True Love

I used to watch soap operas with my mom. It was one of our things to do – especially on long, hot summer afternoons. We loved to see the storylines unfold – the drama, the heartache, the exhilarating romance! In those days before we had the ability to videotape or DVR the programs, mom would record the shows on a cassette player for me when I went back to school so I could still listen to what was happening on the show. I didn’t want to miss a bit of what Danny and Tracy were talking about on the Young and the Restless, or what Bo and Hope were up to on Days of our Lives.bo and hope

I learned about love from these shows – well, about a version of love. Love was: roses, stolen glances, passionate kisses, dancing close, oftentimes the woman being rescued by a handsome man, music rising, the fervor of twisted bedsheets. Love was to be transported to a different time and place – a place of beauty and perfection.

However, if I wanted to notice love, I would have been better served by turning my attention away from the television and paying attention to my own mom and dad. There was little of fluff and romance in their life together – but there was plenty of real love. Mom caring for dad as he suffered decades of illness. Sticking together for 52 years. Raising a family together. Enduring near poverty conditions. Staying true to each other and being one another’s support and helpmate through times when there was nothing in the cupboards, when their kids disappointed them, when dad got hooked on his prescription meds and needed to get help, when they were swindled out of the tiny bit of savings they had managed to accrue. There was joy, too – but most of it did not come because the life they had been handed was easy. They worked hard to make life good for each other even when the circumstances were not so good.

It’s not surprising I preferred the soap opera version of love. It looked so much more interesting and inviting than the love I saw in my own home.

Today is my husband and my 16th wedding anniversary…and over these years, I’ve come to see how the soap opera kind of love is paper thin. It is like papier mache – it might be fashioned to look like something beautiful, but one hard blow and it is ruined.

Roses fade.

Stolen glances are thrilling, but you really can’t build a life on them.

Passionate kisses are great – but even better is knowing that Chad will run to the store to get 7-up when I’m recovering from stomach flu.

Dancing close – well, we tried to take dancing lessons before our wedding. I think it is so great some couples love to dance together. We are not that couple.

The woman being rescued by the handsome man? Chad is handsome, but I think we pretty much take turns rescuing each other.

Music rising and twisted bed sheets? These things are good – but what really thrills me is coming home and seeing that Chad has made the kids help him do the laundry AND the dishes. Now THAT is sexy.

After sixteen years, I love my husband more than words can say, but I’m thankful for our life together in ways that I never could have understood a couple decades ago.

I’m thankful to share my life with the person I have been most angry with. He also happens to be the person I have laughed the hardest with.

I’m thankful to share my life with the person who has stood next to me during the most immense times – the deaths of our parents, the births of our children. He held a little dish for me to throw up in the day Owen was born. I was having a terrible reaction to some meds and I was in the middle of the C-section – my arms strapped down – so when the huge wave of nausea hit, he held the little dish while I heaved up whatever was in my stomach. I was mortified…but I was also acutely aware of the true love and tenderness of that moment. Chad may not have ever held up a stereo to play a song for me out my window like John Cusack in “Say Anything” or run after my departing airplane like Ryan Reynolds did for Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal” – but he did hold a little dish for me when I was throwing up. Loving gestures come in all shapes and forms.

I’m thankful to share my life with someone who sees things very differently than I do. His irreverent, sharp, practical perspective is invaluable to me.

I’m thankful he is good at fixing things, can help me lift the heavy things. Sometimes he drives me places when the roads are icy – I love that.

I’m thankful he is a good cook…and he can always fend for himself if he doesn’t want to eat what I have cooked.

I’m thankful he has never failed even once to encourage me in something I wanted to do – except for the time when I was distinctly caught up in baby fever and thinking three children would be even nicer than two. At the time we already had two children under the age of two and neither of us had slept for months. That was the only time in our marriage he said a decisive and final, “no.”

I’m thankful that he is plentiful with “I love yous”. Even when we are both dead tired, or peeved at each other, or running in a thousand different directions, he says, “I love you.”

Sixteen years. It’s not a soap opera romance. It is real and gritty and imperfect. It is dear and true and treasured. My heart is full.

Happy Anniversary, Chad.

hetpeterlandson family

Rest and Grace (sermon – July 9, 2017)

Last Tuesday, the Fourth of July, was a blissfully inactive day at our house. It was one of those rare, precious days when we were all at home the whole day. We made no plans for any of it and just did what we wanted – which, for me, included about three movies, a walk, eating, and a nap. I tried to read part of a book but the nap quickly overtook the reading. For a little while the boys and I sat out on the deck just talking about nothing. For a moment, I was transported to summer days when I was a kid – most of which seemed to be filled with nothing and a lot of sitting outside with my parents and brother to try to catch a cool breeze when the house was hot and stuffy. Sometimes I remember getting very bored, aching for something to do, but my parents believed too many extracurricular activities were unnecessary and learning to enjoy quieter pursuits like reading and going for walks in the woods built character. Looking back now from the vantage point of my often overscheduled days, I know I was lucky to have those long, quiet days, plenty of time to think, to create, or just to sit and talk about nothing with my parents.

It seems like usually at least once every summer there is a text that comes up in our Sunday morning readings that includes something about the importance of rest. It often seems to come at just the right time, too – about this time of the summer when all I hear people saying is that summer is going too fast and they just want it to slow down!  But there is so much fun stuff to do and only so many gorgeous days to be outside! We schedule ourselves from dawn to dusk – mostly loving every bit of it – but with hardly any time to breathe, to be, to rest.

Sometimes we need a reminder like the one Jesus gives us. I’ll read a couple verses of our gospel for today from Matthew – but this time from another version of scripture, The Message – as I love this paraphrase…  Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Are you tired? The National Center for Sleep Disorders estimates that 30 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation. Often, our sleep deficit is related to too much caffeine, nicotine, alcohol. Many times it’s related to work – stress from work, putting in long hours at work, working night shifts, working on the home computer until the second we go to sleep.

Sleep deficits have been linked with poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems, and mood problems like anger and depression. The growing list of health risks has been documented in recent studies, too. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have all been linked with chronic sleep loss.

But we know that we can be and feel tired more than physically – we can grow tired emotionally and spiritually, too. No matter how we are attacked by weariness, each of us have experienced it in our own ways – whether it is the exhaustion that parents of a newborn can feel; or the bone-tired hours, days, weeks spent at the bedside of a loved one who is sick or dying; it could be the flagging energy and depression that comes from being overworked or just doing work that doesn’t suit you, or the draining, heart-rending work of trying to save a dying relationship – every person has faced days and nights when we understand to our very core what it means to be weary and heavy-laden.

To us, to all, Jesus says, “I’m here.”  “You don’t have to struggle so hard to carry it all by yourself because I am already here – let me help you carry those things weighing you down.” “Rest.”

David Whyte writes, “To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right.”

Are you guilty of thinking that everything rests on your shoulders? Do you ever fall into the trap of self-important thinking where you can’t stop racing around and fixing things, because if you stop, everything will surely fall apart?

And In the church we are so good at talking about all the things we need to do – to pray, to serve, to study scripture, to meet for worship, to live out our discipleship – but our gospel for today blows in like a cool summer breeze and reminds us that resting is holy and necessary, too. When we do not rest, we suffer – not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally.  To rest is not self indulgent.  Rather, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, to pause to appreciate everything we have already been given.

What is something you could do this week to slow down and rest? Could you find a way to leave some open spaces in your schedule for blissful nothingness, some open spaces to be surprised by the beauty of a sunset, a conversation about nothing with a friend or a stranger?

Or if you are at a stage in life where rest isn’t as hard to come by, is there some gift of your time or energy you can offer to someone who is stressed out, overworked, bone-tired? When my friends Terry and Amy had their first born child nearly twenty years ago, one of our mutual friends, Cathy, offered as a gift to them to babysit once a month so that Terry and Amy could have a date night. And while of course that gift of time alone together was a gift to Terry and Amy, Cathy talks about how offering to do that blessed her so much as well with a decades-long relationship with this baby girl and eventually that baby’s siblings as they grew up. An older couple in Colorado Springs offered to do something similar for Chad and I when we had a toddler and a newborn. The words had barely come out of her mouth, “We’d love to watch your children sometime if you and Chad would like a date night,” when I practically shouted “yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!” and I was digging out my planner to figure out a time that worked.

Sometimes we are able to give each other the gift of rest or help each other carry a burden. Sometimes we are the ones needing a break.

But truthfully, resting in Jesus is more than taking a nap – it is leaning into Jesus’ love. Ultimately, this scripture is about much more than just self-care. It’s about discipleship, really. It’s about grace. Jesus tells us, “I am with you as you live as my disciples.” Self-care matters, of course, but we have to be careful not to confuse the good news with good advice.  Good advice is nice, but it doesn’t save. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once put it this way to his students: “God’s intention is to bear or sustain us, not to teach or improve us.”

So hear this, church: Jesus is beside you, loving you and forgiving you – helping you weather it all – the good days, the awful days – the sunny and rainy days and every other day. And we as a church community are here to support one another as well…to do our best at loving each other and the world as Jesus taught us.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love that picture from 1946 we have hanging in our hallway out there – the picture of the whole congregation then. The picture we are going to try to recreate after worship today. They are sitting and standing side by side – the people of Saint Peters in that time. So many different people. So many different gifts. Perfectly flawed and perfectly beautiful. God brought them together – to love and serve God as best they could.  God called them. And today God calls us.

In Jesus’ name we work and rest – today and every day. Amen.

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The congregation of Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church – 1946
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The congregation of Saint Peters Lutheran Church (with a few missing…) – July, 2017

It Matters – Sermon from 7/2/17

Last week I took my own boys to Bible Camp. I have always liked to use the time they are at camp as my own time to catch up on reading and writing and I did the same this year. However, because of Owen’s tonsillectomy and the upcoming trip to Norway and other commitments, we couldn’t find a week that worked for us to go to Camp Emmaus like usual, so finally – I began looking at other camps. After comparing schedules and costs, we decided to go to Red Willow Bible Camp near Binford, North Dakota. 

I had been there before, helping with retreats in college and it was nice to go back. I spent time reading and writing but then when the nice day outside would start calling too loudly to me, I would leave to go explore – many times just the trails around the camp, but also the area. Many of you know I like to take pictures of country churches and there were no shortage of them. On the plains of North Dakota you can see the steeples rising up for miles away and I would head in that direction to see what there was to see. I found many abandoned churches – the doors secured shut with plywood and heavy nails; their bells plucked from their towers and now resting in the cemetery with a commemorative display of the history of that church’s rise and demise.

I found plenty of thriving country churches as well – and most of them with unlocked doors so I could go inside and peruse the confirmation pictures, check out their bulletin boards, their sanctuaries – see what their was to see. One late afternoon I came across a small church at the intersection of two gravel roads.  This church still has worship each Sunday, but no indoor bathrooms, rather – an outhouse behind the church. I always think it is interesting to see what churches have decided is a necessity and what isn’t over the decades. They had a sound system, an elevator, gorgeous stained glass – but somewhere along the way they had drawn the line at an indoor bathroom.  There has to be a story there. Anyway, this church was very cool – if you take a tiny stairway going up at the back of the sanctuary, you come to the cutest room in the world up in the bell tower – it has huge windows on all sides so you can look out over the prairie in all directions. Gorgeous! IMG_1454.JPG

And one afternoon when Owen was exploring with me we went to Norway Lutheran Church, a unique, lovely sandstone brick church built in 1903, perched on a remote hill in McHenry county. It was thunderstorming when we got there but a man was there who had been mowing the cemetery before the storm started and he was waiting to see if the rain would stop. He had keys to the church and let us in – His name was Ivan and he was a grandson of one of the charter members and told us stories – including that there was a famous Norwegian buried there, Sondre Norheim, who had invented a certain kind of ski strap and is considered the Father of Telemark Skiing. But that wasn’t the end! Then, he invited us to see the basement – which could only be accessed through a storm cellar door – but sure enough, once you got down there, there was a small kitchen and a seating area, and the requisite stand for the confirmation pictures. The church had stopped having regular services twenty years ago because the once thriving congregation had shrunk to six members. Ivan said that when he was growing up the church had been full every Sunday, but as families shrunk, and people moved away, and the location of the church remained remote, within a few short decades there was no choice but to close.norway lutheran church

Not long ago, a friend asked me why in the world I like to visit these little churches and particularly abandoned churches and cemeteries. To her it seemed like such a morbid hobby. However, I like to imagine all the life that was once in those places. The best way I can explain it, going out of my way to find those places feels like I am paying tribute to what once happened there. Those lives, those hymns they sang, those times they gathered for fellowship or to study scripture or to support each other in grief – all of that mattered. Those people Ivan pointed out to me on the picture board as he told stories of friends and neighbors, fellow Christians who had lived and died in the faith, cared for each other and the world in the good and the bad – they mattered. And even if ministry in that place seems to have ended, it really didn’t because the ripples of what was taught there, the goodness shared through the people there, it continues through the generations through the descendants of those congregants wherever they go. The Word of God continues. It mattered and it matters still.

In fact, much of this Christian faith is based on trusting that things that seem small or maybe things we can’t even see at all – matter. Take the gospel for today as a good example – Jesus says even giving just a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty shows the One to whom we belong. It’s not flashy. It’s not going to get us on television or one million hits on Youtube – and yet, the smallest, simplest acts of helping and welcoming others are what matter the most in God’s Kingdom.

Welcoming others is a holy task. We don’t invite people here or get to know people out there just because it is a nice thing to do or because we want them to be nice to us in return or even because we want to plump up our membership rolls, we do it because we take to heart what Jesus said here, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” How we treat others is how we treat Jesus himself.

What would happen if we began to treat each and every encounter as if it were with Jesus himself? What would happen if we saw every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace, every interaction as an opportunity to embody Christ’s love for the neighbor?

Not long ago, a friend was talking about an interaction she had with the person who bagged groceries at our local grocery store. They had been talking off and on for a year, and finally my friend, out of the blue, invited the woman at the grocery store to come to her church. The woman responded by giving her a hug!

We may rarely receive such a positive response when we take the risk of reaching out, yet we may be surprised at how ready some are to receive our humble invitations and efforts. We need to remember Jesus’ promise: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” 

But this welcoming goes much farther than pleasantries exchanged at the grocery store. Jesus brought healing and taught justice every place he went and he calls us to do the same.

This is why we do what we can each day – because each of our small acts matter – whether it is collecting funds to help a local family going through unspeakable loss, or when we collect groceries for the food shelf so that no one will have to worry about getting food on their tables. This is why put together the personal care kits for Lutheran World Relief and spend time picking up garbage on the side of the road to care for this earth God gave us. It matters.

And this is why Christians care about everyone having access to healthcare and yes, even helping to provide it for those who can’t afford it on their own.  It matters. It is a holy thing to care for each other because when we do, we show what we think of Jesus and what Jesus has asked of us. We’re showing that we recognize that we are more than just human beings, skin and bones and breath – we are each children of the same heavenly father.

It matters. Caring for each other, caring for strangers in whatever small and great ways God puts in front of us. It matters. When we do these things, we do great things.

Both when we give help – and when we receive help. This is important to remember as well. There is holiness to be found not just when we are able to offer help to others but when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and receive it. In many ways, this is the harder thing – to admit when we need help and then let others minister to us. Indeed, vulnerability is a key part of the Christian faith.

Karoline Lewis, professor at Luther Seminary writes, “Somewhere along the line, we lost our view of the fact that God becoming human was as much of a commitment to vulnerability as God’s death. We have a vulnerable God. Relationships, by definition, are vulnerable. By instigating a relationship with us, God decided and determined that vulnerability is at the heart of faith.”

There was a couple I knew who had three children and the oldest had just graduated from high school. People told them many things to expect as they began to see their children leave home – they were prepared to slowly see their nest empty out and head toward a new season of their lives.  What they weren’t prepared for was to find out they were pregnant with twins. Everything turned upside down for them as they realized the next years were going to be much different than anticipated. They felt bad that they didn’t feel immediately elated about two new members coming into their family – instead they felt many conflicting emotions as they got used to this news and figured out how they were going to afford these new babies and how they would care for them and the needs of their older children.

The ladies of my church at the time wanted to throw a baby shower for this family. The family had been attending our church very sporadically for a while and even though they needed everything for these new babies, they hesitated at the offer of a shower because they hadn’t been around much at our church in the last year. But I explained to them that we longed to be supportive to them during this unexpected time. This congregation made up of many, many elderly folks positively ached to go shopping for baby things and welcome these new babies. It was going to be an easy and a happy thing for us to do that. “Please, please let us,” I said. And the couple let themselves be vulnerable and let us help them and while that family went home with truckloads of great stuff for their soon to be born babies, I hope they understand that it was even moreso a blessing for all of us to throw that baby shower. We were a congregation that experienced more funerals than anything else at that time and so everyone was giddy to think about bottles and diapers for a bit.

Sometimes we are able to help, sometimes we need help – and there is holiness and joy to be found in both. Wherever you are at this week – trust God will work through you in your strength, and in your vulnerability. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.