Misc. Wednesday: Light

20160525_182836.jpgOk, so it’s time to get back into the swing of blogging. That’s my Advent project. Not sure what I’ll be writing since I’ve hit a bit of writer’s block these last few weeks. But blogging is back on.

To kick off my new found determination to keep on blogging, I give you my Associate Pastor article from the upcoming (it has yet to be published) December 2016 church newsletter:

A few weeks ago many of my neighbors celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali, the festival of lights. I saw many of my neighbors cleaning, I could smell the food, and twinkle lights of various colors adorned windows. One Saturday night I saw a family outside lighting sparklers, clearly enjoying the fun that comes with that holiday. As the evenings were growing darker, light was ever more vibrant.

I don’t know much about Diwali other than it’s the festival of lights that Hindus celebrate, though I like the idea of light in darkness. It reminded me of Advent, lighting candles and even turning on my own twinkle lights.

Once daylight savings hits the evenings come on faster. It’s dark when I head home and when I do shopping after work. When I pull up into my apartment campus, I see lights adorning windows from many who celebrated Diwali, or those preparing for Christmas, reminding all of us that light conquers darkness. I think that’s a message all of us need reminding of now more than ever.

With so much fear and anxiety our world seems to have lately, I think the world needs the reminder of hope, peace, love and joy. I think the world needs reminding of the light shining in the darkness and that darkness couldn’t contain the light. That’s what Advent is about, at least for me.

Yes, it’s the season of preparing and waiting for Jesus’ birth. Yes, it’s the reminder of God’s love to humanity. Yes, it’s lighting candles and hanging wreaths and reading Scripture and so on.

Advent is also about a light in the darkness. That’s why candles are lit. In fact, the first Sunday of Advent’s Scripture from Isaiah that says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9: 2). It’s a reminder that God’s light came into the world but also that fear and darkness shall not overcome the light.

I’m reminded of my niece who wailed at the top of her lungs because I forgot to turn on her turtle nightlight after I tucked her in. I’ve felt like that for a few days now – scared, frightened, full of fear. And yet, like my niece, my anxiety goes away once I’m reminded of the light, when I look up at the lights in the windows or when I’m reminded of Advent candles and twinkle Christmas lights that have popped up everyone after Halloween.

Things may seem dark and scary at the moment. I pray that the symbol of light that surrounds Advent and Christmas remind us that God’s hope, peace, love and joy surround us. I pray that all of us are reminded that God’s light will not be overtaken by the dark and that we are called to be that light in our uncertain world.

May God’s light surround you all this Advent, Christmas and New year.

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Tuesday Positives

Placeholder ImageOver the last few weeks I have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions. I’ve been trying to find the positives in life. Sadly, I’ve almost come up empty.

Last week my booty was kicked in more ways than one. And amidst my post-election depression and double duty pastoring, I’ve been trying to look out for the blessings that surround me. So…

Given that I’m on vacation, finally have a few positives to write down and reflect on, and finally have the time to write without pulling my hair out, I present to you The Positives of the last week or so.

Number 1: Presence is Everything – If there’s one thing I took away from my seminary education (aside from all that theology stuff) is that pastoral presence is everything. I learn this every time I visit the hospital or talk with someone going through something.

Two Fridays ago I got called to the hospital for a long old church member who was put on hospice that day. He and his family lean more to the Catholic side of things as of late but he grew up in my church. With the senior pastor away at the time, I was called in. I prayed with his family that he be guided by God’s love as he transitions to eternal life, that the family felt God’s love envelope them in this darkest of human moments. Then I sat with the family, this group of strangers I’d never met before.

Then last Monday (because you know, all of this happens when the senior pastor is away) I got called to the hospital by a church member’s daughter who was on life support and who was being taken off. Cancer sucks. I mean, no one should watch their loved one waste away, let along sit for hours on end as breathing slows and the mind heads elsewhere. I stayed with the mother and was simply there, allowing her to grieve and be angry and sad and concerned.

Needless to say, the man who’s bedside I was 2 weeks ago passed on a few days after I saw him and his service is today. The other, as far as I know, is slowly transitioning to eternal life. Presence is everything.

Number 2: Being An Aunt – Last Sunday I woke up early, preached, taught Confirmation then went home. Only to change clothes, grab clothes for the evening and drive up to my parent’s house an hour away. I totally dislike having my picture taken, but I did those family photos for Grandma and my mother. Plus, I got to play with my nieces and nephews, 2 of whom I see maybe once or twice a year. I helped my nieces put on their princess dresses when all was done. I held my nephew/Godson as he laughed and laughed. And I helped my other nephew add some more frosting and sprinkles to his plate and then proceeded to watch him eat it. I love being an aunt.

Then this past Saturday I spent all day with the niece and nephew I rarely see. I played Legos and watched my nephew carry around the car I made him. I heard him yelling, “Party time!” all evening after his sister declared that it was in fact party time. My niece and I played with Pez and all of us played with Grandpa’s Christmas train. Good times.

Number 3: Vacation – After a week of hospital visits, a difficult church meeting and week, I’m on vacation. Need I say more?

Number 4: Presents – Christmas shopping is almost complete! Wahoo! I have like 2 more gifts to get. Plus, I’ve started wrapping. So awesome to be ahead of the game as December is one of the busiest times for a pastor.

Number 5: The Youth – Time with the Confirmands. Normally the Confirmands and I actually do lessons after church. The last 2 Sundays our group has done an abbreviated lesson. Then we sat around and chatted for the rest of the hour. It’s so fun getting to know the youth.

Then this past Saturday I spent the morning with the youth as we helped with the Prairie Path and planting trees and such. The wind was howling, it was bitter cold and yet, somehow I had fun, despite not being able to feel my legs or feet. And then we went to breakfast, to which one of the children of the church came up to me the next day and said he saw me at the restaurant. Too funny. And good times.

There you have it…They don’t seem like a lot but these little things have made my day over the last week and half or so.

Thank you God for tiny blessings that make us smile and reflect.

 

Misc. Wednesday: Reflections

Placeholder ImageSo…I haven’t written in awhile. Mostly because I haven’t had the time, nor do I have much to say. Ok, that’s not true. I have stuff to say. I just don’t have anything nice to say, so I refrained from speaking.

This week has been tough, so tough in fact that when last Friday came around and I tried to find 5 positives, I came up empty. Where are the positives in the midst of fear, depression, anger and sadness? Where is the good? I’ve been wondering this all week.

Let’s back track…

Last Tuesday stunk. It was like Pepe Le Pew was all up in our business. Somehow our country elected someone unfit to hold the highest position in our country. (You know, pastors have to do psych exams and write papers and then go before folks to defend our theology. I wonder if presidents should do some of this too, or at the most, the psych exam.) On top that, this so called leader is a bully, abuser, pig-headed, misogynist, racist and more. A leader leads by example and this leader is leading us toward a world full of hate and fear.

I’m not sad or depressed over losing because frankly, I wasn’t 100% for Hillary. I am sad because fear and hate have taken over. I’m hearing things and reading reports about children telling other children to go back to where they came from, build the wall, hijabs being torn off. Bleh…When the youth of our country start acting this way, when they feel fear and anxiety, I cringe and feel even sadder at the loss of innocence.

After days of agonizing over what to say, I spent Saturday night writing my sermon after returning home from a day in Indiana. This was also after I ran all over creation on Friday: to the office, then my parent’s, mowed the lawn and picked up leaves, got called to the hospital for an old long-time-though-he-doesn’t-come-anymore member who was dying. I had nothing left to give for my sermon. It’s hard to find God among the pain and lack of hope. Yet, I did find the words. It was 10:30pm Saturday night but I found the words.

Sunday I preached about the level of fear that’s surrounding all of us and how according to the prophet Isaiah, God is creating new. Along those lines I said I’m not sure what that new thing is but I feel that it’s hope. There is hope out there and the best any of us can do is provide hope and love to all. This newness may not be seen and felt and shown in some tangible way but it’s there.

Before I stepped into the pulpit, I asked the children if they’ve ever been bullied, if they’ve experienced hate, if they’ve have fallen and hurt themselves. I asked who is usually there to care for them when those times happen. Many said Mom and Dad. Others said aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. One said God. I told our children that no matter, no matter who they are, or what they do, or what someone says about them – God loves them. Then I passed out stickers that said “God loves me.”

Perhaps the message many of us need to hear. One that’s full of God’s love and hope, a reminder that God’s world doesn’t include hate or fear.

At this point I’m still trying to figure things out when it comes to our new world order. My prayer is that God’s love and hope and grace and peace is somehow shown, even if it’s only by a few people.

No one should feel unloved. No one should live in fear. May all of us feel God’s loving embrace each and every day.

 

Sabbath Monday: on Tuesday w/ Rock the Vote

img_20161108_144802.jpgI started writing this blog entry yesterday but nothing felt quite right. I started talking about civic duty, voting with a conscience and heart. I started with my story of how I came to vote. I started on a rant against one of the worst presidential campaigns I’ve ever witnessed.

And then I closed up the computer and told myself to start again later.

I voted today. I walked into my voting area and walked into the voting booth. As I pulled up to my voting area I was almost in tears, mostly because this election has been SO tough. And even as I let my conscience and heart guide me, I’m still not sure I made the correct decision for our country.

But I also could not not vote. I needed to cast that ballot today.

Why?

Because I cannot let hate win. I cannot allow someone who has mocked and joked about people with disabilities become President. I cannot allow someone who openly degrades women, including his own daughter, to become President. I cannot allow someone who acts like a child by whining and throwing temper tantrums like my 3 year old niece to be President.

Instead today I voted for all of those minorities – African Americans, Latinos, LQBT and Transgender and countless others who are seeking a place to thrive and be who they are. I voted for the Muslim, Jew, Atheist and all who seek religious freedom. I voted for those in the path of violence so they may freely come to seek refuge within our borders. I voted for families of service men and women who deserve better treatment and who know the meaning of the Purple Heart. I voted for the rights of women, who should not only be receiving equal pay but should also have complete control over our bodies without punishment. I voted for the idea of better healthcare for those who need it. I voted to keep America this wonderful, beautiful melting pot that it is, with all its messiness and diversity.

Now, I’m not saying I agree with the other candidate. In fact, that’s part of why it was so hard to cast a vote today. Unlike many of my fellow friends and colleagues I’m not 100% sure of the candidate and I wasn’t crying because I cast my ballot for a female President. In fact, I’m not sure either candidate is worthy to be called President. However, the few things I do not like in said candidate I can live with. I can look past some of her ideas and missteps because frankly, she’s human. And she’s taken it all in grace and stride, which well, the other guy hasn’t. She gets called out on something and she moves forward. The other guy has a fit and begins blaming other people. Yeah, cuz that’s what we need when negotiating a big plan. Plus, the other guys stuff I cannot and will not live with. So if I had to choose, which today I did, I am with her.

It’s hard to be a pastor and to not allow your faith to interfere with politics. No one likes the itinerant pastor preaching fire and brimstone form the pulpit on why to vote this way and not that way. I’ve refrained from posting anything on social media about my political views, though most know I’m as liberal as they come.

Yet, I find more and more of the Gospel in this mudslinging election. I seriously almost had a What Would Jesus Do? moment in the voting booth because ultimately the way I view the world stems from my faith. I voted for all those reasons I listed above because that’s what Jesus would have done, that’s what he taught. He fought against bullies and the abuse of Rome. Jesus stood up for the oppressed and weak. And so I voted to keep the hate out of power because my faith tells me that all are welcome in God’s kingdom, that all are wonderfully and messily created. And I voted because our founding fathers started this country on an idea that all may live without tyranny, where all are welcome to worship as they see fit, where all at welcome to free speech and to the idea of a better life. I’m not saying there weren’t mistakes along the way. There were. But the idea of a country that’s run with so much hate, fear and bigotry is not what I’m assuming our founding fathers had in mind.

At this point in the evening, you all have probably casted your vote. I hope you did. I hope you got out and rocked the vote to tell the country that we will not be bullied or abused. And if not, find out when your polls close and get it done.

Now we wait to see if our country will move forward or backwards. Will love trump hate.

The one and only time I will blend God and country is in one simple prayer that I have been saying all day, even as I walked into the voting booth: God, please shine your presence on this country in its more direst of times. Help and guide us to do what is right.  Amen.

 

 

Friday 5: November Positives

img_20161103_002310.jpgMonday night I wrote a post about focusing on the positives. I mentioned a few instances recently at church and how in a span of a week, 2 people told me to focus on the good. I’ve got a Positive Box craft in my back of my head, a place to collect all those positive cards, notes, letters, etc…One day I’ll organize it.

Anywho, for the month of November I usually like to remind myself of all my blessings and give thanks for said blessings. Instead, this November I’m focusing on the positives and giving thanks for them. Each Friday 5 will have 5 positives from the week throughout the month, beginning today:

Number 1: Clean Office – I don’t like clutter or disorganization but it doesn’t bug me enough to stop me from working. I’m not that OCD. In fact, more often the clutter is good. (Wasn’t there a study done recently about those who are disorganized (sometimes me), night owls (me) and swear (also me) tend to be more intelligent? Just saying.) However, my office at church was a mess. My spider plant had sprouted buds that fell off, the mission trip stuff has sat in the same spot since July, not mention the books, papers and more that surrounded my desk. Tuesday I took the afternoon to clean. It’s not 100% organized but it’s better, meaning I can see the floor.

Number 2: Aunt’s Are Awesome: Wednesday morning I received an email from my aunt with a few points to file away in my Positive Box. I almost cried. I’m so thankful to have her and my uncle in my life. I hope I can emulate what I’ve learned from them to my nieces and nephews.

Number 3: Cubs win the World Series! Need I say more?

Number 4: Note From A Church Member: I’ve had some disappointment in one of our mission groups over some miscommunication. Both sides are at fault. I assumed something based on previous conversations. They group assumed something else. And yet the chair of the group emailed me about the issue. I replied, “All is well.” Then she replied with how much the “little things” in worship on Sunday made her feel happy, how she enjoyed the sermon and worship in general, especially the silent prayer, which is new to worship. I don’t often hear positives about worship besides, “Nice job” so this little note made my day.

Number 5: The Cubs won the World Series! Ok, so it’s a repeat positive. But it’s a huge moment for this Cub fan. Plus I got some Christmas shopping done thanks to the win and maybe a few things for myself. Thank you God for online shopping and the wonderful convenience of shopping at 10:30pm in my pjs.

What are your positives of the week? What are the things you’re most thankful for?

Thank you God for all the little things in life that make us smile. Thank you for reminding us of all the good and the blessings You provide for us. Amen.

 

The Day After: Fly The W!

img_20161103_002310.jpgA long, long time ago (1998) in a dorm at Valparaiso University, I met Tracy. She lived across the hall from me and was the first person I met upon arriving at Valpo. Tracy walked into my room and asked if that was the Backstreet Boys I was listening to. Yes, yes it was.

Quickly she and I became friends. Quickly Tracy introduced me to the Chicago Cubs.

I’ve been to games with my brother-in-law and sister, my brother, other friends. I’ve sat in the right field bleachers and watched the antics of Soriano during the game. He was fun to watch. I’ve headed from Wrigley Field to across the street and a very crowded Cubby Bear for more drinks following the game, either cheering because we won or drowning our sorrows in loss. I’ve been burnt to a crisp, with racoon eyes, while sitting in the bleachers. I’ve sat behind home plate, in 90+ degree humid weather at Tiger Stadium while the Detroit Tigers took on the Cubs. My sister wore her Tiger ears the entire game, showing love for both Detroit and Chicago.

That time I went into the Cubs locker room.

That time I went into the Cubs locker room.

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Over the years I’ve seen good games and bad. I’ve left Wrigley early or switched channels. This year I didn’t watch a ton of games. I don’t know why. Ok, I do know. I prefer to watch the games live, to be there in the crowd. TV baseball games take forever! It is good background noise while you’re cleaning though.

Last night I sat/paced in anxious anticipation and watched the Cubs win the World Series. I paced, stressed ate at 10pm, and switched channels. I even turned the sound down and read for awhile. I couldn’t take the suspense. Then in the 10th, Bryant threw that ball to Rizzo for the final out and BAM! Cubs won the World Series, the first since 1908. I cried. Like my niece I sat too close to the TV and watched Rizzo, Lester, Bryant and others celebrate. I watched as the trophy was handed to the team and the MVP to Zobrist. I texted friends who were also celebrating. And I cried.

Cub fans are always saying, “Next year.” There’s this faith and devotion and dedication that comes with being a Cubs fan. I can’t explain it. I can only feel it.

Remember my post about Linus last week? The one about having this incredible, never-ending, child-like faith in something? Being a Cubs’ fan is like that. It’s hoping and wishing and believing in something with all your being. This type of faith is like Linus who’s so wrapped up in the Great Pumpkin that he faints when he thinks the G.P. has arrived. That’s what every Cub fan did last night…after our hearts started pumping again.

fb_img_1478183666976.jpgI knew the Cubs would one day do this. I just never thought I’d live to see it. Now I can’t wait to tell my nieces and nephews about the Cubs. I can’t until they are old enough to be at Wrigley Field with me. I can’t wait to explain to them how this team went years without a win, went years with nothing but hope that one day they would be on top.

As Eddie Vedder sang, “Someday we’ll go all the way, Yeah! Someday we’ll go all the way!”

Someday is here and now. Congrats Cubs!

Misc. Wednesday: Assumptions

Placeholder ImageYou know the phrase “Don’t assume something because it makes an ass out of you and me”? I didn’t understand it until I got older but it’s true.

I hate assumptions, for a lot of what that phrase above implies. When someone assumes something it could potentially lead to damaging effects, miscommunication and more.

Assumptions make an ass out of you and me. And I hate that. Not so much the looking like a fool, but more about not knowing what’s going on.

I’m guilty of placing assumptions. I’m not perfect. However, my detail oriented brain will usually follow up with the details once I know, therefore negating the assumptions. However…

People in the church assume a lot sometimes. They assume this is done or that is done. They ask me about it on Sunday morning, which is the worst time to confront me. I usually direct them to wait until Tuesday when I get back into the office and can take a further look. Or I tell them I wish I had known sooner because I can’t assume anything. I can’t assume so-and-so is in the hospital if I’m not told. I don’t have telepathy or ESP. I’m not Professor X here people. (The result is usually with folks upset but I can’t  and won’t assume something. At most I’ll try to fix it later.)

I can shrug whatever happened, go to my happy place of a beer and scrapbooking and forget about it. Or I can complain to friends and colleagues. And that’s only work…

Family assumptions are different.

I can’t tell you how many times my family has assumed something on me. I’ve made assumptions on them as well, though I’m usually on the other end of the assumptions. Plans are made and I’m the last one to find out. When I tell them I have to work or have other plans, the look is full of befuddlement: “Why? You’re single and without children. It’s all planned. Don’t you want to spend time with the family.” I love my family dearly but this drives me crazy.

I get upset over the assumptions and feeling left out. I get upset that no one bothers to ask me or include me in whatever it is. I get upset because I want to be at said dinner or the zoo or whatever. I want to spend time with my family. But when plans move at warp speed and I can’t be there because I wasn’t brought  in to the initial conversation, I’m left upset and angry and alone.

What upsets me the most is that some in the family have the mindset that since I’m single, it’s easier for me to rearrange my schedule. Ok, maybe it is. Though, why should I be the one to rearrange things? Why should I be the one every one assumes will be around and then sometimes, not often because I’ve usually gone to hell and back to move something, the family gets upset that I can’t do something? Ugh…

Oh! I also love the one where information is sent down through someone, say my Mom, from my siblings. But Mom isn’t even sure of the plans. Love it. Or the “I thinks”: I think we’re doing this or I think the plan is to do this. What kind of forked up response is that? Then it’s your responsibility to send me an email, text, carrier pigeon or whatever when the “I think” goes away and the details are finished. I’m not going to assume that your “I think” statement that comes from you or from Mom is the final answer or plan. I do it for you. I send the details and stuff when I know officially what’s going on. The least you can do is the same for me. That’s all I’m asking. It’s called respect folks.

And the family wonders why I get upset. (Granted, I need to learn how to better respond. But still…)

I’ve confronted my parents about this and thankfully it’s gotten better with them. For the most part. There have still been moments.

I don’t mean to sound harsh. I’m annoyed because assumptions are all around evil in my opinion, which is based on how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of them. Why is it so difficult to confirm plans or include someone in the plan making?

My point: Don’t assume that I know things. Don’t assume that because I’m single that I will drop my original plans to be there. Don’t assume that it’s alright for me to find out details last. Don’t assume that I will take vacation from my job to be at a family dinner. (I actually had a family member say that to me…I almost lost it.)

Bottom line: Don’t assume. Period. Assuming things leads to all kinds of trouble.