grief process. It is both brutal and beautiful. In some cultures this process continues with the family preparing the body for burial or cremation. It literally means doing the best things for the person who has just died. Cleaning them up, caring for their bodies they will see no longer and mentally preparing to say their final goodbye. Dying alone takes all of this away. It leaves a sterile void that gets filled in with complicated grief.
There are so many things that Covid 19 has taken from us but this one is the one that will have the longest lasting effect. When people don’t get to say goodbye, grief lingers. When grief lingers, it comes out often in unhealthy, sometimes even awful ways. I know there is no easy answer for this. One that doesn’t further spread this contagion. But I sure wish it were different for so many. I pray all can find peace. What I am still certain of however, is that God’s arms are big enough to welcome those who are dead and hold those who are grieving as well.
Monday, May 25, 2020
Sacrifice — John 15:13; Revelation 7
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have died in the line of duty protecting our freedom and peace for the world. It is marked by sacrifice, pain, struggle, and the ultimate gift of “laying down one’s life for another”. There is indeed no greater love according to scripture. War’s sacrifices are plenty — body, mind, soul, marriage, family, future. Those that come home from combat are never the same again. They have gone through “The Great Ordeal” as in Revelation and instead of receiving the promises of God, often what they get is simply brokenness — injured bodies and haunting memories, new addictions to numb the pain, the inability to integrate back to mundane family life, mental illness or PTSD, the list goes on. Those that sacrifice their lives and do not come home alive, do not face the other grief that those that do must endure. In both cases the family waiting for the soldier also awaits sacrifice — for life will not be the same again and many decisions will be made as a result.
I give thanks for my family members and friends who have fought in both World Wars, Vietnam, the Korean Conflict, Kosovo, the Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan. I give thanks for their families who endured their absence and welcomed them home. Today I stop to ponder the sacrifice of war and pray that freedom is worth the cost. Thank you to those who paid the ultimate price — their lives. Today is marked by remembering you as we continue to pray for peace.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
Fruits of the Spirit — Galatians 5:22-23
Oh my great goodness, I have been practicing the fruits of the spirit in THE GREAT PAUSE. But today my fruit basket got all upset! I think we all have been practicing these fruits a little more than normal in the last few months. If you haven’t, I’m sorry.
Love — loving the ugly in the people around us
Joy – searching for joy on the struggle bus home (it’s my Benedictine Rule)
Peace – peace in the midst of everyone at home, aka: chaos
Patience – patience with those who annoy
Kindness – being kind to those who are the least kind themselves
Goodness — looking for the goodness in those people and situations around us
Faithfulness – being faithful to an ever-faithful God
Gentleness – being gentle with those that need it most (perhaps it is yourself)
Self-control – striving for all the above fruits without letting the small stuff bother you
The last one was the one I totally botched today. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the teenage humans around me had enough energy to fight with each other but not enough energy to finish their chores. A chore rebellion ensued until they wanted a meal and I had dishes in the sink and NO ability to get water to make that meal. Hmm…. that was all it took! Self-control was nowhere to be found! But instead of it being just about chores that didn’t get done it was about every last fruit of the spirit that I tried hard to practice for months but obviously not with grace in my heart! ALL OF IT CAME UP AND ROSE OUT OF ME WITH RAGE. I scared the dog but not the teenagers, so I put myself in time-out! I will pick up the fruit and put it back in the basket tomorrow. Tomorrow is a new day – God willing!
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Maybe — Luke 13:6-9
I always knew my mom was thinking about and would probably grant my request if the answer was “maybe”. I learned that early. Maybe meant yes just wait. And I think I honestly did my best to not ask again for fear the answer would change. Today, I use the same tactic on my kids but with different results. When they hear, “maybe” they hear “yes and now” for some reason. I think it is cultural. I hope it isn’t all just my parenting. But it seems my kids want immediate results from their asking. THE GREAT PAUSE has been a hard learning process for them. There is nothing happening immediately in THE GREAT PAUSE. NOTHING. Things you thought could be immediate — grocery shopping, planning to go out, getting ice cream, can I buy?, etc. are all met with maybe and when I can schedule it or if we have the right protective stuff on, or sometimes not at all.
“Maybe” is an answer to our prayers as well. In my experience it means wait and see. It means yes but not in the way you thought or planned. “Maybe” means yes but surely not immediately. If you stop to think about it, most of our prayers are met with maybe. I believe that God answers prayer but often not exactly in the way we hoped or planned for it. God answers it nonetheless. Even now, God is answering our prayers with maybe — which to God I think means, “I would love nothing less than to grant that prayer but I see the whole picture and I can do this instead”.
Don’t stop praying just because the answer is maybe — pray even more that God is trying even if the answer has to be “maybe”.
Friday, May 22, 2020
Lists — ?
So lists of various shapes and sizes and for a myriad of things saves my life. I have lists for shopping, the day, prayer, committees, projects, ideas, dreams, research, etc. I have lists for everything and they are mostly on post-it notes — the bigger ones with lines on them! (I LOVE THOSE THINGS! And could kiss the inventor of them!) I also like tabs — I tab a lot of things — books I read, my hymnal, my paper planner and so much more. At first I fell in love with the IDEA of them — how they made me look organized even if I wasn’t! But now I use them! I actually use them to organize my anxiety-ridden mind. To put order into chaos. It helps me clean up my head. They say, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but really you won’t find that in the Bible. What you will find is that God is the only real organizer. We all just pretend we are in control with our organizational skills and techniques.
To be honest, the lists have helped me lean on God a bit more than I thought they would. I look at my lists and it calms me. I think to myself often, “ok, I have planned to the best of my ability,” now I have to release the rest to God. Lists are for me, somehow proof that I have done my part and give me permission to let God do the rest! What is saving your life these days?
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Choice– Joshua 24:15
I had a busy day which is why there was no devotion for Thursday. I realized how simple it was to slip back into the rat race. Without any thought at all, I had overscheduled myself and everything planned took longer than expected. All of a sudden, two meals were skipped and it was 9:37 pm. Thankfully I have children who are rather self sufficient and currently are sick of my cooking (thank you togetherness).
I write this as a cautionary tale for us all. When THE GREAT PAUSE is deemed “over” by whoever you trust or you yourself, it is ever too easy to slip back into habits you hoped to change. It will be especially easier if you “saved” things to do for when THE GREAT PAUSE was “over”. Choose wisely what you will allow to take up space in your life. Choose wisely what you will allow to take space in your head. Productivity for me was all that mattered yesterday and frankly it wasn’t all that productive or efficient although I put in a long day.
God has given us the gift of reflection. Let us use it to decide personally and collectively what we will continue to allow not only for ourselves and community but also for the nation and our world.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Ordinary — 1 Corinthians 2
One of the lessons for me in THE GREAT PAUSE is that I have rarely in the past noticed the ordinary. Or to use a popular vernacular “stopped to smell the roses”. Yesterday, I reread some of the bookclub book on my deck. I listened to the birds sing and the wind blow. I saw that my perennials were blooming. I watched the dog explore the backyard. I smelled the distant scent of a fire from a firepit or barbeque. I smelled the nearby scent of fresh cut grass. Even my coffee tasted a bit different outside.
I was overwhelmed at the ordinary and it almost brought me to tears. I thought about all the ordinary things I have missed being distracted or busy. And I began to think about all that God provides for us to notice and how flawed such a system works, since we probably miss most of it.
THE GREAT PAUSE is teaching me that I am only as busy as I allow myself to be. That I do have control over my time. I do not have to maneuver through this life passively. But I can train myself to notice the ordinary. I can stop to smell the roses.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Paradise — John 14:2-3
Friend: “Just another day in paradise.” Me: How are you doing? Friend: “Just living the dream.” You have heard it before, haven’t you? The sarcasm in those statements. Now I love me some sarcasm that is not the problem here. The problem is that we think paradise and the stuff in our dreams somehow happens WITHOUT the stuff of the ordinary or frankly the bad stuff. None of us get out of this life unhurt, unscathed, unmarked, untouched by the ordinary stuff of life and yes even tragedy. As much as those things are terrible, often they hold lessons about ourselves, those around us and the world in general that we wouldn’t have known without them.
A break up with a girlfriend makes you figure out your own worth and how much bending is worth it for the sake of another. It may even teach you that you are attracted to the type that tend to hurt you. A bad job situation makes you question your career and if it is the place or the path that is not working. A delayed retirement could lead you to new priorities once retirement comes.
The lives we live now, the ones that seem ordinary, dull and unfulfilling may just be preparing us for the paradise we are offered in our dreams. And how would we know it’s paradise if we don’t first experience the other or the opposite. I am not saying we need trauma or disaster to help us notice paradise I am simply saying God uses those things to make us want and hope for something more. Because without hope, dreams and paradise are just talk.
Monday, May 18, 2020
Co-creators with God — Genesis 1:26
When we think about creation we often don’t get past the first creation story. As if creation itself stopped after 6 days and took a long hibernation. The real mystery and miracle of creation is that it has never stopped! Since God blew the breath of God’s self into creation, creation hasn’t stopped creating and re-creating. The very being of God is all encompassing of everything needed to create and recreate life in all its immense and marvelous fullness.
Which means that we and every living thing are CO-CREATORS with God! When we garden, when we nurture into being a pet or child, when we plan for the future we are being creators of life and believing in tomorrow.
I think the closest I have come to actually feeling like a co creator with God is having a child. If you have had the privilege of such things you know that it is brutal and beautiful and everything in between. I wonder if that is what God thinks about God’s creation every single moment?
This devotion is late today because 13 years ago, I labored for 8 hours to bring my youngest daughter into this world. It was a painful and amazing process. And parenting is the same thing, being a pet parent is also that. Anytime you care for something and have to nurture that relationship into being that co creating business is manifesting in all its glory. I hope that you get to enjoy it more than grieve it and I hope that it makes you feel closer to the God who created you!
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Trying too hard — John 14:15-21
Yesterday, as I set out to record all the pieces I am responsible for worship I was over prepared. Or so I thought. I had emailed all the pieces to myself. I had dressed up, had grabbed my lipstick for touch ups, grabbed the computer and the book I needed for prayers. I brought whoever drew the short stick with me for directing (M2) and headed to the church. I have been nervous about being in the church because so many are in and even though we have a sign in sheet, I am unclear how many actually use it! So we get there and are met with an unbelievable stench at the door. I do some investigating and I believe the smell is coming from standing water in the basement. (I don’t entirely know.) I head to the office to begin printing the documents I will read from for worship. The copier/printer won’t connect to the computer to print the documents. I send them to the printer behind the desk which is out of ink.
M2 tells me she is ready for the recording but she needs her inhaler in the car. She comes back inside and says mom, “the smell is really bad”. I go and investigate some more. The smell is just at the doorway.
We start recording some things I know from memory. No matter what we do, the screen is crooked. I look like the leaning Tower of Pisa. M2 says, “I can’t breathe”. And that was that … I threw in the towel and went home to record. We were met by other technological challenges at home but managed to record it all in the nick of time to avoid apologizing for tardiness. I recorded the worst worship since we began going virtual. Needless to say, I am bummed but I get another shot next week.
All of which is to say that sometimes we try too hard and in our eagerness we work ourselves into needless expectations. I was so busy being frustrated that I didn’t even take my own advice from the sermon I preached! Even when we try too hard God says, “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you.” The Holy Spirit showed me for sure! It isn’t about me is it? Thank goodness the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor and likes to joke with me often that I should take to heart what I preach! Well played, Holy Spirit! Well played!
Saturday, May 16, 2020
Time – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
How can I put this delicately as not to offend? We have finally reached the time in THE GREAT PAUSE when people are being their very true selves. This has led to extreme displays of freedom and opinions galore on social media but if you stop to notice it has taken on another dimension as well. Loneliness apparently drives you to do uncharacteristic things. I will give you an example: Yesterday, I was out in the yard a good portion of the afternoon. I spent 2 hours mowing the lawn when it should have taken an hour (that’s another devotion post). But the other time was spent talking to my neighbors who until now have not initiated that much conversation with me since I moved into the neighborhood 2 years ago. People walking by, who in the past never noticed me stopped to talk. Kids teased my dog from the sidewalk and asked me if they could pet her. The neighbor across the street offered cuttings of her mint. The whole day was marked with kindness.
Now, being the cynic that I am, I wondered if this would change post pandemic but it felt so refreshing that I am not even going to dwell on that! What was so surprising was that for the first time, we were all seeing each other — in our humanity. I guess there is a time for everything under heaven as Ecclesiastes suggests. A time even to be a good neighbor.
Friday, May 15, 2020
Sabbath — Exodus 20:8-11
Sabbath is more than just rest. It is also more than just ceasing to work. Sabbath is engaging in the holy. It is holding space for that which is not ordinary — or participated in all the other days of the week. It is finding time to connect to God by connecting to our own sacredness. Today is my Sabbath. It is marked in my calendar with DNS, which means DO NOT SCHEDULE. Truth be told, finding Sabbath when all the days blend together hasn’t been easy and I have not taken by Sabbath regularly in THE GREAT PAUSE.
Today I will attend to some household things that need done, (laundry — always laundry) and I will take care of myself with gentle grace when it doesn’t ALL get done. But I will also be working outside, digging in the dirt, planting plants and mowing grass. I will also be reading a book that is not for work on my deck. These sacred things help me connect to God.
So do you do on your Sabbath? Please find something that breaks you out of the ordinary and helps you connect to the sacred inside yourself and the God who calls you beloved.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Inescapable – Psalm 139
THE GREAT PAUSE for our family has taken its first casualty: our mental health. I don’t say this lightly. It is no secret that the rise of mental health in this country has a lot to do with our values as a nation, our dependence on addictions and our propensity toward narcissism. We have forgotten two very important things: We belong to one another and we are not God. Our mental health, resilience and empathy have taken a hit.
We have lost our ability to empathize, to remember who is in control and that we are only as lonely as we allow ourselves to be. If we continue with a reliance on handheld computers and the silly notion that we have to only be responsible for ourselves it will not be a pandemic that wipes us out but our own narcissism.
My own mental health has taken a hit in the motivation and short fuse/irritability categories. Just ask my girls and they will freely admit that. But the mental health of my girls is also deteriorating. It feels like this ordeal is making them numb with despair and loneliness. I don’t know how we will all fare when we are finally into a new normal, but I do know that that simple hope is all I got for keeping me from despair today because the future looks a little void of hope, something to look forward to or dreams of any kind. This state of affairs in our minds will be worse than anything else we will have endured in THE GREAT PAUSE.
When I fall into the pit of despair, the only thing that saves me from death is Psalm 139 and the reminder that we cannot ever escape the presence of God. Even when we go down to the pit, God is there or soar with eagles God is there. God is inescapable and all I need to remember is to believe that!
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Vernacular – Romans 8:38-39
We sure have learned a new vernacular with THE GREAT PAUSE. Words like pandemic, distancing, epidemiology, ventilators, quarantine, uptick, facemasks, lockdown and testing have become commonplace and have been slightly modified to fit the situation. Phrases like social/physical distancing, flatten the curve, six feet apart, toilet paper shortage, curbside pick up, phased re-opening, CDC, public gatherings , Zoom fatigue, distance learning, and protective equipment are all things I never could have foreseen coming out of my mouth in December of 2019. Hashtags like, #stayhome, #quarantineandchill, #safehands, #covid19 and #socialdistancing are all trending.
It’s truly amazing how our daily vocabulary can change in such a short amount of time. I find myself caught off guard sometimes, when words like quarantine or lockdown come out of my mouth. Although we humans are adaptable, I am not sure that all change is good. What I do know is that these words put into perspective what we are fighting against. They are not just words. They are life and death for some. I wish the enemy of THE GREAT PAUSE was only a single country and not an insidious disease and the fear that has come with it.
So today I find comfort in the long list in Romans. The list encompasses anything we can think of in regards to how the world and we as humans try to separate ourselves from the love of God. Nothing can! Not fear, not words and certainly not a pandemic can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Those are the words I am choosing to cling to.
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Shame — Genesis 2:25
I wonder what it was like for the first woman and man to live without shame? The absence of shame for humans lasts only two chapters in the narrative. All the stuff Adam and Eve did prior to the serpent entering the narrative were absent of shame. So I guess Adam didn’t feel ashamed when he named the platypus or couldn’t come up with a more clever name for Eve other than woman. Adam wasn’t ashamed of his rib scar on his side or that he may not have been what Eve wanted in a mate. Likewise, Eve didn’t have shame in being created after the man, she wasn’t ashamed of her imperfect partner or her imperfect self. She wasn’t ashamed of her housekeeping skills in the garden, nor her limitedness. I wonder what those days, weeks, years felt like without shame?
Shame only enters the picture from the outside. God didn’t create shame. It was a consequence of eating off the tree in the middle of the garden. It was only then that they realized they were naked and were ashamed. Shame was not inherent in the first two souls of humanity. But it sure seems like we humans like to throw it around like confetti. Shame is a direct relative of control. It was only after Adam and Eve grasped for control (wanting to be like God as promised by the serpent) that stuff got ugly. They literally got ugly because they suddenly felt like they needed to cover up.
I don’t remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t ashamed about something. I like, Adam and Eve were born without shame. It is not of God but wowza it doesn’t take long for us to learn all the stuff we should be ashamed of. Shame gets used and misused all over the place from the time we are young until we take our dying breath. What would happen if we stopped trying to control the world around us with shame and guilt and started throwing grace around like confetti.
The reality is that shame will always find us. It is why the need for grace from ourselves and others is so important. I am tired of living in the shadows of shame. I know that I will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was created by God to live shamelessly. Keeping score, comparing and living in shame take so much energy. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just give ourselves a break once in a while? THE GREAT PAUSE has taught me this lesson: I am NOT in control and any illusion I had of it has been disproven. I can only control my reaction to the world and I don’t need to respond with fear, shame, guilt, hurt or anything else. I am God’s and that is certainly nothing to be ashamed of!
Monday, May 11, 2020
Moms – Matthew 23
Thank you for allowing me a little hiatus from devotions yesterday. Truth be told, I struggled all day with what to write. I scoured scripture, prayed, let the Holy Spirit work, sat down to force myself to write something and it just came out angry. So here is the real deal. I don’t really like Mother’s Day. It’s not that I’m not eternally grateful for my mom and other motherly women in my life or that I don’t like being a mom because I so do. It’s that when I signed up to be a mom, I honestly didn’t know it would mean a constant full and broken heart at the same time. No one can prepare you for that. Accompanying other humans, especially those you co-created is both exhilarating and brutal all at the same time.
I have spent the majority of my motherhood feeling guilty that my choices have often led to some of my children’s greatest pain. The daily grind of parenting often takes the joy right out of it. So I appreciate this chapter from Matthew today. It’s actually comical if you can read it from the perspective of Jesus as a nagging mother. There are lots of “Woes” in the chapter which makes me think of one of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies and how motherhood can sometimes bring you to the point of being a bit unhinged. But it culminates at the end of when Jesus says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” Which is where all of us mothers often end up at the end of the day. I wish I could just scoop those little humans up and hide them under my wing from all the terrible in the world no matter how unwilling they may be.
So uffda, moming brings out all the feels and all the emotions. It is brutal and beautiful. But free will is real and so my hopes of having my ducks or chicks in a row are or even in the same coop is dashed by Jesus’ words. Somehow, that is almost comforting.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Rain — Jeremiah 14:22
“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, LORD our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.” It is a good reminder to us that God’s work didn’t stop like our world’s did when we collided with Covid 19. God still has all of creation to deal with. Which means rain in due season, rising temps, murdering hornets, wild life reclaiming natural habitat, and us humans such as, Covid 19 patients, family who are grieving the loss of someone they cannot gather to memorialize and even you.
God’s got a lot on God’s plate! Sometimes I feel like a bit of a whiny teenager coming to God with my seemingly selfish troubles but guess what? God even knows how to deal with us! God gives us one another, people who help us through the rainy parts of life! You know — the people who send you messages of solidarity, the people who send a text of gentle grace, the people who simply say we hear you — this is tough! God is present in a whole lot of things! Chin Up, buttercup, put your hope in God for God is the who does all is!
Friday, May 8, 2020
Sadness — Deuteronomy 31:8
Well I hit the wall today. Hence the tardiness of this devotion. I am finding it hard to muster any energy to remain motivated. My mind swirls with the stories on the news of hatred, race, pandemic, conspiracy theories, new cases, lawsuits, meat shortages, unemployment, senior graduations, etc. And then add the threat of snow on Saturday! (WTW?) I am trying to get some perspective. I am just inconvenienced by this long pause in everything. There are so many for which this is life and death stuff. There is big grief for some. There is much anxiety for many. There are dreams dashed, plans minimized, loneliness magnified, and broken hearts everywhere.
I want to take a hiatus from social media but it is the only way I am staying connected to some people. I want to take a few days off of work but where would I go and what life-giving thing would I do in my home? I want to visit with people in person keeping social distance and wearing a mask but worry about bringing something home to my children.
So, what then are we to do or say? I don’t know what others do when they hit the wall and fall into despair? Here is what I do: I meditate. I scour the scriptures for hope and a word of solace. I hug those I love the most. I sit with coffee and pet my dog as I look out of the window. I exercise and try to distract my overactive mind. I make a gratitude list. I focus on the next task. And sadly when all else fails I turn to God who is faithful and I remind myself, “ The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” I’m trying. I really am.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Plans — Proverbs 16:9 & 19:21
I don’t find the saying, “when we make plans, God laughs” to be the least bit funny anymore! It’s not even the slightest bit amusing. I’m tired of not being able to make plans! I’m tired of looking into the future and not being able to see anything but unknown fear and anxiety. I am tired of wondering what things may or may not happen this summer. I am tired of wondering if I will ever be able to put a solid plan in place and go with it without also thinking about two or three back up plans, just in case. I’m tired of not being able to look forward to something! *rant over*
For me, plans are linked to hope. Plans suggest that something will happen for the better in the future. Plans give us the little extra oomf we need to make it through a hard day or this current hurdle. I just want something to look forward to and all I can come up with is a time when I can start making plans again. I think we all sense that after THE GREAT PAUSE has done its work on us that there will be a new normal. And frankly that new normal isn’t something I’m particularly excited about because of so many of the unknowns. What I do know is that I am looking forward to a day off that allows me to do anything of my own choosing. I look forward to a vacation outside of my house. I look forward to seeing people I haven’t seen in a while and maybe even hugging them. I am looking forward to so many very many things BUT I can’t put them on a calendar and count down the days until they happen. THIS IS THE FRUSTRATING PART — the limbo of plan making we are all in!
So the only thing I think we can safely do is to put it all in God’s hands. To place our plans and our lists of things we will look forward to into God’s hands. I pray that my expectations and plans line up with God’s. I trust they will happen one day but I cannot hold the anxiety of not being able to put it on the calendar anymore. So at night I dream and during the day, I release my plans to God. Is it easy — NOT AT ALL. Is it necessary right now — YES!
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Abundance — John 10:10
My contemplative journey has become more intense in the last year and a half. Partly because I have been working more closely with a spiritual director, partly because my soul was depleted and I needed a recharge, and partly because I rediscovered Benedictictine spirituality. My journey has led me to some amazing people, an awareness of the Divine in all things and a realization that my attitude has caused myself immense harm. I’ve used my sarcasm as a defense mechanism most of my life and it served me in some ways but led me to bitterness and resentment in other ways. This verse from John has always haunted me, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus’ desire for us is abundant life. It means full, not focused on scarcity. It means gratitude for everything. It means finding joy in the midst of struggle. It means falling in love with what you have and believing you are enough.
Too often I am focused on the next want. Too often I am focused on the next thing period. Abundant life is being able to appreciate what you have right now. It is the unique ability to fall in love with living every single day. I get angry when I think of all the days and moments bitterness and resentment stole from me. But I also know I can’t live there anymore. I’m embarrassed to think about how many memories or moments being angry about single parenting stole from me. That isn’t abundant life. That is not God’s desire for me.
These days in captivity with my children have somehow, not at all sure how, brought some joy back to parenting for me. Listening to the daily news in the morning has given me a new appreciation for my job. Being locked up inside has given me a new longing to be outdoors and if anyone knows me, this is a big deal! Too often I am focused on what I think I lack, forgetting what I actually have. This includes this verse from Jesus, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” It isn’t something God desires for us in the future. It is present tense. Abundant life can be had now!
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Wrestle — Genesis 32:22-32
I usually give up too easily. I’m not one who really loves a conflict. It seems that when conflict happens, however, my subconscious goes on overdrive. Today, I feel like I wrestled with God in my dreams and I came out like Jacob with a limp. Usually I do not remember my dreams and according to the Sleep doctor, I am a bit of a poor sleeper. So when I wake up in the middle of the night and remember something of a dream, I tend to write it down since these incidents are so rare. I must have been working something out in my subconscious because the dream left me a little shaken, worn out and limping.
They say we only use a very small portion of our brain on a regular basis. Which means that God is probably communicating with all of my brain, not just the part I use regularly. As humans we struggle to listen to the Divine on the daily and that is just our conscious efforts. So if God is trying to get us to listen to the Divine in our dreams then boy are we in trouble. Nonetheless, I feel honored that God chooses to wrestle with me at all. It means God is seeking a relationship with me and that God wants that relationship to be a two way street. Too often my prayer practice is to tell God (one way) what I need and hope God agrees. But wrestling with God is a whole different thing. It involves listening, arguing, struggling, honest conversation and the realization that you may come out of it changed.
Deep thinkers and contemplative sorts strive for such encounters. Mostly, however, we want these encounters on our terms. I would much prefer to be conscious and encounter God in the daylight. I would much prefer the message be clear. Certainly, I would prefer to come out with a blessing. But for now, I am just glad for the encounter and the sign that God is interested and invested in my life. I’m going to need more coffee though.
Monday, May 4, 2020
Peace — Romans 12:17-21
One of my favorite quotes from Mother Theresa is “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” It pertains to all things really — poverty, war, mass shootings, refugee crisis, job loss, greed, climate change, even pandemic. Peace will always be elusive if we fail to realize that we are all interdependent on one another. Unfortunately, my peace depends not only on me but on you and a woman in Jamestown, and a guy in California and a girl in India, and a boy in the Central African Republic. I am not at peace until the world is at peace and apparently peace isn’t too high on humanity’s to do list.
I have noticed these last 7 weeks that we are not hearing about mass shootings, or black people getting gunned down by cops, or frankly the Taliban or Isis. I can imagine why that is. I have also noticed that the incidence of domestic violence has gone up,the incidence of elder abuse has also risen, as well as mental health emergencies and it’s predicted to be unprecedented because much of it consistently goes unreported. The prediction that there will be a rise in eating disorders and divorce after the pandemic is also interesting. It reminds me of another quote, “World peace begins at home”. It stands to reason that we will not have peace until people are at peace in their homes which I believe includes our bodies which is our primary home.
Because I depend on you for peace in this world and you depend on me, wouldn’t it be great if we at least tried to make sure everyone we knew was at peace in their own homes and bodies. It might mean asking uncomfortable questions and it might mean sticking your neck out for someone you know is hurting or being hurt by someone else. If you haven’t seen or heard from or about someone in a while, it’s time to check on them. Because my peace depends on yours and because we belong to one another is all the reason you need. It’s not nosy, it’s necessary.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Enough — Romans 5:1-8
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If nothing else is all scripture reminds us that we are enough — it is this! God didn’t wait until we had things figured out, had our perfect lives, followed God completely, understood everything about faith or even promised to do good all the time. Instead God sent the Son — Jesus Christ — to redeem us despite our imperfections. Basically saying, “YOU ARE ENOUGH” right from the get go.
It’s rare for me to feel like enough or that I’m doing enough. My experience on this earth reinforces this for me sometimes on a daily basis. The world in which we live whispers and yells this message at us constantly, wanting us to purchase and consume in order to be enough. We all know there is a difference from being enough and having enough. And in this culture, one can never “have enough” as there will always be the next thing, next newer model, next service we think we will need.
Here’s the irony of it all. If we truly believed we were enough then we wouldn’t consume so much and when we don’t consume so much we realized we can indeed live without it and that we are by virtue of being God’s beloved we are enough. Enough living doesn’t just happen. It’s practiced until it is believed. You are certainly enough. More than enough. Enough for Christ to die to redeem. If only we believed it “enough”.
Saturday, May 2, 2020
Creation — Genesis 1:26-31
Have you heard that the largest hole in the ozone in the Arctic has closed? Have you read the gobs of stories about God’s critters coming back to claim land that once was theirs? Have you been following the impending meat shortage reports? Sitting alongside those reports are environmental impact reports for the consumption of meat and sociological studies regarding habits. It is all fascinating to read, reflect and then imagine all the other impacts the changes that are taking place in our daily lives are impacting the creation around us. I think it is worth thinking about how we use the earth, especially now that we know how interdependent we are on one another as humans, it stands to reason that all of creation is interdependent.
But this is not news for us who study the Bible. There is a strong theology of ecology in the Bible. It begins quite early too in the narrative — right at the beginning in fact when God gives humans dominion over everything God creates. But managed to mess up, misinterpret and abuse our position and what that word really meant and we continue to do it to this day.
Somehow we managed to go from manager to owner of God creation and forgot who created it in the first place. It just might be that some of us will be paying more attention to what dominion looks like in our corners of the world. Maybe THE GREAT PAUSE has allowed us to realize we humans can and do affect climate change. Maybe THE GREAT PAUSE has allowed us to step back from consumption a bit and to be reminded how the food chain works instead of expecting our grocery stories to have EVERYTHING we could possibly want to hoard. Maybe THE GREAT PAUSE is causing us to rethink necessary and unnecessary travel, meetings, visits, work and workers. ALL of which God has created and given to us on loan to use not abuse or own. I don’t think it is a coincidence that creation is healing but humans are staying home. What do you think?
Friday, May 1, 2020
Rejoice? – Romans 12:15
Happy May Day! I am not sure how many people even know what that little “holiday” is anymore! I already got a surprise on my doorstep for this occasion! What a wonderful spirit lifter!
Usually to celebrate the return of spring, this ancient celebration often brings with it a game of Ding Dong Ditch and a treat! Mine was a gorgeous plant! (Thank you!) But apparently this day was repackaged in the 19th century by the labor movement as International Workers Day to advocate for workers’ rights and the eight hour work week. Ironic isn’t it? This latter celebration has never been on my radar. Probably because I take for granted the 8 hour work day. But also we live in a culture that glorifies busy and productivity so we have easily forgotten that working long hours is bad for us. It’s ironic for me that I learned of this history of May Day in a pandemic that has cost 30 million US citizens their jobs.
However, you celebrate May Day and for whatever reason, perhaps you could thank God for the promise of spring or that you still have a job. If you know of people who do not perhaps pray for them as well. It is a good lesson for us either way to learn as Paul says to the Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Happy May Day, nonetheless!
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Patience — Romans 12:12
Patience is a virtue, so they say. In THE GREAT PAUSE perhaps it is running short right about now as evidenced by people just wanting to get on with it. Businesses are reopening, plans are starting to be developed again, spring is springing, and hope is being reborn. It is hard to have patience in the midst of progress.
My anxiety makes it hard for me to be patient. I often wonder if patience for me gets mixed up with complacency or indecisiveness. Patience can be shrouded in all sorts of excuses. True patience takes siding with the will of God and therefore discerning what God’s will really is. If we skip the patience in THE GREAT PAUSE we will miss the lesson. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer.” If we have not learned to slow the heck down by now in all this, we are not getting the point. Patience cousins are reflection and discipline. Patience isn’t passive but active and requires us asking the right questions in valuing people over things.
It is perfectly okay to approach this “reopening” with caution and patience. It is perfectly ok to stand back and “wait and see” to make sure it is safe for you and your loved ones to re-enter public life in what will be it’s many and various forms. This stage of THE GREAT PAUSE will also require our patience with our neighbors and the systems we all use. Nothing is going back to the way it was, at least not right away. Patience will be required by us all to put up with imperfect solutions, changing plans and anxious people. Patience, prayer and hope intertwined will have to be in abundance in the coming weeks. My prayer for all of you and myself is that we have a healthy supply.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Temporary — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
It is the middle of the week. Wednesday which feels simultaneously a month long but also a short six hour day. I find that I keep forgetting that this is but temporary. THE GREAT PAUSE feels like it is lasting forever but in reality it is but temporary. As places in our state begin to re-imagine what it will be like to be open for business, I like to keep reminding myself that whatever precautions are put in place will also be temporary. Because if there is a lesson to be learned in this, it is that life is fragile and temporary and the situation changes fast. We have daily updates about an invisible virus on all our news outlets, we are learning new things about this virus every few days, we are learning what works and what doesn’t every week. A plan is but temporary.
So too is this situation. I had a good friend while I was growing up who would advise me about any given situation I would complain about finding myself in — she would say, “You weren’t born like that, you won’t stay like that!” It was her way of saying, “Have some perspective — and a wee bit of faith!” Today may feel like a millennium but it was just 24 hours, same as yesterday and the day before that. They are momentary troubles as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “so we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Grief — Job (the whole book)
Oh my dear ones. This Pandemic brings with it so many other things doesn’t it? As if it is not enough that we are worried about the future, our past trauma seeps in and overwhelms us. This pandemic which I am now and forevermore going to call “THE GREAT PAUSE” has brought with it the side effects of grief, fear and anxiety. I know those whose plans have been dashed for graduations, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, homecomings, and so much more. THE GREAT PAUSE has affected how we plan everything. It has shifted our priorities and changed dreams. It has been relentless and all-inclusive. No one is escaping the change on some level. There is no great answer for all the feelings THE GREAT PAUSE brings to the fore. There is no magic time when those feelings will be less intense or leave. The only thing we can really do is be honest with them and ourselves. To feel all the feels THE GREAT PAUSE has caused. It is in acknowledging them and dealing with them head on where we can find some solace and control. My heart hurts for those who are grieving the loss of dreams right now. I hear, read and sense a deep grief of loss at so many memories that will never be made.
Likewise there is nothing that can be said that won’t seem trite or trivial or feel like it is making light of your real grief. I hope that those around you can sit in your grief and fear and anxiety with you instead of making you feel like you have to get over it. I hope you have better friends than Job who won’t blame you, or try to figure out why such things are grief producing. I hope you have friends and loved ones who sit with you and listen from the heart. I hope those friends also remind you that you are not alone and that God grieves with you. So my dear ones, grieve. Feel all the feels and allow yourself the grace to deal with them until they no longer control you. I love you and pray for your acceptance and the ability to dream new dreams soon.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Recognize — Luke 24:13-35
Staying with the gospel text from yesterday at bit longer, we find in it the theme of recognition. Jesus was walking along with two heading to Emmaus and he wasn’t recognized. Who knows what he might have looked like post resurrection. I think he earned whatever battle scars he may have had. But what is surprising for me is that Jesus wasn’t recognized by his appearance, by his voice, by his teaching, or by his personality. Instead he is recognized when they pause, take time to converse and eat. Then Jesus hosts the meal and WHAM they see him as he is. Once recognized, it is like his job or mission with those two disciples is complete and he vanishes from sight.
I wonder how often we fail to see Jesus in our midst? I wonder how often we live distracted, failing to see anything other than our own tasks and stuff right in front of our nose. I wonder what we have missed? I wonder what opportunities for deeper faith, compassion, and witness we often miss because we don’t take time.
Now that we seemingly have more time and we are forced to “break bread” together on the regular, has it affected our recognition of Jesus in our midst? Have we been able to see Jesus in our neighbors, to recognize the Holy Spirit nudging us when someone comes to our minds, to see those we live with as gift and holy? Have we been able to see the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily living? I believe such things take practice and a whole lot of gratitude. Once we master them we move on to the advanced class but then we find out graduation is elusive because this stuff is meant to be practiced all our lives. May we start this week with fresh eyes ready to recognize Christ in our midst.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Expectations — Luke 24:13-35
“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” It is akin to William Shakespeare’s quote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Expectations are all over this gospel text appointed for today, better known as the Road to Emmaus. These two disciples willingly admit all their dashed expectations about Jesus on the road with the stranger they fail to recognize as Jesus. There expectations seem to have died right along with Him on the cross. They are at that place we all come to when we realize our expectations were wrong and we have two choices: 1. Give up OR 2. Make new expectations. Usually we lower the current ones.
Expectations steal joy. In the case of these two disciples they didn’t even stick around with the other disciples to see what would happen next. They gave up. They took their toys, so to speak and left the sandbox and went home to Emmaus. But what joy they probably missed out on. They certainly missed out on the ability to ask Jesus questions on the road since their expectations kept them from seeing Him as Jesus. In week 976 of stay-at-home I have certainly racked up my own set of expectations. I had hoped that with all my “free time” my house would be clean, my spring deep clean done, my nooks and crannies organized, books read, research done, family time mastered, hobbies enjoyed and well the list gets depressing fast. It is quite possible my expectations were rather ambitious. And there were certainly things I did that I never even expected or imagined I’d do. Along with that, moments I missed out on, gratitude I failed to have, love I didn’t share because I was too busy being hurt by my expectations.
Perhaps your expectations are not your problem. I give thanks to God for that for you. But if they are I pray you can find the grace to let them go or ease up on them and make new ones. I pray that you experience the joy expectations steal now and in the days to come. What are you expecting?
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Troubled — John 14:1-3
Insomnia is not something I usually suffer from. It is kind of surprising, given that I have an anxious personality type. But nonetheless, it is not something that usually troubles me. On the rare occasions I find myself awake when others in the house are sleeping, I have learned from a dear colleague to use the time wisely.
I have learned that those times when sleep eludes me, I write down what my conscious mind finds anxiety producing. I name them and then let them be. Then once those are out of the way, I let my mind do the work of bringing to mind those things that worry me one by one. I give thanks for them. Yep, sounds counterintuitive but trust me. I give God thanks for giving me troubles — for troubles means I am alive, able to feel and am still engaged in this world. (The alternative to this is a very dark and lonely place.) Once I have exhausted all the anxiety producing things on my mind, I move on to people I want God to bless. Some nights that list is super duper long as I include people I don’t have names for but are nonetheless important. Other nights, that list is short and to the point. Finally, I thank God for this time together. The time is usually pure gift at this point because my mind is either exhausted enough to sleep or my spirit is less troubled and my mind wants to follow.
I’m learning to listen to these spirit nudgings during the day as well. When I am frustrated, when I cannot focus or I find myself overstimulated or troubled by something seemingly insignificant, I have learned that these are not mere coincidences but they are God nudging me toward time together. When I recognize this and spend little time fighting it, I tend to feel less anxious faster. But when I fight them or fail to recognize what is happening (usually because it was triggered by others and not myself) then I can spin my wheels for hours. The profound reality is that God never leaves us. God is always near, waiting for us to recognize our need for God. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God…”.
Friday, April 24, 2020
Uncertain – Romans 8:28-30
I am losing credibility with my kids every day this virus keeps us quarantined. I lose count daily, how many times I say, “I don’t know” to questions that only 6 weeks ago seemed certain. Will we go back to school in the fall? Will we have to wear masks all summer when we go out? What are we going to do in June? When will I get to see my friends? When can I start cheer again? What if one of us gets the virus? What if you get the virus and we don’t know what to do? I in return get “I don’t know” to my questions. (Again I have lost some credibility, remember.) What do you want for supper? How much homework do you have left? When will you complete this chore? When was the last time you brushed your hair?
Uncertainty heaped upon with uncertainty is not aiding anyone’s anxiety. I used to answer, “I don’t know but God knows” which only furthered their distrust in God. Our souls long for something certain when everything seems up for grabs. It’s human nature to want to plan out what is next so as to respond the best way we know how. For those personality types who like order and need even to think clearly, these times are especially difficult. Most answers right now are moving targets and fluid. Nothing is certain and that can be scary. All of us are uncomfortable with the unknown, however and that is what makes this time in our collective history that much more anxious. We simply do not know what will happen next.
It is in times like these that I hold even more tightly to my spiritual practices that tether me closer to the only One who does know for certain. Today I spent a whole hour in silence and meditation. It took me a long time to clear my mind of static so that I could listen to the One who is certain. I held my ground in breathing deeply, in pushing out distractions, in lifting up those in need of prayer, and silence and space for God to be revealed. I am clinging to my spiritual practices these days, it is the only thing I can do for certain. I am pausing, praying, breathing, holding, and making space in my heart and mind and schedule for the Divine. At times it is the only thing that is “saving” me. I know God will meet me in my practices. Of that I am certain. What are you certain of?
Thursday, April 23, 2020
Willingness — Romans 12:2
A common saying is, “God helps those who help themselves.” I think the phrase can be understood wisely, but in most spiritual situations it is not completely true. Scripture clearly says, in many and various ways, that God helps those who trust in God, not those who help themselves.
We need to be told that very strongly because of our do-it-yourself orientation. As educated people, as Americans, as middle class people who have practiced climbing, we are accustomed to doing things ourselves. It takes applying the brakes, letting go of our plans, allowing Another, and experiencing power from a Larger Source to really move to higher awareness. Otherwise, there is no real transformation, but only increased willpower! As if the one with the most will power wins?! Willfulness is quite different than willingness. They are two different energetic styles and normally yield very different fruit. If anything this Global Pandemic has taught me is that I am powerless over many, many things. It is only when my will aligns with God’s does the real magic happen. Which “will”, will you choose?
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Science: Part 2 — Colossians 1:15-16
“A scientific discovery is also a religious discovery. There is no conflict between science and religion. Our knowledge of God is made larger with every discovery we make about the world.” — Joseph Hooten Taylor, Jr.
I have always felt that science lacks limits and religion lacks imagination. If the two should meet truth may be found. But we humans are too busy using both as weapons. It is easier to make something an enemy than it is to have compassion and understanding. Some of my favorite scientists are Christians (not all) and some of my favorite theologians are not Christians. Neither have ultimate truth. There is and will continue to be a whole lot we just don’t know. So it seems both science and religion could do so much more together than at war with one another. It breaks my heart to see religious folks still gather in worship without any precautions when science has been clear about the contagious nature of the virus. It breaks my heart that of all that science has accomplished we haven’t figured out how to keep loved ones safe while they say goodbye to those that are dying. It seems both are rather absurd. Science in its absolutes lacks compassion — religion in its lack of imagination lacks understanding. Both are wrong. The best part of being a Lutheran Christian for me is that I don’t have to check my brain at the church door. I can discover, learn and grow with science while still believing God is in all of it. I don’t need science to prove the stories of the Bible. I need science to help me see the limitless nature of God who’s story continues even now. So can we just listen to the scientists who are telling us the facts about this virus and leave the rest up to God?
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Science: Part 1 – Leviticus 22:4-8
I wonder if our common ideas and values about personal hygiene will change at all after this Pandemic? Will we keep washing our hands? Will we use hand sanitizer in between a good hand washing? Or will we be diligent in that regard but realizing showering/bathing daily is not necessary? Will we go back to using products in our hair that necessitate our need for bathing? Contrary to popular belief, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not found in the Bible. In reality, the Bible says little about hygiene and more about ritual. Hand washing in the Bible had little to do with protecting someone from germs and much more to do with purification laws and religious rituals. Modern science as we know it didn’t exist in the Biblical worldview.
Sure, there were laws about food preparation, burying your excrement outside of camp, food that defiles the body, acts that defile a body and the proper way to prepare a body after death. Consequently, those things came with religious rituals that often aided in the spread of deadly germs but it certainly wasn’t the focus. Today we know so much more about germs, safe sanitary conditions, illness/disease, and cleanliness. The science behind our health and safety can often clash with what many Christians perceive as a Biblical worldview. But they can coexist and science doesn’t negate faith. As a Christian, I can believe in the science behind a stage 4 cancer diagnosis but also pray for a miracle. As a Christian, I can eat meat, even pork and know that I won’t die because I didn’t cook it properly. As a Christian, I can believe the realities of COVID19 and still pray for healing. Such things are not mutually exclusive. Faith involves both marveling at human innovation and scientific facts but also knowing that God is at work in all of it. As a Lutheran Christian, we believe science and faith can work together. We do not ignore basic scientific fact because we have faith in God to handle it, we have faith in God to give us all we need to be our best selves in this world trusting science to its limits and God to infinity. It isn’t an either or but a both and. Praise be to God that we have modern science in this pandemic or we would be entrusting many more into the arms of God too soon and unnecessarily. Thanks be to God for the conversation we are able to have between ethical science and faith. But please don’t listen to the late night tele-evangelist that says they have the cure for Coronavirus if you send in $29.95. Let’s each stay in our lanes and trust health experts for health treatments and religious leaders for spiritual health. All the while praying for God to show up and act in mighty and small ways.
Monday, April 20, 2020
Vision — Luke 24:4-5
It seems we got the trifecta today — gloomy, cold, and Monday — which should help us stay in the house a little better. Today we also get to play a game of “Guess which kind of Precipitation”. Even though our weekends aren’t as full, Mondays are still hard without coffee and an attitude adjustment.
I hear the voice of my spiritual director nudging me to “find the joy on the struggle bus” which is my personal Rule. But wowza, this Monday has hit me like a ton of bricks. So, joy. The possibilities for joy are endless with the right type of vision. Isn’t that really what happens in the resurrection stories? Their vision gets changed — the rug gets pulled out from under them. The answers lead to more questions — “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” And that question leads to even more questions. The first disciples at the tomb were there to do what they knew to be their work — a proper preparation for burial. What they got was a whole new way to look at the world. Likewise, why do I keep looking for joy among the things that bring death? Why do I expect attending to every detail, or getting everything right, or living in shame and guilt will bring joy? It never has — not even once. Joy comes with an attitude adjustment. Joy comes with a new vision — that of God’s. And God’s vision makes mine seem miniscule. I am simply too small of a thinker to imagine God’s vision. But with the right attitude — joy is easier to spot. It is predictive — a positive attitude yields positive results. If we keep looking for misery, shame, disappointment, and the Monday blahs, we will certainly find them. But what if we had a new vision? What if we looked for joy, hope, and love instead? I bet we would find it! Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Together — 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
“We are all in this together” has been the tagline for this pandemic. It is certainly comforting, helps build unity, makes us feel more secure, honors our need for community, gives a sense of hope. Even though some of us have sacrificed for more than others and still others will sacrifice more than the average, we press on with the idea that we are separately in this together.
My biggest concern as a pastor and fellow human being is that this virus has taken people and turned them into cases. We hear the daily numbers of cases of Covid 19 rising or plateuing. We hear the number people tested and the daily death toll. But I wonder how many of us are stopping to think about what that means. For someone who is waiting on test results or diagnosed with the virus, it means they do it ALONE. They either live in total quarantine as to not infect everyone else or they are hospitalized without visitors and little human interaction. And then there are those who die alone with or because of the virus’ effects on our infection control systems. They all have one thing in common — they are humans in need of love and hugs and touch and community at the very time they cannot get it. This virus has cost relationships that never get reconciled at a deathbed, precious time with a dying loved one, sharing adversity as true building blocks for new relationships, all of that has been taken by this virus.
So I continue to pray that we can look at this time of inconvenience we are all experiencing as an act of love for those who have paid and will pay the ultimate cost. I pray that when all is said and done, we as a nation can go down in history as people who lived inconvenient lives for a while so others could live. That when we can gather for funerals we actually attend them for those who died in this time. That when we gather together we cherish them all the more and never take for granted a kid’s birthday or a volleyball game or choir concert or coffee fellowship ever again. Because if we say, “We are all in this together” it can’t be shallow or devoid of real meaning or future sacrifice. If we say together — we have to mean it now when we are forced to be in it together albeit inconvenient but also in the future when it will be just one more choice.
Saturday, April 18, 2020
Same — Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8
Everything is the same. The days are blending together. I feel like I am having the same conversations, same arguments with my kids, same meals, same meditation mantras (You can do hard things!), same routines, same BIG emotions, and same structures. The whole family jumped into the car with our masks and took a “joyride” to the pharmacy yesterday just to ease the monotony. I allowed us to sleep in today so that we could cut through some of this sameness! I know I am not alone in feeling like this has gone on long enough. Doing the same things — builds security. We are certainly safer doing the same things that have worked in the past. There is always a time for this. And a pandemic is one of them. We know in our heads that staying home will flatten the curve, expose less of us to the virus and keep us generally safer. The initial change in our social structure was hard but now that it has gone on for a while many of us are finding some complacent security in it. It’s human for us to do so.
What is also comforting is that God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. In fact, God is already in tomorrow. So, yes everything is less than exciting and all the same. So is God. God is still God — bringing new life when it is time, being patient with us, loving us, calling forth our best selves, strengthening our resolve, being faithful even when we are not. I find comfort in THAT sameness at least. God is the same even in all our sameness.
Friday, April 17, 2020
Nothing — Romans 8:31-39
It’s kind of funny how many of us used to be excited about the weekends. I even got a little excited, even though my weekends usually involved some work. But now, when all our days are the same and weekends do not mean much change up in the routine and family system, weekends don’t seem to hold the same appeal. I quote this scripture a little too much in my house — it’s one of the few I have fully memorized. What my first born likes to point out to me is that the list doesn’t include boredom. As in NOthing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus except boredom. She believes that she is destined to die of boredom on my watch. I have pointed out that even that is covered in these verses. Not even death can separate us from God. NOTHING means NO THING, or PERSON, or SITUATION, or COMBO of all of those can separate us from God who keeps coming to us, keeps raising the dead, keeps after us like a lost coin.
I need to hear, read, and reinvest in these wise verses in such a time as this. I can’t help but look around and all I see is are the very things on this list — trouble, hardship, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. But all of it is God’s and God promises to never be separate from God’s creation. So I guess God, you and me are in this together. Which by the way, is how I am choosing to look at the reality we find ourselves in now. It’s tempting to look at the world and wonder if it is going to “hell in a handbasket” but what if this jolt to our societal paradigm is really love at it’s best. What if the reason the world looks like it’s dying is because it just might be readying itself for rebirth — to the greatest act of love ever seen? Nothing stops God coming to us — NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! NOTHING!
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Enough — Psalm 139
Almost like a siren call, this Psalm beckons me in my contemplative time. I have gone to Psalm 139 seven times in the last six weeks. (I know this because I have a fancy app that lets me look up scripture with a word and almost predicts what I am looking for but it also tracks how many times I have turned to a specific scripture.)
When I struggle with being enough — enough for my family,doing enough as pastor, being available enough in my relationships — I turn to this Psalm and verses 13-16 in particular. I have to be reminded more than I like to admit that my worth comes from God. When I start to buy into the culture that tells me my worth is based on my efficiency, productivity, buying power, appearance, sex appeal, charisma, charm, wellness, and the overall impression of togetherness, I always use this Psalm to knock the world back a bit. We can be tricked into thinking quite easily in this Pandemic that there is one perfect way to weather this storm, but in all honesty most of us are just trying to do the best we can. And sometimes, someone’s best looks like cereal for supper and showering every third day. Sometimes, someone’s best means a strict routine of exercise, work and reading lest they are tempted to spend all day in bed. Comparison will kill us all because here is the real deal — our worth is not decided by Facebook or keeping up with the Kardashians. Our worth is given to us by God and God says, “you are fearfully and wonderfully made”. Only the creator can give value to the created. So my friends, “YOU DO YOU” each and every day. You do what you have to do to remind yourself that you are enough and you are doing enough for today. You are enough. Let that be enough for today!
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Trust — Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust is a fragile thing. Once it is broken, depending on how it got that way it can take a lifetime to mend. I struggle with trust on a daily basis. It is my biggest spiritual growing edge. Like an addict, choosing trust is a daily if not moment to moment endeavor. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve done enough therapy to know how I got here but it would be nice if it wasn’t such a struggle all the gosh darn time!
I rarely read the book of Proverbs, I was actually looking for a different scripture reference when I came across the one provided for today’s devotion. (Proverbs always sounds to me like parental advice not solicited or the wise frequent customer at the end of a bar who is amazingly profound.) Either way this passage is a good one — easy to remember too! “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight.”Perhaps the real sticky wicket is not trust but submitting to God. That is probably the hardest part. Submitting my will to God and allowing God to take charge. God has not let me down in the past, yet surrendering to God seems impossible – preposterous even. So today, my friends I am again choosing trust — trusting with my heart and not my head that God will pull us through this day, this week, this month and more. If I dare say it out loud, I can catch my breath a bit! Trust that God is faithful, even when we are not!
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Despair — 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
This morning we woke up to snow and I was surprised how that small thing changed my spirit into despair. I must confess that I am grasping at straws today to find something worthy of saying. I feel even my lament to God is useless as it won’t change where we find ourselves today — still stuck in a global pandemic. What the world?! My devotion time today felt hollow — void of hope even in the rich silence that surrounds me.
I think that is what happens often when we put our trust in anything other than God. You see because the world’s things, people, stuff and even creation will always fall short — they will always disappoint. That is why Paul writes this: “7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
In the midst of my despair of this Pandemic going on too long, taking too much, asking too much of me and us, I am choosing to trust God and the treasure that is mine in clay jars. I am choosing in the midst of my despair to trust there is life in Jesus. Because he died and rose, I am choosing to believe in the rising for me too. Death and despair don’t get the final word today — I am choosing the extraordinary power of God to being life from death. What is dead in you? What are you despairing about? Be specific and then lift if to God in prayer. Then wait to see what God will do!
Monday, April 13, 2020
New — 1 Corinthians 5:16-17
It’s day two for Jesus in His resurrected body! Was He tired, hungry, gassy, overstimulated, cranky, achy, hangry or wide-eyed and ready? We don’t really get much from scripture about what he went about doing except he was making appearances in locked rooms, at the sea of Galilee, eating freshly broiled fish, and walking to Emmaus. What was he doing in the meantime — between appearances? Was he packing? Did his family get to see the resurrected Jesus? Was He ghosting people?
What we know for sure is that He was made new. And he certainly wasn’t looking back! He could have spooked Pontius Pilate or sought revenge with Caiaphus. But we have no record of such things. And what is more is that we know from the accounts that Jesus’ appearance changed somehow. The spectrum of that change is non-recognizable on the road to Emmaus until they break bread to be recognizable by sight near the tomb. Did he continue to stay glowing or like an aberration that penetrates walls of a locked room. Or does he really eat fish as the gospel of John suggests? Whatever the resurrection looked like on Jesus it certainly changed him.
I think we can expect the same. Our old selves will die and we will be reborn into what God meant for us to be from the beginning before we had a will to mess things up! I am looking forward to such newness. I have a few things I could shed so that a new creation could be born in me! What about you?
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Different — Matthew 28:1-10
Christ is Risen! He has Risen Indeed! Alleluia! This is mostly certainly a different Easter. For me, it means no larger family meal and gathering, no Easter baskets, no lilies, no dressing up and heading out the door at an extra earlier time, no church worship in the sanctuary, no anxiety about who will show up, no fear of oversleeping, no bags upon bags of Easter candy, and no egg dying (I tried but apparently that is for little kids at this house). It is just different. Some of it welcomed but most I just miss.
I hope this different Easter teaches me a few lessons: to appreciate a meal cooked by someone else, to appreciate the presence of my extended family, to appreciate community, to appreciate all the smells and bells of Easter Worship in a sanctuary, to appreciate tradition, to appreciate every little detail of our interrupted routines. I hope this different Easter holds in it true resurrection! I hope I have the courage to leave the stuff that didn’t work for me in the tomb and embrace the new more appreciative and precious parts. I hope this different Easter makes me readjust my priorities, my franetic pace, my attitude and gives me the courage to embrace new life in whatever form it takes.
So that it sticks into the future, I am going to dare to write it down today — this different Easter. I am going to allow myself to lament on what is different but hope for what can be transformative! I am going to write it down, not just for historical purposes but to hold myself accountable to not going back to the old me post Pandemic. Happy different Easter!
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Between — Matthew 27:57-66
Today is the day in between. Between Good Friday and Easter. Between death and life. Between despair and hope. This day holds all the emotions of human existence — the whole continuum. I feel like we who have been at this sheltering in our homes bit have been living this day now for weeks. We wait with the whole range of emotions and maybe for the first time in a long time we are forced to feel them, acknowledge them, hold them in a swirling pot of frustration, and maybe if we are lucky deal with them. How often are we too busy to stop and think? How often have we been in the rat race – doing the next thing – shoving our feelings to the side to get on with the day? How often have we numbed ourselves with busy, addictions, noise, distractions and avoidance so we do not have to feel or deal with the source of our unsettledness, anxiety or fear?
Today is the day to recognize all the dying parts of ourselves that need resurrection or new life. To me the two are not the same. Resurrection it seems means something needs to be resuscitated or reinvigorated. New life means something dies and something new takes its place. Both are valid but not equal. Today I urge you to feel all the feels you have inside you. To live in the uncomfortable in-between. And if you are really brave, reflect on what needs to die in you so that something else can emerge. What parts of you need to be reborn? What things have been dead or numbed that need to be reawakened?
We are living in weird uncomfortable times. Traumatic maybe even. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions now we will have to deal with them later. Now is as good a time as any, don’t you think? With time, intention and reflection we may just get out of the pandemic something we never thought possible — a new lease on life.
(My answer from yesterday — I think I would taste my own tears.)
Friday, April 10, 2020
Taste — Matthew 26-27
“Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out!” It’s a good quote for us and one I wish I remembered much more often. On this Good Friday, when it feels we have been living a sort of Good Friday for weeks now, I wonder how our politics, our communities, our social media, our news would benefit from that simple yet profound reminder.
If Jesus was truly human, what taste did he leave this world with? Were the taste of defeat, bitterness, betrayal, heartbreak, compassion, fatigue, along with the real taste of vinegar on his lips? There is so much symbolism in the Bible and even on this the gospel writers don’t agree as to what was really given Jesus on the cross. What they do agree on is the Vinegar. What they don’t agree on is whether it was gall, hyssop or some cheap Roman wine possibly mixed with something to dim the senses to help those suffering the horrible death by hanging on a cross.
What we do know is that Jesus died a very human death. A death of suffering, severe pain and humiliation. What we do know is literally and figuratively, Jesus leaves with a bad taste in his mouth from this world. But what is more perplexing and telling is that this didn’t stop him from completing the resurrection — of coming back to the ones who had broken his heart, spirit and body. That is the miracle of the resurrection in my mind — THAT God would bother at all to save such people! But God does over and over again God shows up with compassion, forgiveness, healing, restoration, reconciliation, and hope. God shows up again and again despite the bad taste in God’s mouth. So my friends in this most stressful time, when emotions are high, sleep is hard, anxiety is real for more than most of us, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out!” and know that either way God will show up, is already in our midst. May your Good Friday end better than Jesus’ and may you wait with patience for the sweet taste of Resurrection!
(My answers from yesterday: Smell – the bread at the meal and the smell of dusty/dirty feet.)
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Smell — Matthew 26-27
Have you ever had the smell of something transport you back in time or conjure up a strong memory? For me the smell of elderberry and pine makes me think of Christmas and these old ornaments that we had for our tree that didn’t ever seem to lose their scent. When I smell fresh baked buns it makes me think of my grandma Nona at Easter who would make so many buns for sandwiches during and after our big Easter feast. When I smell the ripe pungent smell of cow dung, I always think of my stepdad’s saying, “Smells like money”! You see, a single scent can take you back!
I wonder if those who sat at table with Jesus or witnessed his crucifixion or went home that night stunned by what had transpired could ever drink wine, or dip bread or smell blood or smelled their own fear of not saying something to stop it all, again without remembering that horrible 24 hours. I wonder if every time they smelled a whiff of any of it, if it transported them back to the time their prophet, teacher and savior died?
Smell is a powerful tool. For it aids us in our memory and is both a primal and finicky sense. If you were in this story of Jesus’ last 2 days on this earth what smells would evoke memories for you? Would they be painful or glorious? Can you name two smells you think would be present in this chain of events?
(My answers from yesterday: Feel/Touch – the feel of Jesus’s hands touching my feet, the crowd pressing in on me, the tears rolling down my face)
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Feel/Touch — Matthew 26-27
Staying with the crucifixion in the gospel of Matthew a little longer, we can start to get grounded in it. We might even wonder which character in the story we identify with the most. For me, it’s almost always been an unknown disciple — a woman never mentioned but always there. Sometimes following from a distance and other times being an essential provider of food, water and shelter to this rag tag group. I have always wondered what it would be like to touch even the garment of Jesus as the woman who was healed by that simple touch. I wonder what it would be to see Jesus up close as I’m certain He wouldn’t look like the Scandinavian portraits I grew up with. I wonder if He had an accent that betrayed Him to be just a silly boy from Nazareth. I wonder if He smelled differently or was a sweaty, dusty dude like the rest. I wonder what the wine and bread tasted like after He blessed it and gave it to His disciples that last supper night.
I wonder all these things and more about this story. Because you see, each writer goes to great length to tell us details that ground this story in human experience – lest we think that Jesus’s crucifixion cannot be remotely relatable to human experience. If you read each verse, they weave together a picture each writer wants to tell about the character of God and God’s interaction with us. It is almost surreal, but beautiful, scary, and moving all at the same time!
If you let this story intertwine with yours this week, perhaps the hand of God may touch you in ways you never dreamed possible. How do you want God to let you know God is near? Would you feel it deep in your bones if God did? Would you be too distracted with work, family, meals, worry, fear to realize what you feel? May God be near enough to touch this week for you in this time of uncertainty. (My answers from yesterday: Hear – the dipping of bread, the sloshing of water while Jesus washed feet, the cock crowing, the sound of an angry mob yelling “Crucify”)
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Hear — Mark 4:9-25 & Matthew 26-27
Continuing with our 5 Senses Grounding Technique in Jesus’ last week, which we started yesterday with seeing, today we will be looking for things we hear in this text. If you haven’t already read the Passion story in Matthew perhaps you could read it out loud today and see what strikes you.
Too often, we like to list to respond to people and then end up not understanding. How many people do you know, who answer you with “what” and then end up answering your original question after they have had time to think about it and process it and have their mind catch up with their hearing. You, see it isn’t that we don’t hear it — it’s that we are used to having to respond quickly. The gospels elude to the fact that Jesus told the disciples many times how the story would end. I wonder how many times they heard it and for whatever reason never really understood it.
It takes deep spiritual maturity to listen. Listening is a spiritual gift that few utilize anymore because we assume we know what the other is going to say. What would happen if we actually stopped and listened to the one talking? I wonder if we would pick up what is behind the words they speak? I wonder if we might learn something important? I wonder if we might realize their words are not about us but them? I wonder what 4 things you hear in the Passion story? Maybe we ought to listen first?
(My answers from yesterday: Sight – palms, donkey, washed feet, Peter hiding, Judas’ full purse.)
Monday, April 6, 2020
See – Mark 4:10-12 & Matthew 26-27
Mental health is a funny thing. It is almost as elusive for often when you think you are just fine, is when you really are not. Panic attacks are on the rise in this Pandemic and it probably has little to do with the fear of getting the Coronavirus but the fear that this pandemic dredges up lets all the other emotions, feelings, memories and false monologues of our thoughts come right up to the surface. I have only had one panic attack in my life and that was one too many. It felt like I was certainly having a heart attack or something worse. But worse than having a panic attack yourself is watching someone else have one too. You don’t quite get over the fear in someone’s eyes when it happens.
In all my years of therapy one of the best tricks I have learned is The 5 Senses Grounding Technique. I love it because you can do it anywhere and you don’t need anything special to practice it! It involves your senses and this week in my devotions I am going to use it on Holy Week. Please humor me a bit! I feel like we have been in three weeks of Holy Week already and ACTUAL Holy Week is giving me some anxiety so in the 5 senses Grounding Technique, we are asked to come up with 5 things we can see — about Holy Week. This will hopefully clear the distractions so we can focus, at least in our devotion time on the story of Jesus’ last week. So what 5 things do you see this Holy Week for us in Jesus’s story? What things might you be failing to see? Who has Sight in the Holy Week Story? Who lacks it? What 5 things do you see?
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Passion – Matthew 26-27
We made it to another Sunday, everyone! Although this week felt like 92 days we are beginning a new week! Not just any week either! We are heading into Holy Week. Perhaps you have felt like you are living your own Holy Week of sorts these past weeks, so this one isn’t anything new. But on the other side of Jesus’ Holy Week is Resurrection.
Today is Palm Sunday also known by some as Passion Sunday because they also include the rest of the events of Holy Week in their worship today. The Passion of Christ that culminates in the crucifixion and the greatest sacrifice of love this world has seen. This week in the life of Jesus is when He will feel and experience EVERYTHING there is to know about being human and it killed Him. Jesus knows living on this earth is no easy task. Humans are far better at destruction than learning to co-exist. Jesus knows the Holy week of our lives too. Jesus is with us in it through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus understands all the human emotions we have been having these past weeks. It’s important to know this for the next time we feel big feelings –frustration, anger, disappointment, despair, and complacency — just to name a few. Just as the incarnation is God coming to us, the crucifixion is God being one of us in all things including suffering. And because of this, I can face tomorrow too. Happy Palm Sunday, folks. I miss you terribly and you are not alone. Stay safe, wash your hands, make a mask if you have to leave the house and support your local businesses! Holy Week doesn’t last forever!
Saturday, April 431, 2020
Lost — Luke 15
What day is it? Did we eat lunch? Why does today feel like it is crawling by? When was the last time we checked the mail? Do I need to clear the snow on the driveway if I am not going anywhere? What is the next task? How hasn’t laundry slowed down when all we are doing is spending days in our PJ’s and leggings? How can one extra meal daily require so so so many more dishes? Has this dog always been this needy? Today I find myself lost to my own devices. I literally can’t keep track or keep up anymore! I just feel lost!
There’s a few lost and found stories in the Bible – lost sheep, lost coin, lost son – to name a few. What they all have in common is that in each of them God is doing the acting — God is seeking out the lost and finding them! It is important I think in this time of uncertainty to remember that our responsibility ends when we have done our best. God’s responsibility is to find and seek out the rest. I take comfort today in a God who seeks us out — who doesn’t let us stay lost in whatever we are in — maybe for you it is loneliness, despair, confusion, fear or anger. God will not let us stay there! I had an elderly colleague some years back who always said, “This too shall pass – you weren’t born that way and God won’t let you stay that way!”. I find myself surprisingly comforted by that. This is all for a time — not forever and whatever we are experiencing trust that God will seek you out and find you — God certainly won’t let you stay there! I may not know whether it is AM or PM but I do know that God will find me! Whew – that makes one less thing to figure out! Now where are all my clothes?
Friday, April 3,2020
Storm — 1 Kings 19
Well that winter storm in the spring here in ND was fun!? Who wants to go roll in that crunchy mess? There are lots of storm stories in the Bible. Job somehow survives one, Jonah survives one too, Jesus calms the storm at sea, but perhaps my favorite has the trifecta of storms in it. (And a whiny Elijah too!) It seems Elijah had had enough. The prophet gig was too much for him and so he laments and tries to starve himself and God instructs him to stand on the mountain and wait for God. And Elijah endures wind, earthquake, fire and then silence. God shows up in the silence with instructions and sends more sustenance for the journey ahead.
And God doesn’t shout but comes to Elijah in a whisper. As I sit here drinking my coffee, reading my devotion and looking out at all the snow, I pray for God to show up in the silence where my soul is most restless. But too often I am not willing to wait in the silence. Too often I don’t have the time or enough patience to sit and wait. I do today. I choose today to be present in the silence and hold space for God. I wonder what God has to say?
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Uncertainty – Philippians 4:6-7
“I don’t know” seems to be the only phrase I am confident enough to say these days. Will I have to celebrate my May birthday in quarantine? I don’t know. When will we get to see our cousins again? I don’t know. How long do we really have to do this? I don’t know. What happens when we run out of toilet paper? I don’t know. When we get to leave the house will my favorite place still be open? I don’t know. I know that “I don’t know” is not all that comforting. But lying doesn’t feel appropriate either and frankly I don’t have the energy to think of lies or remember them. “I don’t know” seems to be the most truthful and faithful response.
My kids have slowly stopped asking the bigger questions and focused on the smaller ones probably because, the next phrase that comes out of my mouth is, “Why don’t you pray about it?” When they don’t like my answer of “I don’t know”, I am not sure what else to say so prayer seems like the only other logical step.
When I don’t know, I am trying to trust that God does. I am leaving my uncertainty with God. It is too big for me to hold these days. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” the Paul tells the Phillipians. Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving are my only weapons at the moment. And I am asking everyone around me to use them, too! Daily I am holding onto the slivers of peace I get that sustain me for today. Uncertainty is all around us but I am choosing to entrust my heart and mind to God in Christ Jesus. What uncertainty is eating away at you? Have you prayed about it?
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Surprise — Isaiah 43:19-21
I am not one for surprises. I have never liked the idea of being surprised by a surprise even if such things are seemingly harmless. What if I react badly? What if I say something inadvertently and offend someone? What if my face doesn’t obey my brain and I look disappointed and hurt someone? What if I get so surprised I pee my pants? Honestly, these are the things I think about when someone suggests a surprise is on its way!
So, today April Fools Day is one of my least favorite days of the year. It’s made worse today by feeling trapped in my home with prank monsters. I try to take them in stride — the old rubberband around the sink sprayer in the kitchen routine — but I am always the one who looks like the fool or yells an expletive! If I’m being honest though, I actually don’t like surprises because I really like control.
Control is the first thing you learn to let go of when you begin to follow Jesus. When you allow yourself the ability to follow and be human and let God be God there is a bit of a shift and if feels like some weight is lifted. I didn’t come into this knowledge or way of being willingly. I came to the letting go process kicking and screaming. And quite frankly, I have to keep returning to it again and again because I am in no way perfect at it. What I notice when I let go and let God is I no longer have all the responsibility or blame anymore. I notice that I can look at the coincidences of life and learn to suspect God is behind that little surprise. I even get to take back some of the joy of surprises! Today, I am going to try to just let go — of my need to not get wet, my unwillingness to look silly or a fool, my inability to laugh at myself — and live into the freeing notion that I am but a human and God is God. Frankly this Covid 19 thing should put to bed any notions of feeling like we humans have got things under control! So today I challenge you to join me in letting go and letting God! See what happens! You may be surprised!
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Follow — Matthew 4:19; 16:24; 19:28
Christianity is not a thing you do or a club you belong to or a way of thinking but a lifestyle. It always has been. Some of you do it better than us. But it certainly isn’t a competition either, which ironically and tragically we in the Western World have made it. Denominationalism is the very result of our “Enlightenment” habit of worshiping Jesus and arguing about the best way to do it. You know what is amazing though? Never even once does Jesus say, “worship me” but he does ask us to follow.
It is funny to me how I have survived these last two weeks with things I take for granted as needing — Starbucks, browsing the aisles of Target when I need a break, makeup, the right outfit, a treat from Dairy Queen — just to name a few.
If Christianity is a lifestyle — a way of being in the world that is loving, non-violent, simple and shared, we sure have made it into a religion unto itself and forgot to do the lifestyle change! Think about it, you can be racist, warlike, greedy, vain and selfish and still believe that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior and take the sacraments and never have to sacrifice a thing! I wonder what will change when things go back to “normal”. Maybe this Global Pandemic will be for us the Great Lifestyle Change we need. The world certainly has no more time for such silliness now. The suffering on earth is too great – even without a Global Pandemic! How will you follow Jesus differently now?
Monday, March 30, 2020
Grace — 2 Corinthians 12:9 & Romans 6:1-2
“Whew! That was a rough weekend! I am not sure I can fully understand all the dynamics that went into it but it sure felt like I lived a month in those two days. I can’t even say for sure if we all made it out of the weekend unscathed! But what I do know is that Grace toward one another and toward ourselves in this house did not abound! Grace was lacking. Only God’s grace prevailed and it has kept us around for a new week ahead.
True grace is always costly because it is sacrificial. It wouldn’t be grace if it wasn’t. Grace toward another is always going to ask you to sacrifice something — time, pride, money, resources, trust, perseverance of will, love, sleep, name it. True grace toward another costs you something, even if miniscule in perspective. Which is why grace towards ourselves is the hardest of all! It’s a give and take within one’s self. But oh how we need to be gracious to ourselves, especially when the world has been turned upside down! Just as our neighbor needs our grace, so do we. You my friend, will not be your perfect self in these days ahead. You will do unhelpful things, say stupid things, repost dumb things on Facebook, forget to call someone, forget to wash your hands, spend too much time worrying, eat too much and yell at the people you love. You will do all this and more and that is why you need to be gracious with yourself because God knows you are only human. The trick is not to keep doing it.
So be gracious and gentle with yourselves and others, my friends. We are in a marathon and not a sprint, we need grace to abound! May it be so this week for all of you as I pray it is for me!
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Vulnerable – Matthew 25:31-46
Today I find myself a bit frustrated. Have we always been this selfish? Are humans naturally selfish and have to be taught altruism? Is there such a thing as a servant heart from birth? As in any crisis I have always believed that it will bring out the best or the worst in people. I find myself wanting to scream at my neighbors whose kids are playing with other kids in and outside their homes during this time of a viral pandemic. I find myself biting my tongue when people are driving all over God’s creation, in and out of stores looking for toilet paper! (Read the news friends – Mondays at the buttcrack of dawn – pun intended is when you need to be at your box stores to score you some!) I listen in agony to people saying to me that coffee and ice cream are essential services. Maybe the world has gone mad?
My friends, we are not hunkering down and staying inside, working from home and scrambling to figure out online schooling because it sounds like a fun idea and then when it gets a little tough or inconveniences us then we don’t have to do it anymore. These guidelines and precautions are for the least among us and probably don’t have anything to do with you or me except that they do! The whole point is trying to protect the least among us and to not overwhelm the healthcare system so that when the least of these needs care or God forbid we find that we have become the least of these, then we can get the care we need.
I fully admit that I am in the grumpy — can’t we all just follow the rules — stage of my home quarantine. Yet, I hope you never have to see your child intubated, or your loved one hooked up to oxygen for the rest of their lives, or your grandparent die from a virus and not old age. So I guess I am begging us all to take this seriously. So stay home, wash your hands, stay socially connected but physically distant and think not about yourselves but the least among us. Just for the time being because you never know when you or someone you hold dear may become the least among us. End rant! And Monday’s post will be on “thou shall not judge lest you be judged!”
Saturday, March 28, 2020
Joy — Psalm 30
“Weeping may last the night, but joy comes in the morning”, says the Psalmist. In the midst of these most uncertain days I thought I would struggle to find the joy. But you want to know a secret? True joy is all around us because God is all around us! On my walk this morning, it was certainly cold but the sun was peaking out and it made all the difference. I could have focused on the cold — that would have been easier but God was persistent in showing me the simple joy of the sun in spring. When I focused on the joy, I felt even more — birds singing, the smell of spring approaching, the joy the dog exuded being somewhere other than our yard!
I don’t know why we as a community, nation and planet are going through this Pandemic but what if one of the results of it is that we learn to look for the joy a bit more often? What if we learn to appreciate the joy all around us? God has and always will provide it and what if now we are honing our skills for joy? For finding joy in the little, ordinary and everyday things. I wonder what will happen today when I look for the joy more often than the struggle? I wonder what joy you will find?
Friday, March 27, 2020
Lament — Psalm 88 & 90
Yesterday I needed a tire fixed and had to wait in a room with a TV that had the news scrolling through at top speed. It is amazing what you notice after taking a hiatus from the news reel since Lent began. I tried to look at my phone so as not to break my Lenten fast but I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the mass hysteria it was reporting. I came home kind of numb. For those of you watching the news all day, how in the world do you get anything else done?
Sleep eluded me last night and so I took the advice of my Spiritual Director and prayed the Psalms. It was just what I needed! After seeing all that chaos, pain and panic in real time, my heart needed to LAMENT. Laments in scripture do more than just communicate painful emotions, the Psalms especially are a journey of the soul — an act of faith. They are forms of worship when they couldn’t worship together.
While I read through the Psalms last night, I thought about health care workers in the richest country in the world having to reuse homemade masks. I lamented with people who are postponing weddings or those unable to be with family members who are very sick with other ailments. I lamented about all the people who must feel scared and alone or all the children who are missing friends at school or being little tyrants because they don’t know how to communicate their feelings. I lamented parents who are not equipped to be homeschooling their children or having their children around 24/7 and teachers who are having to spend even more time teaching our kids. I lamented missing my own friends and feeling like a failure in this new technological frontier. The list goes on and on. It was cathartic as it was faithful.
Needless to say, it is certainly ok to lament. This is all hard stuff. None of us is immune to the consequences or the realities of it. Yet, do not forget to read the ends of each Psalm. They are reminders too of a God who is faithful. I needed to hear that too! I certainly didn’t want to stay in Lament and you shouldn’t either. God is faithful and faith in God is an act of trust in that very statement.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Gratitude — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have to work at keeping perspective when it comes to gratitude. I am a cup half empty kind of gal. Yet, I have to be honest when it comes to this staying at home situation — it could be so much worse! I mean many of us are hanging out at home, still able to work from home, learning new technologies, reading, writing, eating out of a stocked fridge and freezer, or ordering delivery from our favorite small businesses and able to at least communicate with our loved ones.
Not to be “Debbie Downer” but I think of all the people who have been in refugee camps from the Syrian war who are waiting in fear for someone to get sick and the whole camp is threatened. I think of people in Sudan who are already facing a famine. I think of kids at the border in detention centers on mats or people in overcrowded prisons. I think of the woman in Ohio who died of the Coronavirus at home alone because she was scared of the medical bills (in the richest nation in the world no less).
So when I am ready to complain about my kids not listening, or my fear of running out of toilet paper, or my perpetually messy house with a never ending pile of dishes, I need people like you to remind me of the words from Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances”. What are you grateful for today?
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Love — 1 Peter 4:7-11
Today people will finally see what the girls and I have been working on in our “spare” time! We decorated our two tiny front windows of our duplex with hearts! The movement #aworldofhearts has some 218,000 followers on Facebook and the goal is simple: decorate your windows to the outside world with hearts so passersby can see that we are in this together! Cool idea and you don’t have to ask me twice to do some decorating! I can’t wait to post my pics of our windows! It reminded me of this scripture from 1 Peter which if you dare read the whole chapter you may feel like the author is talking to us today but the whole point the author is trying to make, I think is summed up in verse 8 — “Above all, love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sin.”
When we look back on this time — an unprecedented time in our lifetimes as not every generation gets to say they lived through a Global Pandemic — I pray that it is remembered by how well we loved one another and not its destruction. I pray when we look back on 2020 we can say, “Yep that was sure awful but wasn’t it glorious how the sewers of the world made masks for hospital staff?” I hope we can remember this as a time we collectively, “obeyed the law because we loved our neighbor and not out of fear of retribution.” I hope we can say 10 years from now, “Wow, remember 2020 — people died but the human spirit of love was resurrected.” Fear doesn’t cover sin only Love — real LOVE does that!
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Anxiety — Matthew 6:25-34
When I was younger, probably from the age of four until the age of ten, my favorite spot in the whole world was in my grandparents’ burnt orange Lazyboy recliner rocker. If I was ever scared or anxious, needed reassurance or comfort, that chair and my continued rocking forcefully in it seemed to somehow calm me down. I could read and rock in that thing for hours! With one leg tucked under the knee of the other, allowing my big toe to push me off, it comforted me and felt like a security blanket. I think about that chair often and find myself always gravitating to a rocking chair when I have a choice in any room. In these most uncertain times, I find myself more anxious. In my prayers each morning, I pray for wisdom, clarity, focus, productivity and calm. I read once that “Anxiety is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” Isn’t that the truth! At my best, I can channel my anxiety into productivity and plans for the future. But at my worst, my anxiety is paralyzing and makes me feel helpless. I am unable to fathom Jesus’ words in this passage: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
In the midst of these times of physical distancing (thank you AJ for the reminder of what it really is) and a world that seems like it is collapsing around us, I draw new meaning and comfort from those words of Jesus — Today’s trouble is enough for today. It is so wise. It is the very philosophy behind AA and the Twelve Steps and the very reason you are asked to focus on breathing or just one thing when you are having an anxiety attack. The big picture, full of unknowns can seem pretty overwhelming and scary but if we do the next right thing we can stop rocking and start moving farther! One day at a time — Today’s trouble is enough for today!
Monday, March 23, 2020
Promises — Genesis 9:8-17
Yesterday we participated in “Chalk Your Walk” a national endeavor to get people out of the house for a bit. The idea is that you draw pictures and put encouraging messages on your sidewalk so your neighbors can see and know that we are in this Pandemic together. The other part of the idea is to actually take a walk and look at your neighbors’ messages. I did both and for the first half of the walk I was thinking how I must have missed the date for this thing or perhaps there was a shortage of chalk I didn’t know about yet. I was close to tears as I rounded the third block, but at the back of the subdivision a lone sidewalk held this message: “There are no rainbows without the rain” with a nearly washed away rainbow next to it. It wasn’t the message or even the artwork that got me in the gut it was the fact that another person(s) participated and suddenly I didn’t feel so alone. Jesus promises that where just two (or three) are gathered, He will be among us. God is with us folks — of this I’m sure. God is in the midst of our isolation and in our bold and quirky acts of rebellion about that isolation! But God is with us. As we start another week of quarantine, I am clinging closely to those things that remind me we are not alone — chalked sidewalks, phone calls from friends, and God’s promises. What are you clinging to this week?
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Rest — Matthew 11:28-30
What if we used out time indoors to get true rest. I am not just talking about physical rest, although the statistics in the US are pretty convincing that we need more than what we are getting, I’m talking about soul rest. I don’t think Jesus was talking about physical rest when he said pretty clearly, “you will find rest for your souls”. The only way I know how to stop the rat race in my brain is sit and listen for God. It means spending time in prayer and solitude with God. I don’t know how you may find it if your house is a busy place these days with everyone home, but I know I find it in the morning as I steep my coffee and settle in for my daily devotions. It is there that I breathe and let God’s Holy Spirit wash over me. It is in those moments of silence, I let my anxiety about the day ahead, the regrets about yesterday and the fear of tomorrow flow toward the Creator of it all. I am finding I need this now more than ever.
I have a friend who is holding me accountable to this practice and she is trying out centering prayer and she complains that she keeps falling asleep. Prayer is hard work, ya’ll! But somehow I don’t think God minds. I liken it to when a baby falls asleep in our arms. Doesn’t it mean they feel safe enough and trust enough that you won’t let them go? It is like that with God too! God just wants to spend time holding you and your burden so you can rest a while. Why fight it? Rest.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Routine — Genesis 1
I don’t know about you and your house, but I have been kind of willy nilly about a routine of any kind. I have justified it because, I was busy with work things, the kids were stressed out wondering about school and the world they inhabit and frankly our routine was off. I let it go. But we are wired for routines. It literally makes nearly everyone feel safer. My kids have enjoyed sleeping in, going to bed late, eating when they are hungry (snacks – so many snacks) and crafting, reading and fighting on demand. (I have enjoyed working from my bed, drinking coffee ALL day long, following social media too much, and eating cake for breakfast.) Our dog is also taking advantage of this state of being by ringing the bell to go outside, just for fun about 30 times a day! SO TODAY IS THE DAY! How did God organize chaos? God created and in that creation God separated the night from the day, ordered the days, rested on the seventh day. God brought order out of chaos with a routine. Now I am not delusional, I am certainly not God. But I already feel less anxious with even the promise of a routine in place.
My prayer for you all is that you begin to hit your stride in this social distancing and staying home situation. May God grant you patience and wisdom to discern what is right for you and your household. May God give you the self-discipline to make it happen. And finally, may you find that your stride and routines calm your anxious souls so that you can focus on family, work, hobbies, or whatever you busy yourself with in these days. Amen.