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Monday, December 29, 2014

Making Room For Hope

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces I would still plant my apple tree." ~~ Martin Luther  

This quote found its way to me a few days ago.  It succinctly puts into one sentence a myriad of emotions, wonderings, and thoughts that are overwhelming me as this year comes to a close.  I appreciate the metaphor of crossing thresholds from the past into the new and not yet discovered.  It is scary and exciting.  It is how we grow.  However, at the same time, I am living in the midst of challenges in my own life as well as in the lives of those about which I care deeply.   I am standing in an uncertain "gap" space holding incredible joys and very painful sadnesses not knowing quite where to plant my feet on the threshold of this year.  In recent weeks, I have been very intentional about waking early and beginning my days with extended prayer, journaling, art, reading, etc. just to keep some sense of connection with the Holy in such an uncertain time.  Many of you have shared your stories with me about being in a similar place and I know that others in the AWBA community may relate to this very gentle, tender, thin space that we occupy at times.

I believe deeply in the prospect of hope when everything around me seems to be broken or in conflict - in my own small community as well as in the larger world.  I believe deeply in the prospect of beginning again when everything inside of me says, "No, not again.  It takes too much work.  Why can't I coast for a while???"  I believe deeply in planning for tomorrow even though I am often reminded there is no promise I will have a tomorrow.  It is certainly a different way of living and can seem to go against any kind of reality check, logic, scientific evidence -- whatever you want to call the thinking brain process. 

How are we to choose life when captured by the reality of expanding brokenness, call up energy when personal exhaustion is a daily experience, and/or plan for tomorrow when today is not looking so great?

I believe that the answer lies within the power of community.  When people choose together to "plant their apple tree" in the very moment in which God invites a resounding "Yes!" from us, we gain strength and energy from those around us making their own life-giving choices.  When we consider that our community also includes the "cloud of witnesses" -- those, like Martin Luther, who have gone before us and have shown us how to persevere, we have a large community indeed.

The AWBA Community is about planting apple trees even when the next day is uncertain.  So, in the midst of my own weariness, uncertainty, joys, griefs, loss, big dreams for the future, I plant my own apple tree firmly in the ground and invite you to do the same.  

As you stand on the threshold to come in this new year, what might your "apple tree" look like? What would it mean for you to plant it firmly in the ground of your reality?  Who can you share with to support you in that process?  Who can you support as they plant something of importance in their own life?

Thank you for sharing this AWBA journey with me, with our faithful Board of Directors, and with those we serve.  This community is growing and there is new life taking root in each of you that offer your presence here.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Choose Life

I received this picture yesterday standing on my front porch.  Those following our blog and Facebook may notice the view.  It is a favorite of mine.  It is a stunning view in the snow (see a recent Facebook blessing) and doubly beautiful in spring, summer and fall.  As I head toward winter, however, it is hard to see the same beauty in such barren trees.   I appreciate the truth of winter -- a time of rest and hibernation to prepare the earth and its creatures for the new life that spring promises.  I also know the same invitation exists in our human lives -- a time for rest and more stillness than usual, and staying indoors when the dark, cold and icy elements forbid much travel.  The slowness and hibernation prepares the way for the aliveness of spring and the months that will come.  Every season carries it own purpose in maintaining the balance.

But "real life" gets in the way of us humans doesn't it?  Nature and its creatures don't have much choice but to follow the instructions of the seasons.  We humans, however, do have a choice and can ignore the whole concept.  Those with children must transport them to their myriad activities regardless of the elements and 5 pm night sky.  The many people who work outside their home most often depart home and return with the darkness greeting them at both ends.   Our son is an adult and I work from home so what has happened to the rest, stillness and hibernation that I promised myself would begin at the beginning of December????  No excuses for me.  I, alone, am responsible for answering that question.  There is no use beating myself up, and I hope that you do not engage in that hopeless battle when you realize you are running too fast and in too many directions.

For me, it comes back to the wisdom of one of my favorite Bible passages from Deuteronomy 30 that counsels, 

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  
Now choose life …"

I know the easy choices for myself to ensure that I choose life and blessing.  It is the small, less easily identified places that threaten a life-giving choice.  When the day is cold and dreary with off and on drizzle (today), a list of things to do that borders on impossible nags at me throughout the day, and I carry the sadness of quite a few people, how do I "choose life" in those circumstances??  Do I eat a piece of chocolate?  I don't think so (I may succumb but that is not choosing life.  Sorry, comfort food eaters!). I had to stop myself mid-afternoon today to ask that question and take responsibility for making some tough choices for how I will invest my time for the remainder of this week.  I feel a bit better having better identified my Sacred Yes and Sacred No that will result in a couple of life-giving choices.  Perhaps, it is more difficult to choose life in the dark winter months.  Perhaps, it is more difficult to choose life when no one would blame you for not doing so.

How about you?  If you are one living with a chronic diagnosis, what does it mean to choose life when you receive another medical bill that yanks the home purse strings even tighter?  If you are caring for someone, what does it mean to choose life when your loved one has  made the same request of you ten times and does not remember your answer?  If you are a volunteer or professional who serves this population, what does it mean to choose life as you are ready to go home when a client in distress knocks at your door?  It is hard and we each do it differently.

One of the deep sadnesses that I have carried these few days is the passing last week of one of our founding board members.  John Cronin was at the first brainstorming meeting before there was a mission statement, board of directors, website, blog, checking account or money to help us get this ministry off the launchpad.  He has served us so faithfully these years and helped put flesh on the bones of a God-sized idea.  His passion for AWBA's mission and his dedication to his role as a board member was invaluable.  I often received emails from him at the moment I most needed a word of encouragement and counsel to keep me focused on what we were to be about.  My husband and I go back 25 years with John and it made sense to invite him to join me on this wild ride of God's design.  He has been a special friend to both of us for different reasons.  For my birthday this year, he wrote me a song to the tune of "Hey Jude" telling me not to be afraid for AWBA and to remember that we always begin again.  John was the picture of choosing life.   I will miss his voice that often spoke to me in the hard times.

So in the midst of grief, weariness with too much to do and not enough time, and concerns for many I love, I am working this week to choose life and to begin again. It has not come easily but there has been clarity for those choices and I have chosen them.  I invite you to do the same and to remember that this growing AWBA community encourages you to always choose life, to always remember the invitation to begin again each day, and to know with a deepening assurance that the Holy One companions you with strength and with tenderness in the most uncertain of places.

We ask your prayers for John's family, friends and colleagues who will miss his physical presence.   May we trust that John's spirit continues on in the love shared and expressed to others through his lovely wife, young daughter, siblings and family; through the music ministry that will continue to honor him at his church; through the work that will continue through his co-workers that ensures justice for all; and for AWBA, the ministry he helped plant for those in deep need as they walk the path of chronic diagnosis.  

One life makes a difference.  Remember that truth when you wake up tomorrow morning.  Choose life and begin again to make a difference.