You are Good

You are good.  The goodness of God is inside you, and the Holy Spirit prompts you to act out of that goodness. 

The fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23 is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The Greek word ἀγαθωσύνη (agathosune) means intrinsic goodness, the goodness that comes from God.  It is found only in biblical and ecclesiastical writings, according to Strong.

You are made in the image of God, you are God’s beloved child, and you are good.  Goodness is different from kindness that way.  You are good.  You don’t have to do anything to be good; you just are good.  Kindness is the action you take because of that goodness. 

In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown asserts that  “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” 

You are good.  You are worthy of love; to give love and to be loved.  You are enough.  Many of us have had conversations about that feeling of unworthiness that creeps in that holds us back from doing what God has called us to do.  God is in you; God invites you to be a co-creator with God not because God is good.  God will equip you to do what God calls you to do.

It is out of the inherent goodness of God within us that we respond to God and want to serve God and God’s people.  It is what makes us want to be good and do good.  Because God created each one of us uniquely, we have different skills and gifts for how we share our goodness with the world. 

You are good.

Diana Butler Bass was one of my college professors. In her newsletter (https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/another-monday), she quoted Marcus Borg  in his final book Convictions– “The fruits of centering in God are many and intertwined, but the most important are compassion, freedom and courage, and gratitude.”   Diana says, “These traits are central to the most important thing – “loving what God loves, participating in God’s passion for a different sort of world.” They are directed toward love of neighbor, a natural growth and being centered in God. 

In the Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40, the Pharisees ask Jesus what is the great commandment of the law? Jesus reminds us what is most important: to love God with all your heart soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  The goodness within you makes you desire God, and fills you with love for others too.

Each of you is good. I love to hear your stories of how you have seen and experienced God at work. I believe that Psalm 23:6 is true:  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.

Cast all your anxiety on God

1 Peter 5:7: Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.

Are you anxious?  I know many of you are anxious about schools opening or not.  Many of you are waiting to hear how you will be needed to care for family members based on school decisions.

Some of you are anxious awaiting tests or test results.  Some are awaiting doctor appointments.  Some of you are healing from procedures.

Many of us are anxious about covid-19 and the rising number of cases.

Many of us are anxious.  The first time I was diagnosed with anxiety was when I was 4.  I work hard at managing my anxiety.  Perhaps that is why I have always had such an active prayer life.  I am constantly turning over my anxieties to God (and too often, then taking them back instead of leaving them with God). 

Whatever anxiety you may have, I encourage you to give it to God, and leave it with God, for God cares about you. 

Rest for the Weary: A sermon

We keep hearing that we are in unprecedented times.  Our lives have totally changed in the last few months. We have watched horrific murders and arson, and we have also seen our communities join together in love and care.  We have seen people who refuse to wear masks, and also the way so many of you have made masks for each other and sent masks to the Navajo nation.  I have seen information shared on social media to help us learn more about racism and how to be an ally, and I have been disappointed in friends and family members who do not want to understand.  Instead of gathering, we have online worship.  Instead of small groups, we have zoom meetings.  Zoom exhaustion is a real thing, and I have it.  It is wonderful to see people’s faces, and yet, I always leave the meetings tired. 

I am weary.  Are you?

I feel like our current world is much like Matthew 11: 16-19. We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’”(11:17)    There is so much sadness, and judgment.  Matthew reminds us that John the Baptist and Jesus were both rejected and ridiculed. Groupthink and culture wars happened in the ancient world, and they are happening right now. 

I am weary. Are you?

Jesus calls all of us who are weary.  Jesus promises us rest.  Jesus provides us a safe place where we can share all of the burdens that are on our hearts.  Jesus invites us to take a break and renew our strength and our spirits so that we can get back to work. 

The 4th of July is always a fun holiday, though this year it will be different.  You may have extra day off, of vacation, or maybe this year it just feels like every other weekend.  We can use this holiday to reflect on how our country began.  It was not an easy process.  The Revolutionary war lasted 7 years, but there had been years of unrest prior to the war.  The Declaration of Independence, that we celebrate this weekend, was the beginning of the war.  Sometimes things have to change.  But the change process is not always comfortable, easy, or even safe.

I can’t help but wonder if God is using this time of pandemic to help us change.  We have opportunity to look at the way things were pre-pandemic, and decide what we miss and what we don’t miss.  WE have the opportunity to change.  21 days makes a habit, and we have had a much longer time.  What do you want to leave behind from the pre-pandemic world?  What have you learned these last few months that you want to keep doing or carry forward?   Then looking bigger than ourselves, what do we want for our community?  What work do we need to do so that our community is a safe place for everyone?  What justice work do we need to do on behalf of our brothers and sisters of color? On behalf of our LGBTQ+ friends and family?  What work do we need to do to make God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven? 

As we reflect, we need to also prepare for action.  We need to strengthen our bodies, minds, and spirits.  We need to rest in Christ.  We need to turn all of our fears, any feelings of resistance to change, any traces of hate or judgment that lie in our hearts for any side, we need to give all of that over to Christ.  We need to release our burdens.  We are not in this unprecedented time alone.  We do not have to do the work that lies ahead alone. 

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (11:28-29)

If you are like me and feeling weary from living in quarantine, Jesus says come to me. If you are weary from what you see on the news, Jesus says come to me.  If you are weary from physical, emotional, or mental health issues, Jesus says come to me.  Jesus invites us to rest.  To take a deep breath and recollect ourselves.  Our souls need rest, and Jesus offers us that rest.  We just have to allow ourselves time with him.  Maybe you spend time with God in prayer.  Maybe it is reading Scripture.  Maybe it is journaling.  Maybe it is going for a walk.  Maybe it is signing up to come walk the labyrinth here at church.  Maybe it is a nap.  Give yourself permission to let your soul rest. 

I want to share with you a prayer from the late Australian pastor, Bruce D. Prewer. (http://www.bruceprewer.com/)

Jesus says: “Come to me, all who are battling on under heavy load,

and I will give you rest.”

Let any who are feeling at odds with life, come, and find reconciliation.

Let any who are sad, come, and find comfort for your aching hearts.

Let any who feel worn and weary, come, and find rest for your souls.

Let any who are afraid, come, and find faith and renewed courage.

Let any who feel ashamed, come, and find unadulterated forgiveness.

Let any who are feel unwanted, come, and find hospitality that is divine.

Let all who are feeling happy, come and have your happiness blessed.

Let all who wish to renew their vows, come and trust the Spirit of truth and joy.

Let all who love the Lord come, and let and let your love overflow in praise.

Amen.

Peonies

My paternal grandparents’ farm has one long driveway that is a semicircle. The main driveway was gravel, but there was another part of the driveway, dirt, that went behind the house back to the highway. Along that dirt driveway, my grandpa planted peonies.

Every spring when they bloomed was exciting. When Marty and I were planning a spring wedding, I wanted peonies, but my florist said they were too fragrant.

It is my intention to divide and transplant some peonies from the farm to my yard. I learned, in talking with family on facebook, that some of the original peony bushes came from my great grandmothers on two sides. I also was reminded that there are some already here in Minnesota. Isn’t it amazing how one flower, one scent, can transport you to a different place? Seeing or smelling a peony bush takes me to this farm.

My grandpa died on April Fool’s Day, exactly 31 years after his father. I remember the morning my great-grandpa died. I was in first grade, and I thought it was too awful of news to be an April Fool’s joke. My grandpa’s death was not unexpected, and yet of course it was. Years earlier I had promised my grandma that I would officiate both their funerals. Because I was in the midst of chemo, I couldn’t even attend the funeral, let alone officiate. My cousin offered to drive me, but I didn’t have enough energy for the trip. I couldn’t be there for my dad. Though I knew in my heart that Grandpa would understand why I wasn’t leading his service, and why I couldn’t even attend, that knowledge was not a comfort.

Grandpa was a man of few words. “Well.” A one-word complete sentence that could mean many different things, based on his tone. I’ll never forget the time we were living with them before we moved to Memphis and my mom made him laugh so hard his drink came out his nose. I’ll always be grateful for him teaching me how to drive in the field. He would ask about school, and I never doubted how proud he was of me. He would occasionally type letters, purposely misspelling “dawg” and “Grandpaw” so that you could hear his voice.

So many things I wish I would have asked him. I didn’t have much energy for grief four years ago, so I am grieving today. I love you, Grandpa. Thank you God, for gifts like peonies that will always remind me of him.

Hefted

Before we left for our Celtic pilgrimage, Rev. Mike Miller warned us that we might feel “hefted” to Iona. Hefting is a common practice among shepherds, where sheep are allowed to graze without fences.  The ewes teach their lambs where to graze, and therefore feel a sense of belonging to a certain area.  As predicted, I am now “hefted” to Iona.  I did feel at home there, almost immediately. 

Iona is a small island, about 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, in the Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland.  On our pilgrimage walk to St. Columba’s Bay on the southern part of the island, it seemed like a much bigger place (in other words, a challenging hike for me).  St. Columba’s Bay is covered in rocks instead of sand.  It is where St. Columba landed on Iona when he fled Ireland and began a Christian mission there in 563.  We were encouraged to pick up two stones:  one representing what we wanted to leave behind to be thrown into the ocean, and the other to bring back to remind us of what we wanted to pick up or commit to in our faith journey.  It was easy to know what I wanted to leave there, and a bit more prayer time to listen to what God wanted me to do before I made a commitment.  Worship on Iona was of course meaningful and beautiful, and I long to be back in the old abbey with the modern words of the liturgy. 

I want to share with you a prayer from the Iona Abbey Worship Book about commitment: 

God, our Creator, you have wonderfully made us.  You have planted in us different gifts, no two of us are the same.  On our own we may or may not shine, but together, in your company, you turn us into a kaleidoscope of grace.  Sometimes we lament the busyness of our lives, sometimes we bemoan the emptiness.  These are the signs of our longing for a fulfillment we cannot create, but which we can receive from the One who made, knows and loves us.  Lover of all and of each, enable us here to be fully open to you to all you have to offer, to all that you ask of us.  Amen.  

Friends

We need each other. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is how much human connection really matters.

I have always had wonderful friends. In every stage of life, women (and men, but this post is for the women) from all ages have surrounded me with love. During this pandemic, I have been able to reconnect with a few, and I am so grateful for the extra time and technology that enables me to reach out.

Being able to pick right up with a friend after months or years without talking is soul-filling. I am thankful today for:

  • the friend I have had since first grade
  • those high school friends that wrote lots of silly notes with me
  • the friend who took me to countless concerts
  • the one who showed me how fun married life would be
  • she who introduced me to my husband
  • the one who has long, meaningful conversations with me
  • the friend who texts early in the morning
  • the one who teaches me in every conversation
  • the group at church that holds one another up and shares life together
  • the mamas that slogged through toddlerhood with us
  • the friend who would drop everything to be here if I asked
  • she who modeled being a professional
  • the ones who listen, guide, cry, and laugh

This list could go on for pages. I am so thankful for all the women that God has placed in my life at just the right time.

What all of these friends have in common is that they opened themselves up to real connection. They shared their hearts: the good, the bad, the fears, and the joys. Each one unique. Each beautiful inside and out. Women willing to listen and speak truth, even when it hurts. Women who band together and can do hard things. Friends who lean on each other, even when they dislike accepting help with a passion. For all of those friends, I am grateful.

Grief

Grief is something we are all experiencing right now, to different degrees.  Some are grieving seeing friends or family, cancelled trips, cancelled wedding plans, concerts, plays, and other events.  Some are grieving the loss of a loved one, complicated by the fact that they cannot gather with family. 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Grief is not linear, so we move in and out of the stages.  We have to be gentle with each other, as we each demonstrate grief in different ways.

For example, denial may look like people who are confused about why staying home would make any difference.  Or they may express fear or shock.  They may avoid listening to any news or other reports.  Anger might show up as anxiety.  Everyday tasks may seem more frustrating than normal.  Everyone in your household or even on tv may irritate you.  Bargaining could be as straightforward as I can go anywhere as long as I wear gloves and a mask.  Or, it could be struggling to find meaning in all of this.  It could be sharing your story, or reaching out to others.  Depression is not just for those who often experience depression.  Depression may show up as being overwhelmed with information, learning new technologies, figuring out work or school from home.  It could also show up as a feeling of helplessness.  We might lash out at those around us.  We may have to fight an urge to run away (literally or figuratively).  Acceptance might mean staying home as much as possible.  It could be putting a new plan in place.  Exploring options that are available to you, like visiting a museum virtually, making time for phone calls or video calls with those you love. 

However you grieve during this time of shelter in place, please give yourself time and space to grieve.  Allow yourself or others to feel the feelings they have.  Offer kindness and encouragement when you can.  Express love.  Be gentle with yourself, and with one another.

May 5

Cancer – 1. a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis 2. an abnormal bodily state marked by such tumors

I woke up on May 5, 2004 with a deep sense of dread. Though I knew something was wrong, I had no idea what it really was. I waited until he was at work to call my dad. He was fine, but he said my mom was in the hospital. Soon we learned she had cancer.

Fast forward to May 5, 2016. After six months of appointments and chemo, I have a unilateral mastectomy. It was a long day, but not exactly bad. I handled the surgery well, and was so wrapped up that it would be days before I could see my new reality.

Someday I will write a book about my experiences. In 2016, I said I would title it, “The Things I Lost, and What I Gained.” I lost a breast, my hair, energy, and an innocence. I gained my hair back, a wealth of hats, new fears and worries, weight, a better ability to say no and knowledge of my limits, a new perspective, and gratitude. I learned how to accept help and ask for it. I experienced the compassion and giving hearts of friends, new neighbors, and my church. The resilience of my girls was amazing. While I knew Marty loved me, I learned the depth of it as we made it through those challenging months of illness and healing. I learned how much strength I had.

Cancer became a part of my daily life sixteen years ago, a part of me four and a half years ago. It changed everything.

I no longer want to have a fiesta on Cinco de Mayo. Instead, I want to take stock. I want to grieve the loss, and speak words of gratitude for where I am today. I am thankful that I still have my mom, and that she is healthy. I am beyond grateful for a community and family that continues to surround us with love.

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