A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Funny Thing Happened on my Way to the Episcopal Church

By Ron Jackelen

As a “cradle Catholic”, I spent much of my adult years as an enthusiastic but somewhat skeptical member of that church. As a man who is a committed feminist, I found that there was a disconnect between my beliefs in the equality of women and the inability for Catholic women to be equal when it came to serving as ordained priests.

Last year I began yet another round of soul-searching about this issue. (This struggle has gone on multiple times over the years.) This time however, for whatever reason, I finally knew that my church home could no longer be the Catholic Church. It was time to stand up for what I believed. After determining that even this wonderful new pope, Pope Francis, considered the ordination of women to be “not an open question”, I knew it was time to find a religion and congregation that would better fit my beliefs.

I never had any issues with my local Catholic Church. That parish had no control over the rules made in Rome. Still, it was time for me to leave the parish that I had been an active member of for 30 years and the fellow parishioners who had meant so much to me.

I always assumed that when I did make the break that I would probably join a local Episcopal Church, since that church and the Catholic Church have much in common, even as the Episcopal Church is more progressive and allows the ordination of women as priests. I had actually bookmarked various Episcopal churches for review on the Internet. However, I had heard that ELCA Lutheran churches were also progressive when it came to the acceptance and full participation of both women and gay people. Although I was pretty sure that I would become Episcopalian, I figured I better take a quick look at the Lutheran Church…just to be sure.

Easter Lutheran on the Hill campusAn Internet search delivered me to various ELCA congregations, including Easter Lutheran Church. As I reviewed the website, I noticed that there was not just one woman pastor but two women pastors. And, one of those women was the senior pastor. Up until viewing the website, I only knew that Easter Lutheran Church was the church with the interesting name that I frequently passed on my way to the library in Eagan.

After attending multiple worship services at both campuses, I contacted the Easter Lutheran office and asked for an appointment with Pastor Kris, letting them know that I was a Catholic looking for a new church home. I figured that if you have questions, you may as well go to the top! For almost an hour, I peppered Pastor Kris with questions, trying to determine whether this congregation and the ELCA Lutheran Synod was the “real deal”. Her answers to my questions made me believe that this was the right church home for me.

After completing my Advent volunteer obligations at my Catholic parish, I transferred my allegiance and my heart to Easter Lutheran in January of this year. And, as an added bonus (and without any prodding from me) my wife, Michelle, joined me as a member at Easter Lutheran Church as well, after many years of her own estrangement from the Catholic Church.

I’m sure that most members of Easter Lutheran are used to all of this by now but when I first saw Pastor Kris preach or saw Pastor Sarah perform the breaking of the bread at the altar, I was absolutely astonished to see women in that role. Months later, I think I’m finally getting used to the wonderful sight of women (and men) equally leading both worship and the congregation.

Pastor Sarah ministering Holy Communion

I want you to know that Easter Lutheran turned out to be far more than just a congregation that affirmed the role of women in leadership. Equally as important I also found a congregation that truly believes that it has an obligation to the community around it, both near and far. In my original meeting with Pastor Kris, she spoke of the changes that were being made at that time to the Easter by the Lake building so that Easter Lutheran would be better prepared to reach out to the community. The Easter Lutheran vision statement says it so well, “We will actively strive to blur the lines between church and community…”

Wall at Easter Lutheran Church 2014

Easter Lutheran Church is a wonderful place, which Michelle and I hope will be our church home for the rest of our lives.

That’s the funny thing that happened on my way to the Episcopal Church… I found a Lutheran congregation that fits me perfectly! I guess you never know for sure where you’re going until you get there!

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Ron and Michelle Jackelen are enthusiastic new members of Easter Lutheran Church.

 

 

 

California Dreaming

On an early fall morning in 1996, I stood with a dear friend, Suzanne, watching the antics of our neighborhood’s children when my 4 year-old son ran up to us with an important announcement. Poised wide-legged, chest puffed and wearing his new Ninja filename-1Turtle Halloween costume he proclaimed to the world, “When I grow up, I am going to be Ninja Turtle Michelangelo and I am going to stop all the bad guys!” Not requiring any sort of response or advice about his new career decision, he ran on.

Turning to Suzanne I asked, “When do I break his heart? When do I tell him he cannot be a superhero? When do I tell him he will probably grow up to be something practical – maybe an accountant like his Dad? ” Suzanne whispered, “Don’t tell him Jean. The world will tell him soon enough.” Quietly that morning I prayed that Mark would find work when he was grown that brought him joy and fulfillment as well as a means of support.

Several years later during a family vacation in California, we strolled through a park overlooking the ocean. Mark pursued the dozens of seagulls grouped along our path determined to catch one of them. His whole body squealed with delight each time the birds took flight. Catching his breath on a bench before returning to the hunt, Mark made another announcement. “Someday I want to live here! When I grow up I am moving to California!”

Now, 15 years later, Mark no longer wears a cape or carries a plastic sword but his desire to right the wrongs of this world did not fade. He involves himself in organizations and causes that raise people up and him in the process. He lives his life with kindness and fairness even when the world is not always kind or fair to him. In many ways I see him living the superhero life he dreamed of as a child though it looks very different than what either of us pictured.

I cannot help but grin as I tell you that Mark is a newly graduated accountant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is preparing to start his first job in San Francisco next month. He knew business was a practical IMG_1078degree but had difficulty imagining his life as an accountant. His job opportunity in California is not a traditional accounting job path recommended by his school advisers but it unfolded magically and effortlessly for him. The expression, “It was meant to be” comes to mind. He is excited to get started. I am brimming with joy for him and the new life he is creating but also experiencing worry, sadness and grief at his leaving.

As I summon the courage to kiss my son good-bye before he boards the plane that will fly him to his future, I call on my faith to steady me. My faith over the years has grown into a solid platform from which I can stand firmly and look around. From that platform of faith I can see the happenings of life unfold without being bowled over by them. My body feels the multitude of physical and emotional pain that life brings, but my soul knows I can stand against the current. I have emotions, but I am not my emotion. I have a body, but I am not my body. I am a soul encased in a physical body, learning and experiencing this world but not overwhelmed by it. It is a source of inner strength that comes when I let go of expectations and simply have faith.

I have come to believe that God wants all of our dreams to come true. He hears the desires of our hearts and wants them to be realized. So many times this world derails us. Society often tells us we are not good enough or brave enough to achieve our dreams or face life’s challenges. What if we placed our hopes and dreams in God’s hands without attempting to imagine how those desires should come to be? It is not an easy or simple task but I believe that by putting the longings of our hearts into God’s hands without expectations, we exercise our faith in God and that faith forges the path for God to enter our lives in spectacular and unexpected ways.

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing and caring about the desires of my heart. Help me to let go of how I think my dreams should become reality. Please show me the path to follow and give me strength to bear the pain of the journey. Also dear Lord, please give me the clarity to recognize hopes and dreams realized even when they appear in unexpected ways. Thanks again – for everything!

Love, Jean

Jeremiah 32:27  “Behold, I am the LORD; the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?”

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.

Making Decisions and Micah 6:8

When faced with a choice for your future, ever wonder what God wants you to do?

In our lives, we all have to make many decisions—and it isn’t always easy to decide what’s best.  There are big decisions (changing jobs or moving?) and little decisions (what to have for dinner?). The more significant decisions often need time to simmer. We need time to research the possibilities, talk it over with others, consider the implications of various choices, and–last but not least– pray about it.

In the spiritual life, this process is called “discernment.” Rather than just jumping into an important decision, we take the time to ask God what he views as the best choice. Discernment involves various kinds of “listening” for God’s will in our lives. This listening is waiting and watching for what seems best according to the ways of God.

Sometimes when I am having trouble making a decision about something, I think of this bible verse:

Geese with Micah 6 8 --photo Julie McCarty - Copy wihtout sig

Although this passage doesn’t tell me precisely what to do (whether to change jobs or move or whatever), it reminds me what matters in God’s eyes.  When I think of my decision in light of this verse, I take into consideration how my decision will effect others in my life. Will my choice be morally right and filled with love (“act justly” and “love tenderly”). That’s not to say I ignore my own needs, but to include the needs of others around me. (When we use our talents well, both our own needs and other’s needs will hopefully come into harmony.)

“Walk humbly with your God” reminds me of Pastor Sarah’s sermon last week about the beatitude “meekness.” God is in charge, not me. Yet, God’s being “in charge” is not like ruthless leader, but rather one who walks with us. Making the best decision we can, we do it in the presence and love of God. “Walk humbly with your God” implies that God is right there, all around us, and walking beside us in the journey we call life.

If this all sounds familiar, perhaps that is because Jesus taught the two most important “laws” are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. When making a decision, we can take into account how our choice is in line with what God wants and loves (found most profoundly in the teachings of Jesus), what is good for “our neighbor” (family, community, world, etc.) and what is good for one’s own self (it says to love your neighbor as yourself … so it is appropriate to think of your own needs, too).  

When we feel the time is right, we make the decision and trust that God will work through whatever the situation may be. God loves us immensely and treasures our desire to choose wisely.

 

Will you pray with me?

 

Dear Lord,

We trust that you love us
and always want what’s best for us. 

Help us remember, when making decisions,
to choose actions that are kind and good for all people,
filled with love for one another.

Remind us often that wherever we go,
whatever we do this day,
you are at our side, walking with us,
dwelling in our hearts and in our midst,
no matter how rough and rocky the road might be.

This we ask in the name of Jesus,

and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.