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A Moment of Pause

I cannot let so many lives pass without acknowledging what we have lost. All of those lost were loved and did love. All of them were part of a family and a community. All of them had value. All of them mattered.

In recent days we have surpassed the 500,000 mark in our nation. That is over half a million people who have died from the novel Corona virus in the last year, for we have not even hit the anniversary of when the real shut downs in our country began. That is as many people as those who died in both world wars combined with our war in Vietnam. It is only 120,000 less than died in the Civil War. That number is beyond staggering.

And such a moment deserves a moment of pause to consider some things.

Maybe it is because I have lost four of my own family members in the same time frame, and granted from things unrelated to this virus, but I cannot let so many lives pass without acknowledging what we have lost. All of those lost were loved and did love. All of them were part of a family and a community. All of them had value. All of them mattered.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote that all life is inextricably intertwined, woven together in one single garment of destiny. He may have been speaking of racial injustice, nevertheless, the paradigm still resonates. The lives of those lost impact us. Far more importantly, the choices we make now impact every single life that still exists.

This weekend, the lectionary passage talks about taking up our cross, which means something far different than what most people think. The key thing in its meaning is this: taking up our cross is always about serving someone else. Christ’s cross was not for himself, but for the world. Our lives, for those of us who would follow him, are meant to be about service of others.

So, for all of us still living on this side of the grass, still breathing, behind a mask or not, we should consider this: it is our job to care about every life that is connected with our own. And that is every life.

Be kind. Be thoughtful. Do your part until this storm finally abates.

Ashes to Ashes

God could care less how little soda your are drinking if you refuse to offer your hungry neighbor some food. God does not care how many verses of scripture you have memorized if you never go out of your way to learn a stranger’s name…

Ash Wednesday is a day meant to bring us into deep contact with our mortality. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. You will die. Life is fleeting. In the end, only the eternal will last.

For many of us, this is not really a reminder. Death is an ever-present reality. Whether we are dealing with the recent loss of a loved one or our own personal life-threatening diagnosis, we get it. Life is but breath and then you’re gone. Thanks, but not thanks. We’ve already got that depressing reality down.

However, I am not really sure that is what this day is meant to be about.

Perhaps the better thought to consider is how are you going to spend the time you have here on earth?

Lenten practices range from the silly to the absolutely ridiculous, with everything in between. And I am the last person to tell you how you should observe a holy Lent, because I do not know where you relationship with God is.

What I do know is this: God could care less how little soda your are drinking if you refuse to offer your hungry neighbor some food. God does not care how many verses of scripture you have memorized if you never go out of your way to learn a stranger’s name. God will not count the number of chocolates you skip, but God will keep track of the people you ignore in your path who are hurting, especially if you have the ability to help. And though God appreciates quiet times spent together, no length of time in the world will matter if you remain cruel to your family and neighbors.

Getting the picture yet?

Christ cares far more about how you love than anything else. God has shown a love for you that is beyond any measure the human mind can fathom. All that God asks in return is that you pass that love on, out into the world.

The ashes on your body are a mark of just how loved you are, but they are also a reminder that all of us have limited time to share that love with the world. So, what will you be doing to observe this Lent?

Choose Love?

Now, some have suggested that it is not worth the pain. That it is better to wall off our hearts. To protect ourselves from the inevitable. But here’s the thing: love will always be greater. Always be worth it. And the pain will heal…

Love is hard. Love hurts. Love is messy. Love may be all we need, but there are times when we would not wish it on our worst enemy.

Why?

Because love is the deepest and most important emotion we can ever feel.

This year, I find myself facing not only my first Valentine’s Day in two decades without my husband, but also the four month anniversary of his death on the 14th. Making what would already be a mixed-up holiday for me, now reach a level of emotional complexity that I haven’t felt since last October.

The thing about loving so deeply and being loved so completely is that when you lose that connection, or even part of it, it shatters a piece of your soul. Even if the relationship is not perfect and it takes extremely hard work, day in and day out, it is still so much a part of who you are that when it is gone, so is part of yourself. This can be a spouse, but it can also be a child, a parent, or even a friend.

Many of us know what this feels like, in some way, shape, or form. And if not, you will. (Enjoy the time you have left until you do.)

Now, some have suggested that it is not worth the pain. That it is better to wall off our hearts. To protect ourselves from the inevitable.

But here’s the thing: love will always be greater. Always be worth it – Because love – in all of its myriad of forms – is essential to who we are. And the pain will heal. It will be horrific for a while, but not forever. Eventually, the love will win.

So, best advice: love deeply. Love well. Put in the work. Face the pain. And keep living – because the love goes on and on.

We Rise Up

No matter what, we always rise up. 1000 times if we must. Because, if my cloud of witnesses in heaven have taught me nothing else, life is meant to be lived.

All we need is hope and for that we have each other…

Andra Day

This past weekend we celebrated two different big days in the life of my family – COVID style.

First, on Friday night we initiated my oldest bonus daughter’s boyfriend into the family birthday rites, which include a present scavenger hunt, a specialized cake, and dinner out as a family somewhere nice, with party favors for everyone (including the grownups). This time we were blessed to practically have our own room since there were seven of us altogether. And our traditions have come from a number of places over the years, but my late husband and I have developed them together. We found ways to make our important days extra special, even before our children were born. One of our favorite traditions we adapted from my late mother-in-law’s love of party favors and made it our own.

Then on Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege to help throw a Zoom baby shower for my big sister who lives clear across the country. We have waited, lo these many years, for this little one to finally join us (as my sister and I are both broaching forty at this point). So, my co-host and I worked diligently to get specialized tumblers and cookies to everyone for toasts and treats. We made games to share stories and laugh. And we were blessed to bring together people from not only across the country but also even one guest on the other side of the globe.

Then Monday hit. And it all came tumbling down.

Monday was my late mother-in-law’s birthday. Our first without her. She was the one who made everything so special for everyone else. Such a gift to all of us. It was something we shared and enjoyed doing together. Something I’ve tried to continue now that she is gone. And on Monday, the gaping hole in my heart was just too much. I watched the snow pile up outside (something else she would have loved) and curled in on myself.

Something else that Mimi (what my sons call her) and I share was our deep-rooted faith. Faith that can move mountains. Faith that can indeed get us through anything that life can throw at us.

In the end, though the gift-giving is fun and something we both have enjoyed over the near two decades we have known each other, creating those parties, those special times – like birthdays and showers and holidays and other celebrations – they were really about spending time together. Because we need each other. We need one another’s presence in joy, and especially in times of sorrow (which is why wakes are so important, too).

We give each other hope. And that hope gives us the ability to do what we followers of God, especially Christians, are known for: rising up. No matter what, we always rise up. 1000 times if we must. Because, if my cloud of witnesses in heaven have taught me nothing else, life is meant to be lived.

On this day…

Start there. Because the world is in far too fragile a state for us to wait even a moment longer. We must never forget. Nor must we ever let such abominations ever occur again.

For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.

Elie Wiesel

On this day, we remember our six million Jewish brothers and sisters on record who were killed at the hands of the Third Reich. We remember the more than eleven and a half million who were in the camps. We remember the millions more that were slaughtered outside the camps. And it was not just our Jewish brethren we remember, but also our Slavic, Romani, LGBTQ brethren, and so many others who were considered too “different” to bear.

On this day, we remember the likely fifty million who were killed at the hands of the Third Reich.

The Holocaust was not the only atrocity of its nature to ever leave such a stain on humanity. Nor was it necessarily the worst, though it certainly was up there. We humans are quite good at labeling one another, putting each other into “in groups” and “out groups,” and then decimating those who we do not want causing “harm” to our society anymore.

It is somewhat striking to have MLK Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day barely more than a week apart. Both bring to mind some of the greatest horrors we humans have ever created for one another. More importantly, both show us the work we still have yet to do.

White supremacy, at the root of the Holocaust and all that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought against, is still very much with us. It is a sin that has yet to be rooted out. And its progenitor, racism, is even further instilled into who we are to this very day – no matter how hard we may try to deny it. The evidence is far to blatant for us to ignore any longer.

We must bear witness to the history that has made us who we are and learn all that we can. And then we must take active strides into the future choosing to do better. To be better. To fight within ourselves and within our systems, even the church, unmasking those idolatries that allow racism to hide in our midst.

Where do we begin?

By seeking out voices that are different than our own. Ones that look different. Sound different. Have a different background. Have a different thought process. Sometimes even a different religion. Then open our ears and our hearts to listen for God’s still small voice in the spaces that make us uncomfortable. And be willing to open our eyes and see those places within ourselves that may need rooted out.

Start there. Because the world is in far too fragile a state for us to wait even a moment longer.

We must never forget. Nor must we ever let such abominations ever occur again.

Hope

Nevertheless, there is hope. A new day is dawning…

Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you and when you’re broken on the ground – you will be found. So let the sun come streaming in, ’cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around – you will be found…

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

January is traditionally a difficult month for me. It is the final month of what I’ve lovingly dubbed “anniversary season” – the remembrance of all the death days of my family every year. The season runs from the beginning of September until the final day in early February. The day I lost my grandmother who helped raise me. And January is that month when all the emotions usually come crashing down.

Lord knows that this year has added some more beloved ones to the cloud of witnesses watching over our brood from up above. On some level it would seem that this year should probably be one of the hardest in recent memory. Yet somehow… it’s not.

I am not entirely certain why or how, but for some reason this January I find myself full of something I have not felt with this strength in a great long while: hope.

Hope to get me through today. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope that the future is indeed shining bright upon the horizon.

Perhaps it is all the heroes, including within my own family, that are now fighting for us from the other side, but at some point my heart started to believe again. Believing that all of us will be found. All of us will find and become who we are meant to be.

This is not to say that there will not be a fight ahead of us. This is not to say that there will not be hard days filled with sighs too deep for words. Real life still hurts. This world still has many battles that need won so that all God’s children may find themselves safe and flourishing as God desires.

Nevertheless, there is hope. A new day is dawning, no matter how many may try relentlessly to stop it. Heroes on both sides of the veil now do all they can to see it safely arrive.

More than anything else , now more than ever, all of us need to work for one another. To find one another. To walk with one another as we tread the path ahead. Because that is the source of our hope – God’s gift of one another.

Ultimately it reminds us of the most important thing: we are never alone.

And if we remember that, we can do anything.

Lord Jesus

What Lord do you serve?

Last week, there was an attack on many things. None of which can stand.

However, there is one in particular that I will address here, because it is my calling as a minister of Jesus Christ to do so.

What Lord do you serve?

Last week there were some who claimed to serve a Christ I do not recognize and a Jesus that bears no resemblance to our Lord and Savior that is described in the gospels. So, in order to ensure that you know who you are serving (always a good idea), allow me to describe our Lord more fully:

The Christ we serve is one who taught us that we are made to love and be loved. That we are to turn away from sin and chose a different path. That we are to denounce evil and its power in the world. That we are to follow in his way. For he brought sight to the blind. Made the lame walk. Welcomed the untouchable with open arms. Made the deaf to hear. Raised the dead. Brought good news to the poor. He taught mercy not self-righteous sacrifice. Proclaimed release to the captives. Fought to see the oppressed go free. Proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor.

That is the real Christ. The Jesus of the gospels. The Living Word of God made flesh. Our only Lord and Savior. We are to follow no earthly lord before him. Serve no false prophet. Seek no true glory for ourselves. Our lives are meant to be about living out his Love. The love of the Beloved who chose a cross over the might of angel armies. Jesus Christ, who chose to fight with love and not violence. That is the Lord we serve.

We are to be disciples of this Jesus alone. Obeying his word and showing the love of God he taught us by loving our neighbors, and even our enemies. Showing the whole world that we are his disciples by displaying God’s love with every breath, every thought, every action of our lives.

This is not a permissive love. It is an all-encompassing love where God’s justice and righteousness are certainly present. Nevertheless, it is always a love that seeks a flourishing life for all of God’s children and most especially those that the world chooses to forget and to trample.

So make no mistake when you pray to Christ tonight. Know the Lord to whom you are praying. And have a good long talk.

Just make sure that you are praying to the Jesus of the gospels and not to yourself.

Begins…

Whatever may come, whatever may pass, however the world may try to shake our resolve as we leave Bethlehem behind us, the light of God’s love goes with us. And now it is our turn to shine it onto a world so desperately in need…

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among others, to make music in the heart. (Howard Thurman)

My first introduction to this timeless poem came in the form of a choral arrangement and so I am including it as my last song in the season of Christmastide. And since today is Epiphany, it seems appropriate to pause one last time to reflect on what we have learned throughout these Advent and Christmas seasons and how we might continue on into this new year.

This year has not brought the easiest set of seasons, to be sure. Throughout the month of December life has had its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and tragedies. Yet the star still rose. The angel spoke. The shepherds heard good news. The magi arrived. The Christ-child was born. And God’s love was set loose in the world again.

The honest truth is that Christmas is not meant to be only one day, or even twelve days, per year. The birth of the Child at Bethlehem is meant to bring a dawn of Love in our hearts that transforms us permanently. Making each day a new opportunity to live into a new life. A new way of being.

What might that look like?

It will look like that Child’s life when he was all grown up: Finding the lost. Healing the broken. Feeding the hungry. Releasing prisoners. Rebuilding peoples in need of reconciliation and restoration. Bringing true peace, one where justice is present. And speaking the true universal language that all of God’s children know – music of the heart.

Whatever may come, whatever may pass, however the world may try to shake our resolve as we leave Bethlehem behind us, the light of God’s love goes with us. And now it is our turn to shine it onto a world so desperately in need.

Days Gone By

I was telling one of my best friends earlier this week that in some ways I am not ready for the new year…

Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne? For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.

“Days gone by,” that’s what auld lang syne means. Every year when we take our first breaths of the new year’s air, we begin by singing a song that honors all that has come and gone in the years before.

The good. The bad. And that lay between.

2020 has certainly been a year without parallel. We have seen some of the very best of humanity. We have also seen some of the very worst. We have watched as people stood up to bullies with a gumption not seen in a long while. And we have lost many, many people who matter to us greatly, as individuals and a global community alike.

I was telling one of my best friends earlier this week that in some ways I am not ready for the new year. This is the last year I will have had my late husband with me. And it will also be the first New Year’s Eve I will celebrate without him since 2002.

But the promise of a new dawn still lingers on the horizon. And as Brad told me before he died, we are to live our lives to the fullest and fight the good fight as long as possible.

So yes, we will step boldly into 2021 and all that the future holds, even as our cloud of witnesses continues their eternal dance in heaven (including my husband, my mother-in-law, and my Uncle Steve – all lost in 2020). My prayer is that they will stay close. And my hope for all of us is that we will raise a glass and sing this song once more – because though the days ahead are promising, we must never forget the days gone by.

Auld Lang Syne

What Is This

And yes, it was a wonderful day in so many ways….But there was a gaping hole in the room. We all knew it.

What child is this, who lay to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping, whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the Son of Mary.

It is Christmas Day. Or should I say, Christmas night. All the presents have been opened. The carols have been sung. And the snow that was coming down this morning has even stopped.

And yes, it was a wonderful day in so many ways. The joy on my boys’ faces when they realized that Santa had been here last night. The reckless abandon tearing into their gifts. Faces lighting up around the room as we shared memories from years gone by.

But there was a gaping hole in the room. We all knew it.

Sometimes there were tears. Sometimes there were naps. Sometimes there was just pain.

And yes, we know he is here with us. And we know that he is watching over us and so very happy that we are all together – continuing the family that he and I began together. We just miss him. And on Christmas, it just hurts.

So on this day, as we celebrate the birth of the King of Kings, the babe, the Son of Mary, who is enthroned by loving hearts, we still press on. We still hold love in our hearts. And, as he would have wanted, we will live our lives as fully as we can.

We just do so wrapped in a love that both envelopes us in joy and sometimes hurts a bit more than we want to admit.

What Child Is This