What do those words conjure up for you? Excitement, stress, joy, dread? Maybe you have already partaken in long held traditions heralding the arrival of the most wonderful time of year or perhaps your tradition is the unwelcome arrival of the blues. Perhaps nostalgia takes hold with thoughts of better times or maybe this present time is the best time of your life for which you are in full celebration mode!
My email in-box is rife with consumerist fodder appealing to my seasonal emotions and the necessity to buy into the tradition of buying. It is also filled with reminders of how little time I have left to get my act together if I want to have perfect holiday celebrations.
As I write, I am listening – though not intently – to the host and guests of the radio show The Splendid Table discuss the impending tradition-rich Thanksgiving holiday. Food and family are the essence of this holiday. And while the original Thanksgiving holiday probably didn’t look, taste or feel anything like the “traditional holiday” we practice today – we hold fast to the sentiment that gathering around food – especially with those we love – imbues.
Indeed, food and family are the essence of life. None of us would be here today had we not spawned from a family of some sort and we could not survive without food. That I am writing and you are reading this missive means we have both succeeded in coming from a family and found enough food to eat. Yay!
And yet these two basic necessities for life can make life fraught. Food. Family. Ugh.
Our culture has a complex and conflicting relationship with both.
We value the abundance of both and yet most of us at some time or another have endured times of scarcity or suffered from over indulgence; likewise, we have likely experienced times of loneliness or immense homesickness and times when we wondered how we came from the same gene pool.
Our lives are governed by the foods we choose or choose not to eat, and our identity is borne from the family life we have or don’t have.
We hunger for satiation while being told or feeling compelled to restrict, we venerate the family ideal while many families are broken or at the breaking point.
We bring all of this complexity and conflict to the Thanksgiving table every year on the 4th Thursday of November – whether we are surrounded by two, ten, twenty, or none at all.
I am blessed to say that I bring all of the above life experiences to the table. How about you?
I have experienced the immense joy of generations of family around a common table saying grace, sharing a never-ending basket of soft, steaming Parker House rolls, vying for the turkey drumstick and trying to politely pass on the bitter cranberry relish. I have found community in a church fellowship hall filled with laughter and the chaos of two turkeys, 2 hams, and all the fixings being prepared by us for us on Thanksgiving Day, not on some other day so everyone can “still celebrate the real day the right way” because we were all most of us had – all 50 of us – to be with on Thanksgiving Day.
One year my mom fixed toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the four of us on the big day. I have had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers by myself more times than I care to reveal right now. I have witnessed doors slammed and I have slammed doors on this day of blessing. I have seen tears shed over a shattered heirloom casserole dish and shed tears at the realization that the last Thanksgiving dinner of my father’s life had just been eaten – barely so. For most of the last 10 years, my Thanksgiving tradition has been to be a part of someone else’s traditions or none at all.
I planned and brought forth Thanksgiving for my family 3 times in my life – it was wonderful. I savor those memories – rose-colored as they may be – as life is very different now.
Some years I have longed to be surrounded by family and friends without an invite or way to get home, others years I have politely declined invitations to join others in order to have one day of peace and reflection all to myself amid my working life’s chaos.
Perhaps you, like me, in certain seasons of life, have wondered, if only in the confines of your weary, stressed, dejected, scarcity-stricken mind, why? Why do we do this to ourselves every year?
It would be so much easier – if not healthier – to just chill for the day. And I am not by any means ruling that out!! Despite what the hosts with the most and all the gathering experts promulgate across the airwaves, social media, magazine covers (taunting me as I stand in the grocery line with my sliced bread and pasta sauce) and blogosphere, there is no “right” way to celebrate or observe this day.
As I reflect on the 45 of the 50 Thanksgivings that I can remember celebrating, I find it is the complexity and conflicting realities of my life that give Thanksgiving its true meaning. God does amazing things with darkness and chaos – just look at the earth and all of creation.
The Thanksgivings that have garnered seats at the table of my memory and my heart are not the ones that came off with aplomb, epitomized tradition, or were even all that tasty. In fact, I can count on one hand the turkey breast, stuffing or dessert I can remember raving about. The ones that stick with me are the ones where God’s grace shined through the chaos and conflict, through the fraught and frenzy, and through times of immense loneliness and loss. When the dancing glow of candlelight broke through the darkness at the table.
As someone whose life was stolen by the hands of a vicious eating disorder for 10 years many years ago, I used to dread this day of food and family. Freed from that death sentence, I now see Thanksgiving as a meal of and for life – celebrating the life I once had, honoring my current perfectly imperfect life, and providing nourishment for the journey ahead. It is an opportunity to give thanks for those I have shared and share life with, the lives of those reading these words, and those who don’t know I exist but someday might.
It is a day we can and should pause with a gratitude that goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is pure gift. It is a day that provides fuel for, as the esteemed poet Mary Oliver penned, “(Our) work of loving the world” and spending our days living more fully into that job description.
No matter how we gather (or don’t) this Thanksgiving, no matter what is on the menu, for all of that and all of life’s glorious complexity, challenges, consternation, and curiosity, I will be giving thanks not just with my words but with my life. Will you join me?
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Today was one of those days – haven’t had one in a while – where a red light or smidgeon of blue sky in the inversion-bleh sky could make me cry. It was as if Mom and Dad had just died. The grief just washed over me and I felt completely alone – orphaned in this great big world – even alone in this place I call “home”. Not even a full week into the never-ending darkness and my “woe is me” was at a critical level.
But tonight, I mustered all the courage I had and gathered with a group I once called “my people” before annulment, before covid, before pain took all joy from my life – and I made an astounding discovery! They are still “my people” – and not only that – they were happy to see me!! All my social anxieties about being alone and going somewhere alone and being wondered about because I am alone were for naught!
I wasn’t alone once I joined in.
My God! I thought – imagine that???
I can climb mountains without a thought – but facing the world as I am – that’s a daunting endeavor that terrifies me.
As I left, I felt a wee bit stronger in my own boots and so grateful for the community and the kind souls that welcomed me in. You have no idea how much light your “small” kindness brought to me. Thank you. It feels good to “be back”.
Let your light so shine – always – you never know who might need it.
Recently, I was reacquainted with an old classmate of mine from high school through our Class of 89 group on Facebook. It had been 33 years since I had seen him. He looked very happy in the photos he shared of himself with his family, but the photos also gave me pause. Have I aged as much as he had?? I mean I look in the mirror every day and though I definitely have mornings when I glance painfully at my sight and just want to go back to bed, I really don’t see a marked difference from day to day. Was I missing something?? You can save me from the compliments later. 😁 But truth be told – most of us just get up and do life – we take each day as it comes unaware of the changes taking place within us and happening to us with every experience because we are too busy experiencing it! It’s only when we have some distance from the moment that we become aware that something has changed. The more life we have behind us, the less aware we are of just how adept we are at encountering and adapting to the world around us. It just happens – that is how life works – until it doesn’t, and you realize something is amiss.
Something was amiss when God made a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah. All would know God from the least to the greatest with their iniquities forgiven and their sin remembered no more. God wanted to be sure nothing came between God and God’s people.
Something was amiss 505 years ago tomorrow, when Martin Luther found it necessary to nail his 95 Theses to the castle doors calling for an end to the separation of the people from God, this time by none other than the Church.
Today, Reformation Day – we celebrate and give thanks for God’s continued reformation and renewal of the Church and our relationship with Him, especially when things go amiss.
Something was amiss in Jerusalem where we join Jesus today. He has been teaching in the temple about his identity as the light of the world. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) The Pharisees push back, questioning his authority. So not wanting to let a good opportunity to challenge us go by – Jesus turns to his followers who – we are told – still believed in him – and tells them that their faith alone does not make them his disciples. It’s as if he wants to be the unpopular guy.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Yes, they may be believers, but if they are to truly become his disciples, they must remain in His word.
Now – we know that Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, the Word God speaks and, through whom God created the world. Jesus embodies, reveals, and teaches God’s word. The word continue is translated from the Greek “meno” which means to abide in or remain with. Therefore, those who want to be His disciples must remain in Jesus and allow His words to govern their actions. Only then will they know the truth that frees.
We hear & know God’s word through the Gospel. We describe “Gospel” in a variety of ways – salvation, grace, forgiveness, life. Today’s passage adds another way to speak of the Gospel – truth and freedom. The kind of words to write on your heart. Inspiring words, good words. But they are also hard words.
Hard because they all assume need and we don’t like to admit to needing anything. The one who values salvation knows that he or she needs saving. The one for whom grace is important is aware of the need for grace. Forgiveness implies sin. Life implies one is not really living. Freedom means we need to be made free. Truth – well what is this truth? We have lots of truths!
Jesus promises his followers that if those who believe remain in his word, they will know the truth, and the truth will make them free, but as is so often the way in the Gospel of John, Jesus is misunderstood. Just as the Samaritan woman at the well thought that Jesus was talking about literal water rather than living water, His listeners immediately assume that He is suggesting that they are slaves who need to be freed from their earthly masters.
Their response is one of perplexity, indignance. What sounded like Good News, a positive development – now clangs loudly on the ears.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait a minute, wait a minute! What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?
“We are free. Nobody tells us what to do. We’re in charge of our own lives. Why do you think we need you to make us free?” Confident of their heritage and identity, they are sure that they are already free.
Now, admittedly there is a certain absurdity to their reply. The entire book of Exodus centers on their enslavement. The most central part of their story hinges on God leading the Jewish people out of slavery through the Red Sea and the wilderness into the promised land. It would seem his followers have developed blind spots to their history of enslavement and are oblivious to what enslaves them now.
Jesus promptly challenges their claim, pointing not to their heritage but to their actions: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Because they have followed their own desires instead of God’s word, they have become slaves to sin.
But here’s my question: are we really all that different? Which words of Jesus stuck with you, today? Those that spoke to Truth & Freedom or of Sin & Enslavement.
When have you lived without sin? How does it feel to be called out as a slave to it?
How often do we honestly admit that we aren’t perfect, that our life isn’t perfect? When was the last time you willingly admitted you were wrong, or for that matter, your need, your hurt, your brokenness?
Especially today, when there is so much cultural pressure to be right – all the time – to act as if you have it all together – a great life, excellent job, wonderful relationships, a brilliant future. Greatness is an expectation for just about everything. You know the relentless pursuit of happiness and all…
And when we look in the mirror, we are much more apt to say things that might sound familiar if you were here last week… God, I thank you that I am not like those thieves, rogues, adulterers, snobs, fakes, conservatives, liberals, democrats, republicans, those invading “onians…” reckless spenders, greedy financiers, creation plunderers, snowflakes, wokes, racists, communists, socialists, fascists… or whatever is so “obviously” your opposite.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as righteous, we just happen to know that we are right. It is so much easier to justify ourselves and blame others for our circumstance than to admit that there is room not just for growth and improvement but also a need for help, repentance, and forgiveness.
When we look in the mirror, we fail to see our own shortcomings and our own participation in systems and ways that cause harm to others. Our blind spots hold us captive. We fail to see the truth.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Freedom, as a state of being, is something to be celebrated. But being made free… well that declares that we are not free already. That we are not our own person, that we are not in control, that we are enslaved.
Much like the Jews who insisted to Jesus that they had “never been slaves to anyone,” our current reality looks nothing like slavery. Thanks to our United States Constitution and the amendments that reform it freedom is in our DNA.
We like our freedoms and for that matter, our truths (emphasis on the plural). What’s more, we like them on our terms.
We don’t need to be “set free” because “duh” – we already are. We are free to make our own decisions, free to define who we are by our standards, and free to manifest our own destiny. We are even free to choose our own truths and get on with our life just as we always have. What more could we want?
Take a look in the mirror again and this time look deep. How about an honest, deep, and abiding relationship with God?
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
At its core, sin is not about immorality; it is not about bad decisions or bad actions or even inaction. Sin is not what we do, but the reason behind why we do it. Sin is a condition of our soul. And the underlying condition of our sin nature is the desire to be in control. Or, put another way, sin is the desire to claim “freedom” from God’s control. Sin is about estrangement from God. The absence of God in our lives.
The freedom Jesus is speaking of is not a freedom from oppression but rather – freedom from our estrangement from GOD – our enslavement to sin.
You may not think of yourself as a slave to anything, especially sin – but there are ways of being in this world that feel like we are shackled, trapped, in bondage. When we follow our own truths and pursue our own desires instead of God’s word, we will inevitably become slaves to sin.
When we align ourselves to dogmas, practices, addictions, parties, political figures, or any of the prolific and divisive isms that pervade our culture and society; when we rest securely (or not so much) in our retirement accounts and gold holdings or real estate then we’ve placed our trust in someone or something other than the righteousness of God.
If our ways lead us to seek power and superiority over others rather than being on the side of the weak, the ostracized, and the cast out – then we are captive to the systems of control and oppression of this world over the compassion and mercy of God.
When we ensconce our identity and sense of worth in the cultural and social trappings of this world – how much money we have, where we live, our professional, social, or marital status, our professional or athletic accomplishments, or our physical appearance – we are slaves to believing the mistruths of this world instead of God’s Truth.
We think our many “truths” and freedoms are the essence of our identity; we think they give meaning and control to our life but in reality, they are traps – they shackle rather than enlarge our life.
As long as we continue to live as if who we are is rooted in what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain trapped by judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. Theologian Henri Nouwen wrote that the only way we can ever experience true freedom is to claim our identity as beloved children of God.
The substantial freedoms that any of us enjoy in this world quickly pale in comparison to the ultimate freedom that Jesus addresses with his teaching and through his life, death, and resurrection. Because when it comes to what is most important in the scope of eternity compared to what we hold as important in the brokenness of now, we are not free at all. We are slaves.
Slaves to a world that wants to define our worth on its terms. Slaves to control, doubt and the self-defeating cycle of proving ourselves worthy.
When we turn away from God and the ways of Jesus, the world will gladly step in and take over. We don’t even notice it happening at first, but as time goes on – we cede more and more of our truth, more and more of our freedom – to sin. And then all of sudden it hits us – we look in the mirror and don’t recognize or like what we see. Something is amiss. We’ve lost direction. We are estranged from God.
Knowing the truth means knowing Jesus Christ. Really knowing Jesus. We can study a person’s teachings and know all about their life, their habits, and their history, but that doesn’t mean we know the person. To know them we must spend time with them, listen to them, and share ourselves with them. As Jesus prays in John 17:21, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
We become disciples by remaining with Jesus, staying in relationship with him, and letting his words and his presence challenge and change us; reform and renew us.
This is what makes Jesus’ promise of freedom a bit of a mixed blessing. Because to claim the good news of Truth and Freedom we are first made to acknowledge that we on our own are not free. To be free we must first be honest with ourselves before God through God’s merciful free gift of returning to Him – repentance.
Before God and one another we humble ourselves and we confess that we are captive to sin and we cannot free ourselves; realizing again and again that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves free from the forces of sin and death, from the forces in the world and in ourselves that defy God and defy God’s ultimate power and divinity and we ask for and receive God’s mercy.
When we genuinely confess each week, we become painfully aware that we need so much – salvation, grace, forgiveness, life, truth and freedom. We need the Gospel. We need God’s Truth.
Jesus is God’s truth. He exposes the hatred, the selfishness, and the lies that enslave us. He does not merely forgive our sins; he liberates us from them, making us free to follow him instead, emulating his love and compassion and grace and mercy for all people.
You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.
When we acknowledge that we are captive to the cycle of sin then Jesus’ words beam with the bright light of hope for eternity. When we are humble enough to recognize our true circumstance, these words sing of gospel truth and the great good news that it is.
For those of you looking for freedom in this place of worship, look to the cross of Jesus Christ. The Holy Cross and all that was shown and offered and accomplished through it is the one and only symbol we need of our surpassing and eternal freedom.
For those of you searching for identity you will find it most clearly in the baptismal font where you were drowned to sin and raised to live again, claimed and named as a redeemed child of God – the most important truth any of us could ever hope to profess.
You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.
Still searching for the true truth and real freedom? Look in the mirror – Jesus has claimed and freed you. Nothing can come between you and God.
This past weekend was one I could not have dreamed up had I earnestly put the effort into doing so. Far from the three days of Indian Summer bliss I had intended, it was one that my wisdom-dishing father would have quipped “built character” instead.
For the record, I learned never to utter the words, “What’s the worst that can happen” again!! Should I ever start to spew those fateful words again – please wash my mouth out with bitter lye soap!
Let’s start at the beginning.
On Friday afternoon, I received my much-anticipated bright shiny new camera that also calls people (!!) (whose delivery in itself, was a hostage situation worthy of a write up – but I digress…) I was thrilled it arrived in time for my hike on Saturday – quite possibly that last of the non-snow season. There is nothing like a fancy new camera for those fantastic fall photos – eh? I was up quite late Friday night rushing through the phone transfer and activation process. I admit to getting a bit flustered at times as I am not tech-savvy but it appeared to be a success and I went to bed confident I was ready to go for my 4 a.m. wake-up call. Aside from user error multiple times, the phone/camera worked great on the trail – or so I thought.
Upon returning home Saturday night from my frolic in the mountains, I had received an email from the carrier saying I needed to complete my phone activation – which seemed odd since I had already called and texted with it – but I went ahead and followed the steps…. BIG MISTAKE!! My cell connectivity shut down immediately – and of course I had already factory reset and shut down my old phone. Relying on the carrier’s online chat until 10:45 pm, I attempted to resolve the matter. Unfortunately, the rep – who desperately wanted to secure a sale of a whole-home tech warranty – after my fourth politely typed and appropriately emoji-ed refusal – finally said he couldn’t help me and I would have to speak with a higher tier support team.
I protested! ” I have no phone – which is why I have been chatting with you for the last 90 minutes!!” ” Oh well, then you will have to go to a dealer to assist you…”
Defeated and exhausted after an 18-hour day, I went to bed saying, okay what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll go to the dealer tomorrow and get it fixed. (Remember – I am soloing it in this great big world – it’s just me and Ember with no one to come to our aid if something happens)
Now the rest of the story… AKA -The Worst That Can Happen!
Ember and I headed out bright and early for our walk Sunday morning and all was right in our unconnected world. We took our usual route through the neighborhood and down by the river – hoping to catch the sun as it peaked over the mountain.
Our neighborhood is “blessed” to have a drug/dump house. This one takes the prize in my book -years ago a giant tree fell and partially collapsed the roof, the front yard serves as the trash bin- food refuse covers the entire lawn, and 4 dilapidated vehicles spew garbage as well. Walking by, one can almost get high just from inhaling the pot-laced air. When I first moved to the area, I naively felt compassion for the poor souls that inhabited the place – 5 years on – not so much.
It was at this exact spot that Ember snatched something off the ground and swallowed before I could pry his mouth open. He is amazingly quick when he smells something interesting. Even faster when it is something to eat! Naively, I gave him a good scolding and we continued on our way. It was a beautiful morning after all!
When we got home, I gave him his good boy treat and he happily went out to chase leaves as they fell, flush a few birds, and generally frolic in the back yard. This was about an hour since the street-snatching. 10 minutes later he was at the door but instead of being right at the door as usual, he was standing off the steps on the patio- swaying. He tried to walk up the steps and his back legs went out from under him. He was able to recenter and tried to walk again but tripped over his front legs. I got him to his bed and he laid down right away putting his head in my lap. I petted him for a while and then got up – he tried to follow me but stumbled and swayed again. I reached out for him and he flinched away – his eyes were glassy and he looked perplexed and worse – frightened.
That was it, I went to call the emergency vet… no phone…
I quickly put on my shoes and as I was doing so Ember started to get frantically wild – jumping off and on the footstool before collapsing on the floor.
I carried Ember out to my Santa Fe and drove the 20 minutes to the Emergency Vet I had taken him to before only to find it was closed. I kept driving thinking I had seen another emergency vet closer to Kalispell the next town over – I found it, pulled in and lifted a listless Ember out of my car. As I carried him to the door, I was met by a vet tech who told me they only took patients whose owner had called ahead!!!!
Exasperated – I told her I couldn’t call ahead – I had no phone!!! She looked puzzled for a moment then went inside and came back out – took Ember from my arms and said they would see him.
After filling out paperwork authorizing tests and answering the questions about CPR /DNR and did I want treatment for Ember at any cost – of course!! – she left me to sob in the patient room.
I reflected that when I recently established by Living Will, I declined heroic lifesaving efforts! It’s a very different thought pattern when the lifesaving event is happening… and it’s my dog instead of me.
An hour later a very kind veterinarian came in – he asked me if Ember might have gotten into something – I told him Ember was always into things! He replied, “I ask because he tested positive for THC poisoning. WEED!!!!”
Ember – of all dogs!!!
Ember would need to be treated with IV fluids and activated charcoal and monitored overnight.
I could not go back and see him so I reluctantly left and headed to the cellphone dealer to get help with my phone. They close at 4 pm. It was 2:45 pm and the store’s floor manager greeted me by asking if I had an appointment as there were already 5 people ahead of me. Responding with a no, she said I could wait but I would likely have to return the next day.
Exasperated again I told her, while indicating my wretched no-coffee-or-breakfast-or-shower-appearance, that my dog was at the Emergency Vet and I had to have a way for them to contact me and my brand-new phone was not working!! She looked at me far longer than I felt necessary then replied “I think we can cut you in.”
Thankfully, it was a fairly easy fix- at least for them. The friendly down-to-business rep discovered my SIM card was corrupted and he was able to fix it before the next appointment showed up.
I went home and waited for my phone to ring with news on Ember.
After having breakfast for dinner, exhausted and feeling blessedly broke (Emergency Vet – $950.00) and blessed in my brokenness by those who sensed my distress, had compassion, bent the rules and let me in not once but twice in one day – I called it a night.
Monday morning, the same kind vet called and reported that Ember had a remarkable improvement overnight and I could bring him home.
The drive to the clinic seemed every bit as long as it was when I was in emergency mode. It sounded so downright wonderful to hear Ember’s frantic and happy paws scampering down the hall of the Flathead Pet Emergency Clinic compared to the limp and listless boy I carried in on Sunday.
Now as I write, Ember has fully recovered and is loving life again.
Happy endings are the best, and this one – while building character – also magnifies the love I have for my sweet boy, Ember and the gratitude I have for the angels I met along the way.
I lift up my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come?
So begins the Song of Ascents, Psalm 121, and a question that may be familiar to you – or not. Surely, you have looked to the horizon in search of answers at some point in your life.
I have been asked to include this Psalm in funeral services I have presided over and people of the Jewish and Christian faith often read it at the beginning of a variety of journeys – as a form of assurance in the face of uncertainty, grief, longing, and anxiety that come on the road of life. It is often found framed in the delivery rooms of Jewish hospitals where newborns begin the daunting journey of life. In times of economic and political instability when we all want to make a run for the hills – perhaps it would suit us better to take a deep breath and dwell on these words.
From my dining room window, I can lift my eyes upon Columbia Mountain and gaze for hours and ask that very question- ‘From where will my help come?”
Just four short months ago I was doing just that – along with the questions: Just how long is it going to be; what is going to happen to me; what if this isn’t the right choice? What if things don’t go as planned? What if something goes wrong? What if I am not as strong as I need to be? What if I am not who I think I am? What if You, God, are not who I believe you are? Yes, even THAT question!
At the time, I was preparing for a significant “life-event” you might call it. Total Hip Replacement. Just saying the words seemed so unreal. I was too young for that sort of thing! I didn’t have room in my life for that kind of disruption! While I was thankful I could prepare for the surgery rather than have it suddenly forced upon me, the whole process raised significant questions, unsettledness, and apprehension within me. For someone who boldly professed her conviction in the things unseen and her hope for things to come – the state of unknowingness I found myself in had me completely untethered. My life felt suspended and I wondered if I would ever feel grounded again. Uncertainty reigned within me – me, the consummate control freak.
What if the things to come are not what I intended? (As if we have any control over that!) What if my choice was wrong? What if this changed me – what if I changed – CHANGED (gasp!!) forever?
Such questions are natural — whether one is contemplating a geographic journey through dangerous territory, a journey through the many ups and downs of a lifetime, or a spiritual journey seeking one’s true self and/or a reunion with God.
It’s dangerous out there – outside of our well protected selves. It can be dangerous within our overly protected selves too! Disease, injury, accidents, war, or illness threaten our bodies. Natural disasters, recessions, depressions, unemployment, outsourcing, downsizing, insolvency, debt, and theft rock our foundations. Doubt, sin, evil, corruption, fundamentalism, extremism, and outright untruths vie for our allegiance.
The big what ifs that accompany so much of life – what do we do with questions like that? What do we do amid the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty???
The rest of the Psalm provides the answer – if we are so inclined not to just listen but also hear.
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Not from escaping to the mountains and hiking away my troubles and anxieties as I so frequently do. In the weeks following my surgery – weeks that seemed like eons – I could only dream of hiking in the hills, forests and mountains again – but I rested in the arms of their Creator and help did come. The metaphoric mountains of life by their very existence bear witness to the hand of our Creator. It is often in the steepest of climbs and darkest of valleys – our most challenging times – that we grasp for a higher power and His existence is revealed.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
As I slowly gained my freedom I was met with new anxieties – what if I fall, will my strength ever come back, will I ever sleep again? I stumbled and I fell – figuratively and literally. As my life began to return to “normal,” I found myself repeating old habits that I had eschewed in light of my diagnosis and prescribed remedy. But I was able to overcome them and step forward in new directions. Revealing again that God is a keeper. God protects, shields, watches over, guards, and keeps like a Watchman keeping guard over a city or a bird shielding its young in the shelter of Her wings.
God kept watch over me when I wasn’t watching out for myself. I remember one evening midway through my recovery when I realized I had pushed my limits too far and walked much further than I should have. I was starting to panic as my legs got weak and I was 2.5 miles from home. Of course, I would not call for help – but as if on cue to my prayers of consternation – a friend pulled up beside me on the road and said “Hey there – you look a little tired. Want a ride?“
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
These words of promise by no means imply that those who walk in the shelter of God will not face harm or that nothing ill will come their way. On the contrary, the writer knows all too well the nature of this world we live in is not for the faint of heart – that we will meet with opposition and evil – not at every turn – but enough for us to grow weary and wary.
If my faith were as certain as my hindsight – I would have no trouble in life. But I’ve lived enough and long enough to know that the very essence of this life is why I/we need this psalm – these words of promise – to get us through the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty.
Since my surgery four “short” months ago, I have returned to the mountains with a passion and with a new appreciation for the mountains of life. Not only have I successfully and blissfully crossed physical boundary lines, but I have let go of a few mental ones too.
My fear of falling and failing that has held me back since my surgery and, quite honestly, throughout my life, has started to diminish and been replaced by a sense of freedom and confidence even amid the uncertainty of life.
I am who I am – not just who I think I am.
I am strong – by a standard much different than my idea of strength.
And, I am assured, not by what God promises to do but what God does. What God does for those who rely on Him when life turns upside down and your light is turned to dark, when the journey ahead is not the one you mapped out, when nothing makes sense in the moment, when uncertainty reigns within you.
God guards you as you go on your journey of life and as you return home. As you go out and come in. As you face the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty forevermore.
Leave it to Erika Morck to turn a 13.5-mile hike into a spectacular 20+ mile adventure!! But when the scenery just keeps getting better and better, honestly, who stops?
To think that just 4 months ago almost to the day, my dearest friend and faithful trusting hiking companion, Wendy, began her daily visits to walk around and around the block with me and my sexy walker – it still blows my mind!! I cannot believe how wonderful life is when pain is not my constant companion. That my hip is now as strong as my will is a miracle of engineering!
We two young ladies and Ember went west and were dolefully rewarded with treasure for the eyes and spirit we could not have imagined. Our target was Dome Mountain, but we kept going and going! We almost made it to Sugarloaf Mountain in the Cabinet Wilderness. Since we started our “day” in near darkness we knew we didn’t want to end it that way. Sadly, this time of year the light of day is not on our side, so with Sugarloaf in our sights but still at least a half hour more ahead on uncertain trail (meaning another hour total to our hike) we made the hard decision to turn around and revisit all the wonder we had traveled through in a new light. Besides, hiking uphill, sometimes straight up hill, for 6 hours was getting a bit much!! Going downhill, sometimes straight down, in the dark would be – well – dumb.
Ember, oh Ember, he saw everything four times over and kept coming back for more. I’ve never seen such a tired, dirty dog at the end of the day – but he loved every single second of sniffing and pointing and flying through the brush like the flying squirrels he was after.
When we weren’t on a mountain top or by a lake, we had the rushing and tumbling Cedar Creek next to us to keep us company. To say this was one of the finest days I have ever had in the mountains is an understatement. The company, the grandeur, the quiet and complete solitude (we were the absolute only ones on the trail) could only have been designed to perfection by our God and Creator.
20.5 miles 4700+ft elevation gain.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. ~ Psalm 65:8
45 years ago, I gleefully & boldly – as every five-year-old does – illegally crossed the border at my grandpa’s border patrol site in Eastern Montana. On a recent Saturday, still without a passport, I did it again at the opposite corner of the state – with some very fine friends – new and old!
Ember really pushed the limits of border security and went for bird – in fact the whole hike for him was one big grouse fest!! I held back a few feet across the border – straight and narrow as I am, you know – somewhat daunted by the vast wilderness before us. Nothing but mountains filled with bears, big cats, wolves and other wild things as far as the eye can see.
Not only did I cross physical boundary lines, but I also let go of a few mental ones too. The sense of freedom from letting go of my literal fears of falling and failing that have held me back since my hip replacement surgery and the confidence I gained in holding my own with some of the best mountaineers out there is huge. We covered 13.5 miles and climbed 2 mountains with 9400 feet of elevation gain – much of it off trail in under 6 hours!!! I just might have my mountain goat groove back!
I also realized – ironically while in that wandering place of mind you happen upon in the wilds – that I feel “at home” again – after years of feeling placeless- unsure of where home was – despite my stuckness. I’m not sure what this means beyond this moment in time – but it feels good.
Thank you, God – for moments of wonderful wonder and reflection in your grand creation!!! This stanza from In Christ Alone sums it up perfectly:
“In Christ alone my hope is found He is my light, my strength, my song This cornerstone, this solid ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm What heights of love, what depths of peace When fears are stilled, when strivings cease My comforter, my all in all Here in the love of Christ I stand.”
Yes, right here, in the love of Christ – I most surely stand. He is my home, my solid ground – no matter where I wander.
That I may never pass this way again and see things as I saw them then…
There has been a lot written, tweeted, and talked about the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting of late. And if you, like me, find yourself on hold for unacceptable lengths of time when service in “the before times” used to be “quick” and exemplary, or waiting to be helped or served anywhere from the grocery store to the local diner, and even the doctor’s office if you can get in – then you may be more than ready to grumpily jump on the frustration band-wagon. “Where have all the workers gone? “ We shout along with the headlines. Even politicians are using the phenomenon to bolster their economic positions – on both sides of the debate.
While labor productivity has declined since the pandemic surge – the reason is not a sudden outbreak of generational laziness. It is that record-high rates of job switching have created an inexperience bubble in the service sector and many new workers aren’t fully trained. I’ve experienced this myself dealing with the service end of an institutional financial brokerage house.
Furthermore- the phenomenon seems to me to be more hype than reality reveals. Most people have not suddenly quit working – as unbelievable as that may seem from trending stories and our own experiences. According to Gallup (who also used their numbers to make headlines) the decline in worker engagement is only 2% in a year but it has grown 6% since 2000. See the graph below:
I’ll stop there with the economic data and my amateur analysis of our workforce. There are plenty of highly professional financial analysts out there who will gladly discuss those details with you!
But I do want to delve further into this quiet or great quitting phenomenon. It is something that seems anathema to me as one who entered the workforce when jobs were scarce and you were grateful for any offer that slightly resembled a job in your field of study. The idea of doing anything but over-impressing and gladly working overtime wasn’t even a consideration.
That is not the case in this post-pandemic time. As Derek Thompson explains in his “Progress” column for the Atlantic: “A lot of workers are seeking an efficient way to describe the colliding pressures of wanting to be financially secure, but not wanting to let work take over their life, but also having major status anxiety, but also experiencing guilt about that status anxiety, and sometimes feeling like gunning for that promotion, and sometimes feeling like quitting, and sometimes feeling like crawling into a sensory deprivation tank to make all those other anxieties shut up for a moment.”
A lot of words to describe the very real emotions and psyche exercises experienced by individuals wading through the complexities of the economy of life.
What is going on in our hearts and minds right now? What do we do with that status anxiety, guilt, pressure to achieve, pressure to attain, and the desire to flee and give it all away that comes with work?
I think most of us struggle to make sense of our economic lives. We struggle to find that perfect balance between not enough and too much work, not enough and too much money. Wait – can anyone have too much money??? We all think so except for ourselves!
Continuing on… We all struggle at times with not enough and too much time and we struggle to make good decisions and strive to make good use of our resources of all types. That’s the key to flourishing – but there is only so much of each of us and external factors limit what we can control – the last 14 years have certainly proven that.
During the final crisis of 2008 and the roller coaster highs and lows since, people’s lives were taken for a ride right along with their bank and retirement accounts. During the pandemic many people saw the frenetic pace of their lives shut-down and, as life gets back to normal, we are reassessing what is important to us.
Whether those same people know it or not – they are carrying out the teachings of Jesus. Could quiet quitting and the Great Resignation actually be biblical?
Our relationship to wealth and the acquisition and management of it is complex. And, while the bible is full of guidelines for living well and proper stewardship of our resources – it won’t offer you a quick sound bite-worthy financial maxim. However, I’ll lift up a few of Jesus’ words on the economy of life.
“Where your heart is there your treasure will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34,).
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16: 8-9)
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)
From this – we can glean a few key concepts:
Wealth is both a blessing and a responsibility.
Wealth – along with status, power, and privilege – is fleeting.
We are placed on this earth to love and care for each other, not to separate ourselves from each other with wealth, status, or privilege.
We all like to think we have mastered the first – we are blessed to be a blessing to others – and many even consult financial advisors in order to be responsible stewards. However, we have also learned the hard way that wealth is often, if not repeatedly fleeting, and we haven’t done a very good job of not separating ourselves. The pandemic along with the politics it bred have magnified this glaring truth.
The truth is, we live in a world that is profoundly interconnected — and profoundly compromised. Even the tiniest financial decisions we make — where to shop, how to invest our money, what to eat or wear have far-reaching consequences. Again and again, Jesus reminds us to hold this complicated reality close to our hearts and our consciences all the time. The great thinker St. Augustine asserted that God gave us people to love and things to use, but we all too often have a penchant to confuse those two, loving things and using people. That is a costly way of living in more ways than just monetarily.
We’ve been told – even by some in the church – that we can have it all – both God and money – relationships and money – love and money. The thing is – money and its acquisition can be as much of a drug as alcohol. Both must be managed responsibly or they can ruin an otherwise very fortunate life. We do need money; we do need to participate in the economy of life – we just can’t let ourselves fall prey to it.
And so, perhaps we are finally awakening to the Gospel truth – that there is more to life than our status, our careers, our wealth. The fact that this awakening is causing such system wide disruption speaks to the pervasive presence money and its acquisition have on all of our lives. I can’t think of a better disrupter than the calling to live as children of light in a world that sorely needs grace, forgiveness, and freedom – spiritually, socially, and economically. May we enter that calling with our whole hearts and minds with creativity, urgency, shrewdness and compassion.
Thank you, Lord, for the challenges of life and for the changes that make one appreciate all that was, all they have, and give hope for what yet will be.
Had I known what this day had in store for me, I would have never left this spot and clung to this moment forever…
This day… UFF DA!!!
I did however, witness an amazing example of grace – grace where most people would have none – and for that I am humbled.
When things go horribly wrong and it is out of your hands – whether you are the client or the service provider or the client of a service provider – extending grace is the much better way to go. The one extending grace had a much better day, today, far less exhausting, far less vexing, far less in need of a censor. I will remember this and learn to breathe rather than steam.
“This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.” – Martin Luther