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Entering Eastertide: Water to Drink

The Governor of South Carolina’s announcement that some non-essential businesses would be allowed to reopen as well as some beaches on Monday sits in juxtaposition to his announcement today that schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. If you like it’s hard to tell which direction we are heading in and whether we are getting closer to a new normal or are really far from it, you are not alone.

I can remember running my first half marathon stateside. I was running with my sister-in-law and good friend. It was a half marathon and a full marathon and as we passed the turn for the marathoners to go one way and the half marathoners to go another way, I can remember that we looked at each other and said, “We should have definitely done the full. We’ll do that next time.” That was six miles in and by the time we all hit mile ten, we realized there was no way that we could have run the full marathon.

Is this where you are? Do you feel like you signed up for a 5K with two weeks of homeschooling and work from home and then realized that you were actually signed up for a marathon?

That’s how it feels to me and I have to admit that I am tired and thirsty from this journey so far and I have no idea how much longer we are going to have to keep going.

I can’t help but wonder if this is the very same feeling the people of God had in the middle of the wilderness journey. We hear their complaints to Moses and to the Divine even though the Divine was providing their daily bread and even though the Divine was walking with them every step of the way.

The people of God had the same complaint about thirst and fatigue in the midst of their journey. In chapter 17 in Exodus, the Lord tells Moses:

‘I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock and water will come out of it, so the people can drink.’

Take drink the word of the Lord that promises that the Divine is with you as you walk this journey.

Entering Eastertide: New Roads

On our daily walks, we have been entertained with the construction crew who has been repaving our road. First, they had to scrap down the road that had been previously laid down. A process called skimming, which we found out about because of a kind worker who was willing to explain this process to my four-year-old. For almost a week, the road sat skimmed and bumpy. We have two skinned knees to document that phase.

As we walked on that bumpy road I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Is this all they are going to do? Is this the final product because I think what we had before was better than this.”

It has taken two more weeks to put down the new road, but when we walked on it the difference was noticeable in the way the stroller’s wheels glided smoothly along the surface. It was a smoothness you can feel in your knees and joints.

I was thinking about how if we had been in “normal times” I would have been annoyed by how long it was taking for the road to be repaved because we would have been in our car running back and forth to here and there. We would have waited as they allowed one lane of traffic by. We would have been inconvenienced.

But these non-normal times have allowed us to look closely at the way new roads are made. First, what was there has to be scraped away leaving a rocky, bumpy surface. Isn’t this where we are now as we are sheltering in place trying to figure out how to be connected, how to learn, and how to work?

We are waiting for the new road. We are waiting for what will be created. We are waiting for the smooth surface.

This is not an easy process. We watched as the asphalt was poured into the paver and how that asphalt was heated to a temperature so hot that steam rose into the sky. Then the roller came pressuring the asphalt into place. And finally, the brusher truck came to brush away all of the tiny pieces of asphalt that didn’t make it into the new road.

Certainly, there is heat and pressure in our circumstances. This is not easy. Creating new life never is, but now that I have walked on the nice smooth road, I don’t want to go back to the makeshift road we had.

May God grant us patience to wait and strength to transform into something new in the midst of all the heat and pressure.

Saving Celebrations

As the morning dawned, the women who had prepared spices two days earlier, the day that Jesus died hurried to the tomb. They had saved this act of remembering the life of the one they loved to observe the sabbath. In my mind, they spent that day in exhausted rest. The kind that can only come when hope is dashed and miracles don’t prevent death from taking someone we love.

As they near the tomb, they find the stone rolled away, but they don’t understand what has happened until a Divine messenger asked them to remember the words Jesus uttered when he was with them. The words they didn’t understand at the time. The words they didn’t want to hear at the time. The words, “I will die and rise again.”

I keep mulling over this call to remember because it’s the remembering that causes the women to see that resurrection is possible. It’s the remembering that ignites their imaginations to dream of new life.

Last week, I celebrated a birthday. We sang, ate cookies, and enjoyed deliveries from family members while connecting via Facetime or Marco Polo. So many people responded saying, “When you get to really celebrate after this is all over…” or something along those lines.

I’m not saving celebrations for “when this is all over.” The death of our old life has been a tremendous loss and will continue to be. Grief never really leaves us, but without the death of the old life, we can’t remember the words of promise of new life.

I’m not saving celebrations for a different time and a different place because my birthday occurred here in the midst of the chaos. Our daughter took her first steps here in the midst of the turmoil. These are major events, markers in how this pandemic impacts everything.

I’m not saving celebrations because I need to celebrate in the here and now not with disappointment that I can’t celebrate a certain way or in a certain place but instead imagining how we can celebrate in this new life.

Leaning Into Lent: Watering Healing

This weekend, we planted aloe, a plant that I had in my home growing up. I can remember one summer in elementary school helping my mom grill a sandwich in the super snacker panini press. As I was watching for the light to come on indicating my sandwich was ready, my thumb touched the small black strip that was hot. I immediately cried out in pain. After putting cold water on it, my mom took a small piece of our aloe plant squeezing the aloe on the burn. The relief was immediate.

I’ve thought about that a lot over these past three weeks. There are many times in my ministry I have wished there was a plant or a solution I could administer to those who were hurting. One of the hardest aspects of ministry for me has always been not being able to alleviate people’s suffering. To be sure I am always in awe to share those precious seasons and thoughts with them and to sit with them in their suffering, but the question always surfaces: “Is that enough? Could I do more?”

And maybe you are there too as you read and hear the stories of those who are suffering the physical impacts of COVID-19. Maybe you are there too as you read the stories of the medical professionals pulling double and triple shifts without the PPE they need. Maybe you are where I have been so often saying isn’t there a balm or solution that could alleviate this collective suffering we are all experiencing? Can’t we make this go away? Can’t this be healed?

In the midst of the uncertainty of who long this suffering will last and how close this suffering will come to each of us, I am comforted with the revelation that we are not alone. Although it may seem like we can’t do that much, we can sit here together in our grief, in our suffering, in our uncertainty, and in our vulnerability. This is enough. This is healing because we know that while we may be socially distant or even isolated from each other, we are not walking this journey alone.

That revelation is water nurturing and growing healing. Healing that comes in the tiniest plant, in text messages, in Facetimes, in notes, and in stories of good. Thanks be to God for the light that shines in the darkness.

Leaning Into Lent: Fatigue

Whenever we began this Lenten journey, I joked that it would feel long, longer than forty days. When I said that I didn’t know what else we would be carrying this Lenten season. I didn’t know we would be carrying the collective grief of losing a way of life we had become so accustomed to. I didn’t know we would be carrying the collective trauma of a worldwide pandemic. I didn’t know we would all take on new roles.

All of this hit home for me yesterday afternoon. The sun had come out and we were outside playing. Our fourteen-month-old has started to toddle around and has a very strong opinion about doing things by herself. She learned to slide down the slide by herself. Our four-year-old is immersed in imaginative play become Batman and a pirate and taking his two stuffed dogs along on every adventure. I looked at them and realized their world will never be the same.

I spread my arms wide as I stepped out of the shade and into the sun and breathed as the Spring air moved across the yard. As I breathed deeply, I realized I was tired. My legs were tired from walking this unexpected Lenten journey. My back was sore from carrying the additional load of adapting so quickly to new routines and new normals.

It would be so easy to skip the rest of the Lenten journey, the suffering, the darkness and cling to the hope of resurrection and new life. I’ve seen memes going around about what a wonderful day it will be when we are all able to get back together. And it will be.

But it’s not time for that yet. Lent is not over. We are still being asked to sit in the darkness and in suffering. We are still be asked to be present for the way the world is changing around and the way so many people are suffering around us.

This is not easy work, but this is good and important work.

For when we sit in suffering, our hearts grow compassion. When we sit in suffering, we learn to be deeply, soulfully grateful. When we sit in suffering, we learn to be resilient, courageous, and strong because there just isn’t time to be anything else.

May God’s spirit sit with you in this suffering.

Leaning Into Lent: Washing Sippy Cups

Tonight I was washing the dishes. As I washed our fourteen month old’s sippy cup, I realized that her nametag was coming off. My mind immediately went to trying to remember where I had put the cute, pink masking tap and the brand new black sharpie so that I could replace the label so that it would be ready to take her to school…

And then my brain stopped. Wait. I don’t have to replace that label because on Monday she’s not going to school.

I don’t know if you have had these moments over the past week, but it has been the little things. The things that we won’t need because we aren’t headed to work and school that have stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of the severity of where we are and what is going on.

This is not the Lent I planned. This is not the Lent you planned, but this is Lent. Washing sippy cups and being thankful for teachers who have invested so much in our children’s lives and who we miss dearly.

Sometimes it takes an upending for gratitude to come to the surface in the form of a label coming off in the wash.

Leaning Into Lent

I love Lent. I know that sounds crazy, but I do.

Maybe it’s because it is a bit of a novelty since I didn’t grow up remembering Lent at all. Maybe it’s because in my experience as a pastor, Lent is a season in which so many people have open hearts and open minds to the way the Divine is moving and working in the world.

Maybe it’s because for me personally, it provides a good excuse to engage in spiritual disciplines that have maybe fallen out of practice in day to day living.

Whatever it is, this year I am leaning in Lent with an open mind and open heart ready to see the way that Divine is inviting us into deeper communion and deeper understanding.

May the Spirit protect you, challenge you, and restore you in this season.

Greatest Night of Giveaways

The past three nights, there has been Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways. The unsuspecting crowd was drawn in under the pretense of filming another show. The winners of thousands of dollars were interviewed under the pretense of a show that was about how people in difficult situations turn their lives around never giving up and always holding onto hope. And of course, the audience was surprised with six-day getaways, new exercise equipment, gift cards, and the latest and greatest technology.

If you watched the show or tuned in on Instragram or Twitter, you found yourself laughing and crying. I found myself hooked on the stories of the families whose lives she was turning around. The boy who was raised living in his car with his family who started being a sign spinner who received a car and a job, his life taking a completely different trajectory than before. The single dad who lost his job who was sent to Europe with his daughters for a month. The single dad whose wife passed away just six weeks ago whose mortgage was paid off. Surely, this is the reason for the season. Surely, this is what power and influence and money can do for good.

Ellen ended each show by saying, “Merry Christmas. Spread some Christmas cheer today and remember to be kind to each other.” I couldn’t help but compare this to the impeachment hearings and the way our leaders are yelling at each other and at witnesses. The rhetoric of our political leader in regards to a sixteen-year-old girl who has a passion and a calling to change the world.

Why is that we are so unkind to each other? Why is that we are so competitive with each other? Why is that we find ourselves so entrenched in identity politics that we can’t even see the needs of other people around us?

It takes a lot of intention, reflection, and prayer to renew our minds and to open our hearts to the needs of other people. Instead of asking why the person is on the corner holding a sign asking for money or food, it takes wondering what it would feel like to be at the point where you have to hold a sign to ask for food. Instead of complaining about the fact that it is raining, it takes imagining what it would be like to sleep outside in the rain all night long and then be damp for the rest of the day as the rain continues.

It takes thinking outside of our lived experiences and imagining the lives and the realities of other people. It takes an understanding that the economic system that we live in has privileged some above others and continues to do so. It takes shifting our thinking from “I deserve this,” to “we deserve this.”

And if there is ever a season in the church year when we can change our thinking and that the Divine turns things upside down, it’s Advent. Watch and wait. Something is coming that will change the way we see the world and indeed change the powers of the world.

Just wait.

On Birthdays and Celebrations

This past week was one filled with the joys of birthdays and the grief of services of remembrance. For us, that fell on the same day, our four-year-old’s actual birthday. The beauty and the grief of life and death juxtaposed in one twenty-four hour period. And this is how it is. Life and death live within us all the time. That divine breath and our dustiness residing together in our physical beings. We walk through our days holding both hope and grief. At times they fight within us as we wrestle to find space for both and sanctuary to let them sit together never sure which one will come out on top.

The more I talk to people, the more I realize how much grief people are holding sometimes trying to fit into a box to put away for another time sometimes trying to send it away so that it doesn’t linger or pop up. The more I talk to people, the more I say grief doesn’t go away. You don’t go through grief. You don’t come out of grief. You become grief and then grief becomes you.

You and grief can’t get away from each other. You integrate into one being with a deeper love and appreciation for moments and relationships, for safety and belonging. This loss and hurt of grief make us deeper and fuller people.

People who love and live with gratitude and intention for we always hold both life and death within us.

Falling for Anything

A recent Atlantic article recounted the impact of the constant noise of our society has on an individual. While we may consider the background hum or low volume music in the coffee shop and grocery store to be inconsequential, research is showing that this constant drum has an impact on our ability to center ourselves and to hear ourselves.

There is so much noise. There are so many voices vying for our attention. There are so many stories and narratives begging for our attention. We diagnose ourselves, our friends and strangers we encounter with Enneagram numbers, Myers-Briggs letters, and a host of other ideas and philosophies.

In the midst of all the noise, we are falling for anything that will explain who we are and why we are here.

We want to understand why we react and act the way we do. We want to understand why we are here and what our purpose is in the limited time we have here on earth.

In the midst of all the noise, it is getting more and more difficult to find our own voice and the voice of the divine whispering not in the form of gifs or quotations or charts. Rather that still, small voice calls us inward to the deepest parts of who we are to explain all the good and all the missteps we have made and are making.

The journey inward is arduous and painful.

It is why we distract ourselves with all the noise.

But the only way into fullness and wholeness is to journey inward into the silence and into the uncertainty of finding our voice in the midst of all the noise.