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Does anyone else look up from their phone or computer and feel like the world is falling apart at the seams? Between disease, war/armed conflict, living breathing racism, and heightened awareness of depression that leads to suicide, I’m just not sure I have words for how to address all of this.
Enter the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge…in less than a month ALS Association has raised over $88.5 million by initiating a social media challenge based on a “pay it forward” kind of approach. People were challenged one to three at a time to either dump ice water on their head or pay $100 to ALSA in a 24 hour period. The idea became to raise awareness of the disease, the need for research, the care for families living with this disease, and also to raise money. It quickly changed from either ice water or donate to donate and ice water or $100.
Out of the enormous success of this social media storm there have been friends of mine who have taken the opportunity to raise awareness about other underfunded diseases, making a donation to ALSA and to support other causes. I was challenged by a high school friend (along with the rest of our high school class) to donate Nikki’s Army. At 37 years old, our dear friend Nikki Adcock Williams who is a law professor, wife, and mom of two still in grade school, was diagnosed with Multiple Myloma. This link will help to defray the costs of her health care.
I was also challenged by a seminary friend to donate to Families of SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophe). A couple we went to seminary with lost their first child to this genetic disease. Researchers believe they may be close to preventing this disease, and they are working on treatments and therapies to help families living with the disease. Still the sadness of their loss that is still a struggle, is not forgotten. We have not forgotten Sarah Ann, and we pray for the grief of her family who are making a difference for so many other families touched by this disease.
Don and I are giving to both of these meaningful ministries. But with the opportunity to shed light on other ministries, I could not pass up the chance to invite others to living generously all the time. You see, I don’t think anyone at ALSA could have foreseen what kind of generosity could have come from a friendly awareness competition challenging one another to out-do friends, family, and colleagues in giving a one time donation in a short deadline. I’m sure they were hopeful, but I’m guessing they didn’t expect to raise over $80 million (so far). But look at the difference that was made by a few challenging/inviting another few to bring awareness to a problem, and welcoming people to help with a cure. Anyone who donated changed this disease a little. Anyone who brought attention to the disease changed this disease a little, and all together, this money is going to change the world a little. Imagine if this challenge actually funds research to eradicate this disease. Imagine if we could do that with other diseases. Now imagine if we could eradicate hunger, and provide clean water around the world.
Speaking of this, I will also be making a donation to Week of Compassion who works with Church World Service to provide access to clean water to those in the world with out access to clean water, and who also only keep 6-8 cents of every $1 for administrative costs (so they are effective stewards of the gifts they are given).
Imagine if we could help to lower the fear between the races in our county and build up trust? What might happen if we could claim our history and understand that because we see with our eyes and hear with our ears we treat others differently even if we don’t mean to. What might happen if as white people we tried to live in solidarity with our African-American brothers and sisters and understood that life in this country is different for people of color not because people of color are poor or ignorant or talk funny or shoot each other or are trouble makers or are criminals, but life is different for people of color because we see color and we associate stereo types even if we don’t mean to, even if we don’t want to. And simply because of that, white people live with a privilege we don’t ask for and don’t want, but don’t want to give up either. What might happen if we believed we could eradicate racism and we actually looked for ways to heal it rather than blaming people of color for the problem? We could make a difference if we chose to understand the problem and its history. For that reason I am also going to make a donation to Reconciliation Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who are working to reconcile the races in our churches and in our country and who are actively anti-racist.
Imagine what might happen if we tried to understand the conflict in Iraq and befriended Iraqi people in our country rather than fearing them. What would happen if we sought to be in peaceful relationship learning from one another rather than expecting “them” to learn “our” language (as though we own English). It might not put an end to ISIL, but it would bring us a long way to changing the narrative of “fear the other,” that is being passed around our country.
Finally, imagine what might happen if we talked about depression, not as something to be ashamed of, but as something that makes people brave. What might be different for young people and older alike who are struggling with the darkness of depression and anxiety if we actually supported one another giving permission to feel and also avenues for help? How many lives could be saved and productive in the world if we would actually take responsibility for our children and young people for our adult relationships and our elderly who are losing hope? And instead of shaming suicide understanding how desperate one is for relief. Instead of blaming family and friends and teachers and colleagues for not knowing, what if we prayed with them and gave them space to grieve out loud and not in shame? What if we gave them space to be support for others who struggle and suffer so that maybe another family will not have to lose their loved one? So my last donation for this work will be to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in honor of Nik Prichard, whom I did not know, but I know his parents and I know that his family misses him desperately, and I remember their pain.
What I am really trying to get at with all of this imagining is that as a person of faith I understand that I have been abundantly blessed by God with more than enough to share. That is not to say I am rich (though I think that is relative to where you live to a certain extent), but it is to say I am richly blessed. And in light of how God has blessed me and my family the only way I know to respond to God’s grace and blessing is to be generous in return and forward. I am prayerful that this joy of competition and awareness for ALS will show us what we can do even with small gifts. When they are put together they make a big difference. We can make a big difference. So if you have been blessed, richly blessed take a moment to thank God and share some of your blessings. Maybe we can change the world.
They are filled with promise and opportunity. Still they are fraught with bumps and turns getting settled and learning new ways.
I’ve been absent from my blog for a long while, because I have not been able to write what I wanted to write and that made it difficult to write anything. I couldn’t write about the struggles I faced with leadership in the last church I served. I couldn’t write about the difficult, life-sucking tension of living in the two worlds of search and call. I couldn’t write about my fears and my faith related to these things because they might reveal that I was in discernment. It’s the first rule of search and call…you can’t tell anyone you are searching for fear of losing what income you do have. Not to mention not being able to complete the ministry you are leading.
Because I couldn’t write about what was meaningful, I certainly couldn’t write about fluff. So I wrote a few journals, and I talked to a counselor, and friends and colleagues, and I got back to the work of ministry in the context where I was.
Even as I write these words, I am aware that there may be those who are hurt to know I was in discernment for as long as I was (21 months). It’s a long time to be living in the in-between; with one foot in and one foot out; constantly reminding myself that I have to be the pastor in the context I am in until I’m not there anymore.
That being said, I am now settling into a new pastorate in a new setting. I am fascinated and drawn in by the long history of this congregation. I am thrilled with the promise of the diversity of this community and of the potential for diversity in this congregation. This week at Vacation Bible School we have welcomed between 8-10 Iraqi children (several of whom don’t speak much English). We have welcomed two Indian children whose parents are Hindu, but who wanted to learn about Jesus. One of the songs we have been singing this week is that “God’s grace is enough…” The practice of hospitality in this place has been and is delightful.
That is not to suggest perfection. There is a lot of work to do. But the beginning is filled with promise and opportunity and fraught with bumps and turns of learning new ways. This is true for me as the pastor and it is true for the congregation who has discerned God’s call to invite me to be their pastor. We are all looking to the promise of what can be, and we are discerning the change that comes with what is new.
What continues to amaze me is God’s intentional movement through ministry and call. For each yes that led my family and me to Kettering, Ohio, the timing was exactly right. Had anything been too early or too late, this calling might not have come together. But because God is good and God’s timing is amazing, we have been called together in a new ministry and God’s movement continues to be amazing.
Thank You, God for Your blessings of timing, for Your vision that leads forward, for Your reminder that Grater things are still to come, for Your promise that even in Your constant ways You are making all things new. Your blessings amaze me and undergird me, may Your blessings bring healing and wholeness to this community and bear fruit worth sharing. Thank You! I praise You! I am blessed by You! Thank You!
The winter has been rough on many levels. The weather is the most tangible and obvious brutality this season. Temperatures in below zero degrees Fahrenheit on multiple occasions. I’m a southern girl, and I am not used to that. After one good snow, I’m good, so the multiple accosting of several inches of snow has been oppressive. Not to mention the days the children have missed in school, which is hard on them and their families who are trying to maintain routine. It throws everything off when there are cancellations of what was expected. This winter has also seen two funerals in our congregation, as well as the deaths and health concerns of friends of friends, and beloved celebrities. Not to mention the flu!
Now, before you think I’m just complaining, please know, I’m describing this experience so you can understand the ethos out of which this post is written. This kind of stress, for some is no big deal, just roll with the punches, right? But for all the similar tweets and Facebook posts that have echoed this sentiment all season, I have a sense that many are sharing the feeling of being under attack this season. (And that’s not even from the people who have lost power or been without enough resources.) It feels like a prolonged crisis.
At one point I related it to pregnancy. There is a moment in most healthy pregnancies where mommy-to-be begins to need to be done being the incubator. Everything begins to get really uncomfortable and yet there are still a few weeks to go. And mommy’s mind/hormones begin to play tricks on her so that she begins to wonder if this will ever end, really, ever!?! The logical part of the brain understands that new life is just on the other side of those few weeks, but the emotional brain says this is never going to change, you are going to have to get used to living this way. That’s been this winter.
In light of that sense of dread; parenting, partnering in relationship with my spouse, even leading in ministry has been less than the best. (This brings up another conversation about what our goals are: to be the best? But I’ll leave that for another blog…maybe.) The heavy weight of, “what else could go wrong?” has shadowed the message we just celebrated a few weeks ago of “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” It’s exhausting living with that kind of constant change and inability to get back to some healthy routine. It’s like a stubborn elephant has plopped itself down in your way and there is nothing to do but wait.
Here is what I’ve learned from this winter:
1) It WILL end. The last two days have brought temperatures high enough to melt the snow off of the concrete and asphalt, twice. That is promising. Routine will return, thus we need to be ready when it comes, otherwise the new routine of chaos will become the way things are done.
2) Blessing breaks are essential. On one particularly difficult morning I found myself excessively complaining. I sat down in that moment and named 10 things for which I am thankful. It changed my whole attitude. If you are going to make it through the higher stress times (particularly if they feel like crisis) you have to take time to consider your blessings, otherwise your complaints will rule you.
3) Take time to welcome the love. In the frustration of cabin fever next to a week of too many evenings away from home, next to a week with stomach sickness, tensions can run high. Wills can become stubborn. Feelings can be sensitive. And then there is what the children feel. When your children want to snuggle, say, “yes” even if they are challenging your authority, say “yes.” This connection eases your (and their) tension. The physical touch releases endorphins that calm the stress. Along that same line of thinking, when your spouse wants to be romantic, say, “yes.” Not because you are in the mood, but because the physical and emotional connection will dispel some of the feelings of being overwhelmed and it will remind you both that you are partners in this life together.
4) The mountains in front of you are just an illusion. Everything that becomes overwhelming in the midst of a crisis is a matter of perspective. Some things take time and need to sit on a shelf for awhile, but most things are not as big as they seem. If you work on them a little at a time, you can accomplish small goals to accomplish your bigger ones. Take your challenges one day at a time. And those days of failure, do not make you a failure, they make you human. Humans are not made to live in constant crisis. Give yourself room to fail, or even just fall backwards. You can try again tomorrow.
5) Find an accountability partner. If you have someone who will work with (probably not a spouse or parent or child), to set small goals, there is a sense of moving toward your goal because someone else cares if you are making progress. They can help you be realistic about your choices, and they can support you on your off days. They can also challenge you when you are not pushing hard enough.
6) Set priorities. The most important things on you list of priorities should get the most of your attention. It’s as simple as that. If it’s not a priority put it on the shelf or get rid of it all together.
7) Pray. This is your most humble and your most confident space. In God’s hands you will remember you are important to God, and you will also remember you are not God. God is good, and you are being prepared, equipped for something yet to come.
Here’s to spring, and new life resurrected from frozen winter.
There has been a lot of “buzz” (HA!) about the song by Ylvis called “What Does the Fox Say?” And I will admit, my family has gotten a kick out of singing it and then trying to get it out of our heads. In fact, we don’t even say the name of the song anymore, simply because it is that catchy. By the way, you’re welcome for offering you that song-in-the-head for the day.
Disclaimer: I am not someone who studies sound or the science of sound, nor am I someone who studys the human auditory system or even the social and humanities related to sounds. I am an observer of sound and of people, and at times, of animals, and these are some things I’ve been thinking about lately.
As creatures, sound is a part of our communication and if not audible sound, vibration is a part of that. It was interesting to me to consider what the fox says, in connection with the things humans and animals and the earth communicate without words, but simply sounds. We communicate joy, satisfaction, pleasure, pain, sorrow, all with primal deep vibrating sounds. Sometimes we don’t even control those sounds.
I was preaching one time during a chapel service in seminary and there was a baby in the front of the sanctuary, who was a little fussy. The moment she took her first draw off of her bottle, she released a sound that communicated satisfaction. I knew that was what it meant because I had made that sound before, just as we all have. My grandpa used to hum when he was eating something he really enjoyed. I do the same thing, except I kinda dance a little too. Joy and satisfaction expressed in sound.
When I was in labor both times, I found that there was a point at which humming helped to move the baby, and release my pain. It was a low, deep rumble kind of hum, that annoyed Don to no end, but it was quite primal and cathartic for me. That sound expressed pain and hard work.
Recently I have been reminded of the sound of heart ache and disbelief, when a church member died unexpectedly of the flu. He was not a young man, but he was healthy. And I have several friends and family members who would argue that 75 isn’t old, either. No one was prepared to lose him, particularly to something that seems so benign as the flu. He never developed pneumonia. It was just the flu. He’s been gone more than a week, and many of us are still shocked. Sitting that night with the family, the widow in her grief poured out a sound that expressed many things and one thing: pain. She was shocked, and broken-hearted, and overwhelmed, and afraid, and angry, and sad, and grieving, and probably more. She was in pain. And the desire when a creature is in pain is to ease the pain, to bind up the wound, to relieve the hurt, to make it better. But there are times when the only thing we can do is offer comfort. And sometimes that comfort is in the form of silent presence. That same week, this man’s 5-year-old grandson, who lives with his pa and grandma, mom, and sister in the same house, was the one at the visitation and at the memorial service who was able to express his pain in the same way. He wailed that he didn’t want to leave pa, and he wanted to see him again. He cried a heart breaking moan that made us all aware of how much we were hurting too.
Sound is a powerful communicator, and when I am aware of it, I become more keenly attune to the sounds that are around me. The sound of bitter wind as I type this blog, makes me aware of my need to wear a coat. And that reminds me of my gratefulness that I have a warm coat to wear, and that gratefulness reminds me of so many other blessings: a warm house and office with working electricity (knock on wood), good food that is nourishing, the love of a family who supports and cares for and shares joy and sorrow together.
Next time you are hearing a sound that is out of the ordinary, pay attention, and see what you learn about yourself and about creation.
In my daughter’s fifth year she has seen a lot of mile stones. Turning 5 was just the first of those. Starting kindergarten was a big change, but as most young children she dealt with the transition well. We added a once a week half an hour dance class for her this year, and she LOVES it! She wants to dance all the time. Everywhere she is, everywhere she goes she wants to be dancing. In the crowded living room, she’s dancing. At Church, she is dancing. In the grocery aisle, she is dancing. And far too often she is being scolded for doing something she loves.
It’s not that we want to stifle her joy, anything but…however, she still has difficulty considering the consequences of spinning in small spaces, or how spinning will cause falling, or how jumping will cause other things to fall, etc, etc. As a parent, I find myself struggling with how to help her find an outlet for her joy and how to do it safely. Half an hour a week is not proving to be enough. The other things that bring her joy are dramatic play with dolls, or imaginary friends; and learning and then doing the things she has learned on her own. She is eager to try new things. She wants to do more grown up things. Once again I find myself as a parent trying to help her balance between what she is able to do, and letting her fail just enough to make her want to do more, and then there is the level of appropriateness of her actions and choices.
Like her mamma and her grandpa before her, my daughter is a perfectionist. She is eager to learn and to do, but she has little patience for things she cannot accomplish. And what is worse, is that she internalizes her frustration, like her mamma and her grandpa before her. Watching her deal with her frustration both amazes me and concerns me. It amazes me because when she wants to, she is able to calm down and verbalize her frustration and why she feels what she feels. She holds her emotion in check and tells me how she feels about being told “no,” or “stop.”(She is very self-aware.) She becomes the non-anxious presence in the room. (If only I could do that better, I would definitely be a better pastor.) This is a WONDERFUL trait. Still it concerns me because she internalizes her frustration. And I worry about what that is teaching her. As a parent, I didn’t think I would be building a shame bank quite so early in her life.
As a Christian I rely on the images and lessons of scripture to teach me how to live, particularly through the things that are hard. And honestly, there are times when scripture doesn’t help. Still there are times when the wrong scripture will speak in the midst of a situation, and that is all the more difficult. One lesson that jumps out at me is the concept of fearing the Lord. As a teen and a young adult I thought that this lesson was about being afraid of God’s punishment. As I have matured, I understand that 1) consequences for our actions are not punishment from God, and 2) fear of the Lord is about wanting what God wants, not fearing what God will do.
The shame we feel as children and into adulthood is often related to our actions and their consequences in relationship to what we have been taught about what is acceptable and what is not. Another layer to feeling shame is related to control and/or lack of control and our perception of that control. Still shame has a lasting effect, because it doesn’t just hurt the first time it is felt, it hurts over and over again, no matter how many times we try to heal it. So the only way to truly heal shame is to admit our sin/mistakes, and to understand our limits to control the world around us, and finally to accept God’s grace and when appropriate, the grace of others.
What I hope to teach my sweet daughter is built into her beautiful name: Joy, Enough, and Grace. Abagail is her father’s (and my) deepest joy. She is the seed of joy that is planted deep in our hearts, and when she is her truest self that joy grows into bushels of fruit for us to share and feed the world. Her middle names are Dayenu (a Hebrew word meaning: enough/God did more) and Grace. I hope that I can teach A to find joy in enough: enough that looks like fewer toys and clothes and more sharing; enough that leaves room to grow rather than trying to fill the empty spaces with excess; enough that appreciates and is grateful for how very much she already has and how much more God does every day simply because God is God and we are God’s people; enough that appreciates the small moments of God’s presence in our lives in our journeys and in our growing. I hope that I can teach her grace: grace in mistakes and in intentional choices of sin; grace in learning something new and not shaming herself for what she didn’t know; grace in knowing that true love can only grow, it cannot die, and it cannot fade. While God is the only one who loves perfectly, love comes from God and when we give it back and give it away, it grows.
This year I look forward to sharing more moments like this one. Together she and I built her Christmas present, a wooden doll house.
She insisted on sharing in the labor, because she is not deterred from things she can conceive of doing in her mind, and because she wanted to be a part of the creation. Being a girl didn’t figure into the equation of building a doll house. This year I want to avoid teaching her to change her body (because I’m not happy with my own) and instead teach her to love exercise (dancing and walking and running and jumping) and to love vegetables and fruits and to choose sugar only sometimes. This year, I want to teach her about the joy in working a little harder for a few minutes to avoid working really hard for a long time later (cleaning and organizing her room). And I hope in teaching I can learn to model these same behaviors.
This morning I found myself wasting time searching for something that was right in front of me. I know…sounds familiar, right? It was not something that had gotten lost in a pile. It was not something that was just hidden from view, it was literally right in front of me, and I could not see it.
Sometimes these are reminders to slow down and focus.
I was leaving the church where my son attends daycare/preschool. I had started the car and was still in park checking a text on my phone when I accidentally started to bobble my phone and it ultimately fell. As I bobbled my phone it and my hand some how hit the hazard light indicator button. Now, we’ve been driving this car for about five and a half months, and gratefully we have not needed to use the hazard lights. And I could not see the button. I looked everywhere I could think. I am certain I looked directly at it several times and still could not see it.
I ended up pulling out the manuals to see if it would tell me where to find it. It didn’t, at least not in a way I could find that either. I was so frustrated. I didn’t want to drive anywhere with my hazards blinking, but I could not turn them off.
I became very intentional about looking at my surroundings, where a car company might hide such a button in plain view. After staring at the dash and not seeing it, I looked on the steering wheel, around the steering wheel, on the floor, on the gear shift console.
After 15 minutes of looking and almost giving up, (I had my phone in my hand to call Honda and ask where it was), I noticed it. I had seen it so often and it so pleasantly blended into the background, I didn’t see it. It’s was immediately under the radio screen/center console. Right where I had been looking the whole time.
Sometimes the thing we are seeking is right under our noses and we simply can’t see it. We’ve seen it so often and not used it, that it doesn’t register as important information, so we just don’t see it. A small group in my church has been doing the book/Bible study by Rev. Adam Hamilton based on his book ‘Why?’ which explores the nature of God in a hostile world. We’ve discussed why bad things happen to good people. We’ve discussed why it seems God’s doesn’t answer our prayers. We’ve discussed miracles and whether or not they happen. It was the discussion about miracles that led me to the understanding that miracles are in the eye of the beholder…it’s all in one’s perspective.
Sometimes we expect God to do what we want, and when God doesn’t we feel God hasn’t answered our prayers. However, God does not promise to do what we want. God’s promise is to sustain us with what we need. This is a two-part conversation. Part of this conversation is about doing our part in following God’s plan, and part of this conversation is about changing our expectations and our perspective. (My next blog is going to be about our expectation that God will do miracles without human involvement. The Harry Potter complex.) If I expect God to intervene when I am too busy to listen to God, and I am too distracted to see God’s work, and I am too anxious to wait on God’s timing, how could I possibly see what God has placed right in front of me? If I am too over-exerted to engage with God in a prayer conversation on a regular basis, if that is not a priority in my faith journey, how can I expect to see and hear God when I am in the midst of crisis?
It is not God’s nature to break into human interaction to fix our poor decisions, or to remove our suffering. On the other hand, 1. when we are open to being used by God and 2. when we are intentional about paying attention to what is happening around us, seeing the details: that is when we will see God’s work in the world.
I often wonder how much of God’s work I miss. It is helpful to be reminded then, that sometimes we miss things right in front of us, because we have forgotten how to look for them. Maybe we need a little more practice at paying attention.