Surreal

I have been thinking about death lately.  Now, don’t give me the eye roll and think, oh great, here we go.  Stay with me on this one as I brainstorm some ideas with which I am wrestling.

In the last year some pretty special people have either passed or are in the process of passing.  I am not sure why I cannot say with certainty that they died.  It feels almost like a sware word, or like on Harry Potter, the name which shall not be spoken.  I began thinking about my life, the fact that I recently turned another year and what that means.  I also thought about the process of transition from here to the next.

Now, I have taken my grief and bereavement classes and achieved the requirements for pastoral care and counseling.  They never really prepare a person to walk through that journey with another person.  So I thought about what it must be like.  The idea is daunting to say the least.  I mean, one minute you are there….doing whatever it is we are to do.  Then the next moment, what?  Is it like instantaneous?  Is it like the blink of an eye and then a transition occurs?  I don’t know.  I would venture to guess few, if anyone, can answer that question.

I think about those moments where an accident occurs and upon reaching the scene, and knowing there is nothing that can be done, what does that instant moment look like?  I believe there is a life and a destination when we leave this place and time.  I  do not believe that we are random or out of reach from a Creator who has a Divine plan.  I believe that something awaits each of us, something magnificent and unimaginable.  It is almost too much to consider.  In the situations where a long and painful illness occurs, is that last moment steeped in understanding and an absence of pain?  How does one know that this is IT?  How do we know that the transition is approaching, medical assessment aside?  Is there a definite sign?  Is the person passing accepting, much more so than those present?  What is their knowledge of that moment?  Is it resignation or a release?

All this thinking has me contemplating life as well.  In a surreal way I have, at times, come to a real understanding that I AM HERE.  I exist.  I have height, depth, movement, thought, and capability.  Not by mere coincidence I am here in this time and this place.  No one thinks the thoughts I have, the moment I have them. As individual as an eternity of snowflakes, so am I.  That is mind-blowing.    I have touch and an awareness of all my senses, I have not been created an animal, incapable of works, emotions, dreams, and actions.   I hurt, emotionally and physically, I walk, talk, interact, sleep, eat, drink, any number of menial tasks.  Are they really as menial and insignificant as many of us believe?  I think of those who are not able to perform the simplest of action or thought.  What does the world look like?

If I am as individual and un-reproducible as I believe, what is my obligation in this time and in this place? How does one embrace a life of lived fulfillment and not existence?  How is that possible?  If it is one steeped in existence, was that a moment in history missed?  Is my definition of a life lived exceptionally limited by my small world and after life knowledge?  To expand that would require?  Am I willing to jump into that mix and explore the necessity of our impact on one another and the world around us?  Am I willing to think of the legacy I choose to leave behind me, or am I content to remain quietly moving from place to place until the inevitable happens?

I don’t know, I pray this is not morose or depressing, but an invitation to thought and contemplation.  These are not questions with easy answers, nor are they ones that I can answer for anyone else.  As I rejoice in memories of those who have died (ouch) and those who are actively dying, I think also of the meaning of the here and now and what lies beyond what we see.

shalom,

cahl

 

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Not my Son!

I became a mom about 9 years ago when my oldest son came bounding into the world. After 14 hours of labor, he appeared, stared me straight in the face and made not a sound. He took the room by silent storm as nurses and doctors cooed over him, exclaiming that he was one of the most beautiful babies they had seen. I thought, “Uh, of course you would say that, you HAVE to say that about all kids born.” No, they told me. There is something distinct about this one, they said. Distinct? Well, he certainly made a dramatic entrance. After he was born, the medical staff present busied themselves with me and sent my son upstairs. I knew before they told me, that something was wrong. I could feel it. After he was delivered, there was no pain….there was only peace. I watched the midwife at my feet count the pulse beats and watch pan upon pan fill with red liquid. I knew that I was losing more than a typical birth, all said and done I lost about 2-2 1/2 units of blood. I remember looking at my mother, who was watching me and telling her that all would be just fine. If what I had come into this world to do was to deliver my son, I had done just that. There was an overwhelming calm as I smiled at her, and closed my eyes. It was a moment of warmth, silence, and grace. I do not recall the scurry in the room, the nurses barking at the phone on the wall to bring up an ER tech. I do not remember my mother telling the room that my eyes were closed and my hand limp. All I remember is that for a moment I knew that I had done exactly what I was to do. At that moment, all was right with the world.

How can that be? Your son is upstairs, you are unconscious, on your way to checking out. How can you be at peace with what is happening? Don’t you want to see your son grow up, to teach and mold him, to love him everyday? How can you think this is ok? Fight, fight with all that you are!

Well, at that moment I could not fight, it was not my role to do so. There were others to do that on my behalf, my role was to fight for the life of my son, deliver him, and make sure he was safe. I had done that. There are other mothers out there who are called to do much more than I for their children. It is part of the role and call of a mother.

I think of another mother on this Easter. You see Holy Week has a different feel to me now that I have my own children. There is something so tender and raw about this journey of her Son. I think of Mary, mother of Christ as she watched the progression of events, and I marvel at her. There are times I look at my own sons and giggle as I think of the tirade that Jesus must have put His mother through while He was growing. The absences, the comments, the wandering off for days on end, and the cryptic messages must have driven her to distraction. The pleas of,”mom,can I?” Imagine this boy as a teen, full of knowledge, a yearning for something different, but maybe not able to articulate what it is. Imagine this boy as he questions, struggles, listens to inner voices calling him to something too large for conception; conception larger than what His mother was called to do.

There are moments I understand this woman, this Mother of love and grace. I understand the standing back and watching, praying that the testing of limits her child is doing will keep him safe. I wonder if she listened to his comments with peace or an unsettled feeling? I listen to my oldest talk about what sees and what he hears, it takes my breath away sometimes. He has a level of understanding and perception that floors me. What many of us spend years of education trying to figure out, he explains with a simple twist of his head, a smile, and a shrug of his shoulders. It is exactly what it is, for him there is no need to complicate love, compassion, beauty, and forgiveness. He knows what it looks like, how it feels, and is unafraid to express them in his own words. The wisdom of simply expressed thought, thought that we make confused by barriers, obstacles, and conditions.

I think of this Mother as I watched my children this week. I am careful what I say, how I approach the emotion in these days. While the week begins with great joy and celebration, a parade and cheerful laughing, there are also moments of gut wrenching sadness and loss. Easter week holds the contradiction of all emotions. What must Mary be thinking as she journeys this with her Son. She knows she cannot save him, she has seen the effects of the last three years. Would that she could take this from Him. As a mother, I feel that pain, the knowledge that your child hurts, is anguished and she can do nothing to stop it.

Would that she could join Him in the garden the night before He accepts fate. I imagine she would cradle her Son, rocking him back and forth, letting Him cry out the pain. Her arms would encircle Him, willing the strength that only a mother can provide, praying it would be enough. The tear stained face of her Son must tear at her heart, I can almost hear her railing at the same Father He cries out to in this moment. “WHY!” “Not MY son.” “No, He is YOUR Son.” “I will do what needs to be done.”

Good Friday always dawns cold and dreary for me. The sun may shine, but there is a cloak of darkness which covers my emotions. I watch the clocks, silently ticking away until noon. Thanks to modern day cinema, I can hear the driven nails, see the sprawled arms, feel the weight of the crowd. If I close my eyes I can see the picture clear and the mass of people presses closer and closer to the action. I can see those whom He loves. Mary Magdalene, oh how my heart breaks for her. I see disciples, believers, and brothers already confuserequd and mourning. I see the guards, those who doubt, those who question, and those who hate. In the front, is His Mother. I can picture her Son looking down at her, a mixture of grief, loss, and peace as He does what He is called to do. Feel the agape, unconditional and reverent love this Son has for his mother. Out of the sheer madness and agony of the physical pain comes a love which can only be described as Divine. He looks at John, whom He loves and commands him to watch after His mother. He speaks to His own mother, tears glisten from His eyes as he presents John to His mother. She is not alone. He has ensured her safety, her care, and made clear the path for her love to be continued. AAAAAAhhhhh!!!!…..

The noise continues, the deafening cloud draws the bodies closer, the summit of emotion reached. So many would scream the final line. I hear a quite resignation, a peaceful resolution, the fight is finished–there is no more pain. The whisper may come as loud shouts in the soul, but the eyes close, the hand goes limp, the last breath drawn. She delivered her Son amongst the primal earth and brought Him to this moment years later. She had no ER doctor to call, no final IV jammed into an arm to save. She heard and saw and breathed the last breath right along with her baby boy, her Holy Son. She remains, stays, mourns, and misses this boy made man. Tender hands usher Him down, tending the body, swathing this example of her heart made flesh. What must she think in this moment, how must she feel? How can this Mother believe that tomorrow or the next day will heal this wound?

This woman amazes me. Her love, her unconditional love and fight for her Son drove her to the cross. Drove her to watch, to hear, to clutch at those around her…Her love required her to let Him go. Ow. That hurts. Her love required that she let Him go. She had not hold over Him in this moment, just as she had no hold over Him from birth. A wry smile might play at her lips as she sits with that knowledge days and years later. There must be a quiet peace as she knows that what is done is done. It IS finished, but the next act is about to begin, if only she can wait a day or two. If only…..

Open REAL EYES to REALIZE what is before us.

According to a recent Pew poll released on in Oct 2012, the United States has dropped below 50% of the population subscribing to a Protestant faith.  The numbers show that the US is now at 48% down from 53% in 2007.  The largest group to see growth is what researchers call, “The nones.”  A similar report dated October 2012, more than 13 million atheists and agnostics and nearly 33 million claim no particular affiliation.   About 20 percent of U.S. adults say they have no religious affiliation, which is an increase from two decades ago when about 8 percent of people were deemed so-called “nones.” Nones are described as young college students, second career individuals, and those just beginning their families somewhere in their middle 30’s.  Most would claim they have a spiritual faith, but as one man stated, “Saying that you are an atheist no longer carries the stigma that it did in years past. More and more are recognizing that you can be good without a belief in a god.”

This leaves the field wide open in terms of Christian faith.  Instead of shrinking back in disbelief at these statistics, I consider this a wake-up call to action for us whom we call brothers and sisters in the faith.  Colin Hay, musician and lyricist offers these words in opposition to this call to faith and may provide the backdrop for many of the feelings society is facing.

All around is anger
Automatic guns
There’s death in large numbers
No respect for women or our little ones
I tried talking to Jesus
But he just put me on hold
Said he’d been swamped by calls this week
And he could not shake his cold

And still this emptiness persists
Perhaps this is as good as it gets
When you’ve given up the drink and those nasty cigarettes
Now I leave the party early, at least with no regrets
I watch the sun as it comes up, I watch it as it sets
Yeah, this is as good as it gets

Can you feel the desperation, the loss of hope resignation in these words?   If the above poll numbers are true, this is the feeling that our young people are experiencing—believing the present conditions are as good as it gets.

BUT!!!!  We know something different, my brothers and sisters.  WE know a different reality and a more solid truth don’t we?  We know that this is not as good as it gets.

Turn with me to John chapter 14

Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me.[a] 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. 3 After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?”

6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father. 7 If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him.”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”

11 Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12 I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.

 

There is hope and redemption in those words, I invite us to consider what the Message gives us in further? – paraphrased (might be a better word) translation.

1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

5 Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”

6-7 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

8 Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

And then we’ll be content.  Ah, there it is.  And THEN, we’ll be content.

Will we be content after a tumultuous election?  Will we be content with a higher paying job or a better car?  Will we be content if more people love us or we add more FRIENDS on our Facebook page?  How about when all the moments of frustration cease?  Will we be content?

What will it take?

It takes the command that Jesus gives us in verse 11.

11 Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12 I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.

We become content when we take off the blinders and REALIZE how to look at our world and God’s people with REAL EYES.  That sounds like a tall order, so there is an implicit help given in that command from Jesus.  There is a Spirit (an Advocate) which Jesus promised would always be with us, to empower us to see others as Christ sees them.  WE are not alone, we have power in the Spirit to realize that this is not as good as it gets.  There is more.

There is more heaven here on earth than we allow ourselves to see and hear.  Yet, the louder voices of desperation, rejection, hurt, anger, and hate seem to engulf  our spirits, wanting to fool us into believing this is all there is.  How have we responded?

For some, for the many whom the “nones” are watching, we have embraced the voices of slander, malice, anger, and hatred…creating a hell on earth where we mistrust one another…we operate out of fear instead of the promise that there is more.  We do not serve a God of fear; we serve a God of…redemption, love, and compassion.   I believe that we have forgotten this.

In the non-profit that I work in in Sioux Falls, I have the chance to see in a practical way, the essence of the Spirit moving in places and doing things I could not see otherwise.  I see people coming together in a garden, slinging compost, laughing and building—together.  GROUND WORKS operates out of a mission to practice being a great. does this break off here? …where have we heard this command?

“I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing.  You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.”

The mission question you ask of yourselves today is answered in that statement.  How do you remain faithful?—by doing the things that Jesus did and practicing the things that Jesus said.

I cannot give you a nice, neat method to perfectly sewing up your faith and keeping it intact.  I would be doing you a huge disservice if I told you that the older you get, the easier it gets.  It doesn’t. I look at my own children, who so easily embrace the world they see and I am amazed at it.  When did my filter become so polluted?

It became polluted when I decided that the world and its opinions means more to me than seeing people for who they really are==as beloved children of Christ.  It became tainted when the voices of the multitudes screaming that getting my own is more important than loving the least, the lost, and the lonely.  It became dirty when I embraced the belief that poverty is shameful and those who are impoverished are somehow less than me.

Have we forgotten that we are all poor and that the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom of heaven?  When did poverty become a 4-letter word meaning something that we eliminate or cut out of our society?  When did following Christ mean that I have the right to sit in judgment over anyone for any reason?

It didn’t.

When I asked my former seminary professor how to write a sermon a number of years ago, he smiled at me and said, “Go, look in the mirror and ask that person what they need to hear.  What does she most need to hear and what does she need to see the most today.  When you are quiet and allow the Spirit to convict you, the message will come to you.  That is the offering you bring-no more no less.”

See, I told you it does not get any easier, the older that you become.  It gets harder to force out the ingrained methods of thought and deed to be present in the Spirit and to do the things that Jesus did.

Ok, so what did Jesus do?  A couple of years ago, I served my first unit of Chaplaincy at Avera Behavioral in Sioux Falls.  I worked over 1000 hours journeying with children, teens, men, and women living in the midst of hell.  I heard their stories and the Lord revealed something during that time.  It is a mantra that I believe is at the heart of all that we say and do.

People want to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved.  Let me repeat that.  We want to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved.  And the third time is the charm—I want to be seen, to be heard, to be loved.

If we take that principle and the command that Jesus gives us –to remain faithful we do the things that Jesus did, the rest becomes pretty clear.  So, what did Jesus do?

Jesus showed up.  At a well, in a garden, on a sea, on the road, and in the home, Jesus was present.

Jesus saw.  He saw the diseased, the forgotten, slandered, abused, and mistaken.  He saw them for what they are==beloved and blessed children of HIS Father, he saw them as brothers and sisters of great potential and light and love.  He saw them for what they could be instead of what the world was telling them they are.

Jesus heard.  He listened to the words of the heart, the ones we keep hidden and he responded.  He heard the stories from people desperately wanting healing, to those empowered to simply touch his cloak, he heard and embraced their humanity and spoke to them in it—not content to allow the lies of the world to fill their heads, he came to deliver a promise of something sweeter—something more divine.

Jesus loved.  Pure and simple.  There is no other act of love than to see us through REAL EYES and REALIZE the way to save us would be to die—to give up his own humanity so that we might believe and do the things he did and follow the things he said.

Sounds like pretty easy application, right?  So, you’re saying if we show up, see, hear, and love===all the rest will take care of itself….RIGHT!!!!!

To do this requires more of you and me than we initially believe.  It requires all of us.  The song that you heard this morning as we were walking in speaks to this.

I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all ends up the same
Soaring on the wings of selfish pride
I flew too high and like Icarus I collide
With a world I try so hard to leave behind
To rid myself of all but love
to give and die

Where are we in this?  Where have we given in to selfish pride, to arrogant love of self and what we can do?  Where have we forgotten the ultimate sacrifice of love covers the world’s hurts than any amount of money or man power can?  When did we begin believing that we alone can do anything?

Do we really want to do the things that Jesus did?  Do we really want to see people with REAL EYES and realize them as precious human being that a Savior loved enough to give up His own life?  Do we really want to hear their voices and to love with the same love that Jesus loves us.  Do we even want to admit that Jesus loves “them” with the same fervor and passionate love that He lavishes on us….we are the chosen ones, aren’t we?

In the gardens in Sioux Falls, Jesus has shown us Himself.  A couple of weeks ago a young 13 year old girl who resides at the Children’s Home Society came to a catered meal and took center stage to share a poem about what a garden means to her.  She talked of a seed being planted and
watching it grow.  She talked of a place where she can go when the entire world is happening around her.  She said, that (a garden) is, “A place that needs me to stay alive.”

Does she realize that she is the seed- that place of great potential and opportunity?  Does she see herself as the seed in need of care and love and growth?  Does she know that Jesus can be the place where she can run and hide a place to go when sad or glad?  Does she know that Jesus needs and wants her to stay alive==that HE desires for her to live and BE alive—to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved?

Do we know the same?

Do we know that to be faithful means to believe that GOD wants to see us, to hear us, and to love us?  Do we believe that to realize that promise means that we are to see with Real eyes the world around us, and we are to respond.  We are to love with the heart of Christ and to do that we have to adopt the heart of Christ.

We have to see with the eyes of Christ, eyes that see beyond poll numbers, political affiliations, social and economic strife to the heart of each individual person…to recognize that their soul is to be cared for and loved==just like ours.

We have to hear the words that are said and to those unspoken.  We have to listen beyond the rhetoric and the pat and easy responses we give on a daily basis.  We must hear their stories, to hold those stories, and to honor them as precious…after we have heard them—really heard them we can hear how beautifully our stories intersect with one another.  We have incredible impact==we have the chance to turn the tide toward Heaven instead of Hell.

We have to love with the love of Christ; fierce and on fire and smoldering and peaceful all at the same time.  A love which consumes all the darkness and forces light into the hate and drives it away.  A love that embraces poverty as desirable because it means we are in the presence of the Risen Savior.  A love which knows no limit to compassion-knows that no amount of money or power or control can take the place of being held and seen and heard and loved.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us not grow weary in the race set before us, my same seminary professor has become a life mentor to me and reminds me often that what we are doing is a Marathon, not a Sprint.  This is not a race that has an out the gate running start or an ability to maintain that pace for the duration.  It is a marathon of building of seeing with REAL EYES what we can REALIZE in Christ.

I end with an adaptation of the Jars of Clay lyrics you heard earlier.  May this be the prayer to remain Faithful—doing the things that Jesus did, in the manner in which He did them.
We look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what our life has cost
and wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
More and more We need you now,
we owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
we gave up not so long ago
So steal our heart and take the pain
and wash the feet and cleanse our pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things we cannot hide
take the beauty, take our tears
the sin-soaked heart and make them yours
take our world all apart
take it now, take it now
and serve the ones that we despise
speak the words we can’t deny
watch the world we used to love
fall to dust and thrown away

Take our world apart.

I embark

I have put aside the autobiography for a time to work on something which has captured my attention as of late.  I am choosing 3 verbs from the English language beginning with A and ending with Z and writing a devotional idea to go with it.  Devotional can be no longer than 1 page and must tie biblically.  Here are the first 3 attempts.

Accentuate

“Accentuate the positive!”  The words ring out as shrilly as the platinum blonde bleached into her hair.  She punches the air, making sure the staccato beat of her platform heels is in perfect time.  She knows that to fool the masses, you have to make them look beyond what is really there.  Any good performer hones that skill from birth and to make a director’s head turn, you do what you can to make yourself stand out from the crowd and that is just what she is teaching these young ladies today.

“Backs straight, head held high, suck in the gut; never-ever reveal a weakness.”  The young ladies, all dozen of them hold their 9 year old heads a little higher and look down the line at one another, making sure they are just a bit straighter, a tad taller.  At the end of the line is a quiet brunette of slight frame, angelic demeanor, and quiet strength.  Instead of casting a glance down the line, she straightens a bit taller, closes her eyes and begins mouthing something to herself.

Perhaps it’s the litany of “Backs straight, head high, never a weakness.”  Maybe she can Ac-cen-tu-ate  pos-i-tive as she practices plies at the barre.  Whatever the reason, there is an assured look on her face, one of almost pure joy, in stark contrast to the other girls’ grimace of agony.  Madame’s pitch creeps higher and her heels pick up pace even faster.  Sweat breaks out on many faces and she screeches to wipe it off, “never let a judge see you as human.  You are more than human; you are super human—act like it!  20 more minutes!”

Up and down the line Madame shrieks louder and she stops dead in front of our quiet one and demands to know why she is smiling.  “You look like you are clueless, that is no way to push yourself to the top.  Always standing there, smug and quiet, you are so infuriating!  Why are you like that?  You know you will never rise to the top of the class and be a star without the killer instinct.  Rise higher, reach further, push, push, push.”

“I have been taught that our world looks at the outer package. We judge each other on how we dress, walk, talk, and how we attractive we are. I know in my heart that what is seen on the inside is more important than how I look on the outside to others.    I am of more worth than all the fake nails or high heels in the world.  The Creator of the Universe sees to the core of who I am, not who I pretend to be or what a director may think is acceptable for a show.  I tell myself each day I am here to accentuate the inside gold, not the outside fake.  That Creator gazes at you in that way too, Madame.  Accentuate your inside gold.  Push to the inner recess of your heart, accentuate that pure gold.”

1 Samuel 16:7

The Message (MSG)

7 But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

Adopt

They stare out from their secured cages, brought in on trucks or in cars.  They have been found on the streets, rummaging through garbage bins, wandering fields on their own, or a family finds they cannot support them any longer.  Whatever the reason, they watch the doorways, listen for footsteps, hope for a loving young girl or boy they can shower with love.  Maybe this group will be my forever home, maybe they will adopt me and make me part of their family.

Tails wag, mouths hang open, and barks escape as they paw at the metal fencing.  Dancing on all fours they hop up and down in anticipation.  “Pick me!  Pick me!”  Can you hear them?  “Please, please.  This is special adoption weekend.  Can you find a place in your home, your heart? Won’t you adopt me?  Chose me?”

The eyes tell the stories of some of them, the lives they have lived, and their past-the solitude of their journeys.  In compelling compassion they lock contact with you, gazing at you, begging in silence to deliver them for their present reality.   Feel the joyful energy coursing through them as you click a leash on their collar, interested enough to try for a walk around the facility.  See the prideful way they pick up their head, walk through the door and out into the sunshine.  Imagine the relief when they can call corner in your room home.

We don’t need to sit in cages and wait for a special weekend to be picked.  Our place at the table has already been set, it is waiting for us.  We have been adopted, ushered into a family without constraints, without ridicule, absent of cold or loneliness.  It is a place where we belong no matter how scrappy we look or how many miles we have traveled.  There is peaceful and comforting warmth which envelops us, if we are brave enough to embrace it.  The beauty of being adopted into this family is that it is royal.  We become sons and daughters of a King, a King of such radical love; we are incapable of describing it.  Our brothers and sisters of times past, present, and all future have also been adopted into the royal family.  The house is teeming with all ages, stages, hopes, dreams, and stories and all are accepted at the table.  There is always enough, more than enough of all that we dream.  There is more love than we can imagine, always more forgiveness, always.  There is no need to make ourselves noticed so that we will be chosen; we have been seen from the beginning-the adoption papers signed.  We belong just as we are, blameless and wonderfully created to love one another.  Imagine the joy in our Creator’s gaze as another brother or sister understands the comfort of waiting arms and runs to join the celebration already happening.

The celebration of your accepted invitation to be part of a whole family, anxious to know you, care for you, and love you; just as you are.  Come and rest.  Your searching is over and now you can breathe the sigh of relief, confident that you are where you belong.  It is a pleasure to welcome you home my brother, my sister, my friend.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:8-10

Advocate

In the education circles the letters, IEP carry special significance.  Those parents whose children are on one also know the importance of those letters; they mean regular meetings, constant evaluations, and incessant conversations with teachers, administration, parents, and students.  Sometimes it seems a rat race of connections until that glimmer of hope peaks through a haze of confusion.  The onslaught of verbiage that only educationally trained people speaks.  Wading through the paperwork appears to be never-ending, as does the guilt that gnaws at the back of the mind.  “Am I the reason they have trouble reading?  Do I do something that makes it impossible for them to concentrate in school?  Are they doing this on purpose?  Who will know I failed?”

For the student, they are oblivious to the world of special education or an Individualized Education Plan.  All they may be aware is that some subjects in school may be more difficult than others, or that their attention span seems to tank around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  They are unaware of the countless hours that moms, dads, grandparents, or other family members sacrifice in order to help them succeed.  A bag is magically packed and ready for the next day, homework is never tackled alone, and someone is always watching out for them.  They have no idea the conversations that take place over the phone, internet, or in person.  They never see the tears fall as their loved ones try every day to make today a bit easier than yesterday; never do they hear the inner voices screaming at those family members that this deficit is their fault-as if it could be blamed on someone or something.

While they remain unconscious to those moments, they are also naïve to the cheerleading and work that is done on their behalf.  Within mountains of paperwork and conversation and evaluation are people who are pulling for the success of that student.  They will join forces and stand strong to do whatever is necessary for that young person.  It may be as simple as helping to read for an extra half hour after supper, or as involved as assisting them in every area of life.  Whatever the case, the support exists and remains strong.

There are times though, when the hours are long for those fighting, when a blissful night off seems like the perfect respite.  Moments when the fight wares on the soul and the plea to be let off the hook feels like it falls on deaf ears.  There is One who hears, however.  One who chooses to stand in the midst of the fight and advocates on our behalf.        There is a constant who decided in the beginning that each life lived was worth the struggle and climbs into it with us, who will spend the extra moments in quiet prayer or tempered promotion.  The Creator who set all the stars in heaven believes that we are worth more than all creation combined and does not hesitate to enter our world and join us in whatever we may encounter.  Nothing is too large, no darkness too bleak, no amount of red tape and paperwork too daunting for the One who experienced life in all its mountain top and valley moments.   What appears overwhelming for us is a chance for the Creator to fight for and protect the beloved.  Like a mama bear protecting her cubs, we are fiercely loved and fiercely supported, by an advocate who continues to advocate on our behalf.

“As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
Jeremiah 29:9-11

Surrender

I obsess.  Incessantly.

Sometimes I obsess about the most inane moments, situations, comments, or other sundry items.  See, i even made that really long sentence because I cannot use the word “things” in writing…. Cannot end a sentence with a preposition, nor will I patronize a store with incorrect spelling or grammar in their advertising.  I find it belittling to people, and if they want my money, they should treat me like I am an intelligent person making intelligent purchases.  Even if I want to spend my money on drivel, I still want to make an educated choice about said spree.

I find myself incarcerated by what I believe I must do and be for other people and yet consumed by a desire to bust out of the bonds of my making.  It is exhausting to say the least.  If I sense for a second that someone is angry or upset with me, I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out how to make amends, take the blame, or smooth over the situation.  This has not served me the best as there are simply some moments that cannot be amended.  There are also some circumstances that are not mine to own or to take the blame.  I am learning, slowly, Slllllowwwwlllly that there are times when I have extended the white flag and it is not received, that is not my fault; that there are items which others must own–if they chose.

I fixate on the future, believing that there is a destined something out there that I have to, have to, have to find.  That I will not rest until this something is spelled out in perfect and glittery letters and that I can follow a prescribed set of steps that will get me “there”–whatever that looks like.  That is also exhausting to the extreme because there will never be this utopian moment of “arrival”.  I will never reach the mecca of perfection and someday I will stop trying so hard to reach it.  Maybe.

I fret and stew about the  smallest infractions that I have committed, whether it be a missing comma in a piece of writing, or a forgotten date, my lack of providing all that I should to all I should.  I worry incessantly about what I could do and that it is never enough and will constantly be compared and found lacking in terms of what I should do.

I struggle to fit a set of standards and expectations that I have and that I believe others have for me, without having a clue as to how to attain them all at the same time.  I dream of a time when clouds part and sunshine streams in and I can breathe, in and out, and then in again–peacefully.  Ahhh, silly me, what am I thinking.  That is not what life is about….it is a set of struggles and obstacles and how one engages with them that is the real testament.  I try each day to make it better than the last one I lived.  Today I might have failed BIG time, I prolly did.  Maybe I did not….Maybe I semi-mastered one area and let another fall.

I heard the word surrender today.  That word has always presented barriers for me, maybe others too.  When I heard it and saw the scene in which it was used I was amazed.  This person asked the other to surrender with him in that moment.  To let go and let whatever was going to happen, happen.  What a concept.  He was in love and loving enough toward that other person to surrender the dreams they had together to help one another realize who they were independently.  He asked her to have enough faith in them to surrender.

I never have been good at that.  Growing up the middle child only girl in a talented and hard-working household meant that I had to fight for my place.  I fought hard to have a voice whether I needed to or not.  Later, being trained as a public speaker and a debater did not lessen my ability to surrender in any form.  It meant that I was better at it, could sniff out an opposition’s weakness and was going for the jugular in the most eloquent and snarky-smart fashion.  I did…I did it well.  Being in a family of incessant over-achievers meant that I did not let my guard down, did not let anyone know my fear, my weakness, or my desire to be average.  It became so that there was never a desire to be average, because that meant certain failure.  Standing out, making a name, and being more than an individual was as addictive as the Purple Passion my generation drank till they were stupid.  I had to have it…had to be outstanding, had to have the last word and it HAD to be better than any one else’s in the room…or else I would make myself pay.  I did–often.  I never surrendered, never gave up, never quit.

Now that funny word–surrender , lingers in the back of my mind.  Festering and picking at the vestiges of thought, calling me to examine what it looks like, inviting me to cloak myself in its embrace.  You see, I envision the talons of defeat and ridicule associated with that word.  Yet, there is something calming and oddly freeing about wrapping in its comfort.  Is there comfort there, is there freedom?  I admit, the thought of exploring that is a bit daring and daunting.

Surrender—hhhhhmmmm.  Whatever does that mean?  Anyone else willing to journey that with me?

Game on?????

cahl.

 

Country(fied) Creativity

I miss the lake front and country living I grew up understanding.  I took it for granted and even hated it when I was a kid.  I always wanted to be in town running around or biking with the rest of my classmates. I believed that they were always having more fun than I was…Now, I wonder.

I took my 2 boys home to the lake this past Memorial Day weekend.  I showed my youngest how to fish, taught both of them how to bait a hook, hauled tree limbs from the water’s edge and romped around in the fields and muddy driveway.  I loved it.

I miss the smells, the fresh grass after a rain, the cool expanse of greens and browns after a storm, the lake scent…sometimes as putrid as anything when the algae collects too much so.  I remember watching the bugs crawling and walking on top of the algae, it was so thick.  My brothers and I have a memory of being in the lake with our good neighbor friend and the lake being so still and covered in algae that the temperature was about 10* different on the surface than the bottom.  I remember our neighbor ducking underwater and inhaling a mouthful of the green goo and spewing it out like a fountain.  A green, chunky, waterfall!  BLEH!!!!!!  Well, we all did it—at one another.  I still recall our parents coming to find us, we must have looked like something from the Green Lagoon!  Ahhhh the fun.  I miss that.

A thought ran through my head as I sat at the water’s edge, talking nonsense with my youngest and swatting the gnats and flies.  There was no way I could grow up in this environment and have been a girly girl.  I often felt like a Laura Ingalls tramping through the trees or a Jo March engaging in all manner of rough and tumble play with my brothers and cousins.  I grew up playing with boys, that’s who made up my family.  I learned much from them.  That’s another blog completely…..or a couple.

I miss the play I experienced so long ago.  I think I became more creative as a result of that time.  I did not have a pool to run to and spend the summer.  My pool was the lake, I learned to swim and dive at the end of the dock.  In the winter, that pool froze and an Olympic size skating rink appeared, where I swore I was Kristi Yamaguchi.  C’mon, we’ve all done it with some sports star.  My brothers and I had only ourselves with whom to play…we had to invent our games.

Tag became–Guerilla Warfare ( Thanks to Mr. Streuwe and 8th grade History teaching my oldest brother the terminology)  Kick ball was an afternoon endeavor, all the way across the lots…and there were at least 2 acres spanning our field.  Fourth of July meant rocket launchers, chucking fireworks, and extended family.  I have no idea how to not throw firecrackers.  Imagine a dainty lady chucking Black Cats!  We were outside from sun up to way past sun down.  We were brown and fit and happy….covered in scabs, and often my mother wondered if it was TAN or dirt that enveloped us.  Prolly a good combo of both.  WE lived in the outdoors, the trees, lake, rocks, docks, and fields were our best friends.  It became part of our souls…It did mine at least.

Now I yearn for the sound of the water…my bedroom faced the lake and I would open my window during all seasons to hear the water lap against the rocks, the fish jumping in early morning, the ice settle and pop in the winter.  I knew those sounds intimately…I want to hear them again.

Author, Richard Louvre writes about a disconnect with nature that our children are suffering.  AMEN and AMEN to that.  I watched my sons last weekend.  They calmed down, they romped in the grass, threw rocks at the lake, waded in the water–(albeit it was freezing…who was I to reprimand?) I would have been doing the same.  He comments that our society of children no longer know how to play, have no understanding of the nature that surrounds them…or for some children, they have no idea that nature exists!!!!  That idea baffles me, but the more I work within the city limits of the larger metropolis where I live, I see where that happens.  Children can go through their whole lives without seeing a farm, and open field, a dirt driveway leading…who knows where.

I needed that growing up, I need it now.  My kids need to experience that!  I watched as their speech slowed down and they came into the house reeking of sand and mud and lake water!!!  Eau de Herman!  I needed to see that in my children.  I struggle with now, wanting to scoop them up and march them to the country and leave even the small city behind me.  Who cares about having to commute to the bright lights if I can play in the open field with my charges…A pipe dream I know.

However, there is something to this nature deficit and I am committed to more research and contemplation on the topic.  It is part of the reason I am so in love with the work I am doing with the non-profit GROUND WORKS in SD.  It is a small attempt to connecting children and families with nature through the use of a school teaching garden.  The healing and physical health benefits are more than I can articulate. It is not simply about another “fad” standard of living…it is replicable and sustainable!  It feeds the soul and the body and nurtures relationships better than anything I understand.  I will write more about GROUND WORKS in the coming days and weeks, but for now check it out at http://www.groundworks-midwest.com or go to Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GroundWorksMidwest

You just might be pleasantly surprised!!!!

Until we write again…SHALOM

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Clamoring Crabs–or Lobsters?

I wrote not long ago about some song lyrics from RENT and swore that I would continue that stream for a bit….I lied.

I was reminded not so long ago of a story about crabs…or lobsters…or crablike lobsters.  I can’t remember.  Forgive me, I just graduated and life has been a little hectic.  YES, that’s right!!!! I graduamatated!!!!!!  An MDIV in Pastoral Care and Counseling has my name on it!  I even passed with flying colors the last history class that I had to take and enrolled in midway through the semester.  BooYAH!

Anyway.  This story on crablike lobsters….a man happened upon a whole bucketful of the clawed crustaceans.  Another man came upon the bucket and wondered at the top being left off and questioned the first man about it.  He was concerned that the crabs would climb up out of the bucket, thus all the work to catch them being undone.

You would think that they would clamor to the top and rush to escape, wouldn’t you?  The wise fisherman replied that as one may start to the top, the others would sink their claws into the one escaping and pull them back in the bucket.  The first crab would never make it out, never escape because upsetting the status quo would be too costly to the whole.

AMAZING!!!!  I thought about that story today.  I thought about its application to human nature.  Amazing.  We are not so unlike our clawed crustaceans.  That saddens me.  It angers and disappoints me to my core.  It causes me to shake my head in dismay and question what I am doing.  I have to ask myself if I do that to another…do I do that to my children?  Are there people in my life that do the same to me?  I have to answer affirmative to all the questions.

There are many times that I have coveted another’s success or tried to talk them out of something because I did not want them to “get ahead”.  Albeit it was much earlier in my adulthood.  What I have failed to recognize are the moments that others have put me in that same situation and I have let them.  Moments when because of guilt or shame or fear I have left my dreams and hopes to the side and accepted their agenda.  Moments when I have stayed in the bucket because I am too scared of what the other side looks like to venture forth.  IF the crab understood that their freedom was on the other side of the bucket, they might tackle one another to get to the top.

Then again, maybe they wouldn’t.  Maybe that is the realization that strikes in my soul this evening.  Maybe they are so content with the status quo and what they know that they would not fight for freedom…that they would not fight to live.  All they can see, all they know is the reality in  front of them.  They ask not one question, challenge not one authority…dream no bigger than the next pot of boiling water.  Water that will not give them new life (aaahhhh there is a sermon in that)

Am i guilty of that?  Yes.  I am guilty of wanting to take the easy route, of wanting a nice neat packaged solution.  I yearn for that…I think we all do.  I also yearn to fly.

With all that I am, I yearn to step to the edge, stare it down, spread my wings, and let go.  I have wanted that since I knew to dream.  I entertain many a dream in this head of mine…most of the time I feel too ineffectual to see them through.  But, oh Lord, I wanna fly.  What’s more, I want the chance to let others fly too, in their way, on their own path.  I think that is why I became a teacher so many years ago…I loved watching the dawn of dreams in my kids’ eyes.  I still do.  I love to hear the stories and where people want to go…and am so often disheartened when I hear them give up the fight before they have even started.

So, yes.  I am guilty.  Maybe this story can motivate me, or someone else to think…to dream, to fight.  Not all fight has to be destructive, not all anger is dangerous…and freedom does not have to cost everything.  I think to not experience that freedom is more dangerous and costly than never entertaining it in the first place.

I am not sure what all this means, I know that I have more to write, but my head is full of other thoughts.  I will close for tonight…I entreat your ideas, your thoughts, your dreams.  Let’s help one another fight to the top and fly!!!!

Shalom dear ones,

cahl.

No Day but Today

I have mentioned before that one of my all-time favorite musicals is RENT.  There is something raw, gritty, and real about it.  Aside from the stereotypical depiction of most theatre folk, the message is one that transcends surface thought.  I like that.

Idina Menzel does a phenom live performance of NO DAY but TODAY, I will provide the link.  No Day but Today

There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road
No other way
No day but today

There’s only yes
Only tonight
We must let go
To know what is right
No other course
No other way
No day but today

I can’t control
My destiny
I trust my soul
My only hope
is just to be

There’s only now
There’s only here
Give in to love
Or live in fear
No other path
No other way
No day but today
Jonathon Larson 1995

I think for the next couple of blogs I will dissect a bit or two of these lyrics.  There is something that is haunting me about them as of late.
There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.


I stand on the precipice of graduation in a couple of days…72 hours actually.  My fellow graduates and I have been looking forward to and dreading this day since we entered Seminary.  For me, it has been 4 years of the most tumultuous travels I have ever experienced.

There is something academically rigorous about the History, Doctrine, Politics, Ethics, and Theology that we digest.  Pile on top of that the self exploration into personal belief systems, values, traditions, goals, and hopes and you have a recipe for some serious soul-searching.  It never fails that some of the hardest tests and trials often happen during this time.  What appears to others as moments of great growth and maturity can seem like the most lonely and scary of times.  You feel stripped of all that you thought you believed, you have to be able to articulate what you believe and now you have to find answers as to why you do or don’t believe it.

If you choose to go a more pastoral route and incorporate some counseling into the mix, there is the exploration of self and family that takes place.  This is often much more grueling than the constant onslaught of academic papers.  It requires a tough skin to crawl that deep within yourself and stare down some dark places….sometimes you wonder if you will come out on the other side. I wondered that more than once, and there were times I was so angry, confused, frustrated, and hurt that I wanted to throw in the towel, scream a litany of curse words, and stomp out of the building never to return.  There were also times of such great joy that I could not believe that some of what I was seeing and hearing was real.  I have dear, dear, dear sisters whom I would walk through fire, no matter the situation or the time.  I remember conversations in corners of the buildings, tears shed, laughter shared, prayers uttered in earnest.  One of my dearest sisters, I connected the strongest with on the floor of a shower stall in a women’s bathroom.  I am honored to work with her in a ministry role today.  Another is in Canada and has just accepted a position in  an area that speaks to her passion in a way I know she will soar!  Still another has been ordained this year…our MOTHER!!!!  I was privileged to play a small role in her ordination service….these “girls” or “my peeps” are some of the closest people to me.

I am blessed to know these women.  I have had mentors…2 of whom are the closest adult role models I have ever known.  I have specifically dropped to my knees in one of their offices and sobbed my heart out to them.  They have prayed for me, with me, interceded on my behalf countless times, and pushed me in ways I never thought possible.  I am indebted to them.  They would never cash in that debt, rather would expect me to continue in the path of excellence and wellness that they model themselves.  They have helped me articulate a vocation that is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.  They have my deepest respect, love, admiration, and loyalty–and those items do not come easily.

This Saturday I will cross the threshold, having completed four years of education and training, all while working and helping to raise 2 young boys with my husband.  I have had to say NO to some things in order to complete this mission.  I have also been told NO while on this mission.  I do not like that very well.  Do any of us?  No.  I cross the stage, leaving the guaranteed community I have known for the last four years.  I am…..scared.

Who is this person on the other side of this education and training?  I look back through things that I have written, pictures taken, tests completed, and I wonder….whoa!  Who in the world is this woman?  I entered Seminary a bumbling “kid” at 33ish…and leave knocking on the door to 40…in a couple years.  THAT is quite a chunk of time.  I began this journey not having a clue as to what I was doing….now I have a bit more of a clue.  No one could have prepared me for what I would encounter, tell me the pain I would endure, or the strength I would be provided.  Now I am done…what do I do now?

Most of my classmates are walking into a practice or a congregation.  I am not.  I am blessed to work for a Non-Profit which works in the realm of school teaching gardens as a means of holistic health, wellness, and education.  I work to advocate for community development based on assets that already exist, we do not do for anyone what they can do for themselves.   I enter into the journey of people’s lives and stories, and I am not afraid.

There’s only us….the now, the people, the life in the moment.  Now.  There’s only this…..so many times people have busted me for living for the future, steeped and stuck in the past, not present to the now.  I need to change that.  There’s only this moment, this second to breathe and be.  I have BIG trouble with that.  There’s only this….  Forget regrets….do I really need to hit that one now?  Forget them or life is (yours and mine ) to miss.

I want to embrace this….to breathe this into my soul….to crawl inside what that looks likes and put it on like a warm blanket ( much like my fuzzy Z blanket made for me by another dear sister).  How do I do that?  How does this woman, on the other side of Seminary change and transformation, crawl underneath that Forgetting Regretting and simply be?  Those that have the answers…speak now or forever hold your peace.

I don’t know.  I think my next blog will explore this idea.  For now, I need to lean into the celebration of a journey’s end and the expectation of the next chapter.  No DAY but TODAY.

shalom,

cahl

The Final Countdown!

Anyone else have the trombones and synthesizer music from the Final Countdown in their head?  Thank you Europe for that instant reference!ClickHandler.ashx?du=http%3a%2f%2fwww.youtube.com%2fwatch%3fv%3d9jK-NcRmVcw&ru=http%3a%2f%2fwww.youtube.com%2fwatch%3fv%3d9jK-NcRmVcw&ld=20120422&ap=4&app=1&c=facemoodsv4.1122&s=facemoodsv4&coi=239137&cop=main-title&euip=64.179.130.81&npp=4&p=0&pp=0&pvaid=9d4df3916eee47fc943783f4246173bf&ep=6&mid=9&hash=2F05743B6623A1C3FE44204075D225CD

The final weeks come down the pike as I prep to cross the stage as a graduate.  I have seen the ceremony many times in person, have dreamt it countless times in my sleep, anticipating what the day will look like.  What I don’t know is what to feel.  I look forward with great excitement to that day.  I am also a bit overwhelmed.  Whoa.  No guaranteed safety net, no ready community backing me no matter what I do….the mistakes- when I make them are mine and mine alone.  Somehow we graduates think we are to have it all figured out…the MASTER plan revealed and suddenly we are launched into the world and expected to have our act together.

One my classmates, who is also graduating, mentioned that they were feeling the same way.  A certain pressure to have it figured out, the education gained, the training complete.  My gut tells me that we will never be done learning and honing the skills.  My gut also tells me that what we all need are not more pastors trained to say the right thing, we need people who are willing to crawl into the muck and gunk and crap with us. 

The last four years have forced me to look academically at faith and theology and to try to find an answer for something that does not have a concrete answer.  The faith that I encounter does not have rational thought, but to NOT believe in something larger than me is IRRATIONAL!  To explain from an academic or scientific manner–would be like trying to put a rational explanation to the emotions that erupt when my child embraces me.  How can I put a definition to sunsets, wind, the sound of water rushing over the rocks?  The last four years also made me examine every reaction, my personality, my mental status, and my faith.  What a road!  For those that think the Seminary gig is a piece of easy pie, the opposite is true. 

It is a journey of self exploration and pruning that is necessary to be present with others on their journey.  It was the hardest 4 years I have traveled.  In less than a month I will put this piece of my story away and reflect on its impact.  Ah, the stories I can tell, the conversations and revelations….

I have at this time let go of becoming a Reverend in a congregational setting.  It is not my place to Administrate and lead an already established church.  My place is with the people in the streets, the homes, those of us that embrace being the least, the lost, and the lonely.  The biggest lesson I have learned came not from any books, although they have taught me volumes (PUN INTENDED).  I learned more from being present with other people…I learned that their story and my story weave together, creating a tapestry of wonder that is the GREATEST story ever told.  It means that no matter the situation or what brings us together, that I am encountering a brother or sister of humanity, created by the ONE who does not claim judgment and wrath or hatred.  Each time I speak with a person, whether we like each other or not, I am speaking with a beloved human being….created as such and deserving reverence as a beloved creation.  That is right, each person….no matter what they have done is deserving of the same reverence and wonder that I can contemplate.  Now, I have never seen an ocean…I yearn to do so before I die…. I can only imagine what seeing an expanse of water and wonder might be like.  When I think of that and then I think of each person as a precious human being, of more worth and wonder than the ocean.  Well, the thought is simply too AWESOME for my mind to comprehend.

I will have more thoughts on this whole precious human aspect, because it is a topic with which I wrestle more than I would like to admit.  I would like to say that within the next 4 weeks I will have it figured out as the capstone to my Seminary education.  I won’t.  So, as I said to my classmate. “We’ll never know it all. We pray for grace and to receive grace humbly. ”

What say you?

 

SHALOM! cahl.

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