Surely There’s a Saltine Somewhere

Have you ever had something so painful or traumatic happen to you that you are afraid of revisiting it? I’ve recently been wrestling with just such a thing and I quietly asked God about it. “Should I even open that drawer?” And the silent whisper in my spirit that was not me, answered back, “Yes, and not only open that drawer but make a list of what you are thankful for that is in there.” I wish everyone could have seen my shocked and incredulous face at even that thought. I find that idea just distasteful which is, again, how I know it was not my idea.

We are in the season of gratitude. My friends are posting on social media their sweet points of gratitude. I love this because it helps me to be grateful for things I might not have thought of on my own.

Lately, I’ve been reading about techniques for surviving adversity and a strange recurring theme keeps popping up. It is gratitude. Making a small thankful list at the end of each day has seen some people through some huge difficulties. Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, about the sudden death of her husband says that is the one thing that saved her in the midst of that momentous loss. She says it is a “practice”; something you have to train yourself to do. I agree.

I’d add a couple of other thankful thoughts to that one.

Zoom In. Sometimes, especially when life is really hard, you have to zoom in on the very small things to be grateful. In Texas, in this season, that is akin to looking at a pile of Texas brown leaves and finding the one sort of red or gold one to marvel at. You have to go small sometimes to find your gratitude. I have a friend going through some really rough chemo right now. She told me she found herself giving God thanks for a saltine cracker. No matter what is happening to us, there’s a saltine in there somewhere. Find it and give thanks for it.

Give thanks for what you are without. Sometimes it is the absence of something hard that we can be grateful for. Since I got off my cancer medication, I no longer have joint and foot pain with each step. I’m grateful for what is missing.

If you’ve lost something or someone you love, give thanks for what you had. It is a miracle that we cross paths with anyone at all, much less those who have enhanced our lives in some way. Give thanks that you met; knew each other, had fun, shared life, shared a journey or a season. Thank God that you had that job or your health or those children in your home while it lasted.

 See the funny. There is always something funny. Have you noticed how some of the best funerals are filled with laughter? I’ve laughed with people on their death beds or who have been through great tragedy. Laughter is grace.  Yesterday, my husband was taking a very deep Sunday afternoon nap on the couch. He was sleeping so long and hard, I feared he was about to miss something so I went to gently wake him up. Instead,  I tripped on his shoes and fell, with my whole self, onto his face. This is funny enough but then he didn’t even wake up at which point I panicked and started waking him up in a far less gentle way. He woke up to me shaking him violently and screaming, “I fell on you and you’re still sleeping!”  This is hilarious to me because he always sleeps harder than a human should and I always fall. But, both of those things don’t usually happen at the same time. I cannot quit laughing about this. See the funny. Give thanks for it.  It is grace in this hard life.

Give thanks in advance for what will be. In life, there are always hidden sweet surprises around every corner. You don’t know what they are. You can’t know. Most, we can’t even imagine. Maybe it will be a saltine, a red leaf, a memory, a new friend, laughter through tears. You don’t know what it is, only that it will be. Thank God now for the sweet surprises to come.

 

Advertisements

Is This War?

Sometimes I think we are at war. At war with the environment. At war with each other. At war with other countries. At war with whoever disagrees with us. At war with those who are different…even with those in our own families.

Yesterday, we all got word of another mass shooting, in another place where people are supposed to be free and safe. Shortly after that, the predictable war of words started because no one can agree on what to do. People immediately started criticizing one another about Why This is Happening Again. Someone even lashed out at the fact that someone else invoked prayer because “if prayer helped, people wouldn’t be shot in worship.”

All I know is it feels like more than any one of us can bear. It is too much. It is wrong. We are wrong. Nothing we are currently doing is working. Tearing one another apart is certainly not working either.

This Texas church shooting hits home for me because I’ve served the last 30 years as a pastor in a variety of churches in Texas. In the last decade or so, I sat in on meetings where we talked about what to do if this kind of unthinkable violence happened during worship. The sad truth was that no amount of security would help because churches are such open and welcoming places, filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of issues. Our doors, lots of them are open. I believe the same could be said of concerts, sporting events, parks…well, everywhere.

One expert said, “The best thing I can tell you as a pastor on the platform is to hold up a Bible or a hymnal and maybe you can deflect a shot…and then run.” I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure I could not deflect a shot nor would I run from my people if that was happening. Never.”

I can’t even find words. I’m writing today to say, I can’t even find words.

In Isaiah, there is a glimpse of how it might be without war and it has to do with living more into the way we were created. As a person of faith, I still believe in that vision…where God’s reality includes no war. Swords, spears and even guns, vehicles and other things that destroy us turn into shovels, plows and hoes…tools for growing things and feeding people. Isaiah 2:4

God, today, I have no words. Can you please help us stop these wars? We cannot do it on our own.

Breaking News

This weekend was another happy college football weekend for our family, if you don’t count the outcome of the game. It was especially delicious for us because all our children were there, our son-in-law, our grandson, other relatives and lots of friends, old and new.

Football weekends are always very busy and loud with cannons, fireworks, lots of yelling, singing, music, fly overs, marching bands and such. In the midst of all that noise this weekend, my daughter confided that she definitely felt the baby move this week.

I have written and spoken about this phenomenon before. It’s called quickening. If women wrote more theology I’m sure this would be classified as an “official” theological concept because I’m not sure there is any other more God-filled idea than this..

In the noise of life, in the busyness and movement of all things, something flutters, quickens. It is new life unfolding in a dark and hidden place.

When my daughter mentioned this, I felt like we should stop everything and make a giant announcement about it including taking over all the news channels and social media. Breaking news: we’ve got a flutter here, a quickening, something new.

Right now in our world and in our news feeds there is so much muck, darkness, accusation and trouble. The same is true in our people circles, at least in mine. People you and I love are facing hard and challenging things.

That’s why quickening is breaking news. I believe God is absolutely faithful with the quickening. Whatever we are facing, if we are just still long enough, there is a flutter of new life. We don’t know the form it will take, but it is there.

For those facing disease and pain, there is a flutter of health and relief trying to win in your body. Grieving? Look for a flicker of light or laughter to come back, even for a second. Facing something hard? An addiction, a difficult relationship, a financial burden,  a job decision? Somewhere in all that God is at work, knitting something new that is going to flutter past you or make itself evident in a conversation, a dream or a prayer. It will be subtle because that’s how these things go. You might miss if it you aren’t still enough or perceptive enough.

God is absolutely faithful in the quickening. God is a masterful  Creator when it comes to  at new life. And, I think God enjoys the surprise of it too. Just when you thought all was lost, it’s not. Just when you believed you’d never feel again, you do. When all seems dead, a flutter.

Emily Dickinson perceived it when she wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

Pregnant women say quickening feels like that, hope with feathers…like a butterfly’s wings or a tiny hummingbird moving inside. God’s faithful quickening in us, in our too real, messy, sometimes sad and loud lives is actually the best breaking news of the day.

 

Drops of Grace

To be spiritually alive is to be awake. Scripture is full of reminders to wake up, watch, notice and be thankful. It’s easy to notice when wrong things are happening. It’s easy to see stress unfolding as well as injustice, anger, doubt and hardship. Cultivating an awareness of grace seems more difficult, kind of like a subtle art.

It helps if you can move more slowly or have time to reflect. It helps if you put down your phone for a while…something I find hard to do. I think it helps if you write down your grace moments.

Todd Agnew wrote the song “Grace Like Rain” which has the line, “Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me.” Can you picture tiny drops of grace falling in your life?

I started making note of a few of mine.

This weekend, I had a chance to talk to our 19-year-old son, face to face, in person, for a while, a rare thing since he’s been away at college. In the middle of one of my sentences he took my hand and kissed it. I’m not even making that up. A drop of grace.

Our middle son emails me articles he thinks I would like. Recently, one he sent was so on target that it quoted one of my favorite theologians right in the middle of it. He didn’t know my favorite theologian but he does know me. A drop of grace.

Our daughter nominated me in the sweetest way for a breast cancer survivor award coming up. Her words were like drops of grace

A couple of weeks ago our 1-year-old grandson’s nanny got sick. I quickly packed and headed 5 hours to their house to help that week. When I arrived, my grandson looked to see who was coming in. He toddled, then ran to me, arms straight up in that universal “hold me” gesture. When I picked him up he gave me a big boy hug with arms tight and head on my shoulder. Grace.

In writing a presentation for an upcoming event, I struggled for days with the ending. I prayed for God to help me see what to say. The next day, it came to me, so surprising and right that I laughed out loud. Drops of grace.

In addition to that, there are golden red leaves, cooler temperatures, pumpkins and nature’s grace all around us now.

Being alive spiritually means you see what might be unseen to others. You notice. You give thanks.

I wonder what kind of delicious grace is raining down on you right now?

Beautiful Letting Go

It’s finally fall. In Texas we’ve been enduring ridiculous October days with high temperatures in the 90s. This makes us cranky, unable to breathe and creates fashion problems because you cannot wear sweaters and cute boots when you are having a heat stroke. We can’t decorate because pumpkins rot so fast in hot weather and rotting pumpkins is not the look we were going for.

Just this week the weather finally has turned for us. There are no words for how this feels. I made tortilla soup and pumpkin bread as fast as I could. I was ready with long pants, a long sleeved shirt and fuzzy socks for the first time in what seemed like decades.

Yesterday, I saw this quote for the first time, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.” I don’t know who said it, but it caught my imagination. My yoga teacher often says at the end of our practice, “let go of that which no longer serves you.” In yoga, for me, that is stress, a busy mind and the bound up feeling in my joints. I always think about what else I might need to let go of as well.

I’ve never before tied autumn to the practice of letting go. But, as the leaves release, perhaps so should we. Maybe it is time to let go of a bad habit, a toxic relationship or  the clutter in our homes. Maybe it is a season to let go of an old hairstyle, a resentment, an anger or a destructive grief. Maybe it is time to release the clothes we’ve not worn once 1977 or from 3 sizes ago. Maybe it is time to let go of a job, a burden or that worry that you will never fix. Maybe it is time to release our resistance to help and call the therapist, the doctor or call on God.

More than once, I’ve had to call on God’s spirit to let go of something that was no longer serving me. The prayer was simple, “God, I need you because I cannot let go of this alone.”

Imagine, in this new season as we marvel at the golden, orange and red leaves of fall, breathe in the crisp cool air, make and eat pumpkin everything, that we are also taking our cue from nature and allow a beautiful letting go.

 

 

 

The Power of Pink

It’s that time of year when pink takes over sports, products, articles and all facets of media as we focus on how breast cancer has or will change the lives of 1 in 8 women and many men. Yes, I know some people don’t like the pink emphasis, but I do.

Six years ago at this time, I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. I had two weeks where I knew before I could widely tell people because I hadn’t seen a surgeon yet and did not know The Plan. During that time, I had a couple of days at the university I attended, Texas A&M. It is where my dad went to school and my brother. It is where I met my husband. It is where I met some of my still best friends. It is the undergraduate university for all three of our children. Woven throughout my Aggie experience is the Corps of Cadets at A&M.

The cadets now wear pink carnations at a home football game each year to increase breast cancer awareness. Six years ago, at a home football game, in the midst of the crowds, I sat down on a curb in the shadow of the football stadium and lost it. I wept for all the not-knowing I was in the midst of. I wept for all I feared I might miss. I wept because I was weeping in public on a curb at an event that was supposed to be fun. I wept because cadets have to wear pink carnations.

Last Saturday, six years later, I found myself standing in a spot very close to the same spot where I lost it. Since then, I’ve finished treatment, thanks in part to a new test (The Breast Cancer Index) which gave my doctor more information about my specific response to treatment. I’ve benefitted personally from advancements made due to the hype/funds raised and spotlight on this disease.

In the last six years, I’ve worn lots of pink. I’ve seen two children graduate from college, our daughter get her Master’s degree and our youngest graduate from high school. I helped plan and attended our daughter’s wedding. I was there (right there) for the birth of our first grand baby and now am excited about another one on the way. It’s true! And in and out of all that, lots of sweet, precious, normal life.  This time as I stood in that  same spot, instead of melthing, I was watching our third child as drummer in the Aggie Band.

In that six year time frame, I’ve lost two friends, Lina and Sharon, to breast cancer. I’ve seen others diagnosed and fight back (Rhonda, Robin, Vickie, Tana, Melissa, Terri, Kim, Stephanie and Kenda.). I’ve been encouraged by another tribe of  women who  fought the disease before me. They inspired me by being happy, healthy and telling me I’d get past this. One even told me, “You’ll one day have days where you won’t even think about it,” She was right.

Pink matters to me.The ribbons and the hype supports us in the fight. It honors my journey and the journey of so many.

This weekend the entire Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M once again wore pink carnations. This time our youngest son wore one. He was 13 when I was diagnosed. I wore my new pink Aggie breast cancer shirt even though most everyone else was in maroon. My husband had no trouble finding me this week in the crowds.

The back of my shirt says “There’s no place like hope.” That says it all. Cadets in carnations give me hope. Pink is hope. Thank God for hope.

Living Prayer

I wanted to write about pumpkins today. I wanted to celebrate October blue skies and the hope and golden orange crunchy nature of fall finally arriving, or at least the hope of it.

Instead, like you, I awoke to heartbreaking news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. My Twitter feed filled with bad images and violence and of course, chatter of all types.

I made my husband turn off the news because I actually felt the hurt and horror deep in my heart. I couldn’t bear it.

On top of this unbelievably awful thing, there are Other Things, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, politics, racism, sexism, discrimination, mistrust, a violent destroying of each other with our words and our angst.

Not to mention the Personal Things: normal struggles of life, death, disease, relationships, finances. Things that do not go as planned. Layers of Things, bombarding us and the people we love.

Any one of these Things is enough, too much actually. Instead they are coming these days in waves and clumps and avalanches, literally.

As I walked today, I asked God to guide me about what to write about. I almost just published a fourteen word blog, “Lord, have mercy on us. We are tearing your world and each other apart.”

Instead, a word of hope came in a song by Alison Krauss with these words with a twist from an old hymn, “Take my life and let me be a living prayer my God to Thee.” (A Living Prayer)

Let me be a living prayer.

To me this means we fall to our knees in prayer. We acknowledge that there is evil in our world and we are a part of it. We confess that our hearts are breaking, shattered even. And then we stand up and live a prayer.

We work for gun control or to increase awareness and action around mental health issues. We give blood, We mentor an at-risk child. We raise our kids with more love and compassion and less bigotry and divisiveness. We run for office or try to change something, somewhere because guess what? Whatever we are currently doing is not working too well. And, when we argue endlessly and hatefully about what to change and how to change it we, ourselves, set everything back.

Last week, I cried watching the beginning of a football game, (a football game!)  because I could see very real generational pain on the players’ faces. That whole thing was about so much more than patriotism. It was about how we are tearing each other apart–word by word, violent action by violent action, personally, systemically. It is about our culture…in this country. It is about how we treat human beings. Lord have mercy, seriously, have mercy on us.

I am heartbroken today. I’m also praying. I’m also asking God to help me be a living prayer. I hope you will join me in falling to your knees and then in getting up and doing something different, something better.