Friday, December 17, 2010

Free will...choices, consequences and faith

One of the greatest – and most difficult to manage – gifts God granted us was free will. Oh, you and I enjoy this gift tremendously. This gift allows us to choose for or against a host of things to do, act, think, and be. Sometimes, though, it would be so nice to not have the choice.

I recently had a conversation with a woman struggling with this very thing. She had a vision for how things should be, her will, you might say. And, as these stories often go, she lacked the influence to impose her will so that things could, perhaps, turn out as she had planned.

I am thankful for the gift of childhood, as I think on this. I am thankful for boundaries set and maintained, for efforts made in these early years to help me choose the better path. The problem, if it can be called that, is that childhood ends much too soon. Adulthood sets in way before we are ready, way before we can understand our actions and their sometimes opposing re-actions…or consequences. I do appreciate deeply the steps my own parents took to minimize the false steps that would tempt me in adulthood.

And yet…it didn’t quite work out the way my fairy-tale inspired thoughts led me. And, once again, I find myself faced with the choice….my imposed will or acceptance that all is as it will be. I’m truly not happy at the options, especially those available through the latter. At the same time, I recognize that my will is often discarded and not followed by any other than my ownself.

I’m fine with free will as it applies to me. I struggle with it when I have to rely on someone else. After all, they may choose a different path, a different direction, a different outcome. Just ask anyone who has ever lived into their adult years and tried to be an adult before their family. Or, ask anyone who has experienced life, the ups and downs, to describe how they felt when their perspectives weren’t considered as the free will of another was imposed.

What we do…or don’t do, does indeed impact others. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, as someone who has had to deal with the ramifications of someone else’s choices. It sucks, to use the modern vernacular.

My vocation, that as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, by definition implies implicitly if not explicitly, that I am held to a higher moral, ethical, spiritual standard. Our Scriptures point to the need to have control over our family as we strive, rather desperately I might add, to achieve this lofty goal. But what to do when life implodes and the ashes, caused by another, are clogging your throat?

It goes back to that free will stuff. Will I allow myself to be governed by an emotional reaction to someone else? Many of us are strong and independent, eager to scream, “No!” when presented with such an option. I count myself among this strong, independent group. Which, of course, makes it harder to handle the emotions of “now what?” when all my ideals and thoughts and plans have been overshadowed by something larger…something more evil than benign.

Bottom line…no. No to letting someone else dictate my emotional responses. No, to letting someone else dig and strike until I bleed, either from protection or pride.  No. And yes, it is that simple.

I am grateful for the gift of free will. For the ability to choose to follow God, as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am grateful that others possess this free will and can choose a path other than the one I think is most appropriate.

The downside to free will – and there’s always a downside, right? – is that I cannot hold someone else to my expectation. I cannot enforce my vision of the future, of right or wrong, on another.

Free will is what allows us to meet others, and ourselves, wherever they (we, us) are. Free will tells us that God wants an honest, chosen relationship with us. Free will holds us to our choices and either strengthens or weakens us.

And then faith takes over. At least, it does for me. Thank you, God, for loving me enough to allow me free will. And thank you for holding me when I face the impact of my own, or someone else’s, choices.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Do It...or something like that

I may have lost my mind…or perhaps this is just part of finding it. What I’ve done is so clich├ęd, its almost embarrassing to bring up. I joined a gym. And then I worked out.

If you can call it that. The room at this gym is filled with all kinds of ridiculous looking equipment. Torture-looking equipment. Why we pay to do things that make us hurt and sweat, I can’t explain.

It started so innocently. Join now for $1. Yeah, right. But no, I was lured in. Everyone (these are second cousins to the infamous "they"), everyone says if you exercise, you’ll feel better, have more energy, blah, blah, blah. So, in I walk with the oversized mailer I received in the mail. What are your goals, they ask me…um. I just want to feel better, and have more energy, blah, blah, blah. Excellent, they say. (Whew, it’s so nice when you get the right answer!). Let me just show you around.

I walk past the machines…back, legs, arms, glutes, and God knows what else. The treadmills, the ellipticals, the bikes…the free weights and the machines that use free weights. I’m shown the showers – ok, I walk through here on my own…my male guide does not enter the female area. I take a quick peek in the room used for Pilates and Kickboxing and whatever else they can think of to put to music. And then I sign up. Come soon, he says. We’ll call and set a time to show you each machine. But in the meantime…come in, and start with some cardio, say 30-45 minutes, on the treadmills or elliptical machines.

I returned today. I approached the first elliptical and could not make the buttons do anything. Hmmm. The few folks around me were already sweating it up on machines that lit up and measured this and that. Must be the machine. I should move to a different one. And, yes, I feel stupid not knowing how to get the blasted thing to work. Yet, I channel some unknown store of testosterone and refuse to ask for directions… er, help.

Moving to the adjacent machine did the trick. Or maybe pedaling backwards until lights flashed and all but the sounds of hitting the jackpot in Vegas erupted. Regardless, the machine likes me. I think it laughed. Or sneered. And so I begin. Water bottle in place, cell phone balanced, keys in one pocket, and…oh, yeah, my Ipod. After digging it out of the pocket of my sweat pants, I finally get the plugs in my ears and the thing playing. Off I go, calories a burning, steps accumulating, time is being kept. I have to be careful not to sing out loud.

Five minutes and twenty-seven seconds later, my legs are burning. A fine line of sweat has formed above my lip…perhaps in other places, too. My breathing is…not comfortable. I really am THIS out of shape. Will I make it to 30 minutes, much less 45?

I did. At least, I did 30 minutes. I’m not sure there is a graceful way to step down from this beast of a machine and walk to my car. I did the best I could…with legs that were as wobbly as a newborn colt. I hoped…and prayed, no one was watching my exit. I don’t know how long I sat in my car before I finally found the strength to drive home.

I did it, though. The key will be in making myself go back again…and again. I will, because for some weird, inexplicable reason, I have decided this WILL make me feel better, this WILL give me energy, this WILL blah, blah, blah.

Is it bedtime yet?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pffffftttt on negative voices

Occasionally – or more often than I like to admit – I find myself dealing with things I thought I had already dealt with…but I guess some things are like laundry, never really finished. I don’t think it’s just me, either. Too many conversations give me reason to believe it’s a pretty widespread thing.

Once again, I find myself realizing how much I have listened to negative voices and allowed those voices to dictate how I see myself. Not sure what I mean? I’m talking about the people in our lives who have influence over us and either tell us up front or slyly communicate that we are less than their expectations.

My dad reads this so I feel compelled to point out that I am not referring to my family. I’ve been blessed with parents, children, and a sister and brother-in-law who do everything they can to tell me how wonderful I am. Even when I’m not.

There are many others in our lives, though, who wield influence over us. We want them to approve and be satisfied with who we are…or maybe even be more than satisfied. Delighted would be nice. To be fair, I probably interpret things incorrectly. But not always.

God has typically used irony and humor to get through to me…and such was the case with this revelation today. God sent an unexpected messenger to affirm my shaky understandings. As I walked my walk-deprived dog this evening, I began to realize how God used this messenger to clear out some of the fog in my vision.

  • I’m not perfect…I’m too human. And…I’m ok with that because it means I can still grow and learn and become. The growing and learning and becoming that has already happened has value, too. I’m so much more than I used to be and not nearly what I will become. That's exciting, not negative.
  • My gut isn’t always right but it is mostly trustworthy. Especially when I am aware and responsive to what my gut is telling me. If you get a gut-check from someone else, then you’re even more likely to be on the right path. Just sayin…
  • And finally…negative voices do not add value. Sure, there are tons of things most of us probably need to “work on,” but, for the most part, we aren’t nearly as lowly as some would have us believe. God made each one of us uniquely and purposefully…God does not screw up. We all have value…even those whose native tongue is Negative.

For now, I am freed of these voices. Even if I do still have laundry to do…

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bloom Where You Are Planted

This is a note I sent out today on our church's e-news...would love your feedback!

In preparing for this week’s message, I keep running into this phrase: “Bloom where you are planted.” It’s a cutesy phrase, to be sure…but it also encourages some deeper reflection on what that might mean were we to really live out that concept.

Many of us have been uprooted. We live some distance from where we began our lives as infants and children. We may no longer live in our childhood homes. Or neighborhoods. Or cities. Or states. Or country. We have likely been transplanted, whether by our own choice or that of spouse or parents or children.

This cutesy little phrase challenges us to not just accept the soil we find ourselves in but to open up, to bloom and share our very selves in this new and uncertain environment. The scripture passage that led me to this phrase comes from a letter Jeremiah writes to those who are now in exile in Babylon…uprooted and transplanted:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7, NRSV)

I invite you to pray over and ponder this passage as we make our way to Sunday. Spend some time imagining what it would look like for you to bloom where you are planted, especially in your place of exile. As a newly planted and grafted church, how can we, collectively, bloom where we now find ourselves?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this passage and idea of blooming. Please feel free comment below or email me ( …we grow together through our sharing and support of one another so water me with your wisdom!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Singing about Grilled Cheesus on Glee

Maybe my timing was off. Or maybe I should have watched the first season before I tuned in a few weeks into the current season. Regardless, I watched "Glee" tonight for the first time and am still kinda scratching my head...

The "grilled cheesus" was pretty cute...and poor Finn's prayers were heartfelt and honest. And the grouchy lady was perfect for her role. Plus, the music was -- as billed -- really good. 

It was just rather painful to watch...because I'm pretty sure there are plenty of folks out there who don't have much use for God or religion or spirituality. Lots of people who tried their hand at praying for what they wanted then were disappointed when they didn't get it. And just gave up on the whole God-thing.

Let's face it -- if you try to rationally, logically make God (or faith or religion or spirituality...insert your favorite concept here) make sense, it just doesn't. I know there have been times throughout my life when I have stopped and all of this for real? Is this divine being who I talk to at odd, random moments throughout the day really real? Logic and rational thought have a way of bringing doubt and uncertainty to the surface...except, of course, when its burned into a grilled cheese sandwich...

We do weird things as people of faith. Just this past Sunday, as I was preparing and blessing the bread and the cup for communion, I had to wonder what someone might think of this rather strange, body and blood practice we engage in as church folk. We take a perfectly good piece of yummy Hawaiian sweet bread and dip it into a huge cup of grape juice (hopefully Welch's) and somehow, someway we are connecting to Christ in a mysterious way...through this ritual that dates back some 2,000 years. Say what you want, but that is weird. And there are other things we do in the name of faith that could easily fall into the weird category.

Except, sometimes it isn't weird at all. Sometimes, it is just right. We know it deep in our souls, we feel it in every fiber of our being, but we can't express the experience in anyway that makes sense to someone who has not figured out what is happening when God's grace shows up in their lives...uninvited...unexpected...unfathomable.

Maybe the happy ending was the dad squeezing his son's hand, especially after the gut-wrenching monologue his son delivered at this bedside. I don't know though...I think the wrestling with the questions and making the effort to point out the Holy throughout the episode was as clear as the image of Jesus on the sandwich. I may just break out into song thinking about the ways the cast of friends were church for one another....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thoughts of a 45-year old

When I was little (read: much younger), I was always in a hurry to grow up. It seemed no matter what I wanted to do, the reply was always, "you can do that...when you grow up." I could hardly wait to enter the realm of double digit age, then the teen-age years, then getting my driver's license... the magic years of 10, 13, 16, 18, (then 19 because they played around with the legal age of consumption), 21, and 35 (the minimum age to run for president) were all milestones I was anxious to reach.

My yearnings to grow up stopped at age 35. The milestones after that just aren't as appealing. Who can get excited about annual mammograms starting at age 40 or a colonoscopy at 50? Do I really want to hurry up and join AARP or get a senior's discount at IHOP? Truthfully? Not so much.

So here I am at age 45. Now what? Well, I'll start by looking back since I now have more than enough years to look back on. I have two of the most insanely awesome man-children you will ever meet. I have the absolute greatest sister (and brother-in-law) you could imagine. I have incredibly awesome parents. And friends? Oh my gosh, have I been blessed by a host of truly wonderful people in my life.

Looking back is the easy part...even the parts I still occasionally cringe over (I did indeed have my share of "learning" experiences). But looking forward? I gotta tell ya, that's a little scary. I didn't intend to be facing divorce at this age...or finishing up with a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me bankruptcy. Of course, I never pictured myself in ministry either but that's another story for another day.

One thing I can say, though, is that I have plenty of little kid left in me. As scary as it is to be "starting over" at 45, I am pretty excited by the possibilities ahead of me! And, I am much more grounded now than I have ever been...the cool thing about being cast out into the wilderness is that you learn that God does indeed walk with you, carry you, and guide you through. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

It's rather funny that I am now too "old" for some things...I can't serve as a military chaplain for instance (the cut-off age is 39 without prior service). But...I can be comfortable with who I am, knowing God is still at work making me more. I can be satisfied that whatever my needs, God will provide. I can wake up each morning knowing that regardless of who I disappoint or tick off, God loves me enough to make sure I find someplace, somewhere, somehow to live out of that incredible love offered me.

I'm 45 years old today. If I had planned my life, things would have been much different. Thank God, God has bigger, better plans for me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confessions of a Wal-Mart Shopper

I should clarify that. I'm not a Wal-Mart super-mega store shopper. Fortunately, we have a "Neighborhood" Wal-Mart right in my (yeah, you guessed it) neighborhood. No clothes or shoes or baby furniture but they do have a fairly decent selection of groceries and a pharmacy.

So, tonight, I needed to run in and grab a few things. And I do mean a few things. I qualified for the express check-out line. Or any of the other lines. As it turned out, just as I was ready to check out, all the previously open lanes closed. One solitary lane remained open. And the self-check things.

Usually, I am pretty easy going but, for some reason, having 6 items and being in line behind two or three people who were doing their monthly shopping and had overflowing baskets irritated me. I'm looking around as the checkers at the other --previously open but now closed -- lanes were eagerly wiping their conveyor belts and grinning like fools because they were that close to being off for the night. Did I mention this was at about 7:30 on a Sunday evening? In other words, I was not the last shopper in the store. The line behind me was starting to snake through the sodas and chips towards the milk and eggs.

Finally, the person in front of me managed to off-load her cart and the checker was working quickly trying to scan and bag all her items. At this point, I am doing deep-breathing exercises...and convincing myself that the sweet little teen-aged (they all look like teen-agers to me) checker was not to blame for the intelligence behind closing down all but one lane. I would smile. I would be nice. I would be ready to swipe my debit card and grab my stuff so the people behind me didn't start a riot.

You know what happened, right? First, the person in front of me put a portion of her groceries on one form of payment. Then she handed over the cash she had on hand. And, finally, she used her debit card for the rest. Or tried to anyway. Several times. Debit didn't work so she tried credit. And it was declined.

If you've ever experienced a declined card, you know how humiliating this feels. I certainly do. It's an awful feeling. The checker kept her smile in place and called over a supervisor so they could save the purchase to be paid once the customer had a chance to get someone to bring her some cash or another card. Except there was a glitch in that plan. Since part of the purchase had been paid using the first form of payment, the rest could not be saved (suspended is the word I think they used). We were all stuck in line at the only available register run by a live person.

Now, I've heard lots of negative things about Wal-Mart. Their business practices are shrewd and they have likely been the cause of any number of small business failures. It's possible that they deal with manufacturers who have less than stellar business practices in terms of child labor and human rights.

Funny thing, though. God shows up in Wal-Mart, too. The story has a feel-good ending...the lady received help from a fellow customer. One of the employees - the supervisor - shared with me that she had seen that sort of generosity over and over in her store.

As I walked to my car with my handful of groceries, I got to thinking about what had happened and how clearly we can - if we're open to seeing - see God at work right in front of our eyes, right in our midst. It's so easy to overlook, though. So easy to just be irritated by the delays or the bad planning or poor budgeting or whatever judgment jumps to mind as we focus on our needs and our time and our lives.

Who'd a thunk it? God in Wal-Mart...amazing.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

High-School Reunion via Facebook

It's been like a high school reunion on facebook this week...and it's so interesting the way that works. One person finds someone, then their friends - who are also mutual friends of said high school buddy - "friends" them and then their friends...and so on and so on. It's an amazing and strange way for us to connect, re-connect, and socialize.

I'm pretty sure I've become a facebook junkie. It started out innocently enough. First, I wanted to connect with church members and keep up with things going on in their lives (at least those things we publish for the world to see). Then, it expanded to ministry peers and then family (sorry, family but it took awhile to get you all on here!) and then out from there.

But now, all these friends from back in the day show up and it's just...fascinating. No need to ask what someone does for a living -- we can get that on your info page. No need to wonder what someone looks like -- chances are there a handful of pictures for us to browse. Even if your profile picture is really a grandchild or beloved pet or favorite sports team logo.

Except, well...we really don't know each other any more. For my particular group of high school buddies, we're getting awfully close to that 30-year reunion mark. Surely something has happened in your life since then, something beyond what you can capture in a photo or express in your profile, right? I'm going to guess that there were even times when life just wasn't all that great, that things happened and left you scarred and broken...if only for a while. I'm fairly certain you've moved beyond living for Friday and Saturday night dances with the Drifters...

I wonder what you see when you go through my profile and my pictures, when you look over my posts and scan through my likes and links and friends. How do you fill in that almost 30-year gap? (I should say this is a rhetorical question...I'm not really sure I want the answers!).

Looking back, I am amazed at all the people that have moved in and out of my life. It's a bit sad to think of those who we lose touch with, for whatever reason...where are they and, more importantly, are they ok? We don't get the answers to that last question through renewed acquaintances on, the temptation is to write in our own fairy-tale story for our long-lost-suddenly-found friends.

As much as I appreciate and enjoy re-connecting with my high school buddies, I would much rather go beyond the surface depictions. So, new-found friends, how are you really? Is there anything I can do for you? Because, I gotta tell you, these past 30 years have taught me quite a bit about how much we truly need folks to care and walk with us through the ups and the downs. I'd like to have you around for mine...and I'd like to be there for yours.

I'm so glad we're "friends" what?

Thursday, September 16, 2010


While I run the risk of sounding like some sort of movie critic or aficionado, let me start by saying I usually am not a big movie person. Seeing one new movie at the theater is one thing...but two or more in the same year is just an anomaly...for me anyway. Yet, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Disney's latest movie, Secretariat.

Now, I was not quite 8 years old when Secretariat achieved the pinnacle of horse racing, the Triple Crown (and no, I'm not giving anything away...this is actually history from back in the early 70s). Watching the movie, though, I realized there was quite a bit to the story that I never realized. For example, I did not know that a housewife was the force behind the winning horse...nor did I know what that cost her.

After the screening, which I enjoyed with my sister and brother-in-law, we got into something of a debate. Mainly, my brother-in-law was somewhat disgruntled by the "wimpiness" of the male characters -- namely the husband and the brother. Again, I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that the story really goes beyond the less than stellar behavior of these particular gentleman. It really doesn't even matter that it was a woman -- a woman of the late 60s, early 70s no less -- that made the movie so intriguing. It was her spirit...her sense of character and purpose that I believe any person can aspire to, male or female, that spoke most clearly to me.

I recently read a blog that pointed out the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. In this movie, the lead character did the right things...even when they didn't exactly fit the expectations of her time. I can identify with those who worry and stress over doing things right. Lord know, I have wanted to do things right in my own life. But there comes a time, at least in my experience, when we have to choose between doing things right (ie. meeting the expectations) and doing the right things.

Over time, we can look back and point to places where we either did things right or did the right things. Usually, again in my own experience, the times when I did the right things were also those times when others were likely to let me know that I was not doing things right. It is not an easy or comfortable place to be.

Yes, I identify with the loneliness of the main character in movie...and I admire the hell out of her. There is a significant price to pay for doing the right things. And this really shouldn't surprise us at all. Didn't Jesus tell us that we would have to carry our own cross? Weren't we warned that we would have to lose our lives in order to save it? It occurs to me that we (myself primarily included) have a rather twisted view of what our lives are supposed to be like...and yet, deep down, we know that life is not about having things come easy or simply, not about having everything work out to our satisfaction, not about ensuring that we have earned respect and admiration from our so-called peers. Life, in all its messiness and brokenness, is about trusting and loving. Trusting in our God who does a much better job guiding us through life than we can ever imagine to do on our own, and loving God, ourselves, and one another enough to let go of our illusion of control.

The race is what's before us...not where we've already been. And the winner knows that losing at what is expected means winning for the sake of others.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do NOT pull the Fire Alarm...unless there really is a fire

I recently read a book in which one of the characters would occasionally find herself feeling so out of sorts with who she was that she would be tempted to do something drastic. And often she did crazy pulling the fire alarm (no, do NOT do this) or dying her hair a strange color or shaving her head completely. As the story progressed, she often described her "itchiness" or "restlessness" as a temptation to pull the fire alarm (again).

Sometimes, I feel like pulling the fire alarm, too. My sense of self-control (ok, my fear of jail-time and other significant consequences) has kept me from doing this. So far. But I still sometimes get that itchy, restless feeling. It passes. Mostly.

It's an odd sensation, this sense of being untethered, of being not quite rooted. At my age, I should have my act together and be all grounded. Whatever. I'm least not all the time. Granted, I've had some rather unusual jerk-the-rug-right-out-from-under-you experiences in the recent past so that could explain a lot of it.

It's funny because, in the cartoons anyway, these kind of pull-the-rug things typically cause you to end up flat on your back with stars floating around your head. That isn't exactly how it worked, though. No, I was pretty much on my knees. Sometimes, life has a way of sending us to our knees or fully into a prostrate position...laid out, lost, and as open as we can ever be to surrendering our very being to God.

If you haven't been there, I don't know whether to congratulate you or sympathize. It's incredibly hard for us be-all-we-can-be, do-it-yourself members of this great country to share our control much less give it all up willingly. And when its gone...well, sometimes it feels like a good time to pull the fire alarm. Unless...

Unless we can remember that God has something in store, something planned, some purpose for us that has nothing to do with what our society (neighbors, co-workers, friends, family -- they're all included), nothing to do with those expectations and everything to do with following a divine sense of rightness. The thing is, we get resistance. And in the tension between the divine sense of rightness and the powerful resistance lies that restless, itchy feeling.

I promise I won't pull the fire alarm. At least, not right now...


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin!

Today, I finally got to do something I've been wanting to do since I was a fairly young child...I got to ride in the tractor (cab?) of an 18-wheeler! I think I was the only one of my childhood girlfriends to have a handful of Hot Wheels 18-wheeler rigs mixed in with my Barbies and baby dolls. 

Granted, as a kid, I want to be the driver -- I mean, how cool would that be, right? -- but I was tickled pink to just get to ride along. And, yeah, with age (maturity, experience?) comes that sense of fear that accompanies the realization of our limitations. Perhaps I could drive a rig forward, in a sparsely populated, wide open space...then again, I'm fairly sure truck driving will not be a future vocation for me. It's just not nearly as easy as Jerry Reed made it look in Smokey and the Bandit...

I'm just amazed when I experience such out-of-the-blue moments...those times when, in the middle of our everyday living, like an unexpected surprising gift, God graces us with a blessing. That's how my adventure today a blessing all wrapped up as a silly gift of joy.

Thank you, Phillip! Thank you for letting God use you to provide the means for us to pick-up our newly acquired playground set...but also for giving me a surprising and memorable gift. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love...and live

Yeah, it's a chick flick...but I got to go see Eat, Pray, Love with my sister and about 8 other people (Tuesday night during the week school starts is probably the BEST time to go to the movies...). No, I haven't read the book and only had a vague, rather fuzzy idea of the story line.

It's one of those movies that encourage you to stop and think...think about your relationship with God, with family, with that significant someone. The main character, Liz, is one of those women who moves from relationship to relationship and finally decides to go "find herself" in a year long journey through Italy, India, and Bali.

I'll admit there were a few times when the movie scraped some not fully healed wounds for me. And, while I didn't travel to such exciting and exotic places during my 10-week journey, I did find some similar truths. First of all, food is good. For all those folks who worried that I was losing weight let me assure you that my waist-line has benefited from the time away. Food shared is even better.

Second, prayer is not a program. While I don't think I could go so far as to chant and meditate with an icon in an ashram (although I haven't tried so what do I know?), I did find myself searching for a deeper relationship with God and a greater personal spiritual experience. Funny the movie, as in life, it takes other people to get there. At least it did for me...and Liz. I tried to run off to a quiet, restful, and relaxing location in anticipation of finding God sitting there waiting for me to show up, to fill me up with that calming presence and the indescribable peace of the Holy Spirit. While I thoroughly enjoyed the view of the lake, the chatter of the crickets, the bird-song and assorted wildlife appearances, I found myself drawing closer to God primarily through the conversations I had with my host. She created a safe space for me to be open and share my story...a safe place for me to hear God speaking words of comfort and assurance.

I've returned from my time away eager to reconnect with my church family, eager to get back into the joys and challenges of ministry, and, at the same time, wary of all the landmines and traps that threaten to pull me back into an exhaustive, and yes, destructive pace. I've also returned with some new insights for me...

--Most, if not all, of the people I encounter are struggling with something in their lives. We are a broken people, a broken humanity, in desperate need of God's grace and mercy.

--God's grace and mercy, God's love, is most clearly revealed to us through the people we interact with each day. The funny thing is that this works in that upside-down, backwards kind of way that Jesus was so fond of engaging in (Jesus did a lot of things that just went against the grain of "normal" expectations). I didn't go out looking for people to be God for me...they found me when I needed them, offering just what I needed even (especially?) when I had no clue I needed it.

--I can't be anything other than who I am and who I am is a work in progress. I'm a product of both my past successes and my failures, my joy-filled experiences and my heart-breaking setbacks . I have gifts I'm sure I've neglected and some I have honed. I will never be all things to all people. God needs me to be the person God created me to be and to become. And, I need to stop apologizing for not being anything other than who I am.

The last segment of the movie focused on love, as in that significant other kind of love. What happened to the character Liz over the course of a year as shown in less than 3 hours is perhaps a distant possibility though certainly not a present least for me.

For now, I'm content to settle for life instead. Life lived fully, with all its highs and lows, ups and downs, ecstatic joys and frustrating disappointments. Abundant life is what Jesus called it...abundant in the sense of being filled to overflowing with all the emotions of a life held in complete and utter confidence that God works within and through this messy business of life.

Take a break. Eat something cooked in or with butter. Laugh. Laugh some more. And live life as a prayer of thanksgiving for the God who creates, sustains, and redeems us in spite of ourselves. Eat, pray, love, and live.