Sunday Thoughts

I kind of like this idea of posting some Sunday thoughts to start the week and cap off the weekend. Thanks for reading along.

1. Our small group attended an event together on how important our health is to our faith. The event featured a local physician who incorporates Christian spirituality into his medical practice. While he did discuss faith healing, he also shared several studies and research trends supporting both the power of prayer and the critical changes we need to make to our food system and mental health.

Did you know that engaging in prayer actually creates change in your brain?!

I’m really excited to further explore this area. I’ve asked one of the doctors in the small group to help me track down the research so I can read it for myself and share it with you all on the blog. Stay tuned!

2. I recently discovered Rachel Held Evans and had to share this post: How to Follow Jesus… Without Being Shane Claiborne. Confession: I haven’t read anything by Shane Claiborne. But I definitely relate to the challenge of how to follow Jesus without feeling like you need to throw all responsibility and caution to the wind. Rachel shares five mantras that remind her how she personally plans to follow Jesus, including “Love the person in front of me” and “Care for my community.”  Have you read anything by Claiborne? What might your mantras be?

3. This post made me laugh out loud: God Wants to Give you Disney World but All You Want is the Bounce House – I just discovered this blogger/coach/pastor/father and love his fresh and honest voice. This is a sweet account of how God’s dreams for us are so much better than what we aspire toward. And it reminds me of this hysterical youtube video.

4. “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:14-15

This verse spoke right into my soul last night. Sometimes the news (and occasionally interactions and observations in my daily life) overwhelms me with the negativity, evil, selfishness, greed, lust and envy that seem to saturate our culture today. This verse reminded me that a. it has always been this way, crooked and perverse people are not new and b. there is a better way! I know I have a lot of work to do to shine like a bright light and I’ll be praying over this verse in the week to come. I’d love to hear how you overcome the desire to argue and complain. It’s not easy!

5. I’m still loving this song. For anyone who has ever asked the question, “I wonder if I’ll ever find my way, I wonder if my life could really change at all?”, you have to listen to this.

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Cheers to a blessed week!

More on Rituals and Faith

My mom emailed me today to remind me that rituals can still be a very important part of our relationship with God, especially in times when our faith feels unstable. I didn’t mean to come across as critical of the traditions of faith in my quick synopsis of yesterday’s sermon at church. I think the point Paul made was more about how we define our relationship with God. Are we taking pride in how many Bible studies/small groups/other church activities we attend? Or do we use our good behavior, especially in comparison to others, as a benchmark for “how Christian” we are?

While my current church is less structured than the Lutheran church I grew up in, I still very much cherish the rituals we practiced each week. The call and response readings, the old hymns, the prayers of the church. These are beautiful rituals that certainly help to ground me in times of shaky faith. A great example is praying the Psalms. There have been many times in my life where I just couldn’t find the words to pray. I would read through the Psalms, praying the words of David as if they were my own. There are Psalms for when you are angry, joyful, fearful… it is comforting to know my every emotion is documented in these books. And let’s not forget the Lord’s Prayer. I know I have clung to those words in some very dark hours.

I really believe that people experience and worship God in diverse ways. I love seeing someone in church leaping with joy during worship. You will likely find me quietly singing, clutching my heart or furiously writing something in my journal. We are all unique – beautifully designed by our Creator – and we find connection with God in different ways.

But sometimes our connection with God becomes obscured by a list of behaviors we feel we must adhere to in order to win favor with God. It doesn’t mean these things are bad but they become obstacles when we take pride in them or allow them to fill the space of pure connection with God.

For example, there have been times in my life where I felt like I could only be classified as a “good Christian” if I read my Bible every morning, attended small group every week and journaled extensive prayers to God. I would feel anxiety if I didn’t fulfill these duties. They are all wonderfully important ways for me to connect with God but they became the idol. I could take pride in how much I read my Bible but what did it matter to God if I was just rushing through the verses to get them done instead of bringing my attention to Him?

Another example is when I was struggling to fit in with the Christian culture in a community. There were very specific behaviors that determined whether someone was really saved or just a wayward child. I witnessed a lot of judgment and exclusivity in a place where I expected to find acceptance and encouragement. But that’s a story for another time.

Tyler just reminded me of a conversation we had with one of our friends at the mosque. We were discussing the differences in our types of worship. He had attended a church service and remarked how there was a band and singing, markedly different from the 5 daily prayer times that Muslims practice.

He said, “Don’t you ever find that you’re not praying to God, but just, singing a song?”

My prayer is that we don’t replace our relationship with God with an empty collection of behaviors, however structured or unstructured they may be. When God is the purpose and the initiator, the small group flourishes, the service work amplifies, and the hymns leap off the page. Through Jesus, we have been given the freedom to connect with God through faith, not held by the old laws that required very strict and specific behaviors about circumcision, food, etc.

This is not about throwing out all sense of morality or tradition. Paul says “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

Go forth and serve!

Sunday Thoughts

Just a few thoughts and an anecdote from this weekend…

1. “I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness” – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller

I’m reading this book as a “pre-class” assignment for a 9-month program I’m starting in September called Threshold. The program is about discovering God’s calling for your life and a portion of it focuses on the story we tell with our lives. I can’t wait to start exploring the story God wants to write with my life.

What story are you telling?

2. Once a month we deliver food to Iraqi refugees on the North Shore of Boston. It started as a one-time interfaith project between our church and the Islamic Society of Boston but we’ve stuck around to continue our route. We’ve gotten to know some of the families over the months and learned that many of the parents held high-ranking positions in Iraq as doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. They assisted the US during the Iraq war and because of their assistance have had to flee Iraq. These hardworking families are struggling to make ends meet in rundown communities with few resources and connections.

Yesterday marked the end of Ramadan with the celebration of Eid al Fitr. We were fortunate to sample some traditional cookies baked by one of the families. One of the delivery days, we ended up driving the two older children from the mosque back home. They were helping to put the food boxes together and it wasn’t until we arrived at their home that we realized their family is one of the recipient families. These two teens study hard, volunteer at every opportunity and help out at home. Last month they were in New Orleans rebuilding a home with Habitat for Humanity. They greet us warmly each month, often asking us to sit and visit with them and now sharing in their celebration with us.

And as it is usually true with service, we feel like we are the ones who received something at the end of our route.

3. “So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?” Galatians 4:9  

The sermon in church this morning talked about the religious rules that we cling to when what God really wants for us to have is “risky faith”, as Pastor Dave calls it. In Galatians, Paul is speaking to a group of people who have received the Gospel but are insisting on going back to their “religious ways” as a means to determine their rightness with God.

Do you feel like this is still true today? Sometimes it feels like the Christian culture begs us to engage in a certain set of behaviors and opinions that will prove that we are godly. But we are not godly. We sin and fail and the only way to be right with God is to cling tightly to HIM. When we start taking pride in our behaviors and habits, we give the enemy the perfect opportunity to steal our confidence in God. We begin trusting in our actions and not having courage to believe that God will come through in the things that really matter.

4. We sang this song today and my heart just felt like bursting.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul. 

The story of the songwriter is so inspiring. I pray that we would all experience complete peace in the face of hardship and tragedy.

5. Thank you to our generous donors! The Cancer Community Center sent me an email saying they were grateful for the fundraising efforts so far. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to check out our fundraising page: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=207888

Cheers to a blessed week!

The Gift of Community

Community is a remarkable thing. It’s defined as a group of people who live in the same area or with a common background or shared interests. But there’s a type of community that goes deeper than shared interests or location. It’s the collective action that emerges in difficult situations: large scale catastrophes like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina or local tragedies like a young woman fighting to stay alive

We were designed with the purpose to love our neighbors as ourselves and there’s something in our hearts that compels us to act on the behalf of others. I see it every day on my Facebook and Twitter feeds – people speaking out for the vulnerable, praising others for their good deeds and encouraging both friends and strangers to keep reaching for their dreams. Some people devote their life’s work to these great acts of community. Others come forward in the most critical hour of need. And still others contribute life-giving service in small trickles throughout their lives. 

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Romans 12:9-10

We have been blessed with a very special community through this season. The oncology team at Newton Wellesley Hospital provided a level of care that greatly exceeded our expectations. Our employers generously supported us and the many hours and days we had to take off from our jobs. A church in Maine prayed over a prayer cloth for Tyler and mailed it to us in Boston so that Tyler could receive anointing from a distance.

Many of you reading this post have also played a vital part in our story. You prayed with us, cooked for us, sent us care packages, visited us, made us laugh, washed our dishes and even installed an air conditioner (thanks Matt!). You, as our community, walked each step of this journey with us. For this, and for all the ways you continue to participate in our story, we are eternally grateful.

We want to pay this gift of community forward. As I mentioned in my last post, we are running the Maine Half Marathon on September 30th. Back in April, just before Tyler started chemotherapy, we had the privilege of watching our friend Mike run the Boston Marathon to raise support for a great organization called Cradles to Crayons. While we were watching the race, we saw a man run by with a shirt that read:

“Stage Three Brain Cancer. And Never Giving Up.”

My eyes well with tears every time I think back to this moment. I’ll never forget the look on Tyler’s face. I could just see the encouragement rising within him. Seeing that, in the midst of a huge crowd of people all cheering in support for others, many whom were running for incredible non-profits… it changed us.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always been a little hesitant about races and “a-thon’s” being an effective way to raise money and make a difference. And while I do still wish that people would put their hands to work in addition to their feet and wallets, I now understand the power of these events.

For us, a half-marathon is a BIG stretch. Logic and research point to the likelihood that we will not be able to run even half the race. (Okay, maybe we should have picked a 10K first…) Much like marriage, race training is hard work! I’ve already had an injury and we’ve had a few “fight runs” as I like to call them. But we will finish the race on September 30th, even if we are the last ones limping across that finish line, because we believe in the power of working together for good, no matter how many obstacles come before us.

To honor the community who has coached us along the way of our own cancer journey, we will be fundraising for the Cancer Community Center in Maine for the duration of our training for the half-marathon. The Cancer Community Center is a non-profit organization located in South Portland, Maine. The CCC offers a wide array of resources and services to cancer patients and their families, free of charge. Tyler and I understand that cancer is a complex condition that presents a unique set of challenges for each patient. No one’s experience is the same and we are impressed with the comprehensive and diverse support that CCC provides to the community. Whether a patient is looking for a support group, an exercise class tailored to a cancer patient’s needs or more information on a specific condition, CCC has it all. For free!

Giving back is important to us and we feel that by supporting the Cancer Community Center, not only will we be contributing financially to an important organization, we will be paying it forward to the many patients and families who will walk their own cancer journey. A strong, supportive community is just as important in fighting cancer as doctors, nutrition, and treatment therapies. We invite you to join us in bringing awareness and support to this organization that serves a critical need for cancer patients in Maine.

If you would like to participate in our fundraising efforts, please visit our page at the CCC’s StayClassy fundraising site: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=207888

Tyler and I would like to find other ways of serving the cancer community and will post our findings on this blog. If you have experience with this, we would love to share your story of service.

Thank you for participating in our story. Your comments encourage us and your prayers lift us up. We thank God for our wonderful community and pray for a ripple effect in each of your unique networks.

God bless!

A New Strength

*Disclaimer: Tyler always reads and edits my posts before I publish but I took a risk to go ahead with this one before he approved. He is very modest and wouldn’t like for me to brag about him, but I can’t help it! I hope you, too, share my joy through this post.*

Tyler had his post-chemo appointment about a month ago. We told the oncology team how we were training for a half-marathon scheduled for September 30th in our beloved home state of Maine. They were wary that it would be a good idea for Tyler to run that soon after finishing chemo, warning that it would take at least 6 months for him to feel back to normal. We left that appointment promising that we would take it one day at a time and that Tyler would not push himself too hard.

Fast forward to today, 5:45AM. I get out of bed to see if my hip has stopped hurting from Monday’s run, an injury that led me to take Wednesday off from our training schedule. It’s still painful to jog so I crawl back into bed.

Tyler gets up and runs nearly 3 miles in under 30 minutes. Without me and without stopping.

It may not seem like much for someone who is training for a half marathon. We are about on par, maybe a little behind, with our 12 week training schedule. But for someone who is not supposed to feel back to his normal self for another 5 months… it’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Tyler and I are not runners. In fact, before July, I’m not sure either of us could remember the last time we had gone for a run.  Tyler prefers cycling and I love interval training. Out of the two of us, I have always been the more diligent about my workouts.

Yet Tyler is kicking. My. Butt.

I am so proud of my husband. He is dedicated to training and working really hard to stay motivated and push through the doubt and discomfort that comes so easily in running. He works long hard days, comes home to spend time with me then drags himself out of bed and onto the pavement in the morning. No excuses.

Not to downplay his incredible effort, but I have to think there’s a little more going on here. I’m beginning to wonder if God’s making a statement through Tyler (and maybe using my injury and weakness to highlight it even further). I can’t stop thinking about this verse:

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

It seems like the most cliché verse to apply to a post about running but I just can’t leave it alone. Tyler is living this verse. He is not supposed to be running and soaring high. His body is supposed to be healing and slowly going back to what it was before cancer.

Instead, he has found new strength. A strength that he has been fighting for since March. A strength that God blessed him with through his complete trust in God’s plan. He is not back to his pre-cancer self. He is stronger.

Last week we had a new couple in our small group and we had to give a quick synopsis of Tyler’s diagnosis and treatment. As we were walking to our car that night, Tyler said to me, “I keep saying God was faithful through it all but I can’t help but wonder if it would be so easy to say that if things hadn’t turned out so well.”

I reminded him that there was a time when things weren’t turning out so well. When the lump became a tumor. And then the tumor became cancer.  And then the cancer spread. And the chemo kept going.

Tyler kept trusting. He knew God was faithful, even when he was scared. His faith made him strong.

And now he’s running and not getting weary.

Praise God!!

(I can’t wait to brag to the doctors at his next appointment :))