You Will Know, When You Know

c8567a9d0dda42f130e71208883129fa

At my first church I moved only a few hours from my Aunt and Uncle whom I didn’t really know. My parents were the older siblings in their families and had children young, my sister and I are almost a decade older than our cousins. My aunt, then having small children watched as I officiate Easter Worship and interacted with my congregation. I was 25 years old. I had been married for 2 years and she could not fathom how “grown up” I was.

“You have a very adult job” she told me. I really wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a criticism (in my head I heard “you’re playing with fire, you cannot handle this”). I did have a very grown up job, and I was (and still am) good at it. Sure, there are times when my “youth” equates to poor judgement, but as I get older, it’s simply moments of poor judgement, guess what? Who has two thumbs and is human? This chick.

But it is scary for all of us. How do we know we are saying or doing the “right” thing? Sometimes I have to impart wisdom in life or death situations and it’s scary. Yet, I can say this with confidence, I’m a smart girl, I actually do have a lot of wisdom to impart (through the grace of God), despite the fact that I am only 36 years old. So… here’s some tidbits.

When you’re mad at God, it means that you love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. Scenario: I am a chaplain in a hospital. A family is trying to care for their mother who is dying, it will be hours, not days. She is cursing God, she is in pain, she is grieving for her life. The family (a more conservative type of Christian) is sincerely worried that she will die and “not be right with God” and therefore go to hell. They believe this despite a lifetime of Christian service and faith. I sat with them, I talked through it with them, and then I asked them a question. When is the last time you were angry at someone, I mean really angry? Was it with someone you knew casually? Or was it someone you loved?

The last time we were truly mad is not over the guy who cut us off on the interstate.  The truth is, we only are truly angry at the people we love most. Our partner, our children, our parents, our friends, ourselves. When your mother is cursing God, it’s because she loves God, if she didn’t she wouldn’t care.

I know it hurts, but that’s how you know it is love. Scenario: I had trouble getting pregnant and high risk pregnancies, so much so that I became friends with the ultrasound tech. For over a year I saw this woman bi-monthly, weekly, and then bi-weekly. Each time we would talk for about a half hour. When I went back for baby #2, she had just returned from maternity leave with her first. “I’m scared all the time, and I cry, constantly, at everything, does this ever end?” Yes, sometimes, no- no it does not. Yes, the hormones subside and you will cry less, but this feeling of dread, fear, and hurt? This feeling that you no longer have full control of your heart? No. She looked at me with massive amounts of dread.

It’s the consequence of experiencing real love. Any relationship involves risk, it’s the nature of relationship, but putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable ways possible and allowing yourself to experience real love, well, there is always a fear of losing. I have said this with new parents, with people grieving for someone who died, and to people at the end of marriages. When the pain is so devastating, so raw, so real – that’s when you know it is real love.

You will know when it’s time. Scenario: A woman sits before me in kidney failure, she is tired of dialysis, she is exhausting her children and she hates it, she has been talked to about hospice over a dozen times. “What do I do?” she asks me. Of course I can’t answer that, so I say to her what I have said a hundred times in the past.

When it comes to life and death, you’ll know. And when you know, you know, until then, you’re not ready. When it comes to life and death – of a person, of a marriage, of any relationship – if you don’t know (no matter how hard and painful it is) then you’re not ready. Because when it comes to a death, you and the ones you leave behind have to know, beyond a doubt, in the midst of their grief that they did everything possible and that you are sure or they simply will not be able to live with themselves. I have seen it time and time again, the moment where the wrestling ends and every fiber of their being knows what to do. 

All these scenarios happened within the first 5 years of my ministry. They are words of wisdom I have repeated time and time again. They are not “new” and I did not “think of them” they were gifts of the spirit. Moments in which I got to be the incarnation of Sophia (God’s wisdom). Yesterday I was reminded of them again and I wanted to share. Love to you all.

She Loves Me…

She loves me not…She loves me… She loves me not.

she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not

“I love you” They’re the greatest 3 words in the world. I love you, SO much. There is nothing sweeter to hear or as sweet to say, I love you.

I type these words through watery eyes, tears streaming down my face. I’m learning an important thing about myself. I need someone to love.

It is common wisdom today to say that one cannot love another without truly loving themselves. Do you agree? I’m not sure that I do.

When I first fell in love I had no love or self-respect for myself. See this post if you missed it. I loathed myself, but seeing myself in the eyes of another helped me to fall in love with myself. But it’s not enough.

I’m alone, I’ve hit several “rock bottom’s” over the last year. I begged and pleaded my husband not to leave me, not to leave our family. I offered to compromise myself and my beliefs just to keep it together. I’ve gotten drunk and had a couple “close calls”. A voice in my head told me to have some self-respect, but it hurt too much. I don’t know how to love myself without someone to shower that attention on. Even as I write this there is a voice in my head saying that isn’t really love, it’s selfish, but I’m not so sure.

I need to love. It’s not like a drug or alcohol in terms of need, it’s a need as in my need for air.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; … 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. –1 John 4:7, 11-13

I do love myself, I do respect myself, but I do it through acceptance of people I know and trust, people whom I love and whom love me. I learned to love from their love. It’s the incarnation of God, it’s the movement of the Spirit, it is the nature and essence of love. I need someone to love, and not just anyone.

Today I’m in Atlanta, I’m taking another doctoral class. It’s called The Bible and the Ecology of Wonder, cool, right? right… so… yeah.

In the middle of class today we were watching a video of astronauts talking about their awe of the moments they were in space looking at the earth and the “heavens.” As you can imagine they were describing deep and profound senses of wonder and awe, even if they didn’t use the words, they were describing an experience of God, the experience of something so vastly beyond themselves, yet felt so rooted and deeply connected to it.

I started to get emotional during the video, like… really emotional.

I suddenly realized I hadn’t been standing in wonder recently. “Wonder also requires courage” our professor had said in an example of one definition. I kept rolling and rolling around the idea, staring at the astronauts from their suits and shuttles and lunar modules. Wonder also requires a safety, a grounding, I pondered.

You have to feel free to wonder, but in order to truly feel free, you have to feel safe enough to allow your mind, your heart, your imagination to soar. If you are paralyzed in fear you are not wondering. You have to move past the fear in order to feel free enough to be in awe, reverence, or curious. You have to have the courage to let yourself go.

I’ve cried most of this afternoon knowing that I do not feel that freedom, I am paralyzed in fear. I am afraid to allow my imagination to soar because I no longer have my net, I no longer have my grounding, I no longer feel courageous. Because I no longer have a person to pour my love into that I knew, or at least thought, that I could always count on. That I had exposed myself to on every level. Who knew every dream, every fear, every flaw. Even if he didn’t, he did.

I had someone to love, who loved me, or so I thought, to allow me the sacred gift of feeling safe in order to allow myself to soar, in order to allow myself to move beyond fear.

Some will tell me I have to find that grounding in myself, but here’s the simple truth. I don’t want to. And I don’t think I’m meant to. I want to share my life, I’m meant to share my life.

I can love my kids and they can love me, but I cannot make my kids my life partner. I have a best friend whom I love tremendously and she would help me bury a body if need be, but she cannot be my everything either. Not only would the body we bury have to be her husband’s, but we would end up miserable for a variety of reasons.

There’s a song we used to sing to the kids in VBS:

“Love is something when you give it away, give it away, give it away, Love is something when you give it away, you end up having more.”

I miss wondering, being curious, and exploring – my faith, myself, another – it was an ongoing mystery, a courageous adventure, a wonder. I miss being allowed to love and expose my inner most self to someone fully. I feel incomplete, less human, sad without it. It’s not that some magic soul mate is going to come along and “complete me” it’s that in loving them, myself, and loving us love is perfected. For if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us.

This is not just my faith, this is my experience, and my truth. This is who I am. I am a child of God, meant to share my life and my love.

Darkness to Light

The people

The people who walked

The people who walked in darkness

deep darkness

have seen

have seen

have seen a great light.

adventweek2

One of my favorite moments of the whole year happens on Christmas Eve. Yes, you can probably guess it’s the singing of Silent Night with the candles, but probably not for the reason you think. It’s what happens right before it. When the world (or at least the church) is dark. Darkness. It’s a profound thing.

It is the symbol, the tangible evidence of everything that is lonely, scary, and sad.

The church goes completely dark and I sing the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, I speak the words of Genesis and John 1. When God proclaims light I strike a match. God said “Let there be Light” “Ptchhhh” the match strikes and flame appears, so vivid, so bright in the midst of the great darkness.

I’ve been walking in deep darkness this week. We lost a beloved member of our staff, it’s a crushing blow, he was my creative partner, my friend. He resigned to deal with a a crisis in his life. I’m heartbroken. I’m in the dark about where to go and what to do, about how to move forward.

Today as I watched the Advent Wreath be lit in the first service I realized that the first candle brings the most light. I’ve been reflecting on how this is the Hope candle. If you light a candle in the midst of darkness the room is flooded in light, no matter how small the light, any amount of light overcomes the darkness. It literally is painful on the eyes at first. It’s a miraculous things to watch, it’s one of the most beautiful images of God’s love I have ever witnessed.

But as you add to the light (as we did today) it’s not quite as satisfying as that first candle. We are making progress, the amount of light has literally been doubled, yet it is not as miraculous for some reason as when something was formed out of nothing. Yet again, there is a turn. On Christmas Eve we will light all five candles and then spread that light throughout the room and the light, the love of God entering the world is overwhelming.

I am always sad on Christmas Eve for those in the congregation, I wish they could see what I see. I see a room flooded with light, a candle illuminating each face, some smiling with their families proudly, some silently weeping from heartbreak. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Each candle a representation of God’s love for them. Every candle a remembrance that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness, the darkness cannot, will not, and shall never overcome it.

For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. As we add to our candles each week this is my hope and my prayer. Amen.

Love and Life

St. Louis, MO Chicago Sun Times

Ferguson, MO, protests for Michael Brown
Chicago Sun Times Photo

I’m supposed to be writing a paper, one more paper for my class and I’m free, but I’m stuck thinking about love and life, and if I don’t get it out my paper will never get done. Oh, inspiration and the Holy Spirit. My last post was about overcoming shame, depression, suicide, and choosing love and life.

I have had multiple conversations lately where I have talked about God choosing us, God choosing love, and life being a virtue. By the way, everyone should stop reading this post and go read Derrick Weston’s post on this subject RIGHT NOW! With Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Ferguson, suicide and depression all in this last few weeks the importance of talking about life and loving seems invaluable. 

All of this got me thinking. I believe I equate love and life when it comes to theology. Derrick talks about hearing a sermon where faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love (1Corinthians 13) but that the greatest of these is actually life. Yes, but what’s the difference? Here’s how that chapter begins:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

As a pastor I love and hate this text, as we equate it to human love, and we should strive for this in humanity, maybe that’s part of our problem, we see this kind of love as unattainable, and it is if perfection becomes the goal, but it is attainable in the ways that our broken humanness will allow.

We could have everything, but have not love, we are nothing. 

Love, in my mind, could be replaced with life, love could also be replaced with God. God is love, 1 John says over and over again, pounding it into my brain. God is love. All love comes from God. Again, replace that word with life.

The word for Spirit is also the sound of breath, I cannot say it more beautifully than Rob Bell does in one of his Nooma videos. We come to life when we can say the name of God and we die when we can not longer say the name of God.

There is no conclusion to this, just pondering. God is love, God is life. To live is love and to have this love/life is to be of God. 

The Overcoming of Shame

Shame, boat loads of shame, day after day, more of the same. ~the Avett Brothers

Shame3

I am visiting one of my oldest friends and his wife for a few days. She and I are very similar in personality, (which is really not surprising) and I am amazed by her. She has 4 kids, is ex-Navy, a stay at home mom and loves it. She shows me that it’s okay to love your kids and also not be that kind of mom that lives through your kids, that you have needs too, that your needs are also valuable, that this is the way to not only survive, but to thrive in life.

I need people like Jessica in the world, I am privileged to know her.

Yesterday afternoon we had returned from the beach, the two of us and the six kids, everyone was showered and clean and we sat them down to watch the Lego Movie. As we were talking we got on the conversation of living our lives in the open. It’s a common thing we extroverts do. I mean we all have secrets, yes, but the reality of the extrovert is that we process out loud, which means that some of the things “normal” people (read introverts) would keep private, we just kind of put out there.

Then she said something I can’t get out of my head; she said that she had to get over a lot of shame to live that way. Then last night I found out that Robin Williams died. Shame came back to me. Not me, as in my shame, which I have plenty of, but just being reminded of all the same we all carry with us.

I obviously don’t know the intimate details of his life, but we do know depression, addiction, and I dare say, shame, has a lot to do with suicide.

I wrote a sermon about healing and reconciliation not too long ago, you can read the whole sermon here or listen to it here, but here’s the quote that’s pertinent:

The researcher and author Brené Brown has some helpful differentiations in this way, she says: “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Guilt- psychological discomfort for failing to live up to our values or beliefs.

Shame- feeling unworthy of love and unworthy of connection.

One of these is healthy, one of these is not. I cannot read scripture in any way that does not prove to me over and over again that God believes we are worthy of connection and relationship, I cannot and have never read scripture in a way that says that God believes that we are unworthy of love.

Love and life are far more important than any shame that we may feel for failing to live up to expectations. Love and life are valued by God far more than anything else in this world. When shame overcomes us, we must struggle that demon away, remembering that love and life are valuable, that shame is not the voice of God, God does not shame, for God is love and life.

I believe in the words of Revelation 21, that a new heaven and a new earth will come, that every tear will be wiped, that mourning shall cease. I do not believe this is a cosmic event though, I mean maybe it is, but that’s a whole other blog post. That these “new beginnings” are part of the ebbs and flows of life.

I also believe and hold strongly to the words of Psalm 30- that joy comes in the morning, that God will turn our mourning into dancing.

These things have been true in my own life, and even as I write now I mourn a great loss in mine, I live in the hope of these things. But in order to do that, shame has to be put in its place.

Shame is not the voice of God, love and life are.

The Way God Loves Me

Do you feel loved today?

I want to love you today. Right now. I want to hold you and kiss you, and look you in the eye.

I want to hold you and love you until you feel the way about you that I feel about you.

Can I do that for you today? Will you let me?

Or will I scare you off again?

It’s too much, I know it’s hard for you to handle, you run around and run around because you’re afraid if you stop you will not be enough, you will not be worthy of all that is around you. Of your beauty, your insights, this love and grace that abounds. You are afraid that if you stop, if you let me hold you close, if you let me love you today, you will not be worthy of it.

My beloved child. I love you.

Do you feel loved today? because I love you.

And if I could be present in a physical way, in front of you right now, with arms and legs, and a body, I would wrap my arms around you.

I would kiss you

and I would look you in the eye

until you felt as loved

as I love you.

First Embrace by Anna Shukeylo (gold on mylar)

First Embrace by Anna Shukeylo (gold on mylar)

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.

Image

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.

photo (3)

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.

Integration

Image

How do you forgive, how do you heal?

This is a question that I not only have asked myself many times over in my life but people ask me on a regular basis. Forgiveness and healing are often at the root of why people turn to or against faith. I had a beautiful morning with a dear friend and this topics was discussed between us.  Here are some thoughts I have.

I cannot heal myself, neither can you heal me. The power of forgiveness and then the healing that comes from it can only be extended by God. Yes, you give into the healing power, but only God can actually do the healing and forgiving.  This of course begins with prayer, various forms of prayer and time. This is not to make you feel helpless, this is just a reality.  I am a smart woman, and I have a large ego, but there are some things I cannot will into existence.  I cannot command myself to forgive. I may go to therapy, talk to every person I know, do every exercise possible, but until I understand that healing and forgiveness cannot be achieved on my own, I will be stuck. (This is a lesson I have to relearn on a regular basis, by the way…)

Time is essential.  I was once told that I knew I had forgiven someone when I could think about the person or situation without negative feelings arising.  At the time I truly thought that was impossible. Years later, I can begin to see that is true. Time does not heal all wounds, but over time this “thing that just happen to me” shaped who I am.  Hopefully for the better, and that integration can be healing and should not be rushed.

Accept that you are changed. There are things that just happen to you. Shit happens, it doesn’t always have a purpose or a meaning, sometimes it’s just shit.  However, it changes us, each and every experience we have changes us. Accept this, incorporate it into your life, learn from it, grow from it, or express it. Don’t hide, let the secret out, don’t be ashamed, it just is, even if “it” is something you did wrong or are embarrassed about.  Talk, write, sing, jump, kick it out. Bottling these feelings of shame or joy will only eat you alive. Curse at God, love yourself through it. Know that you are different physically, emotionally, and spiritually from every relationship you have. Ones that are good and ones that cause harm.

Stay in relationship This is the hardest of all. If possible- let me repeat that- IF POSSIBLE stay in relationship with the person or people.  Healing comes through relationships. There is a reason why atoning for ones sins is in the 12 step program. The person may never know or understand how they have harmed you and that can be almost as, if not more, painful then the act or acts that took place. This is not possible with everyone. Some sins are harmful to your person and you need to break the relationship off. Then do it. This harm could be physical or emotional. Or the person may have died, or you don’t even know who they are.  This happens, healing can come from it, but in my experience it is harder. I hate that it is, but it is. Life may be “easier” by not being in relationship with them but at what cost? You have to decide this for yourself, is the weight of holding the hurt larger or smaller than the weight of being in relationship? This is not an easy question to answer and may take multiple trials and error.  

Essentially there is no easy answer (and I certainly don’t have them), healing is complicated, because it comes through love, the love of God. Forgiveness is an extension of mercy and again, only comes from God. So if there is something you are in need of healing from or for, let yourself off the hook to “fix it” as soon as possible, and open yourself up to the healing powers of grace. May it be so for you and for me…