Word of the Week

When you find yourself stuck: what then?

Questions like these are ones that I've tried to teach through the past several years. I even did a email devotional series on this topic recently (which if you haven't checked out, learn more here).

And certainly they are the kind of questions that people seek my input on when I'm their pastor.

But proving the point that pastors or helping types are real people, such has been the quandary of my life over the past several months.


Can't seem to find my way to joy. Feeling overwhelmed and not able to do the tasks I really want to do. Disappointed in so many situations around me including those playing out in the news on a daily basis.

Weeks ago, the Senate confirmation hearings for our newest Supreme Court judge really did me in as I know they did for so many women around the country. I found myself sucked into the news that kept playing hope deflating bites.

To feel unheard, silenced or ignored is a dreadful feeling.

It probably doesn't matter to anyone other than me, but I haven't blogged like this in three months. That's like an eternity for "prolific me" as my friend Dana like to say. Writing is a sign of health and well-being if your name is Elizabeth Hagan.

If I had to guess, I haven't written because I haven't known what to say.

Writing in a public space is a vulnerable task to take on. People are so quick to criticize. And though I've been doing it for years, it's still hard every single time especially now where we tear everyone a part seconds after they show up.

It's all so saddening to me. How afraid of vulnerability we have become! And empathy for another point of view seems to be out of the question.

Let me tell you this: as a mover and shaker and get things done yesterday, it's really terrible for this girl to feel stuck, maybe more than some of you (I'm an enneagram 3).

To pray to ask for help and feel like it's not coming fast enough. Or to realize that hope is present but it's crawling toward you at a snail's pace. Or to wonder when our petty political fights will ever end on Twitter.

Yet, in my personal stuck-ness I'm trying to:

  1. Do the next right thing.
  2. Move toward people and places that inspire joy.
  3. Lean toward people who want to listen and grow together.
  4. Seek to take the long view-- what I see now is not all there is.
  5. Ask for help from spiritual guides, coaches and friends.

Maybe you are practicing these things too.

I could end this post by sugar-coating it all, but I won't.

Children still are crying at our borders wanting to be re-united with their mothers.

Women are still in hiding because they fear no one will believe their stories of sexual assault.

Patriarchy still rules in our churches, board rooms and highest offices of power in the land.

Our black and brown brothers and sisters are being harassed daily on our streets by the police who are suppose to protect them, but don't.

I believe you need to be fully where you are if you want to fully go where's next.

So, I am here. We are here.

Worried. Disappointed. Sad.


Where are you?

Life is really hard and we have to learn to talk about it.

In so many Christian communities I know, there's such a "How are you?" "I am fine" sweetness in the air.

We look pretty. We talk pretty. And we go home from being together as hurt as we walked in the doors.

For, in the hand shaking, having snacks at coffee hour, or even in the minutes before a committee meeting starts-- we don't say much though we were up half the night worrying about ____.

We don't say that we're having trouble paying our bills this month. We don't say that our marriage is in a rocky season or our child was just found with drugs or is soon going to be kicked out of school.

There's so much we keep to ourselves.

Now, I know I'm stepping on toes as I say this, but from the pastoral seat I've held over the last 12 years, I've seen church folks preferring our vision of reality than our actual reality.

The cost? People are suffering. We're suffering.

And the next call we get on the prayer chain about someone who took their own life might just be someone we'd "never suspect."

Or as my Instagram friend, Stephi Wagner posted recently, "If you are still surprised that people are choosing suicide over living in this broken world, you haven't been paying attention."

Why? Because we have no idea who we're worshipping alongside.

And what happens if your pastor is that person who is suffering silently?

In my book, Birthed, I write about what it was like to be the pastor of a congregation while also going through the deep heartache of child loss, infertility treatments and adoption failure. And then what it was like to move to a part of the country where I couldn't find work and lost all sense of identity outside my husband's. I became a regular church attendee with so much un-ease in my heart.

I might have even been sitting in your church or a church that looks like yours.

It was a season of so many dead ends, heartbreak and loss.

It was a season where nothing seemed to get better as much as I hoped it would. And a season where I felt like life was just too hard to keep living.

Even when I was on a vacation to the beauty of Maine's coast, the sadness still seemed to follow me (as seen in this picture a friend snapped when I wasn't looking).

I have to tell you that I woke up for many months aching physically because my heart was just that sad. And even though I sought treatment from my doctors for depression, it often felt like I was more depressed than the medication could help. I just couldn't get out of bed.

Though I did not go as far as having a plan for how I would take my own life, I wondered a lot (a lot!)  if anyone would miss me I if were gone.

Making myself get dressed and do something every day just felt like too much to ask. My bed was my dear friend.

I share all of this today because I might be the least possible person you'd imagine thought this way.

I seem put together from the outside.

There are pretty pictures on my website. And lots of accomplishments next to my name. There are people who care about what I think on topics of importance.

But, I too have struggled with the demons of depression which have told me that my life simply didn't matter.

And I am not alone.

Statistics tell us not only that suicide rates in the US are on the rise by 25% since 1999 and that in 2016 alone 45,000 lives were lost to suicide but that 10 million Americans think about killing themselves each year.

And though I am no longer in this place in my life (thanks be to God!), right now, our churches are full of these folks.

So do your neighborhood a favor this weekend if you attend worship, chat it up with whoever you're sitting beside.

Find out something new about them that you didn't know.

Invite someone over for dinner.

Talk with your faith leaders about not only what they're doing to support suicide prevention, but what their plans are for community building in the upcoming year.

Life is really hard and we have to learn to talk about it together.

What can depression or anxiety birth in your life? Can anything good come from it?

Today, I'm glad to introduce to you Mary Kate, someone I've met online and admired her honesty and commitment to her family for awhile. She shares a brave story today of living with depression and anxiety, something I've struggled with as well and wrote about in Birthed. Write on, warrior sister!

I spent the first several weeks in my first full-time job in a field I was extremely passionate about trying to figure out ways just to make it until 3:15 PM until I could go home and sleep or cry or dread going in the next day to do it all over again.

This is what happens when depression and anxiety take over your life. 

I had a 30-minute commute to one of the schools in which I taught music in our rural, mountainous NC county.  So much beautiful scenery surrounded me the 2 days a week that I traveled to that tiny K-8 school. But, more often than not, other thoughts clouded my mind’s eye and prevented me from seeing God’s handiwork.  One thought occurred more frequently than others: “If I just got into a small accident, I wouldn’t have to go to work.  Not enough to die, just enough to break an arm or a leg.”

The other three days a week, I worked at a school much closer to home.  This school was much more affluent.  As is unfortunately and often the case, with affluence came a feeling of “we just don’t talk about it.”  As if we pretended a problem didn’t exist, it would in fact cease to exist.   I tried that mindset too.  It didn’t work for me.  But, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was called to be a teacher, but I was paralyzed in my depression and anxiety.

I could not see beyond the gut-wrenching dread that shrouded my everyday life . . . until a bomb threat changed everything.

For many, this may seem like it would be the metaphorical straw and I the metaphorical camel.  But in a supreme twist of irony, on this day, I could see past everyone else’s anxiety and truly find my calling once again.

Early in the morning, I showed up to work. I sat at my desk before the bell rang trying to take some deep breaths and stop any tears from falling before a brief planning period and then my first class of first graders 25 minutes later.  I heard the intercom click on and the principal say, “Teachers.  We are executing our evacuation procedure.”

I was a first-year teacher.  It was the first few weeks of school.  I figured this was a scheduled drill that I had ignored during staff meeting.  I looked out my door and saw several teachers scurrying even more hurriedly than normal.  I then figured out that this wasn’t routine.  I grabbed my phone and my keys, went to the bus parking lot and asked the Assistant Principal what I needed to do.  She instructed me to board the bus with 50 precious kindergarteners.

These little 4 and 5 year olds were just like me in that moment. 

We had only been in school a few days.  We had no idea what was going on.  We were scared.  But I was the adult.  I turned around with a smile on my face and stared straight into the wet eyes of those innocent little kids and tried to keep them occupied by asking what their favorite part of school had been so far.

We were evacuated to a local church where, as the music teacher, it became my responsibility to entertain 300 children by singing songs and dancing and playing games.  (File under: things they don’t teach you in education classes.)  In those 3 hours, I found a confidence in myself that I had lost.

I faced this fact: depression and anxiety had gotten the best of me – and that is easy to do. 

Depression and anxiety are real and scary and life-altering.  Depression and anxiety are not something we “just don’t talk about” and hope they improve.  But when we work through them, wrestle with them, take meds to treat them, see a counselor to talk about them, or whatever coping mechanism you may decide to employ, they can give birth to something greater - newfound experience after traveling through the valley of the shadows.

At the end of the year, I attended a celebratory luncheon with fellow beginning teachers and our mentors.  One of our tasks that day was to fill out a few sticky notes with words of encouragement for the next year’s first year teachers.  I sat beside one of my colleagues and after writing “It does get better” on my sticky note, I explained how I used to wish I’d get in a wreck to break my arm or leg or something minor.  She looked at me and, with a little smirk, said, “I did that too.”

I wish I had known sooner. 

Speak up.  Speak out.  You are not alone when depression and anxiety seem to be your only companions.

It does get better.

Mary Kate Deal is the Parish Administrator at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer near Richmond, VA.  She has a Masters of Arts in Christian Ministry from McAfee School of Theology where she met and convinced a stunningly handsome man to be her husband and partner in ministry for life.  She and William have twin 14-month-old girls, Adeline and Dorothy, and two dogs, Boomer and Jasper.  She is passionate about writing and preaching and is thankful for any opportunity to do either. 


This Advent, I’m thrilled to offer you the voices of some articulate storytellers— writers with wisdom to share about how their experiences of pain or loss is birthing in them something beautiful. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way of course, but in the spirit of what Leonard Cohen once wrote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”  

And isn’t Advent is all about light shinning in the darkness? 

If you missed Meredith's or Mary's story, check them out. Today, I’m glad to introduce to my friend, Anne Bruce, a fellow Disciples of Christ pastor and a mom. 


Advent. The time of year I get to say: “This season snuck up on me this year!”

When we think about it, when are we ever ready? When are we ever ready to wait…. ready to plan…prepare…. do all the things our hectic culture demands of us and then somehow dig around in our ridiculous schedules to find some time to be with God?

It seems a little bit odd to find myself in this state right now, especially during Advent.

My second child, Michael, was born on October 6th. The night of his birth was long, painful, and exhausting.

When he finally came into the world, it was clear that although it was his due date, he still was not ready to be here.

I barely had a chance to look at his little, slimy face before he was rushed off to the nursery. Four hours later my husband and I learned that our pediatrician wanted him admitted to a special children’s hospital in Louisville. And so nine hours after giving birth I found myself in the passenger’s seat of my husband’s Jeep driving an hour and a half to see my baby boy and to hold him – wires, cords, oxygen and all – for the first time.

I consider myself incredibly lucky. His lack of response at birth did not herald an illness or complication. It was simply precautionary reasons that he was in the NICU. So what happened? I guess, to put it bluntly, it took him much longer to wake up than it should have. It took him longer to adjust to the cold air and blinding light of life outside the darkness of the womb.

But he was supposed to ready! It was time for him to come! Lord knows I was ready. And he should have come easily and quickly and painlessly because all second babies do, right?!

And me – I am supposed to adjust to this new life with a toddler and newborn easily, quickly, and painlessly.

And Advent – it comes every year and we should expect it and be ready for it and be filled with joy because it is a joyous season!

We know the culmination of our waiting comes in the beauty of Christmas Eve candlelight.

We know the promise of God in a tiny baby is coming again to save this messed up world. Easily, quickly, painlessly.

Except that it doesn’t work that way. It never does. Not for any of us.

I fool myself every year thinking that this Advent will be different. And I fooled myself before Michael was born thinking there would be no pointless tears this time around.

I ran across one of Mary Oliver’s poems the other day titled, “The Uses of Sorrow.”
Someone I loved once gave me
A box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
That this, too, was a gift.

I have walked in the darkness of postpartum depression once already.

And I know that the grateful joy that lives in my heart will once again register in my brain. I didn’t expect to be in this place for a second time. But I feel its ugly head rearing as, one by one, another candle is lit on the Advent wreath.

So once again, much like my sweet boy, I find myself struggling to adjust to the cold air and the blinding light of life. Life outside the darkness of depression.

I’m just not ready yet to be the person I know I am; to live the beautiful life I have been given; to smile without faking it.

And yet, because I’ve been here before….and because there are so many beautiful people in my life who will hold me up….and because I trust in the promise of “God with us”…..I will wait through this season that I’m not ready for, and I will live to see the light shining brighter than before. I will be better, stronger, and more giving because of it. And hopefully, so anne-and-kidswill my precious children.

Because it takes years to understand that darkness is a gift.

Anne is a co-pastor with her amazing husband, Jeff, at an awesome Disciples of Christ church in rural Kentucky.  Not only do they live together and work together, Anne & Jeff also parent together with their 2 year old daughter, Abbey, and 2 month old son, Michael….along with two dogs, Patch & Pepper, and a cat, Skeeter. 

Anne enjoys the relational side of ministry and has been exploring the spiritual practice of journaling and writing for a few years now.   Writing about her experience with postpartum depression is something that is new and a little bit frightening for her…. especially because she loves her children more than she could have ever imagined possible, and the gratitude she has for her life and family is deeper than the sea.

There are some scriptures that feel like the bread and butter of our faith. They are the ones that make the best Sunday School lessons for our children. They are the ones that we take verses from and hang on plagues on our walls. They are the ones that we come back to time and time again for encouragement.

The scripture I studied for this week's sermon, I Kings 19: 1-16 contains some of these kinds of verses—for it tells the story of Elijah during one of his darkest hours as a prophet, an hour in particular in which he finds God.

We might remember Elijah from the big “Who’s God is better contest?” that the corrupt King Ahab challenge him to. Both sides created altars. The deal was whoever’s altar raged in fire first would point to the true God. Ahab prayed to Baal. And Elijah prayed to God. Elijah even ordered water to be poured over his altar (to the taunts of many).

The fire of the LORD fell and burned up Elijah's altar.

A complete victory? Right. Wrong.

For what comes next in the story is that King Ahab “tells Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (19:1-2)

Or in other words: Elijah you are dead.

So Elijah, fears for his life, obviously, but start running too.  He wants to get as far away from Ahab and Jezebel as he can. He travels for 100 miles.

Elijah becomes depressed and wants to die. Yeah, really he wants to die. 

But in all his sadness, Elijah is met by angel who touches him and tells him to get up and eat bringing him a jar of water and some bread—does it remind you of any good church ladies at funeral reception you know?

With the strength he’s given by this force feeding, the angel of the Lord, we are told comes back for the second time and says, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Or in other words, Elijah, you’ve got to go through that potluck line just one more time—I don’t care if you say you’re full!

Elijah, now with a full stomach is given the strength to travel to Mt. Horeb. Sound familiar? It’s the place where Moses met with the LORD on several points of his journey. And it is here in this place again that Elijah also has a powerful encounter with God. For Elijah hears the LORD say to him, “Go out and stand on the mountain . . . . for the LORD is about to pass by.”

What comes next is my favorite part-

First there was the wind and an earthquake . . . but . . . The Lord was not in the earthquake.

Then, there was the fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper—and God was in the whisper.

Makes me think of the Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God.”

And there are a thousand different good sermons that have been preached or I could preach on this text—especially ones that exhort us all to quiet down our hearts knowing that God is with us no matter what our troubles may be—but might there be a word for us this morning in this passage in light of what our eyes and ears and hearts have been captivated by this week?

A world where the unbelievable happened only 7 days ago when we woke up the news that 49 people died and countless others injured by a single gunman in a gay nightclub in Orlando motivated by hate, radical religious beliefs and homophobia.

A world where Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston, SC was attacked only one year ago where 8 people were killed in a church sanctuary just like this one attending a Wednesday night Bible Study.

A world that feels a little less safe, especially for those of us who are not straight, white or male.

A world that has dimmed for the helping types who have thrown up their hands to sky this week saying: “What is there to live for anymore?” in the same way that Elijah did on that day under the broom tree.

Or like one of my pastor friends told me yesterday: “On Monday morning, I wanted to give up. Nothing made sense to me anymore. Why was I trying to so hard to bring good to the world when events like Orlando keep happening?”

So, I ask you: where do we find our gospel this week? Where do we find our God?

I believe Elijah's tale has a lot to offer us about our God—a God who is always moving us along like he did with Elijah.

A God who won’t let us wallow in fear driven threats for long.

And most of all a God who uses our lives to show his great concern for the whole world. I Kings 19, I believe re-introduces us to a God who includes.welcome-hands

There’s so much about this passage that can leave you feeling breathless and the end of the passage is no different!

Very direct orders are given by God: “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazel king over Aram, and also anoint Elisha . . . to succeed you as prophet.”

For it’s not that the Lord doesn’t hear Elijah’s complainants but he gives him something to do about it. He needs to go! In fact, from where Elijah stood at Mt. Horeb he’s told to go 200 miles to Damascus which is in a whole other region of the known world!

And when he arrives Elijah is given the tasks of blessing a king that is outside his jurisdiction as a Jewish prophet—it’s the king of Aram—a Gentile king!

It’s another way of saying, “Look Elijah, this ministry of being my spokesperson is not just for you or about you and it’s not just about Israel but it will continue with Elisha and go on for generations to come!”

I believe these two specific instructions of are of great importance in this tale because they are point us to a God who always has a wider perspective then we do.

For, the love of our God cannot be contained in our little corners of the world, no matter how hard we want it to stay close and look just like us!

And in all of this, Elijah still wanted to be depressed. He wanted to wallow. He wanted to lick his wounds and say, “Why me? . . . Why might bodily harm to come to me for just being who I am?”

But God says to him through this encounter—open up your eyes, Elijah, don’t be discouraged! Come see my love for others. Let your life bless others, all kinds of others. Don’t stay here focused on yourself. Remember, you serve the God of all people, of all nations, of all races, in fact. Now, be on the move!

And so I’m wondering this morning, is this the God we’re sharing with the world in the year 2016? Is this the God America knows the church to be? 

Like Elijah, it’s so easy to get discouraged. It’s so easy to find ourselves bewildered, depressed or even lost.

(And, hear me saying, it’s ok to take a time-out from life when you need to—to embrace self-care, to rest, to play and see professional help if you need it. None of us can be warriors solo.)

But, our faith following our inclusive God always and I mean always leads us out—out from what feels familiar, out in relationship with people who speak differently than us, look different from us and might even be voting for President for someone different from us! And the love of God asks us to act.

We are all called to do our part in our little corners of the world. We are all called to be a voice of inclusion to those who need to hear they’re welcomed most of all.spiritual-1024x682

This week I feel deeply moved by this words over at the Awakening Women Institutes’ website written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

So what will you do this week to stretch out your hand in love in your corner of the world?

I think this is what our land needs more of, don't you?

worship-suggestions-for-holy-saturdayFor years, Holy Saturday was my every day. I knew all too well the death of Good Friday.  Easter had not yet come.

Pain, loss and more pain and loss. Kicks in the gut. No obvious way out. No clear path about the future. Days when I didn't know how to get out of bed. I wondered if my life really matter to anyone or anything.

As much as I wanted to move on to the joy, to the hope to the shouts of affirmation of "The Lord is risen! The Lord in risen indeed!" I couldn't. (In 2013, I even wrote about my depression during Holy Week).

Actually during this time, I didn't like Easter Sunday at all.

Not because I didn't need its hope. Not because it wasn't a good story to preach. Not because it wasn't fun to see the big crowds the Sunday draws.

No, I didn't like Easter because it came too quick. I needed a longer Saturday.

I hated that Holy Saturday was only one day.

If that. We do such a poor job in the church of teaching people to stay put on Saturday. To sit with the hopelessness of our world. To cry tears for the injustice. To mourn what the world must have felt like when Jesus was gone.  And to remember that our world, even with risen Christ here doesn't always feel like it.

This world can really beat us down sometimes. And in life we're good at avoiding this kind of pain.

For most of us the Holy is taken out of the Saturday because we spend the day running around preparing for a big meal, shopping for new clothes or even dying eyes and hiding them in the backyard.

We start the feast too early.

And for me, during my years of many Holy Saturdays, I just felt so lost at church-- no matter if I were the preacher in charge or not. I can imagine tomorrow there are countless people sitting in the pews of your resurrection celebration that might feel the same way.

They'll be struggling to sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today."

They'll be crying tears for the loss of someone who is not sitting beside them this year.

They''ll not be able to shout about any good news in their life.  

And so, how can we be good church to them? How can we better observe Holy Saturday?

I think we start by remembering that as much as we are a people of the supper of Maundy Thursday and the "It is finished" of Good Friday and Easter to come, we also belong to Holy Saturday.

We belong to that yucky, in between, not sure how the story is going to ever get better club.

We belong to a God who doesn't answer prayers in a timely way (according to us at least).

We belong to a world of so many unanswered questions. And because our faith story includes Holy Saturdays, we must champion those who are stuck there.

As for me, today, I woke up with such gratitude for those who were companions for all of my Holy Saturdays.

I'm grateful for those who were never afraid of my tears, my questions or even my rants on hard days about "How I didn't believe in the resurrection" even as a pastor.

I'm grateful for the pulpit that gave me words to preach my way through these hard days.

I'm grateful, too, that I'm not there anymore.  (I've got SO much to say about Easter that I can't wait to preach soon!)

Here's my word; if you're stuck, see it through. Take all the time you need. I promise you won't be there forever. Sunday is coming! It really is. So keep going.  This is the best Holy Saturday prayer I know. Just keep going.

easter.lily_No matter if we express them or not, Easter is full of expectations.

If you attend church on Easter, you might expect to see some fine dressed folks—it’s the Sunday best of the Sunday best day of the year, isn’t?

You might have expected to see more people in the pews than on a more normal Sunday.

You might have expected to sing familiar hymns that you grew up loving like, “Christ the Lord is Risen today” or hear some beautiful choir music.

You might have expected to hear a really moving sermon.

And I tell you, there isn't anything worse than having your expectations unmet on Easter!

But I believe all this business of expectations and their being either fulfilled or unfilled truly says something about what we all believe Easter to be: an event.

We think of Easter as an event we need to mark as a special occasion. When it's over, it's over.

Yet, when we do this, when we make Easter just an "event" we're robbed. Consider the story again on this day. This year, I thought a lot about John 20:1-18.

From John’s telling, we learn that early in the morning, the first day of the week while it is was still dark, grief-stricken Mary comes to visit the gravestone of her beloved Jesus. She needed to be close to him. She needed somewhere to go with her grief. She could not be penned up in her home anymore. She goes to be in the place where she knew Jesus’ body was laid to rest. But as she approaches the tomb she realizes that the stone on Jesus’ tomb was no longer there.

Afraid, Mary runs to get the men for some backup. Simeon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved race their way out to the cemetery. The other disciple, John bends down goes in to look and see the grave-clothes of Jesus, but no body was there. Simeon Peter actually goes in and sees the same. Both men return to their homes.

But, sweet little Mary who has been watching this peek in, peek out game the men were playing, still weeps outside.

Taking just one more look at the tomb, Mary sees something that the guys don’t get the privilege of seeing: angels.

And these angels ask her an important question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

When she answers, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they laid him” the biggest shock of her life is about to come next.

WHO does Mary see when she turns around? None other than Jesus himself. But the narrator warns us that Mary’s doesn’t really see.

For, as the old saying goes, what you see is what you get, and for Mary she saw only what she expected to see, the grounds keepers. Mary believes she’s talking to a gardener and so asks him about what might have happened to her Lord’s body. And it takes Jesus shaking her literally to help her to see rightly.

Can’t you just picture it? “Mary!” Jesus says as he grabs on her shoulders and rocks them back and forth. “It’s me Mary, can’t you recognize me? It’s me. It’s me!”

And suddenly the most unexpected miracle IS before her eyes: a risen Jesus, a Jesus who is alive, and a Jesus who says Mary “don’t hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

And it was a grand event, I tell you. A really grand event of Jesus fulfilling the promise he made to his disciples before he left the earth.  Jesus faithfully kept his word. He was alive.

And so it's true, Easter is a great festival day to celebrate the occasion when Jesus arose from the grave!

But do we want Easter to be just an event?

For many, Easter is simply this. It's a day to celebrate Jesus atoning for our sins, paying the price for us so that we can go to heaven when we die.

Easter, however, can be so much more! If we are looking for it . . .

It can be about a God who brings the kingdom of heaven to this earth, a God who can make the worst of all possible days worth living, and a God who can breathe new life into the deadest parts of our soul and communities.

I believe Resurrection is a verb that can change us. Easter is a way of life.

Several years ago, I reached a really low part of my life.

Everything that I had expected would have happened to me hadn’t. Everything that I had hoped would have cheered me up didn’t. Everyone who I thought would have come to my aid in comfort hadn’t shown up in ways I could receive.

And life really was terrible, Kevin, my husband, could vouch for me on this. And I think if you are honest about your own journey, you’ve right there too at some point as well.

For me, I’d gotten to that point when praying was something I didn’t do a lot of because my prayers weren’t being answered, why bother?

On one really bad day, I never said to a dear pastor friend, “Maybe I don’t believe in God anymore.” (which is of course the stuff that you aren’t really supposes to admit aloud—but we’re good enough friends now, so I think you’ll be ok). But this is where I was and my gracious friend received my confession and I know God did too.

For in only in a matter of hours, did I felt shaken in an internal way while I was doing chores around the house—much like Mary’s experience with Jesus in the garden.

It was as if in those moments, God spoke to me and said, “I don’t appreciate your non-acknowledgment of me. You can say and do a lot of things, but don’t forget I’m here and always will be.” Whoa! I was listening again. That was God.

And it wasn’t as if everything magically fell into place after that. Or that there weren’t many hard times to come. But from that moment on, I didn’t doubt the Almighty anymore and haven’t since. Hope found me bit by bit.

Practically speaking to my life without a lot of plans, an invitation to co-lead a youth camp with a friend came within hours to my empty calendar. I got eyes to see the joy around me that wasn’t in bed with the covers over me. And my persistent friends finally got through to me in the weeks to come—that my life had value, even if it was not exactly what I wanted.

This is what resurrection looked for me. I can’t imagine my life without resurrection in the moment I just described to you and so many days since. Resurrection is what my spirit longs for in this broken world in which you and I live. I don’t know how to live without the possibility of resurrection anymore.

I’ve told you this personal story this morning because what I most want you to hear is that the beautiful witness of Jesus’ resurrection was personal.

In fact, I believe, resurrection is always personal.

Mary experienced resurrection among the angels and an appearance of Jesus himself. Peter and John experienced resurrection by believing Mary’s testimony, trying to our race one another to the tomb and seeing for themselves the abandoned grave-clothes. Everyone God what they needed to see when they needed it.

And this why if we read all three other encounters of resurrection in Matthew, Mark and Luke we see it’s not the same story in every one.

This is used to bother the analytical side of me—I mean, which one is the “right” one? (I only want to preach on that one!)

But the more I journey with Jesus and help others do the same: I’ve realized that the Holy Spirit guides us at our own pace. We all see God in different ways which why we have four resurrection stories, and not one is better than the others.

Easter is a great day to remember that God keeps his promises and that everything Jesus said about his life was indeed true. But it’s also a day reconnect ourselves to living Easter.

So I ask you as you're reading this:

What hurts in your heart today?

What nagging issue in your family keeps you up late at night?

What dream in your life plan is unresolved?

What is dead in our church that needs new life?

Resurrection can change your answers!

This is the good news:

For there’s no hurt that can’t be mended because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”

For there’s no unresolved dream that can’t be fulfilled because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”

For there’s no dead part of you that can’t have it’s tune changed to joy again because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”

And with such great news, we need to keep celebrating, don't we?

plazaJesus says to his disciples: "I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

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!