Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dirty Diapers and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

What happened to Fall?  I utter those words to myself every morning as I look out the window to see the scrawny, bare limbs of trees that once were covered with blazing red leaves.  It seemed as though right as the colors burst out of their hiding spots, a storm came and blew them all away.  For a few days we could still enjoy the yellow, red, and orange blankets on people's yards as we drove to and from work.  But now it is mostly bare.  The ground looks hard and cold.  The branches of trees shiver in the breeze. It's not full-out winter yet, but we sure are getting a preview.

What happened to Fall?  My favorite time of the year.  The melancholy lyrics to The Mamas & The Papas California Dreamin' drift around in my head every time I look at the trees..."all the leaves are gone...and the sky is gray..."  

This autumn has been a monumental one in my (almost) 30 years of life.  It was the season I became an aunt and the season I lost a grandmother.

On October 15, Jeff & I rose early to drive to Nashville for the birth of our niece, my sister & her husband's first child.  We got up early to get to the hospital...only to wait all day!  But it was totally worth it.  Ella Taylor Booker was born around 6 p.m. that night.  She has been the apple in everyone's eye since the first moment we laid all eyes on her.  For my sister, Katherine, and her husband, Chris, this has been the season of learning, adjusting, sleeplessness, and change.  New life comes with joys and challenges.  I don't think life was ever meant to be perfect and smooth sailing.  And babies remind us of that with every poopy diaper and every feeding that comes back up.  Jeff and I will be initiated into our own new adventure with all of this in February.  But for now, I'm happy to be the googly-eye'd aunt who can drool over her adorable niece, perhaps change a diaper or two when I visit, but leave the hard stuff up to mom and dad.

On October 15, our family grew.  It was a beautiful, long, exhausting, exhilirating kind of day.

In the middle of lunch on Friday November 8, I received news that I knew would come some day.  Nana had died.  This was not an unexpected announcement.  Nana has been bedridden for 2 years now, going in and out of periods of improvement and setbacks.  Last year around this time, even though she physically could not come to Thanksgiving dinner, she could have a conversation with us and knew what was going on in our lives.  Earlier this year our visits became more and more difficult as she drifted further and further away from reality, from familiarity, and from us all.  For my Mom especially, it was a (drawn out) season of learning, adjusting, sleeplessness, and change.  Still, I wasn't prepared for the news I received that, finally, it was over.  No more pain.  No more suffering.  No more confusion.  Nana was freed from the bondage of what her life had become.

When we were little, Katherine & I absolutely loved to go to Nana & Granddaddy's house.  I remember times when I begged my parents to let me stay the night.  Throughout my entire childhood and adolescence, we ate supper there at least once a week.  Nana was an amazing cook.  And supper was always at 5:30 on the dot.  Pork chops, chicken enchilada casserole, pot roast....heck, even her grilled cheese sandwiches had this touch of perfection.  She never failed to ask us if we wanted more.  We usually did.
As kids, when we spent the night, she would tuck us into our own twin beds and read "The Golden Treasury of Caroline & her Friends." I remember how delicately and lovingly she would rub my back until sleep overcame me.  In the mornings, Katherine and I would wake to the smell of sizzling bacon and fluffy scrambled eggs.

(Oh, and did I mention the grilled cheese sandwiches?  I wish I had a dollar for every grilled cheese Nana fixed me over the years.)

Nana had her own special way of doing things.  She ironed the sheets before she put them back on the bed.  She drove using both feet on the pedals, one on the brake and one on the gas.  She had a dishwasher, but used it only as a drying rack for the dishes after hand-washing them (and always immediately after eating - even if her company was still visiting).

During the graveside service, Nathan - Nana's minister and my friend & colleague - used the story of Mary & Martha from Luke's Gospel to describe her.  Nana's name was Martha, and her unique way of preparing a place for her guests fit the character of the Biblical Martha to a T.  I have never thought of Nana's likeness to Jesus' friend Martha.  And now that story will have a new meaning for me.  Its significance will breathe in new life for me...thanks to a life well-lived.

On November 8, our family became smaller.  But to be fair, we had lost Nana a long time before her physical death.  Now her spirit lives in the details of our lives - her infamous dressing that my Mom recreates at Thanksgiving; in the memories we share of her silly particularities and her constant need to always be on time; in the way Granddaddy will still call her Marf every time she is brought up in conversation.

And in a sense, Nana will be able to share in the new life of my niece, Ella Taylor (from whom Ella received her middle name) in a richer way.  Who knows if she would be able to comprehend who Ella was if she had met her.  Now Nana can be present in spirit, in the same way she can be come February when our daughter, Abbey, is born.  Our girls will never personally know their great-grandmother, but her love for them will be shared and felt in powerful ways.

The last time I saw Nana was a few months ago when Jeff & I stopped by after a clergy meeting in Hopkinsville.  Granddaddy was full of stories that day; but Nana, lying crookedly in her bed, gazed at me through cloudy eyes and moaned the entire time.  She did not speak real words and I could not tell if she knew me.  As Jeff & I were leaving, I leaned in over her bed, took her hand, and told her I loved her.  The only thing I understood from our last "conversation" was her response to me, "I love you too."  The consonants were muffled and the four words flowed together in a constant stream, but it was obvious to all of us in the room - she told me that she loved me too.    

What happened to Fall? This year, this season of Fall, we giddily greeted new and wonderful life.  And this year, this season of Fall, we whispered goodbye to a life well-lived.

The day after Nana's funeral, we awoke to a slight dusting of snow flurries on the ground.
Winter has not made its official appearance yet, but it is coming.  Another season is upon us.  Time passes.  Life goes on.  There will be dirty diapers to change and grilled cheese sandwiches to make.

And with each fallen leaf, I will pause and give thanks to God for the colors of life that once were, and for the colors of life that are to come.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another Day. Rambling Thoughts.

What is this blinking line in front of me?  Oh's the cursor on my computer screen.  Well, hello blogosphere.  It's been a while.  How have you been?  I am a little rusty and may need to do some dusting off of sorts, but I figured I could venture out of this hibernation for a night, so here goes.

What a busy summer and early start to the Fall this has been.  So much has happened and changed since I last wrote.  But this is not the time for me to give you a play-by-play of my life in the past 4 months; we can watch college football for play-by-play commentary.

The sun is setting on another day.  A day where many have stopped to reflect, pray, cry, hug someone, or extend a helping hand in honor of those lost on 9-11 and the aftermath it brought.  This day fills our computer screens and our minds with images and memories of that terrifying time.  I was a senior in high school.

The sun is setting on another day.  A day where I found myself stooped within a to-do list that just won't go away.  A day that began before the sun made its appearance.  I watched it awake as I took my morning walk.  It's so different taking a walk in my current neighborhood - surrounded by cows and horses (and the smell of manure...); large green yards and winding hilly roads - than on the quaint city streets off Camp Bowie in Fort Worth.  I've been thinking a lot about my life over these previous two years.  The changes that have taken place.  The endings and the beginnings.  It's been almost two years since Jeff & I left our lives in Texas to resettle in Kentucky.  I think the start of college football season tends to make me look back...those silly Horned Frogs.  If you had asked me in 2006 what a Horned Frog was, I would have looked at you as if you were one.  And now I catch myself wondering if TCU is winning the game and who they're playing next.  I even admit to wearing purple on game days.  But I'll really scare myself if I start to trade the UK blue for TCU purple.  Ha - when wildcats fly...

Last week I got the exciting opportunity to go to Seattle to visit Mary.  My "bff" since the first grade.  Despite the cloudy, rainy weather (I missed the sunshine by mere days), it was one of those visits that fills your soul and reminds you of just how good good friends are.  We sipped lattes topped with foamy designs that looked as though an artist had swirled a paintbrush in our mug just before our first sip. We took hikes that brought us to green mountaintops and splashing waterfalls.  And we ate a lot of delicious doughnuts...well, I ate a lot of delicious doughnuts.  More on that in a bit...

But more than the simple act of getting away and eating amazing food, it was a visit of presence.  Mary and I don't always have to be doing something to have fun; we can just simply be.  It's like being around my family, only on the other side of the country.  The kind of visit that brings the scent of childhood to your current reality and causes you to stop and remember.  To stop and say thank you.

And the other small little minute detail that has been filling my thoughts and changing my dietary habits...Turns out that my sister is not the only Ross girl who's going to have a baby.  I get to be an aunt in October - a few short weeks!!  And, trusting all goes well, I get to try my own hand at motherhood come February.  Even when I type these words it almost doesn't seem real.  I have so many wonders, and fears, and wonders, and fears.  I don't know who will have the greatest shock - Jeff & me or our four-legged furry children!  Needless to say, this explains the added indulgence of the Seattle doughnuts.  But, hey, we totally walked them off!

Aunt...Mom...I have so many reasons to whisper and to shout the words "thank you." life full of supportive friends, a nurturing family, an incredible church many reasons to whisper and to shout the words "thank you."

Memories...struggles...change.  I've never been the best at change.  But how wonderful it is to look back and be thankful for the opportunities I've had and the people who've impacted me along the way.

Now, I sit here with my two pups while Jeff is off jamming away on his second career as an electric guitarist.  I think about this collage of thoughts - thoughts of the past & thoughts of the future - all rustling around in me and spilling out of me like the current on the edge of a waterfall.  This collage of thoughts with hints of doughnut sweetness and gray-cloud fears.  I think about the reality in which I am living as it sits within a world community that, at this time in history, is full of too much sorrow, and too much violence, and far too much death.  My thoughts bounce among prayers of gratitude, prayers for help, and prayers for others across the globe.

The sun has set on another day.  And I wonder what to make of it all.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hello Moon

I love it when something so ordinary becomes holy.  I randomly picked up a book last month that has been conveniently resting on my bookshelf, collecting dust since who-knows-when-I-read-it-last.  The book, An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor is utter spiritual awakening - and her poetic words of wisdom continue to ring in my ears as I try to be more attentive to the world around me.

In one of the chapters, Taylor talks about Moses encountering God in the burning bush.  Moses had to do one of those "double takes" when he glimpsed the fiery orange blaze from the corner of his eye.  And he had to be curious enough to stop what he was doing to get a closer look.  Moses could have very easily walked on and continued his work.  But perhaps something inside of him nagged at his attention the way my dog won't leave me alone when he wants more food.  And so Moses stopped his normal routine, and in doing so, his ordinary life suddenly became full of holy purpose.  Moses met God and he found his calling.

Now, like Taylor goes on to say, I'm certainly not Moses and I've never seen a bush that was burning but not consumed by fire.  But tonight, as I was casually walking over to the t.v. to turn it on (I am in such a veg out mood it's not even funny...), I happened to catch a glimpse of a glowing thumbnail moon out the backdoor.  "Aw, that's pretty," I thought as I started to sit down on the couch.  And then I remembered Barbara Brown Taylor's anecdote about slapped me in the face and kicked me off the couch.  Approximately two seconds later, I was standing outside on the back porch (on a very chilly May evening, by the way), practically squinting at this tiny sliver of moon in the deep blue, sun-setting sky.

How could something so far away shine so brightly?  And, all of a sudden, I realized that I am small.  (And, no, I'm not just now - at age 29 -  realizing how short I am....).  I'm talking about the mere, ordinary fact that I am just a tiny, miniscule spec in an enormous, colorful, life-giving universe.

After weeks of feeling inadequate, of being in a strange mood, and feeling too heavily the pressures of life....I looked at the moon and said 'thank you' to God.  Thank you for making this ginormous world.  Thank you for creating the smaller light...So that when the bigger light goes to sleep for the night, those of us who are searching can still look up and see something shining in the dark.  What a peaceful reminder that we are never alone.  What a gentle reminder of how big a world and how tiny our perspective can often be.

I am glad (for many reasons) that Moses got curious when he caught a glimpse of orange glow in the corner of his eye.  I am glad that the person writing Moses' story thought to include this ordinary detail. I am glad that I decided to pick up An Altar in the World last month to read it again.  And I am glad that the person who wrote it decided to tell this story of Moses.  For through this story, she reminds us all to pay attention to how God beckons our attention in the world around us.
I love it when something so ordinary becomes holy.  Or...better yet, when the holiness that is the ordinary causes me to stop, notice, and humbly whisper...thank you.

Hello Moon....

Hello God...

Thank you....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Different Stride

My dad has run the Chicago Marathon 4 times.  The second year he ran, in 1990, he missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon by 2 minutes and 56 seconds, finishing with a time of 3:17:56.  I have vague memories of being in Chicago to proudly cheer for my marathoner Dad and to stay with my Aunt Betsy & Uncle Carl.  I guess I also learned why Chicago is called the "windy city." Knowing myself, I'm sure I wasn't the most pleasant child to be standing with in the cold, surrounded by thousands of other cheering bystanders as we craned our necks and fastened our eyes to pick out Scotty Ross in the midst of all the runners.  If you can imagine a younger me whining about being cold & bored, then you already know me pretty well.

I began running after my freshman year of college.  After an entire childhood & adolescence of playing sports, I realized I needed to do something to offset all the extra calories I was consuming from late-night pizza and ice cream after every meal - thanks to Transy's cafe ole (as we used to call it).  I thought, well, Daddy is a runner.  I guess I could give it a shot.  So that summer I ran with my Dad up and down the streets of our quiet neighborhood.  As I got stronger and more in shape, he showed me his longer routes that took us through different parts of town.  Before long, I became acquainted with his 4.3 mile-route as well as the 3.2.  And I chuckled when he told me that he called his 5.7 miler his "short 7."  (He likes to call it that to make him feel like ran more than he really did!)  My last Saturday in town before school started again, we went to a high school track to see how fast I could run a mile.  I think it was right at 7 minutes.  For a first-time runner, I was pleased and so was my Dad.  Needless to say, I headed back to Lexington for my sophomore year all fired up and ready to run my first 5K.  I had a new sport - and my only competition was myself.

Since 2003, I have run several 5K's and 3 half-marathons.  Running has become a part of my life.  It feeds my soul, it nurtures my spirit, and it helps me feel strong.  And yet, sometimes I hate every second of a run.  There are days I wish I could just not care about running and give it up forever.  But deep down I know I couldn't live without it.  I love the way it makes me feel.  I yearn for the challenge, and, yes, even the sick-to-my-stomach pain on those gruesome summer days.  Running makes me feel alive.   It has roots in my family and in my marriage.  Jeff was a cross-country runner in high school, (and my current trainer if I could just get him up for a morning run).  My older sister, Katherine, picked up running at the Hoptown Turkey Trot 5K two years ago, and 6 months later ran her first half-marathon.  Despite some knee troubles, she finished strong with a triumphant, hand-raised cheer as she strode across that finish line. (I was a minute or 2 behind her, the Tennessee heat just about killed me that day.)

For these reasons and so many more, what happened at the Boston Marathon has me shaken...along with the rest of the country and world.  When will these horrific acts of violence stop?  Where can we go without fear of attack?  How do we overcome and get through this kind of trauma without making it a political war zone and finger pointing bash of who's right and who's wrong?  Why does it take violent acts of terror to bring people together in compassion and care - why can't we come together when times are peaceful, too?  All of these questions run through my mind at a 6 minute-mile pace.  And to make matters more painful, think of all the attacks of this nature that happen daily in other countries....bombings and violence that we don't even hear about; or if we do, it's much easier to turn the channel and carry on.

Lord, have mercy....

On this day after....I pause and pray for the victims, for the runners, for the city of Boston, for all who walk away from this race a changed person.  For them, running will never be the same again.  And I pray for the people who feel as though this is the answer to their problems or frustrations.  I pray for their families.

Looking through the photos taken after the bombings, I see ordinary people - like you and me - running for so many reasons:  health, pride, in honor or memory of loved ones, to fulfill a goal they have dreamed of all their life.  I have felt the butterflies in my stomach on race day.  I have had the giddy, excited legs just before the buzzer blows - and that voice going through my head saying:  this is it..give it all you've got.  Ordinary people participating in an extraordinary event that, in its very nature, is something that brings people of all ages, races, cultures, & abilities together.  It's one of the only sporting events where I've seen people cheer just as loudly for perfect strangers as they do for their own loved ones.

Running echoes the human ability to overcome grave challenges.  To come together in love and support, and true human compassion.

It has nothing to do with the time on the stopwatch.  It has nothing to do with the perfect stride.

At its core, running is about spirit.  The stride - not so much of the legs - but of the human spirit...which, I believe, is created to be good.  Very good.

The spirit of running will live in me forever.  The spirit of running will live in Boston...and Chicago...and New York...and Nashville...and all the small towns throughout the world who host 5Ks for causes that mean something.  Something real.  Something great.  Something bigger than one person alone.  Something with the spirit of togetherness.

It's the stride of the human spirit that makes running special.  And it's a part of my story.

Run on, runners.  Keep that spirit alive.  Our world needs it.

Friday, April 5, 2013



Today I said goodbye to Winter.
To the painful smack of her wind
that made my eyes soften with tears and my cheeks red as the rose that did not grow.

Today I said goodbye to Winter.
Goodbye to the colors of gray that painted the earth,
the barrenness of her trees and her grassless ground.

Today I said goodbye to Winter.
To the days spent searching for warmth –
in people, in places, in my own cold heart.

Today I said goodbye to Winter.
To the hopeless thoughts running through my head.
Goodbye to the tired look in the eyes of friends who are searching
Searching for something new…something deep….something of life.

Today I said goodbye to Winter.
Even though I may still miss her at times.
I will miss her frigid sting. 
I will miss her gray mornings that taught my soul how to yearn.

Today I say hello to Spring.
Hello to the brightness of her colors and the warmth of her sun.
Hello to the floppy ears of a dog bouncing through emerald grass.

Today I say hello to Spring.
Hello to the birds cackling and singing in the breezy air.
Hello to the tiny flowers budding on the trees, realizing the charm of their infancy.

Today I said goodbye to Winter
In the very same breath that Winter said goodbye to me,
And breathed her last into Spring’s beginning.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Repetition of Love

" one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13: 34b-35

I should not have to repeat myself!  How many times have we heard this irritated and frustrated response from a parent, grandparent, sister, brother, teacher, name it, we have all heard it directed at us.  And likely we have or will at some point in our lives say it to someone else!  When I read the passage from John's gospel today, in light of Holy Week & Maundy Thursday, I notice how repetitive Jesus is when he tells his disciples to love each other.  And that doesn't count the numerous "love one another" references throughout the rest of the Gospel.  Feel how you want about those lovable, well-meaning, maybe a bit confused disciples that Jesus called friends - I think we all need Jesus to repeat himself.  I think today -in 21st century social media America - we need Jesus to repeat himself over and over and over again.  It's saddening and hopeful in the same breath.

This past week Facebook & Twitter exploded in colors of red as people shared and posted a red version of the Human Rights Campaign symbol to support gay marriage and rights.  There were also plenty of posts and shared pictures of men's and women's wedding rings, stating a belief that marriage is for a man and woman only, and that the Bible tells us so.  Spanning the entire spectrum of the conversation were agitated remarks, inspirational quotations, pictures, scriptures, frustrations, celebrations, hopes and dreams.  There were people so passionate about this decision that they were essentially saying, "I should not have to repeat myself!"

In John's Gospel, before Jesus repeated the whole love mantra to his disciples, he kneeled down on the ground and washed their feet.  In those days, only the lowliest of the low did such an act.  It was the work of a servant for someone with a higher social, religious, or economic status.  And yet Jesus, of all people, took a cloth and some water, and gently cleaned the tired feet of his friends.  He told them he did this as an example to them...and that they should go and do the same.

I think, when we modern readers and disciples hear this story - and the similar story in the other Gospels of the Last Supper - we forget how tense it probably was in that room.  We know what the disciples didn't know.  And we don't understand how confused and frustrated they probably felt - why is Jesus doing all of this?  Why doesn't he just use his divine power to overthrow Rome?  The night ended in the betrayal and denial of close friends (I imagine they were a lot tighter than Facebook "friends").  And Jesus was the one who took the heat.

When we see heated conversations, arguments, and Bible beating going back and forth and back and forth between people who vehemently disagree with one another, I imagine Jesus saying..."love one another, just as I have loved you."

This whole judgement game is not ours to play.  We don't and never will have all the answers.  And the more we act like we do...the more we pull random passages from scripture with the sole purpose to prove our self-righteous right-ness over those we disagree with, the further and further we are from that image of Jesus kneeling on the floor and washing those dirty feet of the friends who eventually let him down.  The more we think we know...the less we truly learn from our scriptures and from each other.  Our differences are what make us stronger, our differences can unite us without making us the same.

I don't care what side of what coin you are on.  The love of God surpasses it all.  And the justice of God will overcome the wrongs we commit in this lifetime.  There are some days I have to repeat that belief to myself over and over again.  "Love one another...everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another."  We cannot truly love when we refuse to recognize the humanity and personhood of another.

On this Holy Week, I pray that God holds us all and reminds us - because we always need to be reminded - that we are loved.  And that this whole discipleship journey requires some things from each of us...not judgement, not passive love, and not self-righteous love.  Rather, I pray that we can humble ourselves to receive and share the kind of love that causes us to stop what we are doing, get down on our knees, and wash the feet of another....Whoever they are, whatever they believe, whom ever they love...However that might look in 2013.

O God, keep repeating it until we finally get it..."love one another...."

(on a side-note, this blog post is more for me than for anyone else.  It's hard for me to truly love the people with whom I disagree.  It's hard for me to find [my interpretation of] the Gospel message in people who deny the human rights of another.  And it's hard for me to respect someone who bashes others on their Facebook page in the name of God; when they could be putting that energy and passion into doing something kind for someone else.  We are all guilty of this - and this kind of love is something that I struggle with every day.  Faith and religion are more than talking points and disagreements.  I wore red the last 2 days because I think that God's love trumps everything...and I cannot understand a God who doesn't support & celebrate people loving one another...You can call me weak, but I would hope you try to get to know me first.)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Finding Grace (and crying) over Spilled Milk

I felt the jar slip from my loose grip.  At that moment life turned into slow motion.  For a split second I thought I could catch the glass milk jar in mid-air on its way to the tile floor.  But just as quickly as the time seemed to slow down, it returned to real-time again and before I could move, I was staring at puddles of milk and shattered glass.  Sigh.

As I surveyed the mess and rushed the pups out of the kitchen, I could feel my frustration and anger begin to surface.  Why didn't I just use both my hands to get the milk out of the fridge? I have all these things I want to do today, and now I'm going to be spending the next 30 minutes - at least - (because I'm that thorough) making sure not one minuscule piece of clear sharp stuff is left for a dog or a cat to eat - or to get inconveniently lodged in mine or Jeff's foot.  Why can't I just be more careful?!

I say these kinds of things to myself a lot.  Why can't I just..?....Why didn't I..?...If had done it this way....I really should have done...

It seems too often we find the fault within our actions or choices without taking our critical glasses off to see that life really will go on.  That tiny delay caused from a tiny inconvenience or perhaps careless decision really doesn't alter the universe in such a horrific way that we will never be the same again.  Sure we can't go back in time, but who's to say we really would have done things differently if we could?  Now that the milk has spilled, of course I would love to go back in time and use both hands...but where's the lesson in that, right?  What's the point of the spill and the broken pieces if you know how to mop & sweep them up in the first place?

If we could just be perfect or do things absolutely right, without breaking anything, would life really be so much better?  Easier to navigate?  That much more efficient?  Would not having to deal with the stickiness because we know exactly how to avoid it, or how to sweep it under the rug before it even happens make life any more awesome or worth it?  I don't think so...

Wishing that we could just do it perfect the first time neglects the fact that we are human...that we aren't perfect...that, every once in a while - if not more than that - we will spill the milk.  We (or life) will shatter the glass of our "perfect" day, or the glass that conveniently wraps itself around our hearts and conscious, protecting us from painful realities, from recognizing our own brokenness.

Maybe it's just me.  But I absolutely despise "messing up."  I have the audacity to think that I can simply glide through life, carefully observing what I do & how I do it - the words I say, the choices I make - so as to not mess up; I try to take every step...just avoid every avoid risk or drama or inconvenience that could arise.  It's exhausting & boring.  And it doesn't work.  Because I'm human.  Messing up is absolutely unavoidable.  Which is why I feel the blood begin to boil and my nerves tense up when I stare at that spilled milk on the floor.

My dad jokes with me about this broken piece of myself.  When I was little and things didn't go as I wanted them to, I would get really mad and throw a hissy-fit and stomp around the house yelling "this just gets on my nerves!"  I would literally act like the world was ending because my Sunday morning cinnamon rolls got burned (that's a story for another blog...).  And my parents would just sit, watch, and lovingly smile - reveling in this silly characteristic of their youngest daughter.  It really was going to be okay, I just didn't know it yet, and I had to figure it out in my own time.

Learning the lessons of our mistakes is one of the first pieces of wisdom we are taught as children.  And it is probably the most difficult one to grasp.  Learning from our mistakes does not mean that we will be more perfect next time; we might be better, but not perfect.  And sometimes our grip on life can be so tight that we lose sight of what it really means to live.  I'm not saying that we should have no hold on our lives, our actions or decisions - but rather, letting go, or living with one hand a little more open than the other can be freeing and life-giving.  Plus, messing up and learning from our mistakes teaches us to make room for grace - in our lives and for others.  Grace is something that is given to us without our control or our judgment; it is given without keeping tally marks of our good works.  And we need to remember it...hold it for ourselves...and gently give it to others along the way.

We won't always be able to tiptoe through the shattered glass...there will be days when the sharp edges will prick our toe or slice our finger.  And I think we are good to remember that it's okay to cry over spilled milk.  Because life can be downright frustrating sometimes!  It can be spoiled and sour...or too lukewarm and lumpy....sometimes there's not enough of the good stuff to fill our bowl...and other times, it's just plain awesome and refreshing - right when we need it to be.

But after my literal spilled milk episode, I'm learning not to shed too many tears over it.  Because as we all know, there are these things called paper towels and vacuums...and there are these great people called friends & family....and there are adorable, happy dogs that will lick it up...and a gracious God that will forgive.

Life goes on...and so will we.  Next time, maybe a little laughter will loosen the tightened nerves in our neck.  Maybe a little more grace in the clean up process will help us move on... and make the most of the next glass.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Encountering Jesus: Extravagant Love

Meditation on Matthew 26: 6-13 for Morning Watch Worship.

In some accounts, as in John’s gospel, she is named.  John writes that it was Mary, sister of Martha, who poured the oil on Jesus' feet, preparing him for burial.  But in Matthew’s version, written before the Gospel of John, we do not know who she is…she is unnamed.  Yet her expression is bold, faithful, and extravagant.

During Lent, Morning Watch meditations will be focusing on different characters in the Gospels who have had encounters with Jesus.  People; perhaps close friends or unnamed persons, who were forever changed because of a powerful encounter with the Son of God.  So often we focus on Jesus – his actions, his message, his life – that we overlook the extraordinariness of the ordinary people he chose to be around; or who chose to be around him.

In this scene, it goes both ways.  The woman was probably a follower…since they were in a home at what was probably a more intimate, close-friends-only setting.  I bet she chose to be around Jesus and at the same time, he too chose her.  Obviously –as we know - Jesus wasn’t too picky about who he associated with.  For goodness sake, he was at a leper’s home!  Who wants to be hanging out with a leper?  In those days, it was not cool.  He chose tax collectors and insignificant fishermen to be his disciples and buddies…traveling with them, teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven, dining with them and literally spending every waking hour in their company.  In all the Gospels we see that Jesus chose the people who would never get chosen by anyone else.  Women included.

What must it have been like to be this woman?  Surrounded by stinky men all the time.  Silently listening to their bickering and arguments over who is the greatest?  And especially in this scene, where she is reprimanded by her offering of extravagant love…. I wonder how she felt?  What she did was more than just a nice gesture.  This unnamed woman perhaps understood more than anyone in that room what Jesus was about to do…the road he was on and the painful fate ahead of him.  Did she understand why?  Who knows…probably not.  Heck, we all still struggle with the “why” part.  But she didn’t argue it.  She didn’t deny it and she didn’t betray it.  Rather, she took a big and risky step by coming over and anointing Jesus’ head with this costly ointment.  By doing this, the woman was preparing Jesus for his imminent death and burial.  And because she did it, she got scolded and reprimanded by the disciples who once again, “just didn’t get it.” 
I don’t know if you’ve glanced over the words to the song that we will hear at the end of our worship today.  It may be a weird song to play on a Sunday morning.  But something about it caught my ear when I was thinking about this text and how it applies to us today.  I read the lyrics in the viewpoint of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head, and I hope you will too.  The chorus goes,
Don't rest your weight on me now
You're not gonna change me by putting me down
My faith lies deep in the ground

How often do we let other people put us down?  How often do we allow the world and the mainline-whatever tell us what to believe and how to act?  The unnamed woman in our story today was obviously a woman greatly moved and affected by Jesus.  And she did what she felt called to do.  She expressed her love for this Son of God, and in turn for God, in a way that no other person did!  It was self-less and powerful.  And when she was criticized, I wonder if she thought – who are you to judge me?  Who are you to put me down for doing what I feel called to do?  For loving the Lord? 
What does this woman and her anointing of Jesus mean to us?  Why do we care?  Clearly we don’t really remember her in any special way.  It’s kinda funny to me that, although Matthew includes this story in his Gospel, he doesn’t even give her a name!  How do you remember someone who doesn’t have a name?!
Perhaps though…perhaps this woman stands for the people all over the world who do good and wonderful things in God’s name who we will never know.  Stories we will never hear.  Perhaps this woman and her extravagant love will remind us to open our eyes and look for the nameless in our world…. people whose voices are silenced; whose work for justice are oppressed by the powerful. 
In this world of social media and 24/7 news outlets, we hear a lot of devastating stuff that goes on in our country and in our world.  And all too often we hear Christian voices who do not sound like our own; groups like Westboro Baptist who claim to be Christian - but are as far from Christ as I have ever seen – get more airtime than they should.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think Jesus would be in their picket lines.  Their message is not the good news he talked about. 
In our story today, Jesus responded to his angry disciples by saying that the poor will always be around, but he will not.  Jesus did not mean that we should overlook those who live in poverty.  He was simply saying that, until God’s kingdom is fully here, there will always be suffering in this world.  The problem of poverty calls for action more extravagant and transforming than simply putting a band-aid on the problem with a few extra dollars (as the disciples were suggesting).  Jesus praised the woman’s act of service for him.  And in doing so, he is telling us that when we take an active role in our relationship with God – when we give to God our love and ourselves (regardless of what others might say) – then we will be changed.  Our changed lives will be remembered.  Our changed lives will impact and affect other lives…rich, poor, powerful, powerless…  And the good news of God will go on…and on…and on…
What she has done will be told in remembrance of her.  The season of Lent is all about noticing God in the everyday.  Listening to God in the silences and the noises of life.  The season of Lent is about letting go and taking on - in hopes for deeper relationship and clearer understanding of God’s vision for our lives. 
Go and tell the stories no one pays attention to.  Go and tell the stories of true transformation in God’s name.  Don’t let anyone put their weight of condescending judgment on you.  And don’t let yourself be your worst critic.  When you encounter Jesus, do what this woman did and love him extravagantly.   For though she is nameless, she will not be forgotten.  If, like this woman, our faith lives deep within us, and if we are generous with that faith, neither will our stories be forgotten.  And indeed the good news of God’s love and grace will spread throughout the world.  It will spread on …and on…. and on….  Amen.
You say that I've strayed from the road I walked as a child
You say that my youth and my heart haven't chosen what's right
Don't tell me I'm aimless
Cause I ain't gonna fight

You bury your faith in the book you clutch in the dark
You keep praying I'll hear every word and it tears you apart
Don't tell me I'm faithless
Cause I ain't gonna fight
We both know a place
Where we know who we are

Don't rest your weight on me now
You're not gonna change me by putting me down
My faith lies deep in the ground

If Jesus exists he don't live in the pages we write
He'd say put down your books and come follow me out in the light
Don't tell me I'm crazy
Cause I ain't gonna fight
We both want to hold on
To what peace we can find

Don't rest your weight on me now
You're not gonna change me by putting me down
My faith lies deep in the ground
My faith lies deep in the ground

Friday, February 1, 2013

Side by Side

White and speckled with spots.  One with black ears and one with brown.  At first glance, you might think our dogs are biological siblings.  But upon a closer look you can tell they are both mutts, but from different breeds.

One is a mutt from the animal shelter in Fort Worth, TX.  The quietest little guy in the pound; it was love at first sight for Jeff.  It was early February 2009 and Jeff and I were counting down the days, weeks, and months until our big day.  We were your typical annoying, gitty, engaged couple.  We decided to have a longer engagement, so for the most part, wedding planning never did get too stressful for either of us - although we were living in one state and having the wedding in another - thanks to helpful family, friends, and a wedding coordinator, our stress levels stayed well below "crazy."  Anyway, I finally gave in when Jeff mentioned for the 1000th time, "I want a dog."  Since we weren't living together at that time, our dog would be living with him until I moved in, and so there was only so much I could say.  Not that I didn't want a dog.  But as I've learned over these 3+ years, Jeff is the dreamer and I am the realist.  Jeff says, "it'll be fun!" when I say, "but we have to remember how this is going to affect our lives, time, and money."  It's a great balance.

Needless to say, before long, I found myself walking along the aisles of the animal shelter, row-by-row of dogs - big ones, little ones, big-eared yappy mutts, and gentle-eyed golden retrievers.  Creations of God who either never had a home, ran away from home, or got left behind from former owners for one reason or another.  Each one of them longing for a place to be.  It was so loud in that place that we could hardly hear ourselves talk.  We had a few ones picked out as our "favorites."  And then we got to the end of the last row.  Laying down on his stomach, was a medium sized white pup with black ears and a black patch stretching just over and above his right eye.  Soft black spots faintly dotted his coat.  He just looked at us.  He did not bark, nor did he get up to lick our fingers through the gate that separated him from the world.  Jeff looked at me with that excited "It's the day before Christmas" sparkle in his eye that he gets when he wants something (as well as upon any mention of food).  "I want him," he says.  I looked from Jeff, to the dog, to the dog's info card - Bingo, lab mix, 6 months, 30 lbs, $85 - and back to Jeff.   "You want him?"  For some reason this was not the kind of dog I thought Jeff would want.  "Let's at least ask to get him out and play with him."  When a worker got the keys to let Bingo out of his gated, concrete home, we kneeled down to meet him.  He immediately put his front paws up on Jeff's shoulders and let us both scratch behind his ears.  He never barked a word and he never got overly excited. He was just happy to meet us.  I said, "let's go home and talk about it."  The next day we were back and adopting the sweetest pup in the pound, Bingo, who we quickly renamed, Patch.  It was the start of our family (along with the cats).

Fast forward 4 years down the's only a couple of months since we moved to Kentucky and settled into our new home in the semi-country.  We have just under an acre of yard and cows in the field behind us.  It was only a matter of time before I would see that "It's the day before Christmas" look in Jeff's eye.  This time the sparkle spread across his entire face - Patch needs a buddy.  We had had this conversation many times before, and both of us decided we needed to be settled before we got a second dog.  I suppose we were as settled as we were going to get!  Again, it's not that I didn't want another dog - I've always wanted Patch to have a playmate - but another dog meant more hair to vacuum, more paws to clean, and more food to buy.  I was hesitant.  But off we went anyway to Barren River Animal Welfare Association (BRAWA) one day in late January 2012.  (It doesn't help that our church secretary is an active volunteer and advocate at BRAWA - along with about 2/3 of our congregation!)  The next day we brought home a sister for Patch - a bouncy, hyper, goofy German short-hair pointer mix - Pepper.

It took a little while for the two P's to get used to each other.  Patch made sure to assert his dominance and Pepper was just elated to have a home and a friend.  There were times when their play turned to anger, and I would wonder if we made a mistake.  But it didn't last long.  In a month or so, Pepper finished growing and she turned out to be just a touch taller, longer, and bigger than her older brother.  (But Patch can still pin her to the ground in some pretty impressive wrestling moves!)  Before long, they learned how to share the couch, share their food, and share our love.  They learned that it's only more fun when both of them go outside together.  And that it's definitely more exciting to aggravate the cats as a team.  They live life together, side by side.  We've become a unit...and our house is constantly covered in white hair....  But it's totally worth every second.

I've become the kind of person who realizes that my dogs have become my children.  And until Jeff & I have actual kids of our own, everyone will have to settle for pictures of the dogs...many pictures of the dogs.  (To our parents, just be patient! - and for now, enjoy licks over baby kisses!)

This time of year marks our 4th anniversary with Patch and our 1-year anniversary with Pepper.

Love comes in many forms.  I am forever grateful for the love between humans and canines.  I cannot say it enough - "I love these pups!"

2009 - The day we met Patch.

2012 - Bringing Pepper home!

Feb 1, 2012 - "Hmm...I'm not sure how I feel about this..."

Two P's in a pod....

Feb 1, 2013 - Side by side...