Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fear part IV...God

For a lot of people on the East Coast, Halloween fears are happening in real time.  I can't imagine the destruction and the turmoil that is experienced in these kinds of situations.  I pray for renewal, for comfort, and for hope.  In the midst of the terror of Hurricane Sandy, there is the anxiety of a presidential campaign.  And yet in the midst of all of this....tomorrow night millions of people will step away from their realities, put on a weird, goofy, scary, or funny costume, hand out candy to tiny Superman's & Cinderella's, or walk their children down neighborhood sidewalks for M&M's and Starbursts.  I will be among those people - hanging out with church friends, youth, and experiencing probably the chilliest Halloween I've seen in years.

This year, though, I keep thinking about what it means to fear God.  And the thought is only more powerful in light of the destruction of the last couple days.  What does it mean to fear God?  What do we do when we find that language in scripture?  My stomach twists itself in knots every time I think about all the preachers out there who blame storms like Sandy on the wrath of God.  Too many people in this world talk about what is scary about God than what is awesomely loving about God.  Not once will you will hear me preach about a God who sends disastrous storms and destruction upon people.  So when I talk about fearing God I don't mean the kind of fear we get when we walk into a haunted house (or is it just me that's scared of those...?).  And I'm not talking about the kind of fear that people have when they wake up one morning only to discover that their entire lives are crumbled in a mess of fallen bricks, broken walls, and dispersed neighbors.  No, the fear I'm talking about is an awe-struck stirring from deep within. That feeling you get when you know that something far more awesome is at work out there.  It's the kind of fear that drove Solomon to build the most amazing house of worship anyone had ever seen; the kind of fear that sent the shepherds to their knees.  It's the fear that drives ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

We know when we lose sight of this fear, too.  When we get so caught up in our own agendas and lose passion for our calling in this world.  When it becomes all about us.  When the excitement for living that once filled our bones is lost in the mundane chores of life.  When doing what we know in our gut is the right thing to do because we know in our gut that it's not all about us....that our lives are connected to something bigger and more awesome than we can imagine....that's the kind of fear I'm talking about.  And because I believe in God, then I put that Divine Being as the source of this mind-boggling greatness.  So, without fear and awe for God, what am I doing?  If I don't fear God then I'm not living out my calling to its fullest.  If I don't fear God, then I'm not thinking through decisions care-fully or empowering ministries that center around hope and justice.

I think I'm learning that fearing God has a whole lot more to do with loving God and a whole lot less to do with being afraid of God.  When we fear God, we not only realize our frailty, but we realize God's strength.  It is comforting and a little bit scary at the same time.  But it doesn't mean that we should be afraid.  God is not a monster in a movie and God is not some ax murderer.  God is the source of the hope that comes in the midst of chaos.  God is the comfort of a friend on a gloomy October day.  God is the understanding in a situation that makes no stinkin' sense.  God is at the center of all that is good, and true, and just.

So the day after tomorrow...when candy wrappers cover our floors and face paint is all washed off; when the costumes are put away; when people along the East Coast begin to pick up the shattered pieces of life; when our country is one more day closer to the election; I pray that fear consumes us.  Not fear that divides and terrifies.  But the kind of fear that brings us closer to a love so strong that we can't help but fall to our knees....or hug a friend....or send some money to relief efforts...or say a prayer....or do something extraordinary with this ordinary thing we call life.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fear part III, Being Who We Are

One year for Halloween I dressed up like Debbie Gibson - my childhood idol.  I wore my Electric Youth t-shirt, a blue jean skirt, cut a hole in my black leggings and drew a smiley face on my knee (only the truest of Debbie fans will appreciate), and sported my very own black top hat - a Debbie trademark.  Needless to say, my 8-year old self rocked it.

Throughout my whole life there has been someone or some people I've looked up to.  Whether it was famous celebrities or older kids in school; family friends or peers on sports teams.  I have a gift for seeing the good in others.  And yet, as great as this gift can be, it can at times be a curse.  Sometimes the more good I see in others, the more lacking I see in myself.  And I think this goes back to a deeper fear that is inside a whole lot of us in this world - the fear of being who we are.

As a youth minister, I try to never miss an opportunity to tell the youth that they are created in the image of God.  The earlier we can help them to see how unique and awesome they are, I think the better chance we have that they will actually grow up believing it.  So why is it so hard to believe it for ourselves?  Why do we allow fears or limitations or excuses to keep us from being that one-of-a-kind person we were created to be?  Perhaps culture has a lot to do with it.  We are overloaded by entertainment and the media world telling us we have to look or dress in certain ways.  There is a voice out there telling us and our youth that success can only be measured by the value of dollar bills or the level of popularity.  Our senses go spastic with all these ways & methods to "self-improve."  But it's not only the external causes. We have to be reminded, internally, that it is okay to be who we are.  It is more than okay.  It is okay to sing loudly in the shower regardless if we ever hit a right note.  It is okay to mess up or to fail at something that we think is really important.  It is okay to laugh at ourselves every once in a while (or all the time!).  It is okay to take the pressure off our shoulders and put peace in our souls - even when we really think "that" outfit or "this" haircut would make us this...much...more confident at work or school on Monday morning.

With all the cases we hear on the news of child & teen bullying, of suicide cases and violent murders; and in this political climate of partisan pointing of fingers and name-calling - it's baffling how much work needs to be done to put wholeness and peace back in our lives and more fully into this world.  Perhaps it can start with one of us at a time.  If we recognize our internal beauty and allow room for healthy growth and self-image, then we can help others do the same.  So many of us try to hide behind masks of wealth, beauty, success, fame, and self-righteous pride.  Forget the creepy mask from the "Scream" movies, these are the scary ones!  What if all of us, all over the world, took off our masks for just a day?  What if we stopped pretending that we had it altogether?  What if we realized our brokenness and then turned around and saw that our neighbor is dealing with very similar struggles?  I think only then could we crawl out from under our bed and face our fears front on.  The fear of being who we are is real...and without this fear we are vulnerable; we are an open book.  But if we can learn to let go of who we're not, and fully be who we are - with all our weaknesses and quirks and gifts - then we will not only discover the truth of our own souls but the beauty and truth of another.  That could make the world go 'round.  I pray that all of us can be who we are - knowing that we are works-in-progress - and yet at our core, we are exactly who we need to be.  

Now will somebody please turn up some Debbie so I can dance around the house?  It is Halloween for goodness sake...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fear part II, "The Unknown"

It was a steamy, hot August afternoon in Fort Worth, TX.  The air was so thick you could cut it with a butter knife.  I was in the drivers seat, my car still tired from the 12-hour drive from Kentucky to Texas just a week before.  I was taking my then boyfriend, Jeff, to the DFW airport.  Jeff had come with my parents to Ft Worth to help me move into my new home at Brite Divinity School.  And now - it was time for him to leave.  Everything was perfectly fine on the way to the airport.  Jeff has a GPS in his brain, and although he was not yet familiar with the interstates of the metroplex, I knew that we would have no trouble making it to the airport.  Other than the tears and more hugs goodbye than words goodbye, I got back into my Honda Accord for the trip back to to my new apartment, my new home.  The first time I would be there alone.  The chicken scratch handwritten directions Jeff gave me were spot on.  I should have had nothing to worry about as long as I followed them word for word.  Tightly gripping the steering wheel, I pulled out of the airport terminal and told myself I could do this.  Looking back, I was probably about 10 minutes from my exit when everything became scary.  I got confused and let panic win as I exited at a downtown Ft Worth exit.  All of a sudden the tall buildings got taller.  Everything closed in around me.  The everyday people walking down the sidewalks grew distorted, monster-like faces.  Orange cones and road work signs came out of no-where and forced me down one-way streets.  Cars were honking.  People were yelling.  The tall buildings got taller.  Everything closed in on me until I could hardly breathe!  I began to cry and I yelled to myself - "why did I move here?!!!"

The Unknown.  In this case...Kentucky girl moves to the big city.  Obviously I embellished a bit (can't you tell?).  But my first experience of getting lost in Fort Worth is largely about my fear for the unknown.  I had moved halfway across the country, far away from anyone or anything familiar.  I didn't know what was in store for me.  I certainly did not know the twists and turns and the roads I would go down in this new life.

In one way or another, all of us have some fear of the unknown.  Whether it's moving to a new place, entering a new school, going off to college or sending a child off to college, having a baby, getting married, starting a new job, dealing with the death of someone you love, the list goes on and on.  In many ways, each day is an unknown.  We do not know where or how we might be surprised or thrown for a loop on any given day.  And yet in many ways the unknown can be as exciting as it is scary.  Stepping into the light of something new is exhilarating; it makes you feel fully alive and able to breathe in life more deeply.

When I moved to Fort Worth, I had many doubts about the decision I had made.  By nature, I am a "worrier", and so in the first year, I worried constantly whether I was going to make it in the city and in the life of a seminarian.  Looking back, I should have let those worries fall off my shoulders, I should have trusted God and trusted myself a little bit more.  But that's easy to say now...

In case you were wondering, I didn't get sucked in by the big city on that hot August day.  I made it back to my apartment with only my pride & dignity a little scarred.  I learned a lesson that day, but the realization of that lesson has come much later.  What we don't know does not always have to be scary.  And yet, we shouldn't sugarcoat our life changes either.  When the unknown looms over you like the pink slime in the Ghostbusters movie, take a deep breath first.  Then take another one.  You may feel all alone and lost, but remember - there are a lot of streets in this life, and not all of them are one-way.  Take your time.  Listen to your gut.  Listen to the silence of a new day.  It is unknown.  It is scary.  But it can also be the most beautiful experience of your life.  It will have its ups and its downs, you will experience the peaks of the mountaintop and the loneliness of the valley...and everything in between.  You will forever be changed.  And when you close the book on that day, I hope you realize that this life doesn't have to be as scary as it seems.  Because just as there is fear...there is also hope in the unknown.  Hope never morphs into a 4-eyed monster.  Hope can take us to many places...and hope can make the unknown look a lot more like a new home.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fear, part 1

My dogs, Patch & Pepper, are pretty much always happy.  And, because of that, they always make me happy.  I let them outside this morning (best thing ever!!!) and as I was sitting at the table looking out the front window, I see this tip of white tail just bobbing to and fro across the front porch.  Nothing else...just the tip of the tail happily bouncing from side to side, not a care in the world.  Happy to be exploring life once again.  I smiled and thanked God for another day.

In case you haven't noticed from my previous blogs, I love this time of year.  October is hands down my favorite month.  And not only do I love the colors and the cooler weather and the falling of leaves, but I also love Halloween and all the decor and fun that goes with it.  It's fun to talk about costumes and driving around town to see the pumpkins and scarecrows and ghosts that people put out to color their homes.  And of course it is always fun to have just one more excuse to eat Snickers and m&m's.  But because of the nature of Halloween, it is also this time of year that I think about the things I fear.  There are the usual suspects like spiders and snakes and scary movies - (yes I know I'm a wimp!).  But there are also more serious fears like the fear of failure, the fear of letting others down, and the fear of the unknown.

In the next few blogs, & in the days leading up to Halloween, I may take a peak inside some of these deeper fears to see if I can turn on the lights of clarity and understanding.  It will be scary...it will be suspenseful...so grab the popcorn and cuddle up with your pooch for protection.  This will be more intense than ABC Family's 13 Days of Halloween.  Yes, I did just go there.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Every day since I started this thing, I wake up and just want to blog! Ah it's so fun!

I have spent this day with the gentleness of classical music, autumn scents from a frosted pumpkin candle, the caffeine boost of coffee, 2 adorable pups, and sermon writing.  The day outside is sunny and colorful.  I am surrounded by inspiration and beauty.  Surely a good sermon can come out of that, right?  I hope so.  :)

Last night was our youth group hayride to the farm of a family in the church.  The 20 minute drive to the farm accompanied by the hayride to our hotdog roasting spot was simply breathtaking.  Green rolling hills scattered with color and light from the trees and the blue sky.  The setting sun tinted everything with a radiant glow.  After the sun went down, the stars came out in full force - millions and millions of tiny dancing lights that twinkled at us from lightyears away.  Top it off with s'mores, hotdogs, a bunch of silly teenagers (and silly adults) and it was one great evening.

I think that everyday, we have a chance to be more thankful than the day before.  More thankful for life.  More thankful for the people we love.  More thankful for opportunities to learn and be and do.  I am learning to be more thankful with each passing day; in hopes that the more grateful I am the more connected I will be to God and to others.  In a world that is torn apart by divisions of all sorts, one of the biggest things we need is to feel connected.  That no matter what the differences between people, cultures, societies, ethnicities, language, race, lifestyle, country, etc., etc., etc., - we can all look up at the stars at night and know that everyone everywhere sees the beauty of millions of tiny dancing lights twinkling at us from lightyears away.  The thought is over my head and firmly under my feet all at the same time.  Connection.  Oneness.  Togetherness.  It gives me hope.  And that is something to be thankful for.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Monday Run

The alarm went off this morning and I slapped at it until I finally found the snooze button.  I rolled over to see the sun still sleeping, so I too, drifted off again.  I did this 2 more times until finally I realized that if I wasn't going to get up now I would just be mad at myself, plus Jeff was snoring, so might as well...

Several yawns and stretch or two later, I found myself tying double knots in my Mizuno running shoes and opening the door to the gray-blue clouds of Monday morning.  The sun was hidden somewhere up there, but it must have hit the snooze button a few times too.  It was perfect running weather, 51 degrees - just cool enough to see my breath and stretch my jacket sleeves down to cover my hands for the first half a mile.  And the scenery this time of year is a little piece of heaven.  My 3 mile loop takes me past fields scattered with open space and moo'ing cows, and standing tall over and around these fields are trees changing color.  They are sheer awesomeness.  Fiery reds, butterscotch golds, and cheerful oranges.  Filling my eyes with this beauty sure made those uphills worth it....

The changing of the leaves during my favorite season reminds me that God is ever-changing.  In many ways I have never been a person who adapts well to change (just ask my family or my friend Mary, they will laugh and tell you many embarrassing childhood stories).  I know change is necessary and important - but often I get comfortable in my routine of life and the alterations can make me anxious.  This past year has been filled with changes.  Changes in where I live, the church I serve, where I call home, and the person I now work with is also the person I'm married to.  Our little family of pets has taken on another dog, which means changes in the amount of time it takes me to wipe off muddy paws in the morning.

I think sometimes, as Christians, we get too comfortable with God.  We want God to fit our world and our beliefs just right.  But the reds, golds, and oranges remind us that God (whose love is constant and unchanging) is never static.  Creation is a perfect example of God's newness and life everyday.  If God stayed the same all the time, then the leaves wouldn't be so awesome in the Fall, and they wouldn't give new life in the Spring.  And just as true as this is for the earth, so it is for us.  If God wanted me to sleep in everyday and forego the beauty of the morning, then God wouldn't have made Jeff snore.  (Just kidding...)  God wants abundant life for us, whatever that might look like.  And sometimes, we need to step aside and let the colors of our lives change a little bit so that God's reds, and golds, and oranges, can shine through.

These are just some thoughts on a Monday morning...they will probably change tomorrow... :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lost in my mind

Day 2 of blogging....who woulda thought I would be someone to put my crazy and often pointless thoughts out into cyberspace?  Haha...not me. :)

There is no way I'll have the time nor even the inspiration to blog every day.  But all this is new to me, and it's fun, and I've got a lovely quiet moment on this October Saturday morning...so, why not?!

Ever since I can remember, I have kept a personal journal.  The older I get the more I write.  The more beautifully challenging life gets - the more I write.  My journal helps me to relieve stress and emotions; it centers me for my day and it cradles my prayers and thoughts.  And now that I am blogging, I realize how different this is than personal journaling.  When I sit down in the mornings to open my super- awesome-hardcover-retro-style-journal with a leafy tree and two colorful little birds on it - I know that I can just start rambling on about anything and everything.  There's no rhyme or reason, no formal introduction, 2-paragraph body, or summary conclusion.  As we used to say in middle school, my journal is "for my eyez only" (insert a pitiful drawing of 2 eyeballs with an apostrophe 's' instead of the written word...and I just used the 'z' for fun).  So it doesn't matter how many grammatical errors, misspelled words, or incomplete sentences and thoughts that consume those pages.  But blogging on the other hand....

In my journal this morning, I wrote that blogging is a whole new world because people will read it.  And there needs to be some sort of point to an entry.  Stream of consciousness is great for all kinds of reasons...but sometimes a blog needs to be a little bit more.  Well, for me, at least.  I want a person to read something I've written and feel a little bit better because of it.  I want to reach out and connect with people in ways that just aren't possible without the gift of the internet world.  And I don't want to bore people so much that your facial expression looks like my dog, Pepper, when she stares longingly at me from over the couch, her sad eyes begging me to play.  I want this to be fun and exciting like Christmas morning!  Which is exactly how I feel about this new adventure.  I don't know what to expect, but I am pretty positive that blessings are in store.

One of my favorite bands is The Head & The Heart and on their one & only album (they need to get a new one out!!) is a song called "Lost in My Mind."  Sometimes we just get so lost in our minds that we forget to look outside at the changing colors of the season.  We get so lost that we lose sight of what is going on outside of our own thoughts.  Sometimes I get so lost that I become physically lost and don't know why I walked into the kitchen from the living room.  And other times I get so lost in my mind that I pick up the body wash for shampoo.  You can't deny it, we all do it!

And so cheers to a journey of attempting the read the roadsigns in my head and (hopefully) turning down the streets of clarity, epiphany, and creativity.  Here's to not getting lost alone...but with a whole new network of friends and family and new passengers.  I thank you for coming along.

Who woulda thought I would ever put my crazy and often pointless thoughts out into cyberspace?  Not me...but then again, life is all about surprises, right? :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Where I'm From...

There's a picture on my dresser that I swiped from my childhood room sometime after Jeff & I moved back to Kentucky.  The frame is a 4x6 but the picture is smaller.  It is me, around 1-year old, putting a green Carebear on the gentle lap of my great-grandfather, Papa.  Because of the faded cream matte in the frame, Papa's face is covered and I have to take the picture out of its home for 28 years in order to see his expression.  Papa is not looking at the camera, but rather, looking down and smiling at me.  His left hand on the Carebear and his right arm extended to embrace this little girl who thinks her Papa is the best man in the whole world.  (And because he's the best man in the whole world, there is nothing he would rather do than hold that faded green Carebear.)  After years of thinking that this picture belonged in my parents' house, I finally realized I could look at it every single day if I wanted to.  So I took it.  And it sits next to another picture I took from my childhood room, of my dad's dad and me.

I don't really know why this matters to anyone but me.  But perhaps it is one way of expressing how important it can be to know where we have come from and from whom we have come.  Families are the most awesome and fickle relationships we have.  Sometimes we can't stand not being around them, and sometimes all we need is our space.  But, for me, neither one means that love is gone.  I am so happy to come from the people I come from.  Our past shapes the person we become; and the people who know us the best are the ones who make us whole.

I took a creative writing class when I was a senior in high school.  One of our assignments was to fill in the blanks in the frame of George Ella Lyon's poem "Where I'm From." One of the lines I wrote says, "I'm from Hopkinsville and Crofton, chocolate sundaes and homegrown tomatoes."  Hopkinsville & Crofton are the small towns where my roots are planted.  And those are the foods that have stuck out to me for some reason.  Every time my older sister, Katherine, and I went to visit our great-grandparents Papa & Bess, they would fix us vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup in little green bowls.  And Papa always called them chocolate sundaes.  Not ice cream sundaes, but chocolate sundaes.  There was nothing special about them other than the simple deliciousness of vanilla ice cream suffocated in Hershey's chocolate syrup.  Katherine & I always wanted chocolate sundaes.  And chocolate sundaes were always graciously served to us.  And we always licked the chocolately-vanilla soupy bowl clean...well, at least I did...

Now, as a minister, I find my life revolving around Sundays.  The first holy day of the week never strays too far from my thoughts or my responsibilities.  And no matter how wonderfully smooth or emotionally challenging Sundays can be...My hope is that this day can be covered in something so sweet that a person can't help but lick the bowl when the sun goes to bed on Sunday night.  Because that day was full of deep love and authentic community.  Because that day was unlike any other day of the week.  It was Sabbath.  It was worship.  It was sacred.  I'm not a minister who thinks that church & faith can only happen when bottoms are plopped down in the pews at 8:30 or 10:45 on Sunday mornings.  Church happens everywhere on every day and our faith guides us in all that we do.  But there is still something sweet about Sundays.  And because I'm a minister, Sunday is always sneaking up behind me, peaking over my shoulder ever so gently...and asking me if I'm ready for a scoop.  Have  I prayed enough about Sunday?...Have I prepared myself to lead this group of people in worship?  And every single Sunday, when the orange sun fades to a soft glow, I want to say, yep...that was a sweet Sunday, it was covered in the tastiest chocolate syrup that the Holy Spirit could provide.  It was covered in love, and purpose, and strength.  So let's lick the bowl clean and call it a night.

Papa's chocolate sundaes are where I'm from....and chocolate Sundays are where I find myself at age 28...with all my senses tuned in to God...trying to taste the goodness of the Holy Spirit at work in every aspect of this sweet life.