working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

living day – to – day

I don’t know about where you are, but around here, we’re all exhausted.

It’s the end of the first week of classes at TLU, and everyone is frazzled. This makes me happy. Why? Because I don’t feel so bad about being frazzled myself. Everything is new for me – the names of the buildings, the code names for the groups on campus, the names and faces of students, faculty, and staff, and this week, especially, the pace of life on campus. And taking in all this newness is wearing me out. It’s been all I can do to show up to events on time, in the right place, and with whatever presentation or sermon already thought out.

It’s not like I’m some incredibly prepared person on a regular basis. Since becoming a mom, and a single mom at that, I regularly find myself in procrastination mode, throwing events together at the last minute, finishing a sermon just before putting on my alb to lead worship. And as a former perfectionist, I’ve come to terms with that reality. But the last couple of weeks have been worse than usual. Each morning I wake up and check the calendar: what am I supposed to lead today? And each night I fall into bed thinking “I hope there’s not something huge happening tomorrow morning that I should have planned for.” All I can do is whatever I’m supposed to do today. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I can’t think about all I’ll have to do later on. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

But in the midst of my panicky planning for the presentation I’m giving in 1 hour, a beautiful thing has happened: I’ve been living in the moment. Everything I’ve been doing is for right now. All of my conversations are about what’s going on today, what’s happening next. And in focusing my attention and heart and brain power on what’s right in front of me, my anxiety level has dropped. I’ve realized that all I can do is what I’m doing, and so my focus has been extra-sharp. I’ve eased up on trying to make everything spectacular, and so my fear of failure has been replaced with joy in the moment. I’ve been dependent on others to accomplish each project, and so I’m filled with gratitude for the student leaders and faculty and staff who are helping me along.

Being present in the moment wasn’t my goal. Getting through a crazy schedule of events was my goal. But instead of trying to seize control of every detail and manipulate every outcome, I just let go and trusted that the Spirit would work through whatever effort I had to give. And that letting go and being present has made all the difference.

rainbow in New Braunfels, TX

rainbow in New Braunfels, TX

Driving to yet another campus event last night, I pulled out of my driveway only to discover a beautiful rainbow in front of me. I could have missed it if my mind had been working out curriculum for next Wednesday’s Grace Place Bible study or my next sermon for Sunday night worship. But I wasn’t. I was there, enjoying a moment in the car with my son, and noticing a small rainbow in the sky. I’m glad I didn’t miss it, because rainbows are one more reminder that God is ever present in our world, in each and every moment.

Praying for all of us, that we can live in the present moment, and participate in God’s gracious action in the world.

 

finding home

Yesterday was my opportunity to introduce myself to the faculty and staff of Texas Lutheran University. As the Campus Pastor, it was my responsibility and privilege to offer an opening devotion at the annual State of the University gathering at which the President and other cabinet members speak about the health and growth and stability of the institution. To set the tone for this gathering, I invited everyone to join me in singing “Home on the Range.”

by William C. Matthews www.singingcowboy.com

by William C. Matthews
http://www.singingcowboy.com

Right. That’s what they were thinking, too – whatever it is you’re thinking. Some joined in with gusto, laughing at the juxtaposition of “serious devotion to start our year” and “cheesy, slightly sentimental song of our nation’s past.” Others sang, but weren’t so sure what the point was, and how this might help them get in the right frame of mind to empower young adults to “learn boldly & live to inspire.” And still others sat there not participating, thinking “we chose this woman to be pastor, why?”

It got better from there. I talked a bit about how the song refers to getting out to the places we call home, where we can find rest and comfort. And so we had an audience-participation segment where they yelled out the places they had traveled this summer to find that sense of home. People were eager to share that they had spent time in Paris, or Cheboygan (which Spell-check doesn’t know is an actual place in Michigan,) or the beach, or, because this is Texas, the barn.

But then we transitioned to thinking of our internal life as a place of refuge, that to find home we need only turn to the silence of our hearts where our Creator resides and is waiting to welcome us. The time we spent in silence together was golden. The entire staff and faculty of TLU sat in the auditorium inhaling the life-giving Spirit and exhaling the stress and anxiety of beginning a new term. For just a few moments, we were united in the silence, we were unified in our seeking, we were together at home.

I’m so grateful for that moment. Because in the midst of my moving and unpacking and registering and licensing and signing up in this new place, I was feeling like I had no “home.” Everything still feels new. Everywhere I go, I’m getting used to a new procedure or a new arrangement. There’s no place where it’s comfortable, where I can relax, where it feels like “home.” Even my house that’s filled with all of my same stuff, doesn’t yet feel like home. Because it takes a while. It’s just a fact – it takes a while for a new house to feel like home.

our new townhouse in New Braunfels, TX

our new townhouse in New Braunfels, TX

And so I needed that silence yesterday. I needed the reminder of my own devotion presentation, that while I am in this transition, while I am waiting for my space to feel like a refuge, I can find home within. The Creator of all things is also the Creator of me, and I am awed by the mystery that the Creator makes a home within me. When I take a moment to listen to my breath, there I discover the Spirit of the Holy. When I find time to pause before giving a presentation and open my heart for guidance, there I discover the Voice of the Holy. When I begin my day in my prayer corner, even though it’s in a new place and my candle doesn’t fit where it used to, still there I discover the Comforting Presence of the Holy.

Home is a gift given in the silence. No matter where we are. No matter how we feel. No matter who is with us or who has left us. Home is here, in the ever-expanding love of the Creator planted in each of us.

Kara Joy Stewart:

A helpful perspective on the tragedy on MO and how we might talk about it together with young adults.

Originally posted on Episcopal Young Adult and Campus Ministries:

Michael Brown’s story is on our minds this week. Michael was about to begin college classes. He died at 18.

Young Adults and College Students across our country are asking big questions about Michael’s death. As with any death, the answers aren’t easy to come by. The best grief work is often done not by finding concrete answers but by sharing stories. The best eulogies help us catch a glimpse of someone’s life.

Though we lived in the same city, unfortunately I didn’t know Michael Brown. I can’t share stories of his life that could make you laugh out loud or thank God for his presence with us. Instead, I am faced with the only story I know of him, the story we are hearing reported of Michael’s encounter with the police on Saturday. So many of the details in that story are unknown, but the story has given rise…

View original 1,199 more words

A standing ovation

I love running races because of the cheering. There aren’t too many places in our daily lives when we get to stand up and actually clap for one another. But coming down the final stretch, whether it’s been 5K or 26.2mi, I know there will be a crowd making lots of noise to encourage me to the finish line and congratulate me on achieving my goal. It lifts me up and carries me into training for the next race.

Today I visited the emergency relief facilities at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, TX. Through a partnership with the city, other churches, and relief agencies, they are welcoming families with children (not unaccompanied minors) who have received their initial paperwork from Border Patrol to enter the US and connect with family members who are already in residence.

They provide gentle nourishment of chicken noodle soup, recommended by doctors as the most appropriate diet for people who are dehydrated. They have warm showers available with fresh-scented bath products and soft towels.

They can pick out 2 new outfits for each member of their family and also make a call to assure family back home that they have arrived safely.

Volunteers Walk with them to the bus stop to help them navigate the complicated transportation system and correctly utilize the voucher provided by the family member in their destination city (the government isn’t providing transportation for families- only dropping them off at bus stations.)

But the most powerful gift they are providing these families is a welcome. I was there at the door as 4 families arrived from Border Patrol processing. They looked weary from the journey and beaten down by all they had just experienced. And when they entered the doors of the fellowship hall, they were met by a wave of volunteers, clapping and cheering for them! It was a walll of welcome. It was a chorus of encouragement. It was a statement that love rules here, and that we begin, not with questions, but with compassion.

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A beautiful life

I can’t stop thinking about their eyes.

I was privileged to meet with children in transition today. They are temporary residents of Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter in Corpus Christi, TX, a ministry of Lutheran Social Services of the South. I learned that LSSS is so good at providing care for children at the border that the federal government came to them before the latest surge in child migration, asking them to expand their facilities.

Even as the new site prepares to open, Bokenkamp serves 500 teenagers each month. They are brought here by Border Control after their arduous journeys, and are given what they need: water for their dehydration, clean clothes and new shoes to replace the worn-out garments they arrive in, nourishment for body and spirit, pro-bono lawyers to begin the immigration process.

Many are reunited quickly with parents, grandparents, or other relatives across the US who have been waiting with bated breath for their arrival. Some linger at the shelter while the case workers try to locate a relative or family friend who is able to provide a stable, safe home for the children. But all of them have endured immense hardships, have risked everything, to arrive here.

I wasn’t prepared to face them today. Touring the facility was nice and meeting the staff people was interesting. I was beginning to put together the big picture of what LSS is doing to meet the needs of these children, when all of a sudden I came face to face with them. I was following our tour guide to the next room, and I walked unknowingly into a cafeteria full of teenagers.

They were expecting us, had been waiting excitedly for us. One of the Spanish-speakers in our group made a few introductory remarks thanking them for their willingness to talk with us, and then we were invited to join the youth at their tables for conversation with a translator.

I haltingly pulled up a chair with some teenage boys, using one of the common phrases I’d picked up, “con permisso,” to excuse myself, feeling like I was barging into the group. We began by talking about where they were from (all over Central America) and how old they were (14 – 17) and they shared their names (several common Latino names, and one Brian.) The whole time I was listening to them and to the translator, I was preoccupied by their eyes. They were curious eyes, radiating with anticipation. They darted around the room a lot, in the nervous habit of people who are slow to trust. Their eyes sparkled when they talked of home, and then glossed over a bit when we asked what they missed (family.) And then we asked about their journey.

Their eyes darted to the floor then. Darkened. Got distant. How we’re really they treated at the border? “Mal.” Bad. How did they get here? Several took “autobuses” and others also had to walk miles and miles. I heard the boy next to me say something and then I heard “tren.” I asked the translator what that meant and he said, “on top of.” I gasped. This was one of the young boys. He had come from El Salvador. 1500 miles away. By himself. On the top of a train.

That’s when the tears came. I couldn’t hold them back anymore. Looking into their eyes and realizing that these young people had endured the kind of danger I’d only seen in action movies was overwhelming.

But there was more to learn. Why did they come here? One boy was approached by a gang member on his way to school. He demanded payment to let the boy pass. Every day this young man was accosted and forced to pay the gang in order to get to school. There was no one to turn to for help.

Another’s answer was simpler: “Hambriento.” Hungry.

My eyes were cloudy by this point. And yet I hoped the boys could see the love I have in my heart for them, the hopes I hope for them, the prayers I am sending up for them.

I wanted to know one more more thing – what are they looking forward to, when they are reunited with their family here in the US?
“Seguridad.” Safety.
Another added, “It is going to be a beautiful life.”
His eyes sparkled then, and so did mine.

Coming home

I’ve lived in a lot of different places by now. I moved every year through college and seminary, I’ve owned two homes and rented several in between. I’ve traveled to Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and all over the US, and I’ve lived in 6 different states. I’ve loved it all – discovering new cultures, exploring new terrain, meeting new people. And because I’m an organizing geek, I’ve loved finding ways to arrange my stuff in each new locale.

But with traveling and moving comes some stress. There are new customs to decipher, procedures to follow, information that’s needed but can’t be found. It’s hard to start your day when you can’t find the basic necessities of life: towels, soap, toilet paper. And it simply takes a while to get used to a new place. So even as I seek out new adventures, I long for the comforts of home.

One thing has always helped me find the balance between adventure and safety. Wherever I’ve traveled, wherever I’ve moved, I never feel right until I’ve found a place to run. When I’m running, I’m able to explore new places in a way that most tourists don’t. I’m up early and out the door as the shopkeepers begin their daily chores and the locals are walking their dogs. I learn which bars were the rowdiest the night before and which parts of town get overlooked by other travelers.
But even as I get to experience something new on each run, I’m also returning to the safety of what I know: the way my knees creak during my warmup, the satisfaction of deep breaths, the rhythm of my stride that remains the same, no matter where I am.
When I’m running, wherever I’m running, I am home.

On Sunday I ran in that fabled city of runners, Austin. It was in the mid-90’s by the time I got to Lady Bird Lake in the middle of town. But I knew I needed this run, to remind myself of who I am, and so I took off into the humidity. I ran under the shade of trees that line the lake. And I partook of life-giving water from fountains generously located along the trail. I was entertained by the hundreds of kayakers and SUPers learning their new skills, and by the families with kids in various stages of grumpiness and irritability. And as I was buoyed by the crowd of runners braving the heat, I realized that once again, I had come home.

I still can’t find the box that has my belts and scarves, and I don’t know how we’re going to get to the decorations in the garage come Christmastime, and who knows how long it will take to get my car and self registered and licensed in the state of Texas. But none of that really matters. Because I found a place to run.

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I closed my eyes as I listed to the creation story this morning. The reader had a Texas drawl and I could just imagine her as a grandmother, eager children at her feet, begging her to tell the story again. “Let there be light,” and they ooh and ahh. “God saw that it was good,” and they smile contentedly. “And it was evening, and it was morning,” and they relax into each other, knowing that the story is long.

I am grateful for the storytellers in my life. On this Father’s Day, I celebrate a man who has never met a stranger, someone who strikes up a conversation wherever he happens to find himself, one who can tell you the same story again and again and tell it with even more passion the 23rd time. My dad has taught me the Southern art of storytelling, the way men and women have been passing down tales from generation to generation. It’s a way of connecting – with the people around you, with the events of the past, with our collective hopes and dreams for the future. It’s made me a better preacher and a better pastor, and for that, I’m grateful.

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I’m also thinking of another storyteller today: my mom. Today is her birthday; she would have been 64. She told me stories, too, but not always with her words. Her life spoke to me of challenges and accomplishments, of struggles and victories, of fear and faith. When she graduated from college, she and my dad moved hundreds of miles away from family in Indiana to start a new life in South Carolina. When life took several unexpected turns, she told me everyone who knew her expected her to go running home. But she didn’t. She stayed. And struggled. And built a life, one with meaning and purpose and filled with sisu (that’s Finnish for bravery and courage in the face of adversity.) Today I celebrate her life, her teaching, her determination to the very end.

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“And it was evening, and it was morning. . .” The creation story reminds me that life goes on, creating continues, one day at a time. Even if you’re not in a 12-step program, it’s still a pretty good motto. Each day is another day to celebrate the relationships in our lives, the love we share, and the support that is always available. Each morning we can give thanks for God’s presence within and around us, for the calling we receive in baptism, and for our role as co-creators with God. Each evening we can rest in the assurance that the Holy Spirit will take our efforts and multiply them like loaves and fishes to satisfy the needs of the world.

Today I begin my call as Campus Pastor to Texas Lutheran University. I am still in shock that God has called me to this new place, for this exciting new ministry. I am thrilled to be able to devote my time to young people as they respond to God’s call in their lives, both for the future and here and now. I am blessed to be joining a team of faculty and staff who view college as a time of formation, not just education. I come to the task bringing all that I am, all that I have experienced, all I have learned from the people God has placed in my life. It’s time for a new adventure with the Spirit, a new chapter in my ministry, a new challenge of co-creating with God. It will be evening, and it will be morning, and the journey will continue. I give thanks that God sees that it is good.

 

 

austin vivid photography

heather schramm-lifestyle photographer

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