Day 26: Dogs

We sat in Linda’s golf cart at the campground. Children were running and giggling. I could smell burgers from someone’s grill. And I was sharing with her all the ways we might change the world together in ministry.

I needed a right hand; a teaching pastor who would be an anchor. But also, someone who would help me dream big dreams. Maggie, Linda’s golden retriever, was sitting with us panting from the heat. I laughed and said, “You could even bring your dog to work”. Apparently, bring your dog to work was the golden ticket because she accepted my offer.

It has been five years now and our pups have done ministry with us in many ways. They came with us to serve lemonade to soccer families in the neighborhood. We dressed them up as coffee cups and passed out candy on Halloween as baristas. They joined us for prayer meetings, Bible studies, and brainstorming sessions. We became good friends, and our pups were buddies.

Last year, I was in Seattle right before the pandemic hit. I went for a five-day conference. Then, on day two, my daughter called because our pup had a seizure. Although she seemed fine, it was the beginning of the end. In November, we rushed her to the emergency vet where they told us she was too sick and would not live. Our pup crossed the rainbow bridge that day.

Never had I imagined that losing a pet would be so painful. Linda reassured me by acknowledging the pain. She has said good-bye to several pets over the years and she understood the hole it left in your life and daily routine. “Cry. Just cry”, she told me. A few months later, my friend would have to say good-bye to her pup, too.

Grief is an equal opportunist. It is not partial to age or gender or how much money you make. It comes when you least expect it and asks for your whole heart. The world wants to place restrictions on what you grieve and how you grieve. But it does not work that way. God created us with a capacity to love and hope and dream. Any loss has the potential to break your heart and bring pain to your spirit.

Over the past year, our nation and our world has experienced tremendous loss. As ministers, we were confronted with grief almost every day. We buried our friends who were members. We sat with our members who lost loved ones. We labored to encourage and build up those who were exhausted from so much change. However, the question that Linda and I asked ourselves over and over was this: how do you minister to those who are grieving when you are grieving as well?

Our ministerial training emphasized selfcare and keeping the Sabbath. But it did not paint the picture well enough. It did not capture the reality of exhaustion brought on by a pandemic, racial tensions, political tensions, and grief upon grief.

My friend gave me permission to feel the loss and sadness. Later, I tried to do the same for her. It has helped us to empathize with one another. It has given us new perspective. And it has helped us to heal so we could move on. Mostly, it forced us to become hyper-religious about our sabbath-keeping.

We have started to track our days of rest. We inquire of one another if we rested or simply thought about it. Did we turn off the news, phone, media? Did we eat, sleep, and move our bodies? Did we talk with a spiritual director or counselor to help process the deep things of our soul?

You may need to hear this today: it is okay to cry, it is okay to feel the pain, it is okay to share the memories with a friend. It is good to rest and to stop, just stop. We need to care for ourselves before we can genuinely care for others. As followers of Jesus, we think we are uber spiritual when we sacrifice our time and health, but Jesus knew when it was time to get away. He took time to rest and eat and be with His friends. He also took extra time to be with the Father. Jesus was faithful to keep the Sabbath.

We are slowly entering a new season, a new normal. It will be slow in coming to fruition. Therefore, it is a good time to practice resting and keeping the Sabbath. It is a great time to form new habits to take us into the new normal. Friends let me encourage you to declutter while we still have time. It will bless your soul and your future. May you find hope and rest in the One who gave you a capacity for great love!

Day 25: Cookies

On Sunday, I will celebrate my 29th Easter as a follower of Jesus. I can remember that first Easter as if it were yesterday. I wanted to experience every moment of it. I celebrated Palm Sunday and a traditional Maundy Thursday. On Friday, I gathered for a Good Friday mass and then a Holy Saturday service. By Easter morning I was emotionally wrung out like a wet rag. On Sunday, I sat in the pew in stillness and silence. I could not sing. I could not recite the words. Instead, it took all of my energy to sit in God’s presence.

So often we talk about the power of God and His presence as something that is demonstrative. It is big. It is bold. It is shiny. Like America. And, of course, it makes you cry. We really like when it makes us cry.

But Jesus says the Spirit is more like the wind. We do not see where it comes from and we do not know where it is going. We can only see its affects. However, those affects are not always monumental. It can be a gentle breeze. It does not need to knock down trees.

As I sat in the pew, I was overcome by what was not happening. There was a settling of my spirit. There was rest in his presence. There was peace beyond my ability to comprehend. And sometimes the church is so busy gyrating that we miss what God is doing.

Some of us will be gathering on Easter for the first time in a year. My congregation was in lock-down last Easter. It is tempting for us to rush in and try to gobble the experience like a two year old eating chocolate chip cookies. My children would do this as toddlers. They were so excited about the cookies that they would stuff them all at once into their mouths. I would tell them “no cramming” because I did not want them to choke.

It is possible that in our enthusiasm we could choke on the experience of Easter. Sometime before Sunday I commend you to take a deep breath and count to ten. Walk slowly and intentionally towards Resurrection Sunday and enjoy God’s presence. And may you experience it again as if for the first time.

Day 24: Purple

Currently I am obsessed with the color yellow. I replaced the couch in my office with yellow chairs. My new water bottle is yellow. And my husband gave me a pair of yellow Converse for Valentine’s Day. I should clarify that they are faux Converse. I do not want to end up on PreachersNSneakers.

My previous obsession was purple. The color, not the movie. I confess that I have never seen The Color Purple. Does this make me a horrible person? Probably. I have never seen The Princess Bride either. Oops. There goes 20% of my followers.

Sometimes people want to know my favorite color, but I do not really have one. Purple, however, seems to be near the top of the list. In the account of Christ’s crucifixion, the soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus. They also twist a crown of thorns to place on his head, then they take turns mocking him.

The robe could have been any color at that end of the rainbow spectrum. Blue, red, purple. All of these were considered colors of fabric for the elite. They were worn by royalty and the wealthy. These fabrics were expensive because of the dye required. It was messy and time-consuming to prepare the fabric. Ironically, those who crafted the fabric were considered unclean people. The dye stained their hands, and it was difficult to remove.

So, Jesus stood in the Praetorium (Mark 15:16) wearing a purple robe that may have been blue or red along with a fake crown made of thorns. They mocked him. They hit him. They spit on him.

Every year I read this passage during Holy Week. Every year I experience two conflicting emotions. First, I want Jesus to seriously pull a Chuck Norris or Rambo move. “Dude,” I want to say, “you have the power. You have the right. Use it”. All of my American-ness rises up and I want Jesus to make it stop. In my daily life, especially these last 14 months, I want Jesus to make it stop. I want him to flex his muscles and get the job done the way we would do it.

But my second response is to fall on my face. I am reminded that I am nothing like Jesus. For he is gentle and humble in heart. Christ, being the very nature with God, did not consider equality with God something to be used for his own advantage (Phil. 2:6). He was obedient and single-focused on the greater purpose. And he calls each of us to take his yoke, his way of being in the world, upon us and to learn from him.

In these 29 years of following Jesus, I am reminded each year of how far I have come. But also, I am reminded of how far I am from representing him well. My hands are stained from sins of omission and commission. My heart needs to be purified every day by the Spirit of Christ. And the path I walk is littered with good intentions gone rogue. For 29 Easters, I have been reminded why I need a Savior. Mostly, I need a Savior to save me from myself. 2021 is no different.

Today we are halfway through Holy Week. Lent has ended and Easter is coming. I am ready for Easter. I am ready for the reminder that my hands and my heart are washed clean by the blood of Christ. I am grateful that his humility, gentleness, and obedience is offered to each one of us. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! May you, this day, take a moment to remind yourself of a need for a Savior. And may you know that you have been made new.

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