Tag Archives: grief

All Souls and Giving Thanks

Today is All Soul’s Day, the end of the All Hallow’s Triduum. For Protestants this doesn’t mean much, All Saints Day if celebrated at all is honored on the first Sunday in November. All Soul’s Day is also known as “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.”

In other words, everybody. Our loved ones may never have a day set aside for them or a festival, but in more liturgical traditions, we remember all those we have loved and lost on this day. Each year, these moments to stop and remember, regardless of whether or not I call them All Saints or All Souls, become more tender, more reflective, and more poignant. In my own life, we will remember the one year anniversary of the death of my mother-in-law and a few days later, the six anniversary of my mother’s death.

I reflected on my own mother’s death in a couple of blog posts, that you can access.

https://revcindylee.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/all-souls-and-being-thankful/

https://revcindylee.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/gratitude-and-grief/

And these are not the only deaths that I am reminded of during these holy days. Family, friends, colleagues all come to mind and I am grateful for our relationship, love and laughter shared. I miss many of them deeply, but not to the point of great pain. I miss them because of their unique and unrepeatable spirits which can not replicated, only celebrated and remembered.

Carrie Newcomer has a beautiful song called “All Saints Day” In the Celtic tradition the last few days have been a thin space between life here and the spirit world collide. Perhaps it isn’t the space, but the time where we can almost sense the world beyond this one, the place and space and time when the prophets promised there would no more tears, no more sorrow, no more suffering, no more death.

These holy, hallowed days invite me to pay attention to the sacredness of time, of place and of relationships. I am grateful, deeply grateful for those I have loved deeply and who no longer walk this sacred earth. I smile, I sigh, I say a prayer of thankfulness. On this All Souls Day I am blessed and I continue to be graced to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thankful for All the Saints

Today in the Christian tradition, it is All Saints Day. This day sits in the middle of a triduum (a series of three days, we use the word for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday as well.) This period begins with All Hallows Eve ( Halloween) continues with All Saints Day and ends with All Souls Day. “Traditionally” today is the day we remember the named saints and tomorrow is the day we remember “everyone.”

I almost always write a blog on this day.  A couple of examples of what I written are here:

https://revcindylee.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/all-saints-day/

https://revcindylee.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/all-saints-and-remembering/

So many people have touched my life and I miss them. After 35+ years as a pastor, I have done countless funerals and this day is always a big poignant for me. I don’t think I am maudlin, but I do believe that as a culture we are uncomfortable with grief and tend to want to move on. I know I often do.

Today, after a couple of unseasonable cold and blustery days, the sun is shining. I have taken down the Halloween decorations and am working on the Thanksgiving decor. The colors of autumn remind me of how precious life is, how deeply grateful I am to be alive and to remember. As the leaves turn colors, I think of how many share the best of who they are in the final time of their life.

Autumn is an invitation for me to take each moment as a gift, and to live with love and gratitude. As I finish up an intentional year of gratitude, I am grateful for “all the saints who from their labors rest.”  I am grateful to honor their lives and spirits and be challenged to share the best of their faith, their love and their gifts with others.

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Year of Gratitude

Last week, I didn’t get a prompt posted for our year of gratitude. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful or that I didn’t send a thank you note, I just didn’t get the blog written. Some of that had to do with the life of the global United Methodist Church. While I have tried not to be anxious, I have been.

As I write, General Conference has not yet concluded, but the One Church Plan which I supported and many of my colleagues and friends supported was defeated twice. I am heartbroken. Sunday, I preached a sermon about why I was going to continue to be on the side of love and acceptance of all. You can find both the worship service or the sermon by itself here.

Today I was attending a Sunday School lunch which was called  “picnic.” There was napkin that looked like this:

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Honestly, I have probably felt more like the cat than the girl! And yet being sad and angry and grieving does not mean I am not thankful. Many of my collegagues and friends from the Great Plains Conference have represented the church I love well. In the four short days, these persons have found themselves at the microphone using the legislative process to do what is right and just. The have diligently worked for good for the greatest amount of people. I am grateful for their passion, their faithfulness and willingness to serve in such a difficult time.

I can not say thank you enough to Amy Lippoldt, Adam Hamiliton, Cheryl Jefferson Bell, David Livingston, Mark Holland, Shayla Jordan (one of the youngest elected to the General Conference), Stephanie Ahlschwede among others. I know I missed some, but still I am deeply grateful for their commitment to living out God’s love for all people. I don’t know what the future holds. For so long, 35 plus years as a clergy in the United Methodist Church I have supported and worked for full inclusion of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and friends. I don’t intend to stop.

I want to tell those who feel most bruised and broken by what is occuring that you are not alone, there are many allies who will continue to work for justice, for love, for grace, for everyone to be part of the community of faith. We do not lose hope, we cling to faith, we remember that nothing, NOT ONE THING can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I am grateful for the reminder of that promise and that somehow, in someway, we will go forward.

Years ago, a wonderful song was penned that has been sung for several decades: the story and sharing of that song is one that I pray brings hope and promise to those of us who continue to sing for our lives and the lives of the church together you. You will find that story and song here.

 

 

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Thankful 24/7 For All the Saints

We started a new sermon series yesterday, “Thankful 24/7.” Now I am aware we all KNOW we are supposed to be thankful, grateful for all of the gifts of life we receive. I also know how easy it is to forget. Sometimes the road is rocky and the path is difficult and it becomes harder to experience the blessings of life.

The journey of grief is one of those experiences that both encourages gratitude and blocks the feelings of thankfulness. Grief reminds us how short life really is, and how quickly we can lose someone we love. Grief is the great equalizer as that all people experience it one way or another.

Perhaps that is why All Saints Sunday is one of my favorite worship services of the year. Not because it is a “happy Sunday” but because All Saints reminds me of how precious life is and how each person can make a difference in the lives of others. During worship, as always, I am reminded not only of those persons I have loved and lost this, but of those I have lost in my lifetime.

This year particularly I am more aware because my mother-in-law is journeying through final days. As the days turn cooler, the leaves fall and the earth prepares for another winter, I am praying that mother in law transitions from this life to the next in peace surrounded by love and grace.

Here is the link for yesterdays worship service where prayers were raised, candles lit, communion celebrated and music shared to commemorate this most sacred of Sundays.

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No words, AGAIN, just grief

I have to admit, I have been avoiding social media in the last couple of days. Other than post Birthday wishes to my friends, and a quick peek, I am not spending much time there. I could say that Lent began and it is part of my Lenten devotion to spend less time on social media and more time with God. That would not be true.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I was going over the service and putting last minute touches on my sermon the news flashed about another school shooting. This time in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I don’t need to post any links it is all over the news. Confronted with services starting soon, I was frozen and unable to figure out what to do. In odds with how I usually handle these things, I didn’t change my sermon. The tragedy was mentioned in the midst of the prayers.

I am immobilized by what seems to be a non-stop litany of mass shootings. I have several drafts over the last year of blog posts that never got finished because I couldn’t figure out what to say. There are so many blog writers that can articulate the grief and pain and anguish better than I can.

In November of 2017, I started a blog and this is what was saved in my drafts:  

Another mass shooting. ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. This time in another church, a small church, 26 dead,, 20 injured. I don’t know what to say anymore.

I didn’t post last week about the attack in New York City where bicyclists and walkers were run down by a truck. What is left say? I find myself sick to my stomach, numb to the numbers and my mind blank as to how to respond.

There are no words. None that can speak to this insanity.

And then three months later, there are still no words. I have wandered around with tears in my eyes and what little I have glimpsed on social media sites hasn’t helped. The left and the right posted incredibly unhelpful memes pointing fingers. These tactics do not change hearts and minds and spirits or bring back one of those loved ones.

I want to rant and scream and point fingers and assign blame. Instead like Jeremiah, I am appalled and grief stricken over the platitudes and empty words of us all, myself included. In chapter 8, the prophet says:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick. 
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?’) 
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.’ 
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 


Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!

Or from the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.

In Lent, in some denominations, Christians are marked with ashes. It is a reminder that we are fallible, sinful, prone to go our own way, prone to only look after our own interests to the exclusion of others, with a propensity for evil. We don’t like to admit to sin or at least to our sin being as “bad” as others.

In my Ash Wednesday sermon, I gave permission for people to not berate themselves, that instead of giving up chocolate or candy, to give up bitterness and anger and give it up to Jesus among other things. I am not berating myself, but I am confessing that I do not know how to address this kind of evil in the world. I am ill equipped to change hearts and minds and spirits and lives in a way that stands against the forces of evil and destruction and death that are so often made real in these mass shootings. I am an utter failure at encouraging and helping people be change agents in this world of violence and hatred.

What I can do is stand in God’s grace and love and be challenged to not give up, to believe that God is still active in this world and has not deserted us in the mess we have created. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to bridge the gaping canyon between so many people. Thoughts and prayers will not change the violence, the hatred, the bigotry. Thoughts and prayers will not heal the deep despair, pain and fear so many feel.

In verse 16 of Jeremiah 31:

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,

and a promise of a new heart and covenant for a people in exile:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (31: 33-34)

I will trust that God is challenging me, and perhaps you, to not turn away from what is happening, but face the evil in the world with power given through the goodness of God’s grace and love. If Lent teaches me anything, it is that I believe in a God who is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus, God confronts evil all the way to the cross. Jesus doesn’t shrink away, but stands against the powers of evil. Jesus proclaims a new way of livings and reminds me and us all that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Last year, Jan Richardson, a woman of great words and beautiful paintings wrote an Ash Wednesday blessing for the ashes. In it she writes, “did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

She finishes the blessing with these words

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So I am remembering what God can do with the dust and ashes of my life. I am reminding myself that out of my confession of all that I am unable to accomplish and do, that God is already creating in me a new heart and writing the law of love within it. Out of the tears and grief and prayers of my heart and spirit, God is making sure to empower me out of my frozen state into a renewed commitment to the reign of peace, justice and love I have been promised in Christ. During this time of Lent, I will focus on the journey of Jesus. I will walk the long road to the cross filled with evil, betrayal, injustice and pain and believe that there is resurrection and new life yet to come.

 

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All Saints 2017

Each year I am moved by All Saints Sunday, which for many Protestants is celebrated on the first Sunday of November. Names are read, candles lit and we remember. This year at First United Methodist Church we lit thirty three candles for each member that had died since November 1, 2016. Thirty three….members, that does not include all the family members and friends and others that have died and affected our congregation. We light a thirty fourth candles to include all those others, plus those who have suffered pregnancy losses.

Here is the link to today’s worship service. The music was wonderful, the candles beautiful, just being together to remember powerful.

Every year as I light candles I remember ALL those saints who have gone before, those family members and friends whom I still miss. I will continue to pray for those currently walking the fresh valley of grief, those who are transitioning from this life to next. Life is good, but sometimes it is hard and filled with ups and downs.

On this day, I grateful for all the saints, for that great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, and the comfort and grace of God that goes with us on journey.

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Back to blogging

It’s been a month since my last blog about the Great Plains  Annual Conference. Following conference I took a week for sermon planning and a week for vacation. Seemed fairly straight forward and well planned.

You know the saying, “the best laid plans….” It was a good two weeks, but as the week of my sermon planning time began, a neighbor and a friend died. It was unexpected in many ways, I had seen him the week before and I would never guessed I would be planning service within 10 days.

In my neighborhood, I am not the “pastor” particularly. Some of my neighbors attend church in other denominations than mine. Some of my neighbors do not. To be a “neighbor” is a wonderful thing as opposed to being whatever my “vocation” might be. Yet, it was a privilege and honor to be asked to preside at this man’s funeral. It was his request and so I sat with his daughters and we found a way to honor his life and spirit.

He had many  talents,  not the least  of which was gardening. He was meticulous in pulling weeds and keeping his flowers and his lawn beautiful. He was smart and funny. I will miss him.

During the time I was so blessed to become acquainted with his daughters, brilliant and funny and accomplished each in their own jobs and professions. I now have in my home, a few things in which to remember this wonderful and thoughtful human being. These past few weeks have reminded me again how precious life is and how each person plays a part and makes a difference in the lives of others.

As I begin my second year at First UMC, I am so grateful for those people who created this place for people all over Wichita to encounter the living spirit of God. I am blessed to continue in ministry with the gifted people in this community of faith. Life is precious and the call of Christ is to be a neighbor to every person we meet and to make a difference in lives of others. I am thankful my friend’s life and death and memory reminds me of this reality and call. I am graced to serve in this city and in this place and in this neighborhood. Life. Downtown.

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