Sunday, May 1, 2016

New Beginnings

Our family is emerging from an almost week-long "quarantine" as we passed a stomach bug around,  and we are feeling well again with energy and ambition which feels a bit like having a fresh start.

It is interesting to me that this fresh start coincides with recent news that drives me forward in the calling I have been discerning for the past 10+ years. Two weeks ago I visited the Southeastern Iowa Synod office for my candidacy entrance interview and received a positive decision, which means I am now a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA (one of many "first steps" along the path). Yesterday I received word from Luther Seminary that I have been admitted to the Master of Divinity Distributed Learning program, to begin study in the fall.  I started the process to get to this point last summer and have been in the process of discerning if this was my call to answer for many years.

The months in between deciding to pursue candidacy and beginning study for a career in ordained ministry have been a bit of a fallow season, which has been hard for me. Certainly there has been much work to continue in my current vocation (and there will continue to be). However, as I stepped back from making new commitments of time and energy to prepare for this new step, I have often found myself lacking motivation to "do."

With our youngest entering Kindergarten this year, I leave the early years of motherhood that are so time-consuming and physically exhausting and enter a stage when my children are more self-sufficient. With this transition comes a sense of "what now?" With all three children in school, there is time in my schedule that was once filled with the moment-by-moment demands of parenting. It is an eerie feeling, as if I am always forgetting something.

I have to admit, in the absence of such obvious needs to be met, I feel like I have not made the best use of this season. Soon, I will embark on a five-year (hopefully!) period of study and preparation for ordained ministry that will involve 25-35 hours a week of course work on top of my 25 hour a week current vocation and roles as mother and wife. With all of my current free time I have done little more than rest while I watch my fellow mothers pour their time and energy into projects around the house, cooking and baking, school and sports activities, and other pursuits.

As I live in this time "in between", this fallow season, my new devotional led me to several renewed questions today:

  • What does it mean to be thankful, even when it LOOKS like there is nothing to be thankful for? (What does it look like to rejoice in this season of stillness and let it prepare me for a season of activity?)
  • How can I spot God's blessings "in, with, and under" the mundane realities of life?
  • How do I push through the days when I don't want to? (What happens next year, when time is so limited, if I experience this same sense of apathy?)
  • What does it mean to live my best life in grateful response to God's grace and love -- to push through the rough days in grateful response to grace?
Pondering these questions reminds me of how God's hand is at work in my life even in this fallow season. The rhythm of life in the wintertime before electricity and modernization  was a time of preparation for the needs of the spring. It is hard to watch the world around me continue to push forward when I feel called to rest. Yet, I am called to acknowledge the indwelling of the Spirit -- God working in and through me to prepare me for what is to come, even if it sometimes presses hard against the norms of modern life. 

Soon it will be time for long days and late nights. Soon enough it will be all about the doing. For now, I prepare. Like a mother who rests to prepare for the birth of a child, this fallow season is allowing me rest to prepare for the birth of something new.

I am excited for all this new beginning will hold.

Thanks be to God!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sometimes we Have to Stare into the Tomb

I’m starting to wish I had started this blog under a pseudonym … a way to write, to put things out in the world without being directly associated with my identity, without involving my friends and relatives, without being linked to my current or future vocation.

I long for an opportunity to process, in writing, the things with which I struggle and how I reconcile these things (or don’t) with my life, faith, and vocation. And yet I understand, more clearly every passing moment, the risks of doing so in a public forum.

Yet I made the choice to start this blog in a public forum with a specific purpose: to be a real person, flesh and blood, struggling in and with the realities of how we live in the “now but not yet” of this life, acknowledging the moments in the depths and still standing in the brilliant hope of the resurrection. And I don’t think you can do that from a place of hiding.

So here I am talking to myself while I write about why I do this, convincing myself it’s not too risky to do again. It has been another six-month silence. Yet, my soul screams out for the transparency this sharing brings.

So here it is … it has been a dark Holy Week. A couple of individuals I started following in the last year on social media (@rozellahw and @crazypastor) have been examining the despair that remains even after Easter, the tension of proclaiming “He Is Risen, Indeed, Hallelujah!” while living in the reality of a world still so broken.

How do we stand in the light of the resurrection, participating in God’s work in the world, while still fighting the sinking despair that comes when you stare into brokenness inherent in a world this side of heaven?

It has been refreshing to have this tension named this week. I think sometimes the hard part of believing in a God who loves us and reconciled the world to Godself through Christ's death and resurrection is staring into that brilliance and then feeling the heavy blanket of continuing to live in the broken world. The hard part is living in the heaviness of being called to love that world, called to love even those who would scorn, mock, and crucify us, and, in fact, our very Lord and Savior.

So let’s name it … recently I found myself in the hard place where I go from the self-starting, perfectionistic, internally motivated type-A personality to the person who has to talk herself out of getting out of bed and finds an excuse to recline at the earliest possible moment.

It all started the week of Spring Break. I could feel the heaviness coming on. I had a soul-draining February with weekends filled with a training event and leading a synod event and an overnight confirmation retreat. I loved doing all these things. Yet when they were done, I had emptied myself so completely I couldn’t rebound. While our family had planned a fun couple of nights away at a cabin to play and explore, I found myself sleeping away much of our time.

The following week I spent three days sick with influenza. I was sure my fatigue the week before had been my body fighting this oncoming illness.

Enter Holy Week. As I stared down the barrel of a number of events to prepare for in April, I was living in the midst of a week that while very busy in the life of the church doesn’t require a lot of me other than showing up. The confirmation ministry for which I am responsible has spent the last five weeks attending Lenten worship and meeting in small groups to discuss our weekly dramas so I haven’t had to plan and prepare and also haven’t had the chance to teach, which drives me and brings me joy.

And while there was plenty of planning and preparing for things in April, I wanted to do none of it, or get out of bed for that matter – so much so that for two days this week I put off getting out of bed so long I didn’t have time to get ready and ended up working from home. And there’s nothing so wrong with working from home, but the guilt of not choosing to get out of bed and not showing up during a busy week in the life of the church weighed heavily on me. And the guiltier I felt the harder it was to snap out of it all.

So, I, too, find myself short of heaven.

And aren’t we all?

As we struggle with the evil that remains in this world – hatred, racism, persecution, xenophobia, poverty, war, homophobia, income inequality, misogyny, etc. – isn’t it clear that while “It is finished” for eternity, for today we continue to struggle against all that would pull us into the depths, all that would steal the beauty of our days, of our very lives?

And I am reminded of another of my favorites to follow on social media (@momastery) who speaks of these days. She speaks of being the kind of person who feels the energy of the world and seeks to channel her response into active engagement in God’s reconciling work in the world.

But, she is the first to admit that some days the waves consume and she has to be gentle with herself. Sometimes staring in to the brilliance of the resurrection and reconciliation while trying to throw off the oppressive weight of the world around us takes more than we have.

And this is good news for me.

I may think I should be capable of all this.

I may think the sheer power of my will should be enough.

But the reality so vibrantly presented in the death and resurrection of Christ –
Whether you shout, “He is Risen, Indeed. Hallelujah!” with confidence surrounded by plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies or whisper it defiantly in the face of deep despair and sorrow in the evil of this world –

It’s not on us.

God’s got this.

God always has and God always will.

This is the reality presented in the story of God’s people in the Old Testament – trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing all leading up to the introduction of Jesus – the messiah who would take the sin of the world upon himself.

The more I burden myself with the responsibility of “snapping out of it” to embrace the life God has prepared and invited me into, the less I understand resurrection.

The more I trust the God I believe in has the power to reconcile ALL of creation to Godself, the more I open myself to the opportunity for my own resurrection – from all that would pull me into despair.

I don’t have to resurrect myself.

And releasing my death grip on that reality opens the door for God to begin God’s reconciling work in my heart and my life once again.

He is risen indeed.

Clinging to the shoulders of Christ, I, too rise.


Friday, September 25, 2015

At Peace

I often turn to writing when I am struggling with some large question or frustration, but when the tide turns and I am at peace, I don’t feel quite the same need to put my thoughts to paper. For those whose interaction with me rarely goes beyond these posts (I think mostly of my family and friends who live at a distance), it may seem like I live in a constant state of angst.

Today I wanted to share with you that, finally, the dawn has broken on what feels like a terribly long period of struggle. I cannot logically explain how or why (I could wager some theories, but they would be mere supposition). but as I am going about my day I realize: I. Am. At. Peace.

The brilliant beauty of blue skies punctuated by white clouds and sunshine peeking through bright green leaves no longer carries the weight of a day I should enjoy but cannot. Where there has been a lingering sense of despair and apathy there is now a sense of stillness and content. It is like a switch flipped and all the lights came on.

The breeze and warm sun on my face remind me of the eternal presence that gently holds and sustains me in all things.

The day before me is an exciting opportunity rather than something to endure until I can steal a moment to lie down to rest.

These seasons are part of living for me. Seasons of beauty and purpose and seasons of stirring and discontent. It is easy to trust the joyful seasons … to see God working in the purpose and intention. What is harder is to recognize, accept, and trust is that God is also working in the difficult seasons, the times when I wander in the desert, not knowing my ultimate destination or how long it will go on. Even though my every need is still provided, I think there is something I must “do” to move myself out of the desert into the next stage.

But as God walked with the Israelites through their desert wandering, it was not their “doing” that led to the Promised Land. Every time they attempted to use what they knew to relive their distress – turning to idol worship and pagan rituals – they prolonged their suffering. It was only in forsaking their own ability to save themselves that they were ultimately delivered.

And so it is with me. God’s saving grace does not come in my seeking perfection or my striving. It does not come in the moments when I am trying to do my best. It is not my knowledge or my right actions that save me.

Wen all else fails and I have surrendered to my complete inability to fill my own cup or to be any more than the empty shell in need of saving, God can lift the veil and fill me with the peace of his saving grace. 

And that, is a miracle.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

From Death to New Life

It is one of those perfectly beautiful Iowa days that makes you believe in heaven.

Unlike the frigid cold of winter mornings that justify turning over in bed and covering up with a thick comforter, today is the kind of day that feels like a waste if you don’t get out an enjoy it.

It has been a really interesting year. I stepped forward and tried my hand at something new in ministry. Parts of it were huge growth experiences and challenged me in new ways. Other parts were disappointing and gut-wrenching in ways I had never anticipated.

So, after pouring myself into a new area of ministry for the better part of a year and realizing I was not being called to continue to do so, I found myself barren. Empty. Unmotivated even for the ministries that have challenged and sustained me over the last four years.

Unlike the beauty of fall, the autumn of faith life lacks the brilliance of bright colors and fresh air. It can be painful. Empty. When the things that once drove you and got you out of bed in the morning become difficult to even consider, something is dying.

When you arrive at this impasse, there are two choices: Give in to the death and become consumed by it; or acknowledge the death and start to look for the new life.

Those of us familiar with four-season weather cycles know that the death that comes in autumn is not immediately followed by new life of spring, but by winter. Signs of new life are buried under mounds of snow and hard, frozen ground. It can be bitter and unbearable. But as the ground freezes, seeds crack open, preparing them to grow in the warmth of spring.

Not only did something have to die, but it has had to lie barren and the conditions had to be so bleak and cold that the seed planted could, finally, crack, so that in the spring new life can come.

And it is beginning. The seed, planted years ago, finally cracked in the barren emptiness of disappointment and pain. A call is finally less scary than staying where I am. And a loving husband, terrified of what this means for our family, continues to demonstrate his love by being willing to “get used to” an idea he never would have considered.

So, I will be leaving the season of “doing more where I am” and starting to put one foot in front of the other to pursue candidacy and hopefully seminary through a distributed learning program that allows me to continue working and doesn’t require a total relocation.

And for today, as I look out at the spectacular color and delightful weather that is autumn, I am reminded that death can be beautiful.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When the Spirit Moves

Coming off a week away at the ELCA National Youth Gathering, I find myself in a strange place. So many are riding a spiritual high ... energized, enlivened and spilling over with excitement. I stood with them and am excited for them, but my spirit is pensive.

That is not to say it wasn't a spectacular experience. In no other place is there the same intersection of thought-provoking speakers, inspiring music, and service opportunity.

It was most certainly an action-packed, spirit-filled week. Yet, I am at odds. The thing is, sometimes the work of the spirit is not warm-and-fuzzy kind of stuff. Sometimes the spirit works to reveal the truth. And the truth isn't always pretty.

Sometimes the truth is that six days of traveling, serving, celebrating, and praising alongside high school youth is harder than you thought.

Sometimes you realize you are ill-equipped to handle the developmentally appropriate sighs and groans of complaint to what youth perceive as "routine" and "boring".

Sometimes you spend the entire trip tending to the details to keep everyone moving forward and maintain connections with those back home, yet find few opportunities to experience connection in the present.

Sometimes you find yourself longing for the familiarity of Mom's group meetings, Guide Huddles, and leading predictable adults.

Sometimes you walk away from an unloaded bus feeling less connected than before you left.

Sometimes you realize you have not taken care of your body as you should, and two full days of rest were not enough to re-energize physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Sometimes, you have a renewed sense of call, but it is the hardest possible choice.

There is great risk in even saying these things. Who goes to a Youth Gathering and comes back disconnected? Who admits they struggled to connect?

The way I see it, if we are afraid of the truth of our experience, then we are not honest with ourselves and risk much more.

So I am speaking my truth and I will continue to wrestle with the movement of the spirit. It could simply be the fatigue of an introvert who experienced no down-time for six straight days.

Or it could be more.

 From what I know of the spirit, if it is more, it will certainly be impossible to ignore.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

One Month Until Detroit!

One month from today we will be halfway through our National Youth Gathering experience. It is hard to believe it is almost here. When we started planning less than a year ago it all seemed so far off. We have learned and grown so much during our Gathering meetings as we prepare to travel to Detroit and be present with one another, 30,000 other Lutheran youth and adults from across the country and the people of Detroit.

As I reflect on our preparations, I am drawn to our first lesson, which took us straight to the heart of our identity in Christ, as children of God. In considering what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God, we were given the image of spectacles (glasses) with two lenses. The first lens through which we were challenged to look at the world was through the nature of Jesus, as revealed in the Gospel of Mark. Through our study we discovered Jesus as the son of God who came to suffer for us and with us.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In Case You Were Worried: Love vs. Fear

So, here's the thing about living in a community of faith (at least in my very Lutheran tradition) ...
we're called to love one another, to bear one another's burdens and be present in each other's lives ... and we do so with the understanding that we are, simultaneously, saint and sinner. The people we are called to do life with will hurt us. They will blindly cater to their fears even when it means denying the opportunity to extend love to another in the form of trust despite fear.

It happens because we're all sinners. We all make mistakes. We are selfish and difficult and self-centered.

And yet because we know that we are all both (saint and sinner) we are called to continue to live in relationship with the very person who is prioritizing fear over love. Even when that causes us pain.

And sometimes that sucks (which, according to Bishop Eaton, IS a theological term).

Which brings me to the readings for today (if you didn't know there were readings for every day of the year, check out the Revised Common Lectionary Year B, it's a great way to get into the Bible every day without the pressure of reading the Bible in a year type of program. Worth checking out.)

The first reading is Numbers 6:22-27

The Priestly Benediction
22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

If you've attended a traditional protestant worship service in the last couple of decades, you've probably heard these words spoken. So here's the thing ... in the Bible this blessing immediately follows a bunch of rules about how the Israelites were to set themselves apart from the surrounding culture.

In this particular time and place the way to set yourself apart was by your behavior. Through Moses, God provided the Israelites ways of behaving that set them apart as God's people.

Today's next reading is Mark 4:21-25

A Lamp under a Bushel Basket
21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

"The measure you give will be the measure you get." Could this be in reference to extending love and risking fear? Hard to tell. But as I ponder this verse tonight I cannot help but think that we are, always, encouraged to extend love in all circumstances.

Finally, Psalm 20

Prayer for Victory
To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    The name of the God of Jacob [Israel] protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary,
    and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings,
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire,
    and fulfill all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
    but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They will collapse and fall,
    but we shall rise and stand upright.
9 Give victory to the king, O Lord;
    answer us when we call.

So, here's the thing. God will be by your side. The Lord will protect you. It doesn't say that God will spare you all harm, pain and trouble and bring your heart's desire RIGHT NOW.

But the victory will be HIS.

And if God is love, as demonstrated by Christ on the cross ...

Then love will win and fear will be defeated.

So, as people of the Resurrection, we live knowing that love will defeat fear, our geeky terminology for it is that we live in the "now but not yet."

And we remember that in Christ, God has defeated sin and death ... all fear.

Love wins.

Yet on earth we still live in the midst of heaven not yet realized.

So, if we want to see that glimpse of love when we are surrounded by a culture of fear, we must respond to fear with love.

And that is far more difficult than the set of rules God asked the Israelites to live by. At least they had a measuring stick ... good enough ----> not good enough.

In Christ that measuring stick is gone. We are simply saved, by grace. And we are called to respond to that amazing saving grace in our love and care for the world around us, full of sinner/saints.

So, we are still set apart, like the Israelites but so very differntly.

"And they will know us by our love ..."

Which means that grace is, truly, the biggest kind of brave.