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

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Holding my breath

Life is a rollercoaster these days. Yesterday, I was feeling ambitious and energetic and I actually got the whole house clean. Except the downstairs bathroom. Cleaning 2 bathrooms is my limit. The day before, I had no desire to move from the living room. It was a good thing my laptop was in reach so I did manage to get some work done. And it seems there’s no predictability about what the day will bring. Could I do better with my eating habits? Probably. Would it help if I was more regular with my yoga prayer? Likely. But it seems that whether I’m taking care of my mind, body, and spirit, or not, each day is full of unpredictability and the anxiety that comes with it.

The pandemic has interrupted our lives in so many ways. People have lost loved ones. Many have lost their jobs. Lots of us had to learn how to homeschool, and likely will have another opportunity to hone those skills. For my family, the pandemic interrupted our connections to our new community.

In January, we moved from New Braunfels, TX to Charleston, SC. I started a new job at a social services ministry I love and was thrilled to return to (I used to be a pastor in town.) My son started at a new high school, known for the quality of their band program – the only thing he really loves about school at this point. I had high hopes that we would quickly find our favorite restaurants that we enjoyed walking to, that we would reconnect with all of my old friends from my former life here in town, that we would be overwhelmed with new people to get to know through band and Scouts and yoga and choir and all the other activities we love. And then, before we could even finish unpacking, life shut down.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re doing ok. I’ve survived the homeschooling of a ninth grader and used my engineering brain at work to reimagine food distribution outdoors. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table and since we’re both introverts, we like it just fine to be left alone a little bit. But we can’t really get out and try new restaurants – the streets are full of tourists and locals desperate for a not-home-cooked meal. We haven’t been able to connect with my old friends because we’re all staying home to stay safe right now. And we haven’t had the chance to meet new people at band practice or Scouts or yoga or choir because all of those things are either cancelled or online (not my favorite way to meet new people.)

But I didn’t realize how much I was missing community until I got to be part of a Zoom call with our Texas church family. We all gathered online to say goodbye to the pastor who’s moving and the experience just took my breath away. Now – I’m a pastor and I’ve spent my life working to create Christian community because I know it’s the foundation of discipleship and the place where people learn how much God loves them and an essential part of a life of faith. But our congregation in Texas was the first Christian community I’ve been a part of as an adult where I wasn’t in charge of all that. I just got to be me and show up and be loved and share my gifts when they were needed and watch my kiddo get wrapped up in love and acceptance and learn what following Jesus looks like. And that’s what I’m missing.

There’s no substitute for Christian community. No Boy Scout committee or band support team or yoga class or even choir can replicate authentic Christian community. When people make a commitment to walk as disciples together in the world, it changes things. When you ask, How are you?, you stick around for the answer and ask how you can help. You check in with all the kids and teenagers, making sure they know that they’re loved and seen and heard. You make room for disagreements because you respect one another’s contributions to the discussion, and you practice forgiveness together. At least, that’s what we did at New Life Lutheran Church. And I miss it.

Godly Play at New Life (outdoor) Lutheran Church

We haven’t had time to connect with a church here in Charleston. And so we’ve mostly been watching worship from back in Texas. But today’s Zoom call with all the familiar faces, with the kiddos who are growing up too fast, and with friends who are recovering from illness – that was church for me. I needed the connection. I needed to hear everyone’s excitement when we joined the call. I needed to share how much I’m missing them. And when I texted after the Zoom, I needed to know how they’re doing. Connection. Human, Christian connection. I need it like I need air to breathe. I just didn’t realize I’ve been holding my breath.

May we all take the time to breathe in deeply the love of God shown through Christian community. Praying that we will meet again, and soon.


I’ve always been told that as pastors, we preach the sermons we need to hear the most. That was true this Sunday. I’m in the midst of discernment, considering where God is calling me next. And the Scripture readings all lined up to talk about perseverance in pursuing God’s call. Wouldn’t you know.

So I share this sermon with you, in case anyone else out there is feeling stuck, or frustrated, or impatient. The life of discipleship is never easy, but is always lived one day at a time, trusting in God’s love, listening for God’s guidance, open to opportunities to serve our neighbor in God’s name.

Breathe deeply, friends. And persevere.

Beyond setting an example

All my life, I’ve been told that Lutherans evangelize (share the Good News of Jesus) by setting a good example. Our lives are supposed to be so compelling that people will notice our peace and love and joy and simply flock to church to get some of that for themselves. In the 80’s, the ELCA launched a media campaign with photos of a variety of people in their work clothes with the tag line, “You may live next to a Lutheran and not even know it.” We were proud to be anonymous, perhaps as a reaction to the drama of TV evangelists at that time. But the plan continued. In 2002, as a newly ordained pastor, I ordered the latest evangelism DVD, planning to train my parishioners to share their faith more openly in the world. The video arrived, and as I previewed it, I discovered that the entire 15 minute show was void of talking. There was background music with images of Lutherans living their lives, anonymously doing good works, with no reference to how we talk to people about our experience of God’s love. Apparently, we doubled down on our silent evangelism plan.

Leading my first yoga class

Leading my first yoga class

As I began my training as a yoga instructor, I fell into the same trap. I was comfortable on my yoga mat. I could even feel ok about putting that mat in front of a group and going through my own yoga routine for my class to watch. I felt safe on my own mat, experiencing the power and grace of my practice. I was growing stronger and finding inner peace, but what about my students? When I finally looked up, I realized that several of them were floundering, unsure of what pose I was instructing, unclear about where to fold or stretch or twist. Clearly, I had some work to do.

Studying Haley's Trikonasana (triangle pose)

Studying Haley’s Trikonasana (triangle pose)

First, I worked on my language. I had the images of the poses in my mind and the feel of the poses in my body, but I didn’t have the words to convey to others. So I turned to my manual that listed all the steps needed for every pose. I read through the steps, not as a student, but as a teacher. How would I describe that move? Would I use that phrase or would I say it a little differently? As I worked through those decisions, I came up with my own version of the instructions. Then I wrote down my version. I recorded my version. I listened to my version. I began to internalize my own instructions, the description of how the poses work. But I still wasn’t fully ready to get off the mat.

Assisting Linda with Ardha Sarvangasana (half shoulder stand)

Assisting Linda with Ardha Sarvangasana (half shoulder stand)c

It took a lot of courage, a lot of prayer, a lot of deep breaths to take the next step. I had to leave the comfort of my own practice and my personal experience. I couldn’t stay loftily apart on my mat in front of my students. I had to be with them, among them, beside them. I had to learn how to give instructions and then help them follow. I learned which points on the body could lead to a more extended spine, a more comfortable bend, and a deeper twist. And then I had to reach out and touch the people I was trying to help (always asking permission first.)

Helping Linda achieve a deeper stretch in Matsyasana (fish pose)

Helping Linda achieve a deeper stretch in Matsyasana (fish pose)

And after I had finally developed a close relationship with my students (my fellow teachers-in-training), I got to practice even deeper assists. I learned where to place my hands on my student and how to position my legs to protect my back so that I could give this amazing assist for fish pose that feels like a massage on the lower back. I was helping people, really helping where they needed it.

30,000 Lutherans in Detroit!

30,000 Lutherans in Detroit!

Today I’m at the airport after spending the weekend with 30,000 Lutherans in Detroit at the Youth Gathering. For the past three days in a row, groups of youth and adults have blanketed the city, cleaning up parks and planting flowers and boarding up abandoned houses with murals painted at the activity center. And the best part is that they were doing all of this alongside the neighborhoods’ residents. Moms and sons, uncles and grandparents, daughters and friends all turned out to partner with these kids in Skittle-colored T-shirts who came to show God’s love. For some of these Lutherans, traveling to inner-city Detroit to help strangers is a stretch. And for most of them, finding the words to share why they would come so far to do so much is terrifying. My hope and prayer is that along the way, they were able to find their own language, their own version of the gospel story, and share it with confidence and authenticity. Because it’s when we get off our mats and out among our neighbors that we truly discover the power of God alive within us, empowering us to share the story of Christ’s transforming love with the world.

Cloudy with a chance of raga

When I visit Charleston, it feels like coming home. I didn’t grow up there, but I did grow into myself there. My first church was Redeemer Lutheran in West Ashley (that’s across the Ashley River from the peninsula of Charleston) and my first home was in Belle Hall Plantation, across the Cooper River in Mt. Pleasant. I arrived as a young woman, fresh out of seminary, with big ideas and big dreams about making a difference in people’s lives. I worked late hours organizing youth events and outreach ministries and developing relationships with the young adults who were moving to the area just like me. It was a moment in time when I felt that everything was possible and that nothing could happen that I couldn’t handle.

Brunch on the water with my dear friend Cheryl

In the middle of yoga teacher training last week, I was invited to spend the holiday weekend in Charleston with our assistant director, Lisa, and another student, Linda. I was looking forward to the escape, leaving behind the stress of planning my practice classes (yes, yoga teacher training can be stressful!) I couldn’t wait to share my Charleston with my new friend, Linda, who’d never been there before. I wanted to run the Cooper River Bridge again, remembering my favorite 10K road race. I wanted to show her the rivers that dominate the landscape, bringing life and energy to the city. And I wanted her to walk the streets and feel the sense of history and heritage that permeates every building and landmark.

St. Phillip's Episcopal

I wore myself out on our drive to downtown, pointing out the street where I used to live, the Coburg cow that changes color for the holidays, and the Krispy Kreme with the Hot Now sign that used to lure me in. With a storm approaching, we didn’t get the full downtown tour, but we hit the highlights and prepared for an evening concert performance by Lisa’s fiddle-playing daughter. After the amazing show (don’t miss them at Woolfe Street Playhouse!) we walked down King Street for some ice cream. Expecting to be wary as we walked down an empty street at night in this part of town, I was confronted by crowds of young professionals, scantily-clad and all clambering to get into the new hot spots downtown. What happened to my Charleston? I used to enjoy walking the streets at night, along the quiet waterfront, past the peaceful churches and their semi-spooky graveyards. Now I was thrust into some kind of Kardashian-inspired catwalk, where being seen at the right club would make history on your Instagram. This is NOT my Charleston, I told Linda.

Red, White, and Cash

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I wondered why I was so disturbed by the crowds on King. Why was I upset that new restaurants with glitter in the windows were attracting young professionals who had made Charleston their home. And it hit me: raga. It’s a Sanskrit term, one of the kleshas: things that distract us from seeing what is, that prevent us from experiencing what is true. Raga is holding on to the memory of a pleasurable experience, something that was enjoyable, and wanting to repeat that experience: becoming attached to it. In the midst of raga, we are miserable in the present because it doesn’t reflect our past. The memory of what was (past) clouds our view of what is (present.)

I realized that my memories of life in Charleston were holding me back from experiencing the delight of Charleston today. And I thought about all the other memories that hold me back. Memories of old relationships that cloud my perception of new relationship possibilities. Memories of the way my body used to work that hold me back from enjoying the way my body works now. Memories of accomplishments and achievements that set impossibly high, perfectionist standards that get in the way of trying new things and taking risks.

Yogic philosophy gave me a name for the feelings I was having that night, and reminded me that being in the present is the only way to pay attention to God’s presence within and around me. The more I’m looking over my shoulder at the past, and longing for whatever used to be, the less I’m able to see what’s right in front of me: the abundant graceful gifts of God. As I enter my last two weeks of yoga teacher training, I want to be fully in the present, taking on the challenge of being a beginner at this new thing, and embracing the blessings of the supportive community Discovery Yoga creates for their teachers. So it’s time to let go of the memories, file them away so they don’t take center stage, and allow the present to blossom in front of me, full of abundance and grace and the promise of new beginnings.

Dealing with the Hard Stuff: Yoga Teacher Training Week Two

Everything is hard here. Even breathing is hard.


That look on my face- it says it all. The concentration. The introspection. The hard work. And all I’m doing is breathing.

But it’s not just the new breathing techniques I’m learning, trying to understand their different effects on my body and imagining teaching others to breathe in these ways. It’s also the Sanskrit syllables that now float through my brain, unrelated to the poses I’m trying to memorize. And it’s the 8 Limbs of Yoga (principles,) 5 Yamas (social ethics,) and 7 Chakras (energy centers) I have to memorize by next week (and did I mention they’re all in Sanskrit, too?!) Plus, my body isn’t used to such a long yoga practice every day and I’m learning I have limitations in sometimes very public ways. Everything’s hard here.


So Sunday I was looking for some relief, something recognizable, something that felt like home. I needed to center myself, ground myself and rest. I went to worship at Memorial Presbyterian Church, an historic congregation in downtown St. Augustine, where I had a connection with one of the pastors (we went to preschool with the same incredible Montessori teacher!)


I entered the massive sanctuary which was already crowded with the people who knew to get there early. As a latecomer, 10 minutes before worship started, I was seated in the back section, underneath a gargantuan scaffolding erected for restoration of the interior. As I settled into the uncomfortable pew that had been keeping parishioners awake for generations, I noticed that the pastors, instead of wearing the typical Presbyterian black professor-type robes were wearing white albs and colored stoles, just like my own Lutheran tradition. I let out a little sigh – home. As the service continued, we prepared for the Gospel reading by singing, “Alleluia! Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia! Alleluia!” with the same tune I’ve been singing since I was young (that’s LBW setting 2, for all the Lutherans out there.) Again, I sighed – home. The service continued with a commissioning of church camp staff, reminding me of my summer spent with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida, and a sermon from the senior pastor that I would have preached myself. We closed with a verse of “Go, My Children, With My Blessing” which never fails to bring tears to my eyes, and I was filled. Filled with love of God, filled with gratitude for the music and worship, and filled with peace down to my center. I was home.

On the way out, I connected with that fellow pre-schooler. In the midst of hundreds of worshippers, I happened to be sitting across from the one person I wanted to meet. Grace is funny like that. On the steps of this historic church, Pastor Amy and I shared memories of our teacher who came to the U.S. from Ceylon (Sri Lanka, south of India) and the incredible influence she’s had on our lives. I reflected on how strange it was that two Protestant pastors would name a Buddhist teacher as a formative figure. And that’s when I felt it. I began to sense something stirring within me, drawing me outside myself again. The Spirit was compassionate in nourishing me with a worship service that touched my soul, but was not content to leave me there. I was being called back into the world, back into the newness, back into the challenge.

It may be that I still have lessons to learn (and definitely more Sanskrit to memorize!) It may be that I am called to share what I’ve already learned with others. And it may well be that the true purpose of this outward movement won’t be revealed right away. But one thing I know: I am called to leave the comfort of my pew and get out and explore the world and the people and creatures who live there, so that together, we can create a new tomorrow, full of grace and hope and love.

How to Prepare for Yoga Teacher Training

Me on the far left, pink shirt

Me on the far left, pink shirt

One week ago, I was a bundle of nerves. I was preparing for my trip to Discovery Yoga in St. Augustine, FL for a 5-week class on teaching yoga, and I was paralyzed by my anxiety. What should I pack? Do I need another pair of shoes? What if I can’t keep up with the anatomy lessons? Is there a tutor for people who are allergic to science? I’m not very advanced in yoga – what if I’m the worst one in the class and everyone laughs at me?

Me on the front row, in black

Me on the front row, in black

I brought these and so many other questions, along with my bike and kayak (and a million pair of shoes) as I started class Sunday night. The homework started right away (reading in anatomy!) and I launched into a whole new schedule (yoga from 7-9, quick breakfast, philosophy & ethics from 9:30-12:30, break for lunch and back for poses, anatomy, and practice teaching from 2-6.) The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of new people, new vocabulary, new muscle soreness and exhaustion. I expected to be shutting down at this point, overwhelmed with the learning and the lifestyle. But through an act of grace, I was guided to choose Kripalu yoga for my teacher training, a school of yoga that emphasizes self awareness in body, mind, and spirit rather than perfection in poses. And so here is what I have already learned:

I have what I need. I may not have a wide selection of yoga clothes, and I may wish I had brought more silverware so I didn’t have to wash my dishes after every meal. But I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, a grocery store close enough to bike to, and a community with resources to share. What I need for each day continues to be provided.

I will learn what I need to learn. I will probably have to study my anatomy book more than my philosophy book. I may struggle with the foreign language terms and feel childish as I give instructions for a pose I’m not an expert at. But I am certain the learning will come, because I feel it already blossoming within me.

Yoga is not a competition – with anyone else or even with yourself. What my body needs to do today, I will honor. Where my edge in the stretch is today may be different from yesterday. Pushing past that edge only leads to pain, and, to quote one of my teachers, “Yoga is supposed to be about ahh, not ow!” My physical ability is only part of what I bring to my yoga practice.

I’m on a journey into new territory, learning a new skill, learning a new way of seeing the world. But beyond that, I sense the deeper purpose of that grace that led me to choose this yoga teacher training program. What I’m here to learn is a new way of seeing myself: strong and weak, powerful and vulnerable, searching and found. And though I may only be a few days into the process, the glimpse I’ve had of that vision is glorious.

It’s not you – it’s me.

I meditate with a 9-year-old boy in the room. Seriously. It may sound crazy, but it’s for real.

Before I was a mom, I had a fairly regular prayer and devotion practice. I went to great lengths to create a special corner in my home that would be peaceful and supportive of my practice. I scheduled my day around my prayer time, knowing how important it was that I not miss it. And on the days when my schedule was out of my control or my then-husband was noisy, I got really irritated. How dare they (the event, or the person, or life in general) interrupt my prayer time! This is sacred!

And then I gave birth. And got divorced. And started taking care of my mom. And – well – you know how life goes. Just when you think you’ve grown up and got everything under control, the bottom drops out. Because having everything under control was always just an illusion anyway.

In the midst of all that life has become, still I have my prayer practice. It has morphed and shifted and come to include more silence than reading or journalling or talking to God. But still I make time to sit and pray. Every day. Sometimes twice a day, if it’s been a rough one.

I still have a prayer corner, though in our latest house it’s pretty cramped. But there’s room for me and my prayer mat and my candle stand. And that is enough.

And in this stage of my life, my house is rarely silent. I live with a 9-year-old boy who loves Legos that crash, Nerf weapons that fire, and Star Wars vehicles that zoom. He knows that noise disturbs me when I’m praying, and so he tip-toes around me to get to the bathroom, losing his balance on the way, grabbing the door to keep from falling, and banging it against the wall. Quiet is a distant memory. But I have found quiet within me. And that is enough.

On the days when my mind can’t seem to settle down and my meditative prayer is more effort than ease, now I know not to get irritated at the boy I live with or the ministry activities that edge into my personal time. Because I’ve learned it’s not them – it’s me. I can choose to let go of my expectations of perfect prayer and just let go, experiencing whatever the silence has in store for me that day. And it’s in the letting go that I discover I’m being held – held by the One I was seeking through the silence. Thanks be to God.

(re)discovering the power of gratitude

I am the Queen of Avoidance. It always starts out as a reasonable time-management strategy: I can’t give my full attention to this big issue/new development/major project, so I decide to set it aside until I can concentrate. And so begins the game I play. The rest of my day is so busy that I can’t possibly address the issue/development/project until I get home. And then I get home and I’m so tired from work that I need some down time to let my brain rest. And then it’s dinner time and then we’re off to whatever evening Bible study, Cub Scout meeting, or choir rehearsal we have that night, and the day is done. After my son’s in bed, I could sit down to work on the issue/development/project if I really wanted to, but then I think to myself, “This issue/development/project is so fraught with emotion, I’ll never be able to get to sleep if I take it out now.” And the next morning begins another day of avoidance, cleverly disguised as time-management.

This week I’ve been especially clever, since the end-of-term activities are demanding so much of my time and attention. But my latest issue/development/project has been looming large in the distance. The emotion around it is incredibly toxic and it’s been sucking the life out of me day by day. Every time I consider sitting down to deal with it, my body is flooded with adrenaline, my breathing quickens, and my heart rate increases. And last night, it nearly drowned me in despair.

I was driving home in the rain from a choir rehearsal that hadn’t gone that great. On top of that, this not-great rehearsal was the reason I had missed my son’s big choir performance at Wassailfest (SW Texans know that’s a big deal!) I was feeling like an unsupportive mom and a lousy singer, and that just opened the door for my dreaded issue/development/project to rear its ugly head. I began to feel overwhelmed by the emotions surrounding this task I didn’t want to face, which then brought up all of the other failings and failures of my life, and suddenly I found myself on the brink of total despair – heart pounding, breath quickening, and a tsunami of tears ready to burst from my eyes. I wanted to give in, to just give myself to the sadness and let it envelop me so I could disappear. And then I stopped.

In the midst of the flood of images of the mistakes I’ve made and opportunities I’ve missed, another thought was gifted to me: I am grateful. Even though I’ve had my share of disappointment, I am grateful for the life I’ve led, for the adventures I’ve had, for the things I’ve learned. And in that moment of gratitude, I took a slow, deep breath, and the tsunami of despair was gone.

And so today, I acknowledge that I am still on this journey of comprehending the power of silence, how the Spirit moves in and through us, and what it means to be present in the moment and grateful for the now. I’m still the Queen of Avoidance, and I haven’t tackled my issue/development/project yet. But it’s not haunting me today. Because today, I’m grateful, for every moment, for each and every now.

to the anonymous bully

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully. You’ve hurt people I love, the young people I’m called to support and encourage as they grow and develop and mature into the amazing adults they’re called to be. You’ve posted things online that aren’t true, or maybe are true, but are hurtful, things you would never have the courage to say to their face. And that makes me angry.

I want to know who you are. I want to confront you, to accuse you, to find out why you did this. It’s so frustrating not being able to track you down.

But bully, it’s probably good that you’re anonymous, because knowing your name would make it too easy. We like for problems to have simple solutions. We like for evil to have a face, because then we can focus on just one person, or even one group of people, and place all the blame on them. And after we’ve blamed and shamed and punished and found our retribution, we go home and sit in our self-righteous recliners and pretend that we’re not still tangled up in the problem. We kick back and relax because there’s no need for further investigation into all the complicated forces at work in the world and in our lives. There’s no way that any of our actions, any of our inaction contributed to the problem. Because we know evil’s name.

So it’s good that you’re anonymous, because we can’t just blame you. We have to acknowledge that we all could be you. And in fact, we’ve all probably been you at some time – lashing out in anger because we’re hurting, not thinking of the consequences. And so your anonymity makes us all stop and think about our own responsibility to the community. What ways have we hurt people that we need to apologize for and ask for forgiveness? When have we turned a blind eye when we’ve seen someone hurting and not responded? How have we worked to build up the community by encouraging someone who’s down, supporting someone in need, helping someone who’s struggling?

But what if you weren’t anonymous? What if I found out who you are? What would I do, really, if I could sit down with you? I think I’d look compassionately into your pained eyes, and put my hand on your shoulder as I asked how you’re hurting. What wounds are you carrying that make you lash out at everyone else? What pain is making you view the world with such judgment and venom? I’d want to listen as you shared, as the stories poured out of you about how you’d been bullied and degraded and ridiculed. And I’d want to give you a word of hope – that you’re not alone, that you’re not as worthless as you feel, that you’re valued as a part of this community.

I’d pray for you, right then and there. Not because I believe that you need me to put in a good word for you with God, but because you need to hear that God is as close as your very breath. And I’d pray that you would have the strength to make changes in your life, and the courage to reach out to the people you’ve hurt and make amends. I’d pray for the community we share here, that we would all have the compassion to forgive you, and the faith that enables us to work together, bullies and victims, to build new relationships based on our value and worth in Jesus’ eyes. I’d pray for that because I know we can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully, knowing that you and I aren’t so different. We’re both beloved children of God. We’re both human and make mistakes. And we’re both part of this community. Let’s work together to build it up.

“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.

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Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

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heather schramm-lifestyle photographer


Stories of Ministry within the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

True Story

Part of me wants to spare you the details. Part of me wants to tell you everything.