Crossing Boundaries on Mt. Hefty & Thoma Lookout

Mount Hefty on the Montana/Canadian border.

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.

Let your light so shine!!

The Times, they are a Changing!

Are we finally seeing the light?

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.

Let your light so shine!

Remember

Sunrise – September 11, 2022

As the sun finally gained the mountaintop this morning I paused and glanced at the time – it was almost exactly the same moment the first plane hit 21 years ago.

A car sped past me. I wondered if the driver was thinking about the day as I was – or was this just another day?

A passing mention in the prayers of the people, a few flags waving in the morning breeze, a wince of ennui as names are read and a bell rung – yet again – in memory.

I was forever changed – I will never forget.

God Bless America – may we never rest from the call to compassion and courage for our country.

May our light so shine – forever.

Grace

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

Let your light so shine!

It’s Good to Be Here…

There are places I’ll remember

All my life though some have changed

Some forever, not for better

Some have gone and some remain…

It was hard work getting to this place – if only for a moment – where the torrents inside softened to an ebb and flow as mellow as morning’s first light. It’s a place that I’ll remember as life rushes on in its capricious way.

It is good to be here.

I want to stay.

Heavy

Heavy… that’s all I felt this morning. The air. The mood after a sleepless night. After days of brisk clear mornings before the heat crept in, this morning suffocated me. Instead of rain I smelled smoke and a headache threatened.

And then I saw the glimmer – for however brief a moment – and I was reminded that I still have a skip in my step if I put it there. The clouds can threaten all they want – sure go ahead hang there and stifle us if you must – but you have nothing on me.

“Measure not God’s love and favour by your own feeling. The sun shines as clearly in the darkest day as it does in the brightest. The difference is not in the sun, but in some clouds which hinder the manifestation of the light thereof.” -Sibbes

Let your light so shine.

Bring the Fire

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” – Luke 12: 49, 50

I love the promise of God loving the tiny sparrow; of knowing that life is more than food and the body more than clothing; that money is not a treasure worth chasing; that the ravens have equal measure with the lovely lilies of the field; that I have nothing to fear….

But it is in the fires of my life – and from the ashes that follow – that God reigns, that God’s love is manifested and that new life begins. I know – I stress God out – I stress myself out – but God’s grace and patience are amazing. I’m living proof!

The Word is beautiful and brings peace to my soul but sometimes it unsettles me and challenges me. Most definitely, it is Life and accompanies my days – always.

Let your light so shine!

Embracing the Slow

Morning quiet

“Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window

toward the mountain presence of everything that can be

what urgency calls you to your one love?

What shape waits in the seed of you

to grow and spread its branches

against a future sky?”

– From “What to Remember when Waking” David Whyte

It was one of those magical mid-June mornings in between the typical 4-day long rains of June and the Great Rain of 2022. A brilliant sun broke over the cloud-enshrouded mountain causing my rain-soaked lawn and leafy trees to shimmer just a bit. A few birds continued their morning song while the rest of the world rested. Including me.

I gazed at this foreign wonder before me. Unable to rush off to church or get on with the endless chores of landscape maintenance or go for my once twice weekly 17-mile long-run – I realized that in the last 6+ years my parents died, I bought my house, my marriage came and went, I completed 2+ years of theology studies and began my role as a Lay Pastor while continuing to work 40 hours a week but I have not once done this – just sit and take things in. Just rest.

And as I gazed upon this scene, I realized that I really do love my yard now that I am not a slave to the constant mowing of it (I had to hire someone for this summer as I recover) and I actually look forward to tending my garden beds rather seeing it as yet another invasion of my busy scheduled life.

And oh, how I love Ember – my now 4-year-old Brittany. He is such a light in this unsettled world. Just watching him amuse himself is a joy. Even at 4 years old he discovers everything anew with such gusto! A leaf on the grass, his chewed-up tennis ball, a piece of bark, not to mention the starlings teasing him – all were a feast of joy for his eyes and induced exuberant frolicking.

We played fetch and he brought the ball back willingly about 8 times. Remarkable! On the occasion he decided to do his own thing I laid back in the chair and dropped my hand down and closed my eyes.  After a minute he walked up and dropped the ball and laid his head on my lap and looked at me with the most adoring eyes.  It just about made me cry. I sadly realized I had never made time for these moments before, or at least I can’t remember the last time I savored the simple pleasures of a quiet Sunday morning. I felt an ache inside at the realization of what I have not only missed, but lost.

And why? For what reason?

For years I have been plagued by an inner restlessness that has yet to be soothed. I always have to be doing something – even if that means pacing back and forth before moving on to the next must do. I live by the principle of work before pleasure at all times and my form of pleasure was always something highly active and results oriented. I never rested. I never balanced the go with the slow.

It saddens me how much our culture encourages constant doing and striving and achieving. It is all too easy to get tangled up with everything – the demands of life, the inner must-do’s, the expectations of others, the rigidity and comfort of routine.

It seems like the right thing to do – even noble – to be constantly working on something and never take breaks. I’ve heard myself make the same excuse over and over again for not taking time off – doing so always creates so much work before and after. It’s easier to just keep plugging on and letting life slip by. Keep going – go faster. Don’t be the slow car in the fast lane and while we’re at it – blast that slow car in the fast lane!! How can anyone drive slow like that – oblivious to the world racing by?? 

But now I wonder how can anyone sustain a lifestyle that is all go and no slow? How did I do it for so long and how unsettling it is that it took major surgery to make me realize this!

All of this serves as a reminder that we need to pay attention to balance in our lives.  Too much pleasure and free time can be as detrimental as too much work and too much structure.  Constantly punishing workouts will weaken the body as much as being a couch potato.  Constant striving will at long last bring us to a place where there is no meaning to our endeavors and nothing left of us to enjoy our achievements once realized.

It’s up to us to determine how to balance all of the parts and pieces, people and places that contribute to us having a healthy and satisfying life.

There is a wonderful opportunity awaiting all of us in the very next moment. Perhaps it is a brilliant sun breaking over the cloud-enshrouded mountain causing a rain-soaked lawn and leafy trees to shimmer just a bit and your heart to sigh. Maybe it is the final chord of the morning birdsong. Perhaps it is just a quiet stillness waiting for you to gaze upon its foreign wonder and rest.

Let your light so shine.

Those Big IFs

“It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me, but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, in regard to what he has given me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”  John 10: 22-30

Yes, Jesus, just how long is it going to be? Yes, Jesus, just what is going to happen to me, to us, to all of us? Yes, Jesus, just tell me, show me… because, you know, what if?

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 think I am? What if I am not who I think I am? What if You are not who I believe you are?

What do we do with questions like that? What do those questions reveal about the questioner and whom we question?

I am preparing for a significant “life-event” you might call it. Total Hip Replacement. Just saying it seems so unreal. I’m too young for this sort of thing! I don’t have room in my life for this kind of disruption! While I am thankful I have the opportunity to prepare for it rather than have it suddenly forced upon me, the whole process is raising significant questions, unsettledness, and apprehension within me. For someone who boldly professes her conviction in the things unseen and her assurance in my hope for things to come – the state of unknowingness I find myself in has me feeling untethered; as if I need to suspend my life until I can feel grounded again – if I can ever feel grounded again. I wonder if I am ungrounding my life by taking this leap of trust and why ever would I want to do that – because – WHAT IF?

What if the things to come are not what I intended? (As if I have any control over that!) What if my choice was wrong? What if I am not as strong as I need to be? What if I am changed – CHANGED (gasp!!) forever? Why, Lord, won’t you answer me these things?? I need facts, certainty, vision, reason – give me the straight talk!

When have you asked these questions? When have you wrestled with the discomfort of uncertainty reigning over your circumstances?  Life in the world today is fertile ground for questions of this sort. Perhaps you are facing a decision or a conversation you feel unprepared for or fully inept at making or having? Maybe you are facing a difficult or painful change. Maybe your career, your finances, your health, or your family are at a critical crossroads. This is the stuff of life. The choices and decisions we make determine our course. It is a daunting position to find ourselves in.

No matter how the questions arise, they ultimately reflect our spiritual condition. It’s more about what’s going on within us than around us. And yet most of us would much rather deal with the circumstances – the facts of the matter – than the swirling dervish inside ourselves.

Of course, I tell myself I have no choice than to deal with myself – because I. Am. It. in this go around. The fiercely independent, keeps things close, doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone – me, the me who always commands control of her situation longs to believe – no, make that knows – that it is all up to me. I have learned enough hard lessons in life to know all this is true. And I have absolutely no faith in myself right now.

I sometimes wonder if Jesus ever had questions like this as he made His way through this broken world. As the Messiah, surely, He believed as I do, that it was all up to Him. Yet He was questioned over and over again by those He sought to convince of His truth. Did those questions ever chip away at his grounding and conviction? Was he not fully human?

In 1946, in a lecture given by Victor Frankl, after he survived the horrors and dehumanizing conditions of the Holocaust, the Austrian neurologist, philosopher and writer posited: “We are the ones who must answer, must give answers to the constant, hourly question of life, to the essential “life questions.” Living itself means nothing other than being questioned; our whole act of being is nothing more than responding to — of being responsible toward — life.”

The Stoic in me recognizes that our lives are made of a series of questions – each requiring answers. Every adversity or challenge presents to us an opportunity to find meaning – to think anew – start anew – live anew.  It is how we go about answering these questions and responding to events that challenge us and change us that we find our purpose and meaning. We are refined and strengthened in the process.  We become our authentic selves – separating us from the crowd.

Over and over again Jesus was tested – by Satan himself and cajoled by the crowds and the religious leaders to prove himself – and yet he remained steadfast in moving towards his goal. How did He do that? How did Jesus walk the straight and narrow?

The Jesus lover in me wants the simple answer of faith. Faith. But there has to be more, right?

Throughout His life, Jesus used every occasion he was presented as a lesson for his followers. Some were tests of his identity, some were simply the potholes of life – but with each gave a new perspective, a deeper knowledge of who He is and who we are. Each lesson brought him closer to fulfilling his work of salvation and love. He showed us who He is by staring down Satan in the desert – rising above temptation for “glory” and rising to the occasion of Messiah; in the midst of a grand social foo-pah He changed water into wine; when commerce and gluttony threatened sanctity He cleansed the temple; in the face of hunger He fed five thousand with a scant collection of bread and fish but abundant hope; in the shadow of sickness he enabled a lame man to stand up, take his mat, and walk and gave a blind man his sight; in the wake of scandal he forgave the woman caught in adultery; against the sting of despair and doubt He  raised Lazarus from the dead. And at Easter, He showed us that life comes out of death.

With that in mind, I now see Jesus as the greatest Stoic that ever lived, died, and lives! And I take great comfort that He calls me, in all my independence, His own. Now, if I would just accept that that is indeed enough.

Ultimately, my BIG IF questions get right down to my ultimate need for security and sense of being – both of which will be completely disrupted by this surgery – but will also have the opportunity to be bolstered as well.

I am determined to make the down-time ahead of me worthwhile. I am being presented with a challenge – and yes – a learning opportunity. Not only am I terrible at asking for help and allowing people to help me – which I am being forced to do – I am terrible at resting in God’s plan. I profess that I do – but trusting in His plan for me? No, I tend to hold on to the reins a bit too tight.

As theologian Henri Nouwen wrote: “(I)t seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”  I am mortified by this – but I have come to realize that in many of my approaches to life I am the God of my life! I cannot give up control. And yes, it is easier to control people than to love them! Our society and politics magnify this blatantly (but our politics are a reflection of the people which is me and you.) It takes a lot of chutzpah to put that into words – but we need to – I need to. And finally, there is a big difference between owning and loving life. I can have all the control of and security in myself that I can muster – but if I do not have meaning and belonging – that isn’t much of a life and there is not much to love.

So, maybe God is using this down-time in my life – literally and figuratively – to remind me yet again that I already belong – to Him – and to show me that only He can fill the void that my incessant going and moving and doing and seeking keeps me from attending to. To teach me that letting others help me may actually help them and show me that I can rely on – even trust – others to care for me. To make me stop and listen – to His voice and hear what He is saying.

I am quite certain I am going to go insane not being in perpetual motion but what a lesson this will be – not being in perpetual pain and resting in real truths. In a sense I am going on a fast – to help me appreciate the other gifts I have in life and hopefully enjoy life for its truest pleasures once I am able to again. 

Where will your questions lead you? May the answers always be life changing.

“And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

Let your light so shine!

Fading Away

A stormy drive

It has been five very long and very short years since I last heard Dad say my name. He knew, for a moment at least, that I had made it home. And with that his journey home began.

5 years ago, tonight, after the longest, fastest drive of my life across this great big state that held his heart, I sat at my Dad’s side – holding his hand willing him to open his eyes just one more time. I’d heard him say my name one last time an hour or so before. It was just a whisper over the annoying din of an old western movie playing on the TV. I will never forget the sound of his voice – it jarred me so. It was not the voice I wanted to remember my Dad by. But that aural memory of my father that I want to hold on to oh so badly – is slipping away into the ocean of noise created by THIS world. Why didn’t I save ANY of his phone messages????

I would not have expected to be in this austere room facing his ending just a few days prior but there I was looking at the shell of the man who with our wonderful mother, had created for me and my brother, lives we wouldn’t trade for anything.

In the last hours of his life- as his body was shutting down, betraying him every step of the way – he seemed so meek and so willing to go on his way while I wanted him to fight, FIGHT with all his might to stay with me. But I could tell he was at peace – and finally –  he gave that incredible gift to me  – to be at peace with the way things were going to be.

I still struggle with how his life came to a close. But that struggle does not come close to the mighty love I have for him still.

I have thought about my last moments with Dad a lot lately – moments I didn’t have with Mom when she died. As someone who is single without children of my own – I wonder what my last moments will be like. Morbid yes, but as I watch death take hold of so many lives of late, it is hard not to wonder about things like that.  

What a blessing it was to share his last breath and commend his spirit to the Lord. To lay my head on his chest for one last heartbeat. Those last moments were the worst moments of my life. I wanted to die with him right then and there and yet, at the same time felt raw and alive with the wonder of the liminality of life. That experience is a gift in itself. I am not afraid to die anymore – of the process of death – yes – terrified – but dying – not so much.

I am so thankful I was able to be with my Dad to send him home. My heart breaks for who don’t get to say the same goodbye.

I’m grateful for their momentary visits now and then, but I can’t wait to see Mom and Dad again.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27