While working out in February on two consecutive nights, I developed severe and piercing headaches. The headaches felt as though someone had a voodoo doll of me, and was inserting pins into the head of the doll. The headaches also prompted a call to my doctor to determine the cause behind the headaches.
After blood work and an MRI, the results came back the headaches were caused by arthritis in my neck that is pinching a blood vessel, which is limiting blood flow to the brain. Hearing this news led to a mixture of emotions including mild anger, relief, and everything in between. There was even humor as I joked with Vaughn about being on God's list of least favorite people.
Why? Throughout Scripture, God refers to God's people as stiff necked and hard hearted. The Israelites were stiff necked in part because of the manual work they were forced to do of making bricks for the Egyptians. From using tools originally intended for animals, the Israelites often had pain in their necks. This pain prevented them from looking left or right, up or down.
God's people also earned the nickname of being stiff necked and hard hearted because of their refusal to turn from their ways and return to God's ways. Time after time, God sent prophets to warn, to remind, to encourage, but to no avail. God's people continued in their ways.
Lent is the season in the Church where we too, are reminded of our sinfulness, of the ways we are stiff necked and hard hearted. We don't mean to be hard hearted, or cold, or callused, or uncaring. It sometimes happens because of sin. Sin has this habit of preventing us from seeing our neighbor in need, of keeping our heads bent so as to avoid making eye contact with our neighbor.
Since learning of the arthritis in my neck, it has meant relearning many things. This includes learning to limit the weight I carry in my purse or backpack to avoid strain on my neck; how to work at the desk; even how to sleep at night. It has meant learning new exercises to encourage flexibility, mobility, and strengthening of neck muscles.
And, it has also meant learning, slowly, carefully, and in small turns, to turn back to God. For now, it is a new normal. And that's okay. There's still learning -- and re-turning needing to happen. If this is the new life God intends for me, I will live it to the best I possibly can.
Have you ever had one of those days that start out in such a way then the rest of your day is impacted? Those type of days aren't fun at all, and I had one of them yesterday.
It started early in the morning, around 6 a.m. I had signed up for a Master's Swim Class at the gym. A Master's Swim class is designed to help a swimmer become more confident in their strokes and their ability to swim. A class like this is particularly helpful if one wants to be a competitive swimmer, or is planning to participate in the multi-sport event of triathlons (swimming, biking, and running in one event on the same day.)
I had signed up for the class because of the three events in triathlon, swimming is my least favorite. It takes co-ordination to be horizontal in a pool while at the same time kicking feet alternatively, reaching with opposite hands, keeping one's head down, AND remembering to breathe. In short, it's a challenge for me to do all of that at the same time.
As we stood on the pool deck waiting for the class to start, my anxiety and panic began to kick in. I don't know why, other than it did.
I can laugh about it now, but when class started, my first length of the pool was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Without my contacts or glasses, I could barely see the flippers of the person in front of me. The earlier panic turned into fear of being kicked in the face. I kept hitting the lane rope on my right side. By the time I got to the other end of the pool, I was winded (my own fault for not having been in the pool for the past six months). The brain had also decided at that point it wouldn't or couldn't. Only then did I realize somewhere, somehow, I had lost a flipper.
The instructor graciously allowed me a chance to start again. I declined. Been there, done that, tried it, I was done. -- And was being extremely hard on myself.
There have been other times in my life where this anxiety, this panic sets in. It usually sets in without rhyme or reason, and usually comes from nowhere. One time, this anxiety and panic over an event hit so hard, I spent hours after the event not only kicking myself, but also thinking I was a complete failure.
The hard lesson to learn has been the realization that one goof, one lost flipper, one missed musical note does not make for a complete failure of a person. The hard lesson previously learned has been also to see the successes and celebrate them, and learn from mistakes that have been made.
In Luke 3, Luke shares the story of Jesus' baptism. At the end of Jesus' baptism, a voice from heaven declares, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Just as God declares Jesus to be his beloved Son, so also does God say the same thing about us. In the waters of our baptism, God calls each and every one of us by name. God says, "I love you. You are mine."
It would have been easy to go down the previous path of feeling like a failure because of the way the swim class had gone, but I didn't. What helped change direction was remembering God loves me, no matter what.
And, God loves you, no matter what. It doesn't matter if you're the fastest bicyclist, the swiftest runner, the strongest swimmer. Nor does it matter if you're the greatest cook, outstanding gardener, or avid reader. God loves you, no matter what. Today, tomorrow, and always, God loves you.
There's something about The Peanuts Holiday Classic, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" that easily puts a smile on my face. Whether it's the search for the 'perfect' Christmas tree, or Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown (one more time), or Linus explaining the true meaning of Christmas, it's always worth watching again each year.
One of my favorite songs from this classic is Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas time is here." The song lists the various objects indicating Christmas time is indeed here: carols sung, snowflakes (maybe not this year), presents. The list goes on.
Peaceful as this song may be, as the days move closer to Christmas, comes the reality of Christmas time indeed being here. In that, there is a sense of panic -- the perpetual to do list seems longer than the number of hours in the day.
Some years, this reality has been met with a response similar to Ebeneezer Scrooge, a response of 'bah, humbug!'
This year, the response is different. Yes, there are still miles to go on many fronts between now and December 25th. Yes, there are tasks needing completion that may or may not be completed before December 25th. But in the grander scheme of life, it is okay. It will be okay.
Christmas time is here -- is not a matter of how much has been done, or how many presents will be shared, or even how many favorite Christmas cookies are made. Nor is it about whether or not all the decorations (and their memories of years past) are brought out from storage, or even in previous locations. Nor is it about the 'perfect' family gathering, the 'perfect' meal, the 'perfect' gift.
The reality is, 'perfect' simply does not exist. Christmas ornaments may become damaged from storage or handling. Not all the ingredients may be on hand for favorite recipes and realized too late. Life throws a curve ball in our direction.
Christmas time is here -- is about the Greatest story ever told and shared with humanity: the story of God's love for each and every one of us, coming down to earth, taking on human form to become one of us. In taking on human form, Jesus walked this earth, eating, drinking, experiencing various emotions. In being human, Jesus died for each and every one of us -- died that later, we will live with him.
The Greatest Story, the Greatest Mystery. All wrapped up in one. Christmas time is here -- in all of its hopes, its dreams, its expectations, and its sorrows.
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas time, may the peace of Christ be with you. May it comfort you in times of sadness; encourage you in times of gladness. May it strengthen you in times of weakness; and above all, be a companion on your way.
It is the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday. The sun is shining, calling for an outside run before the shorter days of fall give way to the even shorter days of winter. Even though this seasonal change always happens, I'm not ready for it. Never am.
Later tonight, the giraffes, elephants, pumpkins, witches, ghosts, wonder women's, spider men's, star wars, paw patrol, and miscellaneous others will be out in full force in our communities. Looking cute, looking serious, perhaps looking like they are not sure of what is happening or even bored going door to door. The doorbell will ring, the cats will hide. There will be calls of "Trick or Treat" , followed by "What do you say?" and a muffled "Thank you".
I'm not even sure when it was that I stopped Trick or Treating. Seventh grade? Eighth grade? It seems such awhile ago. There were years when my mom would make my costume, other years, like the year I was a tv, I tried to figure it out myself (it was a good idea, not practical going in and out of doors!) Earlier costumes included a mask that was difficult to see, breathe, and talk through. Most of the time, the mask was worn on the forehead.
In his book, Celtic Daily Prayer, Richard J. Foster writes that All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, was originally a pagan Celtic holiday marking the end of an old year, and the beginning of a new year. Danger and vulnerability were said to exist during this time of transition. Spiritual barriers could be dissolved. There was also fear that spirits could come from the devil and take away a person's soul.
There was a serious -- and valid fear of death and evil. In superstitious efforts to prevent one's soul from being taken, people began to dress up as witches, ghosts and other characters. The thinking was if they dressed as someone else, evil would not befall them and their lives would be spared.
Today, we may laugh at this view of the world. Or can we?
News in recent days and weeks has left us either scratching our heads, or hanging our heads in sadness and sorrow.
*Children of migrants separated from their parents, many remaining in detention centers, never to see their deported parents again.
*A powerful hurricane leaves many in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina homeless and with nothing.
*Migrants leave their homes in Central America for better lives, only to be turned away.
*An eight car accident leads to the death of two high school students, and a community grieving.
*A shooting at a synagogue during services leaves a city shattered, and a nation mourning -- again.
Who needs to wear a costume when evil seems pervasively present?
In the midst of these dark events, there is hope.
There is always hope.
After the events of September 11th, 2001, Fred Rogers was asked to say something to help children (and adults) cope with the reality of evil's existence. His words? To look for the first responders: those who provide care for others, and put the needs of others ahead of their own. When we look for the first responders, we see also human compassion and mercy still exists.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in An African Prayer Book: "Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us. Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us." (From the Evangelical Lutheran Worship)
But perhaps Martin Luther said it best:
"Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us.
We tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow'r us.
Let this world's tyrant rage; in battle we'll engage!
His might is doomed to fail; God's judgement must prevail!
One little word subdues him."
On this night, celebrate the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls that come to the door. Share an extra piece of candy or activity for them to do. More importantly, treat one another with kindness. The more kindness that is shared, the less we have to fear the things that go bump in the night.
Blessings and grace,
Watching the evening news the other night, there was a story about Hurricane Florence. Astronauts at the space station had to use a wide angle lens to take a picture of it. From space, Hurricane Florence looks quite big. Weather reports indicate it has the potential and possibility for much devastation and destruction. While there is concern for those in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, there is also concern for Pennsylvania: how much, if any, rain will this area get? Will it be like a couple of weeks ago, or will we be untouched by the rain? It remains to be seen.
Looking at the picture of Hurricane Florence from space reminded me, also of Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its makers handiwork." This declaration can be seen on sunny days or starry nights, but in the view of a hurricane from space?
Yes. Look closer at the picture of Hurricane Florence from space. From above, the clouds circling around the eye of the hurricane over blue is a picture of troubled beauty. Pictures taken inside the hurricane reveal a swirling pattern of gray and white, of wind and rain.
In the midst of a storm, it can be hard to see beauty. Instead, it can be easier to see angry waves, angry sky, and whipping wind; buildings giving in to these sheer forces. Yet beauty does exist, even in the midst of a storm.
Back in the spring, I had the opportunity to coach for Girls on the Run. The ten week season encourages girls in grades third through eighth to develop healthy self esteem through physical fitness. At the end of the season, the girls run a 5k. That spring day in May was miserable -- it poured buckets, and was very very soggy. With smiles on their faces, the girls ran it. Later, one shared with me that she got through it because her mother allowed her to jump in every single puddle they came to.
Misery turned into beauty -- and an opportunity.
Tonight, take a look at the sky. It may be hard to see the stars, but try to find them. When you do, know that in all circumstances, the heavens declare the glory of God. A lesson we can learn from the heavens to declare God's glory -- even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Several months ago, as we began planning this year's Vacation Bible School, we chose a theme called "Water of Life". This theme explored the usefulness of water in the Bible. More importantly, it explored Jesus as the life giving water through Creation, his baptism, the man healed in the pool of water, the woman at the well, and the Twenty Third Psalm (where we are invited to rest beside still waters). Little did we realize in planning, that this week would also be a week filled with rain! But not any rain --heavy rain that has prevented us from being outside in the pavilion. Heavy rain that has had church members reporting combined totals over five days of ten inches or more. And, heavy enough rain that family and friends out of the area have called or texted asking if we are okay.
I know that some of our neighbors have not been so lucky. Even as the sun shines today, there is concern for the next day or two, especially those along the Susquehanna River. Currently, the local Lutheran Disaster Response has a need for help throughout the area, probably over the weekend. If you have an interest in helping a neighbor in need, please leave a comment for this blog and someone will be back in contact with you shortly.
At the end of Vacation Bible School the other night, children and adults gathered around our baptismal font. Each child and adult expressed something about water they are thankful for: cooking, cleaning, helping flowers and plants grow so as not to be watered, drinking, washing clothes, swimming, jumping in puddles, and so much more. The countless rain drops and the theme of water helped students see and appreciate the gift and necessity of water in our lives. And, the thankful prayers reminded me too of the overall VBS theme: 'When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.' (Isaiah 43:2)
Heavy rainfall turned into an opportunity to experience the abundance -- and the blessings of God!
In the same way, how have you experienced God's abundant blessings in your life? Take a moment to offer thanks to God for God's blessings. Take another moment to share these blessings with others.
Blessings and grace,
The Lord answered her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” -- Luke 10:41-42.
During the message on July 17th, there was reflection on both business and distraction throughout last week. Nightly church meetings to continue and further the work, witness, and ministry of the congregation. In this business and distraction, was also the recognition of needing to hear this passage from Luke (10:38-42). It’s a short passage, but a powerful passage.
I know I need to move forward, and begin to delve deeper into next week’s message, but Jesus’ words to Martha keep playing in my head.
For a brief moment, take Martha’s name out of the above passage, and add your name in Martha’s place. What do you hear? Hopefully, Jesus telling you also that you are worried and distracted over many things.
Distractions? Oh, a few. But last week’s distractions and business can probably be added to a long list of distractions from the past few months: Vaughn’s health, preparing the house to be sold, finding a house closer to the church, all of the tasks involved with keeping a house marketable while on the market, extended family concerns, concerns about the life of the congregation, . . . My list could go on.
To be distracted can mean to be pulled in multiple directions at one time, without any particular focus. If this is true, then these distractions over the past months have prevented me from being fully present to you, dear brothers and sisters, dear friends in Christ. For that, I am deeply and truly sorry.
Yes, we can argue that life has a way of keeping us busy and out of trouble. Yes, we can argue that family comes first. But in the grander scheme of things, what it comes down to is the absence of focus on the one needful thing that Mary found: the connection to Jesus and to one another. We cannot support one another if we do not spend time together. We cannot know more about the other if we do not share with one another.
And so, things will, and can change. They must – I must.
The story of Mary and Martha is a story of balance between rest and work. More importantly, it is a story of balance between people and projects.
As you continue this day, this week, take time for others. Let them know you love them and care for them. Let others know you are thinking about them. Take time, too, to focus on Jesus. Spend time with Jesus.
Blessings and grace,