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There are times in our lives when we find ourselves at the end. We have tried and tried to do the right thing, or to make a difference, and we keep running into the same walls over and over again, and we have nothing left, so we give up. We quit caring. We drop the ball(s).
That is where I was last April when the pediatrician had given me explicit instructions on how to change our lifestyle while it still could make a difference for our children, before we set our children on a path to self-destruction they could not change, and when discussing it with my husband we could not agree on a path to do that together. So, I quit. I quit trying to manage our food. I quit trying to eat the right things. I quit trying to encourage outside activities. I quit trying to limit our TV. I quit.
In the next three months I gained 10 pounds. Then we moved and I started serving a new church and in the next five months I gained 15 – 20 more pounds. That’s a whole 3-4 year old child I was now carrying because I had quit caring.
In January, three of my best friends, people with whom I have been in covenant to keep marriage in a clergy couple a priority, three of my best girl-friends and I made a bet. Starting February 1st (yes, Super Bowl Sunday), we would spend eight weeks getting healthier. We each put $20 in a pot and whoever looses the highest percentage of total weight at the end of eight weeks gets the pot.
Every day, we have had contact via Facebook private message. Every day we have checked in and made a priority to be in contact and to be accountable to one another to make a change. Every day. For almost four weeks we have lived this covenant. We have shared recipes, and exercise ideas and challenges. We have become FitBit friends. We have seen each other through church votes and funerals and winter weather and recovery from surgery. We have talked each other down from the ledge and we have lifted each other out of the pit. This gift has saved my life. It has saved all of our lives.
Then there was a turn. This little bet that started as, “let’s see if this will be an incentive, because obviously getting healthy is not enough of an incentive,” has moved from being a friendly competition to saving our lives and growing our friendships to actually being life-giving. Each of us can tell a story of someone who has been inspired by our commitment. Each of us can tell a story of how this has been hard and sometimes it seems impossible, but the support of our sisters has made it possible. Each of us can tell the story of how because of this moment God is moving through our actions and teaching us to be intentional about the stewardship of our bodies. Each of us can tell the story of how this love is not just life saving, it is life-giving.
Today I am blessed because I have found a place to be accountable and to be connected. They matter to me and to my being and I matter to them. What an incredible relationship to find in ministry which has the potential to be isolating and soul sucking if we do not find the blessing and the moving, breathing Spirit that gives life.
Thank you God, for good friends, for your love and the example you give when we will listen and pay attention to your leading. Thank you!
P.S. Today – not quite four weeks in, I’m down over 9 pounds! May God continue to be a blessing!
Tonight on our walk
the air was warm at first
still my arms were cold
not too cold, cause I didn’t want a jacket
then I realized there was a breeze
Like sea-breeze whipping around the trees and the houses
We walked along and the breeze blew
it was a nice feeling like a hug and a power I didn’t understand
it was comforting
warmed my insides
Then I realized, it was wind
wind like breath whipping around me
begging me to come play
to let my hair blow in its breeze
It was wind
Like a flood memories filled my mind
Wind like sea-breeze
bringing all the memories of beach walks and play
On St. Simons as a child
noticing the light house
catching sand dollars
hunting sea shells
in the marsh
watching dolphins, cranes, gulls, sea grass
I remember the year, my sister
still an infant, lungs still developing
we went to the beach but couldn’t stay
the wind took her breath away
wind and breath
the power and the holy
breath and wind
I remember walks at Laguna
bon fires at Huntington
the waves were electric
burgers at Ruby’s on the pier
I needed a sweatshirt
As we walked tonight in the Autumn breeze
past the pond with the fountain
the wind was wet and cool
the leaves having released from their trees
crackled as they blew across the grass
across the sidewalk
across the road
I was keenly aware of the breeze the wind and its message to me
Tonight before our walk a long Elders meeting that followed a day full of funeral
I was tired
but the wind spoke to me and said something is moving
this is exciting
something is happening
our discussion tonight of God’s timing
I was meant for this call and this congregation was meant for me
at this time and in this place
something is moving
the breeze, the wind
something is moving
Like on the morning when the apostles
the sent were overwhelmed by the sound of wind rushing
and flames danced on their heads as they spoke good news to the curious
On our walk I am on fire
just over taken by the flame
by the wind
by the Spirit
the time is coming
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!