The Fruit of Thanks

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It’s come so fast, this season of Thanksgiving. It seems a moment ago that I started my year of celebrating the fruits of all God’s children. And par for the course, it didn’t turn out at ALL like I expected. This year I did celebrate the many fruits God has gifted us, but also mourned fruit lost from violence, divisiveness, abuse of power, lies and just blind hatred and judgement. I spent much of the year struggling to keep my face above the negative fray, unsuccessful at times, especially when in one fell swoop a multitude of fruit was swept away, whether it was by Mother Nature or humanity itself. I think as the tower of illusions came tumbling down around me and the world became exposed for what it truly is, old wounds were uncovered and still lie unhealed. It was addressing my wounds that I was forced to come to terms with how my own talents may have been cut off or dwarfed resulting in a lesser version of what could have been, and more importantly how my lack affected others whom the master intended me to help flourish. I read and re-read the parable of the talents and understand that goodness is the result of taking the talents given to us and sharing them for the world’s benefit, and not just our own. And I prayed about what happens when talents themselves are stolen before they have a chance to benefit anyone. I think a lot about the good that could have come and never did because a gift was ripped away…and then we all lose, the Kingdom of God stakes a step backward.

God has made it clear, however, what will happen to those who champion the destruction, or benefit from the burying of, God’s given fruits. For right after the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us of the gathering of the nations when the Son of Glory comes again and he will separate them like a shepherd does with sheep and goats, and say to them:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

All that God asks us to do is to behave and share our talents in a way that will benefit even the least of all of us, because that will ensure the best environment for every fruit to thrive. It is not up to us to determine who is worthy, only that we take our talents and bring them out to the world to feed, clothe, welcome, and heal. That is our charge, and for that I am so very grateful to those who in this past year have given me hope. And while there are many…here are a few that come to mind that I can happily name…

Steve Edling: for your healing efforts, regardless of the difficulty…you have helped many heal so that they, in turn, can bear their own fruit.

Riley Edling: for being strong in integrity even when there were those who would break you down.

Connor Edling: for rising to the challenges you’ve faced and to never let fear win.

Ruth Flood: for facing the challenges of the world without your life long partner with  faithful strength. Your keen eye and commitment to know and understand what is happening in the world, is one of your superpowers.

For my siblings: for being present, unique, strong, supportive and my safety blanket.

For my nieces and nephews: for seeing God’s work in action through your talents and personal passions.

For Rayola Edling: for being a second mother to me and your strong will and quiet comfort.

For my sisters and brother-in-law: for your friendship, presence and support of my family.

For my extended family: for your friendship and amazing links to a shared past…our forebears can be proud of their legacy.

For the many wonderful practice members at our clinic, for your commitment to health and often extending that commitment to helping others reach better health as well.

For honest friends, those who can see beyond the veil of politics and bubbles…who, with civility, can agree to disagree with facts and never fiction or a need to denigrate anyone.

For all those in leadership positions who: don’t abuse power, speak the truth to those who do, hold the powerful accountable even against their own interest, put our country above party, hold themselves to a higher standard because of those who follow them, have a vision of a better world and are willing to roll up their sleeves and work with the rest of us and most importantly set an example of what it means to be a true leader.

For my country: whose long efforts to promote liberty and justice for all is one I honor and commit to every day, and whose bountiful gifts I receive with gratitude and pride.

And most importantly for my God: who in whispers continues to give me hope, augments my limited heart with a heavenly one, and has faith in me, especially when I don’t. I am yours and you are mine. I will walk where you send me and use my talents to build the kingdom in my own unique and flawed way, always with love, truth, kindness and forgiveness.

Happiest of Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

Walking on Water

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Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:

Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.

For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.

Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?

Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and  that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.

Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.

And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.

 

Do not go gently into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light

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This poem by Dylan Thomas is loved by my father who is in hospice care right now. It pretty much sums up his attitude toward living…never idle and always in a continuous fight for light it its many forms. Whether it was the light of intellect (he has four degrees), the light of truth (his involvement in politics, from school boards to general elections), the light of faith (a devout Catholic and when he retired from teaching, a second career as a deacon), the light of love (married to my mother for 60 years and with her raised 5 very different and exceptional children). A jack of many trades, he was always planning the next great thing and the reality of Alzheimer’s and cancer has altered those plans, leaving the many in his stead whom his light has touched to continue to rage against darkness and be champions of the light.

My father has always been quite the orator. Whether it was Shakespeare or the Gospel, his voice commanded the moment, his inflection amplified and diminished words in perfect measure and cadence. Once, after he was done reading the Gospel at church, without thinking, I naturally started clapping instinctively as if it were a performance. Of course, I was embarrassed when I realized that I was the only one clapping, but I knew by the gentle laughter that I had done what everyone else had wanted to do in that moment. Words matter to my father, he required good grammar and for us to speak intelligently. Ignorance was simply unacceptable, as was the cruelty of gossip and unfounded innuendo. He held high standards for his children and his students because he had the uncanny knack of recognizing other people’s potential even when they, themselves, could not. That is the greatest gift he could give us as a teacher, to help see ourselves in the fullest light. He wasn’t always successful, but always maintained hope. Even as his cognition wanes, I still see the light he sees in me, reflected back in his face whenever he looks at me.

My parents and I have often sat around the dining room table and talked about theology and the world at large for hours. In fact our whole family has spent many hours around a table laughing and telling stories. Those kinds of conversations began by having dinner at the same table all together growing up. We all shared an appreciation for the absurdity of our human condition and the hilarity of these moments gave us stomach aches from laughing so hard at all our escapades. Our dinner table was as much a place for talking as it was for eating. Dad, at the head of the table, was the inspiration for much of the conversation. I think I picked up my sense of humor and storytelling from that dinner table. I remember him telling stories of reciting Macbeth in a Swedish accent, or all his English classes wearing orange on St Patrick’s day (you Irish Catholics can figure it out) and the stories of his time in the Navy, or growing up down the street from Charles Schulz who wrote the Peanuts cartoon. He had as many serious stories of intervening to help students, parishioners, and many who struggled. The best advice I ever got before I started teaching was from my dad. He said: Be prepared, never raise your voice, always look them in the eye, never talk down to them, and always hold them to their highest selves and more times than not they will rise to the occasion.

In a recent conversation about heaven he had with my younger sister, he contemplated whether he had done enough in his life. While surprising, given everything he’s done, I understand what he meant. My father always knew there was so much more to do, that the Kingdom of God was hardly finished and he wanted to be there to see how it all turned out. My prayer is that he will have a front seat to all the action, to celebrate and guide us from above while we continue to refuse to walk gently in this life and carry on his legacy of fighting for the light.

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under heaven

SCN_0041I am feeling, with great intensity, the truth of the above statement from Ecclesiastes. My youngest child graduated from high school, a great accomplisment and I celebrate his bright future.  Curiously, I am not sad.  Instead, I am ebullient, energized, almost giddy that the most important stage of parenting has concluded. While I am thrilled that my boys have their lives ahead of them, I am thrilled for mine too. My husband asked if I felt sad, and when I took a moment, I realized that the clearest emotion was one of relief. We did good. The young men in my house, while the source of crazy in crazytown, turned out to be fine, intelligent, faithful, funny, good, handsome and unique young men. Whew!

I know, of course, there will be future challenges…obviously being a parent never ends. But I do know my grocery bill will diminish, and the biggest challenge of my day won’t be what to cook for dinner, or what sporting or music event I have to travel too. My mind is already swirling with great ideas to fill in the gaps.  I can finish my play, take a class, hang with my husband, friends and family, or do absolutely nothing. I am perfectly happy to continue to be that steadfast support my son’s will need as they face new challenges in life. Only now, I will be rested and confident that we successfully raised men who can be independent and strong, who have the necessary skills to figure things out, and when they can’t have the wherewithall to ask for help, all of which I’m happy to give.

For now, I am ready for the next step!

Celebrating Moms

Mary RichmondIMG_2281IMG_2276IMG_2275I’ve recently had the opportunity to go on a quest for my parents, both of whom are the youngest in their families, to rediscover the past before their memories fade. Based on the information I was given, it’s been a priviledge to be introduced to all those amazing people who came before me. Since it is almost mother’s day and my upcoming empty nest, I thought I would focus on the women in my past first. My father’s paternal grandmother was left with 12 children to run a farm in Janesville Wisconsin after Typhoid took her husband as a result of a doomed trip back to Ireland to procure money from a wealthy brother (which failed, by the way).  My great, great grandmother on my mother’s side, gave birth to 12 children, but by the time she was 43, only six of them had survived. She and her husband had emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine in 1886 and I haven’t been able to find out what happened to them yet. I had another great grandmother who, after her husband died at 38, moved in along with her four children into her oldest brother’s home, who also housed another widowed sister with a new born, and their aging parents. Sadly, my grandmother in that same line lost her husband early as well when my mother was only 12 years old and had to move into her oldest brother’s home.

I am humbled by these women.  I used to think of all the struggles of having kids in the modern world, with juggling sports schedules, camps, homework, play dates and school activities with going to law-school and running a business and believe that my life was so much more demanding than my forebears because life was so much simpler back then. What a crock!  Looking back at their lives, I realize now how cushy mine is. I hope next time I sit down with a glass of wine around my pool and even think about whining about hard my life is, they find a way to pull a big tree branch back and slap me upside the head. My life is easier because of the hard life they lived. I promise not to forget that…even in the middle of crazy town.

These women fought to survive in often the most difficult conditions, most were uneducated and beginning with my great grandparents were all first generation United States citizens. They truly had taken the road less travelled, and for all their hardship and struggle, established a lineage to which I am eternally greatful.  These women have shed a new light on personality traits many of which I have perhaps have been irritated by and never truly appreciated.  I see now that these qualities were essential ingredients in a recipe for, not only survival, but to thrive and build on an American dream. I hope that those who have passed are content and happy with the fruits of their labors. I know I am more greatful today as I look at the blessings that I have, to their strength and courage.

Thankful beyond a day

cropped-holiday-2013.jpgI avoid Black Friday as if it were the plague.  I used to think it was because I hated the crowds.  Don’t get me wrong, I do hate the crowds…but I think deep down I hate Black Friday because I don’t want it to render null and void, the belief that I have that this is truly the season of good will toward all, and a time to prepare for the entrance of light into the world.  This morning I woke up to the news of record numbers and violence for shoppers that started early on Thanksgiving.  I felt robbed, I felt sick, not because people don’t have a right to the good deal, but because it is beginning to reflect more of who we are as a culture, one obsessed with material goods and not good will toward all.  Stuff matters more and more…and it makes me sad.  It isn’t what the season is about, and I can’t help but think what a perfect diabolical plot it is for the father of lies to completely ruin what should be an essential moment in time to get us back on track, to remind us that we can be so much more than what the limitations that our physical beings offer .  We were given the gift of light, and can forever be so much more…if our focus is where it should be.  There is no store anywhere that could give us the deal that we’ve already been given, and we need to remind our souls of that.  We need to remind the world of that…and it will only happen one person at a time.  This can be a season of love and kindness, generosity and compassion, peace and goodwill, but it truly up to all of us to curb the desire for shop for the best deal, and activate the one we’ve already received.

The Comforts of Home

comfort of homeThis has been an overwhelming week.  Tragedy strikes, the kind that one wonders if its possible to come back from…and then, small miracles happen that renew hope.  I have to say what an honor it has been to work together with amazing people in this small little hamlet who have responded with no less love and compassion than heavenly angels.  The effortless ease with which we pulled together to help our friends, our neighbors, attend to whatever needs there may be, is indeed inspiring.  In the lull of day-to-day, it’s easy to isolate in our own personal dramas and let the negativity of the world overwhelm and discourage us.  Then, by no small miracle we are given an opportunity to pull together and bestow the kind of loving embrace that soothes the wounded soul.  Broken hearts of a few are augmented by the functioning hearts of the many.  We are the body of Christ as we pull together and carry our friends in their need.  From a simple desire to sooth and help, to comfort and to heal, to mourn innocence gone too soon, connections happen that strengthen us all.  I feel in this moment the magic of my simple yet extraordinary community.  Regardless of position or politics, we are a community to be proud of, the best that America has to offer, and proof that in even in the darkest moment our hope will prevail.