Friday Thoughts: Dark Places

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
~ Romans 6: 4

cropped-alternate-sidebar1.jpgDeath sucks. There, I said it.

Death hurts and it’s messy and ugly and painful, so utterly painful. Death isn’t supposed to be easy.

As a pastor, I have sat at too many bedsides with grieving families as their loved one entered new life. I have led memorial services and funerals, co-leading with my colleague and also flying solo.  I’ve stood at caskets and said prayers of comfort and hugged and even cried as I reminded everyone about God’s love and promise of new life.

As a pastor, I’m supposed to be the one with the words of comfort. I’m supposed to be the face of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the voice of faith. It’s never easy to tell someone their loved one is in a better place, in a new life with God. To remind the grieving that death isn’t the end, but the beginning to something even better. I’m called in to be a presence of God in the darkest of moments. It’s truly a blessing and also one I struggle with.

Then, there’s me as a person (because pastors are in fact human). I have lost grandparents and friends over the years. Each time sinking me into a dark place. As strong as I am as a pastor for others, I find little comfort from fellow clergy who tell me the same words I say to people during those times of loss. I find little comfort in people who tell me they are there for me or ask if I need anything. I find little comfort in people reminding me about new life in Christ, even though I know that’s what I believe. Bleh.

You know what I need in those moments? Those moments I’m grieving? To be alone. To grieve on my own. To yell and be angry at God because even though I know what Scripture tells me, even though I know my loved one is going to a better place, I want them here. And if you can’t let me be alone to grieve on my own, then find a bottle of rum and help me drink.

Kidding.

Sort of.

My faith tells me one thing. My theology tells me the same thing.

My heart tells me otherwise.

I think the hardest part about death is knowing that person is no longer with us here. Yes, they are going to a new life. Yes, that place is grand. Call it heaven or whatever, it will be spectacular. But it’s the losing of the human, physical form that’s the hardest for us the living. All that’s left for us is memories. Though, let’s be honest, what we really want is to sit and have coffee with that person, to laugh with them, to hear their voice and be with the person we miss.

One day we will be reunited with those who have gone on to new life. I have no idea what the afterlife will be like – fluffy clouds or a projection of what life was like on earth. No clue. Until that day, all I or any of us can do is grieve and move on, cherishing the moments on earth we do have and celebrate knowing that one day we will enter a new life.

It sucks to lose someone we love, to know they will never be physically here with us again.

Whatever our faith tells us, whatever our head or our hearts tells us, death is a part of life. And it hurts.

But…

God is with us in those darkest of moments when it feels as if we can’t go on living, when the pain of losing someone we love hurts so much. God reminds us that there is new life.

And that’s about the only comfort  I can handle in those dark moments.

God, be with us in the darkest of human moments. Help us to grieve and allow us to grieve in what is fitting for us. Allow us to yell and scream, cry and sink into despair. But also be with us, lifting us and reminding us that death isn’t the end – it’s the beginning. It may be difficult for us to hear, but constantly remind us that death’s sting is but a moment. New life in Christ, in You, remains forever. Amen.

 

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Sabbath Monday: Voice Matters

img_20161108_144802.jpgI found an article by Seth Millstein, who wrote an excellent article for Bustle.com called, What To Tell People Who Say You Have To Accept Donald Trump’s Presidency Now. (click the italics for the link)

Read it. It’s good.

The article got me thinking…

Much of what I’ve been feeling was summed up in that article. Much of what has been going through my head was neatly explained in those few words by Millstein.

And because I believe I have a voice, here’s my take:

The minute I turned 18 I registered to vote, not out of a sense of obligation but a sense of pride.

I wanted my voice heard.

I wanted to make sure that my vote counted and that the person I felt was right for the job got elected. I voted with a conscience, allowing my faith and my heart to guide me in the voting booth.

The same is true now.

This last election was hard on everyone. Mom and I yelled at the TV a few times during debates. I still have a hard time stomaching some Facebook posts from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named supporters.

However, I honestly had a hard time voting for Hillary, for a whole bunch of reasons (not email-gate). I also had a hard time voting for Bernie in the prelims, just so you know. I didn’t feel any of the candidates were worthy to be called POTUS. Though I couldn’t vote for bigotry. I couldn’t vote for a child, who can’t handle criticism. I couldn’t vote for hate and fear and ugliness. Call me crazy, but I couldn’t.

On Election night, I wept and not because my candidate lost. I wept because the whole country lost. I wept for my sisters across this country, for African Americans and Muslims and my LGBTQ friends. I wept because fear and hate and backwards thinking took over.

Fast forward to January, 2017. The 45th president has been inaugurated. And I accept this.

I accept that a new regime sits on Capital Hill and in the White House. But that doesn’t mean I’m alright with it. That doesn’t mean I accept their agendas.

This is why my sisters and brothers marched in Washington DC and Chicago and all over the world on Saturday. Because none of us are okay with this, though we accept the new president. He’s just not my president. And as Millstein and others have reminded us: our country is a democracy, so I can voice this.

I can voice that bigotry is not alright. I can voice that lying is not cool (alternative facts? really?). I can voice that women have the right to their own bodies. I can voice that a cabinet filled with men seeking their own agendas is not acceptable. I can voice that a woman who doesn’t understand education shouldn’t be sitting as head of the Department of Education. I can voice that banning Muslims is unacceptable. I can voice that fear and hate cause more problems than good. I can voice that putting up a wall is deplorable and down right uncalled for. I can voice that repealing a healthcare act before coming up with something better, therefore causing millions to suffer, is not okay. I can voice that the LGBTQ community doesn’t need conversion therapy, but rather love.

I can voice.

I have a voice.

My voice is powerful. Your voice is powerful. And we should use it.

I couldn’t march on Saturday with the thousands of women and men in Chicago. I wanted to but I couldn’t.

I wanted to march because my voice matters.

Again, I’ve accepted the fact that the new president is in office and lives in the White House. But that doesn’t mean I accept his agenda. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with his policies that send us backward, instead of forward. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with allowing other men to control my body. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with building walls and bigotry and hate and racism.

That doesn’t mean…Ugh…I can feel my soapbox getting a work out…

You get my point.

As a clergy woman, I’m careful with what I say and do politically. Though there are times, like now, that I need my voice heard. And I’ll be careful as to how that plays out. But I’m also a citizen and I will never be alright with the new POTUS or his VP. As long as evil is control, I will continue to voice and stand up for what I believe is right. I will buy Kellogg’s cereal at full price because they stood up against hate. I will make it known that all immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and more are welcome and loved. I will make sure that my sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ family are loved and safe. I will stand in the pulpit and preach a message of love, welcoming, good, and an end to hate.

I will Accept and Resist.

To all who think I should get over it and accept the state of things: Duh! I have.

So go ahead, call me names. I don’t care. Sticks and stones, baby.

But don’t tell me to get over it because I lost the election. Don’t tell me to be quiet or to stop marching or stop using my voice. And don’t call me a snowflake. I’m from Chicago. I know what snowflakes do.

Use your voice to talk to me, not at me.

Because for the next 4 years, I will use my voice to end hate and fear, to stand up for equality and against division.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Embrace, Part 2

0102172301.jpgOk, so my feeble attempt at embracing blogging in 2017 has completely failed. Go me.

However, if there is one thing I have learned (and there are many) since beginning my One Little Word project is that you don’t always have to be “on” or perfect or whatever. Creativity comes in shifts. So does time. And sometimes one simply needs to embrace not accomplishing something for the sake of self-care or whatever.

In fact, this lesson is exactly what I needed to hear and embrace, though it’s only the first lesson learned. And we’re only 18 days in to the new year.

Who needs therapy when you’ve got OLW?

But back up and refresh…

In my last post I talked about my One Little Word project for 2017. Since then I’ve done some preliminary work on my first entry into my book, though up until yesterday, nothing permanent. I’ve had my word stuck in the back of head. There have been times where I’ve been all, “This is totally a moment of embrace!” And there have been times of, “What the fork? Really? Embrace my butt.” I’m sad to say I’ve had more of those moments than the first one, especially lately with embracing for impact at losing a loved one.

Before I get any further: Quick vocab lesson: Embrace (the noun) means: “a close encircling with the arms and pressure to the chest, especially as a sign of affection (like a hug)” or “grip, encirclement” or “acceptance.” I chose the noun define, even though embrace is actually more of a verb. I like that’s so flexible in its definition.

Basically embrace means to enfold and enclose. It’s all touchy, feely and I don’t do touchy, feely. Plus, it means acceptance, such as embracing a new project.

You know, I feel as if God is trying to tell me something.

Part of this OLW journey is self-reflection, which goes with that touchy, feely stuff. I put off working on my OLW book, which I realized yesterday that it wasn’t because I didn’t know what I wanted to write or didn’t have the time. It was because I was afraid. I was afraid to put into words things I needed to hear, like embracing not being perfect or embracing the fear. All of which went into my reflections, permanently on my page in black and white finally.

So, lesson 2 learned – I need to accept and embrace that this isn’t going to be an easy scrapbook, journal project.

Part of this process is finding a quote to go with my word. I’ve searched many quotes via Pinterest and found ones that were deeply profound and philosophical. I’ve found ones that simple read, “Embrace the chaos.” Or my personal favorite, “Embrace the suck.”

Yet, the one I keep coming back to is one from author Elizabeth Gilbert:

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.”

And because that’s not enough, God wanted to also get the message across to me another way: in worship at an African-American United Church of Christ church on the south side of Chicago, where the pastor reminded us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God created us all in God’s image – black, white, gay, trans, straight, purple, whatever – we are fearfully made.

Ok, so there was more to the message because it was MLK Sunday but to hear my African American colleague belt out that I am in fact, fearfully made by God, well, damn.

I am fearfully made by God. You are fearfully made by God. In God’s image, whatever that image may be. It’s messy and complicated and fun and challenging. It’s meant to shake us and cause us to tremor. There’s fear and joy and this idea that sometimes all we can do is embrace who we are and find a sense of wholeness for what fits us best, knowing full well it’s not going to be perfect.

Embracing this idea of becoming my best self, whatever that may be, is difficult.

So, lesson 3 learned. Again, it’s only January 18!

I’m sure I’ll learn more over coming weeks. I’ll find more about embracing myself and those things I need to overcome, or perhaps hug tightly. But I love that my word has taken me to places I wouldn’t have thought of, places that have existed in plain sight but ones I missed.

Seriously, if God isn’t trying to tell me something, then there’s a problem.

If you chose a word to focus on this year, I hope it’s embracing you. I hope it’s shaking you and challenging you and making you see things in new ways. Though I hope that it is also occurring with a lot of grace and love, because let’s face it – we are our own worst critics. Take care knowing you’re not alone in the struggle. The path to wholeness and peace is often met on rocky ground. But those bumps do eventually lead to wholeness and peace, so there is a silver lining.

 

 

Sabbath Monday: Embrace, Part 1

0102172301.jpgI’ve been reflecting back on the last few weeks, wondering if hope, peace, joy and love will actually continue and not get boxed up with all the Christmas decorations or put to the curb with all the wrapping paper garbage. I’ve witnessed moments that have brought me hope and joy, moments of peace and lots of love.

Now usually this is the time of year to reflect back. I had all these intentions of finally writing down my thoughts on love and Christmas and New Year and spending time with family and yada, yada, yada. And yet, I wonder if all the busyness of the season, plus my coughing fits, were an act of fate, that instead of focusing on the past I’m meant to focus on embracing the new.

And so, I’m holding onto my reflections of the last few weeks, the things I meant to blog about during my week vacation. In its place, I’m embracing a new project head on…

I love to scrapbook and put memories from trips and events in order. It’s no surprise that a friend got me tuned into Ali Edwards. She’s a photographer, memory keeper, scrapbooker and blogger. Ali also holds online classes and does various projects, all geared towards capturing the moments in our lives. I instantly fell in love with her style, photos and the way she approaches being creative. (FYI, you can find Ali’s blog and such here: http://aliedwards.com/ or find her on Facebook and social media.)

Beginning in January every year, Ali does a project called One Little Word or OLW for short (not to be confused with OWL). Basically OLW works like this:

  • You pick a word to focus on throughout the year.
  • You purchase the materials you think you might need (if you want).
  • Sign up for Ali’s online class where she provides pointers and tips, access to a bunch of materials and more.
  • Take photos and begin to journal, capturing where you’ve seen your word in your life.
  • Finally, assemble your One Little Word each month with assistance from Ali’s prompts.

I’m signed up and ready to go. Materials are here and I have my first assignment: Pick a word.

Do you have any idea how difficult picking a word to focus on for an entire year actually is? I started a list: peace, joy, happiness, love, thrive, focus, breathe, encounter, explore, and the list goes on.

Finally, it hit me – Embrace. That’s my word.

I sat up late at night when I should have been sleeping and wrote out one of those diagrams – Embrace in the middle with lines protruding from the word circle. Then more words surrounding it: Embrace – family, love, joy, contentment, God, peace, and I kept going. I think I have close to 20 or more sub-words. Now I’m even more excited to begin my One Little Word project in 2017.

Since I started thinking about Ali’s January prompt and spent way to much time on Pinterest searching my word, I’ve found that embrace is changing focus. And I love it. I’m working on reflecting and it’s taking me to other places. Don’t worry, Readers, you’ll be hearing more.

This new year, I encourage you to take a word and make it your own, even if you’re not a scrapbooker or into journaling or photographer. Simply take a word and focus on it for the entire year. What word might you focus on and embrace, allowing yourself to find the unexpected in your life?

If you do choose word, make it known. Put it on a post-it note and tape it to a mirror, allowing you to look at it every day. Or perhaps as a family, you come up with one word together and create a poster for the refrigerator, every night discussing where the word popped up that day. Or you simply keep the word in your heart. Or maybe you do something creative with it. It doesn’t matter because it’s your word.

Whatever new year practice you decide on, I hope it rocks and allows you experience something you’ve never experienced before.