Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My New Reality

Today marks the start of orientation at my seminary.  Since I work in Admissions as my work study job, we've been busy preparing for this day for the last couple of weeks, and even before.  It has been such a joy to see the new students coming in, to match faces with names that I recognize from my various duties.  Their presence energizes me for the busy year ahead.

This year I will be splitting my time between classes, work in Admissions and a field placement site as a chaplain at a continuing care facility.  I will be busy, but I work well with busy.  It's when I have very little to do that I get very little done.  This year I know that I will have to rely on God more than ever before to get me through all the challenges of time management, social life, and requirements for my classes and for commissioning.

The reality of my calling inches ever nearer.  This summer I worked at a United Methodist Church in Peoria, IL.  The highlight of my time there was preaching at a service called "Loaves & Fish" which was part of a soup kitchen ministry within the church.  I was so nervous the first time.  I was worried that I wouldn't say anything worthwhile or that they would just check out.  However, I was wrong. I was amazed to see how God shows up in a powerful way.  Not because of me, but through me and through the people in the room.  That experience taught me that God will use you, that if God has put you in that position and you have faith - God will use you.

So as I step forward into this year, I am trusting that this is where God has put me.  This place, these people, these experiences are all part of the journey of my life and God will be there through it all.

My prayer for this year is to live out, as best as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit, this prayer from St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console,
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wrestling with difficult questions...

Today has been a day for wrestling with questions of morals and ethics.  In class we talked about moral decisions in light of medical advancements and how we face questions today that just weren't around 50 years ago.  So many of our technological advancements have made life profoundly better, but they come at a cost.  Life is longer, but what is the kind of life that is extended?

I am going to connect two thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head, but please understand that I mean no dis-respect.  They are connected primarily out of the timing that they have happened in relation to the class I am taking.

This past weekend my parents had to take the family cat, Shadow, to the vet to be put down.  She was a very old cat and had lost the of her back legs.  My mother had anticipated that Shadow would not be with us much longer, and she was right.  Going to the vet was an act of mercy - she could not bear to see the animal suffer.  I understand and agree that my mother's actions were indeed out of mercy and were I in the same situation (which is now very likely considering I have a cat) I would do the same thing.  Why allow the cat to live if it will only suffer?  

Today in class we basically addressed the same issue at the end of life for many people.  One scenario involved a woman who had advanced stages of cancer that was not responding to chemo.  She then contracts pneumonia and enters the hospital.  The doctors tell the family that if she is not treated for the pneumonia, she will die within a few days.  If she is treated, she will live for a few more months, but will most likely be in a significant amount of pain.  As a class, we were to act as the spiritual advisor to the family that must make the decision.  

In my heart, I know I would have made the decision to not treat the pneumonia.  Why cling to a life that has little left to offer when I truly believe that death is not the end?  If the person has made peace and seem to be ready for whatever is to come, it seems selfish to keep them here.  

Tonight, I watched the coverage of an execution in my home state of South Dakota.  This man brutally raped and murdered a young child over 20 years ago.  He was also convicted of 9 other felony acts.  Not just accused, but convicted.  He was, for all intents and purposes, an evil man.  He committed a heinous crime.  Yet, in my core, I felt killing him did not solve anything or truly bring an end to the pain he has committed.  I watched as the parents of the girl speak after the execution saying that they will never have closure, they will never move on.  They said that he not only took the life of their girl, but their's as well.  The mother spoke of wishing to stab this man rather than letting him die through lethal injection.

They were full of pain and anger.  They were right that this act had robbed them of their lives.  And I agree with them that his death will not bring an end to that pain and suffering.  The death of a sinner cannot bring healing to the living.  It cannot bring peace.  It cannot bring shalom.  

As a Christian, I look through the lens of God's grace and action.  It is not for us to prolong life for our own benefit or needs, nor is it for us to cut it short.  More or less time in this life is not what brings healing, only the grace of God can do that.  We cannot put our hope in medicine or judicial punishment for our salvation, but in God alone.  

Tonight I pray for the family of that little girl - that they may find healing and peace in this lifetime.  I pray for the other victims of the executed, that they may find peace and rest.  I pray for my state that it may come to see other roads to justice as other states have done.  And I pray for all those who must face difficult questions concerning the sanctity of life.  May we all be guided by the Holy Spirit to say "Not my will, but yours be done."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

breaking down the same old things...

Have you ever had a bad habit that you just couldn't break?  I have multiple, but the one that keeps coming back no matter how much I try to subdue it is my habit of trying to control everything.  I think the technical term is "control freak."  I prefer to know what is happening and if left to my own devices would not venture into new areas or experience willingly.  So, as you can imagine, I have been having a difficult time adjusting to my new situation because no matter what I do, I cannot control it.

This week has been especially hard in that respect.  I am finally reaching the point where I can accept that why some of this has been so hard is because in an attempt to control my life, I have shut out most of my life.  I focus on homework because I can control when that gets completed.  I can control what I watch on tv or online.  I can control what I eat for my meals if I stay here to eat them.  See?  It's all about control.  Why?  Control is safe and comfortable.

This week I got sick and getting sick always reminds me that I am not in control.  I came here having, for probably the first time in my life, a definite calling and direction for my life.  In two years I can get my degree and get on to what God has planned for me.  That is how I saw it.  And maybe how I still see it for the most part.  However, what slipped in the crack of my control was the idea that what God is calling me to right now is to be here.  I haven't been fully here.  My mind and my heart are strewn over South Dakota and the people that I care about there.  Slowly my connection there has been lessened, as it should be for now.  I cannot be fully here if so much of me, of my time and my concern is there.  Ultimately I am here to go back there and serve, but I cannot be faithful to God's calling on these two years of my life if I don't commit to being here.

I need to stop trying to control everything.  I need to stop trying to hijack my education and be more open to how this school does things.  That doesn't mean I won't think critically, but it does mean I won't reject something outright.  I need to stop being so afraid of the city and take the opportunities given to me to explore and experience what Chicago and Evanston have to offer.  I need to stop operating out of fear and be open to new experiences.  And I need to not be afraid of my own voice.

I miss my home all the time.  I miss my family and my church family who are so supportive.  I hope that I can honor them by allowing God to continually transform me into what I am intended to be.  This step has been painful, but refining is not an easy process.  Metal is refined by fire and I am being refined by the fire of the Holy Spirit.  But as my uncle Jerry would say, "Just think how good it will be when its done."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

At the last, she smiled.

Today my grandmother, Ruth Amanda Stordahl Henry passed away.  She was 90.  She was lovely.  And I will miss her dearly.

Ruth is someone who never wanted a big deal made about her, but I can't help writing.  Part of the reason is that the reflection helps me to cope, but I also cannot help but share the story of her passing.  It is beautiful in its simplicity and mystery.

Lying in the hospital bed, she had been sleeping a lot because of the pain medication.  She woke up and she was looking around the room.  As I am told, almost as if she was looking for someone.  Then a big smile of recognition broke out across her face.  She said to the vision, "I'm fine" and then she was gone.

I sit here and speculate what it is that she saw.  Was it an angel?  Was it a messenger from God?  Was it a delusion?  All are possible, I suppose.  I choose to believe that it was my grandpa.  I am not sure if that's theologically correct, but I wonder if God himself wouldn't have rejoiced in their reunion enough to send him to get her.

I believe she had just been waiting for today for a long time.  I am glad that she does not have to feel lonely anymore.  I am glad that she will be whole again - with a body and a mind that will never again betray her.

She was the last grandparent of mine to pass away.  I have mourned for them all, but I know with her, as with the others, that this is not a goodbye.  By the grace of God we will meet again one day.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  -Romans 8:37-39

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I have all this stuff in my head and my heart and am afraid to say it out loud.  Some of it I am fine with sharing - I am a feminist.  This isn't much of a surprise - my kids call me a "feminazi" which I sort of hate actually.  It is mostly because of my position that women can be pastors and should have equal rights as men.

I also believe that homosexuals should have equal rights and do not understand why this isn't happening in the government.  We have separation of church and state which the church likes because it keeps the government from meddling with the church, but the church definitely likes to meddle with the government.  One religious belief should not dictate an entire (religiously free) country full of people who have a variety of religions represented (including no religion.)  It's one argument within the church, but that argument should not have a bearing on the government.

I didn't grow up in a household where my parents were pushing their beliefs on me.  When I went to seminary the first time I was surrounded by people who grew up with this Christian counter-culture that I wasn't really aware of.  They only listened to Christian music, read Christian fiction, watched Christian movies, etc.   I felt outside - I felt like I did not "get it."  I read the blog "Stuff Christians Like" and most days I think - I have not experienced what they are talking about apart from my time in college when I attended larger (mostly Baptist) churches.  That wasn't my experience.  And it isn't my experience now.  And I am fine if that is never my experience.  I am not a Christian for the counter culture (which in reality mirrors and glorifies secular culture without really be critical of it because it has a religious sheen on it.)  I would rather engage in the culture that is there - finding the good, thinking critically, and praising God.

I am nervous about attending Garrett in the fall.  Will I have the same experience that I did at Gordon?  I am afraid that if I do, I will quit.  I will not go through with it.  I can't go through that again - I can't keep taking classes where I am constantly having to evaluate what I can trust as a source because I fundamentally disagree with presuppositions that the author makes.  It's tiring and alienating and I don't like doing it.  I want to go somewhere where I will be affirmed in what I believe - where people will not be secretly wondering what I am doing there.  Not that they did at Gordon, but I did.  I wondered.  When you constantly are disagreeing with people - it makes you feel like a terrible Christian.  I love God.  I love Jesus Christ.  I have a calling on my life - I know this.  I just don't want to always be fighting or keeping my thoughts close to me all the time because I might offend someone or turn them away from the church or something else.

I have always tried to let people come to their own decisions and think things through.  And I'm not one to easily share what I think - and maybe now I wish that I would.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

saying no because I already said yes.

This is the beginning of the end.  I can feel it.  I have known for months now that my time here would end this summer, but this last week was the first time I really felt it.  I went to the musical and watched as some of my students performed.  It was funny and sweet and I really enjoyed myself.  Then I went home and tears were coming to my eyes and I wondered why.  I am leaving them.  I won't see them in another spring musical.  I won't have them in my office in the fall complaining about confirmation requirements, how much their teachers are out to get them, or why this girl or that boy is horrible.

It surprises me how much I have enjoyed working here and how much I care about these students.  I even care about the ones who frustrate me day in and day out with the choices they make.  Sometimes I wonder if they deliberately choosing the worst possible scenario on purpose or if it is a natural talent they possess.  I wonder about the next person - will they love and care for these students?  Will they see all the wonderful qualities they have - even if they are sometimes buried under a load of sarcasm, eye-rolling and shoulder shrugging?

Another reason my departure is becoming real is that others are leaving this summer as well.  As they begin to announce their departures it forces me to think about my own.  I will be the last to leave (even though I was the first to announce by far!)

All of this is just a reflection that change is a part of life.  Transition is a part of life.  Goodbyes are natural.  However, they are hard if the place you are leaving is a place you love. God is there with us as we say goodbye - as we say no to staying because we have said yes to leaving.  I know that I am doing what God has called me to do.  I have finally said yes to him and in doing so, I have to say goodbye.

I still have a few months left - but as prom and graduation approach with all their ceremonies marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one, I can't help but think of my own story.  I have loved this chapter and am grateful for it.  However, I am so looking forward to the next one.

I will try to update more as I go through the process, but until then - pray for me.  If you would.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sugar High

In junior high, my favorite movie was Empire Records and my favorite part of the movie is when Gina finally gets to live out her dream of singing in a band.  The song they sing is "Sugar High" and every once in awhile that song will randomly start playing in my head.

I gave up sugar for Lent.  Not all sugar - but most of it.  I still eat fruit and drink 100% fruit juice and honey.  But that's the only sugar.  No bread.  No sweets.  No baked goods.  No pie.  Practically no cereal.  

So far it's been good for me.  I am eating much healthier.  I have rediscovered my love for carrots and red pepper hummus.  I have been making my own salad dressings which is cool.  

There are a few downsides, however.  My birthday is during Lent which also means Pi Day is during Lent.  No birthday cake or Pi Day Pie for me this year.  I also had a dream last night that involved me eating this peanut-butter and nutella concoction and it was so unbelievably delicious.  Then I remembered in my dream that I couldn't have it - and only sort of felt guilty about eating it.  :)  Even in my dreams I am trying to observe Lent.

Here's a link to that part of the movie I was talking about:

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