Monday, March 21, 2016


This Lent I have been reading "Gifts of the Dark Wood" by Eric Elnes and he has talked about those times when we are disillusioned, afraid, or lost, and explored how God’s presence remains with us, providing opportunities for new growth and transformation. We enter the Dark Wood because we struggle. All of us struggle.  And in the Dark Wood it is possible to be moved and transformed. Elnes talks about Gifts of the Dark Wood: uncertainty, emptiness, being thunderstruck, getting lost and temptation. He talks about how uncertainty can help us let go of our fear of the unknown.  Emptiness can leave room for new possibilities.  Thunderstruck moments can offer insight.  Getting lost invites us to heighten our awareness.  Temptation can help us know our true path. 

The final gift of the Dark Wood are other travelers on the journey who enrich our experience of life and love.  It is those who have gone before or who are going with us. In the Dark Wood Elnes says, “walking alone is about as advisable as walking alone in a physical dark wood. It’s easy to get lost without the aid of companions… While we all walk our paths as individuals, the lone seeker is more likely to get lost or to give up than the one who travels in company” (150).  People who travel with us in the Dark Wood are as intentional as we are about embracing the gifts of the Dark Wood and finding their place in this world (157).  They are comfortable with the sadness of the Dark Wood and they share their own experiences and help us not be afraid. 

It takes a village.  It takes a village to raise children.  It takes a village to remember that you are not alone.  It takes a village to remind you that you can take one more step.  It takes a village to show you that there is always someone who has been where you are, and has made it through.   

A wise friend shared with me this past fall that if there was an event her child was going to, she always tried to find another parent to share the carpooling duties.  She said that it helped her to share the joys of parenting with other people.  It is very easy to try and do this thing called life alone.  Community takes work. But it is so worth it.  

And when someone asks to help us and we don't accept it, we are only hurting ourselves.  Community is good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Getting Lost...

"Feeling lost within outward success..." (83).  Eric Elnes says those words in "Gifts of the Dark Wood."  Have you ever felt like everything is going great, and yet you feel lost?  Or everything is not going great and you feel lost.

Elnes says the regular experience of getting lost is one of the most important gifts we can receive.  He says the feeling of being lost prompts us to pay more careful attention to the signals that the Holy Spirit sends us.  We pray and meditate longer when we feel lost and with greater attention.  We pay more attention to our gut intuitions and bodily responses when we feel lost.  We seek out friends, family and mentors when we feel lost (84-85).

So often it our lives we try to go it alone.  We try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but we can't do it.

Be still.
Pay attention.

God is with us and God can help us find our way out of the dark, one step at a time.  Elnes shares the words of writer E. L. Doctorow who said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

Thanks be to God.

the good we are called to do...

In his book, "Gifts of the Dark Wood" Eric Elnes says, "You can (and will) do a lot of good by walking the path that brings you most fully alive in this world, but in order to stay on this path, you must learn to say no to doing a great many ‘good’ things” (117).   

This past Wednesday I was supposed to blog for my Lenten promise to blog weekly.  But I did not.  It was a "good" thing that I said no to.

When I served as a pastor in the British Methodist Church from 2001-2002, a District Chairman (the equivalent of our United Methodist Bishop) told me a story.  He said that he had four children and he knew two of them because of the choices he had made.  He had chosen the church and his work over his children and as a result he did not have a strong relationship with them.  His words haunted me and as our family grew I knew that I did not want to make the same choice.  

I remember walking into my District Superintendent's office (like my boss) and sharing that I wanted to work part-time instead of full-time.  And my D.S. did not seem to understand why I would want to do such a thing.  I wanted to be more present with my children, and thankfully a part-time position for me was found. I treasure those 7 years when I was able to work as a pastor part-time.  

This past week I spent spring break with my family.  We were together 24-7 and we laughed together so much.  There was no morning scramble to be on time to school, no homework, no dashing to activities in the evening.  It was pure sabbath.  

It is important to take sabbath each day, each week, each month, and each year.  It is important to rest, to step away, and to be filled up again.  When we rest we allow God to restore, replenish, and refocus our heart and mind.  As we began our spring break we were all sick.  Runny noses, coughing, sneezing, we had it all.  It is amazing how our body lets us know when we need a rest.

Taking time away for renewal is hard because there is so much good that needs to be done.  But saying no to good things enables us to focus on the specific good that we are called to do.  Living into our fullest energies...  How can we say yes to the path that brings us most fully alive in the world?  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

the lightbulb came on?

Yesterday I was at the bank depositing the last of the Girl Scout cookie money into the Troop bank account.  I had forgotten the deposit slip, but I had the account number saved in my phone.  But the teller said that the account number was not correct.  I suggesting adding some zeros in front or maybe putting a number 1 at the end, but the teller said that the account still was not coming up.  So, she looked it up by its name, and I was not sure if it was Girl Scout Troop # or Troop # or if the account was in the Troop Leader's name.  The teller said she still could not find the bank account.  I told the teller I would go back home and get the deposit slip and then we would have the correct account number.

As I am driving away I see the bank that is across the street and I realize that I have been at the wrong bank.  I was at the wrong bank for like 15 minutes.  Seriously.  Without even a glimmer or a hint in my mind that I am at the wrong bank.  And I had been at the correct bank three times previously this month to make Girl Scout cookie deposits.

I could not believe it.  How could I have been at the incorrect bank without realizing it for so long?

In "Gifts of the Dark Wood" Eric Elnes talks about being aware of those moments when the divine speaks to us.  It is those moments in our lives when we feel like "the lightbulb came on", or we had an "aha" moment or a "moment of clarity".  Something clicks into place that impacts our life's direction in some way (p. 68).  The author says, "when the lightning flashes and thunder reverberates powerfully and repeatedly in the same location, it is a good sign that we are to move in the direction it indicates.  We feel drawn to move in this direction because it calls to our deepest self and feels most natural" (69).

When I was standing at the incorrect bank for 15 minutes I obviously was not listening to my deepest self or hearing the divine speak to me.  I was pretty confident that I was in the correct bank.  But I was not.

The teller asked me about the bank account number at least 3 times.  "Are you sure this is the right account number?" THREE TIMES!  And I wasn't paying attention.  And I wasn't listening.

How many times in our lives are we so sure of something?  But it isn't the right thing.  We aren't in the right place.  We aren't doing the right thing.

Elnes talks about taking a leap into the Great Unknown and he says that the Holy Spirit rarely invites us to take a leap without leading us to the edge of the cliff by way of a thousand smaller steps. He says, "by the time you reach the edge, therefore, you have responded to so many sweet-spot moments and experienced so much confirmation of your direction that the leap isn't so much a leap but one more small step" (72).

One more small step.  This week I am going to pay attention to the small steps.  And listen for confirmation of my direction.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

From Fear to Flow

"Imagine what it would be like to be free -- not of your faults but your fear of them."  Eric Elnes says those words in his book, "Gifts of the Dark Wood"on page 45.

What are your faults?  It reminds me of when you have a job interview and you want to have a fault in case they ask, but you want it to be a good one, like I work too hard or I care too much.

I like to be in control.  In our family, I pay the bills, I manage the calendar, and I do those things because I like to.  I like to know what is going on and who needs to be where.  But sometimes I think that I am the only one that can do something.  It is something that I have been working on, but I am so thankful that my partner in life is willing to help with kid activities and making kid lunches.  I used to not ask for help though.  I used to think that I could do it all, that I should be able to do it all.  But now, I lean in and I ask for help because I need it.  And because my life is better when it is shared.

For me part of wanting to be in control is also thinking that I am right.  Well, because I am right.  Just kidding!  I think :)  I really have to be on my toes and not sleepy or grumpy to see someone else's side.  I am not up for a "discussion" after 10 pm, because I get mean.  I think that we are often the meanest and cruelest to those that we hold closest.  We feel like they will love us no matter what, so we like to test it just to make sure!

Jesus says, "Whoever tries to preserve their life will lost it, but whoever loses their life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33).  About Jesus' words Elnes says, "Operating underneath the surface of Jesus' statement is a movement from fear to flow.  Flow is what results when you stop obsessing over your need to survive or be perfect and discover that you have been given distinctive gifts and abilities that bring you alive in this world (and may keep you alive here) that are accessible only when you let go of your need for survival, rightness, and perfection.  Such gifts are largely invisible when your view is clouded by fear and self-loathing or blaming others" (46).

So, my wanting to be in control is a gift that I have as well.  I have a gift for organization and it has kept me alive!  So, instead of beating myself up about it, I can see it as a gift.

So many of us focus on our shortcomings.  We think that we don't measure up.  And it might even carry over to our faith.  Elnes says, "Most people -- even those who by all outward appearances are pillars of faith -- quietly suspect that if God saw who they 'really' are they would be deemed unworthy of God's love and attention" (48).  We may say with our mouths that God loves us, but Elnes says internally we may do whatever we can to avoid any possibility of a deep or intimate relationship with God that would expose our darker side (48).

God loves me for all of me.  The good and the darker side. The things that drive people crazy included!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The book that our church is reading for Lent is called "Gifts of the Dark Wood" by Eric Elnes. The chapter for this past Sunday was called "The Gift of Uncertainty."  Elnes says, "To most people, uncertainty seems more like a curse than a gift.  When you cannot see the endpoint of your journey, or the path ahead is not clearly marked, you grow nervous.  If you do not have rock-solid assurances that everything will be OK and that the path ahead is perfectly safe, you tend to dig your heels in" (25).  

How can we be OK with the uncertainty?  How can we embrace the unpredictability of life?

I am a worrier.  I know, I know, Jesus says, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:25-34) and the Apostle Paul says, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).

I know these things in my head, but getting them into my heart are a different story.  I like to play out different scenarios and make pro/con lists.  I like to think of the worst thing that could happen, so that I will be relieved if it isn't quite that bad.

Elnes says that religion does a disservice when it seeks to remove uncertainty from life (25).  He says, "Faith built upon certainty is a house of cards that falls apart when the 'unshakeable foundation' shifts even slightly" (25).  

Struggle and uncertainty are a part of life.  Elnes wonders if our lives were a movie.  We want to watch a movie where the actors are uncertain about the future.  We want to watch a movie where the actors are not sure how to respond in every situation.  Elnes says, "Too much certainty removes the adventure from life and sucks the joy out of relationships" (27).

I think what helps the most is when I tell myself again and again and again that my constant worrying is not helping.  Elnes has a personal mantra, "Do not worry about anything until it presents itself to be worried about" (39).

So, there is no use worrying about the future until it presents itself to be worried about.  There is no use worrying about my car breaking until it presents itself to be worried about.  There is no use worrying about the teenage years for my children until they present themselves to be worried about.  There is no use worrying about the tax bill until I sit down and actually start working on my taxes.

This morning I was reading a magazine article about how to live longer.  I mean who doesn't want to live longer?  There are so many things that you have to do to live longer, but they summarized it down to one.  Move more.  When I am incapacitated with worry, I can move more.  I can put one foot in front of the other.  My favorite John Wesley quotation is one that he told to new preachers in March 1738.  He told them, "Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith."

Preach peace till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach peace.
Preach strength till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach strength.
Preach love till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach love.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Beginning a journey

Today is Ash Wednesday when Lent begins.  I love Ash Wednesday.  I love talking about the reality of death. Death is happening, we can't run and we can't hide.

The book that we are using for our Lent series at Greenland Hills UMC is Gifts of the Dark Wood by Eric Elnes.  Marcia McFee has created a Lenten worship series and one of the stories that she tells for Ash Wednesday is about our own John Thornburg.  John was a pastor at Greenland Hills from 1984-1991.  Marcia shares about an Ash Wednesday service that John wrote about years ago, "I remember an Ash Wednesday service early in my ministry in which one of the durable saints of the congregation graced me with an epiphany.  When I came to her place at the altar rail, I imposed her forehead and said, 'Marjorie, remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' She looked up at me with a tender and discerning glance from her 75 year old eyes, and said, 'THANK GOD.' I had never really thought of mortality as good news, but she did."

The Gifts of the Dark Wood series explores what it means to be in the Dark Wood moments of our lives.  Marcia McFee says, "We are not going to talk about just how to get out of it, as if life is good only when we are not there.  We are going to explore what it might mean for our lives to recognize the gifts of the Dark Wood.  What if times of uncertainty, failure or emptiness are opportunities for spiritual awakening?"

Life can be good during those dark nights of the soul (as Saint John of the Cross called them).  I remember a few years ago in September looking at my calendar and saying aloud, "If I can just make it to November then life will slow down."  Life has not slowed down.  It has just gotten busier.  And yes, the busyness is overwhelming and exhausting and never-ending, but there is good in it.  The image that has been coming to my mind lately of my life is of me treading water.  Treading water and feeling like sometimes my head goes under and I have to struggle to get to the air and breathe.  Taking a sabbath day has helped, but there is so much to do on Mondays.  Laundry, dishes, cleaning, and this past Monday ...  TAXES!  So, this Lent I hope to reimagine myself from treading water to laying back and floating on the water.  I know that the busyness of the kid activities are just for a season.  In seven years our oldest child will be in college.  So, how can I enjoy this time?  How can I breathe in this time?  How can I enjoy my spouse and grow in our own relationship?  How can I grow closer to God amidst the busyness?

Randi Zuckerberg recently tweeted, "The entrepreneur's dilemma: Maintaining friendships.  Building a great company.  Spending time w/ family.  Staying fit.  Getting sleep.  Pick 3."  Sleep, work, family, fitness, friends -- which three would I pick?  I definitely want to sleep, so that is number one.  Then, my family, love them!  And my work, love Greenland Hills UMC!  And I try to fit in fitness and friends as much as I can.  But where does faith fit in?  Am I supposed to just pray without ceasing all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and so faith doesn't count because it is always there?

I am going to commit to journaling this Lent, once a week on Wednesdays, on this blog that I had to dust off.  And I hope to write about those times of uncertainty, failure or emptiness because they are opportunities for spiritual awakening.

I just went downstairs and said hello to some of our preschoolers.  One of the little children asked, "What is that on your face?"  I said, "it is the cross of Jesus."  And she said, "Jesus!" and ran to kindermusik.  Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.  You can have all this world, but give me Jesus... In the morning when I rise, and when I am alone, and when I come to die.  Give me Jesus.