I haven’t written much since I was waiting for contact from someone. He emailed yesterday- this kind man and pastor who oversees a number of churches in a particular region- expressing some of his thoughts at recent disappointing event. And once I heard from him, I felt free to try to sort out thoughts in writing.

We had another near miss with a church- a beautiful, interesting, creative church that would have been as close to perfect in fit for us (and us for them) as possible. But for whatever reason, they took a sharp turn toward someone else. And even in our disappointment and broken love for this church, we bless the candidate who will lead them next into their new season of change and growth.

Yet this has been hard to swallow. It is not the first time that an interesting and compelling church has slipped through our fingers so close to the finish. As a friend of mine describes, “It feels like always being a bridesmaid but never a bride.” That friend now pastors a wonderful church where he feels right at home. I rejoice with him.

Since seminary, one of my spiritual practices is to use the narratives of the Bible to help make sense of my own story. So at different points in the journey, I have found companions in Abraham and Sarah. Or Peter in prison. Or Job in pain. Or Lazarus’ death and resurrection. Or even Epaphroditis who burned himself out in ministry. This practice has allowed me to explore parts of scripture that inform my own experiences, that inform my theology about those experiences. And quite frankly, they offer hope. Which I’m pretty sure is in short supply for many of us and we need it.

Recently, I’ve bounced between the narratives of the Israelites’ victory over Jericho and Joseph’s story in Genesis. Joseph probably more than Jericho. Yeah… Joseph has been my buddy lately. In fact, I’m pretty sure we are at the part when he’s in prison, gifted with God’s presence the favor of the warden to use his gifts and excel, but being forgotten in the injustice of a butler’s lack of memory. Yeah… I’m pretty sure we are there.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Paradox of God

December 23, 2014

(published 7 years ago, but adapted for this post)


7 years ago, I was pastoring an eager church. A church had been experiencing significant decline and decided they wanted to change that. So the congregation decided at that time that they must rebirth or recreate the church in order to stop its downward direction, and that is what we tried to do- we attempted to rebuild and recreate the church. While in the end, this particular ministry did not work out, it was a gift at that time 7 years ago to have a church eager to change- no matter how short lived it may have been.

But even the best of gifts can come with challenges. Paradoxes, I suppose. Even as a congregation is eager and ready to do the work of revitalization, it can sometimes be overly eager. Ready to build ministries that once existed- or new ministries entirely- but at the present, the infrastructure and foundation are not yet in place. Ready to move ahead when it seems we might be called to dally in one spot for a few more moments.

So over breakfast with my leadership just shortly before Advent began that year, I brought up this subject of building too fast. The leaders were quite responsive to conversation over such a topic, agreeing that we must not be too hasty to recapture what was at the risk of losing what could be. But there was still an undercurrent of confusing questions running beneath our conversation, “Why wouldn’t God want us to build as quickly as possible? Isn’t he able to do miracles? So would he ever choose to move so slowly and strangely?” The questions hung in the air unanswered. I was too tentative to address them, and so we turned to prayer.

After a long time in prayer, we lifted our heads with a unison “Amen,” only to find that one man had his head still bowed and he was staring at his hands. In silence we waited a couple seconds for him to finish his private prayer. After a moment, he lifted his head and with tears in his eyes told us, “God gave me this picture.” The man lifted his hands, cupping them in the front of him as he spoke, “‘It’s like this,’ God said to me. ‘When you try to light a campfire, and you finally get a small flame, you don’t just heap piles and piles of wood on it right away. Instead you crouch down, get as close as you can and gently blow.’” The man paused, but only for a moment as the image fixed itself in our minds. Then with a shaking voice, the man continued, “That’s what God is doing here- crouching as close as he can to us and gently blowing. It doesn’t make entire sense to us when we want the raging bonfire right away. But it’s how he wants to start.” We were all deeply touched by this man’s vision, and perhaps stunned a bit as well. To us, it only made sense that God would do miraculous things in big, spectacular ways with our little church. And yet, it seems as though he is restraining himself from such power and choosing instead the gentler, slower, softer route for us. A paradox to human minds indeed.  Read the rest of this entry »


December 12, 2014

I cried all the way there, attempting to dry up 10 miles out so no one would know. Growing older has a way of teaching you to put feelings in their place, to be able to do what is needed at the moment. They still live side by side with the to do lists and everyday demands. So 10 miles out I organized my soul and then pulled my old car into the parking lot of the church.

Smiles, songs, intense conversation over theological matters, that internal cringing that happens in many of us at particular phrases that don’t fit right, the warmth of seeing human interaction blossom into love. For me, it is the regular inner whiplash of being part of this group of friends and colleagues one moment, and then not being part of them the next moment. I text my husband and then message with a friend, realizing my multi-tasking skills have grown exponentially with age but thinking I really shouldn’t be multi-tasking at all. And I decide silently that I am not up for lunch today after the meeting, pining instead for the safe and lonely confines of my car seat and the open interstate ahead of me.

The conversation dwindles and the clock tells us it’s time to break for the month. Except… he turns to me. This kind weathered face that has wept tears of his own when burying a child. This gentle voice, the man who runs these meetings- the man who tenderly loves the pastors in his region and under his care, the man who restored my faith in church authorities- turns to me. And I outwardly cringe, because I know he will ask. He will peek through the professional exterior and ask what I don’t want him to ask today. “How are you?”

I’m asked those questions so much. Because we are trained to ask “How are you?” in this culture. I ask them too. But we are not trained to hear the answers. And we are not trained to always give the answers. The real ones. There’s something incredibly safe about not having to answer that question in any sort of way that betrays how weak, broken, sad, scared, enraged, aching, closed-minded, frightened, indifferent we really are. In some ways, the formality of asking it protects us from the realities of having to share our lives.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Year

October 20, 2014

One year. It’s been one year.

This time last year we were visiting friends. A former church celebrating its years. Riding a combine and hugging necks. My two-year old running down the aisle of the church. A older woman describing him as “perfect” as she marveled at his joy.

And then a couple weeks later, he was gone. A double ear infection. A wrong prescription. Issues with the gut began. Skin paled. Eyes darkened. Voice quieted. Right side weakened. He went away. This child I had so loved beyond words or thought or images slipped from me while staying with us at the same time. One year ago.

And so the battle began. The fight to get him back. The fight to fix what was wrong. And it continues to this day.

We’ve lost a year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Someone I love just experienced a devastating loss. My heart aches for this person whom I have known most of my life. I am reposting this because it came to mind this weekend with this friend. Perhaps it will speak to the rest of us too.


She was a large woman. Her hospital scrubs made her look larger. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a small pony tail that bobbed as she moved around my recovery room. I don’t remember her name, but I remember her smile.

I had just been moved to the step down recovery from the acute recovery area. The last thing I remembered before waking up in the acute recovery area was the large operating room lights peering down on me like the largest pair of eyes I had ever seen, bright and alien-like as they faded into a halo and haze and eventually complete darkness while the anesthesia did its job. I still have dreams of that operating room. But they are only dreams. I only really remember the bright lights and then waking up being tended to by nurses who called my name, which echoed in my mind for a few moments, until I was able to shake myself alert again. Then I was wheeled here… to the large blonde nurse with a sweet smile.

I was not in the mood to talk. My throat hurt from the tube they had used during surgery. What’s more is that my soul hurt, ached really- that deep kind of aching that nothing will touch. I had been dealing with pancreatitis for weeks now so I knew that pain, but this was a different pain. A kind of pain that radiates from the deepest of places. In those moments, I realized why people turn to substance abuse. Not because of some physical pain- I had had plenty of that- but because of some deeper pain, emotional pain… spiritual pain, even.

I know I should have been happy that the cancer had been removed. That the tumor that threatened my life had been cut out of me. And I was. Even though I was far from “in the clear,” I was happy that it was over. But with that tumor, they also took my baby. My little unborn child, so loved and so wanted. We had seen her little heart beating away until the ultrasound had shown she was no longer alive, succumbed to the same cancer that threatened me. We still have the ultrasound photos of her. In a moment she went from being a dream come true to a dream lost. And in this moment after surgery, the truth that she was really gone was all too real. Even though she had been dead inside me for a few days now, this surgery was a finality. Much like a funeral for others. Only we weren’t given her to bury. I suppose we should have asked. But we had never walked this path before. We didn’t know we had to ask.

As I took in the surroundings of the step-down recovery room, I remembered that shortly before this surgery, a perky registrar had visited with her armload of papers to sign. As I came to a yellow paper in her stack, my breath stopped at my lips. The line I was to sign was entitled “mother.” At the time, I remember thinking how incredibly cruel that was. Now I wish I had my copy of it.

My new nurse was busy explaining what needed to happen for me to be released. After all, having anesthesia and surgery is something they take very seriously in many places, so there are thresholds to meet in order for them to make sure I would not have a bad reaction to the drugs. I nodded at her list and turned away. I didn’t want to know. My tears didn’t seem to work. I wondered if they had somehow taken away my tears too when they took away my tumor and daughter.

Then the nurse said something I will never forget. She said quite softly to me, “You know, I know how this is.” I looked at her, not daring to breathe, so afraid she would say all the things that make me cringe even now. You know, the “God has a plan,” and the “God wanted your baby to be his angel,” and the “All things work out for a reason,” and the “You’ll get over this.” I already knew I would be hearing a lot of these things in the days ahead. Here we go, I spoke in my head, as I braced myself to withstand the onslaught of well-intentioned, but nauseating comments.

Instead, she leaned toward me and said again, “I know how this is. I lost my baby too. It’s been 20 years and I still think about that baby and wonder about that baby and wish I had ALL my babies with me every time we are together as a family.” Her blue eyes turned a bit red as she allowed her tears to spill down her cheeks. Now that she had my attention, she continued, “Sometimes it’s OK to be not OK.” She looked at me for a long moment and then touched my shoulder and left my room.

I appreciated that moment, but I don’t think I appreciated that moment then as much as I do now. We had no idea what the next months would be like. We didn’t know how seldom we would have a genuine connection with someone who had been there in the various parts of the weird and wildly twisting journey that laid ahead of us. If we had known, we would have cherished those moments of understanding more. But we didn’t know.

What we discovered after this surgery was that very often we were in situations where we felt we had to “be OK.” Even when we weren’t. It had nothing to do with people’s callousness. Most people were never callous toward us. In fact, some anguished with us with each and every loss and trauma that affected us in the 18 months to come. But humans are notorious for being uncomfortable around grief. Prolonged grief especially. Compounded grief especially.

A friend who is a counselor told me that in America we often only give 4-6 weeks for people to grieve loss and then there is pressure for that person to pull it together and move on. And I get that, at least a little bit. Because grieving people can be exhausting. But they are also exhausted, and that alone should give us pause before judging their grief. When this therapist said this, I wondered what that meant for people who experienced one loss, followed by another a few weeks later, followed by another a couple months later, and so on. Were they given 4-6 weeks for each grief?

People mean well. They really do. I have rarely run across anyone who insisted someone be OK when they are clearly not simply because they want to be mean to the hurting person. But it’s in the subtle things we do. The way we try to “fix” their situation with slogans and empty words, with borrowed phrases and cliques. The way we slap scripture passages on the pain like a piece of meat on a sandwich, and feel smugly proud that we did the “Christian” thing for that person… who in reality eats the bitterness of isolation and loss after we walk away. The way we avoid them after awhile because we don’t want to be uncomfortable. I remember hearing a friend say, “I couldn’t be around [a mutual friend] because that sort of long-term grief just gets to be unbearable.” If we are honest, we know we would agree. It’s in the way we tell the grieving to “cheer up,” “get off the grumpy train (that is a real statement someone made to my husband),” and “get over it.” We are not OK with people being not OK.

We mean well. We really want people in our lives to feel healthy and happy. But sometimes, sometimes people need to grieve. They need to weep. They need to pour out their jumbled thoughts no matter how heretical they may sound. And they need people who will understand the place those thoughts and fears and doubts and worries have been born and know that in happier moments, this same person would not experience such questions. If any place should be safe for this it should be the Church. All too often, it is not. For me, for that time in my life, I can count on one hand where I felt safe enough to fully grieve out my questions and fears.  That fateful night, it was the safety of a nurse in a step-down recovery room.

My toddler has a speech delay, but one phrase we can always make out among his jabbering, is: “Are you OK?” in all it’s various forms. “Are you guys OK?” “I’m OK.” “It’s OK.” And so on. Only he doesn’t say “OK.” He says, “okays?” “Are you guys okays?”

One night he woke from his sleep and began to cry, and over the monitor we heard him say, “Mommy, not okays, not okays!” As I laid down in the dark beside him, listening as his sobs turn into the deep breathing of sleep, I thought about how this 2 year old spoke such great theological truth. And I thought back to the encounter with that nurse: “Sometimes it’s OK to be not OK.” Sometimes life is “not okays.” And it doesn’t make us less Christian, less faithful, less able, or less called to let it be “not okays.” Maybe God actually desires our honest “not okays” over our endless stream of useless words. Maybe God actually responds to our honest whimper of “God, it’s not okays” with the love of a parent, laying beside us in the dark as comfort until we sleep. Maybe sometimes we need to be unafraid of our “not okays.” And maybe we need to be unafraid of someone else’s “not okays.”

The nurse was all business after that, brief and to the point, without losing her professional warmth. She released me with prescriptions and instructions. And I never saw her again. In fact, a few days later, I returned with flowers for each of my care nurses and was told the woman I described (whose name I remembered at the time but have lost in the 4 years since) wasn’t someone they knew. I’m sure it was just a mistake when I delivered those flowers, but ironically, 2 years and nearly one month later, the day my son was born, I had a nurse… who was a larger woman, with scrubs that made her look bigger than she actually was, with blonde hair that bobbed up and down in her short ponytail, whose smile was warm and demeanor was kind… and I wondered if maybe just maybe the nurse in the recovery room was a messenger from God.

Read the rest of this entry »