Thursday, January 2, 2014

Effective, Efficient, and Joyful

You few but faithful who likely only come across this blog because you subscribed to it years ago when I used to update it regularly, may have noticed that I haven't been good on updating this blog since I started having another outlet for creative writing and teaching and reflecting (read: preaching).

Another thing I'm not big on lately? New Year's Resolutions.

But like everyone else on the planet, I've been thinking about things of old, and what may be yet to come.

2013 is likely not a year that will stand out for years to come. It was a year with lots of hard lessons and struggles with a few good things thrown in between.

But looking forward to 2014, I have a great deal to look forward to.

This year, I turn 30. An age that, just a few years ago, made me a bit sad and realize that I would one day need to "settle down" and all that jazz "adults" talk about. But somewhere in the early part of 2013, that seemed to happen. I already feel settled and content and though I still look forward to opportunities to "go" - I also always really, really look forward to coming home.

My 20s were epic. Really, truly: even I can't believe everything I saw, did, and experienced in those short few years. But at the same time: I'm glad they're behind me, and I can't wait for the next decade that starts this year. I can't wait to turn 30.

So: 2014, Bring it on! As I referenced above, I haven't set resolutions in a while. But this year? This year I have some pretty great goals to look forward to! Above all else, my goal this year is to be effective, efficient, and joyful in my life, my adventures, and my work.

"Work" - both at/through the church, in the "general" church, and in my ordination work.

Because this is the year. This is the year that has been in the making for over 10 years. The year that I will spend a great deal of my time stressing, thinking, over-thinking, and stressing some more over answers I struggle to put into words, and words I struggle to edit perfectly that will still manage to be imperfect no matter how many times I edit them. This, is the year I give up on the fear and the doubt, and declare that God willing, I will effectively, efficiently, and joyfully submit all of my paperwork for ordination, pass a psychological evaluation that says I'm fit for ministry, and pass my interviews with flying colors.

This is the year that I will travel to the Philippines for a "work" meeting with the Global Young People's Convocation and the Young People's Ministries of The United Methodist Church. This is the year I will not stress about how long that means I will be away, and instead will enjoy the time I piggyback on being in that part of the world to go see my South African sister Amy in Japan.

This is the year I will do these things effectively, efficiently, and - above all else - joyfully.

This list is only the the beginning of what I know will be great in the year to come. I can't wait to discover all that is yet to be revealed! I can't wait to find out if I will have a new niece or nephew. To meet my friends' young, beautiful children. To meet strangers who will soon be friends. To see how many miles I put on my car "just because."

Because this - 2014 - will be a year to be remembered. and all throughout it, I will celebrate things my life, my work and my ministry. I will celebrate my friends, my family, and my community. and I will celebrate moments in life, great and small.

As I prepare for this year of effectiveness, efficiency, and joy, I must say: I hope I will get to celebrate some of them with you!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

1,000 Words

I have been thoroughly enjoying daily reflections through the photo-a-day challenge hosted by Rethink Church.

If photos are worth 1,000 words, then these photos shall prove to be my 40,000 words of reflection for Lent. Follow along on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook: I've been posting them on all 3.

Today's Reflection:
Day 6: Wonder.
Surveying the wonder-ful, wonder-filled cross.
 #photoadaylent #rethinkchurch

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who Am I?

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent.

I have contemplated what practices I might add or things I might let go for this season, and as I did so, I kept coming back to this:

The United Methodist Church's "ReThink Church" campaign.

At first, I thought it seemed silly. Like an excuse to use social media more during Lent.

But then I read the topics more closely. and I thought: what an opportunity. Because in a photograph, it not only invites creativity, but requires a greater deal of reflection on each of them than I might offer on any other day.

Take, for example: today. All day I thought about this question and how I might depict it honestly....
Who Am I?

The same words rolled over and over again in my head...

From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.

But what does that even mean?

For me, today, it means that I am nothing without the God who knit me in my mother's womb.

I am nothing without the God who feeds my soul
and makes life worth living.

I am nothing.

Who am I?

I am dust.

#rethinkchurch #photoadaylent

Sunday, February 10, 2013

To be Transfigured - and Transformed

Somehow, it seems like if a giant blizzard is going to come through NE South Dakota, it has to happen on a Saturday night. Which means I cancelled church so everyone would stay safe, warm, and off the roads (the state issued a no-travel advisory, and the interstates are closed).

I sure do wish I had known church were going to be cancelled before I put the work into preparing services and printing bulletins! ha. Since that isn't the case, and I have been terrible about blogging lately, I thought I'd take care of both and share the text of my sermon here....

I spent a couple of days away this week at a meeting in Memphis, TN. The meeting was the first of the new committee that I was asked to be a part of for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.

When I was asked to be a part of this committee, I was excited because for one thing, I didn't even know The United Methodist Church had a Global AIDS Fund. and to be honest, I feel like I don't know as much as I should about the HIV/AIDS pandemic that affects the whole world, let alone what is happening here in the US, or even more specifically here in South Dakota.

So I went to this meeting this week with an open mind and some excitement to learn more. More about the virus, more about what we can do about it, more about the ways it impacts all of us, even those who don't realize it.

I was only able to be there for about half of the meeting, and when I left I was significantly more disappointed than I expected. Disappointed because this brief meeting was even more life-giving and than I ever anticipated. I was overwhelmed with information within the first hour, and it continued to pour out for hours to come. We met for a couple of hours on Wednesday night and then 12 hours on Thursday, and by the time we wrapped up for the day on Thursday, I'm pretty sure its safe to say all of our heads were spinning, but also full of anticipation and hope for what may continue to come from their conversations that continued without me on Friday and Saturday.

And while I expect I will continue to digest what I have learned, heard, and seen for days - maybe even weeks - to come, there is one theme in particular that kept coming up throughout the meeting that continues to stand out above all others even now, leaving me to mull it over for the past few days.
    These one them circled around a simple but loaded word: Stigma.

In countless aspects of our lives, we stigmatize the people and places around us. The more distant we believe a person, place or issue is from us, the more likely it seems we are to believe the stereotypes we hear. Right?

And while on occasion stereotypes can be stated as positives, they are never actually good things. They always leave someone out, and they always lump people into categories. Stereotypes lead us to assume that because someone is a part of one group, they must have - or lack - certain qualities. In this way, stereotypes leave out basic logic.

During my meeting with the Global AIDS Fund in Memphis this week, this kind of negative and broad stereotypes of HIV/AIDS were discussed and evident as a part of every conversation we shared.

Because with HIV/AIDS, the stigmas are huge. Somehow, despite information we have access to that says otherwise, much of the global community continues to believe things like being HIV+ is a death sentence. We believe that everyone who is HIV+ must be sexually promiscuous. We believe HIV is something that mostly on affects "other" people. People far from here. People in distant places like Africa.

Of course none of these things are true. None of them.

And while I would love to share more with you about all I am learning - and will continue to learn - about HIV and stigmas like these, most of us will never take time to learn more or figure out what is true, because talking about these stigmas in particular makes us extremely uncomfortable. Talking about HIV/AIDS will require us to breach tough and uncomfortable topics that are a part of the human experience: topics like sex and human sexuality.

Topics we would much prefer to only talk about privately and never publicly. Topics like health care, education, and poverty.

All things we'd rather not talk about because, frankly, we are afraid.

Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of showing our own biases, expectations, hopes and visions that others may disagree with. Afraid of sharing visions we have of our lives that don't quite share the reality of circumstances around us.

We - and I say we to include myself here - are more often than not, afraid.

But our fear isn't our sin. Our sin is that because of our fear, we stop listening.

In our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 928-43a), we are told the story of Jesus' transfiguration. Literally, in this passage, 3 of Jesus' disciples- Peter and James and John- were witness to Jesus taking on a physical transformation and likeness of God while in prayer on the mountain.

As Jesus prayed, we are told, His clothes turned a dazzling white and his whole appearance, including His face, changed. The disciples gave witness to Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to Jesus about a departure.

A departure that the disciples did not yet understand, but that Jesus was already preparing for. You see, this moment of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountaintop is often considered the turning point between Jesus' public ministry, and Jesus' passion - Jesus' journey to the cross.

Not knowing what words had been shared between these three Godly men on the mountaintop, and not yet understanding what was yet to come, the disciples watched in awe, speaking only after the fact to give thanks to Jesus, acknowledging that it was good for them to have been there to give witness.

But listen to what happens next. In Luke 9:34-35 it reads,
    34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

So often in Scripture when we are told someone was filled with fear, we hear the words, "fear not."

But this time, it boldly sticks out to me that this is not the case. Sometimes, we can't dictate how we feel or will react simply because we don't want to be afraid. Instead, overcoming our fear and living fully in spite of that fear, requires action.

Action like that required by the voice of God, speaking to the disciples and to us as he dictates, "listen!"


A lost art, isn't it?

How often do we truly take time to listen. To take a break from sharing what we believe or think we know. To stop trying to teach. To stop trying to fill the silence...
    And to simply, listen.

To listen to those seeking to lead us, not because of our fear, but in spite of it.

To listen to and acknowledge as equals those who share some of our fear, no matter the reason for their fear.

   We all have things we are afraid of, and I can't help but to believe that in this passage, as Jesus prepared for the journey that would lead Him to the cross, Jesus might have even shared in some of that fear.
    But I imagine His fear being different. Not fear of what was about to happen to Him, and not a fear of the unknown as we so often have. For these things, Jesus knew were in God's hands. Instead, I can't help but to wonder if Jesus' fear weren't more about those around Him. Fear that His disciples, those he had come to rely on as His closest friends and support throughout His ministry, would allow their fear to stop them.

When things became tough or uncomfortable or or increasingly unfamiliar, the disciples became afraid. Just like we become afraid.

And it is when that fear surrounds us like a cloud of fog we are told the disciples literally entered into, our visibility, like theirs, decreases and we lose focus on what is important. Eventually we allow it to stop us all together, or worse, we turn and go back, for we know where to find the edge of the dense fog we've entered, and we decide it may well be better to live with clarity of the past than to carry on with that we can't see or understand in the future.

sound familiar?

There is safety in the familiar. The known. The trusted. A shared, concrete vision of what lies ahead.

But when the disciples lost that vision and were terrified in the midst of that dense cloud, they were not promised safety. They were not told not to be afraid.
    They were told to listen to the voice of Jesus.

To carry on. To move ahead into the unknown. To make space in their foggy, unclear surroundings for ideas, dreams, and visions to be more fully realized in the unknown future.

To do so, is to make room not for our own vision, but for the vision that accompanies the unforeseen miracles of Jesus working through our lives and the lives of those around us.

Miracles like the healing the disciples witnessed at the end of this passage. A miracle that allowed them the privilege of unexpectedly being "astounded by the greatness of God." (Luke 9:43)

And all of that because the disciples decided to follow the voice of God instead of their own. To not just face but embrace their fear and the unimaginable circumstances that accompanied it.

All of us hold this fear of the unknown within us, whether it is the people, places, or ideas that surround us. Most of us hold some bit of fear of the path our lives are taking when something comes up that is unknown or unfamiliar or unexpected.

The problem with that fear is not that we have it. Rather, it is the greater question of what we do with it.

Of how we are being called to move with - and beyond - our fear in such a way that we might more fully embrace God's call to listen.

On this, Transfiguration Sunday, may we seek to listen in such a way that we, like the Disciples, would hear the voice of God. That we would be so in touch with God, that we too might be changed, from the inside out.

May it be so.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Searching for the Light

Advent. My favorite season of the year.

A season of anticipation.

A season of preparation.

A season of Darkness.

And there is always so much darkness this time of year. This time of year we spend so much time, energy and money trying to convince ourselves that we should be happy. Somehow, we have allowed that idea to translate into buying things for ourselves and each other... because the more stuff we have, the happier we'll be, right?

Nothing puts that happiness to a hault faster than tragedy. And we've had plenty of that, haven't we? Personal or local tragedies aside, I can't even list all of them that have made it on national news and strongly impacted individuals throughout our country. Not the least of these, of course, involve shootings. Killing our innocent children. 28 lives lost in Newtown, CT. A 16 year old in Pierre, SD while his 16 year old friend sits in jail being tried as an adult...

Did you hear me say 28 lives in Newtown?

I wish that number didn't catch you off guard, but if you've watched the news at all, I bet it has. They keep talking about 26 lives. 20 children, 6 teachers/administrators... but let us not forget even for a moment and even in the face of tragedy that 28 lives were lost that day, including the life of the shooter, age 20, and his mother, the owner of the gun but as far as we know an innocent by-stander.

Any life lost is a tragedy. EVERY life lost is a loss. Life is Sacred, and we should mourn for ALL of these lives we have lost.

There are so many places this conversation can and even should go, and I will be among the voices calling (again and again) for more gun control.

But first: let us grieve together. Let us rest in the darkness if we need to. Let us grieve together and process these inconceivable circumstances: but let us not forget our call to care for all people.

In the midst of a call to pray for the victims' families (and trust me I have a great deal), I can't help but to keep coming back to how quickly we forget.

We forget that people suffer. We forget that much as those families are surely living in hell as they are without words or understanding... as surely as they are mourning the loss of their children, mothers and sisters... so too is a family grieving the mystery and confusion and pain of losing a mother and a brother and a nephew and a sister... and while they try to process that loss, they can't help but to feel guilty, pained and at a loss of words for their own flesh and blood that owned the weapons and pulled the trigger.

And while I won't defend actions, and I don't believe anyone should own such weapons of destruction, I can't help but to push back. To ask us to consider the hell that young man was surely living in long before December 14. A hell that he lived with every day that eventually led him to that tragic, heart-breaking day of events we will never forget. I can't help but wonder how many others out there are living in hell... and I wonder how many people in each of our lives we are failing to reach out to because we can't be bothered. Because we're tired. Because they're hard to deal with. Because we have more questions than answers. Because we don't understand.

...because we think dreadful results of unattended mental illness will "never happen to us."

Mental illness itself is not cause for such tragedies as these, but it cannot be ignored, and we cannot pretend like we are doing anything short of harm by ignoring it.

I have struggled with depression. I have struggled with anxiety. Mental illness, in all its forms, great and small, is a terrible form of darkness that can feel overwhelming and inescapable: but it's not. There is help out there if we are willing to reach out... if people are willing to reach out to those in need...

Advent is a season of Darkness, and this year in particular, there seems to be darkness all around. Depression is rampant during the holidays. Pain of loss and tragedy are all around us.

But let us not be consumed by it.

Let us never forget that even in darkness, the Light shines. With each passing day, it shines brighter still.

Soon, the Christ candle will be lit as the child of Light is fully revealed to us on Christmas.

And then? Then we shall not find happiness we so often associate with the season. Then we shall find JOY.

JOY of the Spirit that comes with the knowledge and understanding of what it really means that "God is with us."

This kind of JOY can be present even in the darkness. Even in our pain. Even when the world around us seems to be falling apart.

And yes: even in the midst of tragedy and unanswerable questions.

Because the light shines bright, and the darkness, no matter how hard it tries, cannot overcome it.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

After months a build-up and anticipation, the presidential election of the United States will have collected all ballots by this time tomorrow. I just hope there are no issues with those votes so that we can also have a declared president-elect shortly thereafter.

This election is so divisive, I imagine it will be met with mixed emotions either way: for celebrations or deep sadness, topped with the opposite as we (hopefully) remember those who are equally passionate and not celebrating. The 2008 election was perhaps equally memorable for me because of the intense high I felt watching our president give his acceptance speech, and then feeling the deep lows and incredible loss of the divisiveness and pain it caused to people I love. I pray love, grace and mercy will be upon all of us as we seek ways to move forward, no matter the outcome.

That said, I admit am anything but indifferent in these elections (the presidential election is far from the only one that matters!), but I have been doing my best to be bi-partisan. The most important thing, is that people are informed and VOTE. People fought for decades to make sure that we - women, people of color, people who have limited resources, etc - could vote. Let us not take that lightly. Let us vote as if our lives DEPEND on it. Because for many, it DOES.

For what it's worth, I also wish to say: I'm tired of hearing, "but my vote doesn't matter." In the words of Edward Everett Hale, "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I can not do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

Do that thing you can do. VOTE.

My anxiety-ridden heart that prays our God will have mercy on us, a nation that is blessed but not for any of our own doing. A nation I love and am a proud citizen of, but not anywhere close to perfect or "the best place on earth" as we are broken and sinful and arrogant. More often than not, we prove to be a nation who doesn't care for its poor, who further marginalizes the oppressed, and who acts with entitlement rather than grace or love.

And so, before my list goes on, I am going to stop my election-related ramblings, closing instead with the messy words of my heart that I keep praying over and over. I invite you to pray them with me earnestly, believing that as we pray them, they can become truth in real time.

God of love help us to live into the grace you have first shown us. In the midst of our anxiety and war-torn, conflicting words, help us to find patience and peace. We need you, Oh God, as we seek grace and peace with the results and forthcoming changes, but especially grace, peace and patience with each other in the midst of our disagreements. Help us to remember that you alone are Holy and Good, but that you walk with all of us in our (long) journey toward perfection. Lord, in your mercy... hear our prayers...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Just another Sunday Morning

The sun casts its shadows and creats colors of clarity in the early morning.

Cool crisp air wraps around and fills my lungs, offering a welcome reminder of the sacredness of winter; offering reason for celebration of life itself.

Two morning worship services complete with children's choirs and a feast with breads from around the globe as we celebrate World Communion Sunday.

A peaceful afternoon preparing to celebrate the life of a loved member of our community.

An invitation by another family preparing to return from different corners of the world to to celebrate and honor the life of their beloved mother.

Cherished moments indeed.

If my cup was overflowing before, then we better get prepared for a flood...

Monday, October 1, 2012


I've had so many amazing conversations with incredible people from around the globe in the past couple of weeks that I can't even keep track of them all. I'm still processing much of what I heard, saw, experienced, learned. As I reflect on all of these things, my favorite hindsight discoveries are the ones about me and how I've changed.

Such as: Last week I ran into an old aquaintance I see now and then at different United Methodist gatherings. It didn't take long to recall that we originally met several years ago at a National Council of Churches General Assembly. I was only beginning to get involved in the Ecumenical movement then, but I loved it! Since then I have fallen out of connection and not been involved with any organized ecumenical work.

As our conversation continued, I was asked if I had considered/would consider applying for a scholarship to attend the World Council of Churches General Assembly in South Korea. It would be fantastic to get involved again! and better yet: I have never been to South Korea. What a great opportunity!

But then I heard words come out of my mouth that never would have a year (or even 6 months!?) ago. "I'd love to, but I just don't have time for another trip right now, and I certainly can't take up any more commitments."

Words that surprised me, but are every bit as true now as they were when they rolled off my tongue. And the best part? These words are not just true, but bring a great satisfaction to me. Right now, my life is overflowing not with commitments that are holding me back or requiring me to say, "no." Rather, my life is overflowing with so many great things that I can't imagine taking time away from them to do something else, even if the other things may also be things I would love.

I can't imagine saying yes right now because right now, my cup is full. More than that: my cup is overflowing.

Life is Good.

I am not the person I was a year ago. I am settled and content and happy to be spending time at home. I know I won't be getting on a plane for close to 6 months, and I couldn't be happier about it.

My, how times have changed! But God is good, and it is great to be in this place that I am called to. A place I am learning to call home.

Life is good.
     and my cup is overflowing.

Praise be to God.