In the wild unknown of the Spirit


It’s an adventure… walking by faith and saying to the Divine, “Ok, I am willing.”

Part of me tenses up in fear. I wonder, “Is this like praying for patience, and then getting a boatload of opportunities to practice BEING patient?”

No, I know I’m on a journey. At times, it’s a wilderness wandering, full of sacrifice and drudgery. At times, it’s impossible to know if I’m right/wrong/deceived/inspired. And at times,  it is being willing to step into a role that no one else wants. It’s being willing to take on the task that is so full of the unknown that it is anxiety-producing, a place where God has tasked ME with doing the hard work of living out Love, Joy and Peace where others have failed.

Walking in the wild unknown of the Spirit is terrifying. It’s much easier to find a version of Christianity that sets me in lockstep, with black and white lines. But that’s not the contemporary culture we work, play and minister in, is it? For as I read and pray, I acknowledge that I don’t worship a demagogue. I don’t expect a “holy ZAP!” at any moment. That’s not the image of the Divine I know. That’s not the relational, covenantal God of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. That’s not the  One who called me to ministry and care of others, in the Church and outside it. That’s absolutely not the God who welcomes, affirms, nurtures and empowers.

The problem is, the picture of the Creator most people know is  a familiar, transactional Patriarch. The “3-strikes-and-you’re-out” expectation that is impossible to please. The Divine image that is yelled about by ultra-conservative folks who preach an inaccessible Person, One that only chastises and lists rules. The Holy One who is broken down into 3 easy steps and a book with a video teaching series for your Adult/Youth/Children’s ministries.

It feels overwhelming to walk this authentically wild and unknown road. But yet… I am called to it, in places and way that I don’t yet fully know for sure, but there is no doubt that I do not walk it alone. God is with me. And I have full confidence that nothing is out of God’s touch and God’s help.

I’m challenged by the words of Mary Oliver, longing to live out my “one wild and precious life” in that wild unknown of the Spirit. 

I heard TobyMac’s song Beyond Me this afternoon while running errands…  And it encouraged me. Perhaps it will help you, too, on your journey. You can listen to it here…
Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched outsized the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe…
That you gave me the stars put them out of my reach
Call me to waters a little too deep
Oh I’ve never been so aware of my need
You keep on making me see
It’s way beyond me…

Songwriters: David Arthur Garcia / Toby Mc Keehan
Beyond Me lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

There IS still hope.

I’m pressed but not crushed…  – Paul of Tarsus

Here’s my self-care when I’m sad and stressed:

  • Cooking good food. Comfort food.
  • Curbing my work hours.
  • A nice blush wine (For medicinal purposes. Of course.)
  • Petting a cat.
  • Being with family and close friends.
  • And watching a little Lord of the Rings…

Tolkien has a way of reminding me about the real and not real parts of life, particularly the reality of Good and Evil. We didn’t get to The Two Towers (again/yet/for the gazillionth time) but what came to mind the other night was the scene between Elrond and Arlen when he was pressuring her to leave with the other elves for Valinor…


Elrond:
Why do you linger here when there is no Hope?
Arlen: There is still hope.

 I don’t hold out hope that the Leopard will change his spots and be able to govern well. I don’t expect that lawmakers who seem to “piddle, twiddle and resolve” will get anything done. (Cynical Me believes that they might of course remove health insurance from the working class, legislate who you can love, and attempt yet again to make family planning decisions for all Americans… but I digress…)

But I cling to Hope.

Hope in finding simple ways to express that I AM an ally and proud feminist. That I care about the environment and the serious burden of higher education. That I want to see all children have access to safe water sources and a good education. That racism and prejudice are wrong… and eradicating them begins with me…

I look around and see our daughters who care about their fellow humans. And I know many of their friends who are genuine, thoughtful and caring. They give me hope. 

I watch my coworkers who do everything they can to bring comfort and compassion to someone’s last days on this earth. 

I cling to Hope.

I am still angry. I am still frustrated with white women, “Christian” women in particular, who supported a man who used misogyny, bullying, mockery and profanity to win an election. But then I have to let that anger go and get back to what I must do…

Do justice

Love mercy

Walk humbly

Amen. So be it.

I don’t speak for you

I don’t speak for you.

There. I said it.

I also don’t speak for people who look like me, dress like me, work with me, worship with me, or live near me. And, most importantly, I most definitely do not speak for someone who is nothing like me!

I am just… me. A wife and mom. A hospice chaplain. A progressive Baptist. A pastor. An LGBTQ+ally (and yes — I asked and was told that I am. If that matters.)

I look like women who voted for Trump in large numbers, and that pisses me off. (White, middle class, Christian.) I supported Hillary and contributed to her campaign. I tried to influence the hearts and minds of people around me to vote for her. And apparently, I was not very good at it.

Election night, I had tears in my eyes and felt frustrated. I had no words for those closest to me who were also devastated. I heard their fears. I was distressed with them. I am deeply worried about them because of the rhetoric and abuse we all heard from Trump during the campaign. They are vulnerable because of who they are.

Here’s what I have learned in the last few days…  (Sorry it’s in bullet points. I don’t have time to create fantastic, in-depth prose.)

  • By accident of birth, education and economic status, I could fade into the Great Beyond of white suburbia. But my Calling, my conscience and my faith do not allow that.
  • Those who know me already, know that when I wear a safety pin* or a rainbow bracelet, that I am visibly trying to signal what I believe and will do. And that I want them to be treated fairly, kindly, respectfully as I want to be treated.
  • Those who don’t know me personally might think I’m posturing.
  • The dying patients I serve, as well as their families, need my focus and care. Many of them are marginalized by their race, religion or gender identity.
  • My coworkers who care for the dying with me every day are sad, stressed and discouraged.
  • My family, friends, and parishioners have real fears, hurts and anxieties because of this election season.
  • I don’t have enough money, time or energy to respond to every need around me. That means I have to pick and choose, and I try to do that wisely.
  • I am praying — fiercely — for the projected new President.** (As of this date, the Electoral College has not met.)

 

I am trying to make a difference where I am. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year. In my context. Wherever God takes me.

I will do this imperfectly. Incompletely. Ignorantly. But I will keep trying.

I will  continue speak up against hate speech whenever I witness it.

I will keep learning. Growing. Praying. Reading. Listening. Serving. I’ll wear a safety pin and a rainbow bracelet. And sometimes, a cross. And I’ll try to do a better job of being an example of Christ in the world.

soli deo gloria

 

*It used to be that when someone wore a cross, they were expected to act “Christianly”. But today, the cross has been co-opted by political entities within American politics. It seems that a safety pin might better express my effort to be a welcoming, affirming and listening presence, without the trappings of a particular religious group.

**[edited to add] This does not mean he has my approval or my trust. (Bless his heart.) It means I am fulfilling a Scriptural admonishment to pray for those in authority.

What shall I tell my daughters?

Oh Lord…

How did we arrive in this unholy mess? The latest kerfuffle with the presidential election makes me want to throw things. Or vomit. Or maybe throw vomit. How did things get so thoroughly mucked up? Is this really the result of an uninvested, uneducated electorate, who were distracted by the rhetoric of obstructionist Legislatures, both national and local? (…as some pundits would suggest)

img_2179What shall I tell my daughters? They are voting in their first presidential election. The big issues like our national debt and student loans matter to them. (Hello. To me, too!) So does affordable healthcare. Getting a job. A clean environment. Global warming. A safer world. Marrying the person they love.

How shall I explain what their parents’ generation has done…and not done? They know as well as I do that it is a complex world we live in, far more complex than when I snoozed my way through “Principles of Democracy” (aka “civics”) in high school. It’s more than sound bites. It’s more than tabloid-driven news (God, help us!) It’s more than he-said-she-said.

This much I do know… I believe these young women, these wonderful daughters of ours are, inherently and personally, people of value and promise. They and their friends have much to give to our nation and our world. They have drive and dreams. They are articulate and compassionate.

They are watching and waiting with me, Lord.

I know You guide the hearts and actions of the nations.
I know You are able to steer even the most stubborn autocrat.
I know that whoever is elected will be flawed human being… just like me.
May Your peace reign.
May we hear Your direction.
May we know Your heart.
May we have Your mind.
And may those of us who are tasked with spiritual leadership
guard our tongues and increase our prayers…

Amen.

Back to my roots

 

Old Man’s Cave trail, Hocking Hills, Ohio

 

 A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these, she said, is roots, the other, wings.

Quoted by Hodding Carter in “Where Main Street Meets the River”

We had our annual family reunion last week. It was full of pun-offs, adventures, and close living quarters. We feasted on fresh Carolina peaches, sweet corn and brick oven pizza.

A bodaciously awesome pizza, if I do say so myself!

I realized as I listened to the laughter and conversation swirling around the dinner table that our stories are entwined in so many ways. We share history as well as DNA. We share losses and joys. We fight to the death to keep the essential, clarifying, and off-debated Oxford comma. (See what I did there?)

We shared peaceful views at sunset. Hiking at childhood haunts. Competitive card games. And hugs. Lots of hugs.

The genealogists in the family (my mom being the most experienced) will share interesting bits of family trivia. Through years of research, Mom, (as well as my Dad and maternal grandmother) have uncovered when a specific ancestor emigrated to the US, what wars  they fought in, how they worshipped, and where they homesteaded. The ancestral “fan chart” is impressive with the names and dates going back to ten generations!

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Ancestral Fan-Chart created by my grandmother, Lura Morrow Hickox

For my daughters, I wish for them this same sense of rootedness and belonging. A place to be accepted and encircled with love. A reminder that they are loved and prayed for daily. A retreat from the world when its suckiness seems to out-weigh the promises of the future. A secure take-off. A safe landing zone. And enough love in their buckets to spill out into the world around them.

It’s something I wish for all…  Not a wall. Not belligerence and hate. Not ridicule and judgmental scorn.

It’s really quite simple:

Roots. Belonging. Acceptance. Love.

The true mark of someone who loves God is one that demonstrates their rootedness in the Divine. And the fruit that grows from it.

Jesus said:

You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Matthew 7:16-20 (NLT)

Perspective is Everything

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Somewhere over Indiana… I think.

That momentary darkness
A burst of blinding light
The morning walk around the neighborhood
A hellish commute to work
Perspective is everything

Finding a piece of the puzzle
Learning a new bit of my reality
Asking, for once, the right questions
Trusting God enough to wait
Perspective is everything

Rising above your circumstances
Walking on and getting closer to your goal
Seeing around the bend
God giving you hope to hang on
Perspective is everything

It’s worth it
You’re worth it
Hang on
Hold on
Perspective is everything

When less than perfect is… perfect!

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My travels today took me all over suburbia, from the newest neighborhoods with massive custom homes to the post-World War 2 bungalows. In the outer ‘burbs, there are many places where the agricultural community lives side-by-side with modern amenities. Driving on one back road, I chuckled at the sight of a herd of white-faced Herefords grazing in a field next to a large strip mall and posh tennis club.

And then, I saw this barn.

It was barely standing, with holes in the siding and the roof, and piled debris from the building on one side of the structure. (I actually did some fast and furious U-turns in order to go back and take a second look, and snap this picture.)

Directly across the street sat a “perfect” home with a wrap-around porch, vinyl siding, three-car garage and well-tended landscaping. (Even with the dregs of the recent snowstorm piled along the driveway and front walk, you could tell the hedges were clipped to perfection!)

Shack and Chic. Country and City. Cows and Suburbia. Dilapidated and Perfect.  The journeys they find themselves on are all different, and yet the same.

driving

Working in hospice, I become invested in the lives and needs of my patients. I listen to their stories, their questions, their philosophical reflections. I enjoy photos, listen to music, help write letters, and read Scripture to them. I learn so much. Oh, do I learn!

What you see on the outside can be deceiving. Inside the walls of beautiful homes, there are stories of great joy, worry and regret. Down the hall from a perfectly decorated game room, there is a hospital bed, or a countertop lined with bottles of pills. A camper may sit in the driveway, still covered in snow, the owner only dreaming of a drive to the Florida Keys.

Sometimes the contrast is quite striking. From outward appearances, they want for nothing: gourmet food, 24/7 private duty staff, gracious living with all the amenities. But once the door is closed and there is opportunity to share, there’s a different story. The ache of regrets and missed opportunities colors the few days a family may have.

In another home, you see there are needed repairs. It’s clear that the breadwinner is no longer working. The budget is shot after chemo and surgeries and hospitalizations, and there are grave financial concerns. The bills outlast the income, but laughter and joy color precious moments.

barn croppedOne really can’t tell from the outside what’s really happening on the inside. That family who looks perfect, is not…

And the impossibly dilapidated structure is actually quite beautiful…

And so, my chaplain’s heart stopped to wonder…

Do I see with an open heart and clear eyes what is truly going on behind the scenes? Or am I caught up in appearances and flashy “perfection?”

The bottom line is… we can never truly know what is going on in the human heart. I have learned this, to my embarrassment, when I make an assumption without taking time to really listen and absorb the facts.

Tonight I look around at our warm and inviting home, cats purring the couch beside me and many “creature comforts” at my disposal. Life is not perfect, but it is pretty darn good. May I not take that for granted.

Thanks be to God.