Encouraged

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2)

It was not the best weekend. I kinda had a pity party…

sigh…

On Saturday, the basement drain overflowed. The result? A bunch of stinky, filthy towels. Many, many hours later, we had a clean laundry room floor and a huge stack of clean towels… And a drain that worked, after multiple trips to the hardware store by my beloved Bearded Spouse.

On Sunday, I worshiped at my friend Dee’s church (and enjoyed it!) But it was also World Communion Sunday, and it was difficult, quite honestly, to not be the one presiding at the Table of Grace and Welcome. I had to reflect and wonder… if I would be serving in a congregation again

When I got home, I was feeling “itchy” and needed something to do. The hometown pro football team was losing (again)… I decided I had procrastinated on one task long enough and it was time to suck it up, and git ‘er done! I began to sort and pack away items from my former church office that were piled all over our living room. This included the “creative stuff” of a pastor: special paraments and altar cloths I’d created or collected. Stones and candles. Strings of mini-lights. Liturgies and service planning notes.

I sorted. I cried. I despaired. While I was at it, I cleaned out an old desk and weeded out more books. And as I was sorting, I found these:

One was a book given to me by Dana, one of God’s best ever “balcony people.” I survived and thrived in seminary and my early years of ministry because of Dana’s encouragement. The other one was a “Celebration Journal” given to me on my ordination day, a little more than 10 years ago. I re-read Andrea’s words of dedication. I found entries I had made in the midst of all sorts of challenges. I tucked them into a special place on my desk to reread and use later. I paused to thank God for these two women… their ongoing gifts of encouragement continued to bless me, years later!

And I realized there are so many more encouragers: My husband and daughters. Family. Professors. RevGal friends. Coworkers. Friends. Former parishioners. A wave of thankfulness came over me.

I moved to my next task… I went to clean and pack away my stoles that were not in season. I wondered how long I would be waiting until I would regularly wear them. Then I found this one…

It was given to me in August by my former senior pastor, Jill, and the head of our church council, Regina. Their cards were folded inside. Their words reminded me of the Call on my life, that God has scattered the seeds of the Gospel through me and would continue to do so. They promised to place this stole on me when God next Calls me to a church.When and where God will call me next, I don’t know. But God does.

The lesson came home, sweet and clear:

Not only does God know what’s next in our lives, God brings friends, companions, and encouragers into our lives to help us… persevere. believe. hope. trust. rejoice. and… (dare I say it?) keep the faith as we WAIT. And even more importantly, that I offer MY words of encouragement to them.

I am so grateful for those who have been with me for this journey of service and celebration, and in this journey of change and waiting. And beyond grateful to the God of encouragement who continues to lead…

Thanks be to God!

The Rock Piles of Ministry: Who Knew?

 

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Behold. A rock pile.

Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.

There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.

Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!

I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.

 

 

Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!

So now… those rocks are no longer discards!

It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.

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It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…

For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!

Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.

I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change!  For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.

And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…

You are not a cast-off.

You are not a mistake.

You are not in the way.

You are called… press on!

…for such a time as this…

 

Tired and Mossy

Just in front of my parking space yesterday was this mossy trunk of a stately oak tree. The grass wasn’t sprouting yet. The branches were bare, and last year’s leaves blew around on the ground beneath her. No sign of spring anywhere…

I had a moment of familiarity. The cold, dark, and windy days we’re having, one after the other, are getting to me. I don’t mind the cold so much. It’s that grey and gloomy sky that seems to be stuck behind a blanket of clouds forever. I’m feeling tired and mossy. It’s true.

Ok, Ok. That’s a bit melodramatic. But that’s March in the MidAtlantic. The weather flip-flops between cold and grey, and has just enough peeks of sunshine to remind us that winter will, eventually, go away. But what seems to predominate are the gloomy, rainy, sleety days. It’s… tiresome.

I drove around, a little grumpy, a lot discouraged. I had received news lately (for myself and people I care about) which have not exactly been something to celebrate. Then there’s the general muck-and-mudslinging of our political mess here in the US. It was all getting to me.

At just the right moment, God seemed to weigh in, just to remind me that I was not traveling alone. I spotted these beauties later in the day while waiting at a stoplight. (It’s a little off-kilter, but I only had one shot before the light turned green!)

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Just a bit of color. A patchy blue sky. A reminder that, yes, I can get through this day/season/struggle. And you can, too.

Yes, you will go out with celebration,
    and you will be brought back in peace.
Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you;
    all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12 Common English Bible

 

This is what democracy looks like…

“After” the March… beginning to spill out on the National Mall!
 

“There is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure that education wins the race.”President John F. Kennedy

Today I participated in the messy, noisy, and occasionally inconvenient work of democracy. With over 500,000 other people in Washington, DC, we brought the area around the National Mall to a complete standstill. Apparently, due to permitting issues with the National Park Service, the Trump inaguration committee, and other arcane rules (the source of which I do not know!) the Women’s March on Washington was not allowed to congregate on the Mall. Instead, the organizers were allotted a street corner. One stage. The limited PA speakers and Jumbotrons meant that unless you were were within a block of the main stage, you couldn’t hear or see a thing. 

Wait?!?!! Is that the Jumbotron?
 

And you know what? It was fine. It was more than fine. 

Because of the YUUUUGE turnout, the barriers were removed between the streets and the Mall in many places. The estimated number of marchers tripled (at least) what was expected. There was no real “march” for many of us, in part because it would have taken hours for us to clear the parade route. 


Yes, the lines for the porta-potties were long. Yes, there were no places to get food or drink (there may have been… but we didn’t see them.) Yes, the cell signal was poor to missing, which one would expect at such a huge gathering of people. And YES there were so many people that we could not march!! 

My friend Karen’s sign was a hit!
 

We stood, sang songs, shared food, laughed at witty signs, had thoughtful discussions with strangers, and generally found ourselves caught up in something MUCH bigger than we are. 

Tonight my aging bones feel every step and hour of standing in the damp cold air. It does not matter. I feel hope and a sense of purpose.

Trying on my rainbow stole on Friday night, pinned with the names of friends, family, co-workers and patients. I marched for them too.

 
There are hard conversations ahead. There are many who did not feel included in the March’s planning. There are deep social, political and systemic ills that one March will not change. There are significant roadblocks to progress in the new administration (ponder JFK’s quote…)  

BUT… 

Our voices were loud and clear. We will be watching. We will speak out. You have poked the sleeping giant, and She will not be stilled. 

The Relentless Pursuit of Beauty

  

  

I came across a blog post that reminded me what I need to do to continue to do this work of hospice chaplaincy. Hugh Hollowell quoted the advice given him by Bart Campolo:

He told me that if I knew I was going to walk across the desert tomorrow, I should be gorging myself with water tonight. Likewise, he said, if I know that tomorrow I will be surrounded by ugliness, I should strive to gorge myself with beauty to prepare for it. My days are pretty ugly at times. So he insisted I hang at museums, read good books, watch good films, read poetry and play in my garden. All in the relentless pursuit of beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness I will encounter.

Stunningly simple. But so true.

On a daily basis, I sit with patients, families and other staff as we walk the final chapters of someone’s life. There’s hard questions, honest reflection and a lot of grace. I’m grateful I have the job that I do, but it becomes wearisome.

I felt the weight of my work this morning when I woke up. It took me a while to get moving and start the weekend’s chores. None of the work was rocket science, just the necessary tasks of any other full-time worker. Stuff like laundry. Vacuuming. Sorting through piles of crap. The final vacuuming and straightening after the Christmas decorations were packed away. But I just didn’t have the energy. The last week has been incredibly stressful… Not necessarily because of the work with patients, but the accompanying …uh… Fertilizer that seem to stink up the air. (I’m sure you know what I mean!)

So I asked myself… What are the things in my life that allow me to gorge myself with beauty? What do I need to keep myself focused, content and energized?

I came up with a short list… Perhaps I’ll add to it as the weeks go by. As I read over the list, I found it intriguing that the list was mostly activities of an introverted nature. For an extrovert, it gave me pause. It is because the nature of my work is challenging at times? Do I need a balance of group events and quiet reflection? Yes… I think so. I have been engaged in my activities of choice and it hasn’t been “enough.”

What’s on your short list? Inspire me!

Dragon Repellent (And other ways we face our fears!)

Many, many years ago, one of our daughters would wake up in a full-blown panic, calling for us:

Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons!
Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons! 

Tears on her face, she would curl up against us, while we tried to soothe her. She didn’t want to sleep WITH us, as much as she wanted the dragons to ‘go away.’ We had little success in persuading her the dragons had left until she fell back asleep.

This happened on and off for a couple of months. It was exhausting for all of us. Nightlights. Music. Aroma therapy. Stuffed animals. We would go a couple of nights and then… BAM. Her pediatrician noted it and said that it was a part of brain development. She wasn’t sleep walking.  It wasn’t night terrors. It was probably just “bad dreams.”

Except, these were not dreams from her perspective. There were dragons under the bed. And they hid when we came in the room. And they only came out at night… At one point, I even tried opening the window and shooing out the dragons before bedtime. (Yes. I was desperate. And pregnant.)

Funny thing, there’s nothing in parenting books about “dragons”…

Finally, I had a fit of inspiration. It was after we had come back from a camping trip and we used a lot of insect repellant. And there were no dragons. Hmmmm….

Before bed one night, I produced a can of “Dragon Repellant.” (It was actually a room deodorizer spray with a conspicuously hand-written label on it. Whatever. She was 3 and a half. It worked.) I sprayed the room and then under the bed and announced that the “Dragon Repellant” would keep the dragons away.

And, it did!

Since those early days of parenting, there have been other fears and tears that no amount of “repellant” would keep away. Gradually, we have all learned a lot about conquering fear. Or rather, allowing the Spirit of God to be a source of confidence, courage and coping. We read verses and learned songs. And mostly, we admitted when we were afraid and needed God to help us.

Isaiah 41:10 (Common English Bible)
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold youwith my righteous strong hand.

Joshua 1:9 (CEB)
I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Romans 8:14-16 (CEB)
All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.

There is a healthy kind of fear. It allows us to retreat and evaluate our safety. That can be healthy and life-sustaining. The fear that God battles for us is very different. It is the kind of fear that paralyzes and causes us to retreat from growing, or pushing past personal pain.

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The fear that God conquers is a fear that limits us.

It is a fear that binds.
It blocks.
It takes away our willingness to try something new.
It puts up artificial boundaries.
It creates barriers between us.

It’s been a constant growth experience as I face fears of different kinds. Of learning what kind of courage it takes to speak my mind. (Or to be silent and pray.) To express an opinion. (And to stand up to opposing ones.) To ask hard questions. (And to accept that we won’t agree on the answers.) To take a risk on a new venture. (Or use wisdom and decline.)

What’s so funny about all this as I face my own fears is that people have told me that I inspired them to try something new. And I laughed. Because, well, in the back of my mind, I am quaking in fear, praying, and fearfully spraying “Dragon Repellant” at all of the things that worry or scare me. I’m trying to have faith that conquers these fears.

And even in my fears, God hears and answers. In the saddest, angriest, darkest, most fearful moments, God has been there. I am grateful.

The Light dawns. Hope returns. Blessed be.

Blessed be the Name...
Blessed be the Name…

Matt Redman wrote a worship song years ago that reminds me…
Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name.

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord…”

Who Does Jesus Look Like?

I was running a little late for my overnight shift at the hospital. Running more than a little late, actually. I put my stride into “overdrive,” adjusted my backpack and tried to weave a little faster between the other commuters on the sidewalk.

Then I heard her singing,

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“Jesus, he looks a lot like me.
Oh brother…
Jesus, he looks a lot like me.
Oh sister…”

And I changed my focus from the stoplight (could I make it? 12 seconds left on the crosswalk timer!) to the woman singing.

She was in a wheelchair. She was wrapped in a couple of blankets. The cold wind whipped the blankets and she clutched them closer, adjusting one over her head. She had a small bucket on the ground in front of her chair with a sign propped up on it. And the sign said, “I just want to buy some dinner.” She was sitting in front of a grocery store, hoping to get enough to buy something from the “hot entrees” bar.

I slowed down and stopped. I reached for my lunch bag, opened it and said, “What would you like? I don’t have any cash.”

She looked in my bag, saw a salad, a bottle of water and among other things, 3 strawberries, big, red and luscious. (I splurged. They aren’t in season yet.)

“Them berries?”

I put them in her hand, and asked, “Anything else? Some yogurt? A sandwich?”

“No, honey,” she said, “that’s close enough to perfect for me.”

I closed my lunch bag, gently touched her shoulder and said, “Blessings.” And started to scurry on my way.

And I heard…

“Jesus… he looks a lot like you.
Oh, sister…”

And I cried all the way to my office. Because I know in my heart of hearts, the person who looks back at me in the mirror is not always acting or living with the purest of motives. But every now and then, Jesus shows up and reminds me that I can grow and change. And that we all can do just the littlest of things and look “a lot” like Jesus.

I thought about my Jesus friend all evening. As I talked to patients. As I walked with a nurse to her shift in the ICU. As I listened to a coworker talk about her miscarriage. As I skimmed a few posts on Facebook and prayed for a friend. As I prayed for people I love.

And I came to the realization that it’s true.
“Jesus… he looks a lot like you.
Oh, brother…
Jesus… he looks a lot like you.
Oh, sister…”

It’s your turn… Take a look in the mirror – see that family resemblance?

Thanks be to God.