Karen's Korner Reflections
November 12, 2018
All of us are in God’s breadline
I came across this journal entry I had written down while doing some cleaning and sorting. I don’t remember any longer who the source was. Breadline….it brings several images to mind.
Breadlines began in the 1930’s….charitable groups made sandwiches and offered them to folks who had nothing. The poor formed long lines to wait for the distribution of a sandwich. Worn, tattered, and hungry, they trudged to this ‘altar’ and were fed….barely enough to sustain them until the next day, when they would once again, get in the ‘breadline’.
Each Sunday, we at First Lutheran, form our own ‘breadline’. We wait in line to receive the spirit and soul saving bread of Christ. We come to communion, in our own weary, tattered hungriness; our spiritual needs as great as those with physical needs in the 30’s. We open ourselves to receive the sacramental gift and grace of God’s love and care for us. This bread…this Christ-present bread…’broken for us’….divine words of institution…nourish and feed us and hold us and sustain us.
Gracious God, in this month of Thanksgiving, may we be truly grateful, for the ‘breadline’ you have provided for us.
October 11, 2018
Gossip and Gospel
James 1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
I’m not quite sure why those two words have been rattling around my brain. Maybe it is all the Scrabble I have been playing on the computer in an effort to save a few brain cells? Let’s see…..there is a G, O, and S on the board and if I can fit in three letters, I can get triple word points……hmnnnnn.
So I did a little checking on Wikipedia, and……Gossip and Gospel…..two intersecting words whose definitions are analogous but whose intent is very different. Both are defined as news….news that is shared.
Then we find the differences. Gossip is casual on unconstrained conversation about other people, typically involving details that are NOT confirmed as true. The word gossip comes from old English for godparent. A woman giving birth had female friends and relatives with her and they engaged in conversation to pass the time and encourage her as she labored. I can see where fanciful stories would be entertaining and were meant to distract the mother from her physical pain. I think that since then, women have been given a bad rap as being the source of ‘gossip’; but if you drop into any of the local ‘tables of knowledge’ you might find both genders engaged in some ‘casual’ conversation about other people!
Then there is the definition of Gospel: the teaching or revelation of Christ; a thing that is absolutely true; a set of principles or beliefs. Scandinavians are pretty certain that these conversations should only happen for one hour on a Sunday morning and we wouldn’t want it to be ‘unconstrained’ and surely not shared as gleefully as gossip! But the very definition of Gospel is that it is intended to be shared; shouted from the rooftops! No secrets whispered behind closed doors! We are challenged to go bold and spread some Gospel!
Gossip and Gospel
Sinner and Saint
Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
September 19, 2018
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “where are you?”
These verses call to mind playing hide and seek with my grandchildren. They were little and our game wasn’t too sophisticated. Any spot would do for a hiding place for them. I would call for them and pretend I couldn’t find them. When they couldn’t stand the suspense any longer, they would giggle and call out ‘I’m in the …….’.
Not so much Adam and Eve. They didn’t want to be found. They didn’t want their sins to be found. It wasn’t their nakedness that caused them shame. It was the utter vulnerability of being caught disobeying the one who loved them; the one who created them and called to them out of the dust of the earth to be his. One thing he commanded….and that thing they could not refrain from doing. But God still loved them….still called to them. He knew what had happened….knew what would happen before He had formed them. And still there was love and longing for relationship. Can our mere meager brains and spirits comprehend a love that is that great? Not yet.
God will continue to look for us and try to find us where we are hiding, as long as we’re looking and listening for Him.
August 28, 2018
It has been my pleasure to visit four rural churches this summer and lead them in worship as a lay minister. I have had to step outside my ‘comfort zone’ but what I have received back has been ten-fold.
When I have driven into these small towns, the first thing I look for is the church steeple. In most small communities, you don’t have to ask for directions to where the church is. That steeple is a beacon before you enter the official ‘city’ limits. I am guessing that those forefathers had that in mind when they sacrificed to build those beautiful structures. From far away on that that flat, unpopulated, monotonous prairie, travelers would know there was a place of worship ahead. That steeple, guided them to it. And that uplifting steeple, pointed upward to God; just as we should.
Not all of our small, early churches are still in operation. We see the abandoned buildings when we drive across our flat state. The paint may be peeling, the steps sagging, and the roof tilting, but sometimes that aging steeple is still there; still pointing and reminding us of God. Those buildings have seen hard times and neglect just like we have. They are hanging together as best they can, just like we are. If I drive by slowly…..thoughtfully…listening….I can hear those whispered prayers in the sighing winds that sweep around those structures. These church sites may no longer be filled with people….but I think their hopes and dreams and prayers and songs of adoration are still lingering is what remains of their structures. And we can add our own prayers and a sliver of renewed life as we pass them.
2 Timothy 1:3-4 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.
August 8, 2018
Luke 22:19 “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
That most fearful word for Lutherans! I had to smile on Sunday as we were exiting the church…thinking back a few years ago when we used to be ushered out of church, in a nice, orderly, silent and stoic Scandinavian kind of way. Then we discontinued our reserved and choreographed exit from the Sanctuary. Some folks, at first, thought we were stomping out like a herd of cattle!!! Where is the sacredness in that?!? Spring forward to our current practices….we receive the Benediction Blessing, sing our Sending Song, and are dismissed with “Go in peace. Share the good news.” “Thanks be to God.”
And the ‘cattle’ do not stomp out. They ease into the center aisle, smiling, and greeting, chatting, and waiting for the folks ahead of them to more toward the exit. I wondered if anyone recalls the good old days of being ushered out of the church? Changes!
We have been experimenting with changes in our Communion practices of late. Not the theology of Communion, but the tradition of its celebration; first and third only, every Sunday, at the altar, in the aisle, by intinction, using Communion ware, two receiving stations, one station with two assistants. It may be a bit mind boggling to some….but I think we may be paying a bit more attention too; and taking a moment to ponder what Communion is and why do we celebrate it at all. The why is more important than the how or the where. Luke 22:19 “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And the disciples did their remembering…not in a beautiful sanctuary like ours. Very probably they were in someone’s home, or on a riverbank, or wherever two or three were gathered in His name.
Changes….there will always be changes of some sort….they are not always easy or welcome. We may not always embrace them, but we can willingly try them. It is OK to be pushed a bit and to be uncomfortable a bit and to ponder a bit what God’s people are up to.
July 13, 2018
Exodus 14:11-12 The Israelites said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians that to die in the wilderness.”
I attended a writing workshop recently. One of our tasks was to place members of our church family in the roles of characters of the Bible. Who is our present day John the Baptizer? Who is our present day Martha, always bustling about in the kitchen? Who is our Ruth, the loyal and faithful follower? And who is our entire congregation? That one was a tad harder. I think a few years ago we saw ourselves as David in a culture of Goliaths. But who are we now?
Are we the wandering and wondering people of desert Israel? This desert that is full of fears and concerns of enough and fears of change. Not certain any longer of what the next day will bring or what our future will be. Is there a place in this desert for the ‘church’ as we know it? Is it needed or wanted? The winds of change are blowing and the sand may feel like it is being swept away from under our feet and we long for that Oasis of the way things used to be.
We, like the newly freed Israelites, may be wishing to be back to Egypt as slaves…because we knew what our role was then…we knew that each day we would be making more bricks. Nothing much would change from day to day. We made bricks, we were fed, and we slept. But God has called us out of our Egypt years too. He has called us to be seekers. To think ‘outside the box’. To change. To dare to try to be something new…and maybe even something better. And yes, it is a fearful journey to leave behind our former identities. But God is with us. He will keep his promises. We abide with him on this journey until, we reach his Oasis.
June 16, 2017
Mark 4:30-34 He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
Mustard seeds….they have very humble beginnings….just like we do. We arrived in this world as very tiny, needy beings. We needed care…or we would not grow…..just like the mustard seed. If it is not watered and nourished, nothing will come of it. It will provide nothing.
The mustard seed in the Gospel today becomes a large shrub…large enough to have branches, and to provide shade. Most of us are familiar with wild mustard, a nuisance weed. Or maybe we have seen golden cultivated fields of intentionally planted mustard fields….but not so much with a mustard shrub…..maybe that’s how it grew in the Middle East in Jesus day.
The mustard seed in the parable was nurtured. Just as we need to be nurtured….physically, with food, clothing, and shelter, love, and exercise and activities. We need to be nurtured spiritually ….. by hearing God’s word and sometimes by speaking God’s words to others. We are nurtured by reading the Bible or having someone read it to us…..or by reading it to someone. Sometimes we are blessed to serve…. And sometimes we are blessed and nurtured to receive.
We are nurtured and encouraged to grow when we pray. It is our conversation time with God. We offer our concerns and thanksgivings…sometimes we speak, sometimes when we just sigh, sometimes when we sing, and sometimes when we are silent. And the other half of our prayers….is listening. In the still quietness of our days…we can be listening and dwelling in the presence of God and let his mystery and love enfold us in His gentle embrace.
June 4, 2018
“We do, and we ask God to help and guide us!”
Did we know what we were getting into when we made this pledge with our confirmands on April 29th? What were we vowing to do? Our recent Confirmation service caused me to really think about these things. Our congregation was asked, “People of God, do you promise to support these sisters and brothers and pray for them in their life in Christ?” That question doesn’t apply to just the day we publicly acknowledged these young people in their Affirmation of Baptism….that commitment response applies to all of the confirmands days… and ours. The power and promise of prayer and support for each other knits us together as church, as family, as community.
In these days of advancing technology based communication, prayer and support, the human connection with each other, is ever important. God knows that we need union with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our service on April 29th reminded us of that. In turn, our confirmands join us in ‘renewed participation in the life and work of the Church of Christ’ (see the small print in the ELW, Evangelical Lutheran Worship book). Ahhh….Confirmation is a beginning, not an ending or a completion. Each group of the confirmed joins us in supporting and praying for the next generation and the circle is completed and expanded each year. We hold the spiritual hands of each other as we journey on.
May 17, 2018
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
I think most of us are familiar with the story of doubting Thomas. He was not with the other 10 Apostles when Jesus appeared to them. And he said that unless he saw the wounds and touched the pierced side of Jesus he would not believe. Be he did recant his doubts and professed his faith. What isn’t as well known, is that despite his legacy of doubting, he did rise to his calling as a disciple and did spread the good news as far as present day India before his death.
We are familiar with Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church”! But did you know that Peter could have been known as doubting Peter. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it. But, Peter also had his doubts. Peter also had his fears and did deny knowing Jesus Christ three times. And, he was, indeed, a rock of the church.
So, what is in a name? Maybe the name isn’t as important as who does the naming? That as our circumstances and experience change us, we have room for growth? Callings may come and go, but who does the calling and where the calling points us is what is really important.
Isaiah 43:1b “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
May 3, 2018
1 Peter 2:7
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.”
Have you seen picture of old stone fences? I was privileged to get up close and personal with those ancient stone fences on a trip to Ireland several years ago. Those fences divided up the green property in a creative orderliness as of a fine quilt. They were not perfectly straight but zigged and zagged around the landscape as they had need to. They have stood the test of time.
It was interesting to hear our guide talk of those fences. They were carefully crafted and fit together….and not seamlessly. There were intended holes and gaps for the winds of Ireland to be able to blow through them, and not tear them down. There were bigger stronger ones on the bottom, triangular pieces wedged in here and there, their rough edges pressed in and clinging to the next rock.
I thought of my own rocky times. Times when I let disappointments or bitterness or sadness or negativity become tightly jammed in my own fence; not leaving any room for winds of change or light to get through to me. And I fell down…and sometimes it took a while to let the master builder put me back together. I hope to remember that the next time my fence is walling me in side and out of reach of where I need to be.
1 Peter 2:7
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.”
April 13, 2018
A Story of Faith
Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you look into someone’s eyes and you know there is a connection? That happened to me one Sunday when serving Communion at Desert Cross Church in Arizona. I love to look into people eyes as I tell them, “this is the body of Christ given for you” or down here we sometimes say, “broken” for you. I think my deep appreciation of assisting with serving Communion may be heightened from spending my growing up years in another religion; a religion where into the 1960’s, absolutely no one was allowed to touch the ‘host’ but the ordained male clergy! And here I am, more than a few years later, and a woman, to have the privilege of serving the sacrament.
But back to my ‘connection’. It was with an elderly, lovely, little lady who I had not seen at Desert Cross before. She had sparkling blue eyes that looked deeply into mine when I offered her the wine and bread….goose bumpy stuff. As I was leaving services, I heard this little voice, “Miss, oh Miss!” And there she was at my elbow. She was pleased with the worship she had participated in and wanted to know more about this congregation. And she was asking me! I answered her questions and we had a nice little chat standing in the warm Arizona sunshine. And lo and behold she had grown up in Portland, ND! And her name was Faith. Of course, it had to be Faith. You can’t make this stuff up. Apparently North Dakota connections run ‘deep into deep’. I don’t think I let too much of my NorDakota accent come through as I offered the bread and wine to her?! So was this beyond a geographical connection?......and into a spiritual connection?
I have mentioned in other reflections that coincidence is ‘God being anonymous’. He was certainly at work that morning. I was contemplatively alone in a crowd of people as I was exiting the church; and this fellow worshiper reached out to me, pulling me away from my internal dialogue (I have been accused of thinking too much). In doing that she got the information she craved and I was able to do a little street Evangelism. Her questions and interest and responses and enthusiasm warmed my heart and soul. It was exactly what I needed at that moment and I hope I was able to fill a need that she had. And if I hadn’t been concerned about tripping and doing a nice face-plant in the parking lot, I think I would have skipped all the way to my car!
John 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
March 29, 2018
Genesis 3:19 …..you are dust and to dust you shall return.
We started the Lenten season with that reminder….and we were smeared with ashes as a visual reminder of our beginning and ending and our hope of what is to come.
We are still covered with soot and dust. With each footstep of our journey, that sinful soil of self sifts to the ground.
All that dust and dirt brings up an image of that character from the Peanuts comic strip; Pig-Pen. I love a line from ‘The Charlie Brown Christmas Story’. Charlie Brown is the only one of the ‘Peanuts’ who is accepting of Pig-Pen and sticks up for him by telling the rest of the gang: “Don’t think of it as just dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on Pig-Pen. It staggers the imagination! He may be carrying the soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan!” Cute and thoughtful. One layer is a children’s Christmas cartoon and another is a theological layer of Grace in action.
It’s a not so cute cartoon image when we are in a dirty mess and we are the one choking on dirt and ashes and the air is so thick with smoke that we can hardly breathe. But we too wear that smear of ashes just as our ancestors did in that long lineage of God’s creation. There is humanness and all that it entails. And there is promise. The promise that all earthly things are not permanent. And the promise that the one who created us and loved us out of that dust will be waiting for us to reclaim us to the eternity of his Kingdom.
February 27, 2018
The following is an original poem read at Desert Cross Lutheran Church for Ash Wednesday services by Artist in Remote Residence, Heatherlyn. I hope that the words wash over you as they did me as we journey through this Lenten season of Soil and Soot. For more inspiration in music, song, poetry, and reflection visit HeatherlynMysic.com
Soil & Soot - an Ash Wednesday inspired Poem from Heatherlyn Soil and Soot
Life is lent to me and to you
All and only Grace is the interest rate, because it's not just a loan
It's a trust, an inheritance - even a partnership
in artistry, a dance of divinity, fearlessly engaging
this wild, reckless human story.
Soil and soot
skin and bones meet spirit and soul
with Breath, an infinite regeneration of the finite
a temporary reanimation of innumerable specks of ground
all with capacity to feel flames of glory and
searing burns - heights of passion and plummets of pain
So, wish upon the falling light - to earth
Soil and Soot, Spirit-breathed Stardust
become Sunfire, Soulfire wrapped up in muscle, skin, and bones
to witness and heal, to embody love
to all the suffering, crumbly, messy, earthy, and stained
From the Soil, a vital nourishment flourishes up from fertile dirt.
Within the Soot, desolation bears quiet screams from beneath the barren scorched surface.
Soil and Soot - all that rises and all that dies, all that comes and all that goes
What may go now? What may yet come?
What may burgeon from the dust - the soil and the soot?
February 9, 2018
Ever have days when you question your value or worth?
Why didn’t I get the raise I deserved? Why did I get a raise? Am I really worth that much to my company? Why wasn’t I recognized for my contributions? Maybe I didn’t do as good of a job as I thought?
We are humans….and forgetful doubting ones at that. It is easy to lose sight of who’s we are and in whose sight we have value and worth. We don’t pause to remember that we are “signed and sealed with the sign of the cross”.
I would say nearly all of us have had those words recited over us as infants at our Baptisms or reaffirmed at our Confirmations. These sacramental rites are visible remembrances that God has claimed us as His own. We will always have value and merit in God’s eyes. As fallible human beings, tossed about by life’s storms, it is easy for us to lose sight of that. Would it be helpful to have that written upon our foreheads in permanent marker?….so we can see it every time we glance in a mirror. “You are claimed, named, redeemed…and you are Mine.”
Martin Luther saw Baptism as an ongoing lesson; that we should remember and recreate it each day. That would be easier if that cross of Baptism was visibly there, right? But we can make that cross on our own forehead as part of our morning ritual….Karen, you have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You have been claimed with the sign of the cross, to show that it is to the crucified Christ that you belong. And while your at it, hum a little tune, like You Are Mine, by David Haas:
Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine
January 21, 2018
We are sacraments?
Worship Matters: An introduction to Worship, defines a sacrament in this way:
“For Lutherans, a sacrament:
#1 is something Jesus commanded us to do;
#2 uses a physical element—something we can see, touch and sometimes taste; and
#3 is connected with God’s promise, the word of God, which gives faith.”
Lutherans recognize two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion.
So my ears perked up when our AZ pastor suggested there may be a third sacrament.
He suggested that we are the third sacrament. Our service to each other and love for each other is sacramental. We are commanded (#1) to do just that in 1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has.
We are the physical element of the sacrament. (#2)
And the connection to Gods promises?(#3) 1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.
The way we serve: human beings plus God equals the third sacrament. Rob Bell in Jesus Wants to Save Christians echoes these same thoughts, “The Church is a living Eucharist, because followers of Christ are living Eucharists. A Christian is a living Eucharist, allowing her body to be broken and her blood to be poured out for the healing of the world.”
We sing these beliefs each Sunday in our Offering Song,
“We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering
Lord use our voices
Lord use our hands
Lord use our lives they are Yours
We are an offering”
Thought provoking, isn’t it? I don’t have any intention of launching a petition to the ECLA to change our doctrine…..but….to me…..it elevates my thinking and I hope, my actions, to be more of a sacramental way of living out each day…..and I repeat my Baptismal and reaffirmation of Baptism response ’and I ask God to help and guide me’. Amen
January 7, 2018
….”the winter days of our personal lives” so started a recent devotional I read. The prayer drew analogies between grief and depression to the season of winter.
Growing up in North Dakota gives us a distinct perspective of those winter days…bleakness, lack of color, endless winds howling outside our homes…and at times, inside our hearts. Snowstorm after snowstorm. The futility of shoveling out. Layer upon layer of snow….piling higher and higher. Days of light that become shorter and shorter and the darkness of night growing longer and longer.
During these dark times, inside and out, it is difficult to remember that days will lengthen again. Difficult to remember that the daylight of the sun will once again burn longer than the night time stars. It will happen but in the ‘winter of our personal lives’ it is hard to imagine. Time stands still. And it cannot be rushed. In our hurry-up culture, we sometimes need to remember that is OK if it takes us awhile to come out of our personal winter. The seasons unfold, one following another; nature assuring us, that this too, will pass. Life will never stay just as it is. And there is comfort in that. Comfort in knowing that there will be new hellos….but not until we are ready to say goodbye to something old.
Psalm 57:1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.
December 15, 2017
“Without a witness….they will just disappear.”
So says an aging Korean Conflict veteran to movie hero, Kevin Bacon, in the film Taking Chance. Bacon is career military and did not volunteer to serve in Afghanistan; instead requesting office tours to be near his wife and young children. He is feeling guilty and part of his daily routine is to check casualty lists for servicemen he may know. He does find a 19 year old casualty, Chance Phelps, from his hometown and volunteers to escort the body home in an effort to ease his own guilt and the feeling he has that he should have been there to lead and assist the young soldier in combat. Bacon carefully observes all protocol in transportation, when ‘Taking Chance’ home for burial. As he nears his destination, he laments his emotional pain and is chastised by the Korean Conflict veteran to not belittle his service; that without an escort and witness, Chance would just disappear. Without his escort, none of the individuals Bacon encounters on his cross country journey would have had the opportunity to extend their expressions of appreciation, sorrow, or words of comfort t to the family of PFC Chance Phelps’ family on their behalf. Bacon is not only the physical escort of the body, but is also the vehicle of blessing and remembrance to his family.
That line, ‘without a witness, they will just disappear’ really caught my attention. And I had to ponder the definitions of ‘witness’: a person who sees an event; someone asked to be present at a particular event; to give proof that things have been done correctly.
This was not only a gripping movie, but one that also has a message for us. What are we a witness to? What are we a witness of? When we die, what will our funeral attest to of our lifetime of witness? Who did we escort on our earthly journey? What do we want to not ‘just disappear’?
I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.
December 1, 2017
Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Ouch! And not just physically.
I recently went on a search for a new bike….well, new to me. Being Scandinavian frugal, (cheap) I thought I would scout out the Arizona rummage sales and pick up a second hand bike. After all, how much is a 60 something Granny going to actually ride that bike? A few stops into my rummaging day, there was a bike that looked to be in pretty good shape. I decided to hop on and give it a whirl. And that is when I re-learned about gravity. And how it is a good idea to see if the seat of a bicycle is properly adjusted for one’s height. But I didn’t. And I came coasting to a stop and couldn’t get both feet on the ground, nor could I swing my leg fast enough over the bar to gracefully halt my forward motion. And did I mention that the owner’s last words were ‘try it at your own risk’. Lucky for me, my fall seemed to be in slow motion…and I first landed on my most padded part….and then my not so padded knees…and then my really fragile ego and pride. Double ouch. I left that bike and some skin there on the pavement.
But I pushed on to more rummage sales…a little more cautious and painfully aware of my shortcomings (did I mention being stubborn?). And I did find one more bicycle…more my size….and speed…six gears that mostly work. And I have ridden it a few times. And it is blissful to feel the warm sunshine and the gentle breeze I create as I glide around our retirement compound riding paths. It was worth the skinned knees. And what is the moral of the story? Look before your leap? Keep looking for what you seek? Seize the day? Possibly all of the above; or maybe just find some tiny, quotidian splendor in the God-given days that I have.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.
November 12, 2017
We fall into fall
My favorite season…at least the gold and red and orange parts when splashed against any remaining greens. Those contrasting colors, those last vestiges of vivid, vibrant life too soon replaced with browns.
The view of the rolling hills and their shades of coffee and tan and taupe, are nearly sand dune and desert-like. The shifting winds bend the dull grasses up the sides of the valleys; almost like a blanket tucking around them as a warm shield against the colder temperatures that will follow. The green grasses of the ditches have been muted, cut, dried, and rolled tightly into giant sleeping bags scattered along the roadway.
Hushed, silenced, waiting hovers over the landscape. It can be felt…palpably. Fall is anticipating that next season with melancholy; mournful and somnolent. All nature has one eye open, and the other growing tired and weary and waiting for that restful and dormant and dying season of winter.
Perhaps that sense of ending, that autumn in all of us, that knowing of our impermanence, is what makes the finale of this season sad and yearning….yearning for continuance, yearning for security, yearning for a reunion….Author, Joyce Rupp, in Praying Our Goodbyes, says we are ‘like a flock of homesick cranes.’ Cranes…those great white birds that group and float and fly above in blue cloudless skies…in stark contrast to the dull bronze below them. Rupp further states, “The homesick crane in us is the pilgrim who never arrives, who is always going home, sometimes not having any idea of which way to turn but knowing deep within that there is a goal awaiting and that it is well worth the journey with all its ups and downs, with all its hellos and goodbyes.”
As the winds whip those last stubborn leaves to the ground, maybe they are not giving up to the onslaught of winter…maybe as they are tossed around, they are saying ‘remember me’. Remember that I will come back…that I will once again be green and full of life. The gray grasses sighing in the breeze are uttering ‘don’t forget’….have faith that I will return refreshed and overflowing with life.
Ecclesiastes 3: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven
November 5, 2017
Doyle-esque Proem-page 7 “A poem says This is what I see and feel and sing”
Six years ago, the First Lutheran Church marque could have posted:
Tattered, remnant congregation seeks ‘a repairer of the breach’…apply if you dare
And the beleaguered congregation wondered who would dare and who would care
And the Holy Spirit whispered into the Bishop’s ear----‘send Pastor Leer’
And so the somewhat life-battered pastor entered the sanctuary of the shattered congregation
And where some may have heard the ragged sigh of the last gasping breath of life
The pastor heard the cries of a newborn that needed him as much as he needed them
The congregation and the pastor, together, started their ‘temporary’ journey
Being careful on the outside and deeply aching on the inside
And bit by gentle bit they dared to reach out and trust each other
And share their hurts---and share their tender dreams and hopes of healing
And they discovered that wounds can heal---slowly---scabbing over,
Sometimes rebruised with fresh drops of blood seeping through the delicately knit-together skin
And gentle healing needed to begin again, but the tears not quite so ragged as before
And the congregation was grateful for the pastor who had his own scars
Who could understand their wounds and welts and worries and sometimes anger
And they slowly healed, together
Not seamlessly---but in an amazing jigsaw puzzle
A few pieces chipped with rough gray cardboard edges showing
But still clinging together to form a new Holy picture
September 26, 2017
Mathew 20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
It’s just not fair! That whole parable about the landowner paying all the laborers the same pay, whether they worked ten hours or one! It’s just not fair!
I think that is pretty common response to that parable. Somehow, most of us identify with the laborer….of course, the one with the good Scandinavian work ethic, who not only worked the whole day, but who was no doubt there at least 15 minutes early.
I have had a few different thoughts on that passage over the last few years. Maybe we….those of us clinging to the faith and hope of the cross in 2017 are the laborers who showed up during the last hour of the shift. Maybe the first workers to arrive were the twelve disciples…or the early Christians who suffered persecution….or those who dared to follow a rebellious monk in 1717…or those who fled harsh state imposed religions of foreign countries….or those who rallied behind the ordination of women 40 years ago! Maybe our unborn grandchildren will be the workers with only 15 minutes of the day left to ‘work’. Surely we would want justice and mercy for them…wouldn’t we?
Justice and mercy. It is about God’s justice and mercy. Neither the first workers nor the last could make themselves worthy of the payment that God was offering. It is not up to us. We would all fall short…and do fall short. Thank goodness for a God who offers us justice and mercy…who tips the scales of our worthiness in our favor. Amen.
September 6, 2017
2nd Chronicles 5:13 It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever’.
“Get out! You’re the last person I would expect to be going to an Alanis Morissette concert!” So said a ‘younger’ woman about my travel plans with my two daughters. (I like surprising people.) I am an Alanis fan—I have observed her growth from the 19 year old who sang with biting, edgy angst in Jagged Little Pill to the 43 year old, the mellower, but yet fierce, mother-love singer of Guardian. She is a self-proclaimed ‘God Girl’. Her music has remained honest and very close to her heart and that resonates with her audiences and listeners.
The concert was everything I expected---a beautifully warm evening in Iowa—great seats---great view of the stage with an enthusiastic energizing entertainer in the company of two of my most favorite people. Alanis performed one of my favorite songs, Everything. It spoke differently to me that night; not a song to a significant other, soul-mate, but from God to us, to me from my spiritual soul connection.
You see everything, you see every part,
You see all my light, and you love my dark….
There’s not anything, to which you can’t relate
And your still here.
Her lyrics have some great theology. God does see everything and every part of us. He placed the light in us and still loves us when that light is covered up by our own darkness and doubt. God does relate to everything we experience. He sent his Son who was fully divine and yet fully human; he has experienced all of our hurts. And He is still here. Still here. Always here.
Psalm 33:2-3 Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
August 21, 2017
Plunk…..uh oh….that teensy-eensy earing back slipped out of my fingers and onto the floor. Oh bother. Down on the hands and knees…nothing. Move the end table slightly…nothing. Look under the couch…nothing…well something, if you count a dust bunny or two and an ancient bug. I am NOT moving this couch over one lousy earing back…I will let the vacuum crunch it up and spit it out or it can stay in the dark collection bag of eternity!
So much for the parable of the woman searching for the lost coin until she finds it! But congratulations and pat on the back to me on being able to let my type A personality let go of something. Perhaps that article in the Gather magazine has had an impact on me. The one written by Kristen Glass Perez, False Idols. “I am also worshipping a false idol if I believe I can organize everything all by myself, never eat any carbs and be absolutely perfect…..In other words, it is theoretically impossible to have a perfectly clean house!”
I trot off to find a replacement back and return to the scene of the crime to attach my earing….and low and behold, there is the back, not on the floor where I had been searching, but glittering in the sunlight, on the window sill. Really, it even had to be lit up and I did not see it. Now this is almost silly to think about.
If you are seeking your treasures here on earth (the floor) you won’t find them
Consider the sparrows, they do not worry over food (earing backs)
God’s ways are not our ways (when does the ‘lost’ appear)
All of the above…or, take the time to see God and all of his wonderful creations that are right in front of your face…take the time to appreciate the smallness of life….take time to see the big picture. Slow down and observe and remember who is in control. Or as Barbara Brown Taylor tells us in An Altar in the World “My life depends on engaging the most physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them.”
Isaiah 55:8 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’, declares the Lord.
August 3, 2017
“Slow down when you get to the edges!”
That’s what my grandson told me when he first began to color. His chubby hands were gripped around the large round color crayon, a look of concentration on his face….I complimented him on his skills and his sage advice was, “Grandma, it’s easier if you slow down when you get to the edges.” Pretty profound advice for a little guy.
Have you been close to one of your edges lately? Did it get any better the faster you went? Would a little time in the slow lane have given you some insights that you missed as you went speeding forward, careening, closer, and closer to an ‘edge’? The following saying comes to mind: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”
Our lives are packed with things we have to do and things we want to do. And that is good. But it can also land us in a spot where we feel pressured to do everything….and we aren’t enjoying anything. It is good to slow down….to reconnect with our creator….to review our to-do lists and prioritize what gives us joy. Micah 6:8 tells us “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
We are half-way through summer. I challenge you to take a few minutes each day and dwell in the beauty that God has created.
Psalm 46:10…Be still and know that I am God.
July 19, 2017
I had the privilege of listening to Bishop Elizabeth Eaton at the opening worship of the 10th Triennial Gathering of WELCA. Her message was inspiring! One line that has been uppermost in my mind is ‘We don’t always know we are hungry until we smell the baking bread.’ True, isn’t it? We can be so busy in our day that we can lose track of time and ignore our body signaling us to stop…and take time to eat. And then we smell someone cooking….and ah, yes! I am hungry!
My thoughts have paralleled this message with our summer ‘experiment’ at First Lutheran. The hope is that by making that heavenly bread available every Sunday, we will be feeding those who may not know they are hungry. Those of us steeped in the tradition of receiving the Sacrament of Communion on first and third Sundays are being asked to stretch a bit theologically and spiritually and to embrace weekly Communion. And Communion by intinction!
So far it has gone relatively smoothly…a little rearrangement and change of direction for our faithful altar guild team and our serving assistants; and, of course, our members. And perhaps a little rearrangement in our thoughts on communion; questions of why for some and questions of why not from others. Questions are good. Questions promote discussion. Questions cause us to pause and really discern what this Sacrament means to us and what it means as Lutherans. I went to Luther’s Small Catechism to review my understanding of the sacrament and why we partake in it:
“The Benefit of the Sacrament of the Altar
What benefit do we receive from such eating and drinking?
The benefit which we receive from such eating and drinking is shown us by these words: “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins,” namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Neither the Bible nor the Catechism tell us how often to break the bread or to consume the wine; but to do it. ‘Do it in remembrance of me’. This journey of discerning how often we receive the sacrament may be challenging; but it will surely be enriching.
1 Corinthians 11:25
“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
June 23, 2017
The Parable of the Gardener
After the long winter, a Gardener went out to the yard in the spring of the year. And She scattered her flower seeds. And the rains came. And the Son shown. And there was much germination in the yard….of weeds. Weeds came up in the landscaped areas. They came where Preen had been scattered to keep the weeds from sprouting. They came in areas where heavy plastic had been laid to keep them from developing. But the elements had worn the plastic thin and brittle and there were holes here and there. And the relentless weeds popped up wherever they suspected a weak spot in the black plastic. There were dandelions blooming in the sidewalk cracks despite the application of fall chemicals intended to kill them to their very roots.
With patience and careful removal of the weeds, tender plant life began to grow. They were in beds with flowers of various kinds…and they supported each other’s growth. Some thrived in the direct Son-light; some thrived in the shade cast by the hardier flowers. During times of drought, the Gardener brought them enough water to sustain them. Not all of the plants were native to the North Dakota climate, but they were nurtured with hope and faith and trust and tolerance and promises made and promises kept. And it was enough. And at the time of the Harvest, the Gardener was pleased with the beauty and abundance and variety of Her garden.
What does this mean?
The Gardener is, of course, God. After creating the earth, She placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. All was well with nature and with God until the Weeds (temptations) abounded. They were everywhere…despite and sometimes in spite of religions. When the descendants of Adam and Eve were stressed and worried, there seemed to more temptations and weaknesses. God had left his children with what they needed, but their wild desires persisted.
But God tenderly planted his Son in the Garden. And he taught the beauty of the Kingdom to come. And despite droughts and hard times, the children of the Son believed in the Kingdom; where all were equal and appreciated for their differences and none were hungry or in need. And the Gardener was greatly pleased.
June 4, 2017
Lamentations 2:19b Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord.
Did you hear it? That ticking sound as I clicked off another item on my ‘bucket list’ (that list of things to do while one is still able)! With my son-in-law and daughter’s company and support, I spent a morning white water rafting on the Salt River in Arizona. It was fabulous! Better than I had imagined! The temperature was perfect…no wind…bright and sunny and the water absolutely sparkled as our guide directed us to row forward or backward to navigate around and through the gurgling waters. The feeling of the power of the water as our oars plunged into it was amazing!
Later that day, my daughter asked if I had read the daily devotional from the book she had given me. I had early that morning, but I had to admit I was pre-occupied with other things on my mind and hadn’t paid as much attention as I should have. Here are some phrases that I missed: “on some days your will and Mine flow smoothly together, on other days you feel as if you are swimming upstream against the current of My purposes, Let My Spirit guide you through treacherous waters, As you move through the turbulent stream with Me.”
Well, all those references to water should have caught my attention with the day we had planned. I think I was so busy looking at the forest I couldn’t see the trees.
We were definitely splashed with the waters from the turbulent stream as we rafted with the flowing river…all of that flowing, treacherous liquid; powerful, noisy, energy that fully engaged all of our senses. We experienced the forces of the water. We experienced the authority of the one who created it. And it reminded me of Jesus calming the stormy waters that surrounded the disciples in their boat. A simple command and those raging waters would have turned calm for us also. And he can calm the raging waters of our souls if we reach out and ask him to do so. He is there right beside us in all of our stormy times.
Luke 8: 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
May 12, 2016
Philippians 3:13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.
Both of my daughters participated in track…I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the practice/work-outs more than the meets! The exercise was good, the program was wonderful, and so we encouraged them to continue. We bought the right kind of running shoes, and leg warmers, and warm hats and jackets….it is, after all, spring time in North Dakota and not that unusual to be at meets in the freezing cold. I can still see that huddle of purple and gold athletes hunkered down in their ‘camps’ trying to stay warm, muscles stretched, approved snacks to munch on, and of course, various colors of Power AidJ Go Hornets!
I sent them power-aid J of another kind. I found various Bible verses related to track or competition or encouragement. I would tuck these verses into their lunch bags. I didn’t do it so they could get God on their side and beat their competitors. I did it to send them comfort and peace and love from me ….and from God. I know they read them and appreciated them; they told me so. They looked for more of them in the lunch packed for the next meet. I like to think they shared them with their fellow ‘campers’. A little ripple of Bible verses…you never know when you drop a pebble in a pond, how far the ripples may go. And it doesn’t matter if we ever find out who got ‘rippled’ or what the result was. Our commission is to just do it. Just like Nike!
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it
April 22, 2017
The Gospel According to Bocce Ball
He was a gracious opponent…well not really even opponent as I was not even close to his skill level in Bocce Ball (kind of like curling but with balls thrown on artificial turf). After a few of my wayward throws, Peter kindly started giving me a few tips…and always using my name. “Karen, you might notice that on this court the ball tends to curve to the left.” Thank you Peter for the tip and thank you for remembering my name. I can’t tell you how many times I get called Carol or Kathy or…..nothing.
“Now, Gene is my playing partner” he said. “Gene is a great guy but he has memory and muscle issues so sometimes we have to remind him when it’s his turn or if he picks up the wrong ball.” OK…that is fine by me. I have my own lack of focus moments and we are out here just to have fun and meet a few folks. Peter continued in his kind way to help me and to encourage his challenged partner in their play. And the two of them together were awesome! Gene’s blue sparkled when he rolled his Bocce ball exactly where it needed to be to score points!
I assumed that Peter was an old friend of Gene’s and that explained his endless patience. “Oh, no” he said, “We both just wanted to play. I met Gene in December.” Wow, so here is the Gospel walking and talking and practicing human kindness and compassion to the strangers he is playing against and with. It reminded me of the saying “your actions may be the only Bible that some people will read”.
Peter and Gene beat us by a large margin. Peter’s parting remarks to Gene were “See you Sunday. I will call your wife to remind you when to play.” It didn’t matter what the score was in this game. It was truly how Peter played the game of Bocce and the game of life. Carry on Peter. You gave a heck of a sermon today.
Matthew 25:40 Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
April 1, 2017
Matthew 10:40 Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Have you ever felt all alone is a busy place…hustle and bustle all around you…chatter and laughter surround you, but you are not a part of it. It’s kind of like a snow globe in your hand….give it a shake and look at the action inside, but it doesn’t touch you.
I was feeling a bit of those feelings during a recent shopping excursion in Arizona. I was enjoying a little time to myself…but sill wanting a hint of the familiar. (I can see a few men rolling their eyes and muttering, “women—go figure”) Back to shopping. I made my purchases and was ready to leave when a somewhat ‘memorable’ face came by. She stopped. She looked me in the eye and offered a shy smile and approached me. “I know I should know your name. You’ve been coming to Desert Cross in Gilbert. I just haven’t taken the time to introduce myself. I’m ____ ______.” And so we chatted a bit and, of course, there was a North Dakota connection we shared. You have to love mid-westernersJ And what a difference that short conversation made in my day… so nice to be recognized…so nice for someone to notice I am here….and nice to know I may be missed when I am gone. A small act of kindness on her part had a big impact on me. In his poem, The Slight Light, author Brian Doyle, would call this kind of encounter “Just the slight light of a small good thing, a quiet pleasure, a tiny thing that isn’t….so many miniscule mountainous things.”
I smiled my way out of the store that day and all the way ‘home’. I felt blessed to be on the receiving end of this welcome; this tiny mountainous message of Mathew to extend welcome to the un-known around us. I feel doubly blessed in retelling this story. And I will make a point to look for ways to ‘welcome’ the new and not-so-new faces that I encounter.
March 4, 2017
I typically don’t like to ‘chat it up’ on flights anywhere. I would rather keep my nose in a good book and sip my glass of over-priced wine (location, location, location) and zone out and transition to where I will be when I land. My seat-mate, who was traveling with her son, seemed to be of the same mind. Until we were air born. And the first 15 minutes were rocky and bumpy…bumpy enough that neither one of us could focus on our reading material.
So we chatted as she gripped the armrest with one hand and her son’s hand with the other. He was such a sweet, good kid, all of ten years old and trying to take care of his Mom.
My fellow traveler and I became acquainted and shared information. We couldn’t have been more different. She was a stay-at-home Mom, home-schooling six children, a card-carrying Republican, believed women were meant to be spouses and not have leadership rolls and that the world was only 6,000 years old! And me…a feminist, who had had a career outside the home, who accepts evolution and creation, undeclared in political affiliation, and who thinks the best thing to happen in the last 500 years was Martin Luther!
Now, I don’t think it is possible to change anyone’s mind in two hours at 35,000 feet so…..I didn’t attempt it. And what was cool was that neither one us had any intent to do so! We nodded and discussed tolerance for viewpoints other than our own. No fist fights. No marches. No vandalism. No name-calling or belittling or temper tantrums.
We didn’t come up with solutions for any of the world’s problems. But maybe her son will. Maybe listening to two very dissimilar women calmly discussing their difference will impact that little guy and something new and wonderful will come out of him.
It was a neat time of sharing for me; who I was and what I believed to a total stranger who I in all likelihood I will never see again. And we both left the plane with a good feeling and a smile for each other.
Romans 14:3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
February 19, 2017
I have been working on a quilt for my daughter; one made up on high school memories. All of those tee shirts with special events stamped on them that were purchased every fall, winter, and spring, depending on the activity. Some she was an active participant in; others an enthusiastic fan. The fronts of the tee shirts have been trimmed, more or less neatly, into squares of the same size. They have been lovingly stitched together. The side that is visible looks pretty neat and tidy; but the underside that will be hidden between a layer of batting and a warm, fuzzy, backing has its lumps and bumps and varying seam allowances and all kinds of imperfections.
This project has taken me awhile; that’s OK, it took my daughter nearly 16 years to decide she was ready to have those memories cut up and put back together by her Mother. I have had moments of tedium, and joy, and melancholy, and pain (sharp needles poking into my skin!) There is a pattern of sorts to this quilt—colors laid out in what I think is a pleasing manner. Squares of disappointment tempered with squares of triumph. Sweet memories of youth next to painful and trying ones of the growing pains of adolescence; and the growing pains of learning to parent a maturing child. But there is always love.
Memories of lack of patience and understanding; but there is always love.
Memories of lack of wisdom and self-control; but there is always love.
Memories of rebellion and contrition; but there is always love.
Memories of mistakes made and lessons learned; but there is always love. And I write of my experiences, not my daughter’s. And I think of my heavenly Father, and his love, as he has watched me work through the ‘quilt’ of my life and how I have tried to piece things together; but there is always love.
There is a beauty in the imperfections of this quilt. The message to me is clear and it is, “Karen Olson, child of God, sealed with the cross with all of your imperfections and the pieces of your life, you are always loved.”
2 Corinthians 12:9… but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
January 21, 2017
Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…..God called the dry ground ‘land’….and God said ’Let there be lights in the vault of the sky’…and he created the stars also.
There is nothing in the clear air in the room I am sitting in. Pretty sure of it…..until…..a shaft of sunlight comes through the window at just the right angle…and there…suspended….dancing and gliding…are tiny particles of… something….?
I remember as a child, thinking that it was pretty amazing to see those particles….a source of wonderment (OK this was before color television and special effects). The source of all knowledge, my Mom, said it was just dust. JUST DUST! But this was sparkling stuff! These shimmering, shining bits had movement and life! They couldn’t be just dust! Not the debris that made my dust cloth gray! How could that be? How could bits of gleam, and glow, and glisten settle onto furniture and floors and be dust? Something to be wiped up and gotten rid of!
There are several tidy ways to wrap this little memory up. But I read somewhere that a story’s ending does not necessarily have to be dictated …it’s OK to leave the ending up to the reader to figure out for themselves what little lesson could be lurking or lingering there. Here are a few suggestions to wet your own imagination:
Do you view life as a pessimist or optimist----is it dust or bits of glitter?
There is beauty in everything if you let the Light shine through it?
The stardust of God is descending to earth?
The dust of the earth is floating heavenward to its home in a miniature fireworks celebration?
Dust, in the right light, is a pre-lit path of ascension that our own souls will someday take?
Is the dust lingering mid-air a reminder that a flick of God’s fingernail sent the universe spinning
The possibilities and insights are endless. Some things in life take a little pondering to appreciate…from dust to stardust.
January 10, 2017
The Christmas season is over and we are into Epiphany…but I want to linger on that lovely Christmas feeling for one more reflection.
The Accidental Christmas Program
Well not quite ‘accidental’…..and not quite un-rehearsed
Well maybe un-rehearsed to those who had not taken part in the scheduled rehearsals
But like any good Church Christmas play---things go accidental and awry
And sometimes it is the ‘awryness’ that causes the lump in our throat
and the chuckle in our heart
In remembrance of our own grandchildren, or children or of the child in ourselves
that never entirely grows up
And we learn again that it is not the perfectly remembered lines or performance that makes its home in
It’s the three year old little girl who is so shy she keeps pulling the ruffles of her sparkling new
dress over the top of her head
It’s the rambunctious four year old boy hanging on to the edge of the stage by the shiny tips of his
brand new shoes
And the choir of Grandmas sitting in the front row swaying forward to catch him if he falls
It’s the unknown two year old from somewhere in the back of the church that breaks loose
and rushes the stage before his Mother can stop him
It’s the one loud voice in the chorus of cherubs screeching out the words in the tone of “FIRE!”
Followed by a waving hand and a “can you see me Mom?”
It’s the wise men gone missing…waiting…waiting…finally cued by the director’s hiss ‘Wisemen!’
And they bumble their way to the crèche, tripping over their too long, borrowed bathrobes
It’s the scribe whose unread scroll unwinds across the stage
It’s the angels with tilted wings and slipping halos and the tender innkeeper who says ‘yes, I have room’
It’s the doll-baby Jesus un-swaddling as a nervous Mary loses her grip and he meets
the stage floor squeaking out a shrill “mama-mama”
And we, the audience, the assembled ‘congregation’, grin and sigh in recollection
And in contentment of our own imperfections and un-rehearsed, unintended moments
And though we are witnessing the accidental un-production with a few unacquainted faces
We are glad for this fine gathering of ‘family’ and tradition and liturgy and the realness of Christmas.
It’s the season…it is THE season…a crazy, gift giving, can’t get enough season. Gimme, gimme from right before Trunk or Treat until the stores close as late as possible for those last minute Christmas Eve gifts. And God bless ‘Holiday’ specials, but after 90 days they stop becoming “special”.
‘Holiday’---the sacred gone secular. Is it the gifts? Or THE gift? The ultimate Gift of His Son…HIS Son. God tells us “THIS IS MY SON”. THIS is my Son—this God, come-down in human form. This baby, this teenager, this man, this rebel, this rule changer, this prophet, this healer, this proclaimer, this innocent criminal, this prosecuted, persecuted….THIS savior, our savior, my savior.
This IS my Son. IS….not was, not will be, but IS…..an on-going journey….a continued relationship…a present tense verb that calls our attention to the now.
This is MY Son; flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, spirit of my spirit. MY child who will call out to me “Abba”! MY child as loved as your child….and more. This part of God that is God…sent down to us; a part of the triune mystery that we claim and hope to have faith to grasp. MY Son with skin and feelings who has experienced everything and who will walk beside us with his dirty feet and dusty sandals…and heavy cross.
This is my SON.…and his name shall be called Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins”. And we are named and claimed as his own and presented with his gift. Naming bestowed on us through no effort of our own.
THIS IS MY SON… this is my gift to you. For you. For mankind. For all. For once. Forever.
Do we wait for this gift in patience? In expectancy? In suffering? In unity? In fellowship? In worship? A birth of a child? A re-birth for God’s people? A new creation? A re-created, salvaged, humanity? A hope that a God-baby can be a re-birth for each and every one of us? Will you recognize your gift? Will you have time and room in this busy merchandising season to accept one more gift?
God made you to love you. He loves you now and every tomorrow. His love isn’t based on what you do—his love is based on who he is. In this gift giving season we are blessed to receive His gift; gratefully and tenderly unwrap it and receive it. Dwell on it and in it. Amen.
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above.
December 14, 2016
15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
Ways of Service
A recent devotional I read really caught my attention. It was addressing limitations we will likely have to deal with as we age; this or that part not working or not working to what our expectation are. The reflection reminded us that great works have been accomplished from prison cells (Paul) and sick beds (Jairus’ daughter). It also even dared to suggest that we should not resent our weakening bodies!!! What! In America where we worship youth and avoid aging at all costs!! And we can do it if we just buy the right products, and eat the right foods, and join the right clubs to get the exercise we need! The advertisers try to convince us that our bodies don’t recycle…dust to dust can be delayed and avoided!
Instead, this devotional suggested that quietness and trusting are ways of serving; that in our times of limitations we can draw closer to God; be more dependent on him; be in more conversation. And that would be enough? And that is enough.
We have a busy church…many things that need to be done and thankfully, many folks who step up to do them. But we must also remember, that when we are unable to be a part of those busy things, the service of quietness and trust is still available to us.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (Paul’s thorn in his flesh) away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
December 2, 2016
“You Do Not Have a Good Connection
You Do Not Have a Good Connection
You Do Not Have a Good Connection”
My cell phone sputtered and stuttered to me when I tried to use my ‘smart’ phone to get some information I thought I needed. Yes, I know we are in a valley, but really, this close to Bismarck and “you do not have a good connection”.
Both sides of the ditches in this brown depression bisected by the highway were littered with giant spools of thread in shades of green to brown to gray—some were shrink-wrapped in plastic? Giant spools of thread cast about haphazardly? By some giant hand? Well, not quite—my imagination was getting the best of me when I viewed the stark landscape. The spools of thread were actually large, round, hay bales…most of which were sitting on the higher parts of the ditches, what was hoped to be dry ground until those bales could be moved to become winter livestock feed. The ranchers were trying to keep those bales safe and accessible until they could retrieve them.
We continued our drive and crept up the winding road until, just like the hay bales, we were on higher ground too. And wonder of wonders, my ‘connection’ was restored. We were now accessible too.
Connectivity. The connection to my smart phone was diminished….but only from my point of reception. The tower did not stop emitting a signal…I was only in a place where my acceptance was limited.
We all have times when we fail to feel the closeness of God. But God has not stopped emitting his signal. We may not be in a place to fully receive it. We don’t know how long we will be in that place, but we do drive out of it. There is a tower beacon out there ahead.
Hebrews 13:5 “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”
November 15, 2016
Uff-dah and Amen
Uff-dah—it’s not in the dictionary…at least not in my English one. Even though it defies definition, most of us in the Midwest can use it rather expertly.
Amen…so be it; truly. It is a word of declaration from the Arabic language. When used as a verb (action) it is to exclaim in amazement, joy, or surprise! Does this sound similar to uff-dah to anyone else but me? Would it be sacrilegious to think that if Bethlehem was in Norway, we would be ending our prayers with Uff-dah?
Some of our verbal expressions defy meaning outside of their context. Think of ‘auuuucccckkkk’ coming from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. And I think of the Gospel affirmation that we sing “The Spirit intercedes for us, with sighs, too deep, for words to express, oh, oh, ohhhh…..
No matter our culture, whether middle eastern or Scandinavian, when we are too tired, or weak, or overburdened to organize our thoughts into meaningful prayer, we can be assured that our humble utterance is heard and help is on the way. Whether Amen is a proclamation, or a sigh of wonder, or a cry for help, when it leaves our lips it is on its way to God’s ears. When ‘uff-dah’ struggles to escape our mouth as we are overburdened with grief and sadness, it is on its way to the hearer of all things. God listen to our spirits crying out to him. And that tiny little spot in our inner being can slowly begin to respond and to warm…not because our every prayer will be answered, but because He is listening, and He sorrows and rejoices and wonders and despairs right along with us. We are never alone.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
October 30, 2016
Luke 12:1 Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
It’s been a busy summer and fall….once again. My Mother used to tell me that the older you get, the faster time flies by. That didn’t make sense to me, how a senior citizen without much of a to-do list, could have time pass so quickly. Uh….now I am starting to get it. Either time is flying by, or I am really slowing downJ
A speaker I once listened to had us close our eyes and try to keep them closed until we thought a minute had passed by (no fair ticking off the seconds in your mind). We were to just float in lovely, timeless, space and gently open our eyes when we thought enough time had passed. I failed….miserably…lasted about 20 seconds. So, she gave us a second (no pun intended) chance to try. Wow…I made it a whole 38 seconds! It was an interesting assignment…especially in our jam packed day of workshops and rushing to get from one assigned room to another. What….sit down…slow down….and close our eyes! And I paid for this!!!!! Just sit there and breathe!!!
‘Breath is Prayer’…I’m not quite sure what author said it….I have been having an obsession with reading of late (rushing through my leisure activity? Cramming my little brain with as much as I can in as little time as possible-something is wrong with that picture)….maybe it is aging, (maturing….ripening….) but I am also starting to wonder if we are human beings….or human doings? Do we have value and worth just because we are…or do we have to continually justify and prove ourselves by keeping busy, not sitting still, not resting and abiding? Don’t just sit there! Do something! Or is it OK to Just Sit There! Do Nothing! It doesn’t seem like the American way….but….maybe it is part of The WayJ
And so the next, quiet (no TV blaring), Sunday afternoon…when I am nestled in the recliner…with several good books tucked under my wings, just begging for me to crack them open…maybe I will pause before I dive in…and just Be.
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
October 13, 2016
The Last Walk of Fall
Another blessed day of fall…my favorite season. I love the crunch of leaves, that earthy, musty smell intertwined with faint smoke of distant fires burning. The skies always look bluer in the fall to me…the contrast of gray/brown tree branches provides a stark contrast to the burst of color surrounding them. Today is windless…small miracle in North Dakota. As I round the corner on my usual walking route, I catch a glimpse of the water of the Sheyenne River …not even a ripple on it. And the sight from the opposite shore is beautifully reflected on the water. Amazingly mirror like. The light is captured in that scene and wonderfully replicated on the still water.
Ephesians 5:13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
Reflecting the light. That is what we are called to do. We cannot do it as magically as the view on my walk was captured. But we can let some of it show…enough to know that we are claimed, redeemed, and share a resurrection with that light…a little glint in our eye, a spring in our step, a touch of serenity and peace on our faces.
October 2, 2016
Blessed to be a Blessing
Sometimes when you think you are giving a blessing, you wind up being blessed….and in the unlikeliest places. Like a Comfort Inn Lobby???
Three of us ‘gal-pals’ were traveling together for an out of town wedding. At the end of a long day, we decided to take advantage of the hotel’s coupon for a discounted glass of wine. The waiter was a young man, early twenties. He was so courteous and engaging that I commented that if he would give me his Momma’s address I would write and tell her what a fine young man she had raised. He locked his brown eyes on mine and very seriously said, “My parents are very important to me and I so appreciate the way they raised me. As a matter of fact, I have a tattoo on my side. It’s Proverbs 6:20…you might not know it but it is ‘My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching’.
Whoa….that kind of knocked this church lady’s socks off! And my two companions. It’s not every day conversation for two strangers to have a connection like that to feel comfortable to share Bible passages. We chatted for a few minutes and then I told him he just might wind up on my church website Reflection and I asked him again for the chapter and verse.
We finished our wine, and I approached the waiter and thanked him for sharing. I commented that coincidence is God being anonymous. He smiled and again looked me in the eye and said simply “Amen”.
September 12, 2016
Why are the lights on?
We have a budget to balance! The lights should only be on for an hour on Sunday morning. Right! Right? Why are the lights on?
The lights are on, on Sunday morning. But not just for worship services from 9:30-10:30…OK, sometimes it is closer to 11:00 if Pastor Phil just happens to have a few extra words of wisdom for usJ
The lights are on a lot earlier than that as Choir gathers to practice the Word in music, as Sunday School children arrive for education, FLCW meets to take care of upcoming women’s projects, as Adult Forum participants arrive to discuss the Wired Word concerning items in the news, as the coffee pots of Welcome are plugged in for early arrivals who want to connect socially in the Narthex, the very first place of Welcome that we see. The lights are on in the balcony as our very own technician is making sure that a quality taping of our service is available for broadcast on Wednesdays. The lights are on Sunday evening as LYO gathers to share prayer and fun. All those lights and that’s just Sunday.
The lights are on Monday-Saturday morning at 10 as our local Table of Knowledge gathers for morning coffee and to solve the world’s problemsJ And to visit….”wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name...” The lights are on as our dedicated women continue to make quilts for Lutheran World Relief—keeping back a few for local needs. Another group of women is working on banners for our liturgical seasons. The lights are on Monday evening as the Centennial Singers gather for fellowship and music that benefits our whole community when they join in concert.
The lights are on Tuesday if Pastor Phil is hosting the weekly Pastor’s Text Study. The lights are on in the afternoon and evening as a work group gathers to prepare for a funeral meal and they stay on until after cleanup is completed. The lights may be on Tuesday evening as a grief support group meets.
A lot of lights are on Wednesday. Breakfast with the Boys meets early to prepare breakfast for each other and get a preview of the lessons for the upcoming Sunday. A Circle may be using the lounge in the morning or afternoon for their monthly Bible study. During Lent, the kitchen is bustling as soup suppers are prepared before worship services. Confirmation students are meeting in the youth room in the late afternoon and early evening. Faith and Fitness is meeting in the Fellowship Hall. Council meets the first Wednesday of the month…the five committees of Council also meet.
The lights are on for special occasions too….October 31st they are on as community groups join us in Trunk or Treat so that our little ones can have a safe Halloween. The lights are blazing the week of Thanksgiving as we, and members of other churches, prepare for the free Community Thanksgiving Meal. The lights are softer as we celebrate Christmas Eve with our candle light service. And once again, they are on in early morning at Easter while LYO prepares their annual breakfast celebration.
The light is on and the door is open in the Pastor’s office. That light moves out to meet the needs of our parishioners and the community. The lights are on in the Secretary’s office all week as she prepares our bulletins, financial documents, newsletter and answers parishioners’ questions and directs members and non-members to programs we support and to Pastor Phil.
The lights are on Saturday as Altar Guild members care for our church and prepare for Communion services. Oil candles are refilled, the Baptismal candle is checked, paraments are changed, flowers are watered and fresh arrangements are tended.
The lights are on because we believe in our Mission Statement—“We are a welcoming family where all can experience and grow through God’s grace.”
The lights are on in welcome where ALL are welcome as our painful discernment has led us to believe…ALL ARE WELCOME to this family of believers. The lights are on for the education opportunities that we offer to all ages so that all can grow. The lights are on as we extend God’s grace to those who are grieving, and hurting, and seeking. The lights are on because “We are a welcoming family where all can experience and grow through God’s grace.”
The lights are on….and I hope with your continued contributions that they stay on….and I thank all of you who see that the lights need to be on and that you have contributed to support the payment of our lights and our ‘light’ programs.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your stewardship and glorify your Father in heaven.
September 1, 2016
I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.
It can’t be my imagination! Someone must have made those walking hills around the church and river steeper! It’s not that I am noticing changes in my endurance as I am in my sixth decade? Is it?
It’s pretty easy to keep track of my heart rate as it starts to pound a little harder and faster! Taa-tunk, taa- tunk, ta-tunk, ta-tnk, t-tnk, t-nk……whew….and it’s hot out here! Even in the morning! But it is astonishingly beautiful, even in the heat. There isn’t even a ripple on the river. And I think of the heartbeat of God with each step I take... coming along right beside me, with this creature he chose to create. Whether I am trudging up and down the hills that I love to walk on…or whether I am skipping (OK, so it’s a slow skip) my heart gladdened with some good news. Or if I am casually strolling along, content with the day and just happy to be able to move. Or if the barometer that is starting to live in some of my joints, is telling me that the weather is going to change….the changer of the weather is right beside me.
Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
August 15, 2016
“We don’t know where to start with stewardship.”---Boy, did my ears perk up at that comment at the Synod Assembly during one of our roundtable discussions! It was from a young (30 something) participant. She also added, “My age group wants to help—but we need someone to show us how”…emphasis on the show us, not tell us. Whether it’s in the kitchen serving or cleaning up after a potluck or in our giving practices, we are teaching those around us.
Those words have tumbled around in my brain—probably more so with our current financial needs and also serving on the Stewardship Committee. I thought back to my own ‘younger’ days a few decades ago. We were a typical young family with the same questions and financial struggles.
Our decision at that time was to ‘count our blessings’ each Sunday…years of marriage to start; a small start but that began the habit of ‘giving back’ each and every Sunday and the habit of increasing our giving each year. Our ‘blessings’ giving continued as we added children to our family. Now, some days they maybe didn’t feel like a blessing….but we didn’t have to look too far to see all the things that gave us joy. As jobs, a home, health, grandchildren, etc. were added to our ‘blessings’ list, our giving increases reflected that.
Maybe the answer to the question of where to start at my Assembly table was…just start. Whether we are 30 something or twice 30 something! Reflect EACH week on what you are thankful for….and respond EACH week.
August 4, 2016
“I am sorry about the messy edges”…so said our leader for the annual women’s retreat as she handed out note pages for our morning session. The pages were ‘supposed’ to tear neatly along the perforated lines of the workbook she had brought. Of course, none of the women gathered minded a few frayed edges…we knew the good stuff that would be coming from our leader and we were appreciative that she had been thoughtful enough to provide us with a sheet of decorative paper to write down our thoughts as we proceeded though our ‘lesson’.
Now, I’m not sure why that phrase stuck in my head. I’m hardly ever sure of why something chooses to stick in my head, when so many things I thought were permanently put there continue to slip away….like, where di d I put that???? But the phrase, ‘messy edges’, stayed there and percolated for the 48 lovely hours we spent at Lake Metigoshe. It struck me that maybe God would like to tell us the same thing….at times when we are struggling and wrestling with the ‘why’ of certain events happening…when life is unfair…when we are sitting there in our own Job-like state. Maybe he would like to whisper in our ear, “I’m sorry that life is so messy…that the edges aren’t clear-cut and clean….that you can’t see your life from my perspective.” God does not cause those edges to be ‘messy’. There is a certain amount of chaos in the world…and sometimes we collide with that chaos no matter how careful we try to be…no matter how many good deeds we perform….no matter how hard we pray. It may not be possible to hear that “I’m sorry” or to feel the love that comes with it. It is good to be reminded that it IS there…in the whisper of the wind, in the constancy of the sunrise, in wise and empathetic words from a friend.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
JULY 22, 2016
Our soul waits for the Lord. Psalm 33:20
Time passing…it can have many emotions attached to it.
We used to have a grandfather wall clock that tick-tocked the day away and chimed on the hour and half hour. We got used to that sound and even found it soothing, especially for those afternoon naps we liked to sneak in on the weekend; wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket on the recliner, the tick-tocking lulling us into slumber. The chiming in the middle of the night was comforting too; half-awake we would hear the chime and sigh, and roll over, knowing it was only 3 or 5 in the morning and we had more time to rest. The clock got older, lost track of its own time (ha-ha) and could not be repaired; and I missed it for a long time.
Time passing…to slowly when we are anxiously awaiting for something to happen: waiting for doctor’s reports; waiting for the births of our children and grandchildren; waiting for family to come for a visit; waiting for that great vacation we planned to finally happen; waiting for spring; waiting for what we do not have.
Time passing…too quickly when we are wanting to cherish the moment: how did my grandchildren get so grown up…they were just babies yesterday. All the work and preparations for my daughter’s wedding days….and in a blink the day is over and we are cleaning up, and hauling decorations and gifts away before the crack of dawn. Too quickly when I look at the number of birthdays I have had!! How did I get to be just like my own Mom so fast!!
Time passing…we spend so much time looking forward and looking backward; but all the time we ever have is just this moment. Take a deep breath…pause…and enjoy the now. Try to let God set your pace.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
JULY 7, 2016
The 10th Triennial Gathering is coming in 2017! What images does that bring to mind? I think back to my first gathering in Charlotte in 2014. Lots of miles traveled (from North Dakota to North Carolina) with three fellow church women who have become dear friends, sharing experiences and laughter and stories and faith…and all that before we ever got to the GatheringJ And it got even better! Wonderful, inspiring speakers and projects and artwork and break-out sessions and group singing and worship sessions and documentaries and meeting the Bishop and so much more! And my favorite “Bless your hearts” in the lovely accent that I encountered in my southern sisters!
It was a journey of a people and a journey of women, a journey of faith, and an inner journey for myself. It was arriving to a new community…a community comprised of individual women. Collectively we were the 9th Triennial Gathering…individually we were 2,500 different women creating our own unique memories and experiences. It was public…and it was private. The travel was external…and internal. We were physically in a different place than before…and for myself, a new place spiritually. And that journey continues. Not in a straight line, but with peaks and valleys and curves…stop signs and sections with no speed limit.
As I think back to two years ago, I have an image of a funnel. At its wide mouth are women from hundreds and thousands of miles away…a diverse group united in their Lutheranism. We swirled together and intermingled and learned from each other as we spiraled through that funnel in a kaleidoscope of colors, sizes, shapes and ages. As we neared the narrow opening and the conclusion of our days together, we drew those new experiences into ourselves. And I asked myself these questions: How does this Gathering impact me? How does this Gathering change me? What will pour out from me and others? What will I carry home with me to continue this flow and energy?
The answer to that is different for each participant. It may have been an experience that moved mountains or gently jiggled us to new thoughts. It was an experience that moved my personal mountain. My heart and soul have opened a little wider and I listen a little harder to hear that spirit of God calling me to the plan and actions he sets before me. And that is the excitement of a Gathering. That is the longing to reconnect and rejuvenate and reawaken and to renew. All anew!
June 12, 2016
We Have Assembled! Living in God’s Abundance!
The Western ND Synod Assembly met June 9-10 with 285 voting delegates and 59 guests. Necessary business was conducted, of course, but the theme, ‘Living in God’s Abundance’, was captivating and cleverly woven throughout all of our time together. ‘Living in’ not that we are just to ‘get’ but that we are to ‘give’ in God’s Abundance! We do not possess abundance---God provides it for us to pass on! Our lives don’t just belong to us.
We met in large group worship and Bible study, in song with a live band, and there was even some dancing! We met in smaller group break-out sessions. We had even smaller group table discussions.
We drank coffee, we gathered for meals, and THE meal in communion.
We were asked to consider what our individual gifts and talents may be. What has God blessed us with for His use? We were reminded that to state that we do not have gifts or talents is to rob God of his power to gift us. That to claim a gift is not to boast about ourselves…but to proclaim who the Giver is. Having been presented with these ideas, we were then asked: what will we do? How will our gifts change our relationship with our family, our church, and our community? Do the gifts that we claim address the NEEDS of our family, church, and community? Next we took it one step wider…what are the gifts and talents of our congregation? Do those gifts meet the needs of our community? Have we discerned what the needs of our community are? Mind boggleing….at least to this mind.
The Assembly was challenging and reassuring. We are Lutheran. We are congregation, we are Synod, we are ELCA, we walk together. We are local…we are worldwide. It was affirming that this is the greater part of what Harvey First Lutheran Church belongs to. It was reaffirming that this is where I am supposed to be. I was reminded of a several quotes of our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaten, ‘We are not a social service agency with sacraments. We are church to the world. If it is the will of God that the church continues…then nothing in the world can stop it”.
I would encourage members of our congregation to participate in the next Assembly and to experience for themselves, the balance of business and spirit that the Synod provides. Details of the Assembly can be found at Western ND website.
May 24, 2016
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
I brake for squirrels.
I have to…they dart out in front of my car, with their fluffy long tails streaming behind them. They scamper and skip across the street, oblivious to the danger charging at them. Sometimes they stop and look right at me…right in the eye. And I am saying, ‘run, run…move out of the way, quickly, please…don’t hesitate right in front of my wheel!’
Someone had the nerve to tell me that squirrels are just rats with nicer tails. Really!? Well the dictionary does say that ‘squirrels are nimble, bushy-tailed rodents…found all over the world except Australia’. Ouch! Rodents! Those sweet looking, delicate little creatures with the big imploring eyes are cousins to disgusting, disease-carrying, rats! They might even have rat-like qualities under that innocent demure demeanor?
Hmnn….perhaps those squirrels appeal to me because I have more in common with them than I think. Maybe I recognize my own rat-like qualities when I see these creatures. Try as they might to look like something they aren’t, they are still rats? Try as I might to be something I’m not….I still have my own ‘rats’ to deal with. And I thought it was just coincidence that when those verses from Romans are to be read in church…it seems to always be my turn. And yes, I have said that ‘coincidence’ is just God trying to be anonymous.
So, OK little fuzzy squirrels. I get the message. If I can still love you knowing you are a rat at heart, maybe there is room for forgiveness and acceptance of my own rat-ness. Maybe God sees something lovely and redeemable in me, even when I act more like a rodent than a creature formed in God’s image. Amen.
May 10, 2016
Peace Be With You
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Have you ever had those moments when you should be stressed out…and you’re not? Or when you have a project that should over whelm you, and it doesn’t? It excites you. You check your caffeine levels for the day….and that can’t be it.
I’m not a Perpetual Pollyanna but neither am I a Debbie Downer. So where does this occasional
irrational feeling of peace and comfort come from? Can the God that has wired us to feel stress and pressure also wire us to allow his peace and comfort to enfold us like a warm fuzzy blanket on a cold dreary day? Despite the obvious obstacles that surround us, we feel like the eye of the hurricane instead of the wind whipped outer circles of the storm.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…all understanding….which, is still our limited human understanding. But maybe we don’t need to understand it to possess it. Maybe it is time to stop analyzing and just experience whatever comfort comes our way.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Not as the world gives…undeserved, unearned, no strings attached. Don’t expect to understand it yet…we are still ‘of the world’.
Gloomy day….Peace be with you
Gloomy heart…Peace be with you
Sunny day….Peace be with you
Cheerful heart…Peace be with you
April 19, 2016
Job 2:11 When Job’s three friends, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
And so…Job…come and sit with me awhile….
Have you ever felt like Job…had a particular string of ‘bad luck’. When whatever can go wrong has most certainly done so... Ugh! I think we have all gone through those trying times. It Is hard to trust that God can work some good out of whatever trouble I seem to find (or as my precocious Grand-daughter says “Grandma, trouble seems to follow me”). It’s not easy when you find yourself living in a Job-like time and place.
When Job’s life took a sorry turn and his troubles multiplied, his friends came and sat with him….just sat with him. At least the first seven days! Then they proceeded to ‘fix’ his situation and ‘fix’ him. Not much comfort in that….but I get the comfort in the ‘sitting’. I appreciated that recently. A friend from my earlier years, in another lifetime, met me for coffee. We shared similar experiences with family health issues over the last three years. She got it! She sat with me! She shared with me! We didn’t need to explain our feelings and frustrations and fears…we were in sync! And how amazingly comforting that was! My Job was a woman who had been there! She would not have had to utter a word…it was the being…the sitting…the NOT fixing, and the NOT trying to explain and justify, the NOT trivializing, that helped me the most!
I’m not out of the land of Job…yet. But how good to be reminded that I am not alone. God sent a skin-covered ‘angel’ from my past to ‘cross’ my path at a time when I needed it the most.
April 5, 2016
1 Corinthians 1:18
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
Cross Your Fingers
Have you ever felt a little silly, (foolish) for saying “keep your fingers crossed”? Have you ever wondered how that phrase came about? And what do we mean by that? I have…especially of late we (spouse and I) have been crossing our fingers a lot. Out of impulse… or habit…or to symbolize our wish for good luck and healing for Allen after his fall and breaking of several bones. And, of course, the ‘cross’ has been on our minds since his accident happened during Lent.
The expression, ‘cross your fingers’ has several meanings, courtesy of Wikipedia: “ it is used as a hand gesture to wish for luck; it is used as a gesture to excuse a white lie; it can mean to invalidate a promise that is being made; it is an attempt to implore God for protection.” Now the first three seem a little childish and immature. The last one smacks me upside the head…huh? Crossing your fingers to implore God? The first thing that pops up from my brain is Jesus feeling forsaken on the cross…crying out in desperation, feeling alone and forsaken, not receiving an answer. At least not in those last anguished moments of his life...not that we know of, and we humans do have a need to think we know everything! John’s Gospels tells us that Jesus last words were, ‘it is finished’, implying that although physically alone, Jesus acknowledges that his body and spirit have completed their earthly mission; he submits all that he is to his Father. The chapter after Jesus death will unfold…is still unfolding…in us…still under that power of the cross. We relive those scenes and messages during Lent.
And so, I keep my fingers crossed…not for luck, but for comfort. Those crossed fingers are the out-stretched limbs of Christ, spread out for me….and now, wrapped around me. And hanging beside me during whatever ‘crosses’ are sent my way.
Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
You have got to be kidding…dry bones….the author is talking about dry bones in my devotional for today? We have had enough bone talk at our house….my spouse battled gravity and cement and lost…two broken ribs, two breaks in his ulna, and one in his radius and bruises in every color of the rainbow.
I have written previously, that coincidence is God being anonymous…and I have also said that God has a sense of humor…but I’m not finding this funny, even in a dark humor kind of way. But my curiosity was piqued and I don’t know much about ‘dry bones’ other than the song, “Ezekiel cried ‘Those dry bones, oh, hear the word of the Lord.” “The wrist bone’s connected to the…elbow bone….argh!” (For a modern take, try out Gungor on You-tube) So off I go to Wikipedia and Bible Gateway, the sources of all knowledge.
In a nutshell, God’s people had been scattered across Babylon. Ezekiel, a Prophet, was brought to the Valley of Dry Bones, a site of a lost battle, where the dead soldier’s bodies had been left, unburied, unclean, unclaimed, bleaching in the sun. This valley was 1,300 feet below sea level, a ‘Death Valley’…you have to appreciate the imagery of this barren place, nearer to hell than the level land, not just figuratively, but literally. It may even have been the place of the destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah…pretty bleak. God asks the Prophet, “Son of man, can these bones live?” to which Ezekiel replies, “Lord, you alone know.”
OK, lots of stuff going on here. A Prophet, looking at loss and destruction, but still calmly telling God, that anything can happen. If God wants to make dry bones come back to life, he can. If God can form man from dust, he can make dry bones rise up. If God wants to re-unite Israel, he can. No matter how defeated and ‘dried up’ the chosen people feel, God can restore them. Instead of a cache’ of dry bones, God sees a field of possibilities.
God can re-focus my scattered thoughts during this stressful time if I can open my heart to that prospect. All the time? No way; I am too human for that…but maybe now and again, just enough to keep me going…..maybe not a whole day at a time, or a whole hour at a time, but minute by minute.
Ezekiel 37:3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live? I said, Lord, you alone know.”
March 15, 2016
The Tower of Babble is Re-building?
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
We recently spent some time in a large hospital in Chandler, AZ. Not the best place to spend time when you are supposed to be in the sun and on vacation. The hours wore on as we waited for this report and that report from various doctors and other professionals. All of the staff we encountered had several things in common: they were extremely polite (we have never been called ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ so often); they were all very kind and accommodating; they were all very patient with our frustrations; and they all genuinely displayed their care and concern.
What did they not have in common? Culture, ethnicity, religious practices, and native language. Sometimes we felt like we were at the United Nations Building! We forgot just how ‘white’ we were coming from small town North Dakota. We were definitely in the minority. Maybe that is why the different ‘colors’ I saw had an impact on me. And they were all working together and had respect for each other! Considering the racial stress we have had in our country, to see this displayed for several days was truly remarkable. Oh my! It is possible! What has been torn apart can be reconciled and rebuilt! Maybe this world is not such a crazy place after all!
Not to say that we mere mortals will once again try to build a tower that will reach ‘up to the heavens’ in another Babylonian empire because we are possessed with our own self-importance… but maybe a little piece (peace) of the ‘next kingdom’ can be built, like Jesus told us it should be….could be…would be.
February 28, 2016
I love a recent gift I got from my daughter. She knows I enjoy journaling and have found a creative outlet in writing down my thoughts and shaping them into reflections that I can share. The journal she gave me not only has space for writing, but includes a Bible verse on the bottom of each page. And even more special, each verse is personalized with my name! So I not only get the wisdom of the verse, but it literally is spoken to ME. 1 Peter 4:10 You should use whatever gift you have received from the Lord to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms becomes…. Karen, you should use whatever gift you have received….that is empowering!
The gift is precious to me because I know it was picked with care by someone who loves me. Whatever gift I have received from The Giver of All Things is also precious to me. Because that gift too was selected for me by the Creator who loves me. Loves me! Isaiah 43:1 Karen, I have summoned you by name; you are mine! And because he claims us, calls us, names us, loves us…he has given us the very best gift, the most costly gift, the only gift we need…his Son, Jesus Christ…John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever (you, me, us, even them, those people we don’t like very much) believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Try reading a few Bible verses this way…inserting your own name into the verse. Let the words settle around you and find some comfort and peace in their embrace.
February 15, 2016
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on you own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.
We were traveling across the state recently on somewhat icy roads. The two paved lanes of highway looked like dark ribbons…the dark of the road and the white of the icy strips wiggled and meandered to the east and got narrower and smaller as they faded into the landscape in the distance. Gusts of wind blew familiar white flakes across our path…sometimes, enough to slow us down. The landscape took on a blue cast as the sun began to set. The view was stark...the only color small, dark, green, numbered signs stuck in the ditch with snow up to their eyebrows—mile markers. We knew where we were going; we had traveled this way before, but it was still nice to see those numbered signs as the miles ticked by and we got closer to our destination.
How nice it would be if we could count on those signs as we take our life journey; to know for certain that we were on the right path, that the turns we take are indeed the ones that God intended for us. But the road ahead of us is hardly ever straight…there are lots of curves we don’t anticipate, road construction, dead-ends, pot-holes, cliché upon cliché …blah blah blah. And we wonder and doubt if this is where we are supposed to be or did we make a wrong turn somewhere? It is easier to look behind to where we have been, then to look ahead and be sure where we are going or how long it will take us to get there. At least in the short run…and our life here on earth is a short-run. Maybe I am wondering about that a little more than usual these days as I have made the decision to wind down my career. At least what has occupied my time for eight work hours each day for a lot of years. Maybe it’s time to decide what I want to be when I grow up?! …and that is a luxury. A luxury that I will have to trust to unfold as to what the next phase of my life should include. I will try to spend more time listening for what directions I should take…not easy for a type A personality. Trusting and listening, trusting and listening……
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have made for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
January 30, 2016
Philippians 2:4, “Look out for one another’s interest, not just your own”
The Amazing Race—its back!
This is one of my favorite ‘reality ‘shows! For those of you who may not be familiar with the show, 12 two person teams compete for one million dollars, racing against each other to far flung destinations around the world. Along the way they are given tasks to complete in order to get the clue for the next destination. It is not for the weak of heart or those with a couch potato lifestyle. It is mentally and physically demanding and you don’t walk it, you race it!
One of the reasons I am attracted to The Amazing Race, is the places the show visits. All those exotic locations! …places I will probably never venture to. And I can do it from my living room! And I get control of the remote!...you know that little, rectangular, black thing that is usually in the hands of the dominate male of the household.
The best and the worst comes out in those racing teams in times of triumph and defeat. Couples are broken and made. They bring out each other’s strengths, or they will probably face elimination. One thing I have noticed—when the couples are close to a finish line, and they are giving it their all, running as hard as they can—they usually are alone. One team member is far ahead of the other. Rarely do I see them clasp each other’s hands and physically and symbolically support each other and pull the weaker partner along with them. This doesn’t make sense to me, since both teammates have to hop onto the ‘finish rug’ together. They accomplish nothing by leaving their partner unaided while the stronger partner forges on ahead, and alone; they have to wait for their racing partner to cross the finish line anyway.
We aren’t meant to walk (race) alone. We were designed for fellowship. We are herd animals. We need each other and we need communion with each other. We are all on this journey, this race, this walk, this marathon of a life, together. It’s safer out there in numbers. There is support out there when two or more are gathered in His name. You learn from others when you ‘walk’ together. Someone might be able to point out that you are going in the wrong direction. It is good to reach out to a hand beside you that might need a little help and to be willing to reach out when you need help…reach out across and look up.
Ecclesiastes 4:12“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken”
January 11, 2016
9 God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. 10 This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.
I have long thought of the Big Bang Theory as one flick of God’s fingernail that sent the planets and everything under and above heaven spinning in his orbit. My web-dictionary, and it couldn’t be wrong, states that the Big Bang theory is: “In astronomy, a theory according to which the universe began billions of years ago in a single event, similar to an explosion.” Makes sense.
I have no problem with creation and evolution as all being part of his divine plan. That God continues to create….those first creatures (dinosaurs) were really just too clumsy to get around and they took up so much room! And the things they ate!
It is hard not to look up in the night sky with all those stars and the occasional display of Northern Lights and not wonder about all that He created...to connect the dots of the Big and Little Dippers… the bright glow of Venus…..And it all doesn’t revolve around us! It is movement outward and away...or is it?
Lately, I have entertained the thought, that maybe, instead of moving away, we are moving toward. That, maybe as God flicked that fingernail, and set us in motion, he also brought his hands together, and is waiting there, ready to catch us. And we continue our circular dance and just like a boomerang we will wind up right where we started…with our savior and creator.
Now to add to the playfulness, here is how my web dictionary concluded its definition of Big Bang: “Scientists have recently found that the expansion of the universe is actually speeding up. This effect is attributed to the presence of dark energy.” Interesting stuff. Creation. Light. Energy. Darkness. I wonder if the scientists realize they could be theologians. That as we speed up and feel the presence of darkness pushing, prodding, and pulling us….that we become even more aware of the need to be ‘caught’…the need for our safe place to fall. He is waiting for us.