Saturday, May 14, 2016

Making sense of trials

Have you ever been through something difficult?

Of course you have,  that's part of life. 

Illness
Accidents
Failures
Abuses
Addiction
Break ups
Divorces
Betrayal
Loss

Life is messy and painful.  Period.

And,  often,  in the midst of a struggle,  people want to make sense of it all. Why me? Why this?  Why now?   Somehow,  it seems like it might be more tolerable if we could just understand the reasons.  So we look for explanations and answers.  We want someone to blame.  And when our earthly options fall short (and sometimes even when they don't and are instead starting us right in the face), we often blame God.

It's God's will.  
Everything happens for a reason.
God has a purpose.
God has a plan.

And while those things might be independently true (well,  I'm not sure about the first two, but I do believe the second two...God does have a purpose and God does have a plan) those things may not have any connection to the circumstances of my trials.

It can be tempting to soothe our own wounds or try and soothe someone else's by "helping" to justify what's happening with the notion "everything happens for a reason", but please use this please cautiously...since the reason may (likely) not be God (as you're suggesting) but instead it may be

The consequence of our own actions
The consequence of someone else's actions
Systemic injustice
Learned (bad) behavior
Or maybe (sorry to be so glib)...just because $h1t happens. 

Really,  all kinds of things happen without any real explanation or answer and pretending the answer is God is really not helpful.  Sometimes we just have to sit in the discomfort of the messiness if life. ..without an answers at all.

Letter to my daughter

Dear sweet first-born child of mine,

Over the years,  you will learn more and more about me.  One thing I'd like to give you a heads up about is I'm not actually a morning person. I know that will come as a shock since I've been rising with you at every ungodly hour since you were born,  but it's the truth.  Let's just say I faked it well (oh and it was a lot easier when you were smaller since you just wanted to be in our vicinity,  not have actual conversation). That said, I have a pro-tip for you: mornings will be a lot smoother (maybe even more fun. ..eventually) if you ease me into them instead of cradling into my bed and talking a million miles an hour.

Don't get me wrong I like your taking. ...love it really,  I'll just be a lot more pleasant  (and responsive) if you give me 10-15 minutes to be quiet and gradually wake up. 

I know you won't heed this.  You probably couldn't care less. You won't,  until you're  thirty and have a talkative child yourself.  But hey, it doesn't hurt to try!

Know that I'll love you forever,  no matter what,  including if you rush me into mornings every day for the rest of my life.

Love,
Mom  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Do you know why you can give grace liberally? Because it's not yours to give;  it's God's, so spend it liberally." -Pastor Marty Walker

Church (s)hopping lessons: Seeking refuge

Over the years I've had the privilege of working with a lot of people in ministry. ..thousands of people.  Some i know well after working side by side week in and week or,  others I know more loosely through Bible study or a single hospital visit.  Others I know by face or by name,  but don't really know. And some slide in and out of the worship space,  willing not to be seen or noticed. 

From various encounters,  meetings,  and times of counseling, I've learned why people have come to church. 

The reasons include:
Finding a church home
Returning to "roots"
A physical/health crisis
A relationship struggle/crisis
Looking for safe space
Re-imagining one's self/identity
Because it felt like [I] should
To teach [my] kids faith

The list goes on.

The common denominator is
Belonging
Refuge

One of the things that has been the biggest blessing to me in visiting churches is being able do what is most comfortable/necessary for me in any given moment.  I appreciate being able to choose (or at least feeling that freedom since I always have a choice) whether or not to stand,  whether or not I sing, and even entering a space or position for personal prayer.

That freedom creates an extra layer of security to simply be and hopefully to encounter God in the midst of worship.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Potty Talk

*Disclosure: this is literally about poop, which may not be your thing.  (It's not really mine either,  but it's relevant. ..even theological). So, you may want to skip this post and move on to the next. 

My dear sweet child unfortunately has weak teeth (or poor hygiene, or both) and she has had more dental work in 3 years than I have had in 33 years.  She has 5 crowns,  maybe 6. And on Friday,  one came loose and she swallowed it.  I called the dentist and she was out of town,  so we have to wait for Monday.  Insurance won't cover the replacement,  so we will owe around $400. (Yippee)  Sigh.

The hygienist suggested we "watch" for it.  I can't even begin to describe how giddy that makes me.  So we talked and talked to Ruth about not flushing and letting me know if she had a bowel movement. 

At dinner I asked if she'd pooped and she said,  "Yes, and I didn't flush,  just for you!" Oh goody!

So I grabbed a bucket and gloves and went upstairs.  And I "looked" for this $400 treasure piece. 

I warned you. .."literally about poop".

And,  ironically I started thinking theologically. ..where is the God-message in this?

And I thought,  "I wonder how often this happens. ..we accidentally swallow/lose something precious that God has given us, and then we wait for it to "appear" and hope God will sift through the shit to recover our treasure."

Regrettably, the crown didn't appear, so I get to look forward to this "joy" again today.  And I couldn't help but think of God..."Oh boy, I get to do this again tomorrow. .."  sigh.

Sometimes we have accidents,  and sometimes we lose very valuable things because of it,  and then we have to sift through the shit (excuse the language, but if you've ever done this chore, you get it,  it's not glamorous) if we ever want it back. And God, who is a loving and faithful parent, will grab a bucket & get some gloves on, and help us recover that which is precious.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lessons from church (s)hopping: A little recognition

Over the last few months,  while on maternity leave,  I've had occasion to visit a number of churches. It's been interesting since I haven't been church (s)hopping in 12 years (and then I was single with no kids).  My intent hasn't been to critique churches, but I can't help but notice certain things along the way. I offer these reflections as a note to myself for future ministry and for whatever it might be worth to those who work/volunteer in the church.

When I was in college,  I began attending the campus Intervarsity group.  I started going to worship mid-week and when I first showed up,  I met one of the key leaders. He was very friendly,  "Hi, I'm Jarrod, what's your name?" So I told him my name and that it was nice to meet him. 

The next week I went back.  Again,  he approached me, "Hi, I'm Jarrod, what's your name?" I figured,  well,  it is only my second time here,  it's OK.  I liked the worship and the teaching and so I went back again.  Week 3, the same thing,  "Hi, I"m Jarrod, what's your name?" Not even a glimpse of recognition. It was a decent size group of students,  but not enormous and I had met him EVERY week.  So it was odd that he didn't even have a minimal memory. I get not everyone does names,  but not even a "I think I should know you're name,  but I'm not good at remembering."

I really was trying to be part of a faith community and did like the worship, so I went back,  4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times.  And do you know what happened every time?

"Hi, I'm Jarrod, what's your name?"

Every. single. week. for 10 weeks.  After that I started a Bible study with IV and Jarrod still never learned my name.  He grew to know my face,  but never my name.

Now,  I'd grown up in the church,  so I cared more about worship and study than my interaction with one guy.  But, it was significant that I, seemingly, wasn't memorable (at all) to a key leader.  So significant that I remember the story and his name 17 years later...

It is interesting when we visit a church who (if anyone) greets us, and then who (if anyone) remembers us when we go back. 

I know church folk can be pretty overwhelming in their effort to greet the newcomer, but in trying to avoid that tendency it seems like of folks have fallen off the opposite edge. 

In our recent visits,  the church who has done the best at welcoming and remembering us is Pacific Palisades Community Church. We had 5 or 6 people greet us on our first visit, and a good number who remembered us when we came back the following week. 

We want to be noticed and welcomed (as opposed to ignored) but we don't want to stick out like a sore thumb. And it is nice when people pay enough attention to remember us when we go back

Monday, April 11, 2016

Music Monday

Music is powerful in our house.  We even have a picture that says, "Where words fail music speaks." It's true.  So, I'm sharing various pieces of music that have either spoken to me or I think will speak into situations of friends. 

I regularly post on Facebook:

"Prayer Roundup: What can I lift up for you?" 

I'm always honored for how people share with me so that I can hold them in prayer.  And I am often overwhelmed by the level of pain in our lives.  Depression. Addiction. Mental health struggles. Grief. Betrayal. Abuse. Family conflict....the list goes on. 

There are a whole lot of storms that rage in our lives.  And this song speaks into our need to have faith that God is in the midst of the storm:

Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Word of Hope

The Easter message matters. We need to know that sin, betrayal, death, abuse, death, heartache, loneliness, depression, fear, anxiety, loss, confusion, and dead ends don't have the final word. It may feel like it, but all those things lose because of Christ. In him we are given (freely without strings attached) forgiveness, second chances, reconciliation, redemption, freedom from our past, and promise of hope in our future.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

If you want my help

Let me just start by saying God is growing me so much as a parent. I am (slowly) becoming a better person day by day. And I'm learning a whole lot of humility, both from my failings as a parent and as I learn to re-image God.  

The other day Ruth wanted "3 Queen Elsa braids" in her hair. Now, she doesn't have enough hair for much, but she is content if I give her any kind of braid that make her feel like Elsa.  So, I sprayed and conditioned her hair and started to divide it into sections (at which point she normally likes to argue with me that she wants braids not pony tails...but if you do hair you know you have to do pony tails first to keep the sections separate).  I remind her she should trust me.  She said ok and then began to bend all the way forward.  

Sigh.

"Ruth, you need to sit up straight!"

"OKAY!"

I continued separating sections and then began braiding.  I don't remember exactly what she did next, but my response was "Ruth, if you want me to help you, you have to let me do it." 

Click in my brain. 

Ohh....it's another one of those  lessons.  If I want God to help me I have to let God do it...

Let's just say I'm about as cooperative as my almost-5 year old when it comes to asking God for help and then either staying out of the way or being an active (and helpful) participant in following God's direction.  I'm trying. I'm learning.  I'm definitely a work in progress.  

I just have to remember, if I ask for help, I need to let God do it!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter prayer

Merciful God, 
thousands of years ago, 
in the dark of the morning, 
in the midst of profound grief
[Mary/the women] drew near to the tomb.  
Her heart broke as she came to say goodbye to her rabbi and friend.  
But instead of the stench of death she breathed in the gift of new life.  
Jesus was alive! 
The gift of resurrection is mysterious and confusing--
As are the ways you touch the dark and dead places in our lives.  
Where we have failed you forgive us. 
Where we sin you redeem us. 
Where the darkness threatens to overtake us,  you shine your light. 
And where death steals our joy, you proclaim I give joy abundantly. 

We thank you this day for new beginnings,  second chances,  and resurrection from death. 

Hallelujah!
We praise you in Jesus' name, 
Amen.  

Easter prayer

O God of death & resurrection,
we come today rejoicing in the fact of the empty tomb. 
Jesus Christ is risen! 
Hallelujah!
Where death and darkness threatened to overcome your promise of grace, mercy, & justice you stand victorious. 
We can't deny the power of sin or the presence of suffering in our lives.  
But because of Christ,
We know they don't have the final word. 

So we praise you.  
Hear us now as we lift our voices in thanks & praise 
for all you do & all you've done,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.