Ungrateful is okay.

It’s Thanksgiving. So we give thanks. Supposedly.

Christians, all Christians but especially evangelical Christians, capitalize on this holiday to talk about how bad we are at giving thanks to God and how we need to do better. The church often trumpets about how we’re never praising God enough, heaping guilt on someone receiving chemo and not simultaneously erupting in praise or shaming someone who can’t make ends meet for the month and not bursting out in song when their electricity is cut off. Apparently, an attitude of gratitude gives you the strength to persevere.

variety of pumpkins
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That may work for some, but please, for God’s sake (yes, I mean that literally), stop telling people how they should suffer! If someone wants to weep through physical therapy as they have to relearn to walk and they can’t summon gratitude, then it’s never, ever your responsibility to correct them and direct them to do so!

DO NOT start a sentence with, “Well, at least you…” They don’t need to have a change of perspective to see that “someone always has it worse.” Listen, but don’t give advice. Encourage people when they go to therapy. Stand by people when they have mood swings from their depression medication. Cry with them. That pleases God so much more than demanding they constantly give thanks when they see little to give thanks for.

God doesn’t stand over the stranger, the orphan, and the widow and demand that they forsake their tears and praise God. God gets down on the ground and weeps with them.

So if you’re struggling with gratitude this Thanksgiving, it’s okay. Don’t pile more guilt and shame on yourself because your sighs are too deep for words. If counting your blessings doesn’t cheer you up, then don’t worry about it. Just survive the day, take the next step, and take care of yourself. Don’t wound yourself more by living up to the religious expectation of unabashed praise. It’s okay not to be okay, even on Thanksgiving. God is patient, and God would rather have genuine gratitude over “fake it until you make it” praise.

Pushing Through with Queer Eye

I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.

man carrying black and gold briefcase
Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com

I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.

I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.

It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.

close up photo ofg light bulb
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.

In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”

I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.

Escaping

I debated posting this because I like posting thought-provoking blogs, and I thought this might come off as silly. But I think this is a worthwhile share that could be meaningful to someone, which is why I do what I do.

When life is tough, we often look for an escape. There are unhealthy escapes such as excessive eating, heavy drinking, oversleeping, and addictive drugs. There are times when someone is depressed they binge hours of TV or Netflix to distract them from the pain. But then there are the healthy, necessary escapes. They may seem silly on the surface, but sometimes indulging child-like hobbies can help us find light and joy in our lives when everything around us is shrouded in shadow.

 

I started playing Pokemon Go around this time last year. I had played some in 2016 and then quit.  Then last September things in my life that had already been precarious and troublesome had begun sliding downhill. So I redownloaded the app and began spending some of my free time entering another world where I hunted Pokemon. This got me out of the house, where I was tempted to stay because depression was setting in, and gave me something fun to focus on instead of spiraling into panic attacks. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. An escape was necessary. It was by no means an all-consuming escape that was an unhealthy obsession but provided a much-needed break from the reality that threatened to crush me.

Now, I want to pause here and say that the hobbies that help us escape are coping mechanisms but are by no means a cure or answer to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Fun and positivity can help us endure day to day, but therapy and medication are what truly treat us to promote mental wellness. Please, do not see this as a promotion of fun and games over professional help.

 

I hit my lowest point in December. This low point lasted through March. It was so ugly and so painful. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to therapy until I moved to another state in April, so I just had to get to the next day. I started really delving into Pokemon go. I would wear a hoodie and take long walks at night while playing the game. Again, this may sound silly, but hear me out. There was something about obscuring myself in my clothing and in the dark from the people around me that gave me some of the power back that had been taken away from me. I was invisible. No one could find me and bully me. I was playing a fun game. No one could interrupt a good moment and attack me. It felt sneaky and exciting. I was still depressed. I had panic attacks when I least expected them. But I had these moments where I escaped, I did something that uplifted my soul so that I could face another day.  Then, as soon as it was available to me (just 2 weeks after I moved) I began therapy.

There were other escapes. I wrote a book (I am looking for a publisher!) My husband and I took a number of day trips on my days off to explore Florida (where we were living at the time). These were productive escapes, and much less childish. But sometimes you have to remember the child inside of you to keep you from becoming cold, hard, and bitter.

Take a Breath

Getting a new enterprise going is tough. You have to go all-in because you know it’s all on you to succeed. I have been working on Tales of Glory since July, and I am starting to get traction with my work. However, I am hitting a bit of a wall. Burn out is real, especially after leaving trauma behind. But I am learning how to balance the time when I need to pause, take a breath, lean into healing, and start again.

 

I have had wonderful people reach out and encourage me. This encouragement has seemingly come out of the blue, but I believe that the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes when we are struggling. These messages people send me give me peace, and they soothe the pain and anger I have felt toward God, myself, and those who’ve hurt me. I have taken time to meditate, pray, and cry over these kind words. They heal me. But, the time I spend in prayer and meditation is time away from my work, and then I don’t accomplish what I had hoped for the day.

But I need these moments to heal. Healing is not linear and takes time. Also, I cannot minister if I refuse to talk to God out of anger and if I hold onto the suffering. Rage creates self-inflicted wounds. So I choose to pause, to heal. Instead of scolding myself for not meeting all of my goals for the day, I lean into the peace. I work through my anger or sadness. Then I take a breath. I let the love others show me and the love God is sending wash over me. I sit in the light shining on me. I can’t move forward in my work, at least not to its full potential, if I am not also on a path to healing. I cannot heal if I do not allow the space for it to happen.

 

When the weight of your work is bearing down on you, and your mind or your soul needs a break, then take a breath. You may not cross everything off your to-do list for the day, but you and your work will be better for it. And if someone crosses your mind, reach out to them. Encourage them. The Holy Spirit may be working through you; you just may be an essential part of their healing.

Living Easter Nationally

The pain of the world can be overwhelming. The suffering can seem to be a little too much. As we are considering how to live Easter, I offer some organizations that work for social justice in our nation. I don’t think Jesus expects us to be able to do everything, fix everything, and be everything all the time. So instead I have gathered causes that are important to me and that are important to our nation as a small list here. We are living a resurrected life, knowing that Jesus has victory over pain, evil, and death. Instead of getting overwhelmed (which I am prone to do) it’s good to just take a breath. Any type of volunteering or donation helps. We can pick one thing to focus on at a time and do our best. Maybe this list will help you pick one thing to focus on for now; maybe it will inspire you to research other causes that are important to you. We’re in this together; I don’t have it all figured out. I just keep trying to learn, to grow, and to do my best to shine God’s love in the world. When I fail, I own it, I ask forgiveness, and I try to do better. In the resurrected life we are allowed to be imperfect and to still do good.

 

For national impact on LGBTQ+ issues, here are a couple great organizations to donate time and money to:

Human Rights Campaign

This is a great organization that advocates for rights and protection of LGBTQ+ people on legislative matters. You can also be a local advocate in your community.

The Trevor Project

This organization advocates for LGBTQ+ youth, who are at a high risk of homelessness and suicide. They offer chatting and texting services for LGBTQ+ youth to reach out to in crisis. You can volunteer to be a crisis counselor.

Mental Health:

These organizations support mental health and mental illness. It’s important to break the stigma around mental illness so that all people receive the support and treatment they need. Seeking help and support is not a weakness; we all need help when we’re struggling. Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis test line help when you’re feeling suicidal or having an anxiety attack or in a depression spiral. National Alliance of Mental Illness offers crisis help as well as advocacy for public policies to support mental health and they educate society on mental illness. You can volunteer to be crisis counselors to help others.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Crisis Textline

National Alliance of Mental Illness

Ending Gun Violence:

Both of these organizations are working together state by state to rally for common sense gun laws to reduce gun violence and public shootings across the nation. In 2016 I heard Lucy McBath speak about her advocacy against gun violence since losing her son, Jordan Davis, to a racist man’s anger in 2012. Now she serves as Georgia’s 6th district congressional leader. Hearing her pain and her passion for common sense gun laws deeply moved me. She represents organizations like these, and they are really making efforts to make America safer.

Everytown

Moms Demand Action

Chronic illnesses:

ALS Association

American Cancer Society

St. Jude’s

Alzheimer’s Association

Equality of all people:

Black Lives Matter

It is important for people like me, who have white privilege, to step back, to listen, and to heed the words of those who are not being treated with equality and regard for human dignity. Black Lives Matter provides a platform for black voices to speak to their experiences and seeks equality.

National Immigrant Justice Center

Southern Poverty Law Center

Immigrant Families Together

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

Immigrants are not criminals. Undocumented immigrants are people. Asylum seekers are within their right. We need laws the help and protect immigrants, and we need legislation to reform our immigration policies. Families should not be ripped apart. We need to treat people who want to enter our country as if their lives don’t matter or as if they are a threat to us. We desperately need to do better. Immigrant Justice Center, Refugee and Immigrant Center, and Southern Poverty Law Center offer pro bono services to immigrant families. Immigrant Families Together help pay for bonds for families, offer legal representations, helping families in detention, and supporting them after release.

Veterans:

According to http://www.metro.us, “According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 40,056 homeless veterans living in the U.S. in a single night in January 2017, which was a little more than nine percent of all homeless adults. The study shows that three out of five homeless military veterans were housed in emergency shelters or transitional housing facilities, while two out of five were living in places “not suitable for human habitation.” ”

As someone who has worked with veterans struggling with homelessness, it’s shameful how many don’t have access to benefits. Here are numerous organizations to visit to donate to:

Wounded Warrior Project

List of Military Organizations

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Published Sermons!

I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:

Parson’s Porch

Holy Saturday

John 19:38-42
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Remember Jesus.

Remember the 3 historically black Seventh District Churches in Louisiana.

Remember Notre-Dame.

Remember the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Remember Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, NZ.

Remember the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Remember the people at the Mexico/American border.

Remember the separated immigrant families.

Remember the DACA recipients.

Remember Flint, Michigan.

Remember the people of color who are raising their voices against unjust killings, the broken justice system, the suppression of voters, gentrification, privilege, and equality.

Remember those in prison and those that our justice system fails.

Remember Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, and all others. Too many others.

Remember those who died by suicide.

Remember those with us now struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

Remember the homeless, the impoverished, the unemployed, and underemployed.

Remember those who are constantly displaced by the affordable housing crisis.

Remember the LGBTQ+ community who are excluded from the military, adoption processes, and other discriminatory, violent acts.

Remember the rejected LGBTQ+ youth without support, families, or homes.

Remember the people who are living with, speaking up about, and fighting back against all forms of abuse.

Remember the women who are pounding against the glass ceiling.

Remember Venezuela.

Remember Northern Ireland.

Remember Yemen.

Remember Nigeria.

Remember Ukraine.

Remember our warming, suffering planet.

Remember these so that you might remember Jesus.

Lent Week 4

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

I now live in a new city in a new state. In this state (unlike my previous one) Spring is happening, so there are blooms, pollen, little bunnies in my backyard, and signs of new life everywhere. These cutesy little “new” experiences are often what we associate with newness and Christ. But I believe Lent invites us to think about it differently.

While I’m celebrating the new around me, I’m also carrying deep seated pain and anger. My life has been a mess for 9 months, and I’m finally, finally, finally leaving behind the oppression that sucked the life out of me. I have a new beginning, but I’m going to have to wade through the pain that has attached itself to my soul. Becoming new means that I have to get my hands really dirty to rip away the resentment that crushes my spirit so that I can breathe new air and be alive again in Christ. I have to die to this old way that no longer benefits me; and that requires the hard work of taking a good, long look at my pain, feeling it, working through it, and healing from it.

This week let’s think about the old ways in our lives that we have to die to: bitterness, pain, rage, resentment, unforgiveness, and everything that stops the heart of our soul from beating. We are called to live abundantly. While we think of newness being sweet and cute, sometimes becoming a new creation means taking on difficult and ugly tasks to separate us from evil and save our souls. Enter into the hard work of addressing, feeling, working through, and healing from all that suffocates us so that we can be a new creation in Jesus Christ.

Lent Week 3

Psalm 63:1-8
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

 

 

It’s interesting seeing lectionary texts this week that talk about refreshment, food, satisfaction, and being filled, considering that it is the third week of Lent and we should be in the middle of our disciplines, practices, fasting, and abstaining (see also Isaiah 55.)  However these passages come from a Lenten space, a place of lack and desire. The Psalmist’s soul thirsts and his flesh faints for God and the rich, satisfying provision of God’s steadfast love. The Psalmist is reaching out from a place of scarcity to be filled with nourishment and praise.

Sometimes we go into Lent with ambitious intentions of taking on or giving up something, but we’re not always sure what our end goal will be. How are we hoping to grow? Where do we need healing? While we are in our Lenten season, let us learn from the Psalmist to identify where in our lives we find ourselves thirsting and fainting. Where are we aching, parched, and empty? If we take a moment to assess ourselves spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally, and mentally we can see where in our lives we can invite God to satisfy those places that lack the care we need.

Advent 2: Peace

Baruch 5:1-9
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

We have a group called “Caring Friends” which is for widows and widowers to gather a couple times a month for fellowship and support. We held a “Blue Christmas” service for them and anyone else in our community who wanted to come and lament their lost loved ones they were missing this holiday season. Afterwards we met to talk over coffee and pie about grieving during the holidays.

I can’t share specifics for the sake of confidentiality, but it was a time of kindness, support, and understanding. While the grief and pain are very real for many people in the holiday season, there is peace among the support of friends. There is peace in the community of the church. There is peace when a small tealight is lit for the loved one they remember. There is peace in the decisions made after the death of a loved one for self-care purposes.

Instead of abiding, overwhelming peace for those who are grieving, there a moments of peace. These moments give life and breath to continue on to the next moment and the next day.  These moments provide clarity and make a pathway for joy and healing. When grief strikes, one can only go minute to minute, day by day since grief is unpredictable in nature. And that’s how peace sneaks in, between the moments and the breaths taken to provide some grace in the chaos.

Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”