As another year leaves us…

As another year leaves us-

with its joys and sorrows,

its learnings and relearning,

its tear-soaked pillow

and new laugh lines,

its new friends,

strengthened relationships

and parting of ways,

its perspective and courage inducing,

its longing for justice and growing in patience,

its overindulgence and stubbornness,

its remembering of passion

and plain remembering,

its resurrection and

above all

the Grace within it.

 In all of it, and in the paradoxes, God, thank you for your presence.

 As a new year peeks in-

with its new mercies and opportunities,

its dreams,

its feather-covered hope,

its uncertainty and its certainty,

its continued longings for

justice,

happiness,

belonging,

and love,…

its anxiety,

its blessed assurance,

its courage exercises

and new adventures-

may there again be remembering-

always remembering.

May there again be resurrection-

always resurrection.

In all of it, and in the paradoxes, God, may you be present,

and thank you for Grace.

Amen.

 

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Ashy Memories

Growing up Hispanic Protestant, all things that even smelled Catholic were to be kept far, far away.  We missed out on precious and valuable traditions, for sure.  For this reason I’m relatively new to Lent.  It wasn’t until part way through seminary that I was introduced to this holy season.

I still remember listening to an Ash Wednesday sermon in chapel which is still one of the most personally impactful sermons I’ve heard to date.  The sermon was given by a professor who would later become a friend, and she eloquently yet in real and raw fashion talked about the significance and symbolism of ashes – the pain, struggle, hope, and grace.  I was also able to participate in the small church I attended in Orlando during seminary.  It was there that I first was part of the carrying out of an Ash Wednesday service.  I’m so thankful for that time that was gifted to me.

On another Ash Wednesday finishing up seminary I was volunteering with Orlando Health’s Spiritual Care department, and that day I met an elderly woman who was living in an assisted living facility with the anticipation of soon having to be in the nursing home wing.  I remember this day specifically because she had a big black/gray smudge on her forehead.  At first I thought she had something wrong with her skin (okay – I was finishing seminary and it was still morning – give me a break), but no, the chaplain had been going around with ashes.  Most everyone in this place had a cross (or smudge) on their foreheads.  I remember this as it seems like such a holy and somewhat ironic encounter that this Ash Wednesday experience would occur in a place where there is a frequent reminder of our humanness and our returning to dust.

Post-seminary while living in North West Florida in a small rural town with inner city demographics, I remember Wednesday was one of our after school days.  I was in the small Presbyterian Church where we held our after school program, this particular Ash Wednesday.  The days there were difficult, often heart-wrenching, but sometimes rewarded with beautiful smiles and hearty hugs. On that particular day one of our volunteers had been to a morning service in Quincy, the neighboring town, and carried a black smudge (cross) on her forehead, which the kids found quite interesting.

The next year has been my favorite so far, as I got to be fully involved in the inspiring and keen Ash Wednesday service at KUMC, Tallahassee.  Marking folks – children and adults – who came and knelt to receive the cross on their foreheads while I said the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return” has been one of the holier experiences of my life.

Now I’m officially a Rev. and in my first appointment looking forward to this year’s Ash Wednesday experience.

I say all this because for me Lent means several things – a time of inner-reflection, of checking my ego, of embracing the messy and rawness of mortality, a time of preparing for what it looks like and means to follow Jesus to the cross.

As I look back on all these memories, I can say for certain that I’m not the same now as I was then.  I have changed; I hope to be able to continue to say that throughout all my Lents.  One question I ask myself at the start of Lent is, ‘where are you this Lent?’  I’m not speaking geographically, but in my growing up in Christ — in my discipleship journey.  I invite you to think of your ashy memories if you have any, and to let the ashes bring you forward as well to memories to come.  At the same time I hold in my heart friends who find themselves during this Lent recently finding out about a father’s cancer diagnosis, or holding on to a spouse’s ashes after several months of his death, or remembering the anniversary of the death of a young son — may the hope that are in the ashes sustain them in this time and the times to come.

Join me in prayer (from the UMC Book of Worship):

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation. During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church. In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith. We invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word. Today we gather to make a right beginning of repentance, to acknowledge our mortal nature, and to bow together before our Creator and Redeemer. 

Esther

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Called to be Uncomfortable

Everything that I’ve done in my life so far that’s been worth doing initially made me uncomfortable. The magic happens outside of our comfort zones.

Going on mission trips to 2/3 World Countries — uncomfortable. My (ongoing) ordination process with the UMC — uncomfortable. Counseling — uncomfortable. Volunteering in a hospice — uncomfortable. Moving to the ghetto to minister — uncomfortable. Moving to a place where I knew no one — uncomfortable. Going to college, then seminary — uncomfortable. Being vulnerable in my preaching, speaking, etc.  — uncomfortable.  And other random, seemingly minor things which resulted in important relationships, all spawned out of discomfort.  (A lot of these things that are ongoing still may initially make me uncomfortable then ironically result in my feeling the most complete.)

Yes, even Scripture shows it.  I’m always amazed by how much the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners/aliens are mentioned in the Old Testament (and yes, the poor, etc. are mentioned quite a bit in the New Testament as well), specifically to the people of Israel in the desert.  Wandering in the desert cannot mean the best of conditions or situations, but God consistently called the people to think beyond themselves and their comfort and to care for others — to be concerned with the care of others.   Poverty should make us uncomfortable. Injustice should make us uncomfortable. I love that! It tells us so much about what God is like, and about what habits are important for us.  Praying for our enemies is not comfortable.  Following God’s leading to places we did not plan is not comfortable.

Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. I’m convinced that God calls us to be uncomfortable. I really think we should worry if we are comfortable (which is not the same as content). Comfort is a place that can make stagnation easy.  Discomfort stretches us and provides opportunities to grow.

I’ve been doing this for a few years, where I force myself to do things I don’t want to do.  Or I volunteer for things I don’t want to do as soon as I can, before I change my mind.  Several of the things I mentioned above are products of this challenge.  I can be an over-thinker, so I try to not think about them, as I know I’ll make up good excuses, and just do it.

As the newness of the year is already wearing off, promises to exercise have already been broken by folks I know (I’m still going – pray for me!).  The hope for new habits has been all but lost in the lack of consistency.  As I continue to think about the new year, and try to dream, I’m reminded of  God’s call to be uncomfortable.  It’s causing me to rethink about how I use my time, my money…  To think about risks I need to take.  To challenge myself once again to grow – part of which happens through being uncomfortable.

As someone who’s spent a lot of her life so far coming out of a perceived shell of shyness and self-consciousness, believe me when I tell you, it’s been uncomfortable, but it’s totally been worth it.  Join me- let’s be uncomfortable together.

Esther

A short, New Year, pensive spell

I remember loving “Little Women” when I read it 15 or so years ago.  I’m re-reading it (actually listening on Audible) now, and am taking it in with very different lenses than I had upon first reading.  Certainly the case will be the same 15 years from now.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or I’m just due for an especially pensive spell (‘especially’ because it truly doesn’t take much to get me to some sort of contemplation) but it’s making me think about life.  I won’t bore you with a long post for I’m not a writer.

In a year full of joys and sorrows, community and loneliness, contentment and sadness, fulfillment and frustration, celebration and loss, and much grace, Alcott’s words catch my attention:  “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Two things.
Life is definitely a journey, though we often hyper-fous on aspects of it — whether past, present, or future.  Looking at it as a whole, or in the sum of its parts is helpful for me.  Furthermore, in this journey we’re all on — of course in different places and times and with different styles of navigation —  gratitude is key, and I’m thankful for many things.  I’m thankful because I’m not in fact alone, I am loved (first by God but also by people in my life); I’ve uncovered a great aspect in my call (i.e. the thing I feel I’ve been made for – where I find contentment); and my cup overflows when it comes to basic needs. All of these make me responsible to help give that to others, especially those who lack in any or all of these; a responsibility that is also a joyous privilege. Also, because God’s grace abounds, we can always turn the ship around.

Second, “[Jesus} came so that [we} could have life—indeed, so that [we] could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10).  No, I’m not a proponent of the prosperity gospel and I do not resemble Joel Osteen.  I’m talking more of what Parker Palmer calls a hidden wholeness, and the fact that God is present, loving, comforting, consoling and transforming in the midst of a life that is quite messy — that Christ has come because God ultimately wants better for us, God’s beloved creation.  This has led me to believe and be hopeful.  This has been exemplified in my life in the fact that God’s dreams and desires for us are better than what we can dream.  The coolest most fulfilling parts of my life so far were God-inspired.  I’m not the biggest dreamer when it comes to me — and to believe and trust that God desires the best fills me with hope.  Obviously, these dreams are not forced upon us, but to trust and obey them brings unspeakable peace.

I leave you with these words as we sail — roughly, smoothly, joyfully, or mournfully — into a new year:

“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge. It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men and women have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. Such is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge.”  Howard Thurman, from The Growing Edge

-Esther

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