Pain and Suffering, Grace and Healing

I was blessed this Sunday to be a vessel for the Word, for the Holy. I am not bragging, I am humbled. And I am only certain of this because of the response I received from people in the congregation. Of course I hope and indeed I pray to be a vessel every Sunday, but what ministers know about worship is we are only human, and sometimes we get in God’s way of speaking what needs to be heard. So I name it as a blessing that I was ready and open to speak a word of truth and hope in the face of pain, brokenness, angerb67aeb490729c11cc0b4a33b726e2a83, hopelessness, fear, negative attitudes, and the like.

Sunday I preached on the text in John 5:2-9, the story about the man who laid ill for 38 years waiting to be healed by a spiritual pool, and when Jesus saw the man, Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” This text has been tugging at my heart for a few weeks now because I was finishing a book study with the Elders at our church that ended with this text, and it touched me. “Do you want to be made well?”

There is a certain amount of ourselves that must go into healing. Whether the pain is physical, mental, emotional, or otherwise, our healing requires our participation. Do we want to be made well? If our pain is physical and we go to a doctor for care the Doctor will want to do two things, manage the pain and find the source, likely in that order, unless the source is obvious. One of the things I mentioned in my sermon came from a blog, by Rev. Carey Nieuwhof, about great leaders and their emotional health. He said, “…pain is selfish,” and he used the example of what happens when you stub your toe and how you can’t really think of anything until the pain begins to dissipate. In fact, in that moment, even sitting down is an involuntary response to help ease the pain. So, pain causes us to be self-focused and to turn inward. Physical pain does this to us, but so does mental pain, and emotional pain, and spiritual pain. When we are in pain, we become focused on ending the pain, and that is about the individual experiencing the pain, not those around them. People in pain cause more pain; pointing fingers and blame at others, making everything personal and painful, because pain makes us more focused on what is good for us than what is good for others or all.

My sermon continued by asking when we are in pain, do we want to be made well? Then we have to participate in our healing. We have to acknowledge, and name our pain, that it is real and find its source. And then we have to stop participating in the behaviors that keep us in pain. Self-medicating does not heal the problem, it only masks the symptoms…temporarily. When the pain is emotional, or spiritual, when it is related to relationships, especially unhealthy relationships there is still self-medication it just looks like creating coping mechanisms. Building emotional walls so no one can ever hurt us again. Masking the symptoms of pain by keeping pain at a distance, but this also keeps love at a distance. When the pain is emotional self-medication comes in forms of (self-)destructive behavior to stop feeling so low and start feeling superior to others. This high is just as fleeting as drug can be. It wears off, and tolerance builds up and it takes more destructive behavior with worse consequences to feel superior. Now it is necessary to find ways to justify the destructive behavior and feel righteous about it and ignore the broken relationships created by it. Then begins the blame game. It’s everyone else’s fault that things are so bad.

Pain causes us to become self-focused. Healing requires acknowledging the pain, not numbing it. Healing requires accepting the pain is real, and then wanting to be made well. We cannot simultaneously heal from pain and continue our abusive behavior. We cannot be made well when we are participating in gossip, and rumors. We cannot be made well when we are participating in continuous negative behavior, holding people at arms length while expecting them to come to us for help. We cannot heal if we refuse to forgive and further refuse to work with others. Now. please hear me…I am not suggesting we need to be vulnerable to abuse (verbal, emotional, spiritual, or physical), but I am saying we also cannot heal while we are holding onto anger and hostility. We keep ourselves imprisoned by our own anger. We have to find healthy ways to let go.

Now here is the good news… In Exodus 3:7-8 God is speaking to Moses through the burning bush and he says, “Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” You see, those of us who believe in God, worship a God who KNOWS OUR SUFFERING. God, knows our suffering. God knows our pain. And God has come down to deliver us. Do we want to be made well?

In the passage from John the man is made well in his faithful act of standing up, taking his mat and walking. Sometimes it takes faith to actually make the first move. And in the moment between Jesus’ instruction to “take up your mat and walk,” and the man’s compliance it took faith for him to try. Sometimes we don’t have the faith to try.

After preaching that message (Well, a lot of that was in my sermon, but not all of it.) I had a man ask if he could talk to me about re-dedicating his life to Christ next Sunday. He has been a long time member of our church but he had fallen away from regular worship because life got in the way for a little while. Since Easter he has been coming back. And this Sunday he wanted to talk to me. He shared that he was originally from Lybia and survived the civil war there. He proceeded to share with me about terrifying pain on all levels, and pain related to fear, in all aspects of life. I simply listened. I received his story. Then he told me that he listened to my sermon and it touched him. He now works as a counselor for mental health and addiction issues. He is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and he helps people deal with their pain. He told me my sermon touched him. I am humbled.

God did that.

God took my willing spirit, God took my open heart, God took my broken heart, and God used me as a vessel through which the Holy Spirit could flow. And pain was touched in a way that healing could begin, again, and continue.smoke form Empty Vessel

Thank you, Jesus for your story and your challenge to us to participate in our healing with you. Help us to be a willing participant in that faithful work. Amen.

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Clergy Couples: Reflections on Health and Well-being

The following is my guest blog for Lexington Theological Seminary

Reverend Liz Faircloth DeWeese and her husband Reverend Don DeWeese are both LTS alums. We’re grateful for Liz’s candid reflection on what that means for their lives, calling and well-being. Liz pastors Central Christian Church, Kettering, OH.

Being healthy and well while living out your calling as an ordained clergy person, especially when you are married to someone else who is living out their calling as an ordained clergy person is not impossible.

But sometimes it will feel that way.

It will feel impossible when you are serving two different congregations in two different towns and you have to make a decision about which church the kids will go to for Christmas Eve? Or do you split them up? It will feel impossible when you have moved households for the fifth time in 8 years and it becomes and act of faith to put pictures on the wall. It will feel impossible when ministry consumes your partner, and you are consumed by ministry and the kid’s still need dinner and homework help. It will feel impossible when you are doing everything you can to teach stewardship and live out stewardship in your own life, but debt and finances are the stress just under the surface that make it hard to sleep at night. It will feel impossible when you and your partner are angry at each other and you’ve forgotten how to talk. It will feel impossible when you feel completely isolated because your friends and family live far away, and you haven’t talked to your mentors in awhile so you feel guilty reaching out, and you don’t want to dump your stress on your partner or even your friends, so you just bury it.

Here is the HOPE…”what is impossible for mortals, is possible for God” Luke 18:27. I’m not just proof-texting here. What I’m trying to say is, ministry is hard work. Being healthy is hard work. Being part of a clergy couple is hard work. Living out your faith with integrity is hard work. But it is not impossible. It will take intentionality. It will take integrity. It will take faith. And it will take love, but not Eros, or Philos. It will take Agape, which requires humility, compassion, trust, hope in what is good, forgiveness, an intent to move into conflict when you want to run away, gratitude.

So how do you set yourself up for success? Set your priorities. The church, and really any service organization will take over and consume your whole life if you let it. You have to set your boundaries and your priorities. What are the important things? Give the important things your attention.

Make sure that rest and delight in creation are a part of those priorities. God’s example of Sabbath teaches us that there is enough time for rest in six days of work. God rested and delighted in creation, so should you.

Be intentional about reaching out to your clergy friends and colleagues, whom you trust. Reach out when they need you. Reach out with life is good and not overwhelming. Then reaching out when you need them won’t feel like such a burden to either of you.

Make your marriage and your family a priority. Hold hands with your partner. Kiss your partner. Tell your partner you love him or her, even if you are mad at him or her. Don’t lie, but find that place inside you where your love is and authentically love him or her. Say you’re sorry, when you are sorry. Find places to bend. We started a bi-annual meeting with colleagues who are also clergy couples to set our marriages as a priority. Find ways to make your marriage a priority. It will help your ministry more than you know.

Practice Spiritual disciplines: pray, study, worship (without leading), tithe, serve, pray. Pray with your partner. Immerse yourself in what is sacred. Call on the power of the Holy Spirit to fill you and drive you. You cannot serve out of an empty tank, so make sure you are getting filled. Build relationships in your church that will not only enable your health and wellness, but will encourage you to take time to study, pray, rest, worship (without leading), tithe, serve, pray.

The text I quoted earlier “What is impossible for mortals, is possible for God” Luke 18:27, is Jesus’ response to the disciples when they ask him, “Then who can be saved?” The disciples asked this question in response to hearing the parable of the young ruler with a lot of stuff whom Jesus told to sell his stuff and give the money to the poor and he went away sad because he had a lot of stuff. Then Jesus tells the disciples it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?”

What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.

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Practice Narrative Budget Mission and Time Study

Final Project Mission and Time Study – Narrative Budget

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from Life SAVING to LIFE-GIVING: what I am learning from my friends

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!

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The Blessing of Enough

I’ve been shopping for clothes for my six-year-old daughter to wear to school this winter, and I am so frustrated! The “skinny jeans” and low-rise fad has made it impossible to find something that fits and will cover her behind.

20110415-_MG_8798_FINAL (This is how these jeans are supposed to fit, with half her backside showing.)


(What are we teaching our daughters? All of our children?)

And in my frustration in shopping for her, I find myself remembering being a young girl whose body type didn’t fit the fads all my friends were wearing, and I am angry. I’m angry at fashion. I’m angry that my daughter, at 6 has to question her body shape, and struggle to find clothes that fit. I’m angry that we put so much pressure on our very little girls to be something that they are not.

At the same time, I have a good friend from my childhood who is very sick. She has a rare cancer that is growing ridicules tumors. Just when she started growing her hair back, now she will lose it again due to new, more intense chemotherapy. She is married and has two young children. All of us who know her are trying to pray her through it, but right now, things look grim.

I have another friend who is questioning her purpose in life. Her calling is not being fulfilled and she is not finding any new prospects and she is wondering what God wants with her and for her. She is very scared she will lose her job, which her family needs, and there is nothing else in the area she lives.

Sometimes I wonder where in the world God is, and why some times in life are so hard. I get overwhelmed by what I can’t control and I forget how to surrender to God for what I need. I forget to ask for help. I forget all the things I believe, because the world is that cunning. The world is that convincing. The faster the world moves the easier it is to believe what the world tells us about everything from fashion to cancer to survival. The world would have us believe that there is not enough; not enough options for little girls to feel good about themselves, so I should give up and give in and let her wear leggings as pants or jeans that show her whole bottom when she sits down (SHE’S 6!); not enough medicine, not enough bone marrow donors, not enough miracles, not enough prayer to slow or cure cancer; not enough money to maintain a family, not enough jobs to fulfill a calling from God, not enough opportunities to fulfill God’s call. The world is good at making the faithful feel like we should be afraid because there is not enough…but God has a different answer.

Faith and experience tell me that when I am faithful, God is abundantly faithful. Actually I got that order wrong. Faith and experience tell me that God is faithful before I am faithful. John 8:12 says, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’” God-is-Love1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Jesus performs miracles including turning water to wine at a party that ran out of booze. When I am at the end of my rope, I have to find the places of blessing, I have to remember where I see God’s love, because the world would have us walking in a darkness of fear called scarcity, but God sheds an abounding light of love that endures and overwhelms the darkness.

You see, fashion fads cannot tell my daughter what she is worth, because she belongs to God and God has determined that she is filled with the light of life. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to be left out or laughed at, but it does mean that the love that surrounds her is the very being of God.

And you see, cancer cannot take away the life and love that already is. Cancer may or may not take quality or quantity of life from my friend, but cancer cannot ever take the love that has lived and continues to live through her right now, that is, the essence of God that flows through her and pulses around her and her family. I’m not being unrealistic, in fact as a person of faith, I am being most realistic, God has the power to heal my friend, and God will use that power as God sees appropriate, until that time, we faithful will pray and live out the God we know through the love we share.

And you see, lack of opportunities right now, does not mean lack of opportunities in God’s time. Panic is the world’s way. Anxiety is what the world wants us to feel because there is not enough. Faith says, trust God. The world will tell you that you are foolish, but the faithful know, we must trust God to get us through the hardest times. And especially when I have been faithful in hard times, in scary times when it seemed like enough was going to run out, those have been the times that the lamp stayed lit for eight nights (Hanukah reference); those have been the times the water turned to wine; those have been the times God gave me just what I needed to get through. And God will be faithful to my friend who is struggling with call and fulfillment too.

It takes an act of stewardship to be faithful in our living believing that there is and will be enough and enough to share. Let us spend this New Year building our covenant relationships into faithful living of God’s abundant blessings. Let us continue to create a culture of gratitude and generosity in every aspect of our lives.

Faithfully and in good stewardship of love towards  you,


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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

the breeze

I needed a sweatshirt

the wind


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

the Spirit

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

not hot

just over taken by the flame

by the wind

by the Spirit

the time is coming





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I’m Ready for a Change

I’m Ready for a Change.

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