Into the Wilderness Once Again

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18304958986_4d0dd2e448_k-2In recent weeks, I had an endometriosis flare-up.

Those of us who have struggled with this particular illness find ourselves in great pain. I’m the type of person who thinks I know fairly well how to deal with this particular type pain and work through it.  With Advil and ice packs as my best friends, I continued to place work as a top priority and kept moving forward the best I could.

But just like the rest of humans on this earth, I am given finite energy.  Unfortunately, all of the friend-time outside of work as well extracurricular activities in which I would like to participate take a back seat as I only had energy to give to work and healing while tending to my flare.

While sometimes ice and Advil are enough to get over flares, this time it wasn’t sufficient.  The pain increased to pretty much all day, every day.

Growing disappointment filled my heart with shadows, and I realized I was back in the wilderness that I had experienced a couple of times before.

I resigned myself to the next steps of what was necessary to remedy the issue.  After weeks of intense pain and having a minimal life outside of work, I escalated the matter and scheduled another surgery.  Thinking about an upcoming surgery distracted my mind.  Will I get sick after the procedure?  Will there be any complications?  Will I have similar challenges as my other two laparoscopic procedures (which I had in 2003 and 2013)?

Once I had the operation, I was required to rest for at least a week.  Granted, the first couple of days I slept quite a bit and didn’t feel once ounce of guilt.  Then the third and fourth and fifth days hit. My spirit yearned to get up and go but my flesh was still weak and healing.  The contradictory nature of my body and soul made me feel guilty.  I should be doing more, I would think to myself.  But my body is human, and patience and grace is something of which I needed to remind myself as I healed.

My recent time in exile reminded me how much I hate hate hate the wilderness – the time in which all of us must face and even admit our fragility and weaknesses.  Lying on the couch and in bed stirred me to wish even more that I was perfect in body, mind, and soul.  Knowing that friends were able to live full lives while I rested in bed frustrated my extroverted spirit.

And yes – I was tempted to get up and do more.  I was tempted to become tough on myself for being in the wilderness again.

But everyone ends up in the wilderness every once in a while, I tried to remind myself.  Even Jesus, the one who was considered sinless or perfect by some, found himself in exile.

I am grateful that every first Sunday in Lent, the Gospel reading is always Jesus heading into the wilderness.  Granted, the story sounds a bit different in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  But hearing about Jesus’ challenges in the wilderness gives us strength.  It helps to know that Jesus was in the wilderness like all of us have been at various times in our lives.  Besides the day of his death, Jesus’ time in the wilderness was some of his most challenging life moments.  And hearing the story over and over and seeing someone come out of the wilderness with a few additional emotional scars but stronger than ever soothes our hurting souls.

So that’s why I write about my times in the wilderness and speak about my endometriosis: our exile stories need to be told and heard.  Even if your life challenges and your wilderness is different than mine, maybe we all won’t feel so alone.  Maybe someone will feel that you can get through the pain.  Maybe someone will schedule the surgery they’ve put off for months now even if you’re afraid.  Maybe someone will leap into a new adventure in life after feeling stuck for months.  Or maybe we will all remind ourselves to embody grace and patience so that our time in exile is more bearable.

I’ll be back to my normal self in a matter of days.  And just like everyone else – I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of my time in the wilderness.  I’ll find myself back there a few more years down the road.  But if we all keep talking about our times in the exile and encourage and comfort one another in our times of trial, then we will find our strength and resilience and move into a future with hope.

 

The Struggle with Grace and Impatience in Healing

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pexels-photo-27335.jpgFive days ago, I had surgery.

It was the third surgery like this one I’ve had: a laparoscopic operation to remove some of the endometriosis from my pelvis.  Three small incisions were made in my lower abdomen in an effort to get to scope and treat my inside pelvic region.

I never look forward to procedures, but by the time I’ve made the decision to have surgery, I’ve been suffering with pain.  While I’m still working, my life beyond work is minimal.  For someone who is an extrovert like I am, this is not living.

So I had the procedure.  All seemed to have gone well.  But each and every surgery brings worries along with it as well as knowledge of post-surgery living.

In the days following surgery, I’ve noticed a pattern.  The first couple of days, I’m extremely exhausted, and my body is in healing mode.  My days are filled with nap upon nap.  Then I’ll move into the next phase in which I know I’m feeling better.  I can’t do much physically as I’m still very sore.  My body yearns to heal but my spirit wishes I could be among the living again.  My extroverted self is being crushed by the mandatory rest period.

So, besides sleeping, here’s what I’ve done in the past few days:

  • Watched television
  • Watched Netflix
  • Watched HBO Go
  • Watched whatever is On Demand
  • Watched YouTube videos
  • Watched a video I rented from Amazon
  • Watched Jeopardy each night
  • Read many, many articles
  • Tweeted
  • Colored in my Lisa Frank coloring book.

I’ve done a little work here and there as well – from designing some social media posts to making a few phone calls.  Yet I’m exhausted both physically and mentally, so my energy comes in small waves.

I’m not the only young-ish person I know trying to recover from illness or injury.  Friends of mine have been placed on bed rest, and I have this notion that it hasn’t been too much fun for them to rest either. We are “jump into life with both feet” people, and this necessary time off is against our nature.

What we must be reminded of is that the healing process isn’t an overnight thing.  In scripture, we see Jesus healing, and all of a sudden his ailing followers are completely well.  Jesus didn’t ask them to spend a week in bed after he heals them.  Lazarus didn’t take additional time to rest after his resurrection.  The woman with the hemorrhage didn’t need a week to gain back her strength after touching the hem of Jesus.  Their healing was instantaneous.

My healing is not.

In real life, the way Jesus healed is not how realistic recovery works.  When God gives us healing, our responsibility is to rest and follow medical advice as part of the recovery process.

Let’s face it: instant gratification is a drug in our world.  We consider the rest time as a luxury and not a mandate.  When we realize that we can not escape a mandatory rest period with an illness, surgery, or injury, then we often feel guilty.  Our work has always taken top priority – why rest when we should be carrying a normal work load only days after a surgical procedure!

This is when the Sabbath commandment is crucial.  Sabbath is not only about building our relationship with God, but caring for the relationship with ourselves.  Our self-care is needed for us to heal properly so that we can follow God’s call for our lives and work diligently down the road.

I’m trying not to feel guilty about all of the naps I’ve taken in the past few days or zoning out as I color in my Lisa Frank coloring book or rewatching old episodes of Parks and Recreation for the billionth time.  God needs me to take this time right now to build my body as God will need me to work hard a few days and weeks down the road.

On Being a Lily of the Field

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water-lilies-bud-pond-green-99548.jpegI’ve always been the type of person who worries excessively.  This has always been part of my personality from the time I was a small child, and making drastic changes to such an embedded character trait takes time.

I go about my daily business worrying about how well I accomplish things and if I will have all the resources I need for the future.  I worry about the well-being of those I love and what will happen in the future to all of us.  I worry about small things and large things alike.

So when I read a text like Matthew 6:25-34, I want to laugh.  “God, you’re trying to tell me that I shouldn’t worry.  Easier said than done.  Releasing the worry won’t be happening here!”

And then I am faced once again with surgery.  I’ve tried everything I can to avoid surgery, but I must undergo the procedure once again.  For a while, I worried about having to endure this operation once more and did what I could do to avoid it, but there was little I could do.  I need to have it.

I will be on the surgical table in the very near future, so worry clouds my mind.  There is nothing that I can do once I lie down to have surgery except pray, believing that God knows what I will need and care for me in ways that will strengthen my well-being.

During the procedure, I know that I will be like a lily of the field—unable to care for myself in that period of time.  I will be enduring a period in which I am just “being” instead of “doing.”  My dependence will be on God and those working with God to bring about my health.

Most of us do not want to be like lilies of the field.  We want control, and we want solutions right now.  But now and again, life happens, and our time to be like flowers in a field arrives. We come and go with the winds.  We allow the rains to wash upon us.  Neither we can control.  And God wants us to embrace this time so that we can find our well-being again soon.

So I ask for God to take care of me while I am like a lily.  I ask God to heal me so that I can work hard once healing happens.  And like Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, I ask God to help me always figure out what I can control and what I need to give to God.

This post will be in St. Paul UCC’s March 2017 messenger.

Waiting to Heal

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teddy-teddy-bear-association-ill-42230The endometriosis has returned.  At least it’s what I think right now.

Next week, I have my third surgery for this disease.  Now, most of the time I’m fine.  And I’m the type of person who works diligently through my pain a it doesn’t stop me from being a productive person.  But eventually I get to the point that I need to have a procedure as the pain reaches a distracting level.

Have I mentioned how much I hate pain – how I would rather endure surgery than experience daily agony?

I’ve written about my experiences with this illness here, here and here.  Of course, I’m always doing what I can do educate others about the illness.  It is believed that ten percent of people with female reproductive parts have endometriosis – and this includes some transgender men.  Many women are told that pain with periods is normal, so women will go years before they are diagnosed.  People like Lena Dunham, Susan Sarandon, and Whoopi Goldberg have had the disease.  It is also believed Hillary Rodham Clinton and Marilyn Monroe suffered with it as well.  While doctors try various pills and medications to treat the illness, it often feels like there are few good treatments besides surgery.  The other treatments I’ve tried were spoiled by the side effects.

While most of my energy is dedicated to work and healing, little time has gone to writing. Which is why I’m giving what I can tonight to my craft and calling as a writer.  In the next few days I hope to write more here about my experiences with endometriosis in the pulpit and as a woman.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve gone years between each of my surgeries – unlike many women.  My hope is that in a few weeks I will be back to my normal self – blooming with energy and gaining momentum to become active again.  This is what happened after the first two surgeries, and I pray that it will happen this third time.  All I want is to feel human once again, to savor the joys of life with friends and find myself outside under the sun instead of on the couch and in bed during free time.

Netflix is nice, but there is so much streaming one wants to experience because there is an entire world to see, hear, and taste.

Not OUR Day

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dr-kingAs a white person, I feel it’s necessary to reflect upon my relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, his legacy, and who I am in my racial privilege.

When it comes down to it, fellow white sisters and brothers, this isn’t our story to reframe, not our struggle to claim, and this isn’t our day.  And it is seriously easy to allow ourselves to slide the slippery-slope and make this day all about us.

There are places for us to be and work for us to do today that relate to the legacy of Dr. King.  It is a day for us to learn.  This is a day for us to listen to the stories of friends of color, to read about the life of Dr. King, to hear his sermons and speeches once again, to pick up books that focus on white privilege and the struggles that black Americans endure.  This is a day for us to walk next to our friends of color and listen to what they are saying.

This is the time for us to recall how we fell short in the past year in our stands for racial justice.

This is the time for us to find courage that we need for the upcoming months and years to stand for justice and the well-being of our neighbors.  This is a day for us to set aside to recommit ourselves to justice issues.

Yes, Dr. King stood up for a myriad of justice issues – including peace during the Vietnam War and economic justice for all.  And as Dr. King said “Justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” all injustices are interconnected and hurt so many more people than who we first notice.

But this day is not for us to whitewash Dr. King – to forget what he stood for and how he was willing to put everything out there for racial justice.  Today is not the day to do to Dr. King what we have done to Jesus: to make both men hyper-meek in their approach to justice.  Yes, they loved peace and non-violence, but they were willing to go to the grave for their fight for justice.  They were edgy, and both men would not be revered by the majority of our society if they lived in our country today.

May we continue to grow in our privilege awareness.  May we stop falling asleep to our privilege like the disciples in the garden with Jesus.  May we find ways to speak of the authentic Dr. King.  May we listen… and listen more.  May we find ways to become aware of all of our privileges – whether they relate to race, sexual orientation, religion, or other privileges.  May we continue to love radically like Dr. King and Jesus… and may we embrace their courage when the time comes for us to need it.

 

Death’s Frequent Visits and the Spirit Which Remains

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carrie_fisher_2013_cropped_retouched“2016 has been a terrible year,” I’ve heard repeatedly since January.  First, it was David Bowie, quickly followed by Alan Rickman.  Over the year shocking and unexpected announcements were made about the deaths of Prince, Mohammad Ali and Gene Wilder.

We can’t forget the many people who had smaller roles in our seventies/eighties pop culture: George Gaines from Punky Brewster and Police Academy, George Kennedy from The Naked Gun movies, James Noble from Benson, Ron Glass and Abe Vigoda from Barney Miller, and the Pat Harrington from One Day at a Time.  Creators like Garry Marshall who gave us Happy Days and Pretty Woman aren’t here anymore. Even music got a little quieter when Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire as well as Glen Frey from The Eagles died.

And then this month happened.

Our beloved 80’s dad Alan Thicke tragically and suddenly passed due to a malfunctioning aorta.  Then came Carrie Fisher’s heart attack on an airplane.  They said she was stable… so she should be ok, right?  Before we heard any more on her condition, George Michael died on Christmas Day.  Two days later, Fisher died.

For my fellow Generation X-ers, our entire childhood is fading fast before us.  Two thousand sixteen reminded us of this.

george_michael_02_bisThe Grim Reaper’s frequent visits happen occasionally.  In my personal life, I remember the uncomfortable year of 1994.  First, my grandma died of metastatic breast cancer.  Then my grandfather had a massive stroke.  Finally, my grandfather’s brother died from a sudden heart attack in the doctor’s office.  My soul felt a bit worn by the end of the year – especially after a breakup of a long term relationship in October.

Grief is the greatest experience I remember from that year.  It’s amazing how so much grief will cloud one specific year of your life.

alan_rickman_after_seminar_28329As a pastor, I see how death comes in waves.  There are times when we have three funerals in one week.  Or there are times when our congregations seem like they’ve lost so many people in one year.  All Saint’s Sunday is filled with names of our recently deceased read aloud.  I’ve seen this happen in two specific years of my ministry so far: 2010 and 2015.

These are people who we knew and with whom we spoke and with whom I worked.  This still makes me why we experience so much grief when a celebrity dies.

We’ve never really knew them – we think to ourselves.  But their contribution to the soundtracks and movies of our lives leads us to consider them a close part of who we are and our life experiences.  Remember the middle school sleepovers and singing Prince songs at 1a.m…. or how many times we watched Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves during the summer of 1991 – – right after graduating high school.  Or how many Star Wars movies with Carrie Fisher did we see on the big screen.  The first I watched at the theaters was Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  Leia is the one who rescues her beloved and then strangles her captor after she is enslaved.  Fisher brought to life one of the strongest females on screen – transforming from a strong-willed princess to a general in charge of the continuing rebellion.

prince_at_coachella_001They are part of our stories, and we are forever grateful for their existence and contributions.  We are grateful for their vulnerability in art.

Which reminds me of the lines in the play Our Town.  After the main female protagonist Emily dies from childbirth, she yearns to experience life once again.  She experiences a semi-ordinary day in her life – giving her the realization that she really didn’t experience life while she ways living it.  Emily says to the state manager narrator of the story: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?  The Stage Manager replies “No.  Saints and poets maybe… they do some.”

David.  Alan. Gene. Maurice. Prince. Alan. George. Carrie.  You felt all of  the feelings.  Your experience of emotions influenced your craft in generous and ingenious ways.  You were the saints and poets that were mentioned by the Stage Manager in Our Town.  You experienced the range of emotions – even to the point when it affected your health and well-being.  And you are gone today.  But your experiences remain with you forever on that side of heaven where all of you abide.  Fortunately, your gifts remain with us forever.

Thank you for your gifts, your risks, your authenticity.  Thank you for being you.

Death cannot take you fully away from us because your lasting contributions are still here. This is what everyday resurrection is about.  2016 did not win.

*****

(I missed many other artists and leaders who passed this year as well and who contributed so much.  For a full list of notable people who died in 2016, see this article.)

 

Cranky Christmas: The Return of the “Bah Humbugs”

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pexels-photo-249209Much like living with a high pitch noise that won’t go away, I feel as if I am experiencing this Advent/Christmas season with a humming irritation swirling inside of me more than I’ve experienced in other years.

Maybe it’s due to the amount of work I wish I could do but haven’t gotten done.  Maybe it’s due to the things I haven’t gotten accomplished – like Christmas cards (for the billionth year in a row) and how many more extracurricular tasks have to complete before December 25.  Maybe it’s due to all of the failures of this past year or what isn’t going right in my life – according to the world’s expectations.  Maybe it’s due to my endometriosis flaring up a bit (not enough to stop me from getting things accomplished but enough to make me slightly grouchier than the norm).  Maybe it’s due to disastrous political and heartbreaking world events of the past few months.

Now, I won’t describe this as melancholy, because I wouldn’t categorize this as sadness or depression.  Sure, there are moments of sorrow due to the shortened days and lack of peace in our world.  But my Blue Christmas is not a traditional lament.  Rather, I’m irritated.  And this lingering frustration will not subside no matter how many episodes of Modern Family and Parks and Recreation I watch, how many times I view Love Actually or how many peanut butter and chocolate candies I eat.

And all I want to say… or scream…is BAH HUMBUG!

My annoyance at the circumstances of 2016 has placed a filter for the joy of the season.  It’s drowned hope.  It’s robbed my soul of peace, and loving one’s neighbor tends to suffer as a result of my irritations.

And while the presence of the Christ is in my midst, there is a veil between my eyes and Christ’s presence.

So I’m praying that when the Christ candle is lit on Saturday evening, it will be the light I need to see hope, peace, joy, and love that’s been a bit absent in recent weeks.  I pray that it will soothe my soul throughout these shallow-filled days.  I pray that I will not allow this light that is coming into our world to diminish and that it continues to remain strong as time gives birth to 2017.

 

 

Advent Prayer Day 12: A Prayer for the Tired Pastors

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tiredGod from whom all energy flows,
Our bodies crawl from dawn to dusk
From one visit to another,
From one meeting to the next,
From one worship service to the following one,
From one duty until our list is complete.

(It’s never complete.)

We know our help comes from you.
And our strength and courage are bestowed upon us by you.
Yet, our stamina wavers
And we wonder where you are.

Grant that our tired bodies
And even-more-exhausted souls
Find their refreshment in sleep, in recreation,  and in times of fellowship.

May we learn to prioritize what is needed
And let us find the grace we need when certain tasks remain incomplete.

May our spouses and partners and parents and children understand our frenzy.
May our friends continue to invite us to parties even thou we’ve turned them down four times before.

May our bodies remain strong,
May the flus and infections stay far away,
May additional unforeseen tasks that may pop up wait until January,
And may we see the Christ around us even when our eyes are focused elsewhere.

Amen.

America’s Lot Moment

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sodoma_-_aldegrever

I wrote this only a few days after the election.  This is how I felt – not only at the time – but continue to feel as I process what happened in our country.  This is how I feel every time I hear of another hate crime committed. 

 

I am a woman of privilege.  While I have some awareness of my racial, citizenship, and sexual orientation privilege, I am also still waking up to my privilege.  The results of the election came as a shock, and part of this shock is due to my privilege-related naiveté. 

This was written with much respect to all people who have been assaulted in any shape or form, not making light of assault, and also knowing that a piece of us felt violated on Election Day because the results affirmed the complacency with abuse.  Abuse has happened in many forms, and the Bible reflects that abuse as well.  Please be aware that this could be a TRIGGER WARNING for many people.

*****

“Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man: let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.” (Genesis 19:8)

I imagine most people feel disgust after reading this text and are shocked to know this is actually in our sacred Scripture.  Angels, in the form of two strangers, visit Lot in Sodom.  When the community heard about the visitors, they bang on Lot’s door and order him to send them outside so that they can know them intimately – – or, basically, rape the two men.

Lot refuses to accept their demands.  Instead, he offers them another option.  Here are my two virgin daughters.  Know the two of them intimately instead of our visitors.

Unfortunately, Lot’s daughters would not be enjoying the intimacy that comes when two people mutually give themselves to one another.  This would be a violent gang rape of two young women.  Based on the fury of this crowd, there is even a possibility the rape would have led to the death of one or both of the young women as we see in the similar story of Judges 19.

What appears in Genesis 19 does not seem like a story about Lot’s hospitality or creative problem solving. By offering his daughters, Lot still affirms the violent actions of a group of men. He does not give a second thought to sacrifice his daughters in the attempts to placate the Sodom community and to protect the rights of the privileged.

Up until a week ago, whenever I read this text, I could not fully imagine what the two daughters must feel.  How could someone who says they love you be fine with throwing you away with such haste? How could the one to whom you looked for protection be willing to throw you to the wolves knowing that you would be violently attacked?

And then the election of 2016 happened. Just like Lot’s problem-solving proposal, it felt like many Americans have offered up the lives of people of color, the bodies of women, the equality of LGBT people, the religious freedom of Muslims, the well-being of immigrants, and the dignity of people who are disabled.  In the process of trying to solve foreign and domestic issues, our neighbors chose to overlook love of neighbor and turn their heads so that racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry could grow stronger.

While some believe that the election results will eventually lead to positive results in our country, within the first week we saw the number of hate crimes grow.  Pictures of hateful words spray painted alongside of buildings and videos of students chanting slurs continue to become the new normal in 2016 America.

Couldn’t Lot have offered a more humane solution? Couldn’t we, as Americans and Christians be more compassionate and considerable in the way we solve our problems?

Some of our neighbors wonder why we still “can’t get over” the election results and its aftermath. Like Lot offering to throw his children to strangers in order to solve a problem, many people across our country feel like their neighbors were willing to toss them aside in an effort to build a country that could be to their satisfaction once again.

Knowing that many of us have been treated like Lot’s daughters has left us aching, worrying, and wondering what will happen next.

It feels like we must live under a new normal. We must live with the normality of women being physically assaulted.  We must live with a renewed interest in a type of “law and order” which will elevate the mass incarceration of our brothers and sisters of color.  We must know that families will be torn apart based on who was born in this country and who was born elsewhere.  We must know that Muslims fear for their lives as the country waits to see if a registry is forced upon them.   We must know that marriages of our gay, lesbian, and bisexual sisters and brothers are in jeopardy.

We may be Lot’s daughters in twenty-first century America, but we refuse to be thrown to the men of Sodom without a struggle.

Lot’s daughters found agency… and all who have been marginalized will find their power.

*****

Photo credit: Heinrich Aldegrever (1502-1561), Lot impedisce la violenza contro gli angeli, (1555).

 

A Prayer for Broken Relationships During the Holidays

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wood-light-fashion-peopleGod of all links, all vines, all connections-
In this season of festivities and meals,
As we stand deep in memories and nostalgia,
We come to you with our hearts raw from friction.

Moms and daughters.  Sons and fathers.
Siblings, aunts, uncles
Choose to stay away from one another.
The pain is too great to be in the same room.
Words weigh heavily on our souls
When past sins and current life circumstances are discussed.

They don’t understand us.  We don’t understand them.
And so we stay away.
At tables sit empty seats and cold plates
Because someone has to be right
Or because their voice and votes resemble hate.

We pray that they can accept us for who we are,
For the challenges we have,
For the choices we have made.
May they step into our shoes.  And, when possible, may we embrace them with grace.

We pray that the shadows of the night can melt away as we look to the dawn.

Through the radical acceptance of Christ, may we open tables that have been closed,
Add seats that have been taken away,
And may the food multiply as our meal-sharing grows.

Amen.