A Prayer for the Brokenhearted and Upset

Written after a vote for the disaffiliation of several churches from the Upper New York Annual Conference. Several people, including me, are upset and hurting. People are having sleepless nights over the question of whether or not our liabilities will outweigh our assets after paying settlements under the Child Victim Act out of our reserves while these churches walk away from the settlement we made together as a community. Will we have enough to pay for pensions both for those who remain and for those who serve the new denomination in retirement? Individuals feel harmed, wounded, and are in pain.

What do we do in these moments? What do we do when we are upset or angry? What do we do when we raise our voice and still end up watching as others walk away despite our concerns? On my end, I acknowledge my pain, acknowledge where it hurts, acknowledge what I desire, and ask God to help. This descending syllabic poem (a nonet) comes from that place:

Broken hearted people ache within
as our life together shatters.
We once lived in communion.
For those who are angry
and those who are hurt;
mercy hungry,
seeking hope,
pour forth

Judgment and Domestic Violence

“Grateful for God’s forgiving love, in which we live and by which we are judged, and affirming our belief in the inestimable worth of each individual, we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the gospel, not alone to the ends of earth, but also to the depths of our common life and work.”

“Preamble to the Social Principles,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2016.

What are the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church? Earlier in the preamble to the Social Principles within the Book of Resolutions, the Social Principles self-identify themselves as existing outside of church law. The principles “are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.”

The Social Principles are neither binding by church law nor restrictive of church member behavior. They are a work born of prophetic zeal and idealism which in the end hopefully points us towards a more holistic understanding of the world around us.

Why am I bringing this up during Domestic Violence Awareness month? I would point out at least two things about the paragraph that I originally quoted. 

First, the Social Principles point towards the value of each individual. Yesterday my post pointed out that there should be a place for redemption in the church. Today I wanted to point out that even when redemption takes place, the redemption of another person’s life does not diminish the importance of wholeness and healing in the life of the victims of domestic violence.

Each person has inestimable worth and part of our common work is to affirm that value in the lives of people who have been demeaned, denigrated, or diminished through the sinful actions of others. Victims of Domestic Violence can feel broken, worthless, or even worth less than others. The lives of people who have gone through this experience are valuable and they are worthy of both God’s love and a loving place in God’s community.

Second, I want to point out that this paragraph points out that we both live within the forgiving love of God and are subject to judgment through and by that love. I’m generally not a hellfire and damnation preacher, but I do not deny that judgment will one day come for us all. I believe that God is far more gracious and kind than us, and I also believe wholeheartedly that God’s loving kindness sees and counts every tear and wound inflicted through our broken behavior and actions. 

As a survivor of Domestic Violence myself, there are times when I honestly do not want to be forgiving. In those moments, there are times when I can only move forward by handing my pain over to my loving God. I can let go of a deathgrip on my anger, pain, and hurt because I understand that in time God will take care of things. 

I don’t need to be vengeful for any vengeance necessary is in the hands of a God who is both kinder and better equipped to bring judgment without cruelty. I don’t need to carry anger around in my heart, for the pain which would fuel my anger doesn’t need to rest within me. I can let God care for the situation and move forward with life. 

Judgment may come, but I don’t need to be the judge. Retribution may come, but I don’t need to be dealing it out. I don’t have to do a thing to harm the people who harmed me, for God will care for those who have done wrong. I am a person of inestimable value and I don’t need to cheapen my value by carrying around worthless and harmful things like rage, anger, and hatred. God has those things, so I can move forward with life without worrying about them every day.

If you have been through such pain, I invite you to consider that God both loves you and will one day deal with the sinfulness of the world. There can be  healing and there can be wholeness even after everything that both you and I have gone through. It is not easy to hand over such things to God, but I invite you to consider what life might be like without carrying the baggage of pain, anger, and hatred with you everywhere you go. 

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

A Place for Both

“We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. We encourage the Church to provide a safe environment, counsel, and support for the victim and to work with the abuser to understand the root causes and forms of abuse and to overcome such behaviors. Regardless of the cause or the abuse, both the victim and the abuser need the love of the Church. While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God’s redeeming love.”

¶161.II.H. “The Nurturing Community, Family Violence and Abuse” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2016

What does it mean that the church is a place for both the abuser and the abused? This question resonates deeply with me as a survivor of Domestic Violence. Can there be space in the church for both me and the person who tore me to shreds?

Yes. The short answer is that the church absolutely must be broad enough for both the abused and the abusers. Although I have my issues with the imperfect nature of the Book of Resolutions, to the best of my ability I understand that the church must make room both for those who need redemption and for those who lives need to be redeemed from the places of desolation, sorrow, and shattering.

Why? Wouldn’t it be easier to lean into the more judgmental parts of scripture? Although I generally refer to the larger section of the scriptures as the Hebrew Scriptures, can’t God “go Old Testament” once in a while with the fire, flames, and what not? Won’t God bring damnation to those who have hurt people deeply to the point where it feels imprinted on the soul? Aren’t there places where the wicked find out that they can’t have their cake and eat it too?

Absolutely those places exist in scripture. Honestly, my soul rests better at night knowing that such places exist in the theological life of the church. That being said, we can do better as a people than rely on damnation as our first recourse to sin in the world. Who among us is without sin in their lives?

Once upon a time, most of us crawled on the earth as toddlers. Each of us grew up in the same world that was filled with imperfection and brokenness. Some of those who abuse were once the innocent ones being abused. Some of those who abuse walked down dark roads none of us would choose to walk.

Would we want to be left to our own sorrow and judgment after we went on such a journey? If there truly is a chance for redemption, would any of us truly ask for redemption to pass us by? Would we want to suffer when grace might lead us back to life and lifegiving ways? Is that what we would want if we walked down such roads in those shoes?

We are called to love one another. We are called to treat each other like we would want to be treated. We are called to live lives filled with the unmerited favor known as grace. Judgment belongs to the Lord and there may come a day when judgment falls, but between now and then we are called to lives of faith, hope, and love.

Yes, that means that my abuser may one day shelter under the wings of the God that shelters me. Yes, that means that the Holy Spirit may need to sit us both down one day or keep us under opposite wings of the divine Mothering Hen (Mt. 23:37).

Should such a day come, I will ask God to help me to make room, even if I still have moments where the tears flow and I ask for God to “go Old Testament” every now and again. I will stretch for God as I believe and ask God to help me in my unbelief.

Even after such a moment, I do have to state clearly that forgiving and making room for an abuser does not justify abusive behavior, ever. Also, let’s be absolutely clear that I don’t need to be the person to bring my abuser back into the community of life. While I may give my blessing for their restoration, I do not feel the need to do it myself. If you have been abused, it might not be your responsibility either.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Doctor Appointments

The doctor’s appointment is over an hour away from where I live. I need to care for my eyes, especially as I have two potential eye conditions that can go awry quickly if left without care. For the past month it has felt like I have a loose stitch on the cornea I once had replaced and it is almost constantly in discomfort.

If I go to the appointment, will I still have money to buy my kids Christmas presents? If I go to the appointment, will they accept it if we end up eating peanut butter and jelly the next time I see them? Will they still love me if I spend the money I will need to spend on my eyes instead of spending that money on them?

On one level, this post has nothing to do with Domestic Violence. There’s a whole fleet of unrelated issues that I face as a person going through divorce at a distance from his children. On another level, this way of thinking is directly related to living with someone who taught me that caring for my needs was problematic and caused my family to suffer. Domestic Violence is not just about people hitting other people. Domestic Violence includes systematically tearing down others verbally until they forget how to care for their own needs.

As I look at the map, I hear those words telling me that I’m wasting money that my kids could use. At the same time, I need to take care of myself if my kids want to have a father who can see well enough to drive to see them. Sometimes I do not need to get another cup of coffee, but this particular need is not a question of whether or not I deserve a cup of coffee. There are legitimate needs in my life that need to be cared for despite being taught repeatedly that I needed to dismiss my own needs for the sake of my kids or the person who was once my wife.

It is okay to care for yourself. I have heard words that may be like those you might have heard or are hearing. Friend, it is okay to have legitimate needs and to fulfill those needs. There are times in life when it is absolutely valid to spend money to care for your needs, because those things are needs and not wants. You don’t need to be ashamed.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Log Filled Eyes and Surviving

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you.

Matthew 7:1-6, CEB

One of the hardest things for me to accept along the path I have walked was my own need to have perspective. Along life’s journey I had come to believe that it was judgmental to look critically at someone else’s actions, especially if I knew that I was imperfect. I have had to learn to have perspective.

I am a trained Biblical scholar who has spent over a decade teaching other people to take the scriptures seriously. One of the largest tools in my toolbox is to model a response to scripture by considering deeply how the scriptures affect my every day life and living in light of those considerations. In particular, I have felt compelled by both belief and position to move past being judgmental to a place of loving acceptance of other people.

As a result when things happened that were unacceptable, I did my best to look for the log in my own eye. When I was yelled at for fulfilling a basic need, the assumption I immediately made was that the thing I thought I needed was the issue. Many times over the years I had wanted things that were less than necessary, so I thought that the needs I had in the those moments must now must also be unnecessary.

Over the years I spent a lot of time looking for the log in my own eye. I thought that all of the problems my family faced were my fault. I listened to the words over and over until I agreed with my partner when she stated that everything wrong in our life together was my fault. If I wasn’t so broken, things would be great. If I wasn’t so needy, she wouldn’t yell. If I could do a little better, she wouldn’t need to laugh at me.

In hindsight, the relationship was toxic to the point that I really did start having a problem that needed fixing. The primary problem was not that I fell short in many ways, although I still had shortcomings and still have shortcomings. The problem was that I took the good life that God had given to me and kept handing it over to someone who would stomp on what was good in me, turn, and attack me.

To be absolutely clear, the problem was not that I was too judgmental and should immediately stop to find out what was wrong with me. The problem was that I valued myself so little that I forgot one of the most holy tenets of my faith: that God loved me and cared about me deeply. While this was happening, I taught others that God was not okay with such behavior out in the world. The things I taught did not line up with the life I lived.

In practice, I forgot that God was not okay with the mocking laughter or the verbal abuse inside my marriage. Even as I taught that others should never hit their spouses or partners, I continued to forgive the pain of what I considered brief but forgivable moments throughout the years. I had all the grace I could muster for others but accepted no part of that grace in my own life.

I didn’t deserve such behavior and I should have asked for help. If you are going through something similar, you don’t deserve such treatment either. Years later, I am working hard to get to a point where I can look in a mirror without hearing the words that I should never have accepted in the first place. It hurts to admit it, but I can’t look at the good person in the mirror without hearing how I’m “pathetic.”

Being forgiving is a wonderful and noble thing. Humility is an important and powerful gift of the Spirit. Neither forgiveness nor humility make Domestic Violence acceptable. From my perspective as a Christian, I believe that each one of us have been given gifts that are holy and good. We should never throw them before the swine of the world that will trample them and attack us for sharing our lives.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Complete Personhood

It can be easy to overlook the underlying issues that exist when considering the effects of Domestic Violence within the family. One issue that can be easily overlooked is how acts of Domestic Violence can affect the wellbeing of others. It may seem overly simplistic, but the simple things are often those most often overlooked.

As stated in other posts this month, the folks over at DomesticViolence.org wisely share that “Domestic violence shows itself in a number of different forms, whether it’s punching, slapping, choking, or threatening, manipulating, yelling and many others.” They are absolutely correct when they state that such acts are never okay, but why?

I like to rely on the wisdom of others as a United Methodist minister and as a person. One document of living wisdom from the ecclesial world is the Book of Resolutions, which is a collection of non-binding statements which often express the ideals and sentiments of the church as gathered every quadrennium (except for 2020) since 1792. The process of holy conferencing has not always been perfect, but the theory behind acts of holy conferencing remains sound (in my opinion).

The 2016 Book of Resolutions is an imperfect document created by a people who believe in striving towards perfection. The principles of Holy Conferencing helped to create this imperfect document. Even imperfect, the imperfections of this work do not preclude it from holding wisdom. The 2016 Book of Resolutions states in the section on the family within “The Nurturing Community” in ¶161.II.B. :

“We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity. We affirm the importance of loving parents for all children. We also understand the family as encompassing a wider range of options than that of the two-generational unit of parents and children (the nuclear family). We affirm shared responsibility for parenting where there are two parents and encourage social, economic, and religious efforts to maintain and strengthen relationships within families in order that every member may be assisted toward complete personhood.”

¶161.II.B. “The Nurturing Community, The Family” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2016

The final statement of that section speaks to a family that ideally helps each person to become whole in each part of their personhood. Although the facets of human life are philosophically debatable, the aim for families to help each person become whole in body, spirit, and soul is an admirable aim.

What happens when we take the people in that system and shatter the dynamics between the members? Can a person be whole in spirit and soul as their body is covered in bruises? Can a person have a truly healthy body when their spirit is domineered and diminished by another person who should be nurturing them?

It is very easy to stand in judgment over situations where there is domestic violence: Are people being too sensitive? Couldn’t that person just say something? Shouldn’t they just stand up for themselves? Isn’t that person just asking for it?

It is easy to dismiss domestic violence from the outside, but from the inside things may not be so easily dismissed. Why doesn’t the person with thirty pounds of muscle just walk away from the person hitting them? Maybe they are frightened, threatened, or intimidated. Even if we never know why such a situation exists, it is still important to stand up for the ideal that every person should be provided a chance to be a whole and complete person.

Wholeness looks different from person from person, but each person should have a chance to live into their own personhood. Just like with the Book of Resolutions, things may not be perfect yet, but today is a good day to begin to work towards a more perfect tomorrow.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Silenced by Fear

A while back I had a deep conversation with someone I trust deeply. She asked me why I haven’t shared my poetry lately. I told her that isn’t that I have stopped writing poetry: I have one that I’ve been working on for over a month, which is unheard of on my end. Instead, my blog has remained empty due to a sense of fear, frustration, and worry.

How do you share poetry that is deeply personal when you feel as if your abuser will turn it against you in court? How do you express the depth of sorrow that fills every inch of your being when such an acknowledgment might lead to people saying that such expressions are marks of weakness? How can you be expected to care for children if you write these things that make you appear weak before others?

The poem I am writing is about the pain in and wounds on my knuckles after long sessions with my punching bag. As I burn calories striking the punching bag, my hands often end up aching deeply. At times, the skin has broken. Once, it took weeks for the tear over my knuckle to heal. More than once I have sat in my car, in my chair, at my desk, and even stood in the pulpit while feeling my fingers and knuckles throb from exercising the night before.

If I share a poem about hitting a boxing bag, will that be seen as a sign that I am violent? If I share how it has been a long time since I have felt safe, will that be enough to overcome the presumption that I must be a violent person just because I am a cisgender white male?

Do people know how my weight has made me feel unable to flee for decades? Do people know that my professional role and personal beliefs have often conspired to make me feel as if I have had to take the abuse time and time again? Do people know about the memories from being struck, the pain from hearing the derisive laughter, or even the sorrow of having children taken away because on the outside I may look like a bad guy at first glance? Do people know how I felt as if I would lose my job if I ever said anything and how it felt when my abuser acted as if nobody would ever believe me?

So, can I share that poem? Can I share poetry about how the bag welcomes my feelings when the world might not? Can I share a verse or two about how the pain of bloody knuckles sometimes makes me feel real and grounded during a troubling time in my life? Can I share that my knuckles ache but I am okay with that pain? Can I share that it means more to me when I choose to turn the other cheek when I actually know that I have an option? Can I share that the bloody knuckles come with the knowledge that I need not be afraid?

I can, but even in a month where the veil is pulled back on this issue in my life, I probably will not share that poem. It isn’t ready and I don’t know that I’m ready to trust others with my wounded soul when they read those words. Instead I will simply ask others whether or not they understand that people are not always the way they look on the surface.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. For the month of October I am using the platform I have as an individual and as a clergyperson to raise awareness of this issue and to work towards a better future for all people. I am raising these issues both as a person with a moral obligation and as a person who has experienced domestic violence. As the Companion Litany to the Social Creed of the United Methodist Church states:

“Today is the day God deplores violence in our homes and streets,
rebukes the world’s warring madness,
humbles the powerful and lifts up the lowly.
And so shall we.”

United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2016, ¶ 166. “OUR SOCIAL CREED”

Domestic Violence knows no boundaries. People of every persuasion can be affected by domestic violence regardless of their gender identity, cultural norms, religious persuasion, and any every other form of distinction. As it says over at DomesticViolence.org, domestic violence “affects not only women, but men and children, of all different races, status, religions, and culture. No one is immune to it.”

Throughout this month I will likely share a bit of my experience, share how I have begun to heal, and hopefully highlight parts of the conversation in and around these topics, but my voice is not the only voice. Read widely, read wisely, and be prepared for both the joy of successes and the sorrow of struggles. 

A word of unasked for advice: Like most moments in life, this is a wonderful month to consider the old phrase “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” before diving into the comment sections of people you do not know.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Oakdale Mall Poem

I had an eye appointment in Johnson City and went to a store where I used to take my children to look for Christmas presents and winter coats. I wanted a coat as I have been losing weight. It is closing and so many places where I took my children for six years stand empty, closed, or closing. I wrote this poem

Some days I wander,
walking past empty storefronts
Where family walked
looking for nice and warm clothes
to bundle up family

Now its always cold
and the memories burn low
Time changes faces
as old sweaters keep fraying
and worn sneakers still trudge on

Ramen Reflections

Ramen noodles soak
Mushrooms and veggies draw in
more than flavored broth:
they draw in hope for today
and give strength for tomorrow.

This morning started off well: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a tall glass of water before biking down to the church. The wonderful thing about biking to work is that you get to save gas money and help to care for the planet. Hours later, the crew leaves the church from the spring cleanup day. I head into my office and begin to work on cards thanking people for their service to the church today and for their service in helping to cleanup at Casowasco last Saturday.

After everyone has come and gone, the time for lunch draws near. I put a package of ramen, four dehydrated mushrooms, and a quarter cup of dehydrated veggies underneath the coffee maker’s spout. Twenty minutes later, I have Keurig Ramen, a common meal these days.

It isn’t the church’s fault that I’m not eating steak today. While I’d love to blame my former partner, it is not completely her fault either. It certainly is not the fault of the three blessings that I love with all of my heart and soul. We live in a broken world and after I am done voluntarily supporting my children who live across the state against my desires, I honestly have less in my bank account than I had when I served a church in seminary. I definitely did not see this place on my journey coming: I would have spent more time learning to cook better foods for fewer people for less.

For lunch today, my ramen looks back at me. I wrote a tanka about the ramen as I contemplated my lunch. I still wonder, what does the ramen see?

I hope it sees someone who is grateful for a good meal. I hope it sees someone who is grateful for what he has been given instead of someone who spends all of his time lamenting what is not right here. Actually, let me reword that: “I hope it sees someone who is working to be more grateful for what he has been given and to be less focused on what is lacking.” The intention is important, for I know I have a role in choosing how I react to these moments.

We don’t always get to choose what comes our way in this life. When we slow down and listen to the Spirit, we can be given a choice about how we react. I choose to react to these moments with hope.

Haikus and Tankas for Passing the Peace

I have been working on finding creative ways to “Pass the Peace” in a hybrid situation. What do we do as a people while the people in the sanctuary say hello to the people around them without unmuting everyone and causing a general chaos on Zoom? I wrote a set of haikus and tankas to share over Zoom while people are passing the peace so that everyone can feel a bit of love directed their way!

Feel free to use and share. Attribution is appreciated.

Friend, we pass the peace:
Across the miles may God's heart
embrace your good soul

Shalom beloved.
May the peace of God surpass
all of your worries.

Oh, beloved friend,
may the Blessed Spirit hold you
and love all of you

Jesus cares for you.
You are called to renewed life.
May peace fill that life

May God's peace rain down
to water your soul's garden.
May your life blossom

Softly like the snow
may peace build up in your life
so that if you slip
you might land in the middle
of a soft cloud of God's grace

Like sunshine at dawn,
may God color clouds with hope
and drive out darkness

May the sprouts of love
bloom in the sky of your life
as peace grows in you

May the gift of peace
that has been lovingly wrapped
by the hands of Christ
bring joy into the deep parts
of who you are in Jesus

May skilful fingers
strum a song of peace and joy
in your song of life

May God's peace leaven
and bubble in you with hope
as the Baker smiles

We believe in God
and seek God's peace. even as
God believes in us

May you hear God's song
when the bells of life ring out
and offer us peace.

May God's peace shine down
like the stars that light the world
even through the clouds

Like a filled donut
May God's peace cram into you
until it spills out

May the breeze of peace
blow across your life's valleys
and dust you with joy

May your life's story
be filled with moments of peace
as God works in you
to write gracious new chapters
with the flair of the Spirit.

May God's peace bless you
even when you recognize
that life is hard work

May you never trip
as you walk the road of peace
paved by Christ's great love.

May the peace of God
bring light to your darkest day
and joy through all things

As the bee brings life
as it flits through the blossoms,
may your life be blessed
as peace reaches into you
and leaves behind marks of love

May a snapshot show
the Light of Peace defying
all your life's shadows

May peace refresh you
like a cold drink on God's porch
on a hot, dry day

May the peace of God
bless you like a when blanket
when life's cold storms swirl

“Here” and Life

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day Prompt for today is “here.”

This has been a really rough week for me. I have had more than one wise individual in my life point out that it was likely always going to end this way. One friend with a long history in the legal profession said “If you were the mother, things would probably be very different. Nobody wants to be the judge who gets a reputation for separating kids from their mothers.”

So, I have fewer rights and will see my kids less. The system is broken and there’s nothing I can do about it but pray. What’s my consolation today?

I weep, Jesus weeps, but we’ll laugh.
I feel impoverished, Jesus is sacrificing, but we’ll be rich.
I am empty, Jesus is emptying himself, and we’ll be full again.
I had to choose my religious profession or more visitation, Jesus faced persecution, but there’ll be blessing.

Also, those who laugh will mourn.
Those who feel rich will be impoverished.
Those who are full will be emptied.
Those who have everyone speak well of them will go the same way as the false prophets.

In the end, it is going to be okay. Justice is in the hands of a just God who sees what has happened. My attorney tried to lighten the mood by asking if lightning bolts or karma would strike first, but that’s far above my paygrade. Another friend later chimed in that karma may make me spend the rest of my days wondering if God answers prayers, but it isn’t really about that kind of thinking for me either.

Maybe they’ll repent someday? Maybe they’ll seek forgiveness and make amends for their sins? I have no idea, but their sins are in the hands of God, not mine. I don’t need to be vengeful as God is still God. I don’t need to threaten anyone with wrath, because the wrath of the New Testament falls on people who choose to bring it into their lives. What comes out of the lips comes from the heart, regardless of whether those are words of blessings or empty accusations. In the meantime, I’ve texted my kids that I love them and now am choosing a picture.

When everything was in the hole Tuesday after a sleepless Monday night, I knew where I could go to find solace, peace, and safety. I went to church. Sometimes I go and meet with my lawyer on Grand Island, and I pull into my home church’s parking lot to just be near the place where so many holy things took place over the years. On Tuesday, I went to the church to work. As I worked, I was drawn into a world bigger than myself. By the time we had Council, we were having discussions about how the church was a blessing to us and how we can share that blessing with others. Being at the church transformed my day, my attitude, and my hope. The church truly is a a place where we can just be “here.”

“Found” and being loved

There’s a line that stuck out in our devotional reading today. The line says, “When we look in the mirror this week, we can say ‘Jesus loved me enough to set me free.’ “

Those words are powerful words to share in the life of anyone going through a difficult time. When I wrote those words over two years ago, I do not think I could have ever imagined how heavily they would land this week. I really needed to hear the simple truth that I am more than simply loved. I am loved so much that Jesus sets me free.

What a powerful proclamation to hear as people who can sometimes feel empty, hungry, impoverished, or reviled! What a powerful word of great love and joy.

The #rethinkchurch Lenten Photo-A-Day word for today is “found.” What picture fits with this concept today? This beloved person needs to be “found” today. Come, Holy Spirit! Refresh and renew this person who needs to know they are more than simply loved. He was worth God’s saving work.

A Court Prayer

Why seek victory?
Peace and love; all I desire.
I love my children.
Their mother also loves them.
We both love and we both long.

They live life halfway
without ever wanting this
chaos and discord.
They need their roots to sink in
and give them a peaceful life.

Where do we go now
when all is in the wild winds?
Tumbling through this life
as we wait to know what’s next
and each pray for an answer.

I don’t know it all.
YaH, You know what should come next
and I will listen,
even if I hear through tears.
Please watch over my children:
they matter more than I do.

“Celebrate” and a Flower for Palm Sunday

The #rethinkchurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Celebrate.” Today is Palm Sunday and there is celebration all around. Churches will sing the word “Hosanna!” Choirs will harmonize, bells will ring, and children will wave palm branches with the elder saints of the church.

To connect celebration with the events of today, I went through some of my favorite flower pictures to find a flower that was lovely enough for the Savior who enters Jerusalem. I came across this beautiful day lily in my favorite color.

I don’t own a cloak and I am not particularly fond of palm branches. I must confess that I cannot fold one of those crosses to save my life. I am grateful for palm branches as a symbol and would toss my cloak before Jesus if I had one. Instead, I present this picture of a flower.

Come, Lord Jesus. Save your people.

“Silent,”Peace, and Holy Week

The #rethinkchurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “silent.”

In our devotional today we are reading through a section of Matthew 10. Matthew 10:24-25 says:in the NRSV “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master

Throughout the gospels, the story of Christ is one where Jesus seeks out time alone with God. Jesus spends time with God in prayer. In my own experience, I have always equated those times to moments of silence. Although it does not say so, I cannot imagine the disciples falling asleep if their prayer was some form of prayer in motion.

There are times when we are called to intensive prayer. For me, that often means being in a place where I can still my mind and my thoughts. To be clearly honest, there are times that my mind has been absolutely still and clear in the midst of a tumultuous location like in a crowd. There have also been times when I have been in peaceful spaces without an ounce of peace in my soul. Silence and stillness are not always the same as being in a place of peace and stillness.

What is important to me as we approach Holy Week is finding a place where I can find peace and stillness. Forget what the world says stillness and peace should look like as we approach holy week and the cross; we need the peace that enables us to follow. Whether that peace is found in a loud crowd or a silent setting, the peace we need is far more important than the appearance of peace. The silence inside is far more important than the sound levels outside..

“Peace” and the Lake

The #rethinkchurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Peace.” In our devotional we encounter the moment where Jesus comes across a man who has been inundated with a swarm of demons that self-identifies as “Legion.” What a contrast we have with the idea of peace on one side and the idea of a forceful and tumultuous bunch on the other side.

I connect these two ideas in my mind with this picture of one of my favorite places on the nearby Interloken trail. Last fall, as sunset approached, I found myself walking home past this lake just as the sun began to go down over the lake. The view of the trees was absolutely gorgeous.

There were no hills filled with swine, but there was cattle mooing in the distance. There were neither graves nor frustrated demoniacs to break the silence. It was peaceful beyond belief.

One reason the man purportedly possessed by Legion was found in a cemetery was the belief that the devil and demons tended to frequent such places. The edge of settled lands, graveyards, and other places were considered havens for the demonic and the disgruntled. A lonely lake, miles from the nearest city and in a place that would be frankly far less accessible without modern roads and even manicured trails would be the exact kind of wilderness space where something as questionable might have been found in Jesus’ day. The wooded wilderness is where the wild things were thought to live.

Thankfully, I do not live back in Jesus’ day. I do not need to live in fear of what lives in the wilderness near that lake. I normally have a walking stick and a dog which likely scares away anything that is in the slightest bit frightening, mostly because they see a relative of a wolf and not the relative of a couch potato that I sometimes see.

I also know that the scarier things that once would fall squarely under the realm of demonic forces have begun to be understood and blessed through the God given giftedness of biologists, physicians, and doctors across the years from Jesus’ day through today. There can be hope in the wild spaces within because of both God’s blessing and the rigorous efforts of scholars over the years with wisdom, intelligence, and insight.

I look forward to getting to my favorite place again soon. It is not as wild as it once was, but still has a peace that echoes within my soul. May God bless us all with such places.

“Blessed” and Spending Time

The #rethinkchurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Blessed.” We read about the story of Mary and Martha’s confrontation during a visit with Jesus during our devotional reading for today. In reading John 12:1-8, we read the story of a pair of sisters. One of the sisters is busy caring for the needs of the visitors in a culturally appropriate way. The other sister is learning from Jesus instead of helping, which might not have fit many of that culture’s norms.

Today I picked a photo taken at a nearby restaurant during a recent visit with my kids. They were eating tortilla chips, playing, and having a great time together. Even my eldest seems pretty happy behind that hidden smirk.

I really cannot afford to eat out much with my kids when they visit. Eating out is expensive, especially when you can cook better food for less at home. Often, I find myself thinking a few days in advance of their visits about what we are going to eat, what I will prepare, and what snacks we can take on the road so that we won’t stop somewhere that will cost me an arm and a leg.

It may seem like eating out that day was an extravagance I cannot afford. My wallet agrees with that opinion, but for one afternoon a few visits back, there was time for laughter, joking around, and sitting with my kids instead of cooking a meal, serving a meal, and cleaning up the meal. It was such a blessing to just be with them and to be in their company.

I don’t know if the joy of being in someone’s company is why Mary stepped outside of cultural norms, but if it was, I completely understand. It is sometimes good to just be with someone as they go about life. Could Mary have listened while helping Martha? Maybe she could have done both, but I completely agree with Jesus. Mary was doing a pretty great thing by choosing to spend those moments the way that she did.

“Needs” and a Happy Sight

The #rethinkchurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Needs.” To be honest, there is absolutely no appropriate way that I can find to connect the word needs with both any photo in my collection and the theme of the devotional today.

In the devotional, the story we read today about Jesus’ life comes from John 9:1-40. In that story, Jesus brings sight into the life of a man who was born blind. To be entirely honest with you, I’ve never taken a photo of a blind person. The closest thing I have come to taking a photo of a blind person are the self-portraits I took when I had a corneal transplant a few years ago. My sight had grown so poor due to keratoconus that I was seeing quadruple at times in m one eye.

Nobody asked me the insanely pointed questions which were raised about the blind man in John 9. Nobody asked if I had keratoconus because my father or mother sinned. Nobody asked if my vision was hurt because of some great transgression. We don’t know everything about keratoconus, but it is likely that the latest medical journals do not point to divine punishment as a reason for a wacky cornea.

Instead, I chose a different picture for today. I chose a picture of a coffee pot brewing coffee on a camping trip two years ago. Why? Is it because I need coffee? Actually no, I was drinking tea at the time. Yes, there have been points in my life when I had foregone coffee for tea. Was it because everyone sometimes feels like they “need” a cup of something hot to start the day?

No, I shared this picture because it beautifully caught the flames, showed a moment of joy, and reminded me of a really happy sight in my past. Why was it a happy sight? It was a happy sight because someone donated a cornea and I can now see far better than seeing four images in one eye, and one image in the other.

Perhaps that’s the closest I will get to connecting this photo with the story of a blind person in need of compassion. While my story is not nearly as beautiful as the one in John 9, I have been in a place where I have been truly grateful to see. Sometimes the coffee pot is the most beautiful thing in front of us for a reason besides what it promises us. Sometimes it is just beautiful to see and have gratitude for sight.