When the rain falls and the floods rise

Into every life a little rain must fall.

These words paraphrased from a Longfellow poem have been ringing in my ears today. It isn’t raining here, actually it’s been kind of a dry week. But I feel the rain.

Many of my friends and family are also feeling the rain today; this week holds many shades of sorrow. Friends are literally still digging out from storms that blasted a month ago. Family are tending to grief and memories of loved ones lost long enough ago that others are forgetting and still so fresh as to prick tears from those close by. Other friends sit freshly wounded at the loss of life, too soon, too sad, too shocking to describe.

Grief is so common, it could provide the one universal human experience. Everyone who loves eventually feels the pain of loss. Longfellow says it is inevitable. Into every life a little rain MUST fall. But why must it?

I want to reject it. Wall it off, don’t let it in the gates. Ward off loss at every turn and with all my defenses, I’d turn myself into the loneliest woman in the world.

I don’t have the answer to the question of why.

I don’t know why it has to hurt so much to love.

I don’t know why life ends too soon.

I just don’t know.

There is little comfort in the knowledge that others hurt, too. Surely the answer to my pain is not the pain of another. Still, Jesus said we are blessed when we mourn because we shall be comforted. Perhaps the answer is not in avoiding our pain, but in seeking to comfort each other in what we all will come to experience in time.

Comfort each other with the same comfort you have received.

-St. Paul

Finding ways to empathize may connect us in ways that heal the other rifts that divide us. If I can see you as one who grieves, I can perhaps overlook ways in which we differ. I can find a way to love those I find unlovely.

Longfellow is awfully optimistic, promising the sun is still shining behind the clouds. Sometimes it hides for so long.

I have seen the sun after a storm, its brilliance brighter than before. It is not a guarantee that the rain won’t fall again, but perhaps enough to remind me to believe.

The Rainy Day
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

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The Team That Screams the Loudest

When I was in school, we would often have pep rallies where teams or grade levels would throw a cheer back and forth, getting louder every time until all the students in that section were screaming at the top of their lungs. There was only one rule, the team that screams the loudest wins.

As I think about all of those poor vocal folds getting cracked and torn (it was a badge of honor to lose your voice because of your intensity) I am also pondering the issues surrounding internet communications. These lines of text are called social media, but I really have a hard time referring to a field of battle as anything approaching social. I’m feeling ranty and today’s my day off, so of course I am blogging about it.

Yesterday in a Facebook group someone shared a screen-shot of an actual conversation between two people who live just over 90 miles from me. The interaction was the worst of the worst of trolling, name-calling, accusations, stereotyping, all that was missing was ALL CAPS! What made matters worse was that one of the people involved in this vicious behavior proudly displays on their public information that they attended a university loosely affiliated with my denomination.

To understand why that even matters, I have to tell you that there aren’t that many Quakers walking around the US these days. We have a good reputation with most people who learned about our involvement with abolition, women’s rights, and the peace movement. Social justice is a pretty big deal to those who cherish our history and look to influence the world today. When a person even tenuously associated with our name gets it wrong, it makes a big splash.

The person posting brought this up. At that point I had a choice to make. I could defend this person’s ridiculous behavior or I could disown them, or I could say that not all Quakers believe the way he does. I suppose the other choice would be to scroll by and say nothing…but we all know you can’t let someone be wrong on Facebook.

I can not even begin to count the number of interactions I have seen in internet communications that leave me shaking my head at the bruised fingertips and cracked nails that fall victim to the ideology planted in our formative years that the team that screams the loudest wins.

Does it? Does it really?

Some days I think so. Those days are depressing. Those are the days that I don’t want to get our of bed or interact with other humans. I can’t stand the thought that so much of our lives, our futures, our children’s futures are being determined by who is shouting the loudest, and often the vulgar-est, and often the hateful-est. It is mob rule at its worst.

There are other days when I have faith in the subversive forms of love and service that hide their glory behind the scenes bringing peace-filled moments into the darkest places. On those first days, I try to duck my head and involve myself in those second day kinds of activities. I’m determined to be part of the solution, and shouting louder is only going to cost me my voice, and maybe my heart, and possibly my soul.

What if we gave up shouting for our teams and starting serving one another in love?

What if we stopped identifying by our ideology or our politics or our class and started living into the faith we profess? (I’m mostly talking to my Christian sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, cousins and relations–those who claim as master the one who said the absolutely greatest thing is to love God and the second to love the person next to us.)

What if we did choose to scroll by those wrong people on the internet and whisper a prayer for them instead of shouting them down with the greatest insults?

I am all for standing against injustice. I think we ought to speak the truth. I also believe the best way to do so is in person with full accountability for the things we say and do.

If I post about homelessness and do not love the homeless, I am a noisy gong or clanging symbol.
If I post about racial reconciliation and do not love individuals and communities other than those like me & mine, I am accomplishing nothing.
If I post about a cause that matters and am not actually doing anything to make things better myself, personally, on my own time, I am nothing.

Where there are tweets, they will cease.
Where there are posts, they will pass away.
Where there are selfies, they will fade.

But these remain:

Faith

Hope

Love

And the greatest of these enduring forces is Love.

ReFreshing

Juneteenth & Philando Castile, Still Waiting

A much overlooked holiday was observed in African American communities around the nation this week. Juneteenth is a celebration of the day the last slaves in Texas were told they were free. It was June 19th, 1865 and more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years. These men, women, and children had been free on paper and it did not touch the reality of their lives.

Moving forward in time 100 years to 1965 would show a nation of “free” black people whose lives over the past century were constricted, hemmed in by colored water fountains, restrooms, bus seating, redlining, segregated schools and more than 500 lynchings in the state of Mississippi alone. That year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched from Selma to Montgomery. That year, the Voting Rights Act was passed.

Let’s bring it 50 years further and observe 2015 where the nation was divided over the police-involved deaths of Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and other people of color. A USA Today article lists 30 names of unarmed African Americans killed by police in the one year following Michael Brown’s death. (According to an article from The Washington Post, that number may be much higher.)

On Friday of last week, just before many communities were to celebrate the anniversary of their freedom, a jury handed down an aquittal in the case of the officer who fired 7 shots into the car where Philando Castile had moments before been enjoying a day with two loved ones, his girlfriend and her young daughter. By all accounts, Mr. Castile was a model citizen who served his community well. He was a legal gun owner, and he disclosed his possession of that gun to the police when they approached the car. The officer involved claims he feared that Mr. Castile was reaching for his weapon, but there is no evidence to support his fear.

Fear.

I do not doubt that the officer in question was afraid. I do not doubt that he immediately regretted his decision to open fire, it is all over the video evidence. I do not doubt that this moment will haunt him for the rest of his life. But it was his fear that killed Philando Castile. Fear that seemingly had no basis other than the color of Mr. Castile’s skin.

I sit at my computer as a white woman who has been let off with a warning every time I’ve been pulled over in my life, pondering the death of a man with a broken tail light.

At the end of this week following Juneteenth 2017 I can’t help thinking that we are still waiting for the news to be broadcast far enough that black people are free, that we are all created equal, and that it is up to every one of us to make those written statements a reality.

 

More Resources:
Timeline from slavery to civil rights
History of lynching in Mississippi from 1865 to 1965

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.