A Prayer for “This Day” — offered in Worship, 8/18/19

“This day all His mercies are new.
This day ev’ry promise is true.
Father help me to believe,
Give me faith I need
to know you and trust you this day.
This day.”

Good Shepherd,
there are many things — situations/people/relationships —
about which we could pray today.
The state of the world — our country,
the tragic situation at our borders,
the state of the church —
around the world,
in our country,
right here in Santa Barbara.

But in light of these lovely words that were just sung,
it feels right and good to center down on just one thing.
And so, Lord God, we want to pause right now
and say ‘thank you,’ for this day.

Thank you for this time, set aside
to be together in your presence.
Thank you for the person to our left,
and the person to our right,
no matter how near or far from us they may be.

Thank you for this lovely space,
for songs, both old and new,
for your Word,
for the chance to give back to you a small portion
of the gifts we enjoy;
thank you for the little ones who gather on these steps,
and thank you for the time, energy and skill that is poured into this hour,
each and every week,
from our dedicated and gifted staff,
and from a long list of volunteers, too.

Thank you for THIS day, when we sit shoulder to shoulder
and turn our attention in your direction for 75 minutes.
May what we do and what we say and what we hear
enrich our own journey of discipleship
and may all of it reflect both our love for you and
your great love for us.

When we get caught up in the details of our lives,
the demands and commitments, the habits and struggles,
the relationships and the input from so many places —
when we get caught up in all of that,
it is so easy for us to forget
that all we’ve really got in this life is . . .

this day.

Whatever day it is, that is the day we have.
We are promised no more than that, ever.

Will you help us to pause
and say thank you in the midst of each one of
the ‘this days’ we’re given, please?
Because each and every one of them – 
well, they land in our lap like small jewels.
Sometimes, that jewel of a day
is clear and shiny, and filled with promise;
sometimes it feels decidedly dull or even dark.

But whatever any of our days contain,
each one always holds the gift
of life with you.
Always.

When we’re walking through seasons of loss,
of massive change,
of anxious wondering about what’s coming next,
or of new beginnings —
like the school year,
or a new job,
or an uncertain invitation of some kind —
those are the times when it’s harder for us to take that pause,
hit that re-set button and say,
“Ah, the gift of this day!
Thank you, Lord.”

Forgive us for the myriad ways we allow that gift
to get buried beneath  . . .
our lists,
our worries,
our addictions,
our obligations,
our need to control outcomes,
our fears about the future.

Release us, O Lord, from all of that and help us
to hear your gentle invitation
to trust,
to follow,
to be thankful,
to accept with grace
whatever each one of our ‘this day’s may bring us.

Guide us now, as we listen to your Word
and as your servant Art comes to break it open for us.
Lead us into the truth you have for us
to learn this day,
may we open our hearts as well as our ears,
for Jesus’ sake,
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
because of the love of our Good Creator.
Amen.

My Mom – A Woman of Valor: Guest Post at RHE

I am undone at the news of Rachel Held Evan’s death in the early hours of the morning today. Rachel was one of the bravest, smartest, kindest women I’ve ever ‘met’ on the internet — gracious, perceptive, open, gentle-yet-firm, good to the core. Her honest questions and brilliant answers have helped more lost people to find their way back to Jesus than almost anyone I could name. She leave a remarkable and supportive husband and two very small children — and more than any death in recent memory, this one leaves me filled with questions. In 2012, when blogging was at its peak, she ran a long series on her blog called “Women of Valor.”  A long and varied list of contributors was invited to contribute a piece and I was one of those blessed people. So, in her honor, I am re-posting this from December, 2012. You can follow the links over to Rachel’s remarkable space and read a tribute to my mom — one of two I submitted and the one she much preferred! Rachel was a mensch and a true, true, TRUE Woman of Valor. Eshet chayil!
My beautiful mom, picture taken by my sister-in-law, Sandy Gold, on Thanksgiving this year.
 

It is my honor to be posting in Rachel Held Evans’ series on Women of Valor today. Last month, I told you I would give you a link to this essay when it came up today, and I will do that in just a moment. 

I submitted two essays to Rachel about mom – one outlined her wonderful life with a list of facts and tidbits. The second, which you will find if you click on this sentence came pouring out of me after I had submitted the first one. This is the one I believe the Holy Spirit wrote in me and it tells more than facts, it tells truth in so much love. I love my mom more than I can even begin to put into words – she has been an anchor in my life for all of these nearly 68 years. So watching her fade into this fog has been agonizing on many, many levels. But she is THERE still and some part of her always will be. And all of who she is, her story, her present, her future — all of it is held safely and lovingly by the Shepherd she has followed since she was a teenager. Thanks be to God.

I invite you to read more at Rachel’s place today. Thanks so much.

P.S. I was wrong! This is not the last essay in the series. It will continue until year’s end. Such a wonderful list of valorous women!!

A Prayer for Easter Sunday 2019

On this Resurrection Sunday morning, we are going to use a responsive chant from the earliest years of the church. The longer prayer from which this short phrase is taken is called the “Exsultet,” and it was a call-and response prayer that was adapted from an even earlier synagogue prayer. Early Jesus-followers offered that adapted prayer every year as the re-lit Christ candle was carried back into the sanctuary in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning.

The small piece we will use together today consists of two short phrases:I will say the first one at several points as we pray together:“Christ our Light!And when I say that, you respond with the second half, which is: “Thanks be to God”

Let’s pray together:

Good and Holy Triune God, we come before you on this glorious morning to say thank you! Thank you, first of all, for Who You are — Creator, Redeemer, Comforter, Friend — the God who chooses us, the God who sees us, the God who absorbs our broken, sinful selves into the body of your Son, our Savior. Thank you for that dark afternoon and thank you, too, for the brightness of this Easter morning!

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

A special word of thanks this day for the women, the women, who followed after you, who tended that wounded body as it was laid in the grave. The women, who were the first to see our Risen Lord. The women, who carried the great good news of RESURRECTION to all your friends, your students, your followers. Thank you for their faithfulness, thank you for their obedience. Thank you for choosing them to be the very first evangelists.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

And thank you for all the others in the early church, for disciples who stayed true, for their openness to the Spirit, and their willingness to give everything they had, including their own lives, to the work of the kingdom.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

As we gather in this beautiful space today, we want to thank you, too, for the early disciples in this place. Those who gathered, and dreamed and prayed and planned. Those who gave and built and longed to be your hands and feet in the community of Montecito. We have a rich heritage, Lord — an ancient one and a much more recent one — and we thank you for both.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

You know this, Lord — even better than we do ourselves — you know that your church finds itself at a kind of crossroad right now — your church around the world, and your church in Santa Barbara. The terrible news from Sri Lanka this weekend, the loss of an iconic sanctuary to fire during Holy Week, and our own time of upheaval right here.

It’s been a confusing time, filled with questions and misunderstandings. Forgive us, Lord, for the ways we have contributed to that confusion, to those misunderstandings. Guide us into true repentance, and guide us into a clearer understanding of who it is you are calling and forming us to be at this point in time. Give us, we humbly ask, extra measures of grace, forbearance, forgiveness and kindness as we pick up the pieces and follow after Jesus anew.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

Thank you for our Council leadership and their willingness to work extra hours to help us find our way. Guide their search for a long-term Interim Pastor, and give us all grace to be encouragers as we travel together down a road we didn’t expect to have to walk right now.

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

Thank you most of all for the meaning of this day, for the richness, the surprise — even the scandalous shock of our story: we gather here today to worship and then to serve a risen Savior, one who was hung on a tree to die a humiliating and difficult death, yet who conquered the grave and sits now at your right hand, interceding for US. Amazing! Astounding! 

Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!

Thank you, thank you, thank you! In the name of Jesus, our Risen, Living Lord. Amen.

The Darkest Day — SheLoves — Good Friday 2019

It’s my turn at SheLoves Magazine again today. And this is such a special day. Reflecting on that with this small piece, which continues over at that site.

It’s always darkest before the dawn,
at least, that’s what they tell me —
“Each new day brings resurrection.”

But to get there,
we must always move
through the dark.

There are gifts to be found in darkness.
That, too, is true.
Rest, coolness, quiet.

But terrors hide out in its
creases and folds,
ever ready to worry and wound.

And darkness
in the middle of the day
is disquieting,
upsetting,
unusual.

On this day, the disquiet was deep;
terrible, in truth.
Creation cried out in disbelief.
How can this be?
The Word who spoke this sun,
disgraced, rejected,
impaled outside the city gates?

Ah, yes. Yes, indeed.

God’s enormous YES to
humankind’s repeated no’s.

And so, from the darkness of the garden
to the darkness at midday,
that Word walked right through
the worry and the wounds,
endured the terror,
bore the pain.

All for Love’s sake
All for Love’s sake.

Not to even the score,
not to satisfy the whims
of a harsh, mercurial deity,
with a gigantic ax to grind,
not to play some kind of
cosmic game of tit for tat.

This darkest day was
the necessary prelude
to the brightest dawn
this old earth has ever seen. . .

PLEASE follow the link over to SheLoves to finish this brief reflection on Good Friday.

Being Placemakers — A Book Review

Christie Purifoy’s GORGEOUS new book is an absolute must-read.
It is now on my husband’s stack.

Christie Purifoy’s new book, “Placemaker, Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace,” is — hands down — the most beautiful book I have read in a long, long time. As I read, I was reminded of so many favorites from my past reading life — Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Wangerin to name a few. She skillfully and creatively takes the stuff of everyday life and weaves from her own story, from the books she reads, and from the places she has lived, a gorgeous tapestry of discovery, commitment, serendipity and joy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

“Placemaker” takes us on a journey. It’s not necessarily a straight ahead trek, but then is anything worth doing straight ahead? She uses trees, gardens, family anguish, wilderness wanderings, joyous homecomings, showing us her own deepening sense of what it means to be home.

Is there any more glorious word in the English language than that one? It’s what we all long for, reach for, sometimes touch and, if we’re really lucky, occasionally find. And home is multifaceted, involving places and things — buildings and gardens, brick and mortar, dirt and compost; it involves stories — including history and personalities from the past, the literal and figurative meaning of very particular trees in very particular places; and, of course, it also involves all kinds of people — spouses and children, siblings and neighbors, friends nearby and far away.

Our current small home on the Mesa, overlooking the entire city of Santa Barbara and the mountains behind, with a tiny peek at the harbor way off to the right. It’s part of a tract of homes built in 1950 and sits at the top of a hill, just off one of the main drags of this town that connects mountains and ocean. It has been a good growing-old-together space.

As I read about all the homes Christie and her husband have made over the years of their marriage, I couldn’t help but think about the ones Dick and I have made over our many years together, a few of which are featured in this post. Subscribers to my monthly newsletter have already seen some of these, but as I continue to respond to Christie’s lovely storytelling in this place, it seemed ‘right and good’ to lace my own stories into the mix.

The gift God gave us when we made a major move 120 miles north in our 50s for me to take a pastoral job. Four months without a home base, eleven months to sell our home in Altadena and then this glorious spot for retreating and entertaining — a ranch style built in 1960. Our son and his family have enjoyed it — and renovated it a bit — since we downsized almost four years ago. We lived here for 18 years and worked with a friend who was an architect to make significant changes.

I found myself in tears at several points during this read — good tears — tears of recognition and gratitude and remembering. She writes lyrically about things like beauty, longing, the importance of limits, the role of dead and dying things to the ongoing life of the planet, the necessity of wilderness experiences, the different values found in moving from place to place and staying put in one, letting our roots sink deeply into the soil of a particular kind of life.

A formal Mediterranean style built in the 1920’s — the largest of our 3 homes in Altadena — and, in some ways, my least favorite. BUT it was the place from which seminary was launched and completed for me, our son graduated from both high school and college and our two younger children’s significant others made great use of the guest room, living with us anywhere from a summer to a semester. We were there for 8 years.

A recurring thread through all of this lovely story-telling is Christie’s growing hunger for and acquisition of very specific kinds of knowledge. She learns about trees — what’s indigenous to where, and who planted and cared for them over the years. And she learns about cooking, gardening, planting seeds — both literal and figurative — in every new place. She shares her knowledge with us, telling us about beautiful public gardens, about people from the past who made the present as lovely as it is by planting and tending those gardens. What a gift to be educated as well as enthralled, instructed as well as lovingly entertained.

The heart of our family story, built in the early 1930’s — 13 years here, until our eldest daughter was married, our second girl off to college and we were down from five to three,
with our son still in high school.

Always, this knowledge is used in service of placemaking — of intentionally cultivating beauty and hospitality everywhere the growing Purifoy family lives. Spiraling through all that intentionality, readers are privileged to see an exquisite mix of sorrow and joy, gain and loss, settledness and restlessness, peace and struggle.

Placemaking, it seems, is never easy, but it is always, always good.

Get your own copy just as quickly as you can. You will not be sorry.

The first home we owned, not the first one we made — 1940’s tract home in Altadena CA. Arrived in 1970 with a 2 year old and a newborn, left in 1975 with 3 kids, ages 3, 5, 7.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

From time to time, I am asked to lead in our time of community prayer at Montecito Covenant Church, the community where my husband and I have been active for the last 23 years. Today was one of those days. The preaching passage was John 8:2-12 — the woman taken in adultery. I began with a reading from Isaiah . . .

As we begin our time of community prayer today, I’d like to share with you a reading from the prophet Isaiah.

In at least one of the lectionaries used by the church over the last several hundred years, Isaiah’s words stand as a companion text to our primary preaching passage today. It happens to be one of my favorite passages and I think it might help us move into a time of corporate thanksgiving and praise this morning.

Hear the word of the Lord as it was given to the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 16-21. I will be reading from The Message.

“This is what God says,
    the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
    who carves a path through pounding waves,
the God who summons horses and chariots and armies—
    they lie down and then can’t get up;
    they’re snuffed out like so many candles:

“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is!

I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.”

The word of the Lord:Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

We bring our praise to you, O God. To whom else shall we go? All of us here, gathered in this space — we are a people custom-made to praise you. And so we do!

We praise you for rivers of water in dry places, we praise you for majestic mountains and mighty oceans.We praise you for green, green, GREEN everywhere we look these days.

We remember all too well that it has not always been so. We have seen fire and flood, devastation and destruction. And yet . . . here it is — new growth on the hills of our city; the sounds of new construction going on where all has been washed away; and here in our sanctuary, the coos and cries of new life already in our midst and the promise of new life still to come.

So today, we pause to say,

“Thank you for doing a new thing in our city. Thank you for hope. Thank you for every single raindrop of our very wet winter. And thank you for the newness of spring as it blooms and blossoms across the landscapes of our lives.”

As we lean into the newness of nature, the color and the moisture and the sheen of things, will you give us eyes to see the newness you are creating within us, too?

Thank you that the rain of your mercy continually washes us clean and makes us new. Thank you that the mistakes of our past do not have to determine our future. Thank you that your grand gift of salvation means more than saying the right words or even believing the right things. Because we are always works-in-progress, aren’t we? Like a river moving through the barrenness of our hearts, your saving grace continuously makes us new. It’s not a once-and-done kinda deal, is it, Lord? We are always being saved. Thank you.

.Your friend Isaiah reminds us to let the past go. And he gives us the mandate to ‘be alert and to be present,’ ever on the lookout for what you’re up to, for your work of newness.

Thank you, thank you, thank you that you are not done with us, that you are not done with our world, that you are not done with gift-giving, with care-taking, with companionship. That you will never stop seeing us, knowing us, loving us, saving us.

We will admit to discouragement at times, Lord. It’s loud out there in the world. Ands sometimes it’s loud in here, too. Here in the church, and here in our hearts and in our minds. We find the noise exhausting some days. When that happens, Lord, will you help us to hear the lovely sounds of your river of life right in the middle of  our own deserts?

Remind us of your goodness, your creative imagination, your awareness of our brokenness, your concern for our welfare. And then empower us to offer those same things to one another, will you, please?

We don’t want to be like those who come to throw stones and then turn away because of our own shame, because shame is never your idea, is it? No, it is not.

Your idea is always newness, your life-giving water poured into the driest parts of us, your encouragement spread across our discouragement, your grace triumphant over our shame.

Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Because of Jesus,

Amen.

A Prayer for Dusty People: Entering Lent – 2019

This is what the LORD says—”Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland…I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

Isaiah 43

O Lord, how we long for you to do a new thing in our midst.
How we long to see the way made in the wilderness,
the stream flowing through the wasteland.
For we are indeed your people, formed to praise you.
And so we do.

We praise you that you are the God of new things.
That you are the God of wilderness way-making,
that you are the God of life-giving water in the midst of life’s wastelands,
that you are the God who reminds us to ‘forget the former things,
because you are in the business of making all things new.

Start with us, please, Lord. Start with us.

Make us new, inside and out.
Teach us to live as new creatures –
not because we’re fad-hungry
or driven to own the latest new tech device;
not because we’re bored with life and need a new kick;
not because we’re in need of a diversion.

Make us new because we need your transformational energy at work within us in order to live as whole and holy people.

Make us new because we’ve worn out the old ways, we’ve tried them repeatedly and learned the hard way that they just don’t work. Make us new because we want to be people who radiate the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus – that amazing, multi-faceted, lovely fruit-of-nine-sides that Paul listed out for us:

Love, Joy, Peace,
Patience, Kindness, Goodness,
Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control.

So…start with us in this making-new business.
Because if we’re truly open to the newness your Spirit can bring
and if we truly live out of the fruit your Spirit grows in us,
then we can carry that newness into every situation and relationship
we find ourselves in whether that’s
our family home, our dorm suite, our place of business,
our classroom, the grocery line, the traffic jam,
the blog comments, the political debate,
the kitchen table or the table at our favorite restaurant,
the well-worn beach path or hiking trail,
or the sidewalk right in front of where we live –
wherever our lives lead us –we can bleed newness, your newness, into our world.

So, we ask that your church worldwide might be a sign of newness,
a whisper of beauty, a word of kindness,
a presence of hospitality, a ray of civility”
in an increasingly uncivil and terrifying world.

Convict us when we fall short of this worthy goal;
convince us that we, with you at work within us,
have the inside scoop on the hope this world needs.

Consider that we are but dust – but then . . . continue the work of new creation even in our dustiness.

And please, bless our very dusty leaders, denominational and political,who are engaged in important decision-making on many fronts.

Grant us peace in our churchly dialog and in our civic discourse,
wisdom in our personal and our national decisions,
and grace with one another when the day is done.

Thank you, Great God of all things new,
for your everyday goodness and grace,
for your mercies which are new every morning
and which sustain us our whole life long.

In the name and for the sake of Jesus, your son, who makes it possible for us to be made new each and every day.

Amen.

This post is a re-post from a few years ago. It originally appeared as a Lenten column in The Covenant Companion, a publication of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Book Review: How the Bible Actually Works – by Peter Enns

The following review is written as a part of my responsibility as a member of the Launch Team for Pete’s latest book. I received an advance copy in exchange for these words. I also purchased a copy for my Kindle and am eager to share it with anyone in my family who wishes to read it!

Pete Enns is sarcastic, funny, thoughtful, well-educated, occasionally gruff, and often covers what I guess to be a particularly tender heart with a large layer of snark. He chooses to write for an audience who loves snark and is thoughtful and intentional about pursuing the tougher questions regarding their faith and the book it is based on. Pete’s readers are people who want to find their way to understanding how best to understand, interpret and wrestle with that book.

The latest in the growing list of his controversial, well-thought out, relentlessly honest and deeply helpful books is pictured above. I recommend it to you with enthusiasm and also — with a warning. The warning first: if you are not willing to entertain the possibility that the Bible is at once more coherent AND more confusing than any other text you have encountered in your life, this book is not for you.

If, however, you are genuinely searching for answers to tough questions, if you are more than a little bit bothered by what appears to be the changing nature of the God depicted in its pages, or if you want to find a new way to think about a book that you love and have loved for decades, then dig in. You will not be disappointed.

I fall into ALL those categories, with the emphasis on that last one. All my life, I have loved the Bible. I have memorized chunks of it, winning all the badges possible on my little wooden sword in elementary Sunday school. I have enjoyed teaching others about its beauty and wonder from about the age of 15. And I have turned to it for comfort, challenge, assurance and reminders of God’s powerful presence in this crazy, broken world of ours almost every day of my long life.

What I have not ever done is viewed the Bible as a rule book. A guide? Yes. A series of stories that highlight the surprising nature of God’s grace? Sure. Set in concrete thousands of years ago and never to be messed with in any way, ever again? Not a chance.

For me, the Good Book is God’s Word Written as Jesus is God’s Word Living — a fascinating, puzzling, challenging, enlightening AND confusing mix of both human and divine. What I love about this newest of Pete’s books is the thread he pulls out, from start to finish. The theme, if you will. And here it is:

The Bible is a wisdom book — and that, my friends, is the single most helpful definition I have found to date for this virtual library of small volumes, written and collected over about three centuries, all of which happened a long, long time before any of us ever breathed earth’s air. If we can grab hold of that idea, push against it wherever necessary, test out examples of it from a scattering of books and stories between its covers, then we will have a far sturdier foundation for the faith we claim than any fundamentalist, inerrantist, rigid, put-it-in-a-box-designed-to-mark-outsiders-and-insiders point of view ever espoused and shoved down people’s throats.

Can you tell that I am DONE with the Bible-as-weapon mentality found in so many churches today? Yeah, I am done. And so is Pete Enns. Pete Enns, however, also happens to have a PhD in biblical studies and a long career of research, teaching, speaking and writing to back up his ideas. You may not agree with all of those ideas, but I’m here to tell you, you will find them thought-provoking, helpful, and fun to read.

In thirteen chapters, he looks at both Testaments, including stories and ideas that are both familiar and obscure. In each instance, he argues that the Bible itself models for us how to deal with the sometimes contradictory nature of the truths it teaches. In fact, by the time you finish this volume you will give thanks to God for the contradictions because . . . let’s be real, here, okay? Life itself is contradictory and there is no one-size-fits-all answer for many of its questions.

From money to child-rearing to the role of the law in life and faith, Pete takes us down the wisdom road, showing us how the Bible rethinks things, up to and including our understanding (limited as it must be) of the nature of God. Laws are adapted over time, as people and situations change. Even historical events are told and re-told from different time periods and conflicting understandings of what happened and why.

I love this quote, found on pg. 77: “The Bible isn’t a book that reflects one point of view. It is a collection of books that records a conversation — even a debate — over time.” YES — a conversation, even a debate. What a gift to have such a conversation, printed and in our hands. What a lovely invitation to continue the conversation, to keep asking hard questions to not be frightened by the answers that become clearer with time and experience.

Which leads me to this question: why are we afraid of this truth? Why is it so difficult for us to admit that not everything is wrapped up neatly in this book of ours? What is it inside of us that pounds a book of overwhelming beauty, majesty, truth, conflict, surprise, time-bound customs, and eternal gifts into a system, a rule-book, a codified, rigid set of definitions?

For Pete’s sake (yes, pun intended . . . and also, not!), Jesus modeled this approach himself at every village and watering hole and mountainside and boat bench he ever occupied. He was a story-teller, and not one of those stories was crystal clear. They all require thinking, pondering, wrestling. And the truths they reveal are both timeless and time-bound — yes, they are. BOTH. No, I have never herded sheep, nor will I. And yet, I can sift out truths, I can catch allusions, I can understand the metaphors.

Enough. Let me close this wandering reflection with one final quote from the book — just one of many from my exceedingly marked-up copy:

“We are both bound by the past and charged with remaining open to the movement of God’s Spirit, which is free and never bound to tradition or our theologies that try to articulate it.

Christian theology, in other words, is an exercise in wisdom– perhaps far more than is normally thought. We are not simply maintaining the past, we are transforming it, again and again.” pg. 196

A Re-Post in My Birthday Month

Nearly fifty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Forty years ago, I had three teenagers, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Just under thirty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Fourteen years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write very occasionally on my blog, and a few other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am now without parents, a truly motherless child; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are on their own, working and in committed relationships, two of whom are college students, none of whom are babies, in any sense of the word. And one is getting married in the spring. Good grief.

And at this moment, on a chilly California afternoon, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another ten or twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during how ever many years remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question.

I want to laugh, a lot, even if it gets raucous and unseemly.

I want to cry easily and regularly, most especially when I’m with someone who is suffering, when I see someone dear to me, when I remember love.

I want to pray more with my body — with my hands and my feet, with my heart and my soul — and a whole lot less with my head and my mouth and my words.

I want to sing — even though this old alto quavers and cuts out from time to time — I want to sing, sing, sing, in harmony, out loud, and often.

I want to move — to sway with freedom, to dance with my grandgirls, to walk on the beach, to stand up and cheer for the next wave of women and men whom God will raise up to lead and to love.

I want to love my husband well as we move together into whatever comes next. We’ve been through some scary crises, the two of us, we’ve watched people we love suffer terribly and we’ve had a few major health issues ourselves. But now, right now, and for the foreseeable future, we’re good. Often tired, getting older by the minute, but good. I want to enjoy the good for as long as we’ve got it.

I want to encourage my children and my grandchildren to be and become women and men of faith and fortitude, of love and loyalty, of commitment and concern — for themselves, one another and others. I want to do this without words as often as is humanly possible.

I want to slowly and carefully divest myself of much of the ‘stuff’ I’ve accumulated over these years — not all of it, I love my stuff a lot. But I want to be more concerned about the inside than the outside, more generous than acquisitive, more open and less protected and protective.

I want to keep on learning — about myself, and how I’m wired, about this world, all its gifts and its flaws, about people and how they work, about life and how rich it is, about God and the mysteries of our faith.

I want to send roots deep into the beauty of life, to stand in slack-jawed joy at the wonder of it all.

I want to be brave and kind and encouraging.

I want to admit my flaws, own up to the messiness, look in the mirror without hesitation, and tell the ugly voices within to shut the hell up — because that’s exactly where they come from.

I want to raise my hands to heaven with gratitude at least a hundred times as often as I raise my fists in frustration.

I want to lean into the future with anticipation, come what may. I want to own my wrinkles and my cellulite, to celebrate the long life that has thinned my hair and thickened my waistline, to embrace the inevitable losses because of the inestimable gains.

I want to stand there when I’m 80 or 85 or 90 (really???) and look back at 74 and say: That was a great decade, wasn’t it?

I want to live until I leave. Every minute, every heartbeat, every breath — a gift.

This post originally appeared at the lovely site of A Deeper Story/Family 5  years ago. It seemed time to take it out, change the numbers around a bit and re-commit to what I said then. Because I still believe it, I still want to live this  life as fully as I can for as long as I can. How’s about you??

A Living Hope — Remembering Lucille Peterson Johnston

I had the privilege of giving the homily and pastoral prayer at the Witness to the Resurrection Service for one of my dearest friends, amazing Lucille.  A mentor to me for 43 years, she lived a full, rich life, fully using her gifts of leadership, hospitality, generosity, inclusion, encouragement, creativity and joie de vivre. I thank God for her. I am posting this short piece here for anyone who loved her and was unable to travel to Santa Barbara today for the service. I wish I could give you the entire time — the memories, the singing, the piano music, the laughter. Maybe this will give you a tiny piece of the whole.


They’re all gone now — all of my mothers. My own mom, the one who birthed and raised me, died last year at the age of 95. My husband’s mom, the one who welcomed and included me, died in 2014 at the age of 98.

And Lucille, the mom who mentored me, who saw gifts in me I didn’t see in myself; the one who challenged me to begin the slow, steady work of becoming a pastor — now she is gone, too, at the amazing age of 102.

And I feel each loss profoundly.There are no substitutes for any of these remarkable women. None. Each one was a gift of God in my life — planting seeds, modeling courage, living a life of faith and faithfulness, fully and well.

So I join with Cindy and Curt and Jim and their families in grieving today. There is a huge hole in the universe that opened last weekend, one that will never be filled in exactly the same way. And it’s important to say so, to acknowledge and make room for the tears, to pause and let it sink in that someone with a larger-than-life presence is no longer touchable, no longer filling that unique and particular space in our lives and hearts. And that is painful.

But here is something else that is true, perhaps even more true than the pain: even in death, we have a living hope. That is why, as I stand here and you sit there, we can all link arms and give testimony to this truth:

          our gratitude is wider, deeper and greater than our grief.

And if Lucille were here with us, I’d offer to help her design a needlepoint purse that says exactly that!

            Our gratitude is greater than our grief.

All week long, I have been overwhelmed with the depth of my gratitude — to God for the gift of this woman in my life, to Lucille, for being who she was, and to all of you for sharing her so generously with all of us. There is no one like her — never has been, never will be.

Now we all know, she wasn’t perfect. Not one of us is. But I gotta say this — she came really, really close, didn’t she? She had strong opinions and she shared them. She liked to be in charge and she was scarily good at it. She never garnered a long list of degrees after her name, but her intelligence was through the roof. And she adored her family — every single member of her family — the ones she bore and the ones some of them married, and the kids they bore and the kids they married, and now the kids the kids had!

And then, there were all those cousins and aunts, her amazing sisters, the two remarkable husbands and an entire step-family. All of you were shining stars in her universe and I hope you know that, way down deep inside you. Because to be loved by Lucille Peterson Johnston — that is a rich gift, one with lasting impact and importance, one that changes you from the inside out.

In the midst of my own remembering, and on the rising tide of my gratitude, I’ve reflected on why that last point is true. Why is it that the love of a person like Lucille has the power to change us?

I think it’s this: Lucille was the embodiment of what it means to live firmly situated in the ‘living hope’ that Peter talks about in the first chapter of his first epistle. Lucille walked the talk. She knew God, up close and personally. She radiated energy and life and hope, which, if you think about it, is a pretty risky thing to do. Because when we allow ourselves to hope, we open ourselves to the strong possibility — maybe even the likelihood — of massive disappointment. Sometimes, living in hope can feel tenuous, uncertain, even frightening.

But here’s the thing about the kind of hope that Peter is talking about here, — this living hope is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, “oh, I hope, I hope, I hope I get what I want” kinda deal. No. Peter’s kind of hope — God’s kind of hope, Lucille’s kind of hope — is alive — it has wings and a beating heart and it can move us to do remarkable and world-changing things.

“By his great mercy,” Peter wrote to the church, “God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (NRSV)

It begins with the mercy of God, and it continues through a life lived in hope, and is brought to completion when we reach the moment of our inheritance. And that is where our dear Lucille is right now, friends. She is experiencing the completion of the living hope that was her life on planet earth. She is enjoying the company of God in ways we can only imagine, and she is surrounded by nothing but love. Nothing.

Harold and Roy are there, of course. And her mom, whom she moved across the country to care for so many years ago. And sweet Drake, who left us way too soon. And her sisters, Doris and Betty, and so many friends, too many to count. And before we know it, we will be there, too — some of us sooner than others.

But between now and then, we have work to do, don’t we? We have the remarkable task of carrying on her legacy, of letting that living hope empower us to be the truest, fullest, richest persons we can be. Because here’s the wonderful truth — Lucille knew herself. She knew who she was, what her gifts were, whom she loved. And she was the very best Lucille she could be, wasn’t she?

That’s what the mercy of God can do, you see. That’s what living in hope births in us — a growing awareness of who God is, yes, indeed. But also a growing awareness of who WE are, and a deepening desire to live these lives we’ve been given fully aware and fully awake.

So thank you, Lucille, for being you. For showing us the way to the good life, for calling out the best in us, for reminding us, with that ever-present twinkle, that there is always more to come.

And thank you, God, for giving her to us and for giving us to one another.

 

Will you pray with me, please?

 

Loving God, Risen Savior, Gentle Spirit,

How we thank you for the gift of Lucille. For her grace and beauty, for her warm hospitality, for her generous and thoughtful gifts of love and inclusion to so many people. We miss her. And this family misses her most of all. Enliven us with your presence, even as we sit together in grief. Remind us of that hope with wings that Jesus makes possible.

We pray especially today for all these ones in the front rows, the family Lucille loved so dearly. Will you bring the healing balm of tears and of laughter, the soothing comfort of memories, of photographs and family history, of things shared only by them?

And will you bring to all of our hearts and minds our own special and sweet remembrances of Lucille’s endless gifts — rich gifts of creativity and hospitality and leadership. And empower each of us, by the work of your Spirit within us, to live our lives as fully as possible. To know ourselves, to deepen our walk with you, to reach out to others with the kind of welcome that Lucille modeled for all of us, the kind of welcome that she experienced because she knew you so very well.

No, there will never be another one like her, Lord. And that is exactly as it should be. Thank you for your loving design, O God, your careful and invigorating breath of life, that Spirit that is uniquely breathed into each and every one of your human creatures. Thank you especially that the Wind you breathed into Lucille blew our way for so many years.

It is all gift.

In the name of Jesus, the one who loves us and walks with us, we pray today. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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