Sunday, February 21, 2021

Lenten Thoughts

I want to thank Christine, a reader at Simplicity, for asking if I would post Lenten thoughts on this blog. I'm so grateful for her holy prod. Here are my thoughts right now. May they serve the One who loves us with a perfect love. Thank you, Savior.

When historians look at Lent, they point out how the religious tradition made a virtue of necessity for early medieval Europeans. The lean, dark months of the year...after the fall harvest and culls had been consumed and before the early crops could be harvested...were a time of austerity, reflection, sacrifice, a journey through the dark. 

Why not turn them into a journey to the Cross and Easter Victory? Those months sucked anyway. Sacrifice something, acknowledge Jesus' sacrifice of His very life for you, grow close to Him. 

As with many such faith disciplines, Lenten sacrifice sometimes becomes a matter of pride, the showy self-flagellation that represents virtue signaling rather than a sincere, intentional expression of discipleship. Jesus told how the Pharisees dropped fat purses into the collection for show while the poor widow quietly and humbly gave what she had. 

God saw. 

Paul had some things to say about virtue signaling, too. Have you noticed there's been a lot of that going around lately. It's not good. Never has been.

The past year has been filled with sacrifice, both large and small. We wear masks in public to protect others and matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient or awkward the consequences. We've cut vacations and big celebrations, spending money (when we have it) on better wifi and extra computer monitors to work from home instead. 

We've socially distanced and avoided hugs. We've turned trips to the grocery into our major outing of the week. We've watched (and maybe participated in) the deepening divisions in our communities, states, nation, and world. 

We've weighed risks and benefits of in-person or virtual school for our children and our families, and been uncomfortable with the decision we made. We've lost jobs or shifted to virtual work or had to go to jobs that put us at risk of getting sick. 

We've waited in our cars for hours to have swabs stuck up our noses and are waiting again to get injections in our arms. We've dropped loved ones at ERs and waited outside in our cars on rainy nights for some sort of news. We've said final good-byes via FaceTime and Zoom or not been able to say good-bye at all. We've not had funerals...or we've had them and maybe caused a few more. 

Some of us--too many--have been stuck in homes where we did not feel safe, where our children were not safe, or where food, medicine, water, heat, light, or love were in short supply. 

It's been a long and difficult haul since last Lent, and to be honest, I'm tired. Bone tired. Soul tired. And feeling guilty because my pandemic has been mostly the easy sort, certainly the safe sort, and not at all--so far and thank you, Savior--the tragic sort. 

What right do I have to whine? Yet here I am. It's not a competition, but shouldn't I be better than this? Is my faith weak? I don't think so. I'm just tired...the kind of tired that makes me want to punch toxic positivism in the face. Don't tell me to look on the bright side or pull myself up by my bootstraps. 

This just sucks, and to pretend otherwise is unhelpful. 

Years ago, I tried a Lenten practice that did not involve sacrifice but addition: I started a gratitude journal. Every day, I wrote down three things that filled me with gratitude. Some days it was hard. Some days it was easy. Almost everything I wrote down was small. Paper towels. A fingernail file. A really awesome pen. 

That practice of gratitude changed my attitude, my faith, and my life.

What I learned all those years ago is that when things get tough, when you get tired and sad and lonely and worn down by life, a helpful thing to do is practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude isn't the same as positivism or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps because gratitude doesn't ignore the mess. 

Gratitude is in the mess

Practicing gratitude is hard, though, because the weight of the mess can make lifting a pen to write down three things you're grateful for feel like climbing Everest without oxygen. 

But gratitude is the oxygen. You need it. I need it. We all need it.  

Oxygen molecules are small...tiny, really, as molecules go. They cross membranes and enter blood and make us alive. A whole bunch of very tiny molecules keep us alive.  

We need to be grateful for the small things because they add up and keep us alive. 

A text from a friend.

A dog head on your lap. 

A cup of coffee. 

A Bible verse.

A funny dog video.

A breath. In and out. Then another. 

Thank you, Savior. 

Yesterday, two different people shared memes on my FaceBook timeline within minutes of each other. They were thinking of me. Oh. My. Gosh. 

Who am I that they thought about me?!?! 

Thank you, Savior. 

Once you've got enough oxygen for yourself (and it doesn't take much, actually), you can start carrying oxygen to others. 

A text to a friend.

A gift card for groceries to someone who lost their job.

A door-drop of brownies or flowers or a book for no reason whatsoever.

A card sent with love.

A masked-up car ride to take someone to a doctor's appointment.

A text to a student to say it's okay that you're late turning in work. I understand.

Thank you, Savior. Thank you, Savior. Thank you, Savior. 

A friend had hip replacement surgery last fall. Coworkers installed a ramp in his garage at the time. He's recovered nicely, and this weekend, he and his son installed bathroom and stair handrails for an elderly friend who's coming home from the hospital, weak but improving. 

Thank you, Savior.

You can't carry oxygen for others if your own lungs are completely starved. Where's your oxygen coming from right now? What are you grateful for? How has God blessed you? 

Because God has blessed you. Even in the deepest and most profound tragedy, and even in the lightest of burdens. God has blessed you. 

Breathe it in. Breathe it out. 

At this point, too many of us are tired and running on empty. Take some deep breaths of gratitude, let them energize you a little bit, and then do something for someone else. 

Say, "Thank you, Savior." 

Then, give someone else the chance to say the same.  

Or you could just give up chocolate. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Our Viral Grief

Often, people think of grief only in terms of loss through death, but we grieve—often very deeply—other types of loss. In the face of pandemic, we have much to grieve from stay-at-home orders and social distancing. We grieve missed hugs, financial losses, and the loss of physical community for worship, work, and school. We grieve lost vacations, sporting events, graduations, weddings, and funerals. 

We want to do the right thing—flatten the curve for everyone—but the losses hurt. How can we process all this hurt and deal with this new, viral grief?

Recognize your feelings. Grief can stir up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings that need to be acknowledged. Feelings are neither good nor bad…they just are. We can’t control what we feel, but we can control how we respond. The first step in responding well to our feelings is to recognize them. 

Accept your feelings. For instance, Christians sometimes think it’s a sin to be angry at God and therefore have a hard time accepting that feeling. The good news is that God’s not afraid of our anger. God’s love in infinite. God can handle our anger and every other feeling our grief might conjure up.  

Express your feelings. Cry. Punch a pillow. Keep a journal. Pray.

Trust that feelings are unique to each of us. People might have the same source of grief but very different feelings about it. Trust that everyone’s doing their best with their feelings…even you! Treat others’ feelings the way you want them to treat yours, even if you might not understand them.

Share your feelings with someone you trust. Often, the most healing part of working through grief is putting the words out there; feelings often lose power in the open air. Talk with someone who listens without judgment, without trying to “fix” the feelings, and without telling you what you “should” do. (And remember to be a good listener when others share their feelings with you!)

C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” Indeed, we now see in our response to this pandemic just how closely related fear and grief are. God is with us as we wash our hands and struggle with this new—and temporary—normal. God is with us through this uncertainty, fear, and grief. God gave us feelings; let us work through them together. 

This is a slightly edited article I wrote for our church newsletter, and it comes out of my experience as a Stephen Minister and Leader. If you want more information, please email me through the blog. Blessings and peace to everyone. ~Susan

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Long Time Coming

I've been trying to write this post for several years now. I've written it, but it may not be for you.

This post is for those in the LGBTQ community, and those who wrongly believe that all Christians think gays are going to hell, and for those who are as upset as I am at the harm being done to those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

If you're on the fence about homosexuality and the church, maybe my words will help you.

But if you believe gay people are going to hell, well, I'm not going to change your mind, and you're not going to change mine. We're going to have to disagree.


This morning I attended--as the only layperson at a table of ordained ministers and seminary students--a discussion of the book Holy Love by Steve Harper, a conservative Methodist theologian who has come out in support of LGBTQ inclusion in our church. He's one of many UMC pastors who, after years of discernment and of ministering to LGBTQ people, have changed their stand on inclusion. If you're wrestling with this issue, I recommend the book.

As you may know, I'm a United Methodist, and our denomination is losing its ever-loving mind over the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in ordained ministry and same-sex marriage. Schism is inevitable and may come as early as the General Conference in May.

Here's the situation. This debate isn't really over human sexuality. That's the presenting symptom. It's really about biblical interpretation. I can't understand the conservative side in this, though I have tried. Truly, I have. But the bottom line for me is this. Harm is being done. The church has established policies and theology that exclude people on the basis of sexual orientation and identity. Bible verses are pulled out of context and used as sticks to exclude and hurt the marginalized, the "different," the "other."

But there is no "other." There is only humanity. All of us. Together in creation. Each one made in the image of God. Each beloved and created to love and serve.

God didn't write the Bible or dictate it to scribes. Claiming that He did turns the Bible into an idol...a leather-bound god we can carry around and hit people over the head with when we judge that they are misbehaving. It's also not the "inerrant word of God." The inerrant word is the fully divine, fully human Jesus. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to help us grow in faith and spread the gospel of love because God is, in fact, love. The Bible is, instead, a collection of writings by divinely inspired humans spanning centuries that was gathered together in the early church as our faith's foundational document.

The Bible, divinely inspired, shows us the story of God's relationship with His creation and how he has worked in the world. It shows how He shepherded us from being polytheists--who sacrificed our children and animals in attempts to bargain with gods--to monotheists with a gospel of mercy, grace, peace, and love for all. Parts of the story are "go and do likewise," and parts of the story are warnings of what not to do (idol worship, treating the poor badly, hoarding wealth, not welcoming the stranger).

Parts are specific to a historical context (Ruth sleeping with Boaz; God ordering Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in Jericho as a sacrifice to him), and parts speak to the eternal will of God (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself). The Bible is by turns poetry, prophesy, letters, history, myth, and even advice column. It's a book full of contradictions, context, and complexity. It's a wonderful book that you should read for yourself, wrestle with, question, explore, interpret.

But if you take away anything from the Bible that doesn't make you love each and every one of God's children as you love yourself, then you're reading it wrong.

All means all.

My church used to advertise the motto Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors. But three passages in our Book of Discipline shine light on the hypocrisy of that welcoming motto. One excludes self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from ordained ministry, one says that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and one says marriage is between a man and a woman.

For years, these passages have been quietly ignored in many parts of the UMC. We have LGBTQ pastors serving all over the world and even an openly queer bishop. (We also have an African bishop who's a polygamist, and that is ignored as well, in the name of cultural difference.) Complaints have been brought against pastors who marry same-sex couples. Some are acted on; some are simply ignored. That's part of being a "big tent" church; you allow for difference and the movement of the Holy Spirit.

However, recent legislation was enacted so that if a pastor marries a same-sex couple, he or she will lose position and pay for a year. A second offense means defrocking. These sentences are mandatory and cannot be ignored, and no other infraction is punishable this way. This is what the conservative forces in the UMC passed a year ago, trying to give teeth to their interpretation of the Bible as the inerrant, eternal, absolute will of God.

My mother called me after that vote, heartbroken and in tears, and said, "This is not my church."

Harm is being done. Lovely humans who happened to be born gay or trans or queer are being told they cannot answer God's call to ministry in my church. Lovely humans who want to grow in their faith and deepen their relationships with God are told they simultaneously are welcome and abominations...a toxic mixed message. Lovely couples who want a committed, monogamous, God-centered relationship are told they cannot be married in the church or by a UMC pastor. Lovely UMC pastors are gutted when they have to say no to those requests or risk their livelihood.

The Bible has a lot to say about women shutting up in church, not teaching in church, submitting to men. Yet half of UMC pastors in the United States are women. The Bible has a lot to say about how to treat your slaves (beating is just fine, in case you didn't know) and how slaves should submit to their masters. Yet no one today considers slavery anything other than an abomination in the eyes of God. That's because the Holy Spirit is alive and kicking in the world, moving us TOWARD perfection. We imperfect humans resist. I know I do, every single day. But the Spirit's movement is forward, not back to a world so broken God had to clothe Himself in flesh to show us how to treat each other.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said we should do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. The UMC does a lot of good, and people on all sides of this conflict are deeply, profoundly in love with God. But harm is being done in the name of the UMC and in the name of biblical interpretation.

If you are a person who happens to be LGBTQ, know that God loves you as you are, and many of us in the UMC welcome and affirm you. Every person at the study table with me today is committed to a theology of grace and love. I left the meeting full of hope. A denomination will come out of this mess where all who love Jesus will be welcomed, affirmed, and invited to full participation in the life of the church.

Please, do not grow weary. Please, do not turn away from God. Please, do not give up hope. You are loved. I am loved. Those who are doing harm--knowingly or unknowingly--are loved. The Spirit is working. I witnessed that today.

Mercy, grace, peace, and love,

Saturday, March 4, 2017


Lent has begun, and we are all walking to the cross.

How are you honoring your walk? Are you fasting, giving up some favorite food for the forty days? Or are you participating in a small-group study? Have you committed to resurrecting your prayer life, or meditation, or daily Bible reading or weekly worship? Did you decide to donate your time, resources, or talents to those in need?

I would love to read your Lenten faith practices in the comments, and especially how those practices deepen your relationship with the Savior.

If you've not committed to honoring Lent in some specific way, I encourage you to do so. It's not too late to make that commitment, whatever form it takes, to walk mindfully in Jesus' footsteps to the cross.

It's my belief that our Lenten walk needs to be meaningful to us...not the fulfillment of some rule or suggestion from someone else. There is no one right way to live into Lent. Explore your spiritual gifts, pray, talk to others for ideas, maybe even sit down with pen and paper to brainstorm ideas. Lenten practice should be individual, personal, and meaningful to you. If it draws you closer to Jesus, it's a good practice.

Fasting and giving up chocolate never made me think of Jesus, and when, some years ago, a youth pastor suggested adding something for Lent, my brain kicked into over-drive. So many ideas popped into my head! In the years since, I've tried a number of things, and almost all have blessed me greatly.

This Lent, I'm reading Ann Voskamp's new book The Broken Way. If you're struggling with brokenness and guilt, the crushing weight of worry and pain, this might be the book for you. Voskamp's writing is raw, lyrical, deep. She has suffered far more than I have, and reading her experiences in facing the suffering, struggling with it, processing it, and ultimately trusting God and thanking Him in deep, abiding gratitude inspires me in so many ways.

I'm also sending a card for every day of Lent, just as I did last year. My crafty gift for making cards, my spiritual gift of encouragement, and my joy in sending happy mail come together perfectly for this Lenten practice. Giving something of yourself to others on the journey to Easter mimics Jesus' giving to His disciples and other followers during his life. While nothing can compare to His sacrifice for us on the cross, we can share that love in small ways and big each and every day.

What are you doing to honor Christ's great gift of salvation, His great suffering and sacrificial death?

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Please share one good, bright, hopeful thing in your life right now. Leave a comment and spread the good things. Don't we have too much spreading of the bad things? Be a part of the positive.

I'll start. I experienced two positive meetings at my sons' schools in the past two weeks. Jack's ETR/IEP meeting went very well, and so did Nick's 504 meeting. These meetings went so well because teams of teachers and administrators care about my kids. It's amazing!

Your turn.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Anticipating 2017

Too many people--Christians and non-Christians alike--are frightened right now. The news media, the political rhetoric of powerful bullies, the violence we hear about in constant streams through our screens...these suck us out of our trust in God and into a fearful, powerless state. Our eyesight is skewed and distorted by fear, as if we're looking out at a world trying to make sense of what's on the other side of clouded, cracked glass. Our confusion makes us more afraid.

Christians are called by God to be a people set apart by love. We trust God, we know He loves us, and we share that love in a hurting world. That's our job. Yet too many of us are hunkering down in fear and confusion, wondering where God is. We're being drawn in by faulty, distorted theology that teaches us to watch out for our tribe...those who believe the same way we do, look like us, think like us.

Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate.

We're even closing the doors to the church and guarding the gates to keep out the marginalized, the poor, the hurting, the broken, those who are sinning differently from us. We've become the Pharisees, expecting a messiah who comes bearing a sword to beat down his enemies with bloodshed and domination until we special ones are all that's left.

God, help us. 

Three little words. A prayer. Already answered.

The psalmist wrote, "And I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13)

I believe this has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled every single day. Every. Single. Day. 

I reject the fear that the mongers are working in our world. God's work is ongoing and glorious in the here and now...and the most awesome news of all is that we can choose to be a part of it. He wants us to be a part of it. In fact, He's given each of us gifts to use in service to His kingdom for just this purpose. 

Are you using your gifts? Do you even know what they are? 

This year, Transforming Common Days will focus clearly and without distortion on what we can do for God's kingdom which is here and now, a positive response to fear and anger and hate. And it all starts with claiming the psalmist's words. Believe you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living...and you will. 

I do. And it's glorious. And there's so  much more we can do to spread the glory, grow the goodness, overcome oppression, and communicate the love.  

Will you claim these words with me? Will you believe?

Typewritten Verse:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Prayer


My own life is going pretty well, and I thank you for that. But some of my friends, well, they are hurting. Really hurting. They are battling illness, or they've lost loved ones, or they are overwhelmed by responsibility, or they have anxiety, depression, or other serious mental illnesses. And every time I turn on NPR, I hear about more suffering. War. Hunger. Human trafficking. Racism. Neglect. Abuse. Hate. Murder.

So many of your children are hurting, and I know that hurts you, too.

My prayer this Christmas is for all your children to feel your love. Show each of us how we can be your love in the world, your hands, your ears, your heart. Make us like Jesus, Lord, so that we grow from helpless infants into powerful forces of your endless love and amazing grace.

There is so much good in this world, and it all flows directly from you. You are all over the place! I've seen good deeds, read about amazing discoveries that will make life better, worshiped in a church filled with your love and joy. I see kindness, gentleness, mercy, compassion, patience, peace, joy, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control everywhere. You are in those fruits, and you nourish your children through them.

To those who are hurting, bring comforting hearts. For those who are joyful, give them generous hearts so that they may magnify that joy in your name.

Most of all, Lord, I thank you for Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. The light of life. The Savior. Our example and our king. Let his light shine through us into the dark places and leave them dark no more.