A FROZEN Friday Five

I hosted the Friday Five over at RevGals yesterday. My schedule was sufficiently hectic that I didn’t get around to posting my own responses. Whoops. Well, better late than never.

When it gets to the end of February, even people who LOVE winter are ready for a new season. Like this mom, sick of snow days and hearing the soundtrack of a specific movie, you might be going a little stir-crazy. With the lyrics of that movie to inspire, tell us:

1. For The First Time in Forever: Tell us about a magical first snow day – for a child, a transplanted southerner, or maybe you have a great story from the first snowfall in your area this season.

There’s something about that first snowfall. The whole neighborhood quiets, and almost seems to take a breath. Before people are out shoveling, plows clearing the roads, tires spinning, etc., there’s a mystical time where you can hear snowflakes hit the ground.

2. In Summer: Tell us what you look forward to when it’s warmer again.

Truthfully, I’m not a hot weather fan. But I am looking forward to a few hours in my hammock chair, listening to the birds and reading/dozing.

3. Reindeers are Better than people: We are in the business of loving people. But sometimes… Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to love. Do you have a tip, a mantra, or a perspective that helps?

There was a song in the early Christian contemporary music biz (I’m dating myself!) called “Loving people” and I think it was sung by BJ Thomas. It reminds me that when I want to just avoid people (or work around them) that it’s not wise. Or loving. These are the lyrics I say to myself when I feel my annoyance factor rising:

Using things and loving people, that’s the way it’s got be.
Using things and loving people, look around and you will see
that loving things and using people only leads to misery…

4. Fixer Upper: Since we are in the season of Lent, what are you doing in the area of self-improvement?

I’m choosing healthy snacks (hard to do when you spend your day in a car, driving from place to place). I’m also engaging in two artistic practices – the Photo-a-Day from RethinkChurch and a Praying in Color doodle.

5. Let. It. Go. What would Elsa do? Are you de-cluttering? Moving on? Accepting a hard reality? Finding freedom?

I’m learning how to recognize how certain issues/people push my buttons and raise my anxiety level. It’s not fun. However, in this process, I am also learning to let go of ever pleasing said people, who seem to delight in nit-picking and making me feel inadequate. As a wise woman pointed out, said person is trying to transfer their anxieties to me, thereby reducing their anxiety load. And I don’t need to load that trailer!

Bonus: Frozen, thawing out or thawed, share a picture from your winter this year!

This is our front walk and driveway on a particularly snowy, blustery night.

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Remember

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In the chaplain’s office, we have a small prayer corner. It’s something very simple… a bowl with small pebbles, a hand labyrinth, and some meditation pieces. One of the rocks has the word “Remember” on it. I got it at the Holocaust Museum, as a symbol of the people forever lost. But the stone has a deeper meaning than that. This prayer corner is where we stop to remember the patients who have died.

Remembering is a discipline. I have new patients every week. None of them are on my caseload for a long time… so when they die, it begins to add up emotionally. One way to cope is to turn off my feelings and just move on. But I can’t do that. It’s not just a patient, it’s a family. It’s friends. It’s a lifetime of achievements. It’s memories.

Remembering also has another result… it makes me grateful. Grateful for the people in my life — their experiences impact my life. Their joys and their worries cause me to think about my own. And many times, I realize how much I have to be thankful for…

So I Remember…

Smoothed over

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There’s something amazing about snow. Not just that it’s heaps of water vapor frozen into patterned ice crystals. (Though that is cool!) It’s the effect that snow has as it falls. Life becomes quieter. Fresher. New again.

I spent time on Saturday watching the snow pile up and blanket the ground and yard. Everything was smooth. And cold. Very cold. But it was the smoothing effect that made me pause.

I thought about the latest round of angry posts on social media, postulating whether or not this politician or that is a “Christian.”  There were snotty comments about events in the world’s history, events  where human beings were cruel and ruthless in their wars. It struck me that all of these battles started with a feud of sorts that grew into altercations, and then widespread hostilities. And then war. Or just an “armed conflict.”

As a woman of strongly held opinions, I understand why there are emotional and personal responses to a disagreement. There are many times that I can hardly keep silent — my desire to respond overwhelms my “mouth filter.”

But as I sat and reflected over the weekend, as the snow piled up and created a lovely and smooth blanket over the potholes in my street, I realized… choosing to not respond is an option. Not in a way that subjects me to abuse or mistreatment, but in a willingness to walk away from the habit of insisting I get things done “my way.”

Peter, the brash and opinionated disciple, certainly stumbled in the opinion department. I identify with his habit of “stepping in it” when he quickly reacted to a situation. And though he frequently failed to respond as Christ expected, he was restored over and over to a place of leadership and trust. Perhaps this is why he wrote about the role of extending love and grace to one another:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4)

I don’t know as I’ll get a handle on this before the next snowfall… but I know that it is important to learn how to defer to someone by allowing the love and grace of Christ to flow in me, to others.

By the grace of God.

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Cold-hearted

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The Mid-Atlantic is not known for supremely cold winters. Oh, we get a “cold snap” here and there in the winter months, but anything that lasts more than a week or two, and the natives get a little restless.

After all, we’re not Buffalo. Or Minnesnowta. We have plows and salt trucks, and it’s not unusual to have to wait a day to get plowed out in our neighborhood.

The last few weeks the temperatures have stayed below 40 degrees. The federal government closed at least once, and schools have been closed or delayed. Even our daughter’s college closed because the roads were not safe.

I know. You’re laughing at us. We accept your disdain. At least we’re honest.

Now it’s been cold long enough that the cumulative effects of the cold are starting to show up. Little by little, I see changes that aren’t “normal” for around here. For instance, I don’t quite remember the color of my car without dried salt spray on it. The back gate is frozen shut. I feel the tension in my shoulders from hunching down into my coat as I go from my car to the facilities and homes where my patients live. And there are very few things which will drag me from home once I’m holding a cat and warming up.

When I drove by this pond near our house and saw the geese scattered across the ice, I wondered at the change. A month ago, even a few weeks ago, the water was open and clear. Normally they would be paddling about, feeding and waddling and honking. Today, they were more like peppercorns spilled over an icy table. Cold. Quiet. Still.

The change was gradual. The result is clear.

In the season of Lent, there is a call to renew the spiritual connection, to find that spark that has diminished and rekindle it. The human heart — my heart — can grow cold and unfeeling.

The words of Keith Green’s song came to mind…

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to you and dead to me…

During Lent, I’m about this business of renewal. Remembering the mercy shown me. Living into God’s compassion. Reclaiming the love and fire I have for my work.

Spring will come. My heart will thaw.
I’ll join the song…
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Dirty Hands

Several years ago in my first year of chaplaincy I learned that there’s a little technique involved in imposing ashes. (Maybe you went to “ashes imposing class” in seminary — we didn’t have that class.)

I also learned that the ashes grind into my skin. Every wrinkle and crevice in my fingers are stained black.

IMG_7426I learned to keep cotton balls with oil in my pocket to moisten my thumb (or glove). And to have plenty of hand sanitizer after I imposed the ashes.

I learned that the simple words,
You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.
are powerful, poignant, and loaded with meaning when you are standing in the middle of an emergency room, or outside a doctor’s office, in a hospital room, or with hospice patients.

I learned that giving ashes is a tender, sacred, personal moment, one where, as pastors, priests, or chaplains, we are touching the human and finite with the promise of hope, Grace, and eternal life.

I learned that by giving ashes I gain so much more. My mortality is there, in front of me, for all the world to see.

My dirty hands.

Blessed be.

Writing for Lent: Let the Mudpies Begin!

I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing (and blogging) as a Lenten practice. I’ve slacked WAY off on my blogging. Partly it’s because I can’t always share what I’m learning since my job requires 100% confidentiality.

(I mean, if I sat with you as your family member died, would you like me to go blabbing about it? I didn’t think so…)

SO I face a dilemma. I’m pondering all kinds of things that I can’t put on paper. Yet I need to blog to keep perspective, and just maybe learn a little.

My life is messy. My heart is messy. My reactions to the things I see and experience are way messy. And people tend to misinterpret what I write about and that affects my emotions and self esteem which are messy10!! And that makes it hard to look in the mirror.

Yet… when I reflect and find a way to write about them, I can see my way through them.

Fellow blogger and person-I’ve-met-in-real-life, Esther Emery issued a challenge about blogging. It rang a chord in my soul. She wrote:

I am not the one to tell you what the future holds. There is always shift and pull. But I will go on record saying this. The phenomenon of blogging, in which ordinary people write out their lives in messy forms in malleable spaces, is something true and something precious. Somewhere in there, even amid self-obsession and exhaustion and navel-gazing, is a chance to accidentally pay attention and accidentally become engaged and be a part of something that is true and alive. I don’t want you to give up on that.

Muddy Boots from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Andy Arthur, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Yeah. That’s it. That’s EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking.

So here’s to mudpies and muddy jeans and the occasionally splat-on-my-face moments of blogging… because life is full of muck. And I step in it a lot. But even in the messy, there’s beauty, and amazement, and learning about the ways that God can redeem any situation or person.

Including me. Especially me.

Thanks be to God.

Standing on the Promises

It’s an old, old hymn that doesn’t get sung a lot these days. For some reason, I can’t get it out of my mind!
Especially, the last two verses…

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

There’s days where serving God just isn’t a lot of fun. It’s painful. It’s sad. It’s frustrating. It’s “long-haul” faithfulness when you pray and pray and nothing happens. And then there are days where you SEE the faithfulness of God unfold, and you wonder why you doubt.

redstoleYesterday I had the opportunity to watch another servant of God receive her ordination recognition. (I phrase it that way because GOD ordained her a long, long time ago. It just took humans a while to get with the program.) I wore my robe and red (Pentecost) stole to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit. I was on the periphery watching God be center stage.

There was a moment when one of the presiders made a comment, perhaps in passing, that touched my heart… “May this also be a time for those of us who are ordained to fully walk in our Calling.”

My first semester in seminary, almost 10 years ago, a wise mentor said almost those exact words to me. She reminded me that God had made the way, that God was directing, that God had the path prepared for me. I just had to walk fully in my Calling.

As a chaplain, I practice active listening, meaning I try to talk less and listen more. (Yes, extroverts can do this!) As a pastor, I strive to do the same thing with God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call…

I know that as I lead a Communion service, or plan a funeral with a grieving family, or sit with a dying patient, or walk the halls with someone with dementia, or try to study and comprehend the latest research of my craft, that I must keep listening to God. Over and over, I hear the wrong voices judging and “correcting” me.

I stumble a lot as I try to ‘stand’ on God’s promises. Fortunately, I am given Grace to get up and try and try and try again. And to help my brother or sister up to their feet as we stumble along… together.

Thanks be to God!

Friday Five: Whining in a Winter Wonderland

I’m hosting the RevGals Friday Five! Play along if you’d like!

It’s official. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you are experiencing winter. SO… tell us:

1. Winter: What do you think about it in general? Do you love it? Hate it? Or say, “meh – it’s just another season!”

I don’t mind it too much. You can always put on more clothes. You can only take off so much and be “legal”.

2. Footwear: Show us or tell us about your favorite winter shoes/boots.

I love my Merrell’s clogs. They are lined with a plush lining. They can handle anything until the snow gets over about 2 inches. Sexy? Nope. Comfy and warm? Yep!

3. Discuss: Pedicures in winter – necessity or silly?

They are part of my self-care and relaxation time. Current polish color: I am Not a Waitress.

4. Toasty toes: Whether you knit your own or buy them, tell us what socks keep your feet toasty warm!

I love my polypropylene socks that wick away the moisture and keep my toes warm. My favorite pair are a charming camo print.

5. Driving me crazy: What do you wish the drivers around you would do to make travel during the winter months a little less nutty?

Calm down. Slow down. And clean off your car. Especially the “hat” of snow on top!

BONUS: What’s the weather like out there? Share a picture so we can shiver or be jealous!

snowdayTaken Wednesday of this week as I was driving between appointments!

It’s all about the timing…

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Yesterday morning, we noticed that there were some WSSC (water/sewer) trucks parked along the street in front of our house. It was my day off, so I had a list of chores and errands I planned on doing before a predicted “dusting” of snow started. (Note: that “dusting” turned into 6 inches. Here in the Mid-Atlantic where streets are plowed and treated only after the traffic has nicely packed the snowfall into an icy mess. But I digress…)

I spoke to the foreman, who explained that when they did “routine” checks of water mains last summer, that a leak was discovered. But it was only “a small” leak so we were low on the priorities list. Many months later, we made it on to the work list. He assured me it was only “a small” leak and that they would be done in a couple of hours.

Four hours later… I checked in with the team and the initial trench was doubled and then tripled in size because the water main cracked in two additional places while they were digging. Oh – and all of our homes’ water mains had been pulled out of the water main as well. So they had to fix that. I offered them hot beverages and maybe a bathroom break, but he declined, saying that they were doing fine.

Six hours later… they were bringing in a second shift of workers and more jackhammers and trucks. The foreman apologized and said he “hoped” the water would be on by morning. The street was a muddy, muddy mess.

Twelve hours later… they were still jack hammering. I put in my ear plugs and went to bed. Snow was coming (“just a dusting” HA!) and I had work in the morning. I felt sorry for the workers – it was cold and getting colder!

When I first heard the water was going to be off, I did my usual gig – grabbed buckets, filled them and left them by each toilet, and filled a couple of pitchers at the kitchen sink. A couple of hours? no problem. Many more hours? Uh… that could be a problem! Time for a Plan C, D, or E. On his way home, my husband picked up Chinese food and we dined on gourmet paper plates.

As I watched the men work and did some cleaning up of Christmas decorations, I was struck by the timing… Just a few days ago, we had a houseful of folks, deadlines and timelines to meet, and all kinds of laundry, dishes and baking going on. Having a water main shut down then would have been a serious pain.

It’s all about the timing…  and I’m counting my blessings!

Friday Five: Recovery Edition

Over at RevGalBlogPals this week, I’m hosting the Friday Five! Play along if you’d like!

WHOOOOOOOOSH!
That was the air rushing out of our collective pool of energy. Whether you led one small service or 5 huge ones, let’s talk about recovery mode. In less than 48 hours, there’s another Sunday service, or a weekday ministry starting up again. So, tell us:

1. What’s your “chill out” foot gear? Slippers or socks? Or Birkenstocks? (Poem not intentional)
I’m a “Wicked Good” slippers kind of gal. Or I’m barefoot. Really not much in-between!

2. A holiday treat or beverage that just makes you say “AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!”
Peppermint hot chocolate. In a nice tall mug. With a lap blanket. And a purring cat.

3. What sight or sound moved you during the season? (This can be good or bad.)
Seeing the response to the labyrinth made of Christmas lights at our “Longest Night” service. First, that my family created it (in less than 2 hours!) Second, how it touched a spiritual chord with the participants. I blogged about it here…)

4. With whom did you enjoy sharing time with over the Christmas season?
My beloved, our daughters and two wonderful “Plus One” boyfriends. Not everyone was here at the same time, but it has made our break an enjoyable one. Full of activity in the kitchen and with much use of bandwidth and the comfy couches.

5. Was there someone missing from your festivities? How are you doing with that?
Work schedules and family prevented our traveling south this year. And finances prevented plane flights in our shorter window. I missed seeing my family (sibs and Mom).

BONUS: A photo of a bodaciously wonderful present, delicious food, or lovely place that was a part of your holiday.
How about these cookies? (And everyone needs more cowbell!)

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