This is the book I wish I had written after my friend died, and I’m sharing this book review on what would have been her 45th birthday. It is a chronicle of grief and friendship. It is beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ll be privileged to learn how these two met, how they spent their days together, Caroline’s diagnosis, illness, and death, and how Gail copes with the death of her best friend.
Every time I read this book, I cry. I know what is going to happen. On the very first page, we read, “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything , and then she died and so we shared that too.” I hope you’ll read this book. I hope you’ll read this book with a friend or a book group. I hope reading this book will inspire you to reach out to those you love and tell them how much they mean to you. I hope this book will remind you that death is part of life and even though it is hard, we do not need to fear death. I hope you’ll read this book and encourage other people to read it too.
“The belief that life was hard and often its worst battles were fought in private; it was possible to walk through fear and come out scorched but still breathing” (78).
“It’s taken years for me to understand that dying doesn’t end the story; it transforms it” (123).
“The only education in grief that any of us get is a crash course. Until Caroline died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenchingly realm of sadness and longing that gradually recede. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity” (150).
We are called to listen and do. What does it look like for us to be quick to listen and slow to anger and speaking? Can we even imagine that? What would that look like in our world? What would that look like in our country? What would that look like in our state or our community? What would that look like in our homes? These words of James are not pie in the sky visions of how it could be. The writer of James is asking us to live out our faith by putting our faith into action. To listen and to do as a response to God’s love for us. Isn’t that our motivation for all we do? God loved us and everything we do is our response to that love. We listen and we do God’s work in the world.
This last week my husband and I were taking one of our nightly walks and talking about this Scripture and sermon. As I told him my plan, he responded you are going stand up there and talk to everyone about listening. How can you talk at people and tell them to talk less and listen more? He asks an important question for me and for all of us in our daily lives. So I have sprinkled questions throughout this sermon as an attempt to make this sermon more of a dialogue than a monologue. My hope is that we can learn from each other and listen to each other.
Have you ever been listening to the radio and heard a conversation between two people that was so intriguing that you felt no desire to change the station? This happens to me every time I hear a Story Corps interview. “StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, two people-friends, relatives, colleagues, go into a listening booth for an hour of honest conversation. Grandchildren ask grandparents what life was like when they were young. Family members share never revealed secrets. Colleagues share what they admire and can’t stand about their coworkers. It is honest and beautiful conversation. What I love about these conversations is the way the interviewer asks the question and then stops talking and listens. There is quiet time and space for the person to answer. Their website includes questions you can ask one another and directions on how to conduct your own interview. If you are inspired to conduct your own interview, StoryCorps is hosting The Great Thanksgiving Listen where people are invited to record a conversation with a family member or friend when you are gathered around the table later this month. Who would you interview? If you could sit down and listen to someone’s story, whose story would you like to hear?
Being quick to listen is hard work. It requires we relax ourselves and put the eight million other things on our mind on hold. When your task is to be quick to listen, you humble yourself, so the speaker is more important than you at this time. Your job is to listen-not listen so you might respond or solve the problem. Simply listen!
When we are slow to speak, we pause before speaking. Stop and think, why am I about to speak? Pause and decide if sharing the information is helpful and kind or do I just want to talk? Will I build up another person or tear someone down with what I am about to say? Being slow to speak requires us to bite our tongues, count to 10, or just take a deep breath before we talk. Think- WAIT-Why am I talking? Find an image of slow to speak that helps you pause. I use the picture that hung in every Sunday School I attend of Jesus with the children. Jesus held children on his lap and had them encircling him as he listened to them. He isn’t talking. And I imagine that what they would remember and what I remember from seeing this picture as a child is Jesus has time for me, Jesus welcomes me, and Jesus listens to me. We want to be heard in the same way and we need to listen to others and leave them with this same feeling.
Being “slow to anger” encourages us to remember we who are; created in God’s own image, we would do well to remember Psalm 103:8. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And we who are created in God’s own image are called to be slow to anger because God is slow to anger. Hopefully, reminding ourselves to be slow to anger will allow us more opportunity to be merciful and gracious and to try to abound in God’s steadfast love. I say try because while writing this sermon this week I sent this email to my sister when I was getting angry. “Dear Guy Waiting for His Car to Be Fixed at Sears, Your ringtones and YouTube videos are very loud. Mute your phone before I lose it. Sincerely, Peron Trying to Write a Sermon on Being Slow to Anger. Just one example of how the real life application of living as people who let God’s Word live inside us is difficult. And yet, we are called to listen and do.
The first part of this Scripture reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger”. Think for a minute about these three things. Which one is the easiest for you and which one is the hardest? How might you encourage yourself to do the hardest one? “How can we learn to be “quick to listen but slow to speak”? What helps me to deal with anger?”
On the Working Preaching blog, David Lose shared his thoughts on these verses. He talked about how this Scripture is meant to be lived out in our ordinary lives. We take what we hear in this place on Sunday morning and we put it into action in this place and beyond these walls.
“Which helps orient us to the possibility…that Sunday is not the pinnacle of the Christian week but actually was intended to serve and support our Christian lives the rest of the week. Sunday, that is, is the day we are immersed again in the word, have our sins forgiven, receive guidance and encouragement in our Christian lives, hear again the good news of God’s goodness and mercy, and are called, commissioned, and sent once more into the world to work with God for the health of the people God has put all around us. All of this puts tremendous importance on our daily lives and activities and actually hallows the everyday routines and responsibilities we often take for granted. So perhaps on this day, Working Preacher, we could invite people to write down one place they will be in the coming week where God could use them to listen, to be patient, or to care for those in need.” Think on that point for a minute. What is one place you know you will be this week where you could live our your faith by enacting these words of James?
Being doers of the word is how we put our faith into action. It is how we live out the Word implanted within us. Otherwise, as the writer of James tells us, we are like someone who looks in the mirror and as soon as we look away we forget what we saw. Who hasn’t done this or something very similar? The solution is to simply “be where your butt is” as Anne Lamott says. This is another way of saying be where you are and be fully present where you are. When you are looking in the mirror, really look at yourself and remember you are God’s beloved and created in God’s own image. When you are listening to someone, really listen. Whatever you are doing, do it with your whole self-mind, body, and spirit. When you are listening with your whole self, it becomes easier to be “slow to speak, slow to anger”.
Our friends at the Taize Community in France share this reflection and questions on this Scripture. “Translated into concrete acts of love, the language of faith can rediscover its power and meaning. Then the words of the Gospel can touch people’s hearts beyond our Churches and can change their lives.” Today’s Scripture ends by saying, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” Who are the “orphans and widows” among us today and how do we care for them?
The writer of James urges us to live as those who are loved by God and whose actions reflect that love. We will “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” We will listen and do! We will care for those in need because each person is God’s beloved and when we share what we have there is enough for all. We will nurture the Word implanted in us. We will do all of this with the help and by the grace of God. We will listen and do! Amen.
This week a fixture in my living room for the last 13 years moved on to a new home. I wrote this on Facebook to commemorate the occasion.
After 13 years of faithful service, it is time to say good-bye to my dear friend, the purple sofa! Thanks for being a comfortable place to sit, sleep, watch tv, read and enjoy many a cup of tea! You were sat upon by friends and family and were the site of our first kiss! Although my husband never loved your delightful purple color, I will miss you and fondly remember all the times you were present for life’s important moments!
The act of giving away my lovely sofa made me reflect on all the stuff I have and my attachment to it. Don’t worry! I am not getting rid of everything or encouraging you to do the same. Instead, I am thinking about the season in which things are with us and how we discern when it is time for them to move on or be with someone else.
As you look around your home, what do you see? How long have some of these things been part of your life? What moments have they witnessed? Do they still bring you joy? How is your stuff part of your story?
Creator of All, We are attached to our stuff. We move it. We live with it. We love it. Help us to be thankful for what we have for the time we have it. Help us to be responsible citizens of creation who share with others and do not waste. Help us to pass along what needs to find a new home. God this is hard, holy work and so we ask for your help. Deliver us from our stuff and help us to know when we have enough. Amen.
This weekend I and a good friend are leading a workshop entitled “Balancing Marriage, Ministry, and Bi-Vocational Life” at a Youth Leader Conference. This week I have been pondering these questions as they relate to my ministry. I encourage you to consider how you would answer them (change the wording if needed) as you seek to live our your faith in the world.
Picture Jesus’ baptism. Can you see it? John and Jesus are in the Jordan River. And as Jesus is coming out of the water, “a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Who heard these words? Just Jesus? Jesus and John? Everyone who was there? While we may not know who heard these words when Jesus was baptized, we do get to hear them today and each time we hear this story. We hear of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and the words of love and support that must have sustained Jesus when he reflected on them in his ministry.
What are the words of God that sustain you? Is it the story of the baptism of Jesus where we hear these words said to Jesus and realize they are a promise for us too? God says to each one of us-You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased. Do you find comfort in Noah’s story? Today we heard the end of the flood story where God promises to never again flood the whole earth. The covenant or promise made by God then was not just made to Noah but to all God’s children. God’s covenant with us as the flood story ends is a reminder that God will not turn away from humanity. God is a God of forgiveness and second and third and fourth chances. We cannot do anything to make God stop loving us. And God doesn’t give up on us. Ever. What good news this is.
The season of Lent is a perfect time to ponder what Scriptures sustain you, where you find hope, and what promises from God inspire you. Where do you find the good news? And how are you do you live out the good news in your daily life? In the Pope’s sermon from Friday, he implored people to live out the gospel this Lent by keeping our eyes open for people in need. Unfortunately, this season can become a time of only looking inward and focusing so much on our relationship with God that we fail to notice our brothers and sisters who are in need. This Lent we can make the choice to live God’s good news in ways that make it real in our hearts and in our lives.
One place we can all see good news in action is in the sacrament of baptism. I love baptisms. Not just on days like today when I have known the one being baptized since he was less than an hour old, I love all baptisms. Any time someone is baptized, it is a reminder of each of our baptisms and a reminder of the covenants or promises we have made to each other and God and the promises that God has made to each of us. Baptisms are never an isolating or isolated event they are always a communal event….always a community wide reminder of God’s love for the one being baptized and for all of us who are part of the baptized’s faith family. Baptisms are a reminder that each one of us is God’s beloved. You are beloved and with you God is pleased.
The New Century Hymnal has a hymn that is suggested for baptisms. It is a hymn that reminds us all that we are children of God. The first verse is-“Child of blessing, child of promise, baptized with the Spirit’s sign. With this water, God has sealed you unto love and grace divine.” We are all children of blessing and full of promise. Promises are what bind us together as a faith family and promises remind us of God’s neverending compassion for each of us. Just as at Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came down and said that “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When we participate in a baptism, we are reminded that God says these words to the one being baptized, as well as all of us here gathered. In the waters of baptism, we see the outward and visible sign of God’s invisible love and grace.
In the second verse of this hymn, we hear, “Child of love, our love’s expression, love’s creation, love indeed! Fresh from God, refresh our spirits, into joy and laughter lead.” One of the joys of a new baby is that he or she reminds us of God’s goodness. When you hold a baby and see the baby smile at you (even if it is just gas), you can’t help but smile too. New babies refresh our spirits and remind us that God’s promises extend beyond us to the next generation just as they existed before us to our ancestors in the faith.
Verse 3 of the hymn says, “Child of joy, our dearest treasure, God’s you are, from God you came. Back to God, we humbly give you, live as one who bears Christ’s name.” Baptisms remind us that this child is God’s child. This is where we come in as a community of faith; it is our job to remind each other that we belong to God; and that we are all called to live as those who bear Christ’s name. We gather together in our faith communities regularly to remember who we are and whose we are.
The fourth verse finishes the hymn by reminding us once again of who we are and what we are called to be. Reminder you are a ”Child of God, your loving Parent, learn to know whose child you are. Grow to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all.”
Our Gospel lesson for today ends with these words- “repent and believe the good news”. Our good news is simply this, God loves us and promises to keep loving us. In the waters of baptism, we see this love poured out. As we journey through Lent, may we live as those who are loved and may we share this love with anyone who needs a reminder of God’s love. Amen.
This week I read this piece about what is lost when a loved one dies. And the sentence that stayed with me is “You lose some of your story.” I have lost many people who held part of my story. I miss them and the stories they took to the grave with them. In an effort to attempt to recall some of those stories I have been reading old emails. I invite you to travel back in time with me to March 2008 when two best friends shared this email exchange. Thank you for sharing part of my story and allowing me to share part of yours.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I was away from home and decided to have lunch at a chain restaurant that I enjoy and do not have easy access to when I am at home. As I sat to eat the familiar flavors, I was not prepared for the many memories that accompanied this meal. Although I had never visited this location of this restaurant chain before the memories made it feel like I was a frequent guest here. It was at another of these restaurants where I was introduced to a friend’s friend who would go on to become her spouse. This restaurant chain hosted us many times after church as my husband and I had a few minutes of conversation before I went back to work and he went home to enjoy the rest of his weekend. This was where we would often eat with a dear friend who now lives too many hours away.
In addition to my delicious meal, I was met by loved ones who have shared similar tables with me. I was thankful for the memories many of which I had not remembered in some time.
This has me wondering where you encounter unexpected memories? Where are you surprised by thoughts of those you love who are gone or far away? And how do you react to those moments?
For me, it was a privilege to dine with family and friends who are family even if everyone else at the restaurant sawing me dining alone. I welcomed the memories and when I was done eating sent them messages to know I love them and how they are well!
It makes sense that Jesus said when you do this remember me. When we gather around tables, we remember. When we gather around the table in our places of worship, we remember Jesus. So wherever you find yourself eating, open yourself to the memories.
Surprising God, Thank you for coming to us in simple meals with chicken and rice and chopsticks. Thank you for meals shared with those we love and thank you for memories! Continue to surprise and remind of happy times. Each time we gather around a table, help us to remember. Amen.
Each month many faith communities publish a newsletter. All the important dates and details about what is happening will be shared in those pages. Plus, the church staff is asked to write a short article each month. This is what I wrote for St. Giles Presbyterian Church in March 2011. As I reread it recently, I liked the idea of considering what hats we wear. I encourage you to think about all the hats you wear during the week and how many different roles you have in your daily life.
This month I promised to tell you what a DCE or pastor does the rest of the week. You know about much of the Sunday stuff because that is when you see us. If I asked you to describe what you do or how you spend your week, it may take you awhile to name a portion of what occupies your work week or weekday hours. I’ll spare you a long list and instead share some hats I wear that explain how this DCE fills her work week.
Confidant-No matter your age, sometimes you just need someone to listen.
Teacher-I love leading Bible studies, book discussions, and teaching the children and youth. Sharing faith and faith stories is a fun hat to wear.
Student-I will always see myself as someone who can learn more and more. Through conferences, books and magazines, and conversations with colleagues, I am constantly reminded how much there is to learn.
Motivator-Our faith journeys aren’t easy roads. We need people to journey with us and motivate us to keep going when it is difficult.
Planner-Lots of events, activities, and things happen here at St. Giles. For each hour of something you see, hours of planning, preparation, emails etc. go into it. Plus, planning lists, coordination with ministry teams, and putting it all on the church calendar.
Supporter-Where can I help someone with what he or she is doing or suggest someone else who wants to help? Part of my role as supporter is helping people see where the needs of the church work with their gifts and then supporting them as they share their gifts!
Cheerleader-Woohoo children, youth, and adults! Way to go on sharing God’s love in so many ways.
I hope this glance at the hat rack of this DCE answers the what does a DCE do all week question!