Plans, I Have a Few

I think about now. I think about tomorrow. But I don’t give much thought to yesterday.

Yellowstone

Oh, if only that were true!!! Alas, there is something in my DNA that has predestined me to nostalgic tendencies. No matter how much I try to focus on the future or earnestly espouse the wonders of being “present to the present”- the past occupies an inordinate amount of space in my thoughts.

Perhaps it is because the past just proves to be so interesting – all the twists and turns life takes us on. In the moment, we miss out on some of the extraordinary happenings amid the ordinary, amid the chaos, amid the musts and shoulds of everyday life. It’s only upon reflection that the true meaning and essence of certain events comes to light.

It should be no wonder then that I am frequently surprised by life. If you had told me on New Year’s Eve 2021 what 2022 had in store for me, I would have guffawed at your naivete. I could never have fathomed that I would undergo major surgery in June, that I would have to learn to walk again and then proceed to hike over 200 miles in the months after, that one of my best friends would die, that my dog would be poisoned, and that I would cap the year with a spontaneous crazy adventure completely out of my norm! Nope, I did not see any of those things coming.  As I look back on 2022, I am in awe that I am still standing.

But even the most foresighted among us will find themselves surprised, even stunned by what the headlights suddenly reveal on the road before them.

Robert Burns wrote despondently about the vagaries of life in 1785, ruing the calamity brought upon a field mouse’s carefully constructed nest as an oblivious farmer plowed his winter-ravaged field. Little did the mouse know when she awoke that morning to go about the business of securing nourishment and warmth for the day that her home would be destroyed by a farmer’s plow, upending her little family and no doubt changing the entire course of her existence. Goodness, she had plans!

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,

Gang aft agley, (often go awry)

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!”

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men…. The saying is so familiar to us it rolls off our tongues without a moment’s thought when a change of plans forces us to change the course of our day-to-day existence of our well-planned lives. Think about it. Nature has been messing with even the most-prepared (or so we thought) of us. Brutal storms shut down life as we know it – from blizzards in Buffalo to floods in once fire-ravaged California. Think of all the plans upended.

And of course, there, lurking in the background is an almost three-year long pandemic. Today, it is hard to have well-planned lives when the whims of COVID-19 are at play. COVID-19 brought our mortality to the forefront of our thoughts. In an instant, all our plans went up in viral flames and left us standing in the ashes. We are still trying to get community life “back to normal”.

Sometimes the change of course isn’t instigated by a one-off event at all but a gradual realization that your present life is not what you expected or wanted it to be. Moments and realizations like these often beg the questions: Why even have a plan at all? Who’s in charge here?

Working as I do for a former Marine in the financial planning industry, we have plans or as we call them SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for everything from scheduling appointments to writing reports to technology breakdowns to managing your portfolios to closing up shop for the day. If the power goes out, I can reference our handy three ring binder to find the SOP for working the old-fashioned way! It is amazing how difficult that can be!

While we like to expect that bull markets will reign supreme, we know that the very nature of our business is a roller coaster ride of change. Do we deviate from our written SOP’s? Certainly. No situation is the same, but by having a plan in place beforehand we have a frame of reference from which to launch our response. This response provides us at least part of the answer to the second question: who is in charge here? We are because we know how to react on our toes. We have well-practiced strategies in place.

Now, I will be honest with you, I have yet to find or write an SOP for life. Some will say the Bible is the only operator’s manual you need for living. While that is an excellent Plan A as a source of divine guidance, I need a Plan B for the business side of life. Thus, I am making sure I have a plan for my life when I am no longer “in control” of it.

One evening over dinner, after listening to a group of us share the goings on in our lives and noting how many of our plans and expectations had changed over the last several months, a dear, wiser, much older friend of mine took a sip of wine and remarked with a knowing smile that one of her favorite sayings was an old Yiddish Proverb: “Man plans, God laughs.”

Of course, this notion frustrates me to no end; yet, I know how very true it is. I like to be in control; but in the end, I know who is ultimately in charge. Nonetheless, my responsibility is to be prepared and react wisely to the changes that occur in life.

My wiser older friend on the other hand was completely satisfied with this concept and her life was richer because of it. The morning after our dinner gathering, I received a call that her husband had gone to bed that night and never woke up. In that moment, all of my friend’s reasoning and carefree logic shared the day before came sweeping over me. As I sat with her later that day, she had a peace about her that was inspiring. We talked about her husband and the joys they shared during their 56 years of marriage.  Employed as I am in the financial planning world, I asked her, somewhat awkwardly, if they had “you know, made plans?”

 “Of course! We settled all of that stuff years ago,” she replied matter-of-factly. And because of those plans, during this sudden change in the course of her life, she could focus on just being Nancy. When Nancy passed away, she had outlived her husband and her son. Another friend of mine was left to “close the books” on her life. While never easy, Nancy had made plans so my friend wasn’t left to guess what she wanted – from the kind of service to where her assets went.

One of the best gifts of love you can give your loved ones is an SOP for the end of your life. Don’t leave the burden of reading your now dead (sorry to be so blunt) mind to your family in order to write your final chapter. Don’t “not give a hoot” because, inevitably, someone who cares about you will be left to deal with the state, courts, and government as they handle your affairs.  I write from personal experience having walked through the aftermath of the seemingly well-planned state of my parents’ affairs and watched my brother handle the affairs of my uncle – who did not make any plans.

Take responsibility now for what you hope never happens but at some point, most assuredly will. Yes, I am talking about having a will and having advanced directives in place – even if you are single with no children. Make sure all your financial accounts have payable on death or transfer on death instructions. Make sure your beneficiaries are up to date. Did you know, the beneficiary instructions on your accounts supersede what you have in your will? Make sure both accurately state your intentions. Formally state what you want done with your possessions and have it legally documented.

One of the most satisfying parts of my job is helping a grieving spouse or surviving children close out the financial chapters of their loved one’s life.  Being able to tell them they have nothing to worry about, that their loved one had everything lined out ahead of time and that all I will need is a death certificate and a few signatures takes a very heavy burden off weary shoulders.

As the year unfolds for all of us, we of course hope for nothing but the best. There is much to look forward to. What that is – who knows? But I am ready to meet tomorrow with open arms, a smile, a skip in my step, and a warm embrace. I have plans!

And, when New Year’s Eve 2023 rolls around, I hope that I am celebrating all the wonderful people in my life and giving thanks for all the good times we had this year.  But I also know that I may be thinking about those I have loved and lost – or God forbid – they will be remembering me.

God may laugh when we make plans, but by having a plan we can laugh, cry or just be at peace right alongside God when our best-laid plans go awry.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. – James 4:13-17

Whatever 2023 has in store for you, let your light so shine!

Oh, What a Year – 2022

“People cannot discover new lands until they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre’ Gide

In the waning hours of 2021, I could not have fathomed what awaited me in the year to come. I was so caught up in myself and giving my life over to pain that I could not see much past tomorrow. I could not imagine that the words of a stranger but fellow sufferer would bolster me on a journey that would change my life and change my way of being in the world.

“Right now, your pain has no purpose and will only get worse.

After surgery, your pain will have purpose and you’ll only get better.” 

Those words were shared with me in a Facebook support group by a fellow runner and now fellow hippie-sis just a few days before I became bionic and was having second thoughts and way too much fear for the seeming unknown.

While her words were meant to encourage me as I faced down total hip replacement surgery – they rang true for the place in life I had been residing since my annulment and the back-to-back deaths of my parents. For 6 years I had been living in physical pain – popping enough Advil to earn me a blood transfusion but it was my mental anguish that kept me running – running through life and running away from life. I was lost; I was heartbroken; and I had failed in life – in a spectacular way. I couldn’t face myself because I didn’t know who I was anymore -beyond the pain and beyond my failures.

As 2022 dawned I was resigned to more of the same until one day in February I could not walk. My right hip had had enough of me pushing through. I went to my physical therapist who worked me over and got me walking again but something inside me knew this was a turning point. When I finally got in to see an orthopedist and heard the words “never run again and hip replacement” and left with a prescription for Oxycodone (which I never filled) I felt like the earth had stopped but I was still spinning away.

I spent a few weeks on the DeNile River in the Land of Woe but it got me nowhere. My pain – physical and mental- served no purpose and the longer I let it control my life it would only get worse.

It was then that I started to catch glimpses of my former self – the one who could do hard things – who had lived through hard things before – even faced down death. The fighter who smiled and laughed and knew joy and had purpose. Where had she gone?

I decided to find her and embarked on what would be a significant year-long transformation.

With a surgery date on the calendar – I began a training regimen with my physical therapist. I was determined to go into the surgery strong so I would come out strong. This gave me purpose. I am a determined woman. Occasionally my determination is mis-guided – but not this time. I succeeded!

As my strength came back, I was determined to find – not my former self again – but who she became and can still be.

It was hell.

Thank goodness part of my recovery plan was walking because I took a lot of long soul-searching walks and spent time doing some serious internal excavation – digging up long rooted and now rotted ideas of myself and replacing them with good soil in which healthier ideas and ways of being can grow.

We don’t always end up where we intended in life. Long before reaching our final destination, life happens, and we are forced to change course. My naive college vision board at 18 and the “seasoned” 26-year-old me’s long-range plans seem foreign to me now. I’ve always admired those who had a dream at a young age, made it happen and then kept realizing it and living it. In truth, that happens to only a very lucky few.

A BBC article discussing the topic of identity says that some people “struggle to imagine their future self as a continuation of the person they are today… It’s almost as if they see their future self as a separate person that has little connection to their present identity.”

While I struggle with seeing my future life as a continuation of today or seeing it at all for that matter –given how this year unfolded – I don’t see that as a negative thing and I certainly don’t envision myself being a stranger to who I am today. On the contrary, it is because my future seems – at least right now – “unrevealed” – that gives me hope and something to look forward to discovering!

But creating a vision for the second half of life is not as easy as it would seem.

The questions of “Who am I” “What do I want to be when I grow up?”, and “How am I going to get there?”  have leveled up a critical notch to Who have I become?” and “What have I done with my life?’ and “What do I do now?”

When the future was a long way away, the answers seemed so easy. Heck, we could be anything we wanted anywhere we wanted (for the most part.) Dream away! But when we have less of a future ahead of us than we have behind us, there is far more at stake – or so we tell ourselves. Having lost a dear friend to cancer this year – who had so much life ahead of her and had lived her life so fully – really made me stop and think about those questions again.

“Who have I become?” “What have I done with my life?’ “What do I do now?”

But here’s the thing that brings me so much joy on the cusp of a new year. I am actually excited by these questions again!!

That I have been given the opportunity to make a course correction and say yes to life is positively thrilling and a bit daunting.

As I close this annual tradition of reflection and evaluation of where life has brought me and who and how I want to be, I am grateful for those purposeful words of encouragement that helped me accept the challenge before me, make the most of.it and emerge better for it!

I am grateful for the doctors who made my walking, hiking and yes even running again possible. I am grateful for my family and dear friends who walked with me in every sense of the word.

As this “unfathomable year” draws to a close I can honestly say I am so much better because of it! I feel wonderful, healthy, and strong. I feel like Erika again!

I am at peace with life – my life. That is so freeing!

I am finding awe in the present and joy in sharing life with others, in place of pain, regret, and darkness – my old friends. .

Having said that, I am so thankful for the journey that has brought me here today – to who I am! In the journey, I became strong.

There is much to look forward to. What that is – who knows? But I am ready to meet tomorrow with open arms, a smile, a skip in my step, and a warm embrace.

“People cannot discover new lands until they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre’ Gide

Happy New Year!!!

Let your light so shine!!!

Remembering… With Joy!

Christmas 2012

It’s been 10 years since I celebrated Christmas with my family. I had no idea that December 24th and 25th of 2012 would be our last Christmas together but I remember it as one of our best. There were the usual ruffled feathers over Christmas decorating and getting to church on time for the multiple candlelight services we helped with and of course – the very quick supper of Swedish meatballs and potatoes. That was a step up from our supper the year before – when we slurped Campbells New England Clam Chowder with a can of potato soup added to make it “a little more special” before dashing off to church. I intentionally use the word “supper” as dinner would falsely elevate the nature of our Christmas “feasts.”

Once home for the night, I played Christmas carols on the piano for my dad as we awaited my brother Fred and his wife Kathie’s arrival and my mom to finally come down from her last-minute Christmas efforts to join us around the tree. The peanut brittle and nuts, eggnog and hot cocoa were ready to see us through a Christmas Eve that would last until the wee hours of the morning. Long past our dog Tucker’s bedtime – but even he managed to stay alert for anything that just might taste good.

Most of my family Christmas’s had a – let me just say – high emotional content – sometimes hair-trigger level – but not that last one. For once, there was nothing but warmth and love and even laughter. I will treasure that last family Christmas forever.

I’ve had a decade of Christmases since: Christmases spent with an Irish Catholic family three times the size of mine (something I had always dreamed of after watching too many Hallmark Christmas movies), Christmases spent pining for home when I couldn’t get home, Christmases spent with dear friends and their extended families, a first Christmas without Mom followed by a first Christmas without Dad but with a new puppy, a newly-wed Christmas followed by a newly-annulled Christmas, a COVID solitary Christmas, a Christmas spent hiking to a mountain lake by myself, Christmas’s spent with special cousins, and finally this Christmas.

This is the first Christmas I have spent in the present! No, not hiding in a miraculously wrapped package under the tree- but in the here and wonderful now!

The past few years I have lived in the foregone certainty of my past while running through and from my life. The past, you see, really was an idyllic setting. Time and distance do wonders for the past. It’s amazing how good it looks and feels with age! It was a time and place that didn’t know immense grief, betrayal, and most of all constant pain. A place where I had control of life – before things went haywire.

I spent most of the summer recovering from surgery and learning to walk again. As I think about it now, I was also learning how to live again. Being forced to rest and “deal” with my life rather than running through and from it, finally put me on a positive path. I have a whole new appreciation for who I am, and who I can be. I spent time examining my failures and made peace with them. They will no longer control the direction of my life. Period!

That my life isn’t what it used to be or how I had once imagined it would be or what I or what others think (or I think that they think) it should be – makes it no less worthy of living and no less worthy of joy!

This is the first Christmas I am looking back on all those Christmases past filled – not with sadness and melancholy – but with joy and gratitude and awe. Joy for the love planted and still grows within me, gratitude for the good, sad, hard, and lonely times that shaped me, and awe at this ever-surprising gift of life we get to journey through. This is the first Christmas I feel truly content – at peace with who I am and how life is and how I am celebrating the birth of the Light that has always lived in me – shining through it all.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. I am living proof!

May the light of Christ shine as brightly in your life as it is mine – that is my Christmas prayer for you. And a reminder to cherish every moment of life.

Merry Christmas.

Christmas 2022

Food For the Journey

It’s that time of year again.

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. 

Our last Thanksgiving with Dad.

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.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Wishing you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving.

Let your light so shine!

When Things Go Amiss

A sermon for Reformation Day 10/30/2022

John 8:31-36 Jeremiah 31:31-34

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. 

Thanks be to God and to God be the glory!

The Worst That Can Happen…

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.

Keep letting your light so shine, Ember!!!

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.

O Happy Day!

I cried… but just a little. The smile and wind on my face wouldn’t let those tears of joy win!!

The last time I rode I also cried – it hurt so bad. I couldn’t even pedal without turning my right leg 45 degrees out and had to lay the bike on the ground to dismount because I couldn’t lift either leg over the bar.

Today, I felt like I was 10 again and trying out my bright blue brand-new Schwinn 10-speed for the first time!!

I didn’t even hurt getting on or off!

I kept it easy today – partly because I forgot to put air in those tires and partly because I still have what feels like a chalkboard eraser in my upper thigh which made pedaling feel a bit weird. But I will take weird any day over the nausea inducing pain of yore!

Keeping with the theme of TEN from above- I walked TEN miles yesterday (over 2 walks) and today my surgeon released me to live again – but take it easy, girl – my new hip is a PERFECT TEN – and he’ll see me in TEN years for a checkup!

O Happy day, calloo callay!!😁😁😁

45 days post total right hip replacement.

Let your light so shine like a 10-yr old!!!

Healing is Hard Work

The road is long.

Today marks 28 days of being a hippie – the titanium variation. I have literally made great strides in the last 4 weeks – remarkably so when I look back on those first few days. I felt like a newborn foal on wobbly legs, uncertain of every step and amazed that I could even take one! The initial pain and brain fogginess have subsided and now acetaminophen is the only medication I take – to ease the soreness and the zingers shooting down my leg from the thigh muscles and nerves that were cut. This is good pain. It serves as a healthy reminder that I am still healing – and I need to be reminded. I am only 1/3 of the way through the initial healing process of a total hip replacement and I have a good ways to go. My mind thinks otherwise and my body takes the brunt of lessons learned the hard way.

The body has an amazing ability to heal – if we allow it to.

In the initial stages of recovery, this is not such a difficult feat. I was exhausted and physically could not do anything other than eat, sleep, move as prescribed, sleep again, eat again and sleep again. Gradually the need for sleep gave way to the need for more movement – a sign that I was reaching a stable state and my body was at a point where I could start challenging it to resume daily activities – like changing the bed linens, vacuuming, walking with less and less equipment assisting me, and returning to work. In this stage, I would quickly learn when I had done too much because my body would quit on me – right then and there – and I would give it proper rest. I often felt frustrated and defeated. I despaired at the level of fitness I had “lost” overnight. Mind you this was days 14-21. A mere 2 weeks out from my surgery!!

But now, here I am at day 28 – officially 4 weeks from the day my femur met the saw blade and my hip socket met a reamer. I have established a new routine and returned to work full-time. I walk in the morning and the evening and take short jaunts around the parking lot throughout the day to keep my hip from getting stiff. I do my balance work and resistance band exercises twice a day and I am making good progress. This is the first time in years I have been able to stand on one leg and hold that pose for a solid minute! BUT, I have always had a more-is-better mentality and this is where I struggle. This is when the healing process really gets hard. I want to push myself to go farther – to do more – to get rid of of the ants in my pants!

My patience for recovery is wearing thin. I’m tired of runners sprinting by me on my walks and bicyclists passing me by. I long for a mountain summit now that the rain has stopped, the sun is warm, and the wildflowers beckon. The urgency of now is the bane of my current existence!!

My mind remembers my 17-mile runs, my twice daily 6-8-mile walks, and my HIIT & strength training routines of just 2 months ago and craves the activity. Celebrating walking 4 miles twice a day just seems so – so miniscule – such a physical diminishment. And yet – my body is doing something greater than pumping iron and setting personal bests – it is healing the largest bone in my body, it is becoming one with titanium, it is recreating and building cut muscles and finding new nerve pathways. Why do I struggle to celebrate these amazing feats? Why is is so hard to let the healing process happen? Why does this slowed down present time feel like an eternity when it seems like just yesterday I was waking up to a wonderful new reality?

There must be truth to the old adage “Time heals all wounds,” or it wouldn’t have stood the test of time. It is a hard lesson to appreciate in the urgency of now but I know my future health and happiness depends on it.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:28-31