Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent “Study” week 2

part 2 in a series of Advent "studies" that are less about study and more about slowing down to listen for God in the midst of the holy-days.

Part of readying ourselves is allowing God to work in our lives. Many of us need healing in our relationships, in our bodies, and in our spirit. 
The focus of today’s time together is to slow down, listen, and ask God for healing in our lives. 
Let us start with prayer. Gracious Lord, we thank you for this time that we have set apart.  We ask that you would meet us here.  Give us guidance. Lead us and touch us in all the ways we need.  Send your spirit to move in us, through us, amongst us, and between us. In your precious and mighty name, we pray, amen

Meditation: During Advent and Christmas, we celebrate all that Christ brings to and offers the world.  We sing about peace and joy and hope and loife. And yet, often, the holidays bring stress and grief and tension and family feuds.  Facing the holidays without loved ones, end of the year bills, schedule conflicts, illness, fatigue, and family drama can suck the cheer right out of the holidays.  And so we come back to this place to center our hearts on Christ and seek renewal and wholeness. 
The story of Emmanuel shouts, “God with us!” reminding us that we are not alone in our struggles and that God does seek to offer us blessings and goodness.  God wants us to be whole. God wants us to have peace.  God wants our relationships to be life-giving.  God wants us to be healthy. 

In our time of quiet, let us ask God, which parts of my life do you want to heal and restore this Christmas? 

Quiet (2-3 minutes)
Time of sharing
Prayer time (music in the background)
Closing prayer

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Power of Good Coach

Today's run hit the double digits. Today was the first time we did 10 miles as a team. 

I was not ready to run.  I did not want to get out of bed. I did not want to run in the rain. I did not have any kind of desire to get on the course. But I knew I needed to and doubted whether or not I would be able to make next week's training, so I pushed to get out of bed. 

I arrived late and then I started out behind and figured that was fine. I took my time and started by walking and then doing some extra stretches.  Even the basics of the run started with a few SNAFUs.  When I took off my camel pack to stretch I saw that my water pouch was leaking. It was wet through the bottom of the pack and was soaking my shirt, sweatshirt, and pants.  And when I started my ipod, I found the battery was dead even though it was left charging all night.  It was not a good start.  But I knew those things were minor and just kept going.  My pace was slow but steady and I had to keep plugging along.  By 3 miles I was stretched out, feeling loose and pretty proud that 3 miles feels simple and easy on any given day.  I had to make a pit stop and then got back on track, only there was no chalking to indicate the way and no teammates in sight. I had no idea if I was going the right way or not. I had not taken an instruction sheet and I had not heard the general course overview.  Despite all that. I kept going figuring at least I'd get the run done, even if I was on the wrong course. 

At 4 miles, I saw some teammates in the walking group and then started seeing others on their way back.  At 4.5 there was a water stop and Coach Mel was there.  She joined me to go up the hill (the last bit before the turn around) and then stayed with me all the way back. She let me set the pace and we talked the whole way back.  I'm much slower than she is, but her presence made me want to push harder, run longer and more often. And talking made the time go quickly.  Not only were miles 5-10 bearable, they were easy, they were fun even. 

Mel has kept me company on more than one occasion and has never fussed about my pace. She gives me tips on form and answers questions and keeps conversation going.  And her energy, enthusiasm, and skill inspire me to keep trying and working on being better.  And every time I am grateful for her presence as a coach.  She has been a leader, an encourager, and a guide. I am blessed by her with my training and inspired to look at my own "coaching" as a pastor in light of her example. 

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On loss and faith

Just about a month ago, Rick and I learned that we had miscarried.  I was nearly 11 weeks along and after some warning signs, I saw the doctor and learned there was no heartbeat and the baby hadn't grown in nearly 2 weeks.  It was what they call a "missed miscarriage" meaning my body didn't recognize it right away. My body was carrying along as if everything in the pregnancy was normal.  Only it wasn't.  We were scheduled to leave to Mexico a week after we learned we had miscarried and so we decided to have a D&C to simplify the process and not cause medical problems, or even an emergency, when we were so far from home. 

      As we have grieved, I have been especially grateful for my time as a chaplain at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.  Northside has more births (over 18000) per year than any other hospital in the US.  As part of that, there are also a number of women who experience miscarriage and stillbirth losses.  I was honored to walk with them in their grief as they experienced their own losses.  As a chaplaincy resident, I had to work through my own theology of life and death and pregnancy loss.  Time and time again I heard family members say, “It was God’s will.” And yet I could never reconcile God “taking” a child from loving and caring parents.  As I worked out my own beliefs, I finally came to believe that miscarriages and still births are not in God’s will.  I don’t think God wants the death of any child.  I think biology happens (statistically speaking, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage in the first trimester) and things happen that are part of the brokenness of our world that don’t fall in line with God’s love or God’s grace. 
And yet, even when tragic and heartbreaking things happen, God is there to hold us and love us and comfort us.  Even when the world seems against us or our bodies have failed us or our hearts are broken yet again, God remains constant and eternally invested in us and our well-being.  I’m grateful I worked those things out in my mind years ago, because when we had to walk a similar path this last month, I didn’t have to fight to find God.  God was right there with me as I sat in the hospital room and underwent tests and saw the ultrasound where there was no more heartbeat. God was there when I shared the news with Rick and with family and friends and with each of you.  God was there when Ruthie hugged me and asked about the baby in my belly and prayed repeating after me for Jesus to hold that precious baby.  God was there during surgery and in the recovery and God has been there the whole time following.  Of that I am sure, and for that I give thanks.  

This year I have been terribly anxious for Christmas to arrive.  I was ready to decorate as soon as I heard the news, not physically, but emotionally, I wanted the peace and the hope and the light to break through the sadness.  And Christmas decorations, and the lights and the songs, and the smells all remind me of that hope of Christ. For me, that’s the heart of the Christmas message, that God’s love breaks through our deepest woes and darkest nights and instead offers hope and light and life.
It’s God’s promise of a future of abundance and peace and restoration and wholeness that allow us to walk freely into the future.  They allow us to heal from our heartbreaks and embrace something new, even if that something isn’t at all what we expected. 
  I pray that you find Christ this Advent and Christmas. I pray that God’s light breaks through the darkness in your own life. I pray that hope and joy fill your heart and that  the beautiful message of the incarnation flows from your lips so that others might know the love of God through Christ Jesus

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Not a Loner Afterall

I've found that I run at a different pace than most of the group. I don't walk the whole time, but I'm not strong/fast enough to keep a 4:1 (4 minutes running, 1 minute walking) pace either, and there's no way I could do the 5:1 pace more than once or twice. So I go at my own rate. I've had to work on not beating myself up for that. I'm out there running/walking and doing that alone (especially for 9 miles!) is a big deal. Who cares if I'm slower than most? So, I've just gone at my own pace. I bring my ipod along and just go and do what works for my body. I do what doesn't stress my asthma but keeps me pushing for more.

Last Saturday at our run, I was sort of beating myself up over it again. I was blaming myself for being too introverted or too much of a loner and thinking it was a social issue and not a running issue. Mid-self-reprimand, I stopped to stretch (I was less than a mile into the run) and a new woman, an alum who was training with us for the day, stopped to check on me and make sure I was ok. I said I was just tight and needed to stretch out more. She stayed with me and we got acquainted as we got back on the track.

In training, as you go, it's valuable to know what pace someone runs/walks (mostly so you know whether or not you'll be keeping pace with each other or if you'll be parting ways soon). We found out we were keeping a pace closer than not and we agreed to do a 2:1 pace together. Her timer was set and kept us going along at a consistent pace. We talked and got to know one another and had a lovely run together. It was nice to finally have someone at my pace and that I was comfortable chatting with along the way. After our turn around, I needed to stop at a rest stop and told her I could catch up, and yet she decided to stay with me and we would journey along together.

I can't tell you how appreciative I was to have a running mate where I didn't feel defeated for not being able to keep up or frustrated for not doing more running. And to top it all off, I finished the NINE MILES on my feet and feeling well!

Thank you D for a great run!

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