Advent Day 2 – The Valley of the Mean Girls


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Whew… Middle school and high school are over!  Time to move away from the simple-minded drama that comes with being a teenager and move ahead with the more important issues of life.

Wait a minute… Who’s that?  Is that… A MEAN GIRL?  A MEAN GUY?  Didn’t they set aside their childish ways when they moved on to adulthood?  Didn’t they figure out that childhood antics and vapid drama doesn’t work in adulthood?

Didn’t we think that we could get away from their whispering in corners and selective snubbing once we headed to college and adult life?  Unfortunately, we will each run across people in various parts of life that forgot to leave behind their messy middle school mentality for a more enlightened way of living.  They will use their “mean girl” attitudes to manipulate others.

Even Jesus met his share of “mean guys” before the end of his earthly ministry… None of us are immune to their ways…

In many situations, mean girls and guys can be disregarded as children.  Yet there are times they get in our ways when we are trying to move forward trying to follow the call of God and they stand in our way.  They attempt to derail us from our paths, not because they are trying to accomplish something…

Frankly, I’m not sure why they are mean people.  Maybe they thrive on drama.

But God isn’t calling us to be mean girls and boys and handing back hate to those who drench us in hate.  Instead God is calling us to “set aside our childish ways” and turn their swords into our plowshares.  We are called to assertively work with them as we know that God has given us the wisdom to love our enemies.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. states “returning hate for hate multiplies hate.”  Given the choice between hate and love, I will once again go with Dr. King: “I have chosen to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

A prayer for those facing “mean girls:”

God of our holy tweens and teenage years
of our growing pains and terrifying transitions,
give us the courage to walk in the valley of the shadow of mean girls.
Prepare a table before us even when our enemies refuse to let us sit with them.
May their voices become heard when they whisper stabbing secrets
and may their voices become silent when they scream criticisms.

Give us the strength to extend grace when they extend their hands for help.
And help us to forgive seven, seventy, seven-thousand times
Whether we are seventeen or thirty-seven.


Single in the Sanctuary – Taboo Grace


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Phone Sept 2014 4276Throughout my adult life, I’ve had conversations with some of my unmarried friends about the relationships that they’ve had.

And some of the mistakes they’ve made.

Granted, there are lots of types of mistakes singles and couples make- everything from slight fibs to huge indiscretions about money and parenting and every other subject imaginable. Yet some of the most shame-filled confessions made by non-married people include the physical connections they’ve made with others.

(Yes.  Sex.)

While there is a loud group of Christians who focus primarily on curing the world of sexual sins, most Christians are probably across the board when it comes to how they view sex outside of marriage.  As a member of the clergy, I’m not saying that sex between two unmarried people is right or wrong, but there are times that it can be healthy and unhealthy, and each person must find what’s the most healthy expression for themselves and for those with whom they physically connect.  Unfortunately, in times of desperation, grief, drunk or sadness, people make the some of the most unhealthiest decisions of their lives.

It’s human.  Yet what ends up happening is they relive their mistakes in their heads over and over and over again.

What would it take to let it go?  What would it take to embrace the grace that’s already there?  

But the little voice keeps luring them back into the shame of their prior actions.

There’s a story in the Bible where David manages to seduce Bathsheba who then becomes pregnant from the encounter.  The story ends with God “killing” their infant child as  punishment for whatever happened between the two of them.

Except that it wasn’t God.  It was medicine or the lack thereof rearing its ugly head at a very wrong moment.

So often, people want to associate STDs and unplanned pregnancies as God’s way of punishing humans for sexual relations.  People “deserve” what they get.

That isn’t the case.

No God would punish two people for their roles in an affair or seduction or momentary lapse of judgement.  No God would force someone to live a life sentence of a disease or sentence someone to death for one wrong decision.  God’s grace is pouring upon each and every one of us for any type of unhealthy decision we’ve made.  God’s grace is attempting to erase the shame from our lives and asking us leave it behind us.

Our job as the Church isn’t to judge what people have done or are doing.  Our role is to walk with them in a spirit of grace, giving them opportunities to find new life if they feel called to it.

And helping them let it all go.


This blog post was written as part of both my weekly series “Single in the Sanctuary” and as part of November’s SynchroBlog on “Grace.”  See other blog posts associated with the SynchroBlog theme here:


A Grace-Deprived World


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Image from

Tonight’s Grey’s Anatomy had two beautiful storylines focusing on major errors and the grace we hold back from those who we expect to be perfect.  The more prominent of the two stories dealt with resident Dr. Penny Blake who made fatal errors errors in Dr. Derek Shepherd’s care.  Derek’s physician wife, Dr. Meredith Grey, is extra-hard on her as this newer doctor tries to be the best she can while living in the cloud of shame and doubt.

A minor storyline in the episode was an unmarried pastor who inadvertently sent an inappropriate video of his girlfriend to everyone in the church.  Needless to say, the saints of the congregation as well as his governing body automatically wanted him fired.  For one mistake.  Of course, with a case like this, it is understandable that the clergy would be reprimanded, but hopefully given the opportunity to redeem themselves through a process of reconciliation.  But the one who preaches forgiveness and dedicates his life to serving others is automatically deemed evil when making an error.

Tonight’s episode is a good reminder that we are a grace-deprived society.

How do we stop depriving others of forgiveness?  First, we each need to say this out loud: we all make mistakes – no exceptions.  Those who deprive others of grace forget that they, too, make errors and thrive on holding grudges and pointing fingers when possible.  The funny thing is that each of those physicians on Grey’s Anatomy holding a grudge had made errors at one point or another in their careers, causing someone to lose their life or an optimal state of well-being.  Yet they were holding this one physician to an unrealistic level.

We’re equal opportunity broken people, and we each deserve equal amounts of grace.

Secondly, without grace, the repentant person living in the shame spiral tends to make more errors.  It happened to Dr. Blake while she tried to prove to Meredith that she was a decent doctor.  At the end of the episode, Meredith says “Our shame can choke us, it can rot us from the inside, if we decide to let it.”  Yet it’s hard to release the shame when others continuously remind us of our brokenness.

Think about a time in which you’ve made a mistake.  Other people poured the shame upon you instead of mercy.  As you moved forward, was it easy to clear your head of that mistake?  And how well did you do your work as you worked in the self-fulfilling prophecy bubble?  From my experience, I tend to make more mistakes around those who have not forgiven me because I’m trying to impress them even more – to make up for my error.  In my intense focus on making these people happy, I tend to mess up even more.  Shame leads to trying to please others, and there will be some who we will never make happy.  In fact, it’s not our job to make people happy (something of which I must remind myself each and every day).

Third, God has already forgiven us.  We may not have forgiven ourselves for the error.  Others are still holding our mistakes over our heads.  But God is way ahead of the game, wanted us to move forward in healthy and productive ways.

When I see others who profess to be Christians shaming others for their mistakes, I often remember the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18).  We tend to adopt this belief that I am allowed to be forgiven, but I don’t have to forgive you.  Yet the brilliant Jesus gave us a parable reminding his followers that if we expect to be given grace by God, we also need to extend that grace to others – not just seven times but seventy-seven times.  If we want God to forgive us, we must also forgive.

Lastly, there people in some positions who we hold to higher standards, including clergy, doctors, police, teachers, etc. Tonight’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was a reminder that clergy and doctors are considered next to God.  When we fail – even just ONE mistake – the mistake means more to anyone else.  None of us are perfect.  Yes, there are some in each of these careers who are toxic, biased and careless.  But we are not God.  We will never be perfect, no matter how hard we try.

Watching this episode and through the many conversations I’ve had with people over the course of my life, I see that grace is something that we hoard for ourselves and are not willing to spread to others.  We would rather someone squirm in the pits of shame rather than find the release of mistakes through the salvific act of forgiveness.  We are a grace-deprived society.  Somewhere between God and the repentant person, grace has been captured and held hostage.  What will we do to allow grace to flow freely once again – in our churches, our hospitals, our highways, our schools and every single corner of our world?

Single in the Sanctuary – Sick and Single

sickThis week, I was reminded about how horrible it is to be sick when you’re alone.

Now, I have a great boyfriend and great friends that I could always ask if I was truly, fever-burning, toilet-hugging sick.  But if I can make it to the store, I WILL make it to the store to prove to myself that I am a superwoman when I’m sick.

Asking for help… Nope.  Very rarely it’s an option for me.

I’ve learned how to be alone very well.  I’ve aced being independent.  Frankly, I’m tired of being this fiercely independent when my health is on the line.

There’s nothing more scary than being sick when you’re by yourself.  There have been times when I’ve had to drive myself to the ER with various ailments.  There have been times when I’ve crawled into work with a 101 fever just because the work needed to be done, my job was too important and I needed to make sure I had good standing at work.  There have been times in the early morning hours when I wondered if my heavy-beating, racing heart was a heart attack.  What would happen if I couldn’t get the help I needed?

What if I die alone???  That’s one of those large questions the unmarried person often thinks about.  I continue to reflect: What if no one can help me out as I age or as I grow weaker?  What happens to me?  What if no niece or nephew or cousin or anyone looks out for me when I need to finally enter a long-term care facility?  Or what if I need a surgery and there is no one to help me out as soon as it’s over?

Undoubtedly, God is always with us in these deeply troubling times of pain and illness.  There is no question of God’s presence.  God’s always calling our bodies, minds and souls to wholeness and wants us to receive the best care possible.

Simultaneously, God is calling the church to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who are alone in their illness.  God wants us to make sure that they are being treated well in nursing facilities, and God desires for us to give rides to doctors, sit with someone as they have tests, be present if they need to talk and make sure that someone is available when the sick person needs a helping hand.

As fiercely independent non-married people, let’s open ourselves up to help.  Yes, it’s scary to ask for help because it’s admitting that we can’t always take care of ourselves.  It’s having faith that there will be a friend or family member who will gladly step up to care for us when we no longer tend to our failing bodies.

God, in this time of nauseating solitude
And aches that reach beyond the depths of my soul,
Give me the trust and faith I need to believe that you will provide
In all of my scarcities-
Provisions of health,
Provisions of people,
Provisions of energy.
Nudge me in the direction
From total self-reliance
To your interdependent realm.  Amen.




A Prayer for Those Facing Unhealthy Relationships


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Image from

Written in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

God of Wholeness,
Who intended the two souls in Eden to be respectful of one another,
Remind us of whose image we are made.


Those surrounding us may be reflecting on their relationships,
Tired of being called stupid or lazy or not-good-enough,
Words that sting as much as, if not more than, the slap of a hand.
Berated for stepping just a little out of order,
Exhausted from the hours of tears,
Wondering how much love they need to give in order to be respected.

Give them the courage.  Give them the peace.

Those who we pass on the street may have marks on their body
From being grabbed a little too tightly
Or pushed a little too hard.

“What should I do???” resonates in their minds
As they ponder reaching out for help
And, at the same time, justify why they are still in a relationship:
Children, money, no other options of love.

Give them the courage.  Give them the peace.

Hours upon hours of pondering inside of heads…
But I love him.  But I love her.

But what if no one wants me.
What if he is the only one who wants me?
What if she is the only one who wants me?

Give them the courage.  Give them the peace.

Whether they depart from an unhealthy relationship in their teens
Or twenties or thirties
Or sometime around retirement,
Grant that they can see a future with hope.

God of pure love and deepest mercy,
Give all the courage to move forward when sliding back seems more comfortable.
Stop replays of the message that we are not lovable.
Make the months of solitude more bearable.
Take away any doubts of the healthy choices made.
And when the time is right,
Open our hearts to a joyful, healthy love once again.

Single in the Sanctuary – Holiday Hospitality


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Being away from your family during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is horrible.  Being single on top of this is even worse.

I’ve spent many holidays away from my family.  The first Christmas was the toughest.  I was 23 years old, living in Florida by myself and had a number of invitations to join other family units that day.  And while I did spend some of the day with others, I managed to get one of the worst headaches of my life, no doubt from the stress of being alone on Christmas day.

Fortunately over the years, I believe that God has provided me with people whom I celebrated these major holidays.  From hanging with a pastor’s family at Busch Gardens in 2001 to spending Thanksgiving with an ex-boyfriend and his parents in 2005, I’ve had some interesting opportunities, conversations and company while absent from my family.  Days were less lonely because there were others willing to open their homes to me even though I wasn’t part of their family.

As a single person, especially when I lived in Florida, I would often be given the gift of sitting at the table with other families.  This is a gift I hope I am able to pay back as the years progress.  Through friends’ open doors and plentiful tables, I was able to feel less alone when my family lived 1,000 miles away.

I think most of us do a phenomenal job with making sure those who are hungry are fed.  But what would it be like to not only feed those who are hungry but open a table to those who have no one in their lives?

Can you think of friends who may not have families in which to spend the holidays?  How can we invite them to be our family for part of the day?  That’s our responsibility as people of faith and as people with the gift of family.  We are called to open ourselves up to those who may be alone on holidays and special occasions to be an honorary part of our families.  Just like Jesus asked his followers “who is my mother and who are my brothers,” we are to expand our families to include others into our fold.  Many of his followers had to rely on the generosity of others while on their ministry journey.  How can we be like the families who opened their houses to Jesus and the early disciples and make sure they become parts of our families, even for a day or season?

What will you do this Thanksgiving or Christmas to make sure the widow, orphan, single guy or gal, newly divorced person or individual away from their family to make sure they are at your table too?

Me. Christmas 1998 in Florida at the age of 25. Sans family.

Me. Christmas 1998 in Florida at the age of 25. Sans family.


When Hope Seems Sparse


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By Ralph Bestic from Sydney, Australia (Wharekauhau Lodge New Zealand) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

When Hope seems sparse,
O Holy Mother,
Place your comforting arms around me.
Shine a light that could help me see the beauty of the future
And the grace of the past.

May your life-giving womb continue to sustain me
As shadows cover my heart
And tomorrow seems years away.

In the depths of Sheol
Or in the corners of my room-
As I hide from this pain-
Draw me into the sunlight, O Holy Mother.

May the small beams of hope drive through the cracks of shadowed rooms
Overcome the doubts of the day
And carry us into the dawn of the morning.

Single in the Sanctuary – Marital Status Marginalization


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By E. W. Russell, Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Starting today, I will be posting a new Tuesday feature called “Single in the Sanctuary.” The recurring topic will focus on what it means to be a non-married progressive Christian in the twenty-first century.

I doubt I’m the only one who has felt a bit left out of the church based on the fact that I’m over 40 and still not married.  Even when I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s, I felt out of place because I don’t have the traditional family structure.

We look around our churches and, most of the time, only see certain demographics, namely

  • Married with children
  • Married, retired with grown children
  • Widowed

Only on occasions like the Christmas and Easter holidays or weddings, baptisms and funerals do I see my demographic: the never-married person.  I don’t see many divorced individuals, single parents, co-habitating couples, LGBT individuals and couples either.

In reality, people are getting married later.  Many marriages do not last.  Couples are choosing to live together for a while before deciding to marry.  So why don’t they feel comfortable being themselves in our sanctuaries?  Are we welcoming enough for these demographics?

Could it be that our sanctuaries become a sanctuary for those with an “ideal lifestyle” as set by the Christian right – a life which promotes purity, a nearly-desperate desire to get married and a postcard image of a husband, wife and two or three children?

Let’s start this conversation here and now.  How have churches made you feel comfortable?  How have they made you feel extremely uncomfortable based on your marital status?  And would the church you currently attend make you feel welcome if they knew you were single, cohabitating or divorced?

Is there a topic you would like to see covered in Single in the Sanctuary?  Let me know your interest below.

Shake It Off – Jesus style


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IMG_5640Originally posted on the SONKA Blog.

Last year, Taylor Swift released the album 1989.  One of the songs on the album, “Shake it Off,” focuses on the ridicule she receives from the public and press. The negativity and rejection piles up for anyone, and through hearing this song, we know that many of us go through rejection and negativity. Swift said regarding the message of the song “I’ve learned a pretty tough lesson that people can say whatever they want about us at any time, and we cannot control that. The only thing we can control is our reaction to that.”

Some of us are very good at shaking off negativity and rejection.  Others of us hold on to the dirt that we’ve collected. Between broken friendships, love relationships, job rejections, and every other type of rejection possible, we hold on to the pain way too long. It affects our self-esteem and our hope for the future. We are too focused on being the best, being perfect, and making others happy that we hold onto negativity well too long.

Jesus got rejected. I’m sure that’s not new to most of us, but sometimes we need to say it out loud. He was rejected when talking about the good news of God’s love. He was rejected when he talked about how we should love our neighbors. He was rejected by those who knew him best as a young child.

When we read the Matthew 10:5-14 text, we see Jesus giving instruction to his crew about how to share the good news. Jesus reminds them that there will be rejection. By telling them to “shake off the dust from (their) feet” he’s telling them to move on, not take this rejection personally or let it affect them deeply. Like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Jesus is basically reminding them “It’s hard, it’s sad, but shake it off and move on. The dust will weigh us down in ways that won’t allow us move forward, so shake it off.”

There is no doubt that all of us will get rejected in some capacity in our lives.  And some of us will want to take it personally.  But sometimes we need to distance ourselves from the rejection and treat it as disposable as dust.

I believe it helps us to know that even Jesus understood rejection.  He understood the pain that came with having people dislike him, deny him, or try to kill him. Through Christ, God completely understands when we feel low after a rejection. And God knows how difficult it is to shake it off when the rejection is so fresh on our souls.

We may face bullies at school, in the workplace, by friends, or by crushes. We may have been turned down from a job or opportunity that we really wanted. We will undoubtedly fail at something – like a driver’s test or any sort of exam. It can be our nature to want to dwell on that rejection or failure for a long time.

Rejection will hurt, and it will take time to grieve the opportunities and people lost. But when we hold onto them too long or too intensely, it affects our physical and emotional health. We start to lose self-esteem and hope. Sometimes, people do drastic things in that time of pain. And it may be hard to really accept that life will improve.

That’s what shaking the dust off your feet means: accepting that it gets better. There is good right around the corner for all of us.  We each deserve good things to happen, love, and acceptance because all of us are made in God’s image. By shaking the dust off of our feet and our hearts, we embrace the God of new beginnings.

The Great Hope of Postseason 2015


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imageNearly every year in October, I’m fortunate to have my beloved St. Louis Cardinals in MLB’s postseason.  There have been times they have lost in the World Series or in National League Championship play.  But the Cardinals had an active presence in October’s baseball – many times over the course of the past 10 or so years.

Some of my dear friends rarely-to-never have the chance to see the Chicago Cubs in postseason play.  Yet each April they beam with excitement.  This will be the year!  These dedicated fans hold on to a hope that is greater than winning or losing.  It’s a hope that transcends statistics and a century-long losing streak.

So I sit here very conflicted as I watch the television set in my living room.  I’m not rooting against my Cardinals.  I’m cheering for Hope.  And I see that hope in the 2015 Chicago Cubs.

I’m cheering for the rains of hope that come after the dry spells of life.  I’m cheering for the sparks of hope that begin to ignite after failed attempts of lighting a fire.

It’s a hope in which people in the Judeo-Christian faith: hope in the midst of the wilderness.  No matter how many decades we face in the wilderness, there is possibility.  Even though there are exiles after exiles, hope abides and restoration occurs.  It’s a hope that flourishes after crucifixions and tombs.

This hope moves beyond just ballparks but into other parts of our lives.  If they can win, what other things are possible in our world?  Peace?  Love?  Visions becoming a reality  When hope wins all sorts of possibilities arise.

Hope may not win this year.  Instead it may be my Cardinals.

But hope will win someday.


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