Happy 20th Anniversary to Me: A Gift of a Story Meant to Make You Laugh

So today marks twenty years that I have been married to my beloved Jason. We have been doing some serious celebrating of this milestone anniversary. We’ve also been pretty reflective of our relationship: what makes it tick, what makes it last, what got it started.

We both agree we thought of each other as marriage material pretty much upon first meeting, certainly upon our first date. A lot of things went right on that date, but none so funny as what has become known in our common lore as the “Fruit Cocktail” story. In a time when much on the internet raises our blood pressure, I hope this story makes you laugh and smile.

On my Anniversary, here is my gift to you:

Once upon a time there was a boy. A nineteen year old boy who was bright and mischievous on the outside but true and kind on the inside. One day the boy met one of his besties for lunch at Chick-fil-A, which made sense as they both were enrolled at a Baptist school together and strongly believed true love waits. The true love waits crowd has always loved Chick-fil-A.

To the boy’s surprise that day the bestie brought a tag-a-long. Another true love waits girl though she did not go to the Baptist school and was a stranger to the boy. The tag-a-long girl made the boy’s heart race and mouth talk fast. But the boy was a good boy inside so instead he just asked for the tag-a-long girl’s phone number a respectable number of days later.

A date was made between the good but mischievous boy and the new heart racy girl. The boy promised a picnic. The girl thought, “how romantic.” What the new girl didn’t know was that the boy was joking with his bestie every day that he was going to have “Fruit Cocktail” with the girl on the first date.

A word about “Fruit Cocktail.” The bestie was very shy and sweet and she blushed every time the word “sex” was spoken out loud. Because the boy was so mischievous he took to saying the word sex in her presence regularly just to make her ears go red. Then one day the bestie’s ex boyfriend walks by and asked, “What is so funny?”

Though the boy was mischievous he was too kind and good to ever really hurt his friend so he said the first thing that came into his mind, “We were just talking about the cafeteria’s fruit cocktail.” This worked out well in the end as now the boy could even just say “fruit cocktail,” and the bestie would blush.

So the boy teased the bestie relentlessly the week before the big date that he was going to have “fruit cocktail” with her friend. What the boy didn’t know is though bestie was his good good friend, girls always stick together. So bestie told tag along/heart race girl the fruit cocktail stories. Heart race girl was bright and a little mischievous too so she just laughed and said, “We’ll see about that.”

The date between the boy and heart race girl was lovely. The picnic was lovely. There were flowers and candles and you guessed it . . . .little cans of fruit cocktail for dessert. Actual fruit cocktail with grapes and pieces of pears and the occasional red cherry. When the boy offered heart race girl a can of fruit cocktail to his surprise she perked up and said, “Oh, I love fruit cocktail. It’s my favorite.” He snickered to himself. Wait until he told bestie what her friend had said.

But then heart race girl went on. She kept talking about how very good the fruit cocktail was and how she only wished she could have had more. It had been so long since the girl had eaten fruit cocktail that was this good.

Now it was the boy’s turn to have red ears and the girl’s turn to snicker to herself as she tucked away the can once filled with grapes and pears and the bright red cherries and wiped her mouth neatly with a napkin.

I will not pretend to know what the boy thought on his way home that night, but what I do know is he never suspected that heart race girl was a prankster too. After all, aren’t all girls just sugar and spice, heavy on the sugar side?

It was a great surprise to the boy when he went back to bestie to tell her all the funny things heart race girl had said, only to see bestie not blush but fall on the floor laughing. “Man, she really got you good,” bestie proclaimed. The boy tried to process this new information. The girl knew what she was doing all along going on and on about fruit cocktail and how much she loved it and how good the boy’s fruit cocktail was.

At first the boy was embarrassed. But then he called the girl to make another date. Because there is nothing this particular prankster liked more than a sweet looking girl who could beat him at his own game.

The End.

Actually, it was just the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

Community Matters: a Sermon on 1 Kings 19 and Galatians 3

I have gotten more chances to preach recently, which I love. Although I don’t usually share sermons on this site, this one felt important somehow. May these words bless you

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I have just returned from a one week trip in the North Georgia mountains celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It was really nice for Jason and I to have a time of rest together. A time to unplug from the chaos and troubles of the world and reconnect to ourselves, each other and God. But we also spent a lot of time celebrating. Because living together as a married couple for 20 years and still liking each other much less being in love is a big deal.

Jason and I laughed many times on the trip about how although we have lived in relative harmony for 20 years we are quite different. As we visited a winery in North Georgia, he liked the dry red wines; I liked the sweet whites. He liked to sit in the sun outside the cabin while I picked shady spots to play in the creek. He got up early every morning, I slept. He ran everyday. I don’t run unless I’m being chased. You get the point, we are a yin and yang couple in many ways yet we have been able to live in community with one another for these many years. Don’t get me wrong. There have been tough times, but we have persevered. I guess there is something bigger than our differences that keeps us together.

Now we went away to the mountains to rest in celebration, but we see Elijah this morning going to the mountain for a very different reason. He is exhausted. He has been having it out with King Ahab and Jezebel who have turned the nation Israel away from God and is now running for his life. He has done BIG work trying to lead them back to God and what he got after all his efforts was a death sentence. So he flees. And then he crashes. Elijah is at this point what I would call bone tired. So tired and worn thin all he wants to do is lay down and die. So he lies under a broom tree and sleeps. An angel comes to him and brings bread and drink. He eats and drinks and falls right back to sleep. Not even angel food can rouse him from his exhaustion and despair. The angel comes and second time to feed him and sets him off on his journey to Mount Horeb to meet God.

Now we learn a lot about Elijah from his conversation with God on Mt Horeb. When God asks Elijah what he is doing on the mountain, Elijah answers thusly, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.” You catch the drama here. I have been zealous. They have been bad. Now they want to kill me. I don’t know if I am more struck by Elijah’s tattling nature or his egocentric belief that he is the only one left in the world that is following God. That everyone else is out to get him. It gets like this in bad times. My husband is a therapist and he talks about all these studies that show how stress not only narrows our vision, focusing us on the bad and blocking out the good around us. But it can also be quite isolating. Elijah believed he was entirely alone in the world. That is a bad feeling indeed.

Now how does God answer him? “Poor Elijah, I shall smite all those meanies for you. It’s going to be okay? Or, “You are right Elijah, this is awful. You best just give up and die.” No, what God does is give him a very special gift. The gift of experiencing God’s presence directly.

Then God tells Elijah to go back. Go back to your nation, your people, your community. Stop focusing so much on your problems with your enemies and focus more on living in community with those who can support you in living out your call.

God tells Elijah to seek out allies like Jehu and Hazael. To let them do the fighting. Then he tells him to pair up with Elisha and let Elisha partner with him. You can’t do it all by yourself Elijah. Let others help you.Then he throws in a mention of the seven thousand people in Israel who have not bowed to Ba’al.

Hmm. Looks like Elijah wasn’t so alone after all. Just worn out and at the end of himself. But the gift of being at the end of ourself is that is forces us to be open to letting others help us. To embrace community and let the community aid us. For God did create us to be alone but in community. Adam and Eve. Father and Son and Holy Spirit. God’s mark is all over community.

I was going to talk about the Geresene demoniac and pontificate about how Jesus sent him back to his community after being healed, but my husband and children said if I preached on three Scripture passages we’d be here all day. And after the events of the past couple of weeks the passage from Galatians began to really resonate with my heart. So let’s turn to Galatians.

For if we have any doubt about the importance of community for us as Christians and for all humans really, look to our passage from Galatians. The church in Galatia was one of the new Christian communities that Paul helped start. But after he left them it seems they turned to fighting. Yes, church squabbles are as old as Christianity itself. Some people were more focused on works and some more focused on faith in Christ. In last week’s lection Paul wrote them to tell them, “same coin, two sides”, faith and works go hand in hand.

But then Paul goes on to talk about the nature of Christian community itself. This is the famous, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female passage.”

Man, I don’t know about you but this passage speaks to me as loud today as ever.

Just tag on there is no longer democrat nor republican, gay or straight and you could make it a Facebook meme.

We are in a time of deep division in our nation, churches and even world. We live in a time when people are quick to draw lines of differences. To claim that they have the right way to live, to govern, to kill and die.

But Christ came to tell us that HE WAS THE WAY. Not that following him was the WAY, but being him was the way. In Galatians Paul talks about us clothing ourselves with Christ. He also says “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”

Think about that for a minute. If I hold to this as truth it means, I am no longer Dena Hobbs. I am not Episcopal or Southern or female or white or straight or a mom or a citizen of the USA. All that is gone. It is not the most important or true thing about me. What is the most important and true thing about me is that I am filled with Christ’s Spirit. Christ himself lives within me. Moves through me, speaks through me. And the same is true for all of us.

For the most important thing about us in not what divides us, it it is what unites us. The most important thing about us is not our race or nationality or political party or whether we like red or blue carpet in a church or hardwood. The most important thing about is that we are all saved by the grace of Christ and filled with God’s own Spirit.

That commonality is so big, so important, it leaves all the other details in the dust.

We are meant to be in community. And like Jason and I we will all have our differences and we will have our ups and downs. But what unites us is far greater than any of our differences.

So reach out to one another. Let others help when you are tired. Embrace the outsider who needs people to be with to be made whole. Always remember the truest thing that holds you together when all else fails. We are Christ’s. We are saved by Christ and filled by Christ. Christ lives in us!

If we can do this and be a witness to others of unity in the Spirit, there will be hope for the church and our world yet. So let us be one in Christ, and let us always bear witness to God’s salvation, healing and love. Amen.

 

Why Teacher Pay Should Not Be Linked to Student Test Scores: My end of the year gift to my kids’ teachers

Today is the last day of school here in Houston County (insert cheer here). I have been wracking my brain on what to give my children’s teachers as an end of the year thank you present. After much deliberation, I have decided that this blog post may be the best gift I could give them.

If you know me at all, you already know I am strongly against standardized testing. I believe it to be overly stressful and ineffective. One test a year cannot give an accurate picture of a student. Certainly not tests that are as changeable and irregular as those given by the state of Georgia.

I dislike standardized testing because it causes SO MUCH anxiety in my children (who always get the highest marks but panic anyway). As a proctor I see that the stress is everywhere. All the students are on edge, the teachers are on edge, the administrators are on edge. Sure they try to be positive with pep rallies and encouraging slogans, but we all know this is the time of year that everyone dreads. DREADS.

Although I dislike standardized testing because of how it affects my middle school age children, this is not my primary concern. They do great in school and will work out the trauma one day in therapy.

Why I am strongly against standardized testing is because of what it does to the teachers.

You see a few years back a Washington official came up with an idea for a grant to improve education. They called it Race to the Top. This grant aimed to improve education by improving classroom teachers. Part of the grant stipulations are that participating states and school districts will evaluate their teachers in large part based on standardized test scores. If the teacher’s students experience enough “growth” the teacher gets to keep on teaching and may even get some merit pay. If the teacher’s students do not “grow” based on their standardized test scores the teacher could eventually not be re-certified or would earn less salary.

Oh man.

From one perspective, I get it. There are a small percentage of bad teachers out there the government wants to make it easier to get rid of. And someone had the idea that greater pay would male teachers work harder and better, leading to more great teachers in classrooms.

But.

But so many things. Where to start?

Most of the teachers I know are already working their buts off. Everyday they give 110% in a job that most of us would not work because it is so hard and pays so little. Most of the teachers I have encountered are already GOOD teachers. The last thing they need is ONE MORE THING TO DO. In fact, a few less things to do would be great as then they could actually teach and develop students more. Asking them to better themselves EVERY year for the rest of their career is next to impossible.

And what about the teachers who teach special education, or at title one schools, or for that matter gifted kids? How are these teachers supposed to increase test scores every year? The fact that special ed kids have to take standardized testing is practically criminal. And kids already at the top can’t rise any higher. And Title 1 kids are as a group not going to soar in testing as much as middle and upper class kids.Why you ask?

Here’s a little story. While proctoring at my kids Title One middle school, we went over a practice question on the Social Studies section of the Georgia Milestone test. The question was, “Who elects the governor of Georgia?” There were four answers given. When the teacher gave the answer to the practice question, half the class groaned as they got it wrong. I was shocked that middle schoolers would not know that the people of the state vote for the governor. But then I realized that not all parents drag their kids to the polls like I do. Or talk about politics at dinner. Or even vote at all. In fact some of the kids have only one parent at home that work two jobs to get by and is never home to help with homework. Or to make dinner or much else. Some of these kids have parents that are struggling so much with their own problems, self-made or otherwise, the child is basically raising themself. Some of these kids live with Grandma who is old and tired and just trying to get through each day raising a teenager in their elder years.

Not all kids are equal in their ability or desire to learn or test. Not all families are equal in their ability or willingness to support a child’s education (A factor I think is even more important than classroom teachers in a child’s education). Why do we expect the students all to succeed in a certain way? And if they don’t, automatically blame the teacher or the school?

Yes, there are some less than great teachers that inhibit their students ability to learn. And there needs to be a way to deal with this. But lets not punish ALL teachers and ALL students to reach this end.

The grant wanted to increase the number of great teachers in schools.

As far as I can see it has had the opposite effect. We have lost great teachers due to Race to the Top and the overemphasis on standardized testing. 

Many great teachers have left the profession as this was the last bureaucratic straw for them. They chose to retire in peace, find a new profession, switch to private schools, or as young people chose not enter the profession of teaching as planned because every teacher they knew was going crazy with all the stress.

And the Great teachers I know weren’t in it for the money or the accolades anyway. Turns out those are not such good rewards with the education crowd. Turns out they teach not because it is an easy job or a way they can make some money while slacking off, but … wait for it . . . They Love Teaching. They love the children. They love making a difference in someone else’s life. They work tirelessly every day so our country will be a better place, filled with citizens who are not only educated on subject matter but who know how to act in the world. Now I can understand how politicians may not understand this humble way of thinking, but there it is.

And speaking of great teachers. My best teachers, the ones I remember most, weren’t necessarily the ones who got me the highest scores on standardized tests. They were the ones who cared. I hesitate to quote from Girl Meets World, but it is true, “People change people.”

The great teachers I had were not only the ones who cracked the whip academically and taught me their assigned subject matter. They were the ones who taught me to how to think, how to learn, how to succeed in life. And they did that all while caring about me as a person. I’ll never forget the day one of my toughest teachers sat with me while I cried. My Grandmother, whom I was very close to, was having open heart surgery that day and I was not sure if she was going to live. This tough nut of a teacher listened to me, comforted me, and told me not to stress over my project that was due the next day. She gave me a couple weeks leeway and said just to turn it in when I was ready.

There are still great teachers out there changing young people every day. My children had them in spades our middle class suburban elementary school.  My son not only is a math whiz thanks to the extra encouragement and challenge his kindergarten teacher gave him at a young age, but washes his hands better than anyone you’ve ever seen to this day.

And don’t even get me started on the teachers who teach at my kids’ Title 1 school. They are patient and strong and kind and creative. They work HARD all day to give these kids a chance at a better life.

While chaperoning a field trip to the Fox theater in Atlanta, I sat in tears as I listened to the kids around me ooh and ahh at the magnificence of the theater and the wonderfulness of the play. They had never seen anything like it. This trip my child’s teacher, the one who leads a drama club for no other reason than she loves it, it changed those kids lives. It showed them possibilities they had never dreamed of. It showed them who they could be. I still get teary just thinking about it.

I have no idea how this woman’s special ed classroom students did on their standardized test. But she is a GREAT teacher who is preparing her students for a great future.

Hey there’s an idea. Lets give merit pay to those who teach special ed and those who teach at Title 1 schools to encourage the Great teachers already there who climb an uphill battle everyday.

It makes a lot more sense than basing someone’s worth on some ill-planned, poorly regulated, and questionably graded test.

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*I am still learning the fine details of these issues even though I spend a good amount of time researching them. The lack of information easily available to parents and the public in general is troubling. So feel free to add more details in comments if I didn’t get something just right.

*To encourage our teachers, share your favorite “Great Teacher”
story below.

*Some articles I read indicated that Gov. Deals actions on this matter might be politically motivated. Some imply he wants schools to fail so the state can take control of schools or start corporate run charter schools. If you know more about this than me, please chime in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answering Question 7B and How I Hope the United Methodist Church Will Change Its Ways

Today I am going to take a break from my blogging sabbatical to tell a story. It is a story I have told few people because A) It is so painful and B) I was afraid of what people would say.

But now the courage of 111 people who recently spoke their truth is giving me the courage face my pain and fear to speak my own truth.

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I grew up in the United Methodist Church. It was overall a wonderful experience. I was taught about Jesus by Sunday School teachers who loved me. I had a great cohort of friends in my youth group who helped me learn how to walk through adolescence as a person of faith. As I grew older and began to feel tugs towards ministry, the church provided opportunities for me to get my feet wet as a ministry leader. When I became certain of my call, the church cheered me on as I went through the steps that would lead me to become a fully ordained United Methodist Elder, a minster of Word and Sacrament.

If you are not familiar with the process of becoming a United Methodist minister, let me start by saying it is a long one. First your church gives you the thumbs up to become a candidate for ministry. Then larger denominational leaders and committees vet you and approve you. You go to seminary. You serve for a few years as a minister in a church. And then you write many essays about your theology, understanding of the Bible, and dozens of other things.

It was in the writing of these ordination papers that I got my first red flag about the UMC. Right between asking me about my theology and my understanding of the Bible, they asked me a different question. They asked (paraphrased) if I would live my life in such a manner that I would be a good example of what it means to follow Christ. You know, not cheating on my husband and living an all around upright life and all. I expected this question. I was only 24 and could only promise to do my best, but I wanted to be a good example of a Christ follower for others. Easiest question to answer out of all. Yes!

And then there was a part B to to question number seven that went something like this, “Are you a self-avowed, practicing homosexual?”

Wait, what? The Board of Ordained Ministry is asking me outright if I am gay? And the answer to this question determines whether I am living my life as a good Christian or not? The answer to this decides whether I will be ordained or not?

Now, I am not in fact gay. But this question troubled me deeply. My husband and I had several gay friends in school with us at seminary. We watched how that affected their lives and ministry.

One friend, who is one of the most talented, spirit-filled women I know, came out to us in our second year of seminary. You could tell she was scared to tell us, even though we were close friends. We cried with her after she told us she was gay. Not because we thought she was bad, but because we knew how hard life would be for her in the church. It was so hard in fact that after a couple of years of trying to find a way to minster and come out of the closet at the same time, she left the church altogether. She took her talents and spirit- filled self to the secular world. To this day I grieve for what a loss this was for the church.

Another friend came out to my husband about mid way through school. Though he had been deeply closeted he began to take tiny steps to share his identity with his teachers and church leaders (he was actually Baptist). These leaders shot down and shamed our friend. About a month later he attempted suicide. He felt so rejected, so hopeless, so wrong, he decided it was better to die than to live as he was. Thank God the attempt was unsuccessful. This friend also left the church. I grieve to this day for the pain and brokenness he has suffered at the hands of the church.

There were other friends. Friends who changed to more open denominations. Friends who buried themselves in the closet to live out their call. Friends who led almost two separate lives, hiding the truest part of themselves from their life’s work.

All these stories affected me deeply. So deeply that when it came time for me to answer question #7 part b, it was so hard that I almost couldn’t do it. I went to a friend and colleague who served on the board and asked what would happen if I left question 7b blank because I disagreed with it on principle. He told me outright, “Then you will not be ordained. You will be run out for siding with gay people.” (He said this not to be mean, or because he agreed with question 7b, but because it was true).

I finally answered question 7b, though it still felt wrong.  Looking back now I almost wish I had had the courage to refuse to answer and let the chips fall where they may.

I served as a United Methodist Minister for six years. In some ways they were wonderful years, and yet they were so hard and painful. I served in a denomination and more specifically a conference that was anti-gay. Whenever resolutions would come up at Annual Conference or General Conference, I sat in scared silence as I heard people not just oppose non-heterosexuals in ministry, but spew hatred about gays. I was terrified to be an ally in this hostile environment. Things were hard enough as a theologically progressive young woman. How much harder would it be if I spoke up for my brothers and sisters who were LGBTQ?

So I closeted myself as an ally and prayed for those who listened to that language and felt it drive them deeper into the closet. I knew it was wrong. I tried to make up for it by speaking about welcoming gays in my relatively progressive congregation (Open Hearts, Open Doors right?) But it wasn’t enough.

Year after year I felt the gap widen between my own heart’s conviction for justice and what I saw happening around me in my denomination. After six years I finally got the courage to step out of parish ministry and become a stay-at-home mom to my kids.

After leaving a job that dictated where I went to church, I found myself visiting an Episcopalian congregation that is known for its openness to people of all sexual orientations. It was like a weight was lifted off of me. I could finally live and worship in accord with my beliefs. I could actually be who I was in church.

After five years of family leave, I withdrew my membership from my conference of the United Methodist Church.

It was an incredibly painful decision. A decision I still grieve over today. But it is not a decision I regret. The UMC had become a place where I no longer felt comfortable living out my call.

This week I heard that 111 brave ministers, active UM ministers who identify themselves as something other than heterosexual, wrote a letter to the church asking it to change its policy towards the ordination of non-heterosexuals. This letter was submitted during General Conference, a quadrennial meeting of the entire denomination to rule on polity and other matters.

I knew that if 111 people could be brave enough to come out of the closet to their denomination and ask for acceptance rather than rejection of their gifts and call, the least I could do was add my voice as a “yes, please” along with theirs.

If you want to add your voice as well, click on the link here

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1mihdWcQp5DKaRZH8hYvsDhcyniY4hKIipt88EPh_CpE/viewform

I don’t know if I will ever be a United Methodist minister again. But if the denomination of my childhood and early ministry were to choose justice over oppression and love over fear, I would be so grateful relieved. And maybe those years after answering 7B and which were lived in the midst of such hostility and oppression wouldn’t feel wasted after all.

 

 

 

Letting Go of My Baby

I was tucking in my daughter last night and she looked at me and asked if I ever got a feelung about things I just somehow knew.  I told her yes, sometimes I do. She looked at me in the eye and said she had a feeling something was about to happen but she didn’t know what.

This morning her brother woke up with a fever and extreme tenderness and pain in his low abdomen.  When he refused all breakfast we called the doctor.  I secretly hoped they would tell me this was a certain virus going around.  Instead they told me to take our son to the med stop soon.

After a quick exam at the med stop he was sent to our local ER for a CT scan. Hours later he was sent by ambulance the area children’s hospital to have his appendix removed.

And now in the late hours of a Sunday night, eleven years and some months after he was born by c-section in the late hours of a Sunday night, he is in the operating room having his least useful but now most dangerous organ removed.

My children have always been very healthy. I looked on at parents of children fighting extreme illness and wondered how they did it. How did they face the mortality of their children without breaking? How did they stay so strong?

And here I am 12 hours into a journey I never wanted to take and I haven’t broken down yet. I feared for him early on. While his dad was checking him in at the ER I spent some time packing bags and praying. I wanted to tell God I would be okay if I could just go back to surgery with him. I just wanted to hold him the whole time.

But then I saw my son’s face when he got the news he would be having surgery.  He was so brave. There has been a peace and calmness about him the whole day. Through all the ups and down he laid there just watching TV like all was okay. When I saw him having the courage to hold himself together, I knew I had to do the same.

But there was more. It has just been so peaceful today. In a way I can’t explain. When our priest came and anointed our son tonight and laid hands on him in prayer, I had a vision of God holding my son throughout the surgery. Holding him just as I would but even more completely.

This knowledge that my son is held and cared for by others, the wonderful nurses and doctors at this hospital, while I wait to see my son’s face again comforts me. The knowledge that my son is held by God now and in his every moment of need, it helps me let him go.

Don’t get me wrong, I will rejoice when I see his sweet face again, when I can hold his hand.

But I know there is One who loves and cares for him even more than I. The one who put this gift within my womb to begin with.

If you happen to read this post tonight, will you say a prayer for my sweet boy? For his healing and recovery. And for his parents who wait with peaceful anticipation to see their son, their beloved again?

And that this child and his mom will rest as deeply tonight as they did that late night eleven years ago when they met for the first time.

Thanks as always for the prayers and presence. May you have the grace and comfort to let all your burdens and treasures rest in God’s hands as well.

Letting Go of Controlling Time

If you are like me you are a person with a plan.

You have a list of things you want to accomplish and a time line in which you want to accomplish them. However life rarely cooperates with our timelines. Things seem to happen when they want to or more likely when they need to.

Sometimes things come earlier than we had expected and sometimes our plans take much longer to accomplish than we would like.

I met my husband at the tender age of 19. We began to date seriously at age 20 and soon both realized that we were dating the person we were going to spend the rest of our lives with.

I won’t pretend that we were not both afraid of finding our life partner so early.  Were we  ready for this kind of commitment? Were we ready to be with one person until death do us part?

But looking back on it now I would never trade spending my twenties with my wonderful husband. We had the great privilege of growing up together.  And in many ways of raising each other. That is a very precious gift that I will always cherish.

On the other hand when we began to try to conceive a child the process took much longer than we expected. We tried and tried doing everything we could to make a child come into our lives sooner rather than later. But the amount of control we had over the process was laughable. We had two children when the time was full and the children were ready to come into our lives.

That’s the funny thing about time. There is people time and then there is God’s time. Our time we pretend that we can control. We have some inkling that God’s time is way beyond our reach and even understanding, but we don’t like to admit or think about this.

We are currently in the process of selling. This is nothing so life changing as finding your life partner or having a child. But it is still a serious process all the same. I found myself getting impatient this week (one month in) for the house to sell. I have scheduled the first double mortgage payment, that dreaded moment where we will pay both on our new house on our old house in the same month.

Now in my time that would never happen, but in God’s time I accept that this may be a reality. Our house will sell when it sells and most probably will sell when it needs to sell.

Until then the best that I can do is not try to control what happens when.

Instead I hope to settle into God’s Rhythm of the flow of my life.

Waiting on the fullness of time is not the easiest thing to do as a human being, but it is a necessary part of our spiritual formation. We must understand that we are ultimately not in control. Instead one much higher than us holds the hands of time.

Is there something in your life that you’re anxious to have happened? Or that has happened sooner than you expected and now you’re worried you’re unprepared for it?

If so try and take a deep breath. Relax into God’s perfect timing for your life knowing that for everything there is a season.

Letting Go of Controlling Other People

In the realm of learning to let go of things, letting go of controlling other people is a biggie.

Even if we are not particularly controlling people, there are certain people and certain times where we just want to put a pause button on what folks are doing, re-wind a little, and replay scenarios making changes in actions and behaviors.

Most of the time this is for the folks in question own good. Lots of time it is for our own good. People hurt us. People’s actions hurt us. Watching our loved ones suffer hurts us.

But guess what? We are not in charge of them.

This is a big issue in my house right now as I have a soon to be teenaged daughter and a son right on her heels entering puberty even as I write. Oh My Lord. They are doing a lot of things that don’t make sense to me. Frankly, they are doing a lot of things that get on my last nerve.

And technically, I am still within my rights to punish them for their actions and “make them” do things. But my goal is not to be in charge of their life, even if that means they make better choices. My goal is to raise them to become self-sufficient, well functioning adults. And for that to happen they are going to have to suffer the consequences of their own actions for a while.

Not that this is easy. It drives me crazy to watch my daughter go out in winter weather in nothing but short sleeves, a pair of jeans, and some flip flops. So crazy I can even hear my Grandmother complaining in her grave. It makes me angry to watch my son continue to have a zero for a homework grade in math because he did the wrong page of problems and he is too stubborn to admit he made a mistake. KIDS DO CRAZY THINGS AND THEY CAN MAKE PARENTS CRAZY TOO!

To help my sanity and yours too, I am going to repeat the best piece of advice I’ve heard in some time,

“They gonna do what they gonna do.”

Okay, I saw this advice on a dubious marriage “therapist” flyer on facebook, but let me tell you when I read it I clapped and cheered for I knew it to be true.

Right now my kids are gonna do what they are gonna do. And I can punish and nag them to death. Or I can let them suffer the cold, suffer the bad grade, suffer their own consequences. For in truth it is better for them to suffer these small mistakes now than big mistakes they might make if I cut the cord after controlling them for ten more years.

Not that I totally leave them to their own devices. 

No, we are still called to lead by example. (You’d better believe I wear my coat when it is cold). I still give advice one time and let them choose to follow it or not. And of course if they make a big bad choice they will be punished and counseled.

But I think in the meantime it might be best if I keep loving them at a small distance while they figure things out.

Because that’s how God seems to operate in my life. I am not controlled or micro-managed by God (frankly, sometimes I wish I were). But no, God gives us room to make our choices. Knowing that if we suffer enough from a mistake we might have the sense to turn around and follow God’s lead.

And thankfully if we don’t figure it out God in infinite mercy still sends in rescue teams to drag us out of our pit.

But when we just piddle around making less than smart choices that make our life harder than it has to be, I think God just shakes the Almighty head sadly and mutters,

“They gone do what they gone do.”

And God keeps on loving us still.

Letting Go of Sin

Lent is a time when we turn inward and look at ourselves. We may try to give up something or take something on. When we do these things we figure out something pretty quick.

We are sinners.

It is just a fact of human life. We make mistakes. We do things we know we shouldn’t do. We mess up.

Now it would be great if I could write a blog post on how to stop sinning, but frankly I haven’t figured that out yet. I sin every day. Every hour. Can’t seem to stop. Not sure its even possible to stop sinning.

But there is a remedy for sin.

It is called Confession.

The spiritual practice of confession is not something I grew up knowing much about. I pretty much got that we were supposed to confess our sins to God, but I never saw anyone confess their sins to another person as a part of their spiritual healing.

Not that anyone can forgive us except God. But sometimes it help to have someone else on the line with you and the Big One.

When we first started attending the Episcopalian church, our priest would make an announcement at the beginning of each Lenten season about the hours he would be receiving confessions.

Let me tell you this freaked me out a bit. I was just getting to know our priest and no he wanted me to come and tell him about all the horrible things I struggled with? Um, No thanks.

Now as I’ve come to understand confession in our church over the years, there is no secret booth involved. I am not even sure if there is penance given. Frankly, I’ve still never gotten up the courage to go to my priest and confess all my wrongdoings.

But I have had the great privileged of receiving someone’s confession. There were times when I was in the ministry that someone would come in and need to get something off their chest. I would listen and remind them about God’s love and grace.

Sometimes it happens with friends over dinner or a drink.

But my real role model in the practice of confessing sin is my daughter.

I’ll never forget the first time it happened. She was around eight years old. Now my daughter is a very crafty child, always cutting and coloring and making beautiful things. She usually makes these beautiful things at our old wooden coffee table. It is covered in scratches and marker marks and all kind of things. It was a hand-me-down. No biggie.

But one day our daughter commenced to crafting on our almost new ottoman. And she accidentally cut a small hole in the fabric. Honestly I never noticed. For a whole year. But my daughter noticed. Every day that hole in the ottoman ate away at her. She would fight between the guilt she felt at doing something she ought not to have done and her fear of telling me about it. She believed I would be very angry when she told me. She feared severe punishment. She feared me thinking less of her, loving her less.

Finally one day things became too much and she got up the courage to tell me. From my perspective, after hearing “Mom, I have something to tell you, but I’m afraid you’ll be REALLY mad,” hearing “I cut a hole in the ottoman” was actually a big relief.

After she told me, I smiled at her. I hugged her. I told her it was okay. We all made mistakes.I loved her still.

She immediately stated crying in relief.

She said, “You mean I’ve felt bad about this every day for over a year and now I’m not even in trouble?” And then I told her “No, you have punished yourself enough. Just try not to do it again. Crafts are for the coffee table.”

Her sweet child self did not doubt my words. She truly felt and trusted that she was forgiven. That the separation between us had been removed. That she was claimed and held close and beloved.

Apparently the relief my daughter experienced at her first confession made her a believer in letting go of her sins.

Now I get regular confessionals from her. Usually at night when I’m tucking her into bed. In that quiet time when its just me, her, and God. She pours out her heart about what she has done wrong. As she ages, it gets much more diverse than accidentally cutting a hole in the ottoman fabric. But still I listen, I tell her I still love her, I remind her there is grace for all. She is still our girl. And she always breathes such a big sigh of relief after and then settles in for a peaceful sleep.

As she moves into her teenage years it will be interesting to see how this practice of confession continues. It may get harder for the both of us.

But it will be no less important, for our souls long to be free of our sins. Long to breathe a sigh of relief. Long to be forgiven and loved in spite of it all.

And maybe one day I’ll get the courage to follow in my daughter’s footsteps. To pour out my heart to someone other than just God. To confess my guilt, my fears, my weakness. It  must be a relief to have someone be the hands on messenger of God’s grace.

But for now I deal alone with the Big One, laying all my ugliness out on the line. And at night I remind myself of the assurance that in spite of it all, I am claimed as a beloved daughter. If only I could trust and believe it as deeply and truly as that young child.