Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
“but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Oh how I have missed writing The Nudge these last few weeks. It isn’t that the Spirit hasn’t been nudging me…oh my no. Those nudges are coming fast and strong, guiding and encouraging, holding and lifting me as I learn to fully live into this role of pastor, teacher, mentor, coach, student and person.
Person? What? Learning to live into being a person? Yes… actually, that has been one of the greatest works that I’ve been doing recently. Learning to fully accept the joy that comes from following that nudge, learning to trust myself in my decisions and celebrating life to the fullest. It also means doing the work of living in the present. The sign that hangs above my desk at home reads,
“The practice of staying present will heal you. Obsessing about how the future will turn out creates anxiety. Replaying broken scenarios from the past causes anger or sadness. Stay here, in the moment.”
Some of the nudges that I received over a year ago did not make sense at the time. Now they do. While I am working hard (really, really hard) at not “replaying broken scenarios from the past” it’s fun have those “aha” moments of, “Ohhhhhh THAT’S why I got that nudge that day….” and I am so glad that I followed it. So here I am, living fully into the nudge, fully into my person-ness, fully into this journey of discovery, adventure and spirit. I hope that you will continue to accompany me on this journey of joy.
(trigger warning, this blog post is about suicide)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (from Psalm 22)
I’m beginning to think that suicide is like polio, a disease that strikes us when we are least expecting it, with no warning and total devastation, except…we don’t have a Jonas Salk. And rarely do we get the chance for an iron lung.
I first learned of suicide as a “thing” when I was 11 years old. Someone’s uncle had died by suicide and I remember being mystified. Shortly after that the hit TV series M*A*S*H came out and the theme song, “Suicide is Painless” became a tune that we all hummed…without even realizing the words. And then when I was about 13 a close family member made their first suicide attempt…and I began life under the pall of the suicide threat for the next 30 years. My family member finally found the right kind of help and is still with us… for today. My own journey with suicidality lasted from 1996-1998; that was two very scary years that I hope never to repeat. With the right medication, a great psychiatrist and a good divorce attorney I got through it. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Our children are killing themselves. There’s no easy way to say that. As a Trauma Chaplain I held the hands of too many parents whose children had died by suicide. In the shock of the moment they were, and may very well still be, completely perplexed. On a rare occasion a family member would admit that there had been multiple attempts, but for the most part it was a first, and horrifically regrettable, only attempt.
We have absolutely no idea why the human brain decides to self-destruct. We know some of the stories; bullying, relationship failure, financial failure, addiction, pharmaceuticals, school failure, a host of mental illness diagnosis; but in the end we do not know what causes the human brain to choose death. It seems to simply self-destruct.
As I sit by my window in the early morning hours waiting for the sun to rise and the snow to start, I open my hometown paper…and there’s another one. 30 years old, a fellow classmate of my nephews from back home. Gone too soon. I text my daughter-in-law just to say hi…but really…it’s to check in…and I find myself humming an all too familiar tune…”Suicide is painless It brings on many changes”…but we can no longer take or leave it if we please…Amen.
From the Psalms…”Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King.”
I often wonder how “city folk” understand eco-spirituality when their lives are filled with constant noise and movement, concrete and metal, haze and light? How do they see the moon amongst the streetlights, the stars amongst the glow of the city? How do they smell spring with the smog and hear the birds amongst the din of traffic?
I’ve lived in two cities, Philadelphia and Hartford, and I remember how it felt to get a glimpse of a sunset or to hear a robin chirp. My heartbeat would quicken, and I would stop whatever I was doing to take it in. And I would wonder, “How do people live their whole lives in cities?” The Old Testament Scriptures speaks of cities as being “fortified” and a place of being “established.” In the beginning God might have created the Garden of Eden, but it didn’t take long for humankind to put up a gate and lay claim to the property rights. Zion is referred to as the “City of God.” One of my favorite hymns is “Marching to Zion,” where all the righteous march to the City of God. I’d rather be sitting in a field watching the moon rise through the trees or sitting along the creek bank listening to the rushing water and taking in the wonder of the mountains.
I realize that my opinion sounds like judgement against the city folks, but it is more of a curiosity about how we managed to get from a garden of perfection to a world of crisis. How much of that has to do with humankind’s need for fortification and establishment? And at what cost? This semester I am enrolled in “Environmental Ethics” and part of the requirement for that class is to sit and observe my neighborhood. I am thankful that my neighborhood is fortified with trees, deer, turkey and moose. I am thankful that my establishment allows for the free movement of friends, family and visitors. And while I sit and observe what I have around me, I cannot help but wonder, is this not the original intention for the City of God?
“The stillness within will never be greater than the stillness with-out.”
What a wonderful nudge to sit with as I watch the sun remain in the sky for just a few more minutes today than yesterday…and the day before that…and the day before that…
It is such a relief when I realize that the sun has hung in the sky for a little longer today. A few more minutes to enjoy the stillness within my soul, which in turn will give me the ability to embrace the stillness on the outside. To embrace it and to create it.
Of course, the idea of creating stillness on the outside of our lives begs the question, “Can we ever be completely still?” It runs along the idea of total self-sufficiency. Depending on the level of “off the grid” that one would seek to live, we are challenged to ever be fully self-sufficient. Just having a vehicle at our disposal requires some kind of dependence on others. Having access to communication, emergency services also requires even the mountainous of mountain people to reach out to society.
The same is true for the stillness that lies “with-out” as the Spirit put it. While we walk (or ski or snowshoe) in the woods we may be away from the rumbles of vehicles, the ringing and dinging of phones, the ticking and tocking of clocks, we are still in the midst of a natural world that is completely full of the peaceful sounds of…stillness.
That stillness in the natural world…water rushing over rocks, leaves falling from trees, limbs swaying in the wind…those are the sounds of the Spirit with-out. And THAT stillness…THAT stillness can only be realized when the stillness within is just that…still.
As the sun hangs in the sky just a little longer, the temptation to fill that time with busy-ness, errands, the “one more thing” of the day is a temptation that in and of itself needs to be…stilled.
Rather than filling those extra hours of sunlight with extra “things” on my calendar, I plan to fill them with the sounds of stillness…and a deeper relationship with the sounds of the stillness “with-out.”
From a reading of Romans, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
There’s something about waiting for the snow. As I see photos being shared on Facebook from my friends and family back east, getting hammered by yet another typical Western New York snowstorm, I find myself gazing wistfully at the mountain waiting for the snow fog to cover her peak and work its way down Broadway. As I write this on Thursday morning, the peak is clear…but it’s coming…I can feel it…
I know that I need to prepare a little better for the snow that’s on its way. I need to clear the rest of the ice from December’s snow off my back walk. I need to break up what is left of the ice on my berm so that I don’t slip and fall on this next round. And I need to make sure that there’s enough salt and sand on hand for when I need it. I also know that I need to stock my pantry just in case it’s a little too slippery to make it to the store. All that…for a little snow that will be melted within a week.
So what is it about the snow that I desire? The way that it covers up everything and wipes the slate clean. All of the gray snow, the sharp edges of the ice, the sand covered berms, the brown grass that has peaked out from under the left-over snow from December. Everything will be fresh again.
Isn’t that how God’ grace works? It makes everything fresh again. Every morning, every moment. Whether I have mucked things up with trying too hard or not trying hard enough; whether I have glossed over something too quickly or spent so much time on something that other things have gone undone; whether I have not spent enough heart-time on heart -things and too much time brain-time on brain-things…God’s grace says, “Here…let’s cover all of that with my unconditional love and full acceptance…and try again…”
And I know that once that new snow comes today and tomorrow it will not last. Within a week there will once again be sandy berms, brown grass, icy sidewalks and an empty larder. But it’s Montana…and just like God’s grace…there will be more snow…and another opportunity to start fresh…again.
I love discovering new roads in and around Red Lodge. I headed out Willow Creek Road the other day to pick up a “new to me” dining room table. What a view! Sometimes it takes a trip down a different road to help us see what is right in front of us. As John the Baptist cried out to the people gathered at the river, “Prepare the way!” I wonder if he wasn’t saying, “Go a different way!” Or “Open your eyes along the way!”
That is what it takes, sometimes, to get us through this very difficult holiday season. Trying to figure out how to navigate the tricky relationship difficulties in our lives while celebrating the birth of the One who has come to heal all our tricky relationship difficulties is not easy. It takes a different way. Of course, I do not have the road map that guarantees anyone the correct way to navigate those relationships, but I do have a compass to help us stay on the road, to “keep it between the ditches” as we say back home. That compass is the one that points us to our “true north.”
That compass is prayer. Prayer in the form of stopping, breathing and saying, “Ok. You’ve got this, God.” Prayer in the form of crying out, “I just don’t know what to say next.” Prayer in the form of, “I know I can’t do this right now, so I’m stepping out.” And prayer in the form of listening for the still small voice to give us the next coordinate.
While driving down Willow Creek Road, I realized that even though I was driving my big ole’ truck, it was very slippery and I needed to navigate the twists and turns slowly and deliberately. The same can be said of navigating these painful and difficult relationships during this holiday season. Carefully…slowly…deliberately…using our compass of prayer to tell us when to turn, stop, and re-calibrate our way.
John the Baptist was the compass for Jesus, preparing the way for Him to come and be among us. If Jesus had someone to be His compass, well then I’d say that we certainly qualify to need one as well…and allowing Christ and the Spirit to be that compass through prayer is one of the best tools to take along on this precarious journey this season.
It figures that my plans for a snow Advent are not quite coordinating with the weather. Blue skies and sunshine don’t match the snowflake leggings and stole. Sunshine and bright days don’t give us the opportunity to reflect on darkness and light. The ease of traversing Broadway doesn’t give us pause for the marginalized who are caged.
This week’s studies have taken me a little deeper into my own reflections as I read about microaggression, anger and ethics. A little light reading, anyone? So, while the sun may be sunning and the bright blue skies brightening, my Advent journey has been as dark and searching as our church’s history suggests it should be.
To say that I was overjoyed at the hearing the songbirds at sunrise this morning would be an understatement. The sound of hope! The light of the morning blazing through the murky depth of self-reflection was definitely welcomed.
From the first chapter of First Corinthians: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I do truly thank God every day for each and every one of you at Red Lodge Community Church. You have made and continue to make my personal transition here a blessing. You have made and continue to make my vocational transition back to settled parish ministry a gift beyond any possible imagination. May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving week.
Philippians 3:13-14 “ Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I love having an active Christmas cactus. I say active because I’ve had Christmas cactuses in the past that never blossomed. They would just sit there, all forlorn, all year long. I’m sure it had something to do with the window they were in, or the cat that ate the buds, or the fact that I never watered the poor things. Last year I received a beautiful Christmas cactus for Christmas, and it has blossomed three times in the last year. Each time the heavily laden buds successfully bloomed into beautiful bright flowers.
There are a few things that I’ve learned over the course of the year about Christmas cactuses. First, don’t move them. Wherever you set them once you bring them home is their forever home. They don’t like to be moved. Second, feed them a cup of coffee every now and then. They like their Joe! And finally, don’t let your pet eat their buds. Now, with the exception of preventing them from being consumed, the other Christmas cactus care ideas could very well be old wives’ tales. The location and caffeination just happen to work for my blossoming Brazilian beauty.
Do you ever wonder about your ability to turn your buds into blooms? Just because you have a budding idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to bloom into a blossom of a ministry. That doesn’t mean that you don’t keep trying, though. We learn by failing. Indeed, it can become wearisome to keep trying things over and over. And yes, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be, or they are meant to take a season or two off. I don’t know if I finally succeeded at raising a living Christmas cactus because of my new ideas, my fortitude at keeping the thing alive or the luck of the draw in receiving a hearty plant. What I do know is that when I mentioned to my mom that I was going to try a Christmas cactus one more time she was happy to impart her wisdom as to why her 30 year old Christmas cactus that was now the size of a small child always produced voluptuous volumes of beautiful blossoms throughout the year. (Of course, the fact that mom hasn’t had a housecat in 40 years probably helped as well.)
One of the things that I love about our church and my ministry here is the fact that we try new things. And we are allowed to fail. Unlike my Christmas cactus, we don’t get stuck in the same place. We move on, we try different views. (And just like my Christmas cactus, we are fueled by vast amounts of caffeine!) Next week I will be in Pittsburgh teaching other pastors how to transition their churches from a place of dormancy to a place of renewal. One of those lessons is about trying even though they might fail. And I will also be sitting in on classes about new ideas for ministries. New ways to fail, and how to fail well.
By the time I return the beautiful pink buds of my Christmas cactus will be falling off. And I know that in a couple of months the tiny buds will again appear, stretch and grown into another round of bright pink beacons of hope. A reminder that not giving up on trying something new sometimes takes a few years and it is always worth the effort…as long as you try with a good strong cup of Joe.
Red Lodge Community Church - A place where Spirit and so much more happens!
308 S. Broadway
Red Lodge, Montana