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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?”

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

Don’t Worry, Be Happy… Or Not

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:22

This Sunday Intern Pastor Brandon Newton preached on the story of Paul and Silas’ first arrest (See Acts 16:16-40). The men were falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with wooden rods and then imprisoned. The underground dungeon that served as a Roman prison would have been dark and dirty. I can only imagine the stench, the fear, the pain and the indignation. Wounded and chained in the dark it would be understandable if they had given in to fear and hopelessness. And maybe even anger.

All this and they were innocent. All this for a God who had seemingly abandoned them. All this pain and misery to save people who were ungrateful and cruel.

I would have been very angry indeed.

And yet, Paul and Silas spent their time in jail praying and singing hymns. They chose to praise God even in the midst of a situation far worse than most of us can imagine. At first it’s easy to think that Paul was exceptional. That God endowed him with some sort of super human ability to seek joy in even the most appalling situations.

But the truth is that we all have this ability to choose joy, to make a conscious decision to be joyful even in the midst of tragedy. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is an emotion that is, by its very nature, fleeting. We get a promotion, we go on a vacation, we get engaged, we have a baby and we are happy. Everything seems right in the world; life is smooth sailing for the time being.

Of course, no one can be happy all the time. The car breaks down, work get stressful, we lose a loved one, someone gets sick and we are no longer happy. We are stressed, frustrated, sad, mad, hurt and confused. And that’s okay. The command was never to be happy all the time. Paul and Silas were not happy. They were joyful, and that is something altogether different.

Joy is a choice. It is not about getting rid of all our problems so that we can have a perfect life. It is about trusting God in spite of the fact that we live in a fallen world and things are decidedly imperfect. Joy is the knowledge that even in the midst of hardship, God is with us always and that the things we endure can and will be used for a divine purpose, even if we don’t understand how, or why. Joy is deep in the soul and cannot be shaken by the circumstances of our lives.

Of course, this kind of deep, abiding joy comes only when we are walking closely with God, when we are willing to trust Him implicitly in all things. It is an adventure, a leap of faith… a promise. Will you choose joy today?

Happy Thanksgiving?

Editor’s note: Thanks to Chris Cairo for this Thanksgiving reflection. 

Recently I was traveling with customers who were from London England, and in discussing schedules the fact that Thanksgiving was coming up prompted the question from one of my English friends:

“Exactly what is Thanksgiving, and what are you giving thanks for?”

I started with a poor summary of the history of the pilgrims, but ended with the simple thought ‘we give thanks to God for all He has given us’.

I know my friend who asked the question is not a church-goer, as we have discussed religion before, and the English are not very religious. The conversation moved on, but I was glad to have had the opportunity to bring God into the conversation, even if just for a moment.

Hill cross --Advent program--from Julie McCarty--smaller with sigWhat about on Thanksgiving Day? Do we bring God into our conversation? …maybe just for a moment??

Psalm 95:1-2; “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

It sure sounds like Thanksgiving should be joyful…and last longer than a moment.

Thursday, how will you give thanks to God? Will it be for a moment while someone says Grace before you eat? Or will it be all day? Everyday?

If you take the time to think about all you have been given, you will find you have much to be thankful for. Thanking God, is the least we can do.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

Chris Cairo is a member of Easter Lutheran’s Vision Board. 

Experience opens our eyes

Easter member Chris Cairo has his own college ministry where he stays in touch with young men he’s mentored over the years via e-mail blog posts periodically. What follows is one of his reflections he agreed to share with us on our blog. 

DSCN2271

Our friends in Tanzania (southeast corner of African continent–click on photos to enlarge)

I don’t know about you, but Ebola worries me. The first nurse getting infected bothered me, but the second one really gets one thinking. Why aren’t we doing more to contain this??

Hmmm, where was I two or three months ago when this was spreading in Africa?  Was this even on my radar screen?  (Probably not) …yours?

This is precisely why Easter Church sends our youth to places such as Heart Butte, Montana and Cortez, Colorado, and people to Guatemala and Tanzania…beyond the community work we do on these trips (which is good), mission trips expose us to the world beyond Eagan, MN, where life is…well, VERY good compared to some of these places.

DSCN2236 - Cropped Copy

Our friends in Tanzania (click on photos to enlarge)

It opens our eyes to the needs of others in ways that the internet can’t (and never will). We begin to care about others who are very different and very far from us.

In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) Jesus tells us “therefore go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS’, and to make disciples one must care for/love that person first.

DSCN2016We must care about what’s going on with Ebola in Africa, not because we are worried it will spread here, but because we are concerned with what it is doing to those we love there.

There is a lesson in this for us don’t you think?

 

 

 

 

Editor’s note: Thank you to Andrea and Matt Brokl for their photos of Tanzania. 

 

Crack the Door

Today’s post is from Intern Pastor Brandon Newton: 

 As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, a short reflection on a living saint, my dad, and his influence on my life of faith.

As the product of a Midwestern farmer, I didn’t move far from cornfields for college. I found myself at Wartburg in Waverly, Iowa, majoring in Religion. I thought I had faith and I enjoyed working with youth, so was chasing a career in youth ministry. But as I spent more time at a college of the church, I started to ask more questions about faith. Not just faith, but going to church in general. I began to wonder if there was much point in going to church and my prayer life had reached an all-time low. I didn’t feel as connected to God through prayer and became convinced my prayers didn’t matter.

Rex NewtonDuring fall break I returned home to help with harvest. Dad and I went to a nearby town to grab lunch at the bowling alley (sounds strange, I know, but in a small town the restaurant was also the bowling alley). As we left with full bellies, my dad started his rusty farm truck when another farmer ran out after him.

The farmer spoke briefly to my dad. “Can you please pray for my wife? She has surgery tomorrow and I’m really worried about her.” That was it. No more details. Perhaps farmers just know what is going on in each other’s lives or perhaps prayers don’t need to be as detailed as I sometimes think. My dad replied, “I’ll be sure to pray for her.”

That’s when it hit me. My dad prays. Outside of our common mealtime grace, I never heard my dad pray or offer prayer. But as a young adult wondering if I had faith and if there was a place for me in the church, I learned that my dad prays—and that made all the difference. My dad prays, so will I. My dad believes in God, so will I. My dad has faith and there is room for him in the church, so there is room for me.

I stuck with this whole faith thing and will just offer one lesson to readers:  let your children or others catch you praying. I know that Matthew 6:6 offers a different vision by saying “but whenever you pray, go to your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” My dad’s faith and prayer life was too secret. In the parking lot he cracked the door a little bit allowing one small glimpse into his faith and that made all the difference. I encourage you, if you are praying in secret, please leave the door cracked open a bit and let your children or others catch you praying.