Wednesday, January 11, 2017

As I was driving home from preaching last Sunday, I was greeted by these adorable alpacas. I had seen then on my drive to the church but they were far off in the distance and looked like specs in the photo.  I was thrilled when driving home, there they were up close. Of course I pulled over to snap some pictures. I didn't get out since I don't know much about alpacas and their demeanor, plus I didn't have permission to pet them from their owners. I just sat in my car and spoke to them at the fence. Their adorable fuzzy faces have brought me joy throughout the week. I'd like to link some deep theology to this post but I'm not going to, it's just a happy post. May these adorable alpacas make you smile like they did me.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Beloved

Matthew 3.13-17
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Today we find ourselves with John who is just a wee bit strange, prophets in the bible nearly always are. Between John’s hair shirt, diet of bugs, and rudely calling people names, I find it amazing that there were folks waiting to be baptized by him, lots of them.

John stormed against the hypocrisy and injustices of his world and called from the wilderness for people to come and repent, to turn away from injustice and embrace God’s justice. John’s baptism invited people to come and confess their wrongs and to dedicate their lives to living according to God’s ways. John’s baptism was about transformation, going into the waters as one type of person and emerging as someone new and different, someone transformed.

And this is where Jesus speaks his first words in the gospel of Matthew. We meet adult Jesus with John at the Jordan River. John seems to be in shock, protesting that he should be baptized by Jesus. Yet, Jesus’ first words are “Let it be so now.” Let it be so, let it happen, baptize me, this is what needs to be done and this is how it is to be done. Jesus says this is what needs to happen “to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus does not separate himself from us; he did not separate himself from John and all of the people waiting to be baptized at the Jordan. Jesus does not hold himself apart.

We just celebrated Christmas in which God chose to reveal God’s self to us through the incarnation—through flesh and blood, through the mess of a manger and birth. Why on earth, would God stop there?
Jesus’ toes squished in the mud of the Jordan River, just as John’s did. Just as every other person’s feet and toes squished in the mud and muck. This is the God who knows and loves us, to get in the mud and the muck with us. There is no distance; there is no separation between us. This is another unifying moment in which God promises that we are not alone, that God is with us.

And then, according to Matthew the sky opens and a voice says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The words we all long to hear.

I was 12 the summer I came home from church camp and asked to be re-baptized. I had been to a non-denominational church camp in which they rebaptized just about everyone.  I loved my pastor back home and wanted him to be the one to rebaptize me. When I got home I went to Reverend Earl and told him about my amazing experience at church camp. I told him that  how I wanted to follow Jesus. I wanted to follow him with my whole heart and with everything I did and  I wanted to begin by being baptized like Jesus. The sprinkling I had had as an infant just wasn’t enough, I needed more. I wanted to be dunked in a river, or stream, or even a pond. I wanted to come up from the water and see the heavens open. I needed to hear the booming voice of James Earl Jones “With you I am well pleased!” As a United Methodist we were only baptized once.  

I don’t remember if Reverend Earl tried to persuade me that my sprinkling was good enough or if he saw a light in my eyes that simply would not be extinguished. What I do remember is that one of the farmers had a pond that we could use. The elderly church ladies were happy to pack up a picnic lunch complete with a red checkered table cloth and we drove out to the farm. I was nervous and excited, I could hardly wait. Reverend Earl and I walked into the water, it was nearly waist deep. He prayed over me and dunked my head into the water. I expected a miraculous transformation. I expected everything to feel different. But as the elderly ladies clapped and shouted “Amen” and Reverend Earl brought me in for a big hug, and I saw my mother holding a beach towel open for me, I was disappointed. I hadn’t heard God call me “Beloved.”  

Can you imagine a 12 year old girl, waiting for weeks to be baptized? Waiting to come up from the water and know that I was beloved.  But when I came up the heavens had not opened. James Earl Jones did not speak. I would have even settled for Morgan Freeman or Charlton Heston, but I got nothing. 
At that moment I realized that it didn’t work. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t beloved. God was not well pleased with me.

I hadn’t heard God call me beloved. I had not heard it, but each person there did. Each person who drove out to that farmers pond heard God.  Not only was I  beloved to each person there, witnessing my faith and desire to serve God.  But they also heard God speak (probably in a small voice) and they heard that I was beloved to God.

It took me a long time to realize what they all knew.  I didn’t realize it until I grew up. As an adult I realized what they all knew. We are ALL beloved by God! Each child on this earth, no matter their age, no matter their religion, political beliefs, no matter what, is a Beloved Child of God. Each person in this room, whether you were sprinkled in a church, dunked in a tub, swam in the River Jordan, splashed in a farmer’s pond or not baptized at all, You are Beloved by God. Hear me again – You are Beloved by God.

Somehow from that first moment of Creation in which God said “It is good.” We have forgotten, we have gotten things twisted. We were created for Good. We were created for love. And yet, we live in a world that can be scary. A world filled with injustice and acts of evil. This past week, we were saddened, if not shocked, by yet another mass shooting. Nearly 21,000 people a day die from hunger related diseases. 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys are sexually abused. Hunger, poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence all terrorize and wreck havoc in our world. They wrecked havoc in John’s world as well.

John put on his hair shirt, ate bugs, and stormed against the injustices he saw. He screamed for people to confess their part in it all and then go a new way, go a new way doing better, working for justice and healing, helping others. Jesus left the Jordan and entered into the wilderness—he was baptized with us. He was with us, with his toes in the mud and muck of the Jordan River. There, he began his ministry.  Jesus loved and healed those he met in ministry; he preached and taught that all people are God’s beloved Children.

Our gathering together today to worship God, to join together as a community of faith, is a rebellion against the world gone wrong. Today we stand in solidarity with one another, just as Jesus did when he put on flesh and blood, squished his feet in the River Jordan and was baptized so that we can be in ministry together, loving, healing, and reminding the people we meet that they too are beloved by God.

Each time we reject the ways of this world that tell us to treat others in ways that are cruel, mean, or simply indifferent. Each time we embrace one another, embrace strangers, embrace those who are different from us or very much like us. Each time we treat other people as a Beloved Child of God, we are doing ministry. We are walking with Jesus.

For too long we have engaged in the idea that we are only sinners. Yes, we fall short. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, we do wrong, but we are also created in and with great love. A love so great that we can choose to act in love and faith rather than in fear and despair. We can lift one another up rather than trying to put each other down. We can choose to treat each person as they are a Beloved child of God.


Let us leave this place today never forgetting that we are a beloved child of God.  So is each person we meet. Every person we encounter is a beloved child of God. Let us go and be like the old church ladies on a red checkered blanket next to a farmer’s pond. Let us hear God and know that each person we meet is a beloved child of God. Let us be like those who encountered John in the Jordan River who chose to be transformed, who chose to go a new way. Let us go and follow Jesus into the wilderness of this world and start our ministry armed with love. Armed with the knowledge that we are all Beloved by God. Amen.

Friday, January 6, 2017

I'm excited to preach on Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus. My mentor told me not to get overly creative since her church wouldn't expect something too crazy. So I won't be throwing water on them or anything overly fun or strange.

Yet, as I was playing in the shower water this morning I was thinking about creation and how after each piece of creation was added: the light and the dark, land, creatures of the air and of the land, and even people after each creation God said "And it was good." It was good. I believe in Original Goodness. We were made for goodness and love, I believe this with my whole heart and spirit. Yet, instead of a doctrine of Original Goodness, humans created a doctrine of Original Sin.

Isn't it strange? Most folks will say that God is good. God is love. God created out of love. And yet, our focus is on sin and failing and missing the mark. I live a life of grand mistakes and bold sins and embarrassing sins as well. I know that all of us do. But how much braver and bolder for justice and love would we be if we spoke of Original Goodness instead of Original Sin?

While I played in the water this morning, I remembered getting "in trouble" for one of baptismal sermons. I had pretty much stated that we were born perfect and then as we play and learn and grow in this world we learn of and experience sin. I wasn't supposed to say such things in the UMC; it didn't fit our doctrine.

As I remembered my "trouble," it wasn't much really, just a "talking to," I'm so happy to be free to say what I mean and mean what I say. In the UMC, I was always trying to fit in. I would stretch concepts so that I could say them honestly. That's not really honest though is it?

I'm thrilled to be participating in a church in which I can ask questions, challenge concepts and theologies, and grow. I've never been happier in church than I am now. I finally found my home.

I learned a lot from the UMC and there are things like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and Prevenient Grace that have shaped my faith formation but I'm glad to be in a new home where I am encouraged to continue to grow and continue the journey because I believe that God is still speaking.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thinking with my fingers

It's funny, I thought 2015 was the worst year on the books. It very well may have been but 2016 feels like a close 2nd. I am optimistic about 2017 until I remember who our president-elect is. 

As much as I want to bitch and complain I realize that I am incredibly blessed. After the past two years I am aware that having all three of my girls breathing and relatively healthy is a blessing and nothing I should ever take for granted.

Last Friday, Ainsley had a grand mal seizure. It was her first and fingers crossed, it will be her last. There is a strong possibility that it was due to a new psych med they were trying for her. Thankfully, prior to the grand mal seizure she had started experiencing petit mal seizures so I had already been in contact with her neurologist and she already has an EEG scheduled. The grand mal seizure happened at a friend's home which is unfortunate because Ainsley may never leave our house again. It was seriously the first time her depression had lifted long enough for her to want to spend time with a friend and outside of our home. Of course, the depression has returned with its friend anger for a lovely combination inside of the mind of a 15 year old girl.

Saturday evening Merkin, her friend Mallorie, and dog Olive were stranded west of nowhere in a snow storm. I called the insurance company to get them towed out. An hour later I called back to ask when they'll arrive because the battery had died, there were no lights, and it was now pitch black outside. The insurance agent said "Oh, there's a an 8 hour wait. You should call the local 911 to get them out." Thankfully, Joel left to meet them while I was on the phone with insurance the first time. I called our local 911, they gave me the number for the Walsenberg PD. Walsenberg PD gave me the number for the Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol said they were covering accidents and didn't have time to rescue stranded motorists. As Merkin and Mallorie's phones were dying and their butts were freezing a kind Samaritan rescued them and gave them a lift to Walsenberg. Joel found them warming up at Loaf and Jug. Thankfully, they arrived home by midnight and were safe and sound.

The dogs tearing up the kitchen, eating a bag of chocolate chips and a plate of chocolate chip cookies was simply delightful. Discovering our plumbing was backed up added to the pleasure of the weekend. But our weekend was celebrated with everyone, including 3 dogs, being mostly healthy, sharing in some laughter and tears.

Yesterday Merkin and Joel went to retrieve her car which she had just sunk $1000 a week before so it would be ready for the 6 hour drive home. Did I mention she also experienced her first major heartbreak during finals? The shop said the car was fine and it would only cost $160 for them to pick it up. Alas, as they got near Pueblo the car died again. Turns out the guys in the first shop weren't the brightest bulbs. She had blown a gasket going over La Veta pass but they didn't notice that. For another $60 they discovered that her car is kaput. Today, Joel and Merkin will make a shorter drive to retrieve the car again. 

Tonight we will celebrate with friends, including 3 of the cutest children on the face of the planet (not mine, little ones). There will be laughter, there will be joy, and life will go on.

My girls are home and relatively healthy. For that I am thankful. Joel and I will have been married 20 years in 2017. We have survived post-partum depression, adult depression, seminary, crazy family issues, major job losses, 4 years of rural ministry in the most conservative land I've ever lived, our eldest being bullied by a teacher/coach and football team, packing up our lives and moving to Colorado without jobs and moving in with our parents, getting back on our feet, leaving the UMC, joining the UCC, starting the ordination process all over again, having two out of three girls become cutters and have suicide attempts and multiple hospitalizations, and we have survived this past weekend. Things that could have easily torn us apart drew us closer together. We are stronger and closer than I ever knew a married couple could be. When I got married to Joel I didn't believe that married couples were ever really faithful. I didn't know what a healthy relationship could be. I do now. I know that couples can not only be faithful but they can still be twitterpatedly in-love. 

Yes, the past few years have been difficult beyond anything I ever want to go through again. I'm still scared for the mental health of my girls, I'm still scared that Ainsley will give up the fight against depression and anxiety. I'm still concerned that Valerie may be living at home without a job or in school due to her depression and anxiety. I still find it hard to say and acknowledge that my spectacularly successful Merkin has bipolar because it scares me that all three of my girls have significant mental health issues. And yet, here we are, alive and experiencing joy in the midst of life that can be hard.

Drumpf may be our president elect but I know of at least 3 powerful young women who despite their challenges with mental health unabashedly stand for the rights of others, work towards equality and justice. I have 3 warrior women and know there are many others who will not go silently. I know a strong man who works with children doing all he can to teach them more than writing and arithmetic so they too will have courage to face whatever comes their way. I too am a warrior woman prepared to fight for justice and equality. 

2016 may have some more challenges for our family but we despite everything, are strong enough to face them. We are certainly strong enough to see what 2017 will bring.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

They're back

I woke up afraid this morning. Afraid of going back to therapy. Thankfully I have therapy on Thursday so I can discuss this with Cynthia.

My nightmares are back. Nightmares that either I had as a child and in my early 20s or for whatever reason in the midst of the nightmare I believe it's a nightmare I've had before.

I've been doing EMDR in therapy and I love it. I believe it has been one of the most helpful forms of therapy I've experienced. Yet, there have been a few times in which my brain/imagination has simply gone black and then we've stopped for the day and returned later.

It feels as though there is this darkness that I am afraid to face and it is leaking out in my nightmares. 

It was disappointing to wake afraid and worried after an amazing morning with my mentor yesterday. I had obtained some clarity about my call and the process. I was excited to sit down and write and blog about it but I had to go to work (the bummer about employment is you can't just do whatever you want whenever you want).

Perhaps, the nightmare was simply a backlash of fear. I'm moving forward and it feels affirming and wonderful, perhaps that beast of self-sabotage took one last swipe to see if he still has any power. 

No, no you don't. I'm taking my power back. You aren't going to scare me. I've got Cynthia to help me sort this out and I have a mass of supports to help me in the ministry process. Bring on the nightmares and I will dismantle them and grow from them. I'm not going back into the dark.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Picture Perfect

This morning my mind raced with ideas about what to do with our weekend: getting the house cleaned up, decorating for Christmas, making Christmas candies and cookies, having friends over to play some games, or maybe inviting our parents over to play Hand and Foot (an outrageous card game that is lots of fun), shopping for Christmas presents, or perhaps having a date night with Joel. Surely, there's enough time for all of that right?

Joel has been under an immense amount of stress due to his own procrastination with his classes. But after midnight tonight (his deadline for the last paper) he will be free! At least until the next class starts. I too have been stressed and working too much. Last weekend I worked both Saturday and Sunday, this is my first weekend in several weeks that I won't have to work!  Hurrah! So it's no surprise that I want to cram everything in while I have time.

Earlier in the week I thought my weekend would mean laying in bed feeling miserable so I started overloading on Vitamin C, doing nasal rinses, using Raven in my diffuser to help me breath and guess what? It worked!  I'm still a little stuffy but I'm not concerned about wasting my weekend in bed.

I am concerned that I won't be productive and have a little fun at the same time. As my mind was racing this morning, I pictured a clean kitchen with my girls laughing and having fun while we make chocolate peanut butter balls, Christmas music playing in the background (Weezer's Christmas of course), and then friends coming over with their kiddos and lots of laughter and good times, like a Hallmark Christmas movie where all is good and everyone is happy. That's how my plans always look in my mind.

As I've been pondering success and what that looks like, I feel like this double edged sword. As I seek success, it also brings to mind all the ways I have failed. For example, this weekend will not include family and friends coming over to eat homemade cookies and candies. My girls are both sick, I may have warded off whatever they have but they aren't willing to do the nasal rinses ("Gross!) that I swear by and they both are suffering from depression. For now, that Hallmark picture isn't part of my reality. I will have a clean kitchen come hell or high water!

I'm the person always telling people that perfection is overrated. That getting back up when we fall down is what matters. Or perhaps I'm just trying to convince myself.

My life has never been picture perfect. I've had lots of great ups and downs. I've laughed and loved in the midst of muck and mud, I don't think I'd want it any other way. And yet, each time a holiday or party or school year comes around, something picture perfect comes into my head and I strive to get there. Sometimes I have a breakdown because it's not picture perfect and other times I laugh and find the joy in that moment. I guess it's good to realize the only thing that even the picture never comes out quite perfect, our imaginations fill it in.

Here's to a weekend filled with imperfections, depressed kids who have a little bit of laughter, and that I get my clean kitchen!  May we find joy in the mess!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dreams of success

I was dreaming of writing. Scribbling frantically with pen and paper. A good friend came up and wanted to talk. I said "No, not now." He begged for time. I replied "I'm not here for you, I'm here for myself, for this. I came to write." His feelings were hurt but I felt justified and then I felt guilt. I was writing about redemption and love and kindness. I was guilty of putting myself and my writing first, putting it over my relationship, my friendship, taking care of another. I was angry at myself and at my friend for not understanding that I had gone to that time and place and space to write. Yet I knew that I would want for our friendship and camaraderie when the writing was done, when I had exhausted myself from the scribbling and purging of thoughts and emotions. What else could I do but come here to write after such a dream?

I've been relieved of failure and fear!  I wish! I have been relieved of writing and focusing on failure and fear for my mentor!  It is now time to focus on success and what that looks like for me.

This morning, success looks and feels like taking care of myself. I haven't been doing such a good job of that lately. Work has zapped my time and energy. Family has been hard lately as well. Interesting that I've been encouraged to think and write about success and here I am flailing my back once again. What does success look like right now? Taking care of myself, treating myself and my body with love and respect

  • writing: creating time and space to express myself 
  • hitting and kicking bags at 9 Round--it's good for my body and mind, one of the best stress relievers I've ever experienced and the people there are encouraging and supportive
  • eating and drinking things that help my body rather than hurt it--I know gluten and dairy rob my body of energy and create pain
  • while I'm treating my body as a temple then I should also get some new stained glass (tattoos)
  • ooh, spending some time at R.E.S.T. Float solutions--indulging in relaxation and prayer
  • writing
  • time playing with my family--the girls are older and so play looks different now but our best times have been painting together, ooh, yes, we need a painting day!
  • time with Joel
  • time with friends
  • reading--this past week I started reading again, it had been months since I've read for pleasure
  • prayer--significant time spent in prayer
  • focus at work and then leaving work at the office
  • not working on Sundays and enjoying the time with my church family
  • dreaming
  • making love
  • leaving fear and failure behind, not letting it get in my way, understanding that both are normal parts of life but not giving them control
  • preaching with heart and love 
  • acting in and for justice
  • hosting parties for family and friends
  • cooking and baking
My fingers gobbled up more time than I had planned. It felt good though. I really like this to-do list!  What does success look like to you?