“Call Me Bitter” Giving Space for our Hardest Feelings

May be an image of Leanne Friesen, eyeglasses and text that says 'Bitter'

I’m a pastor, so most Sundays of my life I preach a sermon, where I teach people about the Bible. This week I shared with my congregation about a woman named Naomi, who experienced great tragedy – and was pretty ticked off about it. 

Here’s a summary of the story. Naomi’s husband and her two sons died over a short time. After their deaths, Naomi decides to move back to her hometown, where she had not lived for over a decade. When she arrives home, the women of the town come out to meet her saying “Is this Naomi?” To this Naomi replies: “Don’t call me Naomi – Call me Mara.” Mara means bitter. 

I love this. 

Naomi’s name literally means pleasantness, and she is not feeling that anymore. I can picture her old childhood friends happily rushing to meet her, delighted to see her again. “Pleasantness!” they call out, “Is that you?” Naomi can hardly hear the word, it seems. Pleasantness no longer works for her. Bitter? Yeah, that works better. Call me that. 

If you have ever grieved, my guess is that you will empathize wholeheartedly with Naomi. Burying someone we love changes us.  Like Naomi, you may have also felt a name change was in order. You may have wanted to say “Call me Sad,” or “Call me Angry” or “Call me Destroyed.” They all work. 

I love that Naomi names what she feels. I love this honest depiction of grief. I love Naomi. She is one of my grief heros. 

Which is why it really irritated me when I discovered that a whole lot of people who teach about this story turn Naomi into a grieving failure. Over and over, as I prepared my sermon, I read blogs and articles and sermons with the same message: “Don’t be like Naomi! DON’T CHOOSE BITTERNESS! 

It seemed like everyone wanted to focus on this one idea: In her grief, Naomi picked bitterness over contentment. And this was a bad thing.

One preacher, referring to another character in the Bible, even said: “Job lost ten children and he said “Yet I will trust in God!” Naomi lost two children and she says: “I’m bitter.” 

(When I heard this, I confess that I literally yelled out loud: “Oh shut up.”) 

Listen, I’m not saying that we should walk around as crusty, bitter people. What I am saying is that Naomi is not a villain here. Naomi is grieving. Her entire family died. I think she’s entitled to a little bitterness! And, in that moment when her old friends greeted her, I don’t believe Naomi faced a choice between choosing bitterness or choosing contentment. I think the only choice she faced was between being honest and saying out loud she was bitter or lying and pretending she wasn’t.  

Naomi’s story isn’t one about choosing a certain kind of attitude. It is a picture of suffering. For those of us who are grieving, this is a woman we can understand. If being Naomi means being honest with people about how much we are hurting, I hope we can all say “Call me Naomi!” 

(Also, it should be said that God never seems too distressed at Naomi’s bitterness. The story ends with pretty clear evidence that God was at work to keep looking after Naomi, bitter or not).  

When I started reading all those well meaning “Don’t choose bitterness” posts, I wondered what message it sent to grieving people who would hear them. I heard an idea that is unfortunately too common: “Good” grieving people should “choose” to be happy. Despair? Anger? Bitterness? These feelings aren’t okay. In fact, if you embrace those, you may still have preachers declare that you’re doing grief wrong 3000 years from now!

But Naomi reminds us – sometimes grieving people are bitter. And sometimes grieving people need room to say that. 

You know what I picture when I think of that scene of Naomi returning home? I picture the women of that town crying with her. I picture them saying “Oh honey, we are so sorry.” I picture them wrapping their arms around Naomi and saying “Mara, we grieve with you.” 

(And if any of them happened to say “Oh don’t say THAT Naomi! You shouldn’t be bitter!” I hope that some wiser sister in the bunch gave her the stink eye until she caught on). 

Dear grieving hearts, there is room for your bitterness. Room for your sadness. Room for your rage. You can be Naomi and you can be Mara. Go ahead and say it.

I hope you’ll get the space you deserve. 

(Thanks for reading. If you’d like to receive updates on future posts, follow this page. For most posts on grieving, you can also follow me on Instagram at grieving.room).

All the Fatigues: A Whole Lotta Reasons We’re a Whole Lotta Tired

We all know what it’s like to feel tired. Sometimes we know why we feel that way – we stayed up too late, work has been exhausting, we’re still recovering from that cold last week – but sometimes we feel tired and we we’re not sure why. All we know is that things seem harder than they should. We don’t seem to have energy for things we usually love. We notice that our desire to veg out or drop out or peace out has dramatically  increased.

Going into this fall, I’ve been surprised by how tired I’ve felt, especially considering all the reasons I think I shouldn’t feel tired.  Didn’t I just have a vacation? Haven’t I been doing less than normal with so many things cancelled or not yet started again? Haven’t I been sleeping and eating and resting well? Why should I be tried? 

Why? Because covid.

I hate to blame yet another thing on this frustrating pandemic, but it’s true. Covid has worn me out, not just because covid sucks, yo, but because a lot of other tiring things come along with it. It turns out that a worldwide pandemic creates the perfect storm for all kinds of fatigue to hit us hard. Any of these feel familiar?

Decision Fatigue

Decision Fatigue comes when you have grown tired of having to make decisions. This season has come with a lot of decision making. Send the kids to school in person or remotely. Get the vaccine as soon as we can or wait a couple of months until we know more about it. Cancel our outdoor gathering or see if the rain lets up.

If you work in a leadership role, decision making may have felt especially burdensome. Business owners have had to decide what staff to lay off. Non-profit leaders have had to cut services and still manage to care for people. Healthcare workers have had to make life and death decisions every day. Can I tell you something? I cannot even THINK about making decisions for our church for a potential fall lockdown without my stomach tying in knots. I’ve hit the wall with planning, re-planning, and back up planning, and that’s normal. It’s Decision Fatigue. You may be feeling it, too.

It means that now even little decisions can feel exhausting. Deciding what to make for dinner, what movie to watch or even what shoes to wear may suddenly overwhelm you. Decision Fatigue is catching up to all of us.

Caregiver Fatigue

Caregiving roles have been especially draining during the time of covid. Social workers, nurses, doctors, counsellors, personal support workers, therapists, and pastors already have jobs that come with the risk of caregiver fatigue. People in these roles can grow weary with the responsibility they carry for the wellbeing of others. 

During covid, this has grown more difficult. First of all, caregivers had to do more care. People were struggling in greater ways and there was simply more work to be done. At the same time, we had to do this in ways that were new to us. We were suddenly counselling people via computer screens or treating people through layers of protective equipment. As a pastor, I can tell you one small thing that was completely awful for me during covid: not being able to hug people during a funeral. When you’re standing next to someone at a grave and they collapse into tears, every instinct tells you to put your arms around that person to support them. Hugging is one of the “tools” of my trade that was taken from me, and it made caring for people a lot harder.

A lot of professions had it a lot worse. I can’t fathom the heaviness a nurse felt when he watched people die without their loved ones or the exhaustion of PSWs who are worked to the bone. There has been more need for care during covid, and it has been harder to give. It makes Caregiver Fatigue even more pronounced for anyone who cares for others. 

Covid Fatigue

It may seem obvious, but we should name this: we are tired of covid.  We’re tired of case counts and gathering restrictions and lockdowns. We’re tired of worrying and wondering and not being able to plan more than a week at a time. We’re tired of tension and debates and conflicts over everything from vaccines to mask wearing. We’re tired of little things being complicated. Let me give a simple example from my life of covid fatigue catching up to me.

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to go for a swim, so I did the new routine I have to use to sign up. I set an alarm for 25 hours and two minutes ahead of my chosen swim time because 25 hours ahead of time is when sign up starts, and you have to sign up RIGHT away or you miss getting a spot. When my alarm went off, I logged on to my computer and was ready to go when the registration opened. But then something glitched on my computer, and in the minute it took to reboot the webpage, the swim was full. And I was MAD. I could have thrown my computer across the room. I just wanted to go for a swim! I wanted to show up and have it be simple! But it wasn’t. And I was tired of all of the things.

I had to shut down my computer, take some deep breaths and eat some chocolate while I calmed down. It was definitely an overreaction, but it was all triggered by my very real covid fatigue. We’ve all been there.

Soul Fatigue

Let me list just a few other things that happened in the last year and a bit: The public killing of George Floyd. The American election. The finding of mass graves at Residential Schools. The last year and a half has been an emotionally draining season beyond anything to do with covid. We have had to face the depths of our societal sins in a very real way every time we log on to our computers. We have felt grief, rage, and heartbreak. That is tiring, and our very souls are weary. 

Of course we’re tired…

So of course we’re all tired! And for many of us, the tiredness is beyond what can be cured by a week at the cottage. My friends, there is no quick fix to this level of weariness. Instead, we need to give ourselves time to rebuild the emotional reserves that may be totally depleted. I think one step towards that is to recognize what’s going on, and name what we’re feeling.  And then we all need to give ourselves some recovery time. We don’t have to jump back to everything right away. Maybe we can’t manage as much as we wish we could. Maybe we don’t have as much to give. And that’s okay. We’re not lazy. We’re not defeated. We’re tired. And there’s lots of good reasons for that.

“Did Covid Break Me? Why Reopening May Have Felt Harder Than You Thought It Would

For all the years I was in school, I told myself the same story every semester. It’s called the “It’s going to feel so awesome when exams are done” story. Every fall and spring as the end of term loomed, I would declare: “When I write that last exam, it’s going to be amazing!!” I would picture a jubilant dance out of the exam hall, a visceral sense of a weight lifted off my shoulders, an ability to effortlessly enjoy things I had not had time to do as I prepared for the end of a term.

And then, every semester, I would take that last test and not feel so incredible after all. I would feel tired, numb, and a little out of sorts. It almost always took a few days for post-study happiness to settle in – and I was always surprised by that.

I share this because this summer I have often felt the same “post-exam-let-down” feeling as we have entered Stage Three of reopening in Ontario. During the last sixteen months, I could hardly wait for this time to come. I said things like: “When I see people again, I’ll probably cry, I’ll be so happy!” and “I’m going to throw so many parties!” and “I’ll never turn down a chance to see people again after this!”

But it hasn’t totally been like that.

Sometimes seeing people again felt awkward after so long apart. Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by even the thought of doing activities that had stopped being part of my life sixteen months ago. Sometimes reopening felt complicated as I joined others in negotiating how to hang out safely with differing vaccine statuses and the lingering threat of the Delta variant. I haven’t cried when I’ve seen people. I haven’t thrown a party. I have turned DOWN social invitations! And I have wondered: “What’s going on?…Did covid break me forever?”

You feel me?

If so, I would like to share with you what I have reminded myself, often, in this odd reopening season: There are very good reasons that reopening is complicated.

Here are a few:

Reopening Reminds Us What We Lost

For the last year and half, we’ve been disconnected to many of the people in our lives. While seeing people comes with joy, it can also remind us of all the things we missed. We see children who have grown up a lot in a year and a half and regret the times we missed with them. We feel the awkwardness of relationships that may have shifted when we weren’t seeing each other. We may even feel the absence of people that have died since we were last together. Reopening highlights things that have changed, and that can be hard.

One simple thing triggered this for me recently. I got a message from our church’s youth pastor about my daughter starting youth group this fall. It was a bit of a shock. When churches shut down in 2020 my daughter was still going to Sunday School. I’m excited that my child can start youth group, but that message also reminded me that her Sunday School days are over. With that realization came some sadness.

The reality is that there is a grief that comes in this time. We may have lost a lot in the last sixteen months, and as wonderful as reopening and reconnecting can be, it can also hold a mirror up to our losses in a way that can be painful. Grief doesn’t end with the simple turning of a calendar. It lingers in lots of ways, and a declaration of a new stage doesn’t change that. We are all still grieving from all we’ve lost in the last number of months. Reopening doesn’t instantly take the grief away.

We’re Still Recovering

We cannot underplay the significance of how difficult, and even traumatic, this season has been. We lived through what may be the greatest upheaval of many of our lives. We lived through constant uncertainty, perpetually changing guidelines, and the lingering fear of death and sickness. We’ve been sideswiped, gobsmacked, walloped.

Some people will be years recovering. If you’re a healthcare or a frontline worker, for example, you have been through a level of unprecedented crisis. It’s not easy to just jump back to a new normal when you’re recovering from so much chaos. (And, when you know it is not yet over with a fourth wave looming…). You may even feel frustrated when you see people and it feels like their covid-struggles were so much less than yours. All of this makes sense.

To add to that, we are trying to recover while covid is still going on! We didn’t have a simple “covid is now done” moment, and lingering restrictions mean seeing people is far from straightforward. While you may have looked forward to a cheerful family reunion, you didn’t anticipate that your Aunt would refuse to come if people were going to wear masks. Or you may feel upset that people you care about aren’t getting vaccinated when you wish they would. Or you may feel like you need to take more precautions than people think you should and that feels awkward too. Our recovery is hindered by all the complicated things that are still going on.

Our “Social Stomach” Has Shrunk

I’m using an analogy here. If you’ve ever been sick or lost weight for another reason, you may discover that after a season of eating less, you simply can’t eat big meals anymore. Why? Your stomach has shrunk.

Over the last year we have experienced a form of social starvation. Whether or not you hated, tolerated or even enjoyed seeing less people, your social capacity may have changed. You are simply not used to seeing many people anymore. I know a lot of introverts are finding this reopen a shock to the system, but the extroverts are feeling it, too! We love seeing people, but we are also not used to it. It may take a little while to work up to enjoying the things we used to enjoy in the ways we used to do so. You may find the idea of returning to a large church gathering overwhelming. You may be nervous about returning to work in your office. You may not be sure how to attend that backyard gathering when twenty people seems like a mob! All of this also makes sense – your social “stomach” has changed over covid, and it may need some time to get used to big “meals” again.

What Do We Do? …

So what do we do with all these surprising feelings?

We cut ourselves a little slack.

After my exams, it didn’t matter if I didn’t dance through the classroom, throw my text book in the air and start singing “Schools Out For Summer.” In the same way, it’s okay if you’re not ready to party just yet either. This season of reopening, like the sixteen months leading up to it, is “unprecedented.” Let’s give ourselves and those around us the grace to let reopening feel as complicated as it needs to.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts on what reopening has been like for you and if you have shared any of these experiences. I also invite you to share this post if you think it would encourage others, and to like and follow this page for future articles.

You’ll Remember: A Reminder for the Grieving

This week, I remembered Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwiches and it made my heart break and swell with happiness all at the same time.

Let me explain.

When my sister, Roxanne, died in 2013 I worried about something that almost every grieving person I have known also worries about: if I would forget things. Would I forget her voice? Would I forget her laugh? Would I forget the random little memories that so easily slip away? Sometimes, when a memory would come to me, I would rush to write it down, anxious that it would disappear forever from my consciousness if I didn’t record it. Memories had become so precious – how could I risk the chance of losing even just one of them?

It took me a few years to realize a comforting (and sometimes painful) truth: You don’t forget. You may not remember every incident you shared with the one you loved, but no – you cannot forget them. They are too much a part of who you were and who you are. They stay with you. You remember. You remember all kinds of things – including breakfast sandwiches.

The two springs before Roxanne died, my two sisters came to visit me in Ontario for the May 24th weekend. My other sister lives in British Columbia and Roxanne lived in Newfoundland, so they had decided that meeting at my place was halfway-ish. We had two wonderful weekends. We decided they would become a lifelong tradition. We didn’t know that “lifelong” for us would only mean two years.

And still, every May 24th weekend, I think of those visits. We had so much fun. We went out to eat, we went shopping, we went to the theatre. And we ate breakfast sandwiches. Both years, Roxanne woke up on her first day declaring: “Now, this is a vacation, so give me your Tim’s order.” And she’d bring us all breakfast sandwiches and coffee, which we would eat in the backyard.

This weekend, I thought constantly about those May 24th breakfasts – which is funny, because I don’t even like breakfast sandwiches anymore. But on Saturday, I would have done anything to relive those breakfasts again. I didn’t need a fancy trip. I didn’t need a dramatic memory. I needed “Now, what do you want for breakfast?” and eating eggs squished in a limp English muffin with my dear sister.

I never would have guessed that May 24th weekend would be the time I would miss my sister the most each year. But it is. Because of memories like breakfast sandwiches, and the longing they make me feel to see her again. It is hard – and it is good. It is good because it reminds me that I won’t forget. If I can’t forget breakfast sandwiches, how can I forget how she made me feel? I remember her voice because I can hear it asking for my order. I remember her laugh because I can still hear it’s echo in my backyard. How could she ever be forgotten?

If you are grieving today, maybe you have lived in fear of forgetfulness. Let me give you a promise: you won’t forget. You’ll have so many of your own “breakfast sandwich” memories. They will show up on holidays or birthdays or Tuesdays when you’re walking through a grocery store. They may sometimes be hard – and they will be good.

Today, I wish you a “breakfast-sandwich memory,” a glimpse of what made you love your dear one the most. May it make you smile, and may it remind you: You will NOT forget. You’ll remember.

May be an image of 1 person, child and outdoors

“God, Give Me Endurance: A Prayer For When There are Still More Weeks of Shutdown

God, Give me endurance.

I never prayed this prayer until this year, until the weeks and months of lockdowns started to bleed into one another. My prayers have changed since 2020.

Last year this time I prayed: “‘Stop this!”

Last year, I prayed: “Please let this be done after six weeks!”

Last year, I prayed: “Please let the schools open in June!”

And when I was talking to you, God, I so often told you: “I can’t do this God. I just need it to end.” I only knew how to pray for one version of deliverance. Nothing else felt like hope.

A few months ago, my prayers changed. I still wanted this season to be over, God, so much, but to my prayers for the end of covid, I added another: A prayer that I could endure, however long this season lasted . A prayer to be able to keep going, by Your strength, because I wasn’t going to get through otherwise.

There are more weeks ahead, God, and I need you to help me endure. I have grown weary of saying “perhaps the end is in sight” and “maybe we’ll be allowed bubbles again soon.” I have grown weary of my kids asking when the shutdown will lift, their sad sighs when I tell them I don’t know. I have grown weary with trying to stay positive, with trying to muster up some semblance of optimism that the tide is turning.

Help me endure, God. I ask for the endurance to stay the course, to continue with the task to which we have been called. I ask for enough endurance to get out of bed each day, enough endurance to fall asleep peacefully at night. I ask for enough endurance to take one day at a time. One sermon at a time. One virtual church service at a time. One day of online learning at a time. One day of isolation at a time.

I ask for endurance for others that need it. Give the teachers endurance for one more day of virtual classrooms. Give the healthcare workers endurance for another day of exhausting work. Give the parents endurance for one more day of negotiating learning and emotions and snack time. Give all the weary endurance for all the “one more days” that still lie ahead. God, give me endurance. By your mercy, give me a hope that endures no matter what our restrictions.

Protect me from despair. Protect me from discouragement. Help me not to throw in the towel, give into the melancholy or ignore the by-laws. God, bring an end to covid. And give me the endurance to wait, to serve, and to hope until that day comes.

Amen.

“God, Carry Our Healthcare Workers: A Prayer for Week Three of Our Third Shutdown

Dear God,

Today, I am so overwhelmed with worry for our healthcare workers. I hear them on the news, pleading for more understanding, more support, more awareness – begging us to take things more seriously. Trying to help us see what they see, when they ask us to please stay home, please be careful, please get the vaccine.

I see them on Twitter, petitioning the powers that be to hear their cry. They ask for paid sick days. They ask for stricter policies. They ask to be heard. I see them on Facebook and Instagram. I see the pictures posted at the end of weary days. I read the stories of who they saw die today, or who they had to admit to ICU today, or who they fear will not have a bed in the weeks to come. I see the silly memes they share to make light of their agony- trying to find humor in the darkness, trying to keep smiling so they don’t fall apart.

I hear the workers in my life and hear that they are scared. They cannot believe we are here. They cannot believe we are setting up field hospitals and discussing protocol for who will get a ventilator and who will be turned away. They despair that it has come to this, when they have worked so hard for so long.

I see them God, but only in glimpses. Only online. Only on the news. Only over a Zoom call with a friend or congregant here and there. But, You, God, see them every long day. Every exhausting minute.

And so to You, who sees them, I pray.

I pray for their aching bodies…

Their feet, tired from standing.

Their hands, sore from constant washing.

Their ears, rubbed raw from face masks.

Their bodies that need rest after too long a year, after vacations sacrificed and days off ignored, with no reprieve in sight.

I pray for their hurting hearts…

Comfort them in their grief, for those they have lost, and are losing.

Comfort them as they process the pain.

Comfort them as they seek to make sense of the senseless.

I pray for their peace…

Calm those who are afraid.

Soothe those who are angry.

Support those who are lonely.

Give them strength to endure God. Give them energy to sustain them. Give them wisdom. Give them grace.

And, by your power, God, protect them. Protect every doctor, making life and death decisions. Every nurse nurturing the sick. Every aide and orderly and physiotherapist and occupational therapist helping people get well. Every therapist and support worker caring for the vulnerable. Every radiologist. Every PSW. Every pharmacist. Every caregiver. Protect those who are protecting us.

In your mercy, Lord, we pray for our healthcare workers. For their faithfulness, we thank you. For their lives, we pray.

Amen.

Healthcare workers experiencing burnout, stress due to COVID-19 pandemic |  Healthcare Finance News

“May I Never Take Gathering for Granted: A Prayer for the 58th Week of Virtual Worship

Dear God,

May I never again take the ability to gather with others in the same space to worship for granted.

I did in the past.

There were Sundays when leisurely breakfasts, long walks or sleeping in seemed better or more needed. There were baseball tournaments and swim practices. There were schedule conflicts. And it seemed easiest, so often, to pick those things over gathering with my church family, over sitting in an over-hot sanctuary, over rushing to get out the door. Church would be there next week, right? It would be there when I didn’t need to get groceries or when the sports season was done or when I had slept better the night before. I could sing next week. I could sip the mediocre coffee next week. I could gather next week.

There were Sundays that I resented the routine. Sundays I wanted what others had – the ability to choose. There were Sundays when people got on my nerves, when I didn’t want to let the worship team in early to practice, when I didn’t want to see the faces react to my sermons, when I didn’t want to deal with someone asking if I “had a few minutes after the service to talk.”

I took for granted the freedom to be in a building with others. I took for granted the hugs and the smiles. I took for granted the music leaders and the readers and the Sunday School teachers. I took for granted the idea that these things would always be there, when I wanted and needed them. I took for granted church chairs and powerpoint slides and sticky hands wet from communion juice. I took for granted the gift of sitting shoulder to shoulder with people trying to figure out faith together, Facebook friends live in person, holy saints singing off key beside me.

My faithful God, I am grateful that you have given us ways to still be together. Thank you for virtual worship. Thank you for Facebook live, YouTube and Zoom. Thank you for comment threads and recorded worship from people’s homes. Thank you that “where two or three are gathered” is still true, even if the gathering is around computer screens. Keep me grateful, God, until we can meet in person again.

And when “in person” is no longer impossible, help me to never take it for granted. It will be easy to do God. The routine will return, God, as hard as it is to see right now. And when Sundays come many good things will once again tug me away from the very good thing you have for me every week. Many days I will long to stay in bed or stay at home. Many weeks the gift will seem like a burden. When that happens, help me remember the longing I feel today. Help me to never again take this thing we call “going to church” for granted.

May my new normal include gratitude for what was available all along. May I receive it, with joy. Amen.

May be an image of 2 people
A memory of gathering together at my church, as we sang “This Little Light of Mine” and waved flashlights together.

“Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Prayer for the Third Season of Shutdown”

Create in me a clean heart, oh God and renew a right spirit within me.

Relieve me of my resentment.

Release me from resenting those who post pictures of family gatherings and no-longer-allowed “social bubbles.” Release me from resenting the people “not taking things as seriously” as I think they should. Release me from resenting the people who had Easter dinners anyway. Release me from resenting people I love, simply because they live in a part of the world with less restrictions than I have, or have access to vaccines that we don’t.

Rescue me from my rage.

Remove the anger I feel when people say they “just have” to see their loved ones, or travel, or have a birthday party . Take away my anger at conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and politicians that I long to blame for my own exhaustion. Remove the anger I feel at the pastors insisting on gathering their churches as they claim persecution. Father, forgive them – and forgive me.

Keep me from comparisons.

Save me from the sanctimonious naming of why things are harder for me than other people. Help me remember we are all hurting, including the people whose families live closer, whose jobs seem easier, whose regions are opening up instead of shutting down. Remind me that I do not need to say “I haven’t seen my family in almost two years.” Remind that I do not need to say “At least you weren’t shut down over Christmas.”

Save me from self righteousness. Give me the humility to remember the times I have done what I should not, for the masks I failed to wear or the distance I didn’t keep. Upturn my indignation. Remind me of the times my bubble was too big or I said “Oh it’s fine” when the lawn chairs were too close during garage visits.

Restore my hope in humanity. Help me assume people’s good intentions. Give me a heart of love for those who are suffering. Give me grace for the people who succumb to covid-fatigue. Help me discern when my anger is weariness disguised as rage. Help me know when I need to rest, go outside, drink a glass of water, get off social media, or stop checking the latest covid numbers.

Restore onto me the joy of your perseverance. And renew a right spirit in me.

Amen.

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“Step Forward: A Post for International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, and there is so much that I could say, but I think I will sum up my thoughts with a story of something that happened to me in my first month as a pastor.

I began my job as a lead pastor in my church when I was 27. I was an unconventional choice in lots of ways – I was young, I was a woman, and I would be the lead pastor while my husband would serve in the associate role. I was really excited to have this unusual opportunity, but I was also freaked out. Like lots of people starting in their career, I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. And I was self conscious of all the things that made me different, especially that I was a woman in a field still dominated by men.

But each week I would meet with a mentor, named Joyce. This woman had been my very favourite professor when I studied in Seminary, and it turned out that she attended the church where I would now pastor (this also added to me being a bit freaked out….). She offered early on to meet with me each week and help me negotiate my way in our new church, and I gratefully accepted.

I well remember our first meeting. I had been at the church just a couple of weeks. I had only led a few services and the week before I had led communion, for only the second time in my life (which also freaked me out). As I sat in Joyce’s cozy kitchen, she looked at me with a firm stare behind her tortoise-shell glasses: “Leanne,” she said, “Do you realize where you stood when you led communion this week?”

“No,” I answered.

“The whole time you stood behind your husband. You literally hid behind him. You held back.”

She paused.

“Do not do that again,” she said. “You are our pastor. Step forward.

“Okay,” I agreed sheepishly.

Then she went on. “And I want you to do something else,” she said. “Each week when we start the service, I want you to go to the mic and say clearly: “My name is Leanne and I am your pastor.” I want you to say it every week, until you believe it.”

I felt my body tense up. “I don’t know if I can do that,” I told her.

And it was true.

I had been HIRED in this job. The entire church had voted me into my role. They wanted me. But still, something held me back. I didn’t know if I could say “I am your pastor.” I didn’t know if I believed it. I was still not sure I could step up. Even thinking about saying those words made me nervous. Wasn’t it too pretentious? Too presumptuous? Too much?

But she told me I had to, and she told me she would be watching. And so for the next little while, on a Sunday morning, I would nervously say: “Hi, I’m Leanne and I’m your pastor.” And every Sunday I would wait for something to happen – someone to laugh, or to say “that can’t be right” or to tell me I was overstepping. But no one ever did. Of course they didn’t! I was their pastor. I was doing what I had been called to do. I was able to do it and I was ready to do it. I just needed my head to catch up to my life.

I know I’m not the only woman to feel this way. Many of us find it hard to step forward. Many of us find it hard to own and name the very thing that we know that we can do. We’ve been taught to stand behind, taught to keep quiet, taught to not push “too much.” We don’t want to be pushy or demanding or one of “those” women whose voices are like “nails on a chalkboard,” right?

But thank God when we are given people like Joyce, who tell us to knock it off. Thank God for the voices who say: “Don’t stand behind.” Thank God for the ones who will tell us to step up and say who we are, without apology. Thank God for the women who will say “I am watching you – and I am waiting for you to be everything you are made to be.”

Now, it seems almost laughable to remember a time that I felt self conscious simply saying who I was. I no longer doubt that it is okay for me to introduce myself as a pastor. I am deeply grateful for the woman who got me to say it until I believed it.

On this International Women’s Day, my sisters. I wish for you to hear the same message that I heard from a woman when I needed it most: Step forward. Say, with confidence, “This is who I am and what I can do.” Say it until you believe it.

And know that you have women everywhere watching you and cheering you on.

My Lent Necklace

If you read my post last week, you’ll know that I decided not to give up a specific material item for lent this year. Today I have a lent update. I have decided that, this year, I have a lent necklace.

This necklace has a story. At my 35th birthday supper, my husband nervously handed me a gift bag as my 5 year old son looked on bursting with excitement. He explained that he had taken Josiah to the mall to help him pick out a gift for me, and Josiah had immediately chosen the gift I was about to open. “He insisted it was the gift he wanted to get you,” Dallas explained. “He wouldn’t even look at anything else once he saw this.” I could tell Dallas was giving me a little bit of warning: “This might suck,” he was saying. “But your kid chose it, so BE COOL.”

But I didn’t have to “be cool.” I loved it right away. It was a brass necklace, not expensive and not fancy, with two pendants hanging from two different chains. One was a bird cage, and the other was a bird.

That birthday was a complicated one for me. Two months before my sister, Roxanne, had been told that she no longer had any options for treatments after seven years of cancer. She was still doing well when I opened that necklace, but the reality that the 35th year of my life would be the last year of my sister’s life was heavy on me that birthday. I knew neither Dallas or Josiah had been thinking about that when they bought the necklace. But in that simple image – a bird and an empty cage – I felt hope. I thought that my sister’s life would soon be like that bird’s – free from the cage of cancer. Free to new life. It was perfect.

This Sunday as I got ready to head into a very-lonely worship service, 11 months into online church and 10 and half months into me being totally over it, I ran my hands over my jewelry to select something to wear with my outfit. I paused at my “bird necklace,” and thought “This works.”

For this lent, I am preaching about freedom. My sermon this past Sunday asked “Is this book a chain?” and I would be holding a Bible and a heavy chain up together, asking again and again what the Bible was really meant to be. Spoiler: It isn’t a chain. It’s a lot more like a bird free from a cage.

I didn’t think anyone would notice my subtle sermon illustration in my necklace, but I knew why I was wearing it. I knew that this lenten season I needed all the reminders that I could get about God giving freedom. I need reminders that God’s story is not one meant to oppress us, but one that is meant to set us free. I need reminders that the cages I live in won’t trap me forever. I need reminders that God has freedom and new life for me as much today as he did back when I turned 35. And I need reminders that I am called to help open the cage doors for others. Once again, it was the perfect necklace.

I put it on, and I preached a sermon to a video camera and I talked about the freedom I believe God has for all of us. I felt the heaviness not only of the ways the Bible is often used to oppress others, but I also felt the heaviness of how trapped I felt in ways of doing ministry I never wanted to do. When the day ended, and it was time to take the necklace off, I paused as I hung it up. Maybe….maybe this was something I should keep wearing. Maybe I need these reminders every day this lent. I need to remember that the story of God will always set me free. I need to remember that I am called to seek freedom for others.

So this lent, instead of giving something up, I’m putting something on. I’m putting on a necklace. I’m putting on a reminder that captivity is not where the story ends – not for me, and not for anyone else. May I be a freedom fighter. Even as many doors stay closed, may I keep working to keep the cage doors open.

May be an image of one or more people and jewelry