Refining Fire

We’ve all seen the memes. And the jokes. Even the Christmas ornaments. 2020 was a dumpster fire. I have to admit, I’ve laughed. I’ve played into it. I’ve probably even said it. But is it true?

I believe that this last year had been hard. I know it has. It’s been hard on us physically, emotionally, and mentally. We’ve been lonely. We’ve lacked contact with others. It’s been hard on small businesses. It’s been hard for teachers and parents. It’s been hard on my single friends. It’s just been plain old hard.

But, you know what? Despite getting Covid, despite being quarantined twice, despite missing out on basketball and school activities, my 12 year old has told me numerous times that 2020 has stretched her. She’s learned and grown. If kids are saying these things, I think we need to listen.

In fact, I really want to propose something to you. I’m not sure that 2020 has been as much of a dumpster fire as it has a refining fire. 1Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. “

In facing the facts, we have been grieved by various trials. Collectively. Whether it’s death, job loss, financial struggle, relationship strain, or something else collectively we have been tried. We have grieved. And, trust me, our faith has been tested.

Never in my lifetime has our country been so divided. I don’t remember ever feeling like there’s so much us vs. them. Never has there been such a lack of nuance and understanding. It’s hard to even know what to do, how to react, or even how to feel.

But if this is a refining fire, what does that mean? What does it mean to be refined by fire?

God knows what your faith is like. He knows how much or what kind of faith we have. He doesn’t need to test us to figure that out. But sometimes we have no idea of what our faith is like. We need to see the results of our refined faith to realize what’s been there all along.

I have gone down some serious rabbit trails of gold refining videos. It’s so interesting and there can be nuance. But, you know the main drill. Take the gold, burn it with fire or chemicals, and watch the impurities separate from the gold. That’s not unlike us in fiery trials. Take one of us, put us in a trial, shake us up a bit, maybe stir the pot. . .and viola’. We discover what was there all along.

How has God been refining you in this time? Maybe you lost your job and you’ve had to rely on Him for finances. Maybe even for your literal daily bread. Maybe you got sick. Covid has affected you, and you’re still not physically the same. You’ve had to learn to slow down. You’ve had to rely on Him to pay your bills or take care of your children. I’m sure some of us have spent too much time inside, with our families, and we feel that we are lacking as parents. We’ve been refined and realized that God has provided this special family time to strengthen our bonds and make us better people.

Whatever it is. However you’ve been squeezed, walked through trials, or refined by fire, remember this. It is not in vain. It is so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold, will be found to result in praise and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus. It’s all to bring Him praise.

Study

I always looked at the story of 12 year old Jesus getting lost at passover as more of a call to keep yourself close to the Father. He asks his family, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) But Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Verse 46) Yes, people were amazed at his understanding, but he was listening, learning, studying.

Study is a spiritual discipline that we all should practice. The art of study isn’t just for intellectuals. It’s not just for our ethereal friends who enjoy that kind of thing. It’s for everyone. And it’s for our good. Jesus did it. He showed us by example not just how important it is to be near the Father, but how important it is to study His Word. I now see that 12 year old Jesus as practicing the art of study. He shows us how. He sets the example.

Study is a discipline for you, as well. From the most overstretched, tear stained, weary stay at home mom to the corporate business man to the server who just can’t catch a break, there is a time and a place to be in the Word. We make time for what matters, and I tell you this matters. It matters so much that Jesus himself did it. If you don’t think that fellow was busy, you’re mistaken. People were after him so much that he had to sneak away to catch a break. You can do this. Find a time.

Psalm 111:2 says, “The Lord’s works are great, studied by all who delight in them.” Do you delight in the Lord and in his works? Study them. It’s easier than you might think.

A leading in Lectio Divina

This was used during our church’s worship service this morning. It’s a little long, but I’m wondering if it might help you on your journey. This is a very basic example of, and leading through, Lectio Divina prayer. If you’ve ever been curious, give it a go.

Tomorrow will come, and life will keep moving on. Things will be ok.

History in the making. As I write, it’s the evening of the election. Not all polls are closed yet, and we are watching the news as they break things down state by state. I love sharing these moments with my kids. The oldest and youngest are home, and the middles are in a big city and a small town. A blue city and a red state. My blue city man child is very conservative and my red state middle girl fiercely fights for justice and tends to be a little more liberal. We are all so different.

We are different, aren’t we? Leading up to today some of us have been a little anxious. We’ve been told that there would be anger, maybe voting intimidation, even possible rioting in the streets. I haven’t seen any violence today. But I have seen kindness. And goodness.

My son works in a grocery store. The local, small business kind. A place where you get to know your customers and they get to know you. Today he saw a lot of red hats and blue t shirts. He got a lot of good natured ribbing from “the old guys.” No anger or accusatory words, just teasing and good natured questions. He voted before he went in, but no one wanted to know who he voted for. No one asked him to put their groceries back if he voted for the wrong person. He was the same kid that rang up their groceries a few days ago. Nothing about their relationship changed.

I have some really great neighbors. I mean, especially during this pandemic my neighbors have been looking out for each other. Politically, we are all different. But that doesn’t mean that the guys across the street don’t stop my boys when they’re shoveling snow and bring over their snowblower. It doesn’t mean the sweet sisters next door don’t look out for us and give us gardening advice. The gentleman a few yards down gave us tomato plants this summer. They were these delicious heirloom variety that were huge. I love my neighborhood. Regular people living among each other and treating each other well.

At work, in both of my jobs, I’ve never been asked to stop working because my politics were all wrong. I’ll still shop for you and deliver your groceries and make sure to do my very best to make you feel special. In the office, I love answering the phone, visiting, and pointing you in the right direction. No one has ever said, “Wait. Who are you voting for? Let’s just end this conversation now.”

Here’s what I predict. Our world will still keep moving. My neighborhood will still project kindness. My friends will look out for each other. We will still strive for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. My objectives, my goals, who I am inside and when no one is looking will not change. I will not change.

I’m guessing you will not change, either. Who you are, your character, that’s not going to change, is it? If your guy doesn’t win, are you giving up? Will you just stop fighting for justice and life and truth? Will you decide that goodness isn’t worth fighting for? Are you going to quit being a light in this dark world?

So, listen. If you are still anxious or angry or need a break, take a time out. Turn off the TV, put down the phone, go to bed. Let it go. The sun will rise, your neighbor will wave as you pass him on the street, you’ll give the kid that delivers your pizza an extra generous tip because, hey, life is hard right now and he’s trying. If you can’t change what happens on the national level, change what happens in your backyard. Volunteer. Guide. Help. Be the best person you can be. Today is the day. Now is the time.

Why Rhythms?

Why are rhythms so important? Why do we practice spiritual disciplines? What’s the point in fasting and feasting or in prayer and Sabbath? Why do we need them? Let me tell you.

I love water. Any kind of water. The sea, the ocean, a lake, a pond, all types of water are calming to me. I feel centered. Close to God. Calm. Even at the beach. This summer was so different, wasn’t it? Where I live there isn’t much opportunity to go to a beach. You have to want to, and it requires quite a drive. The nearest ones were closed all summer, but twice we took a little drive and went to a beach.

Because it’s 2020 and we don’t have to pretend to be cool and we have nostalgia for the beach, my 12 year old and I even bought some beach toys. We got there, laid out our towels, and began to build a sand castle. My favorite part, I have to admit, is the moat. I don’t know why, but I love the idea of a moat. Of the water encircling the castle and protecting the princess. Of being able to pull up the bridge on unsuspecting dangers.

When you’re building a sandcastle, the water for the moat usually comes last. You work on the castle, creating the layout, and then you begin to build this protective barrier. By the time the kiddos start to walk over, full buckets in hand, you’re ready for them to start filling it. And so it comes. It’s beautiful to me, honestly. A bucket of water is poured onto the already soft sand. It doesn’t waver, it doesn’t fall, it doesn’t spill over here and there. Why? Because it’s ready. Because while my daughter was building her castle I was methodically digging and shaping and creating this place where water would flow. I didn’t know exactly how, and I didn’t know exactly when, but I knew that the water would come. I knew that there would be a time when I could watch her pour out bucket after bucket into my molded and shaped sand, and it would hold. It would hold because I prepared that place.

That’s how it is with our disciplines. We repeat our prayers and our Sabbath days over and over. We ready ourselves for the work of the Holy Spirit. We dig and shape and mold and prepare. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is going to work. The Spirit will work but we don’t know when. We don’t know when or how or sometimes even why. But, the work will come. And we need to be ready.

So that’s why I love rhythms. It’s why I cherish moments of solitude. It’s why prayer, in all it’s forms, is important to me. I want to be ready. I want to be able to see God at work. I want to find where God is working and join Him. Every moment we spend in daily rhythms, in disciplines, and in observance are moments when we are readying ourselves for the times when we will have to do the real work. Readying ourselves for when things happen, good and bad, where we need the help and workings of the Spirit. The Spirit will flow and fill us and began to take its place; and there will be a space already cut out, prepared, for such a time as this.

Reflect Love

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. No, I didn’t watch a scary movie. I wasn’t worried about my friends or family. I didn’t feel ill. I made a mistake. I let myself get led down a rabbit hole of hostility and I couldn’t let it go.

You see, yesterday I happened to watch our governor’s Covid talk. After he speaks, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health always gives an update. She’s a Dr. She’s a Harvard grad. A pediatrician. A chemist. She worked in the Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago. She’s a proponent of breastfeeding. She has 4 kids, just like me. I bet before all of this, and even now, she was a behind the scenes kind of person. She didn’t ask for any of this, yet here she is, giving press conferences. And yesterday, she broke. In front of everyone. It wasn’t staged, it wasn’t dramatic, it was real. And it was hard to watch.

I know people have protested in front of her home. Teen athletes who want their sports. And they have a right to do so. I know she has teenagers herself. I can only imagine how hard it is to be her right now. I trust that all she wants to do is the right thing. But, her world is crashing in. And she never asked for it.

We are all so tired. So very tired. As I write this, I am actually 8 days into a 14 day isolation period. (I was exposed.) I know tired. I know isolation. I haven’t been in a car for 8 days. I have a small business that has struggled immensely. I don’t enjoy masks. I am completely and totally “Zoomed Out.” I want to break the rules. I want to go to work, or shop. (Or have Dunkin) I want to hug my mom today. I didn’t ask for any of this.

Once, before Easter, the Dr was quoted saying this, “I’m a woman of faith. I miss being at church, Bible study, prayer groups, laying-on of hands. This is not the time. We don’t want to hurt the people we’re intending to commune with.” If she can do it, if she can lead by example, I thought, I will trust her words.

Which leads me to the rabbit hole. People were so cruel. So mean. Our local news channel posted a clip of the video on Facebook, and it seemed like the whole world went in for the attack. She’s not a politician, yet it became political. She was accused of fear mongering, of faking, of being dramatic. It was commented that her performance was worthy of an Oscar.

I just kept thinking, this is a person. A human being created in the image of God. A God that she outspokenly claims as her own. How cruel can you be to laugh in the face of someone who shows care and concern amidst a trying time? If you are a believer, does mocking someone openly communicate the love of Christ?

In this world of shut downs and sadness, of masks and depression and grieving what we’ve lost, I want to be the better person. In a world where dirty politics are rearing their ugly head, I want to take the high road. In a time in history where character matters, where shining the light of Christ is of the utmost importance, I want to be bright. I want what I say to reflect what’s in my heart. (Luke 6:45)

So you, wherever you are, I hope you can commit to the same. You might not live in my state, or even care who the Public Health Director is, that’s not important. What’s important is recognizing the value, the worth of every person created in the image of a loving God. If each life is important to Him, make it important to you. Be a reflection of His love. Mirror His goodness. Don’t tear others down, especially when they’re at their worst. But instead, help them back up. Help them dust off. And, remind them of their worth.

The Practice of Joy

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

-CS Lewis

I’m just going to say it. You may agree or disagree, but Joy should be a spiritual practice. It may not come naturally, but if you seek it you will find it. If you choose it, you can walk in it. If you practice it, it will change your life.

This year, we’ve seen a lot of memes. We’ve heard all the jokes. We’ve talked about surviving, giving ourselves grace, and the importance of kindness. It’s been a rough one, 2020. But, one thing I’m realizing is that I am not a victim. My actions do not hinge on my outward circumstances. My behavior isn’t good or bad depending on the news, or how someone treats me, or the latest blow up on social media. In this polarizing political climate, in the age of social media knock down drag outs, in a time when our collective stress and anxiety is through the roof, we are not to fall victim. I cannot and will not change who I am because of stress or anxiety or bullies or conspiracy theories or political ideology.

Who am I? I am a believer who follows the way of Jesus. I am someone who wants the very best for my friends and neighbors. I don’t want to just like my neighbor, I want to “love my neighbor as myself.” It’s my job, my calling, if you will. And I can’t do those things without joy. And, honestly, neither can you. Joy gives us peace and brings us hope. It calms us in moments of doubt and despair, and it gives us a reason to be the good.

We’ve probably all heard the saying, “Satan can’t steal my joy,” but when I look around at my fellow believers, sometimes I wonder if we even have any joy to steal! We fall prey to the machine of social media and distrust. We act out in stress and blame the other guy. We say things we don’t mean and do things we shouldn’t and then blame 2020, or our politicians. We blame the system, the schools, the governor, the rules, but we often forget to look in the mirror. Only I am in charge of my behavior. Only I can choose to do good.

So what in the world are we to do? When we find ourselves really, truly losing it, where do we go? We go back to joy.

How in the world do we “practice” joy, you might ask? Where do I look? What do I do? How can I work toward this?

I would say that one of the most important parts of being joyful is being grateful. You may think that joy makes us grateful, but studies have shown that being grateful brings us joy. That’s right. The more we show gratitude, the more that joy enters our lives. David Steindl-Rast said, “The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” This, to me, means that to practice joy I must practice gratitude. So how? What are some every day ways that we can show our gratitude? The following are places to start:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Each day write down a couple of things that you are thankful for. Some days it’s truly the little things like no traffic on the way to work, and some days it’s the heavier things like our sick friend has made it through one more day. But every day it should be something.

2. Talk about it. Whether over dinner with your family, or over coffee with a good friend, tell something that you are grateful for. Some families start their meals by going around the table and having each person say what they are thankful for. When we voice our gratitude it becomes real.

3. If it’s a person that you are grateful for, make sure that they know it. This full circle type of compliment makes everyone joyful. The recipient is delighted to know how you feel, and in turn you are happy because you truly made someone’s day. When I remember to thank the important people in my life, joy comes much easier.

4. Remember that the world is good. Listen, if you were to turn off the news or stop mindlessly scrolling Facebook you would be better attuned to the good in the world. You would see people smiling at each other, holding doors, saying kind things. You would know that there are people out every day feeding the homeless and dropping off supplies for the needy. You would see people taking care of their elderly neighbors and watching out for the kids that live on their block. Instead of the negative, focus on the positive. Notice the good all around you and don’t let yourself be constantly bombarded by the crazy negative things streaming through the internet.

There are many more gratitude practices that we can talk about but for now let’s head back to joy. Remember, joy doesn’t come easy. It’s much easier to grumble and complain that to be joyful. But each day I’m going to choose joy. I choose to be joyful when circumstances are tough. I choose joy when people are mean. I choose joy when my heart is breaking. I choose joy.

Like I said earlier, I am not going to be a victim of 2020 or the economy or political debates or anything else. I am the only one that can control my responses. I am the only one that can choose to post inciting comments on my social media accounts. I am the only one responsible for using my tongue and my sharp words to hurt others.

So as we continue in 2020 don’t forget to bring the joy. Don’t forget the confetti poppers and disco balls and smiles. Don’t forget that feeling that comes when you know you just did the right thing. Bring it, because you can’t steal my joy.

A Liturgy for When my World is Out of Control

Lord,

How? How did we get here, Father? What happened? Where are we? What have we done?

Father, I feel so lost. So isolated. So utterly and completely out of control. Yet, I don’t understand why. Or how. Or what brought me to this place.

My world is spinning, and yet I’m not sure what my next step is. So, help me. Help me, Father. Help me to dig myself out of the despair. The anxiety. The fear.

Let me realize, once again, that you are in charge. Let me turn to you, lean on you, trust in you.

I do trust in you, Lord. You are my shelter. You always have been. Yet sometimes, in the darkness of these days, I don’t see it. We’ve become a people living in darkness. We’ve become a people accustomed to anger and bitterness and pride. There is us and them. There is no longer nuance.

Help me to love others, to listen, to have empathy for those I know not. Open my world wide and allow me to let others in. To hear. To listen. To respond justly and with kindness.

Lead us to a better place, a better time. Encourage your people to do right, to love, to shine your light brightly in this dark and shattered world.

Let me not feel out of control, but bring everything back to the One who is in control. Let me not concentrate on my weakness, but on Your strength. Let me not work within my will today, but Yours.

Be a Light

I’ve been quiet. It’s been a little while, but I just haven’t written. As I’ve been challenged about this, it’s led me to think a bit. When I’m asked why I’ve been silent, I’ve replied that there are just too many voices. This world is rough right now. It seems as if life has turned upside down. Some days it seems like there’s no end in sight. We are living through a global pandemic, the earth is amiss with floods, storms, tornadoes, fires, and even hurricanes, (Plural!) people are struggling in this difficult economy, unemployment is at a record breaking high (at least where I live), AND it’s an election year.

So, there are a lot of voices. Some are very loud. Some voices express concern. Some condemn. Some create panic or stir up controversy. Some people just pass on the information of others, whether it happens to be true or not. So much noise. Funny, it’s easier for me to notice the noise right now. Collectively, we had a little time to slow down. In March, when we began to see stay at home orders, people stayed in, listened, looked out for one another. We spent more time with our families. We weren’t rushing from place to place because there was no where to go. We baked bread. We shared with those in need. We looked after our neighbors who were out of work or furloughed. We put hearts in our windows and did TikTok dances with our kids. We zoomed with our parents. We started gardens. Not all of this slowed down life has been a bad thing.

But now? Now some of us have had enough. We’re tired. No, we’re weary. That deep down tired that makes you think that you just can’t face another day. We’re tired of wearing masks, and we’re tired of people who don’t wear masks. We’re tired of zoom and e-everything and no sports and closed restaurants. We’re tired of people and at the same time can’t get enough of them. We missed out on graduations and celebrations and fireworks. For the love, we just want one good, fun backyard BBQ. One birthday party where everyone is yelling and you can’t wait for them to leave but you hold them close for a big hug before they do. One dinner with friends where you eat off a charcuterie board and heaven forbid people touch things with their bare, unsanitized hands.

We’re grieving, too. And anxiety abounds. All these things make us cranky. Like children who haven’t napped well, we get a little irritable. We lash out or say things we don’t mean. We’re quick to judge. We just want things to be better, so we share our opinions with everyone, whether they want to hear it or not.

But here’s where I’ve been challenged. In the midst of all the voices clamoring for our attention, we need to listen for that still, small voice. We need to care more about that voice than any other. The voice of discernment. The voice of unconditional love. The voice of wisdom. The voice of courage. The voice of the Lord that says, “You are worthy.”

When a friend told me that my voice points her to God’s voice I realized that I can no longer be quiet. I can no longer let my voice get swallowed up by the anger and mean spirited assaults on social media. I can’t give up and give in because people will listen to the squeakiest wheel. I may not be the squeakiest wheel, but I want to be one who, by God’s grace, brings you closer to the throne and not farther. A voice that leads you to peace. A voice that shares how we can practice loving our neighbor. A person that leads by example, shares the truth, and shows you what it means to love the least of these.

So, here I am. Ready to begin again. Ready to refresh and point the way to the One who makes all things new. The God who loves you unconditionally. I have no need or desire to tell you how I feel about racism or politics or elections or Covid. I just want to use my voice to point you toward the truth. Truth about who you are, truth about who God is. I want to spend time reflecting on how everyone is made in his image and therefore worthy of the same dignity, respect, and love. Let’s spend the next few days and weeks caring about others, loving our neighbor, and making the world a better place.

Let’s pledge to use our words wisely, to grow together, and to point others toward the truth. Will you join me?

A Liturgy of Remorse and Lament

Oh God,

God, we cry out.

We cry.

We cry to You because we can, because we need You, because You are Healer.

Teach us, oh Lord, to do more than cry out. Teach us to do more than talk, more than pray. Give us action.

Father, we repent. We repent, God, of the things we have said. Of the things we have done. Of the things we have not said, we repent also. God, for times we have not spoken up, for times we have not listened, we repent.

We come to you with broken and shame filled hearts. We come to you knowing that our silence, our fear, and our privilege has harmed others. We are one people, created in your image. We laugh, we cry, we love, we hug, we bond, we tell stories, we have souls. Every single one of us. And our souls, our very beings, who we are deep within, has hurt others. For this we are truly sorry.

May it not be trite, Father. We do not look for empty words. We do not pray to hear ourselves speak. Rather give our words meaning. Let them fill our hearts. Have us to act upon them. From this day forward, we choose to lament, to repent, and to turn the course of our actions in a new direction. We gladly choose to use our voice and our privilege to influence others, to help others, to speak for those who are not heard over the crippling noise of this world.

Forgive us. Use us. Teach us.

Flood our path with opportunity to do the right thing. Grant us new friendships, new hope, and a second chance to make things right among your children.

And may You, the God of Peace, fill us with the Spirit of Peace this very day.

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