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Cloudy

I have a really contentious relationship with my phone. It’s been awhile since we were friends. I’m not sure when I started to realize this truth but the phone ringing is much like the 6:00 news. The news tends to only showcase murders, riots, robberies, politics…….all things bad. Often, the phone only rings to share bad news. My dad has recently figured it out. When he calls, I panic. If I miss his call, he leaves in the message, “Nothing is wrong.” Bless him. But in all fairness, he’s called with an awful lot of bad news including the news that my mother was dead.

Today was the news that Craig was going to need surgery on his ear. Of course our deductible is paid this year but no one could get him in until January. 1K up front right after Christmas isn’t the greatest news — oh, and, well, surgery sucks too. He’s had 8 surgeries on his ear already. It’s never fun knowing that you’ve got to “go there” again.

Bad news no. 2 came in a text reminder that the temporary childcare that I’ve got for Aiden is, well, temporary and that once again my ability to do my job (while still being a parent) is going to be challenged again and very soon. Duress doesn’t cover it. There was a time when I felt like I could adequately answer a call to ministry and to parenthood (AKA — have it all) and now I’m not so sure. I made a promise to myself that I’d at least stop apologizing for my children because I, all the sudden, realized I’d been doing that, but I am still apologizing…..a lot…..all the time. I guess I’m drowning in the reality that everyone deserves better of me — including me. That is a miserable place to be.

I, of all people, shouldn’t struggle with the concept of hope. In fact, it’s Advent season. It’s a season of hope as we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel — God with us. What greater hope is there than God walking alongside us in the struggle!? Right? RIGHT? Yet, I’m struggling with it. Not the reality of it but the little extent to which I find peace in it and that should just be crazy, right? I am a person of devout faith and I’m up to my knees in the “what am I gonna do”‘s (?). I am ever-so-thankful the that lilies of the field isn’t in the lectionary right now because, quite frankly, I don’t know that I could faithfully preach it.

Maybe the good thing here is that I don’t actually know too many people that don’t experience struggles. The “real world” isn’t all flowers and unicorns all the time (ok, well, it’s never unicorns….). It’s rolling pennies, sleepless nights, and tears mixed with joys that, on our hard days, we’re challenged to see. It’s Monday. I’m off. It’s still a hard day and I’m still prepping for the first Sunday in Advent when I get to preach about hopeful anticipation for the coming of the Lord. And there’s my phone…..sitting beside me……bearing the heavy load of the realities of life — my life at least — one in which I struggle.

It’s not a need for control because Jesus take the Wheel seems like a MUCH better idea right now but Jesus taking the wheel doesn’t always mean the path of least resistance. There are more hurdles, downed trees, and deer in my road interrupting a path of “success” than I ever thought possible. I’ve dealt with hurdles before. In fact I’m actually awesome at dealing with hurdles whether it be crawling under them, skirting around them, or leaping over them but these aren’t  like road bumps — they’re like those giant road HUMPS and I just can’t get over them.

Oh, you thought I was going to get to an upper at some point? Nah. Not today. Maybe the “upper” in this is that I struggle like anyone else to find the sunshine for the clouds from time-to-time and today, well, I’ve got my head in the clouds.

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Marley and Me

Thought I’d blog my day (today) Marley and Me style. Here goes.

6:30, woke up to disgruntled baby who didn’t actually want to be up but wouldn’t go back to sleep — know what I mean?

7:00, got up, got dressed, brushed teeth, packed C’s bag for school and lunch, dragged a disgruntled C out of bed (he can’t sleep in on OTHER days?), got C dressed and fed, woke up A who did, in fact, go back to sleep, got him dressed and gave him his medicine, ran a brush thru my hair, threw the bags in the car, put C in the car (whining about who knows what), put A in the car (who went back to sleep…..again……jerk), and hit the road at 7:40. #WellOiledMachine

8:08, got to C’s “school” and assumed the position in the drop-off line, realized I forgot C’s juice (sigh*), threw on my make-up (foot on the break), said “bye, bye” to C as a teacher’s aid got him out of the car and took him in (I never pull away until he’s in the door), and headed off (8:22).

8:30, grabbed a chicken-n-waffle from CFA while A fussed in the car. Ugh. I don’t have a bottle with me.

8:50, ran in Walfart with A to grab the last of the things for C’s birthday party (or so I thought).

9:20, ran in Walgreens to pick up A’s prescription and my new prescription from the cardiologist, and get a flu shot (ouch. My arm has felt like it weighs a ton for the rest of the very long day). A fell asleep……again.

9:50, got home, finished Sunday’s bulletin, touched base with my music leader, tried to track down the neighboring pastor who’s preaching the community Thanksgiving service, printed my sermon, fought with the new copier, touched base with the high school principal (we talked all day) to see if they needed me to come counsel at the school, came home.

11:00, finished wrapping Cooper’s birthday presents, worked on a centerpiece for the party, finished the gift boxes, dug out cooking supplies, began to throw things in bags to pack in the car for the party tomorrow, gave A a bottle and put him down for an official nap (not that he should’ve been sleepy since he slept all morning long), put clothes in the dryer.

12:00, ate lunch, got super-frustrated because I couldn’t find one of my cupcake tins (that turned up later…….after I was finished with the cupcakes).

1:00, passed A off to Craig to watch so I could bake.

1:30, baked 3 dozen cupcakes, 2 dozen chocolate-chip cookies, and one batch of something called “crack crackers,” practiced decorating the cupcakes, packed the cupcakes, crack, and cookies, cleaned the kitchen, and ran the dishwasher. (1:30-4:00).

4:00, found the missing cupcake tin, said a bad word.

4:45, A and I went to Joann’s because I had a late idea to make a yarn-wreath for the door for C’s birthday that looks like Mickey Mouse, ran to Walgreens again to pick up a photo of C I had printed for a table decoration for tomorrow’s party, ran to Kroger to grab THE last of the things needed for the party (Tahini….I needed Tahini), grabbed a bite and headed home.

6:25 loaded Coopers presents and all the serve-ware in the car, as well as a dozen other things.

6:45 gave A a bath (he liked it).

7:00 started the yarn wreath and juggled A, made some door signs that match the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme (“Come inside…..It’s Fun Inside”).

7:50 put A to bed a little early.

8:00 grabbed a shower (exhaustion kicking in).

9:00 finished wreath while watching Grimm, framed photo, packed diaper bag, printed recipes, packed un-refridgerated ingredients, balloons, Coopers clothes (birthday “suit”), and locked up.

10:30 laid my clothes out, painted my nails, prepped A’s middle-of-the-night bottle, and wrote this blog.

11:00 decided that I’m too tired to even proof this before I post it. Oooo look! Jay Leno on Fallon.

Night.

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Surprised by Covenant

The following is a bit general and relatively cryptic.

Back when I was in college I made a pretty big mistake. Actually, it wasn’t a mistake. The way I understand mistakes is that they’re much like accidents. They are things beyond our control. They just happen. This “thing” didn’t just happen. I was very well-aware of it. It happened. It was. It sucked (sorry, but it did). I hurt for a long time over it and sometimes I still do. I’m still not ready to talk about “it,” but I’m very well-aware, finally, that something good came out of this very intentional, very stupid, very wrong thing I did. Here’s what came of it: I realized that I am human.

It’s not that I ever thought I wasn’t human. It might’ve been, however, that I was all-too aware of the spark of the Divine by and through which I was created. I never stuck my nose in the air (that I can recall) but I can safely say that before this crappy thing I did in college, I was pretty much lilly white. I was really, REALLY good. No blemishes — nothing by or for which to be ashamed. I was a good, good, good person.

But, there was this thing that happened, that was, and then wasn’t and because of it I began to see myself as a real human being with abilities I didn’t realize I had — abilities to hurt people, abilities to hurt myself, abilities to fail and fail hard. Where those things don’t sound all that appealing, they are really good things. Why? Well, let’s see….

When we’re aware of our humanity we’re aware of our need for the Divine. Never did I hit my knees as hard as I did the moment that I realized I could royally screw up. Never did I cry in such a cathartic way and find God in my tears. Never did I realize that while I’m beloved I have a big responsibility to not do harm and how easy it was, truly, to do so.

When aware of our humanity we become more aware of our need for others — others to uphold us — others to show us the grace and mercy we may not be able to show ourselves in that moment — others to love us with an agape kind of love — others to remind us to love ourselves despite ourselves.

When I was deep, deep, deep in the valley of regret and pain and fear, I did not (not at all) love myself. I’ll go far in the other direction and say that I really hated myself. I despised who I’d become and held out no hope for my future. I was done with myself. I needed others to remind me that redemption and resurrection is a real and tangible thing even for the biggest of screw-ups (not that I want to try and gauge that).

Lately I’ve been reminded of my humanity again. This is so very important when one is a pastor. Though I’ve been given much authority and spend most of my days avidly seeking ways to act on behalf of God for the sake of others, I am not God. I can be dragged onto and strapped upon a pedestal and raised high but I’m still a very human, human-being. I’m fallible. I’m wrong. I trip. I plummet deep into my own valleys from time-to-time. I even get stuck there — there in those valleys that I dug myself. I am human. If I stump my toe (Sunday morning before anyone else is in the sanctuary on a pew), I cannot promise a 4-letter choice word won’t spew forth from my imperfect mouth (yep….spew). I cannot promise I won’t have a self-righteous moment of angst in objection to one thing or another. I cannot (CANNOT AND WILL NOT) profess that I am the perfect mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife (OH WIFE), or friend. I’d be lying and lying a terrible lie worthy of the flames of Hell (if Hell really has flames) to say so. In fact, I can say very truthfully (because anyone reading this knows they’re getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God), I have experienced the negative reality of all of those things in just the last 8 weeks.

Here’s what I’ve found to be true, though. It’s ok for me to remind people that I am human. It is. Dear church, I am human. Dear Bishop, I am human. Dear husband, I am human. Dear kiddos, I am human. Dear dad, I am human (though dad’s probably the first one to tell me, “Um, yeah, Sara…..yeah you are). I am human and it’s going to be ok. Why? Well, I already said why.

When we realize we’re human not only are we more apt to remember that we need God, we’re also more apt to remember to lean on God. It’s not God that throws us into the valleys; that’s not how God works. It’s God who meets us in the valleys and either carries us or drags us along until we can find our way out again.

The other thing is more systematic. When we realize we’re human we’re more apt to lean on others. Until 2 months ago, I thought the covenant community of the United Methodist Church (specifically within the clergy community) was an illusion or some misguided attempt at care and accountability that’s always failed or done more harm than good. Oh but have I seen differently lately. I’ve watched the concept that is covenant — love, care, concern, faith, encouragement, accountability, HELP, guidance, and the list goes on for miles, be a real and honest active entity within the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ and on my behalf. I’m floored, really. I’m surprised. I’m glad.

I’m amazed, actually, at what happens when both the covenant relationship we have with God and the covenant relationship we enter into with one another, are both active when we’ve bought property in the valley. It’s this novel idea that goodness and mercy aren’t just God’s to give and what amazing things can happen when we actively seek ways to live into a covenant modeled after our relationship with God, with each other. It’s salvific in the here and now. In this very second, it is my saving grace.

Maybe the next Christian novel to fly off the shelves should be this one: Surprised by Covenant.