Charlottesville: No Words — SheLoves, August, 2017

Do you find yourself at the limit of things right now? I do. Here are my reflections for SheLovesMagazine this month — you can begin this essay here, then click over to join the conversation there. I hope you will!

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I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write — all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what?? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks are their stock-in-trade, and every time one of those remarks is directed toward me, I stutter and stumble around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

Nada. Nothing. No words.

What is with that??

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honest and true, it is not. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of it. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, push-back that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas, burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, harass, or drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other sugar-coating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

Continue reading at SheLoves today, friends. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and, even more importantly, what you’re doing about our national sin and need for repentance. And if you are not a resident of the USA, your comments and insights are always welcome — we clearly need help. Just click right here.

“Open Your Eyes to the Light” — SheLoves, July 2017

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Benedict of Nursia:
          “However, late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy. That is what scripture urges on us when it says: the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of  God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today, if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

 If we trace it back, the root of lethargy is often fear. And this is what I know about fear: it slams the door on light. When we are afraid, anxious, worried, preoccupied with all that is wrong, evil and difficult in our world, there is no room for the light to shine.

So let’s talk about fear, shall we?

I see it everywhere these days — on the news, in the headlines, spreading its tendrils all across the internet. Some days, it is downright palpable. Even more alarming, I see it creeping into conversations within the broader Christian community. It often takes the form of suspicion, accusation, bullying and labeling.

            “How can you call yourself a Christian if you believe ________
“If you welcome
those kind of people, then how can you be true to scripture?
             “The sin of person “A” is so much worse than the sin of person “B” that s/he                                     must be excluded at all costs.”

Words are flung around like darts, leaving wounds wherever they land, lines are being drawn, battle cries sounded. And curling around every shout, every barb, every accusation, is the acrid smoke of fear.

We are afraid that the Bible will be mistreated.
We are afraid that our standards will be lowered.
We are afraid that our doctrinal stand will be softened.

And most of all, we are afraid that if these things happen, our image of God will be forever altered. The bottom line, if we’re really honest, is that we are terrified that our understanding of who God is and how God behaves and whom God loves will slip out of our ‘control.’ We have given in to the fear that the foundation will be shaken beyond recovery and that the slippery slope will lead us all straight to hell.

Whoa!

Can we take a breath here? Can we step back from the precipice and re-focus our attention on the God we meet in the work, words and person of Jesus Christ, the one who is revealed to us in the pages of our scripture and in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our world?

“Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God.”

 Read that line out loud, would you? Several times.

If you breathe in those words, focus on them, meditate on them, I think you will discover them to be the antidote for all the fear we carry . . .

Please follow this link over to SheLoves today and join the conversation about the power of fear and how we so often get things backwards!

Labels – SheLoves, September 2016

When I sat down to think and write about this month’s theme, I was feeling a bit blue and confused about a lot of things happening in my life these days. So this is what came out. I’m feeling somewhat better now, but I still stand behind this assertion. I’d love you to join the conversation over at SheLoves this fine Saturday (and beyond . . . )

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When I sit down and think about it, I must admit that I have carried a long list of labels across the length of this life. From the moment of my birth, two of those have been First Child and Eldest Girl. In early childhood, I earned the title Tall Girl — I was the student in the center back row of each of my elementary school classroom pictures. More painful was the lovely name Fish Skin, thrust upon me by a couple of nasty 2nd grade boys who observed a skin condition I was born with (and live with still — a condition that has brought its own special pain — both literal and figurative). Never-to-be-forgotten from those early years was the ever-present Good Girl. That last one hung around for a very long time and occasionally shows up even now, in my dotage.

In high school, I was known as Religious Girl and Brainy Nerd, both of which I owned with a small share of gratitude and grace. For a little fun and academic relief, I was happy to carry the title of Alto in every choral group available to me. It’s also true that I was known as Wallflower and Seldom Dates, titles I wore with some chagrin, but also a healthy amount of acceptance and understanding. Tall, Religious and Brainy do not usually merit Popular or Prom Queen, after all!

At church, during those same semi-awkward years of junior and senior high school, I discovered a set of very different labels, ones that surprised and pleased me. They included Leader, Bible Student, and Insider. That last one was a particularly pleasant and welcome piece of my own growing identity between the ages of 12 and 18.

I left home for University with an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation, eager to be away from my small town, plunging happily into the crowd of 34,000+ students at UCLA. I joined a small Christian living group, met the man who would become my husband, and moved with relief into a completely new set of labels and identity markers. I was nowhere near the smartest woman in the room and that was a huge relief to me; I released every desire to attain a high grade point average, preferring to revel in the joys of independent living and a deepening romantic relationship.

During those college years, I was Dick’s Girl, and eventually, Dick’s Wife and Married Student. I also grew into my full 5 feet 10 inches and began to appreciate the joys of seeing the world from that height. By then, I am happy to report, that childhood label Tall Girl no longer bothered or embarrassed me.

I was delighted to carry the label of College Graduate with me as we sailed across the Atlantic for two years of short-term mission work, teaching school in Zambia. I grew to enjoy being English Teacher, Drama Coach, and Sportsmaster’s Wife during our time there. I also learned to cook, though I never got quite good enough at it to merit a label of any kind in that department.

Five months before we returned home, I added one of the most significant and life-changing titles I’ve ever carried, one I relish to this day: Mommy. Our eldest girl was born in Africa, another followed two years later and a boy two years after that. For twenty years, that was my primary identity, one I loved and worked hard at, not always successfully. Along the way, I picked up a few more: Community Volunteer, Bible Study Teacher, Soloist, Worship Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Little League Team Mom, Room Mother, Chief-Cook-and-Bottle-Washer, Laundress, etc., etc., etc.

Those were rich and exhausting years but as my children grew up and moved out into their own lives, it became clear that a few more labels needed to be added to the list that is my life. These, however, became much more than monikers. Like Mommy and Wife, the titles Seminary Student, Pastor, Preacher, Bible Teacher, Pastoral Counselor, Spiritual Director and eventually, Writer, became descriptors of parts of me that are deeply rooted, divinely gifted, and vocationally oriented. They are labels, yes, indeed. But they also tell a story, one that continues to unfold and evolve. They speak to the heart of who I am.

But now, right now, I am discovering a label that I did not ask for, do not want, yet cannot avoid, and it is this one:

Wanna know what it is? Well, please just click here and join us at SheLoves!

Remembering Who We Are — a Sermon

Preached at Montecito Covenant Church, Sunday, June 19, 2016, 10:00 a.m.

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Have you ever had one of those days when you wonder, “How in the heck did I get here?” Yeah? Well, me, too. In fact, today happens to be one of those days! How in this crazy world do I happen to be standing here, in this pulpit, struggling to find words that might bring both hope and challenge in the midst of the unspeakable pain, fear, and hate that seem to be exploding all around us in recent days?

Despite the fact that words of all kinds have been flying fast and furious — over the airwaves, across the internet, in conversations by the water cooler or on the street corner — very few of those words have been either hopeful or challenging. Gratefully, I discovered that the words set before us this week in the Common Lectionary are exactly those kind of words: ones that bring both hope and challenge,

You’ve heard three of our four texts already this morning — the beautiful psalm that we sang at the beginning, the one about the longing we sometimes feel for the presence of God; and then the words that Anna Sung so beautifully read for us earlier in the service, those strong words of encouragement in Paul’s letter to the Christians at Galatia, contrasting the work of the law with the work of the Gospel; and the narrative from Luke, the story of the man released from a legion of demons and restored to himself.

As sometimes happens in the lectionary design, all of these readings help to point us in the same direction today — the direction of hope, the direction of transformation, the direction of remembering who we are.

 Well, at least they point us in the direction of who we say we are, those of us who show up in this place on Sunday mornings. We claim to be those whose hearts long for God, people who are set free from legalism, women and men released from all kinds of demons, being brought back, day by day by day, to our best selves.

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And now, Scripture lesson number four speaks to those things as well. For this reading, we turn to Elijah, that wily, wiry, complicated, faithful, sometimes cranky, always interesting old prophet. Elijah is perhaps second only to Moses in the pantheon of great forerunners in the Old Testament. And like Moses sometimes did, our man Elijah finds himself in a hard place in today’s lesson. His world has quite literally gone to hell in a hand basket, and he is feelin’ it.

In the chapters just before the one we’ll look at today, Elijah has been very, very busy. Busy doing the good and difficult work of a being a prophet, and God has looked out for him in some miraculous ways. But . . . here’s the hard truth of this deal: God has also given him a job for which no one is ever thankful. That’s the problem with being a prophet, you see. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say. Yet, what a prophet says is almost always of utmost importance, can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, can sometimes even change the course of history.

I encourage you to read this saga for yourselves sometime later today — all of Elijah’s adventures in 1 Kings are found in the two chapters preceding the one before us today, chapters 17 and 18. But before you hear today’s passage from chapter 19, I want you to understand this: Elijah is a good guy. His very name means ‘faithful to Yahweh,’ the very personal self-chosen-title that God had given to Moses, so many centuries earlier.

Also important to remember is that Elijah has just come through an experience of demanding spiritual warfare, up there at the top of Mount Carmel, a place where the God he serves showed up, big-time.

In a perfect world, Elijah should have been celebrating at the beginning of our chapter today. He’s experienced some real success as a prophet, working in a dangerous time, with some very dangerous people. But enjoying success is not where the man is. No, not at all.

Listen for yourselves. I’ve invited some friends to read it for us today — open your Bibles to this text, by all means. But for now, just listen. Take in the story.

Insert here a 3-voice readers’ theater version of the morning text.

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 Oh, how I love this story! I really, really do. Why do I love it so? And why do I think it’s an important story for us right now, at this moment in time? First of all, I think it’s important because of two things that are found in most biblical narratives: this is a story that teaches us about ourselves, and, this is a story that teaches us about God.

Most of all, though, I love this story — and I believe it to be a story that is immediately applicable to the current state of the world and of the church — I love this story because it is TRUE. This is a story that is true in the biggest sense of that word. Whether or not what we have here is marked by incontrovertible, historic and factual accuracy or not, (and I choose to believe that it is), this narrative is one of the truest depictions of the human condition I’ve ever read anywhere. It speaks profoundly to our deep need for connection — to God, to ourselves, and to one another — and it also speaks to our need for a sense of purpose, especially when life feels overwhelming. This is a story about flight that becomes pilgrimage, of exhaustion transformed by refreshment, of deep discouragement relieved by renewed purpose.

And underneath it all, it is a journey that is at the same time inward, upward and outward — three words which pretty succinctly describe what is of primary importance for this moment in time, as well as for the old prophet on that long ago wilderness trek.

We begin with inward. I think all the best journeys begin this way — AA, in step 4, calls it ‘taking a searching and fearless moral inventory’ — and it’s tough to do. Hitting the wall is not fun, reaching bottom is, quite literally, the pits. But, oh!, it is so important.

Our friend Elijah is just plain done. And he says so, loud and clear. “I have had enough, Lord!” he cries. “Kill me now!” The man has worked hard, hard, hard. He’s been faithful and true. He’s been obedient to the word of the Lord as he understood it. And Jezebel was one scary queen. She had tremendous power and was viewed as the earthly mouthpiece for mighty Ba’al, the foreign god she and her husband Ahab were encouraging the Israelites to worship. So a threat from her, is a threat indeed. King Ahab didn’t seem to phase Elijah much. But Jezebel? He was outta there.

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Now intellectually, he must surely have known that Yahweh was greater, right? He’d just seen ample evidence of that on the top of Mt. Carmel, in the great battle of the Dueling Altars. Yet somehow, these words from Jezebel — coming to him through the mouth of a ‘messenger,’ we’re told — these are the words that finish him off.

Elijah is isolated, lonely, undone. So he runs immediately for the border, dumps his faithful servant, and then heads out into the boondocks, more alone at this point in time than he has ever been.

Why is it that when we’re feeling most alone, we so often do everything in our power to make sure that we ARE alone? Some scholars see this act as Elijah’s way of making a clear statement that he is DONE with the propheting gig. “See, Lord, no servant. Therefore, no work to do, right?” Whatever his reasons, the man who feels alone, is, now, indeed, alone.

Except.

Something quite wonderful happens. The text uses the exact same word here as the word applied to Jezebel’s servant — mal’ak — messenger. And because this entire story is told in a favorite Hebraic literary form called a chiasm, the double use of the word fits beautifully. A chiasm is an elegant structure that sets up parallels in a story or a poem from beginning to end, so that if you look at an outline of the entire story you can see how each piece from the beginning is resolved at the end.

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So, a messenger — called an ‘angel’ in most of our English translations — meets Elijah right here, in the middle of that vast wilderness, as he struggles to find a little shade under the scrawny branches of a solitary broom tree.

You know, I’ve never seen an angel with wings and a halo. But oh-my-word — I’ve seen lots of angels with flesh on ‘em over the years. Just this weekend, a ‘messenger’ from God spoke to me in a moment of panic and uncertainty. Three times. Three different angels from this congregation sent me single line texts, at exactly the right moment, saying they were praying for me as I worked on this sermon. So no matter what this particular messenger/angel looked like, I believe this person was a divine visitation. And here’s what I want us to pay particular attention to: the angel/messenger knew EXACTLY what Elijah needed most at this moment: he needed rest, he needed something to eat, he needed something to drink.

When we or someone we love — or even someone we don’t know personally, but care about very much, like all those who have suffered from the latest abominable massacre in our country, this horror in Orlando — when people are suffering and struggling, the very first and best thing that we can do is to see that their immediate physical needs are met. That’s why relief agencies step into crises with tangible gifts — water, food, cots to sleep on, counselors to meet with.

What is not needed in that first moment of crisis are words of condemnation, judgment, criticism, or conjecture. Elijah didn’t need that messenger to tell him he was acting like a coward. He didn’t need a voice labeling him an unforgiven sinner. He didn’t need any response other than the one he got: a gentle acceptance of his exhaustion, and the fulfillment of his at-the-moment, most pressing needs.

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And after those first needs are met, what Elijah received next was of equal importance: he heard kind words. Yes, he heard kind words, laced with empathy and understanding: “Get up and eat some more,” the messenger said to him, after he’d had some sleep and some food and some water. “Get up and eat some more, for there is a long journey ahead of you.”

Some translations write that last line this way: “For it is too much for you.”

Exactly.

“It is too much for you.”

What has happened to our LGBT brothers and friends is too much for them. What has happened to our rational, peace-loving Muslim sisters and friends is too much for them. The ugly, hate-filled, side-swiping verbiage happening in our recent political conversation is too much for all of us.

And the best thing we can contribute — after any and all physical needs are met — the best thing we can offer in the midst of exhaustion and hatred is this: kind, sensible, true, loving words.

And only those words. In the immediate aftermath of crisis, we all need to sit down next to the person who is suffering and offer a kind and loving presence. There will be a time for action.There will. But not now.

And so, having slept, eaten, been refreshed by water, our hero sets off across the desert, heading for the Mount of God, called Horeb in this text, an alternate name for Mt. Sinai, that fabled place where Moses met God, and received the tablets of the law.

When I hit the wall at the end of 2001, while I was serving here as Associate Pastor, I took care of my physical needs first. I was exhausted and discovered I was also anemic. So I began to treat that. I was taking some medicines that were making things worse, not better, so I stopped those meds. And there were a few, not a lot, but a few, friends who called or wrote or visited and brought me kind words, too.

But the single most important thing that happened during those months of recovery was that I began to sink into worship, daily worship, using a big red book called “Celtic Daily Prayer” with an accompanying CD. I loved that book — and I used it so often the cover fell off! Experiencing deep periods of worship was what eventually restored me to myself, and to my ministry here.

And that is exactly where our friend Elijah is headed. He is headed to meet God.

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Forty days and forty nights he traveled, which is an old Hebraic way of saying that this trip was perfect, it was complete. And he heads now on the upward part of his journey, both physically and spiritually — up, up, up, he climbs, landing himself inside a cave — maybe the very cleft where Moses had been lovingly placed for his own protection when HE met God on that very mountain.

And then . . . And then we get this remarkable interchange, this wonderful doubly-done conversation. God asks a simple question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Wow. What a question.

What are you doing here, Diana?

What are you doing here, Jon?

What are you doing here, Jim?

What are you doing here, Linda?

What are you doing here???

 Holy mackerel — the question of the ages, right?

What are we doing here? Are we being the church? Are we loving our neighbors? Are we engaging in spiritual warfare, as our pastor as so eloquently instructed us these last four weeks? Are we offering kind words to one another, and to the world around us? Are we living love, all day, every day? Are we open to the very real possibility that God might be doing something new and powerful in us, in the church, in the world?

What are we doing here?

And Elijah gives answer. And boy, it’s a pretty self-serving answer, isn’t it???

“I’ve done my job, Lord. I’ve done what you told me to do. And these people — the ones you sent me to — these people, they’re the ones who’ve messed up. And now I AM ALL ALONE. I’m the only one. Just me. Just little ol’ me.”

And the Lord is so deeply kind in response: “Go outside your cave, friend,” he says. Stand there before me.”

But I want you to catch something here. The text says simply that Elijah ‘stood there’ in verse 11, just as the Lord begins to ‘pass by.’ But skip over all the drama for a second and look at verse 13. Do you see it there? The wind, and the earthquake, and the fire go by, bringing with them majesty, chaos, destruction, HUGE reminders of the power of God. Yet the text very carefully tells us that God was not in ANY of these. No. After all the bells and whistles, there comes the ‘sound of a gentle whisper,’ or the ‘sound of silence,’ as my favorite interpretation puts it. And at THIS, verse 13 tells us, Elijah wrapped himself in his cloak, and THEN, he stepped to the entrance of the cave.

Unlike Moses, whom the Lord placed into the cave for his own protection, God invites Elijah to come out of the cave and to stand before Yahweh. And somehow, Elijah cannot even respond until . . . the silence is as overwhelming as the loneliness. Isn’t that interesting?

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Now whether this is evidence of Elijah’s superior and astute judgment about what constitutes the presence of God or yet another example of how truly out of it he was, or a beautifully drawn picture of how deep his need was, I don’t pretend to know. The text doesn’t tell us those things.

Whatever got him out there on that ledge, Elijah now stands in the very presence of God and hears God ask the very same question Elijah has already answered: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And here’s the kicker: Elijah gives exactly the same answer.

There is no sudden stab of insight. There is no increasing clarity or sign of intelligence. There is only, and I use this word very carefully, there is only obedience. The Lord says, “Stand here.” He’s late to respond, but he does it. The Lord asks, “What are you doing here?” And Elijah answers. Again. But I gotta say, something is happening here. I’m not completely sure what it is, but I have a few hunches. Because here is what happens at the very end of our narrative today: the Lord says to Elijah: “Go back the way you came.”

Go back the way you came?

Yes! The journey is reversed. The inward and upward journey is now, once again, the outward journey. Much like walking the prayer labyrinth, we walk in, and we walk out. But it is what happens right there at the center that makes the difference.

What we don’t see in the text of the morning is what comes next — and it’s important, too. God gives Elijah new marching orders — basically, he is re-commissioned as a prophet. BUT, this time, he is to find and anoint his own successor, so Elijah knows there is an end game in view.

And then — and oh, how I love this little add-on — and then, God carefully and clearly says to Elijah, “Oh by the way, you are not alone. You have never been alone. There are 7,000 — count them! — seven zero zero zero others who have been faithfully worshipping me all this time.”

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How gracious is this whole conversation? One worn-out, burnt-up old prophet, wrapped in his cloak, still feeling old and tired and done. And one remarkable God, who sees Elijah — all of Elijah — and says, “You belong to me, old man. Warts and all, weaknesses and all. And I am not done with you just yet. No way, no how.”

God calls Elijah to remember who he is. In the midst of his sorrow, even in the midst of his inability to truly see the goodness that is right around him, in the midst of it all, God says, “You. You right there. I’ve got work for you. Good work. So, take a deep breath, take a good look at me. And remember who the heck you are, okay?”

Oh friends. When we face days where we wonder how the heck we got here, can we remember this?

Can we remember the goodness of God?
Can we remember the truth that we are NEVER alone?
Can we look for angels in the faces of the people who help us?
Can we go deep into worship, seeking the presence of the Living God?
Can we climb whatever mountain is in front of us, confident that we won’t be alone                            there, either?
Can we reach out in love to individuals and groups who are being unjustly treated                              and persecuted?
Can we engage in spiritual warfare with the only real weapon we’ve got, the ever-                                present, all-inclusive love of God?
Can we be ready to answer that ages-old question: What are you doing here?

Can we remember who we are?

Oh, I hope so. I pray so.

Let’s begin by singing, with courage, the powerful words of the song in our bulletins —

             “Through it all, my eyes are on you, through it all, all is well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#Small Wonder — Looking for the Little . . . in Me

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It was just a simple photo. A black and white shot of a young, blond girl staring back at the camera, honest, open, sweet, inquisitive. It was one of about sixty photos spread out on a table for our perusal and possible devotional use. I grabbed it, stuffed it in my bag and immediately took it back to my room at the retreat house.

There were eleven of us there, with not much of an agenda except to be quiet for a while, to follow where our hearts led and to sit with God. Sleep, walk, take photographs, try a little art, journal, read, pray, reflect, have a small conversation with one or two others. Just twenty-four hours — not nearly long enough, by the way — a gift from our denomination in exchange for being spiritual directors on-call for pastors/staff/spouses looking for partnership on the journey.

They were a gift, these hours away, in a beautiful place, with kind people. And I chose that photo of a young girl to take with me on my inward journey. She sat propped up on the desk in my room for a few hours, then on the bedside table. And she accidentally got put into my bag for the journey back home. I’ll return her to her owner soon. 

But not just yet. 

I need to remember her and to notice the ways in which the girl in my borrowed photo reminds me in of the girl in the picture at the top of this post, the girl who happens to be me at age ten.

Sometimes the little girl inside gets shoved to the sidelines and when she’s pushed over there, she can stir things up in ways that are important. She gets anxious, wondering if she’ll be overlooked forever. So sometimes, I need to stop, look for her and listen.

How are you today, honey? Feeling cared for? I want to take good care of you, I really do. I don’t want you to worry. And I don’t want you to worry me, okay? 

Most of the time, all she needs is a fond look, a pat on the head, a few loving words. That’s it. When she feels safe, she comes right back into the center of things and looks out my aging eyes with wonder and anticipation.

I need her, you see.

I need her to remind me that there will always be a part of me that is young, easily frightened and yet open to learn and be loved. She helps me to be young-at-heart, even when the bones and the joints, the muscles and the skin tone are showing their antiquity.

She is the wondering center of me, a key player in my own sense of self, a gift from long ago to today.

Joining with the lovely Kelly Chripczuk today for her wonderful series (just discovered by me) of short essays on small things each week. Thanks, Kelly.

Being Saved by Beauty — A Deeper Story

For nearly two years now, it has been my joy and privilege to write once a month for one of the finest and most honest websites in the Christian blogosphere – A Deeper Story. I’ve got a reflection over there this month that came as a result of so much angry talk out here during this hot and sultry summer. Please follow the links here and at the end of this post to read the entire piece:

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“One thing have I asked of the LORD, one thing will I seek: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NRSV)

Every day. Honest to God, every single day, it is beauty that brings me back from the brink. Some days, it’s the single strongest strand in the invisible net that keeps me from sinking beneath the waves of agony that overwhelm our world on a regular basis.

This life we live can sometimes bring us to a desolate and frightening place. Human beings can be filled with so much hatred and ignorance; the work of the natural world can impinge upon our safety and our peace of mind; racism and sexism and ageism and every other ism you can name — well, they show up in all kinds of ways, both blatant and subtle. There are days when it all feels claustrophobic, paralyzing, too much.

I think that’s why I’ve chosen not to watch the news very much. We don’t take newspapers anymore, either. Maybe I’m like the proverbial ostrich, sticking my head in the sand, falsely believing I’m safe, while the ugliness continues to swirl around my very exposed hind parts.

All I know is, I have limits.

I do not like admitting that truth, I’ll tell you that. Most of my life, I’ve worked very hard to push through perceived limits, pushing to excel at whatever I’m doing. Why? Because I really, really don’t like limits that are imposed upon me by others, which is at the heart of all those isms I mentioned above, isn’t it? Racism, sexism, ageism — one group of people imposing limits on another group of people. And those kinds of limits, I do push back against, gently but firmly.

But I have other limits, ones that I’m discovering in my spirit, in my soul, and they seem to become more and more pronounced as the years add up. There are limits to how much ugliness I can take in, how much vitriol I can absorb. So I generally do not read comment threads that move from discussion to disagreement to name-calling. And I do not follow Twitter fests that quickly degenerate into small bites of not-knowing-much. There are exceptions to this, I know. But for this old broad, the speed and agility with which so many choose to speak is simply beyond me.

In the blogging world, and even on Facebook, I find that I am grateful for friends who can speak back to the ugly, and I try to lend my support with a gentle comment or two, or a Facebook share. But I am discovering that I don’t have what it takes to enter the fray and slice through the verbiage with a carefully aimed retort. For most of the last four years, I’ve been okay with that, grateful to be an encourager and a supporter, a cheerleader on the sidelines, gladly giving way to quicker minds and more articulate voices.

Today, however, at this end of these four years, I wonder: is it enough? Am I doing enough? Do I need to speak up more, maybe even shout more? This has been a matter of prayer and much inner seeking and searching into the depths of my heart and the limits of my courage. . .

Please click here to follow me over to A Deeper Story. . .

 

When It Rains . . .

So . . . remember that post I wrote last week? The one about Love and Fear? Yeah, that one.

About three days after it went live, I apparently had a kind of panic attack, the night before I was to visit the surgeon to learn if I’d be on schedule for this healing process or have to add more weeks on the dang scooter.

That was NOT fun. And it set off a bout of esophageal problems that I’ve run into once or twice before — days of heartburn, back and chest pain, inability to eat much at all. Last time this happened, it took the better part of a month to resolve.

The great news I got at the surgeon’s office (begin partial weight-bearing and physical therapy now, two weeks ahead of schedule) was quickly offset by feeling absolutely lousy and remarkably frightened about it all.

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So much for ‘love casting out fear,’ right? It seems this is a lesson I never quite learn. And it’s not going to get any better as I continue to age, of that I am quite certain. As we get older, a lot of our youthful defenses can’t quite pull off what they once could, and different kinds of intervention sometimes become necessary. 

My kind and patient husband and I went through one long day of medical testing to confirm my own diagnosis of this condition and my gastro doc ‘just happened’ to be in the lobby when I was near his section of our clinic. He promptly did a complete endoscopy.

The confirmation came when he sprayed an absolutely vile tasting numbing agent into the back of my throat and for the 60-90 minutes that stuff numbed me up, I was symptom free. He did find a few small things going on in that department, but apart from the very likely possibility of a spasm in that long tube between throat and tummy, there is no clear reason for this siege.

Except.

Stress brought on by worry.

Man, that’s hard for me to put into writing. So, he prescribed some stomach-soothing liquid medication, and a new variety of prescription GERD treatment.

And also? Ativan, to be taken whenever I feel that panic rising.

Somehow, that feels like a huge personal failure to me. Yet another of the many painful lessons I’m learning as we walk through this L O N G period of recovery and rehab. Deep breathing and the Jesus prayer are not always going to cover it all. They’re just not. 

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Despite my ill health, my disappointment in myself, and my overall fatigue with ALL of this, I wanted to go to church. It was Communion Sunday and Pastor Don was into 1 John 5. Oh, how I needed to worship, to sing, to pray, to hear the Word. And to sit with God’s people.
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I was reminded — again! — that we don’t do this journey alone, we belong to one another. That’s the way God designed and intended the Christian journey to flourish. We gather together, in the same space, and we remember that we cannot do this discipleship thing without the company of others.

And when you’ve been sitting on your butt for 7+ weeks, these moments of community gathering are essential, believe me when I tell you this. The service was lovely, filled with grace and good humor, lovely music, a well-preached word. And the Table.

Oh, the Table. The remembering and the re-membering and the visual picture of the body of Christ streaming forward to share in the Body of Christ. Yes, yes! I needed this.

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This is the great, old palm tree that stands tall in my backyard. I love it. And when I manage to scooter my way to the chaise lounge that faces it, I sit and stare for a while. And I marvel.

Birds by the dozens flit in and out of it’s immensity. All kinds of birds, from tiny sparrows to red-headed woodpeckers to noisy black crows. And there’s room there, room for every one of them. A safe space to build a nest, to nurture the hatchlings, and to rest, away from the dangers of coyote and bobcat, of riding mower and leaf blower.

I am deeply blessed to be able to say that church has always been such a place for me. Worship is a safe place, a nurturing place. A restful place. I’m so grateful that this is true in my life and that, despite the frustrations and limitations of these weeks, I am still able to be there.

It’s a humbling thing to have to acknowledge that even after many years of following Jesus, and many experiences of grace made real, I still do battle with fear and worry. I am asking for grace, most especially for myself just now. And for gracious acceptance of the limits within which I must live the rest of my life. The physical ones are difficult enough. But the emotional and spiritual ones? Those are proving to be the biggies, the ones that need daily relinquishment.

As always, I’m standin’ in the need of prayer.