Over the holidays, all of us were sick. We didn’t take turns but overlapped in the spreading of coughs and runny noses that happens when there are multiple kids and multiple schools. There were tissues all over the place and water cups and our counters were lined with cough syrups, antibiotics, and saline sprays. We made it all the way until our youngest was ten months old before we started spreading things back and forth and then this.
I have to be honest and say that I didn’t have the best attitude in the midst of all the sickness. When you don’t feel well, it’s easy to see the gray that is all around you instead of seeing the bits of sun shining through promising warmth and light.
And it’s hard when you don’t feel well to take care of mini-humans, especially when they feel well and you don’t. They still want to go and do things and see things and learn things. They still want to explore and discover the magic that’s out there in the world.
It was on one of those days that we ended up at the playground to get some fresh air and some sunshine. Our park has an incredible walking trail that makes you feel like you are hiking through the woods and we almost always end our time at the playground with a nature walk around the loop looking for messages and magic.
This is the one we found on our first nature walk of the new year: “You are awesome.” I like to pretend I don’t need these messages. These are messages for our mini humans who are still developing their sense of self and their self-worth. These are the types of messages that we need to flood them with for the times when they encounter failure and frustration.
On this day, I needed this message. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of someone taking the time to write this on the nature trail. I need to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old discovering a secret message on a nature walk. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old finding and using a walking stick. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of an almost one-year-old laughing at her brother every chance she found. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of a free park maintained and cared for by a community who want to encourage people to be outside.
I needed to stand in the midst of the magic and remember I am but a bit of stardust in this great cosmos of mystery.
This morning as I was pushing the stroller with our almost one-year-old and the dogs, it started to drizzle. I wasn’t concerned because it was just a light drizzle, but as we continued on our route the light drizzle began to add up so that everyone who wasn’t in a stroller was damp.
We were on the final stretch home when a car passed by wound down the window and the driver asked: “Do you need an umbrella? I have one back here.” I thanked her and told her that we were almost home, but that I really appreciated the offer.
This is such a small act. Something so little but that shows intentionality and kindness.
Sometimes we become convinced that we can’t have a big impact and so we choose not to try. Sometimes we are just too in our own hearts and minds and daily schedule to look up, stop, and think about what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.
This small act reminded me that I am not alone. There was someone who saw me, noticed that it was raining and that I was walking, and went even further to imagine what might help make the situation easier.
More of this in this new year and new decade, please!
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.
This week’s epistle text comes from the book of James chapter 5:
5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.
The week’s text comes in stark contrast to our current political climate in which there is only grumbling between the two parties. In the midst of all the grumbling, it is so difficult to find the truth. Who is right? Who is wrong? These questions even make one side the winner and the other side the loser.
During this high and holy season of Advent where this epistle text is brought to light, I wonder if there is another way. Is there a chance that instead of being so quick to defend “our party” or “our perspective” that instead we could be patient and strengthen our hearts. Maybe, just maybe during this season of the coming of the Christ Child, perhaps we could open our hearts and minds to the ideas and perspectives of other people instead of digging in our heels and defending what we believe.
A recent article summarizing a report on generosity reported:
Atheists are more generous to Christians than Christians are towards them.
The report continues:
we found in multiple studies that our atheist participants behaved more fairly towards partners they believed were Christians than our Christians participants behaved towards partners they believed were atheists.
We, as Christians, find ourselves not inhabiting the very tenets and behaviors that Jesus Christ taught. We are not generous. We are suspicious and stingy. We do not treat others fairly. We defend and grumble against anyone who doesn’t believe as we do.
As a pastor and as a Christian, I find this deeply disturbing. There is so much hurt in the world and so much loneliness. As we wait for the coming of the Christ Child, I wait in hope that there we will begin to see and hear people who look different and believe different with open ears and open hearts.
All around us, we see evidence that the seasons are changing. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are highlighted by the fall light that looks and feels different from the summer light. The change makes us pay attention and look at our everyday paths and patterns through new eyes.
When we’re going through a changing season, it isn’t quite as evident. In fact, we might be almost through a season of change before we ourselves realize what we have been going through. The season might not be one with brilliant colors and basking in the light. The season might be one of hurt and grief, hopelessness and loneliness. It’s hard for others to see this change within us for our leaves don’t change or draw attention to what is going on within.
It is easy to interact with others by simply passing by, not really looking and not really hearing what’s beneath our conversations. This season of change invites us to change the way we interact too.
Listen deeply, look deeply, connect deeply.
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.
This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.
He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.
Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.
Change is all around us and indeed within us.
When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.
What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.
Just recently, Elizabeth Gilbert posted a picture of her 32-year-old self with the description that the girl in the picture looked like a baby. She was in the middle of her divorce and wouldn’t have been recognized in a crowd because she had yet to write Eat, Pray, Love. She offered a beautiful narrative of how she talked to herself during that period of her life and what she would say to that girl now. This struck me. She didn’t find herself until her thirties.
She was in the midst of becoming.
And then a wave of realization washed over me. We are all in the midst of becoming. If you, like me, find yourself at times thinking that by this age or by this season you should know who you are and what you want to do with your life, may I offer the idea that maybe you shouldn’t know? May I go even further and suggest that perhaps you will never know for sure who are you and what you want to do with your life?
That may seem scary. But I think it’s exciting.
There is no single point where there is no turning back and no chance to start over. No signs that say you can’t crawl into a chrysalis for a while to await getting wings. It is never too late to start becoming who you always wanted to be or doing what you always wanted to do. There is no point or season that you are supposed to have it all figured out or know for certain what lies ahead.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
In fact, I think allowing yourself the mental and spiritual relief to be in the midst of becoming allows you to open your mind and your attention to new challenges, new opportunities, and new relationships. I can remember the crisis I felt when I articulated a call to ministry. I was already five years and an advanced degree in one profession. I thought it was unwise financially to “switch careers”. And maybe it was. But I know if I hadn’t taken that step towards becoming something and someone I never imagined I could be, I wouldn’t be here in this moment.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
While it may seem like you are wrestling and struggling to find all the answers, maybe this reassurance will offer you some relief. You don’t have to know where you will be in five years or ten years or really even tomorrow. You can wake up today or decide after lunch to take an unexpected turn or U-turn or sprint in a different direction. You can try a new road or a road you have already been on before. You can take a break from societal expectations of having a long-range plan or a short-range plan for that matter.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
October always marks a season of remembering for our family because it is when our family became a family. This year Sam and I celebrated six years of marriage and six years of creating and learning and growing together. There’s a lot about this season that feels familiar with the high chair back in the kitchen and the inspections of the floor for legos that might find their way to the mouth of a curious younger sibling, being partners not only in life but at work, too. In other ways, this season feels all new. Having a middle schooler for the first time, having four kids in four different schools, moving into a new office.
I find myself wanting to remember everything about this moment. The cars that find their way to the fall centerpiece. The toys strewn across the living room. Sparkly pumpkin costumes. Blanket-built forts. The late-night conversations with my partner about theodicy, parenting, and the origins of the Ceaser salad.
I wonder if the most miraculous work of the Holy Spirit is the way that we become and create family together. The way that we bring in tastes, experiences, personalities, passions, and dreams to live together in one space. Maybe the way that we create together and live together and eat together and cry together and hurt together and dance together is exactly what it means to be church.
Maybe in trying to figure out what our calling in this world is, we find our way home first. Then suddenly, the world and our place in the world looks a little bit clearer and a little bit easier because we aren’t alone on the journey.
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.