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Archive for September, 2014

“Therefore encourage one another. . .”

I never got around to framing the photos from my ordination. I had grand intentions of making enlargements of the photos of me with my home pastor, the laying on of hands, and the huge group of pastors who were present. But life got busy after that exciting day and there never seemed to be time for making a fuss over pictures. Except for one.

picture of friends at my ordination

picture of friends at my ordination

I found this frame and knew instantly that I would use it to display this photo of my friends. These are the women who encouraged me through the low points of seminary and who built me up to believe that I was gifted and called into ministry. They are all still my friends though we’re scattered across the country, and we continue to encourage each other across the miles. Because that has made all the difference.

Encouraging each other takes actually very little effort. When you ask people what helped them through a tough time, it’s usually not that a friend took over the running of their household and raising of their kids for a month so that they could sort out the challenge (although I’ve heard of that actually happening.) It’s usually just that someone called to see how they were doing, or that someone invited them to lunch, or that someone listened long enough to hear the whole story.

Encouragement is simple and profound. It gets us through the day. And for those of us who ask WWJD? (what would Jesus do?) it’s one of the first answers. Jesus was in the hope business, and encouragement was his specialty. And his disciple Paul, it turns out, gave instructions to new congregations of Christians that always included the admonition to encourage one another, like the verse on my picture frame.

Earlier this week I was having a bad day. Technology was throwing up roadblock after roadblock and nothing I was trying to do was working. So I decided to go out for a run. Starting a run in a bad mood is usually counterproductive for me, but I had to do something to work out my frustrations, so I headed out on my warm-up walk. And just as I turned the corner where I start my run, I saw these friends:

cows who live on the ranch across the street

cows who live on the ranch across the street

They live on the ranch across the street from my neighborhood, and I see them from a distance most every day. They graze from pasture to pasture and usually aren’t very interested in the humans going about their lives on the other side of the road. But on this day, they were congregating around the fence, and seemingly very concerned with my day. Their heads all turned toward me as I walked past, and they rearranged themselves to face me. I got a couple of “moos” as well, which just added to the experience.

If you grew up around cows, this may mean nothing to you. But I needed encouragement that day, and these cows were it. They were there to send me off in my frustration and were there waiting for me to return transformed. No words were exchanged, no grand gestures were made. But only the gift of presence, and the reminder that I am part of a grander scheme of creation and connected with life in so many forms around me.

My girlfriends weren’t there to encourage me, but God’s creatures were. And as I ran, I remembered that encouragement is all around, in the life force surging through nature, in the faces of friends and neighbors, in the very act of breathing and moving and growing stronger. The Spirit is our encourager, ever present, ever hopeful, ever bringing life.

If you need encouragement today, let this be it: that the God who created heaven and earth also created you, and has promised to be with you through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.


I was determined to have a real workout. I was out of town for a meeting and my travel schedule was interrupting my training schedule. In order to stay on track and be prepared for my half marathon that was 2 months away, I knew I needed to go for a run. And it couldn’t be just any run. It had to be a good run, a hard run, a challenging run. And so I headed out the door, hoping to find good weather and a safe route for this important workout.

forest 2

Shortly into my run, I came upon a gated park. The path looked inviting, leading off into the Ponderosa Pine forest, and the sign saying “Residents and Guests Only” made me want to discover what was behind the barrier even more. And so I took the path. It was a great start to my run – semi-paved and shaded by the trees, it led me to increase my pace and enter into that intense workout zone. I was cruising along when all of a sudden I was confronted by a hill. No, actually, it was a small mountain that rose up in the forest and taunted me from a distance. I judged its distance and incline and determined to keep running so that I could still get in a good training run.

I began to suck wind 2 minutes into my ascent. This was a serious hill with a serious incline and definitely not a place for a long distance training run. I needed to keep running. I needed to get a good run in during this trip or my whole training schedule would be thrown off. I needed to log these miles so I would be prepared for the miles of my race. But there was no way I could keep running up this hill. I was gasping for air, my hamstrings were screaming, and I was starting to get dizzy. So I stopped running.

Feeling defeated, I walked as fast as I could. Hiked, actually, as I was now on a dirt/rock path and was trying desperately to avoid twisting my ankle on the boulders. And the whole time, I was cursing this stupid path I decided to take. Private park? Nothing special here except a ridiculously steep hill. Training schedule? Shattered because I couldn’t run at the pace I needed to run. This crazy hill had ruined my workout and my day. All of those thoughts ran through my mind as I continued to climb and hope desperately that around the next bend would be the flat, beautiful part of the path that would redeem my run.

When all of a sudden I looked up. My eyes shifted from scanning the path for boulders to the view above the trees. And I was blown away. There beside me was a panoramic view of the valley – the homes in the neighborhood, the school at the corner, the fields of sunflowers across the street that faded into the base of the mountain peaks that rose up beyond the clouds. I could see for miles, and it was glorious.

I slowed my pace then. I didn’t care that I was missing out on an intense workout, because I was experiencing the intensity of the beauty around me. I had been so focused on my goal that I almost missed the opportunity that rose in front of me. And I had to laugh at myself. My workout was no longer the most important accomplishment of the day – what I valued more was being in the moment, being present to the beauty of the world around me.

I had been so angry about having to slack off my pace to climb the hill that I failed to see that the hill was leading me to a beautiful place. And I realized that I would have missed it entirely if I hadn’t been a slacker.

I get caught up in my regular life, too. I get focused on a goal and feel pressure to meet expectations from within and from those around me. But more often than not, the antidote to that hyper-focus and pressure is slacking off, taking a deep breath, and looking around. Because that’s where the Spirit is at work, swirling around me in creative bursts of energy and life, drawing me into new possibilities.

I’m grateful for that hill. I’m grateful I was forced to be a slacker. And I’m grateful for the chance to notice all the ways the Spirit is creating and renewing and completing life around and within me.

lifted up

Binge-watching is evil. There may be a scientific, physical explanation for why I can’t stop watching episode after episode, but it mostly feels like I have an emotional disorder. I cannot walk away from a TV series after a cliffhanger or a new plot twist has piqued my interest for just one more episode. And so I stay up late. Way too late. Way, way too late for someone who has to get up early and have enough energy to coax a 9-year-old boy out of bed early, too.

So this morning started slowly for me. Foggy, in fact. And I’m not a caffeine consumer, so I was dragging by the time 10:00 chapel rolled around. Gratefully, I wasn’t the preacher today. And so I settled in to my chair on the aisle and prayed for energy to face the rest of my day.

But it wasn’t a day to settle in – it was a day to stand up and praise. The Chapel Band was leading us in worship and they were on top of their game. There were 3 guitars and a bass player, 4 vocalists, a pianist and a percussionist. They filled the front corner of chapel with their presence and filled the entire space with their sound and their energy. The variations in the verses, the lead guitar improvs in between, and the stylistic flourishes that emphasized certain lyrics all combined in a mass of praise and creativity and joy.

chapel band

And they lifted me up. Watching them play together – not just play instruments, but really play, having fun together – it lifted me out of my haze. Their swaying, their grooving, their giving it their all moved me to a higher place and enabled me to gather strength for the day ahead. It reminded me of the fun I had as a music major in college, singing with my roommates while we put on makeup in the mornings, making up harmonies just to try out a different sound. But it also reminded me of the great pleasure God takes when we use our gifts to lift others up.

I felt the presence of the Holy today in chapel, not because I was particularly attuned or prepared, but because of the collaboration of our student musicians who may not even know how valuable their gifts are. But I’m here to say that we couldn’t worship without them, and I, for one, couldn’t have gotten through my morning without them.

Thanks be to God for the opportunity to use our gifts to lift one another up.

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