Gentle Reminders

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With bread and wine you can walk your road.
Spanish Proverb

I’ve been experiencing many firsts. As my oldest gets ready to fly the coop and leave for college, I’m understanding how little influence I hold. And in my marriage as I assume greater responsibility outside the home, my role as homemaker and mother is ever-changing. And as I step into the role of pastor, the weightiness of the title and the gravity of the work humble me. Firsts of preaching and meetings and weddings send me to profuse sweating and nervous laughter, while filling me up in ways I could never have imagined.

And one of my greatest firsts happened this past weekend during our second “preview” service of this new Left Hand Church. I was the pastor to administer the sacrament of Communion.

At our church, just as in our sister, Highlands Church in Denver, our worship experience points to and culminates in the partaking together of bread and juice as the Body of Jesus. Growing up in the church, taking Communion was just what I did, it was expected and I did my best to partake with reverence and gratitude. Whether reverence and gratitude are required or not, it’s what I did. And while I have swallowed the elements hundreds of times, I have never offered them as a pastor.

In front of our new community, as I tore the soft, pungent Italian loaf into jagged halves, I broke.  I choked on the prepared words, moved deep by the symbolic act of breaking the body of Jesus. I was overwhelmed. And with the backdrop of a frigid winter evening, ice coating the sidewalks, eager faces across the pews, I broke. I broke with the weight of the joy and the weight of the gratitude and the weight of the hope found in this person, this remarkable human embodiment of God.

This broken body as bread, smelling delicious of comfort and wholeness and abundance. It was a holy and altogether too big moment.

For the past few months I’ve been co-leading a conversation group with mostly white people about race and privilege at The Refuge in Broomfield, CO. This past Sunday as we collectively lamented the enormity of the task of getting our people to notice the vicious systems of racism and patriarchy, our conversation was heavy and loaded, verging on despair.  The work is unrelenting, and once eyes are opened to the injustices and oppression many experience because of gender, sexuality, color, religion, documentation, ability – getting through some days without heavy burden is tricky.

Our group is comprised of local churchgoers and pastors, except for one, Sarah. As the churchgoers and pastors spiraled downward, Sarah punctuated the conversation with a definitive, “Hey, seems to me you all worship a guy named Jesus who was all about hope and disruption.”

She stopped me in my tracks. It took a moment but I eventually responded with an exhale of relief:

Oh yeah. Thank you for the reminder.

Her statement shook me, as I recalled what I once knew, but forgot.

On this Ash Wednesday, as we are reminded of the impermanence of our bodies, the shortness of our lives, the vastness of a God who loves us enough to embody our fallible humanity in the perfect Christ. May we stop firm in our tracks and surrender our despair. May we stop and surrender our self importance. May we stop and firmly place our questions, doubts, and certainty at the feet of the One who broke for us, who died for us, who rose for us.

We are not alone. Our suffering is never wasted. Our despair is never overlooked. And the gift of hope is held in Christ – in the delicious sustenance of a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet store-bought grape juice. Our ingestion of Jesus is the perfect and complete reminder that He dwells deep within, and we are recipients of grace and mercy, no matter what we do or don’t do.

As I travel down this path of firsts, with profuse sweat and nervous laughter, I pray to invite my own breaking – over and over. For in our breaking we can receive and we can know to the core of who we are that God Incarnate dwells within and among. Within our bodies, hearts, souls, and minds and, among our homes, relationships, communities, and systems.

Oh yeah. Thank you for the reminder.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he sat in a room among his disciples to celebrate the annual Passover feast. He took bread, and after he gave thanks for it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Take and eat, and remember me.”

Later that same evening, he took the cup of wine. He held it up saying, “This wine is the blood of a new covenant — a promise for the redemption of all people. Take and drink, and remember me.”

Those Pesky Expectations

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My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.

[The Science of Second-Guessing (New York Times Magazine Interview, December 12, 2004)] ― Stephen Hawking

We find ourselves with a new puppy, a Goldendoodle we call Wilson. He’s the kind that pees on all the things and upends a home life in the way where everyone silently wonders if it was worth it (and by everyone, I mean the adults). We didn’t need a dog, I already had one, a perfect doodle named Clementine whose worst habit, aside from a stinky snout, is lying in the middle of the bedroom floor, tripping us up during the inconvenient middle-of-the-night bathroom runs. But the Clemmy girl is a mama’s dog, a diligent companion who has eyes just for me. No-one else in the house has a chance.

We hoped a puppy would bring some solace and distraction to the jaunty work of adolescence, forging a special bond with the children. And in perfect Jepsen fashion, one day we wondered about a puppy and the next we owned one. So far so good, but time will tell if Eric and I have inherited ourselves a young four-legged Wilson as our own.

Dreams are funny things. That wild notion that creeps in, and then before you know it you’re researching pups on the internet. It’s not that we forgot how bananas puppy hood can be, we just glossed over the difficulty. This is the same reason why I birthed three kids and ran 9 marathons. Thankfully, we forget. We minimize the severity of the pain, while holding the beautiful and sepia-toned memories. I’ve had enough puppies in my lifetime to know the risks and pitfalls. And Eric and I painted a dismal portrait to our teens of disrupted screen time and losses of freedom, but we said yes anyways, because we know that joy is forged in the fires of discomfort, in the overcoming and in the difficulty. And somehow, as the happy memories harden, the middle of the night potty breaks and carpet stains won’t seem like a huge deal.

I have a problem with expectations. While I believe dreaming is important, the management of expectations is a real thing. Before becoming a parent my expectations were off the charts, perfection the acceptable ideal. We all know that is an unsustainable reality, so with the arrival of the babies my expectations had to pendulum swing in the equal and opposite direction, rendering all things horrible until proven otherwise.

I recognize now the importance of a middle ground – that, amidst the dreaming and romanticizing, there are expectations to be considered and heeded. And oftentimes I am surprised by my newfound reality whether it’s in parenting, puppy raising, or church planting. The reality is either harder or easier than I presumed. A reason to hold expectations with a loosened grip, carrying generosity and grace toward oneself in the process.

As a One on the Enneagram, the expectation of perfection tends to be my default. We all know the problems here.

And so my work is to learn from others, to observe how they navigate the world, to observe their strategies and skills as metrics for setting my own personal expectations in this nebulous learning curve, while also recognizing I cannot measure others with the standards I measure myself.

Also, I must discern and dismiss many of the internal voices of condemnation and criticism, as well as voices of fear and protection. I cannot tell you where these come from, but certainly no one has spoken to me with the level of condescension that I can speak to myself.

As I come to trust my own voice – the quieter, curious, knowing voice – I recognize the essential value and worth in the work I do, believing in my calling as a pastor, as a parent, as a puppy owner, trusting I am the right one, the best one for these tasks. And in this trusting and believing, the passion is reignited which re-illuminates the dream, rendering me capable and ready for the work of being who I am in the world. Just as I am.

And so the sepia-toned dream will take hits and it will become marred and mired in the oftentimes grisly work of ushering new life into the world. But I have good instincts. I have lived life and I have learned through misplaced expectations, feeble attempts, wild success, through ill-informed decisions and wild-haired spontaneity.

Just because it’s uncomfortable,

just because it’s messy,

just because it’s not perfect,

absolutely does not mean it’s wrong.

So puppies or parenting, church planting or everyday living – expect to be surprised and expect to be disappointed – holding all of it together, with a loosened grip.