Head to Toe

Heads and feet define the edges of our lives.

We emerge into the world, tumbling head-first into waiting arms.

We trip along through our days, sometimes falling head over heels.

When we are up, we are getting a-head.

When we are behind, we are dragging our feet.

Good advice gives us a heads up, and teaches us to watch our step.

Enthusiasm has us jumping in with both feet, often finding ourselves in over our heads.

If you’ve said too much, you’ll find a foot in your mouth.

It may signal a big head, if you are taciturn instead.

Advantages could mean getting a head start or a leg up.

Stepping up is sometimes applauded, but be careful if you stick your neck out.

Nothing hurts like a stubbed toe or a throbbing head.

Throwing caution to the wind may find you running head-long into the unknown, footloose and fancy-free.

The laurel wreath may grace the head of one who dares to dip their toe in.

To be completely loved is to be adored from the top of one’s head to the soles of one’s feet.

A life complete will leave footprints in the hearts and minds of those we meet.

Until the end, when under a headstone, each one lies six feet deep.

Confusion and Joy

My message for Easter Sunday Celebration at First Friends Church in Emporia, KS.

John 20:1-21

Confusion and Joy

These were the emotions that accompanied the experiences of Jesus’s closest friends and followers on the day of his resurrection. And why not? Any one of us would feel the same. For years they had followed him, listened to his teaching, witnessed his miracles and even the glory. They believed he was the Messiah, the one who would rescue God’s people Israel from their cruel oppressors. He would be their hero, arrayed in armor for battle, leading the charge.

Only he wasn’t. And he didn’t.

Instead he surrendered without a fight. He wouldn’t put up a defense in his trial. He let them bind him, whip him, beat him, spit on him, mock him, pull out his beard, and then he carried his cross to the place where they would crucify him.

Maybe they were wrong. Maybe he wasn’t the Messiah. Maybe they’d all been conned by a smooth talker who knew just the right things to say. Maybe they were wrong and he was just a good teacher intent on reminding Israel of God’s love and mercy. Maybe…the maybes were endless. What do you do when your dreams come crashing down?

The disciples holed up in an upper room, one with a good solid lock on the door.

The women gathered their spices and went to finish the job of burying the man they had followed who treated them like no man ever had before. Like persons of worth. Like bearers of the divine image. Like God’s children, not objects, not slaves, but companions for the journey. The women rolled up their sleeves and got to work as soon as the Sabbath had ended and they set out to anoint the body before it had another day to swelter in the tomb.

When they arrived, they were met with a puzzle. The stone was rolled away. The door open and unguarded. The tomb empty. What had happened? Who had been here, where was the body, how do they now carry out their final tribute to their friend without a body? The questions multiplied by the minute. Not once did they dare to hope that they would see him alive again.

Mary took charge, running to find Peter and John. She told them what they had seen, and they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John stopped at the door, but Peter being Peter ran right on in and stood in the space that had just held the body of their friend. Empty. Just the cloth binding that had wrapped his corpse lying on the shelf to show that the space had been occupied.

They returned, more questions than before. No answers. No idea of what to do next.

Mary stayed behind. Overwhelmed with grief and frustration, unable to perform this last service for her teacher, she wept. Through her tears she gazed again into the tomb and there—where minutes before there was darkness and empty space—sat two angels. I don’t know if the day could have gotten any stranger for her at this point, but they speak to her of her tears. Why is she weeping when Jesus is not dead? Who is she looking for?

She turns as she answers, as if to search for him once again, she just wants to know where his body is. And then she sees him. Thinking he is the gardener, she asks him where they have taken him. She volunteers to go and carry him back to where he belongs. He speaks her name and she knows. It’s Jesus.

Her confusion turns to joy in a moment, so great that she throws herself at his feet. Fresh tears burst forth. There is no logic in this moment, she doesn’t try to figure it all out. He is alive and that is all that matters to her. She is consumed by a joy as overpowering as her grief had been moments ago.

Jesus gave her a message and she carried it faithfully to tell the disciples that he was alive, risen from the dead.

Other Gospels tell us that they did not believe her. It was news too good to be true, the delusion of a woman lost in despair.

That night he stands among them and blesses them. “Peace” he says, imparting to them divine wholeness, healing, restoration, forgiveness for their faithlessness, all in one breath. And then he begins to speak to them of the mission he has for them. Just as the father had sent him, he now is sending them to carry his message of the kingdom, to bring hope and healing and light where darkness, brokenness, and resignation have reigned for so long.

If this were a fairytale, at this point we would say that they all lived happily ever after. But we know that is not true in this case. They did not immediately lose their questions, their doubt, their need. They did not immediately receive the peace he offered. They did not immediately understand their mission. Like us, they were human beings living real lives with real hardship. But on that day, resurrection day, their confusion was overcome by their joy.

Jesus is alive.

They walked with him, and listened to him again for a time before he ascended into heaven. And he promised them that they would not be left alone. That promise is ours as well. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us in our real lives with real hardship, real questions, real doubts.

Today we celebrate the day that their confusion turned to joy, and we can join our joy with theirs because in rising from the dead, he defeated the last fear, the last stronghold. Jesus has conquered death and hell and the grave, and no matter what we experience in our earthly lives we know we do not walk alone and the victory he won is ours as well.

Jesus lives and so do we, free to live in this bodily life, free to look forward to a life that does not end, free to know that our lives can have eternal significance as we follow him.

Christ has risen, Alleluia!

 

My Red Glasses

I wear them everywhere, in fact I wear them so much it has become how friends of mine find me in a crowd. I wear them on my head and they serve a great function of keeping my hair out of my face or calming that one unruly curl that wants to go in its own direction. More than a fashion statement, my red sunglasses with sparkly hearts on the earpieces are a vital and necessary part of my migraine coping system.

What many who see me and many who know me well would never suspect is that my red glasses have a secret super-power.

They are my light shield.

Light is such a great thing, it helps us see by bouncing off of things in our path and gives us pleasure in revealing different hues of paint splotched on canvas in breathtaking works of art. But light is also my nemesis.

I have chronic migraine. There are very few days when I am completely symptom free, most of my hours are dominated by either prodrome symptoms or postdrome symptoms, with migraine attacks in the middle.

My triggers are many and varied, which makes it difficult to anticipate or avoid them. Here is a partial list:
flashing/strobing light
changes in barometric pressure
change in sleep patterns
over-scheduling
food additives
food combinations
too much sugar
too much caffeine
not enough caffeine
Mondays…just kidding, but sometimes it is hard to pin down the cause.

The strategy is to avoid as many of these triggers as possible while still living a semblance of a normal life with a job, a spouse, and three beautiful children. I exercise to increase endorphin levels which helps lessen my symptoms. I try to sleep at regular times, but I also struggle with insomnia. I keep my schedule at a bare minimum whenever possible so that if something unexpected arises I will be able to absorb it without immediate breakdown. I avoid rich desserts and high-sugar foods, but I crave sweets hardcore when I am headed toward an attack. I keep my caffeine consumption at a steady level, and regularly go completely off of caffeine for periods of time in order to prevent a dependency on it to function.

Some triggers I simply cannot avoid. I live in northeast Kansas. We have weather systems that roll through regularly that send me to bed with fatigue, dizziness, and a complete inability to keep a thought in my head. I am a mom and a pastor, which means there are times that people need me that don’t fit nicely into my schedule. Sometimes I do too much. Especially on days when I feel good.

And sometimes I eat the pizza anyway, because life is short and what is one more migraine when I am going to have one later anyway?

But I digress. I was talking about my glasses. My red sunglasses that hold my hair so nicely and go with everything I wear, who possess a secret super-power. They cover my eyes when the sun is too bright on a cloudy day. They cover my eyes when someone installed a ceiling fan under a light and I have to stay in that space but want to avoid the instant nausea and dizziness. They cover my eyes when the light is the wrong frequency or has a short and blinks randomly. They are my shield against pain when I have a migraine but I have to function anyway.

Fun, cute, fierce, and one of the many coping mechanisms that make my life with chronic migraine just that much more bearable.

Coping where I can.
Honestly.
ReFreshing

Just Breathe

Life is full of demands. It seems like something or someone always wants our time, our energy, our focus. Work. Family. Kids. Health. Friends. Interests. Causes. My list of things to do, people to see, books to read, miles to run, events to attend is never-ending.

I can’t place all of the blame on culture, society, or even on my list. I am the master of my list, nothing is on it unless I put it there. Saying “no” may not be comfortable, but it is a necessary skill if I am to keep my sanity. So from time to time, I decline. I make space. I push back against the tide of demands.

And just breathe.

There are ads everywhere telling you all of the things you cannot live without, and needs surrounding on every side screaming that they cannot live without you. In the end, though, the one and only thing that is absolutely necessary every minute of the day is to fill your lungs with air and blow it back out again.

Just breathe.

Do you know that breathing not only takes vital oxygen to your cells, but it massages your internal organs and sends chemical signals that affect your adrenaline production? Short and fast breaths are part of your fight or flight emergency system. Slow, deep, full breaths can bring calmness and a sense of well-being even in the middle of a stress-filled moment.

Breathe.

Fill your lungs with air that presses to the bottom of your capacity, that stretches the space between your ribs both front and back, that causes your spine to align and your posture to straighten. You can’t take a deep, full breath when you are hunched over. Breathing supports life and health in so many ways.

So breathe in with your body in a neutral position, feet shoulder width apart whether you are sitting or standing. Let the breath carry your heart high, let your belly melt down and out. Press your breath into your rib space and find more room under your shoulder blades.

And exhale. Breathe in deep, and blow out the air like a balloon. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and use your diaphragm to squeeze all the air out of your lungs, then relax and let them fill again.

Close your eyes and let yourself just breathe for a minute or two and you will find your mind clearer, your body more invigorated, your posture straighter, your mood improved.

Just Breathe.

ReFreshing

Spokesperson

Last week I attended the birthday party of a newly 24-year-old gay man in a bar. I know that may come as a shock to some of you, and you might even hit “unsubscribe” because of it. Before you do, though, I hope you will hear me out one last time.
I was at a queer birthday bash in a bar because that is precisely where I believe Jesus would be. He didn’t get the reputation of being a “friend of sinners” by keeping his distance from the gritty side of life. And he didn’t get called a glutton and a drunkard by abstaining.

That can be tough to hear, I know, especially if you have spent a good portion of your life in places that teach an image of a porcelain Jesus. You know the ones, alabaster skin, waif-like beauty, clean, manicured nails.

I can’t tell you whether Jesus was man-gorgeous, but I can tell you that he got his hands dirty. Jesus was a tekton, a builder working alongside his father. He hung out with fishermen. He called himself a shepherd. None of these occupations are known for their similarities to the fragrant allure of the perfume counter.

Some of the rest of you are going to be angry because I insinuated that being at a gay man’s birthday party is gritty. You would be correct. It was one of the most low-key gatherings I have attended in a while, and I am a pastor so do not underestimate just how tame things get when I am around.

I sat at a table of people with diverse lives, histories, and backgrounds. Some had boozy drinks, others savored a craft beer, some mostly sipped water. Not one of them expected that the late-30’s mom type who just sat at their empty space was a pastor, except the person who invited me to sit beside them. That person knew my secret identity, but no one else did. So they were honest. Honest about their lives. Honest about their dreams. Honest about their frustrations.

One person spoke about their interactions with the post-worship crowds on Sunday at a local deli counter. One nicely dressed Christian physically assaulted her co-worker because they were out of his favorite chicken. Here was the moment that would out me.

I had a choice. I could have remained incognito, the one person at the table who knew me would not have revealed my secret. Honestly, though, there was no way I could not say what came next. “I’m so sorry that happened. As a pastor, that ticks me off and breaks my heart.” Then I added just for flair, “Next time he comes in, you should tell him you are praying for him.” I couldn’t help it. She would not strike the average church goer in middle-America as being the praying type.

I’m not always a good spokesperson for Jesus. I would guess that all of us fall short from time to time, and I can’t say I’ve never been the guy so mad about chicken that I blew it. (Ok, maybe not about chicken, but other things for sure.)

My point in writing this is really to call my Christ-following friends out of the closet, out of the church doors, out of our enclaves and onto a chair at a table, in a bar, celebrating the life of someone God loves with people whose only interaction with Christians is post-worship hangry-ness. If we want people to have a different view of Christ, a different impression of Christians, we have got to spend more time with them.

I can hear the objections, “But, go to a bar?” Yes! GO to the bar. “Sit with people who are drinking?” Yes! SIT with people. (Ok, sit where you are invited to sit, and maybe don’t start at a biker bar, and make good choices, and be safe, and take a friend.) But the only way you are going to look like Jesus–friend of sinner, glutton, drunkard–is to go where Jesus went and hang with those society has labeled as not enough.

Spending time with people does not mean we agree with all their choices or that we share all of their opinions. What it does in us is to demonstrate the value of those around us, and what it does for them is offer an alternative view of Christ and his church. Those open doors are worth everything.

We have done an awfully good job of dividing the world into “us” and “them.” We hang out with people who are like us, and sometimes in a very literal sense we say, to hell with “them.” I believe that breaks the heart of the One who came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility. It is uncomfortable and challenging to spend time with people who are not just like us. Growth is uncomfortable, but necessary if we are to love “them.” If our personal righteousness and reputation are more important to us than bringing light and life into the lives of others, we aren’t heeding our master’s call.

Our presence with them, hearing their stories, seeing the light in their eyes, will change our hearts. Which is great, because Jesus already loves them. If we truly believe what we say with our mouths, that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, with us at the top of the list, then Jesus Christ died to save those we have too often labeled as defective. And it’s time to peel off the sticker we’ve plastered over Christ’s stamp declaring their worth as priceless.

My friend, whose birthday was being celebrated, pulled me aside and asked, “Is it wrong or selfish of me that I am glad that all these people are here for me?” Three tables, about 12-15 people total. “No, my friend. It’s your birthday, and you are worth celebrating.”

Joining God in loving those around us,
ReFreshing

A beautiful dress

This was at the top of my soon to be 9-year-old daughter’s birthday list.
“A buetaful dress” to be more precise.

My rough and tumble tom boy.
My sweet and sometimes spastic child who can’t always find herself in space.
My awkward, lovely, frustrating, cherished girl.

She wants a beautiful dress.

It makes me misty-eyed because it reminds me that at the center of herself she just wants to be loved. She longs to be appreciated and celebrated.

It is hard to remember this when she won’t brush her long red curly hair.
It is hard to remember when I have to ask her six times to stay out of her brother’s personal space.
It is hard to remember when everything about her is and always has been loud and sharp and on the move.

But she is almost always in a skirt and tights, and she loves to make bracelets.
Why wouldn’t she want a beautiful dress?

Why is it so hard for me, as her mother, to see this tender heart longing to be seen?

Am I too busy?
Have I fallen into the rut of seeing only her challenges?
Whatever the cause, I am awake and aware of her today.

Because she wants a beautiful dress.

God, open my eyes to see the heart in each of my children that cries out to be loved, cherished, seen and understood. Give me awareness of my own tendency to walk through life so busy that I miss the quieter call to love these precious gifts.
Amen

Awareness, beauty, gratitude–
Ingredients for a ReFreshing Life

**I wrote this post over a year ago and set it aside. It jumped out at me today, tugging again at my heart.

Keep It Moving–Doula Tuesday

When labor starts, contractions are light and mamma has lots of energy. She is upbeat and if at home, she flits around making sure everything is ready for her new little one to arrive. As things progress, contractions intensify and she slows down.

There is a natural rhythm to her pattern of moving, pausing, moving again. When contractions require all of her focus, she may find a place and stay there. The rocking chair, the couch, her bed. It takes so much energy to stay on top of the waves that she may not want to shift positions or move.

If she is settled in, it can take a lot to break in to her world and convince her to get up. It is really beneficial for women to move during all stages of labor. Baby is moving with the contractions, turning and shifting, looking for the one way her head will fit down into the pelvic opening. She’ll make it on her own eventually, but it helps if mamma will move as well.

As mamma walks, sways, kneels, the pelvis rocks, tilts, and opens in ways that encourage baby to make her descent. If we can keep mamma moving, we can keep labor progressing.

Practical tips are these: mamma needs to move or change positions every hour, and get up to go to the toilet every hour and a half. These are not hard and fast rules, but they are a guideline to keep in mind while supporting labor.

If labor is taking place in a hospital setting, even if mamma is tied to the bed because of monitoring or an epidural, we can keep her moving. If you haven’t seen or used a peanut ball, these tools open so many doors for positioning in bed. Mamma may not be able to get up to go to the toilet, but it is important if she is under anesthetic with an I.V. to remember to ask for her bladder to be emptied for her. She may not feel the fullness of her bladder, but that does not mean it isn’t in need of relief. Voiding makes room for things to keep moving.

Check out the videos below for tips on moving in labor and the use of a peanut ball.

Working together to move labor along.
ReFreshing!

Steadfast Heart Doula