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A Year of Healing

I found myself lying on the floor staring at the ceiling next to a basket of unfolded laundry unable to believe that 2016 is almost over. The day had started with a celebration at Transitions with the youth of New Hope Christian Fellowship and our three kids where we sang carols, drank cocoa, and ate cake together. We fellowshipped and celebrated making it through Christmas, one of the hardest holidays for the homeless population we have been working with over the past seven months. I was thinking about the forty people we had crammed into the big day room and wondered what was going to happen if our numbers continued to grow at the rate we have been growing. This was already the third room we had been moved to because we had outgrown the space in the other two rooms.

But even as I reflected and breathed a deep peaceful breath that all of the planning from Advent and all of the celebrations with family were concluded, the overwhelming thought that kept repeating itself was, “I never thought I’d be here.”

Even though I haven’t been vocal about it, I make a commitment each year to concentrate on a mantra or discipline, something that will stretch and challenge me, something that I hope will bring me new insights and new understandings.

In 2015 I concentrated on new life and on rebirth as I stepped fully into the role of pastor without being a student/pastor. I concentrated on nurturing and feeding the baby that grew within me. It was a beautiful time of recognizing and practicing resurrection helping my first community of faith to see that there is always a new start and a chance for joining in creating alongside of a Creator who walked with humanity in the cool of the evening. It was a year of anticipation and excitement.

2016 has been one of the hardest I’ve chosen because it’s been a year of healing.

In January, I had to acknowledge the impact nine months of pregnancy, hours of labor, including back labor, two attempts at an epidural before one actual took had taken on my body. I learned what my grandmother meant when she said she was “bone weary” as we navigated cluster feedings and growth spurts nurturing and caring for a mini human trying to wake up to the world around him. It’s been a year where I have had to accept more help than I’m comfortable and leave more things undone than I’d like.

It’s been a year that I have wrestled to understanding my story, one that includes spiritual abuse and will always include people who would rather me not tell my story. It’s been a year where I’ve had to say goodbye to a community of faith so influential in my journey as a follower of Christ and pastor.

It’s been a year where we’ve had to wrestle with the question of what’s next for months and months of uncertainty and fear in a contentious presidential election and then attempt to find our footing after the results came in.

It’s been a year when I’ve finally felt strong enough to start running again: running a long race, running old paths. And just when I started to feel my body heal, we were confronted again with how our whole lives can change in a week as our journey of healing moved from me to Sam. I’ve wondered how it be so tiring to give your mind and body time to heal. Isn’t it supposed to be a peaceful and restful process? And the image of Jacob limping away from this wrestling creeps into my mind knowing what the long journey of healing he had ahead of him looked like. 

As I got up and reached into the basket and started folding clothes dividing them into three stacks for our three sleeping kids, I wondered why I had made those late night promises to God to take time to heal in the early part of this year. Why hadn’t I chosen a different word, a different journey for this year? But even as the questions came to my mind, I knew that this time of cocooning ourselves and trying to give ourselves time to heal has been so important.

And as I look to next week, next year I can’t help but wonder has this all just been a part of the metamorphosis to come?

What will 2017 hold?  

Signs from Above

[W]ise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

I know it’s too early to celebrate Epiphany. I know we are supposed to wait for Christmas and then for twelve long days after Christmas, but I need a sign from above now before the Christ Child is even born. I need wise men to tell me that they have seen something remarkable in the sky, something worth journeying and traveling in order to pay homage to a baby.

I need to hear the angels proclaim again and again, “Fear not!” this Advent season. I need dreams, signs, and angelic proclamations to know that the divine is with us. I need the story of the birth of the Christ Child born to outsiders. I need the story of the birth of the Christ Child to a poor couple, unsure and uncertain what their future holds knowing only they have to journey together.

I need to know Emmanuel, God is with us.

I need Christmas to be on a Sunday this year, so I can gather together with our community of faith and we can remember this story together. We need to gather to worship and remember that what we experience the other days of the week doesn’t change the truth and light that we hear on Sunday. We need to gather so that we can strengthen each other to have the courage to that the light of this Christ Child within us.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Your people are waiting, dreaming, and looking for signs.

A Divine Blended Family

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There’s something about the picturesque nativity scenes that have caused to me to ponder this Advent season. The cast of characters are usually the same in nativity scenes leaving out part of the story like the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating voice crying out in the wilderness. He’s just a little too out there. I mean how would we explain him to our kids?

Not only have I been wondering about why some people are included in these scenes and not others, but I’ve also been wondering about the peaceful expressions on these characters. Last Advent was a blur of new motherhood, but even though it is a blur, I know for certain our family certainly wasn’t this peaceful and put together. And as I’ve thought about our family and this divine family, I’ve been struck this year that they were a blended family. Did Joseph worry about whether his son would look at him one day and say, “You aren’t my real father!” like so many stepparents do? How were they going to explain to this baby that he was different than other families?

And as these questions roll around in my head and heart, I realize that although nativity scenes decorate our communities of faith during this Season, these questions of challenging truths don’t often accompany the scenes. Instead, we preach a peaceful, picturesque gospel that sits on a shelf, decorating our lives, but not transforming our lives.

If we really preached how revolutionary this blended divine family was, then we would have to question our nice, neat faith that allows us to worship both the Christ Child and Santa Claus at this time of year. If we really preached how this Christ Child gathered the outsiders and outcasts of society in a barn where animals slept, then we would have to question our pretty, festive church buildings. If we really preached what the birth of this Christ Child means, then we would have to accept the understanding that Jesus’ birth is a celebration and not a way of life for us.

There is nothing picturesque or peaceful about the birth of the Christ Child.

Wrinkled Joy

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We finally got our Christmas decorations up this weekend. We were waiting until we had our girls again and I wasn’t quite ready to move from the season of gratitude into a season of waiting and searching in our home. Couldn’t I teach our kids more about thanksgiving lasting all year if we just left up those decorations?

But as I watched them walk around the tree light debating over which tree would be easiest to pick back up if their younger brother decided to try to pull up on it, I knew we needed this season. And so we climbed the garage to get down the boxes marked Christmas and there at the bottom of the ornament was joy wrinkled and waiting.

Wrinkled joy.

The joy of the birth of the Christ Child wrinkled with the realities of a year of uncertainity and grief in so many ways. Joy that has been packed away, waiting to be brought out for this season of Advent. Joy that just needs to be shaken and ironed out.

Or maybe, this is joy wrinkled by the truth of a messiah born in a manger surrounded by outcasts. Maybe this wrinkled joy is exactly what we have been awaiting.

Waiting to Hit Publish

I clicked “save draft” and forgot about the post. I knew it wasn’t quite right and that my attention was in two or three places, after all it was Thanksgiving week, so I decided not to hit publish, and to come back to it later.

But when I came back to it, it still wasn’t right. There was a tone, a bitterness to the post that I didn’t want in my writing, not here at least. Maybe in the journal I keep by my bed. Maybe my eyes were the only eyes to see these words. Maybe this saved draft would never be published, but instead would live its life out in my bedside journal. Yeah, that was probably a better place for them.

I could have so easily pushed “publish.” The two buttons are so close together. It takes no more effort for me to hit “publish” than it does to push “save draft”, an amazing phenomenon of the digital world we find ourselves living and communicating within, but the editor in me decided not to publish, making the conscious decision that there are words to be said here in this space and perhaps more importantly words not to be said here in this space.

It reminds me of the letters I wrote in middle school when I was so upset by the latest lunchtime seating arrangement drama. I can remember coming home from school and being so upset and my mom suggesting  writing a letter explaining why I was so upset to the person with whom I was upset. Yes! I thought. Yes, I will tell her exactly what I think of her new seating arrangement.

And so I would write, scribbling furiously, and many, many times as I folded the note with one of the special note folding techniques I had practiced at recess, I would decide that the note was too mean, the subject not as important as I had just felt it was, but I felt better having written those words and releasing them from my own self even though they would never be published by giving them to someone else.

Perhaps the most sacred act we can engage in this Advent season is waiting to hit publish or post or send and being mindful of the powerful impact of our words on other people’s hearts.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Holiday Treats

We’ve been celebrating the Christmas season, savoring every minute of having our three kids together by baking homemade treats, watching the Star Wars movie, and wrapping presents. As we have, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude that we had extended time to spend with our girls after a semester of school schedule and after a couple of missed weekends with Ben’s birth. Gratitude that I had a sleeping 5 week old in his bouncy seat. Gratitude that our girls love their brother so much. And most of all gratitude that I get to share this with the man of my dreams.

LC Reading to Ben

MH and Ben

When you share kids, holidays are extremely difficult because everyone wants a chance to celebrate with them. It means having to celebrate birthdays and Christmases on off days. It means lots of driving and traveling to ensure that the kids get to celebrate with as much family as possible.

It means being flexible, something I’m terrible at.

To all those parents who are sharing kids, spending hours in the car trying to make it all work, Merry Christmas today and tomorrow and whatever day you celebrate!

 

On Finding My Work Bag Again

I can tell you whether the outfits in the diaper bag are clean or dirty. I can tell you the last time Ben ate and the last time that his diaper was changed, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where my work bag was. This is becoming more and more important as my work bag contains my preaching Bible, and this Sunday, I am preaching.

It has been six weeks since I stood behind the pulpit to deliver a word to God’s people and now the last Sunday in Advent, it’s time for me to become pastor again. I should clarify that being the pastor of a people doesn’t just disappear when you become a mom and take maternity leave or when you take sabbatical, but it does fade or become minimized for a time. It is this fading and minimizing that allows you, as the pastor, to be more fully who you are with the grace and understanding of your congregation. It’s an understanding that you, too, are a human being who has a family, or in the case of being on sabbatical, needs rest and inspiration. It’s this understanding that allowed me to put aside my work bag as we waited and then celebrated Ben’s arrival.

As I ponder what this new life will look like as I prepare to add back the full weight of responsibility that comes with being called pastor, I have all the questions that any working mom does. How is this going to work? Am I always going to feel like I am giving halfway to both or is there some way that being a parent of a newborn and being a pastor can enrich and deepen our journey as a community of faith?

Even when I do locate my work bag, I know that the answers won’t be contained there, but what I do know is that being community together means understanding that all of us have are trying to understand what it means to be committed to follow after Jesus in the midst of being mothers, fathers, spouses, employees, and friends.

And the only way that we can understand how we can be more fully and wholly ourselves is by fellowshipping together around the table, around the altar, and around the Christ child born into human form just like us.

You Have to Construct Your Own Light Saber

I have to confess that before I met Sam and before our girls started to watch and become fans of the Star Wars canon, I knew very little about Star Wars. I knew the main characters, and I knew I had seen some of the original trilogy, but I had never seen the prequels nor did I understand the mythology and world of Star Wars. Now, most of our discussions in the car have centered around theories of the new Star Wars and which character has found Darth Vadaer’s helmet and of course, who the Jedi Knight with the crossguard lightsaber is and whether this lightsaber is even practical.

We aren’t the only ones discussing the debut of the new lightsaber. There has been much discussion about the new crossguard lightsaber that will appear in the Force Awakens this week and with that discussion brings the reminder that in order to become a Jedi Knight you have to construct your own lightsaber as part of your training. We have certainly discussed as a family whether the new movie would have a scene where a manual was found that contains instructions about how to construct lightsabers or whether someone would find an old lightsaber and then try to construct one himself or herself, but the question remains  (at least until Thursday), how do you construct your own lightsaber?

In this season of Advent, where candles are lit every week to represent love, hope, joy, peace, and finally the birth of the Christ child, we are all reminded that we are light-bearers. We are the ones who display and brighten the world with these traits. This is how the world knows and understands the gospel message, the Advent message. The light that shines forth from transformed lives is how people understand that the kingdom of heaven is indeed here on earth.

But the thing about being a Jedi Knight and constructing your own lightsaber is that no two lightsabers are the same. They are each created and constructed as part of Jedi training, which means they bear the marks of the internal battles between the light and dark side. They bear the marks of the transformation process.

As light-bearers, the light we shine does the same. My battle between the light and dark side and my transformation into one called and dedicated to the hope the Christ child brings to the world is not the same as anyone else’s. There is a different glow to my journey than to my family’s or to my congregation’s journeys. There is something miraculously specific about my journey that no one else can claim. In sharing that journey of transformation, perhaps there are parts that ring true for other people. Maybe there are intersections, but there are never repetitions of our journeys. We each hold the ability and the responsibility to construct our own lightsabers.

And if you’ve yet to begin that training or to construct your own lightsaber, what better time then the season of Advent and the opening of the new Start Wars movie where we are reminded of the difference light can make in a world of darkness.

Two Ordained Years: The Good News

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Yesterday marked the second year I have been living this life as an ordained minister. I took time to reflect and read the encouragement offered as I took that step two years ago. I took time to reflect on how I had changed as a person and as a pastor, and I took time to think about how the world had changed.

Can the world change in two years? Can a person and a pastor change in two years? Yes, and those changes can be more than we expected and more than we thought possible.

I look at this picture and see someone who was trying to prove herself as a pastor, as a wife, and as a stepmom. Over the past two years, I have settled into the realization that I don’t have to prove these aspects of who I am because they simply are. I am a pastor. I am a wife. I am a stepmom. I am a mom. There is no need to prove what is.

I also look at the changes that have taken place as MH has grown and changed, especially as she has learned to read and write, and now as she is a doting older sister to her half-brother. I wonder at how she is so sure that she likes Star Wars and spy gear and how she isn’t bothered if other people don’t like those things or think she should like those things. I look at LC and see how much she has grown into who she is as a person and how Kindergarten has captivated her imagination. I wonder at how she is unlocking the mystery of reading and now the mystery of not being the youngest, but being an older sister.

And then I look at the way the world is changing.

Maybe seeing the changes in the world is an aspect of life as parenting. Maybe inevitably, you wonder at how the world is going to be for your children. Maybe you can’t help but look at the world in which you grew up and think that it was easier for you than it will be for your children. Whether this is something that happens to everyone who is a parent or not, the world is changing. The sheer number of mass shootings is surely one way we know this is true. Public discourse has changed drastically with the immediacy and availability made possible by social media and internet access. Radical claims about how we treat people of different beliefs and different backgrounds than ourselves are receiving shouts of approval and those who are speaking out against this mindset are being escorted out and silenced.

As the reality of the world we live in sinks in, I realize that being ordained does not mean what it meant two years ago. Two years ago, as an ordained minister, there was no real concern that someone would come into a church bible study, and open fire. Two years ago the conversation about welcoming and affirming all people regardless of sexual orientation or ethnicity was seen as a way to represent the teachings of Jesus. Now, these teachings are shrouded by a growing number of Christians who want not only to exclude people who are different than they are, but who now want permission to harm those who are different than they are. The scariest part of this mindset is that those who hold these views are finding each other and finding a spokesperson in a presidential candidate.

Being ordained has always meant being set apart. Now being ordained, for me, means speaking out against these changes. This is not what Jesus taught and certainly not what it means to be a follower of Christ.

If the world has changed in these way, then it can continue to change as can our public discourse. In order for that to happen, those of us who believe that what we are seeing and hearing must not be the way our country is ruled or governed, must be roused out of our belief that this too shall pass and stand up and speak out. We must not live in fear of the unknown, but instead live in the reality of the world that we are now in: a world we can indeed transform if we are willing to change ourselves. To change ourselves, we must examine ourselves in relation to our world. Are we truly trying to make the world a better place or are we merely trying to make ourselves more comfortable by surrounding ourselves with people who believe the same thing we believe?

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

If we believe that God did become man and come to the earth, then the world we see needs the good news of great joy for ALL people even more today than it did two years ago or even perhaps two thousand years ago. Thanks be to God that the good news isn’t the news on our TV, Twitter feed, or Facebook feed.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

 

Noisy Peace

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All is calm. All is bright.

We don’t have many Silent Nights around our house right now. They are interrupted with shuffling feet, Willie Nelson playlists, and diaper pulls during nighttime feedings that make it hard to determine whether it is night or day; but in the midst of these noises, there is a peace that falls over our house. It’s not a silent peace, but a noisy peace.

It’s a peace filled with tiny squeaks of a three week old sleeping and growing. It’s a peace filled with snoring from parents or another as rest finally comes quickly over them. It’s a peace filled with puppy yips as they settle down now that the baby is asleep. It’s a noisy peace that takes a lot of work to achieve.

And I just wonder in the midst of our peace if it’s not an indication that the peace we all pray will settle over our country needs to be reimagined. Maybe the peace we need to strive towards is a noisy peace filled with discussion, even heated discussion.  Maybe the peace we need isn’t represented in the lovely, melodic songs of the season. Maybe the peace we need isn’t found in a silent night, but in voices joining loudly together to ask for a change.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me, my voice rising loudly against injustice and brokenness.