this is forty.

At the beginning of June I turned 40.  And on the last day of the month the Pastor and I celebrated 17 years of marriage.

A few weeks prior to my birthday a good friend Jennifer asked me about my plans for the weekend.  I wanted to have a party. She asked if I liked surprises.  My response?  “I don’t like to be disappointed.” So there’s that.

Jennifer was smart enough to know that even though I had big plans, my life is just too busy to execute any other big events.  She is also just bossy enough to take over and plan something great. The best memories of my adulthood are moments when lots of people I really care about from the different aspects of my life are all having fun together.  So we had a party.  A big party; with music and food and dozens of friends….and it was totally worth it.

I have been alive for 40 years.  I remember thinking that being 40 meant you had been alive forever!  It has occurred to me that I have spent roughly half of my life in medicine. Studying, testing, learning, preparing, practicing. Twenty years of sleepless nights and long days and lots of restless moments.  Twenty years sprinkled with memories of incredible joy and terrible tragedy.   The profession of medicine can be a deep sea where the waters cover over you, and not just over your head but push you deeper and deeper down and into more than you intended.  Some of those years were true immersion. Some years you manage to keep your head above water; and some you might even feel like you are riding the waves. This year I was surrounded by water.  Completely immersed. It didn’t matter where I looked.  Up, down, left and right as far as my eyes could see there was work to be done. And if you know anyone in medicine, when there is work to be done we do the work. And so I did.

My 40th birthday was an opportunity to lift my head above the waves and take a deep breath.  I spent 5 whole days away from work.  Not just away from the hospital and the office, but away form my computer.  The Pastor was very concerned to see me detached from the laptop.  In fact, he panicked and asked if I had left it at home on purpose.  It was the first time in a long time I was away from email, away from charting, away from creating schedules, answering questions and solving problems.Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 4.42.07 PM

The thing is, I don’t think we even realize how far immersed we are in the work until we come up for air. I suddenly found myself in the midst of conversations about books and parks and outings and all the rest of life.  And I literally could not think of a single book I had read or a non-scheduled activity or even a day without work in the last few months.  The opportunity to take a giant deep breath and put my head above the water and look around was both a moment of relief and a moment of sadness. You see, the work needed to be done.  It still needs to be done.  And I will continue to do the work. To get to thebottom of the to do list. To find a day when there are not problems to be solved, schedules to be made, charts to be completed or projects to be fleshed out.

The truth is that the work will never be done. But I can do better and be better balanced. As a part of our anniversary celebration, we went to see the documentary about the life and career of Mr. Rogers.  One of Fred Roger’s lifelong virtues was to “love your neighbor AND yourself.”  In my forty years of completed life, my 17 years of marriage and 20 years in medicine, I more than believe that you cannot love your neighbor if you do not love yourself well.  And you cannot love

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 4.44.29 PMyourself if you do not know you are loved. Every Sunday as I sit by the Pastor on the front row we hear the phrase “God’s mind about you is made up.  And the news is good.” What a great reminder that we are constantly and consistently loved. For me it is a reminder to have the birthday party, to celebrate with friends, to go see the movie, to play the game with the kids or take them to the park.  To sleep in or be still and accomplish nothing on a rare day off.

We are at our best when we know we are loved and take the time to take care of ourselves.  With so much bad news infiltrating our news feeds and our tv’s and radios these days it is critical that we remember we are loved and that we care for ourselves so in turn we can love and care for our neighbor.  So in the next forty years I will try to live a more balanced life.  Take the nap, read the book, write the note, shoot hoops with the kids host the friends, take the vacations. Then go back and work fiercely and care deeply.  Solve the problems, cure the diseases, publish the research, set the standards and, most importantly, love our neighbors.

Here’s to the next forty years.

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transformation.

You can make all sorts of arguments about whether or not the world is getting worse. When you look back at events like the Holocaust and periods of history like slavery and segregation you could make the case that we are not more violent and worse off than in the past.  And then, Charlottesville.  It’s tragic and shameful.  It’s almost hard to believe it really happens.  Almost.  Except, it happens every day. This might be the worst we’ve seen, but every day people would rather take for themselves than give to someone else. People chose to fear the other and decide that a message of hate is going to save them.

First, may we all condemn white supremacy and the events from Saturday.  Secondly, let’s admit that violence and hatred and suppression happens every day.  It happens in big huge giant ways and in the smallest of small ways. It happens every time there is an incident of domestic violence. It happens every time we refuse to condemn amisogynistic statement or a racist joke. It happens every time we tolerate a gender pay gap and a minimum wage that leaves families below the poverty line.  It happens every time we give in to the fear that someone will come and take away the life we have ‘built’ or our security. In both big and small ways we are guilty of putting our own well being above all else and deciding that someone else’s life matters less than our own.

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What then, must we do?

Open our mouths.  Dare to say something when your friend, your neighbor, your fellow church member or even someone in your family privately or publicly says something that is oppressive, racist, supports gender bias or invites hatred. We must say something. It won’t be easy, it probably won’t be popular, but it will be right.  But it must go beyond just our voices.  If we really want to be agents of change in our society we can’t just use our voices but must embody justice, equality and peace with our whole selves.

For those in my tribe called Christian and especially Nazarene, IMG_0635it means putting your money where your mouth is and then making sure your hands and feet follow your money.  That’s right.  It’s not enough just to send your money to the after school program or the food pantry or the non-profit.  Giving your money is necessary and sacrificial but not necessarily transformational. To be transformed means you take an afternoon off from the comfort of your office where you are paid more than you probably ever need and find yourself  sitting next to a child that looks remarkably different than your own and help them learn to read or finish their homework.  To be transformed means to bring your kids with you to serve a meal to someone for whom life has not given many opportunities and forge a friendship.  Not only will it transform you but your kids will grow to understand they aren’t the only people who matter. Transformation is to remove the “us” and “them,” to eliminate the fear of someone who believes differently or looks differently or behaves differently than you.

Today, if you find yourself saying “I haven’t done anything terrible” think about those first 4 words.  Have you done anything at all? Be generous.  With your time, your money, your life. Put the needs of someone else above your own. Condemn anything that represents hate of the other, fear of those who look differently than you or closing doors and windows to the poor, the widow and the orphan. Instead, may our lives reflect a God who would rather arm his people with food, with health and with life than with weapons. A God who looked beyond gender, race, age or anything else when He came to offer healing and hope.

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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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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.

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