Some school children in Edmond, Oklahoma wrote these notes to be put in a disaster relief box given out by Feed The Children this week. Words to live by:
This week I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s latest: Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s a book about three essential prayers that Lamott says are necessary for all of us to go back to over and over again. Saying to God, “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!”
The first two sections were typical Anne Lamott good– honest, raw, and real. So real that her words make you want to figure out how to write like this in your own voice.
But the third section has captured my attention in way that I think we don’t talk about enough as people of faith: Wow!
Lamott writes: “The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace.”
And when you put it like this, I don’t think we don’t know how to say wow. Sure, it’s a simple enough word, but I can’t think of the last time I heard it in a conversation.
Maybe it is because we don’t know how to stop.
Maybe it is because speechlessness as a prayer doesn’t seem to equate to “real” prayer in our minds.
Maybe it is because we are people who like to rush on through to the next project, the next meal, the next adventure that we keep our eyes shut to “Wow” most of the time.
This week as I’ve been traveling with the team from Feed The Children in Guatemala, there have been a lot of wow moments.
The children getting a book for the first time.
The smiles of the mothers.
The birds (and flying beatles) waking us up in the morning at sunrise.
As we’ve been thrust out of our normal day-to-day routines saturated in the beauty of a country with lush hills and valleys, colorful clothes and flavorful foods, it is much easier to say wow. Especially as we’ve served meals to children with the sparkle of gratitude in their eyes for a simple plate full of tamales, rice and beans, you just can’t help but smile in wow!
But I don’t think you have to go out of the country or into a new experience to have a “wow” moment or to offer up a “wow” prayer. Such opportunities are all around us, I believe.
Our children learning to say please.
Waking up before our alarm goes off.
An unexpected invitation to dinner.
A card of thanksgiving.
What about you? what is making you say “Wow” where you are today? Here’s some photos of mine.
Last week, I was having lunch with a friend who I’d hadn’t seen in years. As we were catching up on life’s ups and downs, she stopped the conversation to make a bold statement: “I’m tired of being a spiritual guide for everyone else.”
My friend, a veteran minister with a thriving campus ministry under her leadership was speaking to the weariness that had become her own life. She went on, “There are times when I have to remind myself that I’m not just a spiritual tour guide, helping others creating meaningful experiences with God when I don’t allow myself to stop and have some of my own.” She then told me about the things she’s recently added and subtracted from her schedule to make this possible– growing in her own faith journey again.
I was convicted and encouraged by her honesty of this friend, especially as I’m now in month #4 of my own sabbatical from playing the role of “spiritual tour guide” for a congregation.
Don’t get me wrong– the role, the privilege and the opportunities that come when others entrust you to lead and guide their faith– is a high and wonderful calling. It’s a blessing to those of us who have found or do find ourselves in this role in our communities. And, being a “tour guide” is never a completely serving only others activity. For there is much to learn as you abide in the deep waters of relationship with others.
But, should this be a role we are in for life? Many ministers I know, think so. But, I’m just not sure.
We’ve all got to take time outs.
I know that what I’m suggesting is nothing profound– for there are entire centers, book series and support groups of all kinds that encourage personal well-being for those in serving roles such as ministers. Clergy-care is something seminary folks and denominational folks, and foundation folks like to talk about, give money to support and even set up conferences to encourage.
But, the simplicity of my friend’s statement: “I want to create spiritual experiences for myself” I think really gets at the heart of what the conversation is missing. And, that is the point of clergy care.
As a pastor, I remember going to conferences where it would be preached to me to :
spend time alone with God every day outside of sermon prep,
put my family above the church as much as I could,
take all of my vacation
never miss a day off (the deadly sin of clergy care!).
I did these things as a pastor (well, a lot of these things). I was proud to take all my vacation and visit a spiritual director once a month and even dream with the leadership about a Sabbatical at some point (funny how I got one sooner than we all would have thought!).
But, even in doing these things, I have to tell you I missed the point.
I never got around to creating spiritual experiences for myself. I never saw myself outside of the role of pastor (a.k.a. spiritual tour guide for others). I rarely made it a priority to position my life to let God speak to me without it having something to do with a Bible Study I needed to lead or a sermon I need to preach. I did the best I could. I know that. And, after all, I had a job to do with deadlines and people who “needed me.” I was paid to lead.
Yet, now where I sit now as a disciple of Jesus without tour group, I have to say I’m learning much in this tour group of one.
I’m learning how much I liked my title and role at the church– though I know now how little such impressed Jesus or made me a “better” or more “faithful” Christian than anyone else.
I’m learning much about prayer– that the Holy truly wants to abide with me in everyday life, not just the parts I think are holy.
I’m learning much about community– that “church” can happen very often outside the walls of any building.
I’m learning how to be supportive to my former clergy colleagues– even when it means playing the part of “Judas” at the last-minute at a Maundy Thursday service (yes, this really happened for this friend).
I know I won’t be in this space forever. But, for now, I continue to be grateful for it. I know that even in the uncertainty of what each day ahead holds, I’m still ok as a tour guide in an time-out.
Most if not all were minorities.
Many were elderly, walking with canes or walkers.
Many were young mothers with babies in strollers or in car seats.
Many looked cold after standing in line for three or more hours simply to make it to the front of the line.
Many spoke of their long journey home, taking two or more buses to get back to their doorstep.
Most looked weary with the burdens of a hard life– a life that had a lot to do with self-reliance, determination and perseverance to succeed even under less than desirable circumstances.
These were some of my hungry neighbors in the northeast neighborhood of Washington, DC. They gathered in mass nearby the Central Union Mission because they heard Feed The Children came to town with “the big truck.” Feed The Children came with boxes of essential can goods, personal care products such as soap and toothpaste, and loaves of bread, oatmeal, and even some chocolate for the way home from its partners including Pepsi, Frito Lay and Wal-Mart.
As I gathered with my neighbors and stood in the line of folks giving out boxes to families in need, I couldn’t help be overwhelmed by how deeply embedded hunger needs are, only a few miles from our nation’s capital.
Can you imagine what a line of 800 people looks like? (As soon as we thought we’d made headway in passing boxes out, the line seemed to get longer and longer). Can you imagine what it is like to be hungry enough to wait in the cold for a box of food which might only last you a week? Can you imagine the humility that comes from asking for help to simply feed your own children?
As I helped elderly women and young mothers put their canned goods and Corn Flakes into their suitcases or duffel bags, wishing them well on their journey to get all their heavy weight home, I could help but think about what Jesus would say about all of this.
How in a nation of plenty do we allow some of our neighbors to live with such little when many of us take so much?
How do the poor, in a town where media coverage runs on just about anything, become invisible to us?
How do we call ourselves good neighbors, as residents and frequent visitors to the District when some of our neighbors simply do not have enough food to feed our families?
Of course, these are big questions to ask and big questions without simple answers. And, the folks at Feed The Children know that food is only the beginning– you feed hungry people so that doors of greater relationship can be opened for lasting change. Feed The Children just is a small drop in the larger assistance movement in communities. Feed The Children’s food drop’s like today mean little if they aren’t connected to greater, long-term investment by partner organizations. And Feed The Children’s network of building lasting change with in communities like DC is certainly growing by the day. Today was more than about just food– Feed The Children made sure of this.
As I reflect tonight on my experience today at this event, I am sobered most of all. I know I need to think of my neighbors– all of them– in new ways. I need to remember as much as I have, there are those who struggle in my own neighborhood to buy vegetables and shampoo.
Maybe for all of us on this Holy Week as we stand around in the crowds, watching and waiting for and with Jesus– we can all do our part by remembering the poor among us. We can thank God for the blessings in our life, both great and small. Yet, we can remember that no matter how wide we think our vision is in our community, there’s always hungry folks among us wanting to be seen and feed too.
Sometimes of late, I look around at my life and don’t recognize myself.
Situations that used to make me anxious like ever-changing plans for where I’ll be in a given week– are par for the course.
Weeks of the year like this one, that used to be full of the busy cries around the church office of “Holy Week is coming, holy week is coming” are just another week in the year, actually quieter than normal.
Being able to answer someone when they ask what’s going on next month with a definitive answer is simply a thing of the past.
Kevin and I now spend time between Oklahoma City, OK and the DC metro area and every other place in between as we balance this lifestyle of being where we need to be at the time. Kevin works in both places. I have things to do in both places and other places too. Defining where exactly is our “home” becomes murkier all the time. Since January, it is rare that I haven’t been on an airplane at least once a week. We have been blessed to have the resources to do what is needed (and for this, I’m grateful everyday), but it’s been a big change. And, I’ve looked for resources from any place I can to manage it all. And this is one I’ve thought a lot about lately:
One summer while I was in college, I worked for a youth camp organization– an international and domestic traveling team for two months. Before the summer began, we were told to pack one suitcase that would contain everything we’d need for all sorts of climates and living conditions. I showed up on day one with the biggest bag of them all– something about having my own stuff made me feel more secure. But, instead, I just felt awkward.
Soon I would be challenged at every possible level. I slept in a new bed every couple of days. After the first week of camp, we moved on to a new location. I knew this was what I should be doing for the summer . . . but there were so many moments when I wondered what I’d gotten into!
But, as the days went on, I learned the best thing I could do was travel lighter each week. Maybe I didn’t need to get so attached people we met at the work sites? Maybe I could exchange my big mama bag for something smaller at a thrift store? Maybe as everything changed from week to week– the scenery, the traveling companions beside me and even my moods– I was being given tools to teach me? Simplicity of purpose became the gift which led to contentment.
And again, here in 2013, with Feed The Children so much a part of what drives the heart of our schedule, I’m having similar stirrings.
Can I live with what is right in front of me?
Can I be content anywhere? Can I find the good in situations or places that are not always ideal?
But, again there are challenges (or maybe just growing edges).
When your life is spread across several places, you often don’t have your first choice of what to wear on a given day. When I get dressed in the morning I often get to pick out something from what is in a suitcase, even if it contains the same choices from what I picked last week.
When your life is spread across several places, you don’t always get your life in your best case scenario. For example, I love sit-down dinners at home. But to expect a daily routine of always eating with Kevin on Mondays at 6 pm is out of the question. We must connect to each other in other ways.
When your life is spread across several places, you don’t get the luxury of getting peace from your circumstances. If I only found peace from running in a particular park or reading in a particular chair or drinking tea from a particular mug, then simply peace wouldn’t exist. I must find peace from the presence of the Holy, whom I know is with me wherever I go.
When your life is spread across several places, you don’t “work” like normal people do. If I got my esteem from the praise of a boss or a work environment, I’d just be in complete misery right now. But, I can’t let other’s opinions of me be the words I listen to the most.
In these Lenten weeks, I’m growing to be ok with whatever each day holds, even if it doesn’t look exactly like it did the day before. I’m learning to live with less stuff. I’m learning God’s presence can be found on airplanes, in guest beds of friends homes’, or back in my favorite writing chair in VA. And, if my heart settles a little, no matter what the circumstances, life can be good. Sometimes even very good indeed.
It’s one of those scripture passages that I’ve had in my head for years thanks to all that time spent in church.
It’s one of those scriptures that prosperity gospel types like to quote when they’re seeking to prove that what God really wants to give us is abundant wealth. Joel Osteen anyone?
It’s also one of those scripture passages that altar call preachers use to talk about “getting saved.” Oh my.
It’s a passage that conjures up visions of heaven and hell– who is going where.
I dislike it all of these uses.
Yet, lately I find myself sitting with this word “abundant” with fresh eyes, thinking about the movements in my own life and those around me too.
And this is what I think: we are scared out of our pants of the word “abundance.” We really like our poverty instead.
Of course this phrase sounds contradictory. Who doesn’t want to have something? Who doesn’t want to receive blessing? It’s rare that you meet a person in poverty who says, “I’d like to live in the slums for the rest of my life.”
But, honestly, I think so many of us do! It is often much easier being miserable than it is accepting the vulnerability of healing, especially when that healing asks our life movements to change. Because poverty is what we know. We feel comfortable with our pains, even if they are pains nonetheless. We like being left alone and no one bothering us with the challenge of asking for more.
Recently, I’ve found myself in several conversations with two camps of people. Those who have pushed through difficult times in their life toward abundance and those who are stuck in muck and just don’t want to get out.
Just yesterday, I looked a friend in the eyes who I know has worked hard to fight for her own life (even when it meant facing difficult days of doubt, depression, and even wondering how in the world she’d make it to the other side) saying, “I’m so proud of you. . . . I”m so happy for the joy that I see in you. . . . Please don’t ever stop fighting for abundance life and kick my ass if I ever stop either.” It was a moment to look back on the past and with gratitude for all that God has done.
I was in a similar conversation with another friend a couple of weeks ago who said things to me like, “I’m just don’t think my life is ever going to get better. . . . I guess I have to get used to this. . . . Nothing good in life happens to me. . . . I can’t imagine trusting people again.” And yet upon hearing these litany of words, my heart just sank. Because I knew abundant hope had been completely taken off the table for the person.
Sure, in life we are all on a journey. We go through seasons. Sometimes we must just hide in our caves for a while and be sad, angry or bitter. Sometimes these seasons of hopelessness last for a long time, even longer than we would like. And it just is what it is. And sometimes those dear ones in our life like pastors, friends, or family members hold up our hands (just as Joshua and others did for Moses in the wilderness) just have to be the ones who keep us going.
But then there comes a time when enough is a enough. A time comes when we need to look up to the hills from which comes our help. Our calling is to say yes to abundance. Our calling is to say yes to hope– even if we can’t see the way ahead clearly. Our calling is simply to receive. And in the process surround ourselves with others who can help us move in this way– for abundance is so big that often we just can’t take it in alone.
So, I ask you where are you today? And what is holding YOU back from God’s best for your life?
And, for those of you who were wondering– I had a lovely birthday yesterday. A perfect day of abundance to savor for a long time!
People have asked me, how is it going? How is your Sabbatical time treating you? Are you going nuts not officially working? Well, I have to say though there have been several rocky moments of “oh my goodness, I can’t do this. I need to work!” most of all it has been wonderful. Oklahoma City hasn’t killed me yet either . . . I am breathing in deeply, deeper than I have in years on the plains. I am learning much about myself, God and what spiritual practice is all over again. I am loving spending more time with my husband.
I’ve been collecting quotes and thoughts of mine as I think of them and posting them on twitter. I thought I’d share them as a litany here.
“Sabbath is about the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption” ― Walter Brueggemann
Life is not about what you do. It is about who you are.
It is hard to be silent. It is very very hard. But I want to try it. I want to really do Sabbath.
Sabbath means your life is more private. That’s ok. The good reflections and insights often come when you are quiet and alone.
Sabbath is breathing deeply into all will be well, all matter of things will be well. (Thanks, Julia for this).
When partaking of Sabbath time, days on calendar don’t matter and sometimes you book a flight for the wrong week and have to stand in line for hours to change your ticket. Oh, well.
Sabbath doesn’t change who we are. It reminds us whose we are.
Sabbath is not bring afraid of being alone. You can be alone and not lonely.
“If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception far to see Sabbath can invite a healing” -Wayne Muller
Sabbath is thinking you are writing for fun and drafting out a new chapter for your book long project. Inspiration finds you when you least expect. Productivity is not something to be worried about. It comes in its own time.
A gift of Sabbath is contentment. I don’t know the future but don’t have to.
God gives us everything we need as we rest.
We can not know God unless we know ourselves. In sitting with ourself long enough to listen, we hear God.
“Caught up in our own busyness running from one crisis to next looks less like loving God and more like trying to become one” – Phileena Heuertz
Sabbath is good. It is really good for the soul.
The countdown is on . . . I have to say that thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday of them all. Some of my most favorite childhood memories were made during thanksgiving extravaganzas planned with my cousin, Ellis, four years my elder (which of course made him extra cool). Those of you who’ve spent Thanksgiving with me know that I’m serious about my traditions. Even the year that my friend, Kristina and I spent the day in Italy and even the year that Kevin and I went to Argentina for a wedding, we still did (or tried to do) these things.
In our house, nonnegotiable for the holiday include:
1. Singing “We Eat Turkey” (a song I learned in 2nd grade music class). “We eat turkey. We eat turkey. Oh, so good. Oh, so good. Only on Thanksgiving. Only on Thanksgiving. Yum. Yum. Yum.” Repeat- and add in your favorite food. (to the tune of Frere Jacques). It can go on forever which is one of my favorite parts of it.
2. Saying around the thanksgiving table what you are thankful for– more than just “friends or family” I love when people really say what they feel gratitude about. Has life blessed you with something you didn’t expect? Has an unexpected relationship surprised you? Where have you found joy?
3. Reading the “Dear Abby” prayer before dinner.
4. Going to a movie on Thanksgiving eve– just completely chilling out.
5. Thinking about the memories of thanksgiving past– the times when Ellis and I organized charity basketball games, made up our own fantasy football league, took and gave others Pilgrim tests, organized a family church service and of course choreographed dance videos.
Also, some of my favorite sermons preached have been on the topic of thanksgiving. Such as this one I preached last year called “The One Who Said Thank You.” It has always been fun to integrate one of my favorite holidays into my work life, encouraging others that it is good to stop and thank the Lord for all our blessings.
It is the most wonderful time of the year! Happy thanksgiving to you and yours.
November 18, 2012
Dear Washington Plaza Church family:
I come before you this morning with a heavy heart. It’s heavy because I have news to share with you that has caused me a great deal of sadness as I have thought and prayed and discerned. I need to tell you that I am sharing this resignation letter today, ending this chapter as your pastor effective on December 24, 2012.
This is sad news for all of us because we have loved each other well over these four years of life together as pastor and congregation. And, when you love someone, you don’t ever want to part ways. When you love someone, you don’t want to do anything to hurt them, to discourage them, or to cause them pain. The deep love I have for you has made this decision a particularly hard one.
But in spiritual community, which is what we’ve formed together as a church, there is something in addition to love for one another that binds us together, and that is calling. We believe that God ordains and guides all of our steps, even when what we are being asked to do is difficult. My change in status with you is a response to my changing sense of call.
It is not that I have been called to be a pastor of another church.
It is not that I haven’t enjoyed being your pastor or that there is some conflict going on in the church that you don’t know about.
It is not that I have lost my faith in anyway or am leaving the ministry. Rather, it is that I feel called into a different season of ministry beginning in 2013.
As you all know, Kevin’s new position as President of Feed The Children has caused a huge shift in our life rhythms in 2012. This new assignment came about as a result of God’s calling on Kevin’s life to lead and as he has settled into his responsibilities a shift has happened within me as well. I, too, now feel a call to use the voice God has given me to be a global advocate for children and families, for those most often ignored or in distress. I will begin to volunteer more of my time to FTC. And I look forward to spending more time with my husband in the coming months.
In addition, I believe God is leading me to grow into my writing vocation—completing a book for publication by the end of next year and pursuing new writing projects.
So, while my time as your pastor will come to an end this year know of my ongoing love and support for you as a church. I believe as strongly in the vision of who you are as a congregation as I did when I began in January 2009. You are unique in the best of ways. You are a needed witness in this community of God’s acceptance for all people. You are a collection of some of the kindest and most loving people that any pastor could hope to lead.
You have certainly moved mountains in my own life—you have made me into the woman, the pastor that I am today and will be in the future. You took a chance on hiring a 28 year old, who could have been your granddaughter, making her YOUR pastor.
By doing this for me four years ago, you gave me the biggest gifts and honors of my life—to be called your pastor. And our relationship, you have given me room to grow and explore and find my voice and for that I am and will forever be grateful.
It’s a time in our history with one another to be sad. It’s a time to walk through grief. But it is also a time to trust. You are so much bigger than who your pastor is. You are so much more than your leader. You are strong and capable of being all that God calls you to in the future.
I know this time of transition will have its own unique challenges, but believe you will face them with same grace and perseverance you have shown in facing challenges before. I will be cheering you on, treasuring the memories made in our four years together, and wishing you all of God’s most abundant blessings in your future.
It is easy in many religious circles to push people away based on what they believe or profess.
We can’t be friends anymore because you believe in evolution. I believe in creationism.
We can’t be friends anymore because you believe in gay marriage. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
We can’t be friends anymore because you believe the Bible is without errors. I believe it is full of them.
We can’t be friends anymore because you believe all religious paths lead to God. I believe you must pray only one prayer to be assured of heaven at the end of it all.
Now while the exact phrase “we can’t be friends” may or may not come up, the sentiment is still there. We cling to those who are like us. We tarry from those who are not. Journey into the Christian community a little bit at all and you’ll find such to be true.
We love to spent our time saying who is in and who is out.
Recently while at a Barnes and Noble, I found two books in close prolixity to each other that struck me as odd. One was entitled Why the Christian Right Is Wrong and the other said Reclaiming America’s Conservative Future from the Wacky Liberals. Oh how fun it is to believe we’ve got the correct market on God and try to make money writing about it.
But what happens when God comes close to you in someone you don’t expect? What if you see the presence of God in a neighbor that your church teaches you to shun? What if you find the Spirit in a place your colleagues or family likes to label as evil?
It is when love changes things. For it is hard to cast a person or their faith aside when you begin to love them, when you begin seeing the tenderness in their soul, the deep pains of their life and the shared fears that go into making us a part of the human family.
Recently I made a new friend. We are an unlikely match. He is a fan of the seven day creation theory and likes to talk about it, a lot. I don’t care one way or the other very much. He likes to go on mission trips for the sake of evangelism. I am not sure such is the best use of his resources. He is 30 years older than me too and from a part of the country that I am not particularly fond of. But we’ve become friends and out of this friendship I’ve seen his heart. I know he means well and just wants the best life can be like I do. I know he authentically wants others to experience more of God’s love in his life just as he is doing. I respect him. And in my own way I wish my generosity of spirit was as deep as his.
Love changed my hardened heart about folks of “his kind” and I am making baby steps in a new direction. It’s new and scary to make friends like this but wonderful too.
I can’t help but think we all need to keep challenging ourselves in this way. In this week ahead of a presidential election may we all think twice before we tweet a hateful remark about “the other side.” Or stop ourselves short of defriending a relative on Facebook who posts ideas we don’t agree with. Or stop ourselves short of trash talking over dinner another’s church with the loud worship band and projector screens when we prefer the quiet. It is the little things, we know…
May we all open room in our heart for the possibility of love changing things, finding friends on unexpected paths.