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Finding Home

What is a home, really?

What is a home, really?

When I was little, I was lucky enough to get to grow up in the same house my entire young life. We actually had that house all the way until after my last parent, my mother, passed from this life five years ago. And I remember when we finally sold that house, it felt as though one of my tethers to this world somehow was gone.

More recently my husband and mother-in-law both passed from this life last year. As part of his grief process my father-in-law gave up the big old family house where my late husband had spent the majority of his childhood. And though I know this one is much more difficult for other members of my family, even for me it feels as though another tether has released.

Just this week, one of my sons actually screamed and cried for twenty minutes during our drive here because he didn’t want to come to Pops’s new house. You see, while some may see a house as just bricks and mortar and wood and insulation, the truth is that it also holds the people and therefore the memories of all that has happened and will occur throughout our lives. In many ways our houses live and breathe as much as we do – they bear up our past, they hold our present, and they vouch-safe our future.

Unfortunately, at some point, all of us will lose our hold on our childhood homes. That is just the way of it. We may even lose many of the people who live with us in them. However, what I have found is that the important cities still hold such a vast array of memories and stories that they make it much easier to keep memories alive. And for me, the best way to do that is by sharing them with the next generation or new additions to the family. Ensuring that the love keeps going.

Because at the end of the day a home is where the love is.

Joy for the Holidays

I guess that is my best advice to everyone as we enter into this rather quirky holiday season: it is okay to be…

So the holidays are coming around again…

It is remarkable to think how much the world has changed over the last twelve months. Consider that a year ago for Thanksgiving my family had to cancel our original plans and I suddenly had to learn how to cook an entire Turkey Day meal from scratch. How we still weren’t singing in church and were frantically figuring out how to creatively rope everything off to match the Christmas decorations. Or how does one manage to do a nativity with nearly twenty younglings who cannot even be in the same room together?

A lot has changed, while other things have not.

We do get to travel again this week to be with family. This is a special joy for us since none of our family lives nearby and Thanksgiving is the only major holiday I take off. (And I do get to use some of those newly found cooking skills, too – just luckily not all of them.) We are back to singing at church since we can spread out and so much of our congregation is vaccinated, which is a blessing. And that also means that instead of frantically figuring out how to keep everyone separated, this year our music leaders have been excitedly learning pieces for Advent and Christmastide since October. One big thing that hasn’t changed, however, is that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and our kids are only just now starting to get vaccinated (if they even can), which means that we are going to have to get creative with our annual nativity.

Once again we find ourselves in a version of the holidays that will look unlike any other. There will be new and different challenges from last year and a race to see how much “normalcy” we can restore even as the numbers continue to rise all around us. The mad rush has already begun. Honestly, I can feel my own body is bubbling with excitement.

You know, last Sunday marked thirteen months without my husband. But I didn’t realize it until several days later. Even with my accident, I am so relieved to be beyond all of the “firsts” that it feels as though the weight of the world has been lifted. I feel genuinely joyful for the first time in forever.

And I guess that is my best advice to everyone as we enter into this rather quirky holiday season: it is okay to be happy. Even when everything is not perfect. Even when the world continues to crumble. Even if normal seems a gazillion miles away. Even if you’re not really sure why. If you feel a laugh rising up from your soul, let it rip. If you find yourself shimmying and swaying to the Christmas waltz or WHAM!, go for it. And if you feel your heart crack open in the hope, peace, joy, and love that are meant to fill us up, enjoy yourself.

You don’t have to wait for the world to be turned right side up to celebrate all the good that is happening. Besides, our God tends to encourage everything turning upside down.

When life gets real…

In our culture, there is way too much emphasis on doing everything on our own. Finding ways to overcome entirely by ourselves. To self-help. But we humans, we weren’t designed that way…

I remember as a child, my favorite princess was Snow White. This was before the Disney Renaissance of the late 1980s and early 1990s, so we were living with the original three. And it was not until more recent years that I began to understand how much it affected my outlook on life.

When Snow White came across a serious challenge or obstacle, frankly when her entire world collapsed to bits, her response was to sing With a Smile and a Song. (Seriously, watching the movie a few years ago, a major chunk of my life began to make so much more sense – face palm.) She chose to believe that everything would turn out alright if she just pretended it would. Not really the best mantra. In fact, the more recent children’s movie, Trolls, did an excellent song of their own, Get Back Up Again, where we find out that it’s not quite that simple for our princess heroes.

Real life hits hard. It pulls no punches. As Chinua Achebe and W.B. Yeats wrote, things fall apart. Monsters, of one sort or another, do lurk in the wings. Sometimes we end up below the floor, unsure where to turn next.

The interesting part that a lot of people don’t catch is that most of those childhood heroes we all look to for inspiration are wise enough to ask for help. They know they can’t do this on their own. Nor do they try to. Instead, they collect a village around them to get them through whatever they are facing.

In our culture, there is way too much emphasis on doing everything on our own. Finding ways to overcome entirely by ourselves. To self-help.

But we humans, we weren’t designed that way.

We are built for community. We are meant to walk together through life. We are supposed to support each other when times get rough – even with some pearly whites and really good music on occasion.

I guess my point is this: we can’t stop the trouble from coming. What we can do is be ready to face it when it does… together.

For All the Saints…

Because I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that love is the thing we are meant to be fighting for. To be standing up with. To be rallying behind. Sometimes that looks like…

This last month has been one of the more dramatic Octobers of my life – which is actually saying something.

What began with a Sunday School kick-off and a wonderful 2nd Annual Irish Wake for my beloved late husband (#BradCon), nearly ended on the anniversary of his death when I slipped off the road and flipped his car in the midst of dense fog on our country road at 5:00 a.m. I was alone and remained conscious the entire time. And I walked away with only one piece of glass on me and some bruising, therefore making it to my 39th birthday the following week. Though I did spend over eight hours at the hospital where Brad died that day getting checked out. At the end of the following week, after my sons had already been suffering from adenovirus for seven days, I found myself with one vomiting in one room and the other managing to flip my nightstand and break his nose and gushing blood in another (yay #momlife). And then, the following Monday, came the fifth anniversary of my mom’s death at the hands of Alzheimer’s, which was very traumatic for both of us and I am still working through that complex grief. Yes, October was a bit dramatic.

And yet, to quote Elton John, I’m still standing…

Oddly enough, when I got to the end of my mother’s anniversary, I found myself remembering one of the very best and most important lessons she taught me: that hatred is entirely unacceptable. She drilled it into me from an extremely young age. That was an essential part of who my late husband was, too. And I found myself refreshed and refocused.

Because I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that love is the thing we are meant to be fighting for. To be standing up with. To be rallying behind. Sometimes that looks like empowering the voiceless. Sometimes that looks like using whatever position we have to call out the hate. And sometimes it looks like ensuring justice and flourishing for all those who society and especially the church would cast out or hide or shame.

The anniversaries of the deaths of the two most important people in my life (save my children) reminded me of everything that I am meant to live for. And nearly dying, being surrounded by the cloud of witnesses that protected me that very dark morning on that curve, walking away with only small scars, reaffirmed the strength within me to continue the work those saints in my life began.

So in this week that we celebrate All Saints, which for Protestants includes everyone who is united into the body of Christ, hold tight to those memories that give you strength and then keep fighting the good fight that God began through them – in you.

I Believe

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent. (Anonymous)

Friday begins the month of October. One of my favorite months of the year. My birth month, as it happens. Halloween, my second favorite holiday. And the month that several friends and family members were born.

It is also the month I lost my mother five years ago to Alzheimer’s. The month we will lay my mother-in-law to rest this year. The month my husband was to have one last big surgery on his formerly good leg last year to finally get his life back. The month his heart arrested from complications after that same surgery. The month we knew he would never see his thirty-ninth birthday even before we pulled the plug because he was already gone.

After all was said and done, I sang some words that were once etched on the inside of a wall far across the ocean by someone who endured a far worse hell than any I can imagine: I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent.

Brad and I first came across these words when our best friend introduced us to them through the same song I sang that day. We learned them well as we ourselves were enduring our own first real trek through the underworld. And yes, though our personal hell was quite different than the author’s, the song still had remarkable significance for us.

Partially because of its movement. You see, it rises and falls like waves. The song begins with a single voice like the dawn breaking on a new day. Then it swells into a haunting harmony that fills any space it enters, much as love rolls over us like a tide that overtakes all in its path. It is beautiful and heartrending. And then… then, the world falls beneath your feet. As the music drops to one voice again. Almost silent. Quiet but certain.

It was my husband’s favorite song he ever sang at church. For many reasons, quite honestly. Some of them, I don’t even fully know.

For me, that song is faith summed up. It is what it feels like. Wonderful. Beautiful. Daunting. Bright. Challenging. Soaring. Cacophonous. Hushed. Manifest. Ever-expanding. It is all those things at different times and sometimes all at once.

What I will say, as I enter into what will undoubtedly be one of the hardest and one of my favorite months of my life, as I myself pass my thirty-ninth birthday, is that faith is precisely what I am holding onto. Waves will come. The floor will fall out. And I may crash. Nevertheless I am certain that nothing will ever separate…

Sometimes

Sometimes we have a rough day. Sometimes it’s even worse than that. And then sometimes it feels as though the universe is conspiring against us

Sometimes we have a rough day. Sometimes it’s even worse than that. And then sometimes it feels as though the universe is conspiring against us to create the perfect storm of circumstances for all chaos to break loose.

The honest truth is that recovering from those moments is not easy. And occasionally we may even feel that we do not deserve to pull through. Something in our minds goes click and tells us that we really are not worth the effort it will take to fill our lungs again. Or stand back up. Let alone make any other impact.

Ever feel like that?

These last few years have laid bare that there are a whole lot more of us who feel like that than the world ever realized. All of us who deal with these real and visceral responses to a world that would rather us keep everything contained have finally started to open up. The flood gates have been opened and though many don’t want to see it, all of our eyes are being opened to precisely how beautifully messy and hauntingly in shambles the landscapes of our souls really are.

The funny thing is, God has always known. God has always known and never minded. Been right there in the thick of it with us. Holding us through the worst of it. Hauling us under one shoulder over the craggy bits. Weeping with us when our sighs are so deep that our inner-most beings ache. And sometimes, offering us the lifeline we need to dust ourselves off and start again.

Today I found mine showing up through the most unexpected of messengers, but it was unmistakable.

Who knows, perhaps this is yours.

Fear vs. Doing

…anytime someone is getting hurt, they are not being loved as God wants, as Jesus lived and died for. And we, the followers of Christ, can do something about that.

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.

Rosa Parks

Have you ever noticed how many different ways Jesus walked directly into the world’s struggles?

Contrary to what seems to have become a pop Christian cultural belief, the Christ spent his earthly life not on so-called spiritual matters, but elbow-deep in the many diverse and divisive issues facing the people he came to save. In this life. On this side of eternity.

If you think back, Jesus inherited this sense of communal urgency from the key woman in his life: his mother. Though she must have been afraid – an unwed, teenage mother, using an unthinkable defense – she nevertheless spoke fearlessly not only of her own vindication, but also of God’s mighty actions for God’s children in this world. As has always been the case with God’s greatest moments and prophets, everything began with a woman(en).

So, Jesus grows up with this audacious and vocal mother, who raises him within the ancient tradition to know the prophets’ values. The same ones that God has always held to. Is it really any surprise that Jesus then uses his ministry to dispense mercy and justice every chance he gets?

  • He feeds the hungry.
  • He brings good news to the poor and lifts those he can out of poverty.
  • He releases those he can from captivity.
  • He heals the blind and the sick.
  • He fights for the oppressed – not just the spiritually oppressed, the literally oppressed.
  • He welcomes the outcast and the sinner.
  • He raises the dead and touches them.
  • He teaches women and puts them in leadership.
  • He overcomes xenophobia.
  • He tells us to put our focus on children and the helpless, not the mighty.
  • He takes on the seat of power in their own house with a whip and flips their tables.

Though Jesus may have chosen to die in order to take the gravity of our sin for us, he also allowed us to take him down to show us the very worst of what we can be. As Barbara Brown Taylor has said, “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion – which is always a dangerous mix.”

We are still very capable of hurting one another in this and so many other ways. Ways that we have been doing since he was alive. Though the outcomes may have changed slightly, the heart of the matter has remained the same. Because hunger, poverty, sickness, oppression, outcasting, misogyny, racism, subjugation, and tyranny all still exist.

Which is why Rosa Parks’s words ring true now as much as ever. There are still so many fights worth fighting. So many ways that we can enter the fray. Ways that Jesus himself would do so.

If you’re unsure where to begin, you can always start with the one closest to home for you personally. Or perhaps with the one that sets your soul on fire. Just remember, anytime someone is getting hurt, they are not being loved as God wants, as Jesus lived and died for. And we, the followers of Christ, can do something about that – perhaps not without fear, but certainly setting it aside.

The Weight of Grief

Childhoods end early for a variety of reasons and at a variety of times. This was mine: my father dropped dead when I was eight years old…

Today is the day my world changed and I didn’t even know it yet.

Childhoods end early for a variety of reasons and at a variety of times. This was mine: my father dropped dead when I was eight years old.

The thirty years since that day have included a variety of other challenges, lots more deaths, a whole bunch of family illnesses, some very great joys, and some really terrible realities.

I’m not going to lie – Metallica was right when they said that the light at the end of the tunnel is just a freight train coming your way. (Not always, but often enough.) And a whole lot of days are just vile.

I think sometimes people expect to hear me say that I’ve always known it would all turn out alright in the end because God is in control and God just needed another angel and God would never give me more than I can handle and all of the other ridiculous things that people try to say to us when we are in the throes of grief and they aren’t sure what to say.

I’m a pastor after all – isn’t my faith all perfect and everything?

Well, no. In fact, it isn’t.

Of course my faith has been tested. I actually left the church when I was in grade school because of all the well-intentioned and honestly idiotic things teachers in Sunday school kept saying to me. My mom let me. And oh how grateful I am that she did.

Even though I left the church building, God never, ever left my side. In fact, long before I even entered that building God had been with me and God will be with me long after I leave this world – of this I am sure.

Contrary to popular, even biblical belief, there is a second strand of biblical understanding that suggests something different about when bad things happen to good people. It is true that parts of the Bible suggest that God controls every single thing that happens – including genocide (which is pretty darn evil). However, there is also a counter-narrative that purports that while God does not stop the bad things from happening, God would never cause them. God instead walks with God’s people through them.

I personally ascribe to a belief in a God who would never cause harm or evil to any of God’s children and who walks with us. So if you want to comfort me in the throes of my grief, please don’t suggest that God is in control. Instead say, you know that God is right here with us, holding you right now.

As to the extra angels and the never giving us more than we can handle, neither statement is actually biblical. Angels are a different type of being entirely. And again, I do not believe that God intentionally causes harm.

God is always walking with us, helping us to carry the load.

If you’ve ever wondered what a lifetime of pain has taught me – it is that. A trust that is deeper than any other in my life that God is here and working all things into remarkable wonders. Yes, good – but it may take a very long time to see it.

We need to remember that death is not automatically evil. It simply is. It is part of life – neither good, nor bad. Some forms of death are certainly traumatic and caused by evil things, to be sure. But my father’s death simply was. My mother’s death simply was. My dad’s, my mother-in-law’s, my husband’s deaths all simply were. They were part of life. Some far too early. Nevertheless, none were caused by terrible circumstances beyond our control.

And here is something, too: in every case but my father, all of those other deaths, every single one of them was suffering. Terribly. Now, they are at peace.

So here is what I would say after all these years and a lifetime (albeit a relatively short one) of dealing with so much grief: it is a weight that never fully lifts and it is perfectly okay for your faith to waiver. Because God’s faith in you has absolutely nothing to do with your faith in God. You are safe. You are held. You are loved more than you can possibly imagine. And you are never carrying that weight alone.

Shame & Jesus

Early on in my ministry, which is now past its first decade, I began to notice a certain pattern. A style of feedback that was so common that I realized it was more than even a mere archetype. It was in fact a culture that defined the way many people functioned. It was so frequent, in fact, many did not even realize how much it was affecting everyone and everything around them.

I have come to call this mindset “shame culture.” And it is quite simply defined: giving feedback for the purpose of tearing someone down. Making them feel bad. Smashing them under your boot. This is not constructive criticism that might actually bring useful change or learning. This is hurtful refuse meant to cause injury.Frankly, it is quite similar to, if not a synonym for, gaslighting, but I digress.

Many people seem to think that this type of verbal swill will somehow make themselves feel better. That they have avenged themselves of the barely significant slights that were hardly of any consequence except in their own minds. However, in their vengeance, they have taken what was something that might have been easily fixed or discussed, and made the offense entirely their own.

For causing shame is always, always the greater harm.

Shame culture is the bane of every profession, but especially pastors. And even I am sad to say I have experienced it in just about every church of which I have been a part. It is not healthy. It is not appropriate. It is not acceptable.

The only way to combat it is to choose the better way: healthy communication.

That means actively talking about what you need when you need it. If you have a problem, talk to the person who has caused it, face to face, and in a timely manner. Pick kindness and compassion over spite and malice as your main modus operandi. Remember that everyone has a battle they are fighting that you know nothing about.

And more than anything, especially if you are a part of the church, remember to test everything you say and do through this question: would Jesus want you to think, say or do this?

How do we do this?

Somehow, we humans seem to have lost our ability to simply care about one another. To realize that it is our responsibility to protect and aid others with whom we come into contact…

I’ve recently been rereading several of the audio book series that Brad introduced me to over the years. They are quite diverse. However, the ending of one particular book the other day brought me to tears with something that you might not expect: the wonder of human decency.

Somehow, we humans seem to have lost our ability to simply care about one another. To realize that it is our responsibility to protect and aid others with whom we come into contact (and sometimes people we may never even know). We have lost our honor – our compassion – our consideration. And with all these things, in many ways we have lost our hope.

Maybe the honest truth is that not nearly as many people truly had these things as I thought to begin with, but my prayer is that is not correct.

I am convinced that our only way forward is together. And Lord knows we need to find some way forward because our world is in a terrible mess.

But rather than to see the forest through the trees, or to even seek it, we tend to throw blame around as quickly as is possible. Then to hold it with white-knuckled force for as long as we can. Here is the thing: blame will not get us very far. It will, in fact, hold us solidly, stagnantly in place. In fear. In anger. In pain.

What our world needs is for us to move.

We were always meant to grow. To change. To evolve. We do those things best in love and in hope. When we take responsibility for who we are and how we can show compassion, consideration, caring, protection, aid, and honor to all of our human siblings. Finding enough humility to realize that the world does not revolve only around us as individuals and our needs. And using our freedom the way that God intends us to: not as a chance for self-indulgence, but as an opportunity to become servants to one another. (That one’s not me.That’s Galatians.)

How do we do this?

Well, it will look like many different things. What I can tell you for certain is this: if a choice leaves someone in danger, puts hatred center stage, protects things over people, intentionally prolongs ignorance, demeans, or subjugates anyone – then you or I are definitely making the wrong decision. Our God commands love in all things.

Now, go and do likewise.