day 3: Lent for my Sickness

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If there is ever a time in our adult lives when we feel like little babes, it is when we are sick.

Over the weekend I woke up aching, my whole body unable to participate in everyday activities.

Sickness always comes at the worst times, always when there are things to get done.

 

And the thing about being sick is that it goes beyond us, and we are at the mercy of our friends and family.

It forces us into rest, to stop moving and stop going and stop doing, and to be honest, that totally kills me.

The apartment is a mess.

There are groceries to buy.

I can’t stand to take another nap.

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And yet, here I am in bed, and there is nothing but rest on the agenda.

And in all of it, I hear Him whisper, “Yes. Rest, child, and regain your momentum slowly but surely. Rest and remember what this season is all about.”

It all comes back around to Lent again, to the season of listening for what Easter will bring us, for what salvation is trying to teach us,

for what we are supposed to know about ourselves and each other and this world that forces us back into the quiet every now and then.

We are limited here to real-life bodies that get real-life diseases and flu bugs, and sometimes we just have to let them be,

in between praying prayers of healing, prayers of please get me through this.

There, Lent is still teaching us something, still reminding us that life works outside of us, outside of our bodies and minds and wants and needs.

Life still happens, and we can always trust that it will be waiting for us on the other side of whatever it is that makes us sick today.

 

 

Day 2, Lent for my Shame

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There was this awful kind of hurt that happened one day right before Jesus’s death, when Peter heard a rooster crow, knowing he’d whole-heartedly denied his best friend’s presence in his life.

The tension between them when they saw each other again after that must have been deep and thick, nearly tangible.

When shame overcomes us, we tell ourselves that we don’t deserve anything.

We don’t deserve eye contact, because we’ve pierced the heart.

We don’t deserve good, because we have created such evil in ourselves.

We don’t deserve love, because we are only capable of hate.

We don’t deserve to sit in the light, because darkness covers us.

We don’t deserve salvation, because we are human and lost.

Shame is born in brokenness and re-created over and over again,

lie after lie after lie, until we’ve lost ourselves and lost the truth of an empty tomb and

a risen King.

I wonder what must have broken free in Peter’s spirit when he saw Jesus risen and alive.

What a juxtaposition to his deep and constant shame.

 

I wonder what was said between them, what looks in their eyes, what body language, what kind of embrace.

If I let my shame creep over me long enough, I forget that Jesus’s life was marked for death.

If I let my shame cloud the truth, I forget that Jesus’s death was nothing compared to His life,

the kind of life that keeps going and keeps giving and keeps covering

an abundant multitude of sins and shames.

So this second day of Lent, we choose to forget about our shame for once,

and focus on the Light that was born of a virgin and carried the weight of human years.

We focus on that Light that jarred Peter’s spirit and kept steady steps to the cross,

that Light that fully enveloped darkness in its wake,

and envelops our darkness all the same,

until there is no more room for our shamefulness.

Hallelujah.

40 Days of Lent: day one, lent for my weariness

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Last night we spread the ashes in a cross over our foreheads, all of us walking a line to the front of the church to tell each other, “You are dust, from beginning to end.”

And I felt it, felt like dust.

We came from a long day, a week that lasted and lasted until we were bone dry.

I felt frail, just like dust, that everyday kind of weary that just comes because of what we’re made of.

I felt like I could be blown and sifted into the wind without a trace of anything left behind me.

So I hope that Lent speaks our stories to us, reminds us to look on and dream ahead and never stop believing that life can come from death.

But what else does Lent do in us and for us?

These kinds of holidays are meant to teach us something, start something new, dig something out, grow us out of our former selves and into someone we’re supposed to be.

But we’ve got to ask questions before we get to the answers, and that’s the tough part.

So what is Lent to you, and what will you spend the next 40 days asking of yourself, of your life, of your own dust-likeness?

May we find that as we dig into our own stories, we find some answers, and a new face of our very identity.

Let’s meet here for the next 40 (or so) days up until Easter, when a new kind of celebrating takes place.

Let’s ask these questions together, remember who we are as a community of people.

We’re gathering here to fill in our own blanks, to name our own story, to admit, again, that we are dust.

It is our humanity bound to the gates of heaven, held in the person of Jesus, who walked the path of Lent from beginning to end.

Join me.

“Blessed are we when we take on the heartbeat of God.” –Roger Paynter

Spread Your Ashes & Unbridle Your Spirit: life in this lenten season

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After a difficult morning in the city, I went to Woodland Gardens, parked my car, and walked a small path, turning circular through the little wooded area.

Everything was dead except for a few patches of green, a few ivy vines stretching from the edge of the path to the sides of my feet.

But there, along the path on the way back to the car, I saw a large log resting sideways, eyeing me, asking me to notice him there.

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His outer shell was gray, dead with the cool of winter.

But inside, that inner spot of bark was an orange color, a living-flesh color.

And so I stopped and sat on a wooden bench near a shaded area where the sun was poking her fingers through, reminding me that she was above me and behind me always.

And I sat and prayed to be awake, for the soul that sits alive within me to let itself be known to my outer shell, to those withering parts that ache to see fresh life.

And I said, “Oh, God, wake me up! Wake me up to my senses, to nature, to my own history.”

Today is Ash Wednesday.

Some of us will spread a black cross over our foreheads, admit that we are small and in need of something bigger than that smallness, richer than our dust.

And so with the beginning of Lent this year, can we promise each other something?

Can we promise to share our story with somebody, to pay attention to our own story,

to claim that we really are alive inside these shells?

To know our own story, our own history, our own dead and alive parts is to engage the world.

This Lenten season may be more about finding our aliveness in our smallness.

Jesus gathered his closest friends in the days leading to his death, and he made sure they knew his story- a mysterious one, but full of his heart and his flesh, nonetheless.

For this Lenten season, let’s ask what light has gone out of us.

Let’s find the broken connections, and decide what must be mended for us to feel whole.

If you need to be reminded that you are small, hike into the mountains around you and feel the towering trees say, “We’ve seen it all.”

And if you need to discover your worth, that your soul is capable of growth and wisdom and new life, let it happen.

If we are being asking to let something go, to let our souls freely walk, freely run, freely speak, we might just find healing.

Let the adventure consume you,

and let it start in these forty days of Lent,

when we wait for death to ultimately bring life back to all the worst and best parts of our humanity.

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Into your presence we come, Lord,
a few moments of quietness
in a busy world
that demands our attention.
Breathe on us now,
that we might know your presence
and your power
to see this day through.

Amen. 

–Faith and Worship Liturgy

 

Admitting We’re Lonely: the unknown shape of friendship

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There’s a difficult truth I’ve been trying to swallow lately, and it is that this past year has been really difficult for friendships and relationships.

Community certainly looks different in each season of life, but when the days are long and I can’t think of a friend to call when I need an extra hand–

well, that’s a tough reality.

It’s certainly not that there’s no one to love us, it’s just about the manifestation and availability of that love.

In this city, I’ve met a handful of women who live just out of reach– an hour is a long drive when you have two toddlers in the back seat.

It’s odd for me to feel alone, because I’m one of those persistent types who doesn’t mind asking again and again for a coffee date with a friend or for some help with my boys.

So I admit how tired I am,

I admit that this season has been hard,

I admit that I’d like a friend to bring me a vanilla latte and help me scrub my kitchen floor,

and I’d like to do the same at their place,

because that’s what friendship has always meant to me.

It’s hard to have to re-define things, to have to lose things and grieve for things–

I’m still grieving for past friendships, still wishing I could have a piece of that community and this community, but that’s not how life flows.

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Shauna Niequist says it like this:

“I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks, and more like being out at sea: a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling.” 

My friend Dawn is releasing a book about friendship this month, and if you find yourself where I am– or anywhere else for that matter– you could use the kinds of stories that are found there.

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It did exactly what it needed to, and from the moment I opened to the first page, I began the hard task of looking and being honest about where I find myself right now, what I feel when it comes to the people who make up our family here in the city.

So I read and I wonder and I do all that’s left– what should have been done first–

I pray.

I pray for someone who’s on the other side of this who can help me,

or someone who is daily in this kind of experience, this

particular kind of loneliness and can understand.

An online friend told me about an app that lets me talk with friends far away with a walkie-talkie, a message there and a message back, whenever we can make time to do it.

And suddenly I realized what void it filled.

Suddenly I realized that God was giving me an outlet, a place to process out loud with a friend in another state, a chance to ask for prayer, to speak words out loud, to gain understanding.

The tension broke on Sunday morning when I told our little community that I am lonely, and they responded just as I thought they would, with a deep and sincere love, the kind that the young church tried to live by.

It is not that my life is void of friendship.

It is that friendship is an unknown shape to me, and suddenly I’m asking to find out what that shape is, exactly.

It’s a walkie-talkie button and a picture.

It’s a quote journal and a card.

It’s telling the people who love you most that you need them,

that you are feeling the things you’re feeling.

It’s a playdate any chance we can get one,

and it’s refusing to let go of the memory of community,

refusing to let go of the dreams of future communities that will

surely come for me one day.

When we say out loud that we’re lonely,

someone will hear,

and that other lonely person will say, “me, too,”

and maybe if truth spreads out

far enough,

that unknown shape will become the shape of

bodies and souls enshrouding each other in

safety

and

comfort

and

help.

Just maybe.

 

 

At The End of a Long Week: a Friday Prayer

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All I can say at the end of a long week is that I hope Your will was done.

I hope good came from bad,

holy from evil,

life from broken.

I hope somewhere that someone felt the sunlight sink deep into their bones,

that those same rays of sun bolted back out of them

and blessed their every neighbor.

I hope that when Kingdom came this week,

someone was paying attention,

someone engaged with their humanity

and Your perfection.

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It’s the end of a long week,

and I hope that we’re learning to rest better by now.

I hope our deep breaths are deeper

and our hunched shoulders are lowered

and our voices are less strained.

I hope we fill the spaces of the coming weekend

with that kind of Sabbath rest that only Kingdom

can teach us.

All I can say at the end of a long week is

Kingdom, come.

I hope that even where I feel empty, I am full;

I hope that where I feel full, I will be emptied back out;

and I hope all things will be leveled and brought to a good kind of justice,

because at the end of a long week,

the world is both terribly frightening

and

breath-takingly beautiful.

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At the end of a long week,

I hope that our daily bread was given,

that our debts were shackled off of us,

and that our hearts of stone were broken to meet the work of forgiveness.

At the end of a long week,

I hope that we stepped out of our realm and

into Yours,

and realized that they aren’t so far apart after all.

 

So at the end of a long week, I keep praying to the King of Tenderness:

God to enfold me,                                                                                                                                             God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.

God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.

God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.

God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity.

–Ancient Celtic Prayer, The Carmina Gadelica 

Amen.

A Journal Entry from January 30th: when rest calls

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Today, it is quiet.

Travis and the boys have gone to Stone Mountain, and the deep spirit part of me is asking for some real quiet.

There are no Hallmark mini-series episodes today (I know, judge me).

There is no music.

I hear my pen mark the page and candle wicks flicker and cars rush past our complex outside.

I am in bed with four books, and I will read and drink my coffee in the quiet,

because my heart is asking me to.

We think we know real quiet, but to actually get there?

It’s quite a vulnerable journey,

and even painful, if we’re honest.

But then the quiet comes.

She graces us with her presence and we wonder how we could ever do anything without her helping us along.

Yes, the voice that our souls speak with today is saying,

“Please, find the quiet so I can get some rest.”

Our poor hearts, how we neglect them.

And we ask ourselves what a Sabbath actually is– a Sunday afternoon nap, a few seconds without the blare of the television screen?

Maybe we’re not giving Sabbath the flexibility she deserves.

Sabbath isn’t always just one long day of dawn-to-dusk rest.

Sabbath happens for us on a quiet morning,

during an afternoon nap,

on a family hike.

Sabbath quiet knows our hearts, perhaps better than we do, and if we choose to meet with her wherever we are,

we may find our world quieted and refilled and repurposed for all things good.

The challenge is to draw that curtain open in the first place,

to step into unknown mystery, difficult mystery,

and hear those heart words.

Then, a new spring green emerges in us.

Hallelujah and amen.

 

“…long ago in the quiet of the world, where there was less noise and more green…”

–The Hobbit

Everything to Everyone: the micro and macro heart of God

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Is it possible that God is just as macro as He is micro, just as infinite as He is closed-ended?

He is who He is– limitless– but transforms Himself to be who I need Him to be right now, today.

He may be mother and father and something totally other–

all things to all people.

He is not bound or restricted, held to our standard of what can be done and how many miracles are allowed–

no.

But He fulfills every need nonetheless,

sustains every heart and gives life where life is needed.

So how do we stretch ourselves?

Who do we become in our complete micro-ness, in our inability to be grand and mighty?

We pray, “Holy Spirit, fill my spaces and transform them into Kingdom.”

And something happens moment after moment, day after day.

Something shifts inside of us, and we are capable of more,

astounded by beauty,

lifted in spirit

to those high places where we see the world through

a new, clearer lens.

If God can truly be just as micro as He is macro, that means our belonging to Him is fuller than it was yesterday,

and our posture before Him should be so much freer, calmer, lighter.

We can look up and out and around and say, I am taken care of,

and it is true from the tiniest frosted leaf to the grandest sunset at day’s end.

It is true from the working hours of the ant to the beaming smile of a great-grandmother.

It is true from the darkest corner of our hearts to the brightest hope that hope can bring.

My, how secure we are, indeed.

And so we pray,

For whatever today was, Spirit,

You were there,

circling in and out and around us.

We all come because of our need–

we all have holes that need filling,

wounds that need tended to.

And You meet us before we utter a word–

You meet us before our feet touch the ground at our bedside,

before the sun rests her rays on us through the window panes.

You meet us before we know that there is breath in our lungs

or a beating heart in our chests.

You are everything to everyone.

Oh, the goodness of You. 

Amen.

 

Remembering the Beginning: A Prayer for This Day and Age

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God of Universe-Work,

help us remember who we are.

Remind us again

how it was in the beginning,

how dirt and blood and water

formed us.

We are undignified,

humbly shackled

to this kind earth.

Remind us again who

we are.

Remind us that none of us

holds enough royal blood

to cast out a brother or

deny a sister.

Remind us that our charge is

every widow

and

every orphan.

And when those great days of politicking

and presidential racing

fully commence

in our corner of the universe,

keep the still, small voice louder in us.

Keep us tethered to a kinder sanity,

to a fuller love,

to a humbler breathing.

Draw our attention to the

iced-over ponds

and sparkling branches,

to the few birds still singing

and the moon who shows her face, even at mid-day.

Draw our attention back to the

dust,

blood

and

water

that once made us,

that makes us still,

human and tethered to this good earth,

tethered to the good in each other,

tethered to everything

that is in You.

Amen.

 

 

“…if only we let love do its slow, meandering work.” –Rachel Held Evans

 

When Your Home is Not Your Own

home is created when a living space is cultivated and cared for, treated with grace.

And these places of peace are also often where people come together, where comfortable conversations happen, where stories seem to gather–

walk around and notice photos from here or books from there or special keepsakes that hold an entire world inside them.

And we come to realize that our homes are not our own, but the gathering place of all the life that we’ve seen and all the people we’ve spent it with.

Above my kitchen sink, there are two pieces hanging:

one is a small picture from my mother,

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and the other, a cross given to me by my former pastor and dear friend Julie.

 

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And at my bedside table, a gift from Ashley and a globe from Meg that states, “Don’t be like the rest of them, darling.”

 

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That’s my favorite.

In the boys’ room hangs a giant canvas of artwork from each of their showers, written prayers that rest over them as they play.

There are books from Christmas gift exchanges;

coffee mugs from our favorite trips;

a little brown clay pot made by my friend Matt in high school, and I still can’t figure out how I ended up with it all these years later.

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Do you feel it now?

How this cacophony of memories brings community constantly to us?

And in someone else’s home sits something you made, bought, gifted with care, and it tells them a story every time they see it.

Let the weight of what you’ve been given settle in.

You are not alone, and if you look around, the evidence speaks.

Our homes are collections of life’s memories– some lost and replaced by something new, some as old  as the first day it was placed on the mantel.

Let home be a memorial, a sacred place where histories come together to mingle

and thrive.

Let home tell your story back to you,

and take those stories with you into every other home,

into every other relationship so that

Kingdom comes

and keeps coming

through these little things

that surround us daily.

Amen.