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.)

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(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,

Liz

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Wind

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

holy

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

holy

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

crabbing

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

holy

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

holy

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

holy

wind

Spirit

holy

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I’m Ready for a Change

I’m Ready for a Change.

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I’m Ready for a Change

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.

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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.

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New Beginnings…

new beginnings….

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!

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Lessons from the winter that would not end

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.

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