Charley, Harvey, Irma and Me

Today, we are waiting for Irma.
We’ve been waiting and watching for the last few days.  And I’ll be honest, I have alternated between being ok and being scared shitless.

I am not, by nature, prone to worry or anxiety. And I’m pretty highly skilled at diverting nervous energy and/or ignoring any fears that are creeping in so that I can focus and work a plan.  But I have some physical manifestations of stress that let me know when I need to pay attention to that inner world a little more.

I want to sleep.  A lot.  And when it’s really bad, I get a rash on my ribs that is almost like shingles. That rash popped up yesterday. And so it was time to name what’s going on.

Back in the summer of 2004, we decided to sell our first Florida house and build a newer home that was big enough for Mom to move out from Texas and join us. We were scheduled to close mid-August and house-sit for a friend until the new house was finished around the first of October.  That meant packing for a move and an extended stay, making all the decisions that come with building a new home, and staying in communication with Mom about all of it from half a continent away. Stressful enough.

But then, the week that we closed and moved into our temporary summer home, Hurricane Charley ripped right across Central Florida.  Right over the house.  And while Charley was much smaller than many of the storms we have seen since, the rain and wind was intense and lasted most of the night.

It doesn’t take effort at all to remember exactly how I felt that night.
And how it felt to wonder when the power would come back on.
And how hard it was to keep our kiddo from freaking out when we experienced two more direct hits, moved into the new house, and started attending a new school (between storm breaks).

By the time Hurricane Season was over, I was a wreck- emotionally and physically. But we had to get back to work and keep moving forward.  It has been quiet here since, until last year when Matthew gave us a scare. But he wobbled out to sea enough that we were spared all but a couple of hours of wind and a few lost shingles.

So I didn’t really realize how much I had shoved aside and not dealt with until I started seeing my friends post about their experiences as Harvey rolled into Southeast Texas.  I literally couldn’t read about the sound of wind or the water coming in, or even how worried they were, without my own heart rate rising. I had to limit my engagement until the storm stopped and the (horrible) extent of the damage was clear.

And now, here we are, waiting for Irma. Right now, for as ginormous as she is, we’re in a pretty good place. We’ll have some serious winds and a fair amount of rain, but not for nearly as long as our neighbors in South Florida or on the gulf coast.

So…a year older and maybe slightly wiser, what am I going to do differently this time?

First, I’m doing something Brene Brown calls “embracing the suck”.  Actually feeling the feelings that I don’t want to feel, rather than running past them. When I sit with the feelings, I can untangle what they really are.  Then I can deal with the concerns and fears I can actually do something about, and I am aware of the (yes, totally reasonable) fears that will only go away once the storm is past.

Second, I went running. Not walking, but running.  Yesterday, I did my usual interval workout- a shorter walk interspersed with running. Today, I was just going to do a short walk, since it looked like rain was about to start.

At about half a mile, though, I felt like a little running, so I thought maybe I’d do another interval run. But as I ran the back half of that first mile, I knew that today was different.

I needed to keep running.
I needed to see how long I could sustain a pace that was faster than usual.
I needed to know that I could persevere, not just physically but mentally.
And so 1 mile became 2 miles.
And 2 miles became 3.
And three miles became 3.6.

I ran a full 3.1 miles (a 5K) after that half-mile walk.
Because I could.
Because I have transformed my body over the last 18 months.
Because I have transformed my mind over the last 18 months.

Yes, I am stronger and leaner and more fit than I have been in decades. My running intervals added up to just under half of the 10-mile race I completed last weekend. But the hardest part of getting stronger and leaner has been mental – taking on the habits and lies that used to keep me in bed or on the couch.

I ran a full 3.1 miles (a 5K) after that half-mile walk.
Because I believed I could.

I know today that I am mentally strong enough to push toward big goals,
to believe that yesterday’s personal best doesn’t dictate today’s
to face challenges that have nothing to do with running, walking, biking or swimming.

I can do the hard things – like lead my congregation, face conflicts head on, make decisions I’d rather ignore.
And wait for Irma.
I will be ok this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow, when the worst of the storm is here.
I won’t like it (because who would???)
I’ll be scared.
But I will be ok.

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A handful of things

It really stinks sometimes, being the kind of person who needs lots of words to find her way to the thing she wants to say.  I mean, most days, I don’t get around to that kind of writing because I’m busy getting announcements and sermons and newsletter articles and emails and other time-sensitive stuff out the door.

So, rather than wait for the “Now I can get that whole post out of my head” moment, here are some things I am thinking about, experiencing and… now… sharing.

I was alone on eclipse day, staring up at the sun with my safety glasses on, thrilled to be able to see even the 80-whatver percent coverage we got. I finally hunted someone down so that we could “wow!” at it together as we shared the specs.  A couple of days later, I was driving across town, listening to the RadioLab podcast that had audio recordings of people as totality occurred.  And I realized just how much we need events like this to connect us to one another in moments of awe.  I literally wept as these people I didn’t know described an event I couldn’t see… because they were so overcome by what they saw that you could hear it in their voices. Young and old, all over the country.  Awe is contagious and evocative.

 


 

Yesterday, I stopped to pick up some coffee on the way to work.  A group of people walked into the shop as I was leaving and the last guy stopped to hold the door and let me out.  I said thanks, to which he replied “No problem, have a great day.”

I smiled again, “You, too,” and I walked on toward my car.  Can I just tell you how much it made my day for him to call after me, “You look beautiful today”?  Not because I had dressed up (because I hadn’t).  Not because he’d ever seen me to make a distinction about yesterday’s level of beauty (he was a total stranger).   It was just a random kindness.  The world can use more of that, for sure.


Does anyone else ever have the problem of their ears folding over in their sleep?  Clearly a side-sleeper issue, the ear between my head and pillow sometimes gets tucked in on itself and the pain will actually wake me up.  Weird.


A couple of folks lately have described me as Type A, which sits kind of funny.  I’ve never seen myself as “driven” so much as determined. That’s a good thing, mostly, since it keeps me from giving up on hard stuff (or boring stuff). But it’s got me thinking I need to explore the way my overdeveloped sense of responsibility interacts with the athlete in me who learned you “leave everything on the court”.

 


 

I have other thoughts on Harvey, the Nashville statement, and big stuff in the world, but I’m fighting my allergies and have a church newsletter to get out the door. So… this will have to do for now.

Meanwhile, what kinds of things are you thinking about these days?

Life’s a Beach, especially when you Tri

The first 5K I completed last June was part of a series of events in New Smyrna Beach put on by the “Run for  a Cause” race organizers.  Since that’s an easy trek, I don’t mind being on their mailing list…

So, about 3 weeks ago now, one of their “Come out to play” emails landed in my inbox, describing the Life’s a Beach Triathlon.  Now, I have been swimming pretty regularly since late last fall to keep from killing my feet and legs while training for half-marathons. So, I will confess to having already mused a bit about maybe someday considering the possibility of a triathlon.  But the closest thing to riding a bike I’ve done since 1998 (at the latest) is riding my motorcycle.  So, pssshhhh…

But this Life’s a Beach thing was awfully intriguing.  Just 200 meters swimming, 5 miles on a bike and 2 miles run/walk.  And on the beach. With goofy obstacles.  And prizes for costumes. And last place finishers got awards – in every division!

So.. I sent the email to my enabler, I mean sister, who said,  DO IT!

I don’t have a bike

You can borrow P’s. It’s in my garage.  Do it!

I haven’t ridden a bike in at least 2 decades.

You’ll remember how. And I’ve even got a helmet. If I weren’t headed out of town that weekend, I’d totally go with you.  You have to do it.

I’d never even watched a triathlon.  I’ve never done two of those three activities back to back, much less all three (for obvious reasons).  But I needed to do this.  Why?

Because it scared me.
Because I need to do things before I’ve overprepared for them.
Because I need to be vulnerable and open to the idea of spectacular  failure and embarrassment.

And so I did.  I signed up, knowing I had exactly 2 weeks to get ready.

I needed to get the bike, have it checked out, see if I could actually stay upright on it, then see if my legs would pump the thing for five miles.

In that same 2 weeks, I needed to see if I could go from swimming to biking and from biking to walking.  If those combos worked, I was pretty sure I could manage all three.

I got 2 or 3 rides in before the day, including a couple of combo workout attempts.  The swim-bike test turned out to include a little walking as a cool down (because jeepers the bike does funny things to your backside muscles…)

How did it go??? 

Who knew my sister was so clever? She was totally right. I could do it.
And it was totally a blast.
And I learned a few things…

  1. Swimming in the ocean is very different from splashing around in the waves to cool off after sweating on the beach.
  2. An out & back ride on the beach includes a u-turn at the midpoint.  Turning left or right on neighborhood streets doesn’t actually prep you for a u-turn.
  3. Having a towel and plan for the transition point from swim to bike would have been helpful. Having a clue at that point would have been helpful.
  4. It’s not that painful to ask other competitors for help, especially at a not-super-competetive event, especially when they aren’t in professional-looking triathlon gear.  I’m sure those folks were friendly, too, but they were a bit intimidating…
  5. I have internalized a whole lot of fat/body-shaming BS in my lifetime… more than I even knew.  I can now believe that I am healthier and stronger than the imperfections and jiggly bits I couldn’t look past before.  No matter what anyone else sees, I can see the bad-ass muscles I’ve been building.

Here are a few pics of me on the day…

The swim portion… pretty sure I’m among the group coming back in here

Heading out of the transition area, looking as if I know how to ride…

About 90% done with the run/walk section, we had gone through some tubes and under a net.. now beneath the “sea wall”

Leaping over the beach chairs…

Limbo to the finish line? Are you kidding me?? Yeah… nope. Too tired.

This is what excited to be DONE looks like.

In case you’re curious about official race-type results:

They chip timed, but only start-finish, not splits or transitions (because it’s a beach bum thing, not a sanctioned event thing).   And the swim portion was not a precise distance because one of the buoys floated off during the second wave start and we had to guesstimate where to go.  But still… I found myself in the middle of the pack and happy to be there!

 

And so she did

This is me, standing in the finisher’s area after completing my first half-marathon.

That smile… it was absolutely fueled by adrenaline, pride, gratitude and all the “holy crap did that just happen?” that you might expect.

I have to say that the Historic Half was a great event in and of itself.  The community support was outstanding.  People were out in their yards and along the sidewalks.  One family made a BINGO (well… RUNGO) board and the kids were marking off athletes who carried flags or wore Marine Corps shirts or pushing strollers.

Other families offered watermelon and water between the official pit stops.  There were cowbells and signs and sidewalk chalk.  It was clear that they were there for the long haul, ready to support the fastest and the slowest and all of us between.

The route was challenging. I was as mentally prepared for the hills as I could be, since we drove the course on Saturday.  At least, I knew kind of what was coming. What I didn’t know was whether my legs were truly ready.  There’s only so much hill work on can do in the flat lands of Central Florida.

I blazed through the first 5K and thought, “well, I hope I didn’t just burn up my last 5K.”  When I got to the 10K mark (not quite halfway), I was still ahead of my expected pace, despite lots of rolling hills.  But I still felt really strong and was breathing well, so I figured I’d just keep adding to the cushion.

That’s pretty much the way things continued. I was paying attention to my legs and my lungs, pushed up the hills and relaxed down them, was able to chat a bit with spectators and other competitors… and then we were at the last 3.1 miles, 2 of which are mostly uphill.

I found myself powering up Hospital Hill (the infamous part of the course), past other folks who were struggling, grabbing a water at the station and taking on the last hill over a bridge into the home stretch.  And yes, there were a few tears as I entered the last .1 of the 13.1, but I totally enjoyed the moment as strangers cheered me into the finishing chute.  My intrepid sister/cheering section was right there yelling my name and reminding me to smile for the camera this time.

Not that I really NEEDED reminding.  Endorphines are good for that!

Some FAQs:

How did you feel about the race, technically? I finished about 10-15 minutes faster than my “it could happen, but not likely” goal.  My splits were pretty even, and the 5K and 10K both beat my current bests times at those distances as standalone races.   All of which makes me happy as a newbie.

 

 

Are you going to do this again? Actually, yes.  Going in, I was hedging my bets that I’d like this distance as a walker.  But I honestly think I could have done another couple of miles, which makes me think I can break three hours…

In fact… the next half-marathon on my calendar is in October, at Niagara Falls (finishes at the falls in Canada!).

Couch to 13.1 in 12 months. Really?

I’ve been training so long, it’s hard to believe it’s coming up so quickly now! 

As of this moment, I am 3 days and 15 hours (and some minutes) from the start of my first half-marathon.  A year ago, that concept would have had me laughing.  Hard.  Like pee-your-pants hard.

But a funny thing happened on May 21, 2016.  I got out of the house and took a walk.  It was about 2 miles, wearing the kind of shoes that give you blisters, and really slow.

But it was a walk. On purpose.

That was the start of a year-long adventure in setting goals, finding community, making healthier choices, and pushing myself to do things that seemed a little crazy. Especially for a fat woman turning 50.

After a couple of 5Ks turned into a 10K, and the 10K walks turned into 8-10 milers, I set my sights on a 13.1 mile race.  I knew I needed time to get faster, so late spring felt possible. The interwebs offered up several choices… not all of which are friendly to walkers.

I chose the Marine Corps Marathon Historic Half.  Partly because I have heard amazing things about the MCM as an event.  And partly because I had hoped we could take our motorcycles up on the AutoTrain and ride home.  That hasn’t worked out for this round but adventures still await.

It wasn’t until after I registered that I realized the significance of the race date. I would be walking my first half-marathon on the anniversary of that first “get up off the couch” walk.

I don’t know what my time will look like… I’m hoping that I can manage the nerves and the hills well enough to average 14-15 minute miles, which would mean I’d finish under 3.5 hours.  My last couple of races, I’ve been well under 14, but that’s here in the flat swamplands of Central Florida.

Regardless, I will confess to more than a little pride in the fact that I’m going to start that race in roughly 3 days and 15 hours.

Because while I’m competitive enough to want an official time that is faster than my practice times.  I have accomplished so much more than walking a shit-ton of miles in a year.

  • I have lost almost a supermodel’s worth of weight, which is most visible part of this adventure.
  • I have gained a resting heart rate.  And normal blood pressure.
  • I have re-gained flexibility and strength that I was pretty sure were gone forever.
  • I have re-learned how to rest and sleep.
  • I have changed my relationship to food (for the better).
  • I have bought girl clothes. And I have worn them. In public.  Without irony.
  • I have learned how to make time for me sacred.  And by making space for the Spirit to join me there… I am experiencing daily times of Sabbath

Yeah… there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be weeping  3 days, 18 hours and however many minutes from now. There’s mix of pride, amazement and gratitude for the way the human body responds to challenges that comes at the end of every race, and more of that mix  has a way pushing out through the tear ducts as the distances have gotten longer.

Here’s To the difference a year can make.  Really!

Me in Spring 2016

Pastor’s Note for April

I haven’t told a whole lot of people what really got me started on all this walking I’ve been doing.  Like most folks, I have known for years (decades even) what it takes to be healthy: regular exercise, a balanced diet, plenty of sleep, and time away from stress and responsibilities.  And like many folks, I was pretty much living at the opposite end of the spectrum for most of those areas.  And so, it was just a matter of time before I got the kind of news I heard right about this time last year.  

I had gone to an urgent care clinic for a sinus infection and my blood pressure was way out of control. As in, they wanted me to go directly to a hospital. Right that minute. Immediately, I was thinking about all the things I was responsible for and all the people I would be leaving in a major squeeze if I was in the hospital overnight. Or even for the next few days.  I didn’t have time for that. Who has time for that? 

So instead, I signed the paper releasing them from responsibility if I died before actually going to the hospital. Definitely not the smartest move I’ve ever made. Definitely not something I recommend.

But as I left, I thought to myself, Ok. Get past this crazy month – and if you’re not dead, it will be time to get serious about living.

I did exactly that. I managed to survive what was a really stressful, hectic few weeks, and then I got serious about making the changes I needed to make in order to live to see my 50th birthday.

There was a little bit of dying involved. I had to kill the idea – my own misguided belief that had somehow lingered since adolescence – that I was invincible.  And I had to take aim, one by one, at some of the habits that were making me sick. And I had to put to rest the biggest myth I had carried around: that I was not worth the effort it would take to make those changes.

I share this with you now because I want to say that we are past the point of antibiotics and rest. Becoming a healthy and thriving church again – it’s going to take a lot of work. A lot of energy and activity.  It will take persistence and trust in God’s resurrection power. It will take all the community and love we can muster when the inevitable misunderstandings and disagreements pop up.

But hear me, friends, when I say that this congregation is so very worth it.  You are worth all the effort it is going to take, all the pain we will endure, all the sweat and tears that are bound to fall. You are worth it because the church is God’s plan for the world to know all the love, grace, hope, and peace that we have experienced through Jesus Christ.  You are worth all that God has and will invest in you, and I am honored to be walking alongside you.

10 Random Things I have learned in the last couple of weeks

1. When your jeans are loose and you don’t have a belt, slippery undies are a bad choice.

2. Swimming is excellent exercise. You do not, however, get bonus calories for swimming in colder water… silly FitBit

3.  Baby pigs are adorable and actually enjoy being held and scratched behind the ears. Or at least the ones at our feed store do.

4. Even decades later, I can recite the Girl Scout Promise and Law. Well, most of it. At least as much as I can the Apostle’s Creed, so there’s that.

5. I am not excellent at processing giant emotional waves. Unless they are someone else’s, in which case I am all yours.  There’s some work to be done there, obvs.

6.  My gut is right more than I am willing to believe. Probably because it catches the stuff I don’t want to know, or hope is untrue.

7. Number 6 above sucks.

8. Combine numbers 5-7 in a week, and ugh.

9. I have a deep well of faith and hope, in spite of the truth my gut knows about people and life and even me.

10. I am loved.  Yeah- I kinda knew that already, but sometimes I get to learn stuff like this in deeper ways. And that counts, too.

Faith Built on Hope

Primary Scriptures:  Romans 5:1-11 and Luke 24:13-33

This time last week, I was on my way to Montreat for a conference for pastors in interim work. I am so very  thankful for your support and encouragement to continue learning and growing in my leadership.

While I was there, I met pastors from all over the country… mostly here in the southeast, since Montreat is close by. But there were a few from the west coast, even one Canadian

We spent time in seminars covering several helpful topics. We had opportunities to speak with the faculty members, many of whom have served several churches who find themselves between settled pastors. We also spent time in groups for peer coaching.

It was all great…

But you know the best part? Hearing all their stories. Stories of churches much like ours. Some smaller, some larger… some in cities, others in small towns or rural settings.  Each one unique, and yet it seems that we all find ourselves asking the same questions…
What comes next?
What is our place in the bigger picture…
What is our part in the Body of Christ?
What is our role in the larger community – the city that has grown and changed around us, the culture that has been shifting so rapidly in the last decade…

As you might imagine, many churches are on the road to closure. They are in the process of making really hard decisions about property and memorials and where their members will go to find care and fellowship. Those are very difficult conversations to enter into and even more difficult to stay in. These are oftentimes very sad stories. God-led and grace-filled, to be sure, but always hard for the members and those who are there to help the congregation finish well.

The good news is that many more of the folks that I met and talked with last week shared stories about walking alongside congregations in the midst of the work – the hard work –  of transformation. Transformation is always hard work. It’s hard to start, hard to finish, and even harder to maintain.

We come from a long lineage… a long heritage of folks who had to work hard at change.  Seriously, it goes way way back. In fact, next week, we’ll start the Lectionary year over again by heading back to the beginning of the great collection of our stories of faith, each in its own way a testament to the transforming nature of God.

And as we did last fall, we’ll travel through the Old Testament in the months leading into Christmas.  The thread running through the passages we’ll explore this year is Promise…
the promises God makes to our foremothers and forefathers.
the promises they make to God…
the promise of fresh starts…
the promise of new life…
the promise of a deliverer… the promised one… the messiah.

We’ll recall through these chapters in our great redemption story, the faithfulness of God.  The truth that even as humankind found myriad ways to go astray, God remained steadfast. God stayed with us.
God loved us.
The truth that God loves us still

And we’ll recall how, even as the prophets called the kings and people to repentance, speaking the truths that no one wanted to hear about sin and judgment and consequences…God also gave them a message of hope: If the people would turn to God, if they would change their focus, God would honor and bless them.  

The funny thing is, we read that as if God’s behavior is contingent upon the work of the leaders and the people under their care.

The truth is, God has been there, keeping all those promises all along.  It’s the people who lose sight of that truth as their focus shifts, as their gaze wanders.  Kind of like Jesus, walking along the road to Emmaus, having an incognito conversation with two disciples.

I’ve read and heard several interpretations of this encounter.  Some say that this episode tells us that our resurrection bodies – the ones we get when we are finally in God’s presence after this life is over  – that those bodies are somehow different, that we will be ourselves but not so completely ourselves that we are instantly recognizable.

Others say that it was the work of the Holy Spirit, clouding their vision so that Jesus could hear what they were saying without worry that they would stop telling their story.

Luke uses the verb “recognize” both at the beginning and at the end of the passage –when their eyes are closed and then opened to his identity. They saw him from the start, but they didn’t actually recognize him until the end, when he was breaking the bread.

This is an interesting echo of  the  wording used when Adam and Eve first opened their eyes and recognized that they were naked. And that there was something to shameful in their being so thoroughly revealed.

You see, Luke wants us to understand that this is a moment of deep recognition.  That “oooohhhh” moment when you see someone after not quite seeing them for who they really and truly are.

Jesus had walked a good way with them, teaching them and reminding them of all the ways that the prophets had been preparing the Hebrew people for his coming.  They had covered a lot of ground, literally and theologically,  before he took the bread and broke it. And they saw him for who he was…  

Seeing him, recognizing him, changed the conversation completely.  It awoke in them a passion they hadn’t felt.  It cleared the confusion and doubt away.

Seeing him, recognizing him again made space for faith.  Because he had made space for hope… Hope that the world didn’t have to be as it had been. That exile and oppression weren’t God’s plan That the empire didn’t always win.   

Seeing him, recognizing him again, set them off on an adventure that would change their lives and ultimately transform much of the world.  Even this part of the world. We trace our own faith to those first followers of Jesus.  The ones who literally sat at table with him, sharing the meal we will remember together today…

Paul never sat at table with Jesus. Never saw him face to face in a physical sense. Not during his earthly life, anyway.  But Paul recognized the transformative power of the resurrection at least as well as any of those who spent time with Jesus before and after. Paul understood the role of faith in our coming to truly know – to recognize – the saving grace Jesus offered.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us of our inability as humans to meet all the expectations of the law.  of the fallibility that would keep all of us from ever knowing God’s great love for us and for the world.

Paul writes of the reconciling work of Jesus- the life, death and resurrection of which the disciples were talking on the road to Emmaus – the revealing of the power of God’s love to redeem all of our messiness and sin.  And he says – not one whit of it is ours to claim…Except to claim faith in the truth that God did all that for us.

God is still doing all that for us. God continues to pour out the Holy Spirit, that we might grow deeper in our understanding – not of the law, not of the minutiae of doctrine – but so that we might fall deeper in love with God, and develop even greater compassion for the neighbors around us.

Paul prescribes in Romans and throughout the epistles, a protocol for strengthening our hearts. It generally starts with suffering, which we are to endure. Not on our own strength of course, but empowered by the Spirit. Paul continues, saying that endurance produces character – which, in turn, allows us to have hope.

Many of you know that I’ve spent time this summer walking and doing some work in the gym. I started out taking short walks around the block. As the summer progressed, I started setting some goals for myself. Go a little farther, then a little faster.  

Then I registered for the conference at Montreat.

I remembered how hard it was for me to walk around up there last year. I didn’t go exploring as far as I wanted because I couldn’t catch my breath going up all the stairs and hills, and I didn’t trust that my legs and knees were strong enough to handle terrain off the sidewalks.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find changing my personal habits are hard. Even when I know what needs to be done, getting started is hard. Keeping at it is hard, too. It much easier to fall back into the old, comfortable and known way of being.

Until the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain you anticipate will come during or as a result of the change process, the status quo will do just fine.

But status quo wasn’t going to get me up any of those hills.  So I set some new goals and got to work

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If you could hear this picture, it would include my catching my breath between “wows”. The vistas were lovely.

I am happy to say that 400 miles – even on the flat sidewalks of Central Florida  – paid off. I went wandering all around the conference center, up and down some of the steepest hills. I even managed to get to the top of Mount Mitchell.  

It was there that I was feeling a little cocky and decided to do a ¾-mile hike on the nature trail. The sign said it was “easy” and I’d been walking some of the nature trails around Montreat.

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If you look closely, you can see the description of the trail.

I knew it was going to drop a good 200-250 feet in elevation as the trail meandered down to the parking lot, but it sounded way less steep than going back down the 300 yard path that went directly from the lot to the observation tower.

So off I went.

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Seriously – how hard can it be? The rabbit looks like he’s enjoying the trail.

Now, I can stroll a full mile in about 20 minutes, even on hilly terrain. So I was guessing maybe 30 minutes down the hill. Maybe a little longer with stops to read or take photos.

Yeah- at about 20 minutes in, I was maybe half-way through the trail loop.  I had already crawled up and over tree roots and boulders, hopped across puddles and begun to mutter to the unknown author of the trail description about our definitions of “Easy” not quite being aligned.

And then the trail made yet another hairpin turn. Once again, I found myself looking uphill for the white triangle blaze.  And there wasn’t really a trail any more. It was like a staircase made of big rocks and fallen trees with lincoln log notches cut out and a maybe a few grassy spots between puddles. Oh, and every step was a different height…

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No really, this is the trail. I wasn’t lost.

My knees were tired.
My lungs were getting a little chatty.
I could hear my heart thumping in my ears.  NOT my resting heart rate, in case you wondered.

And then I laughed.

I laughed because I had a choice to make. Sit down, go back to the start, or go on. None of them seemed good. It all seemed too hard.

A voice in my head was reminding me that people who hike alone are much more likely to be eaten by bears….

But there was another voice…It was saying, “You got this. You can do it. You’ve walked way farther and in way worse heat and humidity than this. You’re strong enough to keep going.”  

I remembered working through the pain of those first walks and sore muscles, the endurance I had been building on sidewalks and treadmills, on bikes and in the pool. Looking back on where I’d been allowed me to have confidence- faith – in my ability to get up that stretch of the trail…

I was neither helpless, nor hopeless, in the face of an unexpected challenge.   

I’m not sure what the chipmunks thought of this human huffing and puffing her way past the ferns and lichen-covered stumps. I suspect that the crazy flapping of my arms as I balanced on slippery stones and logs scared off more than a couple of birds. But I was able to press on, and I realized that in addition to quieting the voice that was worried about bears, I was really enjoying myself.

Finishing the loop was no longer about surviving or successfully achieving a goal. It was about experiencing the joy that overtakes me in those all-too-rare opportunities to drink deeply of nature’s beauty

A friend of mine is a physical therapist. She works with all kinds of people, from young athletes to octogenarians. And she told me once that the most amazing thing about our bodies is the way they respond to the challenges we put in front of them. We are made to adapt and gain strength from the effort of overcoming.

Yes, the challenges need to be the RIGHT challenges. That’s why I needed to start walking earlier in the summer to be able to get up those hills this week.  But physical challenges reveal our character, our capacity for hope and transformation.

And that crazy little hike filled me with hope and faith for us in the days to come…

You see we, together, are a body, just as surely as each of us have bodies.  We, together, make up the body of Christ. And together, we can adapt and rise up to the challenges that come before us, overcoming all kinds of barriers in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have a faith built on hope for us as we pray and work as a body here in this time and place.
That we can discern together the challenge God has for us to pursue.
That we can start small and learn how to use our faith muscles in new and different ways.
That we can work together, moving a little farther away from our comfort zone with every step, even as we  draw on lessons from the past.

I have hope that our eyes will be opened and that we will recognize Jesus in one another, in our neighbors, and in the people God brings to our table.

I have hope that as we keep God – Father, Son, and Spirit – at the center of our gaze, we’ll be able to follow the trail, no matter how rocky and hilly it gets.

I have hope that when we do this work in a way that honors our past and present, this congregation will have a future, and that future will be filled with joy and laughter.

I have faith, built on the hope and love that abide in Christ, and abide in all of us as we abide in Christ.  

My prayer is that the God who is able to do abundantly far more than we could ever ask or imagine, would grant us the wisdom, courage, love, faith, hope and joy we need for this and every day of our lives together.

Amen.

Something Just Broke

These lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins capture that seismic internal shift that occurs in one of those culturally significant moments.  Like when an assassin takes out a president or a shooter takes out a nightclub full of people. Or you lose a child.

(the whole thing is worth a listen, but especially from about 1:50 onward)

In those moments, something just, well, breaks.

I remember where I was the day the verdict came back freeing George Zimmerman.  I was alone and heard something in my heart crack as I pictured Trayvon Martin’s parents weeping. Again.

Then came Mike Brown.  Tamir Rice. Freddy Gray.  Sandy Bland. I heard that sound again and again and again.

Alton Sterling.
Philandro Castile.
The Dallas Police.

I remember them all.  And too many others.
I remember where I was, what I was looking at or listening to when I heard the news.
And that sound.
And the deep deep anguish of lamenting a part of our world that I feel powerless to change.

It’s funny – I don’t remember that same feeling for those other world-stopping moments in my lifetime. Not when Reagan was shot or John Lennon. Not when we lost the Challenger.  Not even the September 11 terrorist attacks.

I suspect because as horrific as those were, I can distance myself from them.
I cannot remove myself from the systems and structures of white supremacy.

I am white.
I grew up surrounded by farmland that had once been tended by slaves.  But the local history never really made that clear.
I grew up celebrating Juneteenth with my black schoolmates.  But I had been taught to focus on the joy of freedom that arrived on that day, not the fact that men, women and children had been kept ignorant of their freedom for years after emancipation.
I missed out on segregation in schools, but never thought to question why none of my black- and brown-skinned neighbors lived on the same side of the baseball park we shared as the rest of my friends… the white ones.

I (rightly, it turns out) assumed that my life would include college, marriage, home-ownership, access to medical care, travel with only minor inconveniences, a decent job at fair wages.  I never once asked my classmates from across the ballpark what they imagined their lives would be.

I took all those assumptions with me to college, where I first encountered a history book that taught westward expansion from the First Nations perspective. And the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights from the African American perspective.  And I couldn’t quite make sense of it all.  I didn’t want it to be true.  And yet…

Remembering that semester, it was starting. The sound was still buried under too much naïveté to be audible. The weight of awareness and responsibility, too light to move beyond those initial misgivings.

If ignorance is bliss, as they say, willful ignorance is the offspring of bliss and evil. And racism is its bastard child.

I am ashamed to say that it took raising a child who was othered – a sexual minority, rather than an ethnic minority – for me to begin seeing the truth of segregation and oppression in this country. Standing on that intersection, I realized that I needed to learn as much about racial injustice as I had the experiences of the LGBTQ community.

The truth I found in the reading: I needed more than education. I needed to search my heart, but first I had to strip away all that my miseducation and willful ignorance had led me to wrap around it.

I confess when teaching and coaching young black men and women, I placed hardships on them and their families because I chose not to ask about transportation if I kept them after the busses ran or their friends left.  I made jokes about hair and hair products.  I made light of not getting their names right, even after I had been corrected.  I chose not to stop others who made “mildly racist” jokes in my presence.

I look back and am angry, embarrassed and ashamed. I could have done better. I could have educated myself. I should have asked questions – not of the all-white faculty, but of the parents and aunties and grandparents who came out to the games. I could have spent time listening to my students’ hopes and dreams, rather than projecting mine onto them. I should have been a better human.

I am getting better, but confess I have a long way to go. I am listening more and learning to see my defensiveness as a cue to shut up, rather than lash out or attempt to explain myself.   My heart is more tender, though not nearly enough.

I wrote this poem as events unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, following the yessir of Muchael Brown. Tensions were high then, as they are now.  And I found myself reacting to that weird anxiety here in Central Florida. And in my own interior world.   I come back to this poem in my posts regularly, and it grieves me to say, I am still unlearning the ignorance and hate I have harbored for far too long.

I hate the part of me that hates

I hate the part of me that hates
others without knowing them
allowing the pictures and stories
consumed over time
to gnaw at reality,
to train me to believe
the person who dresses this way
or talks that way
is more dangerous
than 
this one over here
who
by dint of genetics and cosmic randomness
looks, talks
seems
more like me

I hate the part of me that hates
to be told
I am part of the problem
part the system that continues to place
them
in a different category
on a different trajectory

I hate the part of me that learned
on seeing the brown-ness of skin
to hate
to fear
to withdraw
so that I must recalibrate
and reorient
my vision to see the human-ness of skin

I hate the part of me that waits
too silent
too compliant
too complicit
too comfortable
I sit when I am called to stand
I speak when I am called to listen
I tolerate when I am called to love

I hate the part of me that hates
and so I pray
the part of me that hates
would  be no more
and would be no less
than the memory
that propels me out of my comfort
and into your pain

 

What did she do?

This week’s sermon request was more topic than question…   Broadly speaking, it asked us to take a look at the role or work of women in the community of faith. I could do a full summer, maybe even a full year’s worth of sermons on women in scripture, in the history of the Christian church, and in the modern church.  

I should say, I could now… there was a time that i had no idea how many women were mentioned in scripture. Growing up, most of the Bible Stories we read focused on the patriarchs, or Jesus and the disciples. Many of the passages that focus primarily on women are left out of the Revised Common Lectionary. And they don’t always fit neatly into the sort of topics commonly used for sermon series.  

Oh sure, there are a few whose stories are told often enough to be familiar…

Like Sarah, whose age made it laughable that she and Abraham would ever see their promised heirs outnumber the stars in the sky. And then, when she finally bore a son, she laughed with joy.

Or there’s Mary and her story of persistence and obedience, trusting that with God all things are possible, even parenting the Messiah.  

And of course Esther, the young jewish woman unwillingly placed in the court of a ruthless king. Esther turned out to be stronger and more capable than she ever imagined and saved her people from genocide.  

Most advent seasons, we hear a little bit about the women listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus:
Tamar, the twice-widowed daughter-in-law of Judah, who has to trick him into providing for her as husband;
Rahab, the prostitute who helped Joshua’s spies in Jericho;
Ruth, the Moabite whose loyalty to Naomi brought redemption and security through marriage to Boaz;
And Bathsheba, coerced into a relationship with David that cost her a husband and son.

There are many more women in the Bible who we can and should claim as our forebears in faith.  Their stories are less often told, AND their stories are often less carefully told.Too often, they become caricatures, stock figures, or object lessons.  It is easy to lose sight of the depth of their humanity, to miss the pain of their struggles and sacrifice, to underestimate the faith required to be such bold women in a culture that viewed them primarily as the property of men.

Like the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story is easy to skim right past, tucked as it is into several chapters outlining the census of the children of Israel… essentially a long list of nothing but the names of men and their sons and grandsons and nephews and cousins.  

Listen to their story from beginning of Numbers, chapter 27:1-11

This is powerful stuff -surprising stuff- dropped into the mundane cataloguing of some 603,000 people and their belongings… all based on their clans and lineage. It is powerful because that cataloguing is all about knowing who you are and where you belong. These women understood very well the way things worked in this patriarchal society. They understood that, as women, they were in danger because they had no brothers and no father – no men – in their lives.

They also understood that there was a bigger problem at play in their situation.  A problem of belonging.  Their lack of brother and father meant that they no longer belonged, that their whole family would be forgotten.

At this point, the promised land was to be divided among tribes and clans and families, each plot assigned according to the number of people. Their problem of belonging nowhere was about to be magnified by the problem of having no place in the promise that God had made to their ancestors. This is tragic, a situation made all the more poignant by its being told in the middle of 603,000 others who could say precisely where they belonged.

What did they do?

These women had already followed the system used by the people that started at the local judge, where small grievances and questions were handled. Only the hardest cases got passed up through the layers of judges to Moses for a decision.

According to system in place, the answer should have been no. Based on the previous three books of law, these women should have been sent off to marry to find a place in the community. But that’s not what happened. Instead, each judge at each level of the system has taken them seriously. They are all aware of the seriousness of the problem, of a family of faithful Israelites being forgotten and left out of the promise.

And so Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milca, and Tirza found themselves in front of Moses at the tent of meeting.  Where they  asked for exactly what they wanted: to inherit their father’s place in the community of God’s people. It was a risk for the women to ask the community to do something that had never been tried before.

But when Moses asked,  God’s answer was clear: “the daughters of Zelophehad are right”  In essence, God said to Moses: we have been too restrictive and closed and it is hurting my people.

I don’t want anyone left behind, because each of them matters.
Each one deserves to be remembered.  Honored.
Thus their stories are recorded and told and retold.
Even the stories of women.

In the midst of all these stories – both familiar and lesser-known – sits a Proverb that tells of a different woman. I have to say that – like many modern Christian women – I have a love-hate relationship with Proverbs 31.  

You know, the one that starts by saying how hard it is to find a capable or virtuous woman…
It then goes on to describe someone who runs the household, AND runs a business, AND is the perfect wife, mother, worshiper and citizen.  

It’s as if someone created a “Godly woman” Pinterest board and filled it with Martha Stewart crafts, Frontier Woman recipes, Suzy Ormand investment recommendations and Oprah’s charitable efforts….  and then challenged everyone else to “get to it!”  

It’s just a little overwhelming.  Ok maybe more than a little.
So I mostly ignored it, until I read a modern story.  A few years back I picked up a book by Rachel Held Evans called A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  I was intrigued because had read one of the books that inspired her- a mostly tongue in cheek effort by a guy in New York to live according to the Old Testament for a year.

In her book, Rachel spent 12 months exploring 12 different laws, rules or customs for women that are often tagged as Biblical, She describes how these ideas came to have significance in the broader Christian community, how they have been understood, enforced, and sometimes reinterpreted over the centuries.  

One month she focused on how women are to live according to Proverbs 31.

As she began feeling overwhelmed by attempting to live up to this virtuous woman, Rachel sought advice from a friend in Israel, a woman who is a practicing Orthodox Jew. She laughed and reminded Rachel that the Proverb is a poem. Not a to-do list.   

And in the orthodox Jewish tradition, do you know who reads and memorizes the poem?  Not the wife, but the husband.  The husband recites this poem as a way to celebrate his wife.  

He calls her an ESHET CHAYIL.
A capable woman, a virtuous woman, or an even better translation: A woman of valor.  

ESHET CHAYIL! is also a blessing offered from woman to woman, acknowledging that small daily victories matter.  Like a Hebrew “You go, girl”  or verbal high five.

Conquering that pile of dirty laundry, filing the taxes on time, or figuring out logistics of getting a busy family everywhere they need to be week to week…
Eshet chayil- you’ve survived the day!

ESHET CHAYIL also honors the larger battles –loving  and living with the partner with dementia, loving and praying for a child who struggles with addiction, facing a diagnosis, chemo and radiation treatments with grace. Eshet chayil… Hail woman of valor.

Like our Jewish sisters, we come from that long line of women of valor: Deborah, Lydia, Rachel, Miriam, Anna, and those women whose stories have been passed down, but whose names are lost to history.

Noah’s wife.
We never learn her name, but we honor the woman who remained faithful to the man who built a boat and waited for a flood while there was no rain and who, by the way, was mother to the men  who  (with their wives) repopulated the earth;  Eshet chayil…

Jephtha’s daughter…
Her story is one of commitment and sacrifice, of following through on a promise that she didn’t even make.  As he led his people against the Ammonites, Jephtha swore an oath on behalf of Israel, saying to God

“If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.”

He is victorious, and on his return is met by his daughter, his only daughter… his only child. Dancing out of the door in celebration.  Jephtha’s vow to God was rash, to be sure.  Not a covenant like Abraham’s, but just as serious, and just as binding.  His daughter soon knew what was happening, and it was clear that there would be no last minute reprieve, no ram to replace the child.

What did she do?

Facing her death, she asked for time.  The scriptures say she mourned her virginity.  But I think we can take that a little further – she mourned the husband she would never marry, the love they would never share, the children she would never hold… the days that she would not live. She took time to mourn her lost future.

And after those two months, she was killed, just as Jephthah had promised. We read that the daughters of Israel went out to lament Jephthah’s daughter each year.  They must have wept their blessing, “Eshet Chayil, faithful one”

There was the Samaritan woman, the one Jesus met at the well.  Jesus offered the woman water… living water that will assure that she never thirsts. Water that will become a wellspring of eternal life.

The woman first takes Jesus literally, but when he talks with her about the details of her life, she begins to see something else… Perhaps he is a prophet…

As Jesus speaks to her of worshiping God in spirit and truth, she reveals that she knows about the promised messiah,the one who will come and make everything clear.  Jesus says, “I   who speak to you, am he.”   

It is at this moment… heavy with revelation and expectation…  that the disciples return and interrupt.  As Jesus begins to talk with them about food, the woman returns to her village, so distracted by this conversation that she leaves behind her jug of water, the reason she came to the well in the first place.  This man was no mere prophet.  And this woman would never see the world the same way again.

What did she do?

She ran home and told the story to all who would listen.  Like an excited child, she must have pointed back down the road toward the well.  “He is there- and he told me everything about my life… Could he be the one? Could it be true?  Come on!  Come and see…”

The people came, walking from the town to the well where they would meet this man who offered living water. They came, they saw, they listened, and they believed.  Many believed because of the woman’s testimony.
Eshet Chayil, your words have the power to change a community.

I could go on…

The fact that women are welcome to lead worship on this chancel, that I get to preach here week after week, bears witness to generations of women of valor:
The women Paul mentioned in his letters to the early church and the thousands whose contributions are now known only to God
The women who were martyred and the ones who survived to plant and nurture new churches across the Roman Empire and beyond.
The women who contemplated God in the desert.
The women who opened their homes to reformers;
Women who crossed an ocean in search of the freedom to worship God as they desired
The women who travelled the world as missionaries – alone and with their families.
And women who have given millions of hours and millions of dollars to serve the helpless, the outcasts, the little ones that Christ held so dear.  

We need not drive very far from this sanctuary to find churches where the contributions of women are defined more narrowly than in our denomination.  And so each time I put on my preaching shoes- no matter what color –  I give thanks for the women of valor who were among the first ordained as ministers of word and sacrament in our denomination. They are celebrating 60 years, even as I will mark my first anniversary of ordained ministry in a couple of days. And I give thanks for this congregation taking that step of faith with me a year ago.

That is really what it comes down to, if we want to understand what God hopes for women in the Body of Christ…  faith.

Faith that allows us to remember that we were claimed from the very beginning, how we have been and are being transformed, and where we belong, what we have inherited.

Faith that allows us – all of us – whatever gender – to live into the calling, the life, for which we were made by our loving God.  

Remember these words from the letter to the Galatians, as translated by Eugene Peterson:
By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe— Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.
In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.
Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,”  [Sarah’s famous descendant!]heirs according to the covenant promises.

This is where rubber meets the road for those of us who claim to be followers of Christ

When we understand what Christ puts to right by making us one — equally claimed, equally blessed, equally called to the ministry of reconciliation, regardless of what labels we place on one another…

When we see the gap between men and women filled by the waters of baptism…

We better understand the sin, “the misunderstandings”, the misapplication or misinterpretation that humanity has brought to God’s original design. In other words, Christ’s divine repairs allow us to see more clearly what human nature broke.   

Women were never meant to be property, treated like servants or breeding cattle – merely the means for securing heirs… From the very beginning, Adam’s Ezer, Eve, was meant to be a partner, she was the completion of God’s creation. When the church chose to place the weight of the fall squarely on the woman’s shoulders, it chose to ignore the contributions of warrior judges like Deborah and bold women like Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milca, and Tirzah to our understanding of community.  

For generations, the church has chosen to treat the very women that our forbears celebrated as of women of valor by including their stories – more like anomalies or oddities.  

Segments of today’s church pretend that the women of the early church- the ones who led among the first apostles, who were among the first preachers- actually just did behind the scenes work like baking pita chips…

When we silence the witness of women in scripture, we give permission to our families and our culture at large to diminish the contribution of women to our society.

When we choose not to tell the stories of violence against women in our sacred texts, ignoring torture, kidnap, human sacrifice and rape, or if we choose to tell them with euphemisms and make excuses for the men and our patriarchal God…   we are saying “boys will be boys”

We end up with women told they should stay in abusive relationships and pray because that is what good, submissive Christian women do.

We end up telling our girls and women to cover themselves, to be careful where they go and how they dress, holding them responsible for the catcalling, the inappropriate comments and worse.   

We end up with nameless victims raped behind dumpsters by young men who see women as objects to be claimed and used and left behind.

Dear ones,  this is not ok.  This is not God’s design

And no- it’s not all on the church, but yes, we have contributed to the mess in which we find ourselves.
But we also find ourselves in a position to make a difference.  We are part of God’s plan.

We have inherited a place in God’s family. Being part of the family means that we have inherited the family business…healing, setting free, reconciling
Loving the world.
Proclaiming the good news.
Speaking truth to power
Speaking in the power of the truth.  

Let us pray…