Loss, Love, and Cataracts

Something hard happened to me recently and it has knocked me for a serious loop. Of course, this hard thing happened during a global pandemic–which means resources were already low and energy drained.

It’s been a year and a half of pivoting, pivoting, and pivoting again; adapting to the first guidelines and then to the new guidelines based on new information, and then to the newest guidelines as numbers rise in our area; regularly working through all the questions: worship inside? outside? online? all three? when? how? with all the ensuing details each decision requires; and then providing pastoral care for the myriad strong reactions elicited by this constantly changing landscape.

It’s exhausting and frustrating for the congregation. It’s exhausting and frustrating for the pastors …and anyone in any helping profession …and anyone who is, well, human.

And then there are all the family adaptations and pivots and adjustments: online school or in person; masks or safe without them (thanks, Delta for ruining that!); class demands stacking up; the online hunt for the assignment list; extra days added onto the end of an already excruciating year for teachers, students, and families.

In the midst of this hard season, the other more “normal” hard things of life–illness, accidents, relational challenges, practical challenges, job stress, family needs, human error–feel so much more intense because we don’t have the reserves to deal with one more thing.

My years as a healthcare chaplain taught me that just as “deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts”(Ps. 42:7), loss calls to loss within us. Every new loss contains some of the echoes of old losses, old struggles, old pain.

In this on-going season, so much has been lost. And the losses keep coming, no end, no break in sight, each one stirring up parts of our stories we might rather stay buried.

Loss keeps calling to loss, over and over.

I’m finding some solace in the next lines of Psalm 42: “all your waves and your billows have gone over me. 8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

Seasons like the one we are trying to live through have been a reality throughout creation. We are not unique and we are not alone. The Psalmist offers wisdom for these days, holding two truths at once: the struggle of being overwhelmed by waves and billows and the steadfast love of God. Out of that ability to hold both, the speaker aims the hard questions right where they belong: with God, the only place they can be held and honored as they deserve.

The final verse contains a gentle self-pep-talk: 11 “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

I don’t have the reserves right now for my own self-pep-talk. I’m all self-pepped out. So I’m praying these verses, asking for help to keep learning how to hold two true things together at once.

CBF Pastors and Leaders Invited to “I’ll Push You” Screening

Great opportunity to be uplifted!

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I’LL PUSH YOU is the remarkable story of two friends, 500 miles, and one wheelchair, and its messages of friendship, hope, faith, and community are the perfect antidote to the divisive times in which we find ourselves. I’LL PUSH YOU tells the story of Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck, two lifelong best friends. When Justin, who is living with a degenerative muscle disease, expressed interest in making the 500-mile pilgrimage across the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, Patrick simply responded, “I’ll push you.” The film is an intimate portrait of an epic journey and explores the true meaning of friendship, generosity, and vulnerability. It’s a one-of-a-kind documentary chronicling their pilgrimage, which will resonate with viewers craving stories of faith, hope, love, and the power of community.

View a trailer of I’LL PUSH YOU here.

I’LL PUSH YOU will release theatrically on Thursday, November 2nd, at 7:30 p.m. in over 550 theaters across the…

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Merianna Harrelson: On Clinging to Hope

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I don’t know how many time I’ve uttered the phrase, “I hope so” in the past, but I know it’s too many to count. But the importance of hope and finding hope didn’t really resonate deeply in my heart and mind until six weeks ago when our family went to see the ultrasound of our second baby, a secret we had been keeping quiet hoping to reveal to our community of faith and family and friends the excitement of new life in the midst of Eastertide when we all need a reminder that new life keeps showing up riding the waves of the resurrection. But what we hoped would be a time of celebration has become a season of grief, a sharp juxtaposition of almost life in the midst of Eastertide.

There was no heartbeat at the ultrasound, which would ultimately lead to our experiencing a miscarriage.

Where were we supposed to put the hope of of celebration? Where were we supposed to put the hope of new life? Where were we supposed to find new hope?

For me, this has been a deeply spiritual journey to discover what hope is. Dickinson’s words took on a new meaning as I realized, “Hope is a thing with feathers,” means that hope can simply float away without any warning rather than something “that perches in the soul.”

“Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see.” But did I still have faith in new life? Could I still hope when we wouldn’t see the life we had dreamed and envisioned when we found out we were pregnant?

And suddenly, I understood Sarai standing at the tent listening to strangers telling her what her life would. And certainly, I have laughed just like her.

Hope? Have you read the news? Have you been to the emergency room or noticed the number of people who are jobless, homeless, hungry? Hope? What’s that supposed to do about anything.

But as I’ve walked with this grief, I’ve come to understand that hope isn’t wishful thinking. Hope is a statement of belief of the revolutionary, life-transforming belief that God who has done the impossible will surprise again. God who overcame death and offered new life will revive again. God who created life out of dust will create again.

And I believe.

And I hope.

I don’t believe or hope in any specifics in regards to our family, but that God will still whisper and call me to create alongside of God. I believe and hope my eyes will open to see how pastoring a church named New Hope in the midst of deep grief isn’t just coincidence, but the divine presence walking beside us in the midst of the pain and suffering life brings.

This post originally appeared at merianna.net and is shared with the author’s permission. 

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Rev. Merianna Harrelson is  the Interim Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship and Director of Ministrieslab providing tools and resources to churches, clergy, and lay people to meet need. She is  always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book to read.

Courtney Pace: Hidden Figures and the Light

We’re starting the new year by looking at the intersection of popular culture and our own faith stories. This week, we’re sharing Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace’s reflections on the new movie, Hidden Figures. We welcome your thoughts on the movie and how it impacted you. Thanks, Courtney!

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Hidden Figures and the Light

Part of being divorced is that your child(ren) cannot share every holiday with you. This year, I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my son, but it was not my turn for Christmas. So, when you cannot celebrate Christmas with your whole family, you do what you can. For me, this year, that has meant focusing on my writing. I did come up for air today, however, to worship, fellowship, and remember.

In worship this morning, I was reluctant at first. It’s hard to be without your child on a holiday, especially Christmas. My church family was loving and understanding, and after a few minutes of feeling the care of this family of faith, I was singing, joyfully. Every element reminded me that no matter how dark things feel, the light will always shine brighter. Always.

After church, I was delighted to share a Christmas feast with dear friends from church who welcomed me and several other friends to their home. This couple is so full of love, in a way that brings people together. We shared conversation. We were honest, in ways rarely done among people who have just met. It was beautiful. Lunch felt like communion, like the Kingdom of God breaking forth among us.

After lunch, I saw “Hidden Figures.” This is a must see. I laughed. I cried. I remembered. I dreamed. I hoped.

Though I am now a historian and minister, in a previous life, I was an engineer . . .

Keep reading here.

Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Third Week of Advent: Expecting, Yet Not Yet Expecting

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Photo courtesy of love sanctuary.com/2015/12/embracing-both-joy-and-sorrow-this-christmas/

 

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

 

For a woman expecting but not yet expecting a baby, Advent can be a miserable time.

While songs of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and “joy the world, the Lord has come!” are being blasted on the radio, this time for the wait-ers among us can often feel more like Holy Week than it does Advent.

But it is the holiday season, and most of us want to be happy. We want to be able to put whatever is bothering us aside and rejoice as the scripture exhorts us too. We want joy—even as much as our life circumstances aren’t naturally joyful.

I would love to offer that joy is a formula that can be followed as many preachers offer: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. I’d love to suggest that joy is an emotion of the will that we can just pray harder to make happen. Or, if we force ourselves to sing one more Christmas carol or bake one more sheet of cookies, the joy of the Christmas spirit will find us.

Maybe you’re better at joy than I . . . but it has been my experience that seeking joy in the midst of waiting for children does not come through formulas and cookies. Throughout my journey to become a mother, I’ve waited through some of the darkest days of my life.

Read more here.

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Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.

Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Second Sunday of Advent: Infertility and Waiting on Jesus

Dear Readers,

You’ll notice we’re a week behind this Advent because . . . well, it’s Advent and things are hopping–as in hopping all over us. 😉 We’ll publish Elizabeth’s Third Sunday of Advent offering this Friday.  Thanks again to Elizabeth for bravely sharing her story with us.

Advent Blessings!

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“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” II Corinthians 4:1

I was in labor for almost eight years.

There were ultrasounds.

There was blood work.

There was pain: both physical and emotional.

I felt called to motherhood. It’s as strong as the calling I felt to enter the pastorate ten years ago. It’s as strong as the calling that I felt to marry in 2007.

When I first began the journey toward motherhood, I was naïve.

After being married a year, I thought we’d start trying to have kids and then nine months later pop out a beautiful baby. I saw so many of my friends become mothers so easily. My mind and body felt strong. I saw no groaning up ahead. Why would childbirth not happen easily for me?

I had no idea the process of waiting for a baby can extend Advent after Advent, year after year.

To keep reading, click here.

 

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Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.

 

Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Advent: Infertility and Waiting on Jesus

Throughout this Advent, we will be sharing Elizabeth Evans Hagan’s blog series from Faith Forward at patheos.com. The series interweaves the stories and symbols of Advent with the journey of infertility, a journey explored in Hagan’s new book, Birthed: Finding Grace through Infertility (Chalice Press). Welcome, Elizabeth, and thanks for sharing your story and reflections with us. We look forward to reading your book and leaning more into ministry and support for all who’ve been on this journey.

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This is the first in a weekly series of Advent devotionals reflecting on what an experience of infertility can teach us about waiting for Jesus here at Faith Forward.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . . Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” Isaiah 61: 2, 7

Some of my favorite Advent texts to preach on come from Isaiah. I mean, who doesn’t love an opportunity to “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and “people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” on Christmas Eve?

Two Advents ago, only a week and a half before Christmas, I lingered extra-long in my sermon writing chair one morning with cup of coffee in hand with my Bible opened to that week’s Isaiah lection #61. I’d read the passage numerous times before and even preached a subpar sermon on the text in seminary. But on this cold morning bundled up in a fuzzy blanket, something about the beauty of the phrase “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” caught my attention anew. My eyes could not move on to the next sentence. For it was true: this preacher was still so brokenhearted.

On our sixth, going on seventh year of trying to welcome a child into our family after completing IVF 8 times and 2 failed adoptions already—there was just so much to continue to wonder and weep about.

(click here to continue reading Elizabeth’s post)

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Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.