HOPE: The Eyes of a Child

Last night, we held the first of 3 Advent contemplative prayer times at our church. For an hour each week, we will stop. We will be still (if not in our body, at least our soul). We will look for ways to connect with the Divine in new and ancient practices. There is a station centered around Anglican prayer beads. There is a station inviting us into the practice of the labyrinth. There is also an art installation that helps us navigate the often challenging waters of practicing prayer.

The art is created by Scott Erickson. His work challenges and moves me. The opening statement of the collection held my attention and prayer for the entire time last night. But it was one of the closing lines that my heart played on repeat. “The essence of prayer is the Love of God.” That is just good. I clearly over complicate prayer. I have too many rules. I have expectations and qualifications. Yet I miss out because it is not about the checklist, it is all about love. I think that is where our world misses the mark most often.

During our prayer time, we were each invited to explore prayer in a way that was helpful for us. There were families with children as young as 7 participating. As we closed the evening, our pastor asked us to reflect on the experience. I enjoyed being still. I actually wanted it to last longer. I felt nudging to move and act. But what I really needed to hear was the voice of the youngest in the room. As the first to speak up during reflection time, my friend said, “I saw God in the fire of the candle. Because, God is the light of the world.”

Mic drop, Noah. Mic drop.

HOPE: In Unexpected Places

In December of 2013, my then 11 year-old raised money to give American Girl dolls to children that would not otherwise get one. What at first glance seemed like a cute one-time service project continued the next holiday season. And the next. By the end of 2019, the dream of two teenagers became a non-profit organization and will have placed more than 750 dolls and raised more than $80,000. All of this is wonderful. The hope that they have spread in their work is tremendous. But Dolls For All is more than a charity. It is more than a way to get service hours for a resume. For my daughter, this work has changed her life and been a gift of hope to HER.

Today, she hosted the first holiday tea party to honor 5 recipients. We went back to my daughter’s elementary school. In those halls, she became acquainted with anxiety and panic. She learned that there was something different about her insides. She could not explain it at the time, but school seemed to trigger the worst in her brain. Yet, she excelled at this thing called “education.” The same place that brought on terrible tears and fears also gave her space to be challenged and shine in the classroom.

As she navigated the ups and downs of her own journey, her compassionate heart was always drawn to kids. I like to say that she came out of the womb wanting to mother. She is, by her very DNA, a tender nurturer of all young people, especially the hurting ones. As Dolls For All grew, she began working with and reaching out to organizations that cared for kids on the margins. She learned about CPS and CASA and Child Advocates. She worked with school counselors to encourage kids that had been through their own personal trauma.

At 15, she hit a personal wall. One that could not be climbed in the “traditional” education system, so a shift was made to online school. What felt like defeat in many ways was the open door of hope. It was because of this change that her schedule was freed to explore ways to grow Dolls For All and in-turn her own love of children.

She recently wrote her college application essay. She didn’t shy away from the messy parts of her story. She spoke her truth. She also gave much of the credit for the shape and the trajectory of her future to the opportunities, people and organizations she has met as a part of her Dolls For All journey. What began as an opportunity to give children a toy has been a tool of redemption that God has used to be a light of hope in the midst of some very dark days.

That’s the tricky thing about hope. It can surprise you. What started out to be a light of hope for others has turned into the greatest hope show imaginable. There is nothing like leaving a tea party or delivery and seeing the sheer fullness in my girl’s heart. As my friend John says, “HOPE. Like a prayer to get through the night.”

HOPE: A Musical Experience

This morning, I woke up and was not feeling all of the hope. Yesterday I preached about the topic and yet I could not find it in my insides today. In a very strange turn of events that we can discuss at a later date, I have recently developed a pattern of living that involves walks. So I took one. In days past, I would have mulled. I probably would have pouted and stewed. But as I began out my door, the cool air hit my face and so did the sun. It was so bright. So bright.

Even with the world and creation shouting a new season to me, I was still mulling on my own world. Usually my walks include my favorite musicians. Most often, the blasting beats are sung by 90s pop artists with a random twist of a 80s country song. But today…

I have talented friends. I am so thankful that I have the privilege to walk alongside of and learn from people whose gifts and giftings are completely different than my own. I am surrounded by writers and artists and athletes. I often listen to tales of creating and grinding. Some of these things I understand. Some of them I just love to hear about because they are the heartbeat of my people. One of my co-conspirators in all things Liturgy is my friend John.

Today I needed a kick in the Advent ass and he provided it in the form of one of my favorite Advent songs. “Hope is Here” was on repeat in my ears until I was ready to be IN hope. If you have never heard this song, download John’s Advent music and make a playlist now. I am also a HUGE fan of the “Peace of God”, so add that in, too. Because you just need this in your life. If you don’t already know him, let me introduce you to one of my favorites, Mr. John Hatfield:

How long can you hold on?
How long can you wait?
How long can you look for a sunrise?
How long is too late?

It feels like forever
You gotta have faith
We’re going to see the sun rising one day
But we have

Hope
Like a prayer to get through the night
Love
Like a song instead of a fight
Joy
Like the brightest of heavenly lights
Peace like a river

Somewhere in the darkness
Out there in the night
The morning is breaking through clouds with its light
So we’ll have

Hope
Like a prayer to get through the night
Love
Like a song instead of a fight
Joy
Like the brightest of heavenly lights
Peace like a river

Hope is here and
Love casts out all fear and
Joy will hold you near and
Give you peace

Hope
Like a prayer to get through the night
Love
Like a song instead of a fight
Joy
Like the brightest of heavenly lights
Peace like a river

released December 4, 2018

Hope Is Here
Music & Lyrics by John Hatfield

Advent 2019: Hope

I am a documentary nut. I love to watch them on all the streaming things. Recently, I have watched multiple accounts of the journey of patients with AIDS – both in the early days of the epidemic and the advancements in treating the disease. One of these stories was the account of program that was started in Salt Lake City’s Holy Cross Hospital.

In the mid-80s, these women of faith stood eye to eye with one of the most hope-LESS diseases of our time. With no cure and an almost certain death sentence, they loved and cared and nursed and offered grace in ways that I can almost promise none of them ever intended. It’s almost as if they were open to not-knowing…

One of the sisters, Bernie Mulick said, “It’s part of our mission as Sisters of the Holy Cross to care for those who are poor and sick and needy. We have always cared for the forgotten ones, for the underdogs. They were the railroaders and the coal miners in our earliest days in Utah. During the 1980s and 1990s, individuals with HIV and AIDS were the lepers of the time, and no one else was taking care of them.”

Another nurse, Sr. Linda Bellemore said, “Those were the years of fear about the transmission of this terminal disease resulting in alienation from family, friends and society due to their diagnosis. At the time of their lives when they most needed care and support, how could I not help? The need was obvious, and I am committed to serving people as Jesus did, especially the poor and alienated.”

Watching this film made be want to be that kind of hope dealer. These women were hope with skin. The kind of hope that stands in the face of death and pain and horrible alienation and loves. Because there was no cure. There was no medicine. There was not even a promise of acceptance and basic care. And yet the Sisters offered hope in the midst of the darkest, darkest pain. 

We don’t get to have hope without having seen pain. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to walk into the darkness. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason we need hope to begin with.

Advent matters, because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open, even in the midst of our not-knowing and darkness and longing. The weary world is still waiting in so many ways, in so many hearts, in so many places, for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come. 

Advent is for the ones who know longing for that kind of hope.

A Campaign to Celebrate Women: You Are Enough

YOU ARE ENOUGH. I have spent countless hours in therapy and even more hours on my knees longing to know this truth. If I am REALLY honest, this is the single greatest struggle in my life. I have written on this subject many times because there are days when I don’t believe it. Am I enough as a mom, daughter, sister, friend, pastor, teacher, writer? And the list goes on. I can read all the things about all the things and yet at the end of the day, I sit with thoughts of incompetence. While this search for truth has been hard personally, it has been especially weighty as I raise two daughters. How do I teach them that they are enough when I struggle with it most days?

IMG_9452

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I have two wildly different and equally strong teenage women that live down the hall from me. One is 17 going on 50. She is passionate and has desires to change the world. She sees injustice and is ready to fight. I also have a 13 year-old with completely different goals in mind. She is the most driven and goal setting non-adult human that I have ever met. Everything she does is with purpose and drive. With one culture shaping dreamer and one hard working athlete, I navigate the balance of teaching worth and value to two far ends of the female spectrum. What I have learned from these two drives me to be better. They show me everyday how to believe that my “enough” is just that – BUT – it may be different than yours, and that is perfectly perfect. Let me show you:

Change Agent

My world changer is brave. She is unapologetically unafraid to dig into the depths of the hardest things looking for answers of truth. In her 17 years, she has navigated things that most adults would ignore and avoid in the name of ‘just pushing through.’ Instead of covering the feelings of adolescence angst with popularity and social media, she has made a choice to first work on herself so that she can bring the same message of hope and healing to the next generation. Daily, she is learning tools that allow her to believe that she matters to the world. 

She is doing hard interior work because she knows that her true calling is to love children with all of her being. She gives away her time and talents to children through her charity, Dolls For All. For years, she has used this platform to learn about the foster care system and resources for victims of childhood trauma. And she doesn’t stop at IMG_3238handing a child a doll and throwing a tea party. She has recently committed to an intership at a local children’s advocacy center. Learning alongside the therapist, caregivers and agencies that are fighting  injustice for this vulnerable population, her dream is becoming a reality. She does this because she knows that children all over the world need to hear adults speak the truth that we all long for: YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Courageous Competitor

My younger daughter has a completely different kind of passion. Currently committed to achieving lofty goals in her sport of choice, she has walked the roads of doubt and insecurity in her own ways. When you see her exterior, you assume that her insides are as tough as her 5’ 11’ frame. She appears to the world to be a freak of adolescent strength. If you were to meet her in moments of quiet, you would know that she, just like the rest of humanity, feels her limitations. On the days of struggle, it is hard to believe that she has all she needs to be successful. Last year, she had the gift of meeting a woman that takes the call to empower women very seriously. In a particularly hard season of her “mental game,” my girl was introduced to Christen Shefchunas, known to most as Coach Christen. 

An accomplished coach and athlete, she developed a product that IMG_7825allows my internally focused girl to express her longing for confidence through jewelry. With Christen’s Confidence Nuggets on her arm daily, my daughter draws from the strength of her role models. Knowing that we all need to hear the truth of our worth everyday, Christen has given a generation of driven and capable women tangible reminders that we are in this together. Each bracelet comes with a handwritten note from Coach. My girl’s bulletin board is filled with these reminders of purpose and encouragement. These simple bracelets have become a touchstone for my daugher. She has given them to family, friends and even her own coach. With great thought for the selected meaning behind each bracelet, Confidence Nuggets are our family’s reminder that we express encouragement and emotion differently.

Our Mission

I tell you these stories to remind each of us that there is no one way to express enough-ness. We need to see these messages from every area and hear them from every voice in our lives. The world screams of scarcity and fear from every corner. With every Instagram post or sarcastic tweet, we are surrounded with message after message that in our own skin and clothes and hair we are insufficient. May I remind you – there is no amount of products or partners or surgery or shopping or wine or pain killers or children or sex or wine that will fill the hole of inadequacy. At the same time, there is nothing in this world like the power of the female voice of encouragement. Be it from your coach, your mentor, your child, your mom, your sister or your ride or die 3 am friend, it’s time for us to raise our voices for each other. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Did you hear that? I didn’t think so.

Let me scream it again. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

 

I’ll Miss Your Voice, Pastor: A Tribute to RHE

The text came through at 11:55 on Saturday morning. I was driving to a family wedding and had a few more hours in the car with my 13 year-old. At 80 MPH, all I could do was read the words and sit in shock. RHE died. My dear friend in all things Jesus and hard sent this short message via text because how else do you express what you can’t fathom?

As my jaw dropped, my response was Nooooooo. And again Noooooooo.

I know that texting and driving is not approved adulting, but I had to respond from my gut. The tears started flowing. They were quiet, painful, burning tears. They were the raw and gut wrenching pain of losing a hero. As my daughter read the news reports for me, I tried to let it sink in. How can a 37 year-old mom of two babies get the flu and a UTI and die? How can this be? How can this voice that I need and love be gone?hPoJ1S0NSZylc6VIOTJUtw

My daughter is an athlete. As she tried to wrap her mind around this unusually tender expression of emotion from her otherwise stoic mother, I tried to compare the loss in a way that she could comprehend. I explained the weight of example and leadership that Rachel Held Evans was in my life in metaphors of sports. When I made the comparison to one of her deeply beloved models and mentors, she quietly said, “I’m so sorry, Momma.” She let me sit in the pain. For the next two hours, the tears continued to fall and I drove. There was no need to eat or even slow down. I just needed to drive and cry.

Music saves me. There are countless playlists on my iTunes account that have the names of my emotional states and needs. After about 20 minutes of complete silence, I pulled up the only playlist that could touch this. The title is BACKBONE. On the days when I don’t have one, these are the songs that I need to carry on. Many of these songs have a mix of tension, as some have connection to faith. In the moments that I need this playlist the most, I am so angry at God that I don’t have much faith. And yet, I had to play these songs because people like Rachel have modeled before me that God can handle all of my yelling and screaming and cussing and sadness. I said all of these things as a cried.

For those who have not yet experienced Rachel’s work, let me tell you a little about what she did for me. While I adore the work that Rachel did in forging the path for women in post-Evangelical reconstruction, that was not the the loudest call she brought in my life. I had served as a woman in ministry for years prior to “meeting” Rachel. In my journey, she was the gift of the feminine rabble-rouser of faith. Her blog was a breath of fresh air. Her first book was wonderful. But her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” was freaking gold. I read it shortly after the release and I wanted to be her best friend. With wicked intellect and brilliant theological scholarship, Rachel’s writing has the tremendous ability to make you feel like you are sitting in a coffeehouse having a chat with your besties.

Once it was decided that were soul-sisters, I invited her to pastor me. I read all of her things. Having only met her in person twice, I never miss the chance to hear her on img_9235.jpg
podcast recordings. I have spent the better part of the last 8 years under her leadership. In the process, she has introduced me to many of my other pastors.  If there is one thing that the past few days has taught me it is this: I must express my gratitude for the leadership that this beautiful and gracious and wise and authentic group of leaders have given to my soul. To Nadia, Glennon, Matthew, Jeff, Sarah, Mike, Jen, Austin and Audrey, know that it is your voices that I wanted to hear the past two days. You are the rocks of deep friendship and grief and Jesus that have allowed me to begin to process my many feelings. I am especially thankful for you today and I can’t imagine the loss you feel. I am sorry. I am just so, so sorry.

Along with many of these thoughtful and brave women and men, Rachel makes regular appearances in my sermons. They have invited me to ask better questions. They have shared their doubts and struggles and missteps and paths of advocacy. They have taught me, and thousands of others, to bravely say when we don’t have it figured out and BECAUSE of that, we have a critical place in the ocean on faith and the Church. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about waiting to have Rachel sign one of her books at the Evolving Faith conference. This particular book is my favorite in her library. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church is perhaps THE book that helped me want to write. Rachel writes her story in the light of the Sacraments. As I have stumbled to find my legs as a writer, I have continually looked to this book for inspiration and hope. If you have not read this book, I beg you order it now. You will not regret it.

Today is Monday. It has taken me 48 hours to put together some words. In that period, I keep going back to the wise words of my sister-pastor-best friend that came through at 12:17 on Saturday. She was one of the first people I wanted to talk to when I got the news. She gets me. She gets my love for and hang-ups with the Church. These were her brilliant instructions to me, “We have more work to do to fill that void in the world.” Rachel will never be gone. Her writing and legacy will teach and instruct for generations to come. But to those of us left here in this life, I feel a sense of commission. I have been taught by one of the greatest thinkers and lights of this generation. Her voice cannot be replaced, but without her walking beside us and leading the way, we are called to get louder and louder. The world needs to hear all the things that Rachel Held Evans taught us. That is where I will channel my grief.

One of the songs on the BACKBONE playlist epitomizes my thoughts the last few days. I just keep singing it when I feel the sadness. Thank you, Rachel, for teaching me that songs like this – filled with truth and doubt and honesty – are exactly what my Creator wants to hear from us.

You Have Me

Out on the farthest edge
There in the silence
You were there

My faith was torn to shreds
Heart in the balance
But you were there

Always faithful
Always good
You still have me
You still have my heart

I thought I had seen the end
Everything broken
But you were there

I’ve wandered in heaven’s gates
I’ve made my bed in hell
But you were there still

Always faithful
Always good
You still have me
You still have my heart

You have me
You have me
You have my heart completely

50 Days of Easter: Resurrection Stories

Yesterday was National Pastor-in-Hiding Day. That is my own special name for the day after Easter. For those of us in the liturgical Church business, we give our all to the high seasons of our work. We pour ourselves into all that is meaning and themes and worship and sacredness. When we say ‘Go in peace’ at the end of the last service on Easter, there is a literal and spiritual release that is often followed by a glorious nap. I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of sunshine and friendship which was followed by a day of pajama wearing documentary watching. It was truly sacred space for me.

Did you know that Easter is not just a day? Eastertide is the name we churchy folks give to the 50 days that we celebrate this season. It took us 40 days to journey to the cross, so it just seems fitting that we take even longer to live in the after party. This is the time when we cast aside the pensive nature of waiting and fully devote ourselves to the act of celebration. Just as we were invited during Holy Week to enter into darkness and contemplate how we have in our own ways crucified Christ, we now are invited to live in the resurrection as we celebrate the risen Christ and honor the things that bring us new life, both big and small.

My writing will have a particular tone in these 50 days. I won’t be posting daily, but I will be telling stories of resurrection and celebration. Some of these stories are big and seem life shifting. Some are smaller and yet still very significant. I firmly believe that we have to choose to be Easter people. This is especially true for people like me that will always notice the bleak, the struggle and the defeat. For the next 50 days, I am turning my eyes to the victories, even the ones that are hard to see, in an intentional attempt to remind myself of the resurrection that is happening all around me.

Resurrection Growth

I am a mother of two very different girls. And when I say different, that word seems  insufficient in describing the vast chasm of interests, passion, temperament and goals that these two young women possess. From the time my oldest was aware of the possibility, she wanted to be a big sister. When the opportunity to fulfill that calling was a reality, she wanted to hold and feed and care and cuddle. Unfortunately, my youngest wanted to be in charge from her first breath. She did not need a sister, a guide or a person. She is fiercely independent. She has her own way and goals and stubbornness.

Over the last 13 years, these two beautiful creatures have often resembled the most aggressive of fights between wild animals on the desert plains. I recently saw a picture of an anaconda wrapped around a roaring lion’s belly. This is an accurate picture of my house the last 5 years. One wants to nurture (or kill for the sake of being close). The other wants to literally bite the intruder in half. Ah, sisters. I don’t understand this mindset. Watching their constant aggression has been more than annoying, it has hurt a piece of me that is deeply precious. My siblings are my people. Our best stories are together. I still pick and love and need both of them in ways that I cannot explain. All I have wanted, literally, from the moment that the doctor said, “It’s a girl” the second time around, was for them to be sisters.

Something has shifted in the last 9 months in our house. I have my theories, but honestly, I cannot really explain it. The lack of concrete evidence leaves me in a place of wonder about the resurrection significance of this season. My girls have come to Gqpj9W%ARTGO4rbySo54RQdepend on each other. They trust each other. They share their lives. Much like any other person that has gone through struggle and pain, they have both walked through some very big challenges and learned to walk along side each other in ways that they each needed more they could explain. I have countless posed sister pictures, but this is one of my favorites. The unplanned, ‘I need you’ moments that I snap when they are just being silly are my favorites. I have found this bed snuggling image on many recent nights. In the midst of hard decisions or boy drama or the occasional need to gang up on me, they are united.

Now, for the big news. We have one more year as #TeamHilbrich under one roof. The past 2 years have been especially hard and sometimes soul trying. We have all learned so much about the things that matter. In the midst of that learning, we have come to value our differences and similarities. I have written before about the gift that we were given in the decision to think outside the education box with AJ. Over the past few months, we have debated and weighed all of the possibilities as Ally prepared for high school. For completely different, but equally valuable reasons, Ally has decided to join her sister at Laurel Springs next year. They are already planning adventures and learning together. Most importantly, we are going to have this year to be together. Both of these precious and unique creations are driven to pursue their passions. With this decision, we can take our school on the road as we adventure and dream together.

While I see and feel resurrection in so many ways through this decision, perhaps the most stunning part of the journey is my excitement as a mom. I can remember the days of dreading summer. They would be home ALL THE DAYS. I would fret and scramble for babysitters and activities. I would long for VBS weeks. That is completely the opposite in this season. I cannot wait to empower, explore and dream with these amazing young people. While the decision was 100% Ally’s (we went so far as to not even offer an opinion until she had fully pro/con-ed and talked to all the people), I have been doing the happiest of happy dances with the outcome. We have big plans for 2019-2020,  and best of all, we are doing it together.

Holy Week 2019: Saturday

Because I have spent much of my adult life involved in planning Easter Sunday events at a church, Saturday has always been a day of tension. I know that we are still in the darkness of Friday, yet there is work to do to prepare for the celebration to come. Again, today, I split this tension. I woke up this morning and intentionally slowed my thoughts. I recalled (in a pre-coffee haze) the pain that we walked through last night. I chose to hold on to Friday for as long as I could. I sat in the beautiful morning air and watched my youngest practice. I came home to a house with the doors open to the breeze. I chose to take some long deep breaths and sit in the unknown angst of waiting.

I went to 218 (the name for the building where we gather to serve and worship) about 3pm. As I walked in, the cross was still hanging. The thorns were still present. The candles were out and the evidence of a dark night was somber. We began to transform the space for a party. The curtains went from the black fabric to the bronze satin. The waters of Baptism took the place of the cross. The drapes of the Lenten season were lifted and you could begin to feel the lightness in the air. This part of Saturday is especially dear to me as I work along side one of my favorite co-conspirators in all things liturgy and one of my best friends. Each in our own areas of passion, we work to create space for all to hear that the darkness has gone.

The last few years, I have gifted myself a guilt free Easter afternoon. This was a lesson that took many years to learn. I give all that I have to Holy Week. By the time that Saturday evening comes around, I have poured and felt and worked and loved the heck out of the journey. The idea of cooking and cleaning is last on my list. I WANT to have a lovely Easter dinner or drive to be with family on the other side of town. But on the years that I have forced this, I leave with little to no resurrection joy. What seemed like a good idea 4 weeks beforehand, leaves me exhausted and downright intolerable by Sunday night.

person standing inside cave
Four years ago, I let go. I invited a few friends for crawfish on Easter. There was no set table, no place cards, no china. There was no silver or ham or rolls. We ate crawfish on newspaper in the backyard. It was wonderful. This year, we have our pool ready and 57 pounds of squirming mudbugs on ice. Paper plates will be more than sufficient, as this day is not about eggs or baskets or fancy for me. This day is about the things that mean the most to me in this world: Jesus and my people.

For those of us with deeply imbedded Southern roots, this may seem mildly sacrilegious. But for this free thinking, resurrection celebrating pastrix, flip-flops and shorts are exactly what I need. Any and all cuteness and bunny crafting will come because someone else played on Pinterest. And when it is all said and done, a nap is defiantly in the plan. I’ll be ignoring all swimming teenagers by late afternoon. Whatever you are planning to do to celebrate tomorrow, make it a day where the reason we gather is the focus of your planning. Sing and smile and love and laugh. Walk with a lightness and a spirit of joy. May we see Jesus in all the glory of new life and fling ourselves into a season of falling more deeply in love with our Savior.

Holy Week 2019: Good Friday

Today, we remember the journey to the cross. We remember that Jesus was tortured and beaten and rejected. We know that the stone was rolled in front of the tomb and we are left to wait. During our Good Friday service tonight, the room was filled with candlelight. As the story of Christ’s last day was read, little by little, the room grew darker. Only one candle remained, a single candle next to the cross. As the final words were read, Jesus was placed in the tomb and the room went black. In that moment, a very real darkness was present. A familiar one that I know. It was the darkness of depression and hopelessness and grief. I have helped plan this service for 3 years. I have read the text countless times. This is not my first Good Friday. I knew what was coming. Yet in that moment, when the finality of it hit, it was a fresh and raw wound.

I know that Good Friday is hard. I know that the service is dark. I also know that it is so very necessary to walk through the pain and feel the hopelessness so that the IMG_4477announcement that ‘He Is Risen’ means so much more. I think Good Friday is especially poignant for those that have been through crisis – of faith, of health, of any kind – in the past liturgical year. It’s almost as if God is reminding us that God chooses to talk about the darkness and the mourning and the hopelessness. It makes me sad to think about the millions of people around the world that will be ready to talk resurrection but just don’t want to think about the road that it takes to get to the NEED for resurrection.

We have been conditioned to think that when you jump in the Jesus boat, you will always have people and happy and joy. Sometimes, that’s just not true. Sometimes your voice is prophetic and painful. Sometimes your honesty is more than people are comfortable with. Sometimes you choose to step out in a new way and those that have been walking beside you stop mid-step and watch you walk away. Sometimes the destruction and heartbreak is so profound that the most people can do is say “I’ll pray for you” which feels like an empty notion if you have ever faced the kind of darkness that envelopes even your belief in prayer.  This hurts. This hurts in ways and places that you didn’t even know it could hurt.

If you find yourself in a space of dark and still and depressing, Jesus knows about that, and so do I. I have stood on the darkest hills in painful struggle, all while others were doubting my motives and heart. I have wept from feelings of abandonment, from painful decisions and from loneliness. And I like to think I am in good company. The company of the mother of Jesus who stood next to him as he died. The disciples of Jesus who turned him over for execution. The crowd who witnessed the beating and murder. The children that sat at the feet of a loving rabbi just days ago and yet now watched him die. These are my Good Friday people. We sit in pain together. We weep and ache together.

What I want to do in this next sentence is to tell you Sunday is coming. But I can’t. It’s not time for that. There will be a resurrection, but it’s only Friday and for now, our job is to recognize that we have to be smack in the middle of that pain. There is not an instant fix. The first disciples did not have a countdown clock for Sunday because they didn’t know it was coming. And for some of us, we don’t either.

Holy Week 2019: Maundy Thursday

Thursday. Some call it Holy Thursday, others Maundy Thursday. The name ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin for ‘new commandment’ which Christ gave his disciples at the Last Supper. In the time of Jesus, the meal was a sacred time of connection and shared life. One of the reasons that Christians around the world still celebrate this night each year is to remind themselves that the call to come and sit at the table and eat a holy meal together is still a vital part of community.

We are all welcome. We are all equal at this table.

The table is a permanent reminder that we are never to forget to gather, be honest and share the gift of Jesus. At sundown, Jesus and his disciples settled down to enjoy the Passover Feast. On the table before them were the ritual foods: the roast lamb, bitter herbs, bread, and wine. The foods were consumed at the designated times throughout the evening ceremony. The symbols of this supper were handed down from the time of Moses. Within this context, Jesus instituted a new feast. A feast to celebrate our spiritual redemption purchased with his life—freedom from the bonds of sin and death.

There is a moment after dinner where Jesus and his disciples go to a garden. It is not irony that humanity disobeyed God in a garden and lost relationship with God; Jesus obeyed God in a garden and secured salvation for us; and that scripture tells us that we will spend all of eternity in a garden like environment. No irony at all.

Jesus knows the cross is coming and that he alone can face it. But at this moment, he truly hopes that there is some other way.

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will, but as you will.

In hearing these words we find the humanness of our savior. He hesitates. His prayer is one of anguish and pain, begging that he might be spared the humiliating death at the hands of his executioners. He enters into the garden weighed down. Nothing could prepare him for what is about to take place and yet he goes into the garden and awaits it.

I’m so thankful that Jesus prayed this prayer. On so many occasions, my prayers have been similar – save me the agony, the pain, the embarrassment, the anger, the rage, the shame. And then, in the depths of his pain, Jesus does what so few human beings have ever been able to accomplish and lets go. He stopped fighting, begging, pleading, manipulating, screaming, scheming, undermining, and he released his will. He lets go. Not as I will, but as you will.

The imagery of a cup is perfect for the setting. They have all just left the table hours earlier. To drink out of a cup you have to choose to pick it up, bring it to your mouth, and drink.  Jesus is making a choice here – there is no element of surprise, coercion, or coincidence. He knows what is coming. Tonight we gathered. We ate. We laughed. We sang. As we sit in our own spaces tonight, may we dwell deeply in knowledge that Jesus knew what tomorrow would bring and he did not run.