Friday, December 30, 2016

A Year I Didn't Always Want to Embrace

Embrace--to take up readily or gladly; to avail oneself of

I started out 2016 embracing new experiences and all God had in store for me. In early February, while at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza in Anaheim, California. I embraced my first ever Disney experience. The joy in my heart couldn't be contained as my friends helped me to embrace this experience. The character parade, riding Its A Small World, watching the families as they too embraced Disney and all it has to offer.

I embraced the nudging from God to begin writing my book "Chasing Our Untils." The words spilled out onto the page. But then something happened, God put up a different road sign. I had to embrace the fact that this book needed to go on pause while I took my 2014 Write 31 Days series and self-published it into a book. From the moment the proof copy came, I knew this was indeed something I needed to embrace. And as I held my final copy in my hands and paged through, I knew that by embracing this task, others would begin to understand more and embrace the many stories of mental illness in our world.

Every day, I embrace who God created me to be. In embracing my true self, I embrace the ways that my softness is a super power and embrace all the ways that I am a giver. In doing so, my beauty is released into the world. "Embracing your true self radiates a natural beauty that cannot be diluted or ignored."-Dr. Steve Maroboli

I did my very best to embrace everything that was put in front of me, but embracing isn't easy. In fact, the further we moved into this year, the more I didn't want to embrace the world that was unfolding in front of me. I didn't want to embrace all the evil and hatred that was taking place. I didn't want to wake up and embrace the stark reality of a world that is broken. And to be honest, I'm still struggling to embrace this broken world. There are days that I simply want to stay under the covers away from the evil and violence in our world.

Yet in the midst of our broken world, I think that's the beauty of even embracing all that we don't want to embrace. It allows us the opportunity to work towards freedom, justice, mercy and kindness. It helps open our hearts to a God who promises to come again and rend the heavens.

Trusting in the promise of Emmanuel--"God with us", I'll continue to embrace whatever comes my way even when that is difficult to do. I'll embrace the joy and sorrow. I'll embrace change (if that's what I need to do). Sometimes, I'll fail miserably at embracing life. But I promise to continue to keep learning, trying and embracing what God has to offer me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

All The Books

I've always been a lover of books and an avid reader. This year was full of so many great reads especially from so many of my blogging friends.

So here is what I read this year...

Looking for Lovely--Annie F. Downs
Annie is my soul sister as we are both single women. Her book "Lets All Be Brave" was so good. So I was excited to read this book. I love the reminders Annie gives about looking for Lovely in the midst of life's ups and downs.

The Happiness Dare--Jennifer Dukes Lee
Jennifer's words always speak to my heart. I love that she is a woman of faith who trusts in God. Through this book, I found out that I am very much a giver. Giving to others is indeed one of my love languages. Are you a giver, a thinker, an experiencer, a relater? Read The Happiness Dare to find out.

Beautiful Uncertainty--Mandy Hales
This book was gifted to me by my dear friend Susan when she attended the Allume conference. Mandy is also single. Every word of this book felt like it could have been written by me.

An Altar in the World; A Geography of Faith--Barbara Brown Taylor 
I've always wanted to read BBT and now I'm hooked. She encourages each of us to look for altars in the world. I love the ways she sees the church outside of the church walls. Where are the altars in our own lives?

Who Does He Say You Are?--Colleen Mitchell 
Colleen is a dear blogging friend and I'm so excited to say meeting her was one of my highlights from 2016. I read this book slowly as to savor her words. I found myself slowly reading and soaking in these words by my friend as they were indeed anointed by the Holy Spirit. I could have literally underlined and highlighted the whole book. Yet there is only one quote that I wrote down. It reads "Jesus doesn't deny the truth, but he shines the light on the whole truth, the whole big wide story of human brokenness." Read my review here: Brokenness and Resurrection Joy

Falling Free--Shannan Martin 
I became a quick fan of Shannan Martin and was excited to be on her launch team for this book. Her words are true gift in this world. This is one of my fave quotes from her book. "If community is the heartbeat of the gospel, hospitality is the hand that opens the door and waves it in." Read my review here!

The Bridge--Karen Kingsbury 
I won a copy of this book from my blog friend Katie M. Reid. A sweet love story that takes place during Christmas. I'm always a sucker for a good love story and of course, with a Christmas setting is an added bonus. I recorded the movie but wanted to finish the book first so now I can watch the movie too.

Accidental Saints--Nadia Bolz-Weber 
Nadia is not your typical Lutheran pastor, but I've always admired how she was at rock bottom and fought her way back. Nadia's church is truly a welcoming place for all people. Her first book Pastrix was so good so again I was excited for book two. We can find Saints in everyone. I love that because Jesus himself was the first to sit with tax collectors and sinners.

A Witness;The Haiti Earthquake, Song, Death and Resurrection
Renee Michele Splichal Larson 
Renee and I worked at a Bible camp in western WND together. Renee, her husband Ben and Ben's cousin Jon were in Haiti when the earthquake hit there. Ben lost his life that day along with many Haitians. In the midst of grieving, Renee and Jon were each other's light. They got married and have a son. This story is a powerful reminder of how God stands with us and never leaves us alone. Please read this story as a magnificent reminder that God makes beautiful things out of us.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek--Annie Dillard
A seminary professor recommended this book a long time ago. I've been meaning to read it and finally got around to it. In fact, it was my last read of 2016. I'll admit it started out a little slow but once I got into the book, I enjoyed it. I love Annie's description of the land and Tinker Creek.

Distant Lights--Marie Gregg
A collection of poetry by my blog friend Marie about her health battles. I love her honesty and vulnerability. I also love that she wanted to gift my mom a copy to let her know she isn't alone. As a poet myself, I love reading others poetry.

Living as a Daughter: 31 Days of Mental Illness by Tara L. Ulrich 
It seems weird to mention it but it is a book that I indeed read this year. I'm proud of this book and the ways that I hope it helps educate others about mental illness. Watch for a podcast coming up soon that I recorded last week about my book. "The bravest thing you'll ever do is tell your story."-Brene Brown

On the to read pile is:
Learning to Walk in the Dark--Barbara Brown Taylor 
Full; Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction--Asheritah Ciuciu
Five Minute Friday--Compiled by Susan Shipe 

I'm currently reading Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I am reading it so slow because I want to savor every word. It is a book for all of us because we are all creative beings.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sunday Blessing 152; Christmas Edition

(1) A great YouthWorkers gathering. We missed those of you who weren't able to be there!

(2) A sweet surprise from EG

(3) Shopping, coffee and errands with KL

(4) Fun mail day!!

(5) Meeting new people

(6) A ride from RS

(7) Winter Solstice Concert

(8) SlateSpeak

(9) Recording a podcast with NC. So much fun!!

(10) Guestposting over at CS's blog

(11) Voxing with KA

(12) Making it home safely for Christmas

(13) Christmas Eve candlelight service

(14) New Huskers gear

(15) Seeing good family friends

(16) Compliments on my Christmas dress.

(17) A warm house while it's freezing rain outside.

(18) Talking to momma on Christmas Day

The Messy Hope of Christmas

Today feels different! I feel like I'm forgetting to do something after a month of writing and following a great devo. There was no Christmas Day worship due to an impending storm. It is currently freezing rain.

My sister and I ventured about a block to deliver a few Christmas gifts. By the time we got to their house, the wrapping paper was soaking wet. Luckily, the wet paper was overshadowed by the joy of a young child ripping into his present.

After visiting for awhile, we ventured back home. The rain was pelting my sister and I. As we arrived home, Dad was getting ready to take C back to work. The garage door was frozen shut. And in all this craziness, I can't help but think of the beauty in this story. As my friend JC tweeted last night, it is so much more than just a bedtime tale! YES!!

The Word became flesh and broke into this broken world through this holy infant. This one who cries into the silence of the night announcing his arrival. An arrival that changes the world and hopefully changes us. A baby who births subversive hope into the world today and every day after.

And so this afternoon, I find myself thankful for this incredible radical gift; who steps straight into the shit of our lives. This one who knows the cries of my heart. This one who promises to never leave us or forsake us. This one who is the prince of peace, everlasting father, wonderful counselor, mighy God!

In the words of my friend KK, Jesus is this one we celebrate who comes in the midst of "life and truth and messy messy hope!!" Amen! That is who we need to celebrate today and every day!!

Merry Xmas!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Born in a Barn

Good Friday, the day our Lord is crucified and we sing the haunting hymn, "Where You There?" "Where you there when they hung him on the tree? Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?" The chorus always sends chills running down my body, "Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."

This Advent often has felt like that dark holy day. Our world full of so much trial and tribulation. A world filled with overwhelming hatred and evil. The Orlando night club shooting, a contentious election, the killings of innocent people simply due to the color of their skin, and Aleppo just to name a few. 

"So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger."-Luke 2:16 (NRSV)"

As the cries of the dear children of Aleppo have stopped, we awake to the holy cries of baby Jesus who breaks into the silence of the night. This holy one; Emmanuel; God with us who is born in a stinky smelly barn. As a farmer's daughter, granddaughter and niece, I know firsthand that barns don't have a pleasant smell which makes this image so powerful for me. I have literally stepped in cow shit and had it caked to the bottom of my shoes. 

The truth is we all have stepped in the shit of life; figuratively and literally. It took me a long time to get there, but I believe, our shit often shapes who we are. I wouldn't be who I am; Sandy's daughter; beloved, broken and blessed child of God, without being the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. Our shit reminds us that God too is one of us and steps right into that shit with us. This holy child, our beloved king, born that silent night with the stench and stealth of the manger all around him is the very Word made flesh! 

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people."--John 1:1-4

In the midst of that smelly barn with shit caked on our shoes, the cries of baby Jesus piercing the darkness, the time is right to move from the Good Friday of this year into shouting and singing alleluias as the Word becomes flesh and is born into our broken fractured world. 

"The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."

Friday, December 23, 2016


"Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'"--Galatians 3:13 (The Message) 

A cursed life! Words that make me look at my life and shake my head. A year ago, on my way home for Christmas, my car died 35 miles from my hometown. I sat in my car waiting for my dad to come rescue me. That night, in the bitter ND cold, I felt cursed. Why couldn't my car have made it another 30 miles? 

In addition, we look back over our lives and it feels cursed, doesn't it? When we hear that awful cancer word, when someone we love gets sick or passes away unexpectedly, when we are faced with doubts and hard decisions, when the mental health diagnoses takes place and so much more! Those events feel cursed. As a child (and even now) it doesnt seem fair that mom lives with a mental illness. In fact, I have found myself using visceral words to embody the depth of the pain and curses I feel in my own life. I'm not usually a swearer, but sometimes in the curses of life, those words sometimes are the only words that capture my own deep frustration and pain. 

Even today, it often feels like our world is cursed. Cursed because we haven't shown each other radical love. Cursed because we don't listen fully to one another. Cursed because there is so much hatred, evil and darkness in our world. One doesn't need to look far to see  this evil and hatred. I think of the children in Aleppo whose cries no longer are heard. I think of those who live each day in fear of their own lives. 

I hear these words from Galatians and I can't help but cling to the promise of this one who is born in a barn; in a stinky smelly barn surrounded by his loving parents. Mary and Joseph perhaps could've seen this as a curse, but in all honesty, it's a beautiful reminder that Christ climbs down into the pit with us. Christ reminds us always that he is Emmanuel; God with us. God with us in the manger in Bethlehem. God with us as Christ hung on the cross. God with us as Christ overcomes death and the grave. 

And because this holy child comes to change the world and us, I must still cling to the hope that is born in this holy child. I must believe in the midst of my own questions and doubts. I must simply believe in this one who calls each and everyone of us beloved. 

For God loved us so much, God sent Gods one and only son into the world for each and every one of us; Gods beloved children. And because God gave God's Son for you and me and all of God's beloved children, I believe!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Weeping, Empty Words, Good Friday, and Advent

Weeping, dancing

Weeping, dancing

Weeping, dancing


I don't know about you, but this year has felt much like a season of weeping. There was the Orlando night club shooting and killing of innocent people. There was a contentious election that many are still mourning and are afraid for their lives and their children's future. Even here in my own state, there are those on both sides of the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is Aleppo and the children whose cries are no longer heard. There is death, destruction, and violence all around us.

Matt Morris's words from his post today that this Advent has felt more like Lent immediately resonated with me. During Lent, some people often go from Palm Sunday straight to Easter. They often forget about the other days in Holy week. They are quick to move from waving their palm branches to shouting "He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia." They forget to stop and have their feet washed or watch in agony as Jesus is crucified. For me, this Advent has felt more like we are stuck in the darkness of Good Friday as our dear Lord is hanging on the cross yelling out "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." (But do we not know what we are doing? It seems to me that the world often knows exactly what it is doing)

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."--Revelation 22:18-19 (NRSV)

This Advent, I too have scrolled through my Facebook feed and simply cringed at the comments and the words hurled carelessly at one another. My heart has broken again and again at the violence, death, destruction and despair I have seen. My eyes have yearned to find the light and hope in the midst of the deep darkness. I have continued to weep endlessly with Rachel.

In the midst of this season, the words "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" come out of my mouth when others say it to me. But yet, my words feel empty...empty because we live in a broken fractured world. And this year, more than ever, that seems more evident than any other year. I yearn for the birth of this Child who God sent to be born in the stench and stealth of the manger and who God will send again to come down and rend the heavens.

Christmas is only a few days away and I am so anxiously and expectantly waiting for the birth of this child; this child who comes to change the world and change us. I am ready to move past the darkness of Good Friday to the joy of Easter morning and resurrection hope. I am ready to proclaim in the words of Clarence W. Hall that "Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won't stay there."

Advent is a time for us to remember that life not death, joy not sorrow and light not darkness are born that holy night in the Bethlehem. In this holy one's birth, we are reminded that "Weeping comes for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5)."

This year, there are definitely days I wanted to stay under the covers because I knew that the next morning would once again, more than likely, bring about evil, hatred, death and destruction. But now, as we move closer towards the manger and the birth of Emmanuel "God with us", I am ready for the weeping to end and for the joy to come as "the weary world rejoices." I am ready to fully trust that hope is born that one silent night as the Savior cries out into the world.

In the birth of Emmanuel God with us, we are reminded that God is with us in our joys. God is with us in our doubts. God is with us in our weeping and our dancing. God is with us when it seems all is lost. God is with us at all times and in all places. Emmanuel comes as the holy child; the king whose birth brings about a beautiful glorious sunrise for all the world to see; a reminder that there are seasons of weeping, but also seasons of great joy---"Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king."

I am waiting and ready to receive the King. Will you wait with me?

Top Posts of 2016

Here are the top posts for each month at Praying on the Prairie

January--Embrace (A One Word 365 Post)

February--Honoring a Man in Blue

March--Friends to Share Life With

April--Pass the Chocolate

May--Not Broken

June--For the Love of LuLaRoe

July--Build One Another Up

August--Forever Changed (A Review of Shannan Martin's Falling Free)

September--Brokenness and Resurrection Joy (A Review of Who Does He Say That You Are by Colleen Mitchell)

October--The Transformative Word
A Recap of My 2016 Write 31 Days Series: 31 Days of the Word Made Flesh

November--One Journey

December--Craving What I Didn't Know I Needed

And a bonus piece because it was one of my favorite pieces and didn't end up in the top #s! Something Like Lemonade

And if you didn't see or hear, I was hanging out at Crystal Stine's yesterday. Today my friend Tammy is there, so I stayed a little longer! :) You can read my post here (and Tammy's post is right above it!): One Silent Night

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Scandal of This Holy Child's Birth

"Jacob had Joseph, Mary’s husband, the Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Jesus who was called Christ. There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and yet another fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Christ."--Matthew 1:16-17 (The Message)

Do you know where you come from? What your lineage is? I know that I come from German ancestors who immigrated to the United States via Russia. Our lineage and history tells a lot about who and whose we are.

In the story of Jesus' birth, it becomes quite clear to us that Jesus is a descendant of David. David is a descendant to Abraham...fourteen generations between them--a long line of faith followers. Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph; Mary an unwed mother and Joseph who believes that Mary has been unfaithful to him. As a single woman, I can see the scandal in Mary's news. Hypothetically, what if I were to become the one chosen to bear this holy child? The glances and the stares would tell me how this is not appropriate.

The story of Jesus' birth is extremely scandalous. Joseph could easily have had Mary stoned to death since he believes she has been unfaithful to him. Mary doesn't expect to be the one chosen to carry this Messiah; the one who comes to save the world. This story unfolds in a lot of ways like a daytime soap opera.

One of the things that gets me every time I hear or read this story is that Joseph is returning to his hometown. Yet no one has room for him. Shouldn't his family be able to open their doors to him and a pregnant Mary? Because this is Joseph's hometown, it would appear that they are aware of this scandal and do not want to be a part of it at all. They would rather lean into their comfort, then be wrapped in the uncomfortable beauty of this holy child's birth. To them, Joseph is no longer one of them, but rather is an outcast; a refuge.

Who are those outcasts and refuges in our midst today? Will we open our home to them so baby Jesus can be born in the warmth of our home and not in the stench and stealth of the manger? When we are able to truly do that, I believe we begin to live out mercy, justice, and kindness in our broken fractured world.

I am going to lean into my own discomfort, prepare my guest bedroom and open the door when I see Mary and Joseph standing outside it. Will you join me?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Our Words Matter

"Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed."--1 Samuel 2:3 (NRSV) 

Today has been an interesting day. I got selected to be part of a jury pool. After several hours of vetting, the jury was selected and myself and others were not selected and got to leave. Before the jury was selected and as we listened, I thought about how our words matter in more ways than most of us realize or even notice. 

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Oh how wrong this little ditty is. Words do hurt! Words hurt when we ignorantly and arrogantly think we are right all the time. Words hurt when we carelessly hurl them at one another. Words hurt when we don't speak up for justice, mercy, kindness and radical love. 

I have been the recipient of hurting words. I have had mean words hurled at me as a young child. I can still feel the sting of those words ringing in my ear. I have listened to words that called people like my mom "crazy" without even knowing them but simply because she and they live with a mental illness. Those words have stuck to me too. I will not forget those awful words that hurt me and made me feel so incredibly broken. 

Words indeed matter! Words came in the Son who is the Word made flesh. So how do we use our words? Do we use our words for evil or good? Do our words embody what we believe in both our words and actions? 

I am a lover of words. I often think carefully about what I tweet, what I say, and what I write.  I want my words to embody truth. I want my words to be gentle and kind when they need too. I also want them to be lit when I need to speak up for what is wrong. I want my words to share Gods radical love with the world. I want my words not to be arrogant or rude or boastful. 

My words, I hope, remind others of the hope and love that is born in a stable in a Bethlehem that holy night. My words, I hope, call forth action in the midst of the injustices in this world. More than anything, I want my words to not be proud or arrogant in any way. I want my words to share the Word made flesh in this broken world. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Truth Was Born

"Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?"---Galatians 4:16; NRSV

I am often told that my tenderness and softness are my super powers. That my words often quell the fire that is lit in my friend's hearts. Yet there are times in my life when I look at the images on my television screen and see my tenderness and softness as a curse rather than a blessing because I want to shout from the mountaintops...STOP IT! Treat each other with radical love and respect.

After the election, I woke up to a different world than I thought we were moving towards. I have been weary in the midst of it all. I want to use my voice to speak up. But more than anything, I want to shut up and listen to those on the margins; to understand where they are coming from while also listening to the other side of the issue as well.

I have watched the images of the children in Aleppo whose crying has stopped and my heart simply breaks. I want to wake up the world to this injustice that is taking place. I want more than anything for these children  to know safety and peace; to not be afraid to go outside and play without fearing for their lives.

Telling the truth is hard and it can put strains on our relationships when both sides believe they are telling the truth. Is telling the truth worth the risk? Does telling the truth open our minds and hearts to be a part of the body of Christ without questioning one another?

There are some really great people in my life who teach me what it means to be a truth-teller. Truth-telling is scary, but it also often opens my eyes to see and my ears to understand in new ways. These truth-tellers have done exactly that for me in the last several months.

Will we open our mouths to tell the truth even when that is the hardest thing we could do? Truth was born in a stable in Bethlehem that holy night. Truth was born when this little boy came into the world to change the world and change us. Truth was born when this one promises to come down and rend the heavens.

Are we willing to believe in this truth and share his truth with the world?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Blessings 150 and 151

(1) Finding my LLR Elegant Carly

(2) Another snow day

(3) A great night with awesome kids from church

(4) Getting to be part of BG's Baptism

(5)  Texting with MW

(6) A post worship/council nap

(7) Chatting with CT on the phone

(8) A great text convo with my friend JS

(9) Time with my friend EG--What a great night!

(10) Finding peppermint mocha kcups from Target

(11) Chatting with BA on the phone

(12) Christmas cards in my mailbox

(13) Leftover pizza sent home with me

(14) #SlateSpeak

(15) LCM Board Christmas party

(16) A member complimenting my sermon and sharing how I just keep getting better.

(17) A trusted colleague liking my sermon note on FB! Thanks JC!!

(18) Watching Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors

(19) Holding Baby BG and taking their family photo!

(20) Talking to me Daddy

(21) A post liturgical nap

(22) Talking to mom. It was a good day. She sounded so good.

Bringing Good News

"Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”--Matthew 11:4-6 

But where is this Good News for the children and families in Aleppo? Where is the Good News for those who are huddled on concrete floors to stay warm? Where is this Good News for those who are starving to death? Where is this Good News for black and brown bodies who are innocently killed because of the color of their skin? Where is this Good News for our LGTBQ + and Muslim and Jewish friends? 

The truth is when we don't see these beloved children of God, there is no Good News. The children have stopped crying. The starving no longer need food because they have starved to death. The homeless are frozen in huddles in the streets trying to stay warm. Another black/brown body is killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. Our LGTBQ+ and Muslim/Jewish friends are still seeking acceptance and love in this world. 

Sweet Jesus, can we not see them? Can we not hear them? We must see and hear them. We must not be silent. We must speak up and shout the injustices we see in this world. For when we do that, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the lepers will be cleansed, the deaf will hear, the dead will be raised and the poor will indeed have Good News brought to them.

Will we be the voices that bring Good News to those on the margins; those who the world often overloooks? Will we cry out in the silence and proclaim the Good News of the one who brings radical love to all those on the margins? Will we be the ones who help the world to turn? 

"Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn"---Canticle of the Turning

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where is this Life Eternal?

The children of Aleppo have stopped crying. 
The silence of their cries is deafening. 
Only to be broken by the sounds of war.
My heart is breaking.

Where is this life eternal for which John speaks of? 

Yes, there are many who question their faith and who don't believe. But can we blame them? Can we blame them when another war has broken out? Can we blame them when death not life appears to have the last word? Can we blame them when hatred and evil are running rampant in the world? Can we blame them when the children no longer cry? 

Again, where is this life eternal for which John speaks of? 

This Advent, I am weary, friends; weary for Aleppo; weary for our future; weary for Syria; weary for the tumult we see daily; weary, weary, weary! I hear these words from one of our Christmas hymns "And a weary world rejoices!" And I want to believe, but the images on my television screen cause me to doubt. Will our weary world ever again rejoice? 

The tears continue to stream down my face as I weep with Rachel. I am raw with grief for the brokenness of our world. I am raw with love; love for God; a love unlike any other. I am simply raw as I yearn for peace on Earth and love, justice and mercy for all of God's beloved children. 

In the birth of Emmanuel, the noise of the world is silenced as we hear the cries of the one who is with us. Emmanuel, God with us...God with us in our pain, God with us in our doubt, God with us in our joy, God with us in our mourning and our dancing. God with us when we cannot find the words to speak. God with us in the love and hope born that holy night. 

Will this hope and love shout forth in the midst of the silenced cries of the children of Aleppo? Will life eternal truly be given to all God's children even those who question their faith or don't believe? Will we shut up and listen and then radically love ALL God's children; no exceptions? 

Will we let our voices pierce through the noise to proclaim the hope born in Emmanuel; God with us, today and always so that a weary world will once again rejoice when life not death, peace not war and love not hatred finally truly have the last word? 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Now is the TIme

I am linking up for Five Minute Friday.  The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today's prompt is "now" We'd love to have you join us.  Just hop onto Twitter on Thursday evenings and follow the #fmfparty. Hope to see you there! 

I just finished watching Dolly Parton's movie Christmas of Many Colors. Let's  just say that by the end I was a blubbering mess. Now I am sitting with my peppermint mocha in hand, the tree lights twinkling, and the sounds of Full House on television behind me. 

It is bitter cold outside. It feels like negative 20. So I am finding myself staying inside where it is warm and cozy. I am reflecting on this Advent and how my friends Advent devo has released this beautiful vessel from me. A beautiful vessel of words that captures my own story. 

I cannot help but think of those in Aleppo especially the children. I want them to know safety and love. To be honest, every time I see an image of a child with their ash covered face; full of fear, I immediately want to adopt them ALL. But I know that is not my reality. So I am doing my best to help in the ways that I know how to help. 

In the midst of a broken world, Advent is the time for us to reflect on the hope and peace that is born that holy night in a manger in Bethlehem. This baby who cries out and pierces the darkness with his cries of raw love in this broken world. 

Emmanuel God with us...God with us in our pain, God with us in our doubt, God with us in our joy, God with us in our mourning and our dancing. God with us when we cannot find the words to speak. God with us in the love and hope born that holy night. Now is the time to reflect on the gift that is born; the child born as the Word made Flesh! 

This song is so powerful. Listen closely to the words. 
The Word made flesh! 

A Love Like No Other

In the heart of a North Dakota winter, the bitter cold takes away ones breath from the moment one steps outside. The rawness of the cold is felt in every fiber of ones being. That rawness is a rawness that I haven't felt anywhere else. It can easily paralyze one from going outside during the winter months. So I know the rawness of a ND winter very deeply, yet that is not the rawness that is penetrating my heart and soul in these days.

I watch the children in an orphanage in Aleppo crying for help and my heart breaks. I want so deeply for them to be able to play outside without fearing for their lives. I am filled with the rawness of tears as they trickle down my face. I yearn for these children and their families safety.

I am filled with the rawness of cold as I hear stories of homelessness in these frigid temperatures. Babies, parents, and children who are living in the streets. More tears trickle down my face.

My heart is raw as I want to do so much more for those in need. My throat is sore as I try to cry out in the midst of my tears. Raw tears that weep for Syria. Raw tears that weep for my Muslim and Jewish friends. Raw tears that weep for every black and brown body that have been killed because of the color of their skin. Raw tears that weep along with my friends and all those in the LGBTQ community. Raw tears that weep because we are afraid to shut up and listen to each other. Raw tears that yearn so deeply for peace, justice, mercy and kindness in this broken shattered world.

Like a ND bitter cold day, the world is raw with her own brokenness and her own tears. Tears that call for the birth of Emmanuel; who cries out into the silence of the night. Tears that call forth hope in God with us. Tears, who are raw, with love for all of God's beloved children.

A raw love, born into the silence of the night, in a manger in Bethlehem, through one of the first refugee families; Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. This raw love that is a love like no other; a raw love that is steadfast, faithful and breaks forth into our broken shattered world.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Our Psalm of Anguish

"O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers. You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves"--Psalm 80:4-6 (New Revised Standard Version)

Our Psalm of Anguish
By Tara L. Ulrich

Children in an orphanage in Aleppo cry out for mercy and safety.

"How long, Oh Lord, How long?"

War breaks out again and again.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

A woman in labor cries out in pain.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

Rachel inconsolably weeps.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

Another Black and Brown person killed simply due to the color of their skin.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

The mentally ill hunger for acceptance and love in this world.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

White privilege is too rampant and alive in this broken world.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

Silence the "whatevers" of the world, we pray.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

The LGTBQ community yearns to truly be accepted in this world.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

The world waits for the Lord to come and rend the heavens.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

A single woman patiently waits for God to answer the desires of her heart.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

Our modern day cries for mercy, justice and peace continue to pierce through the noise
of this broken shattered world.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

Those with anxiety ask for your peace to be granted.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

The world continues to cry out in pain and weep with Rachel.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

We cry for you to remember us all; ALL of God's beloved children.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

We wait for the birth of the Messiah; hope born that holy night, who cries out into
the silence of the night.

"How long, Oh Lord, how long?"

In anguish, we ask "How much longer, Lord? How much longer must we wait?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

For the Children of Aleppo

A ten year old little boy Carlos pleas for the world to come save him and his 47 brothers and sisters from an orphanage in Aleppo. I listen to his voice while my eyes wander and glance into the eyes of all these children. I watch as another little boy sways back and forth in his place. Children who so desperately want to be able to go outside and play; who want peace to reign on earth.

These children all stand looking into the camera and quickly finding a place in my own heart. I so desperately want to take them ALL in. I want so desperately for them to know peace and freedom in their lifetime. I want so desperately to shield them from their countries own shattered hearts and dreams. I want them to not be afraid to go outside in fear of their lives.

Carlos' words continue to echo in my ears and in my heart. His words speak truth as he reminds us that these might be the last words we hear from him. I don't want to believe his words, but I know that he is speaking truth. This ten year old boy who had to quickly grow up two years ago when he lost his own parents to an air strike. This ten year old boy who is pleading on behalf of all of these children who are locked in their orphanage and who so deeply want to find freedom and peace. My heart is breaking for and with them.

My heart is shattered and broken; praying for these 47 beloved children of God. Will we feed them and clothe them? Will we welcome them into our homes? Will we be Christ to them? I honestly want to take them ALL in; every one of these 47 precious children standing in that orphanage in Aleppo. But I know that is not my reality, but I will fight to do what I can; to show them love and grace and freedom; to show them that death and destruction will not have the last word but God will.

And as I pray, watching these 47 children whose lives may soon be shattered and broken once again, I must weep; weep like Rachel. Weep for all of God's beloved children who deserve to be loved; to be welcomed with open arms and hearts. Weep until there are no more tears left to cry.

Broken and Shattered

The words poured onto the page as I wrote our story for the world to see. Two years later, I held our story; my story in the form of a book; a book that holds the very deepest parts of my family's story. It holds the very deepest and vulnerable parts of my identity as the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. For so long, that story stayed locked in the depths of my heart. Yet that story; my own story of brokenness is what makes me who I am as a beloved child of God.

And when I look at the world around me, I cannot help but see so much brokenness; so many shattered dreams and hopes. I watch as the fathers in Aleppo cry out for safety for their children. Like Rachel, I weep for these dear beloved souls.  I catch my breathe for just a moment and ask for the Lord's kingdom to come; for Christ to rend the heavens and come NOW. Aleppo is shattered and broken. What are we willing to risk for these dear beloved children of God? Does their freedom and safety mean anything to us OR would we much rather stay in our own comfort zones? I pray that we come together as our own comfort zones are shattered and broken.

I watch this world and all I can think is. Our world is fractured. Our world is broken. Our world is shattered. What are willing to risk to bring it back to wholeness? I am reminded of the Japanese art form "kintsugi" where they take gold laquer and laquer the cracks. The cracks remind us of the pieces brokenness and helps to shine the light through it.

Without my own story, I wouldn't be who I am. I wouldn't be Tara; Beloved, Broken, Blessed Child of God. Without your stories, you wouldn't be who you are either. In the midst of our own shattered dreams and hopes, we are all beloved, broken, and blessed children of God who are ALL called to be loved in this broken world.

Are we willing to look at each other's cracks in the midst of our own brokenness? Are we willing to understand how we are all broken? Are we willing to let ourselves proclaim God's love and grace in this broken world? Are we willing to be on Jesus' right and left side as he hangs on the cross?

"Suddenly they shouted, 'What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?'"--Matthew 8:29

In the midst of my own family's journey with mental illness, there are times I cried out to God; cried out from the deepest parts of me; with the most visceral words I could utter to speak. There were times I wondered if God was trying to make me stronger; trying to teach me something. All I know now is my own brokenness; my own shattered hopes and dreams remind me that God promises to come again; to come down and rend the heavens. And so in the midst of this very shattered broken world, I find myself clinging so tightly to that promise!

Will the Lord come soon to rend the heavens OR will it be too late?

Will this world continually be a place of deep brokenness and shattered dreams and hopes?

Will we seek to shatter the walls that divide us?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'll be Waiting!

"But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life!"--Jude 20-21 (The Message)

Maybe I have become cynical this past year, but it seems to me that we have failed miserably at building each other up. We have failed miserably at outstretching our arms to ALL of God's beloved people. We have failed miserably at opening our hearts and minds to one another. We have simply failed miserably at being change agents who work to build each other up as we attempt to piece together pieces of this broken world.

As a young child, I was the kid who was bullied and picked on. I was the kid who didn't learn to take care of her adolescent self the best she could because her mom was living with a mental illness and at times couldn't teach me those things properly. I remember standing on the playground having so many awful names hurled at my little girl self. No wonder, I didn't want to unlock the story that was locked deep in the depths of my heart. (And didn't tell that story until I was 18 years old!)

Instead of building up, there was tearing down occurring and as I look at our broken world, that is often what I still see. Have we forgotten that God calls us to "love each other as we love ourselves?" Or maybe we don't love ourselves because the world has been unkind to us and taught us that we are unlovable? The truth though is that we are all loved children of God. I want everyone of you to know that in this broken world. Yet I know that is hard to trust in when the world seems to be telling you something else.

I honestly don't know what it is like to live in this world with different colored skin or as an LGTBQ+ individual or as a Muslim or Jew. But when I hear these words from the book of Jude, I want to do better. I want to shut up and listen to these dear beloved souls of God who fully understand what it is like to live with different colored skin or as an LGTBQ+ individual or as a Muslim or Jew. In all honesty, these dear beloved souls continually teach me what the cost of discipleship is in this broken world.

So, despite the ways of the world, I want to be a change agent; who isn't afraid to break bread with tax collectors and sinners; to break bread with those that society and the world often deems as the outcasts or on the margins of society. As Lenny Duncan reminded us in his post yesterday, "God's people are not on the margins, they are the center of God's own heart which flees empire and you!"

My own call to ministry calls me to pick up my basin and towel and wash the feet of all God's people; no matter who those people are. So, my friends, today I am standing with my basin and towel right next to me, waiting to wash your feet. My arms are outstretched wide; waiting for all of God's beloved children to be embraced in this love.

Come to me all who are weary, sit down, and let me wash your feet.

I'll be waiting!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Salty Tears

"I’m on a diet of tears— tears for breakfast, tears for supper. All day long people knock at my door, pestering, 'Where is this God of yours?' These are the things I go over and over, emptying out the pockets of my life. I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd, right out in front, leading them all, eager to arrive and worship, shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!---Psalm 42:3-4 (The Message)

As tears stream down my face, I feel the saltiness of my tears as they trickle onto my lips. A saltiness that I cannot and will not escape in this broken world. Their saltiness is felt day and night as I listen to those voices asking, "Where is this God for whom you speak?" I want so desperately to walk them over to Jesus, to put their hands in the places where the nails were pierced so they too may believe. But then, how can I show them Jesus' pierced hands and feet when I am not always sure I can see those marks myself? When I question where my God is?

But, in this broken world, doubt has this way of capturing us all in our own unbelief. Our own wells of tears run dry when it seems that evil and hatred have the last word. Too many people are being harassed. Too many are fighting for their own freedom in this world as they are crippled by fear.  Too many are afraid to share their own stories of brokenness in this world. Too many are looking for God to come down and rend the heavens; to bring about God's justice on earth. It is the cry of many --including myself--whose tears seem to have run dry in this broken messed up world filled with so much evil, hatred, death and destruction.

There are days that I desperately cry out to God with the very fiber of my being; crying visceral words that you wouldn't catch me crying out at any other time. But these words--these visceral words are the only thing that seem to capture the depths of the pain, grief, and hopelessness that paralyzes me when life seems anything but fair; when we treat each other with anything but love and kindness.

I find myself standing before God, emptying out my own pockets; emptying them of all those things that I want God to take away in this world for myself and all the people of the world. As salty tears trickle down my face and upon my lips, I lay down before God a rock of anxiety asking God to grant peace to all of those who struggle daily with anxiety. Then I lay down before God a rock of love asking God to help us treat one another with love for ALL God's people. I lay down a rock for mental illness. I lay down a rock for racism. I lay down a rock for sexuality. I continue to lay down rocks until there is an altar set before us; an altar that carries with it the weight of the world and I so desperately want God to tear it down so together we can sing and shout for joy as all of God's children gather at the holy feast set before us.

For when we let our collective tears gather, in this broken world, will we once again be able to lead all into worship; with our hearts and songs lifted to God; proclaiming in this one who promises to never leave us or forsake us.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Devoud of Hope

"And said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”--Matthew 11:3B

There are days that I wake up and immediately want to crawl back under the covers. This morning, after opening my Twitter feed, that's exactly what I wanted to do. At least 25 killed in a church bombing in Cairo Egypt. Approximately 160 killed in a church collapse in Nigeria. And in my own beloved state, there are still people--Protestors, water protectors, law enforcement etc--on both sides of the conflict in regards to the Dakota Access Pipeline . So, it seems the world is devoud of hope--where is this hope for which we are looking for? 

I want to believe that hope changes things, but I'll admit that it is hard to trust in when it seems our world is devoud of hope. Are we looking for the wrong one? Are we looking in the wrong places? Where is this hope for which we all speak of? 

I want to be a hopegiver in this world. Its hard to give that hope when it seems impossible to find; when it seems the world is hopeless. Yet the truth is that hope is here. Hope is in showing love and kindness to one another. Hope is found in one of the first refuge families; the holy family. Hope is found in this precious infant who cries out into the world; in the silence of the night. Hope is and can be found if we look for it among this broken world. 

We must not forget that hope was born in the stench and stealth of the manger; where joy, hope, peace, justice, kindness and mercy were birthed into this world. For this child came to change the world and change us. Are we willing to let this gift of hope transform each of us? 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dying Trees

"Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."--Matthew 3:10 

I'm a sinner! 

I haven't always been the kindest.

I haven't always treated those that are different than me with respect and love. 

I have jumped to conclusions when I should have listened to both sides. 

In other words, I have been so guilty of not always bearing good fruit. 

So I hear this verse and I no longer feel comfortable because if I am not a child of God who bears good fruit, will I be one of the first thrown into the fire? To be honest, it sounds like that's exactly the case when I hear this passage. 

The truth is that I am the tree who is dying because of the hatred and evil I see around me. I am the dying tree thirsting for water. I am the tree fighting for life in this broken world. I am a tree who needs to reach for the good fruit and not be tempted by the serpents in the garden. 

Adam and Eve committed the first sin when they ate of the tree even after God told them not to eat of it. Are we deaf to God's words too? Are we so selfish that we forget to bear good fruit in this world? 

Knowing that I'm a sinner, in need of God's grace, I yearn for hope, justice, kindness and mercy in this world. Will we be willing to bear fruit even when it costs us our own comfort? Will we let our roots dig in deep and bear goodness and kindness and mercy? 

As I let my roots dig in deep, I must cling to the promise of Jesus who was born into the silence of the night. Jesus who is the Word made flesh in this broken world and is the Word I must cling to when it seems all of us are barren trees who are struggling to bear good fruit.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people."--John 1:1-4

Friday, December 09, 2016

Giving Up Our Comfort

Are we willing to let ourselves be uncomfortable in order to bring about God's justice on Earth?

A lot of people have been wrapped up in their own comfort. In fact, too often, we let our comfort get in the way of sharing Gods love with the world. Our comfort stops us from listening to those voices crying out in the wilderness. Our comfort prevents us from understanding two sides to an issue. Our comfort opens our voices to state why we are right and others are wrong. Our comfort hinders us from doing those things that are beyond our comfort zones.

But what I've come to realize is that when we are able to move beyond our comfort, we will see amazing things unfold. As I follow along with my friends devos this Advent, I've watched a dam of beauty that has broken forth. A dam that captures many of our deep longings for justice to reign on earth. So imagine what might and could happen if we gave up our own comfort?

It seems to me that we need to let our own comfort go, so that those who are feeling discomfort might actually begin to feel comfortable in this world. I'm willing to give up my own comfort to experience discomfort that eventually will be opened to victory. Are you willing to join me? For in giving up our own comfort, perhaps justice, mercy and kindness will finally reign.

Now I'm not saying, it's going to be easy because I don't think it will be easy. But together, we are much stronger than we are apart. So again are we willing to give up our comfort for someone else's discomfort?

"Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home."-2 Corinthians 3:11-13

Are we willing to give up our comfort to be people of Godliness and holiness? 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Holy in the Midst of the Ordinary

I am linking up for Five Minute Friday.  The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today's prompt is "joy." We'd love to have you join us.  Just hop onto Twitter on Thursday evenings and follow the #fmfparty. Hope to see you there! 

"Joy to the world, the Lord is come let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing."

This year I feel like I have been especially in need of the hope, joy and love that comes with the waiting for Advent. So often, we forget the true meaning of this season. Without the journey to the manger, Christmas cannot come. For me, to slow down and savor Advent and Christmas reminds me of what this season is all about. 

Jesus is the Word made flesh who comes and lives among us. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him." Jesus; the incarnate Word who came to bring light in the midst of darkness, joy in the midst of sorrow and so much more. Jesus who is indeed Emmanuel: God with us. 

Jesus was born in the stench and stealth of the manger. Jesus cried out into the silence of night to remind us of the promise that comes in the birth of this child. One of my favorite verses has become Psalm 30:5 "Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

It often feels like we are in a season of weeping and we find ourselves yearning for the weeping to stop. But Jesus is the gift; the joy that comes in the morning if we let him. In the words of my friend Susan, Jesus is our hope and hope changes everything. Jesus is the hope and joy that comes in a baby born to the unlikeliest of woman, born in the unlikeliest of places reminding us all of the holy in the midst of the ordinary. 

The holy in the midst of the ordinary is sundogs on the ND prairies. Holy is in the joy seen in a childs face at the Christmas tree lights. Joy is found in so many and various ways. Where do you find joy and see the holy in the midst of the ordinary? Take some time and look for it. 

Are We Willing to Change?

"[God] is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because [God] doesn’t want anyone lost. [God's] giving everyone space and time to change."--2 Peter 3:9 (The Message)

As many of you know, since the election, the amount of hatred and evil seems to be running even more rampant in our world. I too often find myself crying out to God, "How long, Oh Lord? How long oh Lord? Will you forget us forever?" There are days that I simply want to hide away from it all. Yet God is persistent and won't leave me alone. (Perhaps you too are feeling that persistence)

I have been listening intently to my native friends, my black/brown friends, my LGTBQ + friends, and my Muslim and Jewish friends. I find myself hearing the cries of their heart and wanting so deeply to atone for the sins we have committed against them.

How can we let this evil and hatred win? How can we stand up for what is right and good and pure? The truth is that too often we blame each other for our inactions. Too often, in the midst of the world's commotion, the voices of those crying out in the wilderness are lost. So how can we hold all God's beloved children accountable and make sure that love; God's love ultimately wins as we hear EVERY voice that is crying out in the wilderness?

There are days I think we've made such a huge mess of this world that I wonder if God is looking down on us, shaking his head and praying that we can do better. Or have we made such a huge mess that God thinks that God needs to give us eternal time to change before God returns? And to be honest, I don't blame God at all. For the truth is that we can do better, but will we?

Will we allow our hearts, ears, and minds to be opened to one another?

Will we atone for those sins that our ancestors committed before us?
Will we atone for those sins that our own generations are committing right in front of us?

Will we speak words of truth when hatred and evil are running rampant in this world?

Will be open to listening to all sides of an issue to help us understand where our opposing friends/family are coming from?

Will we change for the sake of the world and God's love for ALL people?

In the birth of Jesus; the Messiah, God's words are fulfilled. "For God so loved the world so much that God sent God's only begotten son into the world so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. God did not send God's son into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save it."--John 3:16-17

I don't know about you, but there are days that I feel like the world is being condemned because we haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves and because we haven't atoned for the sins we have committed. Yet in time and space, I trust that God will come again to judge the living and the dead as we learn to grow and change ourselves.

The question is, "Are we willing to change? Are we willing to let God use us to be transformed and to transform the world?" Or is it too late?