Bridge Over Life’s Troubled Waters

You never know when life will throw a curve ball in the midst of a smooth inning. One minute things are looking just ducky, and the next minute you are dealing with a crisis for which you are patently unprepared. It might be diagnosis of a major illness, an accident, the death of a loved one or friend, the loss of a job, a natural disaster, or any combination of nightmarish components. In short, it only takes one instant for life as usual to shatter like glass at your feet.

I’ve been there; perhaps so have you. My curve ball was a breast cancer diagnosis on the heels of a traumatic divorce that left me a single parent in a vulnerable financial state. At the time, I could barely fathom how to pull myself out of the muck of my predicament. Thankfully, other people could see more clearly, and family and good friends came to my aid. While no one can carry another person’s load, my friends, parishioners, and family journeyed with me–forming a bridge of solidarity between despair and hope. It was their faith, their hands, and their prayers that carried me across. I am so thankful for each one of them. I am where I am today because of the many relationships that formed a net of security and safety against the onslaught of suffering and fear.

Now it is my turn to be there for others whenever possible, however possible. We live in a world marked by suffering. Right now, well over a million people have had their daily existence altered by Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern United States. Some people have lost everything; their lives will never be the same. Sure, some day life may be better, but right now that horizon is nowhere in sight. They need that bridge that you and I can be–in prayer, through dollars given to relief efforts, and in messages of care and support. You and I, all of us, can send waves of prayer and healing intentions out to those in need in addition to tangible forms of aid. We can seekto stop rash judgments, blame, and negative energy that works against hope and  healing. We can make a difference.

Tonight the congregation I serve is hosting a screening of The Line, a new documentary film by Linda Midgett, presented by Sojourners. This 40 minute film tells the story of four people who have fallen below the poverty line–plunging from lives of hope and promise to days and nights of fear and anxiety. As their stories make quite clear, there are very few of us who don’t walk this line and who aren’t immune from falling below it. All it takes is one major illness, one job loss, a divorce, an accident, or a natural disaster to change life forever. The thing that separates this film from others I’ve seen is that it does offer hope., and it lays claim to a better future for all people by inviting everyone to the table to engage in dialogue about how to fix broken systems and outdated policies. It is a gem of a film. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to spend 40 minutes of your precious time watching it and thinking about it.

As for me, The Line and the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy remind me of how grateful I am to have had a bridge to walk, crawl, and be drug across in my own needful hours. I am so thankful for the many hands that would not let go of me, for those who insisted that I get back up and start walking on the other side to a place of greater strength and stronger faith. You all are living proof of the strength we bear when we journey together. So, today I give thanks for you–family, friends, and colleagues. I give thanks for health. I give thanks for a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, a car to drive, and work that is meaningful and delightful. I give thanks to the Creator of the Universe who loves me and is there for me no matter what. There is so much for which to be grateful. I could count blessings all day long and still not run out of reasons and people for which to be thankful.

Yes, the waters of trouble and suffering may run high and dark, but tides ebb and the sun rises again, and always life is still very, very good. Never, ever take your gifts and blessings for granted. Count them carefully and joyfully. Thank as many people as possible. Look for ways to be a blessing to others. Do something each day to make this world a better place.

What can you do to brighten your own part of the planet? What one thing can you do right now, today, to make someone’s life a little better? Please share your thoughts, intentions, and ideas. Blessings to you!

Photos by c.mcbrien, sojo.net, and theps.net. Thanks!

Thankful for the Gift of “WE”

What  do you get when you turn the “M” in “ME” upside down? Yup…you get a relationship in the word “WE.”

Today I am thankful I am for the gift of “WE.” This gratitude really started yesterday with a wonderful discussion group, followed by an uplifting worship service, and a productive Worship and Music committee meeting at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (where I serve as pastor with a fine group of folks). Then I drove home, spent some good time with my spouse and daughter, followed by a youth spaghetti supper and church auction at Trinity Lutheran Church (where my spouse serves as pastor with a fine group of folks).  We were both exhausted by bedtime, but it was a good tired–the kind that leaves you smiling and reflecting on the joys and blessings of the day.

Then, this morning I received a “Voice of the Day” quote in my e-mail in box from Sojourners that fit perfectly with my current thought of thanks-living. Let me share it with you:

“It has been said that there is no true person unless there are two entering into communication with one another. The isolated individual is not a real person. A real person is one who lives in and for others. And the more personal relationships we form with others, the more we truly realize ourselves as persons.”

–Kallistos Ware

Ware, born in England and raised in the Anglican tradition, is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who lectured at Oxford and is the author of many books and articles about the Orthodox Church. I find this quote compelling in its truth that we cannot truly realize ourselves through only our contact with our own self. We are created to be in relationship, and in the Judeo-Christian tradition we serve a relational creator. All one need do is read scripture to experience story after story of YHVH’s interaction with ordinary folks like us. It’s pretty cool stuff if you take the time to think about it.

It is so easy in 21st century North American culture to think primarily of “ME” and what constitutes one’s own needs and desires. Yet that is such a limited view of life. Consider the letter “M” itself. The openness is closed and downward. The “v” shape at the top pulls one inward and downward. The letter “W” is open and the “v” shape is inverted lifting upward and outward. Truly, “WE” is the “upside” of “ME.”

Likewise, when we are in relationship with others–be it family, friends, faith communities, or other groupings–life’s possibilities are wider and fuller. In recognizing, honoring, and interacting with others, real growth is possible. Life takes on rich meaning, layers, and textures. Not all relationships are pleasing or healthy, but all can be instructive and help foster greater understanding our ourselves, others, and the world.

Technology makes it possible to expand our relationships and broaden our horizons even more. Tonight, for example, I attended a church evangelism committee meeting via Skype. I also saw my mother’s face and heard her voice via the same technology. I connected with other friends, colleagues, and family members through e-mail, cell phone, and social networking. Oh, and I also spent good quality time with family members and friends face-to-face, too.

A solitary life may be a spiritual discipline for a few hearty souls called to such an ascetic life, but for me (and for most of the world) the “WE” of relationships is a gift for which we may truly be thankful. I am grateful for the gift of community, relationship, and the possibilities of moving from simply little ‘ol “ME” to wonderful “WE.”

What about “WE” do you value? What challenges are present in the experience of “WE”? What interaction with another person or people added meaning to your life today?

Photo by opensourceway used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!