Time to Wake Up!

This morning Enoch slept late. On Mondays and Wednesdays he has speech at 8 am before going to preschool at 9 am so I let him sleep in until about 8:20 today before waking him up to get ready for preschool at 9. It always cracks me up to wake him up because for the most part, as soon as I open the door he’s bouncing out of bed ready to go. Now this is only when he’s slept late. If you’ve actually tried to get him up early, he’s like a walking zombie. But if you’ve let him sleep a little later and get that little bit of extra time to snuggle and stretch and enjoy life under the covers, he’s pretty ready to head out into the day.

There are few days these days that I have that extra time to sleep or snuggle into the covers mostly because Evy enjoys climbing onto the bed and jumping, snuggling, talking and pulling my eyelids up to have time to snuggle with me before it’s time to get going. 98% of the time I LOVE this and I wouldn’t trade a minute. There are 2% of times though where they’ve somehow gotten a flashlight and are shining that in my eyes to wake me up and I just am panicked and jolted out of sleep. On those days I don’t really start the day out fresh or ready to go, it feels like I’m just trying to survive to opening my eyes, getting some caffeine, getting kids dressed, and trying as much as I can to savor moments in between. Oh the life of working Mommy. Or any Mommy for that matter.

One of the verses from this morning’s Upper Room was one of my all time favorites, Matthew 11:28, “Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Maybe it says a great deal about my life and real priorities that this is a favorite. It definitely speaks to my tired self and mostly crazy hectic silly life. Although this verse speaks to me about the source of our Living Water, the one who nourishes us and provides us rest, I also think it sometimes give me a slight, tiny, little excuse to have a stressful schedule and not take very good care of myself because I have very strong faith in the God who is all sufficient. God is all sufficient and there for us in the ups and downs but that doesn’t mean we take advantage and get so caught up in the ho hum of doing life that we miss all of the joys and fun and amazingness along the way!

If I actually took time to be with God and dwell with God and got some sleep and didn’t schedule things like crazy and didn’t try to juggle all the balls in the air, I might find that my busyness is more about me and wanting to feel needed or wanting to measure up and other prideful and self-doubting things.

This morning on my lovely Pandora station, needtobreathe’s “Slumber” came on and boy I needed that. Maybe it doesn’t make any sense, but I think that sometimes the hectic routines of life seem much more like a “slumber” than actually grasping hold of life in real and transformative ways. I don’t want to be in the drone of routine and slumber, I want to experience and be open to change and to even be open to correction and accountability. I don’t want every Sunday or Monday or Thursday to look exactly the same or to be going through the motions of preaching, teaching, listening or being Mommy. I know that we do that. I know that it’s probably a magnificent coping mechanism and one that is super important when juggling, but are we going to be so zoned out that we realize we’re 6 weeks into the semester and we haven’t found our rhythm yet between work, church, family and anything in between?

It’s a challenge. Time to wake up? Or keep slumbering? Depending on God not just to provide but to also inspire, correct, and commit? Saying things out loud in sermons and studies or really putting them into practice for myself? Who does Christ call us to BE in this world, not just DO, not just pretend, not just negotiate, not just rationalize?

“Wake on up from your slumber, Come on open up your eyes”

Days they force you
Back under those covers
Lazy mornings they multiply
But glory’s waiting
Outside your window
So wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes

Tongues are violent
Personal and focused
Tough to beat with
Your steady mind
But hearts are stronger after broken
So wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by
All the while
Your invitation
Wake on up from your slumber
Come on open up your eyes

Take from vandals
All you want now
But please don’t trade it in for life
Replace the feeble
With the fable
Wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by
All the while
Your invitation
Wake on up from your slumber
Come on open up your eyes

Sing like we used to
Dance when you want to
Taste of the breakthrough
And open wide

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by
All the while
Your invitation
Wake on up from your slumber
Come on open up your eyes

Sing like we used to
And dance like you want to
Open up your eyes

A little too much…

I don’t know why but it’s been a hard couple of days in thinking about brain tumor land. Don’t worry nothing new – no change. This sounds so morbid, but on Saturday night I dreamed that I died – literally – and then went to heaven. Let’s just say in my dream, heaven was not what I expected. The pros – my three cats greeted me at the entrance. Who knows what that means…could be because two weeks ago I found out that the oldest cat Pug is in the beginning stages of kidney and renal failure or then again it could be because they greet me at the door all the time and any time they have thrown up a hair ball somewhere or made another mess Mike likes to threaten them. =0)

I don’t remember a ton about the dream or how things were laid out or anything and I am not at all saying that this is what it’s like or any sort of premonition at all (is that enough disclaimers there?), but I spent the dream waiting for people to get there. Now I know that heaven is heaven and duh we’re not going to be miserable sitting around swinging our legs back and forth waiting for the rest of our family to get there, but that was the dream. It sucked. Royally.

I didn’t really tell anyone about it until yesterday primarily because I had been thinking about it a lot and I know that if I say something out loud or if I write about it, in some crazy way, that helps me to process and make sense of things.

And then brain tumor stuff has just been popping up everywhere – wonderful friends checking in, a minister on the conference prayer list that we should be praying for, on everyone’s cancer statuses yesterday which was great, me still trying to get hair gel to smooth down the little hairs from the scar that are now long enough to look a little ridiculous, and the sometimes headaches and tingling that I often ignore but sometimes in one of these moods, wonder about. It is so stinking frustrating sometimes. On Sunday at the South Carolina delegation meeting we listened to a presentation on Benefits and Pension for close to two hours hearing about possible changes at the upcoming General Conference. When talking about life insurance and death benefits and spouses and pensions and insurance and disability for that long there is a large part of me that wants to just think of this as a tiny bump in the road and things are going to be fine and I’ll make it to the mandatory retirement age of 70. It could happen. I know that it could. And there’s another part of me that wants to figure out ways to provide and care for my family no matter what will happen and looking at all scenarios have as much of a plan as I can.

For the most part, I don’t even like bringing it up because I know if I talk to Josh about it while playing basketball or Mike about it when we get home from Wesley or to whoever in some ways, especially for my family, it stresses them out too. They don’t know what’s going to happen any more than I do.

It’s scary. And there’s still a part of me that is angry and frustrated that this is even part of our lives. There’s enough to worry about with kids and bills and living out one’s calling and vocational discernment to actually deal with all of this.

So that’s where I am. Saying to God it may just be a little too much and that I’m a little tired of battling in so many areas.

Are pastors “supposed” to say that? Who knows. But if I don’t keep it real and have my integrity than to me I’m nothing but a hypocrite and someone in denial.

The irony of this is that last night I preached during our sermon series on the book of Romans about God making impossible things possible. We were specifically looking at Romans 4 where it talks about Abraham and his faith. We then had some time of silence at the end where we could have a chance to think about some things that we would see or do or figure out or try or find if only we didn’t have doubts or fears or even sometimes “reality” holding us back. What would you do with your life if you could do absolutely anything and money nor education nor baggage nor what people would think were obstacles for you? What are some of your hopes and dreams for your family, your friends, your community, your church, your work? If we threw all of the “buts” out the window what would we grasp hold of and pursue?

What are the things that get in the way of that? What are some things we need to let go of in order to move forward and try to make our dreams into a reality?

These aren’t questions that you wrestle with for five minutes and than you’re good to go. Or maybe that works for you. I find that I have to intentionally pray and meditate and think and actually force myself to look and open my eyes and heart to the possibilities while telling my fears and frustration and failures to “shut it” for a few minutes so that I can see the light.

Because sometimes it feels like it’s a little too much. Actually sometimes it feels like it’s a lot too much. As excited as I was to move from 3 months to 6 months in the amount of MRI checks, there is a scared part of me that is nervous about that. What if that’s 3 months of something growing and us not doing something about it? I know that my doctors would never have let me go longer if I wasn’t ready to, but that’s what fears do…they somehow make it where even the things you want, you’re nervous about because you’re still feeling a way into a “new normal” or any kind of normal for that matter.

Then you go down the list of all of the people that have it so much worse than you and that things could be a million times more terrible….but that’s not comforting. I don’t want anyone to be going through anything like tumors or cancer or sickness and uncertainty of any kind. Does it mean that you’re thankful for all that God has done, is doing and will do? Sure. I have no idea what I would do without that. I need those times between me and God where I can say what I need to say and cry out and wrestle and not be censored by anyone.

We need time to sit and rest and be with God. We need time to let our fears and frustrations and disillusionment and grief go so that we can let new life spring forth not just in the midst of the weeds randomly despite everything, but in ways that we nurture and water and grow.

So I guess in this rambling post that may not be for anyone except for me writing and figuring this out – I need to find and make time to discern and be open to what God would have me do in this time and place, what God is calling my family to do, our community to do, Wesley to do. I need to trust that it’s okay that sometimes it’s a little too much and it can be heartbreaking and angering and discouraging and annoying. I need to realize that God is bigger than all of this – crazy dreams, long talks on benefits and pensions, things in my life playing up to my fears – and that God is with me and walking with me and comforting me each step of the way even when I want to bless the world and God out sometimes.

There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly

One of my favorite books as a child was “There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.” My grandmother was a librarian so she had the inside track on all of the good children’s books when we were growing up. I don’t know if it was the rhyming or the irony of my lovingly prissy grandmother reading us this book about an old lady who swallowed a fly, but I loved that book. It’s kind of morbid if you read all the lines but hey – it was memorable.

Last night I enjoyed a dinner where one person found a fly in their food – still alive – stuck in the thousand island dressing and then when the manager came over to check on our main courses as they had arrived, we found two large hairs coming out of my steak. Delish.

Again, memorable.

This is a place where my parents have eaten often and I’ve eaten there a few times with them as well. We have had many good meals there and so in some ways, having one REALLY bad experience, you would think wouldn’t cancel out all of the good experiences. But then there’s something with something like this that makes you pause and think to yourself, if there’s live flies and steaks with hair coming out of the kitchen, what’s happening on the inside?

One of yesterday’s lectionary texts was Philippians 2:1-13 and there’s so much that can be learned from that text about who we are on the inside and what a community looks like when Christ’s love is lived from the inside out. Jesus didn’t just put on a nice facade on the outside to cover the decay on the inside. He lived out his calling authentically and radically. I know none of us are perfect and that sometimes the example of Jesus seems a bit daunting in a hurting and fallen world, but my hope is that even if Gordon Ramsey was to pop into the sometimes dirty kitchen of our hearts, that we are real with the things that challenge us and the things we’re working working and that we excel at. May we need just treat the outer symptoms, but also the very roots that can sometimes creep in and hold us back….whether that’s pride or arrogance or self-indulgence or anger or frustration or self-sabotage or lack of care.

Hope I don’t have any more memorable meals any time soon but a good word for our Wesleyan way of checking on how well it is with our soul. Thanks be to God for the grace and the continued love and healing and Spirit to keep moving and growing and changing and drawing more and more closely to God.

Are you there God, it’s us…

A beautiful picture by Robin Morren
When I was growing up there was a popular book called “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” by Judy Blume. It’s a classic. Seriously.

It’s been one of those days where you want to ask something along the lines of – is this ever going to be easy? Is there ever going to be a catch up day or a normal day? Why are we all here? What is this God-thing or Gospel that we believe and we’re to share with the world?

Two veins have been turning over in my mind. The first is that of theodicy (why bad things happen) and Providence and God’s will and the second is looking at the crud and muck of life and why sometimes we get so much flack and have to “battle” through to another day.

I wasn’t going to write a blog in the midst of this pondering, but when Casting Crowns “If We’ve Ever Needed You,” Natalie Grant’s “Held,” and Laura Story’s “Blessings,” come up in a row and you’re wrestling with these questions, you begin to feel a nudge saying maybe I should pay attention to this.

This summer I watched the Gamecocks win their second National Championship in baseball and I listened to them throughout the season and especially in that series say the word “battle” about a gazillion times. They talked about the battle that you have to go through to persevere and get through to the other side. They talked about all of the challenges and adversity they faced. They talked about the faith they had even in the midst of the really tough times. If you’re a Gamecock fan you know the battle of which they speak. If you’re not one, you probably think the rest of us are the most masochistic fans ever.

Sometimes it truly feels like one step forward and three steps back. Sometimes that one step forward is huge and it could have been the hardest thing you ever did. Sometimes it feels like you’re talking to God and you’re trying….praying, reading, listening, crying out, and it seems like no one’s there. It’s an “Are you there God, it’s me….” moment. It’s like – are you with me, God? Do you see this? Do you feel this? Do you know what’s happening? Do you know how hard, frustrating, angering, devastating, debilitating this is? Are you with us???

And there are days when we just don’t feel it. There are times when we may want to throw in the towel and say I’m done. There are times when I want to shut down and just not do or be or think or plan or respond to anything. There are times as a pastor and hearing people’s questions and doubts and worries and fears that even I’m gut checking to see what this whole faith thing is all about.

Because that’s the thing. No matter how much battle there is, no matter how much crud the world tosses at us, we have claim and know that God is there. God is here. God knows our heartache and our fears. God doesn’t just hover in a distance but God rejoices with us and also mourns with us. God is there in our suffering. God is there when we cry out. God is there when we’re tired and we’ve had enough. And God brings people and places and songs and sights and sounds and emails and telephone calls and shooting stars and silly jokes and lightning bolts into our lives when we need them so that we draw closer to God and we know for sure and for real that God is with us.

In a week where so many have experienced tragedy, where so many are struggling with friendships and classes and life questions and broken relationships, it’s sometimes hard for us to trust and to hope and to see any rhyme or reason. And sometimes it’s not yet the time or the place and we are shoving fingers in our ears because we don’t want to hear it. There’s such anger and grief and feelings of abandonment that a loving and merciful God could let such things happen. As there should be. The thing about the God we serve – the God of the scriptures is that God is a big God and can handle our anger, our tears, our crying out – all of the words or screaming that we want to use. The Psalms are chock full of people crying out. There aren’t too many Bible stories where someone didn’t question God somewhere along the way. Always in the midst even when we don’t feel it, God is faithful.

It’s not always the time or place to bring up verses about “beauty from ashes” and “for such a time as this” because that can sound trite and cliche and not helpful at all at the time. Sometimes the most loving and grace-filled thing to do is just sit and be present. To listen and love. To care and comfort. Not always with words but with love – tangible, real – prayers and presence. We may not understand why. We may not know the answers. We may not have the perfect thing to say. But we trust and pray and hope that God will continue even in the midst of the most terrible of circumstances to continue to bring mercies anew each day. We rest in the hope that we have someone we can always run to and someone we can always cry out to. We believe and feel the grace knowing that this life and this world is not the end but that the kingdom of God is alive and well in the already and not yet and that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May God answer us. May when we seek, we find; we knock, the doors opened; we ask, we receive. May we know and reach and grasp and cling to the love of God that is right there for each of us.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Can you hold me together?

There’s a song right now on some Christian music stations by Royal Tailor called “Hold Me Together.”  I know some are not huge Christian music fans and I get that, but for me, it seems that if I’m open to it, I often hear exactly what I need to hear and music seems to speak to me in ways that can break through even when my guard is up to everything else.

This past weekend Winthrop Wesley took a trip to Florida for Disney’s Night of Joy concert series.  It was a great trip and I think the students all had a good time….but it was exhausting.  Like for real, seriously exhausting.  After working all day Friday, driving to Gainesville to spend the night at Gator Wesley took a pretty big toll on my energy level.  And then getting up at 6 this next morning to get ready to drive to Orlando was a lot.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Disney and rides and getting people where they needed to go and answering questions, I was pretty empty.

That night at the Magic Kingdom, Christian music was playing everywhere.  Even when the concerts weren’t playing, the music on the loud speakers everywhere you went was Christian music.  It may not have been everyone’s cup of tea and for those that don’t particularly love Christian music, it may have been pretty annoying, but for me – I really, really needed to hear it.  I was on the D for DONE side and it was nice to feel God’s presence even in the midst of walking through the youth-crowded park and pushing one of the students in a wheel chair.

On the way to and from the trip we didn’t listen to a ton of Christian music and it was very much top 40 kind of stuff, and I must admit that lately in my car, I haven’t listened to a ton of Christian music.  Sometimes I just get burnt out listening to the same things or I’m just tired of noise at the end of a long day, but how refreshing is it to know that we can be replenished when we need it in some of the least likely of ways if we’re just open to it?

If we stick both fingers in our ears and scream la, la, la at the top of our lungs and don’t want to hear or see or feel the power of God, we may just succeed, but if we ask, we’ll receive.  It may not come in the form we want and we may have those seasons of doubt or frustration or questions but it’s amazing to me how faithful God is when we let it happen.  I also believe that even when we la, la, la our heads off, that God continues to seek to be in relationship with us.  God continues to want to open our eyes to mercies anew each day.  Even when we’re tired.  And our energy is shot.  God seeks to hold us together and let us know that grace covers it all.  We don’t have to always live the picture perfect, black and white, cookie cutter image, but we just have to let it go, drop our pride at the door, and be fully open to the grace, power, and life-changing hope of Jesus.

That’s something I needed today and something I continue to long for.

Mommy or Pastor?

Our sweet precious rambunctious and wild children went back to preschool today and many prayers and blessings on the Episcopal Day School!  They have done wonders for our children and we appreciate them so much – especially this time of year when we are more than excited that the kids are back in school!

I got to spend a “Mommy Day” with the kids on Tuesday and we cleaned up and sorted their rooms and moved toys from downstairs and upstairs and got things ready for school.  Then we closed out the afternoon driving to Columbia to go to the zoo and see Grammy and MacMac.  It was an amazing day!  I wish we could do that every day although I realize going to the zoo and cleaning up everything can’t happen every day – but you get my drift.

It was a great day also because the day before a wonderful clergy colleague of mine posted to facebook the question about what other clergy couples do about childcare on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights?  It’s a good question and it seemed to strike a chord with a lot of folks.  It’s hard.  Many talked about awesome and wonderful people in congregations that help out, give snacks, and offer grace.  Many also talked about how hard it is to be both Mommy or Daddy or Parent and Pastor at the same time.

For me although I love for my kids to be at Wesley and I love for my Wesley students to be at my home, I love it because there’s no set “thing” that I have to do.  If I’m preaching or leading a small group or having a board meeting or there’s some reason for me to suddenly turn into Pastor with my cape and everything, it’s hard for me to balance those two sides of my brain.  When the kids were really young they did come with me to Wesley, and they do now sometimes during the day when Mike has meetings and the students are just in and out and there’s no set program.  And it is obvious when they have been here – finger paint on the coffee table, game pieces everywhere, the candy basket decimated.

I love being their mom and as Mike said to me the other day, they know that I love them.  I never understood my grandmother telling us that “she could eat us up with a spoon.”  (Oh Southern colloquialisms) But I love them that much!  Not really literally of course but adorably.  And I love being a campus minister.  I really do love it.  Not just kidding, but seriously choosing to do this and feeling called to do it.

The rub comes when those worlds collide and I feel guilty for ditching out on the Freshman Small Group because I want to put the kids to bed or my mind is elsewhere because I’ve been up all night with a sick child and I can’t really be present with that student over breakfast at all in my right mind.  Or the opposite – when I wonder what in the world my kids think about this whole Jesus thing or if they’re going to think of “church” or “work” as bad words because that’s what takes Mommy away.  It’s such a tension between the two.  And I’m not even going to mention when you need time to not be Mommy or Pastor – because that’s a whole different ball game.

So what do y’all do to keep balance?  What are some working mom tips?  Or ministry mom tips?  Or you know, sometimes it’s not even tips, but it’s just that we’re not alone out there trying to juggle.  I’m not talking about “Don’t Know How She Does It” with Sarah Jessica Parker because who knows how that will turn out, but how do we feel good about being both Parent and Working Person and okay with the sacrifices and compromises made both ways?

Enoch’s funniest thing about God lately is his very serious questions about Jesus in his heart and how can a person be in his heart and did he shrink and is he just hanging out in there and is he going to get hurt squished in there?  Priceless.

More or Less? Enough?

Do you ever compare yourselves to others?

I think we all do it at one point or another.  In some ways it gets better as you get older….or does it?  It seems like it’s mostly outward comparisons – looks, nice car, awesome clothes, a perfect plus one.  But then again it can also be inward comparisons.  That person is so much (funnier, smarter, more personable, more extroverted, more centered, more…) than I am.  Why do we see others as more and that naturally leading to us thinking that we are somehow less?

God gifts each of us in mighty ways and just because our “gift” isn’t the same as the next person’s, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less.

One of the texts for Sunday is Romans 13:8-14 and it speaks hugely to these desires of the flesh – this coveting – this jealousy.

There’s all sorts of thoughts that run through our heads on a daily basis.  For me today some have been pretty small like it’s a bad hair day and maybe I should actually get a hair cut, that’s not my feet smelling up Wesley are they, or I wish I wasn’t so old and didn’t have aches and pains.  Others strike to the heart…if only I could spend hours of leisure with my children so I can see how their first day of school went, one of my constants – I wish we had a yard even though I love our lovely town house so that our kids could play in the back, or that question that I hate coming up this time of year…the one about whether what I’m doing is good enough.

I don’t think it’s just pastors that feel this way.  I’m sure it’s many in the work place or any who begin the lovely comparison dance.  I love seeing other campus ministers post on facebook this time of year and it’s great being able to cheer them on and glean great ideas from them.  I like the fellowship building of that and the collegiality.  And although I truly am excited when things are going well and there are more folks coming to Christ and finding that essential community, if I were completely honest with myself, this also often brings a list of questions and worries to mind as well.  Am I working hard enough?  Do we have enough students?  Are we going to have enough supporters or money coming in?  Is the job enough to count as ministry?  Why can’t we just rejoice with those and not have it automatically mean that something about us is less or not enough?

That’s the thing about ministry sometimes.  We think that it’s all about us.  Are we cool enough?  Hipster enough (don’t get me started Mac people)?  Funny enough?  Spiritual enough?  Know our Bible backwards and forwards enough?  Do we have enough activities?  Do we have a big enough crowd?  Are we marketing ourselves well?  It can drive you crazy.

Reality though is that God has gifted each of us and we’re not going to be all things to all people.  Wesley is going to always be a place that emphasizes community and justice and following Christ – not just nice and clean but down and dirty.  It is what it is.  Narcie is not ever going to have unlimited energy, a nice and witty thing always to say, perfect patience with everyone even in the most random of requests or the poof of suddenly being turned into a hot male with skinny jeans, muscle shirts, the strategic tattoo and gelled hair.  It ain’t happening.

I’m me.  No less than anyone else.  But all the more because of the One who has called us each by name.  I don’t have to feel unworthy or ashamed or less than.  I just have to trust the One who made me and created me as me.  I am enough.  You are enough.  We are plenty.  Isn’t a theology of abundance that much more life-giving than a theology of scarcity?  It’s not that someone got our gift and since they took it, we can’t have it.  It’s not that someone is doing so super well that there’s not enough for us.

We are enough.  As Romans 13 verse 12 says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”  May we lay down the words of darkness that creep into our heads and our hearts and may we put on the armor of light that protects us and surrounds us and sees us through to the other side.

Andrew Ripp – You Will Find Me (speaks so well to these feelings – great song!)