Seeds and Beads

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Every Sunday, really almost every day, I wear a simple wood cross hanging on a string of seed beads. Nothing fancy, but a reminder of my calling and who has called me.  The beads were given to me by a dear woman, who I only knew by first name, “Hildy.”  A woman who had long ago lost her memory, except for a few key memories of her childhood.  I visited her weekly, as part of a volunteer opportunity set up by my college.  I was 19.  She had nothing, living in a state institution.  She gave me a necklace given to her by a group of volunteers who had come to do crafts with the seniors.  She gave me a necklace made of seed beads, tiny little colorful beads, because she thought I was beautiful and she wanted me to have something beautiful.

This time with “Hildy” helped to form me.  And the necklace held her memory securely in my heart, her generosity and love.  It reminded me of her neighbors that I also visited… the farmer dying of cancer who drank black coffee, ate dry toast and a fried egg for every meal… the Ojibwa woman who was 101 years old, with beautiful long silver hair and a smile that could light up the room.  This simple string of beads reminded me of them.  Reminded me of the importance of taking time to spend time with people.

There are days where I feel like I have not one more thing to say.  Between visiting with the people who are homebound to talking about homework with my kids, to leading small groups, making phone calls, lining up volunteers, making worship plans, journaling through my sermon process… Sometimes I feel like there are no more words, no more thoughts left in my day.

And then I sit and reflect on my day.

And my brain races through all of the things I saw, did and thought.  Today, I keep coming back to the Kingdom of God and those tiny seed beads.

I have been reading the Gospel of Mark and the work of John the Baptist.  I love thinking about John.  A little wild, eating locusts and honey.  He was rugged, but not in a good way.  He was out there.  I’m sure many thought he was crazy, but he was teaching the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching that if people repented, they could find forgiveness.  He was encouraging all who would listen to rethink their journey and rethink what worship could look like.

He asked people to rethink the Kingdom of God.

So often we think the Kingdom of God is far off.  We talk about it like it’s heaven or something for the end of the world.  But the Kingdom of God was something John saw as imminent.  And after John was imprisoned, Jesus continued to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  It was clear that Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God was something for this world.

Both for John and for Jesus the Kingdom of God was experienced in transformed lives.  It is transformation that takes a person and renews them, makes them more generous, more kind, more thoughtful, more patient, more joyful, more peaceful, more disciplined, more gentle, more loving.

As Christ followers, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to share the Kingdom of God.  We are called to experience the kingdom of God.  But each of these things, these evidences of the kingdom are relational evidences.  They must be observed by others.

And in order for others to observe these evidences, we have to take the time to spend time with others.

The Kingdom of God is experienced in community, in relationship.

So this brings me to Sunday afternoon.  Sunday afternoon I was exhausted.  I had been feeling under the weather, but had a great morning at church.  I felt good about the work and the time.  I felt like good about the questions answered and the sermon I preached.  And I was tired.

Preparing to head home after a busy morning at church, my four year old was my shadow.  As I transitioned him from my hip to the floor, he accidentally pulled my pectoral cross down with him and broke the line of beads that held it.  The beautiful beads given to me by a woman who I only knew by her first name, “Hildy.”  At first I started to pick up the beads, but realized it was futile.  I took the partially beaded string in my hand and dumped it in the trash.  Making a decision to spend the time saying goodbye to the last of the parishioners at church instead of on my hands and knees picking seed beads out of the carpet.

The Kingdom of God.

After we got home, after we had lunch, I went up to my room to take a nap when I heard a knock on my bedroom door.  My daughter, my 13 year old, came into my room with a simple string of beads.  My beads.  “Hildy’s” beads.  Smaller, shorter, but the same beads.  She went back into the trash and pulled out the remnants of my necklace and she salvaged all she could form the carpet.  I didn’t even know.  When we got home, she went right to work in her bedroom, restringing the beads.  She put a new clasp on it and presented it to me.

She has always been thoughtful and mature, but this was so meaningful.  So kind.  She knew that the beads were meaningful to me.  She knew the story behind the beads.  And I think she also knew why I walked away from them, putting my attention of the people around me instead of a few beads.  But she took the time for me.  She took the time.  The Kingdom of God.

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She is the transformed life.  She is the one living in community sharing the kingdom of God.  She showed me how to take the time- how to live with generosity, kindness, joy, patience and love.  As I looked at the string of beads, I realized that from one string of beads, God has brought me two experiences of the Kingdom of God.  God has shown her the Kingdom of God.

There is so much in this world that is ugly.  And often we are so busy, we don’t take the time.  We don’t take the time to understand one another, to hear one another’s stories.  We don’t take the time to do something generous or kind.  We don’t take the time to share joy or love or patience.

The Kingdom of God is found in transformed lives.  It requires that we take the time, that we spend the time.  And truthfully, if we take the time, we don’t have to work very hard or look very far to find it because the Kingdom of God is here.

 

 

More Superheros in Church, Please.

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So there are few things that this pastor momma loves more than a kid who loves to be at church.  Tonight as we celebrated Lent with our weekly Wed Learning Series, I watched one momma struggle to get her four-year-old go home at night.  Now it just so happens that this particular four-year-old is best buddies with my youngest… but together, they run the church.

As soon as they are given any freedom, they run up and down the aisles of the pews, laughing, playing super heroes.  With Iron Man and Ultron in hand, they run through the basement with their toys like they are in their own basement, in their own home.  And they are not alone.  I love an itty bitty who feels free to walk around the pews during Sunday worship.  I love kids who wave to me during the morning prelude.  I love youth who jump at the chance to light the candles.

I love a kid who loves to be in church. Because,  when a kid loves church I know we are doing something right.  I know that there is hope for the future of the church.

Now there is plenty of research that says the church in America is on the decline or that young people are leaving the church in droves.  And I have seen it.  I have seen it in my friends, my family, my neighbors.  I have seen it in church.  And I get it, church can feel irrelevant. It can feel hypocritical or judgmental.

I mean, who wants to sit with someone else’s ridiculous uncle for an hour, who tells the same joke every Sunday?  Or listen to the slightly racist comments from somebody else’s grandma?  (Disclaimer Alert – I am not referring to anyone in particular in these comments.  Please don’t think that I am speaking of anyone person in our current community.)  Who wants to associate with an organization that doesn’t embrace equity but claims to promote justice?

But here’s the beauty of it all… it’s all beautiful.  The children, the uncles, the grandmas… it’s all beautiful.  Because in a church where the children love to be at church, there is a lesson in community.

My heart swoons watching a young person fall in love with Jesus.  But in a church, kids fall in love with Jesus through community.  They fall in love with Jesus over glasses of milk and pieces of cake with someone else’s uncle.  They fall in love with Jesus running through the church basement as if they own it.  They fall in love with Jesus when they are invited to come and sit and hear a lesson that is just for them.  They fall in love with Jesus when they are lifted to the drinking fountain or told to slow down. They fall in love with Jesus when they are included in setting up tables, stacking hymnals, or are plopped into the arms of someone else’s grandma.

When children love to be at church, they are encountering Jesus the way Jesus encountered the word, through community.  They are learning to love and be loved. They are learning that the church is a good place where they can come with dirty diapers, tearful tantrums, and still be loved.  They are learning that church is more than a building, it is bigger than a tradition, it is alive.  It is organic, like family, but bigger and better.

In fact, I believe a church is more complete with a crying baby or a nursing mom.  It is more complete with crayons under the pews and candy wrappers on the floor.  It is more complete with the occasional escapee making their way to the front.  It is more complete with brothers arguing in the back row.

Jesus is well known for his grace towards children.  He welcomed them, he pulled them up front and held them on his lap, even when he was supposed to be having ‘grown up’ conversations.  When the children love to be in church, I think Jesus is just a little happier about church.

As a pastor and a momma, my kids don’t always appreciate being in church, but I desperately want them to love it.  I want them to love it so much that once they are there, they don’t want to leave.  And I want them to love it when they are two, when they are four, when they are eight, when they are thirteen, when they are sixteen.  I want them to love it when they are twenty-five, forty-two and ninety-two.  I want them to experience Jesus in community.

So mommas, papas, grandmas and grandpas, when you find yourself parenting in the pews, know that I love you for it.  Because you are teaching your children to love the church.

And those of you who find yourself sitting next to a crying baby, a busy toddler or a distracted seven year old, you have an opportunity to encourage these young ones to love the church.   Jesus certainly did.

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My Funny Valentine

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Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.  And we did the typical family Valentine’s day things.  The kids each got a small box of chocolates.  They each made their own heart-shaped pizza.  Our third child, upon finishing his pizza, took one final piece of pepperoni and ripped it in half.

“It’s like half a piece of pepperoni, like my half heart,” he said.

My heart sank a little bit. We spent the rest of the evening playing games, trying to distract from all the hearts.funny valentine

There are a lot of reasons to struggle with Valentine’s Day. I get it.  For those who have not yet found their ‘valentine,’ for those who have lost their ‘valentine,’ for those who have broken relationships, Valentine’s Day is simply a reminder of the heartbreak in the world.

For my 8 year old, Valentine’s day is a constant reminder of his heart condition.  Everywhere he looks he sees hearts.  And it reminds him that he only has half of a heart.  Born with tricuspid atresia, his heart only developed two chambers, instead of four.  He has endured three major open heart surgeries by the time he was 3 and a 1/2 .

So Valentine’s Day, a day full of love and hearts, is a very real reminder of his mortality.

I can never know what it’s like to be a child and have to face my mortality on a regular basis.  It doesn’t seem fair, when you consider what is fair in the world.  It doesn’t seem fair in the world that children suffer at all.

And this is the journey of Lent.  It is the journey to both embrace our mortality and proclaim our hope of a better way.  It is embracing the fragility of life and at the same time recognizing that this world is the not the world that God intended.  It is about understanding that by becoming human, God was able to walk in our pain and overcome its finality.

It feels odd to have Valentine’s day during lent, but there is also something very poetic about it.  In a time where we reflect on the pain in our own lives, it is an invitation to consider the people around you.

It is an invitation to love others in the midst of their suffering.

This week as a Lenten practice, take some time to consider what it is to see someone else’s pain and then what it is to love them through it.

Brave. dedicated to G.W. Carlson

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Today my second grader brought home this valentine.  It says, “You are good at living with half of a heart.  You must have been brave, right from the start.”

Sometimes we don’t get to choose where we have to be brave.  Sometimes we just have to be brave because we don’t get a choice.  My son didn’t get to choose how his heart developed.  I didn’t get to choose (I mean there was a choice offered, but I didn’t choose for his heart to grow the way it did.)  We don’t always get to choose if our job works out or if our marriage works out.  We don’t always get to choose when we get sick or how the ones we love get sick.  We don’t usually get to choose when a war starts, the rain stops, the winds come.

There are a lot of things in this life we don’t really get to choose.  But these are the things that often make us who we are.  They set direction.  They create definition.  Or they become our excuse.

I was reflecting on Moses today as I continue on this Lenten journey.  Moses didn’t have a choice in the world he was born into.  He didn’t get to choose that his family had to abandon him or that he was adopted by his enemy.  Now he did choose to kill an Egyptian soldier – and he did choose to flee into the dessert.  He used his anger and rage about his situation to make a bad choice.  It was his excuse.

And when he was found by God in the wilderness, living contentedly for 40 years, Moses continued to be full of excuses.  God calls to him and reveals his plan… I have heard the cries of my people and I will send you to them to rescue them.

Moses responds, “Who am I?”  Why me?

God reassures him… I will be with you.

Moses responds again, “Who are you?”

God responds, “I AM.”

Moses responds, “What if they don’t believe me?”

God responds, “I will give you what you need, the tools you need.”

Moses responds, “But I am not a public speaker.  I stutter.”

God responds, “I will send your brother to help you.”

Moses didn’t get to choose any of the early defining moments of his life.  But there is a sense that God spared him, protected him, and prepared him for this moment.  And Moses tried every excuse, but God was not going to quit on Moses.  Moses, be brave.

But God.  God didn’t quit.  He showed him who he was.  He showed him who God is.  He gave him the tools he needed and the support he needed.

In our own lives, we don’t usually get to choose those things that are hard.  Those things that require real courage.  We don’t get to always choose when or how our life falls apart or spirals out of control.

The call to be brave.  This call to trust in this God who is, who equips and provides, it has come again today.  Today this world lost another incredible human being.  G.W. Carlson was a friend and a mentor. And not just to me.  He saw people for their potential.  And he cared enough to take the time to teach them, encourage them, challenge them and lead them.  One by One.  Class by class.  G.W. was brave enough to be honest, was brave enough to care.  And all for purpose of encouraging leaders to do the work of the gospel, of sharing the Kingdom of God with the world.  G.W. looked at this world and responded to God’s call by inspiring generations of leaders to live the gospel, prophetically, thoughtfully, always with humor and a bit of flattery20160212_200400_resized.

And in this moment of grief, we don’t get to choose to be brave.  We must be brave.  Because we know, we know like G.W. knew, who we are in God.  We know who God is.  We can be confident that God will equip us for the challenge.  And we know we are not alone.

The little boy who sent my son this Valentine, had no idea what he was really saying.  But when I consider what it is to be brave from the start… Most of us are not.  But we can be brave from this moment… We can choose to be brave because God knows us.  God is powerful.  God gives us what need.  And we are not alone.

This is the journey of Lent.  A call to embrace our humanity and not accept the state of it.  A call to look at those hard things and challenge them, bravely.  A call to embrace the hope of a God who wants so much more for this world and the people it contains.

Sent – a Lenten journey.

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I have been inspired by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as I begin this year’s Lenten journey.  Paul reminds the church that they are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has prepared in advance for us to do.”

There is a lot in this statement… but let me back up a bit why I value this piece of Scripture.  The last year has been hard.  As a family, we have endured hard things.  I have travelled around the world and back. (A privilege, I know, but challenging for my family.)  We have had an incredible but weighty vacation with Make A Wish with our children.  We have had serious financial struggles with a job change for my husband.  We have had to make a decision to say goodbye to the house in St. Paul, after nearly three years of hoping the market would turn around enough to sell it.  We have grieved the loss of people we have loved.

In our church , we have had funerals, hard funerals.  The kind that always start with, ‘too soon.’  I have walked with families through grief, illness, suffering, heartache, broken relationships, mental health challenges, financial stress, job changes, worry about children… the list goes on and on.

And of course, it’s not all hard.  In the midst of these challenges, we see hope and grace.  I have seen the church serve it’s community in incredible ways.  I have seen teams of adults and youth leave the comforts of this small town to serve across our nation.  I have seen people have ‘aha’ moments in their faith.  I have witnessed the power of friendship. I have seen the people of God do the work of God in this world.

And this is where I come back to Paul.  Paul had endured many hardships.  He had witnessed terrible oppression.  He had seen new churches fractured by disagreements on practice.  And through it all… he looked at the body of believers and reminded them of their calling.  Their everyday calling.

The calling, the purpose, prepare for us each new day.  Each day, God has prepared good works for us to walk into.  Good things for us to do.  As long as we have breath.  As long as we are part of this creation, we have been created with purpose.  Everyday, God has given us opportunities to do good.

As long as we call ourselves ‘Christ-followers’ we are called to go into this world and share the love of Christ.  If you are a Christian, a Christ-follower, you have not only been called, but you have been Sent!  God had already prepared the work for you to do today.

Maybe that work is loving that unlovely coworker.  Maybe it is asking forgiveness for something you have said or done in anger.  Maybe it’s telling a total stranger that they have beautiful children.  Maybe it’s taking time to spend time in prayer.

Every day, you are God’s creation, created in Christ Jesus, to do good in this world.

At our Ash Wednesday service last night, I challenged the congregation to carry their cross.  (#carrythecross) It’s easy to carry Jesus into the world when everyone is doing it on a day like Ash Wednesday.  But what about the other 364 days of the year?  What about the 40 days of Lent?

If you are a Christ- follower, you have already been called, and you have been Sent.  Carry the cross into the world.

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Super Kryptonite

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I love to nap.

I mean, I really love to nap.  If napping could be a legitimate hobby, I would start the fan club.  There is nothing like snuggling under the blankets of my bed with the sun streaming in my room.

Unfortunately, napping does not fit in well with my ‘superwoman’ status.  But this is the temptation, the temptation to be ‘super.’  If I know anything about myself, it’s that when I start to feel ‘super’, it’s time to take a step back.

This week I am preparing for Lent.  It’s my first Lent as the Pastor.  I’ve done plenty of Lenten lessons and teachings.  I’ve preached during Lent and served communion.  But this year, I am The pastor.

I am responsible for pulling it all together.

As I have thought about that very statement, I realized that I really have it all wrong.  It’s not about me, it’s never about me.  It’s still true that I am responsible for making sure the worship opportunities happen, that we worship well, disciple well and serve well as a community.  But who really cares about the pastor?

It’s not about having the ‘perfect’ Lent and Easter experience.  In fact, that doesn’t even exist.  What matters is that people have meaningful worship.

When I start to feel ‘super’, it’s time to embrace my humanity.  And I need to recognize that

the desire to be ‘super’ is my kryptonite.

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When was the last time we embraced our humanity?  When was the last time I embraced my humanity?  I mean all of our humanity?

This time of year we prepare to give up something, a temptation.  We deny ourselves of something we enjoy.  But this is not what Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about.  Ash Wednesday is a time when we remember our humanity.  We remember that we are weak.  We remember that we are frail.

Weakness.  So often we spend our energy over Lent showing our strength to overcome temptation.  But Jesus was tempted in the desert not to show his strength, but to show his humanity.  We are weak.  As people, all people, we are vulnerable to sin.  We are weak.   It is in the weakness that Jesus was able to show his strength.  It was through embracing his weakness; we see Jesus’ true strength.

Do we embrace our weakness?  Do we name those things that cause us temptation?  And I’m not just talking about the big things, and I’m not talking about the typical Lent temptations like chocolate and caffeine, but what about the daily things?  The attitude things?  The heart in the right place things?   Do we acknowledge and name our weakness?

And frailty.  Do we embrace this side of our humanity?  Do we embrace the fragility of our lives?  So often we go through our days invincible.  We don’t even think about our mortality.  And for good reason, we can’t spend all day thinking about mortality.  But do we think about it at all?  What if we did? Would it change the way we live?

What would it look like to embrace the mortality of those we love?  Our parents?  Our spouse?  Our children?

Ash Wednesday and the following Lent season is an opportunity for us to thoughtfully acknowledge our humanity, in weakness and frailty.

It’s not about wearing ashes.  It’s not even about fasting.  It’s an opportunity to be grateful for today and the goodness it has to offer.  This is the hope of the Gospel and the example of Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness.  It’s about acknowledging our kryptonite.   It’s about knowing that we are not really ‘super’ but it is the supernatural in Christ that allows us to embrace our humanity.  It is the humanity of Christ that empowers us to be super.

Not My Best Night

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I have to be honest.  Today, I felt like a failure.  I welcomed my kids home from school, gave them a snack, got everyone started on homework.  After my six year old finished his homework, and I was reading with my nine year old, my six year old decided that he was not done with seeking my attention.   His persistence turned dark as he began to hit and scratch me, desperate for my attention.  

It was such a sudden turn in his behavior and I still don’t understand why.  And I can’t say that it came to good resolution.  It ended with him finally just wearing out, wearing down and we sat on the couch together while he started to fall asleep.  But I was not successful in getting him to sit in a ‘time out’ or apologize for his behavior.  In fact, I counted down the seconds until my husband made it home so he could ‘deal with it.’  Exactly the kind of mom I don’t want to be… “Wait-until-your-father-gets-home” kind of parenting. 

As he sat with his father, the therapist, I cooked dinner.  It didn’t help.  I needed the therapist.  I realized that, although I don’t know why my son was acting out, I do know how to not let it affect me.  One bad night does not define me as a parent.  It also doesn’t define me as a Christ-follower.

As a pastor, I often feel pressure to ‘have my household in order.’  But I realized tonight, after a hot bubble bath (and a beer) that having my household in order doesn’t equate to perfection.  In fact, I can’t expect perfection out of anyone.  If ever I needed grace, it is for my children.

If ever I needed grace, it is for my children.

Never mind my disobedient son, is this how God feels about me?  Am I the scratching, biting, baby-pushing, angry child?  (I am not, by the way, literally any of those things, just to be clear.)  But do I hurt God the way my son hurt me?  Do I disappoint, disrespect and then not repent? 

The answer is, of course, yes.  It’s not so much that I do so many things that are wrong or disobedient; it’s that I am not repentant.  At the start of the New Year, we often talk about what we want to do better.  Perhaps try to put ourselves in a position when we don’t need repentance.  But this is impossible. 

None of us can achieve perfection, but each of us can seek forgiveness. 

Tonight, if I have learned anything from my son, it is that repenting is important, being truly sorry for one’s actions and wanting to do better.  What would it be like if we started the New Year with a posture of repentance, of true humility?   The other thing I learned from my son is my ability to have grace and love, even without repentance.   I don’t need my son to be sorry for me to forgive.  What if I extended that grace to others this year? 

What would this year be like if I was both repentant of my own wrong doings and able to forgive others without their seeking it? 

Isn’t this what our God asks of us… as Christ-followers, we are asked to forgive as we have been forgiven.   And thank God, our God forgives even when we are the whiny, disobedient child who refuses to ‘say sorry.’