working out what a life of discipleship is all about

Posts tagged ‘hope’

when plans go awry

These regrets are going to drown me,

swirling around me like they are.

If only I could rid myself of the If Onlys

today could be – finally – just about today.

But Yesterday is my closest friend, and Last Year my next door neighbor.

Those anguished, second-guessing glances

keep me twisted, looking over my shoulder

making it impossible to breathe.

Today becomes a proving ground

where Yesterday’s failures are replayed

and, painfully, relived.

I’d like to take these glasses off

that see only success or deep and utter failure.

Is there another way to view the world,

my life, this place where demons dwell?

Is there room for trying and chancing?

making it up and accepting what comes?

I am not without hope.

This tiny space within

where all is well and everything belongs

is gaining ground

one silent moment

one deep breath

one exhale at a time.

“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.

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.

time to start living

I have spent far too many Ash Wednesdays dreading the words “Remember that you are dust.” As a teenager, those words resonated with my already-low self-image and it felt like God was reiterating what I believed: I was worthless. As a young adult in seminary, I felt resentment as I participated in an out-of-touch ritual that seemed to perpetuate a theology of fear and hopelessness. For far too long, I have missed the hope, the life that is the promise hidden in this ancient day. But today I am throwing back the drapes, unlatching the windows, and letting the fresh air of the Holy Spirit blow through my Ash Wednesday observance.

breeze Wind_from_the_sea

Today I will remember that life is short. I’ll say the words, “to dust you shall return,” remembering the canister that holds my mother’s ashes, lovingly placed in the columbarium at her home church. I’ll give thanks for the lives of my colleagues and friends, so many of whom died unexpectedly and too soon. And I’ll acknowledge that each of their deaths makes me a little more fearful that I will leave this world before I’m ready to go.

But in that same moment, I’ll also remember that death does not have the last word. The good news of Good Friday is that Jesus has gone before us and we don’t have to be afraid. We can live each day in the joy of being God’s precious children, loved and never abandoned. And so on this Ash Wednesday, I commit myself to living, really living. Jesus died so that I could live, and live abundantly. And so I’m gonna. Today. With ashes on my forehead, I’m going to remember that today is a gift, life is precious, and love is all around. Thanks be to God for the good news of Ash Wednesday.


There’s a Hole in the Middle of a Pretty Good Life. . .

David Wilcox wrote those lyrics years ago. I fell in love with his songs my freshman year of college. He sang about taking risks in life and letting go of love that wounds and feeling alone and finding yourself again, all of which resonated with me. But one of his songs I didn’t understand: it described the pain of a friend whose world had been shattered by grief. “There’s a hole in the middle of a pretty good life,” he sang, and at that point in my life, I just had to take his word for it. All of my family members were still alive and kicking, and even my cat was living a long and healthy life. I had not yet faced the darkness of loss.


20 years of living later, those words have new meaning. The grief seems to be stacking up, with one loss not quite healed before another one comes along. I have lost mentors from school, faithful saints from my home church, friends from seminary, parishioners in my own congregation. All of these deaths I grieved and kept moving. And then my mom died. And my world stopped. And I understood those lyrics for the first time. “There’s a hole in the middle of a pretty good life.”

I do have a pretty good life. A joyous life, in fact – a blessed life. I have an amazing son who adores me. I have a job that enables me to a make a real difference in the world. I have a body that can move in ways that continue to surprise me. I am surrounded by friends and family, near and far, who love me. But there’s a grief-sized hole in the middle of my life. And I’m reminded of it every time I lose another friend, another colleague, another saint of God.

This past week I was honored to vest and process in the funeral of my friend and colleague Adrienne. She was a vibrant woman, a compassionate pastor, and an ambitious leader of the Church. She had a passion for campus ministry and for young people’s faith development that I admired. And she had an adventurous spirit that I shared. At one point we were making plans to cruise the Mediterranean as part of our Continuing Education requirement as pastors – learning more about Paul’s journeys should be fun, she thought! Losing Adrienne put some extra strain on that hole in the middle of my life.

Just 2 days after Adrienne’s funeral, I lost a dear man from my congregation. Bud was one of the first people I met when I moved to Flagstaff to be pastor at Living Christ Lutheran. He and his wife Susan helped us get settled in and offered their babysitting services for my then-3-year-old son. Bud loved to make jokes with Ethan and always pretended to get his colors mixed up so Ethan would have to correct him. “I’ll miss how funny he was to me,” Ethan told me this week. I’ll miss that too.

It’s Friday morning here in Flagstaff. For the last 2 years, I have spent my Friday mornings with Bud and Susan. His declining health meant that he was home-bound and couldn’t come to church. So every Friday, I brought the church to them. It was my job to remind them of God’s love and Christ’s promises, but it was always Bud who reminded me. No matter how he was feeling, no matter how he was declining, he always rallied for my visits. When I asked how he was doing, he was always “fine” and then he immediately turned the conversation to me, asking how I was, how Ethan was, how things were at the church. He always had a joke to make, a laugh to share, a good story to tell. And to the end, he was a man of patience, hope, and peace.

It’s Friday morning and I don’t know what to do with myself. That hole in the middle of my life is a little bit bigger because I won’t be seeing Bud’s sweet smile this morning. But I will remember it. And I’ll remember the lessons he taught me. God’s love is real. Christ’s promises are true. Peace is a choice. And hope will never disappoint.

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