Posts tagged ‘friendship’

September 22, 2013

While I’ve Been Gone

It has been almost five weeks since I’ve felt quite right and since I’ve posted any new content. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that this isn’t normal.

But, here I am on a Saturday night to say “I’m back!” And I’ll tell you why I’ve been gone.

And no, it is not because the dog ate my homework or any excuse like that. . .

Over a month ago, I found myself in a Oklahoma hospital preparing for emergency surgery. I hadn’t been feeling well for quite some time, but I seriously thought it would pass. But, after going to the doctor finally, the reason for my troubles came to the light. But I must insert here that the truth took 2 different misdiagnosis and 2 ER visits to come out.

Before surgery, there was a bit of a scare that my illness could have come from cancer: not cool! But, when the pathology report came back from the lab afterwards it was determined that my painful condition was not a long-term problem (no cancer) and the surgery had cleared me of infection. It was just a freak event. All of this was great news, but simultaneously, I faced a couple of months recovery process.

Life certainly took a different turn than I expected in August and September. And my October plans have been altered too.

When folks have heard what I’ve gone through I’ve felt a lot of pity. “Oh, my God. I’m so sorry” has been the most common response. So, I tell you all of this not to seek your pity or well wishes (honestly, I don’t find comfort in a person’s pity), but to focus on the positive and say that this time has been life-giving in its own way. And, I have a lot to be thankful for:

Most of all, I’m alive and don’t have cancer.

Without much time to research doctors or hospitals, I felt like I got great care where I landed on August 21st. I was in good hands with the surgeon given to me.

Kevin was not out of the country when I got sick but by my side the whole way (even sleeping at the hospital on a cot for a couple of nights!). He doesn’t just run a large non-profit, he’s my husband and an amazing one at that!

Help came when I needed it the most: my mom flew in from Tennessee and one of my best friends flew out from several states over to Oklahoma too. They were gifts to our household especially as Kevin still had to work and I wasn’t ready to be on my own.

The flowers I got from Feed The Children employees, DC friends and other folks made my hospital room and then our small apartment smell amazing. (And made the hospital staff in particular keep telling me– you must be loved).

Dear ones became even dearer to me these past several weeks– a friend from Africa called me every day just to talk me through the loneliness, friends from all over the country called to pray for me or let me cry when I needed to process how scary this entire ordeal was, and my one Oklahoman friend Susan brought the actual presence of joy to our apartment with her visits and often brought yummy food that Kevin enjoyed (even if I didn’t feel like eating).

I even got one of those amazing Washington Plaza Baptist “get well” cards that I had signed for countless other people during the years I served as that church’s pastor, but this time it was for me.

And now as I’m able to get up and move around a bit more, I’m more grateful than ever for the gift of life’s simple pleasures.

Driving my car is a big accomplishment of the day, not a chore.

Being able to shower and even shave my legs (finally) by myself is a joy, not one more thing to do in the morning.

Having enough mental energy to write words on this computer screen is not mundane task, but one full of delight.

Gaining enough strength to fly on an airplane to my home in DC was not just an average day, but one to be celebrated!

Why? Because I simply could. A couple of weeks ago I could not.

Early on, I needed help brushing my hair, dressing and getting propped up in bed. I could not go to the bathroom without being watched. I could not eat food without asking permission. In all of this, I received lessons in being served by loved ones and strangers alike.

Prior of all of this, I was eating well, taking vitamins, and working out, doing all of the things a doctor says “healthy people do” and without any known medical conditions. But all of a sudden, I wasn’t well. My illness came on strong. And I was out. I hardly felt like texting or talking either– two of my favorite things.

Most of all this is what I learned: never let age keep you from being grateful for your health. This 33-year-old named Elizabeth Hagan is excited about her recovery and feeling strong again. And maybe one day I’ll write more about it.

But for now, I’m going back to the couch to keep “doing my time” in recovery to be good as new soon. And when I am, certainly know I’ll be even more grateful.

July 11, 2013

Friendship with God

I grew up in the type of Christian community that would frequently say things like:

“Work on your relationship with God above all else.”

And, “If you let anything come between your relationship with Jesus, then your faith is off track.”

For while the intention of such teaching was probably was something like, “Make your faith life as a priority” (which is probably something that would come out of my mouth, even today) what I heard in my head as child was, “You can’t have friends who you’d count closer to you than God.”

As if friendship was some sort of divine vs. human competition . . .

It was as if God could not be present to us in my friends. . . .

But as much as I grew to love the divine presence in my life as teenager and college student– sometimes Jesus’ presence (in a spiritual sense) wasn’t enough for me.

I needed friends. I didn’t think Jesus made me to be so lonely.

I’ll say it again: I needed friends. Having Jesus in my life didn’t take this from me as hard as I tried to believe it would.

But, the church seemed to keep saying “Pursuing close friends would make Jesus jealous.”

When I was in seminary and the relational bolts within me began to shift, I had a spiritual director who provided a light bulb moment. She kept noticing how uncomfortable I became when friends got too close to me. And she was right, I didn’t like the vulnerability that it required. I was scared in fact. I thought, was I somehow cheating on Jesus if I really loved my friends? Would people really like me if they actually knew me?

But then this was the sticking point that she offered: “You can only be as close to God as you allow yourself to be to other people.”

Of course this is not an “always true” statement (for there are countless faithful folks called to the ministry of monastic life or even hermit life for the reasons of prayer and un-interrupted communion with God), but I think there’s great wisdom in it.

We can only be as close to God as we allow ourselves to be with other people.

There’s power in community isn’t there? In deep and abiding community with others the real stuff of our life comes out.

And by this I don’t mean community with friends you have dinner with causally once a month or friends from the bleachers at your kids’ soccer games– I mean authentic friendship: those who know what makes you afraid, those who have seen you cry uncontrollably and vice versa, and those who can look in your eyes and know you’re stewing about something even without you having to utter a word.

With people like this, there’s no hiding. There’s no major missing puzzle pieces as to what makes you tick held from the other. There’s no shying away from the most unlikable parts of our personalities. It’s really honest living for sure.

And when we get this honest– I believe, our God who is the author of all truth shows up!

Roberta Bondi in her book, To Pray and To Love writes this: “The fulfillment of our deepest purposes and profound longs for God can never be separated from our love of God’s own images among whom we live.”

We learn about God, she is says, as we abide in relationship with those closest to us. In fact, we are MISSING out on parts of the personality of God when we don’t get close to others.

Bondi even goes as far to write that the lack of intimacy many of us have in prayer occurs because we’ve never really learned how to talk openly and honestly to others. If we can’t talk honestly with another human being, how could we talk honestly with God?

Bottom line is this: one of the most spiritual acts you and I could pursue right now and in the weeks to come is deepening our friendships. It might be the single greatest thing we could do to learn how to be closer to God.

It has taken me many years to shake off the baggage of my childhood in this regard. But I’m so glad I’m in the process of re-wiring all of this within me.

In friendship we both get to learn about and practice what it means to abide in God’s love. So anybody got a friend they need to call today? Or meet for lunch soon? I know I do.

July 8, 2013

You’re Never Too Old For Youth Camp

image copyYou are never too old it seems to go to youth camp.

. . . even when you are not a youth minister bringing kids to camp.

. . . even if you’re not a pastor of a particular church.

. . . even if you haven’t sung a praise song on a screen in years.

. . . even when your cabin for the week is nowhere near the bathhouse and you aren’t sure you are going to find it with ease in the middle of the night.

If you are a friend of Son Servants, the mission wing of Youth Conference Ministries, you are always welcomed. You are never too old to serve alongside them as I did in Chattanooga last week.

I came without a defined role– other than the unofficial camp pastor. Soon I began to call myself captain of all things miscellaneous.

In this, I led a few devotions for the adult leaders and taught a group Bible Study at one of the mission sites last Tuesday. But other than this, I moved coolers. I washed tables. I went on errands. I supervised middle school kids cleaning bathrooms.

I struggled at first– saying to myself, “I’m too old for this” and “What am I doing here? I could be doing something that uses some of my better skills…”

But the more I got into the daily rhythms of last week, the more I realized youth camp for this pastor in transition was a wonderful place to be.

image copy 2I began to marvel at the joy and enthusiasm of the 19-year-old summer staff for their work (thinking, wow, I’m old! I used to be them!)– their presence reminded me to not take life so seriously as I naturally do.

I got to learn new worship songs– songs that I’d never sung before all part of a particular culture of church ministry I’d maybe long written off, but still has much to teach the Church as a whole.

I got to live the Son Servants mentality: “To love is to serve” as there was never a task too dirty that ANY of us would not be asked to do (cleaning toilets was a daily part of my job)– and I loved it strangely. Work of the hands is good for the soul!

I got to spend quality time with a dear friend, entering into the deep waters of life that only experiences like going to Sam’s and Sam’s again and again can provide you.

After a couple of days, my frustrations of “What am I doing here?” were turned into exclamations of thanksgiving for being in such a place of love and acceptance– something I’ve really missed in our family’s transitional life for the past six months.

I’m so glad my life schedule allowed me to say “Yes!” to this opportunity to go back to youth camp last week.

image copy 3I’m so glad I received the challenge of being pushed in my life toward new patterns of eating, work and prayer.

I’m so glad to have been wrapped up in the blanket of Christian community that only a camp setting like this can provide– if even for only 8 short days.

I AM SO GLAD that in my life that God’s gracious leading is often about circles. Circles that take me back to physical places and emotional spaces where I still have more to learn– even if I could boast saying “I’d been there and done that. . . ” Nope (not true!) in fact, I still have so much to learn!

You’re never too old for youth camp if you are a part of the Son Servants family and I’m very proud to have been welcomed by them again last week.

June 28, 2013

What Does It Mean to Wait?

Today I’m still thinking a lot about what it means to wait . . .

My friend Sarah and I were catching up the other day on the phone. We’d hadn’t talked to each other in months so we quickly got down to the essence of what is going on in the ups and downs of our lives (I love these kinds of chats). In catching up I realized that we’re both waiting in different seasons of life for what is not yet and what we don’t know. While it was nice to make this connection that we’re in a similar place, it’s really not a fun state to be in at all.

For all of us who are waiting for something, we know how this feels.

The frustration of waiting can easily turn to anger, despair and life crippling anxiety.

When we wait, we can feel stuck.

When we wait, we can easily feel forgotten.

When we wait, we can feel like God is not close, but very far away.

A long term season of waiting can often turn us inward to the point that we think we’re the only person on the planet that has every waited for x.

But, we aren’t. We know this of course, but accepting it in our hearts is altogether different matter.

Yet, ultimately, waiting and hoping and not knowing in our waiting is a part of what it means to be human.

Nothing ever happens instantaneously. Often nothing good in our life comes without pain. Suffering through waiting finds us all.

We are not ever as alone as we feel.

Waiting in fact, can be a spiritual discipline that has the power to re-focus us on life-giving practices that sustain.

Waiting can turn our spirits toward other wait-ers—those who we might not otherwise encounter so deeply.

Waiting can humble the hardest places in us, even the place we didn’t think were hard at all.

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that waiting is hard, hard work. It takes faith—faith like none other to sustain your spirit in a time like this. It takes sticking with yourself, even on the days when you think you can’t make it one more day. It takes trust: that the bigger picture is indeed worth the ride.

To my fellow wait-ers out there—whatever it is you are waiting for—know that you have a friend in me. This is the best gift I can give today.

I’m waiting with you, as I know through your reading of this post, you are waiting with me.

I hear your pain. Your struggle. Your longings. Your cries.

I know that sometimes there’s no other way to put it than to say that waiting sucks.

But, in community may we keep the faith. May we not loose heart. May we hold each other accountable to keep on waiting as the Hebrews writer spoke of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

February 20, 2013

I Confess

I hear it from clergy all the time: it’s hard to worship when you are leading others.

One of the joys of my Sabbatical time so far has been the opportunity to visit to other churches and consider again what church means to me as a participating worshipper.

But learning how to be a worshipper is harder than it might seem.

On this past Sunday morning I found myself at a big steeple church with a friend in my hometown in Tennessee. It was her home church and for this reason I was glad to go alongside.

But, when we pulled up to the congregation sometimes known in the community as “fortress,” I was a little afraid.

And rightfully so. I was back in church compound land. Such a big model of doing ministry is not what I believe the church is nor is how I’ve I practiced it in years.

Was I going to have to make small church talk with strangers around the coffee pot before church? Was I going to have to sit in a classroom circle staring at other well-dressed folks who appeared to be more excited about study than they actually were? Was I going to want to pull my hair out at the fluffy theology coming forth from the lips of leaders? None of these are my favorite things, as you might imagine.

Furthermore, fear came up in me because I’m not a fan of churches without a lot of racial diversity. (We need our churches to LOOK like the Body of Christ.) I’m not a fan of churches that don’t include voices of the poor (I mean, what is a good service without a distraction from a homeless person coming in?). And, I know a church is not for me if the American and Christian flag are proudly displayed in the sanctuary (Can I say idolatry of nationalism has no place in God’s house?). Most of all, I want to know that when a church says, “We welcome all” they really mean it. I want to know that a church’s doctrine doesn’t hurt people.

But, then we arrived. Ready or not, I went.

Getting out of our car, I gazed up at a large dark stoned building that takes up several blocks in the neighborhood. It almost felt like something out of one of the Harry Potter movies as I walked through wood carved archways inside to get take a flight of stairs down to a well-kept Sunday School classroom. Asking questions on the way in, I learned that the membership is mostly made up of those who would be named as upper middle to upper class folks– at least 2,000 in worship on Sunday. And most of it members are white– even though some of the young families have adopted church from other countries. And there is one paid African-American soloist in the choir. Need I say more?

I could have easily spent the next two hours rolling my eyes and thinking “better than” thoughts in my head.

But, I have to confess– I was wonderfully surprised.

Walking into Sunday School– a room filled with well-dressed, well-to-do looking folks, about 20 of them in all, with a woman in a black sweater, red beaded necklace, pencil length grey skirt, and black boots standing behind a pulpit on a desk, I found an open mind. We sat in rows not a circle. And then, what came forth from this teacher’s mouth was well-prepared, engaging truth from the Word.

I almost had tears well up in my eyes at several points as we discussed the passage from John 5 about the man whom Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” (Have there been spaces in my life the past six years when someone has taught me on a regular basis? No. Man, this has got to change, I thought. ) As I continued to listen, the teacher read commentaries from some of my favorite Biblical scholars, one in which I’d even known in seminary. The class members shared a richer theological discussed than I’d experienced in such a church in years. I found myself saying in the midst of the discussion, “I guess this is why people actually come to church– they’re hungry too to learn about their relationship with Christ.” Because I did. I left refreshed.

Later in the service of worship, though the number of white faces were many and the flags hung beside the steps up to the altar, I tried again to not be so snobby. And, tears found me again. We sang robustly the great hymns of faith with the kind of full voices only a full sanctuary with pipe organ can. I found beauty in the liturgy of the prayers. The choir proclaimed a sacred piece that stilled any unsettling in me. The preacher, though an older white man, read and proclaimed the Word with jewels of encouragement. And, throughout the service, I felt the warmth of those around me– many of whom I’d met before while visiting once before– folks who remembered me, asked genuine questions, and talked to me about their prayer life.

I left with a conviction of my heart. One I’d been thinking about for a long while– we’ve got to be less judgmental of each other in the Church. Pastors like me need to stop being church snobs. The Spirit of the Lord is not always in the places we expect. God’s presence is in all black churches and all white churches and rich churches and poor churches. Church doesn’t always have to be just the way we like it for worship to happen. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I know this again full well.

Does the church still need prophets? Does the church need voiced raised that say, “Stop building altars to yourself and start serving?” Does the church need radical changes in its institutional life so that it can look more like the radical message of Jesus? Does the church need more integration and more theologically sound teachers? Sure it does. It really, really really it does.

But, in the meantime, can the church be the place where God’s presence dwells, where lives are transformed and where individual faith can be nourished? To all of this, I say yes.

I confess, I’ve been judgmental a long time. This Sabbatical time is asking this ugliness in me to change. And, most of all this Sabbath is asking me to worship from the pews. And most of all to listen.

December 3, 2012

Waiting with the Prophets

Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16

stores-open-at-christmas-eveI’m proud of you for being in church today for the season of busyness is upon us. No longer in the causal days of fall activities, and not yet to the Sunday before Christmas (where everyone seems to feel the call stronger to go to church).  Seemingly it feels like a not-so special day. But, it is in this post-Thanksgiving, early December date that the excitement of the Advent season begins, the four Sundays on the liturgical calendar of the church where we stop and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.  This year, we are approaching Advent together as we “Wait With . . .”

Many of us have the “hurry up” part down. Maybe not the waiting . . .

We know how to get things done.

Many of us braved the crowds this weekend and headed to the malls to get the first or second round of our Christmas shopping completed like Kevin and I did. Oh, what insanity.

Many of us took that climb into the attic or on the top shelf in our garage to get our Christmas decorations down and have our house look like a disaster zone for many hours until it all started to come into order.

And, then some of us timed ourselves to see how many Christmas cards we could write before we knew the responsibilities of life and work got to us again this coming week filling our kitchen tables with stamps, address labels and cards galore. There always seems to be something to do this time of year.

But, wait?  That’s what we are talking about today?

This is not just our forte. By nature we are an impatient people. We like to have things OUR way, when WE want it, don’t we?

When will the train come? How long will this grocery line take? How many more miles till we get there?  When will my life get better? When will my husband or wife change? When will I get everything out of life that I wished for?

However, my desire for this Advent season both through the Sunday worship services and the Wednesday night worship services that you and I have the ability to redefine what it means for us to wait for Christmas.  And this year instead of focusing on the typical Advent words like hope, joy, peace and love—we’re going to stick with what it means to wait with others.

We’ll wait together for Christmas to come as part of our spiritual discipline of worship. We’ll hope to see this waiting period not as wasted time or meaningless time. We’ll hope to see this Advent not as punishment . .. “Can’t it just be Christmas already?” We hope this waiting period becomes an opportunity to feel in our bones the urgency of the season, urgency to position our lives through a posture of waiting to receive the love that is ours to have in the kingdom of Christ.

Today, as we begin, the exhortation scripture leads us to begin with is to wait with the prophets, in particular the prophet, Jeremiah.

Who is Jeremiah?

Jeremiah is known in Biblical history as the weeping prophet, an emotionally charged, unlikely spokesman who was called to ministry about one year after King Josiah of Judah began making his reforms in the temple—a key moment in the history of the nation.

I say an unlikely spokesman because Jeremiah was the least likely kind of guy to expect himself called to God’s service.

If you think throughout scripture, all the great leaders or prophets made excuses to God when they were called, some were too young, some were too old, some said they simply didn’t know how to lead. And the same was true of Jeremiah.

He told the LORD that he did not know how to speak, for he was only a child. But, scripture tells us that all of this changed when the LORD reached out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth reminding him that he put words in his month. There would be no excuses; Jeremiah was equipped for all that was to come.

And spoke Jeremiah did, calling the people of Israel to a life that pleased God.

For the next 40 years he served as God’s spokesman—though when he spoke, as it common with those with spiritual gifts of discernment and prophecy, few listened.  But he kept on keeping on.

One chapter prior to our text’s opening for today; we hear the banner statement over and over again throughout the book, saying “the word of the Lord came toJeremiah_by_Michelangelo Jeremiah.”

And this was the context: corruption of the kings of Judah went from ok to worse after its good king Josiah. God allowed invaders to come in the country.  The fall was upon them.

So at this present time, already hundreds of Jerusalem’s residents had been forced by Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar into exile. Soon others would be forced to go as well as Babylon was growing stronger by the day.

We know that it was the 10th year of Zedekiah’s reign, another one of Judah’s kings known for his corruption. Though King Zedekiah had struck a deal with Egypt to hold off Babylon a little bit longer in the previous chapters, thinking he’d provided for himself the security he craved, this too would soon fail.

Above all, it’s a storm of confusion all around as they refused to listen to God.   However, the worst had not happened yet, but any person with common sense could see that hardships were even going increase.

But to everyone’s surprise: this is not the time when the weeping prophet wept.  Oh, to the contrary, at this seemingly impossible juncture, Jeremiah gives a word of hope.

Look with me again at verse 14:

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness the land.”

It’s a promise. It’s a word of restoration. It’s word of the Lord that focuses their attention on their past and not just present that can have redemptive qualities, but on their future.

Seems strange, though, because the people were in mourning. Grief broke out across the land. They were grieving about what could have been. Grief about what will never be. In particular, this grief had everything to do with the loss of David’s dynasty, the history of this family generation after generations leading the people. They were sad to now be even smaller and less significant than they were before. But, to this grief, Jeremiah says, “Don’t call this a tragedy just quite yet.”

Why? Because a “righteous branch” is going to spring forth from David’s line.

If we read this as and Messiah prophetic text (i.e. pointing our attention to Jesus), we see that the one would later be born in David’s city, Bethlehem with Joseph as his father (from the house and lineage of David), then the prophecy came to be. Of course, it didn’t come as the people expected. It didn’t come in the lifetimes of the people who heard this word first. But it did speak for a God who would go with the people through the rocky places of their journey as individual and as a nation and never leave them without hope.

It is true that some prophetic words are harsh throughout scripture, or seem harsh to our ears, but ultimately HOPE is the real motive behind any true prophet’s message. Prophecy is a loving gift of the spirit enabling us who are walking in the darkness of life to see light at the end of the tunnel.

And our exhortation this morning is to wait with prophets like Jeremiah and all the other prophets of our day and time. To wait with expectant ears around those of us whose giftedness is to hear God’s call and then share it with us.  To wait in the coming month in celebration of this righteous branch being born! The fulfillment of the great joy!

We don’t talk a lot about waiting with prophets or even the modern expression of prophecy very much in church because when we simply say the word, prophet, we’re afraid. We’re afraid because of all of the negative experiences we’ve had with folks in our world claiming to know God’s plans, only to have their predictions fall on their face.  We’re afraid of the Kool-Aid, literally.

But what a shame this is. For I believe the false prophets among us have destroyed the good reputation of what is most needed in our time, those who are willing to tell us the truth. Those who are willing to look at what seems like a “bad situation” and give us hope, just as Jeremiah did with Israel.

Have you ever experienced a person with prophetic gifts? And by this I mean a person who told you the truth—not just in every day conversation, but truth-telling at a deeper level, truth-telling that cut to the heart of a situation you sought to hide or ignore?

We love to speak ill of prophetic types (as much as we like them) because it is true their role is to tell us what we don’t want to hear.  Or simply stated, prophetic types can be annoying. They are really good at cramping our style.

In college I had a friend full of these kinds of gifts, prophetic ones. She was a dear to me, however, I didn’t have thick enough skin for her honesty quiet yet. But I would have much to learn.

One afternoon in the middle of my junior first semester, well into the bulk of my education certification coursework, I sat in our shared apartment with this friend. I was practicing my handwriting for my cursive writing class and next up was cutting out letters for my bulletin board making assignment. And this friend took one look at me and the pile of art supplies around me and said, “You’ve got to get out of that major. You’ve got bigger things to do in the world than displaying good handwriting or pretty bulletin boards.”

It was hard to hear of course—I’d planned my whole life around being a teacher and to drop the major mid-way seemed like career suicide.  And not that there is anything wrong with being an elementary teacher, but it wasn’t me.

But, I knew she was right.  I needed her to tell me the truth. I needed to get off the couch and think about going to seminary. And you need those people in your life too.

Where would I be today without that friend? I can imagine, you’ve had prophetic voices that have guided you, re-directed you and  lovingly told you to listen to God afresh also. And without them, you wouldn’t be here today either.

What a great reminder, then this week of Advent is for us to wait with the prophets among us.  To give thanks for Jeremiah, his voice, his passion, his word of hope that we get to see fulfilled on Christmas Eve. And for us, to know that God’s word is alive and well and there are spoke people, given as gifts of grace that help us find our way. Because ultimately what Advent is all about is making more room for God in our lives. And, without prophets we might not know where to start cleaning out the spiritual closets weighing us down.

And, an opportunity to know God is here today—here at this table—ready for us to receive what was broken for us, not just for the sake of being broken, but broken so that God’s light might shine in us and in our dark, dark world. Let us gather and shift our hearts to taste and see that God is good beginning. Let us wait for this prophetic word which is the living bread given for us. Let us eat together in expectation of a God who always gives us hope and never leaves us alone.


November 1, 2012

Sorrow and Joy

Last weekend, I experienced a moment when I knew I’d seen a family walk through the fullness of “it was the worst of times and it was the best of times.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it is that we move through life when really bad things happen and also the good too. How do we cope when we are going through hell and those around us are in the peak of joy (and vice versa). I recently mused about it here and was able to spend some time in a Bible study with a group of women talking about this very thing last week (shout out to the Signal Mountain ladies). It’s a difficult topic to be honest about, to wrestle with and to really know what to do with for sure! But then sometimes life just hits you and you must deal with it, no matter if you want to or not.

During my first year of seminary, in mid-January, I got the call from my best friend, Kristina– the kind of call that you never want to receive. “Daddy’s been in accident. He didn’t make it.”

Kristina’s father wasn’t just any person in my life– he was a dear friend, a kind man who welcomed me warmly into his family gatherings, vacations and always ready with a good prank or joke. He never took life too seriously and was the type of father you knew would one day turn into a wonderful grandfather when his three kids got around to having their own. But on that cold January night he was gone. And, we were all in shock. It just wasn’t right. He should have lived to see so much more.

After hearing the news, I caught the first plane out-of-town to be with my friend and her family. For several days. Kristina’s parents’ house was now full of loved ones, flowers galore and food enough to feed a southern army. When it came time to sleep the night before the funeral, I asked where I should go. Kristina had joined her mom in the king sized bed in her room, now cold with grief and loss. Her mom said quickly:”You can sleep in the room with us, Elizabeth.” And so I made a pallet on the floor next to these two grieving ones. I was glad to be close.

The next morning, Kristina, her mom and I got ready together in the adjoining bathroom for the funeral. Kristina’s mom had always called me “just another family member” so she said numerous times in between tears, “I’m so glad you are here.”

I sat with the family at the memorial service, next to Kristina’s fiance, Richard and her two brothers. We cried together rivers of tears. When all was said and done, I slept (or pretended to sleep) on the floor next to them the following evening. The three of us talked and talked and then sat in silence together for hours. We couldn’t believe he was really gone.

The three of us were together in grief that day. I will always remember.

Then, last Saturday, the three of us gathered in a bedroom once again. This time, nearly 8 years later, we sat around in a bedroom for a completely different reason, though. A day of joy came. Kristina’s mom was getting married again. She was the matron of honor and I was the minister. And a new man was in the room with us– a man who would be her new husband, a kind and gentle and loving man, a wonderful addition to this already wonderful family.

As I watched Kristina help put on her mom’s white dress and make sure her hair was perfectly aligned and her necklace was on straight, I couldn’t help but have my mind go back to that moment when the three of us were in a bedroom together many years ago.

As we tried to make sure her white dress was tied up just right, I couldn’t help but remember dark cloud hanging over us years ago as each one of us asked in our own way: “Will life ever get better again?” But yet on this day, I saw this mom say with her bright smile: “Yes, it can. It really can. Life can be beautiful if you give it time.” Happiness can come, she declared to the world if you hang on to hope!

I am so glad that my circle of family has been cast wide and that I could experience both the sorrow and of joy of these moments with these dear ones. And what a testimony this weekend was for me– when life is rocky, just hang on. For just as bad times seek to destroy us, the good comes too! I’m glad I’m around to see what comes next– both the sorrow and the joy that will be.

October 2, 2012

Ten FriendshipThoughts for Tuesday

1. Best piece of advice  I ever got about becoming an adult was- “Make good friends and keep them.”

I ran across this quote last week from Anne Lamott and posted it on Facebook. Seems to be appropriate to share here too: “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

2. In the same way, I recently heard Oprah say recently something to this effect “Some people don’t have the oxygen to make up life’s mountains with you.” Some friends are just for a season. They don’t have the oxygen to climb with you, and to make them feel bad about this is not fair to either of you. Keep climbing beside those who do. You might have to make new friends. You might need to rediscover friends from long ago,  but it is all good. The climbing partners are there. Keep your eyes open.

3. There’s always time for relationship surprises. Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him think about this concept: “While visiting the  University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” Maybe that phone call or email or visit that you didn’t expect today could be in fact your greatest gift to give the world today . . .  something for all of us to think about.

4. Friends can be the family we most need. I give thanks this week for one of my dearest friends, Kristina whom spent a lot of time this week visiting DC with her husband and daughter. Somethings never change like the fact that folks either think we’re related or they mistake us for one another from a distance. It was fun to be called, “Kristina” this week again when a church member couldn’t tell us a part. And to finish each other’s sentences!

5.  To love someone, though is not to cling to them. Can I say how much I have loved the book, Awareness by Anthony de Mello. It’s a text that I know is not new to the world (was published in 1990) but it has been the gift that has kept on giving to my life in the past month. Every morning de Mello and I have a date and it’s wonderful! And he writes this: “Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is love there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy; my happiness does not lie in you. If you were to leave me, I will not feel sorry for myself; I enjoy your company immensely, but I do not cling.”

6. To love someone, is also to hold them close in committment. One of my favorite quotes about this, I blogged about this over a year ago, here.

7.  “You can only be as close to the heart of God as you allow your heart to be to others.” A spiritual director imparted this wisdom to me years ago. It was a season of my life when I was wrestling with how much time I spent studying for school and how much time I allowed my daily patterns to be spent with a group of people I was growing very close to. Her words encouraged me that friendship is as much of a spiritual discipline as is prayer, quiet, service, etc.

8. Can pastors be friends with parishioners? Such is a question that is frequent discussed in my clergy circles. Most of my colleagues seem to have a different opinion about it usually based on their personality, family situation and church size. I’ve come to believe that while maintaining healthy boundaries is appropriate, it’s a decision that everyone has to make for themselves. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

9. Friends are those who walk beside us and love giving the good gift of silence. Sometimes there are no words for the grossness of life that we are asked to walk through with each other.

And because one can’t get enough of Henri Nouwen on this topic, here’s another quote of his that I adore: ““When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” from The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

10. True friends are those whom you tell the same story to at least 10 times knowing that when you need to tell the same story over for the 11th re-telling they’ll be around to hear it then too. Who says stories only need to be heard once? Thank goodness there are those who can hear us into understanding!

Here’s to hoping your life is filled with some moments to share today with those whom you call friends!

February 14, 2012

I Love . . .

Today is Valentine’s Day . ..  a day that I know many of my friends hate. I even saw someone recently wearing a t-shirt like the picture to the right. I totally understand. It can be a rough world out there in the commercialism that we call American holidays especially for those who don’t have what our culture says is a “must have” (i.e. a happy romantic relationship).

But, though I am happily married (and I know this means that some of you will stop reading here), I need to tell you that I love Valentine’s Day.  I have loved this day even in my “I’m sad to be single years.”  For me it has never been about the special someone in my life. It has been a day about love, something we all know something about.

I love this day because it is a wonderful excuse to tell the beautiful people in my life how much I love them. I love the beautiful people who make up my congregation who model for me the faith calling of simply being themselves! I love the amazing people– though the number is small– who still keep in touch with me from college and high school who remind me who I’ve always been. I love the faithful saints of friends who are in my every day life– who make every day trips to the grocery store or out to dinner a major event of laughter. I love the colleagues that I have in ministry who are all across the world who challenge me and encourage me to keep going even when I feel like quitting. 

I love this day because I am one of those people who often feels like the intentional ways I like to show my love to others on other “normal” days of the year can be too much. You know, authentic expressions of love can be intimidating for some not accustomed to receiving. So for me, Valentine’s Day is perfect. It’s a day all about showing and telling those in your life that you love that you do love them. So, I do a lot of it!

I’m sure some of my affection for this day comes from the fact that I grew up in a household where Valentine’s was one of our most celebrated days. While in grade and high school, my mom always hid presents in our chairs at the breakfast table with Vday gifts. Neither of us were big chocolate or candy eaters (I know weird) so we always got small gifts. Usually I found a new red t-shirt to wear to school or new pj pants. We’d always be served heart-shaped toast . . . a tradition I still keep up with whoever is in my household on Vday.

Then, my Vday love started to get out of control when I made that last-minute visit to Duke Divinity School in exploration of a call to go to seminary there on Valentine’s Day 2003. It was the day I met with the admissions director, Donna Claycomb and also met three folks who would become some of my closest friends in the journey of seminary ahead: Abby Thornton, Jenn Brown and Clark Williams. At the end of the day, Donna gave us all cookies on a stick in the shape of hearts as her pastoral way of saying, “Thank you for coming.” She wanted to show her love to us as we were in this scary time of trying to figure out what would be next in our lives. It was on that cold Friday, Valentine’s afternoon that I left Durham knowing that Duke was the seminary for me.

The next year, when Vday came around again and Abby, Jenn and I were hanging out (maybe studying?), we made cookies on a stick (thanks to directions from Donna) in thanksgiving of being friends for a year. Now, every February, I make heart-shaped cookies on a stick and continue to celebrate with these folks and new friends too. Now as a pastor, I often go visiting to shut-ins and widows on Valentine’s Day– taking cookies and saying a word to them about how glad I am to have them in my life, even on a day that might bring up memories of sadness.

Today, I am not able to keep up the shut-in visitation or the heart-shaped toast part of my Vday tradition because I’m taking a couple of days off to spend with my husband in the Midwest. I’m tagging along on his business trip because we both really wanted to be together on this day. I love him so much to suffer through some really cold weather and the piles and piles of snow on the ground :) I’m of the belief that if you have something good in your life (and Kevin is one of the really goods for me), then it needs to be celebrated and celebrated big.

So, what’s the point to this personal ranting “I love Valentine’s Day” blog?

Maybe I can not win you over to my level of Valentines love, but I hope I can encourage you to get out there and tell someone who you love them. It doesn’t have to be a spouse, a boyfriend or a partner, but  someone. No matter who we are, we all have people in our lives that we love and hopefully love us in return. What a great day to just do something for one of these folks, so there is no doubt in their minds how we feel about them! Spread the love, my friends. Spread the love. It really can be a great day.

February 2, 2012

Stay the Course

I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about the past . . . things that have happened in my life 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. I’ve thought a lot about how I got to be where I am. I’ve thought a lot about the people who have helped see at different junctures the gifts that I could not see in myself. I’ve thought a lot about God’s hand of provision at my most desperate places. I’ve thought a lot about one of my favorite hymns, “He Leadeth Me” which testifies to just this truth of God’s gently guiding me, guiding us along the way. In particular, I’ve recognized.

It is amazing to me that a young girl who had never seen a woman preach and thought it was “not a woman’s place” turned out to be one.

It is amazing to me to think of the moments when I felt so unseen, so un-lovable that there were those who loved me, though I may not have been able to recognize it at the time.

It is amazing to me to think of how full circle life can turn out to be– people, circumstances, or hopes that you long thought were long gone from your life come around again and be full of such blessing.

In all of these things, the wisdom for the future that surfaces is “stay the course.” And, by this I mean, as much as life seeks to bump us all off the course, our job is to just stick with it. To know ourselves and to live out of ourselves and not to believe anything less about what we sense to be true about our lives.

When I was in high school, as many at this age experience, I just felt out-of-place. I felt like no one really knew who I was. Can you say awkward?? This was me in almost every sense of the word. Dress, presentation, interactions with others, you name it. This was me.

However, I knew I liked encouraging others. I knew I liked organizing and leading things with purpose and that validated others’ gifts. I knew I liked paying careful attention to the details of others’ lives so to connect with them richly.  I knew I liked public speaking and got great joy out of someone receiving hope from something I said. But, in all of these good gifts I felt completely defeated. Why? Because I lived under a value system where none of these heart bursts of mine were assigned much if any value.

So, I tried to be what others saw as “good.”  Yet, this was like hitting a wall time and time again. I wasn’t good at sports. (I even got a C+ in PE once because of my kept falling off the aerobics bench during the routines). I wasn’t good at voicing my opinions in a crowd. I wasn’t good at telling others that I needed them as much as I communicated thoughtfulness to others. I was afraid. I felt lost. I wondered why people didn’t seem to like me as much as I liked them. I just couldn’t find my niche.Deep pains from this time in my life still eat at me now, if I let it.

In response, I could have become full of rage. I could have started living into destructive patterns of behavior. I could have rejected the faith I was given as a child. And, I’m sure no one would have blamed me.

But, in all of this mess, my life was saved, I know, because I was given this grace from God: fire to stay the course. Though I didn’t have words to articulate this concisely at all, I knew what direction my life was going. And gradually, I found friends, mentors and colleagues who with great patience would beat it into my head that I was loved and my gifts mattered. Through such crumbs of encouragement, I knew that if I just stuck with life long enough it would get better. I knew eventually people would really see me truthfully. I knew I had to fight for my own life, even if no one else did. Because my life mattered. And, I needed to live out my calling. Otherwise my soul might start to die.

And, I’m so glad I did. I am so glad I became a pastor.

People ask me all the time, now as a pastor, for advice. I really don’t feel comfortable with this because I mostly see my pastoral work as that of deep listening. However, if folks insist, I usually go toward the writings of Parker Palmer who says, listen to your life. Here’s my Elizabeth paraphrase of his ideas:

Let your life talk back to you. Let the divine gift of direction swell up in you and don’t be afraid to believe in your own blessedness. No matter if no one but you recognizes it at the time and not matter how much you feel beat down, keep believing and soon others will too. It is going to get better. It always will get better. 

This is my testimony for today: stay the course. It got so much better for me and it will for you too.

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