Tag Archives: faith

This Little (Night)Light of Mine

Saturday was a big day in my life: I bought a night light for the master bathroom.

Rewind: when we moved to Bismarck, we moved into a fantastic house. I love it.  The housing market in Bismarck, ND, is crazy because of the oil boom “out west.”  The most expensive place to live in the nation is Williston, ND, and that expensiveness has made its way to Bismarck.  Because of that, we chose to rent, and – for the second time in our married lives – I saw the house for the first time when I arrived to live in it.

My house is not without quirks, though. One of the quirks is that the master bedroom is in the basement and formerly was the garage. The renovation created a beautiful room with hardwood floors and a walk-out french door view of the spacious backyard.  The bathroom is even more unique than the bedroom with a quarter circle shower in the corner of the room.

The scary part of the bathroom is the step down to get from the bedroom to the bathroom. This makes for hazardous travel on those middle of the night bathroom trips.  It is even more hazardous because it is super, super dark in our room at night and even darker in the bathroom.

Imagine me inching toward the step from my bedroom, holding my hand along the wall and sliding my feet to catch the end of the step.

This pretty much wakes a person up for good.

I am proud to say that neither the huz nor I have been harmed on any of these middle of the night trips, but we have only been here for five and a half months.

On Saturday, I went on the hunt for the perfect night light and found it.  The light it gives off is just enough to make my path known but not enough to trick my brain into thinking it should start working for the day.

IMG_3346

As I looked at the light for the first time on Saturday, I had another quick thought that got my brain going (it was ok for my brain to go, though, as it was the middle of the day!).

It really does not take much light to dispel the darkness around us.

I could go on and on for a while about the darkness around us, the negativity of others, and how that makes our souls ache in ways that make us want to stay in bed for days and days.

I do not need to do that.

We are all pretty aware that our world in general is tough, and our specific worlds can be roughness personalized because of what we experience or because of what those close to us experience.

It is not by accident that light gives us hope and darkness brings us down.

Genesis 1: 1-3 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

When Jesus came to Earth, it was dark here. There was a dark sin condition, and He needed to bring hope to us so that we could live life.

John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

And then Jesus commands us to be light as well.

Matthew 5:14a You are the light of the world.

What we need to do is look for the light around us.  Even a small glimmer of light can give us hope in the midst of our darkness.Sometimes it is hard to find the light because so many of us are hiding our lights.

Matthew 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

We are content to be our own personal darkness, and – for whatever reason – we choose to hide our lights.  We are concerned that people around do not want to see our lights or hear why we have hope in our lives.

My nightlight is really cool.

When I turn on the bathroom light – which fills the room fully with light – the nightlight goes off. Its light is not needed any more because the bigger light consumes the room.

One day, our lights will not be needed any more either.

When Jesus returns, we will be in God’s presence for eternity.Until then, we are called to be nightlights to the world around us – bringing them hope and sharing with them the reason that we can shine even though darkness surrounds us on all sides.

John 10:10b I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Amen.

 

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You Are a Masterpiece

I have a good friend who is not only a Bloggity-Mc-Bloggerson (click here to go to her blog and be blessed) but also is a published author (click here to get a free Kindle version). Her book helped me through the difficult set of transitions I experienced this fall, and I wrote a blog post in August that served as a  book review while also pouring out my heart to the blog world about the transitions.

Living in a new place can be terrifying and lonely at times.

We have moved plenty of times throughout our marriage, so one would think that I would be used to transitions.  The problem with this particular move was that I had been in one place for so long that I thought God was done having me be on the move.

A word to the wise: don’t think that!

I had settled in, made connections, lived life, and thought, “This is it! I’ll be here forever.”  Not a month after I had that thought and really felt it in ernest, my huz was approached to consider a unique opportunity that turned out to be a call on our lives.

The phone rang, and we answered.

The experience has been exciting and new and fun and wonderful…and hard and difficult and terrifying…and great and different and fulfilling.

Where I find myself struggling is finding “that crew” of people who can do super fun things with me because I want to do something super fun and because I want to plan something super fun for a bunch of super fun…but I am not really sure where all of the super fun people are to be found.

I know where some of them are…and for them, I am really grateful!

I hatched a plan to put some super fun people together in the same doing something fun – Bismarck’s version of “Canvas and Wine.” I am sure you have seen friends posting pictures of their replicas of some cool painting that they did with a bunch of other people.  This looked fun to me, and now I am going to do it too.

I even made a cool poster thing for the Facebook invite.

starry night

I chose Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh for the event.

This painting draws me into it and almost begs me to become a part of it.  The more I have looked at it in the past few weeks, the more I have wanted it to be hanging on my wall.  I am trusting that the artists at the Theo Art School can walk me through it one brush stroke at a time.

Starry Night is considered a masterpiece, and I doubt many would argue that.  In looking at other works by Van Gogh, we can see his talent as an artist. He was creative,  had a vision to communicate through his art, and carefully crafted the masterpiece.

And the painting – or thinking about the painter really – reminds me of an important truth about myself and my Creator.

Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) – For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.

God – our Creator is creative, has a message to communicate through His creation, and has carefully crafted each of us as a signature piece – a masterpiece.

On Thursday, my post shared some of my overcoming of insecurities about my body shape, type, and size.  While I would like to say that all of that overcoming work is done, the truth is that those very same insecurities – as well as insecurities about my inside world – crop up often.

This happens most often when I forget that I am God’s signature piece.

This happens most often when I forget that I a new creation through Christ Jesus.

This happens most often when I forget that I am God’s masterpiece with a purpose to “do good things He planned for [me] long ago.”

My insecurities about my inside world inform my insecurities about my exterior world and paralyze me…keep me from doing what God intends for me to do – bring glory and honor to Him through serving others and worshiping Him.

However, when I remember who created me and that He created me with a purpose, my insecurities need to go by the wayside.  If I am focusing on doing the good things He planned for me, I have no time to give to insecurities.  And when they creep in themselves (as they so often do, right?), my focus can scare them away.

So – to all you masterpieces who have allowed yourselves to be hidden in the basement of a museum somewhere (like I often find myself doing), it is time to dust ourselves off and to start allowing others to see the brilliance of our Creator through us.

**artwork attribution is Vincent Van Gogh – there are loads of images of his works around the internet!

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Reflections on 2014

As I look back on 2014, I realize that God is always up to something.

A year ago today, my family was in Austria. As a send off to the kids during their graduation year, we had booked a crazy Christmas and New Year’s trip to Rome, Venice, Munich, and Vienna. The locations were chosen based on what we each wanted to experience if we were only able to go to Europe once.  Let me just say that every location was a great choice, and we had great seats for most of it.

As others are thinking about changes and resolutions, I have no time for that. I have had my share of changes for a while and look forward to some stability in 2015.  So – as I think back on 2014 and look into 2015, I thought I would share the top things that I learned this year.  I hope that they resonate with you and encourage you in some way.

One: Transition is a good teacher. Although I have experienced a lot of transition in my life, I have not experienced so many transitions all at once like I did in 2014.  I had three different jobs, lived in two different houses, watched my kids graduate from high school and then leave for college, and experienced a huge shift in the huz’s ministry.  When I thought that my brain might explode from keeping all of the details together in August, I took deep breaths, thanked God for His sustaining grace, and woke up each day ready to conquer it.  I learned so much about myself, my parenting, and my marriage.

Two: I love my family.  The four of us book-ended 2014 with time together as just the four of us. This was slightly intentional but also just happened. It’s hard to spend time with others when you fly off to Europe!  Although we love our extended families on both sides, we also love time as just the four of us.  We like the same games, the same television shows, and the same food. We finish each other’s sentences, laugh at ourselves (and each other), and work hard as a unit when necessary.  I am very aware that these times may be fewer in the coming years, so I am holding on to 2014 with a firm grip.

Three: Empty-nesting does not ruin your life. Several friends who have gone through this stage in front of me told me that I would be just fine, and I believed them…but I still doubted and mourned as well.  Once I returned from my trip to see the kids in October, I knew they were really fine at Baylor University. And shortly after that, I realized that I was not only surviving but thriving.  While I looked forward to their return for break with great anticipation, I am not crying as I realize that they leave again in just over a week.  They have their lives to live; we have our lives to live.  When all of the lives intersect, we are super happy.  But I refuse to stop living during the times in between.

Four: God is good. I could re-count some of the thoughts that I have shared over the past few months on the blog, but I won’t.  To summarize: God is good all the time.  He turns my mourning into dancing. He leads me beside still waters.  And He restores my soul.  Without God’s action in my life and the hope that comes with knowing He desires for me to live abundantly, I would not know where to begin.  In the dark times of doubt and chaos, I know He is there.  And He brings me clear reassurance to show me that I am in His will right now.  That is amazing.

I have no idea what 2015 will bring. I have some guesses; however, based on 2014 and its life-changing events, I think I might be willing to say that I cannot control 2015 with any certainty.  The one thing that I do know is that I cannot go wrong if I look to God as my guide for what to do and how to do it.

As we ring in 2015, let us all remember to be still for a moment and acknowledge God’s goodness to us – whether in the small things or in the big things.

 

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Advent, Apologies, and Joy

I have never experienced Advent in the way that I am experiencing it this year.

Each ticking off of the Sundays of Advent brings me another step closer to seeing my children return from their first semester at Baylor University – TOMORROW (God, weather, and roads willing).  To be a little cheesy, this mama bear is ready to have her cubs around for longer that 48 hours.  I am so proud of them, and I feel that we have all adjusted as well as we could have given the apple cart upsetting that we experienced in August.  I look forward to some relaxing times with them in our old stomping grounds of Minneapolis as well as our new home in Bismarck.  The time between Thanksgiving and today has dragged along, but I am sure that the next four weeks will fly by.  *sigh*

Each ticking off of the Sundays of Advent brings me another step closer to the end of our first semester at the University of Mary.  Seriously – wow! We have really changed our ministry focus and have loved every minute with the students here. This unique experience as Protestants in a committed Catholic environment has stretched and grown us in ways that we did not know could happen.  The dialogues that we have had with students and faculty have been amazing.  As I see it, we are here for two purposes: to be in dialogue with brothers and sisters from other denominations and to provide ministry in the Protestant traditions for those students and staff of those traditions.  This is transformational – can you imagine a Protestant university hiring a Catholic priest to minister on that Protestant campus? I am still in shock and so grateful.  I am really digging our new gig.

Advent is a time of reflection as we await the arrival of the Christ child.  In my reflecting, I have realized that sometimes I hit “publish” on my blog posts without thinking it all through.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about this new call on our lives, and I need to share an apology – or maybe just a clarification.  In the post, I wrote about sitting in Mass one Sunday evening and thinking that I am not “here” for the Catholic students sitting around me in the service.  After I hit publish and shared the post on Facebook, one of the Catholic students whom I would count as a dear friend made a comment.  It was not her comment that made me reflect but just the fact that she and I are in fellowship that forced me to re-think my words.  Who am I to limit God’s call on my life?  I am  here to minister to whomever and with whomever God brings into my life. We are here to be the hands and feet of Christ, to love any who comes into our lives, and to share the love of Jesus with whomever will listen.  So – I’m sorry. Deeply sorry.

Two days ago was the Advent Sunday of Joy.  My college English writing students who paid attention enough to know that we do not capitalize words without reason to do so would be upset that I wrote Joy instead of joy; however, it just seems like joy should be capitalized this week.  Maybe I should shout it – JOY (by the way, to those who follow me on Facebook, that lady is still sending me emails in all caps.  Seriously.).

JOY! Yes, this Advent week reminds us of the joy that our souls find because of Christ’s arrival on Earth.  As the song says, “No more let sin and sorrows grow.”  With Christ’s arrival on Earth, all of what was known about God’s kingdom was turned upside down and changed forever. Jesus – Messiah – arrived to save us, free us, bless us, and reign in us.  He came that we could live abundantly.

When we look around us, life abundant seems hard to find some days.  Death, divorce, disease, and discord seem to be winning the fight.  We should probably get off of our computers, log out of Facebook accounts, leave our houses, and go find life.  It is out there waiting for us to live in the same way that we wait in Advent.  And the joy that we seek will rarely be found where we think it will be – fame, career, or wealth.  Instead – in the same unexpected way that Jesus – the King – was found in a humble stable, JOY will likely be found in humble ways of serving others and looking beyond our own wants.

Advent reminds us that we remain in waiting for the second coming of Jesus.  All of the discord that we combat by seeking joy will end when Christ returns and reigns forever as King of King and Lord of Lords.  We will wait…and wait…and wait.  While we wait, we will seek joy through service to God through serving others.

Each year at Advent – this year at Advent – let us remember that Christ came so that we could have life.  As we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth, let us remember that Christ came for a purpose.  As we wait, let us remember that Christ is coming again.  Amen.

 

 

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A Little Thing Means a Lot

I stayed in bed far too long yesterday morning. Excitement and fear paralyzed me as I looked forward to the lunch appointment I had on the University of Mary campus with someone who had intervened in one very specific moment in my life over 20 years ago.

When I was a freshman at Concordia College, my bipolar self was not diagnosed accurately.   The highs and lows of energy that I still experience manifested themselves in those days in a variety of ways such as chaotic eating, concentrated exercise schedules,  extended depressive episodes, odd sleep patterns, spurts of intense productivity,  and general silliness.  All of these things masked what truly bothers me – energy-based bipolar tendencies which a psychiatrist finally diagnosed correctly when I was 36 years old. During those college days, though, I spent a good amount of time “on the run” – something I still often feel tempted to do and have posted about in the past.

The church I attended during high school had a very active youth group. We went to camp, traveled on mission trips, and spent most Wednesday nights and weekends together.   Every Christmas and Easter, our group joined other groups from around North and South Dakota for retreats.  These were my good friends – the same friends that I found at camp. I married one of them, and I remain friends with most of the others to this day in some way or another (at the very least on Facebook).  I also had the opportunity to meet other adults from around the state who spoke into my life at various points throughout high school, college, and into my adult life.

Several weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with University of Mary Student Support Services staff members.  Each of my English 098 students has an advisor, and I wanted to share my thoughts, impressions, and concerns with the advisors as a group. I had emailed with many of them, but their supervisor and I thought it would be worthwhile for me to attend one of their meetings.  When we went around the table and introduced ourselves, one name…and the face…seemed oddly familiar.  I was completely caught off-guard but had to focus on my meeting.

After the meeting, I could not shake the impulse to contact her, so I did….by email…because that is the best way to find out information without exposing my soul to too much pain or rejection if I am wrong.

Ummm…were you, by chance, a youth leader from <<her church>> in the 90s?

I sat at my computer and waited for the reply. I refreshed my email several times, and then her response came – YES!  I shared a few more details about who I was “back then,” and her reply came back again…she remembered me!

The next day, we were at an event together.  When I saw her, I had mixed emotions about knowing that she knew that me…the me who left her dorm room in the middle of the night because the urge to run had overwhelmed her…the me who did not know how to deal with the thoughts that told her to run…the me who showed up in a driveway hundreds of miles away from college, slept in the car, and was found that way the next morning by the very woman standing in front of me…the me who this youth leader had encouraged to go back to school saying that I was fine.

“We should have lunch,” she said.

Yesterday, we had lunch.  Throughout the morning, though, all of the parts of me that feels and experiences joy, anxiety, and fear held my body in a paralyzing force.  The what ifs of how lunch could go raced through my mind and nearly kept me from going.  To be honest, I left the house later than I had planned, I took the long way to the university, and I thought I might just keep driving south to miss the lunch appointment altogether.  Eventually I put on my big girl pants, and I still arrived early.  Strange how that works!

All morning, I felt like “that me” again…young, frightened, and ready to run.  At the same time, I felt like the “this me” who is the dean of students of a new little online school in Minnesota, teaches classes at the University of Mary, is married to a pastor, and has two grown children attending Baylor University.  This paradox of us being able to feel two ages at once is something that I need to explore more in another post.

When we sat down, she asked me to tell her about me.  I was stunned and absolutely speechless.  I know – me! speechless??  I had no idea where to start.  There I was sitting in front of a woman who had found the eighteen year old me in her driveway after I had driven a few hundred miles and slept in my car…and she wanted to know about the “today” me – the forty year old pastor’s wife and mother of two freshmen in college.  It dawned on me that my own children are now the age of “the me” who ended up in her driveway that night.

As I told her about me, I told her the raw stuff without going into the icky details of any of it. We both have master’s degrees in education, work as guidance counselor types, and are familiar with the lingo, so it was easy to be sort of clinical about it all.

Before I knew it, lunch was over.  We parted ways as we each have jobs that need us.  We waved goodbye in that way that we do when we know the person is in the same town or on the same college campus most days.  The mood was light, and it became clear to me that all of my anxiety was silly.

Next week, I will drop off a book to the student success center where she works.  The book is a compilation of essays written by my students. The title is Unexpected Giants and is a tribute to those who have carried my students (and me) on their shoulders so that we could see futures that we could not have seen alone.

When I  mentioned the incident to her (as a point of reference for other incidents in my life), I used my favorite term – “crazy.”  She sort of laughed it off and said, “I worked with teenagers, Stacy.  I didn’t really think it was all that unusual.”

While my essay is not about this particular giant, it easily could be.  One day, I hope to write the book that features all of my giants.  I had good parents who did their best raising me.  But sometimes we need other caring adults to impact our lives as well.  This dear woman did that for me clearly – based on her comment to me yesterday – without judgement. I am thankful for the brief, yet powerful, role she played in my life.

I know that this season is busy, but can I challenge all who read this?  Whose life can you briefly touch today, this week, this month, this year, or this lifetime?  And…as you drive to work, put up the tree, or bake those cookies, consider who were giants in your life…and how you can let them know the powerful way that they impacted your life?

 

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Right is Rarely Easy

We arrived to the Sunday evening campus mass earlier than usual so that I could briefly meet with one of my writing students.  After my meeting with the student, the huz and I still had plenty of time before mass.  The hallway outside of the chapel was mostly empty, and we decided to go in and sit down in the mostly empty sanctuary.

I closed my eyes, tried to empty my mind of the busy things that invaded my thoughts, and talked to God a bit about my continued mixed feelings about His call on our lives and the upsetting of the apple cart that we continued to sense even three months into the adventure.  With Thanksgiving weekend approaching, we have travel plans that include family in one part of the state and friends in another state – our former home.  In July, I spent a weekend with and Excel spreadsheet and websites such  Travelocity and Expedia searching for the best ticket prices.  Our kids fly into one airport and out of another thanks to our attempt to provide all four of us with a touch of something that means home.

Home is not yet Bismarck, ND, for our whole family. I will admit that Bismarck is growing on me quite a bit.  I think that my huz would say the same, but I hesitate to speak for him.  God worked out the details for a house that is beyond what I could have hoped given the current housing market in North Dakota’s booming economy.  We are thankful for the existing friendships that we had before our arrival, and many new friendships grow as we meet people through our various roles.  Everyone is very welcoming on the University of Mary campus, in our new church, and in our neighborhood.

Clicks on the cement floor of the chapel and rustling of people around me blend with my thoughts as others enter the chapel for mass.  As it gets closer to the start of the service, these sounds interrupt my thoughts more and more. I opened my eyes and turned my head to see the sanctuary that had filled nearly to capacity around me.  My breath still catches at the sight of students and others on their knees on the cement floor (no kneelers) with eyes closed as they prepare for the service.  On Monday, I joined several of those in attendance in a hustle and bustle of a college campus as we raced from class or to eat lunch at the cafeteria.  In that silent moment in the chapel on Sunday evening, though, we were quiet, calm, and hopeful.

The organ interrupted all of our contemplations and prayers with the lead in to “Crown Him With Many Crowns.”  The service bulletin informed us that Sunday was known in the liturgical calendar as “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”  I grew up attending Mendenhall Presbyterian  Church in East Grand Forks, ND, so I am no stranger to the repetitive liturgical cycle.  I think someone was pretty clued in tot he fact that we humans need repetition.  We forget things that someone told us only moments ago.  As media bombards us with more and more information, there is less and less information in our head. The liturgical calendars helps us annually celebrate and remember the same basic truths that we celebrated and remembered last year.

Throughout the service, we sing, we pray, we hear Scripture read, and we sing some more.  Each time I have attended the campus mass since moving to Bismarck in August, I have been impressed by the singing of that particular week’s Psalm.  The leader teaches the congregations the first verse of the Psalm, and then he or she sings other parts of the Psalm while the organ holds the chord.  The congregation joins again as the leader signals us to do so.

This week, we sang Psalm 23.  We repeatedly sang, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”   It reminded me that God watches over me, He cares for me, and that He plans for me here in Bismarck.  Nowhere else in Bismarck can remind me of why we moved as much as attending Sunday evening mass on campus.  All around me are students who – without anyone pushing them to attend mass or taking attendance – freely attend mass…some of them daily.

When I ponder this, though, I am reminded that we were not called to minister to the students who attend mass with me. They have a lot ministry for them here already: daily masses, a priest as a chaplain, missionaries from the Catholic faith who provide Bible studies for them, and the sisters who live right down the hill from the very chapel in which I sit for mass.  My huz’s role is complicated and complex as he helps to bring a similar spiritual life experience to the non-Catholic Christian students, faculty, and staff on campus.

Last night, Campus Ministries (one of my huz’s departments) hosted a “Students and Sisters” Thanksgiving meal.  The sisters provided the place; campus ministry staff provided the food.  Fun was had by all.  Prior to the meal, I had a conversation with a sister who is edging toward retirement. She told me of her past roles on campus and her current passions.  As we talked, she shared with me that she will not call Protestants by that name; rather, she refers to non-Catholics as those from other denominations.  I was so moved by her heart for the non-Catholic students on campus and the encouragement that she provided me through that conversation.

Monsignor James Shea, president of University of Mary and a personal friend from our college days, presided over the mass on Sunday and gave the homily.  He appeared burdened by the message as he gave it.  He stressed over and over again that Christ, King of the Universe, desires to be the ruler of hearts, minds, and lives. Choosing to follow Christ’s call on our lives will not be easy, but it will bring order and purpose to our lives.

Following God’s call on our lives to Bismarck, ND, was not easy. Staying in Minneapolis with our friends who had become family to minister together would have been the easy choice.  It might have even felt really good.  But coming to Bismarck was in answer to a clear call to something unique and unusual.  There is a need here, and God chose my huz – well, both of us it often seems – to help with that need. God has provided order and purpose to our lives in this call. It is not easy, and my eyes still often leak. Something this unique and unusual would not be easy.  But it is good.

 

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In All of It, God is Good

Six weeks ago, our church threw us a going away party. It was an unbelievable experience.  Although my huz has been a youth pastor and a Christian education director prior to this position, Faith Baptist Church was his first full-time senior pastor position. This church took us in, made us family, raised us as a pastor and wife, helped us to raise our children, and loved us.  The worship pastor and a buddy sang a “roasting song” (click here to watch it) for us. We laughed. We cried. Along with the other kind words that were shared that night, this song allowed us to remember the great times and sent us off to our new adventure well.

In the leaving and the sending, God is good.

Almost a month ago, I flew to Texas with my son to catch up with my daughter who had driven there the week before. In a whirlwind trip, we moved them into their dorm rooms, shopped at Target, and bought groceries.  As I drove away, my eyes leaked a lot even though I knew that this new adventure is a great move for them. We already have plans to see them for friends’ wedding in November and again at Thanksgiving.  Even though they are far away, plans to see them seem to make the time go faster.

In the leaving and the going, God is good.

I started a new job before I left for Texas. This new online high school with its twenty students has bolstered my spirits. Something new in the something new has helped me a lot. They started school the Tuesday before Labor Day.  On the same day, I welcomed two classes of freshmen in college who struggle with writing into my classes at the University of Mary.  Most of these students are hard workers who just need a little guidance in their writing.  In their journals, they share their lives with me.

In the arriving, God is good.

usOn the first day of school, I was tired and wanted to go to bed early.  I had so much to do, and my house was still in chaos (ps: it still is! Moving is really rough!).  The phone rang mid-afternoon, and my huz invited me to join him on the Campus Ministry riverboat cruise on the Missouri River.  I was thrilled to join these college students who love Jesus and want to get to know each other as well as the leadership of this department. There was food, fellowship, and fun.  I skipped the “Get to Know You” Bingo game so that I could make the rounds, fill in squares, and really get to know the kids.  Because several of them had ridden in my car on the way to the cruise, I knew several of their names before getting on the boat with them. Once on the boat, I felt welcomed by them. It is fun to be a part of the huz’s work in this way; it reminds me of being a pastor’s wife. I guess some things never change.

In the new ministries we have, God is good.

The huz has been asked to preach a few Sundays this fall in various churches.  I already miss hearing my man in the pulpit each week even though we have only been in Bismarck for two Sunday services.  I am thankful that God appears to want to continue to use the huz in this way to help churches in our area.

In the new ways we are called to minister, God is good.

One of the new routines in our lives is to attend the Sunday evening Catholic service on campus. A couple hundred students attend the service each week, and it is a good way to stay connected to them.  I see a couple of my own students each week as well. At first, I thought this would be something that I would “just do” as it has not been part of my faith walk to attend Catholic services each week.  However, I am drawn to the contemplative nature of these services.  In the many moments of silence during the service, I feel found.

In the new practices we have discovered, God is good.

My eyes leak – a lot – these days. There is so much new, so much change, and so much we have not found yet. I have decided to attend a women’s retreat this weekend at Crystal Springs Baptist Camp. This is the place where the huz and I met so many years ago. I have not been back since the summer of 2003.  I admitted to the huz last night that I am feeling a bit of anticipation stress about attending. I know a lot of the people who are going, but the 2014 version of Stacy is different than the 2003 version…or even the 1992 version! A lot has happened. I am a different person…well, so are they!  Right?

In the petty concerns of my day, God is good.

My Facebook feed tells me of concerns of others: families facing losses, families in crisis, families who want to adopt children from corrupt countries with corrupt systems, individuals who struggle with mental illness, individuals who need jobs…all of these concerns can overwhelm me even from a distance – what must the concerns be like for those going through them?

In the big concerns of our days, God is good.

Psalm 100:5 – For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Amen.

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I Didn’t Need to Join This Club

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Membership is supposed to have its privileges, but there is one membership card I would like to throw out the car window, drive over a few times, get out and light a match to it.  This card never seemed appealing before I received it (in fact, I don’t think I knew the card existed before I abruptly received it), I did not apply for it, and I have no idea how I was picked to receive it.

It seems like this particular club likes to accumulate members, but none of the members are excited about joining. We often do not even realize that there is a club.  For some of us, membership catches us totally off guard – it happens completely out of the blue for some while for others we see it coming but do not want to accept it.

This card is not a physical card, nor is this an actual club…though it certainly is starting to seem like one as membership increases almost weekly according to my Facebook feed.

I am not even sure what to name this club as clubs should have catchy names that make you want to join, pay your dues, and spend time hanging out. And that is not what this club is about.

After being in this club for over a decade, I am ready to get out.  The problem is that I can’t.  Once a member, always a member…but there are no beneficial privileges for members of this club.  The privilege of this club is a life sentence of grief, heartache, and pain.

I talked about this club with a friend through Facebook messaging yesterday, but it was not the first time that the concept had rattled around in my brain.

When we were kids, we wanted to belong to something, to be a part of a secret club, to gain membership to something…and these clubs/groups were appealing if they were the more exclusive, the more particular in their qualifications,  or the more narrow the field of possible entrants.  We wanted entrance to something exclusive.

Well – nothing is more exclusive feeling than grief, huh?

I stand here today with all of you in the club and say that grief is a hard road, and – though I know it is impossible to do so – I would like to exchange my membership card and get my loved one(s) back.  I may know things now that I did not know before, but I would trade that information, feeling, and understanding back in…

Unfortunately, there is no getting out of the club.  We are here, membership is growing, and we are stuck with trying to figure out this new way of living.  I would like to say that there is a way out, but there is only a way a through.

So – here is where I am today with my membership status: I am a more senior member than someone else (my mom passed away 11 years ago), and that makes me responsible to turn toward the “newbies” and lend a hand.  While I did not ask to be a member, I do have responsibilities as a senior member. I need to be aware of that…and maybe that is why I not only write blog posts about my grief (because the writing is for me) but also hit publish when I am finished.

To all who have recently joined the club, here are some truths about the longer standing members.

  1. We will not ask you to get over it. While we know that accepting the death of a loved one is important, we will never ask you to claim that you are over it.  It will hurt like crazy sometimes even years after you have started to breath normally again. But you may also have good days sooner than you think, and that is ok too.
  2. We will do our best not to say stupid things. There are loads of dumb things that we have said to others in the past that we had said to us as we experienced the passing of a loved one. We have attempted to put them into our “don’t ever say that again” catalogue. However, we may let one slip sometime, and we hope that you will point it out, laugh with us about what a dumb thing it is to say to a grieving person, and still be our friend…because we still need friends too.
  3. We can handle your tears. And we might just cry with you when you cry. Do not be alarmed by this. Tears are good for us, they cleanse our bodies of bad toxins, and they refresh our eyes so that we can see (both literally and figuratively) better.
  4. We will listen over and over again. It will seem that the rest of the world moves on, and it does.  We all need to realize that. But – when you need to say how sad you are, how confused you are, and how hopeless you feel, we will listen, we will try not to fix it, and we will do our best not to share our story instead of listening to yours…unless you want to hear it…because we sometimes need to tell it too.

To those of you not in the club yet, don’t worry…it seems that eventually everyone is in, and we all  just keep getting more and more into the inner ring and our cards get upgraded. The good news is that you really are not alone…even when you feel that way.  While there are plenty of others in the club (and I am thankful for the guidance of others who joined before me and who cared for me in my earliest membership days as well as now), there is One who knows grief in a way that we could never fathom.

If you would like to read more about how God brings hope through grief, click here.

 

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Hymns, Harmonies, and Holes in Our Hearts

I just awoke from a mini-dream at the end of my sleep cycle.  I have these after I have been awake once in the morning but have chosen to try to squeeze in a bit more sleep.  The dream was literally a small scene, but  the thoughts that followed upon my waking led me to believe that I was meant to get up and write this post.

The dream was a quick conversation with my younger brother (also a Sioux hockey fan for those who care) who is married with two young boys. The conversation occurred on the phone as if I had just called him this morning. I do not know what we had been talking about on the phone, but it was clear that we had been having a lengthy conversation. 

The dream included his one phrase at what appeared to be the end of the conversation. 

He said, “I can’t really think about any of that today  You know it’s mom’s birthday, right?”

And then I woke up.

Today would be my mom’s 64th birthday.  I have written in the past about her birthday and do not want to go on and on too long (I do have to leave for Sunday School in about an hour, and I have not showered yet); however, blogging on her birthday seems to help me experience it. 

It also seems that when I wake up with something to blog about (today is the second time this has happened in week – muse is back?), I must blog about it in order to get that blog out of my head.

And – I have now realized that there are oodles of us out there…grievers, that is…and blog posts that recognize our grief tend to help us grieve.  And we need help!  We can read all of the books in the world on the topic, but nothing helps us grieve better than a shared experience…someone else’s grief that touches us a little bit and allows us to grieve our loved ones (and have a little cry even) through the grief of the loss of another’s loved one.

But I digress…as usual…

The fact that mom’s birthday falls on a Sunday this week catches me off guard a bit.

Through some strange twist of cosmic comedy, I agreed to co-teach a Sunday School class at our church during the winter/spring…which, by the way, is exactly what March in Minnesota should be called on the “season chart” – winter/spring (it really can’t decided).

The focus is on hymns – why we love them as they are written, what is the good theology in them, and how we might write our own hymn (minus the music in most of our cases!).

Although I do not know if the Doxology was one of my mom’s favorite hymns, it was probably the one that she knew the best.  As a Presbyterian for most of her life, she sang the Doxology during nearly every service as the offering was brought forward after the collection in order to offer it to God through prayer.

doxology

Though simple in its words, the hymn’s theology dives deep into what I believe about who God is: He is God in three persons and worthy of my praise because all blessings flow from His good graces despite that I deserve His wrath due to my sinful nature.

As a child and teenager, I often stood between my mom and her mom on Sunday mornings as we sang this song – three generations in three part harmony in the midst of a larger congregation.  It is a photograph in my mind’s eye that reminds me that my faith has a heritage and is part of a larger community of believers within the church and throughout the world.

That mind picture – and the song itself – also reminds me of the holes in my heart carved out by grief and loss. 

When my mom passed away in June 2003, I was amazed at how well my grandmother – her mom – dealt with it.  Though I am sure she had her share of tears in private, she was strong in the midst of it….at least that is how I remember it.  She kept going to work every day, going to the senior center to play Bingo and cards with her friends, and watching the Twins on TV. 

At one point, she did say that a mother should not outlive her children. 

That is a good observation, Grammy-cakes!

When my daughter and I would visit Grand Forks together, we would often take Gram to her church.  We would stand together – three generations again – and sing harmonies together.  I am quite sure that mom would have added her fourth part along with us had she been alive, and it would have been fun…if not amazing.

As time goes on, death – that unwelcome visitor – finds each of us…at our own doorstep or at our hearts because he stands at the doorsteps of others.  He found my gram at the end of May last year, and I added another hole in my heart.

She would have been 90 in February, and I noted her birthday with a wee nod in my mind.

I have thought of her quite a bit more now that the Twins are in spring training…

And so we mourn, grieve, cry, and scream because things are not as they should be.  We hide ourselves away from the world or go on but stuff it all away or just wonder if things will ever be the same (they will not be) or right again (I am not even sure what that means…).

We even wonder if God cares – how could He if He allows these things to happen?

The answer is that God cares very much. 

We are reminded of that in this Lenten season as well as at other times of the year.  God cares, sees, and cries with us.  He promises that we do not mourn without hope.  And – like the community that God Himself has in the trinity – He created us to be in community…to experience love, hope, joy, and even loss in community with one another.

doxology2

He is, indeed, worthy of our praise.

Other posts about mourning that might interest you:

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Guest Post: Waking Up

Today’s post is written by a former student of mine who is all grown up, married, and having kids.  She mentioned in a Facebook post a while back that she is doing some writing, and I asked her to share some words with my readers about her experiences and what she is learning.

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I’m basically positive my husband and I have had the worst first years of marriage of any couple I know.

We got married and had a premature baby two weeks after we moved into a townhome. Then my month old peanut and I got to camp out at the hospital with my husband while doctors did lot of testing to find that he had a disease called CMV( can’t even begin to spell it) which very nearly killed him. The disease took a toll on the transplanted kidney from his mother, so I was working, caring for my little girl and a very sick husband and pregnant with our son.

Kevin ended up having to have another transplant, which was full of its own roller coasters, but also full of blessings. As he recovered, I got to see who my husband was as a healthy man and it was great. I felt like I had a partner for the first time in our relationship rather than another person to take care of.

My son was also born healthy and on his due date after only 3 hours and 15 minutes of labor. It seemed things were slowing down and we might actually reach a less chaotic norm.

Instead of feeling hopeful and relieved, I was a basket case.

All throughout the ordeal with my daughter and husband, I felt a sense of pride that I was handling things so well. Yes it was scary and stressful at times but I never once saw the black pit I once called home. Then, once it seemed things should be going well, there it was, as dark and hateful as before.

Instead of acknowledging it however, I tried to ignore it, hoping my depression was a fluke and that it wasn’t really back after a seven year absence. My denial turned to determination. After all, we had just come through a hurricane, so there was no reason I couldn’t nip this again.

It wasn’t long after this, and I found I am expecting our third baby.

We figured then that it was just pregnancy hormones but coming up on halfway through this pregnancy, I know that it’s not. The last month has been especially hard; I’m not really sure why, but I got to a point where I became angry with my depression. I am sick of feeling broken and crazy and not even feeling like I can cope with getting my kiddos a sippy cup at times. I hate the feeling of being bogged down and just overwhelmed with the slightest thing.

I became desperate in my pleas with God to give me strength and guide to the right resources so I could figure out what was going on inside my head and even learn how to cope once again. I came across the book Mended by Angie Smith, intrigued by the title, and began reading. I’m only a few chapters in, but already the book has helped me see that, even though I prayed like crazy the past few years, I just expected God to be there and to do what I considered to be His job.

It is very humbling to be reminded that He is first and foremost God, and to realize I had looked at Him as a genie, something I scorned in others. Looking back, I began to see the ways God was giving me an opportunity to lean on Him and how I had pridefully taken stock in my own strength. More than anything, I am seeing through the last few years, how desperately God is pursuing me.

One of the things I was most afraid of growing up was living a mediocre life. I never wanted to get caught up in hum-drum.

That’s exactly what I was doing.

My friendships have suffered because I got caught up in my own world. I feel like God is doing what He has to do capture my attention, not to punish me but because He wants an intimate relationship with me. He knows I can be more, even if I’m walking around in a fog half the time.

There is so much I am still learnin, and am still frustrated by depression, but at least I am waking up again, little by little.

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