Spring!

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I have made it clear, I think, that I am not a big fan of the winter. If I had my way, it would last until about Jan. 7th and then we would head right into Spring.

Clearly that’s not what happens in the part of the world where I live. And since I am not all that interested in moving elsewhere, I will probably always find myself a little grumpy in February, March and April.

But right now I am so very pleased. The past two days have seemed to skip past Spring and head right on into summer. The skies have been blue, the birds have been singing, the breezes have been warm. And it does my heart so much good. My spirits lift and I am reminded that God is here. In every new flower, every bursting bud, every bright birdsong, I see the fingerprints of joy creator and I am thankful for new life.

I hope that you have been able to get outside in the last couple of day – to go for a walk or simply sit in the sunshine.

I hope, no matter what life is throwing at you, that your spirits are lifted by the natural beauty that surrounds us. I hope you are at to accept the gift God is giving us.

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures.
Psalms 104:24 NLT

Being Christ…

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I was at a meeting this evening where an issue was raised about how all of the people at the meeting (elders and ministers, for the most part) treated each other. We were reminded that we are not always very “Christian” to each other.

It was a good reminder. The reality is that those of us in full-time ministry and those of us who have served the church in a long-time capacity (like that of being an elder), sometimes forget that we are called to be Jesus to each other. That we are called to embody the very spirit and manner of the One who gave his life for our salvation. We are called to treat each other with love and and kindness and gentleness. Peace and hope and faithfulness are meant to be at the center of our comments and conversations. Joyfulness and patience and goodness and self-control are supposed to ooze out of us. (In case your keeping count, yes, those ARE all the fruits of the Spirit.)

And yet, all too often, I have been in church meetings where this was not the case. People spoke harshly, shaming and blaming others. Someone got their back up and someone else responded with sarcasm or derision. Hurts were dealt out in equal measure by people on both sides of the issue.

And I think I heard Jesus weeping.

The fact is it is not always easy to keep our tempers in check. When you gather together a group of ministers and elders, you have a bunch of people who care passionately about the church. And sometimes our passions get the better of us.

But we need to remember (and I say this for myself as much as anyone else) our calling. We are called to be Christ. We are called to embody the fruit of the Spirit. We are called to lead by example. We are called to act in ways that honor the teachings of Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV

In this together…

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I have always believed that since God is an ever-present, ever-loving community (that’s what the Trinity is really all about), and since we are made in God’s image, we are made for community. We are not made to do this – any of this, life in general – alone. We are meant to be in this together.

Now, having said that I am a single girl and an introvert to boot. I spend a fair amount of time alone (or at least with just me and my animals). And the introvert in me craves that solitude. I not only like a day where it’s just me, Koski and Fatcat. I need it.

My vocation requires me to be in social situations. And don’t get me wrong – I love the times I spend with my congregation (whether as a whole or in specific groups). I need those times, too. It is good to be with people who believe in what I believe in, who share in prayer and song and relationship in general. But one of the ways I know that I am an introvert, is that when one of those social situations comes to an end, I am exhausted. And what I want most is to sit quietly in my house.

Despite this, one of the biggest gifts God has given me in Ministry, is the opportunity to minister as part of a team. It may seem a contradiction, but I work better in a team. I think better. There is someone I can turn to when I am second-guessing my thoughts or plans. When one of us is tired, the other can pick up the slack. Some weeks I get to actually sit in worship on a Sunday morning and listen to good preaching, and some weeks Geoff gets to sit and listen. We are, each of us, blessed on those weeks. I am so very thankful that we are in this together.

The following passage from Ecclesiastes is under the heading “The value of a friend,” in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Often it is read at weddings, but in this instance I mean nothing romantic or sexual by it. It is simply true that in ministry, as in most other areas of life, it is better when you don’t have to go it alone.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NRSV

Stronger

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Last night I had the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in many years: I played Capture the Flag (look it up, it’s a simple game). This involved a lot of running and chasing and running. And despite my hope of getting in “jail” and therefore having a time out, I guess I was a little too good at the game, because it wasn’t until about the last quarter that I actually got that break.

Today, my whole body aches. My abs, my thighs, my right heel pad, my hip flexers…I’m pretty sure the shoulders are due to a class at the gym, but they ache, too.

I’ve toyed with the idea of taking up running, but I’ve never actually done it. And based on the results of last night I am not sure I ever will.

But I will say this for myself – despite all the aches and pains today, I was able to walk for 90min with my dog and do a Combat cardio class at the gym this evening. This is a sign of progress for me. I used to think I any little hurt or discomfort as a reason not to get any exercise. The pain/discomfort I am feeling today is the kind that means you’ve worked hard, but not the kind that means you need to stop because you are doing damage to yourself. It could have been an excuse not to work hard today. I am glad that I didn’t allow it to be that. I am growing and learning in this fitness journey.

You know, I am learning a similar lesson in terms of the community of faith where I serve. Occasionally – and probably without intent – people say or do things that are hurtful to me. And it could be an excuse to pull back from that individual or from the community as a whole. Certainly, that is what I would have done in my first couple of years of ministry. But the longer I serve in this capacity, the more able I am to take a long hard look at those injuries and decide whether they are just ‘growing pains’ or something more serious that needs some attention in order to heal. More often than not, they are growing pains – things that will teach and help develop my ministry skills, but anything that should be used as an excuse.

I love knowing that God is working on me, God is making me stronger…both in body and in spirit.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4 NIV

For Boston…

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Yesterday was the Boston Marathon. And someone decided it would be a good idea to set off some bombs near the finish line. People bled, people were seriously wounded and people died.

It’s all that the media is talking about, and on social media there is post after post. Some are angry that someone decided to do something so senselessly hurtful. Some are frustrated that the media becomes so focused on the tragedy – repeating the same facts over and over, perhaps giving too much attention to the perpetrators of the attack. Some just want to express sorrow that we live in a world in which things like this happen. And some vow to never allow incidents like this to dull or defeat the human spirit.

I have to admit, those are my favorite posts. Whether it’s the quote from Mr. Rogers about how his Mom taught him to always look for the helpers in these situations; or the comment that if someone was trying to defeat the human spirit with these attacks, perhaps marathon runners were not the right targets; or the endless posts declaring the prayers being said for the city and its inhabitants – I like this line of thinking. I like the reaction to terrible things that says “I will not let the terrible thing be the end of the story, I will find something good to focus on, even in the midst of this tragedy.”

I think Jesus would have liked that line of thinking too. I am praying for the individuals affected by this tragedy. I am praying for the families who have lost someone they love. I am praying for the city, that it might heal and endure. But most of all, I am praying for humanity. That we can learn to find a better way. That we will live to see a day when stories like this only exist in history books. That we would not allow this to turn our hearts to anger or cruelty, but that we would learn to love each other more, and to sow kindness and reap its rewards.

I am praying.

 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

Philippians 3:12-14 MSG

Legacy…

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In the community of faith, where I serve as Associate Minister, we have suffered a number of losses in the past 9 months or so. Many of these have been sudden and unexpected. Death comes to us all, and the Bible tells us that our days are numbered. No one knows when or how their life will end.

Most of us live as though we have an endless supply of time. But we don’t. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to leave a legacy once you are gone. When I think of the church members we have lost, I am touched to be able to say that each one made an impact on me. If asked, I could speak about the legacy these followers of Jesus built up over their lifetime…even though I only knew them for a couple of years.

I am not saying they were perfect people – none of us are – but they lived and loved in ways that would cause God to say “Well done!” when their lives were over.

Though I often get a lot of good-natured teasing in the church about my age (people always think I’m younger than I am, but at 37 years old, I am still on the very young end of the scale in church world), I feel like I am more aware than I have ever been about the passing of time and how very short life can be.

Each kindness we do to another, each time we give a little hope to someone in despair, each time we great another with a smile or a hug – we are building up a legacy. When we do these things we are being Christ to others. And that is the best legacy of all. As we do these things, we are ‘storing up treasures in Heaven’ and putting our hearts in exactly the right place.

So if there is someone in your life who could use a kindness or a word of hope, or a hug or a smile, do not hesitate to be generous with these things. Time may be short, but we all can choose to live in a way that brings Heaven to Earth and gives glory to God.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moths and vermin do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:20-21 NLT

Clean…

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Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19,20 NLT

So today was the final day of the fruit-and-veggie cleanse that I have been on. It’s gone surprisingly well. For a week I have cut out dairy, wheat, and sugar. I have been eating vegetables and fruit, a small packet of almonds and in the last 3 days of the cleanse, a small portion of lean protein in the evening.

I thought this would be a really difficult thing to do and to maintain. But it turned out fairly easy. What I have noticed is that I have been sleeping really well on this cleanse. I drop off to sleep so quickly and I haven’t had any of those nights where I just couldn’t turn off my brain.

Also, as one of my friends who has given up wheat and sugar says, I just feel “clean”…like generally…internally and externally. So my plan, going forward, is to only eat sugar once a week, and to keep wheat to an “only on special occasions” frequency (ie, less than once a month).

In the above quote, Paul is teaching the church in Corinth about sexual morality. And I don’t doubt that we have our fair share of that in today’s society. But I think a bigger issue is how we eat. We eat what is fake and that is bad for us. (There is a whole eating program called “Just Eat Real Food.”) And yet, we sanction this. We treat our bodies horribly by taking in chemicals that are known to cause cancer, and then we complain when we get sick. It is socially acceptable to eat poorly. Some people even brag about it.

But I wonder how that affects our spirit. I believe everything in life also has a spiritual component to it. So if we eat poorly, if we nourish our bodies poorly, are we also failing in our spirituality? God gave us these bodies and we are meant to treat them with respect, to keep them clean.

I do not mean this as a rant or a condemnation against anyone. I am only beginning to make this connection in my own life, after two years of striving for healthier eating patterns. I am not judging what others do, I am simply asking questions as they occur to me and as I grapple with them.

I have come to the belief that I must treat the environment with love and respect, because it is God’s creation. I have long held the belief that I must treat others with love and respect because they are God’s children. I think I am finally beginning to understand that I must also treat my body with love and respect because I am God’s child and God’s creation.

It’s good to know there is always something new to learn.

Gratitude challenge…

Today the staff of Cairn camps, our Synod’s camping ministry, came to lead worship. This is always a really fun service. I love the spirit of freedom in a Cairn service.

We were challenged today by Chantal Jackson, co-director of Cairn, to take time for gratitude. She challenged us to come up with 5 gratitudes for this day, 3 things we are proud of this day, and 2 goals for tomorrow.

So here I go:

Gratitudes:
1) A church that is ALIVE in which to lead, worship and grow in faith
2) Hugs – I get a lot of hugs on a Sunday morning and I LOVE IT!
3) The warm puppy-girl who is curled up on my legs at this moment (Koski rocks!)
4) The kind of relationship I have with my Mom – we talk every day and I am blessed by her wisdom and insight
5) Nourishing food in my fridge – especially the tomato soup, so YUM!

Prides:
1) I had to deliver difficult news to the congregation today and then pray over those affected. I totally broke down, but I am proud that I was able to pray through that and care for my community of faith in this time of grief.
2) After a stressful situation I REALLY wanted to eat everything that is not part of my current cleanse eating plan. I didn’t. I stuck to it even though I was emotionally outta whack. Super-proud of that.
3) I’m proud that I took some time for myself this afternoon. I needed it, and I was kind enough to myself to take the time I needed.

Goals:
1) To speak kindly and yet truthfully in all situations. I think if I do that I will be honoring Jesus in every conversation.
2) To keep to my cleanse until it is finished (Wednesday) and then cut out or drastically reduce my intake of sugar and grains.

What about you?

Steadfast…

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One of the things that happens (at least in my experience) to pastors after Easter is something I call “the drag.” It’s a general lack of energy or malaise. Nothing’s really wrong, but it’s a little harder to focus or to find inspiration. There’s been this huge build towards Holy Week, and afterward it’s easy to feel “meh.”

It’s something that, after 6 years in ministry, I am still learning to cope with. I know it is coming and I am learning to be kind to myself, to give myself a little leeway during this period. It doesn’t last forever, which is good. But it’s also Nora time I can afford to just take off. There are still things to be done, meetings to attend, services to plan and execute. So what I am learning is how to balance the “to do” list with some time for rest and recuperation.

If I am not careful, this could be a time when I work too hard and end up dealing with illness or burnout. On the other hand, it could easily become an extended time of low-energy or even depression.

The trick is finding balance. And balance is a tricky thing to find.

I think the same could be true in a general life of faith. There are these “high points” throughout the Christian year…but what about “the rest of the time”? Do we get ourselves all psyched up and ready for the holy seasons and then just fall away afterward? I hope not. I certainly think that was not what Jesus had in mind for his disciples. I am certain that Jesus had in mind the kind of faith Paul describe in his letter to the church in Colosae:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6, 7 NLT

Followers of Jesus are followers of Jesus whether it is Holy Week or just a random Tuesday in any month of the year. We are meant to be rooted and grounded in Him. We are meant to have a steadfast faith, no matter the season.

And while trying to balance rest and the work that must be done, I find it helpful to remember that.