A Prayer for the Flare

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For my friends in the “Spoonie,” or chronic illness, community…

God who rides the roller coaster of life with us,
There are times we endure a flare of our subpar health.

Sometimes the flare lasts a day or an hour.
But during that time we experience our own agony-
Our own hell on earth.

Twinges and spasms and aches and overcoming pains keep us silent and still
When all we want to do is move.

Just last night our bodies were cooperating,
And today they revolt against us.

God, our bodies have driven our lives to the land of unpredictability.
We no longer have “spoons” or battery power or energy to keep moving throughout this day-
But we’ll keep pushing as long as we need.

So we turn to you.

If you can refill our cup so that we feel strong again, fill the cup.
If you can rearrange our schedule so that we don’t feel guilty about resting, rearrange the schedule with a touch of your grace.
If all you can do is sit with us in our pain, we are grateful for your presence.

We look forward to the time when our batteries are at 100% again and we can move about our days.

Amen.

The Dangers of Wanting to be Entertained

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suit-business-man-business-man-37547I’ve heard time and time again that people want to be entertained in churches.

I’ll be honest: I do not feel like it’s my call to entertain people.  My call as a faith leader is to educate and engage people.  My call as a faith leader is to help people see God in every step of their lives, to see every person as made in God’s image, and to help people grow closer to God and neighbor.

Now, sometimes I’ll throw elements of entertainment into the worship services I plan.  But on the most part, I want people to feel like they are a part of the service and they are growing closer to God.

My main goal on a Sunday morning is not to entertain.

There are churches out there whose business it is to entertain people.  Good for them.  I’m saddened that more people would rather choose a church that is all about style rather than helping to transform churches of substance into something new for the twenty-first century.  I’m saddened that our smaller churches are compared to megachurches providing entertainment with a hefty budget and a charismatic leader.

This is a symptom of something larger going on in our world.  People always want to be entertained.  Sure, there has always been forms of entertainment.  And some has been more dangerous than others (see Roman Colosseum).  Yet in the past two decades, the desire to be entertained at all costs has risen greatly, and the want of style not exceeds substance.

Instead of being satisfied with 30-minute sitcoms, one-hour dramas, or two hour movies, our society became infatuated with reality TV shows.  Survivor.  Big Brother.

The Apprentice.

Love has been hijacked by whatever is found on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.  Friendship has been replaced by the Real Housewives of Whatevercityorcounty.  The Kardashians have become like family as we keep up with them each week.

And now it’s spilled over into our government.  The people would rather have an entertainer who places self, drama, and entertainment over seriously wanting what is best for our country.

Our country would rather have a charismatic entertainer who will do anything possible to keep people wanting more foolishness and drama than a serious politician who was probably the most qualified person for president ever.  The consequence is this: our siblings on this planet who are people of color, women, transgender, gender non-conforming, Muslim, disabled, chronically ill, and refugees/immigrants feel threatened because people want to keep the Entertainer-in-Chief.

Each day is like a new episode of a reality show nightmare.  From the hirings and firings to the speeches that would make my grandparents roll over in their graves, there is a train wreck happening, and somewhere in our minds, we can’t look away.  We are driven to continue to check in on our phones and tablets and laptops and 24-hour news channels to see what next mess has popped up.

We choose frivolity over seriousness.

I’m tired of having this communal addiction to entertainment.  If we really want to be entertained, let’s place our resources in fictional stories.  Binge-watch Netflix or Hulu for a few hours or days.  But let’s continue to keep drama and entertainment as part of our fiction.  Our church and our state should still be places which house wisdom instead of folly and substance over style.

Over and over again in the book of Proverbs, folly and foolishness are mentioned.  I’ll leave this one with you today.

“The mind of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly.”

Proverbs 15:14

May we rediscover the value of entertainment in it’s healthiest place.  May we value substance, and may wisdom be something holy that we seek.  Amen.

I Am the Woman With the Hemorrhage: Identifying With Biblical Healing Stories

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On June 29, 2017, I stood on the lawn of the US Capitol and spoke for approximately 15 minutes as part of a 24-hour interfaith vigil for healthcare.  Below are my remarks.

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I am the New Testament woman with the hemorrhage.

Over 13 years ago, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a health issue of migrating tissue, imbalances of hormones, and pain.  While I dealt with pain for years prior to my diagnosis in 2003, much of the time I’ve dealt with the issue the best I can since sometimes it’s just an hour or two of rough pain with mild to moderate pain on and off during the other hours of the day.

But occasionally, the health issue will flare up like it did earlier this year.  I’ll try various methods to try to control it.  Physicians will say to me: Let’s try this pill.  How about another ultrasound?  What about trying birth control to manage the disease.  Maybe it’s time to have another minimally invasive procedure.

Over and over I’ve tried different medications and procedures to manage this disease.  More money spent here and there to see if this will be the magic formula to keep the disease at bay.   The time spent at the doctor’s office or waiting.  The costs of other health struggles that result from these issues – like low iron. 

When my endometriosis flared up this year, it was adhesions causing the extreme pain.  While many gynecologists treat it, only a few in our country know a special technique that will help the issue from coming back – at least for a number of years.  But I checked with the doctor, and they are out of network, so after insurance, the doctor’s bill alone would have been around $15,000.  I couldn’t go to the specialist who knew the special techniques of removing deeper tissue.  Fortunately, I do have insurance, so I was able to go to my own doctor, and she helped remove some of the tissue.   But even being on the top tier insurance, I still have nearly two thousand dollars I need to pay for deductibles and co-pays. 

I am the woman with the hemorrhage – the one who spent time, energy, money to heal.  But I’m not the only woman dealing with this issue.  Many other women with endometriosis do not have health insurance.  Even though my copays are costly, most of the costs are taken care of by insurance.  Others with endometriosis can’t afford the birth control pills to attempt to control the disease, or the IUD that is known to help, and with cuts to Planned Parenthood proposed as well they will have one less outlet to find the help they need with this health care issue.  They can’t afford surgeries.  And then there are the women who have insurance who are being denied hysterectomies and other procedures by their insurance company.  Some will take their funding issues into their own hands and create a Gofundme page.  

They too are the woman with the hemorrhage – spending all of the time and money that they have to find a cure for this disease.

This is just one illness in a sea of so many illnesses that our neighbors, family and friends face.  Each one of us at some point of our lives will find ourselves lacking in health and will need to see doctors about serious issues.  Most of us can identify with one or more of the people who Jesus healed or the people who advocated for them.

Some identify with the Syrophoenician women from Mark 7.  They will press with everything they have to make sure that they can afford treatments for their children.  They will call doctors offices and hospitals to negotiate prices.  They will contact their insurance company again and again to fight for a treatment to be covered.

Some identify with Peter concerned for his mother-in-law or the men who cut a hole in the ceiling so that they could lower their friend down in order to be healed.  It takes advocates like children of elderly parents making sure they can afford home health care or nursing home care for a parent who is not able to care for themselves.  It takes advocates like friends or family of people with severe mental or physical illnesses to ensure their loved one has exactly what they need.

Some identify with the child in Mark 9, then considered demon possessed but it sounded like he was having seizures.  How did the father in the story react?  He yelled “show us compassion!”  Don’t many here want to shout that out loud to the powers that be, the men and women who work at the building behind me?  Show us compassion.

When I read these stories, I think of so many of the people I know and have known with all sorts of health issues.  I think of all the people I know – the people in my congregation and hope they will always have the care they need.  I think about my dad.  He has Parkinson’s.  One of his medicines would cost him $19,000 per month if he didn’t have care.  I think of my mom who advocates for him, calling up companies to make sure that he is covered.  I think about both of them, hoping that laws don’t change and they will have to pay more for their medications.  

Just like I identify with the woman with the hemorrhage, other people might relate to other women and men who Jesus healed.

And yet Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t ask them over and over again to qualify themselves for care.  Even the one person who he did question – the woman from Syrophoenicia – he began to understand her through their common humanity.  He understood that he had no right to question the validity of healing her daughter.  And instead of criticizing the woman or her daughter any more, he went ahead and healed them.  

To our neighbors who serve our country in the United States Senate and House of Representatives as well as the executive branch: we are humans with dreams often cut short because our health care system allows our bodies to fail.  We are humans wanting to live not just a long life, but a long AND healthy life.  We are humans who want to see our children grow in body, mind, and soul.  We are humans that want our elderly parents to decent care when they can no longer care for themselves.  We want our siblings to have mental health care because we do not want to lose one more person to suicide.  And we want you to look in our eyes and open yourselves to our stories.  We want you not only to read Jesus’ healing stories in the Bible but listen to the stories of the people who struggle with health insurance and their diseases.  Jesus listened to them, and if you are a follower of Jesus, we ask that you follow the life of Jesus and create a system of affordable healing.  Do not cut what is there; expand to ensure that all people have one less worry in their lives.

We are humans who don’t want to worry that if we lose a job or our jobs are cut to part time hours, we can still afford health insurance.  And if we find ourselves without insurance, we will find a way to get back on it again.  We don’t want to base our vocational choices on whether the job has insurance or not but rather base it on the question “is God calling me to this particular vocation”?  We don’t want to avoid doctors because being diagnosed with something gives us a preexisting condition, and we don’t want to avoid doctors because we can’t afford to go.  Prevention is the key to longer and healthier lives.  Many of the people in the building behind us profess to be pro-life, but are they willing to prioritize tax cuts for the few instead of affordable care and quality of life for the many?

Anything could happen to us at any point.  God wants us to make sure that when it’s our turn to get sick that we aren’t forgotten.  So now is the time for us to speak.  And call.  And write. 

All of this reminds me of when I was entering seminary: since I quit my full time job, I worked at getting health insurance.  There was only so much I could afford, but I was able to get on a plan.  I had to justify a couple of the health issues I had – one being my endometriosis.  And the only insurance I could afford was without maternity.  If I had gotten pregnant during this time, I would not have had maternity covered.  If I wanted to plan to have a baby, I would have to add maternity on one year before I got pregnant, or else it would be a preexisting condition.  

Maternity.A preexisting condition.

But so many of my other seminary friends were forced without it. Some couldn’t afford it at all.  Others were denied insurance for issues like allergies or being over or under weight.  Whether they had insurance or not, some got sick.  One had an appendicitis without insurance and another two hernia surgeries before they started a full-time call.  The costs were high.

I’m not sure of the number of seminary students who can now afford insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  But we ask that you don’t take this away from them.  Or our next door neighbors.  Or the part-time worker.  Or the single parent working three part-time jobs.  Or the person on disability.  Or the elderly person needing Medicaid to stay in long-term care.  Or the small business owner.

The Body of Christ is in pain because it can’t get the help it needs.  It must suffer with ailments.  It must put off medical tests.  It must deal with the fatigue of pain.  It’s time for the Body of Christ as well as our sisters and brothers of other faiths and who profess no faith to be well alongside of us. In order for that to happen, we need affordable health care for all. 

And just like the stories of the people who Jesus healed have been told, it’s time for us to claim our stories too, our health care struggles, our worries about being able to afford healthcare whether we are on insurance or not, whether we are well or not, whether we are working or not.  It’s time for our leaders to listen to our stories, to know that we are all broken and beautifully human, that we are made in the image of God.

The Lesson of the Visor

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When I was in eighth grade in 1987, we were given the assignment to design our own visors for the annual school parade and picnic.  I was excited at the prospect of designing my own visor and gave the task much thought, but couldn’t decide what to paint.

When the time came to draw the design onto the visor, I ended up painting too many objects on the front.  My grand project turned into a mess!  The design ended up looking cluttered, and I was distraught when looking at it.

I’m sure some tears were shed after looking at the item.  My hopes in having a beautiful visor to wear were dashed.  And then came one of our room moms: Mrs. Morgan.  She had been my Girl Scout leader for many years and was the mom of my middle school best friend.  Mrs. Morgan came up, assured me it was going to be ok, and then began to take my visor and paint over the busyness of the design.  She left my rainbow and Ziggy and took the attempts I had made at painting balloons and outlined each of them in silver paint.

When she was finished the artwork became something magnificent.  Instead of clutter were clouds.  The design flowed together.  I knew that I would be marching in the parade with a masterpiece on my head instead of the disaster I thought I would wear.

On that day in 1987, Mrs. Morgan did more than redesign the image of my visor; she taught me a priceless lesson: when we have a project full of errors, this isn’t the completed design of our project. Our designs aren’t permanently ruined.  God gives us grace and wisdom to understand how to take the messiness in front of us and craft something beautiful.

I carry this lesson with me.  Whether I’m working on a piece of artwork or writing project, helping out one of the youth in my church with their project, or working on another assignment that may not be coming together smoothly, God is always infusing my work with grace and mercy, helping me understand that there is new life in messes.

May we each carry the grace-filled lesson of my visor into our churches, homes, workplaces, and communities.

A Post-Synod Prayer

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God who fits into the spaces that seem too small to exist,
The demon of exhaustion has embedded into my soul after the past week.
What a gathering of our denomination with its highs and lows!
Gathering information. And more information. Wrestling with your call, Dear Holy.
Knowing that we all have so much work to do.

Now we are home.
Now we resume everyday life.
Now we try to infuse the ideal into the normal,
To marry the theoretical and practical-
If that is possible.

God of all connections and spaces,
I miss my friends,
My support, my kin.
Like the disciples, we have scattered across the miles-
From California to Connecticut and beyond.

So here in the silence of everyday life,
I give thanks for the extraordinary days,
The exciting conversations,
The laughs that lasted for hours,
And the friendships that will last forever.
Amen.

An Extrovert in Hell

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“Why am I back to my room so early,” I asked myself. “I should be out socializing with someone. I wonder what everyone else is doing? Could it be I should have gone to the one mixer or another?”

It really wasn’t that early. Ten o’clock at night. Most people would be craving time to themselves at a later hour. But the extrovert finds their batteries charged when being around other people.

This is me tonight. Here I am- needing to get up at 7 and go all day tomorrow. I’ve been going over 10 hours today.  But this extrovert finds missing out on social occasions to be hell.

When it comes down to it, I’m tired. My body needs rest. Dear Michelle: it’s perfectly fine to miss a social event to spend quiet time with a book, blogging, or sleeping. It’s time to find balance to my day.

A prayer for the extrovert in hell:

God of the gaps and empty spaces, including the sabbath hours and silent seconds, quiet the hearts and minds of extroverts yearning for more time with people. Help us find strength in our alone moments as much as our social time. Give us peace when we are out of our element… like being solo and finding ourselves surrounded only by the sounds of humming air conditioners.

Amen.

A Prayer on the Summer Solstice

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Creator God, Divine Designer of the solar and lunar lights:

The day has arrived when the sun has reached its peak tenure. We rejoice under its light, its persistence in brightening our world. Day has delayed its departure.

For the long days and 9pm sunsets, we give gratitude, God.

Holy One who gifted us the Summer Solstice, create a desire in us to give this day our all and time to pause in the abiding daylight. Delay our time in the shadows.

The night will creep into the days demanding its mornings and evenings for itself.

We know that our uplifted moods of this Solstice will be quite different as the winter one rolls around.

So today we do what we can to grasp the fleeting daylight and delight under the sun, to celebrate your presence in our lives no matter the season, and to love one another on these long summer days.

Amen.

A Prayer for World Refugee Day

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God who encircles our earth in every moment,
Shine your light on our Holy Siblings who are refugees.
Whether they abide in Europe or the Middle East or Asia or Africa,
May they find stability and stamina in their storms,
Finding love as they seek basic care.
In their diaspora, may they reach the place where they can vision a new heaven and earth
And build a home in their exile, a dwelling of their new dreams.

Nudge us as we drift to sleep
 And neglect the stories of refugees-
The stories of abused, scared, famished ones made in your image.
Wake us when we forget that your son Jesus was a refugee-
An infant in the arms of his parents seeking safety.
Stir us when we forget that the Israelites were in the wilderness too
Escaping the powers-that-be that desired them dead.

We celebrate those who have gone before us whose resilience helped them find new life:
Our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who were refugees
Lived only on a dream and carried great faith in the small bag packed for their trip-
A journey of an indefinite length to an unidentified city with strange people and scents and flavors.

May peace prevail across our world.
And when peace is lacking,
Let us open our doors to the many people who hurt
Delivering the hospitality of Christ to all God’s children.

Amen.

*****

Please check out these two links:

The Refugee

Azad’s Story

A World Oceans Day Prayer

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IMG_2016Swirling God, who at the dawn of creation swept over the face of the waters, hover over our oceans and all waterways with your blessed presence.

May each droplet of mist and sea be clean and fresh for all life who come in contact with these holy streams.

Bless each cell and molecule of life below the surface of the waters who trust in you and us to create a prosperous world.

Continually nudge us to nurture creation, joining together with humans all over this planet to covenant with one another and celebrate the gifts of water, air, fire, and land that you have given us.

Amen.

A “Repeat Day” Prayer

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fractal-1128622_960_720God of all eras and places,
Of all dittos, agains, redoes, duplicates, and echoes,
We want to celebrate the best of times over and over.

From the richest pieces of chocolate cake,
To the extravagant vacations we’ve been on,
And from the times we’ve fallen in love or to the liveliest parties we’ve attended,
We want to relive the greatest moments of our lives.

Sadly, those moments are often once in a lifetime-
Encapsulated within a fleeting moment.

On the other side of the coin are the moments which we hope to forget…
The breakups in which our hearts feel like they will collapse,
Or the illnesses that take days or months or years to subside.  Maybe.
Or the acts of violence that plague our world again.  And again.
And again.

We hope those never happen once.
But they often reoccur.

Another surgery.  Another funeral.

The news reports one more bombing across the world,
And we hear another stabbing or fatal gunshot injury.
We wonder why the terror keeps repeating
But the good times are few and far between.

On this repeat day, God,
While we won’t relive our day like Phil Conners in Groundhog Day,
We do find out that good times are sweetly rare,
That tragedy can happen at any moment,
That we cannot have a mulligan for our day.
But through your grace,
Trauma flashbacks will fade,
And maybe we can move into tomorrow with a spirit of hope.

Amen.