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…

 

Bone weary gratitude

 

Something hit me. Hard. Whatever it was (or is!), I went from 100 mph doing chores, cleaning dishes and getting charting done to about 5 mph as I crawled into bed at 9 pm and slept for about 12 hours. A fever and GI symptoms knocked me FLAT!

I have gardening to do, housecleaning to mow through, reading to finish and reviews to write, and absolutely none of them grab my attention. My pillow, electric blanket and bed are calling me…

I am emotionally and physically run down. But I am also blessed down to my toenails with the good things in my life. So what do you do when you know you need a quick re-start to get back on track again?

You. Rest.

I know. DUH. But that’s what I need to do. So today I slept almost all day. answered a few emails that couldn’t wait (about 2 out of 50) and followed my cats’ examples of getting into a good nap.

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I’m still tired. I’m still facing the problems and discouragements of yesterday. I’m still angry at the lies and collusion that appear to be rampant in our government. But I’m a little better rested than I was yesterday.

And maybe, just maybe, I can tackle my “do list” with more enthusiasm and grace.

 Another day, another stole

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My stole from Amani Ya Juu (Peace from Above)

Today I took a quick trip into downtown DC, to the plaza in front of the US Supreme Court building. Before I started my rounds with my hospice patients, I put on my collar and this stole. The stole was made by refugee artists from Amani Ya Juu. It was the first stole given to me when I was ordained, and has a special place in my heart.

(Make sure you visit their website — see the beautiful things they have created, and read their stories!)

The artisans of Amani Ya Juu use their love of African textiles, their commitment to their community thriving, and their skills in creating beautiful items. My stole is just one of the items they make. But the beauty of their craft is just part of what I have learned from these women.It is their example of faithfulness in the face of horrible injustice. It is how they move past those experiences and find “the peace that surpasses all understanding.” They have learned to survive life’s twists and turns, and to make sure their community thrives with them.

It is this selflessness, this desire deep within them to serve others that inspires me in my ministry. I do it so imperfectly… but their example challenges me.

So I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court this morning, with flurries and a stiff, cold breeze. There, I gathered with many other faith leaders to speak out…

…for those who are unjustly detained

…for those who are denied due process in our courts

…for the attack on our civil liberties — ALL of our civil liberties — by those who refuse to obey court injunctions, who defy our Constitution, and who act for selfish gain. 

…for eviscerating the progress made under Loretta Lynch in defending the rights of all persons of color. #BlackLivesMatter

I am compelled to respond because I believe the God I serve demands it. I am compelled to respond because I believe in the worth and value of my fellow humans. And I am compelled to respond because we have done enough waiting. We have given enough “chances.” The actions over the last ten days are sufficient.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

I am angry. Angry that the powerful do not use their power for the common good. Angry that elected officials are not governing in a way that benefits ALL of us — our country, our world, our future.

I am motivated. I have called, written and tweeted my elected officials. I have encouraged them to stand firm and defend our Constitution. I have pleaded with them to uphold “liberty and justice FOR ALL.”

On Sunday, I led this prayer… and I stand by every word, knowing that God will be with us as we stand up to injustice and bigotry.

LET US PRAY.

Lord God, we gather in your Presence, aware of your care for us and for the world. We ask for your Spirit to guide our words and our worship this morning.

Gracious God, the hungry are all around us. May we faithfully share of our pantries and cupboards, our money and our time, that they will be bountifully fed.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Lord of all, we pray for our elected officials, that they will serve the people and defend and protect our Constitution. We hear the words of the spiritually empty, the proud, and those who abuse their power. We pray you will burden their hearts with your Truth and convict them by your Holy Spirit.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

God of all nations, we pray for those in legal limbo, whose immigration status is wrongfully blocked, who are doctors and teachers, researchers and laborers, parents and children. May your justice prevail and may your angels take charge of them and liberate them.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Healer of the broken-hearted, we your children humbly repent for the ways we have not cared for the aliens and the strangers in our midst. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Give us courage to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. May our actions make a difference as we join with others who follow Christ.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

We pray all this in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Amen.

I do not understand the whys and breakdown of common decency that led to our country’s situation today. I lean on hope in a God who is more powerful than the power-obsessed. I am resting in that Peace from Above.

Pray with me, friends…

We must stick together and believe in God’s love for us and for all humanity.

The calm before the storm

The weather forecast for today and tomorrow contains dire predictions. Snow, sleet and lots of both. I haven’t heard the latest predictions, (they keep changing!) but I understand that there will be plenty of whatever falls from the sky.

In the middle of this “winter weather event” (forecaster-ese for “snow storm”), I am on call. As long as the Metro and buses are running tomorrow morning, I’ll get home. Slowly. But I’ll get home and share in the snow-blowing and shoveling and other assorted post-storm tasks. And yes, catch up on my sleep!

It’s really easy to get caught up in the hype. My Minnesotan friends giggle when DC panics over a foot of snow. If they were trying to drive in it with the crazy-pants around here, they’d be less flip about it. No, the easiest strategy we’ve found is to plan ahead, work from home, or, in my case, have a back up plan (or two).

20140211-210316.jpgThis morning I walked around the labyrinth, taking time to enjoy the quiet. There were large branches down from the last storm. The squirrel and rabbit tracks made it clear that there were a lot of foragers running around, getting ready for the next storm. The ground was crunchy underfoot, the snow pockmarked and uneven from melting. Those bricks in the labyrinth, so carefully laid in August and September, are hidden by leaves. Yet the way to follow is still there.

In my work as a chaplain, there are plenty of moments where it can be peaceful and quiet. I have learned to take the time to breathe, remember Whose I am, and gather in as much of that soaking love of God as I can. I can choose to do paperwork or take a walk-about, visiting the units and talking to staff members. (And yes, there are moments where I just sit and read social media or play a game on my phone. I’m not Super a Woman and there’s no S on my chest! Sometimes, I need a breather.)

And then life (for someone) becomes chaotic, crazed and uncertain. My pager goes off, or the overhead announcement calls out a trauma or a code blue. I carry that moment of peace, the calm before the storm with me.

And sometimes, when I close my eyes to pray with a patient or a family, I think of the over-arching trees and the crunch of snow underfoot. And then I try to convey that peace and hope in my words.

The calm before the storm… The Peace that calms the storm… I carry it with me.

Blessed be.

What I learned building a labyrinth

It's DONE!

It’s DONE!

I finished the labyrinth this week. It took several hours as I dug and chiseled enough dirt out of the way to inset the bricks. I left the paths au naturel with just the usual weeds, grass and dirt. It’s nestled in a part of the back yard that is sheltered by trees and bushes on two sides, and six foot fencing on the other. Now it’s just the finishing touches. As I worked on it, I reflected on what I was learning…

PERSISTENCE

Busted tools! The rocks! The roots! The gnats and mosquitos! The heat! More than once I wanted to scrap this idea and call it a flower bed. But I kept going. 100 bricks to go. 75  bricks to go. 25 bricks to go. And then it was done!

Like so many things in my life, it is this slow process, tedious as it is, of sticking with the plan until it’s done. And then the results speak for themselves.

BEAUTY

windchimeI saw beauty around me every day. Not just in the flower beds, but in the patterns of sun and shade on the grass. Of the gnarled beauty of a tree trunk. Of the sounds of a downy woodpecker tap-tap-tapping its way down a tree about five feet from me. The wind chimes humming in a gentle breeze. The riot of colors in wildflowers growing along the fence. The sound the wind makes through the leaves. The squirrels chittering and scolding as they dash around, always keeping this errant human in view. The way a rabbit hops when they aren’t in a hurry. The keening of a hawk overhead — and the sudden vanishing of wildlife in response!

None of these were particularly earth-shattering. It was the simple process of taking the time to notice them. It is a by-product of walking slowly, listening and hearing the slight tugs on my attention, and letting all the other “stuff” that clutters my life and my calendar sit to one side, if only for a few moments.

FORGIVENESS

Rocks at the start of the labyrinth

Rocks at the start of the labyrinth

I have faced some obstacles lately. Each one is there for a reason, even if I don’t quite see why. They are memorialized by the pile of rocks at the start of the labyrinth, rocks that I uncovered as I inlaid the bricks.

Why does this rock pile represent forgiveness to me? I had to see each rock for what it was – An event. A moment. A person. An imperfection. I dug them out, tossed them in the pile and moved on. I recognized the obstacle for what it was – something to overcome, learn from and then leave behind.

I didn’t catalogue them: “You ROCK, you! You were under brick number 47!” Nope, I don’t remember where each individual rock came from in the spiral. They join the pile of The Forgiven.

Forgiveness is hard when there’s no context or reason. A couple of times a specific event or job prospect came to mind — one where I was, I felt, unfairly judged as lacking. I didn’t belabor it. I didn’t carry the rocks with me, moving them from brick to brick. (That is a lot of what unforgiveness is!) I was supposed to set the offense aside… and press on. Walk forward. Breathe. Pray. Forgive. Release. Move on.

Some of these events have made me cry with frustration, “WHY ME??”

I’m learning that it really has nothing to do with me. It’s more about living with and among imperfect people who are very much like me.

HUMILITY

I can bend (cheap) steel!

I can bend (cheap) steel!

I started building this labyrinth with the wrong tools. Or not enough of the right ones. I had to fess up and buy a new trowel. And I had to go find a better shovel for digging into the packed clay and evening out the soil.

This was something I couldn’t hide. I went about it the wrong way and had to learn from my mistakes.

But I also learned that a companion to humility is compassion, or perhaps forgiveness of self. Giving myself room to try again, to admit mistakes, to find better resources.

That doesn’t work just for bricks, but for everything in life.

THANKFULNESS

Recognize your predecessors

Recognize your predecessors

This is a fun one. I found what could be an arrowhead. (It might not be.) It reminded me that the land where our house is built was a plantation. There’s fencing embedded in the trees along would could have been a road. There’s an old apple orchard that extends across several yards. And there were some brick-shaped rocks that could have been part of the fill dirt.

My predecessors include my ancestors, my mentors, my professors and teachers. People who are a “lap ahead” in the journey. I thought about how much I had been given because of their generous investment in my life.

It’s something to pay forward. Gratefully.

JOY

There have been days where I haven’t been very happy, but I have had joy. Learning the difference has been important for me, whether it’s building a labyrinth, or taking on life, one day at a time. I’d love to say that all of my questions and issues are resolved by walking the labyrinth. Ah, well… no. But I have gained so much. If you’ve ever like to come take a walk, let me know. It’s a lovely corner of God’s earth.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

There’s more I want to do to finish the labyrinth. I have votive holders I want to set in place, and a banner to hang. Somewhere there needs to be benches. And some kind of central focus. There’s landscaping and planting to do as well.

All in good time.

As it is, it’s lovely. And so am I. And so, incidentally, are you.

Our back yard.

Our back yard.

A Prayer in a Song: WORN

I heard this song on my way home from my chaplain duty hours this morning. It touched me and reminded me that I can always pour out what is on my heart and mind and God hears and comforts me.

I pray tonight for someone who hurts deeper than you and I can ever imagine, for people who love this person and wonder how this much hurt can come into one life. And I pray, especially, for those who are working as  doctors and nurses and chaplains this night, that they will bring healing, on the Spirit’s Wings.

Be blessed…

WORN

Tenth Avenue North

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

When the walls fail…

Eight years ago, the levees failed in New Orleans, and Katrina’s storm surge all but swallowed a city. We watched news reports and saw President George W. Bush tour the area in a helicopter. We listened to the frustrations of people camped in the SuperDome, without electricity or plumbing. We saw inadequate response from FEMA. In the weeks and months that followed, many traveled to the area to rebuild churches, schools and homes.

Yet, if you travel in that region, you will see the “bones” of a time “Pre-Katrina.”

Somehow, despite early warning systems, despite the logic of building at (or in some places, below sea level), we continue to build places to live, work, eat and worship on the coastal plains. (I should point out that I regularly enjoy the peace and quiet of one of these homes… so I’m not condemning anyone.)

There are times that we can see walls about to fail. Especially in the arena of world politics, we see the match-to-a-powder-keg situations that make us catch our breath. “Dear Lord, may it not be.”

As Syria is about to explode in anger and war. As the death toll rises in Egypt. As Iran and Iraq and Pakistan remain riddled with gunfire and IEDs. We watch a world that is on the verge of eruption and harp on the unimportant.

What matters? Health, education, food and safety for families across the globe. Safety and security to worship in a place and manner of their choosing.

In a Star Trek Next Generation episode, Captain Picard was trying to communicate with the Tamarians, a people who communicated exclusively in metaphor and cultural inference. Frustrations abounded as human and Tamarian talked past each other.

How like our world scene this is…

Lt. Commander Data: Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.
Counselor Deanna Troi: It’s as if I were to say to you… “Juliet on her balcony”.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: An image of romance.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Exactly. Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It’s how they communicate, and it’s how they think.
Commander William T. Riker: If we know how they think, shouldn’t we be able to get something across to them?
Lt. Commander Data: No, sir. The situation is analogous to understanding the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: If I didn’t know who Juliet was or what she was doing on that balcony, the image alone wouldn’t have any meaning.
Counselor Deanna Troi: That’s correct. For instance, we know that Darmok was a great hero, a hunter, and that Tanagra was an island. But that’s it. Without the details, there’s no understanding.

And that is exactly what I see in Syria…. and Egypt. And in the racial tensions and misunderstandings of our own country. If we only understand grammer and none of the syntax or vocabulary, we have no hope of truly communicating.

We speak of political peace when people are seeking power and dominance. The way of Christ is one of peace through faith, in spite of circumstances. We should not be surprised when the levees fail, when the wall fall, and when people turn on each other, each scrabbling to hold on to high ground.

Can we find a way through these moments of political injustices and persecution? Can we advance a way of peace that does not exist through the realm of ego and anger? Not by our own attempts. No, we need the work and power of God, watching, shepherding, guiding, and diffusing our “first response” – war – to the way of peace.

Oh Lord, may it be.

23 Jesus answered, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word that you hear isn’t mine. It is the word of the Father who sent me.

25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.

27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.  (John 14, CEB)