Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A New Year’s Blessing for our president

Dear President Trump,

This year has been a great challenge for all of us. We have all worked hard to make our communities, our country, and our world a better place.  We may have different methods and different perspectives, but I believe we are all doing the best that we can. So, in the spirit of peace and unity that so many Americans celebrate at this time of year, I send you blessings of goodwill, health and humility in the new year. May we all take time to listen and love. May we hold each other accountable for our wrongs and extend the un-earned hand of forgiveness. May we all come together to truly make our world a safer, healthier, welcoming, forgiving, helpful, and joyful place to live.

Grace and Peace to you and your family,

Rev. Kati Collins
Manhattan, Kansas

Saturday, December 09, 2017


Thank you, 2017, for teaching me to cherish the good things in my life. By staying in the present moment, I have learned to savor each bite, each conversation, each sunrise, each breath, and more.

Thank you, 2017, for illuminating the gaps in racism, sexism and hatred that have been lingering beneath our surface relationships with our neighbors. People didn’t just get more violent and hateful this year, they just finally felt the freedom to speak their minds. Now we can see clearly that there is a lot of work to do, if we want to build a nation and a world where every human is valued and given the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive.

Thank you, 2017, for teaching me about resiliency, as I saw people I respect and admire raise gracefully after living big and falling flat on their face. You inspired me to keep #risingstrong.

Thank you, 2017, for technology beyond our imagination.  The instant gratification I find in Amazon Prime, the smartest phones ever, and home videos in the palm of my hand forces me to find peace and beauty as I wait through the processes which cannot be manipulated, e.g. physical healing, emotional healing, and watercolor painting. 

Really, watercolor deserves it’s own thank you.

Thank you, 2017, for showing me so much ugliness that I returned to watercolor. I saw beauty in the luscious colors. I found hope in the life of the paint.  While waiting for the paint to dry, I soaked up the healing powers of beauty, silence and the passing of grief.

Thank you, 2017, for sending me through the fire. I’m coming out stronger and more beautiful than before.  So, 2018, let’s start with what we’ve learned.  Let’s work on healing those psychological and racial tensions in our world. Let’s keep painting and looking for beauty.  Let’s handle technology with care, and remember that what happens in the virtual world, still happens, so let’s spread some beauty, love and healing out there wherever that world exists.

Let’s welcome in the new year with #eyeswideopen.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Bounce in My Step

It happened. I bounced up the steps, got to the top, and kept going. Everyday I feel stronger, healthier, and more beautiful. This is not because I’m following our diet perfectly, sucking up the pain and forgetting about our loss. The growth has been from facing the loss, enjoying what’s in front of me, and being honest about how I feel inside. Sometimes that means crying when I “should be” happy. Sometimes that means more milk in my coffee and honey in my tea. Sometimes that means guarding my heart while caring for others.

A few weeks ago, I had an unwavering upswell of my grief. At first, I felt like something was wrong with me, “Why can’t I get past this? Shouldn’t I be better at controlling my emotions by now?” Then I started to question if I was actually physically sick or something. When I went to the clinic, the PA said, “Give yourself a break. You’ve been through a lot. Infertility is hard.” That’s when it hit me. My sadness wasn’t just coming from our onetime loss, it stemmed from our monthly loss, the reoccurring heartbreak in the disappointment of still not being pregnant.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how facing our grief is like peeling an onion, you get through one layer and it starts to peel back another, and then there’s another, and more tears keep coming, until you get to the center, you let out all of your tears, take a big breath, wash your hands, and reach for the next challenge. (Robbie also suggested that the metaphor continues when we try to put the pieces back over that grief and tuck it away, but the tears still come.)

The revealing of each layer of grief brings the other layers up to the surface. Loss of one parent or grandparent, stirs up the old feelings of the loss of another to the point that the raw grief is intensified by the previous loss.  So, each month, our momentary loss stirs up the pains of our miscarriage, which stirs up the loss of our grandparents, and other past losses along the way.

My first memory of grief is standing a the garage sale, as we were preparing to move from West Virginia to North Carolina.  Someone was coming to take my dog, Koney. I didn’t want him to go, but I knew the new owners would take good care of him and we couldn’t take him with us.  I cried big tears as I let go of my best friend.  My second memory of grief was moving from Charlotte, North Carolina to Wilmington, Dela-“where?” as we called it. We had the best house with our best friends living across the street and a pool within walking distance and the best church I could ever imagine at the time. The last Sunday at our church, the choir sang Micheal W. Smith’s song, “Friends are Friends Forever,” and I cried big tears, again, and again, each time I heard that song.  My third memory of grief is still a big one for me, the loss of my Mama, Rosemary. I’ve written about my grandmothers before in A Thanksgiving for Motherhood and Learning from our Grandmothers.

As I remember the grief, I’m also reminded of the adventure. Each loss accompanied the beginning of a great adventure. Giving up my dog easily precedes the fun and exciting time we would have in Charlotte. Sadly enough, Mama’s death runs parallel with the beginning of my career as a flutist. I put my love for her into flute playing and even visualized her watching and listening to my concerts and recitals in years to come. This blog started with one of my favorite adventures, my journey to the Czech Republic, and yet it came only in my availability after a hand injury.

Somehow my stories of grief and loss have always bumped up against the stories of my greatest adventures. None of those adventures came to us by choice.  None of the losses caused my adventures. By the grace of God, my grief was transformed into beauty as I faced a new challenge with the energy I was holding for something else.  Like when you make a meal for one guest, and then the guest never shows, so you take the meal to someone who needs it and find a whole different experience.  

I wonder what I will look back and see as the great adventure that we are on right now? The adventure of changing the way we eat and think about food? The adventure of playing with watercolor? The adventure of starting our new worshiping community @thelightmhk? The adventure of marriage and cherishing life together? The adventure of telling my story and listening to others?

All of it. This outlook of adventure gives me a bounce in my step, knowing that with each step, fall and bounce our creator is “continuing the great work which has already begun inside” of me.  The holes and cracks in my heart open up space for new growth and life, this is the good news of the love Jesus talks about: 
Love + Grace = Life + Death + Resurrection.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Forgiving God

Beloved, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for one’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
 James 1:19–20

I’ve been pretty cranky lately. Scientifically the Keto diet mimics the state of fasting where your body turns to burning fat instead of carbs. Who would want to always have that 24 hr fasting high all the time? A crazy person. Or maybe a sane person who had no pre-existent conflict, grief or pressure in their life.

Life is hard. Trying to change your eating habits while life is hard sucks. It sucks.

So, I eat one of Robbie’s 2 carb chocolates or my 5 carb nut mix or steak or ribs and try to re-create “comfort food”. Here’s the catch: Food has never brought lasting comfort, and true satisfaction in food, only opens the door for gratitude, it doesn’t get you there. 

My challenge is that my anger stage of grief is finally stepping up to the plate. 

I am not doubting God's power. I am angry at the use of that power. How am I supposed to trust what I can’t see, when God has already let me fall so hard? And (to borrow a phrase from "Rising Strong") this is "the story I’m making up": God was watching my baby suffer and let him die. God said, His life isn’t worth saving. Then I had to bear the physical and emotional ramifications of that decition. This is the story I’m making up, but it feels like real truth and I can’t get past it. 

So, today I decided to write a new chapter. I know scientifically and theologically that withholding forgiveness only hurts the offended. But who do you forgive when really no one is to blame? Way back to days after Bob’s death, I remember praying, saying I don’t know where to aim my anger because I don’t know who or what to blame. “Blame me,” Jesus said. “I can take it. I did take it. I suffered the punishment for this and every other horrible act on that cross. Let go of your anger and unleash it at me.” 

I have been incredibly “slow to anger”, until we started this new diet and suddenly all of the physical and mental challenges improved in my life to the point that only one struggle remained: why is God withholding a child from two people who would love and teach and nurture with such passion and mercy, with God’s image as their goal!?!

I am losing weight. I look great. So many awesome things are happening in our life, and yet the sadness and the anger remained.

So, this morning I decided to do the scientific and Christian thing, I am going to forgive God. God doesn’t need it, but I do.

This is how I can move to the next chapter, by first writing a chapter of forgiveness. Jesus, you said you want the blame, now I will do what is required of me: I will show you mercy and forgive you as you have forgiven me. 

Now I can face the day with joy. Alleluia, Amen.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Expedition Keto

Nourishment in the Flint Hills
I’ve always blogged about my experience on new adventures and our current adventure is food. I am not a nutritionist. I am not a chef. My friends will tell you I make great chocolate chip cookies, but my cooking is pretty average…and sometimes disastrous…kale pesto with flax seed was probably my worst experiment…trust me, it sounds like a great idea, but it will kill your blender.  

Everything I am eating on our version of the Keto diet is beautiful and delicious. When I look at my food, I typically respond, “Wow! I get to eat this and lose weight!” Even when I eat foods that have fiber like black or kidney beans, I limit myself to a number which fits within my daily average of 50-60 grams of carbohydrates.  Then I remind myself that the fiber his helping keep down my cholesterol and I get even more excited.

So far, Keto has made me a better cook and a more thankful eater.  I finish each meal satisfied and nourished. Eating has been a source of anxiety for me, ever since I started getting anxious about everything as a teenager.  More anxiety tends to exacerbate stomach problems, so I tended to “follow my gut” a lot and try to eat what my body seemed to be craving. I totally believed that helped, until now. Since, I’m choosing not to eat starchy and grainy meals, my blood sugar levels stay more stable and I have less “hangry” moments.  When I do reach that crazy hunger moment, I choose not to eat the first thing that comes to mind, and I end up making better choices about what foods to eat. My healthier snacks also keep me satisfied for a longer period of time.

You’ve already heard about my magic beans, but really, our saving grace on this diet has been our chicken pizza. I have literally had dreams about doughnuts and bagels, and when I start to fold, I find a new recipe and my thankful heart forgets about those cravings.  This recipe came from a combination of blogs I read, and I’m happy to say, you don’t have to be on the Keto diet to enjoy this meal! So give it a try and give thanks for the beauty of the food in front of you!

Chicken Cheddar Pizza Crust

1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Egg
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tbs Oregano
Salt, Pepper and Garlic

Mix the crust ingredients and spread the mixture out like a pizza crust into a pan. Another blogger recommended using plastic wrap to spread the dough and that makes all the difference! Try it!

Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Then take out the crust and top it like you would any pizza! We use crushed tomatoes, mozzarella and ground sausage. Then bake for another 10-15 minutes. If you like basil or spinach, we’ve found it works well to put that on at the end.

Other recipes suggest mozzarella instead of cheddar, but we like the way the cheddar makes the crust crispy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Magic Beans

Ok, so they aren’t really beans, but they do seem kind of magical.  My husband, Robbie, and I started a low carb diet a month ago, and I’m feeling so fantastic that I don’t even care that I haven’t had Dr. Pepper, bread or wheat pizza in four weeks.

Chocolate, I eat in small quantities. Sweet Potato fries taste as amazing as french fries. Diet Dr. Pepper really does taste more like Regular Dr. Pepper every day.  We are savoring my pizza dough made from ground up chicken and cheese and covered with ground up sausage and more cheese and crushed tomatoes.

Carb filled food still looks yummy, but then I reach into my pocket and take out my magic beans, and I am reminded how delicious our new diet turns out to be.

Who else gets to enjoy steak, bacon, eggs, cheese, sausage and heavy whipping cream on a diet!?!

We’ve been taking lessons from Adkins, Keto and other diets, and I’m aiming for around 60 carbs a day, consistently loosing weight and feeling awesome. The first couple of weeks made me very sleepy, but it turns out that this is very typical.

To fight the midmorning and afternoon cravings, I created some nut mixes that turn out to be around 5 carbs, giving me a burst of energy while stopping me from eating whatever is in our break room.

I LOVE my little baggies of magic beans so much that I wanted to share them with you!
Pistachios and Black Walnuts look expensive when you see the bag in the store, but when 1tbsp is a serving, the bag goes much further than the health bars I used to buy. And these snack bags are much more satisfying! 

No matter your diet or eating habits, these recipes will be a treat for the whole family!


12 low sodium almonds (1 heaping tablespoon)
12 dark chocolate almonds (1 heaping tablespoon)
1tbs pistachio kernels 


1 tbsp Black Walnuts
1 heaping tbsp Coconut Almonds
1 heaping tbsp Chocolate Almonds

Friday, August 25, 2017

My Ninja Story

I am a big Ninja fan. Whether it’s historic Ninja folklore, Dark Knight Ninjas, American Ninja Warrior or Lego Ninjago, I love Ninjas.  I love the depth of their skill which requires strength in a variety of areas.  I love their sleek stealthy ways, somehow humble and peaceful and strong and frightening they seem, all at the same time.  Most of all, I love their resilience, flexibility and persistence. 

Some of the kids in our church (and adults) watch American Ninja Warrior religiously.  One of the parents dropped the comment, “Maybe we should have a Presby Ninja Warrior competition,” and I said, “Hold on, why don’t we? We can do this. Are you joking, because I need to know, before I get too excited about this.”  They all felt like it was a great idea, and believe it or not, we came through.  Our maintenance director, who is an awesome carpenter, helped me make the floating steps with our nursery workers, and he made a warped wall ramp.  I soon discovered that part of the training is in the building of your practice course.  Wood pallets are heavy.  Tires are heavy.  And Wood pallets covered in 3/4” plywood, attached to a couple of 2X4’s are extremely heavy.  When I built the course, I didn’t imagine myself doing it.  I would make it challenging for the kids and adults, but I didn’t expect to touch the top of our ramp, and I really didn’t expect to master the floating steps.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that we had a traumatic miscarriage, and I developed severe preeclampsia last January.  I expected to recover in a month or two, then I thought it would take me a few months, and then I gave myself till 6 months.  Now that it’s been seven months, I can tell you, some days have been good, some days bad, some days really bad, and still some days I don’t know what to do, and then I put one foot in front of the other and keep going.  I am learning to be kind to myself, and the waves of my grief are not quite as overwhelming as they once were.

When we finished constructing the Presby Ninja course, I asked one of my fit friends to try it.  She had never seen the show, so I had to show her how to do the floating steps…and I hopped from pallet to pallet…and I didn’t touch the floor.  I was shocked at my strength, and I felt incredibly empowered by the way my body was able to gracefully maneuver the obstacle.  After she ran the course, I had her video me doing the course. What a rush! I was able to do the obstacles with pride and confidence.  This little 5’1.5" Presby Ninja even reached to the top of our ramp at eight feet!

The next day our event was a huge success.  The kids were also empowered at their ability to handle this challenging course set before them.  Even the parents stepped up to the challenge. Two of them reached up to 12 feet on the ramp!

Over these last seven months, my healing has seemed to come along very slowly.  In fact, I feel like I’ve been struggling forever and sometimes I wonder if my full strength will ever return. 

From my ninja training, I am learning that each fall makes us stronger, not in the way that keeps us from falling. No, if you are living adventurously or, to use Theodore Roosevelt's phrase(renewed in popularity by Dr. Brené Brown), if you are “daring greatly”, falling, scraped knees, broken arms, concussions and loss will come.  Failure is inevitable at some point in experimentation. The strength we gain from these experiences is manifested in our ability to continue to put one foot in front of the other and “stay the course.” A friend recommended Dr. Brown’s book, Rising Strong, and while I’m reading it, I feel like underlining every word, because she is telling my story, and she is using the most amazing language and terms to make sense of it. Yesterday, I read this complete gem:  

Experience doesn’t create even a single spark of light in the darkness of the middle space.  It only instills in you a little bit of faith in your ability to navigate the dark. The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.  Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Like ninjas we are called to keep “daring greatly” and taking great leaps in the dark. We do not rely on our perfection or our impeccable invulnerability, we rely, instead, on our ability to bend, to take a deep breath, and to rise with the strength to walk towards the mountain in front of us.

Blessings to you, my fellow ninja, in your current struggle or obstacle course.  May you remember to breathe and keep walking as you seek to navigate the dark.  The light still exists and will shine with greater brilliance when you reach your goal.  The Holy Spirit which breathed life into your bones continues to blow over you, within you, behind you and before you, to guide you on your way home.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

(Still) Learning to love my body

Myth: If I loose weight and workout hard enough, I will feel good and love my body.
Truth: Women and men of all shapes and sizes struggle with body image.

Myth: If I loose weight, my clothes will finally fit!
Truth: Mass produced clothing is based on measurements which make the design look great at some sizes and mis-shaped for others.

Myths are based on truth, they tell about a lesson to be learned, but they can be harmful when considered all around fact.  I know that when I exercise and loose weight, my mood rises. I know that a lot of my clothing was purchased at different parts of my story, so not everything fits my body all of the time. Remembering these truths can motivate and drive my actions and choices, but sometimes I let these practices disrupt my relationship with my body.  I start to look at my body as the culprit for all of my problems.

One hand: My body has (insert issue/disease)
Inner Critic: it's my fault or my body is faulty.
Other hand: My body did not cause my health problems.

One hand: Daily habits contribute to bad health.
Inner Critic: it's my fault my body is faulty.
Other hand: My work ethic didn't cause all of the challenges my body is facing. People of all body types and health practices get cancer, have miscarriages, develop heart problems, have depression, (insert your struggle here).

So, Who is to blame? Society? Mass media? Men? Women? God? Me?

Blame won't get me to a smaller dress size.

Blame won't make my legs more agile.

Blame won't solve my health issues.

Truth: Learning to appreciate my body, will improve my mood and motivate me to care for my body.

So, can I choose to love my body like I hope God and my family love me? Could I choose to have a relationship with my body which is based on faithfulness and loyalty and not condition?

Myth: we don't choose who we love, love is not rational.
Truth: We choose to be in relationship with people apart from momentary feelings of love. Love is relational.

What would it look like to love my body because it belongs to me? What would it look like to cherish my own flesh and blood like a sister or child or parent?  What would it look like to revel, delight and indulge in "living" in this body?

I think this is one of the reasons I felt drawn to the movie "Muana", the story of a young clumsy girl who helps two mythical mighty warriors and a whole nation of people rediscover their true selves. This Myth reminds us of the truth that people of all abilities and sizes can help one another return to being "at home" in their bodies.

Maybe I can begin to learn by loving funny shaped delicious fruits and vegetables.

Maybe I can begin to learn by loving how my amazing ankles always catch me when I fall--I have a talent for falling, ask anyone who knows me.

Maybe I can begin to learn by choosing to trust my body has amazing abilities to warn me and heal.

Maybe I can begin to learn by choosing to love and be in relationship to my body, forgiving all blame and fault, learning to be faithful instead of perfect.

Yes. I think that's it. There's the truth of it all. Let's learn to be faithful to these treasures given to us by our maker.

Alleluia, Amen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Little Lady Named Abigail

A friend of mine asked me to do some drawings in the style of the "Book of Kells" for Music Camp, and, I will tell you, I had a lot of fun.  Celtic drawings have always fascinated me with the weaving patterns and ornamental lettering.  Some of my favorite hours spent drawing as a child were designing animal letters.  So, first I made my pinterest board, and I learned how to make lots of knots.

Then I played around with how to design their three stories: the parable of the good Samaritan, the friend who was lowered through the roof to Jesus, and the story of Abigail, David and Nabal.

Somehow when I learned this story about Abigail, probably two decades ago, I missed the fact that when she met David and his men, she was riding a donkey on a mountain pass.  What a powerful act of grace! This woman, most likely young and beautiful and married to Nabal as property, embraced an authority to speak on behalf of her husband and household. She spoke with boldness in the face of the great giant slayer and his band of men, bearing their swords and ready to fight.  She lead donkeys full of food through the mountains as an offering of peace. Wow. I am still in awe of her courage!

So, if it's been a while for you, enjoy a fresh reading here, and see what you can learn from this little lady with a big heart.

Then enjoy these worksheets.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Beauty is in the Small Stuff

This Sunday I’m preaching with the two Hymns “In the Garden” and “Morning Has Broken” along with John 1, John 20 and Isaiah 43. So, I felt like this was a good time to visit the K-State Gardens and Insect Zoo.  Me, Kati, the one who screams at the sight of a spider, went to an insect..zoo.  Let me tell you, I learned a lot! It was also alarmingly refreshing to look at something so frightening in such a safe way. The biggest, hairiest, and most beautiful tarantulas relaxed in their habitats in front of me and I could admire their beauty on the other side of the glass.  I was even brave enough to go into the dark, cave-like room with the biggest spiders and the biggest beetles—they had chompers!  Afterwards I explored the pathways of the gardens, smelled the roses, took pictures with the Black Eyed Susans, and did a sketch of the fountain.

I’ve been mulling over the beauty of it all, and I’m struck by the beauty of the imperfection of the garden. From the stones to the lilies, everything showed it’s age and the weather that it has blossomed through.  The water in the fountain seemed so wild and strong and soft and balanced.  Creation danced before me as I enjoyed some recreation time, enjoying God’s constant re-creation of me and the world around me.  Lord as you care for these delicate and small creatures, care, renew and restore my soul. Alleluia, Amen.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Well-ness to come

I've been looking back through old sermons and articles and found this one from a Newsletter Article in February of 2014.  Perhaps the blessing for my readers can be passed on to this present Kati reading today and looking for "well"-ness.  May it be a soothing message for your soul as well.

After observing God's love for the little hazelnut, Julian of Norwich reflects on the similar care of the creator for humankind: 
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.
― Julian of Norwich

As we enter this month of love, we are surrounded by images of "perfect love" which transports us above the troubles in life into perfect bliss. Just as love between humans is not always "perfect" in this way, God's love for us isn't always filled with chocolate and diamonds. Julian of Norwhich lived as a Benedictine nun in the late 1300's in England, and her book "The Revelations of Divine Love" is believed to be the oldest surviving manuscript of literature written by a woman in English. She is well remembered because she wrote about God's love in a way that was different than other theologians. Many spoke of the evil nature of humans, who God could only love because of Christ's sacrifice.  She spoke of a romantic and extravagant love from a creator for the created, and she explained suffering as a fact of life and not a punishment for falling out of this love with God. She had survived a terrible sickness and had seen many, most likely her entire family, suffer from the Bubonic Plaugue which had spread all across Europe. The church had diagnosed this sickness as punishment for wicked living, but she spoke about suffering as a pathway of union with Christ, through whom God connects with us in our pain. 

Many people know her famous quote which says that, "All manner of things shall be well." A better translation reveals a message she received from God, where she heard a voice say this: "I may make all things well, I can make all thing well, and I will make all thing well, and I shall make all things well, and you shall see yourself that all manner of things shall be well". God's love is so powerful that we can't imagine the ways that all things will be made well, but we believe through faith, that they shall be. 

I write this as a young wife-to-be, who is entering into marriage with an open and joyful heart. I love Robbie with my whole being, and the more we get to know each other, the more we love each other. Even though we have our "love to keep us warm", we know there will be storms of life ahead as there are for all of us. Just as Julian described, I look forward to the troubles not as trials to pass or fail, but opportunities to grow closer to each other and to God. Whatever season you find yourself in, winter, spring, summer or fall, I pray that you will discover the relentless love of our creator and redeemer, who wants to make all things well in our lives. I pray that you too will see it in your life!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Living in the In-Between

According to Facebook, we’ve been having an awesome summer.  Last weekend we went to the Lavender Festival in Bennington, the weekend before we were in Salina for the Smokey Hill River Festival, before that we were in Kansas City for an awesome Royals WIN with stellar outfield seats right in the Gordon/Cain Fan section.  I’ve been running and jamming out to awesome music in our beautiful Kansas weather.

Inside my heart, I’ve been living in the the In-Between, remembering our loss, stuck waiting for what is to come, trusting that God’s call on my life is leading me forward.  But it’s hard.  Every day I have to choose which present I dwell in.  Do I dwell in the world of loss, stuck staring at my empty arms? Or do I dwell in the world of promise with the beautiful sun that keeps on shining, the nourishing rain that keeps on flowing, the colorful flower that keeps on blooming?

Sometimes the sadness is overwhelming. I am learning to trust my body again.  I am learning to trust myself again.  I am learning to trust God again.  People love to tell me stories about this person who experienced lost and then God provided this gain.  The stories are endless of God’s providence, but what about the stories of those of us stuck in-between?  My faith is still getting stronger every day, and I am still waiting for that promise, and at the same time, I know that God doesn’t promise to fill my heart when I have a baby or when this or that finally turns out right.  God promises to fill my heart, now.  Now.  Every morning, every middle of the night.  Not when I wish my life was different, but when I see that my life is actually awesome, and I actually choose to LIVE in the In-Between, like Job, Jacob, David, Esther, Mary, they all had to have faith in what was to come by choosing to live each day based on the future, not the past.

What if we told our own stories this way? Instead of our testimonies being based on the amazing miracles that God has already done in our lives, what if we told our stories with the hope and passion of Mary’s song, which tells about the promises of what God would do in her life as if it already happened.

God is bringing life to all of the people around us, and we can choose to live in the world where God is at work, or the deceptive one where God is powerless.  I will choose to live in the world where Jesus is up to something.  Come and work your stuff, Jesus.  Make my day;) This is the day that the Lord has made. Alleluia, Amen.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Top Ten and Thanksgiving for Dads

The two most influential men in my life have been my dad and papa(mom's dad). Today I've been reflecting on all that I have learned from them, and I realized how thankful I am for how they have shaped the way that I see the world. Earl and Bill set a standard for what I feel it means to be a good man, husband, Christian, American, and father. I know they influenced my choice for the man with whom I make decisions and confront challenges in my daily life, and I am grateful for how my husband Robbie lives by these same ideals.  May we all seek to follow in their footsteps, and laugh along the way.

1) Make friends with everyone. 

2) Sometimes you have to get lost to find your way.

3) Sometimes it's better to lose than to win.

4) A quick nap does more than a cup of coffee.

5) A quick nap and then a cup of coffee is even better.

6) Sometimes you have to take something apart to get it to work right.

7) Laughter goes further than a strong word.

8) American flag shirts and ties are cool.

9) Always remember to change your oil and check your tires.

10) Bacon and/or Ice Cream can turn an ordinary day into a special one.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Thursday/Friday: God made you for a purpose and will always love you.

On Thursday, or Jesus day, as I like to call it, Skyler the Bower Bird will remind us: God will always love you!

Our kids will memorize the verse from Psalm 89: "Your unfailing love will last forever.”

This is the time to teach kids about God’s never failing forgiveness. Even when we think we have done something unforgivable, Jesus came to die in our place and be raised to life, so that we might know that God wants us to live as forgiven people, not to die as sinners. Jesus wants to be our friend and teacher, even when we make mistakes.  Jesus wants our kids to know about the forgiveness available to them now, and he wants them to be included in our challenge to love one another.

Friday’s theme will build on this with the final message: God made you for a reason.

Abbee the Bee will share the final verse: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Remind our kids that they don’t have to wait until they grow up to begin living for Jesus, they can do it right now.  Helping others, loving our neighbors, asking for forgiveness and giving out forgiveness, these are all things they can do now. God trusts us to do the work, let’s trust in God!

Thank you for sharing your week with these kids! Remember God has made you for a purpose, too! Join us for worship on Sunday at 10:30am and help us tell the rest of our congregation about what we’ve learned this week. May God use this week to do a “good work” in your heart, too!

Grace and Peace, 
Pastor Kati

Wednesday: God is always with you!

Wednesday we’ll learn about Gideon. You might not recognize his name, but I bet you have asked God some of these same questions in your life.  Here’s a brief section from Judges 6:

11 The angel of the Lord came. He sat down under an oak tree in Ophrah. The tree belonged to Joash. He was from the family line of Abiezer. Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress at Ophrah. He was the son of Joash. Gideon was threshing in a winepress to hide the wheat from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon. He said, “Mighty warrior, the Lord is with you.”
13 “Pardon me, sir,” Gideon replied, “you say the Lord is with us. Then why has all this happened to us? Where are all the wonderful things he has done? Our people of long ago told us about them. They said, ‘Didn’t the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has deserted us. He has handed us over to Midian.”
14 The Lord turned to Gideon. He said to him, “You are strong. Go and save Israel from the power of Midian. I am sending you.”
15 “Pardon me, sir,” Gideon replied, “but how can I possibly save Israel? My family group is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh. And I’m the least important member of my family.”
16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you.”

On “humpday” Bubba the Humpback Whale will remind us: God is always with you!

Key verse: “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Gideon wasn’t so sure of that.  He had seen his people persecuted and wondered where was God? Maybe you have wondered that in your life.

Gideon asked a lot of questions and really tested God, even though he had seen the face of God and heard the voice of God, he wasn’t sure he believed God could save his people, he wasn’t sure he was the man to do it either.

Gideon reminds us that God wants to hear our doubts and our questions. God wants us to pray in anger and in thanksgiving. God promises that even and especially when we are in trouble, we are never alone.

Encourage your kids to ask questions, but don’t try to answer all of them. Encourage them to bring their questions to God in prayer, and let God show up in front of us.

If Jesus showed up for dinner at your house, what questions would you ask?

Tuesday: God is For You!

"Looking out it’s a big, big world, where do I go, how do I fit in, gotta keep this one thing on my mind, the maker of all the universe is on my side. If God is for me, who can be against me!”

This is the first verse and chorus for one of our songs this week. You can find it on YouTube or follow our playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/fpcmhk/playlist/1up1OcN8h3D8BAyIdVeQA0

On Tuesday Tina the Termite will remind us: God is for you!

Bible verse: "If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

We will tell the kids about Joshua and Rehab, how a stranger to God’s people(Rehab—a powerful woman) had protected them(Joshua and his men) in a life threatening experience.  Trusting in God also means trusting in the people that God sends to help us.  We are trusting in you, our volunteers and parents, to encourage and challenge our kids this week, and you will have the opportunity to trust each other as you travel, learn, worship and work together.  

Who do you need to trust so that you can follow your dreams and/or do what God has called you to do? Is it someone in your family? Is it someone in your school or workplace? Is it someone in your church? 

To read more about the bible story, follow the link below and have a great day!

God is For You!

Pastor Kati

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Deck-orated by God!

In Preparation for our Maker Fun Factory VBS by Group Publishing, I'll be posting daily devotions for our volunteers! Join us on the journey and remember, "We are made with a purpose, created to create!"
Remember: God made you!

On Monday "Decker" the Crab will be telling the kids that "God lovingly creates people." Here are some verses to keep in mind:

Genesis 1:26 NIV Reader's Bible

Then God said, “Let us make human beings so that they are like us. Let them rule over the fish in the seas and the birds in the sky. Let them rule over the livestock and all the wild animals. And let them rule over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Psalm 139:13-14 NIV Reader's Bible

"You created the deepest parts of my being. You put me together inside my mother’s body. How you made me is amazing and wonderful.  I praise you for that.  What you have done is wonderful.  I know that very well."

Our curriculum reminds us that as Christians we believe we are lovingly, intentionally, creatively, and masterfully handmade by God.

I like to imagine the whole trinity at work creating us.  When I read over Psalm 139, I enjoy picturing how Jesus grinned while my hands and heart were knitted together in my mother's womb.  Did he giggle at how clumsy I would be? Did he look forward to hearing me play my flute and sing? Did he know the obstacles and barriers that would be in my way? Did he brim with pride knowing the strength planted in my being to tackle those challenges? When might Jesus have grinned or brimmed with pride as you were created?

Maybe I'm just being silly, but I think Jesus is a little bit silly too;) I'll leave you with this beautiful passage from Proverbs 8, where Lady Wisdom looks back on the creation of all things living and charges humankind for the days ahead.  May the Spirit continue to breathe life and joy into your lungs and spirit as we prepare for a fun week with our Creator and the beloved creation! Pastor Kati

"Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause, always enjoying his company, delighted with the world of things and creatures, happily celebrating the human family. So, my dear friends, listen carefully; those who embrace these my ways are most blessed. Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don’t squander your precious life. Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day’s work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of God’s good pleasure."
Proverbs 8, The Message

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Memorial Day Litany

For better or for worse, our faith and our patriotism are embedded in one another.  We could choose to separate the two, but I sincerely feel that when we honor this connection across different faiths, we also open the door to be held accountable to the message of reconciliation which accompanies the calling to fight and endure suffering for freedom.
Our congregation has a tradition of doing a Memorial Day Litany and I edited a few lines in an attempt to include this parallel message of deliverance from evil and reconciliation with one another.  Feel free to use in your congregation or family gathering.
Memorial Day Litany
Minister: Lord, you have called us to be the salt and the light of our world.  Today we come before you, giving thanks for all of the faithful who have gone before us and fought the good fight through faith, that we might appreciate the many liberties we enjoy. For justice, freedom, the pursuit of happiness and the opportunity to worship where we please,
All: We give thanks to you, O God, our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.
Minister: For those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms we cherish, in our own country and abroad,
All: We give thanks to you, O God, our protector, liberator, and reconciler.
Minister: For those who continue to risk their lives for the sake of freedom,
All: Let us support their every effort and stand by them and their families in time of need.
Minister: Guide our nation in the way of truth and peace.
All: Let our conversations reflect your teachings, wisdom, and mercy.
Minister: We pray for our President, his advisors, military leaders and Congress in these tense times.
All: Give them courage to listen and act in cooperation, boldness, and benevolence.  Guide their steps to fight against those who spread hate and tyranny throughout the world. Almighty God, you are our strength and our shield. Guide each of us as agents of peace, liberation, and reconciliation in the legacy of those who have gone before us. Amen.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A thanksgiving for the gifts of motherhood

* A bittersweet reflection

The three most influential women in my life are my mom and my two grandmothers.  They not only passed down genes and habits, some good and some challenging, they also set an example for how a woman can flourish, lead and encourage the flourishing of others.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the storms they survived many years before I was born, and how their sorrow and pain would one day develop the love, faith and joy which nurtured me in my youth. Everyone who knows or has seen a photo of Vera Salmons, knows I have her grin. When my eyes are sometimes a grayish blue and other times an olive brown, I remember Rosie Benton’s caring eyes. I know I have her hips, if only I had her waist! And for anyone who knows Ann Salmons, there is no doubt I am my mother’s daughter, from our love of wonderful music, to our zealous love of crafting, we love to give our entire beings to our passions. I had hoped to share their joy in holding my own child this mother’s day, and instead I am holding the grief we share in the loss of a child. 

Over the last several months, many mothers have shared their stories of miscarriage and child loss with me in the wake of our loss.  Sometimes it is all a blur, because no matter how many months or years we knew our child, the grief is still raw and painful.  We all yearn to love, be loved, and experience that mysterious connection of body and heart. 

As we look towards Mother’s day, I am choosing to be thankful. I am thankful for the joys of motherhood I have felt for a short while. I am thankful for the many women who comforted me and walked with me through shadows and light during these past several months. I am thankful for my mother and my grandmothers.  I am thankful for their love.  I am thankful for their faith. Most of all, I am thankful for the strength I feel in my very being that they passed on to me. I am thankful that my parents can remind me of Granny and Mama’s stories, and I am thankful for the hope that I will one day share their stories with our children. Glory be to God, Alleluia. Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Prayerful Meditation

Lately I have been spending time in meditation before bed and/or in the morning.  I find myself asking how I might view this time as prayer, or rather how I might restructure my prayer to learn from meditation. Here's my most recent exploration in a session of Christian Prayerful Meditation. May it inspire you to write your own.

Start by brining your awareness to the creation around you. Invite the Great I Am, God with us, to be present with you now.  Notice how God has been here already waiting for you, smiling at you.  See with your minds eye the beautiful and beloved created beings around you.

Turn your mind's eye to see the beautiful created and beloved creature that is you.
Visualize God looking at you with love and grace.
And as you see the loving eyes of God smiling on you, begin to notice the sound or your breath
Feel the air coming in and going out from your lungs.
Visualize the Breath of God, the Ruach of God, entering your lungs on the inhale, and on the exhale feel that Breath pass through your whole body. And on the inhale feel the Ruach breathe life into your bones and on the exhale visualize a fire being lit in the center of your being. Visualize you breath as gently tending to that flame, and allow your breath to soften. Now bring your awareness to the ground. Remember that from dust you came and to dust you will return. Feel your connectedness to the earth. Feel your connectedness to all of humanity. Visualize your connection to those who have lived and then entered the ground. Say a prayer of gratitude for how their experiences have impacted your present moment. Remember the one who entered this world as a one of us, a fellow groundling. Remember how God came to have earthly breath and life, born into this world as a little boy. That little boy grew into a toddler, a young kid, a teenager, and eventually a young man. Remember how he wept with those who had sorrow, remember how he fed the hungry. Remember how he healed the sick and gave sight to those who could not see. What do you need from Jesus in this moment? 

Listen for the voice of the Great I Am present with you here in this moment.

Close your prayer with a word of gratitude and open your eyes to continue seeing the world through God’s loving eyes. Glory be to God. Amen.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A different kind of Holy Week

This Easter is a unique one for us. Maybe you've had one like this too, where Easter comes at a time when your grief and suffering has been heavier during Lent, and the declaration that Christ has conquered the grave comes with weight. Over the past several months, Robbie and I have literally experienced some of the hardest moments in our lives, God has brought us through the troubled waters and here we stand. 

Last night we celebrated a small portion of the Jewish Seder meal during our Maundy Thursday celebrations.  As we read through the blessings and declared the truth of God's deliverance, I heard echoes of our experience.  Earlier in the day, as I was preparing the saltwater, I was tasting it to be sure the balance was right, and the warm drops on my fingers tasted like my own tears.  A few weeks back, a friend of mine had reminded me of the beautiful children's book Tear Soup.  She brought it to me a few months into my grief and recovery, and I told her, I had already made several batches of "Tear Soup" this spring.  That friend was busily helping prepare communion as I looked at the pot I had selected to make the saltwater, and I realized I had literally made a pot of tear soup!  I couldn't wait to dip my greens and celebrate the blessings of God with the taste of the bitterherb and tears on my lips.  When we finally did begin the Seder portion of our meal, I felt the joy in my bones as we read the blessing of the first cup, glasses raised: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who have kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this season of joy! As I broke the bread of affliction, I felt the strength of God's people who have endured affliction after affliction and still found a voice to sing of God's deliverance.

Now I'm trying to muster up the strength for Good Friday, trying not to think about Holy Saturday.  I'm incredibly excited for the different kind of "good" Good Friday service we have set before us. Back in January our youth choir director and I decided that we would pull together singers and orchestra players to perform John Rutter's Gloria. I had no idea how that would shape the formation of a worship which usually accents the frailty and horrible nature of humanity. Our service tonight is a testimony of Christ's faithful and unwavering, passionate love for us.  This is the "good news" about Good Friday: God has already chosen us for this life, and God continues to choose to be connected to us, despite our mistakes, all so that we can find true wholeness, all to discover true goodness in this life and the next.

The prelude and postlude for tonight's service is a playlist of New Orleans Jazz funeral music. We will walk the stations of the cross, to the beat of he drum which knows the end of the story. May the beautiful blend of joy and sorrow fill my feet to carry me through the silence of Holy Saturday, so that we might find light and life at that sunrise service Sunday morning. Jesus was with me in my suffering, and he will lead me into wholeness, where sadness and joy make one another complete. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Today we will sing

I’ve been journeying through Christine Paintner’s The Way of the Pilgrim.  Her books have given me space to connect my creative energies and spiritual yearnings.  This book does a phenomenal job of accompanying any kind of journey, whether it be a pilgrimage of discernment or renewal.  For me, the chapters have acted as a general leading on the road to physical and spiritual healing during my journey of grief and recovery.  One of the exercises was especially meaningful for me and I wanted to share it with you.  I had read her blog posts which introduced the sacredness of crossing a threshold, and her chapter gave even more depth to the encouragement to take that step from the known into the unknown, walking with hope for what is to come. We were invited to write a reflection as Miriam after praying with the following scripture.  I felt her somber cry of Alleluia, filled with tears of sorrow and joy.  May God continue to give me a song to sing, and a voice to speak for hope in the darkness.

When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers rushed into the sea, the LORD brought the water crashing down on them. But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground!
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song:

    “Sing to the LORD,
      for he has triumphed gloriously;
    he has hurled both horse and rider
      into the sea.”
New Living Translation (Ex 15:19–21)

Miriam: My brother led the walkout. We knew it was coming, but all of a sudden, we were packing up everything and leaving the only home we ever knew.  We headed out towards the desert and found ourselves at an impasse. Do we cross the river or go around?  Before we could decide, Pharoah’s henchmen were gaining on us and Moses was forced to take a chance and lead us through the River bank. We made it through, everyone of us, as if on dry ground.  When we reached the other river bank the waters roared behind us and threw Pharoah’s men into the sea.  I couldn’t believe it.  The sight was horrifying and tremendous all at the same time.  We were saved, others dead, everything behind us and nothing but an empty freedom before us.  I picked up my tamborine and sang.  We sang alleluia. Suffering behind us and suffering before, but today, we will sing Alleluia, Amen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Finding a meaning for Alleluia

Since I am a book nerd (whose memory has been very weak, trauma+life changes = sore memory), I turned to some of my resources to find a definition for Alleluia and begin with a more literary approach. They reminded me that Alleluia is the English version of the Hebrew Hallelujah, which translates as Praise the Lord, Praise be to Yahweh, the one who is, the Great I Am.  The word shows up mostly in the Psalms, and especially in 113-118, which the Jewish tradition refers to as the Hallel.  The Great Hallel is psalm 136. Scanning through these psalms you see phrases of favorite hymns and contemporary Christian songs. These are literally hymns of praise. "What a better starting point?" I thought.

So, I began with the first one, Psalm 113.

1 Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord.
    Praise the name of the Lord!
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever.
3 Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord.
4 For the Lord is high above the nations;
    his glory is higher than the heavens.
5 Who can be compared with the Lord our God,
    who is enthroned on high?
6 He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth.
7 He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
8 He sets them among princes, even the princes of his own people!
9 He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother.
Praise the Lord!

Tears streamed down my face.  I couldn’t believe it. Did this Psalm that I read as a background study for my art exploration of grief just speak directly to me by name?  These were psalms written by men weren’t they? Could this have been written by a woman like me?  Could this have been written by her husband? her child? her parent?  Part of me searched for some message from the Holy Spirit, as if the phrase, “he gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother,” somehow meant I would be with child any day now.  Part of me wanted to point to this coincidence and see it as a promise that I wouldn’t be childless forever.  And yet part of me recognized that this woman still receives both names, and I already have had both of them too…and my whole goal with this is to find some happiness, some joy left within me.

At times I feel like the medical term “failed pregnancy” overlaps in my brain to name me a “failed mother.” You or I can try to console my heart by saying this isn’t true, and yet as sure as the term is written on my physical history, it is also written on my spiritual record.  Ironically, I wonder if all mothers don’t feel this way from time to time when they see the hopes they had for their children fall apart.  How many of us feel like failures every day at other things which we care so deeply about and seem to have trouble seeing results. Does joy come from success only? Do we have to find success to find joy?

Where does the "happy mother’s" joy come from? Does it come from her children? Does it come from a joy in her daily tasks? Does it come from the balance of family and career? How does a childless mother find happiness when there is nothing to balance?

My favorite part of painting is in the mixing and discovering of pigments.  When I can’t seem to decide what to paint, I start with the colors and then go from there.  My logical brain says this is backwards, but my explorer brain enjoys the process.  When I’m finished, I always feel refreshed and rested, and today I had some thoughts on why that might be.  When I look at the colors in wonder, I am amazed by their beauty.  The best way to describe this sense of awe is to say that I take joy in seeing the colors form on the page.  I take even greater joy seeing them change and develop into something with character and meaning.  

Could this be where joy comes from? the moments of pause when we wonder and appreciate beauty?  Is that why a mother gazing at her child looks so happy? It’s not pride or success, but true awe and enjoyment in beauty.

This is a definition of Alleluia I can do.  I can look for beauty and hold on to the promise that there is still goodness and beauty present with us here and awaiting us in the moments, days and years to come.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Holding on to an Alleluia

In some communities they bury the alleluia’s at the beginning of Lent or just before. I’ve never done it, but I know people who have. They’ve told about how they “fast” from celebrating during this season as a way of lamenting the injustice and pain in the world. Essentially it’s like a season of constant confession without jumping to the assurance of forgiveness and good news.  The music is droll and the prayers are full of cries for mercy.  On Easter Morning as they tell of Jesus' resurrection, they pull out the Alleluia’s and celebrate, now with a renewed exuberance. 

I’ve always been fascinated with this tradition, but somehow I forget about it until the week before Lent and then it’s too late to institute the burying of the Alleluia’s.  So it never seems to happen.  This year I was choosing hymns for our first Sunday of Lent and as I thumbed through the hymns for preparation for Communion, I came across “Come, Behold, the Feast of Heaven,” which ends each phrase with an Alleluia, with the same tune as “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” I paused to think how these two hymns could act as book ends holding up Lent as a space in between, seeing our practice of communion as both looking towards the meal to come on Maundy Thursday as well as the meal to come in the end of this life and the beginning of the next.

I had a very different theme and sermon already prepared at that point.  It was one of those times that I felt like the sermon had already been given to me, and I felt like the message was complete in what the Spirit was calling me to say...and yet I felt this tug to say something separate that wasn’t quite completed in my soul, like an ember that was starting to burn, but hadn’t quite caught fire yet.  So, I kept thinking about the Alleluia as I prepared for worship in the coming days.  Several weeks prior I had purchased a coloring sheet from Illustrated Children’s Ministry which had the word Alleluia and a beautiful butterfly.  They encouraged providing two versions of the coloring sheet to your congregants, one with pictures in the wings and another with blank spaces for those who felt called to draw their own images of alleluia.  You could color it and then bury them until Easter or you could just color them on Easter.  So, here I stood.  I had the hymn, I had the physical Alleluias, I had the time to prepare and put directions and an explanation in the bulletin which we print in a crazy amount of time in advance.  And yet, there was something holding me back.  Something within me felt like I could not bury the Alleluia.

Instead, I felt this incredible yearning inside to pick it up.  I wanted to pick up the image of the Alleluia and hold onto it for dear life. So, that’s what I did. 

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I had a tragic loss in my life and traumatic physical complications about a month prior to Ash Wednesday.  I could tell you the story of my loss and my medical condition again, the story of my endurance and recovery process, but that’s another story unto itself. For now, I want to begin sharing with you about this current journey of picking up the Alleluia. I did not end up changing the sermon or introducing this idea with my congregation that Sunday, I had to start working through it first.  I’m starting to write about this process now, and I wanted to share it with you.  

As I invited my congregation to prepare for communion that Sunday, I did invite them to choose to pick up the Alleluia, “if like me, you need a little help singing today.”  I just let the idea hang in the air, and that afternoon, I started to paint.  I had been dreaming about filling a journal with alleluias as I tried to visualize what it might look like to “hold onto an Alleluia."  So, I ordered some carbon paper to trace the butterflies from Illustrated Children’s Ministry into my journal.  I figured even if I couldn’t think of what to put in the blank spaces, I could at least trace and paint the images already provided and hope to go from there.  

If you find yourself in a place where it’s hard to be joyful and even harder to sing for joy, I invite you to start dreaming of what it might look like to celebrate the goodness in our world, and then, if you can fathom it, begin to dream about what it might look like to celebrate the goodness in this moment, inside you, in the place of emptiness in your life.  Ok, maybe that’s too far too soon, but we’ll get there.  Even if you can’t fathom it, maybe you can dream it, and if the dreams only look like tears right now, you can start here with me.  May the Spirit which imagines Life for all things speak to your heart. Amen.

In case you can't read the scriptures around this first Alleluia, here they are:
Hebrews 12: 12
So take a new grip with your tired hands and your weak knees.
Hebrews 12: 1b, 2b
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us...Because of the Joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Importance of Ashes

My reflections on the importance of wearing ashes this year.  I wrote this last week, but finally felt strong enough to share it today. Warning: Contains reflections on our pregnancy loss.

I am typically a cheerful person.  When I go through a dark time, I can always find that happiness and joy at my core. You might say I am seriously cheerful, not goofy cheerful, but I usually can find a way to see any glass as “capable” of being full. So, each year, Ash Wednesday is typically a sobering reminder of our humanity and capability of being empty, so that Christ might fill our hearts once again.

This year is different. Lately, I have been sad at my core.  Sure, there is the state of our country.  There is the state of our world.  This article is not about politics, but feel free to read it that way.  

We lost our baby in January, I developed severe preeclampsia, and I had to go through labor for a child who had already died.  It was the worst experience of my life.  I held tightly to my husband’s hand. I held tightly to Jesus, constantly seeing him on the cross suffering alongside me, and several times, I thought of Simeon’s words to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which were just too recent in my memory, “And a sword will pierce your soul.”  

More than ever, I became aware of my mortality in a very real and sobering way. If it were not for my talented Doctor and nurses and their use of modern medicine, and the grace of God, Robbie might have lost both of us that day.  And I know that possibility was ever present in our hearts throughout the night.  

In the coming days I clearly felt the emptiness of my womb which heightened the silence in the room.  The ironic and painful fullness of my breasts only more vividly illuminated the emptiness of my arms.  My overflowing tears clearly echoed the emptiness of my heart.

Now, I am standing a week away from Ash Wednesday and feeling like a simple cross on my forehead is not enough to show the real pain I feel inside. Where are the days of covering ourselves from head to toe in ashes and literally ripping our clothes.  I’d like to rip all of my maternity clothes in half, but my logical self stops me, because then I would have nothing to wear today and nothing to wear when I do become pregnant again.  My emotional self wants to do it anyway.  My emotional self says, “Good. Then everyone will see my nakedness and know how deeply sad I am.”

All of this pain, for a child I never met, a child whose laugh I never heard, a child whose cry I could never answer.

More than ever, I recognize that when I receive those ashes on Wednesday, they will be an outer reflection of a real pain that exists in this world, not just in my heart, but many others.

How many other mothers feel sorrow for the loss of their children, whether unborn, 8, 24, 45, 64 or more? What about the fathers, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the brothers and sisters, the children, the grandchildren and more.  Death separates us and has the capacity to keep us isolated in our grief, our blame, our shame, and our regret.  Sure, we could continue in our old tradition and cover ourselves with a vivid reflection of our singular pain.

Instead, we Christians choose to receive a mark of solidarity.  The ashes in the shape of a cross on our hand or our forehead do not symbolize our singular sin, or our singular grief. They do not mark us as better than others or separate from our fellow human beings. They symbolize the mortality of humanity, and Christ’s suffering for all of our pain.  Christ suffered for the pain we cause on one another and for the pain of living and dying in this world.  He suffered so that he would know our brokenness, and take on any punishment that we deserve, so that one day we could experience true wholeness and freedom from pain.

As sad as I am, those ashes will declare my recognition that I am not alone, you are not alone, and great pain exists in this world.

As defeated as I feel, the cross will declare my belief, that death does not have the final word. One day pain will end, and we will discover the wholeness of life and love.  If we are lucky enough, we will get to experience that in this life, not because we are lucky enough to have a glass that is always full or even half full, but because we have experienced how truly empty the glass can be, and we are brave enough to let someone else fill that cup, even if only for a moment.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wickedly Hard and Amazingly Beautiful

Puzzles have helped me set a pace for my healing.  They’ve given me something calm and low stress to do with others as they visit and sit with me during my recovery.   Although we didn’t have anything to taste, I made pies with my mom without having to roll them out and do any physical labor.  With various friends we enjoyed the fantastical world of Beauty and the Beast and I gained a whole new respect for Thomas Kincade. We also studied the noses and mouths of the Seven Dwarfs, tigers and several dogs.  I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the pieces coming together—how mystery pieces look different than I imagined, all the details we discovered, a beautiful sky coming together.  

The metaphors are endless when it comes to puzzles, so I’ll stick with my favorite verse which sums up my joy of puzzling over the time during my transition.

"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  New Living Translation (1 Co 13:12–13).