Category: Uncategorized

The 3:00 a.m. Parent Prayer

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Well, we are all awake right now — so we might as well talk.  The brain, or the heart, or the gut has pulled us awake and we turn over to check the time, knowing it can’t be time to wake up yet, and yet we are wide awake.   It’s 3:00 a.m. – Are you kidding me?

So, I might as well ask,  How are you doing?

What’s keeping you awake right now? What visitor has come and rested on your chest and poked your soul awake? Maybe you are thinking about your kid and you realize that you are out of control of the decisions they make, the challenges they face, the heart ache they feel and yet at the same time you are tethered to them and your heart aches. Maybe you are afraid, or angry or fearful.  Maybe you have piled on worst case scenarios in your mind,  like blankets, one on top of the other, and now your body is so heavy it can not move, with the weight of it all.  May you want to fix something that can’t be fixed.

Maybe you are little annoyed that you are awake at this hour.  I mean, those nursing days are over!  We shouldn’t have to have sleepless nights anymore, right?  I don’t have an answer for you, except for maybe some sleep medication.  But let’s talk about the heart of the matter – which is your heart.  Look you birthed that kid.  You were responsible for their helpless bodies.  You kept them alive.  You managed what they ate, what they watched, what they read, when the slept, what they wore and where they went.  And now?  They don’t tell you jack.

I am not here to give you some pithy advise.

I can’t tell you that limiting screen time, or taking their phones at night, or control their social media, or making sure they don’t have a Finsta account, will save them from the trials and tribulations of adolescence.  I can’t tell you to be stricter, have more consequences, teach them to do their laundry and cook meals, and take on a summer job will secure their professional future.  I won’t tell you what to do, or how to do it, or  give you some sarcastic anecdote about how I have this figured out, and you don’t — because I don’t have this figured out. Let’s just put that on the table – I don’t have answers.  I will know how to parent teenagers when I no longer have teenagers and I can look back and say,  “Oh! So that’s what I missed.”

I can tell you what I am learning.

What I am learning in all of this is that I am watching a person evolve before my eyes and become an adult, and becoming an adult means experiencing life, and life is messy.  The only way to become an adult is to live life.  We cannot protect our kids from life if we want them to be an adult.  Here is what life looks like.  Life looks like making a ton of mistakes.  Life looks like getting your heart broken. Life looks like making decisions that aren’t healthy.  Life looks like losing life. Life looks like failure. Life looks like forgiveness. Life looks like joy.  Life looks like hard work.  Life looks like unfairness. Life looks like empathy.  We want our kids to have full lives.  We want them to live fully. This means it’s going to hurt.

So, my early morning riser, what are we going to do as we lie here and try not to check our phone?  I think, the only thing I can recommend is a prayer.  It could be the Serenity Prayer.  That’s always my go to. – God grant me the serenity to accept  the things I cannot change.  That’s usually as far as i get.

The other prayer I would recommend to you  is the one I often say that goes something like this:

God, you know my worries and fears.  You know that I am freaking out over this and there is nothing I can do about it.  I would like for you to please take this worry I have and fix it, so that I can sleep and everything will be alright.  Thank you. Amen.

.But wait, that’s not how this works. I know, God, that you aren’t my personal fixer and that while I would like to pray this and you would make all my dreams come true, I know that’s unfair to you and our relationship. I know that you are in a relationship with me and my children. I know that you made us. You made me and you made them. You know them completely. You know me completely.  You know every part of me.  You know every part of them.  You hold them as you hold me.  You hold them. You have a hold on them.  You behold them.  God, remind me this morning that you always hold your children.  You do not let them slip through your fingers.  While this worry of mine is distracting and it’s making me very sad, angry, or fearful and seems so huge, your hold is greater.  And one more thing, remind me that you hold me too.  And God, please quiet my mind and take these random thoughts, so that I may sleep.  The alarm goes off in just a few hours….  Amen.

Hang in there, friend. You are not alone.

Good Night.

 

 

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Tending Orchids

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In the mountains of Puerto Rico, there is a church.  Its the only church on the mountain, and it happens to be a Presbyterian Church.  Everyone on the mountain knows the church. Most of the people on the mountain attend it.   Even if they don’t attend it, they know the pastor and they consider him to be theirs.  His father was the pastor of the church before him.  He doesn’t have a secretary, or a church administrator.  All he has is cell phone, and he is on it all of the time.  It is constantly ringing with people needing something, reporting in on something, or giving something.

Not only is he a pastor, but he’s also a first-responder.  When the hurricane came, he pulled children and elderly  from under collapsed homes.   He is constantly assisting and resourcing people.   He carries a large voice and a hearty laugh. He also happens to be in a wheel chair due to accident that occurred in his early adulthood.  His wheelchair doesn’t stop him from being the biggest presence in the room.

The church is beautiful and pristine.  It is well cared for by the people in the community.  There is church bell on top of the building, and every Sunday morning it rings and rings, calling people to church. The hurricane took out some lights, a portion of  a fence, the church sign and damaged the roof a bit.   They are still waiting to hear what the insurance company will give them.

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While we were there, it seems like the whole mountain came to visit. Children came, elderly came, kids on bikes road by, all stopping to visit and help.  All the while, the pastor laughed and listened.

When he isn’t tending his congregation, he is tending orchids.  He had over 400 orchids in his backyard before the hurricane.  After the hurricane he had over 240.  Every morning he gets up and he goes out and tends to his orchids. Before the hurricane he was preparing to participate in a national competition in the United States.    Now, he is starting over.

He doesn’t speak English very well, and I don’t speak Spanish at all, so we really didn’t have lengthy conversations.  But there is one story he told me that I understood.

He said that every morning he wakes up before dawn and he goes outside and he tends to his orchids, and while he is there, he prays and he thinks about the loss on the island, the burdens of the people, the challenges that people are facing and it is there, with God and his orchids that he weeps.  His tears water the orchids and they flourish.  Then, when he is done with tending to the orchids, he moves on and tends to his church and the people on the mountain, and his heart is open and laughter pours out.

I am writing these words in the dark.  Spring has  arrived at last and  the windows can finally be opened.  A cool breeze touches my shoulders. Birds are waking up the day and the sky is a periwinkle blue.  I think about Eber and his church and his community on the mountain.  I wonder if he is already awake too, and if he is outside, tending to each orchid,  seeing the beauty in every flower.  Praying for every, single one.

Life is beautiful that way.

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Just Have Fun: A Fifth Grader’s Memoir

Just have Fun

By Jackson Wood

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Last year, my baseball team was in the championship. Here is what happened:  It is the last inning. There are two outs and a runner on second.  I am on deck with our worst batter up. Part of me wanted him to get out, the other wanted him to crush that ball out of the park.  He’s up to bat and there is 3-2 full count, the pitch comes firing down,  way off to the side.  It’s a wild pitch. Runner on second steals third and now we have runners on third and first. I was up.  If I hit a home run, we would go home champions if not, it’s all over. I walk down to the plate my coach pulls me aside as the other coach switches his pitcher. I was not the best player on the team, not even close. My coach gets me fired up to “slam that ball out of here.”

I step up to the plate, the  crowd roaring. The ball fires.  I hit a foul, way, way behind me. The second pitch goes way in the dirt. The ump calls it a strike. That pitch has been called on me all year a thousand times over. The count is now 2-0.  My stomach hurts, my heart is pounding out of my chest. I crush the next pitch deep into right field.  It goes way, way back but then it drops.

My dreams were crushed before my eyes. Everything in my head feels like it stopped; it’s not able to handle what is happening. I start breaking down almost tripping, from everything crashing down on top of me. It feels like a million things are punching me in the chest. The ball had been caught by some newbie in right field thinking he is “the king of the world.” I hear cheers that sound like insults,excitement that sounds like laughter, I felt like the world was against me….that everyone did not care about me or how I felt. My coach calls us in for our very last team huddle. I was balling my eyes out. I didn’t even try holding back my tears. I wasn’t ashamed of crying in front of my friends. I didn’t care what they said or what they thought.

The huddle ended. It was finally over. I see my parents.  I pick up my stuff and just go right to the car. Not even turning back, I didn’t even want to talk or even see anyone. My mom got in the car. She knows how I act in these kinds of situations. She knows I don’t want any “good games” or “tough luck.”  I look out my window and see the other team super happy and excited. At first I wanted them to shut up and go home. Then I saw how happy they truly were and how happy I would be if it went down differently. I stopped crying and I was joyful… a thing I never thought would ever feel again after this whole experience. But I realized winning is not what matters most. It’s the people you play with and having fun. I turned to my mom and gave her a big hug.    

Resilient Fragility

 

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Puerto Rico is as close to what I imagine Paradise to be like.  It’s beyond beautiful. I spent a few days on the Island a couple of weeks ago helping install a clean water system. The forests are growing back and the trees are green again. But you do not have to look too far to find signs of the storm.  I think all of us who have experienced the storms of life are like that.  The storm passes and the water recedes and the shingles get put back on, but the evidence is still there if we look hard enough.

The best word to describe the conditions in Puerto Rico is, “fragile.”  Everything is fragile, from the electrical system, to the water system, to the economic system, to the health care system.  The people are fragile too.  They know they have been through something, and there is a feeling that somehow they responsible for it– as if they could have controlled the weather.  They feel like that should have been more prepared and they are very afraid its going to happen again.   Hurricane season is coming and they aren’t ready for another hit.  The systems aren’t ready and the memory of the past trauma is too recent.  Trauma does that.  We can feel responsible for situations that were out of our control.

While I went to Puerto Rico to help put in a clean water system, I also went out of my own fragility.  I went to heal from my own trauma, my own vulnerability and awareness that things can happen and have happened that are out of my control.  I  went to reclaim the parts of me that had been battered by the storms of betrayal, disappointment, stress and fatigue.  I went to get perspective on the world and to have my understanding broadened.  I went because, I too, am fragile.

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If we are honest, we all are.

But make no mistake, the people of Puerto Rico are as resilient as they are fragile.  They are determined to repair their infrastructure and get things back to working conditions.  They are determined have the measures in place, so that when another hurricane comes, they are prepared.   They may be battered, but they are still standing.

Being both resilient and fragile is the paradigm of all living things.

We are all resiliently fragile.

The other day I was visiting someone and praying for them before their surgery and the son of the person said, “So, like, you just go around and give people pep talks before surgeries and make them feel good?”  Uh. Yeah. That’s what I do.  It’s a humble thing when someone reflects back on you what you do and you realize how insignificant it sounds in the scheme of things.   Prayer seems so silly I guess to people who don’t do it or would ever think about needing.  How pointless my job must seem.

But in the face of our humanity and our fragility and resiliency, is it not the Divine that keeps us afloat in the midst of the storm?  Traumatic experiences remind us that we are all just on this side of heaven.  Traumatic experiences remind us that life disrupting events can happen to all of us at any time, that we are all fragile.  And because storms come up out of the blue, we all need to be gentle with each other. We need to pray even when we aren’t sure anyone is listening.  We need to recognize that when the earth breaks, we all break.  When one person suffers, we all suffer. Destruction of creation is destruction of ourselves. Just as our minds and bodies are connected, so too is the earth and humanity.  If our minds are in pain, our bodies show pain. If the earth is pain, all of humanity shows pain.  If the people of the earth are traumatized by war or disease or injustice, it impacts all of the people of the earth, whether we realize it our not. – We are all connected. I believe that connection to be the love of God.  We are God’s people.  When God weeps, all of creation weeps.  So, coming to someone before a surgery and holding their hand for a few seconds and reminding them that while at this moment they may feel very fragile, they are also very resilient, and they can and will get through this storm… yeah, I think that’s pretty important.

The people of Puerto Rico are recovering from a traumatic event.  Someone said to me, “Everyone here has PTSD.”  Healing from trauma takes time.  Even after the repairs are made, the feelings of worry and uncertainty linger.  There is always the fear that it will happen again.  There is always life before the incident and after incident, and while we do not want to be defined by those moments, they do shape the way we see the world.  We can no longer pretend that we are not vulnerable, that we are not fragile, and even that we are a little broken.  And while those moments are life changing, they do not have to be life defining.

Yes, Puerto Rico is fragile.  It is also resilient.  So am I.  So are you.

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Coming of Age. The Perils of Parenting Teenagers and the #MeToo Movement.

imageWell before I ever knew I was going to be a mother of daughters, I promised myself that I would teach my daughters to be feminists.  I would be the type of mother who would tell them they could be the next Madeline Albright or Eleanor Roosevelt or anything they wanted to be.  The most important thing being, that they were fully themselves, without inhibitions or worry about being objectified or less than because of their gender. I wanted to model for them and teach them that they could do any job, including one that typically was held by men.

Before I became a mother, I had a list of Do’s and Don’ts for raising a strong, smart daughter.

Don’t buy Barbies, or Brat Dolls, or any other “sexy doll.”

Do read Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, and A is for Abigail.

Don’t buy bikinis until they are 25.

Do buy Legos and other toys typically designed for boys.

Don’t paint the baby’s room pink, or put her in a lot of pink clothing. – Keep it gender neutral.

Make sure she takes a self defense class, so she can protect herself.

No make-up until, like, forever.

I look at these rules I made up back then, now, almost sixteen years later with two adolescent daughters and I realize that some of them were silly and some of them were pretty good pieces of advice.  Some of the rules stuck and some of the rules fell by the way side.

Today, in light of the #MeToo movement, and recalling my own stories of sexual harassment,  I realize that all of these rules I made up were to protect them from having a #MeToo moment.  I thought, maybe I could shield them, and make them so confident and secure that they wouldn’t have to experience the things I did.

If we are going to continue this conversation on sexual harassment and the objectification of women, we need to start with conversations with our boys and girls.  I didn’t realize until now, that for me, the fall of my innocence from childhood to adulthood came about when boys started making comments about my body.  When I was a girl, I was just a kid, just another kid on the block.  All of the kids around my house were boys and we all played Star Wars and Army and football. I would run and build forts and play.  It was fun.

And then junior high happened.

And everything changed.

I wanted to be one of two things when I was 14 years old, either a famous ballerina or an actress.  I wasn’t picky. I would lie in my bed at night and dream about being on stage.  In my dreams, I was amazing. I was also tall and thin and stunning. This why you call them “dreams.”

One summer day, I was walking to theater practice across the junior high foot ball field.  There were a group of boys standing in the door way of the school and they saw me walking. They shouted out, “Look at that bitch, with the big butt and no tits.”

At that moment, I prayed that the football field would swallow me up and I would be invisible forever.  I was exposed.  Right there, in the middle of the football field, with no other person that maybe they were talking about, or referring to.  Me.  And my body.

I walked to the theater and got on stage and all I could think about in my 14 year old brain, was that sentence and the terrible, shaming truth that it held.

It was at that moment that my innocence, my childhood ended. – I was now a woman and an object to be looked at.

It took a long time to get over that mortifying moment. I never told anyone. Even writing those  words almost 30 years later makes me feel vulnerable.

Of course, I wouldn’t even count that moment as my #metoo experience.  All of those experiences happened in college and grad school.  Each time something happened, rather direct, or overt I tried to counter that experience by protecting myself.  I think even becoming a pastor and wearing a long black robe on Sunday mornings is a way of me saying to the world, “Do not look at me!”

Today I am a mother of teenage daughters.  I would just like to say for the record, for any parents of teenagers that I counselled back in the day when I wasn’t a mother of teenage daughters,  I apologize.  Clearly I was clueless and had no idea what I was talking about. – Because being a mother of a teenager is way worse than being a teenager.

You walk up the stairs, and they know you are coming, and they shut the door before you reach their room. Nice.  You give them space and then they get angry because you don’t notice their hair. Whatever.  You ask them to empty the dishwasher and they roll their eyes and then ask to buy something on Amazon. Are you serious?!

And then you realize that all of your stupid baggage from being 14 is still with you.  The friend that abandoned. The boy that broke up.  The pressure to succeed.  The desire to fit in.  And you know, logically, that your life is not their life and you know you have to let them go and fail and succeed on their own accord, but you also know what is coming and you realize you can’t protect them.  And then it happens, and you watch your daughter have her fall from innocence.

My daughter had an experience in PE this past semester.  Boys were talking about her body and saying inappropriate things.  It seems like the comments have stopped out there in the junior high world, but they have not stopped in her head.  I watch her move from an innocent little girl, who loved to play and create and imagine, to a self conscience, body aware, teenager.  I watch that teenager brain getting it’s exercise as it grows inside her and she feels feelings of anger and strives for self determination.  I see her want to stay true to herself and want to fit in at the same time.  I see her want to be hugged and left alone at the same time.  I see her face the world of social media, and I realize I am parenting in real time, without any prior experience to fall back on.  I see her struggle, and I realize I could have probably painted her room pink.

I wonder how we can change the script of coming of age in overly crass society, where boys and girls are exposed to far more sexually explicit activities than I was at their age?   Does the fall of innocence and the rise to adulthood, always have to include a moment of shame?

Maybe it does.  It may be impossible to get through the first 20 years of your life without someone objectifying you in someway.  There is something to be said for learning resiliency and overcoming adversity.

But I hope and pray this movement changes things for our kids.  I hope my girls don’t have experiences like I did and I hope my son never finds himself in a situation where he thinks he can talk about a girl’s body like it’s a piece of merchandise.

I don’t have any answers, but parents, I’m with you, man.  This is hard. Really, really hard.  I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom to wrap this up. I am too much in the thick of it myself, to see outside and tell you that everything is going to be alright and that they will get through it and not hate themselves or you.   I think the only thing we can do is remind them of the same thing we told them when they were four years old and screamed on the floor, just because their little brains were growing, just as they are now. And that is, “You are safe. You are loved. You are not alone.”

I also find that wine, coffee and chocolate helps.

Peace,

Shelly

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Thirst

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Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

I sat at the kitchen table at my in-laws house looking out of their picture window at the brown grass, as a humming bird flew by and took a quick drink.  My sister-in-law, sitting with me, made the comment, “This is the driest I have ever seen their front yard. It doesn’t look like they have had rain in weeks. My in-laws have lived in the same brick, ranch home on five acres in southern Illinois for the past 46 years.  Not much, if anything has changed in that house in the past 20 years that I have visited there, but the small town where they live has changed.  It’s always been a small town. – At least small to me, 5000 people, high school classes of at the most 150 students, country roads, oil rigs and farmland as far as the eye can see.  Southern Illinois has always been an area of the country at risk.  Infrastructure, resources and economic stability have always been minimal, but we could tell that the town was like most rural communities today, slowly dying.

We were there because a tragedy had come to my husband’s family and this small community. We drove into town on Tuesday evening.  We were the only car on the dark street as we drove into town passing the Walmart, the Dairy Queen, the video store and the few streets lights in the down town. Where is everyone?  We turned the corner to the funeral home, where saw a line reaching outside of the funeral home and down the block. Cars everywhere.  “We are here” we texted.  “Avoid the line, just come right in”  the text replied.  We walked into an old funeral home with wood paneling and stain glass windows.  Flowers were everywhere and a huge picture of Jesus hung in the middle of the room, over a casket that we could not believe was there.

The warm light of the room, and the crowds of people overwhelmed our senses as we were overcome by the familiar faces and hugs that greeted us.  Brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, little children, past teacher’s, parents friends, all came up and hugged and embraced Blake especially as we walked in.    We were there to grieve the passing of his uncle, who was really more like an older brother – only 9 years older than Blake, who died suddenly from a heart attack last Saturday. He was an all star athlete, a warm, charismatic, incredibly friendly, great man, who  was suddenly gone from this earth.

No one could believe this had happened or that we were here for this reason.  But we knew we were not alone.  We were not the only family asking the question, “how could this happen?” this past weekend.

Many of us woke up last Monday morning, discovering that there had been a shooting in Las Vegas.  We didn’t know the severity or the circumstances at first, but as the story has unfolded, we discovered that we found ourselves in the worst mass shooting in modern history.

I’m sure you share with me in the empathy and deep sympathy for the families of those who lost someone they loved and the profound shock and disbelief that they are now gone, when they had no reason to believe that wouldn’t talk to them tomorrow.

Mix this desperation in with the reports coming out of Puerto Rico, where 50% of the country is still without electricity and running water.   One reporter from the Hill, describes the outcome of not having clean water as a “toxic mix” of “poverty and lack of access to clean water practically guarantees that you’re going to see outbreaks of waterborne infections, particularly waterborne diarrheal disease,”

This could include typhoid and the remote possibility of cholera.

Near the town of Utuado, Rosario Heredia, 56, who is diabetic, is in her house, which is spewing water from every corner. She reaches high into her closet for a piece of clothing and squeezes water from it like a soaked sponge.

Trees are broken and twisted on the island, leaving behind a wasteland. Roads have washed away, and others are blocked by debris.

After losing everything, some Puerto Ricans say the only thing they have left is their faith.

“Really, we are people who serve God,” Wilfredo Villegas said. “And yes, we are saddened because when you lose every little thing you may have, it’s not easy to recover … but we have not lost our faith.”

In the midst of all of this misery, one cannot help but ask the question that the Israelite’s asked Moses, and ultimately God, “is the Lord among us or not?” Fair question, when you are in the wilderness and you are dying of thirst, fair question, when your friend or family member goes to a country music concert and ends up being shot,  fair question, when you lose absolutely everything, fair question when a 54 year old father dies suddenly from a heart attack,  Is God with us or not?

That’s the question the Israelites ask Moses, and Moses says, “ask him yourself,” and so they put God on trial and they ask for evidence, right here, right now. It’s in the moments when we are dying of thirst that we need a drink of grace, of hope, of love, of something that tells we are not alone. Moreover we know that we won’t be thirsty just once in our lives, just as we need water again and again, daily, seven full glasses daily to be exact, so too do we need to be assured that God is with us.

It would be too easy for me to pivot here and say to you, to simply say, of course God is with you. Of course, God is with those who are quite literally dying of thirst, or drowning in grief, of course God provides living water, but that would disarm the truth about disaster. So to just “trust and man up” belittles the truth about disaster.

But the root of the word “disaster” means “a star coming apart and no image expresses better the look in someone’s eyes after they have just heard the unbearable.”

Paul Kalanthi is a neurosurgeon who at 36 had sat with countless families. Discussing grim prognoses for cancer. Paul has some standard pieces of advice: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so get your daily rest.” And: “illness can drive a family apart or bring it together – be aware of each other’s needs and find extra support.” He tried to be honest about the diagnosis but also to give some measure of hope.

When Paul faced his own lung cancer, he wanted to know how much time he left. He knew there were all kinds of reasons doctors cannot answer that question. It’s impossible, he says, even irresponsible to be more precise than you can be accurate. Sure enough – when he asked his oncologist how much time he had, she refused to answer.

Paul’s life’s work had been about treating cancer. He knew the next steps. Prepare to die. Cry. Tell his wife she should remarry. Refinance the mortgage.

Yet at his next visit with his oncologist, she suggested he return to work. He was confused. Should he write the book he always intended to write? Invest more time in relationships with those he loved? Or go back to negotiating multi-year job offers? The oncologist said: “I can’t give you a time. You have to find what matters most to you.”

He reflects: “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

Wanting to know the details, the specifics, the statistics regarding our time left, is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water, he comments.

But the path forward for Paul – the way forward for all of us through the journey of our lives – could be found in seven words from writer Samuel Beckett. “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

In the wilderness, whatever wilderness that may be for you today, or tomorrow, allow yourself the paradoxical reality of living and dying, you can’t go on and you will go on.

We stood by helpless, as the casket was closed and we watched it be carried from the funeral parlor to hearse and his 12 year old daughter cried for him to come back.  We held each other as we stood at graveside looking out over rolling hills of farm land and a little white church where the family had once celebrated weddings and baptisms.  We stood in the hot sun, waiting for a slight breeze as the preacher read from the 23rd Psalm…”surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

After a meal, we told each other we loved each other, said goodbye, and drove home. When we got home that night, we had just a little time for a light dinner of fruit and crackers and tried to settle down with some television before bed.

We just happened to come across the final Harry Potter and the scene in which Harry faces his own death walks into the forest after a long battle with Voldemort.  On the one hand Harry can’t go on, and on the other hand he must.  It was at that moment when he pulls out the resurrection stone and suddenly all of the people who had died before him, who loved him, are there for him, and say, they have never left him after all. And Harry is able to go on.

And so, we turned off the light and went to bed, and that night, it began to rain.

Amen.

 

Paul Kalanthini. 2016. When Breath Becomes Air.  Random House, New York.

 

 

 

 

The Thing about Friendship

image

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

I have only transcribed one book from Hebrew into English, and it was the Book of Ruth.  If you are going to sit with the ancient language of Hebrew, I recommend sitting with it in the book of Ruth.  It’s a beautiful story of family and friendship, of heartache and perseverance, of sacrifice and my favorite Hebrew word, Hesed,  which means, “steadfast faithfulness.”

The thing I love most about the summer, is that it provides a season for family and old friends to re-unite.  This summer I spent a week with my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in three years and my oldest friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over five.  Being with them, it was like not an hour had past, since we had last been together.  There is something so enriching and humbling about the people who have known you forever and still love you today!  They love you just the way you are. They are like plants with deep roots.  They are planted deep in your soul and cannot be easily pulled.  They provide steadfast faithfulness.

Today is the first day of school for many of our kids and I know that the biggest concern isn’t what they will be learning in science class, but rather, who they will sit with at the lunch table, Who will be their friend?  True friends are hard to find.   Some of our children will start the year reading E.B. White’s, Charlotte’s Web, where they will read the conversation between Wilbur and Charlotte:  “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
There is an old hymn called, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”   When I think about Jesus and his friends I remember his vulnerability and grief when Lazarus died.  I remember that he did the most human thing: he wept.  My parents are starting to lose their friends. Yesterday we learned that one of my mom’s oldest friends, and my first piano teacher passed away.  She was in a word: a gem.  It seems like every time I call home, there is another friend with a diagnosis, or has passed away.  As I watch my parents accept this stage of life, I see how deep and meaningful these friendships were.  I see that there was steadfast faithfulness in these friends who came to the hospital, kept a T-time, walked every Tuesday, met for Bible study, sent a card.  These friends are the ones who gave life to life.  True friends are hard to find.

Henri Nouwen wrote on friendship:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

The gift of friendship is a gift from God.  It’s rare and real.  It’s steadfast faithfulness.

One final quote to sum it up:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

Peace,

Shelly

 

 

 

Turmoil

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:10-11

Tur·moil

ˈtərˌmoil/
noun
  1. a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty.

I have read the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week for almost 20 years and this was the first time that I noticed that word:  Turmoil.

Matthew says, after Jesus came into the city, fulfilling the prophecies foretold in Isaiah and Jeremiah, that the city was in turmoil.

When my dad was growing up in Danville, Illinois, he and his neighborhood frienimagesds would play in the back allies of their neighborhood.  They would play baseball, basketball, kick ball, and run the neighborhood with freedom and curiosity.  One day, the boys were playing along a back fence overgrown with tall grass and weeds, the boys came along a suspicious looking piece of nature and instead of leaving it alone, they, like most boys, decided to poke at it, take it down and hit it.  That suspicious looking piece of nature was a beehive.  The bees were not happy to have their home plummeted so they took off toward the boys, and the boys ran screaming down the ally, and into their homes, where the bees chased them into their house, where there happened to be company, and tea and cake, and a card game, and women jumped on the chairs and screeched as they shook their dresses and the boys dove under tables trying to escape the enraged bees.

Turmoil. ” A state of great disturbance, confusion or uncertainty.”

I was speaking to a parishioner the other day about church and worship and what people need and why they are coming to church, or should be, and she remarked that people are really scared.  She did not specify what people are scared of, only that they are scared.  Maybe what they are afraid of is obvious and goes without saying, or maybe naming the fear is important.

Here are some the fears I have heard expressed in the past three months in meetings, or over a meal, or in emails, or conversations.

  1. There is going to a Third World War, a nuclear war, or another civil war.
  2.  The economy is going to get so bad that the United States will become a third world country.
  3. The National Parks, the air, the water, the earth, natural resources, and animals are in great peril.
  4. Our education system is on the edge of collapse.
  5. Our health care system is in ruins.
  6. Our freedoms are being taken away. Our rights are being denied.
  7. “They” are going to take over.
  8. What fears have you heard? 
  9. Whose fears do you think are unfounded?

When people are afraid, they only see their fear and they really can’t see much else. Their fear defines them and the choices they make are driven by those fears.

I remember people were afraid the world would come to an end in the year 2000.  They started storing up canned goods and boarding up windows just in case.  Those of us who did not share that fear thought they were a little crazy.    They feared turmoil to the point that they created turmoil.

Is turmoil the same as fear?  Or is it more like anxiety?

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the people were turmoil.  Why?  Were they more afraid or anxious? Maybe both.  Either way, they knew that something was going to happen and that after whatever it was, everything would be different.  The NIV says, that the people were stirred,  which sounds less intense than turmoil doesn’t it?

When the Prince of Peace arrived in Jerusalem, there was turmoil in the city.  There was chaos.  The city felt like a provoked beehive.  Things were stirred up.

I wonder, is that the state we are in?  Are we in turmoil?  Are we stirred up?  Do we feel disturbed, confused and uncertain?  Do we have good reason?

Maybe Jesus is in the city.  Maybe Jesus has kicked the beehive of humanity and stirred us up.  Maybe there is a disturbance,  a greater sense of uncertainty, and maybe there should be – because Jesus is over turning the money changers in the temple.  He is speaking truth to power.  He is advocating for the poor.  He is praying in the garden.   He is breaking bread.  He is pouring the cup. He is washing feet.   He is sweating drops of blood. He is suffering.  He is forgiving.  He is dying.

Turmoil reminds us that Jesus is in the city.   It’s the paradox of peace.  You cannot know peace if you don’t know unrest.  Order comes out chaos.  Chaos comes first.  So where ever there is unrest in our lives, personally or globally, where ever we find ourselves running away from, whatever is inflamed, Jesus is there. – We best pay attention.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. –  (Matthew 10:34-38)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moments of Clarity

creating sacred communities

There are moments when I wonder why I am a pastor. I get frustrated with denominational dilly-dallying, Presbytery pandering and session snarkiness. Sometimes I wonder if ministry matters. The world tells us that the church matters less today, or it matters in a different way today than it has in the past. Sometimes I get tired of the process, the budget, the need to over communicate, and the politics. Sometimes I can worry if my profession will become obsolete.

And then God gives me moments of clarity.

When I talk to children about Jesus dying on the cross and we draw pictures of heaven, and one little boy’s depiction looks like the set from “Dance Fever” and he tells me that heaven has a dance floor.

When an elderly woman walks out of the sanctuary, clutching her cane, with tears down her face because she is in such pain, and…

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The Way of Wisdom

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,

Proverbs 3:13

wayofwisdom

ˈwizdəm/

noun

  • the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
  • the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
  • the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.

 

We are living in a time of high volatility.  Every click on the computer and swipe on the phone, causes a reaction, a feeling of threat, or defense, anger, or fear, frustration, or confusion.  People are on high alert and they take their reactivity with them into every day life,  at checkout counters, the doctor’s office, parent-teacher conferences, and on the highway. Events that would have been looked over, now cause a reaction.  People feel free to say unfair, unkind, and untrue statements that create a toxic fume that permeates the atmosphere.  All someone needs to do is a light a match.

This season of unpredictability makes us jumpy and we often find ourselves in a state of reactivity.  It would behoove the world, to move away from being right and into a place of being wise.

Think for a second:  When was the last time you sought wisdom?

Wisdom is different from knowledge. One can be intelligent and not wise.  Wisdom is not seeking answers, it is seeking understanding.  Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from suffering.  It comes from observing. It comes from a place of humility. Wisdom begins by being more connected to God and less connected to the world. – Not that we forget about the world, but rather, we spend less time being driven by it.

We seek wisdom, by finding solitude.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

 “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (‘turn stones into loaves’), to be spectacular (‘throw yourself down’), and to be powerful (‘I will give you all these kingdoms’). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone’). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”

― Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The season of Lent is here. The wild month of February has ended, and the liturgical calendar beckons us to come into the wilderness, into a season of solitude.

Solitude is not found at the spa or on the beach,  it’s found within yourself.  It’s found when you quiet your mind, go deeper into yourself, so that you may come out wiser, more self-aware, less reactive, more compassionate. Solitude is found when we fast from that which keeps us from God, and when we feast on that which draws us to Him.

Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

What does solitude look like?

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” 

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

If you want to understand the world, step away from it.

  • Turn off Facebook for 40 Days.
  • Limit your access towhatever your news choice is and allow yourself only the headlines. If you watch one news station that is more to your ilk, read another news choice that is not of your liking. Read enough to understand, but not so much as to be consumed.
  • Take a screen Sabbath.
  • Spend more time creating, get a bird feeder,  bake,  give, read, and be kind to strangers.
  • Take all of the time that you spend worrying, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or sad and turn your energy to your soul and connecting with God and thinking about God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness.
  • Be in a more intimate relationship with God than you are with your phone.
  • Every time your mind is triggered with worry or frustration, stop, say a word, and reconnect with the God of all human history.
  • Spend more time thinking about what you for, than what you are against. Spend more energy on love than on hate.  Think on these things.

Once we have spent time in solitude, finding ourselves closer to God, then we are to the world – then and only then, can  we respond to the world.

Take that time in solitude to pray.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for the liberal. Pray for the conservative. Pray for the immigrant.  Pray for the teacher. Pray for the leader. Pray for your neighbor. Pray for the employer. Pray for the picker. Pray for the reporter. Pray for the parent. Pray for the child. Pray for the water. Pray for the air. Pray for the trees. Pray for the wealthy. Pray for the poor.  Pray for the greedy.  Pray for the generous.  Pray for the church. Pray for the mosque. Pray for the temple.  Pray for the Native American. Pray for the Latino. Pray for the African-American. Pray for the Asian. Pray for the White. Pray for the Gay. Pray for the Straight.  Pray for the married. Pray for the single.  Pray for the lonely. Pray for the homeless. Pray for the hungry. Pray for your enemies.  Pray for those you love.  Pray for people you do not understand. Pray to be understood.

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

If we can find a way to solitude, we will gain wisdom. If we can gain wisdom, we will know God. If we know God, we will speak the truth not be afraid.  There is a time to be brave. Bravery will come when wisdom is discerned.

You are wiser than you give yourself credit.  After all, God abides in you and you in him.  Seek God and you will know peace.

Next week I will write about finding wisdom in the hardest moments.

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