Practicing Presence

I did not write this blog post, but I’m sharing it because it’s wonderful.  I received it today in my email inbox from Marilyn Sharpe Ministries.  I’ve known Marilyn for years.  She is a delightful and dedicated ministry leader who has a special knack for intergenerational ministry.  She also makes every single person she meets feel incredibly special and important.  Here she shares some important words and ideas for this Advent time.unnamed.png


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God … And the Word became
flesh and lived among us.                          John 1:1, 14
In a world and a season in which all seem to be clamoring for presents, it seems wildly countercultural to focus on slowing down and being fully present with others.  However, for those who follow this infant Jesus to Bethlehem, to the cross, and out of the open tomb, THIS is what God was up to in sending God’s son, our savior – practicing presence with us!
Shortly after Halloween, wrapping paper and gift bags, ads for this season’s hottest gifts to purchase, and invitations to parties and gatherings appear everywhere.  Calendars are double booked.  Credit cards threaten to be maxed out.  And all of the generations whine about how busy they are.
Several decades ago, one cold December night at 4:00am I found myself gift wrapping and packing gifts to be shipped to extended family and friends around the country.  I was tired and grouchy and feeling unloving and unlovable.  I could have won the Grinch lookalike contest, before he existed.  This was not the life I wanted to lead … and I had created it.
That night, I made a resolve: I was going to do Advent so that two things would be different on December 26th:
  • Jesus would have come to me this Christmas, and
  • My family would still be happy to be related to me.
I have lived into an Advent that I love to embrace, still fine tuning it year after year.  Now, this is a season that gives me life, and that abundantly.
Whether you live alone or with a household full of busy people, take a look at the “Family Practices” below and select the ones you’d like to try for you and your circle of beloved people this year.
  • Take out your calendar now and block out family time.  This is not time to accomplish tasks, but to be together.  Just to be.
  • Lower the lights during time together.  Park screens in another room.  Light a candle.  Sit by the Christmas tree.
  • Check in with one another.  Right now, ask everyone in your household, “What are the three things you would like to see, hear, do, eat, or play to make it feel like Jesus has come to you and to us this Advent season?”
  • Use this list to trim the things that have become time, resource, and money-consuming for your family, without giving rich benefits.  Henry David Thoreau said it this way, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”
  • Find an Advent devotional that all of you enjoy.  Spend a few minutes together to share it.  Some days, it might stretch into an extended conversation.  Some days, it might be wrapped up in just a minute or two.
  • Share the tasks.  When everyone pitches in, no one claims the mantle of martyr and resents the rest of the family.
  • Add just one thing for your household – an act of service.  Serve a meal for shut ins at church.  Bake a plate of cookies for a lonely neighbor and sit down for tea.  Shovel a walk that isn’t yours.
  • On December 26th, check in with your family.  How did we do?  What did you like about this year?  What should we do the same next year?  What should we do differently?  How might we further simplify and let people know now … or before July … that we’d like to do things differently next year.

The Vibrant Faith Frame & Living Your Faith

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”

Deuteronomy 11:18-19

I find it important (and fun!) to talk about the ways that we live our faith.  Partly, because it makes us aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in our life.  And, partly, so that we KEEP living our faith now and into the future.  Living our faith takes practice.  Prayer, scripture reading, worshipping, being in conversation and authentic community with others, it all takes practice.  When I teach confirmation I like to have the youth participate by using “worship notes” on Sundays.  The notes are questions, drawings, or diagrams that help them practice engaging in worship, listening to hymns, picking out the main point of a sermon in connection with scripture, and hearing the gospel in different ways.  I love to see their comments & questions and often I come away with insights that I hadn’t thought of on my own!  I always tell the confirmands, “I promise, I don’t ask you to do this to torture you!”  Just like learning to read, you have to learn the alphabet first.  The same is true when learning about faith and then living it.  We need a foundation taught/learned and then continually practice these skills.


6543verticalOne outline to help us engage with our spiritual development is through Vibrant Faith Frame.  This is:  Six Places where faith formative relationships happen, Five Principles to guide those relationshipsleading to Four Key faith practices of all AAA Christians, who are Authentic, Affirming, and Available.  This frame guides our understanding of living as a Christian community where as followers of Christ, we learn to love and live to serve.  Over the next weeks I’m going to write more specifically about each of these aspects with stories and examples given, in order to help us explore and understand what it means.  Plus, hopefully, it will help you imagine and/or remember the special people and times when you have had your spiritual life fed and deepened and/or where you have done that for others.  We are continual learners as we live our faith in the world.  Blessings to you in your learning and exploration.


Pole to Pole

Psalm 121

Assurance of God’s Protection

A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.


A couple of weeks ago my husband and I climbed Mount St. Helen’s.  It’s a long climb and thus there is a decent amount of time to think.  I tend to process best when I’m moving–either driving or running or walking.  I should probably qualify this and say that I mainly let my brain drift through thought on the way up.  On the way down I was just willing myself not to sit down and live out my days in that spot on the mountain. 🙂 Anyway, doing a big hike or climbing a mountain tends to bring me back to thoughts of life and our day to day living.  Whether that is within our family, vocations, within our organizations, or our day to day goals, life can be like climbing a mountain.  Thus, read this in whatever way is best for you.

21231687_1544938445564057_3082376079355046745_nWe began the hike early in the morning before sunrise.  It was a gentle, easy slope and we were able to have light conversation and breathe well.  But after two miles, we left the safety and gentleness of the known path and the green trees.  The sun was now up and shining making our sight more clear, but we could also see the climb would be tough.  Moving out of the trees and into the boulder field brought new challenges.  Some of the steps were easy and small, while some were big and took much more effort.  I said to Jeremy, “The ash between the rocks is hard to walk through.” To which he replied, “It’s going to get a lot harder ahead.”  At one point, between boulders, my feet felt like they were just churning, like on a cartoon: moving but not making any progress with a lot of effort put out to go nowhere. Jeremy came up behind me and told me to plant my feet firmly, find the foothold, and then move forward.  We continued on the boulder field, trying to find the best path, getting banged up a little, and using quite a bit of muscle to move forward uphill.


21270834_10155691374745967_7634656276999711100_nThat path was not specific.  We’d stand back, survey the space ahead, and try to choose the correct path.  Sometimes we’d look left or right and see a better path that someone before us had made…that we weren’t on.  Other times, we seemed to be following a well worn, well known path.  We’d often see beauty peeking out in unexpected places, such as beautiful flowers growing out of the cracks in the rock.


We followed the route via big poles sticking out of the boulder field.  The goal was to keep as close to the poles as possible and not stray too far.  Yet, there were different ways to get from pole to pole as they led to the top of the mountain.

St HelensSpeaking of pole to pole… on a climb there’s always a point when your mind and/or body want to give up.  Mine was in the middle of the boulder field.  I was expending too much energy for the progress being made, I got frustrated, and I started to cry.  Jeremy said to me, “Just work pole to pole.  Go from one to the next and don’t worry about what is beyond the next pole until you get there.”  I knew there was a next pole, I knew getting there would take me higher.  While it was important to look ahead to what lay beyond and see the big picture, it was also good to know what was right in front.  I needed both. My mantra became “pole to pole.”  I’d reach one pole and repeat that to myself, “Pole to pole.  Just go pole to pole.”  I could make it, breaking down the long journey into smaller, more manageable parts.

After the long boulder field, came the last 1/3 of the climb…all on small particles of ash.  It was a process of “just keep moving, put one foot in front of the other.”  It was a “two steps forward, one step back” type of process as well.  I’d plant my foot, push off, and slide back.  It took deliberate focus on the steps and a lot of mental concentration.  If possible, we’d look and hope to find larger rocks underneath to anchor the step and get a better leg up.  And yet, sometimes those big rocks underneath also slid.  It was not easy, but with enough steps we worked our way up the top.

21231245_1544952462229322_7921063696583321420_nThe beauty of climbing is knowing that there’s a big picture out there…bigger than what we can sometimes see.  While I looked in front of me to climb ahead, occasionally I’d pause and look back.  And when I did, I’d see the beauty of the accomplishment AND the beauty of the surrounding spaces…that you could only see by climbing higher and looking behind.

We worked our way up the ash field and as we came near the crater rim suddenly out popped an expanse of beauty that was unexpected.  Mount Rainier loomed in the distance, highlighting the beauty of Spirit Lake.  We could see a new perspective of the mountain on the other side, unknown until we peeked over.  We could look back and see the vastness behind us and the connection of mountain ranges, trails, peaks, and valleys.  We could see clouds that covered some areas and the sun shining through other areas. We climbed alone and we climbed with other groups.  We climbed in silence and we climbed in conversation.  It was all part of the journey.  21191991_1544937922230776_1844621289498398862_n

If I’m honest, I didn’t expect to make it to the top, and I was ok with that, because sometimes it takes more than one try.  Yet, breaking it down into pieces and moving pole to pole, one step at a time, the goal was reached.  It was hard.  There was frustration and there was joy.  There was darkness and there was light.  There were gentle slopes and big boulders that left it’s mark.  There was too much effort put out at certain times and not enough at other times.  There was action and there was time for rest.  Yep, climbing a mountain is like climbing through life.  But we keep going at it, pole to pole, step by step, because P.S…there’s more with each step that we take.

Eye of a Hurricane

images-3I grew up in the midwest where tornados are a frequent occurrence in the Spring and Summer.  I remember times of sleeping in the basement when I was young.  I recall sitting in the laundry room of my apartment building with my cat.  One summer in Omaha I was at a Target store when the sirens went off and they herded us all into the back storage room where the staff passed out water, granola bars, and fruit snacks.  Thankfully I’ve never been in the direct path of a tornado, but I have been very close.  I’ve known the high winds, the green sky, and the incredible eerie feeling that has a sense of foreboding to it.  I’ve seen the destruction is has caused just miles from where I was hunkered down the basement.

It is said that when a tornado hits there is the high wind, a sudden calm, and a high windimages-2 again.  That sudden calm in the middle is called the “eye of the tornado” or the “eye of a hurricane.” Whether this is a scientifically accurate, I’m not 100% sure.  But metaphorically, how often things seem to be in chaos…and a time of calm…and then chaos again?  Do you ever have that foreboding feeling of “all is good…when is the other shoe going to drop?”  It’s not a pleasant way to sit through life.

If we rework it in our mind, perhaps it’s finding peace…or finding hope… in the middle of chaos.  We are in a broken world.  There’s no argument against that.  Political parties are at big odds with one another.  Racism is rampant.  People are hurting and are hungry and are homeless.  War and fighting (or fear of) savages different countries around the globe.  Flooding, wildfires, and natural disasters are happening not only in the US but around the world. How and where do we find the eye of the hurricane?  The calm within the storm?  The peace within the fight?

Mother Theresa said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”  It is those small things with great love where we see God’s kingdom breaking into the world.  Where we see the gospel living and breathing in our midst.  The calm, peace, and hope in the midst of chaos. ff6abcd337186d28bf86dd3f3d47433c--poster-photo-great-quotes-about-life

The kingdom of God is like the owner of a mattress store.

The kingdom of God is like a teenager fighting a life threatening illness, and being aware of the beauty of every day.

The kingdom of God is like a Seattle woman feeding people around the city.

The kingdom of God is like people helping people when they are stranded.

The kingdom of God is like Lutheran Disaster Response which serves the world in the midst of disasters.  You too can donate to help!

The stories go on and on.  Even when what seems like a small act is done with great love, the Kingdom of God breaks into the chaos and the brokenness and brings healing and hope.  For John 1:5 tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

P.S. There’s more…. Feel free to share your own stories or links in the comments of where you see God’s kingdom breaking into the world and/or when you’ve experience small acts of great love.


download-5When I was in seminary I hit a wall of stress with a full class load, working at a church, living in a new city, making new friends, and establishing a new phase of life.  I started running a lot…a lot… and did a number of marathons, only to come crashing down with an injury and not enjoying the exercise.  It was the first time ever in 13 years that I hadn’t enjoyed running.  I took a break and got connected to the YMCA, attending a group fitness class.  In my first Body Pump class the instructor began with the words, “You’re my Thursday night team!”  My heart soared!  I realized what my mind, soul, and body had been missing was my team.  I had always either run with a team or coached a team and/or worked with teams.  Running/working/studying on my own didn’t have the same appeal or outcome.  images-1

The joy that comes in ministry is, again, working with a team: the ability to brainstorm, imagine, wonder, and  vision.  Where we work together towards a common focus. Where multiple gifts are used and all ages are engaged.  Where what is good for the whole is the main motivation.  What is wonderful about the body of Christ, is that we all have different gifts and when combined make us a really strong team. Romans 12:5-6 says,  “We who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”

As we move into a new season of the church year, with the addition of new staff member Music Director David Buice, the talents of the existing staff, and the engagement of many volunteers and leaders, we have quite the strong team here at Faith Lutheran.  The future is bright and with it brings new possibilities while holding on to our strong traditions.


Spiritual Giftedness

During the weeks of Lent the Confirmands all engage in a Lent project in place of our regular weekly learning times.  They are instructed to choose a Spiritual Discipline (prayer, worship, scripture reading, devotions, service to one another, generosity/stewardship) and engage in that discipline using one of their own Spiritual Gifts and/or interest areas.  After Easter each of the youth present their project.  I don’t worry about a flashy or spectacular the presentation, but rather the process and engagement of their faith.  It’s such fun every year to hear how each person has engaged deeply and become more aware of how their faith is lived out.  Here are some of the projects this year:


*Teen devotional book and written daily reflections and prayers

*Volleyball with different scripture, used for devotions

*Looked at 25 different Christian songs and picked out the main point/theme of each and found scripture to match.

*Used weekly devotions and nature to explore scripture and God’s creation.

*Commentary on the book of Jonah along with painting depicting the story of Jonah.

*Words of faith art project & painting

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Rituals and Traditions

easter-lilyRituals and traditions allow us to hold on to special stories and memories.  I’ve been reflecting and savoring some of these traditions lately.  Though I try to not think of it and try to live in the present moment, I have been acutely aware that this will be my last Lent, Holy Week, and Easter at Saint John Lutheran.  I love all the worship services and the time spent with people but what also makes it special is the small rituals and traditions that have sprouted up over the years.

Traditions including Wednesday night dinners before worship, which give time to see more people and sit and have conversation.  And the Lenten worship services where different voices are heard preaching the gospel through meditations in worship and the singing of the liturgy from the Holden Evening Prayer, which just happens to fit perfectly into my vocal range, and my soul is filled as I get to belt out the leader parts.  Not only that, Pastor Jon and I have gotten the harmony down and the team atmosphere by which we work takes on a tangible form.

Then there are the other “hidden” traditions.  Each year, for the past 6 years, Deb makes me meals.  It started my first year at Saint John when she was worried that all I would eat for a week would be peanut butter sandwiches.  She wasn’t wrong.  She lovingly portions out cut up fruit, salad, muffins, treats, egg bakes, and casseroles into easy-to-grab containers.  Even more, it is packaged in a picnic basket with bows on it.

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Holy Week & Baptism

Malachi baptism

Colossians 2:12-15 “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

Holy Week brings with it a variety of emotions. Beginning Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem, we soon see a sharp turn as the pharisees are angered and the joyful crowd soon turns to one of malice yelling, “Crucify him!”  The highs of waving the palms and welcoming the Messiah soon turn to the lows of cynicism, doubt, and death.  Despair leaks in as we hear of the warmth yet sadness of Jesus’ last supper and the washing of his disciples feet.  The drama and pain of his betrayal and arrest settles deep into our souls as the brutal, heinous beating and killing occurs on the cross.  The tears come, the weight of Good Friday rests upon our shoulders as we too are guilty of Jesus’ death.

Even in the midst, though, we hear the promise.  We hear it on the cross as one man says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus, in the midst of his own torment, replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)  Today.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  But today.  This is the promise we hear again in baptism. “Today you are mine.”

On Palm Sunday, just a few days ago, Malachi Jacob was baptized.  His name, meaning “God’s messenger” was spoken as the Word and the water made him a member of the body of Christ.  The promise that was brought to life that day on the cross was heard once again as Malachi Jacob’s name was spoken, being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus died on the cross so that the Old Adam and the Old Eve–our sinful selves–would die daily and rise to new life.  Death and resurrection, death and resurrection.  The old self dying in the waters of baptism and the new self rising to newness of life, being fully cleansed of our sin.  We can only experience the joy of the resurrection by first going through the death on Good Friday.  We can be grateful that we know that the story did not end on Good Friday.   That is what, in fact, makes the Friday “Good”–that it was done out of extreme love and grace.  This is the love and grace that is given to us through the cross and bestowed on us in baptism.

In our lives we go through series of Good Fridays and Easters–through sin & death and through joys & celebrations.  We are drawn back continually to the One who has sealed our salvation, who has done it for us not because he had to, but because he wanted to, and who gives everlasting life to us all as a free gift. Good Friday and Easter is every day.  Thanks be to God this Holy Week and Easter.



Philippians 3:13-14  “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Every week when I would get to church Ardeth would be sitting in her car in the parking lotThumbnail preparing to come into church.  I would walk into my office, drop my backpack, and go get a cup of coffee.  By the time I got out to the coffee bar area Ardeth would be sitting in her spot: first table in the chair closest to the door.  After worship she’d make her way back to that same chair, this time where a cup of coffee and a doughnut would be placed and she would sit with her friends talking, laughing, and catching up.  She would greet the young children, she would greet the “old children,” and her smile would light up with each adult who came to hug her.

Last Sunday was the first Sunday she wouldn’t be sitting in her spot.  Ardeth died on her way to church, just one block away, going to the place she loved most.

At 90 years old Ardeth had much to teach us and those of us who knew her were privileged to know this woman of faith.  There’s much we learn from others and from people like Ardeth. I learned that you are never too old to share your gifts with the heart of a servant. Her sewing and her crocheting—both exceptional skills, were her gifts to others, her way of expressing her love.  Ardeth had a knack for thinking about others, for being a giving person, knowing that what she could do brought love to another person. And she always thought of others. One day Ardeth invited Pastor Jon and Marcia to her place, “I have a little something for you” placing in their hands lovingly crocheted items for their grandchildren. Or at the time of my wedding—a package—with colorful dishrags and washcloths, ”To start your kitchen together” she said, and I noticed that she had placed on top two of the washcloths I had admired only a couple of weeks before as she lovingly worked on them during the crochet group time here at church.

They say that a church is a place to worship, a place to serve, and a place to grow with other people.  This indeed, is what Ardeth found, in the place she loved most. As Christians we know we can’t control the presence of Christ in our midst, but as someone said, “You can position yourself in different places where you know you’ll encounter the risen Christ: 1) in the Word—Bible study, worship, and the sacraments, 2) in fellowship with God’s people, and 3) among those who are needy.” Ardeth was well stationed and indeed the Holy Spirit made room among her and was there in the abiding places, encountering Christ’s self giving love, and living out of that for others.  Yes, she died going to the place she loved most, but ended up in a better place, a place she’ll love even more.



Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged, years in fact.  It’s funny how the hours, days, weeks, and months can seem to slip on by.  “I’ll get to it” or “Tomorrow…I’ll have time tomorrow” is a common thought process for those items that don’t seem high enough on the to-do list.  The thing is, the moments…the moments 142167-deer-grove-forest-trail-running-featureof rest, the moments of doing something that fills you with calmness or joy, the moments that fill up your heart…they matter.  They may not be at the top of the to-do list, they may not even seem important to someone else, but they are important.  Talking on the phone with a sibling or friend, quietly reading a book, sipping a cup of coffee in the early morning light, or running through the woods on a trail, these are all important to our lives of faith, to our time with God, to the small pauses in the day that allows us to be in the presence of God… when we pause and breath, even for just a moment.  God breathed into dust, creating us in God’s image.  With each breath we take, in each moment, God is with us.  Yes, there’s always more to do.  But pausing for just a moment, embracing those moments that God gives us to breath, those are holy moments.  Let us rejoice in these moments.