Losing Easter

I know it may sound a little trite in light of the much more serious losses all around us right now, but I’m just going to say it: I am sad about losing Easter.

Easter is my very most favourite holiday of the year. And at our church, we do Easter big. I literally started planning for Easter 2020 on Easter Monday 2019. I have a google doc called “Easter ideas” and I have been adding to it for months.

At first a little part of me thought Easter would still happen in the way we were used to. When services were first cancelled, we were talking “three weeks,” and that left a little wiggle room. “Imagine if our first Sunday back is Easter Sunday!” I shared excitedly with our staff. “That would be amazing!”

But bit by bit it was clear this wasn’t happening. Bit by bit the reality hit home that we weren’t gathering to celebrate Easter. We weren’t gathering together for a long time. It made my heart sad.

This week I am thinking of all the things I will miss about doing Easter in our usual way. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I will miss:

  • The haunting quiet of the church after we turn out the lights on Good Friday
  • Praying with people after they receive communion
  • Eating Good Friday hot cross buns in the gym
  • Getting the call from our decor team to “come and see the decorations” (because they love to surprise me)
  • Seeing our church look the most beautiful it looks all year
  • Colour coordinating my outfit with the decorations (and-full confession – asking the worship team to do the same!)
  • Easter lilies filling the Sanctuary
  • Sending out parking and seating reminders because we would normally be SO FULL
  • Hearing a room full of people shout back to me: “He is risen indeed!”
  • The worship team leading us in “Happy Day”
  • Kids in cute Easter outfits
  • Treats after church
  • The excitement (and slight fear) to present the Easter skit
  • Seeing the joy and reactions to all the Easter surprises
  • Dinner and service debrief with our dear friends
  • Hugs

The list is long. Easter and how we do it has become so special to us as a family, and as a church, that when I realized we wouldn’t have it in this way, it felt like something had been stolen.

The interesting thing is that a few weeks ago, when life was still chugging along as usual, we had been talking about Easter one evening at a board meeting. Someone commented: “I can’t wait to see what you guys are planning. We’ve come to expect big things!”

Now he was excited and meant this as a compliment, but I admit that comments like this usually make me feel a lot of pressure. A lot of people say things like “How are you going to top last year?” We never actually try to top any sort of year. Each year we seek to create a space to celebrate with joy that Jesus is alive. And each year it feels big. But the next day I said at our staff meeting: “Some days I think that maybe we need a year where everything totally bombs so that we can avoid celebrating Easter becoming too much of an idol for us.”

Yup. I said that.

(And now I want to scream: “I didn’t MEAN it, God, COME ON!”)

An idol, if you are wondering, is not necessarily a statue. It is anything that takes the place of God. It is something that we end up worshipping above God in our lives.

And here is the thing with idols: they ALWAYS let you down. Idols fail 100% of the time.

I don’t think the way we do Easter had become an idol just yet. But this year all those things I had been excited about have let me down. They can’t happen. I have hated losing these things.

And yet.

This year I also realize that in losing Easter, we do have a gift: the gift to remember that we don’t need any of these things to actually have Easter.

I have loved the streamers and the confetti canons and the rap songs from Aravind and Heavy D (video available upon request…). And I look forward to next year when we can have all those things again. (Yes, I am already planning….). But for this year, I accept that in letting go of these things we may actually find ourselves appreciating the reason we do all these things in the first place.

This year, we can remember in the most tangible way possible WHY we need to have hope. This year we are part of the story of longing in ways we don’t always have space to experience. This year, more than ever, we need to remember: Death does not win. When stories feel over, there is more to come. We live in shadows, but light is coming.

We haven’t lost Easter. In fact, in losing so much of what we do during Easter, we may discover we actually find it.

So let us declare, from our couches, our living rooms, our kitchen tables. Let us declare from behind closed doors and shuttered windows. Let us declare from homes without parties and churches behind computer screens. Let us declare with joy because it is still true:

HE IS RISEN! 

He is Risen indeed.

(It’s not our usual Easter service, but if you are looking to join us celebrate this year, our church will meet online at 10:30 Easter Sunday on the Facebook page “Mount Hamilton Baptist Church.” The service will also be aired later on YouTube).

A Covid-crap-ular Week

Week one was busy.

There were so many things to figure out. There were new routines and constant processing and dealing with what was right in front of us. It was moving to our online worship time and calling everyone in church and a thousand meetings. I didn’t have much time to think about anything.

Week two was keeping up.

It was putting the systems in place and thinking big picture. It was helping people use technology and dealing with glitches during live streaming. It was figuring out some version of “homeschool.” It was getting through it.

Week three was…emotional.

This week was planning an Easter service we could do online and letting go of months of other plans. It was preparing for a spring where our church won’t see each other in person. It was having hard talks about finances and projects and what pastoral care will look like when people start getting sick, or even dying.

It was parks being roped off. It was announcements to plan for this to last until June. It was cancelled trips.  It was realizing this really was going to go on a long time. It was letting go, over and over and over.

This week it started to feel like too much.

So this week in my house was lots of tears. This week was cries of “I can’t do this anymore” and “I miss my friends too much.” This week was breakdowns. This week was “Can you rub my back until I fall asleep?” This week was “I hate this!” This week was “Talking online isn’t the same!” This week was “Sure, you can watch another episode of Duck Tales” – because that’s about what we could manage.

This week, we have declared, was covidcrapular.

covidcrapular
The youngest’s feelings about this covidcrapular week…

There was so much sadness in our house this week and it seemed pointless to pretend we weren’t all feeling the same way. When my daughter cried, I said “I’m with you, honey.” When my family got to feeling overwhelmed I said: “Let’s eat popcorn.” “Yes,” I said, when we saw the mountain brow roped off, when the new school dates were announced, when we thought about the months of this ahead: “This is COVIDCRAPULAR.”

It’s true that we are not on the front lines, and that our experience of this time likely seems insignificant in comparison. I am not trying to compare. But I am trying to make space for the feelings all of us have in this season, including those doing what they can by staying at home. I am trying to make space for my own feelings. For me, this week was rough. I miss my people. I miss my routines. I am struggling to parent my overwhelmed children. I feel useless. I don’t want to do this anymore.

I don’t think I’m alone in struggling this week.

This tidal wave of reality seemed to hit a lot of us hard this week, and with that came the waves of grief, loss, sadness and fear. I think all of this is normal. Until now, we were in crisis management mode. We were letting the adrenaline carry us. But there comes a time when those things crash and we have to face the covidcrapular long term. This week seemed to be that time for lots of us.

That meant that this week we had to figure out how to get through it, because while this week was hard, it’s also not the last one we’re going to have when the emotions get overwhelming. We have a lot of weeks ahead, and they will definitely have lots of covidcrapular moments. Here’s what we are learning:

Make Space for the Feels

This week we agreed together that we can feel whatever we are feeling. Sad is okay. Worried is okay. Exhausted is okay. This is true for all of us.

You are also entitled to any emotion you are having. So are your kids. Your feelings might not always make sense. There are people who have it worse. AND we can say “I feel sad.” We can say “I am struggling.” We can say “I find this hard.” We don’t have to brightside it or undermine it or pretend we feel anything but what we do. Let the crap be the crap. Eat popcorn. Watch Duck Tales. Lament to a friend.

These are extraordinary times, the likes of which we have never lived through before. Of course we don’t know what to do. We’re all just muddling through. Don’t beat yourself up on the days you have to throw the routine aside. Don’t be hard on yourself for needing space to be sad.

Celebrate the Covidtacular

We started a second word in our house this week: Covidtacular. Covidtacular is defined as: “Something that normally wouldn’t be that big a deal but in light of everything it feels awesome.”

We had lots of covidtacular moments this week. We tried to create them and name them and celebrate them. They included: having an afternoon tea in our backyard, phone calls and messages to my daughter who really needed them, flowers left on our front step by friends, pizza delivered to us by someone we love, eating a box of leftover Christmas chocolates, sunshine, and – as mentioned: Duck Tales (Thank the Lord for Disney Plus!).

I don’t know what week four will bring. I am learning to let each week be what it is. And I am slowly accepting that we have a lot of weeks left to go. I know some of them will be covidcrapular and I know that’s okay. I know we can also find the covidtacular. And I know God is with us in both.

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“My Husband Types Too Loud” – And Other Reasons I Need to Let Go Of Easy Anger During Covid-19

A few months ago I mapped out the series of sermons I would preach for the next few months. I wanted to talk about a simple concept: love.

Each week we would consider what love looks like in a real way. And each week we would look at parts of the story of Jesus to see examples of that love.

Things were going along just fine, and then a little thing called covid happened. Our church closed. Our services went online. Everything we were doing changed.

I asked: “Should my sermons change, too?”

I looked at the topic I had planned for the week in front of me. It was a teaching from the Bible that says “Love is not easily angered.” Hmmm…Was a lesson about anger still fitting for these new, strange times?

With bashfulness as I looked at my own life, I knew the answer was a resounding YES. I had had a week where I was easily angered – a lot.

I was easily angered when my kids made too much noise when I was trying to do online meetings.

I was easily angered when someone stood too close to me at a grocery store (SIX FEET, PEOPLE!!!).

I was easily angered when I saw videos of people flaunting their disregard for social distancing – angered at strangers who were still walking our local stairs, people still having games nights with friends, people saying we were all “overreacting.”

Let’s be honest. This is a season where it is easy to get angry. Some of us are working in cramped, close quarters and it starts to get too cozy. (Actual quote from me to my husband this week: “Have you always typed SO LOUDLY?”). Some of you are out on the frontlines dealing with issues that are infuriating and exhausting and there’s a lot to make you justifiably upset. (Not having enough face masks when working in a hospital is a lot worse than too-loud typing!). For many of us, this season is scary, and it is easy for our reactions to jump to anger when we are frightened.

easilyangered

Of course we are going to get angry. That’s normal.

The question is, how can we show love that is not easily angered?

If most of us are certain of anything right now, it’s that we need all the love we can get. And we need love that is real and tangible and more than a meme saying “we’re in this together.” We need to love each other as well as we can – and I think that includes working to step back from our easy anger.

The story of Jesus I mentioned gives us a good example to follow. In this story, Jesus is peacefully praying in a garden when a crowd of soldiers and religious leaders show up to arrest him in the middle of the night. They are carrying weapons. They are sneaky and underhanded. And so Jesus’ friends jump into action. One of them says “Should we fight them?” And in a valiant effort to protect Jesus, he reaches out and cuts off the ear of one of those there to take Jesus away.

I think this anger is warranted. Nothing that was happening was fair. It was unjust and unreasonable and it made sense that Jesus’ friends got defensive. I would have, too!

Your anger in this time is also warranted. Of course you get annoyed when people are insensitive or acting selfishly or putting others at risk. It’s normal to feel upset when your kids are going off the edge or when your loved one refuses to do social distancing or when you feel like your workplace isn’t looking out for your safety. However, while our anger may often be justified, we have to ask ourselves if our responses in those angry moments are as justified as we may want to believe. That’s when I have to take a pause and know that mine often are not.

But how Jesus responds inspires me here. With the guard’s ear still dripping from its injury, he tells his followers to stop. He tells them to put their swords away. Then he does something truly incredible: He reaches out and heals the ear.

He heals the one who is there to harm him! He heals the one about to take him away to his trial, and to what will be his eventual death. He could have easily chosen violence. It would have protected him. But he choose peace.

As I look at this story, I see that we have a choice of who we will look like in angry moments. We can be like the disciple who attacked. We can choose violence. I don’t mean physical violence (though that is possible of course!). We can choose violence with our words, our comments or our tweets. We can choose to attack. We can choose to namecall. We can choose to shame others. We can choose to say “look at this idiot!”

Or.

We can be like Jesus.

We can choose healing. We can choose to reach out. We can choose to respond gently to someone else’s rage. We can choose to consider another person’s perspective. We can choose not to lash out. We can choose peace. We can choose love.

I know it’s not always easy, but this is a time to put away our weapons. This is a time to let go of our easy anger. This is a time to seek healing in all the ways we can.

This is a time for love.

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Of Course You’re Tired: Why It Makes Sense We’re All Exhausted This Week

I had some great intentions for this week.

My kids, I had planned, would have lots of things to enjoy despite all the shut downs. They would stay engaged in learning. They would not sit in front of screens too often.

We would do online museum tours!

We would have family games nights!

We would BAKE!

This has not happened.

My job, I had planned, would have the space to explore big ideas.

I would do some visioning!

I would revamp some programs!

I would read, research, reflect!

This has not happened.

And my HOUSE! Well…

I would sort through the too small clothes with the kids!

I would organize the basement!

I would finally paint the bathroom!

This has not happened.

I have not rested more. I have not enjoyed a new netflix series. I have not organized, planned, cleaned, or home schooled.

And, yet, at the end of this first official week of social isolation and working from home, I am so tired. I am completely and totally pooped.

At first it baffled me.

“Why am I so tired?” I asked myself. “I’ve been home all week! I wear slippers all day. We haven’t had to drive the kids to anything. Half my stuff is cancelled. I’m not working in a hospital or a grocery store. Those workers should be tired. Why me?”

tired
Mood.

Then I started to talk to others who have felt the exact same way. Over messenger and email and on the phone we have commiserated: “I am so exhausted! I thought this would be downtime!”

That’s when I realized that I’m not alone in my weariness and I started to consider why this is. Here are some of my thoughts:

Working From Home is Still Working

For most of us, this isn’t actually time off. Even if you are working from home, you still have to get the same amount of work done – only you have to do it in new ways, and in a space not organized for your job and with kids around asking for you to get them soup or crayons or toilet paper. Adjusting to new things is physically and emotionally draining, and we are doing it all the time. One more time for those in the back: WORKING FROM HOME IS NOT TIME OFF. Of course you’re tired.

Online Meetings Take More Energy

There are studies that show online meetings are actually MORE tiring than meeting face to face. Looking at screens for a long time, monitoring where voices are coming from, helping your coworker figure out how to get their sound back on for the 6th time…all of this takes effort. If you’re like me, you’ve lived on Zoom this week. Of course you’re tired!

Struggling to Step Back From Work

When working from home, the lines between work and home life blur more than they do normally. People are in contact more often and throughout the day over social media, on the phone and through text. Beyond that, this is a time of crisis for many professions. As a pastor, I’ve been scrambling this week to set up ministries that work for people in our church. Our staff has been trying to care for a lot of people who are worried. We’ve had to reassess how we do everything… And at your job, you are probably in the same boat. You’ve had to manage a lot of change this week. Of course you’re tired!

Your Kids are at Home

For the parents out there, we are trying to support and engage our kids while we are working. It’s a lot of extra work. This, to put a clear label on it, sucks. Even if you are a stay at home parent or have this time off, you are still caring for kids who have had all their programs cancelled, who can’t see their friends, and who are just as scared as you. Of course you’re tired!

Emotional Stress

This has been an emotionally overwhelming week. We are worried and anxious and tired and still not sure what the future holds. We are worried about getting sick. We’re worried about finances. We’re worried how long this will last. And we are doing this without the physical support of people we usually lean on. We are doing this without the systems and programs and routines we usually cherish. We miss going to the gym. We miss our weekly coffee dates. We miss yoga class and dinners with friends and playdates and small groups and swimming lessons. We miss our lives.

Of course we are all tired.

So my friends, let’s not be too hard on ourselves if week one of isolation didn’t feel very successful. Let’s not judge ourselves for feeling exhausted and needing a weekend just as much as any other week.  Let’s cut ourselves some slack about the amount of screen time we gave the kids.

It’s been a week.

Of COURSE you’re tired.

(Author’s Note: With some feedback from those of you who are still working SO HARD at our many essential services, please don’t take this post in any way to compare to what you are doing and the level of tiredness you must feel. Thank you to all of you working and putting yourself at risk every day in the public sphere and who would like nothing more than to be in slippers all day. This post is geared to those of us at home feeling like we’re doing a whole lot of nothing and wondering why we may feel more drained than we think we should. But we know it does not compare with what you’re going through. We’re grateful for you!)

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Social Connecting in a Time of Social Distancing

Sign

A lot sure has changed since last week.

This time last week our staff was meeting in my office, talking about things like our upcoming Easter service and our next round of small groups, breathing near each other all willy-nilly with not a care in the world…

One week later we are all working from home, no one is meeting in any size group, and our big Easter service has been put on a pretty distant back burner.

Our online staff meeting this week was different. We were asking different questions:

What is our call as pastors right now?

What does it look like to lead in this season?

And the real biggie:

How will we help our community stay connected?

We all know we are supposed to be socially distancing. Physically, we have got to take that not-breathing-near-each-other thing REALLY seriously, and we are loving our community as a church by honouring this directive.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop connecting, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a place to help people do that. In fact, in this season, I believe our call to help people support one another is even more important.

If you are a pastor or leader asking the same questions, let me share with you some of the ways our church is encouraging social connecting in a time of social distancing.

Online Worship Time

Like lots of other churches, we are live streaming our Sunday service. What may be a little different about us is that we have been doing this for the last year. We already had a live streamed service using Facebook called Sunday at Home. For those of you new to online worship services, here are some things we have learned and found helpful if you are about to start live streaming:

  • It can (and, I believe, should) look different than your normal service

We decided early on we didn’t want to just record our regular service. We wanted it to be GEARED to the reality of people watching from a couch in their living room. We wanted people to be able to engage in a more intentional way and not just be spectators.

Don’t feel like you need to get your whole worship team together and set up a service that looks just like your normal Sunday. I actually think people watching a service posted to an empty church can be more disconcerting than comforting for many.

Sit on a couch. Talk to people like they are in front of you. If you don’t have music, use other spiritual practices like prayer, lectio divina, guided readings. Keep your sermon a little shorter as watching on a screen is different than being present in person. Imagine you are sitting next to someone having a coffee and talk like they are there next to you. Be a bit more relaxed.

Give pause for people to participate. Pause for people to pray on their own. Ask people questions they can answer in the comments section so they connect to others. (Having a moderator keeping this conversation going is helpful – and can be done from anywhere. They don’t have to be in the room with you).

sundayathomepreaching
A screenshot of a regular morning at Sunday at Home.

 

  • It doesn’t have to be swanky

I assure you we don’t do swanky at MHBC. There were many weeks early on we used a phone. And that phone was my Samsung 6. That’s it. It didn’t look as polished as lots of places but that’s okay. We aren’t polished. Set your phone up against a book, sit back, talk to your people. It’s enough.

  • Pick the right platform and help people use it

For us, the right platform is Facebook Live. It’s easy and a lot of our people use facebook and engage with it. For you, it might be youtube. Youtube doesn’t feel like as right a fit for us (though we will post the video there afterwards). Of course that means lots of people say “But I’m not on Facebook!” This is true – no source will be used by EVERYONE. But explain why you are using what you are using and then invite people to join you. The reality is, people CAN use Facebook if they want. That’s their choice.

But we may need to help people a bit. For those that struggle, we have put some people “on call” to help those that need it. This week I have already helped someone on the phone figure out how to watch our videos. That’s okay. Sometimes pastoring is helping one of your senior members figure out technology so they can be part of what you’re doing. This, too, is ministry.

Covid Care Team

This week we asked the question: What do people in our church need right now? We realized the answer wasn’t yet food delivery or meals or help when sick. That may come. Right now, the biggest priority is making sure people are CONNECTED.

If we’re doing church online, do people know how to use it?

Is everyone on our email list?

Do people know who to call in our church if they need help?

Over the next week, we are doing a round of church calls to ask these questions. We are making a list of everyone who calls our church home – especially new people – and making sure they know how to stay part of things in the weeks to come. The great news is that getting people to help with this is also a good way to help people engage.

Online Ministries

You can use resources online for more than just your worship service.

For the last year we have had a regular weekly prayer time we call “Intermission.” Every Thursday at 12:30 we go live on our (private) Facebook page (we have a private and public Facebook page) and people join in prayer together. The pastors lead people through guided prayers as we pray for prayer requests, church needs, and our world. It has been easy to do and effective to gather people to pray from anywhere.

intermission
Here is a screenshot of Intermission. It ain’t fancy – it is meaningful.

In the next few weeks, we are going to do this every weekday instead of just once a week. We will do 15 minutes of guided prayer together each day at 12:30 and already many have joined us.

We also are planning special “online” small groups. We are asking anyone who would like to be in a group of 5 or 6 to sign up and we will provide a study to use online for these groups. We will lump people into groups based on preferred medium, such as Zoom, Skype, or Messenger. (Isn’t it amazing how many choices we have??). And again, we will have people available to help people learn how to use these mediums if they need support.

Side Note: This is a season where people may actually have TIME to do things that normally they are too busy to do! Why not use this time for good?

Resource Sharing/Stealing

Maybe these things still overwhelm you. Maybe you’re a small church and even these things are a bit much. The great news is LOTS OF OTHER CHURCHES will have these things available. Share and “steal” the things that help you! Pass on videos and resources and readings and blogs and reflections to your people that have been meaningful to you. Connect them to another’s church’s livestream if you still feel that’s too much for you to do. Do what YOUR church can do and let others help you do what you can’t.

What’s most important is that we remember that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social separating. Isolation doesn’t have to mean loneliness. As pastors, leaders and churches, we can help prevent those things from happening.

This, in this time, is the Lord’s work.

“Should I Buy More Toilet Paper? Living Like Jesus in the Time of Covid-19

I am going to be completely honest: Covid-19 scares me. 

No, I am not especially scared for myself, though I am not naive enough to think that I will remain unscathed. But I am worried about lots of things…

I am worried about caring for my family if we have to go in isolation for extended periods. 

I am worried about how to make good decisions for the church I lead. 

I am worried about the most vulnerable among us. I am worried about our sick, our seniors, our medically compromised.  

I am worried about the increasing isolation and panic that may shape our city in the days to come. 

I am worried about what we’ll do if we stop having church services. 

I am worried about running out of toilet paper. 

As a pastor, this week we have been talking about how we will respond to the covid-19 outbreak. We have the hand sanitizer ready. We have shifted how we take communion. We’ve asked people to stop shaking hands. We are preparing an emergency plan. These are all good things to do. 

Of course, we are all thinking of how to respond to covid-19 in real and practical ways. But I have found myself adding an addendum to the question of the hour : What does it look like to respond to covid-19 as a follower of Jesus? Does it change things? 

I hope that it does. 

I am not going to oversimplify here and say: “Because we follow Jesus it means that we don’t need to be afraid.” I think that being afraid in times like this is very normal. 

What I do think is that following Jesus reminds us that we do not let our fear be our guide for making decisions. We have a different guide. A simple one: the way of love. 

What does the way of love look like in the time of co-vid? 

It looks like consideration. 

Of COURSE we should take all the precautions we can to prevent the spread of co-vid 19. But not just because we are afraid we will get it ourselves – because we LOVE other people. I LOVE the people in my church, my community, my city. I will love them by washing my hands so that I can help prevent the spread of this illness. I will love them by being considerate to their fears. I will love them by listening to the recommendation made by public health. If I have to, I will love them by staying away from them if I get sick.

I don’t think love looks like declaring: “Jesus will protect me so health recommendations to the wind!” That may show a certain kind of faith, but it’s not love. And we need both.

It looks like putting others before ourselves. 

In the Bible it reads “Love is not self seeking.” 

In a time of fear, putting others before ourselves grows more difficult. But Jesus followers are still called to do it. This means, for example, that we don’t empty the shelves of a necessary item to protect ourselves. Sure, you can buy some extra toilet paper or canned beans. But our default is not “every man for himself.” Our default is LOVE. 

This may mean that in the days to come you will be called to share the things that you want to keep to yourself. It will be challenging, but we walk the way of Jesus, the one who gave up EVERYTHING for those who did not earn it. 

Just this morning a sister church asked if we had any extra small individual communion cups. They usually use one common cup, but obviously they want to be cautious. We bought little cups a few weeks ago and I did have a thought that we don’t want to run out. But then I stopped to remember: “We walk the way of Jesus.” And I shared the cups. I confess my default was fear (“But we might run out!”) and I had to remind myself: “Choose love.”

This season is an opportunity to practice showing love by putting others before ourselves, whether it be by letting someone use the hand sanitizer before us or offering a neighbour a pack of Mr. Noodles when we desperately want to hoard it for ourselves.

It is not human nature, I know. But it is the way of Jesus. 

It looks like caring. 

I recently heard of a pastor who shared a message with his church saying: “We don’t need to panic. Most of the people dying from this are old. You probably won’t get it.” 

I shuddered. 

That is not the way of love. 

It’s true that covid does impact the vulnerable more than others. And that should NOT comfort any of us who don’t fall in that category.

The vulnerable are people too. If “only” the old people die in our church, that would mean losing people that I love a lot, and it is no comfort to me. They matter. People with lung conditions matter. People whose health is compromised matter. To take comfort that it “probably won’t hurt us” is not the way of Jesus. Let’s remember that. 

And then let’s care. 

We have an opportunity in this season to put our faith into real action. 

The days to come may be a time when people pull back and grow more isolated and alone. Let’s ask ourselves how to reach out to them. We live in an incredible time with the gift of phones and internet. Call people. Message them. Don’t leave people alone. 

We will have health workers in our congregation that are exhausted and overwhelmed and weary. Look for ways to care for them and support them. 

People who struggle with anxiety will find these times challenging. Even people not prone to anxiety may find themselves panicking. Be gentle with them. 

We may be tempted to lash out, respond in anger, rage online, attack those who seem to be doing harm. Be a peacemaker. 

I know that the Bible says to “not be anxious about anything.” I have to ask Jesus to help me with this every day. This week, I have had to ask a lot more. And each time I have asked again: “What does it look like to put my anxiety aside, Jesus?” the response I hear deep in my heart is simple: 

Love. 

Love well every day. 

Love well during co-vid. 

Love like I taught you to love. 

Love, even though you’re worried. 

Love, even though it’s scary. 

Love, even when it’s hard. 

Love with all your heart – 

And, yes – even with your toilet paper.

 

When the People Die

heartbreak

There is a little saying that pastors use when we find ourselves facing a situation that is unexpected or requires a skill we don’t have. It is:

“They never taught me THAT in seminary!”

Seminary is the school a lot of us attend to train for vocational ministry. We learn a lot of important things about how to study the Bible, how to prepare sermons, and how to lead. I loved my time in Seminary, and I learned things that have been invaluable for me. But, of course, like any training, we always find ourselves facing things we couldn’t anticipate, which is when this handy saying comes in…

Example:

Pastor One: Today, I had to fill out a grant application and I had no idea how to do it.

Pastor Two: Well, they didn’t teach us that in seminary!

(Laughter, knowing nods, etc.)

Another example (ones like this are more common):

Pastor One: This week I was trying to help a family through a crisis when it came out the husband was having an affair with his wife’s best friend and now she is pregnant and they battled infertility so it is extra painful and it turns out the wife was also cheating but they want to work on it and also their oldest child just got admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt.

Pastor Two: They didn’t teach us THAT in seminary.

(Knowing nods, no laughter).

There have been lots of things that I didn’t learn in Seminary that I have faced over the last fifteen years, and I don’t hold it against my school. Ministry is unpredictable, and we could never learn how to do everything, whether that be learning how to balance a church budget or how to deal with a confrontational church member. But of all the things for which I wasn’t prepared, there is one that I truly didn’t expect.

What happens when people from your church die.

I don’t mean how to navigate the journey of dying and death. I learned how to provide pastoral care at the bedside of the dying. I learned how to lead a funeral. I learned basic grief counselling.

But what I didn’t learn was how it would feel when people died that I loved.

I wasn’t prepared for what it would be like to bury someone that had mattered to me.

I wasn’t prepared for the way I would have to learn to fight my own tears as I comforted a grieving family.

I wasn’t prepared for how my heart would ache as I buried someone who had attended my baby showers, who had sent me meals when I was sick, who had shared with me in ministry. That I would be burying people with whom I had inside jokes. That had encouraged me. That felt like family.

I didn’t realize I would have my own grief.

This summer we said good bye to a woman from our church that had been a support to me ever since I started at our church. She gave our kids gifts for Christmas and their birthdays. She took us out for pastoral appreciation month. She prayed for me EVERY DAY. She made me laugh.

A lot of people felt this way about her and so the week after her death was surrounded by grief for our whole church. And I knew my job – to lead people through it, to support them, to create a space to mourn and to celebrate her life. This, I could do. This, I have learned.

But the day before her funeral, I suddenly found myself flooded in tears. I sat down and cried and cried. I was getting ready to help others grieve, but I realized – I was grieving too. I had lost someone I loved. I was helping a community grieve even as I grieved myself, and that was complicated and beautiful and very real.

And, I admit, I thought to myself: “Nobody prepared for this!”

THEY DIDN’T TEACH ME THIS IN SEMINARY!

Nobody warned me what it would be like to love for years and years and then have to say good bye again and again.

Nobody gave me a heads up that some funerals it would take all my emotional energy to get myself through it.

Nobody told me that the longer I was in ministry, that the longer I served in a church, that each funeral would hurt more. That each time I would feel it more deeply. That I would feel the loss more acutely because I had had so much longer to love them.

Nobody told me that I would need to allow some TIME after funerals. That when I got home, and when I had taken off my funeral blazer and put the tray with the leftover triangle sandwiches in the fridge, that I would find that all I could do was collapse into my own loss, and ask God to heal my heart alongside all the others for which I was praying.

And, also, nobody told me – this would be good.

It hurts to lose people over and over. In a church, which is a family, there are all ages and all kinds of health situations. People will die. And it will hurt. It will hurt to have loved them.

But with that hurt comes one of the greatest honours of my ministry, the thing that is hard but somehow a great gift.

I get to bury people that I love.

I get to tell their stories.

I get to encourage the people they loved and that loved them.

I get to celebrate their goodness.

I get to share how God used them.

I get to honour people that I loved, in their death, with hope for their new life.

In Seminary, nobody told me how great that would be. That even though I would need to be sure my funeral blazer had a pocket for tissues, that I would never regret needing it. That loving would make the grief harder, but that I wouldn’t want to change it.

If you are new to ministry, I kind of want to warn you – with more time to love, comes more loss to grieve. It won’t be easy. And…

You won’t want it any other way.

 

The Year I Decided To Do Things I Was Bad At

I have always hated doing things in front of others that I’m not good at.

I don’t like looking stupid.

I don’t like seeming inadequate.

I don’t like failing at things.

To avoid any of these possibilities, my strategy for most of my life has been to simply NOT do things where I wouldn’t excel. If this meant missing out, so be it.

Best example for me: sports. Growing up, I soon realized that I was not a natural athlete. This didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy certain types of sports. In Elementary School I happily joined a gymnastics club and skipping club, even though I wasn’t great at either. But by Junior High, I was done. My system was to simply not try at all, embrace the humor of how awful I was, and fully lean into being the worst athlete in my gym class.

When we played basketball, I didn’t try to catch the ball. When we played volleyball, I served as half heartedly as possible. “Pick me last!” was a favourite line of mine when leaders had to choose teams. I “forgot” my gym clothes as often as I could manage.

This meant that the gap between my athletic skills and my peers only grew, but hey – at least I didn’t look like a fool, trying to do something I couldn’t do very well. At least it seemed funny. People could think I just didn’t care!

This continued for years. There were years of going to camp and sitting and watching games of soccer or baseball because I refused to play. Years of watching others throw a frisbee or a ball at the beach while I said “I don’t do that.” Years of saying “go ahead without me,” or “I’ll watch the bags while you play.” Years of avoiding embarrassment – and years of missing out on good things.

This summer, however, something changed. It started when I was visiting with my family in Newfoundland and we went to one of those tree top trekking sites, where there are a series of climbing and high ropes apparatuses. This would normally be something I would avoid like the plague for the following reasons:

  • I am slightly scared of heights
  • I am not good at things like this, so therefore…
  • I would look stupid

But I looked at this thing with all it’s swinging bridges and climbing walls and I thought “I want to try that.” And so I said: “I”m going to do it.”

My husband looked stunned. “You are?” he said.

“Yes,” said I, shocking even myself.

I was not good at it.

The kids kept passing me, because I was so slow. I was the only person who fell and had to be rescued when I was hanging mid-air from one of the bridges. I screamed, several times, when I lost my balance, and I heard other people doing the course laugh at me.

But, you know what? I liked it!

tree trek

The next day our family did a hike.

I should say here that while the athletic genes missed me, they did not miss my siblings. My older brother and sister are very athletic and also very active, as are their spouses and kids. My brother picked a hike rated as “extreme.” He felt that was exaggerating. He had done it before and didn’t remember it as extreme. (I should have remembered this is the guy that calls a day when he goes downhill skiing, cross country skiing and skating a “trifecta…”).

Awash with the success of the previous day, I went, even though I knew I would be slower and sweatier and more winded than anyone on the hike.

I did NOT know, however, that I would end up frozen in terror, sobbing my eyes out on the edge of a mountain and that my brother would have to literally pull me up the mountain to reach the top. (Please note, if you ever do the Little Port Head Lighthouse Trial in Lark Harbour, Newfoundland, the “extreme” rating is VERY ACCURATE AND VALID AND SHOULD BE TRUSTED. Also it turns out it I may be more than “slightly” scared of heights…).

But… I did it! I was proud of me! The pictures and the memories were awesome, and our kids still talk about it. They say: “You were so scared, Mom, but you did it!”

The next day, they all planned to hike again. This one was 10 km return, and it would be steep (not scary, but 5 km uphill). By now, I was sore from the tree trekking AND the hike of terror the day before. I knew I would be so slow. It felt too overwhelming to be the dead weight on the hike a second day in a row.

So I said I wouldn’t go. I would stay home and make dinner. I would read my book.

But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I didn’t want to stay home alone. I wanted to be with everyone. I wanted to climb the mountain. I wanted to be part of it.

So again I declared: “I’m going to go. I will be slow. I will be way behind you all.”

And I was. I was WAY behind most of the time. People took turns keeping me company. I had to take more breaks than others. I was embarrassed sometimes. I apologized a lot.

But I did it.

And I loved it!

(And the memories of that time together as a family were so much better than a forgettable day at home making supper).

mountain

mountain2

At the end of those three days, something had shifted in me. I learned something I had taken way too long to learn:

Doing stuff, even if you are not great it, is better than not doing stuff!

It had taken me FORTY ONE years to realize that it was okay to do things even if I wasn’t good at them. Even if I was last. Even if I looked pathetic compared to everyone else. Even if it bruised my ego a little bit.

I wish I had realized it sooner. I wish I had climbed more mountains and tried to catch more basketballs.

But now it’s a new year, and even if I’m a bit behind on getting this lesson, I don’t have to let my fear of sucking hold me back anymore. I can be bad at things and do them anyway.

So this year if you see me trailing behind a crowd on a hard hike or at the bottom of a wall climbing wall, don’t worry about me. I’m doing just fine.

 

“That’s Not My Vomit!” (And Other Things I Want to Say When I Feel Embarrassed to Be a Christian)

One summer when I worked at camp, there was something that happened that became one of our favourite laugh-out-loud stories. It involved a sweet little boy whose name was Kenneth. One particular night, his leader noticed that he had gotten sick during his sleep. His sleeping bag, his pillow, and even his face was covered in puke, even though he was sound asleep. 

The counsellor woke him up. “Kenneth, sweetie, you have to wake up. You’ve been sick. Let’s get you cleaned up…” 

Kenneth was confused, and then aghast. “I didn’t do that!” he declared.

No amount of convincing could persuade him. “Somebody PUT that there!,” he continued, as the leader helped him change his pajamas, cleaned him up, found him some clean blankets. “I didn’t do that!” 

(Us camp staff quoted those lines for years to come: “I didn’t do that!  Somebody put that there!”)  

It’s funny, of course, to think of being covered in vomit and insisting that the vomit could belong to someone else. Who would sneak puke onto someone’s body in the middle of the night? It had obviously come from his own body. 

But I get where Kenneth was coming from, I really do. I get it more and more every day. Because, these days, I feel like I want to say: “That’s not my vomit!” ALL. THE. TIME. 

I’m a Christian. 

I’m an evangelical Christian. 

I’m a BAPTIST, for goodness sake!

And, my oh my, sometimes I think I should make a t-shirt that reads: “That’s not my vomit!” And I could wear it and re-wear it and maybe have a little arrow to point it at someone all those times my brother and sister Christians make me feel almost ashamed to say that we are in the same family. 

vomit shirt

Hateful political policies?

“That’s not my vomit!” 

Protests at Pride parades? 

“That’s not my vomit!” 

Embarrassing posts by Christians on the internet?

“That’s NOT my vomit!” 

I feel it close to home,too. Sometimes even in my own little corner of faith there are people with which I would rather not be associated. Even in a church, there are times when people we love are going to act in ways that are gross to us. And we will probably want to say: “Those people? What they did? Yeah –  that’s not my vomit.” 

But, the more time I spend wanting to declare that the vomit of other Jesus followers has nothing to do with me, the more I know I also need to find a way to respond more like that counsellor did to Kenneth that night: 

“Wake up, sweetie, you’ve been sick…we need to get cleaned up.”  

When the vomit gets to be a bit overwhelming, I don’t think the solution is to simply disassociate. It would be easier, of course, to just walk away. But I think God has something better for us.

I think we are called as the family of God to come alongside someone  when we see they have vomited all over themselves, to shake a shoulder, gently. To say: “Did you know that you’ve been sick? And then to say: “Let me help you clean it up.”

I’m not saying it’s easy. I can’t pretend that I don’t despair. I can’t pretend that there aren’t times that I would rather just say “That’s got nothing to do with me!” and just throw some of my brothers and sisters under the proverbial bus.

That’s when I need to remind myself that being in the body of Christ actually means a lot. It means we belong. It means we matter. It means that we each have roles to play and everyone counts -including all the people that embarrass, or annoy or even hurt us. 

And THAT means that, sometimes, we’ll have some barf to clean up. Because whether or not it’s our vomit – it is definitely our body.

This means that in our churches and communities, we don’t give up on people. We have real conversations when people hurt us. We get to know people and try to understand where they’re coming from. We seek healing when it seems easier to walk away. 

In the big picture, when we read those internet posts or we hear the stories that anger us, we can still name that things are exactly what they are – barf. Barf that has nothing to do with Jesus. 

And we still love. And we still acknowledge that we are part of the same body – vomit and all.

I know that I will still have lots of  “That’s not my vomit!” kind of days. My prayer is that on those hardest days, when everything in me wants to bolt, that God would help me to act like that camp counselor. I pray God will give me grace to deal with the vomit, even if it’s messy and gross, because I would remember all the times people had grace for ME – vomit and all. 

When It’s November and You’re Grieving

november

When someone is grieving, there are a lot of times that we anticipate being difficult: first birthdays, special occasions, anniversaries of the loss, and, of course, Christmas. 

Christmases after the loss of a loved one are forever different. It is hard not to dwell on the empty seat at the table and the gift NOT under the tree. With its emphasis on joy and family and memories this time of year, Christmas can feel like a minefield for someone going through loss. Every song, event, and tree ornament can trigger a memory that can cause grief to swell like a tidal wave. 

Almost everyone I have known dreads the first Christmas after their loved one has died. People will warn you about it, and pray for you through it, and hopefully remember to be extra gentle with you as you face the holidays as a grieving person. 

But what many may not realize is how hard NOVEMBER can be when someone is grieving. And I would like to say clearly: November can really really suck. 

Why? 

Because November sneaks up on you. You don’t gird yourself up for it. You don’t develop strategies for how you will face it. Your grief counsellor probably doesn’t bring it up to discuss what it will be like. People aren’t asking what November is like for you. But then – there it is. 

November is “Christmas is coming!”  November is trees going up all around you. Carols starting to be played on the radio. Friends saying “What are you doing for Christmas?” or “Looking forward to the holidays?” November is lights on houses and starting to Christmas shop and advent candle lighting at church and advertising all the “save the dates!” for Christmas events. 

November is when it hits you: “Christmas is coming –  and I’m going to have to do this without my loved one.” 

And I didn’t think I’d have to do this until December! 

But there it is – in November. The reality:  You will have to grieve your way through Christmas. 

It may not seem fair. “I can handle a couple of hard weeks around December 25,” you might think, “But in NOVEMBER?  Already? Come on people! I can’t do this for 8 weeks!

And then, to add insult to injury, the nights are getting longer and longer, so that each evening seems to give extended time to dwell on your sadness.

You are not alone. For many who are grieving, November is a month of fear, dread, and anxiety as we think:. “How am I going to get through Christmas?”  I will never forget what November was like for me after my sister died. I was putting off Christmas as long as I could. And then I heard a Christmas carol – Jingle Bells. I felt stabbed in the heart, and I started to sob. At Jingle Bells. All I remember thinking was “Oh no…”

If I could have skipped to January then and there, I would have. 

November brings home a harsh reality – you can’t skip Christmas. The world is going to keep going even though part of your world has stopped. And it will feel so unfair.

If you’re grieving this November, I don’t have any solutions for you. Today I wanted to write simply to say: You’re not going crazy. You’re not weird. You’re not alone. November grief is real. 

So, I hope you can be kind to yourself in November. Remember – you don’t have to turn the music on yet. You don’t have to go to the mall. You can wait to RSVP to the Christmas invitations. You can say “I’m not feeling up to it” when someone wants to eagerly chat about their Christmas excitement. You can be honest in your November grief.

And somehow, you’ll get through November. 

And then you’ll get through December. 

And the long, dark nights will start getting shorter again.

 

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