Watching Expectantly

Throughout Lent, Rachel Hackenberg sent out via email a daily prayer “seed” for reflection and journaling. This is the second year I have done this Lenten practice. Most of my prayers are far too personal (and whiny) that I’d let them see the light of day. But today’s prompt is probably far closer to “real life” for myself and many others…

Rachel writes:

In the stillness and uncertainty of Holy Saturday, we reflect and pray with the sixth of Jesus’ seven last words: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Pray for mercy in those things that are ending in your life. Perhaps it is just Lent that is ending. Perhaps a loved one is taking final breaths. Perhaps a ministry is changing, or a job, or a relationship, or a perspective. May grace and peace find you as you sigh with Jesus, “It is finished.”

Watching expectantly
Watching expectantly

Our big cat, Henry, is a patient sort. He will sit and wait for people to walk through the door. He will sit at a window and watch for birds that land, ever so briefly, on the window sill. He has mastered the art of living “in the moment.” I confess to being envious.

I have been in a state of transition since I started seminary. Like transition in labor, it’s been intense, personal, and painful. And like the course of labor, eventually, it will end. The end result, still known only to God, will come at the appointed time.

I confess I am tired of waiting. I am a “do-er,” not a “be-er.” I want to get up and go, not sit and wait. Perhaps that’s why the walking meditation of my labyrinth is so calming and peaceful to me. I am not choosing the path, I’m just walking the pattern, slowly and quietly. I’m not picking a direction. I’m just following.

Most of us, I suspect, are also not chill-and-wait types. Oh, we can find time to pray, or meditate. But we aren’t skilled at lengthy self-introspection, (or we think it’s a waste of time, this “navel-gazing!”)

I am learning to “be” while I “do.” It’s hard.

For all of his watching and waiting, Henry knows how to be persistent in asking… for attention. For a lap. For a snack. So, it seems to me that even though we may be watching and waiting for that Spirit-breathed change, it is OK to storm the heavens with our prayers.

Oh Lord,
I confess I have not been faithful
in watching and waiting.
Oh, I have watched.
And I have certainly waited.
But even as I do,
I complain.
I grumble.
I give You rather pointed “suggestions.”
I struggle with contentment.

On this Holy Saturday,
I have tasks to do
Like laundry and errands and driving here and there.
So as I “do”
May I be aware
of Your work
Your plans
Your love
Your compassion

I pray for myself, and for friends and family
who are suffering.
I pray for the mundane and the miraculous.
For health
For jobs
For family members
For peace in our world
For clarity in decision-making
For perspective
For joy, even in waiting.
For You alone direct my path
and guide meI love you
and I trust You
Forever and ever,

Amen.

The last days of Lent

It is only mid-April. We have the hints of spring here and there. Last night we had a hard freeze, which meant that the most vulnerable of my plants needed protection from the cold. While I could move the planters into the garage or cover window boxes, I couldn’t move my prize peony, one that is from a start from my grandmother’s garden. (I admit. I baby it!)  Since the peony has just sprouted, it is a little more vulnerable to the frost. I put a box on top of it, weighted it down with large rocks, and hoped for the best.

This morning, I checked the plants, and they are all fine. But the rocks, frozen solid into the top of the box, were stunning. It looked like a modern art piece. You know. Something like “Rocks on a Box.”

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It was lunchtime before the ice had melted enough that I could pry the rocks from the ice. We’ll have to set the box back over the peonies tonight, but for now, the plants are enjoying the sunshine of a fine spring day.

I thought about the changes that have come over my yard since Lent began. When I first walked my labyrinth in the early weeks of March, there was snow…

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In between snow storms, there was a fine sea of mud…

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And now we have the hints of green. It’s time to brush away the leaves, pick up branches and start really looking for signs of spring. Like the forsythia. And the vinca. And the daffodils. And the oak and maple trees.

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Life and growth return slowly when things have been dormant. This is true in the cycle of winter to spring, and it’s true in my own spiritual life.

Change and growth never seem to be fast enough, at least, not for me. The process is not a linear one, it’s more in fits and starts. And it is only looking back, thoughtfully and kindly at ourselves and others, that we see change.

In my Lenten disciplines, I’ve tried to be more intentional about what I eat, and how I spend my time. I’ve worked on mindfulness of my self care and my awareness of God’s work in my life. The changes are slow, but they can be seen.

Thanks be to God.

New life, New growth
New life, New growth

Love lives again, as with the dead has been. Love will come again as fruit that springeth green.

Palm Sunday

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From Isaiah 64:
3 When you accomplished wonders beyond all our expectations;
when you came down, mountains quaked before you.
4 From ancient times,
no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any god but you
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him!

We wait
We stand and watch,
Calling our “Hosanna!” from among the crowd.
We fit in with the cheers
And worshipping ones.

Tomorrow
We go back to work
And it is life as usual…
Complaining
Grumbling
Questioning
Doubting
Fall asleep praying
Denying You.

Yet we come back to say again
“Hosanna!”

We need your love and grace
To walk Your road
Of love and sacrifice and self-offering,
Knowing we are dim reflections
Of what the rocks and trees and flowers shout…

“Hosanna!”

BOOK REVIEW: Restless

As a volunteer reviewer for BookLook bloggers, I have written the following review…

Jennie Allen, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, offers her second stand-alone offering, Restless. True to her education and ministry in conservative circles, her book focuses on principles of biblical living that are from a more traditional viewpoint. She wants to “catalyze a generation of women (emphasis mine) to live what they believe” (from About the Author). Her take on what will bring women to a state of rest (vs. restlessness) does have good intent, though her scope is limited to a conservative cross-section of Christianity.

In terms of the overall helpfulness, the book offers some good material for personal discernment. In particular, the chapter on “starting places” uses a “parable” on the Christian’s walk. Allen asks whether our “starting place” is from a place of being “numb,” “thirsty,” “running free,” or “at the starting line.” She suggests that we look for others who are in the Christian walk/race with us and are also seeking God’s direction, and help them move forward. She notes that we can always start again, running with better focus and remembering that it is God who is always there to help us and sustain us. This chapter also offers insights for those folksp who are just coming into a place of spiritual awakening.

Allen explains her formula for the discernment process as: God’s story + my threads + the need + the Holy Spirit = my purpose. (p 66)

Jennie shares her own story of being restless, and where she personally struggles with questions of direction, calling, ego and life balance. A poignant story towards the end of the book describes a moment in her young adult life that had far-reaching effects:

“I remembered being home from college and sitting in church with my parents. Our pastor preached that morning on biblical womanhood. One of the women in our church led a very influential international ministry. In the midst of his sermon he asked her to come to the stage, where he announced that she was quitting her ministry to stay at home with her kids.

The church erupted into a standing ovation.

In my head, the applause turned to boos and condemnation as I saw myself moving in the exact opposite direction of the woman my church celebrated many years ago. Even though there wasn’t a doubt in my mind I was moving in obedience to God, I feared appearing like I was in sinning because my calling didn’t fit in the prescribed picture of motherhood in my conservative community.”

“…all of our view of our roles are shaped by our culture and by approving or disapproving messages.”

(Restless, page 190)

These subliminal dis/approving messages are very familiar to Christian feminists!

The author encourages journaling, reflecting and then discussing with trusted friends, family and advisors the “threads” that make up who you are and where you can serve God as your “purpose.” These “threads” include our gifts, moments of suffering, our passions, the places we live/work/serve, the people in our lives (those we need and those who need us), and where they all intersect with “God’s Story” and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Allen is most effective when she writes about those moments where we are afraid to move forward with a goal or a dream. She addresses “shrinking back” – the common ways that we choose or rationalize not serving God (physical, emotional, relational or spiritual). She exhorts her readers to move forward by facing fears head on. However, it is notable that she includes a letter from her husband telling men that it is “OK” for wives to pursue their own calling. Rather than being “freeing” for women (as is the stated intent) it puts a layer of patriarchy over the book’s content.

Her intended audience: It is pretty clear that Allen is writing this book for women only. She specifically seems to use examples of married women with children. Her material could be restructured and more applicable to all Christians if she were to include examples for men and women, regardless of gender or marital status. This would make her material more accessible to women who do not feel they “fit” into the conservative complementarian model. The methods she suggests for discernment are helpful. I would love to see them freed from these patriarchal constraints.

Recommendation: Do I think this book is helpful? Yes, absolutely. However, because Allen chooses to write to women, specifically married Christian women, she is missing out on an opportunity to reach a larger audience. Her discernment process is sound and would help men AND women. Anyone who is in the process of determining their “next steps,” Restless would help them see how and where they are indeed “made for more.”

 -~o0o~-

Restless: Because You Were Made for More, by Jennie Allen. Published by W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. (c) 2013.

  • Soft cover: 220 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-8499-4706-3

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

BOOK REVIEW: The NIV Hope in the Mourning Bible

This edition of the NIV Bible has selected readings and Bible studies designed to support and encourage individuals who are dealing with grief. It is clearly meant to be a resource to anyone on the journey to healing after enduring a loss.

It took some doing to find the various readings which are not indexed or listed in the table of contents. It seems that the editor assumes that someone in mourning would be reading the Bible through in a year, as the readings are designed to be read, one for each weekday, and one for the weekends. However, there is no place to find these readings listed by topic, or even by book of the Bible. This is a serious oversight. These readings are wonderful, but they are hard to find when you need them most!

The writers who were chosen in the daily readings are all individuals who have struggled to come to grips with their own personal grief and loss. Their writing, as a result, comes from a place of resolution, not despair. Though they recognize the pain of loss and grief, at times because they are coming out of the other side of the grieving process, they may come off as trite or with all of the answers. That is not their intent.

There are additional resources listed in the back of the edition that are probably the most accessible and helpful content. They are a bit dated (for example, they give a link to Kubler-Ross’ “5 stages of grief” which is now somewhat debatable in grief counseling circles .)  There are also suggested music resources which are from the Drink Deep project by musicforthesoul.org These are not to everyone’s taste, but they are a starting place if the reader needs some kind of music inspiration.

Overall, this is an adequate special edition NIV Bible. Not having a quick access to the readings and studies by topic is unfortunate. Just that one simple inclusion in a future addition would increase this book’s value, in my opinion, and also my willingness to purchase copies for future clients.

~-o0o-~

NIV Hope in the Mourning Bible
Timothy Beals, devotional editor
Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI (c) 2013
ISBN-13: 9780310422914
Hardcover Edition.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Lent: Week Five

In November, we found a leak in our bathroom (one that started dripping water into the living room below). It was temporarily fixed so that we could get through the holidays. We knew that we would eventually have to do more than just duct tape and glue. And it took a couple of months, but in February, we started the process of remodeling our bathrooms.

It’s meant moving things out of the way, relocating everything from towels to shampoo. (It is actually kind of amazing, and a little bit embarrassing, to find out how much we can cram into a bathroom cabinet. But I digress…)

Major home remodeling means living with dust and noise. It means there’s plastic up to cut down on the dust, and protection on the floors and steps. It is part of the process. It won’t last forever. We’re living in the waiting, the wondering, the promise of it ending.

We are very happy with the process so far, but I will really enjoy having all of my house back in about a month. :) I appreciate the care and skill that our design/build firm demonstrates, but I’ll appreciate it even more when it’s over!

Major remodeling jobs are very much like Lent, in that respect. Living through it is wearying, even though I know that the end is in sight. We’re a week away from Holy Week beginning, with the story of redemption and prophecy, forgiveness and renewal.

This afternoon, we did some additional prep and work in our bedroom, anticipating the contractors returning tomorrow. I glanced towards what will be our new closet and bathroom. The vague outlines of a closet door and hallway towards the bath were visible, but not clear. It is there. It is coming. Soon. But not quite.

photo

What do I see?
The edge, the promise of something new!
The hope, the sight of things not yet
Almost
So close
But still not quite.

I am impatient
with myself
with the wait
with the wondering
with the doing
with the listening and following
with the noise and mess of life.

You promise me,
“It will be worth the wait!”

I long for You
to show Your power and glory and strength,
invading our world
taking over our plans
and recreating us again
to be like You.

Alle— no, not yet!
I hold the word on my tongue
For Easter morning comes.
Surely, it does.

Their Worst Night Ever

20140406-004119.jpgMy first night working an overnight on-call shift was with a chaplain who had decades of experience. Soft-spoken, kind, and very calm, he walked me through my first code blue as a chaplain, and my first experience supporting a family after the death of their family member. It was truly a brain and emotional overload!

The first part of our shared shift was busy seeing referrals which had not been done during the day shift. There came a lull, so we decided to head back to the office and do some charting. We were sitting having a cup of tea, debriefing over a shared visit with an oncology patient when the pager went off. I sighed deeply and groaned, “REEEAAALLLYYY??”

He looked over at me, smiled and commented gently, “You know, someone is about to have their worst night EVER!”

It stopped me in my tracks. For what was I groaning about? Having to put aside my cup of tea and see a patient, a family, or a staff member… Someone who was indeed going to have “their worst night ever.”

When I reflected on this experience to my CPE supervisor, he said, “What if you treated each person you meet like they were just about to have THEIR worst day, ever? What difference would it make?” We talked about that for some time.

I quickly realized the other logical question related to my supervisor’s: “What if I knew I was about to have my worst day, ever. What would I do differently? What would I say? And how would I want to be treated”

Everyone has hard days. Everyone. Some of the most creative, thoughtful people the earth has known have struggled greatly with facing the day in front of them.

My mentor’s words stuck with me for the rest of that night, and indeed, for every shift that I’ve worked as a chaplain. It doesn’t matter if it’s an accident or an overdose, a heart 20140406-004447.jpgattack or an aneurysm, the families struggle to come to terms with what they are feeling and thinking. In their eyes, it is their worst night ever. They walk in to the hospital, anxious, worried and uncertain. They don’t know where the Emergency Department is. All they see and hear and smell are things that they never see at home.

I’m a “hospital kid.” The hospital was where my Dad worked. I knew the back hallways and labs better than the front lobby and information desk. I knew that people lived and died there. I knew that, sometimes, the pathology report wasn’t good news. And so I try to bring my knowledge and experience to bear on my work as a chaplain.

'Be Kind' photo (c) 2013, Celestine Chua - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
I understand the questions that patients and families and friends are asking: “Will anyone listen? Will we be able to afford the treatment? Is the doctor going to help with her pain? Why is everyone so busy? Will I get well? Am I going to die?”

And my role? It is to walk beside them, listening, praying, holding silence or holding a hand, and doing all in my power to help them make their first steps towards healing. For, too often, I walk on unfamiliar turf, where I need support and understanding. I struggle waiting for answers that never seem to come. And I realize that my feelings and experiences are not unlike theirs.

Slowly, we’ll all make it through.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.
Philippians 2:1-4 Common English Bible

Friday Five: All Around the Mulberry Bush

3dogmom has this week’s Friday Five over at RevGals:

It’s been a week of ups and downs at our house. On Tuesday I received word of the birth of my goddaughter’s second daughter, a blessing to that family, and the hope of the first daughter happily fulfilled. That evening I learned that my sister-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, is facing a recurrence of cancer in her lymph nodes, and probably her lungs. Joy and concern pressing in on my heart has made for a week of lots of deep breaths and deep-in-the-marrow prayer, smiles and tears. At times like this I my soul finds comfort and seeks expression through my senses. Pinterest feeds my visual need for beauty and color (not to mention adorable puppies, and herds of sheep). Cooking fills the house with pleasant aromas, and the results satisfy my palette. My hands find tactile pleasure in massaging my dogs, and music penetrates and reverberates in the fiber of my being. When you need to hold disparate parts of your life in tension, what do you do? Share five things that steady your pace, recharge your batteries and invite peace to your soul.

I made my list and then went back and reviewed it. What is interesting is that though I am an extrovert, when I need to refuel, I tend to move into solitary experiences. It was an important aspect of my CPE to realize what I needed to be ready to give in ministry the next day.

1. Labyrinth: I go walk the labyrinth in my backyard. I’ve walked in the heat, snow, rain and now it’s mud season! It’s a place to hear and see the world I live in and to separate myself out from it, just for a little while, to pray.

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It’s Mud Season in my labyrinth.

2. Photography: I have no delusions that I am an amazing photographer. But every now and then, I get some good shots.

2014-02-22 CnO Canal 1
C&O Canal near Antietam Battlefield, Maryland.

3. Knitting and crocheting and vegging: My latest projects have been hats and lambs for infants (knit) and matching afghans (crocheted). The blankets take a LOT longer. I’m also looking into creating preemie clothes for the NICU. We have lots of “million dollar babies” and their parents appreciate the handmade things. (If you have a hospital with a NICU, call and ASK them what they need.)

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Henry is not amewsed.

4. Music: Right now my piano is covered because of all of the construction dust in my house. I can’t wait to uncover it and play again. I really miss it.

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My piano.

5. Coloring: I have started dabbling with coloring. At home I have colored pencils and various designs that I color (mandalas, labyrinths, patterns). Away from home, I play around with the “Paper 53″ app on my iPad. No delusions that I’m a great artist… I’m just letting the arts be my muse.

Tree in Winter. Made with Paper 53 app on my iPad.
Tree in Winter. Made with Paper 53 app on my iPad.

Resistance is… Necessary

'Janeway & Borg Queen' photo (c) 2011, frankula - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Borg say, “Resistance is Futile.”

I think a truer statement is actually “Resistance is NECESSARY!” 

During the warm-down period at the end of my deep water work out class on Monday, I was thinking about this concept of “resistance.” (I have these profound thoughts as I paddle, lunge, kick and plunge from wall to wall during my deep water running class. )

Water workouts are based on resistance training. Resistance builds and maintains muscle mass. Resistance helps strengthen muscle groups and this takes pressure off of your joints. Resistance is also part of that load-bearing work that keeps your bones stronger, and is good for your cardiovascular system. (I’m sure my doctor does a little jig every time she hears that I really, truly AM doing regular exercise.  See? I WAS paying attention!)

'' photo (c) 2009, ashleigh290 - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In my personal and spiritual life, resistance challenges my resolve. It forces me to prioritize and decide if I really want to do something. And it shows the depth of my dedication. Whether it’s exercise, personal challenges or spiritual discouragement, I have to confess that when I meet resistance,  I either push too hard (because I’m being stubborn) or I give up way too soon (because it’s a convenient excuse.)

But resistance also came to mind as I pondered the verses that we studied this week:

From 2 Peter 1 (Common English Bible):

3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.

5 This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love.

8 If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins.

There’s many places where I find it “easier” to reflect “life and godliness” and many (MANY!) places where I struggle. But rather than cataloguing my weak areas, perhaps the best thing to remember is that it is not by my own efforts (in either passive or active resistance) that changes can come.

No, it’s in the first four words of this passage… BY HIS DIVINE POWER… we have been given everything we need. This isn’t some kind of feel-good juju mama magic. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not the ecstatic, whooping, barking, hooting, dancing work of the Spirit. It’s the day-to-day grind it out business of loving and serving God. Hefting some spiritual barbells, if you will…

That gives me a whole different perspective. It gives me a little more courage to try again and again. It reminds me that when I face opposition, I can base my resolve not on my own knowledge or intuition or sheer guts, but on knowing that I’ve got God’s power behind me. And my resistance to getting personally, spiritually and morally side-tracked will grow.

photo   © 2013   Frédéric BISSON , FlickrThis is a life-long challenge. The road goes on, seemingly forever, with constant challenges on the road of resistance. But I’m ready for another lap.

Lent: Week Four

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Growth comes slowly
in fits and starts
and sprouts again
as the warmth returns
and life flows back
and shows new growth
new life
new blossoms
new fruit

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Be patient.
The things which are closed
and seem so far away
will come
will burst open
on the breath of the Spirit
in the wind of change

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The rocks will cry out
and the desert will burst into bloom
the frozen places will thaw
and we will all see
new life
new hope
new joys

Our hearts will know the Resurrection
again.

Easter is coming.

 

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
Then the lame will leap like the deer,
and the tongue of the speechless will sing.
Waters will spring up in the desert,
and streams in the wilderness.
Isaiah 35: 5-6 (CEB)

Faith. Life. Family. Cats. And Chocolate. Always Chocolate!

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