Grateful for the privilege…

We talk about it, think about it, hear about it, accuse it, and deny it – but trust me – if you are enjoying any moment of this weekend – you are privileged. A profound thank you to those who died in service to our country – whose sacrifice I most certainly have not lived up to – but am eternally grateful for.

Dropping the Mask

As I drove into the parking lot of the grocery store, I weighed my options. Would I be bold and fearless or continue to color within lines that have been drawn around almost every public activity for over a year? If I was bold, would I also be deemed a rebel with or without a cause? If I stuck to my modus operandi of benefitting the common good, staying obedient to the “science,” would I now be deemed anti-science or a flaming liberal?  Who knew that a quick trip to the market to pick up bananas could become a study of societal norms and my psychological un-doing?

The last time I shopped here, I found myself an oddity and the recipient of eye-rolls from those breathing free and easy as I observed the rules set forth by management to wear a mask while in the store – rules that were not enforced but highly suggested.  And now, here I was, mask in hand – not certain whether I would once again cover my face as I entered or go with the flow. The day before, the much anticipated and argued about news rang throughout the land –   the mask wearing edict had been lifted from on high!  Despite news to the contrary just days before, the science now said that if I was fully vaccinated, I could go places without a mask on – inside and out – and not have to socially distance with minimal to no risk to myself! 

The news seemed to come out of nowhere – like a swift gust of wind announcing the arrival of a storm. Only this time it was like the wind we had all been running into headlong all year suddenly changed direction – leaving me feeling a bit short of breath. For well over a year, we have been told to look out for each other – that it wasn’t just about me but what I could do to another person just by exhaling in their presence. With a long way to go before the population is vaccinated and immunity to the viral presence that has inhibited our livelihoods is reached, especially in my community, this all seemed rather abrupt. Not wearing my mask left me feeling a bit vulnerable as I contemplated going inside but what would wearing one say about my confidence in the vaccine? What message would I send?  What would I do?

The fact that we are all sick of wearing masks should not be lost on any of us. We are weary of not seeing each other’s faces, of not knowing whether someone is smiling or frowning – not to mention tired of smelling our own breath and walking around with fogged up glasses. The very notion of such a thing becoming a habit has spurred many a social media rant. And yet whether we know it or not, every single one of us wears a mask every moment we are conscious of others. Not unlike our recent accumulation of masks for every outfit, many of us have an assortment of masks we don for different situations – and without them we feel exposed, vulnerable, if not right out afraid.  Afraid of being found out, afraid of not fitting in, afraid of being seen for who we really are. Suddenly our innermost flaws – the ones we regularly scheme to ignore or hide – seem to be on full display.  And so, we don the mask of the moment and present a vision of ourselves to others that will get us by. A new experience, stressful moments, or times filled with great uncertainty seem to be those occasions I reach for a mask. In essence, we make ourselves out to be what we think others expect us to be. Done often enough we risk losing sight of who we really are.

This past year I have had a marked decrease in opportunities to don my assortment of masks. I will admit to having breathed a sigh of relief at the chance to just be me on a regular basis. But it hasn’t been the mental sanctuary I had hoped for. Rather, the reprieve brought to light that I have lost sight of just who I am in my own eyes. What is my story?

What am I hiding from others? If I felt secure and sure in the presence of others, what is it that I would want them to know about me – all of me?  How earthshaking would it be if the real me stepped forward all the time?  What if we all were the “real me’s” in the presence of others? How might our relationships change? How might our lives in community change?

The stories we tell others about ourselves – the good and bad – of what we have experienced in our lives help us make sense of the world and shape us as individuals. These stories are what Northwestern University professor Dan McAdams, a pioneer in the field of narrative psychology, calls our narrative identity. We tell these stories to give our lives meaning and help others understand us. While many people may experience a similar event in their lives, each person interprets the event differently and assigns different levels of importance to it. Some people will simply move on from an experience like a swimming lesson gone awry, while others are transformed by it, perhaps emboldened to face their fears throughout life or traumatized by the experience they viewed as a broken trust.  McAdams calls these “narrative choices” and they predominantly fall into four thematic categories: redemption (stories that transition from the bad to the good that follows), contamination (stories that transition from the good to the bad), communion (stories that emphasize connection, love, friendship, intimacy, caring, or belonging), and agency (stories that emphasize achievement, self-mastery, empowerment, status, and influence).

McAdams’ studies have shown that those whose narratives fall into the redemption, communion, or agency themes have a better outlook on life, find more meaning and purpose in their life, achieve more of their goals, seek out and find more connection, enjoy deeper relationships, and generally report a greater sense of well-being. People who tell their stories through a contamination lens tend to see themselves as victimized, less-than, and fail to thrive in their personal and professional pursuits.

How we interpret our experiences, how we tell our stories, will set the tone and direction for the course of our life. In order to do this successfully and have a positive course going forward, we have to sit with our past experiences, savor or make peace with them, learn from them, grow from them, and be willing to let them go. Whether good or bad, our past experiences, the stories of our lives, made us who we are today but do not have to define how and who we are tomorrow. We also have to be willing to honestly share them.  If I present myself to others as one thing but my past experiences have shaped me to the contrary – I will never be my authentic best and my relationships will be missing out.

Recently, I wrote here of a very difficult, life changing time in my life and also shared the story on social media. It’s not something I often share with even my closest of friends but something inside spurred me to tell “my side” of the story. I wrote into the night, hit post and went to bed. I awoke in the morning in a panic. What had I done?!! I had revealed too much!!! I raced to login and delete my revelatory words, but it was too late – I had shared a side of me that made me who I am today – and people had already read it – at 5 a.m. in the morning!! Who reads a blog, let alone my blog, before 5 a.m.?  Don’t people sleep??? Not only had they read it, but some had commented and some even took the time to send me personal messages as well – thanking me for sharing and confiding in me similar thoughts, regrets, and hopes.

Instead of deleting my post in shame, I experienced a sense of relief and connection I had not felt in a long time. Not only had I helped myself by revealing my true self, I had helped others express their reality as well.

As we begin to emerge from this pandemic, we will all have a different story to tell of a shared moment in time. Each of us will have experienced life differently from the moment we were born right up to the last 15 months. Each of us has the opportunity to put our mark on this world. I encourage you to drop the mask(s) and share YOUR story. We will all be better for it.

***

And now for the rest of the story… What did I do? This woman whose life has always been about following the rules and seeing that others come first, donned my mask as I read the same mask notice I have passed by every visit for recent history. I will admit, no matter how much I detest it, the small piece of cloth that covered my mouth and my emotions – gave me a sense of security – necessary or not – for the moment.  Was I rebel or a complaisant? I’ll let science settle that one.

“There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. “ 

– Matthew 6: 25-26 The Message

LET YOUR LIGHT SO SHINE!!!

Loving My Mother and Facing Myself, Anew

I have come to dread the second weekend in May, for the sadness it brings, the shame I feel for the envy I harbor, and the stark truths it reveals about me and my place in this world beginning from my first exuberant breath to this moment as I write of yet another Mother’s Day – survived.

Ours was a difficult relationship, but then, the things that matter most in life are not always easy. Nonetheless, I know my mother loved me as deeply as any mother could love a headstrong daughter. While I often wished we could have a relationship like those my friends enjoyed with their moms, one filled with lunch dates, laughter, and dreams for tomorrow – I came to accept that those things were not important to my Mom. Of course, there were wonderful memories – or I wouldn’t feel so conflicted about our relationship still today. She was a wonderful Brownie leader, tender of tummy aches, and mom to the wayward kids on the block. We became best buds when it was just the two of us for a cold Virginia winter when my dad was away on an extended trip and schooling and my brother was away at college. But my best and fondest memories of my mother and me together all occurred before I was 13. And then things began to change. I was growing up and those changes meant the world would also have an influence on me. I can count on one hand the times my mother and I had a joyful, in-depth conversation about life. Those we did have quickly deteriorated into expressions of her fears for what would happen to me “if” or judgment-tinged commentaries beginning and ending with “you are so much better than that.” I knew much more about how difficult her life was than whether or not she ever believed in me.

Ironically, it was in the throes of my 7-year dance with death a.k.a. Anorexia, that she began to encourage me, to tell me that those who were “judging” me simply didn’t understand, that she was thin too and was the envy of her friends and sisters. Even as I laid in ICU with less than a 30% chance of survival if a miracle didn’t happen, she “fought” against the “system” that was “failing at every step” to save me. Defending me when psychiatrists suggested a problem, denying that there was something wrong with her daughter. When I finally hit rock bottom, faced down death, and accepted the journey to wellness outside of my mother’s realm she refused to accompany me. As I boarded the plane to travel to my saving place – Remuda Ranch – all 78 pounds of me and still in critical condition, my mother was at home refusing to see me off. I remember looking back down the ramp – and seeing my father and godfather standing together with their utmost love veiled by a dread that they might not see me again shadowing their faces. The same two men whose frustration with me often led to bursts of anger because they couldn’t understand – now stood behind me in love.

After 4 rides in an ambulance and 7 years in and out of the hospital with my final stay lasting from New Year’s Eve until Memorial Day, my mother still insisted there was nothing wrong with me. I so wanted to believe that. For once we had something we could share! But that very thing joining us would prove fatal to me if it was allowed to continue. I was gone for 4 months. During that time Mom sent me care packages of piano music for me to play on the ranch’s grand piano, new dresses as I “outgrew” the ridiculously small ones she had sewn for me because nothing in any store any where would fit my skeletal body, and she wrote me notes that reminded me of the lunch box notes she would write me when I was a child – before her depressive anxiety began to take over her life.

When I returned home from treatment, I didn’t have a cent to my name. Having worked and paid my way through college what money I did have was depleted by astronomical medical bills. Insurance companies didn’t cover treatment for mental illness back then. So, I returned to the family home to begin life anew. I had changed. I had grown. I had a new story and a new perspective of myself. My mother had not. This would be a point of contention between us for the rest of our life together.

I have been in recovery now for 26 years. I am 64 pounds heavier today than I was at my lowest point. Though it was a pivotal point in our relationship, I do not blame my mother for what I went through. Psychiatrists coaxed me to believe that it was my mother at the root of my problems but I never once placed that onus on her. My eating disorder was a manifestation of my desperate need to have some sort of control in my life and be good at something. I mastered both. According to the plethora of doctors and specialists who worked on “my case” and the numerous studies asserting Anorexia (especially as extreme as my situation was) has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, I am a walking miracle but not one without scars. My eating disorder ravaged my body. 7 years of starvation will do that. I would learn that I could never have children, that my bones would forever be susceptible to breaks, that I must always, always treat food as a medium for life and not something that could bring me pleasure or cause me distress, and that well-meaning inquisitive people would always find my weight to be an acceptable conversation topic. Exercise had always been and remains my means of escape, my coping mechanism, and my Achilles heel. Told by doctors that the fact I was a runner with a strong heart was the only reason I survived the starvation-induced cardiac arrests (plural) – I remained certain that I could never do too much of a good thing. This too has been a hard-learned lesson as I continue down the never-ending road of recovery – and one I am still learning – 26 years in!

Counselors told me I needed to set boundaries on my relationship with my mother but how do you set boundaries between yourself and the person that gave life to you? While fences make good neighbors, boundaries do not address the conflicts that created the need for them. No matter the strife between us, I always loved my Mom as much as I felt beholden to her.

Mom, newly home after a stroke.

Finally putting a physical boundary of 400+ miles between my mother and me with my move to the Flathead changed the dynamic between us. On visits home, we still engaged in rapid-fire from time to time but during our long-distance phone conversations, rather than constantly butting heads with me, my Mom seemed to relish the fact that though I was living my own life and she could live vicariously through me in her old stomping grounds. How comically ironic that I would end up where she once lived “some of her happiest days” as a young woman right here where I am now. Sadly, by that point in her health and our relationship, our conversations never ventured much past the surface.

Perhaps we both gazed at this view – 50 years apart.

As I reflect on 50 years as my mother’s daughter my heart aches for the young woman I was and for the woman she was too. To think we are solely responsible for who we are is naivete at its worst. As I struggle with my own place in life right now, I have wondered just what brought her to be who she became to be.

Since my mother’s illness and death, I have learned much about what is important in life and the lesson has been painful. Past conflicts between us remained a barrier to my heart and have raked my heart ever since. The fact that my mother and I could not realize a reconciliation of any meaningful depth fills me with deep regret. Why had I not pursued this with my Mom sooner? My hopes are such that the pain and anger we inflicted on one another disappeared into her lost memories as I am not sure she could comprehend the feelings I wanted to express. Part of me feels at peace in the simple sweet conversations that we did share. Perhaps that is God’s grace reigning over my ineptitude. I have learned that life is finite. Its seasons far too short for anger, guilt, pride, and selfishness to linger in our relationships. Storms will come and we do not know when or how they will end.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes:

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Solomon was wise. Life is meaningless if we do not tend to what truly matters. All the fun, work, accolades, and treasures of life we collect along the way are meaningless. What matters are the relationships we have; that our hearts are right with God; that we resolve conflicts with those we love; that they know they matter to us; and how very much we do indeed love them.

Reconciliation with my mother was a selfish goal of mine. But how much more powerful and life-giving it would have been had I been able to make peace with my mother while she was alive. Perhaps it is best and all I can hope for that my Mom and I pursued the springtime memories of our lives as we walked through her final winter together.

I last spoke to my mother on my 45th birthday, 18 days before she passed away. It was a conversation I will never forget. Aside from the fact she was upset that I would be celebrating alone and didn’t have a special dinner date she just kept saying all she wanted was for me to be happy and would I consider coming home. I kept telling her I was happy but I had too many mountains left to climb to think about coming home – but that didn’t mean I didn’t miss her. I told her I loved her so very much. Her last words to me were: I love you and I just want you to be happy.

For all these reasons, Mother’s Day haunts me. This day of celebrating the gift of life that mothers give reminds me of all that I lost and all I will never be. There are times I see my mother’s nature of sadness in me – and it strikes a paralyzing fear in me that I might be following in her steps towards darkness. But I take comfort too, in that I am my mother’s daughter just as much as I am my father’s and my father loved her to the very end. As my Daddy’s girl, I know I will be okay. God has blessed me with tools of His light and my own life experiences to fight the darkness that robbed me of my mother’s best days.

One of Mom’s favorite songs was “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me. I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free; His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me.

It has become one of my favorites, too.

Mom, I know we had our struggles as a mother and daughter but I will forever carry with me your sweet love of the joys of life, the tender ways you loved me through childhood, and your simple understanding of what is good. I will continue to strive to live the kind of life you so wanted for me – one that is happy and lived for the Lord. I never stopped loving you and I will always hear your voice and feel your love whenever a songbird sings.

And when I do, I will sing because I know you are happy, and I’ll sing because I know you are free. I’ll smile at the sight of every sparrow because I’ll know you are right here, with me.

Fading Away

4 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, massaging his calf, 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.

What seemed like just a few short days before I would not have expected to be in this austere room facing his ending – 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 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 so thankful I was able to be with my Dad to send him home. My heart breaks for those, especially during this pandemic, who don’t get to say the same goodbye.

I love you Dad. Give Mom a big smooch tonight.

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

Miles Apart

It can be a long drive to my “other life.” When the weather is favorable for windshield time, I actually relish the time behind the wheel as the mountains of NW Montana give way to the big wide open of Eastern Montana. When the weather doesn’t cooperate with my travel plans (which is at least 75% of the time) it can be the longest butt toning session ever undertaken! I had both experiences for my Easter trip home this year.

Armed with road snacks, MT’s own John Denver aka Mike Eldred and Phil Aaberg CD’s (yes I am old school) ready to rock me across the Divide, a plethora of podcasts loaded for my intellectual advancement, and 3 seasons worth of clothing (this is Springtime in MT) for 4 days of travel, I departed the Flathead on a very fine Good Friday.

It was a wonderful day for a road trip! Especially on the backroads that I love. Blue skies and dry roads were abundant. As I crested the Continental Divide and saw nothing but flat land and open sky before me, the deep freeing sigh that occurs every single time escaped my being. The open road ahead of me is not only the way home but an invitation to what I lovingly call my prairie wondering. It takes me awhile to get to this place of thinking deep thoughts. The stresses of packing and repacking, dropping the talkative dog off for his staycation at the ranch, and navigating the traffic to get out of the Flathead take a while to loosen their grip.

The Big Wide Open

As I delighted in the multitude of calves finding their bearings in this great big, sometimes cold and harsh world, I couldn’t help but say a little prayer that all would be well, that all matters of being would be well – for them and for us, and yes, for me. For life has been uncertain of late – not unlike the lives of those darling mooers frolicking about in the warm sun – within moments a predator or sudden spring storm could snuff out all that was to be.

But while one could dwell in that particularly unsavory side to the cycle of life – which has been easy to do during this yearlong global pandemic (another cyclical event)  – it is all part of the eternal pattern of change and transformation. Franciscan contemplative, Richard Rohr, says that for change and transformation to happen, we must move from Order (those warm times of carefree frolicking in the sun) to “a period—or even many periods— of Disorder.” Often that means loss and disappointment. “There will be a death, a disease, a disruption to our normal way of thinking or being in the world.” The ways of being and doing are disrupted and our notions of control and certainty are displaced by a sense of restlessness, an unease with our very nature and place.

I know I have grown increasingly unsettled – despite being pretty much homebound for the last year. With the busy trappings of my pre-pandemic busy life stripped away, I have had to come to terms with the core foundation of my life – the bare essence of who I am without external forces laying claim to my identity. I haven’t always liked what I have uncovered. And I wonder if others have found themselves in the same state of dismay.  Rohr says this “is necessary if any real growth is to occur.”

The Disorder stage is all about letting go of control and stepping “out of the driver’s seat for a while,” Rohr says. (The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder [Franciscan Media, 2020].) Then we can open ourselves to Reorder, where we radically “let go and let God.” Which is why the template for “Order, Disorder, Reorder” is Jesus, who surrendered to God’s will, was crucified and was resurrected.

“Letting go and letting God” is easy to do when you’re driving across a landscape uncluttered by the demands of modern life and mirrors that dare you to compare your lot in life to those around you, not to mention bathe in the murky waters of your failures and regrets. It’s easy to hide behind the guise that while our world is plagued by righteous hate, sadness, power, fear, and judgement -thinking that I am somehow not a  part of that – until I realize that I most certainly am!  I sometimes feel I am stuck in a never ending state of the Christian observance of Good Friday – that darkest of days when all of humanity’s sin and ugliness were foisted upon a divine savior, Jesus, and hung on a cross to die a bloody death.

It’s times like that which inspire thoughts of putting the pedal to the metal and driving off into the sunset in search of an escape from it all – from me, from the world, from life – a place to start over – to start fresh.

Thankfully on this particular Good Friday, I had a rendezvous with Easter and family awaiting my arrival, which got me to thinking about which side of the cross I tend to live on on a daily basis – because Easter is not just a single spring Sunday once a year, nor is Good Friday a single dark day preceding the celebration of resurrection and new life.

Have I ever truly opened myself to the Reordering of life that God offers us – all of us – freely  – freely if I surrender all my sins, failure and regret from my inherent need to control them – have I ever paid more than lip-service to surrendering them all to Him?

As the miles (and there are a lot of them on this particular journey) rolled on, I realized just how far apart the life I am allowing myself to live is from the life God wants for me. In my heart, I felt alienated from myself. In that moment, I knew that I knew little or nothing of my own heart. I have kept my distance out of some disabling fear of what I might find. 

Henri Nouwen wrote: “Where we are most ourselves, we are often strangers to ourselves. That is the painful part of our being human. We fail to know our hidden center; and so we live and die often without knowing who we really are. If we ask ourselves why we think, feel, and act in such and such a way, we often have no answer, thus proving to be strangers in our own house.” [You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, by Henri J. M. Nouwen]

Jesus didn’t go to the cross for me or you to remain wallowing in fearful despair, regret, or sin. Nail those gifts from Satan to the cross, right now!  Jesus longs to make his love known to us in the seclusion of our hearts, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us – even the parts we would like to hide. Only through Jesus can we come to know and love ourselves so that we might love as Jesus loved. Only then can we help others know and love themselves – free of their failures, regrets and the righteous hate, sadness, power, fear, and judgement that pervades our world.

That is the side of the cross I want to live on. It’s not far away at all – it is within me and you. The journey however won’t be easy. Jesus knows that well.

Just like those calves tasting life for the first time, amid the harsh landscape of their vulnerable reality, we need a savior to tend us. Jesus knows what seeks to destroy us from within and without and He will seek you out, yes, even you wandering wretchedly in the wilderness. Jesus will bring you safely home. Jesus gladly gives you His life to fend off the wolves and promises you a reordered, resurrected life – every single day you walk with Him.

More calves than cars.

That’s a promise that will stay with you for the rest of your journey down the highways and back roads of life. You won’t always frolic in the warm sun like those Easter calves, but you will always have Jesus shortening the miles between the life you live and the life God wants for you – life on Easter’s side of the cross.

Oh, and here’s one more for the road – a timeless guitar melody that will take you places fast! Don’t Look Back Turn it up and let it all go! 

“Look at this: look!  Who got picked by God! He listens the split second I call to him. Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say. “More, more.” I have God’s more-than-enough. More joy in one ordinary day, than they get in all their shopping sprees. At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together.” – Psalm 4: 3, 6-8

The Message

Let your light so shine!

Looking down on home. Shining bright in God’s freeing light!

An Easter Life

Easter morning in eastern Montana

Easter is my most favorite holy day. It has a special, complex meaning for me, having been so near death myself only to be brought back and given the chance at new life and then to experience the death of my mother on Palm Sunday, bury her on Good Friday, and celebrate her new life on Easter…

Yes, this most holy of all holy days speaks to me. I never forget that only through the grace, love and hands of God do I walk this earth today, and never do I lose sight that I live each day for Him. While this new life that I now know is only temporal, it is so worth living each and every day – even the cloudy, pitiful ones. The days where I ask Him what do I matter, what purpose does my existence serve?

And then I think back to Easter – each and every Easter morning that dawned no matter how dark the times have been – knowing the crosses I have borne serve a far greater purpose than my own present preoccupied discomfort. To shine the love, the truth, and the light of our Lord as bright as I can into the lives of others even when mine is flickering, that is my desire when my feet hit the ground each morning.

Come alive again with me on this blessed day in the blood of Jesus, washed clean and free of the broken past. Find your soul restored for the journey and the work He has called us to, even when you are not certain what that is. May you find renewal, passion, redemption, forgiveness, humility, love and calling for life on this day of Resurrection. As Christ is risen today, may He arise in you!

Happy Easter!!!

“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.” – 1 Peter 1:3-5

The Message

Let your Light so shine!

A new story begins

I met the new “owners” of the house I called home for 25 years, today. “Oh, so you’re the “Erika” he exclaimed as he pointed to my signature in the pavement we poured for my first car’s parking spot. That choked me up and the first round of tears began to flow…

They showed me the work they had done on the backyard my Dad had “toiled” over for years for his past-time enjoyment. They hesitated as they told me about pulling out all of his prized chokecherry bushes because their dog was gorging on the berries and getting sick! That backyard will now have been home to 4 dogs and the final resting place of three of mine.

As we stood in the warm sun they shared how much they loved “the place.” She told me they hadn’t really started on any work inside because they didn’t quite feel it was their “right” to yet… but they might replace the baseboards and paint the woodwork as the oak has yellowed – I laughed and told them Dad refused any thought of painting wood!! She said they feel so fortunate to live in such a “beautiful” home. He said he had imposter syndrome – because they both felt this home held a story that they hadn’t quite fit into yet. They were so happy to meet me and put a face and name to that story.

What a story… One that I have struggled to let come to an end. When death forces a story to end, you want to keep rereading and reliving the good parts and never come to the dreaded end. Today, I can say I am happy to let the final chapter of my story at 4150 Audubon Way come to a close and see their story begin.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

credit:istock

A Lenten Sermon 

During this Lenten season, we’ve been hearing Martin Luther’s explanations of the Sacraments we as Lutherans celebrate. Tonight, as we reach the end of our Wednesday Evening Prayer Services, I will continue with the Sacrament of the Altar a.k.a Holy Communion. 

It has been over a year since we last celebrated communion with our Lord together as one body. Yes, we have had the occasional virtual sharing of the body and blood of Christ – making do with a cracker or piece of toast and a blessed swig of our house wine or whatever we can find in the fridge while at the breakfast table or in front of the TV, but I will be honest with you – to me it seems a bit sacrilege and has left me feeling a bit empty. Most definitely, this long pandemic fast we have endured has made me hungry for the day we can be together again to share a blessed communion with one another, bound together by our common Baptism and a bond of love that reflects the love of Christ for us. 

I have vivid memories of receiving and giving the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ throughout my life – from my very first communion as a newly confirmed 8th grader in my lace-trimmed white dress and black patent shoes surrounded by family and fellow formally dressed confirmands to the last time I served communion to my father on my last Sunday at our family’s church in Billings before I moved away. As I held my dad’s eyes and spoke the same words spoken by Christ – there was a love so deep and a common understanding between us that only God could create out a piece of bread and sip of wine. I have witnessed grown men cry as they came forward for this special meal, I have watched broken souls struggle through infirmities to come forward with the help of others, I myself have cried with tears of relief and tears of joy that I only feel after tasting the bread and drinking the wine. 

Which begs the question that Luther asks:

How can bodily eating and drinking do such a great thing?

Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but rather the words that are recorded: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sin.”

But, you ask, weren’t we already offered and given forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism? Do we somehow lose that forgiveness so that we need to be re-forgiven, re-saved, resurrected to life again every week? What does that mean for us during a pandemic when we haven’t communed in over a year? Gasp!  No forgiveness doesn’t work that way. What Jesus is offering you in Holy Communion is a REmembering – a tangible reminder of his life and death. Not a memory that simply makes us think of Him but a memory that makes us members of His body. An intimate interaction with His presence. And where Christ is found, there is complete forgiveness – there and only there, whether you take the bread and wine this week or not.

What joins you to Christ is your faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins, faith that comes from hearing and living in His promise. Jesus called you to Him in the waters of your Baptism and through your faith in Jesus and His promise, your sins are counted – counted as forgiven – always and completely. But while God doesn’t keep a tally of your sins, the world and the devil do and they will do their level best to work against God and on you. 

Your faith in God is a target. During His last days with them, Jesus told his disciples: “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) And He was right! You are literally surrounded by enemies who  seek to sever your connection to Jesus, to pull you away from Him, and pull you away from God’s forgiveness and life. Who are your enemies? Who or what comes between you and God and keeps you from sharing God’s promises with the world and living the life that God wants for you? 

Because Jesus knows what it is like to be human, to have our weaknesses tested and our faith tried, Jesus wasn’t content to give you only a once-in-a-lifetime Baptism. Jesus knew you would need more than that, something tangible – a symbolic reminder of His enduring presence and an open invitation to His mercy, grace, and love in the face of the world’s troubles and all that would pull you from Him. In remembering and celebrating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, through the bread and wine, body and blood, He gathers your life and the lives of the world to Him.That is why Jesus, on the evening before he died, took bread saying, “This is my Body,” and took the cup saying, “This is my Blood.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”

I dare say there are a multitude of things vying for God’s place in your life right now. And you might – after a year most often described as one of  separation, polarization, judgment, frustration, distrust, and hate – you might be feeling a bit unworthy of this great gift of God’s love. 

Such thoughts were not foreign to Luther either. Indeed, he questioned this himself:

Who, then receives this sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation are in  fact a fine external discipline, but a person who has faith in these words, “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” is really worthy and well prepared. However, a person who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, because the words “for you” require truly believing hearts.

I think we have this fasting thing down pretty good – and we have been keeping our bodies well- prepped against ruthless invaders for over a year now – so that should make us worthy, right? Sure, that might make you LOOK worthy to others and FEEL worthy. But it isn’t very concrete. How can you be certain you have fasted enough or kept your body primed enough? So how do we define worthiness? It’s in our human nature to like lists and categories and systems that enable us to measure our success, align with the “right” group, and see others as not like us – you know – not worthy. 

So here goes – where do you fit in? If you don’t have a single sin that needs forgiving, then by all means,don’t come taste and see.  If you have no fear, no doubt, no weaknesses of the heart, then this bread for the journey is not for you. If your faith can’t be moved or shaken, if you’ve never thought only of yourself, if your “love for one another” is already perfect, and if you have had it with Jesus and feel no need for communion with Him, then this invitation isn’t for you.  It probably isn’t going to mean much to you because this divine invitation is meant for sinners. 

Who is worthy? Christ’s body and blood – His eternal presence – is for YOU. You who yearn to walk with Christ – but get tripped up every so often; you who long to be touched again by His sacrifice even when you can’t find the time to sacrifice for Him; you who long to receive forgiveness for all your sins from His wounded and outstretched hands all the while holding onto a grudge, and you who need His help in order to fulfill His command to love one another even though you have yet to love yourself.

If you feel the world pulling you away from God, if you know you need Christ and you know that all His forgiveness and all His strength is in here – in your heart – as you eat the bread and drink the wine of this Holy Communion, if you believe that you have been personally invited by your Savior to this feast for sinners, because you have, then come – taste and see. You are most certainly worthy and most certainly welcome. 

Amen

Spring Cleaning My Soul

The buds of spring cleaning have been bursting out all over at my house of late. I’ve been doing a surprising amount of cleaning lately, cleaning and discarding. Perhaps it is the fact that I have spent considerably more time at home this past year surrounded by stuff – an unbelievable amount of stuff that I have collected over the three and a half years I have lived in my house, and I am tired of looking at it. Perhaps it is because this stuff is holding me back from seeing the potential uses of the spaces I have as I contemplate a few updates I would like to make: new flooring, new kitchen countertops, an addition to house my library and pianos. Needless to say, I am more of a minimalist when it comes to anything but clothing (!!) and books, and this growing collection of stuff is getting to me.  If I don’t make my current spaces clean and less cluttered, any improvements or new space I add won’t be any better – in fact, there will just be more opportunities to add to the clutter. So I have been cleaning and discarding those things that aren’t necessary, that are taking up valuable space that could be used more creatively, and in so doing finding some breathing room as I plan for what needs to be done and can be done to make my house even more my home.

Coincidentally, I just observed a rather significant birthday on the timeline of life that has put me into a reflective state of being. Part of me can’t believe I have arrived at this mile marker already, and then part of me wonders how I even made it to this point given the long and broken road I’ve traveled. I have collected a mighty array of life souvenirs – some becoming permanent scars on my being, some being points of amazing light, and some that have quietly gone from being a passing experience to an entrenched way of thinking and doing life. 50, ahem, years of day in and day out living provides ample opportunities for habits and mindsets to take hold of you. – to add clutter to your life. You don’t even notice them at first until they start diminishing or making your life difficult.

You get so comfortable in doing life the way you have always done life that you live it with your eyes closed – running on auto-pilot and tuning out the flyover territory below. You forget you were created for more than what you can see with your diminished perspective. You begin to compare your life to others and in so doing you lose sight of your own intrinsic value.

After finishing my tidying up chores for the day, I have been taking long contemplative walks along the river and enjoying the sun’s warm reflection on the still quiet water. On one recent evening I abruptly stopped and took a good long look at the 50-year-old looking back on her life as she prepared for the next who-really-knows-how-many years she has ahead of her.  The faint wrinkles of time told stories of smiles and sorrows and sundrenched days of adventure. The eyes revealed an ocean of emotions that are at once tidal waves and tide pools and a hidden wondering from the shore. Missing though, was the sparkle that never dimmed in her youth – despite the challenges she faced even then.

I was tempted to move along and get back to my fast, regimented pace; but instead, I stayed and I looked deeper and asked her some tough questions – not sure if she would ever have the answers – but at least I could perhaps conjure up a challenge to the way she had been doing things and inspire a desire to clean house so that the sparkle might come back.

Here’s what I asked her:

  • What if you focused on what you can do and not what you can’t?
  • What do you value anymore?
  • What happened to the daily awe and wonder of life?
  • Are you filled with gratitude and appreciation for what is in your life right now – not just what once was?
  • Is there life in your heart or are you just existing?
  • Is there life in your daily work or are you just getting the job done?
  • What are you looking forward to? There has to be a reason for tomorrow – what is it?
  • Are you bringing life to your friendships or stealing life from them?
  • Is there life in the way you are living in this moment?
  • Where do you see yourself in the world – not just how you think the world sees you?
  • Are you growing?
  • Are you bringing life to others – do you even seek out others to bring life to?
  • What are you saying yes to?
  • Why are there so many no’s?
  • Finally, I asked her why she wasn’t trying to be the best at her life instead of being the best version of someone else’s life.

I’ll be honest, cleaning the privy can be more enjoyable than sitting with these questions – but having done both I can tell you which I benefited the most from as I set out on the next half of my life.

Those questions weren’t just for the shocked and in denial 50-year-old staring back at me like a watery mirage. They’re for all of us. They reveal what needs to be cleaned up and discarded; habits and mindsets that take up valuable space in your life – space that could be used more creatively and effectively to give your life meaning, fulfillment- sparkle.

As I, as we all, sort through our various souvenirs of living 25, 50, 75 years or even just living through a single pandemic year, one souvenir – our collective mortality – comes to the forefront. The temporality of life means that this one moment, this now, is priceless. A cluttered life on auto-pilot doesn’t cut it anymore. Our days should not be flyover territory. Everything and everyone matters. Even you. Nothing and no one is to be taken for granted. Not you, not your breath, not your rising nor your falling. Remember, even though time may fly or crawl by, no matter how many days you have already counted, there will never be another moment like this one. Make sure there is life in that moment. Remember too, that in that precious moment of time, no one can do a better job of being you than you. Happy Spring!

“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” Ephesians 2: 1-6 The Message

Let your light so shine!

Notes on 50

I turned the BIG 5-0 yesterday – to the day – in fact. I was a Tuesday’s child “full of grace” but my parents decided against naming me Grace – perhaps with premonitions of the true nature of my future being… But I digress. Here’s a brief report on my first day as a supposed 50-year-old… March 2, 2021.

First, it is not unlike being 40 which is what I was yesterday. It was supposed to be a sunny day with a brilliant sunrise for me to chase – at least that is the deal I made with God the night before. Alas, I awoke to a cloudy gray morning, so instead of jumping out of bed and making the devil fearfully aware that I was awake – I rolled over and made sure my feet still worked. I thought about the dream I had a few moments before – of my mom and dad who I miss terribly – because this 50-year-old without a family of her own to tend to idealizes the family she once had. Anyway, the dream was good and made me feel happy inside. Soon, my sole reason for being (a.k.a Ember) let me know he was ready for the day so my plans for another slumber fell to his increasingly urgent demands.

Because I am 50 now, I must prove to myself that this notion is ludicrous. To commence the day, I did 1 hour and 40 minutes of cross-training, Pilates, situps, and pushups. Then I went for a 12-mile run. It was a windy jaunt but the sun came out and shined ever so briefly on me – for my special day! Then the sun went away.

I had breakfast with Mikey and we thought about Life whilst sipping Vermont Maple coffee. I rued the weather and studied various webcams wondering where I might go to find some sunshine. I decided Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park was overdue for a visit since I haven’t been since I broke my foot. Clouds be damned. Besides, the light was on me and clouds make everything more interesting…

Having spent so much time rueing the weather (lesson learned) I decided against a snowshoe and just went for a drive stopping at prime pullouts, hiking down icy hills to snowy banks along the shoreline, and meandering the grounds of Lake McDonald Lodge. I was surprised at the number of people who had the same idea. People – it is March 2nd and a frightful, blustery day at that! Sigh… it is our new reality in these once tranquil undiscovered parts. The clouds were quite moody – as was I… Turning 50 by yourself can do that, I guess. Alas, the lake and sleeping lodge was just what Dr. Morck ordered and soon I was feeling much more like the 30-year ok, 40-year old, l still am.

I arrived home to a rather miffed pup, who took one look at my hiking boots and knew, just knew I had cheated him out of a full day of play. The lovely snowy field we were romping in just last week is now a bog of mud so off we went to our other favorite haunt for a six-mile saunter at sunset – where he still managed to find every mud puddle and black road grit pile to immerse himself in.

So for my 50th birthday celebration, I threw a doggie shower and the house now smells like a wet dog (albeit clean) instead of a birthday cake. I enjoyed a wonderful spaghetti dinner – because Mom always made spaghetti for my birthday, and a glass of pink Moscato (which I couldn’t finish) just to prove that I am an adult. By 8:30 p.m it was time to slather my face in retinol and dive into a good book. It was a good day. I hope to have more like it!

All kidding aside, the many, many, many good wishes I received from near and far via social media and phone calls reminded me how blessed I am to have crossed paths with, done the good and hard parts of life with, and made it through every day with wonderful people throughout my life! No wonder it is hard to believe I am 50 – time flies when you are in the company of good friends and loving family. I have to admit to being a bit teary-eyed as I went to bed last night. Life isn’t always easy, but every day is a new opportunity to find, to be, and to receive a blessing or two. So here’s to another 18,250 days to do just that!!! I hope you will join me!

Let your light so shine!!!