The Liturgy of Life

Leaving Sunday services each week, my mom would often lament that it seemed as though Christian charity was abandoned at the church exit.

Prayer and praise resounded loudly inside the church, but the parking lot was another story. Starting up their engines, each driver transformed from prayer warrior to Mario Andretti, muscling their cars to the front of the line to leave the church grounds.

My faith community takes pride in it’s consistent liturgy. Oh sure, there have been some word changes now and again, and updating of worship, I suppose everyone’s church has done that. But no matter where you go in this world, the community prayer is in the same form. The only thing that changes is the language spoken from country to country.

There’s a great comfort in ritual liturgy. It allows the worshipper to relax into the familiar rhythms of prayer, praise, thanks, profession of faith and Scripture instruction. Music and song lift the soul as we all serenade the Lord with joy.

When the service is over, we have a wonderful space to greet each other. We catch up, offer our promises of support and prayer, and celebrate the milestones achieved in the goodness of God’s grace. Then…it’s on to our separate lives.

The sharp contrast between the church community inside the walls, and the everyday community outside them, often comes into focus as fast as it takes to get to the car in the parking lot. So I wonder.

Is my definition of liturgy too rigid and small?

I agree with my mom. It sure seems like the recent prayer, praise and thanks somehow comes to a screeching halt after leaving the church building.

The ritual praise and song is meant to lift our souls and prepare us for the week ahead. Grace and joy are gifted to fill our spiritual bank accounts…but is that where it all ends?

I don’t think so. I don’t think Jesus ever meant for us to confine our praise and prayer to church, or even to ourselves. I believe he is active in every moment of our day, encouraging us to participate in the Liturgy of Life. We are constantly being joyfully invited to converse with the Lord and celebrate God’s presence in our world and neighbor.

Our work, our play, our acts of love can all be extensions of the grace-filled prayer we experience on Sunday. And because we do these things to praise, thank and honor the Father, our lives can be transformed. Each encounter with the Father holds the potential to take my life of ‘ordinary’ and make it extraordinary…if I decide to participate.

Life becomes a beautiful, life-giving liturgy.

Every time I reach my car after Sunday services, I think of my mom’s lament. That memory always reminds me that my prayer and praise can’t stay in the four walls of a church building. It must become a living thing, employed every day of the week, witnessing that Christ is real, alive and working in this world.

 

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Car Wash Wisdom

One activity my children always enjoyed was the rare, but always exciting, trip to the car wash.

As a young mom, backing the car out of the garage and letting my two littles help me hose-wash the car was a fun summer activity. But every now and then, the family wagon (yes, station wagon) needed a proper bath, so it was off to the local gas station.

I’d pull up in front of the entrance to adventure, and we’d be greeted by those huge dangling plastic strips that announced that the ride was about to begin. I’d call out, “Are all the windows closed?”, even though I knew they already were. The question really served to grab the attention of my riders, to alert them that the beginning of our adventure was near.

I’d line the left tire up to the track, while neon signs reminded me to put the car in neutral, take my foot off the pedals, and for Pete’s Sake, don’t steer! (Okay…I might have added a little to that last instruction.)

Feeling the first quick jerk, we were off into a loud and foreign land. Water shot from every direction, and as if by magic, soap splattered against the windows like paintballs. Each soap bomb elicited giggles from the backseat.

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The real vocal fireworks started when the heavy strips, draped like a theater curtain, started jerking and dancing our way. “It’s the octopus!” they’d scream. Laughter ringing in my ears, we watched the felt spaghetti automatically slosh and wipe away the soap from the car.

A final spray on the car meant – the wind tunnel! Jet propelled streams of air buffeted and rocked the car, blowing water off the car.

I have to admit I liked our trips to the automatic car wash too. It was fun. And to have that fun, I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to steer, accelerate or brake. As a matter of fact, if I tried to drive, it would be a very dangerous trip. Part of the enjoyment of the whole thing was giving up control. Just put the car in neutral, sit back, and for Pete’s Sake, don’t try to steer.

Most of us really like steering. We like having input, being in charge and making choices about our time. But…

I don’t know about you, but this whole control thing gets pretty tiring. Back then, if I heard “What are we doing today?” one more time, I might have to clap my hands over my ears and start singing “Help”. Being in charge absolutely has it’s positives, but it has to be balanced with free time – play time – rest time.

When you start to feel overwhelmed or pressured, maybe it’s God’s way of saying “Take your foot off the pedals.” Your soul is calling out for peace.

How about a walk in the woods? A bike ride. Call a friend. Bake some cookies.

Slip your gearshift in neutral, and take your feet off the pedals. Unplug and enjoy the ride…

And for Pete’s Sake, don’t try to steer.

 

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Who’s On Your Bleacher Team?

I was watching TV with my husband one night – well – watching with one eye, trying to work a crossword puzzle with the other, when I heard one of the characters from the show say, “He’s your bleacher person.”

My head snapped up and I abandoned my crossword. That term, ‘bleacher person’ intrigued me. The actor went on to explain that everyone needs people in their lives who support and cheer them on. They are the people you can count on to show up for you rain or shine. They’re your biggest fans.

They’re your bleacher team.

Isn’t that a beautiful way to describe the members of your fan club? And it’s a great visual too. While we’re out there working hard on the field of life, we have true supporters in the seats who cheer, wave banners and make sure we know we’re the greatest ever.

Maybe you’ve never thought about members of your family, your friends or you job partners that way. Well, maybe not all of them are true bleacher people for you. But some of them are.

Who are your biggest fans?

I’d have to include my mom on my list, and here’s one reason why.

She got all of her eight children involved in competitive swimming at a young age. I think I was five years old when I started belly-flopping into the water, racing the width of the pool. I kept on swimming, year round, until I was nineteen. (I had to leave my college campus a a junior to live in a nurses dorm in Rochester, Minnesota. No pool there!)

But my mom didn’t just drop us off at meets and go on her way. She stayed for every single one we were in. Sometimes, she’d film us for home movies with the old Super 8 movie camera. Maybe she’d announce at home meets, or be a lane timer. But mostly, she sat on the sidelines, recording our times and cheering for us from starting block to finish.

I remember one meet on a chilly, rainy June morning. My mom left the pool to race over to my Nana’s house. She picked up dry sweatshirts and towels for us, and I can still remember the warmth I felt, pulling that old, outsized shirt over my head.

Isn’t that just what bleacher people do? They support and encourage us to keep going, especially when the going gets tough. I know I would have been completely miserable without her support and presence that day.

We all need a bleacher team. But you know what else we need? We need to be a part of someone’s fan section too.

So maybe another good question would be, “Who do you cheer on?” Who do you show up for, and wave that banner?

I know that you are an important source of support for many in your life. So don’t forget to be their cheerleader. They need you in order to keep working on the field of life.

Just like you need them.

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When Life Hands You Ice Packs

“Time for a heat treatment!” My physical therapist is finally letting me loose from her torture, and now the payoff is near.

I had a little meeting with her before my session, telling her that I didn’t think I was making much progress. She responded by digging her elbow to my back with the gusto of a merciless Norwegian masseuse. But a hot pack? Now you’re talking.

“Wait, wait!” Uh oh. My little dream of heat was dying. “Let’s try ice. You’ve been so sore, I think ice is better.”

Ice? Seriously? It’s twenty-four degrees outside with wind chills approaching zero. My muscles feel like they were rammed through a pasta press, and your best idea is ice?

Well, she’s the one with the degree, so I said “Sure. Let’s do it.” Oy. So there I was, lying on my stomach with huge bags of ice on my back, while dreams of sunny beaches and baking sunshine played in my head. It helped a little. Finally, ten years minutes later, time was up and so was I, ready to call it a day.

As I drove home, blasting the car heater, I marveled at how completely wrong my expectations were. I figured my ‘Come to Jesus’ moment with the therapist would result in easing up on my exercises. After all, they didn’t seem to help much. But oh no, instead, this woman decided to go postal on me, smashing my unsuspecting body to a pulp. So…that was unexpected.

I also thought I’d be soothed by a nice big heating pad after the whole ordeal. Ha! Ice for you my friend.

What the heck is going on here?

Isn’t that just the way life goes? You think you know exactly what will be good for you, what will help. A raise. A romance. A retreat from a relationship. But then somehow it all goes sideways. You get fired, you break up, you’re cornered into saving your friendship.

It’s all so confusing. What is going on here? Well, even though it sounds strange, God is going on here.

While we only see the right now, God sees years and years into the future. He knows we see through limited eyes, but that won’t stop him from allowing what’s best. Even when best looks like worst.

So what can we expect?

Have you ever gotten a freezing ice pack instead of a nice hot water bottle?  Does it ever look like God gave you a situation you’d rather give back because it’s not what you wanted or expected? Maybe it seems like God’s got it in for you, making life harder than it has to be.

But our loving Father isn’t out to get you, he just sees further into the future than you can. He knows what those challenges will do for you, creating in you a stronger, more empathetic servant.

I know God’s got a beautiful plan just for you. He’s got one for me too. And I am confident that someday, we’ll understand how all those ice packs healed us.

 

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My Word For 2017: Now

For a few years now, I’ve chosen a word to guide me as I begin a new year. Sometimes the word comes easily, sometimes I struggle for weeks, searching for a word or concept that will inspire me.

My word for 2016 was ‘discover’, and let me tell you, it was a doozy. Last year was a challenge from the get-go, and discovering the meaning and blessing in all of it was often a huge challenge. We had two car accidents, managed to stay married through a two-month kitchen renovation, several rounds of physical therapy for various ailments, and as you might already know, my father died.

Discover? Oh yeah, I discovered all right. I discovered my vast need for patience. I discovered that loss teaches many lessons, including the value and pain of grief, and the joy of realizing that my family is special and precious (special shout-out to my sisters Kitty, Mary and Liz). And not least, the lesson that life goes on even though our loved ones may not.

I think I’ll always keep ‘discover’ with me. It’s been such a big part of the past 365 days, it’s become a good friend.

But now I look to 2017, just a few weeks old, and I wonder. What word does God want to give me as I travel in this precious new year? Each day is a gift, every minute a love offering from the Creator to his children. How do I make the most of it all?

And then it comes to me. My new word for 2017? “Now.”

 

The key to living a life that is both physically and spiritually powerful is living in the present. Right here. Right now. The past happened before now, I can’t change it. The future is beyond now, draped in fog. I can’t begin to guess what’s in store.

But now? That’s where I’m living, and where God meets me. In every task, every joy, every challenge.

Living fully in the present won’t be an easy proposition. There have been plenty of times I’ve walked away from the pressing needs of the day. I’d much rather put that off until tomorrow. Or allow myself to get too busy, running myself ragged instead of giving myself the gift of slowing my day and my mind to pay attention to ‘now’.

The glory and joy and wonder of God, and his people, is here for me every minute of the day. If I don’t remain attentive to what’s happening, I’ll miss my opportunity to witness the Lord’s gifts and presence.

I’ll miss the opportunity to shine in his wonderful light.

Why should I settle for only a rare glimpse of that light, when there’s a flood of it just waiting to fill me…now?

This year, my hope is to live my life. Really experience it, staying awake to the gifts and grace of my every day, my every minute.

2017 has already begun. There’s no better time for me to start than…well… Now.

 

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Meet The Blogger

I am very excited to kick off the new year as a guest on Karen Lange’s blog, Write Now, “exploring the adventurous writing life“.  I’ve been connected to Karen through our blogs for a long time, and have always appreciated her great writing and publishing advice, as well as her warm and supportive posts.

Karen also uses her website to host her series, ‘Meet the Blogger’. She presents an interview format for each featured guest, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the new-to-me writers and bloggers.

And now, it’s my turn to chat with her! I hope you’ll take the time to hop over and read all about it.

You can visit me there by using this link: Meet the Blogger. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

 

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Do You Believe?

“Mom, is Santa Claus real?”

Well, I said to myself, here it is. The moment I’ve been dreading since planting the Santa seed eight years ago. Must tread lightly…must tread lightly.

“What brought this up?” I asked, while washing the last of the dinner dishes in the sink.

“My friend at school told me that Santa is really parents. They put all the gifts under the tree.”

“Well, what do you think?” I didn’t ask the question as a delay tactic, I really wanted to know.

“I’m not sure. But…I think he’s right.”

Heavy sigh. “Okay son, let’s sit down.”

For the next thirty minutes, I explained that Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas. He was a real person who lived in the 200’s. He was considered a great guy and loved to help the poor, so after he died, people started the tradition of giving gifts in his name. That led to the name Santa Claus. Yes, mom and dad follow that tradition too. PLEASE DON’T TELL YOUR YOUNGER SISTER.

Phew. Crisis averted.

The next day, he came home from school and cornered me in the living room. “Mom! Remember everything you told me about Santa? I don’t believe you. A guy at school said that Santa is for real, so he’s real.” He then strode triumphantly to the kitchen for a snack.

My feet were frozen to the carpet. What? He doesn’t believe me? Wow, here’s a ‘mom-moment’ if ever there was one. After that whole talk, all it took was another eight year old to easily knock down all I said like a tipsy wall of wooden blocks.

Unbelievable.

As I I look back on that exchange some twenty-five years ago, my take-away is a little different than it was then. Now, I admire my son for grabbing on to the truth he was raised in, and not giving in easily.

As adults, Christmas challenges our faith too, and not because we believe that Jesus came into the world, but because so many do not. Our culture both whispers and shouts something much different. We know that two thousand years ago, a baby was born to a couple who traveled from home to Bethlehem. This child, born into poverty, this Prince of Peace, came to save us all.

But most of the world sees Christmas as an extra day off, or a family tradition of gift giving. They think we’re simple and foolish to believe anything else.

My son held on to his faith in Santa even though someone he trusted told him it wasn’t exactly true. What a great witness to me today, as we all face a culture that doesn’t always support the faith we hold dear. Even though some say it’s not true, Our Savior is going to be born again in hearts on December 25th.

And no one will sway me from believing that.

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I’m going to take the rest of December off to get ready for Christ’s coming. I wish you all a wonderful, peaceful, faith-filled Christmas.

I’ll be on blog-break until January, when I’ll be back with my new word for the year 2017. See you then!

God bless!

 

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My Hot Mess Advent

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of blogs I’ve read lately feature the theme of peace, quiet and calm reflection. It’s the season of Advent, a time of patiently waiting for the coming of the infant Jesus.

Normally, I’d be all over it. My tree would be up, with Christmas cards bought and ready to mail. In the evenings I’d spend time reflecting on the holy days ahead, as I bask in the glow of my pre-lit tree. Christmas music would play softly in the background, with candles lighting every corner of the room.

Yeah well. That’s not my reality this year.

The kitchen and family room renovation is getting done, but we’re not quite there. My husband doesn’t want the tree up until the walls are painted, and that makes absolute sense…but I do miss it.

The carpenter is stopping by tomorrow to do some finishing work. The plumber comes on Tuesday.

Every day this week, I’ll rise early to get over to my dad’s condo and let the painters in. Then return to make sure they locked up at the end of the day…one step closer to getting it ready to sell.

Naturally, our semi-new Samsung washing machine was one of the models recalled, so we had to have a guy out to fix it.

Everyday, we move more boxes from the basement up to the kitchen to unpack. A slow process because: a) we didn’t thin the herd when we packed it, so: b) as we unpack, we have to decide what to do with each item.

My back decided it needed a vacation, so it went out. The doctor says I don’t have nerve involvement, so it’s medication (which helps) and physical therapy (which starts this week) for me.

I’m sporting a second degree burn on my right hand because I misjudged the heating element in the stove on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s on my dominant hand, so it’s hard to keep clean and dry, but Lord knows I’m trying.

Honestly, I’m up to my eyeballs in crazy. I feel like I’m chasing Advent instead of abiding in it. Quiet moments? What are those? I reach the end of my day, sitting in a chair with pillows packed against my back, failing miserably to get ‘in the mood’. Why can’t I settle into reflection and peace?

Of course, I’m not the first to have a hot mess Advent. Jesus’ mother had her ups and downs during the first one too. Her betrothed wanted to leave her. She spent her first trimester helping her cousin after walking days to reach her. And then, just as she was ready to deliver, she had to leave her Nazareth home for Bethlehem. On a donkey.

Mary sure handled her challenges a lot better than I have. I would love to get to the place of calmly accepting every unexpected, confusing turn. She lived knowing that God would never leave her, as she patiently awaited the birth of her son.

Yes, I’ve got a crazy busy Advent, but Mary inspires me to accept and own it.

It’s all going to be okay. Even if I never have one candle-lit, music filled evening, God is still with me. And my Savior will still be born.

On that day, there will be peace on earth…and in my heart. Believe me, I’m longing for that. And maybe that’s enough.

Maybe longing for Christ is exactly what my Advent should be.

 

 

 

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The Harvest Season

We are now in the waning days of the harvest season. The crops grown by farmers all over the world are being collected from the fields. Combines sweep gracefully across acres of farmland, cutting the stalks, separating the grain from the plant, and depositing the food into large open-top trucks.

It’s been a year of fertilizing, and treating for insects and weeds. Finally, all the work of the year is now contained in those trucks. The farmers have a fairly good idea what kind of year it’s been, because they’ve walked the fields throughout the summer. But when the final crop has been weighed and the price set, that’s when they’ll know for sure what kind of return they have on their investment.

This time of year is filled with visual reminders that now is a perfect time to examine our own yearly spiritual harvest too. All of the good works done; helping a neighbor, prayers offered for those who asked us to pray, gifting our family and community with time, talent and treasure…what has been the fruit of all that effort?

Maybe you’ve walked your own heart and soul’s fields in the past twelve months, trying to measure your progress. But now, as fall closes in and the winter knocks on the door, the time has come for an all-embracing reflection. To sit in the silence of your heart and the presence of the Lord, to take stock of your own spiritual year.

Was it a bountiful one? Maybe you can remember life events or small blessings that helped you see God more clearly. Maybe you recall the people you were able to help, or the prayers you offered for friends.

Or was your spirit beset by doubt or neglect, not producing the large crop you had hoped for?

Once you have weighed your progress in the year, be grateful. There’s no use in being overly elated by a huge harvest, or overly sad about a small one. God has asked for your best effort, and you’ve done the best you could. Now it’s time to plan for the future.

Farmers know they need a new strategy for their fields, even as they harvest. They map out their strategy, choosing to plant corn again, or try something new, like wheat or beans. They have to make a decision and act on it. It’s important to buy the seed as soon as possible, before it’s all sold, or to avoid being forced to buy seed of poor quality.

Just like the farmer, after our own review, we’ll have to decide what to plant, and how to care for our spiritual field in the coming year.

So let’s take a little time in the next weeks to pray and reflect on new goals to direct our spirit. That way, we’ll be equipped and ready to plant new seeds and work for a new and beautiful harvest. The time to begin again has come.

Maybe I’ll meet you in the fields.

 

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Thank You Notes

Growing up at my house, the rule was: “You couldn’t play with a new toy, or cash a gift check without writing a thank you note first.” You have to admit, it’s a pretty ingenuous system. It’s a great motivator for getting that note in the mail.

Yeah. You’d think that. But that wasn’t always what happened. The toy or check would often languish in the corner for days, waiting to be claimed by the birthday girl who just never seemed to find the time to write.

  • Not that she’s ungrateful.
  • Not that she doesn’t want to.
  • It’s just that…well…you know. The neighbor kids are calling, and that can isn’t going to kick itself.

I don’t think anyone objects to the idea of expressing thanks. It’s actually a very natural response. But the truth of it is, desiring to do it usually isn’t enough. We need to be reminded.

This week, we have been given the biggest reminder of all in the celebration of Thanksgiving Day on Thursday. Every year, we are prompted to remember our blessings, both physical and spiritual, as we gather in churches and around tables, celebrating the good things we’ve enjoyed in the past year.

I’m not sure how great I’ve been in praying my thanks to the Lord this year, and I sure don’t want to be stumped when it’s my turn to answer “What are you thankful for this year?” So here are just a few thank you notes, sealed up in an envelope of prayer and sent express mail to the Lord. I fervently hope that all of them are duplicates.

Thank you Lord for every unlabored breath I took this year. 

There is little that reminds me more of life, stillness and living in the moment than breathing. Inhaling, I thank you for the gift of my life. Exhaling, I thank you for helping me to release my anxiety, and place me in the silence that allows me to hear you speak.

Thank you Lord for the ‘super moon’.

Father, you know how much I appreciate the nature around me, but I don’t always tell you. That super-moon you arranged for us this past week was absolutely spectacular. It captured the imagination of everyone who saw it, amazing all with it’s closeness and beauty. It reminded me of your nearness to all mankind, and your enveloping love that enfolds us all like a warm fleece blanket on a cold night.

Thank you Lord for my family.

From my husband, to my siblings, to my children to my grandchildren, you made sure that I am surrounded by reasons to see your face every single day. You have outrageously gifted me with loving, funny, silly and comforting lives that help me recognize you, living and expressing yourself in all of us.

 

To you: May God bless you and yours with his grace and the joy of Thanksgiving Day. I thank you for faithfully visiting here, commenting and encouraging me this past year. I am truly blessed.

 

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