Echoing Footsteps

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
– Alfred Lloyd Tennyson 

Our congregation is taking a “slowed-down” approach to Lent this year. Our main theme is “Restore My Soul” – finding ways to feel renewed and refreshed in the faith. We are focusing on being “un-busy.” There’s just too much in our culture that fights against a deeper, richer spiritual life.

I chose to use coloring again for my personal Lenten discipline as a means of reflection and self-expression. Especially with my current physical challenges from knee surgery, I need to be intentional in reflecting and listening to the Divine. So, I pulled out one of my favorite coloring books which has page after page of labyrinths to color. I flipped open to a fresh page and saw this:

labyrinthpast

The colors of a completed labyrinth from a previous Lent bled through the page opposite of the new labyrinth I began coloring today. I paused to wonder, “What echoes from my past am I walking with today??”

Positive or negative, challenges or success stories, I have internalized all of these past events. Some memories are faded, others push through with more of an impact. All of them are a part of me. All of them are essential to who I am and how I serve as a pastor and a chaplain. And even the hardest memories can be an asset and inform how I serve. But they also can be triggers and block me from doing my best.

Stumbling. Falling. Trying again. That’s a life that walks with Christ, day after day, year after year. Walking in the Divine’s grace and love. Always until forever.

Blessed be.

When we are dust

A woman pastor’s Hand with ground in ashes from Ash Wednesday

When we are dust…

Will our passions live on
In the hearts of those
We taught by our example?

Will anyone know
What made our very bones sing
With deep joy?

Will the dreams for our children’s
And grandchildren’s futures
Be realized?

When we are dust…

Will we have lived into
The joyous “Hallelujah!”
The holy Presence
The final rest
Our souls have waited for?

When we are dust…

Enough

My week started out taxing and frustrating, and ended with a sense of Divine forgiveness and intervention. The frustration came from within, feeling inadequate to handle the tasks and problems in front of me. The Divine forgiveness and intervention was part of experiencing a fellowship meal, Communion and a time of reflection on Maundy Thursday.

At one point in my workday, I took a break. I needed to find inspiration and beauty. The faces I saw were full of anger and hurt and pain… There were issues I could only bear witness to, and offer my ministry of presence. A helpless feeling, that.

I sat with God a while… I felt unequal to the work I was tasked to do…

But I was reminded that it was “enough.” I am enough. God’s Spirit bearing witness in my presence is enough. Sitting in silence and in prayer is enough. Holding a limp hand in the face of death is enough. Crying out my own frustration as I drove from one family to the next is enough. Just BEING is enough!

This runs counter to the way our world sees things. For there are never enough clothes  in your closet, enough food on your table, a fancy enough car. Driven to buy, use and buy again, we forget the essence of “enough.”

On Maundy Thursday, we sat together and remembered the One who gave Enough love for the whole world. A gift that can never be matched or expressed in my limited capacity as a Christ-follower. It was a holy moment as we sang…

Were you there as they crucified my Lord…
Were you there as they crucified my Lord…
Ohhhh, sometimes it causes me to tremble…

It was enough. It is enough. And it is all God.

Remember you are Dust…

One day can be a lot like another… But today, at the end of the day, I changed one role for the other.

I stepped out of my chaplain role and donned my pastor’s robe and stole, and assisted in leading the Ash Wednesday service with my pastor and friend, Jill. We shared soup and rolls, and Scripture from the Psalms. It was an evening of prayers, of miscues, of wrong notes and hard topics. It was a night with the subtext, “Welcome to a service where we are all going to remember that we are mortal.”

Ash Wednesday is that time of solemn reflection, of admitting that this life we worry about every day is so… Temporary. It is a day of pastoral irony that we, who are supposed to inspire, encourage and remind others of the joys of the eternal, have the most visible stain of mortality on our hands. My thumb and forefinger had black in every crease, every wrinkle, every hangnail.

 

Remember…

It was especially poignant for me in that today is the anniversary of my dad’s death in  February 10, 2000.

Today as I read Scripture and left a cross on the forehead of my patients and their families, I remembered him, and my mom, and my sibs. I remembered the waiting, the wondering, the sad relief. It isn’t something I think about every day. But I did today…

Remember you are formed from the dust of the earth…

And to the dust, you will return.

Ash Wednesday is just the beginning of the journey through Lent. It is a wandering and reflecting time. There is time for introspection and repentance, but life does not stay in the morose and mortal. For these next 40 days, we are taking an intentional journey towards the Cross and an empty Tomb. Death does not stay defeated!

But for tonight… We reflect. We consider. We remember….

Blessed be the Name.

Holy Week: Walking Towards the Resurrection

It’s Holy Week. One of the busiest times of year for pastors (and chaplains), and one where I so desperately need some strength and rejuvenation!

IMG_7819I was reminded by a Wise Woman to be intentional in my Holy Week activities, busy as I am. I was exhorted to keep the space around my heart and my mind refreshed and clear.

So this afternoon, with laundry piled high (isn’t it always?) and chores to do, I took her advice.

I sat in the chilly spring air, and stared at blue sky, and puffy clouds, and noticed the maple buds swelling.

I watched the chickadees and cardinals go to the feeders, flitting back and forth to the trees and bushes. I listened to a woodpecker drumming on the dead apple tree branch. And I heard the sound of branches creaking in the light breeze.

I breathed deeply. Chores can wait. Books will gather dust. Essays and charting and blog posts even will get done… or not.

IMG_7813What I really needed to do was be IN Creation. To jettison the expectations I put on myself, and to remember… to pray… to reflect on this Lenten journey, soon to be ending with the celebration on Easter morning.

I sat on a bench in the sun, drinking it all in. I walked the labyrinth in the back yard and realized it needed attention. It was time to clean away the deadfall of branches and rake away the leaves. To stop and look around me and see the change coming and relish it. To see the traces of winter, the places where the ground is still hard and cold, and also the places where the grass has begun to grow.

I sense the stirring. I know that the songs of the Resurrection are coming. But first, I wait and walk and wait some more.

IMG_7817I noted this old fencerow on our property. It is part of an old orchard road where, generations ago, the apple trees were planted and the fence strung up to prevent livestock from getting in the orchard. It reminded me that the echoes of generations past gave me life and purpose and fire to keep going, keep growing.

This is the work of the Spirit in my life. She leads, suggests but never presses. She points out the fenceposts and reminds me of the paths of the faithful. She highlights obstacles and suggests a way around it. She breathes life into my tired, cold, wintering-over heart.

And I realize, with a kind of dull and slow awakening, that even in the days where I felt it was pointless, and basically “phoned it in” at work and home, God was working. Through me. In me. In spite of me. From the pile of dead branches to the leaves that blew in across the fence, God has been and always will be at work, behind the scenes, underground, in the coldest, driest, hottest or iciest days.

Joan Chittiister wrote:
“Everywhere I looked, hope existed – but only as some kind of green shoot in the midst of struggle. It was a theological concept, not a spiritual practice. Hope, I began to realize, was not a state of life. It was at best a gift of life.”

IMG_7802Wherever I go, in my next steps and moments, I walk with a little more confidence and faith in the God who walks with me.

In the struggle, there is peace. And there is surely growth.

Walking towards the Resurrection this week – may you experience the encouraging words of the Spirit.

TBTG

Photo-a-day: Forgive

2014-02-23 03.03.41
The fence line at the Antietam Battlefield

This last week has been a whirlwind. Patients, families, meetings, charting, phone calls, and driving over 750 miles. And that’s just for starters.

The reason I logged all those miles was to attend a committee review of my application to be recognized as a Board-Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. I’ll spare you the details, (you can go to the link and read all about it), but it has taken me almost five years since I graduated from seminary to achieve this recognition.

Professional chaplains engage in an intensive learning process. It is the process of learning how to use your “self” as a resource; being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and potential triggers takes time. Lots of time. It requires prayer, reflection, writing, talking, and applying what you discern. It’s long hours for crap pay (no lie… for one of my placements I earned minimum wage!) It’s trying to understand someone from a radically different background. And always, always ALWAYS listening to the Spirit of the Living God.

So when I came to today’s Photo-a-Day prompt, FORGIVE, I was immediately drawn to search for a photo of Antietam. The bloodiest battle on America’s soil where over 23,000 were killed in a day. In some parts of the United States, the shadows cast by The Civil War are decidedly UNcivil. I was reminded of that fact as I drove around North Carolina. And later today, as I drove up I-95 and saw the huge Confederate flag in full view of I-95. (Read more here.)

It’s true: in some places, the South has not forgiven the North. Funny how that applies to many other issues in the US today…

But it is also a part of my chaplain’s journey, as I have learned to view people who reject my ministry with compassion instead of getting angry. Yes. I’ve been rejected. And many times, I don’t know whether it’s because I am the wrong race, gender, denomination or something else I don’t know! (I’m wearing pants? My head isn’t covered?)

I’ve had to leave a lot of baggage behind. It’s too much emotional and psychological effort to carry all of that extra enmity. I am learning that life is too short, and the world has much to celebrate and cherish.

Family, friends, beauty, joy, hope… all are worth the extra time and energy that I can give them.

A quote I read recently brought it home:

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. – Jonathan Lockwood Huie

The Apostle Paul had some good advice about forgiveness too:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)

A reminder. A prayer. A life-long goal.

Blessed be.

Photo-a-Day: Still

IMG_7740

Walking through the garden that afternoon, the air was heavy and humid. Not a leaf was moving. I was struck by the vines above me, clinging to a cool stone wall.

Still.

It’s the moment where I realize that I can stop moving, doing, responding… and just BE.

It’s a chaplain skill. Waiting for the time and place and moment… for the wind of the Spirit to blow freely through me.

Still.