Scars

I have a scar on my index finger from a car accident back in 1996. One minute, I was cruising down a road near Parkers Prairie and the next my car was skating across glare ice until I landed upside down in the ditch. In the sub-zero November temperatures I assessed my situation. My glasses were broken. I had been in the midst of moving to a different apartment and so I had a bunch of my stuff in the back seat that was now blowing across the snowy countryside. Papers, clothes, a random tube of eyeliner. My right index finger was bleeding and as I looked closer, I noticed a bone, snapped and sticking out of the skin. I observed it thinking, “Hmmm…I would think that would hurt more than it does.”

I grabbed a sweatshirt that had landed next to me among the wreckage and wrapped it around my hand. I remember it all in slow motion – the nice farmer stopping to help me and giving me a ride to the hospital, then laying in an operating room with just enough anesthesia that I couldn’t feel them putting my finger back together, but I could hear the doctors talking to each other, one said, “That was a bad accident – did you hear her vehicle was completely smashed in? Did you know she is a seminary student – I think someone is watching out for her.” And the other doctor said, “Oh yeah – well if someone is watching over her so closely, why did the accident even happen?” Touche, I thought.

The wound has healed. But sometimes when I write too much or do a lot of work with my hands, that old broken bone in my finger aches and calls my attention to it. Nearly twenty years later I didn’t think it would still bother me, but it remains…a tiny, dull ache.

Years ago, I ran across a little article meant to explain to children about scars and why they form and what to do about them. I saved it because I heard wisdom in it not only for our physical scars – but maybe for others as well.

Dr. Brian Flyer, the author of the article, says, “A scar isn’t always a sure thing. It’s not so much how deep or severe a wound is that determines whether a scar will form, but rather the location of the wound and that person’s tendency to form scars.”

What sorts of scars do you have? If I asked you this question, I wonder what you would say? Would you pull up your sleeve and show me the mark on your elbow from your first time out on rollerblades? Would you tell me about the blemishes that remain from your bout with chicken pox? The interesting thing is that each scar has a story – and people are usually more willing to talk about the visible scars that remain on their bodies than the invisible ones that have hurt their spirit or their heart. The thing is – we all have them. The question is – is there anything to be done about them?

Maybe you heard about the United Methodist minister who had been in a serious accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. He had a lot of pain, and was given shots to reduce it. The procedure was always the same. When the pain got bad enough, he would ring a buzzer, and a nurse would soon come to give him the shot. One day, he rang for the nurse and then rolled over on his side (with his back to the door), pulled his hospital gown up over his exposed backside, and waited for the nurse to come in. When he heard the door open, he pointed to his right bare buttock and said, “Why don’t you give me the shot right here this time?”

After a few moments of silence, he looked up. It was a woman from his church! Following a brief embarrassing conversation, the woman left, and the minister—thinking about what he had done–started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes when the nurse arrived. When he tried to explain what had happened, he began laughing even harder.

When he was finally able to tell the nurse the whole story, the wonderful thing he noticed was that his pain was gone! He didn’t need the shot, and didn’t ask for one for another 90 minutes.

You and I both know people who have been through terrible tragedy in life – illness, loss, chronic pain…and there can be a huge difference in the ways people let those sorts of tragedy affect them. Some become broken. Some show amazing resilience. But what a blessing, no matter what our natural response might be, when God grants us the grace to laugh even when things seem most grim. It may not solve the problems of life – but it makes them easier to bear.

Peter Berger calls laughter a “signal of transcendence” – a sign built into us so that deep down, even if our heads are telling us that there is no God, our hearts tells us different. Laughter tells us that life, despite its seeming randomness and chaos, actually has meaning and purpose.

However, while finding laughter in the midst of hardship is certainly wonderful, one might ask, isn’t there a way to prevent wounds and scars altogether? Dr. Bryan Flyer states, “The best way to prevent scars is to prevent wounds! You can reduce your chances of getting hurt by wearing kneepads and helmets – but even with protective gear a person can get hurt once in a while.” If this happens, you can help your skin heal itself by treating it well during the healing process.”

Enid was a woman whose husband had died unexpectedly two years before she sought counseling with Dr. Rachel Remen. Withdrawn and distant, she no longer cooked or looked after her garden or her house. Most of the time she sat in her bathrobe in the living room, looking out the window. She had been brought to see Dr. Remen by one of her daughters who had told her, “I lost both my parents the day my father died.”

Enid was a lovely woman in her early seventies, but she seemed as lifeless as the chair she sat on. Dr. Remen opened the conversation by asking her why she had come. “My husband has died,” she replied, “My daughters would like me to talk about it, but I do not think that I care to.” “No one could possibly understand.”

Dr. Remen nodded in agreement. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Only your husband could understand what you have lost. Only he knew what your life together was like. If he were here Enid, what would you tell him?”

She considered this for a long moment. Then she closed her eyes and began to speak to her husband aloud, telling him what life was like without him. She told him about going to their special places alone, walking their dogs alone, sleeping in their bed alone. She told him about needing to learn to do the little things he had always taken care of, things she had never known about. She reminded him of times that only he would remember, old memories that no one else had shared. And then she began to cry.

When her tears stopped, Dr. Remen asked her if there was anything she had not said. Hesitantly she said how angry she was with him for abandoning her to grow old alone. She felt as if he had broken a promise to her. She missed him terribly.

“Enid,” Dr. Remen asked her, “If Herbert were here, what would he say to you about the way you have lived since his death?” She looked startled. “Why, he would say, ‘Enid, why have you built a monument of pain in memory of me? Our whole life together was about love.’” She paused. Then she said, “Perhaps there are other ways to remember him”.

Afterward she said that she had felt that if she let go of her pain, she would betray Herbert’s memory and diminish the value of his life. She had begun to realize that she actually betrayed him by holding on to her pain and closing her heart.

There is no way to prevent the wounds that occur in the course of our lives. The cost of love and life is that we will end up hurt sometimes. But we help ourselves heal when we realize that every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this.

Even so, we might still ask ourselves if scars are things we have to bear forever. Aren’t there ways to rid ourselves of them completely and start fresh? Dr. Bryan Flyer states, “Some scars fade over time. If yours doesn’t and it bothers you, there are treatments that can make a scar less noticeable.”

My mother had major heart surgery in 1995. At first after the surgery she always wore blouses with necklines that were high enough to conceal the top of the long scar that began just at the bottom of her throat.

Over time, however, she didn’t mind if people caught a glimpse of her scar. It’s like she almost became a little proud of it because that scar spoke of something she had been through – a tale that she lived to tell.

Could it be that we are wisest when we learn to see all of our scars that way? Not just the scars of surgeries we have survived – but the battle scars that life has given us. The scars that remain inside us from love lost, from all the hard stuff of life, even the scars that we hardly dare speak of because if people knew about them we think those scars would say something about us that we don’t want everyone to know. Scars left by things like failures, like bad choices made, like shame at something we said or did that we know was beneath us?

Could it be that a part of our healing is to be able to show the scars we have acquired – to not hide them but to say “See – see what I have been through. These say something about me. These scars tell you who I really am.”

Jesus himself knew that it was only by showing his ruined hands and feet to the disciples when he appeared to them after the resurrection that he could prove to them it was really him. He said, “See my hands and my feet – that it is really me.”

Let me tell you something – your scars are exquisite. Have you ever noticed how when you come to know someone as a friend – you may initially admire them for their strength or their bravery or their success – but they become real and dear and more and more beautiful as you begin to know the things that have caused them pain, the parts of them that have been broken, and the stories of their suffering?

There are so many reasons that we only show those parts of ourselves to those closest to us. We worry about seeming weak. We worry about people thinking we are fragile or incapable.

But I love what Paul writes in our second reading for today – he talks about a thorn given to him in his flesh and how he prayed it would leave him. We don’t know what this thorn in the flesh was. It could have been some physical ailment or maybe even an emotional ailment. Whatever it was, it troubled him and even though he prayed for it to go away, it didn’t.

And yet, he came to understand that even still, God could work through him – writing, “So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Trying to understand why the scar-causing things in life happen is futile, but we can find comfort in knowing that somehow, God’s strength, God’s provision, God’s grace can still shine through.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a woman who was injured in a diving accident in 1967 – the accident left her, then 17, a quad­riplegic in a wheelchair, without the use of her hands. Since then she has written over 50 books, and has become an advocate for all those with disabilities. She has been quoted as saying, “Deny your weakness, and you will never realize God’s strength in you.”

Tell me about your scars. Let’s be okay with being honest with each other about our flaws, our imperfections – because when we do, we’ll more readily begin to see all the beauty that God can still create even and especially in our brokenness.

Video Editing Software

We are having a lot of fun trying some new things with our worship videos now that the pandemic has made it so that my congregation can’t worship in person right now. We have been using some very simple video editing software but recently we received a grant to upgrade our software and equipment for our online ministry. This is a subscription I am looking into:

Adobe Premiere Pro CC | 1 Year Subscription (Download)

50

“O bless the Lord my soul – all that is within me –  bless God’s holy name.”

In just a few hours, it will be my fiftieth birthday. I’ve been spending the whole day today thinking back over the last decades. My twentieth birthday I think I was at home with my parents – spending a few days at home before heading to another summer at camp. My thirtieth birthday I was at my first call as a pastor in New York. I was single and my congregation threw me a little birthday party. Soon after that, Chad and I fell in love and we continued on this journey together. By my fortieth birthday we had two young children, my dad had just died, and I was in the brief lull between my call as a pastor in Colorado and moving to my next church in Texas. The boys and I were visiting my mom for a few weeks and the boys gave me a crooked little cake. And now I will be fifty. The last decade has flown by in hyperspeed. My boys are many feet taller. Mom died. I got my doctorate. I was on a Norwegian reality show. I moved back to Minnesota. I wrote two books, traveled to Norway three times, and the South Pacific, and a few big road trips, and collected a lot more silver hair.

I’ve tried to commemorate this occasion in various ways. First, I began a project while I was still in New Zealand back in February. I made a list of fifty things I wanted to do before my fiftieth birthday. It was a great list and I was having so much fun checking off items bit by bit. I was trying new kinds of ice cream, learning how to make new recipes, taking classes, making plans to meet people I admire, and complete difficult tasks. I completed well over half the tasks but then the pandemic struck and made a few of my items necessary to delay. The list will still be completed, but not before my fiftieth birthday. Then, I made a list of fifty things I Know – I thought it would be a fun writing exercise and a super blog post – but some of the most important things I’ve learned in the last decades aren’t things I’m comfortable blogging about or talking about. I’ve always been pretty private. I’m only ready to tell my stories and secrets when I am ready. I can’t be rushed.

In fact, I dig in my heels if I feel I am being rushed. I’ve always been that way. I don’t like to be told what to do and I will not be hurried along. I go at my own pace. I do what I want when I want. Stubborn. Steadfast.

But there’s something about turning fifty that makes me less proud of that quality – even though in the past it has served me well. Because I sense time getting shorter now. Anyone will tell you that the years pick up speed as we go – and I have begun to suspect that if I continue to demand to go at my own pace, to not be rushed, to pride myself on my steadfast nature rather than nurture the ability to move and be moved, well, it will not go well for me. I’ll age brittle and bent, not how I want to age – with my hair flowing long and free, laughter and wisdom brimming.

I want to remember my fiftieth birthday as the threshold of “yes”. A “yes” to motion. Less of my death-grip on control and measured responses and worry. More of letting go, exploration, and messy. Less of buttoned up. More of the scenic route. More of “why not try this?” Less of “this worked last time.” More of looking forward and appreciating what is right next to me. Less of ruminating on the past.

In two hours it will be my fiftieth birthday. I thank God for each year. Each person I have known. This life! The flowers, the meadows – how the grass looks like waves on a North Dakota prairie, how the snow sounds different on a really super cold day, how the smell of woodsmoke takes me back to a thousand summer nights, how listening to the Samples always makes me happy, how good friends and good food make life worth living, how glad I am that Chad and I found each other and decided maybe we did want kids after all because my boys are my heart, how I am such a disaster 68% of the time and yet my congregation loves me and lets me be their pastor, how the right turn of a phrase, or the sunlight setting just so, or plants pushing up through the earth in my garden, or the sound of the wind in the leaves – how any of it, all of it – is so beautiful! So precious! So good.

I understand the psalmist – “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” How can I offer up anything but praise for these years, this life? For all that has been and for whatever remains, “O bless the Lord my soul. O bless God’s holy name.”

And so, dear listener, for what or who do you give thanks today? What do you hope to have more of in the next years?  Less of in the next years? How is God moving in your life? What are you yet becoming?

Who know all that will yet be? But we know God is with us. God is with you, dear friends. “O bless the Lord, my soul- all that is within me – bless God’s holy name.”

Grace and peace to you, dear friends. In Jesus’ name – Amen.

The Works of Edgar Allen Poe – The Raven Edition

This book contains stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe that became innovative literature discoveries at the time and extremely popular in its genre including: The Fall of the House Usher, The Gold-Bug, poem The Raven. Poe was one of the first American writers who wrote mostly novellas. Within twenty years Poe created two short novels,two poems, one play, about seventy stories, fifty poems and ten essays that were published in magazines and almanacs and then gathered in collection books. Poe was highly valued by Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and Howard Phillips Lovecraf who admitted his pioneer role in the genres they were popularizing. In his thriller stories Poe tries to show psychic side of the crime from the inside. He is not interested in social roots of the crime, but in unmotivated actions that go beyond normal behavior of a person in the society. Nevertheless, in a series of stories while describing the acts committed by characters under influence of “contradiction demon” or“perversion demon”, Poe puts in rational reasons. The character from the story The Black Cat understands that his brain is poisoned with alcohol, and as a result his mental health and temper were injured. But this reasoning is too plain and trivial for the thriller.Narrating on behalf of the criminal, Poe brings actions under the control of contradiction demon. Combination of plans puts volume to the stories the events are at the same time rational and not, motivated and incredibly paradoxical.

Edgar Allen Poe ( January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story. He is also generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career. This volume is a classic among American fiction anthologies.

Click on the picture to see this book on Amazon.

What Does God say about Love

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:12-14)

34-35 “Jesus said, Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35)

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.  (John 3:16-18)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.I Corinthians 13:4-8 

Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. (Romans 12:9-12)

A message on Living a Life of Love

I Miss the Singing

Last night I was trying to remember the last song we sang on Christmas Day. Normally it’s nothing I would spend any time thinking about. Why would I? One season blends into another and one Sunday blends into another – and endless pattern of choosing hymns for the right church holiday, the rise and fall of the organ music always in the background. Music has always just kind of been there. Of course, there are songs I love and look forward to singing. Over the years I have so appreciated the skills and contributions of the musicians I have known. But I took music and singing together as a congregation for granted. It would always be there – like air, like the ground beneath me.

And then it was gone.

The last time I sang with my congregation was on Christmas Day 2019. I was supposed to lead worship on December 29th as well but there was a snowstorm that day and then I left for sabbatical on January 1st. By the time I returned from sabbatical, the world was already turned upside and our church had ceased in-person worship.

We are weathering the changes as well as any congregation. People check on each other, send cards, make phone calls, we create video worship services, hold zoom meetings, still participate in mission, and offerings are up. By most accounts, we are kicking butt at being the church in the pandemic.

But I miss the singing. It surprises me how deeply and truly and to my bones I miss the singing. I’m not a musician, I always had to rely on others to do song-leading – but if I could have anything back right now from life together as we knew it, it would be the singing. Hearing the voices beside me and behind me rising together. Some on key, some off. Singing the old hymns and the new. Singing the songs I used to sing when I would sit in church beside my mother and my grandmother. Singing the songs of faith I learned around a campfire by a Minnesota lake or surrounded by mountains in Montana. Singing ancient hymns I once sang and danced along to at a reggae beat on a New Year’s Eve service in Ghana. Rowdy Lutherans gathering at the Cormorant Pub to sing hymns and eat, drink, and be merry.

I miss the singing.

And to think we might not have that back for quite some time is hitting me hard. We church leaders keep getting reminders that experts say singing is a particularly dangerous activity because of the way it can spread particles in the air and spread illness. There’s no telling how long it might be before we can safely sing together again in our churches. And in quiet moments, especially for those of us with elderly congregations, it is sobering to consider that we may *never* again get to sing with some of our dear ones again. At least here on earth.

So I keep trying to remember the last song we sang together. I looked it up this morning and it was, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!” The final verse rings, “Good Christian Friends, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice; Now ye need not fear the grave, Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all, to gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!”

It’s a happy song – because everyone knows you end worship with an “up” song – a song that people might be glad to have in their memory the rest of the day. I didn’t know when we planned it six months ago that the closing notes of that hymn would be the ones that would need to echo in my memory for months and months, perhaps years. I didn’t know then that all the things I was looking forward to setting down briefly as I left for my time of rest on sabbatical would be literally scattered everywhere upon my return. Like puzzle pieces that no longer have a shape that really fits anywhere anymore. No more routine. No more greeting the same dear faces when they come by church for quilting or Bible study or worship. No more potlucks. No more confirmation kids roughousing in the youth room. No more little kiddos running about during the children’s message. Everything is different. Nothing the same. We are still a congregation but figuring out what that means now.

And like I said, we are doing great – all the zoom calls, all the video worships, all the staying connected with phone calls and cards and Facebook groups, oh my!

But oh, how I miss singing together.

Many rooms

May 7, 2020

Happy birthday, Mom. I remember you and see you in the peonies growing outside, the green grass, the coffee I sip, the sweets I will eat, and looking back at me in my mirror. Maybe I will make some waffles later today. I still miss you all the time. There would be a million things to tell you now – do you know any of them? Does the veil between us allow any information through? Can you see how tall your grandsons are? Can you see how silver my hair is becoming? Do you know we moved back home and I published a couple books? We went to Norway a few times and New Zealand and Australia. Every place I saw I thought about how you would have loved to see those places, too.

Your things are all scattered now. I have kept so many – your purse, your hairbrush, some dishes, your rings. I still wear your black jacket for the spring and the autumn. If you came back we would have to find you all new things. But I doubt you would want to come back. Norma is gone, your sister is gone – the world changing so much and half mad.

Sometimes I don’t know if I will see you again. I hope so. But I feel you near me less and less. Like a mist slipping away across the fields as the sun rises, so are you slipping away from me. Half the world tells me it’s all over at the last breath. My heart tells me there’s more and that the Father’s house has many rooms and there’s a place for me there, too…and I just hope my room is next to yours.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet is a book of 26 poetic essays written in English. In this classic, Gibran, one of the greatest poets of all time, shares deep wisdom on life. Gibran was born January 6, 1883, in the village of Bsharri in the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, Ottoman Empire (modern-day Lebanon). His parents were Maronite Christians. Kamila was thirty when Gibran was born, and Gibran’s father, Khalil, was her third husband. Gibran had two younger sisters, Marianna and Sultana, and a half-brother, Boutros, from one of Kamila’s previous marriages. As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible and the Arabic language.While most of Gibran’s early writings had been in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. Such was The Madman, Gibran’s first book published by Alfred A. Knopf, in 1918. The Processions (in Arabic) and Twenty Drawings were published the following year. In 1920, Gibran re-created the Arabic-language New York Pen League with its original founders Arida and Haddad; Rihani, Naimy, and other Mahjari writers such as Elia Abu Madi. The same year, The Tempests was published in Arabic in Cairo, and The Forerunner in New York. In a letter of 1921 to Naimy, Gibran reported that doctors had told him to “give up all kinds of work and exertion for six months, and do nothing but eat, drink and rest”; in 1922, Gibran was ordered to “stay away from cities and city life” and had rented a cottage near the sea, planning to move there with Marianna and to remain until “this heart [regained] its orderly course”; this three-month summer in Scituate, he later told Haskell, was a refreshing time, during which he wrote some of “the best Arabic poems” he had ever written.In 1923, The New and the Marvelous was published in Arabic in Cairo, whereas The Prophet was published in New York. The Prophet sold well despite a cool critical reception. At a reading of The Prophet organized by rector William Norman Guthrie in St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, Gibran met Young, who would occasionally work as his secretary from 1925 until his death (no remuneration was paid). In 1924, Gibran told Haskell that he had been contracted to write ten pieces for Al-Hilal in Cairo. In 1925, Gibran participated in the founding of the periodical The New East.Although born and raised into a Maronite Christian family and having attended a Maronite school, Gibran was also influenced by Islam, and especially by the mysticism of the Sufis. His knowledge of Lebanon’s bloody history, with its destructive factional struggles, strengthened his belief in the fundamental unity of religions, which his parents exemplified by welcoming people of various religions in their home. Gibran’s mysticism was a convergence of several different influences.The popularity of The Prophet grew markedly during the 1960s with the American counterculture and then with the flowering of the New Age movements. It has remained popular with these and with the wider population to this day. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. It has been translated into more than 100 languages, making it among the top ten most translated books in history. It was one of the best-selling books of the twentieth century in the United States. Kahlil Gibran died on April 10, 1931 from cirrhosis of the liver. (Find out more about Kahlil Gibran at the in-depth source of this author information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kahlil_Gibran)

Check out this classic today at Amazon: