There is Joy in the Pain

Written by Denise Sjoberg, Easter Member

My husband Mike has been struggling for the past year with an ankle injury that won’t heal, due to diabetic neuropathy. It has been a long, often difficult road, with four surgeries, a boot, a scooter and a lot of pain. The most recent surgery has failed, causing his whole ankle to collapse. It barely even resembles a foot anymore.
 

Recently we have decided, along with a phalanx of ankle surgeons, that the only remaining option is amputation and a prosthesis (artificial leg). It was shocking to hear those words. Amputation. Prosthesis. What? This is not how we planned things. This is not what we expected out of life.
 

We have been thinking about this over the past two plus weeks, and have settled in to the inevitability of the surgery, and have begun looking forward to a life full of possibilities – walking, fishing, golfing, COACHING, and all the things that come with having two good legs.
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All through this process, it has never occurred to me to wonder where God is in this mess. Never. I know that God is with us, in us, before us and around us as we go through not only the trauma of what is going on, but all the little every day things. We still stop to appreciate God’s work in a beautiful winter sunset, or in the hoar frost and sun dogs that can accompany a very cold morning. We still marvel at how wonderful, smart, friendly and faith-filled our kids are.
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But we are most amazed and joy-filled at the outpouring of support this week as we let people know what is going on with Mike and what the future holds for us. Mike has received dozens of calls, emails and CaringBridge posts from people near and far. Those we see daily and others we haven’t seen in 20 years. Offers of help and prayers, jokes (especially jokes) lift us up and remind us even more of how there really is joy in the pain.
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The pain isn’t the only thing. It never is. God is in the pain, joy is in the pain. Friends are there, prayers are, too. Everyday life is in the pain, and that doesn’t ever end – even if you are facing surgery to remove a leg, you still have to unload the dishwasher sometimes!
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I woke up with this song in my heart. It is beautiful and filling. Google it and listen if you have a moment.
 

I Am Not Alone
By Kari Jobe
 

When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul

Mike’s surgery is scheduled for Friday, March 6. You can follow his journey at caringbridge.com/mikesjoberg

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God designed airplanes and I messed it up

Today’s reflection is written by Chris Cairo: 

Messy Spirituality bookI flew home from a week-long business trip that started in Kansas City and ended in Miami. It was a long week, and I was tired (No excuse!). So as the plane was taxiing to the run way I pulled out a book to sit back and read (“Messy Spirituality” – good book). Just as I started to read the guy next to me asked the first of his questions: ” Hey, we were just on a cruise and they gave us a small book like that. Is it the same one?”… and then, “Is it good?” … “Where are you from?”... I answered each question politely, and he kept going until his wife finally said “Hon, I think he actually wants to read his book.” So the conversation ended.

I used to think that some sadistic, penny-pinching, profit-mongering person designed airplanes with one goal in mind: to stuff as many of us in as possible to maximize profits. However, maybe it was God who designed the seats to be so close that we are forced, literally and figuratively, to rub elbows with our neighbors.

And that’s where I messed up. I didn’t engage.

But later in the flight he engaged me again about my book, and this time the conversation went on. In fact we talked for about two hours! Randy and Lisa were returning from a ‘marriage’ cruise, hosted by Family Life, an organization they were involved with through their church. I learned a lot about their organization, and I had the chance to tell them about Easter Lutheran and our new partnership with Treehouse. We shared quite a bit, including bits about our kids and families. I really enjoyed getting to know them, and invited them to the upcoming Treehouse banquet (I hope they can come). I plan to stay engaged with them, as we have a lot in common.

Engagement. That is how Jesus ministered. His whole ministry was about engaging people where ever He met them: fishing, at a well, at a dinner or wedding, or when He was walking along a road. And I’ll bet He would never turn down the chance to engage someone sitting next to Him on an airplane.

Yep, I messed up yet again. But I am determined to get it right. I can’t be a Christian if I don’t try to follow His example. “Come follow me” (Matthew 4:19) was meant for more than Peter and Andrew…He was talking to us.

So, who can you engage?

 

Easter Lutheran’s Vision Board member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to keep their faith thriving in their daily lives on campus.  

Ash Wednesday: Grace Ribbons

Hey Easter Praise! readers,

Today is Ash Wednesday and hopefully you are making your way over to church sometime today to pray with others in our faith community. (See schedule at www.easter.org.)

Lent 2015--what does God desire - CopyLent is simply a word that means “springtime.” I think it’s safe to say that many of us in northern areas grow weary at the end of the winter with the drab skies, wearing heavy clothes, and icky looking March snow-on-the-ground.

Christians who lived centuries ago may have also been running out of food (no frozen or canned foods back then) or heat (firewood) by the end of winter. Their animals may have died from the extreme cold (no meat or milk if all animals died).

In our souls, we also long for something more. While it’s true we have been saved by faith in Christ, there’s always more to learn as a follower of Jesus, more ways we can serve others, more ways to conform our lives to Christ. Through the ups and downs of life, the Holy Spirit showers grace upon us, to draw us ever-closer into deeper communion with Christ and each other.

Speaking of grace, have you seen Pastor Kris’ new blog post about Ash Wednesday and the ribbon of grace running through our entire lives?  I suggest you take a look at her blog I’m Into Grace.

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May the good Lord bless you as we prepare for 40 days to celebrate the awesome wonder of Christ’s Resurrection.

 

 

 

Recharging Our Batteries

Today’s reflection is written by Pastor Paul:  

The glory of God is a human being fully alive! — St. Irenaeus

Dear Friends,

snow covered pathAs I write this letter, I’m looking out the window at the snow drifting down and glancing at the outdoor thermometer which tells me we’re a long way from getting up to zero.  I wonder about my car battery, which has shown unsettling signs of not taking a charge when the weather turns frigid.  Will my battery fail just when I need it the most? What can I do to keep it charged?

My mind turns back to a talk I have often given at pre-marriage meetings about the Four Batteries.   With my retirement coming up this year, I often think about strategies for keeping them strong and fully charged.

1.  My mountain bike accident last August has been a powerful reminder of how quickly the physical battery can be discharged and how long the recharge can take.  Five months later my energy is only beginning to return, and I’m happy to welcome it back.  All of us are in pretty good contact with how our physical battery is doing.  We know when we’re in pain, when we’re exhausted or hungry, and we know when we’re feeling full of energy and delight.  Now that I have completed my course of physical therapy, I’ve decided to get a personal trainer to help me develop my depleted strength.

2. The meter on our emotional battery is harder to read.  We often aren’t entirely sure just what our emotional state is or what to do about it.  That’s why we need to attend to our emotional state, discern what re-charges us and commit to a strategy which will keep our emotional battery maximally charged.  I’m committing to cross-country skiing every possible day and to praying every possible instant. Both recharge my emotions and help me better face the emotional challenges every day brings.

3.  Our intellectual battery can go deader than a car battery without our knowing it.  I’m afraid the “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten” slogan applies to many people who have stopped thinking, questioning and learning.  (Don’t go to a doctor who has that poster on the wall.)  Remember the dental association’s slogan “Ignore your teeth, and they will go away”?  Ignore your intellectual life, and your brain will go to sleep.  I’m committed to reading new books, having vigorous discussions with friends about things that matter and learning more about God.  Commitment to being a Christian means a commitment to life-long learning about our faith.

4.  It is particularly hard to get a good read on the charge of our spiritual battery.  We can easily lose our connection with God and with the beauty of his amazing creation.  Our vision can tunnel, and our hope can freeze up.  St. Irenaeus, the great second-century theologian, could express the essence of Christianity with this pithy adage: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” To be spiritually charged up is to have a powerful personal connection with God, to be kindled by the beauty of the world, to be powerfully engaged in Christian community, to be focused on being part of God’s great work in the world and to be consumed by love.  I know that two projects I’m involved in give powerful boosts to my spiritual battery – the Radio Furaha project in Iringa and the “Bread Rising: Working Together to End Hunger by 2030 Campaign.”

Sea Lion--Clarita--Dreamstime Stock PhotosWe are all different, but we all have physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual batteries that need regular re-charging.  May God grant us insight, discernment, determination and faith as we seek to give glory to God by being fully alive.

Pastor Paul

For your journey: don’t forget the map

Today’s post is written by Chris Cairo, member of Easter Lutheran’s Vision Board:

I think many of you have seen the movies or read the books of The Chronicles of Narnia, written by C.S. Lewis.

Mere Christianity by CS Lewis--book cover from AmazonLewis also wrote many other books, including Mere Christianity, which I received as a Christmas book this year (great read—I highly recommend). In it he talks about Christianity as a map. I will try to do his analogy justice.

If you spent the day up in Duluth, on the shore of Lake Superior, you could admire its majestic beauty, and imagine its size. But if you needed to find a friend’s cabin somewhere on the coast, you would want Google maps or your phone’s GPS. The map is valuable because others have explored this area before you and their collective wisdom and data guides you to your destination, and helps you from getting lost on your journey. Religion (such as Christianity) is our map to God.

When my wife and I travel in Europe (and I know a number of you studied abroad, so you can probably relate), we always have an actual map with us, along with our phones GPS, but sometimes that’s not enough. Paris and Rome can still be confusing when everything is foreign and in a foreign language. We have found that asking for help and directions is not only practical, but enhances our trip. People add context and color that a map can’t; not only can they tell us the best way to get where we want to go, but point out great sites along the way, they give us history of where we are going, and facts we would have never known left to our own exploring. And we meet some very interesting people! (Google can’t compare to the intoxicated man I talked to in Florence who helped us find the David!)

I am sure you could see Europe by yourself. But when we travel as a family, or with friends, we experience more, we enjoy more …the journey itself becomes a part of the trip…and God designed us to be in community with each other as we seek Him…and when we “journey” with other Christians we experience God more fully (think of your mission trips).

FriendshipIf ‘religion’ is a like a map, then church activities (such as attending worship, bible study groups, Christian campus groups, small faith groups, etc.) and even just spending time with other Christians provides the color commentary that makes our journey towards God come alive.

 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… (Hebrews 10:24-25)

So, who are you traveling with?

Music and Faith Life – Vision Board Devotion

Faith-sharing question: What role (if any) does music play in your faith life? by Wade Anderson

As I have mentioned before, maybe too many times, I spend much of my day surrounded by music. On the bus on the way to work. While trying to crank out that last-minute to-do in my office. While on the treadmill at the Y. On the radio when taking one of the kiddos to their latest after-school activity. It so often fills my ears that I lose track of what I’m listening to, exactly.

And then, at other times, it completely takes control of me so that I can’t do anything else but listen. I would argue that a well-struck G-chord on an acoustic guitar is the most beautiful sound in the world. (And, similarly, the same chord on an out-of-tune guitar is the most awful sound ever.) Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s harmonies on “The Boxer.” Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar solo on “Little Wing.” Miles Davis’s trumpet on “Freddie Freeloader.” Sounds that are so amazing, so unbelievable, so… holy?

No offense to any of my current or former pastors and their always-intriguing sermons, but the times in my life when I have been most moved during worship have involved music. These include, but are by no means limited to: the a church choir singing “Beautiful Savior” a capella while interspersed within the congregation; a two-man acoustic bluegrass version of “Come thy Fount of Every Blessing”; and, frankly, anything that the band plays at the Hill’s Saturday evening service. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the first time I heard “The Old Rugged Cross” after my Dad passed away. I was a puddle.

I list all of these songs to say that I truly believe that God speaks to me, to many of us, through music. He speaks to me in other ways too, of course, but some of those methods take more effort than putting in my headphones and firing up my iPod. There is something so intrinsically powerful about some songs that I know in my heart that the music is inspired by God, that He is using music to reach my heart. Not unlike David playing his harp to King Saul, God uses music to give us comfort and relief.

I am lucky enough to lead the Church School praise band at the Hill, where 15 great, talented, enthusiastic middle-schoolers lead children’s worship with song every Sunday. The kids in Church School range from pre-K to fifth grade, so (naturally) some of the spoken parts are lost on the younger ones, but everyone jumps up and joins in when the band plays. I can see the music reaching these kids, making an impression, making them smile and praise God in meaningful ways. I hear my own three kids singing “I Am 
A C” and “The Hippo Song” randomly during homework or before bed and 
hope a similar impression is being made on other kids.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for making Yourself known to us in so many ways, including music. Help us keep You and Your desires at the top of our mind, even if that means keeping the radio on in the background. Bring comfort to those who strain to hear You at times, reminding them that Your voice is never far from us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Jake Stole My Blanket

Almost a year ago I joined a small women-only gym in Rosemount. After a long bout of illness I wanted to see what my body could achieve again. Inactivity over time made me feel like the filling in a Twinkie; soft and mushy, trapped in a spongy shell unable to move freely. Dizziness and joint pain caused me to distrust both my physical and mental body. What was once taken for granted now challenged me.

Three times a week, I committed to a weight training and cardio regiment. Jake, my personal trainer, pushed my physical limits more each day causing me weeks of muscle soreness and fatigue. Had I not prepaid for the 6-week boot camp style class, I would have have quit. Jake’s stories and lessons, jokes and dancing kept me distracted as I worked out. Friendships were formed with other women; each with their own comeback story.   As the 6th week approached, my sense of accomplishment was palpable. My new workout buddies and I agreed. There was no way we could leave this place, each other, or Jake.

As the months passed I gained strength. I quietly worked, sweated and listened to stories shared. One morning as I struggled IMG_0751with  bicep pulls, Jake stood to my right. He pointed to a small bulge in my wrist. “Look how strong you are Jean.” Unsure how to respond, I said nothing but found great satisfaction in watching that tiny band in my wrist pulse and twist as I worked.

The only one in my group working out one a snowy winter morning, Jake handed me a medicine ball and a mat. “Do a plank balancing on this ball with your hands.” The circuit that morning was 90 seconds. I held on. My body trembled then shook. I wanted to stay up, to hold straight in my plank. “Breath Jean!” I gasped, blew out of pursed lips and closed my eyes. “Yes! Go someplace else! You can do this!” Kneeling next to my mat Jake cheered me on slamming his fist on the floor counting down the time left. A recorded woman’s voice announced the end. Rolling off the ball I collapsed on my belly, red-faced and shaking. “I did it Jake.” He nodded as if he knew I would all along. Leaving that morning, we fist bumped our good-bye. “You believed in me more than I believed in myself. Thanks Jake.”

More weeks passed. While pulling down enough weight to lift me off my seat, Jake whispered firmly, privately in my ear, “You are not sick anymore, Jean. You are strong and well! But you are never going to be able to move forward unless you can see that for yourself.” My silent eyes locked on his. His words pierced a target in the center of my forehead penetrating my brain. It felt like he ripped a warm, protective blanket off of me on a frozen winter morning. I suddenly saw the person I used to be did not exist any longer. The wellness I worked so hard to achieve had arrived. Chilled to the bone, seeing myself in a new light, I could not speak. Somehow, Jake had whispered directly into my soul.

People speak of experiencing God in a prayer, a song, a child’s first cry, a loved one’s last breathe, wind rustling leaves or the call of dove. I now listen for God’s guidance in less likely places; in the tired eyes of a grocery store clerk, in the frustration of rush hour traffic, in the pain of a headache, the scrape of my shovel on a snow covered driveway, the bulging of a growing muscle in my arm and the encouraging words of my personal trainer.IMG_0746 What can I learn from this person, this experience that can guide me on my current path or to a brand new one? What might God be trying to teach me?

I believe I received an amazing message in that otherwise ordinary moment. I could no longer hide behind the blanket of illness, weakness or pain. It was time to stand up, step out into the world again. I was given another chance to be well and participate fully in this beautiful world. It was time to acknowledge and embrace this God given gift with the gratitude and enthusiasm it deserve. I woke up in that moment suddenly knowing my work is not finished yet. God, it seems, has something more planned for me!

1 Samuel 3:10 NLT

And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

Dear God,

I am humbled in the knowledge that you care about me enough to reach out, to guide and teach in such personal ways. As I continue to listen, learn and grow in faith, help me to recognize your voice in both the usual and unexpected places. Speak to me God! I am listening! Love, Jean

Jake Del Pino II is the Head Trainer at Get In Shape for Women in Rosemount, MN, Co-owner of Snap Fitness in Red Wing, MN, and Founder/Owner of Lamb II Lion Fitness – Faith based fitness for churches and corporations in the South Metro.