Tag Archives: peace

Tree Trauma

Tis the season of gifts. You have your list and I have mine. Retailers are working as hard as they can to make sure we want to give what they have. Thankfully, our family’s gift lists have been trimmed down over the years due to our intentional simplification. Today I found a picture of Christmas from about 20 years. We were in a large room and the gifts were all over the room, a huge pile in front of each person, above our heads. We were sitting down, but still. And, this was just our celebration with one side of the family. Everyone had at least 15 gifts; there were 11 of us in the picture. You do the math.

In the Christian faith, we mark this season before Christmas as a time of watching and waiting. We decorate with the focus on a few candles. Sunday by Sunday we light one candle, then two as we talk about gifts, The gifts we talk about in Advent are the ones God wants to give us: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. That’s it.

The older I get the less I want wrapped, bought gifts and the more I desperately crave God’s gifts.

Last week, we put up our tree. I love having the tree up and lit early so I can enjoy it for all the weeks leading to Christmas. Because of our empty nest, we are short on labor around here so I decided I could assemble the four pieces of our artificial tree by myself, get the stand and skirt on it, get the lights working, add all the red ribbon by myself and then coax my husband into adding ornaments with me later.

This proved to be a very difficult task for one person. It is still hot here in Texas so I was in a full body sweat by the time I got it all up, MOST of the lights working and ribbon swirling sort of attractively around it. For some reason my dog chose that time while I was distracted and sweating to help herself to a whole bag of pepper jack cheese. This cheese thing, plus the sweating really dampened my Christmas Spirit which comes and goes anyway due to the over-the-top nature of all things Christmas.

When my husband got home I shared my work of art and told him he had just enough time to add ornaments with me before the Cowboy game. He was motivated and moving fast. Then, in the midst of it all, I had a huge wave of Missing My Children which hit without warning as we put up ornament after ornament with their preschool and elementary age faces plus all the baby’s first Christmas ones and the ones we love the most and the ones that always make us laugh. So, yes, I started crying and telling my husband no one warned me about the empty nest tree part.

He coaxed me to move onward mostly because of the Cowboy game. At the last touches the tree seemed to sway a bit, then a bit more. He quietly asked if I’d secured the stand with the three big screws provided. I told him there were no screws provided and that I was sure we didn’t need them as long as no one ever brushed up against or came even remotely close to the tree. He disagreed.

What happened next involved both of us at times prone on the floor under the tree, yelling at each other better ways to do what needed to be done, needing a flashlight, dismantling the whole thing and sweating.

It’s up now, no longer swaying and quite beautiful.

Between the heat, the dog eating the cheese, the Empty Nest meltdown and the after the fact securing, I’m back where I started, just needing God’s gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.

Every one of us has our seasonal challenges, some are bigger than others, of course. May God’s best gifts continue to soothe you and yours this season.

 

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No Words: Just Prayers

So many things to feel right now. Last week (was that only last week?) began with an eclipse in North American that captured our attention for a while. That pleasantly distracted us from the difficulties and horror of Charlottesville before that. Then, seemingly out of nowhere Hurricane Harvey ripped into Texas and is still planted here, devastating communities and uprooting thousands and thousands of people.

For me, personally, the rest of life kept happening too. A son off to college and seeing him again after an intense 10 day boot camp environment. An empty nest that grieved me and freaked me out too. Officiating a beautiful wedding of people I cherish. Friends going through deep losses and more than difficult life situations.

Our daughter, son-in-law and baby grandson live 30 minutes from the coast of Texas. Their town, Dickinson, has been on the national news since Saturday. It is now under mandatory evacuation. It is still raining there.

My nest is no longer empty. We’ve added a couple of adults, a baby and 2 big dogs to the household. Seeing the devastation and upheaval on the news is one thing. When it is people and places you know, it is excruciating. Our daughter’s best friend is a nurse. She actually kayaked to work a few days ago. The hospital is understaffed, over full, rationing food. The staff is working back to back shifts with little sleep, no showers, all while not knowing about the status of their own homes.

If you think too long about the damage of the floods to the infrastructure, economy and health of this huge area, it is more than overwhelming.

One time, when I was in the midst of a health crisis, I had a nightmare that I was swimming in the deep of the ocean in the middle of the night. I could not see shore. The water was black around me. In the dream, I felt sharks bumping me. I woke up terrified and gasping for air. From deep in my heart came a scripture that I must have memorized along the way. I did not think of it. It just rose up inside me. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:2 Those words brought immediate peace and relief to me.

Today, I have so many feelings but not too many good words. Today, this scripture is a prayer in my heart for all who are touched by this hurricane or of pain and terrors of other types. God, send the comfort and reassurance of your Holy Spirit and give us peace. Amen     

Infuse Me With Peace

I walk every day. It is partially for physical reasons, partially for spiritual and emotional reasons and partially because my dog is addicted and will not let me do otherwise. She does not understand the concept of a day off from walking or rain or hot or cold. So, we walk.

Sometimes when I walk, I listen to silence. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts. Sometimes, I listen to Christian music. I can always get a soul-read on myself by paying attention to what I listen to. Lately, my soul has been thirsty only for music.

I’ve needed the music of my faith to guide me, to anchor me, to answer my prayers, to provide leadership to me in these trying times.

Our world is in conflict. Our country is in conflict. Our political system is in conflict. Many of our churches are in conflict. We are craving leadership, but who can we trust?

Sometimes I think it might just be me. Maybe I’m interpreting “how things are” in an overly negative way.  This morning however, even my local newspaper had a picture of the events of the weekend along with the headline “A Nightmare Scenario”.  Maybe it’s not just me.

I also know people who are personally going through difficult and trying times. They are living nightmares they did not choose to be in.  Other people, myself included, are just riding out normal life rites of passage that are not easy.

All these reasons are causing me to drink in the songs of my faith.

Everyone seems to be calling for statements, guidance and reassurance. I’ve tried to imagine if I had to issue some kind of statement right now, what it would be. No words seem adequate for all that is happening.

So, instead of issuing statements, I pray, for all of the above.

God, your ways are higher than my ways. You see all things and you know the layers, the complications, the history of all.

Help me now to be a loving, light-bearing citizen of this planet, this country, my family and friendship circles. Remind me again of what Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…but, take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

God, have you overcome hate? Because it seems to still live here. I don’t want it to live in me, but it does. Have you overcome racism? I see it and feel it and know it lives in me as well. I know darkness lives in our systems and that I’m a part of those sick systems. Have you overcome disease? Because it still seems to be attacking people I care about.  

It feels like too much. It feels like more than my heart can bear. It feels out of control and wrong.

And so I lift it all to your Light and ask that you guide my feet, my actions, my words.

This morning, on my walk, your song penetrated me, “Peace, peace be still. And like a child my heart obeys.” Infuse peace into my heart, O God. Give me an iv of it if you have to…not the kind of peace the world gives, rather, your kind. These nightmare days require your supernatural peace. I know I absolutely need it. Amen   

 

The Grace of Holy Tears

When I was just six years old, my grandfather, my beloved Paw Paw, took his life and so my journey with grief began. I didn’t know how to grieve and as you can imagine, my family was upside down. I held it in and made sure I was well-behaved and responsible.

Meanwhile, I looked for my Paw Paw everywhere, in grocery stores, malls, in every passing car and at church. I didn’t understand the mystery of death, how a person can be here and then just not. I still don’t understand it. His death led me to ministry. I didn’t know much at age six but I knew if I could help anyone not take that path, I would.

cindy-6

Six years ago today, I began another, more grown up grief journey when I lost a friend, co-worker, treasured ministry colleague with no warning. One day we were happily engaged in ministry and planning Sunday worship services, the next he was gone, leaving an entire congregation reeling, and me, devastated and suddenly in charge of a whole church. Once again, I held in my grief and was a well-behaved, responsible pastor. It was all I knew to do.

Holding it in was not that good for me. Six months later to the day, I learned I had breast cancer at age 49. Later, I melted in even more spectacular ways. It was all grief.

Doesn’t it seem like we should all be better at dealing with loss?  Everyone dies. Our lives are inexplicably interwoven with people we love. We have all lost loved ones. Why is grief so hard?

Grief is hard because it rubs up against sad, angry, guilty, mixed up, real life feelings. Sometimes we are not so good with feelings. Grief is also messy. It really has no time-table and it pops up at the strangest of times. For a while, I was a grief counselor and I remember a woman sharing that after her husband died, she misplaced a shoe in her own home. She found herself sobbing as she searched for a simple shoe. Later she realized she, like the shoe, had lost her sole/soul mate. A lost shoe triggered her sobs. Grief is also hard because we all grieve on different timetables from one another and we are all grieving the unique relationship we had with the person. No one else lost what you lost.

Listening to all those grieving people taught me that the most important thing about loss is to just go ahead and feel it. If you keep it in, it will circle back around to hurt you. We are not meant to keep grief in.

Go ahead and express what you’ve lost. Let the messy feelings come as they will. Don’t judge yourself because it is weeks, months, years or decades later. Cry. One of my supervisors once told me he believed our tears actually baptize our feelings. Baptize: to bless or sanctify, to make holy, to infuse with grace and God’s spirit.

This morning, six years after losing my friend, I cried as I’ve done lots of times now. I cried because so much shifted on that day. I cried because I still don’t understand the mystery of death. I cried for his family and for the church that lost him. I cried for the way my life changed that day and the challenges I’ve had since then. Each tear, baptized a messy feeling. Each tear felt like it cleansed a wound. Each tear not just a tear but a bit of Holy water, embedded with grace, forgiveness and a peace that passes understanding. Thanks be to God for the healing power of Holy tears for little girls, and big ones.

 

Six Days Later

I’ve wanted to write since last Tuesday’s momentous election.  I really have. I’ve had so many thoughts and concerns, just like you.  I’ve read too much, watched too much, seen so much since that time. I’ve disconnected a little bit. I’ve walked a lot. I’ve talked to friends and relatives. I couldn’t find the words to write. Or, I had too many words, some of them not appropriate for a blog, so I knew that wouldn’t do. I just needed to let some things simmer until I could articulate something.

One of the more amazing realizations of the last week for me has been a humbling understanding that not everyone sees the world like I do. It floors me that this is true. Not all Christians agree with me. We do not have the same values. Not all women agree with me. Not all white people think like me. I am humbled by realizing this. I sort of thought we were all one big happy family. We are not. I am now, six days later, feeling humbled by this.

No matter how you voted you have to agree we are in for some serious changes and that is hard for all of us. We do not know how this will turn out. Six days later, I’m aware that change is coming.

I was so stunned by the election’s outcome that it disoriented me for a while. On the day after, my daughter sent the Thanksgiving menu. I actually thought, “We are going to still have Thanksgiving?” I’m better now. Of course we will have Thanksgiving. Six days later, I’m still grateful for so much.

Six days later, I realize how much I need my touch points. I need to hang on to that which grounds me and gives me hope. I need to rely on routines and rituals: prayer, journaling, exercise, music, home, family, friends, nature. Thomas Merton put it like this, “If you yourself are at peace, then at least there is some peace in the world.” Six days later, I am working at being at peace.

Saturday started as a gloomy day for me, but I went ahead and tied up my tennis shoes, leashed my dog and headed out for a touch point walk. We found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a 5K to raise awareness for a disease. Once you are accidently in a 5K you can’t get out and so we walked. Little girls in tutus walked by followed by little boys in super hero capes. Old people ran by (how do they do that?) I saw people of all colors. Moms and Dads with strollers. I saw people who were clearly of different faiths. I marveled, “Look at them, all of them, out here raising awareness.”  Some had shirts on in memory of someone who had died from the disease.

Later, I engaged in another touch point, planning our family’s weekly menus and buying groceries. In front of the store, teenagers were collecting food items for the hungry. Shoppers were coming out of the store in droves with extra bags of food for those in need. It surprised me. I actually said out loud, “Well would you look at that” to no one at all except myself.

Then, the coach from my son’s high school football team sent an email with pictures. A third grade football team had disappointingly had their opponent forfeit the last game of the season. They had no one to play them. The coach called on his players to suit up and come “play the little guys to make their last game memorable.”  These big high school football players, who only the night before had played a play off game themselves, suited up, playing these little boys on a beautiful fall Saturday morning.

Six days later, I still have no good words. I feel humbled. I feel the changes coming. I feel the need to engage in those basic touch points. I am ready to have Thanksgiving. And, I still see good people who care, doing good things all around me.

Our country is torn and anxious right now but it is the same country where people do 5K runs for others, where the hungry are fed and where giant high school athletes care about little boys who just want to play football.  Thank God for that. Touch points.

Amenities, Not Necessities

“Be glad you exited your ministry job right now,” the voicemail from my pastor friend said.  “…It is really hard to know what to say as a pastor when every time you go to church there has been a new tragedy.” I could hear the pain in her voice and I feel it in my spirit too. The last two tragedies in Nice, France and Baton Rouge; I haven’t even been able to assimilate into my soul yet. It is too much.

About a year ago, when something absolutely unimaginably sad happened, I remember crying out to God, “I cannot bear this.”  And then, God silently whispering back, “Don’t bear it. You can’t. Just hold it in my light.”  That is all I know to do right now with the string of violence in our world. I’m lifting it to God’s healing, transforming light. I’m praying for peace in my spirit because I need it. If we all prayed for just that, surely things would be better for all, right?

Meanwhile, the way life is unfolding for me now, I keep learning lessons. I’m in a season of release and being stilled. I let go of a ministry job. I fell in a hole, broke my ankle, lost  mobility and the ability to drive.  I went from an important set of keys to no keys.  Something also happened to my phone in the last weeks and I lost all calendar events. My contacts quit showing up as names only numbers. It created a season of adding back and reflecting about what things to put on my calendar and what contacts did I actually want or need. I told a friend, “I’m in this season of being kind of downsized and stripped down…and it is actually okay.”

This past weekend, our family headed to our friend’s lake house for an annual gathering of two families. Packed and on the road we got the call. A big storm had passed through the area.  Power lines were down.  Trees were down.  Likely, there would be no power for days. We stopped the car and talked it over. If we went it would be more like camping. No air conditioning, no electricity, no hot showers or lights or refrigerators or freezers or kitchen appliances that work. Our vote was “let’s go for it.” I surprised myself and everyone else with my good attitude.

Since my breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, the medication I’m on has made me perpetually very hot (temperature-wise that is).  Once, in a meeting, someone asked me if I thought the room was too warm, before I could answer a colleague said “You’re asking the sun if she is hot?”  Yes, I’ve become the sun. When I cleaned out my office, there were 10 fans in there. I’m not kidding. So, subtract the ac, the lights, the ceiling fans from my life and what do you have? Lessons learned.

I learned that the things I think are necessary are really not. It was fine.  It was fun.  It was bearable. Even I don’t need everything I think I do.

I became grateful…for a breeze, some shade, a passing cloud, cold water, an unexpected cooling rain shower.

When I thought I might not make it, I changed something, like my location or my clothes or my activity. It helped.

We got creative. The gas grill became our friend. We made Monkey Bread and coffee on the grill as well as pancakes, breakfast tacos and other foods you would not expect to see grilled. We were proud of our ingenuity.

We let go. My high school son, his friend and I all lost all our cellphone charge the morning after we arrived. We had no phones and no way to plug in those chargers we brought. We had to do something different with our free time. We had to tell time a different way. We couldn’t check the radar. We had to look at the sky. Guess what? That works. It was nice. It was freeing.  So was not worrying about how we looked or what we wore.

The power never did come back on. We had a most memorable, sweaty time. On the way home yesterday, soaking up the ac in the car, I realized I have been guilty of making amenities necessities. They are not.

Recent events show us, if nothing else, that life is so fragile, precious and fleeting. Our moments are so short. I pray I will keep learning what is truly necessary and stay grateful for all the amenities and blessings I have. I pray for peace in my spirit and yours.

Stilled, stripped, downsized, humbled, grateful. I wonder what else this new season holds?

 

A Tiny Sanctuary: The Mammogram Dressing Room

Once you’ve had breast cancer, there is no such thing as a routine mammogram. Maybe it is routine to the medical team.  Maybe it is routine to others, but not to you. Today, I had my every six month ritual of driving to the place, checking in, waiting, changing in that tiny dressing room, waiting, the actual mammogram and then more waiting.

For the first time since my diagnosis four years ago, I decided to be a big girl and go alone.  My husband reluctantly agreed. When I was driving there, overcome with anxiety and internal drama, tears started flowing and I realized maybe being a big girl was overrated. At the exact moment, I wheeled in to the parking lot, I received a text from my friend Rhonda who was diagnosed at the same exact time as me, with the same exact thing. She knows there is no such thing as a routine mammogram. Her words were a holy, well-timed balm: “Still saying payers. I know how anxious you are.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Feel God’s presence.” I gathered myself, dried my tears and went in.

I tried to tell myself all the good things about mammograms: at least there is an easy, sort of painless way to have this checked out twice a year; at least they don’t weigh you beforehand; at least they are nice there; their wifi password is peaceofmind; they have peppermints; previous cancer patients get to find out that day if they are okay; I always have a good, gentle caring technician who asks me about 700 times if I’m okay.

Once I was ushered into the little dressing room, I realized that was my tiny, every six months, sanctuary, the shelf you lay your clothes on, my altar. Before the mammogram, my prayers were for peace, calm, reassurance; afterwards, it was the place I could cry tears of relief and joy and whisper thank you’s to God and savor, for that moment, my good health,

When I was checking out, the receptionist told me, “Girl, when you were going in, you looked like you were walking the green mile.” I said, “You’re pretty observant, it is a scary walk back there for me.”  There is no such thing as a routine mammogram, but I’m so grateful for it and for the tiny sanctuary moments along the way.