Burning Love

So here’s what happened. I got a steamer for Christmas (you know so I never have to iron again) and it works great! But I am a dumb ass at times (NO!… yes…) and by being an idiot I burnt my arm.

I spent all day icing it and putting aloe on it and two days later it is looking better but still very red.  Here’s today.

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Although it is very cold and I am wearing lots of layers I am constantly pulling my sleeves up, and the bright red mark is drawing attention to my arm. But the thing is the burn is not what they are looking at, they are noticing that I have a tattoo on my arm.

I have tattoos, which are not secret and I do not hide them, but a lot of people don’t know about them because they are in white ink, and I am of Irish-Norwegian decent and almost the whitest white girl ever… no seriously, I like glow in the dark. Why would the whitest white girl ever get a white tattoo, because it’s for me.

Anyway, on my left forearm is the word “Love” and on my right forearm is the word “Grace”. They came at a very important marking of time for me, something inward that made a huge impact, an acceptance of self, a claiming of my body, and a testament and gratitude for my faith. I will also note that I did not get my first tattoo until I was into my 30’s.

They are also “incorrect” according to the tattoo etiquette (yes there is such a thing). However, I have them so that when I lift up my arms and give the benediction the right arm goes up “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and then the left arm “the love of God”. They are not proper when my arms are down but when they are up giving the benediction you could read them.

I speak a lot about the benediction, I love it, it is the sum of the gospel in a few lines. But there are other reasons I chose these words.

There is a duality to life, today in honor of Epiphany I preached about darkness and light. I preached about the importance of honoring both the shadows and the truth of our lives. I chose these two words as they symbolized the duality of life; light and dark, free will and providence, estrangement and relationship. The important thing to remember about duality is that one side cannot exist without the other, and really, the pendulum does swing all the way over for a moment, but the large majority of the time they co-exist in tension.

So, love (on my tattoo) is the free will side, the choices I have to make. The shadow, the darkness, the estrangement. The things in which I can control. And my choice is love. God is love and all love comes from God but by choosing love I choose God in my life.

However (yes, I am an excellent Presbyterian and here is why) God chose me first, and I will never be separated from the love of God. No matter what I do, or how dark I go, or how estranged I get, God will not let me go, God will usher me to light, stay in relationship with me, and protect me. This is grace. There is a lot, and I mean a lot in my life in which I have no control over. There is also many, many moments in which I have simply been a dumb ass (yes, much worse that testing a steamer on my robe… which I happen to be wearing at the time).

God does not save me from all my stupidity and sometimes I get burned. Which brings us back to love.

The words are a cycle. I have been burned by love many of times, but love also burns within me as a light of Christ. As I have stared at my arm these last few days I have asked myself if it was all worth it? All the heartache, all the tears, all the struggle. Is a relationship with God (which is an exhausting process) and with people who God has brought into my life worth the burns, cuts, bruises, and yes, at times a broken heart. The answer is a resounding yes.

Because grace has remained unscathed. Grace is constant and shall not be moved, and because of this I have had the opportunity to receive great abiding love through the radiance of God shining in others and I can only pray that others have received God’s radiance in me.

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So for now, love is a little burnt, but she will heal, gently with time, with care, she will overcome her scar and chose to do it all over again.

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This is the Day the Lord has Made

My first year out of Seminary, at my first church as a solo pastor, it just happened to be that Christmas Day fell on a Sunday.  In the churches I have served, like most mainline protestant churches, we have service on Christmas Eve night and only have church Christmas morning, if Christmas falls on a Sunday.  That year, there were mega churches in the area and around the country that decided to not have Sunday Services on Christmas because it was “family time”.

That year I wrote a sermon that “railed” (as much as I can do) against these churches.  I thought it was ridiculous that they would close church on a Sunday morning just because it fell on Christmas Day.  “What better way to teach our children what Christmas is all about than bring them to church on Christmas Day?” I asked (and still say when Christmas falls on a Sunday.)

But here’s the truth, I don’t like it when Christmas falls on a Sunday.  It is a family day. And I am exhausted from the night before.  But I get up, and bring my kids away from their toys to remind myself and them what Christmas is all about, that a child was born this day in the city of David, and he is the light of all the people.  That is why we celebrate.

Over the years of being a minister I struggle with the commercialization of Christmas, yet as a woman who grew up in America and has small children I also get caught up in it.  It is an opportunity to give gifts of appreciation of others, it is a time to overload my kids with toys they don’t need just to see the smile on their faces.  It is also a time to put up a Christmas Tree, decorate my house and bake cookies.

None of these things are biblical, and yet, I love them.  It’s not Christmas without them, my heart feels.  Yet my head knows that if we didn’t decorate our house or church or sing Christmas Carols, Christ would come anyway.

As much as I love Jesus, I also love hanging my stockings with care, and putting out the ceramic Christmas tree my beloved Aunt made years ago, and unwrapping each baby ornament as if they were as fragile as babies themselves.  And this decoration takes place the first weekend in December just as it did for my mother and her mother before that.  And the decorations don’t wait to come down until Epiphany, but come down New Year’s Day, just as it did for my mother and her mother before that.

There is something sacred for me in the non-sacred traditions of Christmas.  Not just following the routine my mother did, but wrapping the creche in the same paper I unwrapped it from. Each year getting a little softer and one or two more tears until when my children are older the paper will no longer be there to protect, but the paper itself will become an integral part of the tradition.

So yes, my Christmas decorations when up before Christmas and yes, the came down before Epiphany- but I still say, it’s okay.  Christ lives on despite our rules.  I can honor God and my family despite when the decorations come up or go down.  And yes, I will also remain hypocritical when I will follow this practice of Family tradition and not church tradition, because in 2016 (which I’m already not looking forward to) I will rail against churches who close on Christmas Day because it happens to fall on a Sunday and as they say that is Family Day.  Because Sunday is the Lord’s Day and despite everything, it is the day God made to come and adore.

Just though I would give you fair warning.