Tonight was the first ever Blue Christmas Service at St. Andrew’s. I’ve always struggled with the concept of a Blue Christmas Service – I always enjoy the sparkle and joy of the Season. So to take time to focus on the struggle with grief or loss didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. It seemed like something that would jar me out of my joyful celebration.

However as we sang, prayed and lit candles this evening, I found something precious. A space of silence and breathing in the midst of a hectic and stressful season. This year, I have struggled to find my footing in the celebration of Christmas. I have loved every moment of worship that I’ve had since returning from Israel, but in between moments of singing and praying and listening to the word, I have found myself cranky and out-of-sorts. I think this has to do with wanting time to process all that we experienced in the Holy Land, and not having the time to do it. It also has to do with all the things on the “to-do” list which normally would have been done by now.

I have felt harried and frustrated and lacking in rest. So though I am not struggling with any particular grief or loss, I am struggling nonetheless. And this service ministered to me. My hope and my prayer is that it also ministered to all who attended, all who came broken and weary and weighed-down.

My hope is that if you are feeling that way, you too may be ministered-to during this season. That you may find a space to breathe, to reflect, to heal. And that the One who was wounded for us all, the One by whose wounds we are healed, would bring you comfort.

He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles
were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

The good and the bad…

I’ve been struggling with my fitness routine lately. I’ve had some bad binge days when it comes to food and some malaise when it comes to exercising. But tonite I fought my way through the second bootcamp class of the week, and I am pleased with how I feel. I am pleased that I worked hard today – at exercise, at eating well and at my vocation.

Some days are bad. Some days are really hard. The trick, I think, is to not allow those days to be overwhelming. To not allow them to be the end of the story. Bad days definitely come, but so do good days. So do days when it is easy to work hard and live up to the goals you’ve set for yourself.

I saw this on pinterest this evening and it made me smile:

I admit, I am not usually thinking of Jesus during my workout. I’m usually thinking of oxygen and the need for more of it. But I like this picture. I believe the words written here.

And when the bad days come, I need to remember this. Because in this statement of purpose, I find hope. And all that is needed to change a bad day into a good day is hope rightly placed.

Messing up…

It’s been a tough week for me Weight-Watchers-wise. On the one hand I’ve had awesome success with Weight Watchers over the past year. On the other hand it has been a frustrating game of one-step-forward-two-steps-back since about January. If I have lost anything since then (and whether or not I have is arguable, because I have been up and down a lot), it’s been a very minor amount. Recently, I’ve found that I am letting myself get away with extra tastes and “just a pinch” of this or that.

This is not good. On the one hand, I am sticking to very healthy eating most of the time. My diet has improved leaps and bounds over this time last year. On the other hand, I have been sabotaging myself with all these little extras. This week, especially has been difficult. To the point that tonite I decided to pretty much scrap this week, understand that the scale may say something very nasty to me on Sunday, and start fresh after weigh-in on Sunday morning.

Sometimes we mess up. There’s no great reason for this slip-up on my part. I have kept my exercise up this week, I have been planning healthy meals, I have been enjoying my work and loving the weather. Perhaps this is just a culmination of some stress that has been piling up over the last several weeks. Maybe it’s emotional-jet-lag from a truly terrible week I had a few weeks back. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to show some grace to myself.

After all, that’s what Jesus would do. That is what God has always done with us, his children. The Old Testament is full of moments when Israel messed up. When they turned away from God. When they lost the plot. And though God warned that turning away from Him meant turning away from love and life and goodness and turning towards the opposite of those things, He never stopped taking them back. The people of Israel never got to the end of God’s grace. God was always ready to take them back one more time. And when they got to the point where it might look like God was finished with them, God changed the rules of the game.

He sent his Son, to live and to die, to teach and to rise again, to break the bonds of sin and death forever and for everyone. I love that about God. This is the the thing that keeps my faith going even when I’m in a dry spell or  struggle. Because I know, no matter how badly I mess up, Christ has already paid the price for my mess-ups. God’s grace is THAT big.

So I am having grace for myself. This week, I have messed up. I recognize it, I own it, and I am sorry for it. I will be careful over the next two days and I will begin fresh with Weight Watchers on Sunday. And I will remember to be thankful that in Weight Watchers, as with God, it is never too late for a new beginning.


I. Love. My. Church!

Last week was a tough week – some meetings and some difficult health news about a beloved congregant had me down. I struggled to stick to my Weight Watchers points (being an emotional eater), I was tired, my throat started to get sore. It was just a drag of a week. There were bright spots in the midst of the gloom, but I still struggled against the gloom. And you can see that, if you read over my blogs for the week.

But this morning, it was like God took my hand and whispered to me “Despite the difficulties you face in ministry, I’m going to remind you how much you love this place and these people.” And I sat in worship, amazed. I looked around and thought about the more-than-a-year I have spent with this congregation. I thought about conversations we’ve had and moments we’ve shared. I remembered tough moments that we made it through together. I remembered heart breaks and moments of triumph.

And it was so good. God is so good. I feel like I woke up to a sunny day after a week of rain.

I am blessed.

Blank screen…

I have been staring at a blank screen for at least half an hour now, trying to figure out what to blog about. Several ideas have occurred to me and been discarded. It has also occurred to me to simply declare tonight a second Sabbath (why? Because I can!) and not blog at all. But I have found myself dissatisfied with that idea as well.

Tonight I am having what I call a hollow day. My energy is low, I cannot seem to get to the point of feeling full when it comes to food (I have eaten 8 extra points on the day, which for me is quite extraordinary, and if I weren’t on WW, I would be in the kitchen right now snarfing more food). My brain feels similarly hollow. No matter how I try to come up with a good idea for a blog, I don’t seem to have the brain power to make it happen. Or when I do come up with an idea, I don’t seem to have the power to flesh it out.

Some days are just like this. Some days it is a tough struggle to control my eating. Other days it comes fairly naturally. Some days it is really difficult to write a blog entry. Other days the entry seems almost to write itself.

That’s the way it is with the presence of God, too. Some days it is just like he is walking beside me whispering to me all day long. Other days I feel as though he is absent, as though I am left to my own devices. In my sermon today, I talked about the letters Mother Theresa wrote which were published after her death and which spoke quite clearly about her sometimes agonizing struggle with faith.

I am somehow comforted to know that such an influential woman of faith knew what t was to have hollow days when it came to her spirit. And I am inspired that she did not give up the work she did in Christ’s name and that she did not leave the church. Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is to simply keep on, when they are not feeling it.

Hollow days happen. But God is constant and constantly with us. Just as I know there will be days this week – maybe as soon as tomorrow – in which the struggle with food and with writing will go easier, so I know the same is true of my relationship with God. So now I will put this hollow day to rest with a prayer for an easier time of it tomorrow.

Be kind…

There is a pin I have seen on pinterest that says “be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Today it struck me how true that is.

I had the opportunity to go out with one of my elders and visit with a few people this week. As I listened to one lady’s story I thought of how much weight she had to carry. Her son has been through a difficult health issue, she has a parent in the throws of Alzheimer’s and a parent-in-law also showing signs of dementia.

If you were to bump into this lady in the local grocery store, you wouldn’t have any idea that all of this is going on. She is positive and upbeat. She enjoys life and is active and healthy herself. And yet, she carries this heavy burden.

We don’t know the burdens that others carry or the struggles they face. We don’t know the difference that our kindness might make to another who is weary with the stress of life.

That is why Jesus calls us to always show kindness and love to everyone we come into contact with. I think Jesus knew what it was to face struggle, uncertainty and a future that meant pain and rejection. I think he knew what it was to bear a heavy burden. I hope he knew what it was to be touched by the kindness of others.

The call to kindness isn’t just so we be or seem ‘nice.’ It is actually a sacred call to the healing of this world. In kindness shared, the burdens of others are lifted and the world is changed for the better.

Life is busy and sometimes it is easy to be caught up in our own stuff and miss the need that is before us. My prayer is that Jesus would change my heart so that I don’t need any more reason to be kind than the fact that everyone I meet is facing a hard battle.