Monday, May 27, 2013

A Day of Rest

     Last night Aislynn came down with that horrible stomach flu that is going around.  She was up almost every half hour throughout the night being "sick".  That meant that all of our plans for today were thrown out.  And we have been home.  I've slept a lot of the day (after all, I hadn't slept much during the night...and what sleeping I had done was frequently interrupted), and we watched "Columbo" murder mysteries for part of the day.  Right now I am listening to my eldest daughter read to the other three of us (well, as much as one can do that while typing!).  But basically, out of the sky has been dropped into my lap a literal day of rest - something we are supposed to take on a weekly basis, and something that most Americans (I think) really don't know what to do with - including myself.
     We had an incredibly busy weekend - friend over Friday night, Saturday was Jasmyn's birthday party which meant the day was spent cleaning, setting up, having the party, then cleaning again, Sunday involved church and then I had people over again for Women's Movie Night.  And the calmness of today is an incredible gift of grace.  I can see it for that...I am deeply tired, in so many ways, and next weekend will also be incredibly busy with an out-of-town trip.  So the gift of a day in which we have no choice but to slow down, to take time, to just "be" and rest is such an amazing blessing, even if it did come at the price of a difficult night and a sick child.
    But the truth is that all of us have trouble knowing what to do with this gift of rest.  The idea of simply being, of existing together, of resting, of not running around or being entertained or working hard every minute of the day has been challenging for each of us in different ways.  My eldest has been weepy and complaining of boredom, to the point of even calling other adult friends to see if they could take her somewhere.  My middle child has been causing havoc out of his sense of "I don't know what to do with myself".  Aislynn, because she is still sick, has just rested on the couch.  And I have struggled with an overwhelming sense of guilt, recognizing all that I SHOULD be doing while choosing to actually rest and be with my children instead.
    But finally we made the decision to embrace the spirit of the day.  As I have come back to myself, especially over the last 5 months, I have filled my family room with plants, rocks, water and candles.  In a spirit of embracing the Sabbath that was given to us, we lit the candles, turned on the fountains (to listen to the running water), played soft music, and chose to be together as a family.
     Here are two pictures of part of our space...

    I pray that the gift of this Sabbath day would inspire me to be more intentional in taking Sabbath more regularly, inviting the Spirit more fully into our space and into our lives, and learning how to simply be, without needing to do in every moment.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Today's Sermon - The Third Person of the Trinity

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Today is trinity Sunday, when we look at and celebrate the fact that God is one but also somehow three.  But today, rather than focusing on the whole trinity, I want us to spend some time focusing on the third person of the trinity, the Spirit, the one who is most neglected, least understood and often ignored by Presbyterians in particular who feel that anything that touches on the spirit is somehow too “catholic” and therefore is scary or unorthodox or too “mysterious”.  Presbyterians are traditionally the most cerebral or thinking oriented of all of the denominations.  We are the only one that insists that its pastors learn to read both Hebrew and Greek so that we can read the Bible in its original languages.  We are one of the few denominations that have a four year master’s of divinity program rather than three.  Our study focuses on history and historical critical biblical interpretation.  We study, study, study.  And we are taught to preach sermons that are very serious and very well studied.  That’s what it is to be Presbyterian.  And this works great with our understanding of two persons of the trinity.  We can intellectually understand God the creator, the one who is ultimately in charge of everything, who creates, who bends, who acts through history.  We can intellectually understand the teachings of Jesus and his commands to follow through the concrete actions of caring for one another.  We can understand at a head level that keeps it all above our hearts, above our souls, above our spirits, these two persons of the trinity.
     But the Spirit, the third person of the trinity cannot be understood this way.  So, many Presbyterians tend to ignore the spirit except as an intellectual concept, as an idea about something that is part of the trinity.  We feel suspicious of anything that touches religion that is experiential.  And there are good reasons for this.  We don’t want to be controlled by our feelings, we don’t want to be out of control.  We know that being out of our heads and into our feelings or experiences can and does lead people astray.  We know that most cults tap into feelings.  We know that the Pentecostals are all about the experience of the mystery, of the divine and we choose, intentionally, not to be Pentecostals.
But we have gone too far.  There is a reason why Presbyterians are called the “frozen chosen”, and while we may laugh at this name, there is far too much truth in it.
We are called to love God with all of our being – all our strength, all our mind, all our soul, AND all our hearts.  And that means engaging the mystery at times, inviting in the third person of the trinity, the Spirit, spending time with this third Holy person and listening for what the Spirit may have to say to you.
It’s not that this is easy…including for me.  I had a friend who was very involved in more traditional church service styles such as are practiced in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.  We had several discussions about how important and meaningful the rituals of those practices were for him, and for me how much they felt like “magic” actions – unreal, pretend and lifting up pastors as capable of doing divine magic in some way.  But still, I heard how important this was for him, and I found myself reflecting more on the mystery because of our conversations.  While it may not be easy for Presbyterians, engaging the mystery, spending time with the Spirit, is deeply important.
So, how do we do this?  Well, Spirit experiences tend to be more mystical, as I said.  Getting ourselves into a place where we can sit and listen for and to the Spirit is not as easy for us as listening to someone talk about God, or studying God through Bible study, or singing about God.  But inviting the Spirit into our life necessitates taking time to listen.  We can do this through lectio divina – and other forms of guided meditation.  And St. Andrew’s regularly offers many other ways of connecting to the Spirit.  We have the labyrinth, which invites an active meditative practice of listening for the Spirit.  Tai chi can also lead us into this as well as music and art, all of which we offer and practice here.  We offer meditative prayer daily during lent and during advent.  We have Taize services and healing services, which again invite us to sit and listen.  Sometimes simply creating a different space – one with candles or scents such as incense or flowers, involving more meditative music such as is used in Taize services invite us into a new space of listening for the spirit.  Our retreats tend to be more Spirit focused.  Today because our focus is on the Spirit, we are using candles and we are singing Taize chants.  This may feel uncomfortable for some of you.  If so, I think that is a good thing – a gift.  Because the Spirit does not leave us comfortable, but challenges us to grow, to move and listen and hear in a different way.  It calls us to listen with our hearts rather than with our heads, to love God with our experiences as well as with our attendance, to connect with the third person of the trinity, the one we often ignore, because that third person is also God – and also calls us to us and invites us into relationship with Godself.
I encourage you strongly to attend a Taize service if you haven’t.  I encourage you to come to our meditative prayer times during lent and advent.  I encourage you to find ways to daily spend time listening and connecting to the Spirit who loves you and calls for connection with you. Walk the labyrinth.  Journal.  Walk in the parks.  But spend time, not only with God the Father (or parent) and God in Jesus.  Spend time with the Spirit as well, for Jesus sent us this advocate to be with us and in us and to speak to us when we listen.
Oommen and I are in the same weekly lectionary group.  A couple months ago, he said to us, “the less we understand, the more true it is”.  The less we understand, the more true it is.  And again, I think he is pointing out that the deep truths, the deepest truths are things we experience in mystery – are truths we encounter through our hearts and actions rather than just through our thoughts and conversations.  Not that our thoughts and conversations aren’t important.  They are, too.  But they may not lead us as strongly or clearly into the heart of God.  If we connect with God only intellectually, we are missing the heart connection to God.  And, just as with our human relationships, it is our heart connections that lead us to each other, that bind us and make us strong together, more than our head connections.
Towards that end, I would like to invite you to sit for a few minutes of silence, to listen for God today in the quiet.  When thoughts come into your head, listen, let them go and listen some more.  The quiet time will be ended with the hymn printed in your bulletin.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Forgiveness, Part III

What is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? - Vidura

The 'one word' that Satan cannot endure is forgiveness - Professor Orr

Lord’s prayer (as it might be prayed by God to us):
My children who are on earth:
You reverence my name
But you do not celebrate my will for you.
You pray my kingdom come,
But how can it
When you ARE what I mean by my kingdom?
You pray for your daily bread,
But you have enough-and to spare.
You pray for forgiveness of your sins,
But how often you will not forgive each other.
You ask me not to lead you into temptation,
But what can I do for you
That I am not already doing?
Use the gifts I am giving you
And you will know my power and glory
Forever and ever.
Amen. -by Rev. Dewane Zimmerman

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. -Mahatma Gandhi

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. -Mark Twain

You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well. -Lewis B. Smedes 

People can be more forgiving than you can imagine. But you have to forgive yourself. Let go of what's bitter and move on. -Bill Cosby 

When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future. - Bernard Meltzer 

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. -
Corrie Ten Boom 

"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." - John 20:23

The hardest words to forgive are not the lies we hear, but the truths we are told that we cannot bear to face.

We are all one.  Therefore when I hurt you, it is myself and the world I am injuring.  When I fail to forgive you, it is myself and the world I am failing to forgive.  By the same token, when I love you, I am learning to love myself as well.  And when I forgive you, I, too, find grace and forgiveness. - me  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Forgiveness, Part II

      I believe deeply in forgiveness. I believe almost beyond any other belief that we are so deeply connected, so mysteriously "one" even in our uniqueness, separateness, and diversity that it is true that when I hurt you I am hurting me. I believe that forgiveness, therefore, rather than revenge, is not just for the other person, and not just for oneself, but for the world. The more we can let go of anger, the more we can choose love instead of hate, peace instead of violence and hope instead of desperate struggle, the more we contribute to the healing of the world. I believe all of this with every fiber of my being. None the less - none the less, there have been a couple times when, despite all my beliefs and intentions, forgiveness did not come easily for me, when I have struggled to remember that we are all one, when a sense of self-preservation became stronger than the ability to see our connections and a feeling of self-righteousness overpowered my ability to have compassion for actions I didn't, in the moment, understand.
     When a person apologizes, when a person "repents" of their behavior by changing it, when a person expresses genuine regret, remorse, sorrow over their actions and the consequences of their actions, forgiving is easier. When I understand a decision, when I am told what was behind the hurtful action, when I see the depth of a person - even if it contains a problem, a flaw, a significant shortcoming - when I understand it, forgiveness comes, accompanied by compassion and empathy. However, sometimes it is harder to forgive.  And this can be for a number of reasons.  For example, when a person does not or cannot take responsibility or own their part in a problem, when a person does not express regret or remorse for the pain they have caused, when a person fails to explain what went into their hurtful decisions and actions, when a person does not "repent" in the sense of trying to do something different that it not so hurtful, forgiveness does not always come so easily for me.  I recognize that because we are all one, it is just as important for me to forgive in these cases as it is to forgive any other time.  Forgiveness is necessary - if not for the one forgiven, then certainly for the person forgiving and, I believe, for the peace of the world.  I recognize that this is a growing edge for me, an area in which I strive to do better. This is an area that calls for my constant attention and in which, even with that constant attention, I am not always successful.
     There have been a couple times in my life when I admit that it took more time to forgive than I would have wanted.  In each case, I also had trouble forgiving myself in these scenarios.  I ended up claiming a bigger piece than may have been mine as I struggled to find ways in which I could have avoided the painful situation.  I wrestled with pain, anger, guilt and frustrated attempts to fix what was, in each case, an unresolvable problem.  But in addition to the original trauma, both times, despite all my current words about forgiveness and peace I was so hurt, so broken by the situation that I chose to speak out in ways that I later desperately wished I could take back.  The words I used caused more pain, not only for the other, but for myself as well.  As a result of my own failure to forgive with expedience I ended up carrying additional guilt and shame for how I responded.  And no matter how much apologizing I did, or asking for forgiveness, it simply wasn't enough to remove or repair the damage I had done.
I believe in the God of resurrection, so I looked, even in this, for the good. The good that I found was that each time it was a reminder, and a motivator, for me to continue to work on my goal of being more forgiving. I was hurt by my lack of forgiveness. I hurt others through my lack of forgiveness.  I did not contribute to the peace and wholeness of the world when I chose anger rather than compassion.  So daily, my prayers began by asking for the strength and grace to forgive, to let go, to walk forward with love rather than anger or hate, with peace rather than violent words, and with hope rather than desperate struggle. That continues to be my prayer. For myself. For those I encounter. For the world.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I've been thinking about endings, about saying goodbye, about closure.  What makes an ending a "good" ending?  What makes a "complete" goodbye?  What gives a person a sense of real closure?  Or more importantly, what gives a sense of peace around an ending?

The best endings, the best and healthiest grievings, come when people can say all they need to say - tell their loved one how much they are loved, apologize for any harm done, work through any misunderstandings and pain, and bless each other as each takes a separate journey forward.  That is the best ending, and I've watched people sit at the death-beds of those they love and give them that time, that attention, that care.  I've listened as they've said "I love you.  I'm sorry for any way that I have hurt you.  And I give you permission to let go."  And I've watched the healing come as people say goodbye with love, with resolution.  They still grieve.  They still mourn, but it is a healthy mourning that moves into a new way of being in relationship to their loved one.  They let the other go, in a true and deep way that leaves room for a different kind of connecting, and a peace on both sides.

But I've also witnessed endings that were not so whole or healthy.  I've heard words from dying lips (rare, but it happens) that were full of anger or judgment or correction.  And maybe the person who left then feels better because they have nothing left unsaid on their hearts (though I would doubt it - my guess is this would add feelings of guilt, too), but it leaves the one remaining to struggle and grieve and try to work through the pain without an easy way to move towards being at peace with the loss, or feeling reconciled with the other.  In those cases, grief is harder.  Even when they know there is nothing they can do, no way to "fix" it, it can be hard to let go of those feelings that more should have been tried, more should have been done, more should have been said (or that less should have been said!).  This is especially true when there is no opportunity to say goodbye at all, when the loss is sudden and unexpected, or when a person is denied the opportunity to say goodbye.  I know one family, for example, in which a parent and adult child were estranged.  When the parent died suddenly and unexpectedly, the adult child could not let go of his feelings of guilt and pain that he had not tried to mend the relationship before his mother died, that he did not try to reconcile while he had the chance.

In those cases, how do we move forward?  I believe that even when people have died, there is a spirit of that person that we can connect with.  I believe that when relationships are broken either through death or through any other means, that there is still a spirit of goodness in each of us that we can connect with, with God's help.  We can connect through prayer.  We can connect through writing letters that we don't even have to send.  We can connect by asking God to help us reconcile even when it is not possible to do this directly.  We can connect by sending loving thoughts and energy towards the other.  Beyond reconciliation, there are also ways to say goodbye.  Memorial services help.  When it is a relationship rather than a person that has died, we can still hold a memorial service, or do a ritual that helps us move on, either by ourselves or with the support and care of others.  I was very blessed to have a small group honor my marriage and its passing two months ago.  That ritual time and support was an amazing and deep gift for me.

Additionally, I have a bowl of glass stones that have the names of people on them for whom I am praying - I pray for those who are sick or injured or struggling, I pray for those who have passed and their families, I pray for relationships (whether they continue or have ended) that need reconciliation in some way.  I pray, and then I listen for anything God would have me do.  And those prayers move me.  Sometimes they move me to take a person out of my prayer bowl and simply turn them over to God.  Other times I feel a call to phone the person, write to the person (even if they have passed, this is helpful), or simply let them go.

But I hand this back to all of you now...what do you do to find peace in endings, to bring reconciliation when there is no longer possibility for connection?  What are things that you do to bring a sense of closure, especially when endings are not as clean or tidy as we would choose for them to be?  Where is God in your endings?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gratitude for the struggles

I am part of a wonderful and amazing lectionary group - a group of 10 pastors who meet together weekly to study scripture, pray together, eat together, sometimes sing together and sometimes play together.  We are brother and sister Christians on the journey towards a deeper understanding of Christ, of God, of the Spirit and of love.  But we are also friends - people I know I can call on and count on in crisis, people I do call on and count on in crisis. We are a "house church" in the truest sense of the word, a community offering care that is not just theoretical but practical as well.  I am so deeply grateful for every single person in this group, deeply thankful for their care, their contributions to the community, their deep and abiding friendships, the gifts they give simply through their weekly presence.  Therefore, it is with a little trepidation that I say that I hope that I am not betraying confidences by reflecting a little in this public way on our group conversation this last Tuesday, which was one of those that has stuck to me, stuck with me, and continues to push on me to think, to pray, and to grow.

Our leader for the week (we all take turns leading the Bible study) as well as the other participants had much wisdom to offer on many different topics ranging from the Spirit (and our failure as Presbyterians to often give as much space and attention to this part of the trinity as we do to the other two persons), to the passage from Paul in Romans 5:1-5.  At one point in the conversation we were particularly discussing verses 3-5, "And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

I admit I had been very quiet that morning. This is a week of anniversaries - difficult, painful anniversaries and I am not unaffected by these.  I was even, I found, a little concerned that I might be bringing the group down with my sad energy.  But I found it more than a little interesting that the group was discussing how unhelpful it is when people tell each other that they are supposed to be grateful for their sufferings.  Comments like "everything happens for a reason" and "God never gives you more than you can handle" are not helpful. They minimize the pain we suffer, they discount our experiences in the moment.  Telling people they should be grateful for their suffering because it will produce endurance which produces character which produces hope is not, cannot be helpful.  I agree with all of this.  But then somehow it was either said or implied (or I heard it wrong, which is also possible) that people can't really be grateful for the deep traumas they endure.  And there I was, sitting in pain, sitting in grief, sitting in memories of a year ago when my children lost their father to prison, and my life radically changed as I became a single parent and sole provider for my family, for my household, a leader of a congregation without a partner to support me, sitting in memories of hurtful comments aimed my way by people who were themselves hurt by what my partner at the time had done, sitting in regrets for things that should have been or could have been done differently, sitting in loss - and from that place, from that place of pain I heard myself saying, "I am grateful for the suffering that I have endured."  Huh?  Did I just say that?  "I have deepened - in my person, in my faith, in my compassion and empathy, in my ability to understand and forgive, in my commitment to see what really is and what is not, mostly in my connection to God.  I have deepened and become more the person I want to be, the person God calls me to be, because of my struggles."  Silence.

"Okay," came the response,"but would you have said that two years ago?"

"No", I laughed.  And then, again to the surprise of myself more than anyone I added, "and yes."  Two years ago, or even two and a half years ago, there came a time when I thought I might actually crack, when I felt that maybe I was falling apart.  The world was nothing like I thought it was.  My marriage, my partner, my life, my ministry - nothing was what I thought it was.  And the things I prayed for were answered by "no" and "no" again.  Every morning I found myself just repeating the mantra, "Please, God.  Please, God!"  over and over and yet things were not getting better.  Every day brought more pain and new levels of hurt.  And yet...and yet, it was in the midst of that, in the midst of all of that, that I felt God's presence so incredibly strongly.  I felt God's arms holding me, carrying me, speaking to me of presence and love and care.  I connected with people whom I never would have connected with at such deep levels, I made friends (some for a reason, some for a season, and many for a life-time, including folk from that very group) quickly and deeply who were amazing and supportive and wonderful and who continue to shine God's light for me.  I learned who was real and true and caring (most of the people I knew and connected with, actually!) and who could not walk with me through the crisis, and I came to understand that those who could not walk with me - that too was not out of meanness, but out of their own situations and needs.  People shared with me their own sufferings at a much deeper level because they knew I would get it, and so it deepened my ministry as well.  And I developed a much, much deeper appreciation for the beauty around me in the midst of darkness.  I am much more grateful for the birds singing, the sun shining, the breeze blowing, for little gifts and kind words, open smiles and strong hugs, the presence of children in my life, play, dance, music.  I see blessings and feel blessed where I did not see them or know them or love them before.

Did I want any of this to happen?  Of course not.  In my wildest, deepest, most awful nightmares I never saw this coming and never could have imagined the pain and suffering that I would have experienced over the last two and a half years.  But it would be inaccurate to say that I am ungrateful for it.  Because God did bring gifts, God did bring life, God brought presence in a way I had never experienced before.  And while I am still a person who makes mistakes, big and little, who "sins", who hurts others,  I still see that I am becoming more fully the person God calls me to be because I have deepened through the suffering.  How could I not be grateful?

I would not say that I "boast" in my suffering.  I would not say that I "take pride" (different translation) in my problems.  But I would say that God was present through it all, that I am different because of it, that I am grateful for the struggles.  I pray the same for all of you.  I don't wish pain on you, but pain will come.  And so my prayer is that when it does, that you, too, would thrive through adversity, grow through the struggles, deepen and find gratitude in the midst of it all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Making Amends

I continue to think a great deal about forgiveness and the last couple days I've been thinking in particular about making amends.  In twelve step programs, step nine is: "made direct amends to such people as you have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."  Great words to live by.  Hard to do - really hard to do, but great words to live by.  Except for two things.  

First of all, it is not always clear to me when "making amends" would actually injure the person further.  There are times when this should be obvious.  For the brief period of time that I was in a twelve step program (good Lord, was that 25 years ago now??), I heard about some unbelievably bad decisions by people "making amends".  One of the most obvious of these was the decision of a man to apologize to his secret girl-friend's husband about their long term affair, an affair the husband previously knew nothing about.  How he could think this wouldn't "injure them or others" to do so is a little bit beyond me.  In this case, "making amends' should have looked like ending the affair and possibly encouraging openness between the partners in the couple, but leaving the ultimate decision about the timing of the revelation and the mode of the revelation (or even the decision to reveal) to the wife rather than imposing his confession on both of them and their relationship.  His decision to "make amends" in this way tore the family apart, injuring everyone involved, including several children.  He chose to relieve his own guilt, free himself from the burden of his guilt at the expense of other people, a decision that was obvious to the rest of us listening but continued to be an elusive observation to the man himself.  But the thing is, we all have blind spots.  We all do.  It is not always clear what our intentions are when we choose an action, even to ourselves, and usually we have more than one purpose in choosing a course of action.  Sometimes we can fail to be completely honest with ourselves about what those purposes are.  And sometimes we have cross-purposes in our decisions which make choosing a course of action difficult.  For example, (again, this was 25 years ago when I was in this 12-step program), one of the members of our group was struggling with a friendship that had ended explosively but also absolutely.  It took her a few weeks to figure out her part in the situation, and at the point at which she did, she realized that she had some apologizing to do.  But she wasn't sure if it was best to make amends, especially at that point in time.  The friend she'd lost had been very clear that the relationship was over, and she was worried that if she apologized for her part in it that she might be picking at a scab that was best left alone to heal on its own.  On the other side, she worried that if she didn't make amends, it was actually just cowardice on her part - fear of the anger that would come her way.  It just is not always clear what is best.  In this case, she chose to make amends - and found that it did do exactly what she had feared.  The angry tirade of "I told you never to speak to me again!" which came back to her made it clear that she had caused more injury than she had made amends by reaching out.  But she didn't know ahead of time - she couldn't have known.

The second problem with all of this is that  when you decide (for whatever reason) that it would do more damage to try to make amends than to leave it alone, what, then, can you do with those feelings of un-resolve, of guilt, of in-completion?  How do you work that through?  I guess the most obvious answer is that we have to turn it over to God and ask for God's forgiveness and healing.  We can pray for clarity, we can pray for learning so that we might not do the same harm again, we can pray for spiritual reconciliation with the other, even when we cannot find or achieve actual reconciliation.  We can pray for peace.  Sometimes, though, none of these will feel like enough - or at least not right away.  So our prayers continue until we are given new direction, and a new way to either make amends or to let it go.  Still hard.  But sometimes it is all we can do.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Today's Sermon - Being One

John 17:20-26

There once was a man who was stranded on a desert island for 14 years.  Finally, a boat came to the island and while he was really excited about being rescued and going home, he also wanted to show his rescuers around his island.  He showed them the little cabin he had built and the little store house where he’d put fruit and other food he’d collected.  He showed them the interesting inventions he had made and finally he brought them to a little building he had made that had a cross on it.  “And this,” he said proudly, “is my church where I come and worship God every week!” One of the rescuers said, “Wow.  That’s really great.  But it looks like there is another one just like it over there.  What is that building?” 
“Oh,” said the stranded man with a look of disgust, “that’s the church I USED to attend.”
Hmmm.  It’s hard to find unity – even with oneself!
            Have you ever had the experience of thinking about someone only to have them call you soon afterwards?  Have you ever had the experience of feeling like someone’s spirit was present with you?  Have you ever felt so connected to someone that you almost heard their thoughts on occasion?  Knew what they were feeling or thinking to such a degree it felt like they were talking to you in your head?  Have you ever discovered that you shared a dream with someone?  How about those connections with the larger world?  Have you ever had a feeling that something was wrong and then discovered that it was? 
            On the day my grandfather died, I woke up and thought I saw him standing at the foot of my bed, just smiling to me.  I called my father, and learned that he had passed away, about 10 minutes before I “saw” him in my room.  Could it have been just a weird coincidence?  Of course many people would say that it was.  But I know differently in my heart. 
            September 11, 2001 I woke up with a strong sense that something was wrong.  Something was off.  I felt a sense of deep foreboding.  It was not my habit to do this, but I got up and turned on the news, just in time to hear what had been happening on the other side of the country.
            I have a friend who seems to know, without fail, when something has upset me and inevitably calls me.  The first words out of his mouth indicate that sense of connection “What’s wrong?” he will say.  “Something shifted and it feels like you’re upset.  What has happened?”
            I know I’m not alone in these experiences.  Some of you have shared similar stories with me.  Or stories that are uniquely your own but show us the same, mysterious connection that we have with one another.  And they just confirm what Jesus tells us in scriptures such as today’s gospel lesson.
            On Trinity Sunday we celebrate and look at the mystery that God is both three and God is one.  It is a deep mystery that theologians study and write about and contemplate.  They find new meanings and deeper important meanings in it all the time.  But still we struggle to comprehend this mystery.  How is it possible that God, the one God, can also be in community with God-self?  How can one God have 3 separate and unique persons who experience life differently, who relate to us differently – above us, among us, within us?  It is profound, amazing, and difficult to comprehend.
            What is less often looked at, though it is just as present in our scriptures is the fact that we, too, as God’s people are many and yet one.  Jesus says in today’s passage from John: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  We, too, though we are each unique, though we are each individuals, though we disagree with one another about many things and have different goals, different priorities, different views on the world – even so, together we are the body of Christ.  Together we are one.  Jesus says that just as he and God the parent are one (again, going back to the trinity) in this same way, we too, are one.
            So what does this mean, practically speaking?   It means a great number of things.  The first is that we need to strive for unity even when we cannot be uniform.  We need to strive for unity even when we are very different in our view points.  By saying that I don’t at all mean that we need to agree with each other.  The diversity in our thoughts, ideas, feelings and view points adds a richness and depth to life that give it meaning.  But what it means is that we should strive to work together, with one another, towards furthering God’s realm here, towards caring and loving all people and all creation. 
            The second thing it means is that when I hurt you, I am hurting myself.  This, too, is part of the mystery of us as created beings, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  When I hurt you in any way – physically, emotionally, or spiritually, the person I am damaging is myself.  This is really hard, I think, to take in in any kind of real way.  But if we can hang on to that, it will deeply affect our actions.  When someone hurts us, we can remember that they are also hurting themselves and we can try to have some compassion for it.  Additionally, it makes it much harder to strike out in revenge (which is un-Christian anyway – Jesus was really clear that when someone slaps us on the cheek, we are supposed to turn the other one, not slap back).  We cannot strike out without realizing that, again, the person we are hitting is ourselves. 
            It also makes it imperative that we work for the good of all people – again, recognizing that when there is anyone who is hungry in the world, we all are hungry in some way.  When there is anyone who is suffering in the world, we are all suffering in some way.  And that doesn’t just include victims, it includes those who do the harming as well…what is broken in them that they are choosing this harm?  How have we contributed to their behavior?  How can we be part of healing all involved so that we, too, might be healed?   It means not wishing ill for anyone because the person we are wishing ill onto is ourselves.
            In one episode of Joan of Arcadia, the high school is going through an election process.  The candidate whom Joan supports (because God has told her to) has been trashed by the opposition, a boy named Lars, who advertizes publicly that Joan’s candidate has a father who is in jail.  Joan then discovers something potentially very damaging about Lars.  And she is ready to expose him, feeling that an eye for an eye is the only way to get her candidate to win.  At this point she goes in to see her mother, and through her mother's sharing of her own regrets about some of her behavior when she felt particularly self-righteous, was not thinking about the person and ended up doing damage to another human.  
Because of this story, Joan chooses not to destroy Lars, not to betray him by telling the world his secrets.  She gives up her chance to win the election in so doing, but she chooses it none the less.  She says to her mom afterwards, “No, I didn’t do it, though it would have been so easy.  But then in my head I kept seeing him, looking at me, so scared you know?   Big strong Lars, scared and confused.  And I’ve been there, all the time.  And it was like we weren’t really different people because someplace we aren’t!...  Why is that so hard to remember?”
            I don’t know why it’s hard to remember.  But it is.  We are so focused on our individuality that we forget how connected we are.  We forget what Jesus says about calling us to be one as he and God are one.  We forget that what we do impacts everyone in the world, that the whole way we look at life and interact with life makes a difference – not just for the person with whom we are interacting, but for ourselves and the world, too.  Every interaction we have matters.  Every time we are kind to someone it matters and every time we fail to be kind to someone it matters.
            I want to share with you one more story.  I shared this before a couple years back but I think it is an appropriate illustration.
A father told this story about his child, Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled.
“Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, “Do you think they'll let me play?” I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps. I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, “We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.”  Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, “Shay, run to first! Run to first!” Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second!” Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball, the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home..
All were screaming, “Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay”
Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, “Run to third! Shay, run to third!”
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, “Shay, run home! Run home!”
Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.  “That day”, said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world.”
Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!”
The thing is, those kids who gave Shay that opportunity – those kids got the connection for a moment.  For a moment, they remembered that we all are one.  Shay’s success was their success – for BOTH teams.  Shay’s success was a success for all people who have heard this story and connected with it.  Shay’s success, and the kindness and caring of those other kids made a difference and makes a difference.
            Jesus prayed that we all might be one.  Let us work hard to honor his call to oneness as we seek unity, connection, and love for one another in every one of our actions.  Amen.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

God won't leave you where you are.

God won't leave you where you are.  God loves you too much to give you a life that won't challenge you to grow and become more whole.  And so we are challenged - daily, weekly, monthly.  At the same time that our lives are filled with blessings, they are also filled with hardships that encourage us to change.  If we can see those difficulties as the gifts they are, no matter how challenging or even horrible they may be, we can grow, we can become more whole, we can become deeper and more faith-filled, grace-filled people.

Still, sometimes we also all need a "break."  That old adage about things coming in threes comes to well as the saying "when it rains, it pours".

There have been several times in my life when it felt that there was just too much coming at me, that there wasn't a single day without a new struggle, new pain, new trauma and new heart-break.  That the difficulties and traumas went on for far too long.  Each of those times ended (as all times will), but in different ways.  Some simply fizzled out, replaced by good things and other challenges.  But there is one time in particular I want to share with you today.  There was a point of struggle in my life, almost a decade ago now, in which things were so very, very hard in so many ways.  And so I prayed for a break.  "Just a few days, God!  Please, I know you want us to grow and learn and be more whole people, better able to love your children, more able to serve with grace and love.  I am grateful for the challenges as well as the blessings, for this very reason.  But I need a break.  It's been a long, hard, uphill climb, and I haven't always acted with grace, peace or wisdom. I know I have sometimes contributed to the hardships of my own and others' experiences, for which I am deeply sorry; but still, God, enough is enough!  It's been hard for a long time.  And I desperately need a break."  Some of the things I had feared the most had happened (like facing financial catastrophe), things I never could have imagined had happened (like trying to help a child who was being abused, and ending up being threatened by the abuser), and life had thrown boulders in my path that had made it impossible to go forward in the way and direction that I thought I wanted to go.

And yet...and yet, the break that I prayed for came, not at all in the way I expected, not at all in the way that I thought would bring new life or hope or deep, deep joy.  But God knew better than me.  The break came.  New doors opened and solutions were found and I felt myself freed and released, suddenly and absolutely in ways I didn't and couldn't imagine.  I found deep joy.  My spirit had been released from a prison that was partly of my own making and which had held me tight for far too long.  I felt a life blooming within once more, much more deeply, much more whole, much more profound and much more connected to the Divine.  Spring was also part of that equation - the sunshine that shone with such strength and warmth and beauty.  I would walk outside and the breezes felt like angel's kisses, Ruach, Spirit, touching and blessing and calling us into life.  But I think it was more than that.  The truth is that sometimes the things we fear the most end up being an open doorway into new life - beautiful and amazing.    Sometimes the hardest deaths can bring the most wondrous and awesome resurrections.  Out of that dark time I found new life glorious, filled with God's light, God's life, God's hope, God's blessings!  I knew that the break would not last.  There were and always will be more challenges to come.  More hardships to face.  More growing to do.  God did not leave me where I was and God will not leave me where I am today.  God continues to call us to grow in new ways once again, to be open to change, to listen with more depth for new insights and continue to strive for closer connection to the Divine -to thrive through all of what life hands us.  But I know from that experience that resurrection is real.  That it comes.  That blessings abound within and after crises.  And for all of that I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Today's Sermon - Blocks to Healing

John 5:1-9
Luke 17:11-19

In today’s lesson from John, Jesus asks a man who has been ill for 38 years if he wants to be made well. What is interesting is that the man doesn’t say “yes.” Instead, he makes excuses for why he is not yet well. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” He has been sick for 38 years, and yet he has not been able during that time to get himself into the waters that he believes will heal him? Hmm.

Do we do this? Sometimes it is hard to take the steps towards healing that we need to take. Sometimes we become used to the way things are, even if they are painful and difficult, and choosing to step forward into new life, into something different is so frightening that we simply cannot do it. Change is hard for all of us, even if we know it would be better for us in the long run. It is so hard that sometimes we are even willing to die with the way things are rather than changing things to what they might be.

I’ve mentioned to some of you before that I worked for awhile as a volunteer on a crisis line for battered and abused spouses. And what I heard again and again was that despite the threat, not only to their bodies, but to their very lives, these women (they were mostly women) could not leave their spouses. They just couldn’t. Help was there – we had a secure and hidden shelter that led into retraining programs, job counseling, help finding places to live, counseling for the children and women, and legal help in getting divorces and restraining orders. But still, most of the women we counseled could not or would not leave their spouses. Even when their children were being threatened or harmed it was extremely difficult. And it wasn’t that they couldn’t leave because they were afraid of being hunted down. It also wasn’t so much that they loved their spouses, though sometimes this is the reason they would give. It was more my experience in listening that the idea of change was so hard, the idea of trying something new was so daunting, they had gotten used to the life they had and just could not envision something different. Changing was too hard, too scary. But I think it was even more than that.

We hear about this in church communities as well. People say they want things to be different: they want more children and more young adults in the church, for example. But often times they aren’t actually willing to do anything that will change what they know even if it would successfully bring in those people. We say we want change, we want things to be different, but it is hard to be willing to make the changes that will make things different. One of my good friends is currently pastor of a congregation that is facing what many congregations are facing – his congregation is experiencing a slow atrophying death due to lack of growth and loss of financial support. They have explored the possibility of being a church without walls because it is their building that is costing them so much strain and difficulty. But again, they can’t do it. They would rather become what is becoming more and more known as a “chaplaincy church”, a church that has made the decision to stay the same and to simply die out rather than trying something different. And again, we ask, what is that really about?

In the passage from Luke we have a story in which 10 lepers are begging for Jesus’ help, but when he heals them all, only one returns to give thanks. Our first tendency on hearing this story is probably a bit of righteous outrage. Why wouldn’t they thank Jesus for turning their lives around? For saving them? For healing them? We can imagine these people today, as modern day lepers – those whose lives have been consumed by their “illness” or situation. Today those lepers might be drug addicts, prostitutes, people from the middle East, Muslims, homeless persons, people with a mental illness like schizophrenia, gang members, ex-convicts – in other words, anyone who might make us feel uncomfortable or who we might fail to see as anything except their condition, situation or other quality, or fail to include because of one of these aspects: those would be today’s lepers. We can imagine what it would be like if Jesus came to them today and offered them healing. He would be offering to them a place back in society, he would be offering them acceptance once again into their communities. Why would anyone not want that? Why would anyone not be grateful for that? The ten lepers in today’s passage asked him for this healing. They asked for him to change their lives. Shouldn’t they be grateful?

The question is, what makes these changes, even these really positive changes, so hard to embrace, to accept, and to be grateful for? I think at the deepest level, at the deepest level, we come to accept what is into our beings in a way that not only becomes familiar, but actually comes to define who we are. Our very identity becomes mixed up with those things that are part of our lives, or that are part of our daily living. We do this to other people and we do it to ourselves. Whenever we refer to a person by a label we are doing this. I saw a sign in a women’s restroom recently that said, “be aware of purse snatchers”. And it struck me that by calling them “purse snatchers” we claim that as the whole of their identity. It wasn’t “be aware of people who snatch purses.” It was “be aware of ‘purse snatchers’.” That, then, is who they become for us. They aren’t mothers or fathers who are potentially in need. They aren’t people who are struggling like us, to find their way. They aren’t people who have lives outside of snatching purses. They aren’t children of God. Instead they are “purse snatchers.” We can do this with anyone with whom we are uncomfortable. People without homes become “bums”. People who struggle with addictions become “addicts”. People who join gangs become “gang members” or “juvenile delinquents”. It becomes their identities. For us, and even for them.

In both of today’s gospel lessons, it wasn’t just that others had applied these labels to the “lepers” or those who were sick. The people in today’s stories applied those labels to themselves. My guess is that their identity became tied in to their illnesses, to their struggles, to their societal labels. Is it any wonder, then, that these things that defined them would be hard for them to give up? Who are we when things change? For the battered and abused spouse, who is she once she leaves her home? She is no longer the married woman, she is no longer living in the same house with the same friends or company. Often an abusive spouse separates his or her partner or spouse from his/her support system, so often the person who finally has the courage to leave is left with no other support people to ground them, to care for them. Who, then, do they become? Sometimes there is no choice about this change in identity, but that doesn’t mean the change in identity is any easier. A spouse dies and we are no longer “the wife” or “the husband” of so and so. Instead we get a new identity “widow” or “widower”. We get divorced and for the rest of our lives on the forms we fill out, we are not “married” or even “single” anymore, but “divorced.” We get a new identity, one that is not so very attractive.

In the movie, Pleasantville, the characters are stuck in sameness, in black and white, in a life that is calm, expected, “pleasant”, but in a life that is also uninteresting and not lived to fullness. They are “languishing” or failing to live life to its fullest, to live a life that has any passion or real meaning in it. But things begin to change in Pleasantville and some people begin to live with passion, with intensity. With it, though, their identities change. And that change in identity is shown as they become “colored” – or rather, they go from being black and white to having the normal colors that we associate with life, with living. This becomes extremely threatening to many of the people to whom the old identity is so important that they cannot face the possibility of change, even when it means adding passion and interest, real LIFE to their living. They cannot do it.

This is what happens in both of today’s stories. Jesus comes and offers healing to the one man in John. And that man has all kinds of reasons why he has been unable to accept healing. But my guess is that it is a deeper issue for him. He has been sick for 38 years. Who will he be without his illness? Who will he be if he is really cured? It is easier to come up with reasons to not step down into the water, to find reasons why he hasn’t been able to do it than it is to take the step that means his life will be completely changed. His life would be changed for the better, we know, but he may not be so sure. Who will he be? And the same for the lepers who were cleansed. Why did they not return to give thanks? Well, my guess is that for some of them, they weren’t thankful. Maybe the gifts they thought they sought came to them and they realized they no longer knew who they were or how they would be after the healing.

Still, Jesus doesn’t leave us there. We are challenged to grow, we are challenged to heal, we are challenged to find new ways of being in the world. The man in John never said to Jesus that he wanted healing, but Jesus gave it to him anyway. The gifts of healing, the gifts of challenge and change may change our identities, or rather our sense of who we are. But God loves us too much to leave us with identities that are less than wholly who we are called to be. God loves us too much to leave us without opportunities to work towards healing. God loves us too much even to leave us “comfortable” when God can bring healing, transformation, shalom, and wholeness. Will it be hard? Of course. Will it hurt?  Probably.  But it will be healing. And it will bring us closer to God.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Wisdom to Thrive By

We watched the movie, Life of Pi for Faith and Film night this evening.  Wow.  I still need to process through a great deal of it.  But some of the wisdom that struck me the most this evening had to do with how we frame things.  I've talked about this before, but I am more and more convinced that how we frame things, how we tell our stories, how we choose to interpret or put meaning to things makes all the difference in the world.  I'm reading a book called The Beethoven Factor by Paul Pearsall.  He, too, talks about how our ability to thrive (not just survive or recover from pain and trauma) has to do with how we make meaning out of those events in our lives which are hard to bear.  Can we find meaning in these events?  Can we tell our stories (even to ourselves) in such a way that there is life in them?  Hope in them?  Purpose and reason to them?  Can our hard experiences help move us to places where we see and appreciate the beauty and blessings in our lives more fully?  Can those challenging events, traumas, crises help move us to places where we savor and relish the good, even when things are hard or difficult?  If we can reframe the losses in our lives, give them a different story, a different understanding, we can move through them with grace and peace.

For example, we often hear of people doing this when a loved one dies.  Especially if it is a young person, those people who can reframe the loss away from it being senseless, pointless and just evil can usually deal with it better.  Examples of that reframing include "She's in a better place now" (though, personally I really, really dislike this particular reframing), "The life she lived was full and meaningful and she gave all of us so much while she lived it."  "His life was short but densely lived." or the ones I think are the most helpful, "I'm going to use this tragedy to help other people."  That is what the woman who began Mothers Against Drunk Driving did.  She took her own personal tragedy and brought good out of it - good for a great number of people.

This isn't the pop positive psychology that says we can make things happen with our thoughts.  Instead, it is a real positive psychology that says we are in charge of how we take things in, how we make meaning of events in our lives and then how we take that meaning to make our lives stronger, better or more full.

This is the difference between allowing a wound to fester and become infected, or allowing the scarring to build a stronger skin where the damage to the body was done.  When our bones break, they heal together with an increased strength.  Yes, a sign of the original damage may be found - but the sign is a place of great strength, especially if we get help in setting the bones correctly (though this is often painful!) before the bones heal.  The same is true for psychological injuries.  Do we allow them to damage us in such a way that we become the "walking wounded", or do we take the broken places, work to set them right in any way we can, and then build strength from them?  It doesn't mean there aren't scars - there are.  But those scars can be where the deeper strength lies.  And that strength then can help us to build lives that are more full, more whole, more loving and more grace-filled.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


I showed my Wednesday evening congregation a few weeks ago the Dove Real Beauty Sketches. (see above).  Regina Brett also wrote an excellent article about these sketches.
I've been thinking about this today and reflecting on the fact that it is not just that we don't see our inner or outer beauty the way other people do.  These sketches show us women really upset with the fact that they could not see their own beauty, the beauty that others saw.  But I wonder how those negative images developed in the first place.  We all carry scars - all of us.  We all carry pain from messages past. We all have voices inside us, perhaps mostly from our childhoods, telling us that we are not enough, not pretty, not acceptable, not okay.  But the thing that I've been contemplating is that we are also given great affirmations throughout our lives.  We are told by loved ones and by people we don't even know (in different ways) that we are good, that we are beautiful, that we are acceptable, that we are gifted and that we are loved.  But those messages don't seem to stick as easily.  The messages that stick are the ones that say we aren't okay. They stick, they define us, they make us into people who are too easily immobilized by our sense of not "being enough."

 I'm reminded of a book by Max Lucado called "you are special" in which these little wooden people called "Wemmicks" walk around and give each other either bad stickers (dots) or good stickers (stars).  These stickers all stick, but some Wemmicks get a lot more stars while others are given a whole lot more dots.  Those with dots tend to get more dots, those with stars tend to be given even more stars.  But there is one point that Lucado misses.  And that is that I think that for many of us, no matter how many star stickers we are given, only the dots stick.  We can remember every insult, correction or criticism ever given, each word spoken that was hurtful, every time we were overlooked, or dismissed or frowned upon.  But we can't remember the positives.  Some of us cling tightly to our accomplishments as a result - stating for ourselves and the world that we are worthy through the diplomas and certificates and awards we put on our walls, for example.  But others of us just get buried (and as I said, immobilized at times) in the negative words and experiences that come our way rather than the positives, the affirmations, the life-giving words.  In the last 24 hours I have had both given to me - both positives and the negatives (that is the life of a pastor!).  The positives far outweigh the negatives.  I've had one good friend call just to say she loves me.  I had another good friend text that I am a valuable and lovable friend.  I've had 3 different parishioners stop by the office to just check in, all of whom told me that I'm valued.  I visited one woman at the hospital this morning who, after holding hands and praying, said to me, "I can feel God through your hands."  I was stunned and touched.  I'm not sure I've ever received a higher compliment.  But the truth is that I disregard and discount the kind words and only retain the negative to such an extent that I have dwelt today on the painful words that have come my way and completely forgot about her kind words, or the other words of kindness that I received within this day until this moment.  The thing is that the negatives are gifts, too, if they can help us to change, to grow, to repent, to move forward.  But with both types of feedback, we have the challenge of taking it in and using it to help us grow in our connection with God, grow in our connection with each other, grow towards wholeness. When we take those dots and stars and decide that they have the power to determine who we are, to determine how we interact with the others, determine if we have the energy to do God's work in the world, or if we hide under the covers immobilized, then we have not accepted deep into ourselves the grace God offers.  The point of Max Lucado's book is that we need to let neither the stars nor the dots stick, that our meaning, our worth comes from the Maker and not from others' opinions of us.  The point is that the one who made us doesn't make junk, and loves us completely.  That should give us a strong sense of value.  That is a grace we must strive to accept.  Not easy.  Not easy at all.  But it is a worthy goal!