Month: October 2014

When Scary Things Happen

Dear Creepy Man in the Gas Station:toilet_retro_gas_station_restroom_square_sticker-raf635655033c4e06b5fdd9b111017f57_v9wf3_8byvr_512

You know who you are.

You are 6 foot 4 inches tall and are about 72 years old.  You drive a red SUV and you live in Illinois.  You have white hair and a big nose.  I am not afraid of you. Although as I write this, my pulse rate has accelerated and my hands are slightly shaking.

This is what happened.

We were on a family road trip. Me and my children. We were so excited to be getting away for the weekend and return to a place we had previously called, “home.” Our spirits were high and nothing would get in the way of us having a fantastic weekend.  We stopped at the McDonald’s just on the other side of the Mississippi River in Le Claire, Iowa on Highway 80. We always stopped there on previous road trips.  It was our first sentimental visit.

We finished lunch and headed to the adjacent gas station to use the restroom.  My son used the restroom and came out.  We were getting ready to leave and you came up to my son and started talking to him.  You towered over him and said, “Did you just leave the bathroom that way?!  Do you leave your bathroom like that at home!”  I stepped in front of my 8-year-old child and shielded him from you.  I told you that if you had a problem with my son that you should direct your concerns to me.  You put your finger in front of my face and shook it at me and said, that if I was a better mother, the bathroom would not have been left in such a mess.  I told you to remove your finger from my face.  You then said, “O ho ho”  and you changed your finger to a fist. My three children stood by. Terrified. I said,  “You will not act this way!”

I went to the bathroom and made my son flush the toilet and wash his hands. My son started to cry.  Meanwhile a little man stood at the urinal peeing, while you continued to yell.  I told you that this was entirely unnecessary.  You shouted at me, that it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t such an awful mother.

We left the bathroom. My children were shaking, “Let’s Go. Let’s Go. Come on let’s get out of here, before he comes out of the bathroom.”

“Just a minute,” I said. “I need to catch my breath.”

The teller behind the counter said, “Is everything alright?”

“No,” I said, “My son was just accosted.”


“My son was just accosted.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Accosted….it means we were all just threatened.”

We got to the car and waited for you to drive away.

We got gas and drove on.

My children all started sobbing. My daughters were crying, saying they were afraid I was going to get hurt.  My son kept wailing, “You are wonderful, mama, mama!”

It was awful.

I will not try to figure out what is wrong with you, or make an excuse for your behavior.

I do agree that children need to clean up after themselves and remember to flush toilets. You could have simply said, “Ma’am, your son may want to go back and make sure he remembered to flush the toilet.”  You could have done a lot of things.

It took us a while to process what happened.  It was truly terrifying.  But know this:  the power that you think you had over us does not exist, and dude, you need to get a grip.

We have flushed you down the toilet.


The Pastor ‘s Anxiety Dream

There are three types of anxiety dreams that all pastors experience  in one form or another.

Common Dream #1

It’s Sunday morning. The pastor walks in to church.  Worship has already started.  The organ is playing. The pastor looks down and sees that she is still wearing her pajamas.  She runs to her office to find her sermon. The sermon cannot be found.  How can she nonchalantly walk into worship and look like she has it altogether with her pajamas on and no sermon?  Her heart races.  She grabs her Bible. She will make something up. Suddenly she is in the pulpit. The pulpit is filled with garbage.  Big Gulps, McDonald’s wrappers, crusts of bread, sticky soda pop covers the wood. The pulpit is so covered with garbage, there is no room for the Bible. She will have to hold it while she preaches. She wonders if they will notice the pajamas?  She looks out to the congregation.  They are waiting to hear the Word. The pastor tries to speak.  No words come out of her mouth.  She has lost her voice.

Common Dream #2

Session Meeting.  The pastor is gathering the agenda for the meeting. There are stacks and stacks of handouts.  It’s going to be a long meeting.  The pastor realizes she forgot to wear shoes to church that day.  She is in a business suit and not wearing shoes. She wonders if they will notice?  She walks in and starts the meeting. She looks around the room and notices there is an elephant sitting at the table.  It’s just a little elephant, like the size of a child’s toy.  She decides to ignore it.  The meeting begins with prayer.  After she says, Amen she looks over and the elephant has grown into the size of a real, baby elephant. It starts to eat the paper.  Um, does anyone want to talk about the elephant in the room? the pastor asks.  The room is quiet.  All of the elders are looking at the papers. No one sees the elephant.  The elephant grows again. It’s the size of the room.  Um, I think we better talk about the elephant in the room, the pastor says again.  Let’s just move rooms, an elder replies.  I’m not sure if we can find a room big enough. The elephant will follow us there.

Common Dream #3

It’s any normal day.  The pastor shows up at church and finds a letter, an e-mail, a phone call, a text, and Facebook message that she has forgotten to go visit someone in the hospital. She was supposed to visit them days ago.   She forgot. How could she be so negligent?  Everyone else knew they were in the hospital. Why didn’t she?  She can’t find the name of the person she is supposed to visit.  She can’t find the sticky note with the person’s hospital room.  She opens her car door.  Thousands of sticky notes come pouring out. These are the people she forgot to visit.  She rummages through the papers trying to find the person she needs to see.  Which sticky note is it?  She keeps looking. She finds the one.  She gets to the hospital.  There is construction. She realizes she forgot to put on clothes.  She wonders if they will notice when she walks into the hospital?  Nobody seems to notice. She tries to find the hospital room.  There are long halls with many doors.  Nobody seems to know where her parishioner might be. She cannot find the room.  She keeps walking and walking down long halls.  She can’t find the parishioner anywhere.  Suddenly, she sees an empty room. She wonders if anyone will notice if she uses it for a nap. She lies down in the crisp, white sheets, and rests.


Anxiety dreams are just dreams, but they tell us a lot about what worries us and what takes up space in our subconscious. Preaching, leadership and pastoral care are the three most important roles a pastor plays and so it makes sense that these would be the most common rotation of nightmares.   But dreams are more than just exaggerated scenarios of our daily lives. They are also opportunities to Hear God Speak.

Where is God in these dreams?  God is the Truth Teller.

God is the one saying,  Don’t preach garbage, preach the Word.

God is the one saying, The elephant will only get bigger, until you address it.

God is the one saying, There is no way you can take care of everyone.  You will let people down.  You are not responsible for every person.  You are responsible for your own self-care.  Now put some clothes on and get some rest.  You are not the savior of the world. I Am.

Pastors have a hard time admitting their own vulnerabilities and confessing their fears of failing. After all, we are supposed to be spiritually mature and theologically grounded.  The truth is, all pastors are profoundly human and equally broken.   The truth is, our egos are pretty huge and we make ourselves more important than we are. – Of course all dreams are ego-centric, but what would happen if we shared the burden of ministry instead of putting the burden on ourselves?  Just how important do we think we are?   We are not called to be Saviors. We are called to be Disciples. We best know the difference.

Dear Pastors and Colleagues in Ministry,

I get it. I know your day and I know the weight you carry. I know your integrity and I know your desire to serve God and fulfill your calling of discipleship.  I know your worries and I know how strongly you desire to live faithfully.  God loves you for your desire to love Him.

I also know that you are a Child of God.  You are wonderfully made. I know you get tired, annoyed, lonely and doubtful.  You are allowed to be all of these things. You are human.  God loves you for your humanness and desire to be authentic and  vulnerable.

As your colleague, I will not offer some trite word, or some passing prayer, as if that will take the pressure off.  I will tell you, that God  is with you today.  As you sit with the Word and grapple with your sermon. As you prepare to lead and speak the truth in love. And as you walk into the hospital room and care for those who are suffering.  As you deal with leaky roofs and stewardship campaigns. As you  prepare a Bible study and plan for Advent.  Wherever you are today, God is with you.  He is right there.  He’s got your back.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  He will see you in your dreams.



beach at night




What do you say to yourself about hope?

The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?

Tell them at least what you say to yourself. – Wendell Berry

Hebrews 11

<!– 11 –>Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith* our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.*

It’s one thing to use words like “faith” and “perseverance.”  It’s another thing all together to “live faithfully” and “with perseverance.”  I was thinking about the mother who lost her infant child, and the wife who lost her beloved husband, and the friend who just got diagnosed with cancer and the marriage that has ended and words like “faith,”  “hope” and “perseverance” and how those words seem glib up against such challenges.  What do you say to people who ask you about your faith?  Where do you experience hope?  What do you know of perseverance?

The late William Sloan Coffin stated, “Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.”

I like that.  It seems to be a reasonable way of balancing the truth of the state of the world and the optimal attitude in confronting those truths.

I believe that all stories of courage and hope are also stories of struggle and despair.  You cannot have great faith without also having great doubt.  You cannot persevere without having something to overcome. Hope is always a choice. Faith is always a verb.  It’s a practice. a discipline, and a gift that we are not always willing to receive. Lewis Smedes says, “Hope is as native to our spirits as thinking is to our brain. Keep hoping, and you keep living. Stop hoping, and you start dying.”

What do we say to the young about hope?  Hope is not found on billboards. It is not something that is purchased, acquired, or obtained.  It is a stirring, a lightening, a knowing, a breath that comes not from your own doing, but from a place deep within.  It’s always there. It’s found in the pulse of the waves along the shore and space between the leaves on the trees.  In the creases of the baby’s hands, the wrinkled eyes of the elderly and the bird who sings before the sun rises. It’s there. Always.


It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
For hope must not depend on feeling good
And there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
Of the future, which surely will surprise us,
…And hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
Any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
In the trees in the silence of the fisherman
And the heron, and the trees that keep the land
They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
Or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
And how to be here with them. By this knowledge
Make the sense you need to make. By it stand
In the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.
Speak to your fellow humans as your place
Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
Before they had heard a radio. Speak
Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
From the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
To the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.

-Wendell Berry