The Gift of Friendship

My car was in the repair shop for two days because I had trouble shifting it out of “park.” The men in the repair shop called me and said that they couldn’t “duplicate” the problem, that they had no difficulty shifting it.  But if I wanted, they would replace the gear shift for $800, because that might be it.

I thought $800 for a guess was a bit much, so I went to return my rental car and pick up my car. They drove my car around, and I got in and went to shift it to drive. It would not do it. After a minute of trying, I called the mechanic back out to show him. He got in the car, and he shifted it right away. No difficulty. But he did see that my coolant light was on, and since he didn’t have the right coolant, he recommended I go to the dealer.

After trying to shift my car into drive for a couple more minutes, I finally got to the dealer. But nobody came out of the service area for a minute or so, and I had really wanted to go grocery shopping this morning.  So I thought I’d leave and come back. Again, I couldn’t shift my car out of park. Finally just as tears were starting to fall down my cheeks, a nice lady who works in the service area came over and took care of me. She handed me a kleenex. She assured me it’s not all in my head, and got me a ride to church…

There, alone, I was still a bit upset after the frustrating morning. I never got to go grocery shopping, and I never got my coffee. And I was stuck there with no car, and no one else around. So I wrote on Facebook that I’d had a tough morning and didn’t even get my coffee I’d been looking forward to. Almost immediately, a couple friends on Facebook are commiserating with me and supporting me. Another friend offered to bring me coffee, and proceeded to deliver a vanilla latte to me at church along with a cute little donut. And another friend, though crunched for time that day, gave me a ride back to the dealer later that afternoon when it was time to pick up my car. (And it was a $230 brake light switch problem, not the $800 gear shifter.)  And my sweet husband was on email and phone assuring me it’s not all in my head and telling me jokes to make me laugh.

30e07720c5d034d61ff20ab5bb6c0dceI don’t know what else to say, except that I am blessed with community. So blessed. I am used to doing most everything for myself, but my people, my friends, showed up for me that day. And I know that they would again and again if I needed it.  It’s a really amazing feeling, and it was worth it to go through some frustration to know how blessed I am.

This year has been a beautiful year for friendships for me. I met some new people that I have grown really close to, as if we have known each other for years. I have grown closer to other people that I have known for awhile, and even reconnected with an old friend that I love dearly but had been out of touch with–all because of a dream that I had about her. I am grateful that God has given these people in my life, along with a very loving, supportive, and wonderful husband for almost 19 years.

Recently, I have been reading 1 Samuel and been amazed at David and Jonathan’s friendship.  “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Wow! Those words! And how close those who love and worship the Lord together can be knit together through His gifts to us. We are more than friends–we are family through the blood of Christ, which washes us clean together and brings us closer to support each other in our walk together on the way to our true home, our life together in eternity.  In Christ, we are never alone. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We meet no ordinary people in our lives.” We must treat them gently and with the knowledge that they are cherished and loved by God, and so it is our joy to cherish and love them as well.

I pray the Lord will bless you with the gift of good Christian friends, just as He has blessed me. Thank you, Lord, for that gift, and thank you to my friends for being on this journey with me. God bless you.

The Joy of Advent

A year ago, we were headed on our way to Israel. I am thinking a lot about this trip as we start Advent. During the Pentecost season, it doesn’t come up so much. But now I am thinking about Ein Kerem, where Mary sung the Magnificat, where John was born, and Zechariah sung the Benedictus. I am thinking about poor Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. I am thinking about sitting there in the Shepherds’ Fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Sometimes I wish I could just fly back there myself, not having to go through any of the hassle of being on a 12 hour airplane flight, but just apparate there maybe and sit there in wonder, unnoticed. And then go home again.

Last year, we got to go and confront the history of our Lord in person. We got to see where He was born, where He lived, where He died, and where He rose again. Knowing that none of it looked the same did not take away the joy that I felt just being near to the same air that He was thousands of years ago. There were moments amid the busyness of being on that trip that allowed for quiet contemplation, though I longed for more.

The best thing about this new church year is that Advent is fresh again. I am seeing it through new joy and new enthusiasm. We are able to slow down a bit this Advent season, not go on any trips, but just be together. I have a job in the church office now, so I am in church for both Advent services every week. I am hearing the preaching of Christ promised and born for us through the mouth of a new pastor, and so it is joyful and new to me again. And best of all, I can add in the memories of our trip last year. When Pastor talked about the Benedictus last Wednesday, I was thinking in gladness about Ein Kerem, where John the Baptist was born.

So make time for quietness and contemplation during Advent. Here are some things I like to do:

  • Attend Advent services. So much joy!
  • Listen to Advent/Christmas music. Some of my favorites are on three albums: The Concordia Seminary Kantorei’s Advent/Christmas CD, “Infant Holy: Christmas with the Seminary Kantorei.” (Don’t tell Pastor Jeff this, but the only reason we called him was because he was in the Kantorei). ūüôā Also Roger Wilcock’s CD “Approaching Christmas” has great arrangements of “O Wisdom Antiphon and Magnificat” as well as “O Magnum Mysterium” and “Carol of the Bells.” I also like the Benedictines of Mary album, “Advent at Ephesus:” Their “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is outstanding.
  • Do Advent devotions, and consider studying the Antiphons, starting on the 17th. Here is a great resource: http://steadfastlutherans.org/tag/o-antiphons/
  • Eat simpler dinners, like soup, during the weekdays. Save the bigger meals for weekends.
  • Try to limit your activities during the weeknights, only do the things you really want to do, or things that involve being with your friends and family. It’s ok to say no; you can’t do every activity offered to you.
  • Read your Bible and pray. This is good to do every day, but it’s especially meaningful during Advent.
  • Try to get your Christmas shopping done as early as you can, so you can enjoy the Advent season more.
  • Read a good book during Advent, perhaps “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” “A Christmas Carol,” or maybe Bonhoeffer’s Advent/Christmas sermons. It would even be fun to read the two books above with the kids.

May God bless this Advent season!

 

Hard Memories

In the end of the Bible in Revelation, John tells us that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ As we near the end of the church year, one that has been so full of turmoil, sadness, hope, prayer, and joy, it’s hard to stop the memories from the past year from coming.  Even though I ultimately feel good about the way this last church year turned out, it was also an exhausting year.

Yesterday, I was sitting in Divine Service, listening to our end of the church year music, which tends to be in a minor key.  I was remembering last year at this time, the second to last Sunday in the church year, listening to the same music and knowing that in a few minutes, Pastor Matt was going to announce he was going to take the call.  It was hard sitting there a year ago, with the dark music, knowing that everything was changing, and that there was a big unknown hanging over our heads about the upcoming year. Pastor Matt said to me at the time, “Someday you’ll thank me for leaving at the end of the church year.” Maybe I will, but I’m not there yet. The end of the church year is a darker time in the church year. Right now, I think the beginning of Pentecost season would have been nicer. But God’s timing is always right, and wiser, than my own.

I know other people also have their times that bother them, anniversaries when things happened. It’s hard to be near the time when a close loved one died, or something terribly difficult happened to us, even sometimes a few years after it happened.  Everybody has a different way of dealing with that. I do know that the only way that I have healed after hard times is to let God heal me, to come near to him, to come to church, to pray for help when I am angry or sad, to be with people who love me. “With his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53), not only for our salvation to come, but to sustain us in our life now as well.

Even remembering what happened a year ago, even being a little out of sorts the past week, I was not sad yesterday. I received the Body and Blood of my Lord Jesus Christ. I heard the Word spoken to me by my pastor: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I was surrounded by my family and friends, my new pastor and his family, all my fellow believers in Christ, even the communion of saints in heaven. It was a good day, and I was refreshed for the week to come.

Dominus Flevit in Jerusalem, where Jesus wept
Dominus Flevit in Jerusalem, where Jesus wept
Death, pain, and sadness is in the world. It is a terrible corruption of the goodness that God meant for us, and as Pastor pointed out yesterday, even Jesus wept over death and pain. It’s important to remember that He will always carry us through to the other side of our hard times, and someday there will be no more. Just wait, pray, come to church and receive Him, and trust in His timing.

“Being Rich in Mercy”

A few years ago, I took an online course to receive a certificate in parish nursing from Concordia University-Wisconsin. A parish nurse “is a registered nurse (RN) specialist who encourages physical and spiritual health and wholeness by developing and leading programs within faith communities.” There is one model of parish nursing that is set forth in all the books that I have read on it, basically promoting doing a lot of activities within the congregation to help people become healthier. ¬†It’s a sort of prevention-based model.

At our former church, I did help form the “health cabinet” and the parish nursing program, based on this model. ¬†But the more that I and the “health cabinet” did¬†to work toward the goal of physical health of our members, (blood pressure checks, flu shots, health fair, newsletter articles, blood drives, exercise classes), the more uncomfortable I became. Because church is not a community center, and really, church is not even particularly prevention-oriented. I wanted us always to remember that the primary purpose of church is Word and Sacrament ministry, to become spiritually healthy, not necessarily physically healthy. And I just couldn’t figure out how to integrate that parish nursing model with the pastor’s Word and Sacrament ministry, without distracting from it. ¬†If someone got their blood pressure under control but failed to receive forgiveness of sins, we have still failed as a church. So when we changed churches, I did not pursue parish nursing again, knowing that¬†I did not yet have the answer to that question.

IMG_1607The¬†church has long understood that we are touched by sin in a physical way beyond our control–because of original sin, we will get sick, our bodies will break down, and we will die. Sometimes we can prevent bringing certain diseases upon ourselves by the way we live. But, ultimately, we cannot prevent our own deaths. ¬†“…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17¬†

Knowing that, I’m not interested in duplicating all the health tips and programs that you see everywhere now in our health-obsessed culture. ¬†I’m more interested in helping people deal with the inevitable physical effects of original sin. I don’t like telling people they can’t eat doughnuts on Sunday morning because they’re bad for them, and I’m not into aerobics. Maybe I was comfortable working in hospice¬†because promoting the prevention-based model is probably not where my talents lie, though there is a place for prevention of disease. ¬†I’m just not sure that place is in the church.

So, several years later, I’ve started parish nursing again, more informally, yet more meaningfully to me, because it grew organically out of a desire of a couple of us to visit people. Then grew into a¬†group of us (called the Mercy group) meeting every month to see our homebound, so that they all could get visited. ¬†I do that with them, making extra visits during the month to our neediest. ¬†I also try to keep track of who in the congregation is at risk, simply¬†checking in with them every week or so. I don’t give out much medical advice, we have no exercise classes (though we do have a hiking club, but more just to have fun hiking than to promote health), and I haven’t taken anyone’s blood pressure so far. We’re just serving our people where they are.

luke(1)Then, Pastor gave a sermon yesterday about one of the readings for the day celebrating St. Luke the Evangelist. ¬†In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul writes, “Luke alone is with me.” ¬†As Pastor explained, Luke, a physician, stayed with Paul and cared for him in his final days before he was killed by the Romans. ¬†Luke made sure Paul was fed, clothed, and that he was not alone. And, like Luke, there are people in this world who stand strong and help people in the hard days. I thought back again to my time in hospice and how many wonderful nurses and doctors I met, and how many families I met who stood strong while watching their loved one dying.

And then I realized that this was my model for parish nursing, just as in hospice nursing: “We will be with you.” ¬†That’s mercy. We cannot prevent all disease, we cannot prevent death, but just as our Lord is such a gracious God, ” being rich in mercy” as Paul writes in Ephesians, we are a merciful church. I can’t prevent anyone at my church from becoming sick or dying, but we can make sure that they are not alone. We can walk with them. We can hold their hands and serve them until they go to heaven, and our Lord says to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest now.” ¬†It’s¬†not¬†sexy, it doesn’t look “busy” or involve paperwork, and there’s no Rick Warren-certified program on how to set up a parish nursing ministry based solely on the Lord’s mercy, but here it is. It doesn’t distract from Word and Sacrament; instead, it is a natural outgrowth of Word and Sacrament. May God continue to bless it in the days to come.

Living a Life of Grace

Grandma’s heart was beating irregularly, and she was having trouble breathing. Mom took her to the hospital. The hospital stay went pretty well. They converted her heart back to a normal rhythm, but she was weakened. Maybe she had a heart attack in July, the doctor said. It was hard to say.

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Grandma and I on her 80th birthday

I was concerned and came out to see her in the hospital.  Before I came out, she was declining so quickly, I thought maybe she should go on hospice. I went up to the ICU where they were monitoring her rhythm closely. She looked tired, but she looked well. I was relieved when I saw her. She had oxygen on, but she could move around and sit in a chair.  Mom and I helped get her moved down to a regular room.

We thought she might be discharged the next day. She needed rehab, just to get stronger. She was still on oxygen. Mom had to work, and¬†I sat with Grandma in her room. ¬†She ate pancakes decorated with a real flower for breakfast and talked to me all day long, about wonderful things, about mundane things. She just talked and talked without ever seeming tired. We caught up on each other because I hadn’t been there in awhile, and I realized how much I had missed her. Her blood pressure was high, and she said, “Oh, my blood pressure has never been high before in my whole life.” Her blood pressure had always been low, good genes. But her heart was failing; her lungs had fluid. My heart was sinking. Still, we hoped. I put off thoughts of hospice and hoped.

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Grandma and me when I was 5 or 6

The next day, they discharged her from the hospital. Mom and I drove her to the rehab place. After a couple hours, a nurse finally came in to greet her. Mom and I were not really happy about this place, but what could we do? She was tired, she was already there, and she said she was fine. I kissed her goodbye and told her that I loved her.

In less than¬†two weeks, she had¬†pneumonia. She went back to¬†the hospital for a couple¬†weeks, but the pneumonia wasn’t responding to any of the antibiotics. Her heart went back into atrial fibrillation. When I talked to her on the phone, she was short of breath. Mom told me she was seeing Grandpa and other people in our family who had passed away at her bedside. I knew what that meant.

She died in the middle of the night on October 10, back at the nursing home, on hospice. Mom was with her.

Everybody’s life matters, but some people live quiet, seemingly ordinary lives that make so much difference to others. My grandma was named Grace, and she¬†lived up to her name. She taught me some things about living a¬†life of grace:

  • Family comes first, yet friends are very important. Grandma had friends when she died that she knew pretty much her whole life. ¬†She took an interest in people. Though she certainly didn’t agree with everything that everyone did (for example, she thought that her sister’s husband was quite silly for not eating ketchup or potato chips because they cost so much more than tomatoes or potatoes), she was kind. She even liked the grumpy people; she knew their hardships.

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    My grandma (right) and her friends
  • Be positive. Grandma lost her husband of 50+ years, she lost her vision and her ability to drive. But she was a positive person and didn’t complain much. When we visited her, she always seemed upbeat and friendly.
  • Help other people. Grandma maybe had one¬†paying job her whole life, but she always volunteered. She filled the candles at church every week for many years. She was on the Ladies Guild, she typed the bulletin, she brought Meals on Wheels to people, she worked in the Lutheran thrift store. She always kept busy. What she did may not have seemed heroic, but it was the little things that make a difference in unassuming, but real ways.

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. -Gandalf in The Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey (movie)

  • Make everyone feel welcome. My pastor once said, “It’s not our job to make another human being feel shame.” I know Grandma wasn’t perfect, but that’s how she lived as I knew her. I’m sure I did things in my life that she didn’t approve of, but she always loved and welcomed me home. She made an effort for people. She baked chocolate chip cookies and tons of gingersnaps. She made the best potato salad I’ve ever had. She cooked well and in so doing, loved well.
  • Faith is very important. Grandma didn’t quote Bible verses to me; we didn’t have sophisticated theological discussions. She just trusted her Lord. She went to church every week, and attended the same church for decades without shopping around, no matter who the pastor was. She was loyal; she made it her home. Her faith was quiet but strong.
  • Be curious about the world and about your heritage. My grandpa and grandma were avid travelers, especially to Scandinavian Europe. They had relatives in Denmark and Germany, and corresponded with and visited them. They kept in touch with a¬†foreign exchange student they had when my mom was in high school and went over to Uruguay to visit her not too many years before my grandpa died.

10563058_10204823436568444_506085236289800467_nShe taught me a lot, and I miss her so much. I miss her love, her kindness, her faith. But I have hope; I know I will see her again.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  -Psalm 73:26

My Small Adventures

My family knows I’ve been craving a weekend camping lately. ¬†To sit out under the stars at night, ponder life in front of a campfire…well, to me, there’s nothing better. ¬†It’s my happy place, where I can relax. No stop lights, no deadlines, no something I needed to make happen and didn’t, no stress. It’s been awhile since I’ve camped, though. Life interferes with my adventures.

I think over again my small adventures
My fears, those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things I had to get and reach
And yet there is only one great thing
The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world
-“Old Inuit Song”

In spite of life, we’ve had some amazing times. We’ve hiked up to the most amazing waterfall in Kings Canyon, and on the way back, we encountered a mama bear and two cubs. ¬†They were so cute! ¬†Like big teddy bears…that can maul you.

I’ve felt the peace of walking along a shaded, cool fern canyon in northern California.

I’ve discovered the beauty of a wide desert landscape…open, quiet, and yet so loud. ¬†And what a sunrise.

IMG_3297My favorite place in the world is the Cedar Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park. All your senses are engaged: the fresh smell of the pine trees, the rushing sound of the Kings River churning below your campsite, the sunlight slowly drifting along the sides of the canyon walls, the infinite stars twinkling down at you at night, the bear ambling towards you as you sit on a rock pondering life just before bed. I’ve never been anywhere prettier…or more terrifying.

zz_5888One of my favorite adventures was whitewater rafting.  We were able to raft on the Kings River before the drought lowered the water level,  and I felt the cool water splash on me as we tumbled down class III and IV Rapids. Part roller coaster, part restful cruise on one of the most stunning rivers in California: ecstasy!

Another time on a Boy Scouts trip, Nate and I tipped over¬†an inflatable kayak, and I tumbled down class III rapids of the Kern River. The water was refreshing but fast. I laid back in the three point position the guides taught us and prayed. I wasn’t scared of drowning, but I sure was scared of breaking my tailbone on the rocks below me! ¬†Thankfully, nothing but a bruise or two.

I love camping so much, I’ve taken my two kids camping by myself before. It rained one evening, and the kids and I sat in the car eating our dinner because no food could be in tents (due to bears). ¬†I was so proud of myself that I could start a fire and cook our dinner in the rain. And I love the sound of raindrops on a tent. Then the next day I decided to take them on a 20 mile drive down a winding road to see the river. I was naive about the perils of little kids in the backseat and twisty¬†roads, but luckily for me, no one actually vomited in the car.IMG_2053

My love for the outdoors and my faith easily connect. One of the things that has been obvious to me most of my life is that the earth is so sublime, it has to have been created by Someone who loves beauty…who is beauty personified. ¬†Every beautiful thing on this earth points to God and hints of somewhere else, somewhere holy. That’s why we are attracted to it, that’s why we’re in awe when we’re near it. We crave goodness, holiness, beauty, truth. ¬†It’s written into us.

Still, beauty is often not “safe.” And that’s part of the fun of camping too. The unexpected bear, a deer six feet from you, a twisted ankle crossing streams on wet logs. ¬†God, in His holiness, is not “safe” either. ¬†We are right to fear Him. He is all-powerful. But we trust in Him because, as C.S. Lewis wrote in the Narnia series about Aslan, “Safe? ¬†Who said anything about being safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” We know He’s good, because He did not spare His own Son for us, because the Word tells us He loves us. And because He shows us His loving mercy every day.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing ‚ÄĒ to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from ‚ÄĒ my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” C.S. Lewis, “Till We Have Faces.”

Someday, we’ll be in heaven, face to face, with that beauty, and we will finally understand why we have such a longing here on earth. We will be in our true home. Until then, I really can’t wait to go camping again.

Glimpses of Good

When we listen to the news or watch our Facebook feeds lately, it’s all bad news. Unborn babies harvested for their body parts, shootings, disasters, terrorism, persecution of Christians around the world, etc. Some of the abominable things going on in our country we need to know about, so we can change it, or know how to vote next year. Some of it, maybe we don’t need to know about so much, if there’s nothing we can do about it. Unfortunately, evil will always be with us here on earth. And constantly hearing about bad things all the time is very wearying.

It’s so wearying that sometimes I feel practically collapsed from the weight of it, and I find myself yearning for goodness. No more evil. Pure goodness.

For peace from above and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.

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I find some relief in being at home, in hanging out with friends, my husband, my kids, and in listening to music instead of the news. But there is only one person who is Good, who brings me rest down to my soul. In Mark 10, when the Rich Young man calls Jesus “good teacher” and asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus says, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”

Jesus is Good, because He is God. Unlike us, He’s not a “mostly good” person who sometimes makes mistakes. He’s only good, so good He righted the corruption of sin all around Him constantly, healing people, raising them from the dead. They only had to touch the smallest part of Him, the hem of His robe even, to be made right with His goodness. His Word is as powerful now to heal people’s souls and to give them rest.And that because He, who knew no sin, no evil, took it all upon Himself, suffering a physical and spiritual separation from God, from Good, on the Cross.

For those who work to bring peace, justice, health, and protection in this and every place, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.

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He heals my brokenness. I find refuge in His forgiveness, in tasting His body and blood, in remembering my baptism when He claimed me-even me!–as His. And I try to recognize the glimpses of good that He gives me here on a fallen earth. I see the picture of the love between Christ and His bride, the Church, in my marriage and in the marriages of my friends. I see Godly kindness: someone handing out water bottles to people standing in the sun protesting at Planned Parenthood, the people at my church praying for each other and for the lost. I see glimpses of good in the beauty of God’s creation when I hike. I see glimpses of good in people who cannot watch evil. I admire those pro-lifers who have not been able to watch the Center for Medical Progress’ videos because they would get sick.  It means there is something in their very bodies that fights against that evil, and that goodness is of God.  It gives me hope.  Hope in Him.

For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy. 

I watch my children growing up in the love of the Lord, and I pray that as they grow up and see the uglier sides of life, that they do not become cynical.  I want them to seek goodness, truth, and beauty. I want them to yearn to take refuge under God’s wings, and to keep going back to church for more and more of that loving goodness. There is enough ugly in the world.  We must not forget to take our rest in His goodness as often as possible. For that Goodness is true, and it will triumph over evil in the end.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of all the saints, let us commend ourselves, one another, and our whole life to Christ, our Lord.  To You, O Lord.