you’ve got a friend (in me).

As many of you know from the rest of my social media presence, my youngest graduated from PreK this week.  It was all the gloriousness you would imagine.  There were caps and gowns, diplomas, pictures, refreshments.  For part of the program her class sang the song “You’ve got a friend in me” from the movie Toy Story®.  It was, as you can imagine, adorable.  And then the big one had her first acting gig in the church musical.  She nailed it. And back to the little’s ballet recital.  Killed it.  And now we ready ourselves for the last week of school. Of course, you can’t go through this time of year, full of its transitions, without some reflection on the months that have passed.

It was a little over a year ago.  I was listening to some music on a run and for some reason I started thinking about what it meant to be merciful. I was quick to realize that I didn’t really have any idea how to describe or understand or even think about mercy. This, of course, was disconcerting to me having been married to the Pastor for almost 15 years at that point. I was at a loss.  So I decided I would spend some time trying to figure out what mercy was, where it was present, how it happened.  And turns out, mercy showed up in all sorts of places. What I discovered is that mercy might be hard to understand because it is that sneaky thing that is always around but not obvious.  But when you start looking for it, when you take the time to seek it out, you will find it’s all around. In the last year I have been enveloped in mercy.

Mercy is your best friend from long ago and also today getting up before the sun does to go to the YMCA with you.  Even though she could go later…because you can’t.  It is a new friend who came along just at the right time and always tells the truth even when it’s not nice.  And reminds you they are there to stick through the best of times and the worst of times. You can feel it when you sit for coffee with someone who has been in your shoes and nods their head in understanding.  You feel it when that call or text arrives at the exact perfect moment from someone you don’t often get to see but the friendship remains none the less.

Mercy shows up in a big blue van driven by a teensy twenty something year old who picks up kids, who look nothing like mine, after school and nourishes them with food, education and love four days a week.  It’s there when those same kids are on stage at your church next to your own reciting lines in the cheesy kids musical that makes you tear up because you know that this demonstration of inclusion and unity is what God intended. And soon those kids aren’t those kids at all.  They are just kids like mine and yours, showing up every week.

Mercy happens when that person who thought she’d never have a baby sees that face on the ultrasound, or even better, holds that person in their arms. But it is also there when you hold someone’s hand as you give them bad news or grieve with them in the losses great and small.

Mercy happens when the Pastor does a funeral for what can only be described as a tragedy and reminds us that the gospel is an unconventional story and we have an unconventional Savior.  And so is mercy.  It’s there in the loud and in the quiet.  In the wins and in the losses.  It’s wherever we show up and remind each other that there’s mercy enough for each of us.

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in plain sight

It was Holy Week.  The week of Easter. The mother of all weeks in the church. There was preparing, cleaning, cooking, shopping, eating, egg hunting and so much more.  Frankly, as fun as it is, it is exhausting.  So I won’t belabor the point today.

This Easter I cannot let go of the words from Luke 24:5.  “…why do you look for the living amongst the dead?”  I think now, more than ever, we are looking for signs of life. We are flooded with images of death and destruction from our own country and around the world.  Mothers and children in war torn countries, live streaming videos of crime or self harm, the dropping of bombs, all the way down to angry emails and rants on social media.  It’s enough to make you feel withered and dry and near dead.

Where are signs of life?  I think it’s tempting to say that we will find them in our beautiful pictures on social media of our well dressed slightly less well behaving children on Easter or in our waxing on about our job, house, or whatever new or exciting thing has come our way.  I would argue that there isn’t true life found here. Where then, will we find signs of life? For me it’s in those text messages from friends far and near who understand the daily struggle to balance all things work and church and home.  It’s sending a note to remind someone that they are loved and prayed for.  It should be obvious to those of us who have spent most of our lives wandering in and out of the church doors.  If you lose your life you gain it.  We find signs of life when we extend ourselves to another.

I sent a giving key to a fellow pastor’s wife.  One of the tribe.  If you don’t know about giving keys they are necklaces, with a key on them, and a word inscribed in the key. Someone who tak51412342510__07BB8511-CA17-4486-9560-2002B6474851.JPGes the time to remind me to breathe and relax sent me one. The word I sent was “hope.” It was a promise to hold out hope for my friend on the days where it didn’t seem like hope was possible. When the problems in life, the problems in church, the problems in the world seem too much.

So when you find yourself overwhelmed by all the death and deathly news that surrounds you, give away part of yourself. Make a phone call, write a note, sit down for coffee, send a token of care. Find signs of life and share them with those around you.

stay in your own lane people.

We’ve all done it, right?  Veered into another lane of traffic.  Oh, you haven’t?  Yeah right. Anyhoo, moving into another lane of traffic can be no big deal or a giant disaster.  And while I hope we all can agree that we should put down our phones and ignore our children in the backseat and pay attention to the road I’m not really here to discuss actual driving habits.  To stay in your own lane is to stick to what you know.

For the past 3 Sundays I have awoken to the desperate need for a cinnamon roll.  Not the kind you can get at a donut shop on a Sunday morning but a warm iced homemade cinnamon roll.  Guess how many weeks I happened upon said delicious breakfast treat?  ZERO.  So this weekend I decided I would make my own cinnamon rolls.  That’s right. I can perform surgery so certainly I should be able to follow a recipe and make these rolls. With great pride I proceeded to gather all my ingredients from the grocery store along with three other food projects I decided to create for our Super Bowl party.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Not only did I decide to make cinnamon rolls from scratch I figured adding a few img_7732other new recipes in the kitchen certainly wouldn’t add to my angst.  Um, oops.  Moving on, I made those cinnamon rolls.  I mixed up the dough and let it rise and put it in the fridge ready to complete my creation.  It was only then that I noticed the recipe I was using said clearly at the top: “Makes 40-50 Cinnamon Rolls.”  You have got to be kidding me. What am I going to do with 50 cinnamon rolls?  At this point I panicked and frantically phoned one of my best church girls who also happens to whip up homemade cakes and pies and other fancies in her kitchen on a daily basis.  My exact text: “WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF IN TO?”  Clearly I had veered from my own lane. Fortunately for me cinnamon rolls can be made ahead of time, they can be frozen and they can be shared with those you are lucky enough to attend Sunday School with.

In this case moving out of my comfort zone, my lane, didn’t turn out so bad. It could have turned out worse.  Sometimes we decide to swiftly move into territory in which we have no education or experience. This has the potential to be disastrous. I won’t be trying my hand at teaching kindergarten, flying a plane or operating any heavy machinery.  Our culture too often tells us we know as much as the experts. And why not? We have access to all sorts of information through the power of the internet. Exactly.  All sorts of information.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  It’s too much. In my arena we use what we call “evidence based medicine” as best we can to direct patient care and research efforts.  We are taught to examine the evidence and decide what the full body of research has concluded, if anything, on a subject. And while I have a good deal of experience reviewing medical literature it doesn’t mean I can easily read the law, interpret scripture or solve complex math problems. At other times knowledge in one area transfers easily to another. Take surgery, for example. When we plan for a gynecologic surgery our team anticipates possible deviations from the norm we might encounter based on the patient’s problem, their medical and surgical history and the procedure being performed.  We create a plan to minimize risk and maximize benefit to the patient.  Does being a gynecologic surgeon mean I should volunteer to operate on your brain or in your nose?  Well, first of all, gross. Secondly, while some principles of surgery carry over from one specialty to another like sterile technique or attempting to minimize blood loss and restore normal anatomy, a gyn surgeon does not have the expert knowledge and experience a neurosurgeon might have. If you ask me the best treatment for say, your eye disease, I’m going to tell you to go to your ophthalmologist, ask some questions about the risks and benefits of each treatment and some others on success rates, etc and then make an informed choice on what to do with the help of your physician.  On the other hand, many more of the techniques used in general surgery would apply in gynecology and vice versa.  So, should natural disaster strike, general surgeons and gynecologists would operate side by side to save life and limb.  But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  There are lots of other examples.  Have kids in school?  Swerve into the other lane because you must know how education works!  Voted? Swerve into the other lane because you can run the government.  Been going to church awhile?  You probably know the Bible better than most. The truth is we are all stakeholders in these issues: whether it’s our own health, education, the government or theology.

So what is the best way to change lanes?  Well, we check our blind spot, we put on our signal and then deliberately move over.  Life should be much the same. How do we improve education?  We find our best educators and the best available evidence on education and then create your best practices.  I know exactly who I would approach if I want to figure out how to make low income kids succeed in the classroom.  How about government?  Well, until about 4 months ago I didn’t actually know how the electoral college works.  Or really much else about government.  Who knew those things would matter when I was ignoring them to focus on my science and math classes way back when? So I find those whom I trust who have done their homework and who will, more importantly, discuss all sides of the issue with me. And when it comes to theology, well, I’ve been learning from the Pastor for almost 16 years.  And trust me when I say he knows what he is doing people.  So let’s check our blind spots.  Let’s figure out where we have assumed we know best and admit that we don’t know best.

Here’s another “if you know me” moment.  If you know me, you know I love being right. But I’ve learned that being loud and persistent doesn’t mean you’re right.  So now I’m learning to signal to the people around me and learn about what they have to offer.  So join me in checking our blind spots. Let’s figure out where we have assumed we know best and admit we don’t know best. Otherwise we should just stay in our own lane people.

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but that’s my seat.

It was supposed to be a giant ice storm.  That’s what the ladies and gents on TV told us.  A large amount of ice and freezing rain was heading to the metro and we’d better prepare. So schools were closed, patients were moved up, generators were readied, salt and sand was placed on the roadways. Grocery stores were emptied of bread and milk and lots of other things this week in preparation for the ice.  If you actually needed bread and milk, because you were out at home, you were out of luck.  It was being gobbled up by anxious citizens bracing for the ice apocalypse. And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

We did eventually get some ice on the trees and a bit on the roads but it came about 24 hours after everyone predicted and wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.  Overall a good thing.  But times like these always make me realize how much we buy into the myth of scarcity.  There will be a disaster and not enough to go around.

So what are the other myths in our lives?  I’ll try to tackle some that I see on a not so infrequent basis.

  • “I did such and such method, (cry it out, shushing baby, swaddle, feed on demand, screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-30-ametc etc) and my baby was such a good such and such (sleeper, breastfeeder, transitioner).”  Reality check:  Babies do what they want.  We can try all the tricks in the book but some kids sleep well and some don’t.  Some are good eaters and some, who shall remain nameless, just jump up and down on their chair instead of eating during dinner time.
  • That spot in that public place you’ve claimed?  Well it doesn’t actually belong to you.  This happens at all sorts of places.  Someone takes “your seat” at church.  You are “saving” that piece of gym equipment while you use something else.  This is where you “always” park.  Reality check: None of those things are yours.  The church pew doesn’t belong to you no matter how many weeks in a row you’ve sat there.  That leg lift machine you’re saving is going to be used by me now, well, because you’re not actually using it. I get it.  We find security in routine. But I’ve only got so much time at the gym in the morning and you’re wasting it leg press saving guy.
  • “Someone else will do it.”  Giving the money, cleaning up the trash, standing up for injustice, speaking out when someone is doing harm.  Reality check: If you aren’t willing to do it, then why do you think someone else will?  None of us are really braver than you.  Either do stuff or don’t do stuff but don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming someone else will do it.  That someone else thinks you are already taking care of whatever it is.
  • Just because you can post something doesn’t mean you should.  Reality check: As first conceptualized by one of the church girls and then paraphrased by yours truly…”If you won’t say it to someone’s FACE then don’t post it on FACEBOOK.” img_3945 Seriously.  You don’t like someone’s opinions or beliefs?  That’s ok.  But it doesn’t mean you need to attempt to harm or discredit them.  I am almost 100 percent certain that no one’s mind or heart has ever been radically transformed by a hastily penned angry Facebook comment.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  I have about a thousand deleted comments that I thought were not only on point but witty and sharp.  They never made it to publication.  Why?  Because it just doesn’t help.
  • And finally “that’s just the way I am.”  The Pastor knows this is my least favorite myth that people live by.  Reality check:  You are never too old to change.  The person you were in 2016 does not define who you are in 2017.  The person you are today does not control the person you can be tomorrow.  And if you change something about yourself and you don’t like it?  Guess what?  Change again.  My favorite people in life are those who have lived enough and learned enough about themselves to know what to hold on to from each phase of life and what to let go.  That bad attitude you had all last year?  Don’t drag it along to 2017, let’s try something new.  Those hateful things you said?  Do better in the coming days and months.  Living your life as “that’s just the way I am” seems utterly disappointing and fairly sad to me.

There was no massive ice storm.  So maybe take that extra bread and milk and those extra hours at home and see if you can debunk any myths in your own life!  Here’s to living in reality and realizing you can make change in your own life in 2017!

 

the original birth story.

Today is the day we’ve been waiting for.  Or at least I’ve been waiting for.  We light the Christ candle.  It is now Christmas. I don’t know about you but I’ve been anxious for the last 4 weeks.  Anxious to sing the songs and hear the stories and remember the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  It is difficult for me to comprehend that God’s people waited through 400 years of silence for the birth of Christ.  I would bet that every time a new king img_2375was crowned, a new country invaded, a new period of famine or drought came they imagined that they were on the cusp of a conquering savior’s presence.  And then they got a baby.

It is easy for us to look at the coming of Christ as a baby and make that sound we do when we see a newborn.  You know it.  You’re probably making it right now. It is the sound of seeing something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.  This is my usual response to Christmas.  The warm and fuzzy feeling of  watching the Nativity.  But today I am keenly reminded of the frailty of Christ’s birth.  In a striking move unanticipated by anyone looking for it, God chose to manifest himself on our planet as the most vulnerable citizen.  We don’t have record of the maternal and infant mortality rate at the time of Jesus’ birth but we can extrapolate based on the earliest data we have available.  Based on early European data and other modeling statistical methods the best estimate is that 300 out of every 1000 infants born did not live to celebrate their first birthday.  That’s 30% of babies.  And their mothers.  Infection and hemorrhage were common.  As many as 25 of every 1000 women died as a result of childbirth during the time that Mary was pregnant.  Compare that to giving birth in the US today where, on average, the infant mortality rate is 6 per 1000 and the maternal mortality rate is about 10 per 100,000 women.  When Mary accepted the call of God to be the mother of Christ not only did she accept the shame that comes with being an unwed mother in her culture but I’m sure she knew the reality that many mothers and children did not survive childbirth in her community.

It begs the question: why would God choose to become incarnate in the form of a baby? Why choose the most vulnerable way to represent himself?  Maybe it’s because God enjoys being subversive.  Maybe it’s because no one would have suspected to look in a crib for a savior.  I suspect it is because He is in the business of demonstrating to us that power
is made perfect in weakness; that He is best found amongst those who cannot raise arms to protect themselves.  Dare I say that if you find yourself looking for a savior who will increase your power, fill your pockets and take down your enemies…don’t look inside the manger.  Don’t look in the manger for a savior who will use violence and destruction and despair to bring about his kingdom.

This Saimg_0059-jpgvior, the one found in the manger, will be “God with you” always.  He will be with you despite your words, despite your actions, despite your selfishness. This Savior will stay close to you in your suffering, He will walk with you in your grief and He will rejoice with you when life is gracious and good.  He will ask you to forgive your enemies, to lay down your weapons, to love someone who believes differently than you.  He is the Light that breaks through all darkness.  If you dare to look for the savior born long ago out in the cold this is what you will find.

May your life be filled with the light of Christ as today we light the Christ candle.  May every baby you see today and this week remind you of the vulnerable God who sends a baby in order to bring peace healing and hope to your life.  Merry Christmas friends!

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photo credits: Pastor Jason, yours truly, shiftworship.com, and the internets.

 

love is more than a sentiment.

Well friends, Advent is in full swing and we are fast approaching Christmas Sunday!  And guess what?  Christmas Sunday is….on CHRISTMAS!  Traditionally we celebrate Christmas Sunday on the Sunday that falls closest to the 25th.  But next week we will celebrate the morning of Christmas.  And I’m excited.  But today is the 4th Sunday of Advent.

We light a candle in celebration of love.

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In the Advent Scripture from Isaiah today we are reminded that God comes to us as Immanuel.  “God with us.”  We have come to that time in Advent when we begin to really anticipate the birth of Christ. Most of you will be familiar with the story.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is engaged to Joseph. Except then she is pregnant.  And it’s not Joseph’s baby. You can imagine the drama that this would create. It’s a story we want to romanticize.  We like to paint a picture where both Mary and Joseph are overjoyed at the thought of having a baby but I have to believe that they both understood the hard work, the shame, the isolation they would face.  They had enough faith to bravely accept the ways in which God had chosen to use them and follow wherever this path would lead.

The reality is that God comes to us in one of the most uncomfortable stories of all time. Single mother. Unglamorous birth story.  Weird visitors. If it happened in my hospital today people would look the other way or maybe roll their eyes.  But it leads me to believe that maybe God is at His best “Immanuel” in times when we are most uncomfortable. The difficult part is being able to recognize the Immanuel in our own lives. We tend to move away from the uncomfortable spaces, to stay quiet when we see something that isn’t right, to ask how others are doing with the expectation that they should say all is well.

God loved us enough to have Christ come into the most uncomfortable spaces in our lives. If we are to be His people then we must love in the same way.  There is a lot to be uncomfortable with.  Watch the news, read the headlines, get on social media. Aleppo. Violence against women. More gun violence.  Road rage. Sexual assault on our college campuses. Cold and dark days of winter.  But, because Immanuel, we can speak out against violence.  Because Immanuel we can speak out against oppression and injustice. Because Immanuel we can sit with someone in their despair. The Immanuel allows us to sit in anger, bitterness, sadness and frustration with our lives and He doesn’t move away, He moves closer.

If we truly believe that God is with us today as He was way back then, then you must know that God will move with you into the darkest of spaces and that He calls you to move with someone else in the same way. It won’t be easy.  It will feel uncomfortable. It will mean we have to move out of our daily self-centeredness and begin to notice the world around us. And it will be exhausting. Is it worth it?  Honestly, some days I have no idea.  The Pastor and I have spent lots of time in uncomfortable spaces with people. The return on investment is small; sometimes it’s nothing.  But when I am at my most uncomfortable I want nothing more than to share my burden with another and believe in God as Immanuel. Like Mary and Joseph, we are called into the uncomfortable and God goes with us.

rohr

 

disseminate joy.

In unsurprising news if you follow this blog…it’s the 3rd Sunday of Advent!  Unlike the imgresprevious two Sundays, we will light a pink candle instead of a purple one this morning.  It is “lighter and brighter” as you might say and represents the joy of the season.

It is Gaudete Sunday, when we are called to rejoice.

I have many things that make me rejoice.  Like when the internet servers AND my EMR system at work are running smoothly at the same time. (Can I get an amen!) Or when Amazon packages arrive on my porch filled with paper towels or toilet paper just in the nick of time saving me a trip to the store.  Some of my best rejoicing comes when I get to take a long nap or eat ice cream after the kids are in bed or the Pastor has started my car and warmed it up for me on the coldest of days.  Oh, and shoes.  There is much rejoicing over new shoes in my house.

But the original meaning of the word rejoice was to “cause joy to.”  I was struck so deeply by this.  It is a radical transformation of what our first thought is when we hear the word rejoice. Creating joy for others.  To spread joy as far and as wide as humanly possible.  To see the sorrow around us and do something to make the world more joyful.  Honestly, I don’t think it would be that difficult.

What if, every time we thought of being generous, we were more than generous.  What if, every time we thought of saying a kind word, we said that kind word and a dozen more. And beyond that, what if we tried, in just a few ways each day, to be as gracious and merciful to others as we expect for ourselves. Imagine the joy created if we managed to just give away from ourselves once a day.  Once.  I believe we are content to stay safely in the confines of what makes us happy.  To make someone else happy is a risk. The Pastor and I like to talk about the “myth of scarcity.”  Living our lives believing there isn’t enough to go around.  We must choose to live in the kingdom of abundance.  Where there is not only enough for us, but more than enough for everyone around us.  Enough recognition to honor not just ourselves but the people who work with us.  Enough food not just to feed our family but to fill the bellies of a family in need.  Enough money to meet our needs as well as the needs, wishes and wants of someone else we know.  Enough grace to extend it to your enemies as you extend it to yourself on your worst day.  This is rejoicing.

As I see that pink candle glowing this morning I am challenged to live a life that brings joy to those around me.  And I don’t just mean my family and friends.  Bringing joy to my kids is wonderful, but bringing joy to a dark world is remarkable.  I am struck by the words of Richard Rohr in his Advent devotional “Preparing for Christmas.”  He writes “The darkness will never go away…we have to surrender to the fact that the darkness has always been here and the only real question is how to receive the light and spread the light.”  Let us move out of a passive season of advent into one where we see that bright light of the pink candle as a call to make the world rejoice.  Spread joy my friends.  There is enough to go around.

rohr