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.

Whine Mode

Kneepain. Deb’s knee with an ice pack on it.
Ice pack on/off. Stretch. Exercise. Repeat.

I’m not happy. (Just being honest!)

Despite following orders, taking meds, doing physical therapy exercises, acupuncture, listening to my body, using all the herbs and tinctures, following a modified yoga practice, and the RICE protocol… it’s clear that my achy-breaky-knee will need more assertive treatment.

So… I’m having an arthroscopic procedure on March 11th, and will have to take some time off work. I have health insurance, and even disability if I need it! I have great support from family and friends. I have comfy positioning pillows and crutches. I have people already praying for me!

It’s a common procedure. The results will help with a better plan forward and (hopefully) avoid anything drastic.

But I’ve been in “whine mode” pretty much all day.

Even with the loveliness of a March snow falling outside my window. I’m whining. Even with the support and love of my spouse. I’m whining. Even while I had time to do some sewing, some reading, and then a holy nap… I’m whining.

I know all shall be well. This too shall pass. Yadda yadda. I’ll get over myself. I promise. But for right now, I’m whining.

That’s real life. Real struggle. Real feelings. And a very Real Presence walking through it all with me. Even… when I’m whining.

It’s Star Words time!

The Three Wise Men - Matthew 2:1-12
Artist: Jesus Mafa from Cameroon.
No. Not Star Wars time. (I see you out there.)

Star Words is a concept I first learned about from Marci Glass, one of the RevGalBlogPals. She credits Reformed Worship for the seed idea.

The concept is simple: One selects (or is given) a word for the purpose of reflection and meditation for the New Year. It is based off of the story of the Magi coming to see the Christ Child. In most Christian communities, this story is part of Epiphany celebration (or the twelfth day of Christmas.) However, I think it can be part of one’s spiritual practice, regardless of your personal spirituality or religion (or lack thereof.)

Here is the text as found in Matthew 2:1-12 (CEB).

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 “You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”*

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

* Matthew 2:6 Mic 5:2; 2 Sam 5:2

In choosing/giving a star word, there is an opportunity for reflection and even re-direction. After all, the Magi thought a new King would be born in a palace. Instead, the scholars in Herod’s court told them to go to Bethlehem. They also listened to the warnings of the Divine (even through dreams!) to not return and tell Herod where the Child was living with his family. How might the Divine give you re-direction or insight with your Star Word?

The gifts of the Magi were costly. Their intentions were pure. What would a poor workman and his wife do with all of these treasures? Perhaps initially, to pay their way to Egypt as refugees, and then later, to re-establish the family in Nazareth. What gift will you receive from learning about yourself and your Star Word?

I invite you to receive your own Star Word!

bagofwordsI’ll pick one at random from my bag of stars. It will be yours to contemplate in the New Year. You might not like the word you get… but eventually, there will be some sort of spiritual insight or affirmation from it. As I like to tell people, “the word chooses YOU!” Every year I have engaged in this practice, I have learned something about myself and have been encouraged in my personal spiritual practice. You can read about my reflections on my 2018 Star Word here!

To get your own star word:

  • leave me a comment (and I’ll reply with your word)
  • message me or respond to my posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr
  • just ask when you see me!

Here’s to the journey of wonder, contemplation and Light!


The Magi
by Godfrey Rust

Will you study these signs
as carefully
as you study the prices
in the Christmas catalogues?

Will you seek out the manger
as diligently
as you search for the right scarf
or this year’s toy?

Will you examine
your heart’s pilgrimage
and be sure towards what stable
it carries its precious gifts?

Will you be a wise fool
to find and follow
the strange star of truth
in a sky full of glittering lies?

© Godfrey Rust, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. Used by permission.

Working hands, busy mind

I cleaned my stove tonight. I cleaned it because I clean it once a week. Yep. Every Wednesday night, it’s stove-cleaning time.

Isn’t it beautiful? I love me a bright, shiny stove!

Um… well…

Now, if you know me at all, you’re laughing, because I tend to clean when I can see a difference between clean and unclean. Or company is coming over. Or there’s been a Plague in the house and I’m banishing germs. Or it was a year ago and the dust bunnies are catching fire.

Truthfully? I cleaned the damn stove because it had been a month or two, and it was disgusting. And I was waiting on a return phone call and was passing the time. Like ya do. Cleaning a stove…

You see, I find that when I need to really reflect on something, I do a repetitive chore. Something that desperately needs to be done, but isn’t taxing on my brain. Weeding. Ironing. Matching socks. I turn off my tunes or the TV and just get busy.

I think about an upcoming sermon series. I pray for people that I know, for my patients, for my family.

That sounds so Holy. So pastor-like. And sometimes I do those things.

But other times, I’m preparing a grocery list. I’m trying to remember if my dentist appointment is this week or next week. (Whew! It’s not until August!) I’m deciding what we might do for fun this weekend, or I’m just bitching aloud to no one in particular.

Sometimes it’s brutal. I’m replaying conversations in my head. I’m improving my arguments for the next time I’m in head-to-head verbal jousting. And I tend to downplay how much I mess things up on a regular basis.

I forget that self-examination and growth takes work, and I sure don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather show the work almost completed (like this photo) rather than own up to just how bad things are.

How bad? Really bad. I don’t have a picture. It was gross.

I haven’t solved a damn thing tonight. I’m in a pissy mood. The phone call never came. The world with its soul-sucking politics is still the same. But I have a clean stove.

P.S. No, I don’t want to do your chores. Don’t even bother asking. Clean your own stove.

Back-to-Something-Else

Back to my desk

For the first time in 21 years, neither one of our daughters are going back-to-school. Both are college graduates. Both are making inroads on the job market. Both are strong, lively, caring young women. But there’s no “Back-to-School” this year. It’s now “Back-to-Something-Else”!

From their public school days, I don’t miss the homework assignments that the student does not understand. I don’t miss the “creative” book report assignments. I sure as hell don’t miss the group projects. (And I suspect my daughters would agree!)

There’s plenty of appointments on my calendar. But there’s no dorm room to fill. No sweaty elevators or staircases. No jaunt to buy desk supplies or refills for the printer. No awkward good-byes (and tears by Mom in the car on the way home). 

I gotta tell ya, it feels a little weird. 

Ok, a lot weird. But in a good kind of way. 

Now our years now fall into the natural seasons of Creation. The year doesn’t reboot in September every year. Instead, each new day is a new start. 

I’ve put a new practice back in my life called The Daily Examen. You can use the website or an app (scroll to the bottom for the links). You can write out your own questions for daily reflection. It doesn’t matter how as long as you do it. 

When the house is quiet in the evening, I pause and do a mental reset. I wait. Sometimes I worry. I pray. Sometimes, I rage. But always, I feel re-engaged and ready for sleep. 

So whatever your fall season brings, I invite you to embrace it. With questions. With honest reflection. With integrity. And then with action. 

Wondering Woman 

It’s… Wondering Woman!

It’s Saturday. I have laundry to do, correspondence to send out, books to read and a sermon to write. I also have a head-pounding allergy headache. And what I really want to do is nap. Or garden. 

Mostly I’m just wondering how I’m going to fit everything in my day into my day. Wondering where I’ll find that source with a perfect “pithy quote” for my sermon. Wondering why an antihistamine that worked fine for years stopped working this spring. Wondering why people gotta be so stinky to each other!!

I’m Wondering Woman. And I lost my cape, sword and shield…

Look at my picture closely and you’ll see dirty dishes on the counter. Look even closer and you’ll find cat hair in the corners. (I think I got the cat hork all cleaned up. But you never know.)

Wondering Woman managed to get through the work week with everyone in the household alive and accounted for. I also saw God do big things in the lives of my hospice patients. And I had some gentle moments of encouragement and challenges to growth from people who know me well. 

Yes, I’m Wondering Woman.  Occasionally, (and by that I mean daily), I want to chuck it all in the river and float away, but the Spirit of God compels me. I’m picking up my sword and shield, not to attack, but to defend. Those bullets aimed at my self-confidence are all too Real. 

BAM. 

Another bullet blocked. 

If you’re sermon-writing, care-giving, child-chauffeuring, house-cleaning, or hammock-swinging today, don’t give up. Press on. And fight for the dear ones next to you. 

Now… where did I put that cape?

On mission… soli deo gloria!