Las Vegas, Two Churches, and Our 25th Anniversary

This morning I woke up at 4:00 am. I was just going to the bathroom but my phone lay on my bedside table flashing away. I picked it up and read the screen’s alert about the shooting in Las Vegas. I still went to the bathroom but I didn’t go back to sleep.

I have been to Las Vegas three times, but never before I got married. I went with my husband the first time early in our marriage. It was a winter weekend and airfares were cheap. I went to the airport straight from work but almost missed the plane because I answered a phone call from a patient’s mother. Las Vegas seemed like another planet to me. It was interesting and overwhelming at the same time. I couldn’t get warm enough as the winter wind blew down the Strip. We stayed in a little motel called the Desert Rose Inn.

The second time we brought our young daughter so we did all the Vegas family friendly activities. She was too short to ride the New York New York roller coaster (which made us all sad) but we had fun at M and M World. We stayed at Luxor so we got to ride the diagonal elevator which was strange but fun.

The third time my husband and I went alone while our daughter was at camp. We stayed at Caesar’s Palace and saw Elton John in concert. I was getting the hang of Vegas by this time. We stayed away from the smoky casinos and slept and swam in the pool and walked and ate. It was a great trip.

This day many of us may be remembering our own times in Las Vegas. I only have a little Vegas experience, but my Vegas affinity grew as my marriage grew. My husband and I have begun celebrating our 25th anniversary. It isn’t until next month but we are celebrating the month before, the month of, and the month after…because twenty-five years is a lot to celebrate.

So what about two churches? Well, two churches because my husband recently started his position as interim rector at Ascension Episcopal Church in Houston (church number one) after serving as supply priest all summer for Grace Episcopal Church in Galveston. I have been going to Ascension most Sundays so far. But I belong to Trinity Episcopal Church in midtown Houston (church number two). This is the church where I lead a monthly women’s circle and the church that our family went with to Israel on pilgrimage in 2015 and it is a church that I love. I wasn’t there most of the summer but have started going again to Trinity’s last service, a jazz Eucharist, after I go to the midmorning service at Ascension. So, since the end of the summer, I have been praying in two churches most Sundays.

So what again? Well, because praying in two churches every Sunday for a few weeks has been balm to my soul but it didn’t stop what happened in Las Vegas last night. Being married for twenty-five years to the love of my life who took me to Las Vegas three times so far makes me so grateful that I can’t see straight thinking about all the joy and goodness in my life. But all that joy didn’t stop what happened in Las Vegas last night.

Or in Orlando. Or in Sandy Hook. Or in Columbine.

I grew up practicing civil defense drills curling up under my desk at school or curling up in the hall. But it seems like no matter what drills you practice, you just couldn’t be ready for what happened last night in Las Vegas if you were there listening to Jason Aldean sing.

Things happen like this. And it seems, at least so far, that nothing will stop it. Not two churches, not all the churches in the world. Not twenty-five years of marriage, not all the marriages in the world. And Las Vegas is only the most recent tragedy.

There are a lot of ideas about what could be done. About gun control. About better and more accessible and more proactive mental health services. About security. And all of these things and many more bear fervent consideration.

But for today, I am only brought back to grace. Because in the mass shootings and the earthquakes and the hurricanes and the wars and the everything, we remain human beings. I believe that grace exists and that my life depends on that grace every day. There is light that is offered and hands that are extended in a million different directions every moment of our lives. If not for this grace, this very air that I breathe, why anything?

I am not a theologian and I am not an expert in anything. We are drowning in sadness and anger and it gets harder to remember how things can be different. But I know what keeps my heart beating and I know what enlivens my spirit. I am humbled by my circumstances and I know that all is gift.

And so, being married for almost twenty-five years and going to two churches for now and carrying sweet memories of our trips to Las Vegas, I turn again to pray for our sisters and brothers, the ones who died, the ones who may be dying even now, the ones who are hurt, the ones who will carry the trauma the rest of their days, the ones who lost loved ones, the first responders, and all the responders. And I pray for all of us. I pray that somehow we will find our way through this season and learn the way of wholeness, the way of kindness and mercy, the way of grace. There is nothing easy about any of this…but I trust that grace is here in our midst. Our children and their children and all the children need us to hold it and treasure it and share it.

May we learn to remember who we really are together. May we know the bonds of common humanity that make us whole. May we make room, even a little room, to trust in this grace, today and all the days of our lives.

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Ash Wednesday

Tonight I knelt in a beautiful church, closed my eyes, and felt fingers brushing dry ashes on my forehead in the sign of a cross. These words were whispered to me: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

So begins another season of Lent. For some reason, this night the ashes felt friendly as they touched my skin.  Hearing the word “dust” reminded me of a playground on a hot summer day, spinning on a merry go round and seeing clouds of dust swirl as my friends jumped on and off. Kicking the dirt with my bare feet as I sat in a swing. Remembering that dust comes from dirt, from the good earth. And that one day, that good earth will again hold me and everyone I know and love.

We heard the words from Isaiah, chapter 58:

“Is this not the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in darkness and your gloom be like noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

And from Matthew, chapter 6:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I am called this night to remember my visit to the Holy Land two years ago. A friend of mine is visiting there now, and as I see her pictures on Facebook, I am reminded of how it felt to sit in the dark Judean desert waiting for sunrise. The light always comes in time. 

And so my prayer this night:

May we aspire to be called “the repairer of the breach” for indeed our world overflows with breaches. May this season of Lent make our hearts tender for the sake of all God’s people. May we breathe in peace with every step, and in our hearts and in our souls may we know always and only grace, apparent grace. 

Amen


 

 

 

 

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Inflection Point

 

“The only truth I know is that light is everywhere.”

A long long time ago in math class, I learned about inflection points. About the points where curves change direction, where shifts occur, where calculus reigns. Aside from the calculus that I learned before applying to medical school, I have come to believe that inflection points are scattered throughout our days and throughout our lives.  I have come to believe that there is always an opportunity offered by an inflection point, and that often the hardest time to see the opportunity is when we are right in the middle of the inflection point itself.

“The only truth I know is that light is everywhere.” I wrote these words after a trip to the Holy Land in the summer of 2015. In all the many and diverse places we visited, holy sites of Christianity, of Judaism, of Islam, I saw light. Candles and light everywhere. Sunrise on the Judean desert followed by Holy Communion. Glass lanterns swinging in the Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Golden light sparkling on the surprisingly blue waters of the Sea of Galilee. I was in awe of the light, and the reverence, that I saw everywhere in the Holy Land.

Tonight is an important inflection point. Tomorrow a new president of the United States will be inaugurated. There will be shifts and direction changes. We are not unified in how we see and understand the opportunity in this particular inflection point in history.  There is so much unknown ahead.

We need light in this inflection point of time. We need the gift of light this night and in the days to come. We need to be able to see and to not miss the opportunities for light and for service…for this season, like all seasons, is holy.

My prayer tonight is that we kindle and keep alive the light that is already in our hearts. I pray that the fires of love will keep us warm and the flames of hope will light our way as we reach out to the future. I pray for peace, for compassion, and for that light that shines in the darkness, the light that the darkness has not and will not overcome. May the hearts of all know this light this day and all days and may honest and apparent grace abound.

“The only truth I know is that light is everywhere.”

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Beads, Safety Pins, and Candles

This past week. 

On Monday, Leonard Cohen died. 

Tuesday was Election Day. When we finally went to bed, I couldn’t sleep. 

Wednesday I saw my spiritual director and spent time with my sister. 

Thursday was my birthday. My husband and I drove to New Orleans. I took a picture of the Mississippi River and tagged it #runningawaytogether. We did what we always do, drank cafe au lait and ate beignets at Cafe du Monde. It was not very crowded. For the first time, on Bourbon Street I caught beads tossed from a balcony. 

Friday I bought safety pins at CVS. Two packages. One all silver and one black and white. We walked over 15,000 steps around the French Quarter. 

Saturday I wore a safety pin. I saw two bartenders wearing safety pins at an uptown cafe. I read posts on Facebook about why and why not to wear safety pins. When we got off the street car, a woman touched my arm, smiled, and said “I love your safety pin.” I took pictures of candles. We watched as Kate McKinnon opened Saturday Night Live singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Today is Sunday and we are heading home. Sunday, the day full of grace. My prayer is that I remember that I can speak up, be kind, be compassionate, be myself, be present to others known and unknown with or without wearing a safety pin. My prayer is that we all leave room in our hearts for community, for catching beads tossed from a balcony for the first time. My prayers is that candles will always remind us to look for the light. And that love wins. And that grace abounds even and especially when we may not be so sure anymore. Apparent Grace. 

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Annuciation


There is that moment

Right before everything changes

When I stop, breathe, yield

Surrender to what I already know to be true.

 
That moment, wistful, anxious

Maybe a little sad

Maybe nostalgic

Hangs in my knowing like an icicle ready to melt.

 
And in that moment

And in that knowing

Lies the seed of what is to come

Lies the seed of new life.

 
Guided by kindness

Heart open to the future

I open my hands, knowing what I know

And breathe in the sun.

 
Life is like this

Moment by moment by moment

Consenting to now, saving our own lives

And trusting in Grace.

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Living Compass in Chicago

This past week I had a wonderful opportunity to spend a few days at the Nicholas Center at St. James Cathedral in Chicago and participate in training for congregational wellness advocacy via a program known as Living Compass. This program offers participants an opportunity for self-assessment in eight areas of wellness as well as support and encouragement in growing into more wholeness in heart, mind, soul, and strength. The training was led by founder Dr. Scott Stoner, Holly Stoner, and Edith Lipscomb. My husband and I were part of the group with new friends from all over the United States and Ireland! 
It was such a gift to spend time reflecting on our call to wholeness. We were invited to consider how we might continue to help bring forth healing in our churches and our communities. I can’t imagine a time where Living Compass could be needed any more than right now in our world. 

The website is http://www.livingcompass.org if you would like to take a look. I give thanks for this work and for the gift of time together this past week. This was abundant and apparent grace for me!

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Transitions

These changes are not always announced by words. 

But rather by 

A twisting and turning deep in our solar plexus, 

A budding awareness in our secure knowing, 

A flash of lightning in our soul that resides we know not where. 

However heralded, the earthquake arrives in the twinkling of an eye. 

Be sure of this:  

Life moves forward. 

Dear one, bless all that lies behind you.

Run with abandon 

Away from the flood

Toward only the Light. 

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