Leave the Light On

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The season of white, gray, and cold has begun. The wind is whirling snow past my window and clawing at the front doors of the church. Every now and then, the building creaks, but my office is warm.

It is the brief lull between Reformation Sunday and All Saints Sunday. My mother died during this lull in 2011. I remember leaving the Fall festival on Reformation Sunday at our church to go to the hospital to see her. By that night I knew she was dying. She was so weary, so frail. I stayed as close to her bedside as I could while gracious friends watched my little boys. In the brief moments when she was awake, she was no longer speaking to me, but to loved ones beyond time and space. She smiled and laughed as you do when you see old friends. If I tried to interject and say something, she almost looked dismayed. Her sights were no longer set on me, on this realm. She was looking ahead, looking forward, already gone in so many ways. Her body just had to catch up.

It was a Tuesday night when she died. It was an early Wednesday morning when she died. It was All Saints Day. It was All Souls Day. It was November 1. It was November 2. Both are true to me because when I fell asleep on the hospital couch in her room on All Saints day, my mother was still breathing. When I woke up on All Souls Day, I could no longer hear her breathing in the darkness and I knew she was gone. I waited a few minutes before I went to turn on the light.  I knew as soon as I saw her it would be real that she was gone.

Finally, I got up and moved toward the light switch. I turned on the light and looked toward the bed and there she was. Her skin already yellowing, her life had slipped away while I slept. I sat next to her as the nurses came in and out with their questions, helping me process what needed to happen next. Looking at her face was so hard because she really didn’t look like her already – so I looked at her arms, her hands. I thought about all those hands had held – me and my brother when we were babies, they had cared for my dad all the years he was sick, they had typed up church bulletins and newsletters, manuscripts, they had done countless loads of laundry and dishes, baked bread and birthday cakes, they had journeyed to beautiful places and hard places, they had held the handkerchief she carried around for when tears snuck up on her, they had held a whole lifetime, and now their work was done.

In slow motion I made the calls I needed to make. It was still the middle of the night and the world was sleeping – my husband, my brother – I left them messages to tell them mom had died. With no one in my family awake to talk to me at that bleak hour, the funeral director from Minnesota, who had handled my father’s funeral the year before, was a warm and welcome voice. His northern accent was comforting as I sat there in that Texas hospital. He sounded like home.

The city of Waco was hushed as I walked out to my car. I think it was raining slightly as I drove and cried and drove some more. The hospital was about an hour from my house. I noted to myself how the world felt so different now, and of course, it was. It was now a world that no longer had my mother’s smile, voice, wisdom in it. This world is still sorely lacking for having lost those precious things.

And now somehow six years have passed since that night/morning. I’ve gone to sleep and woken up thousands of times in a world where mom isn’t anymore. My boys hardly remember her but they know well my stories of her. They know that their mom loved her mom and there’s a well of sadness that still springs up out of me sometimes, and that’s okay. My shiny stone of grief I carry around is precious to me because it’s one of the ways I hold on to her.

But it is just one of the ways. There are so many other ways I remember her, too – and as the years pass, I want to be better at remembering her differently.

I want to remember her with laughter because she loved to laugh. Her laugh was like silver bells over the snow: light and sweet. She laughed easily and often.

I want to remember her with friendship because she treasured her friends. Being married to my dad was hard work and so it was her friends who saved her and brought her joy. She made time for them and they were fiercely devoted to each other.

I want to remember her by being a kick-ass mom. She loved being a mother and she was so good at building a home. Not necessarily the tasks of being a housewife – she hated cleaning, she wasn’t a great cook, she cared little about decorating, but she knew how to make a home. She made time for us kids, giving us herself, always.

I want to remember her by welcoming my years. Mom was not vain. She never colored her hair. She never wore makeup. She was fully herself and present in whatever age she was at. She didn’t have time for nonsense. She lived the life God gave her, neither rushing the years nor wishing for the past to return.

I want to remember her by being me. That’s all she ever wanted for me. She gave me roots and then she gave me wings and she would be so disappointed if I didn’t fly. She was proud of me no matter what I did – when I stayed close to home and when I adventured.

It does me no good to build a monument of pain in memory of her. I didn’t mean to do that, but in many ways I have. I’ll always think of her, miss her, tell stories about her, but I don’t want the narrative I tell about my mom for the rest of my days to be full of sadness when her life was not that way. She was joy and laughter and friendship, welcome, gentleness, a loud “yes” to love and goodness.

Where I grew up, about five miles outside a small town in northern Minnesota, we had a yard light out by the garage. If my brother or I were out past dark, mom would turn on that yard light so that we would have a light to welcome us home. It was such a small thing, but so lovely to turn the corner onto our lonesome gravel road and see that light in the distance. It was mom saying, “I’m thinking of you. Be safe! Come home soon. Welcome back.” She continued to do that long after we had moved away from home – if we were coming for a visit and arrived after dark, the light would be on.

A few years before mom and dad died, they were both in the nursing home for a while and I came back to Minnesota to see them. I flew in at night and drove up to the house. It was going to be the first time in my whole life I would sleep in that house alone.  It was the dead of winter and as I approached, there was no light on to welcome me – everything was silent and still. Mom had told me the heat would be on and to make myself at home, but without the light to welcome me, the place felt alien and I just wanted to go sleep in a hotel. I probably would have if I weren’t already exhausted from travel and if there had been a hotel anywhere nearby. I stayed that night at the house but hardly slept at all. The house creaked in sadness as the wind and snow pelted against it. The rest of the nights I was in Minnesota I stayed on the extra bed in mom’s nursing home room. Being close to her was all the light I needed.

Perhaps the rest of my days, my task is to remember to leave the light on for other people. For my children, by loving them the best I can, giving them a warm and welcoming place to call home. For my congregation, by pointing them toward Jesus and helping our church be a place of grace. For my friends, by being supportive and listening, and sharing of myself. For strangers, by not being afraid to let others in. Offer help. Offer a smile. Offer my time.

Leave the light on. This is how I choose to remember my mom for the rest of my days to come.

light on

 

Leave the Light On

By Beth Hart

I seen myself with a dirty face,
I cut my luck with a dirty ace
I leave the light on
I went from zero to minus ten
I drank your wine then
I stole your man
I leave the light on,
I leave that light on.

Daddy ain’t that bad he just plays rough
I ain’t that scarred when I’m covered up
I leave the light on
Little girl hiding underneath the bed was it something I did
Must be something I said
I leave the light on, better leave the light on.

I want to love
I want to live
I don’t know much about it
I never did seventeen and I’m all messed up inside
I cut myself just to feel alive
I leave the light on twenty one on the run
on the run on the run from myself

From myself and everyone
I leave the light on, I leave the light on
Better leave the light on.

Cause I want to love
I want to live
I don’t know much about it
I never did,
I don’t know what to do, can the damage be undone
I swore to God that I’d never be what I’ve become
Lucky stars and fairy tales
I’m gonna bathe myself in a wishin’ well
Pretty scars from cigarettes
I never will forget, I never will forget
I’m still afraid to be alone
wish that moon would follow me home
I leave the light on
I ain’t that bad I’m just messed up
I ain’t that sad but I’m sad enough
God bless the child with the dirty face who cuts her luck with a dirty ace
She leaves the light on, I leave that light on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Society

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

I woke up with a mild feeling of dread. The last thing I wanted to do was go back to work or be around people. The last few days I have spent reading and writing. Every few months I do this because I usually have piles of books I need to catch up on and I never seem to make enough time to write – so these days are necessary for me to stay connected to these important tasks.

Unfortunately, when I am coming out of a particularly busy week, it seems to take a couple days for my mind to slow down and get into the reading and writing solitude groove, but once I am in that groove, I feel like I could easily stay there forever and it takes a great deal of effort to emerge back into civilization. When I left the house on Wednesday for an appointment, I realized I hadn’t gone anywhere since Sunday except on a few lonesome walks in the neighboring fields. I also hadn’t showered or brushed my hair. I can slip into hermit mode easily and could stay there indefinitely.

I come by it honestly. My dad was a full-fledged hermit. Many of my elementary-school classmates thought I didn’t have a father because they never saw him, and unless they were in my house or the doctor’s office, why would they?

I was still an infant and my brother only four when dad’s health declined to the point he was unable to continue working as a pastor. We left the Twin Cities and moved to a tiny farmhouse outside Henning, MN. Mom took care of me and my brother. Dad wrote. He fashioned a small office in a back pantry where he retreated to scribble in his notebooks and read.

I believe that he fancied that our move to the country was a new start for us. We raised chickens and had a big garden. On Sundays he and mom taught us Sunday School at home. He did not believe the church in town could teach us better than he could. On summer evenings we played kickball in the back yard and in the winter we went sledding down the big hill in the woods.

At first, Dad still did some supply preaching at area churches on Sundays, but he stopped that soon after we moved to the farmhouse. Dealing with people was just too exhausting for him and bit by bit he began to delete himself from the world. He didn’t run errands. He stopped working at all. He didn’t have or see friends. He didn’t visit his mother or brothers who lived five miles away. He never set foot in our school even one time in the years Andrew and I were growing up. Eventually he also stopped feeding the chickens and working in the garden. He finally wearily sent us to the church in town for Sunday School and confirmation class and if we ever wanted to play kickball or go sledding, it was only mom who went with us.

Our family narrative became “Dad doesn’t feel good.” “Dad is too sick” to come to this or that. “Dad is having a bad day” and so that’s why he never leaves the house. He was suffering and he was the eternal victim.  The rest of us learned to live around that. We learned to never expect anything from him.

How infinitely small his world became. Perhaps it is no surprise he was angry much of the time – so angry that it seemed to push him over the edge to have to deal with any of us. His temper boiled and erupted into fits of yelling, hurling repetitive, paranoid, nonsensical phrases over and over until he would collapse into sleep on the scratchy brown living room couch. Finally, it wasn’t enough to just isolate himself to our property or our house, he retreated to his bedroom where he laid in the dark quiet for years.

And I was glad when he finally did. It was so much easier when he stayed in that room, because when he came out his anger and sadness filled me.

Yes, my dad had physical health issues, but I am certain that it was the emotional and mental issues – the way he isolated himself that really took away his life. The isolation was the perfect nourishment for the depression that hid him away from us and everyone.

I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to make sense of my dad’s life. It wouldn’t be too much of a leap to say that I even appear to be living parts of his life. He was a pastor, I am a pastor. He loved living in the country, I love living in the country. He was a writer, I am a writer.

However, while I am similar, I am the mirror image, or even the upside-down of him. He was a fire and brimstone preacher, I tell about Jesus’ peace and grace. He liked living in the country so he could hide from a world that both displeased and frightened him, I simply love having space to breathe and quiet. Maybe we are most alike in our writing. He loved his writing and tended to it daily, praying it would be meaningful to someone else. So do I. His writing was his way of praying, telling himself and God about his life, worries, dreams, despair. Me, too.

There are two stories I tell over and over and they are both stories of the loss of my parents. Although my parents died only a year apart, I lost one so much earlier than the other. Mom was 77 when she took her last breath and I stopped being able to create new, loving memories with her. With Dad it was about thirty years before that when he stopped participating in life – his, mine, anyone’s.

I grieve my mom’s death but I also grieve that I lost my dad so long before he took his last breath. His physical death on a January day in 2010 was powerfully anticlimactic as he hadn’t really lived in so very long.

I want to live. I don’t want anything to die in me while my heart is still beating.

Yes, I love my reading and writing days when I cloister myself away and talk to hardly anyone, but I know I must be with my community, too. I need them. I need their energy, ambition, love, conflict, because I have seen the alternative and it is empty. God didn’t create us to exist only in our own thoughts and comfortable, safe surroundings. Too much space, too much quiet, too much time alone – it seduces, but left unchecked, it kills. At least it kills me. I choose to be influenced by others – friends and acquaintances, to have their ideas rub up against mine and see what kind of fires that creates in the imagination.

Not terribly long ago, I was having a hard day. I was tired and hungry and grieving for a friend who had just lost her dad. On the drive back from the memorial service, I decided to pick up a pack of cigarettes. I quit long ago, but every few years I dance with the devil and buy a pack. I savor that pack over the next week until it is gone and then go back to my non-smoking life.

I thought about isolation that week because I didn’t want anyone to know I was smoking, so I had to do it in secret. I would make up reasons I could be alone so I could go have a smoke: go for a drive, go for a walk, stay up after everyone went to bed, get up before everyone else, it was exhausting just trying to make room for those cigarettes in my life. Then, I also had to make sure I had breath mints and Febreze and I was washing my hands constantly to try to keep the cigarette stench off of me. Alone, alone, alone. I craved that time alone like I craved the next smoke, but neither the time alone nor the nicotine fixed anything. I was not changed in a better way for having had the solitude or the smoke.

What did help? What did bring ease and energy back again?  Laughing with my kids. Coffee with a friend. Sitting down to talk to my husband. Singing hymns at the bar with my rowdy congregation.

We were created to be in community.

If you need to talk, I’m here.

If you know of someone who is lonesome, give them a call.

 

Society

By Eddie Vedder

It’s a mystery to me
We have a greed
With which we have agreed

You think you have to want
More than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be free

Society, you’re a crazy breed
I hope you’re not lonely without me

When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed

I think I need to find a bigger place
‘Cause when you have more than you think
You need more space

Society, you’re a crazy breed
I hope you’re not lonely without me
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me

There’s those thinking more or less less is more
But if less is more how you’re keeping score?
Means for every point you make
Your level drops
Kinda like it’s starting from the top
You can’t do that

Society, you’re a crazy breed
I hope you’re not lonely without me
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me

Society, have mercy on me
I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me

 

 

 

 

My Song

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

My Song – by Brandi Carlile

When I haven’t written for a week or two, I can tell that something is “off” for me. My thoughts get too bottled up and crowded in my brain. The simple practice of writing each day is medicinal for me – it eases something in my heart and mind.

So most days, I write. It brings me pure and simple joy and release. The trickier part is sharing what I write.  Sharing my writing feels like something I ‘ought’ to do – but as soon as I think of the eyes of others reading my words, I begin to mold and fashion the words into something I think others might like instead of letting them just be my own unique creation. When I change my creation to suit others, I begin to hate it. The process of writing becomes work.

Writing takes bravery: once it’s out there you come face to face with the truth that it’s quite likely many won’t want to read it anyway, or they might read it just to be kind or skim it out of curiosity, or perhaps they will make some comment that shows they really didn’t get it or even disagree heartily with it. This is true with any writing – even that which you have gone over with a fine-tooth comb to make it as palatable to the masses as possible.

However, to share your own honest writing, your great truth-telling and sentences just as you like them shaped, thoughts expressed just as you want to express them – not thinking about how your mom or your friends or your congregation might want you to express them – that takes the utmost courage. It takes courage because you are trusting that your own unvarnished insights and opinions matter and have worth all on their own – even if not a single soul likes it or comments on it. Trusting that the unique creativity that God gave you is beautiful just because it exists, not because it needs to be molded or shaped into something marketable or profitable is the spark that lights fireworks in the soul.

What would you say if you didn’t feel you had to bite your tongue? What would you write if you weren’t so worried about what others would think? Perhaps those words, spoken or written, are exactly what your family, your community, your world are needing to hear and see.  Why else did God give them to you?

Writing

“My Song”
by Brandi Carlile

Everything I do
Surrounds these pieces of my life
That often change
Or hey, maybe I’ve changed

Sometimes seeming happy
Can be self-destructive
Even when you’re sane
Yeah you’re only insane

But don’t bother waking me today

Here I am
I’m so young
I know I’ve been bitter
I’ve been jaded
I’m alone
Everyday, I bite my tongue
If you only knew
My mind was full of razors
To cut you like a
Word if only sung

But this is my song
This is my song

I live everyday
Like they’ll never be a last one
Till they’re gone
And they’re gone
I’m not too proud to beg for
Your attention and your friendship
And your time
So you could come and get it from now on

Here I am
I’m so young
I know I’ve been bitter
I’ve been jaded
I’m alone
Everyday, I bite my tongue
If you only knew
My mind was full of razors
To cut you like a
Word if only sung

This is my song
This is my song

And it’s you
It is you

Here I am
I’m so young
I know I’ve been bitter
I’ve been jaded
I’m alone
Everyday, I bite my tongue
If you only knew
My mind was full of razors
I’m not sure I can take it
I’ve nothing strong to hold to
I’m way too old to hate you
My mind is full of razors
To cut you like a
Word if only sung

But this is my song

Extraordinary

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Extraordinary by Liz Phair

In the church basement we are collecting items for the next rummage sale. It’s a fun time of year as all sorts of interesting items show up. There are tons of Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations, old bookshelves, lamps, a nativity set, immense amounts of clothes and dishware, odds and ends of every sort – including books. Oftentimes the books are romance novels and mystery novels, but this time someone dropped off two huge bags filled only with dieting books. From “Wheat Belly” to the “17-Day Diet,” to old guides from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers Points booklets, it was a small weight loss library. As I looked through the books, I wondered about how many broken dreams were between those pages.  How many times had this person bought a new diet book and thought, “This time! This time it will work. This diet will be the one.” And maybe some of those diets did “work” for a while, but obviously not forever, because more diet books were purchased. I thought about all the wasted time and money in those two huge bags of books. What great things could this person have accomplished in the hours that were spent counting points, calories, grams of turkey? How might this person’s life had been richer if instead of recording the number of minutes of cardio at the gym, he or she had learned a new hobby or written a letter, a book, a poem? What made this person decide to finally get rid of these books?

But mostly I thought about how a few years ago I did the same thing. I had at least a couple big bags full of dieting books that I gave away to Goodwill. This is why I did it: it became clear to me that life was too short for one more minute of the craziness of worrying about how much I weigh. With all the delicious food in the world, I couldn’t bear to only eat oatmeal or egg whites for breakfast anymore. Determining how good or bad my day was by whether or not I had stuck to a certain plan or an allotted amount of calories had done absolutely nothing to benefit my life. It took me decades, but I finally realized it was madness to give so much time and energy and money toward trying so hard to be ‘less’ in any way. I said a giant “NO” to the diet industry and sighed a relieved “YES!” to life and listening to myself – my body and my own wishes and wants.

However, it’s hard to learn to listen to your body, your wants and desires, after spending decades trying to bend your body into submission. From the age of 12 until decades later, I had known I was too big, too hungry, too much in every way and the only solution was to manage the calories, manage the hunger, battle myself until I would someday reach that elusive smaller size. I learned how to be good at starving. I mastered denial and self-control, how to say, “I’ll have a diet coke” when everyone around me was having ice cream. Occasionally I did shrink almost as small as I wanted to be – but of course it was never enough and impossible to sustain. I was hungry all the time, weighing myself incessantly, irritable, longing for food until the humming in my head just got louder and louder until finally, I had to eat – eat everything in sight. That is what happens when you starve – then you binge.

I don’t starve myself anymore because I don’t want to binge anymore. There will always be people who say that dieting is about balance and that one can manage their weight without starving. But dieting is always about restriction, and restriction almost always produces binging. It’s a very small percentage of people who lose weight that are able to keep it off, and those who regain weight often end up heavier than they were before they started trying to lose weight. In fact, I heard one researcher put it this way: the most effective way to gain weight is to go on a diet. Craziness.

So, while it isn’t easy to learn to listen to my body instead of battle it, it’s all I want to do now. I’ve given up the fight. That’s not to say that I don’t care what I look like – I do! I just see the process differently now. I sometimes choose to eat spinach and drink water because I like how they make me feel. I sometimes choose to enjoy a piece of cake with my kids because cake (but mostly frosting) is a beautiful thing. I choose to not eat processed cheese food very often because I don’t like how that makes me feel. I run most mornings because I love it. I will not force myself to go to the sterile gym and hang around in other peoples’ sweat for an hour every day just because I have to burn a certain number of calories. I listen to my cravings – for food, for movement, and I thank God for my strong, healthy body.

And I pray that whoever dropped off those bags of books in the church basement has found peace and joy in her or his skin, too. I pray they move their bodies for the love of it and eat exactly what they want to eat today.

If you want to be free from dieting, I recommend reading this article: http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/ and reading the book, “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. An excellent podcast I listen to often is Food Psych by Christy Harrison.

You are extraordinary – as Liz would say – you “ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess!”

diet books

Extraordinary by Liz Phair

You think that I go home at night
Take off my clothes, turn out the lights
But I burn letters that I write
To you, to make you love me
But I drive naked through the park
And run the stop sign in the dark
Stand in the street, yell out my heart
To make, to make you love me
I am extraordinary
If you’d ever get to know me

I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess

You may not believe in me
But I believe in you
So I still take the trash out
Does that make you too normal for you?
So dig a little deeper, cause
You still don’t get it yet
See me lickin’ my lips, need a primitive fix
And I’ll make, I’ll make you love me
I am extraordinary
If you’d ever get to know me

I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess

See me jump through hoops for you
You stand there watching me performing
What exactly do you do?
Have you ever thought it’s you that’s boring?
Who the hell are you?

I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess

 

The Moment

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The Moment – by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Not long ago, a friend was talking about retirement. She wasn’t talking about it in some far-off “someday” kind of way. Rather, she is actually planning to retire in a few years. We are the same age.  I have another friend who has already retired.

Meanwhile, I still feel like I’m just getting started. Sure, these friends started their careers a bit before me while I took time off to travel and get my master’s degree – but still, I wasn’t that far behind.

The years haven’t passed in the blink of an eye, but I’m now firmly at that place in life where I realize I likely have more of life behind me than in front of me.  I’m comfortable not dying the gray hairs into submission every six weeks. I’m fine with the wrinkles setting in – they mark so much that I have lived through and learned. I’m not as okay with the chin hairs sprouting anew daily, the way my feet look more and more like my mother’s feet, and how I’m pretty sure my hearing is not very good anymore. However, I’ve had a front row seat to aging for a long time as I have visited the elderly in their homes and hospitals and nursing homes. I know how important it is to take care of myself and especially to savor the time that I get. Because…

Someday I might not be able to run.

Someday I might not be able to drive.

One day my children will be grown so it is important to do everything I can with them now.

One day all the push and pull of my career will be over – so I must work hard to do my best, live it, love it…

One day I will be an old woman, so why not love being a middle-aged woman while I can.

In time, everything will change and I’ll need to fill the spaces of time in which I used to be taking my kids back and forth to practices, play dates, and appointments.

In time, I won’t be the first person my boys want to tell about their day.

Eventually this very day will be one that I will look back upon and marvel at everything I had: two beautiful young boys whose worlds revolved around me, a hard-working, smart husband, a kind, peaceful church, a beautiful parsonage with a small lake and a field in the back yard, the ability to run, to write, to do anything in the world I want to do with this day.

It’s heart-stopping when you pause to realize how precious it all is. This moment. This one. It’s the only one we have.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is but a dream. What will you do with this one moment you have?

 

The Moment

By Toad the Wet Sprocket
Shame doesn’t become you
There are no mistakes in the final view
No blame, how could it be so wrong
That your heart was braver than your will was strong

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

I’ll go, but who will you have to be
Will you just get by or get what you need
Just know that I don’t need to fit in
But is there room for you in your life with him?

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

It’s out of my hands, out of my hands
But I miss my friend, I miss my friend
So this is the price of honesty
But I’m not sorry

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

The moment is happening now
The moment is passing
The moment is happening now
The moment is passing

Sermon – Where Do You Find Your Peace? (10/8/17)

 

When I was reading the scripture for today from Philippians and how Paul writes that he counts all his accomplishments and credentials as nothing next to the beauty of knowing Christ, I was reminded of the story of Saint Francis of Assissi.

Saint Francis was the son of wealthy parents. In fact, his father named him Francis in honor of the country of France where he had gained great wealth as a cloth merchant.

Francis was intelligent and eventually became a merchant like his father. However, he liked to have a good time more than he liked to work. He like to be with his friends, party and dance. His biggest dreams when he was young were to become even richer and to be admired by all. When wartime came, Francis went to war with dreams of military glory.

However, he was captured and spent a year in prison and when he returned home, he was sick for a very long time. After that, Francis was changed. It troubled him that he was no longer happy with all the things that used to make him happy – the dancing, the partying, his things – nothing was bringing him joy.

So he began to listen closely for God’s direction and prayed often. He spent a great deal of time alone asking for God’s guidance.

Eventually he received direction from God – first, to rebuild an old church that was falling apart. As he was doing this work, his parents thought he had lost his mind and tried to get him to come back to the family business but he said, “I’ve realized that from now on only our father in Heaven is my father.”  He gave back to his parents everything they had ever given him and left to wander in the woods, singing, praying, and preaching now and then. He took to heart Jesus’ message to the apostles to “take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals.” He just existed with only what he had on his back, preached, prayed, fixed up old churches, and sang praises to God.

Eventually, others saw light in Francis and in the simple work he was doing. Others began to follow him. They learned from Francis and then he sent them out to preach and pray and teach more people about Jesus.

Francis saw poverty as a holy thing. When his followers met someone poorer than they, they would rip off their habit to give to the person. They wouldn’t accept money from anyone. They treated coins as if they were pebbles in the road. Francis said, “If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them.” Possessing something was the death of love for Francis. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve someone who is fasting, you can’t steal from someone who is penniless, you can’t ruin someone who doesn’t care about status. They were truly free.

In time, there were so many following Francis that he decided to go write down a few simple lines that described their way of life and went to the Pope to get his approval for their way of life based on poverty as it is found in the gospels.

The pope gave his blessing to Francis and his followers and they continued their work – helping others, and especially preaching. He left behind no opportunity to preach – in fact, one of the most infamous stories about him is that he preached a sermon to a group of birds once. He believed all of God’s creatures benefited from the good news of Jesus Christ. There are other stories of him being able to communicate with animals in extraordinary ways and this is one of the reasons the Catholic church recognizes him as the patron saint of animals.

Throughout his life he chose to live in poverty. He saw it as perfect joy, salvation, and virtue to endure suffering with patience and calm. At the end of his life he experienced great suffering – and it was in the midst of that he wrote the Canticle of the Sun – which we read part of as our opening litany today.

He died on October 3rd of 1226 at 45 years of age.

Like Paul, Francis found his joy in Christ Jesus. He found his identity in Jesus. He found his meaning, life, purpose, his peace in Jesus. The prayer of Saint Francis that is on the front of our bulletin today wasn’t written by him, but it was written to share the spirit of the peace he found only through Jesus Christ.

Where do we find our peace?

It’s a good question – maybe especially these days when it seems there is so little peace. When we hear news reports yet again of mass shootings. Yet again. Again and again. The shootings at Columbine High School happened the same spring I graduated from seminary – I was ordained a few months later. I remember how horrified we all were, what a strange and unheard-of thing it was. I had no idea that in the years to come we would hear again and again and again of people dying in mass shootings – in high schools, in elementary schools, at concerts, at nightclubs, at malls, at workplaces, at churches…you name it – wherever people gather, violence has found a way in.

And it seems like as soon as another incident happens, people start fighting with each other about why it has happened. Oh, we all have our opinions: Too many guns. Not enough God. God is punishing us for our sins. And whatever your opinion is, you get to have that opinion, but no opinion can take away the pain that countless families are feeling today.

The feelings that swirl around us and in us at times like this are overwhelming. Anger, utter disbelief, the sinking feeling of inevitability that we have heard this story so many times and we are sure now we will hear it again soon. More lives lost. Worry, worry, worry – for our children, for our friends, for ourselves.

It isn’t easy to preach on weeks like this. Because we need to hear a word of hope and sometimes hope seems so slim. Sometimes God seems all too silent. Sometimes I don’t want to look for the silver lining, tell stories about the heroes, the rescuers, all the good that happened even in the midst of the tragedy – I just want to mourn the unspeakable loss.  This was a hurricane of brokenness and we can’t begin to understand it. But you can’t end a sermon there.

So what can we do?

Well, gathering together here is a good start. At times when God seems silent, coming together for worship can feel like we are just going through the motions – and yet we trust that somehow, when God’s faithful people gather, healing happens. Here we are reminded of God’s word and God’s direction for our lives. Here we think of people like Saint Paul and Saint Francis – people who found meaning and purpose in serving Jesus Christ. We think of ways to follow in their footsteps and let go of things that are shallow and meaningless – excess of possessions, worries about status and popularity, anything that can cause harm to others or ourselves.

What can we do?

We can pray. Please don’t think that is a small thing. We do it for the world, but we do it for ourselves, too. We need to pray because that is one of the surest ways to give God’s peace a chance at penetrating our hearts.

What can we do?

Well, lamenting, crying is important. Be angry about events like this but don’t stop there – let those emotions fuel your behavior. What will you do now to be the change the world needs to see? Write letters to your congress people? Practice more random acts of kindness?  How can each of us do our small part to promote peace?

By last Tuesday, I was pretty much angry at the whole world. Not only had Las Vegas happened, but Tom Petty had died. And I still had to come up with some kind of hopeful message by the end of the week.

Fortunately, God gave that message of hope to me. Because on Tuesday afternoon I went in to meet Travis and Heather’s brand new baby, Archer. As I held him, I remembered that in spite of all the bad that can and does happen, in spite of how desperately weary I get of it, in spite of everything else, hope still breaks in. God’s goodness…and peace…and promise…is still all around, even in the darkest times.

So what can we do?  I recommend holding babies, too.

Sisters and brothers, take the time you need to mourn and lament – and then remember God is with you and find ways to contribute to the good, stand up to the darkness, don’t back down. As Tom Petty would say,

“No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down.”

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Even the Losers

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Even the Losers

By Tom Petty

Tom Petty died a couple days ago. His death came right on the heels of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. In the midst of all of this, a baby was born in our congregation. Death and life – the seasons go round and round.

I grew up listening to Tom Petty. His older songs were the soundtrack to rides on the school bus, the days I spent glued to VH1, and later on – the music I listened to with friends and boyfriends. “Even the Losers” has had a perpetual place on my running playlist for decades.

You aren’t supposed to say you feel like a loser. No one is supposed to admit to this. We are supposed to see ourselves as winners! Try! Do your best! Believe in yourself! And yet, in our times of quiet truth-telling, most of us have felt like we weren’t winning. I have felt this way – especially when I was growing up.

Painfully shy, I spent all of elementary, junior high, and high school perched firmly on the outer edges of anything cool. I had a rich fantasy life where I dreamed of the handsome popular boy calling me, of being an actress, a singer. When I was alone, I could imagine I was anyone, on the verge of being anything – but when I was with other people I was faced with the reality of my shyness, my inability to ever know what to say, the painful surety that whatever I did say would be wrong, stupid, or simple.

I’m not a whole lot different now. Sure, I can function in society and in my work but I’m an introvert, through and through. I get anxious leading the smallest Bible study. I get a tinge of nervousness just returning phone calls. Before every one of the thousands of sermons I have preached, I’ve felt butterflies to panic.

I don’t spend much time anymore wondering why it is this way for me – rather, I I’ve learned how to build on my strengths: Less meetings, more writing and creative pursuits. I know that if I have a day full of being around people, leading activities, or public speaking, I need to take some time alone after that.

For example, last weekend I went to Homecoming festivities at my old college. I spent most of the day with my closest college friends and that was wonderful – talking, walking around campus, eating together. Then, in the evening there was a gathering for our entire class. As soon as we got there, I wanted to run away. I didn’t have any energy left for making small talk with virtual strangers – I left after about 25 minutes and went home. Maybe if I had started the day with that big social gathering I could have tolerated it longer, but as it was, I had no shred of extrovert left in me.  That Homecoming weekend of constant interaction with friends and strangers left me exhausted – it took me a couple days to feel normal again.

This feels like a flaw in my character and yet I know that it is just the way I was created. I can’t use my introversion as an excuse to lock myself away and not contribute to the world, but I do have to make sure I get quiet time.

It’s a bummer that quiet kids often feel like “losers.” Usually, the popular kids are the loud, animated ones. Everyone knows who those kids are and what they are about. Quieter kids often are harder to get to know – we keep our thoughts close. We don’t like talking just for the sake of talking.  We want the conversation to be about something that matters.

So, we sit on the sideline, looking for the interactions that matter – and we like it there except that sometimes it is a little lonesome. We see the extroverts talking loudly and laughing and gesturing wildly and wonder for a split second how it might be to be like that.

But then we are more than content to go off and write, walk and observe the leaves changing, read, contemplate life, explore – all on our own for quite a long time until another soul comes along to serve as a gentle companion.

I think that is what Tom Petty meant when he sang, “even the losers get lucky sometimes.”  No one is a loser, but every one of us has felt that way at some point – and what a blessing it is when something or someone comes along and we suddenly know we are winning. In our own way. On our own terms. In God’s always-surprising timing.

 

“Even The Losers”
Well it was nearly summer, we sat on your roof
Yeah we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I showed you stars you never could see
Babe, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

Baby time meant nothin’ anything seemed real
Yeah you could kiss like fire and you made me feel
Like every word you said was meant to be
Babe, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

Baby even the losers
Get lucky sometimes
Even the losers
Keep a little bit of pride
They get lucky sometimes

Two cars parked on the overpass
Rocks hit the water like broken glass
Should have known right then it was too good to last
It’s such a drag when you live in the past

Baby even the losers
Get lucky sometimes
Even the losers
Keep a little bit of pride
They get lucky sometimes