For This is Holy Ground!

One of my favorite pictures from camp

It has been 18 years since I drove onto the gravel road that led me straight to the place where I would spend my summer as a camp counselor. That gravel road led me to Camp of the Cross Ministries where I would spend the next approximately seven summers. Little did I know the impact of that special place in my life.

18 years ago, I started that summer as a shy introverted 18 year old (yes indeed there was a time in my life when I was shy). That summer changed me and made me grow in so many ways. That next summer, the camp director and the program director were doing mid-summer evaluations. As I sat on the couch listening intently to them, I learned how much the Holy Spirit’s hand was there guiding me to Camp of the Cross. The camp director reminded me how awful my interview was. I remember it so clearly. I answered his questions but I don’t think I looked up from the table even once. Yet he took a chance on me. He told me, “I hired you thinking I would take you as long as you would make it. But now I cannot get rid of you.” In those words, the power of the Spirit had changed me.

Camp is the first place that I openly shared about my mom’s struggle with a mental illness. Tears streaming down my face, I poured out my heart and years worth of keeping our story bottled inside. It was an amazing healing moment. And then several years after that first summer, I watched my mom experience life at camp and got to share this special holy place with her.

Sharing Camp with my Momma

Camp is where I heard the call into ministry. Camp is the place that made me into the woman of faith that I am today. Camp is the place I met and made some of my bestest of friends. Camp is hallowed holy ground because of the many ways it blessed me and holds a special place in my life. “Behold I am standing on holy ground.”

I spent so many times at “three crosses” lifting my prayers to God. I found myself many nights, under the prairie night sky, releasing my heart onto paper through poetry. And other times, I found myself counting the stars above my head; reminded of the power of God and God’s love for all people.

Three Crosses Campfire Site–During the Day and at Night
One of my favorite places in the entire world!

Today, camp is breaking ground for a new fellowship hall. This is something that has been needed for so long and I am so glad to hear these prayers answered. I wish that I could be there today for that special groundbreaking. But unfortunately I am not able to be there, but I am definitely there in spirit. This hallowed holy place will always be place for me where I can feel the transcendant power of God.

Even know when I get on that gravel road leading to camp, I get so giddy! It is like coming home for me…because camp is indeed one of the dear homes in my life. At camp, I look around and see God’s hand working all over that place. I also feel the Holy Spirit moving about. I look around and smile.

“For this ground you are standing on is holy ground!”

Good and Gracious God, there are so many places in our lives where we experience your awesome creation and feel your Spirit moving about. Today I pray for Camp of the Cross Ministries and the ways that that place has formed me as a woman of faith and as a leader in the church as well as for all who have been formed in their faith there. Also please bless all gathered at camp today as they break ground for the new fellowship center. Surround this place in your loving tender arms and care for this holy ground which we care so deeply for. In your name we pray. Amen!

Summertime on the Prairie

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “Blue.” Write for five minutes; unedited.


It is summertime on the prairies of North Dakota!

Summertime on the prairies of North Dakota are my favorite thing in the world. The sky is the deepest blue and spreads out as wide and as long as the eyes can see. This time of the year, farmers like my Dad, Uncle and Grandpa can be found basking under that deep blue sky as they plant in the fields scattered to and fro. Under that beautiful blue sky, the dirt blows and covers my Dad, Uncle and Grandpa as they steward the land God gave us.

For me, I love sitting under the deep blue sky, on my patio, shoes kicked off, reading the best books in the world. This last week I finished Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Now I am reading Shauna Neiquist’s Bread and Wine. I want to try every recipe in that book!

The skies this time of year remind me of the awesomeness of God’s creation. God saw all that he created and declared “It is good.” That deep blue sky over my head causes me to pause and take in the beauty of this world. That deep blue sky continually bids me to “Be still and know that God is God.”

As the sun fades into the clouds, the deep blue sky fades away and I sit under the darkness of night knowing in the power of God’s love. I look up and count the stars in the sky. And as I count, I remember this God who knows all the stars in the sky and knows every hair upon our heads; this God who saw darkness and called it night and saw light and called it day and this God who created that deep magnificent blue sky that looms over the magnificent prairies of North Dakota.

And I am so very thankful!

An Open Letter To Grace

Dear grace….

Where do I even begin, you are such a beautiful gift in my life. As a lifelong Lutheran, you have always been engrained in my very fiber and being. Martin Luther talked a lot about YOU! And this Bible verse from the book of Ephesians is a daily reminder of the gift you are “For it is by grace through faith that you have been saved, it is not your own doing but a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Yes, my friend grace, you are indeed a gift. But what is it about you…that makes me so very thankful for your presence. You always find a way into my head and into my heart.

In the midst of mom’s illness, when I snap back quicker than I should, you tap me silently on the shoulder and tell me that next time I won’t react as quickly. When I beat myself up because the desires of my heart haven’t been met yet, you again look me in the eyes and show me that God does hear them. God will answer them in his time and not my own.

And then I open up the newspaper or turn on the radio and hear the horrific stories of violence and sinfulness…but even in those moments, I hear you whispering. “They are sinners in need of God’s grace.” “You are a sinner in need of God’s grace too!” We all are going to screw up and fall short of the glory of God. Yet you (grace) are sufficient. You will get us through those times. How many times do we sin and think that we are not worthy to be forgiven….yet you continually grasp us…a simple reminder of the power of God and God’s grace in our lives.

In the words of the well-known hymn “Amazing grace,” ‘you (grace) have’ taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did YOU appear the hour I first believed.’ And you also (grace) have ‘ ‘brought me safe thus far and will lead me home.’

Oh grace! You fall like fresh dew and cover me; cover us in your promises…your promises that daily cover each of us. And as your promises cover us like a well-worn blanket; torn, battered, and beaten, you still provide us with comfort and embrace us in your loving arms. You call us to action; a reason to love and serve God more fully.

Grace is knowing that sometimes we are going to spill milk on the kitchen floor and going to have to clean it up. Grace is knowing that sometimes you are going to make the wrong choices, but there will always be that second chance. Grace is knowing, even in the midst of grief, that you are sufficient when nothing else seems like it is.  Grace is sharing my words even when I am trembling as I hit the publish button. Grace is knowing that you are always within my grasp; that you are always within each of our grasps.

And ultimately, my friend grace, you always change me; always change each of us! In the words of Anne Lamott, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us (me) where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

I am linking up with Holly for Testimony Tuesday, Kelly for the RaRa Linkup, Jennifer for Tell His Story and Holley for Coffee for your Heart:

 

Sunday Blessings 82 & 83

I keep forgetting to post this…a few weeks worth.

(1) Coffee with the quilters

(2) Sitting on the floor playing catch with my colleagues son.

(3) YouthWorkers meeting. We missed you CT and MH!

(4) Spending some time with my momma.

(5) A gift from one of mom’s friends

(6) Voxing with KA

(7) Driving with my friends to hear a great speaker.

(8) Riding in the car with CT and RT’s girl and having then talk my ears off! 🙂

(9) A fantastic last Confirmation class. I even gave them a treat.

(10) Yummy Cookies for You cookies.

(11) FMF Twitter party

(12) Buying lemonade from one of my fave little girls and her friend.

(13) Finding a few gems at a garage sale.

(14) A text from a good friend showing a pic of him and a dear seminary friend. So fun to get a hello from them both.

(15) The new Mumford and Sons cd.

(16) A much needed rain. It’s been raining all day. Now I’m listening to the birdies singing.

(17) Teaching the kiddos some sign language during my children’s sermon.

(18) Receiving my prize from the 5 day arms and abs challenge in the mail

(19) Making T-shirts with the church kiddos.

(20) S’more Summer worship

(21) More real mail! Thanks #Fmfpartysnailmail.

(22) Starbucks Very Berry Refresher

(23) Skinny Cow Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

(24) A little boy grabbing my hand because he wanted to shake it and I was busy chatting so I didn’t see him right away.

(25) Two of my fave people coming to worship at FLC. So good to see them.

(26) I hardly ever wear my glasses because I prefer my contacts. But I tore my last contact so I was wearing my glasses. I got several compliments on my glasses.

(27) Listening to DB’s 4th Friday talk. Hoping to go when I’m in Colorado next month.

(28) Talking to my mommy on the phone.

(29) Beautiful Spring Days

(30) The life of Blacky the dog. Blacky has been our farm dog for 13 years. Yesterday Blacky went to take a nap and never woke up. It’s so hard to lose pets yet I am so very thankful for the life of Blacky. She always would chase after your car when you left the farm. I’ll miss that.

Dear Graduates….

Today you are going to walk across that stage and receive your diploma. It is hard to believe that over seven years ago, our paths crossed when I first walked in the doors of the community of faith where you attended Sunday School, were Confirmed, and where you often could be found serving God’s people.

This day I woke up reflecting on the many ways I have seen you grow over the years. I am proud of the men and women that you have become! You are a group of people who understand what it means to serve the church outside the church walls. You are men and women whose faith has been nurtured in your own homes and through caring, trusted relationships. Please know that I wish I could be with you today….and that my prayers are also with you on this day.

Today graduates, take a look around the gym and see the many people who have walked with you. You will see your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles. cousins, family friends, and so many others. Know that their love…and especially God’s love will carry you through. Remember always that you are a child of God. Never forget who and whose you are.

Since I am not with you today,  I want to leave you with a few tips as you take this next journey.  These are things that I have learned along my 36 years of life.

**Take time to laugh! Laughter really is good medicine especially during final’s week. Make sure you study but also take time to laugh…and have a little fun. But not too much fun! Stay safe!

**Don’t be afraid to try new experiences. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t try new things. I wouldn’t have gone to work at a Bible camp. I wouldn’t have gone to seminary. But those experiences truly blessed me and made me into the woman of faith that I am today.

**Find a community of faith. Just a few weeks ago (I think), you were presented with quilts in worship. Those quilts are a reminder that no matter where you go, you will always be wrapped in a community of faith. The quilt I was presented by DLC when I left sits on my couch and every time I wrap up in it I remember the wonderful ways that I was blessed by you and all the people there. It reminds me that I am ALWAYS being prayed for.

There are so many things that I wish I could tell you today. My blog friend Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote a letter to graduates several weeks ago….20 truths she wish she could share with you. It is such a great post so I am going to let her finish by sharing those truths with you. Here is the link: 20 Truths for Graduates.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29: verse 11: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you a future of hope.” These are great words to live by, but it is also ok to know that even when you don’t know, God does. God stands with us in the midst of the uncertainties. God stands with us in the midst of the hard. (Check out the rest of the book of Jeremiah)

But I think the truths of life can truly be best summed up in these words from Laura Ingalls Wilder. “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”

Enjoy today, dear graduates! Then go out into the world “blessed to be a blessing”

Linking up with Anita and Carol for Inspire Me Monday (Even though it is a Tuesday)

A Rise Up Mashup

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “Rise.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

I will admit that the minute I heard the word prompt, my mind was all over the place. In fact, at one point, my head was full of a mashup of three different songs: the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” Matt Mahrer’s “Rise Up” and Shawn MacDonald’s “Rise.” Now try to make sense of all of that! And besides the mashed up tune in my head, I was reminded of the theme for the ELCA National Youth Gathering this summer “Rise Up.”

The Theological statement for the Gathering reminds us that the youth and adult leaders in Detroit will “learn that to ‘rise up’; doesn’t mean pursuing power or victory over another, but choosing weakness over power so that they might be together. The experience of death and life held together on the way is the “beginning of the good news;” it is God’s narrative into which we are inviting young people, and in which we hope young people will nest their own stories.

And as I contemplate this statement, I realize it is a word that we all should listen to and follow. We all need to learn that to ‘rise up’ means that we need to stop pursuing power or victory over another, but choosing weakness over power so that they might be together. When you weep, I will weep with you. When you rejoice, I will rejoice with you. When you are in the depths of death, I will sit with you. When you are afraid, I will remind you that you are not alone. Because together we are stronger than we are apart. Jesus calls us to ‘rise up’ together.

Jesus was the first one to show us what it means to ‘rise up’. Jesus died on the cross for us. But then after three days, he rose from the dead. The ultimate example of what it looks like when we ‘rise up’ together. We see that life not death has the final word! God has the ultimate power to overcome death. “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.” (Clarence W. Hall)

*I think of the words to the chorus to Shawn MacDonald’s song “Rise.” The chorus goes like this:
“Yes I will rise; Out of these ashes rise; From this trouble I have found; And this rubble on the ground; I will rise; Cause He Who is in me; Is greater than I will ever be; And I will rise.” Even in the most debilitating darkness, God rises up and shows us the light.

Because many times we will feel like we don’t have the power or the energy to rise up, but the truth is that God always has that power. God always will raise his Son from the dead. God always will have the ultimate power over death. God’s love always breaks into God’s kingdom here on earth.

Rise Up –Matt Mahrer

*This is where my five minutes ended!

Be A Voice Not an Echo

“Be a voice not an echo” These words are written across a t-shirt I bought several years ago at a christian music concert. In fact, to be honest, for the life of me I cannot remember which group it is for. Yet somehow I always remember the words that are on that t-shirt, I think it is because that is exactly what I want to be “a voice not an echo.”

“The voice of one calling out in the wilderness”

Jesus himself was definitely a voice and not an echo. Jesus was a voice for the voiceless. Jesus was a voice for the sinners in his midst. I think of the woman who was accused of sinning and Jesus asked those gathered to throw the first stone if they had not sinned. They all stood in silence…because like this woman…they too were sinners. Jesus wasn’t afraid to stand up for all of God’s children. Jesus was continually turning the world upside down.

I have been thinking a lot about being “a voice and not an echo.” I want to stand up for those nine year old girls who are being sold by ISIS. I want to sit with them and protect them. I want to stand up for what I believe is right. But most of all, I want to shower God’s love and grace around the world.

In July of 2012, when I attended the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, Lousiana, I found myself sitting in opening worship listening to Rachel Kurtz and Agapes’ soothing sounds washing over me. The words that washed over me and the approximately 34,999 other youth and adult leaders were words penned by Rachel; the words to the National Youth Gathering Theme Song titled “Make a Difference.” The chorus to the song goes like this “I want my life to make a difference. I wank my life to make a change. I want my life to do some good here. I want my life to make a change.” YES!!! A RESOUNDING YES!!!

Because when I am a voice and not an echo, I believe that my life is all these things. When I am a voice and not an echo, my life will and does make a difference. When I am a voice and not an echo, my life will and does do some good here. When I am a voice and not an echo, my life will and does make a change. Will you believe it with me friends?

Video of Rachel (with hip hop artist Agape’) 
singing “Make a Difference” at the Youth Gathering.
Linking up with Holley Gerth and Coffee for your Heart 
and Jennifer Dukes Lee and Tell His Story:



Words Spilled Out Onto the Page to Create a Little Poetry

A little poetry for you…. (Y’all I cannot remember the last time I have actually sat down and written a poem. Thanks for being my Ra Ra sisters and inspiring me to sit and listen to God’s words for me spill out onto the page)
Holy Water 
By Tara L. Ulrich
The rain goes pitter patter against my window
I listen quietly to the water cascading down
I am reminded of who I am;
Reminded that I am claimed in the waters of Baptism.
Each droplet of water
Continues to remind me of who I am;
A called, claimed, and loved child of God.
There were days when I struggled to find who I was;
Days when I questioned my own identity;
Days when I wondered if God truly was calling me to seminary;
Days when I endlessly asked “How long Lord. Will you forget me forever?”
How long?
Yet on those days, the water often will again go pitter patter against my window.
Or I find myself standing face looking upward towards the heavens;
Water droplets cascading down my face;
Reminding me again and again of who I am;
A child of God beautifully in over her head.
I watch the rain fall.
And as it falls, I take my finger fresh with new water droplets,
Mark the sign of the cross on my forehead;
A simple reminder of who and whose I am;
A simple reminder of who and whose you are!

(I am always learning new tricks. Here is an audio recording of the above poem. I wish there wasn’t so much background noise though!)

I am linking up with Anita and Carol at Blessed (but Stressed) for Inspire Me Monday, Holly for Testimony Tuesday and Kelly for the RaRa Linkup.

 

The Ra Ra Sisterhood

Do you remember the movie ” The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?” The movie is about friends who share a pair of pants. It is one of those feel good movies that just makes a person smile. Earlier today, on one of my blogging FB groups, a friend shared about an accomplishment on her blog and another friend simply commented “Ra Ra Sisterhood.” And immediately a smile came upon my face. I love that term because that is exactly how I feel about this group of ladies in my life.

I never knew social media could be such a positive encouraging experience. (Don’t get me wrong we have to be careful but social media can and is a positive influence in my life!) I never realized how many friends I could meet on social media. Since beginning and finishing the Write 31 Days challenge, my life has been blessed by amazing woman.  This past year, when I moved to a new community, God blessed me with amazing friendships here in my community. But then God began placing blogging friends and women in my life as well. I tell you my cup is truly running over! 
And then I decided to participate in the FMFSnailMailParty. I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing it has been to open my mailbox and find an encouraging word. In all honesty, it amazes me each and every time how your words speak to me friends! 
The thing is that these friendship started on the world wide web have no lines. In fact, the lines of age are continually blurred. The distance in miles doesn’t seem so far away when I open up my phone and hear a Vox from a new friend. You have continually cheered me on. You have continually reminded me that I am good enough. You have continually reminded me that I DO have worthy words to say. And the thing is I see us continually doing that for each other. I have seen us pray for each other. I have heard us rejoice in each other’s good news. 
My cup is continuing to run over, my friends! And it is all because of you….my dear soul sisters here in my community. And because of you….my blogging friends….my Ra Ra Sisterhood! I don’t know how a girl could get so lucky.

EUCHARISTO! 

Beautifully In Over our Heads

I am a farm girl! We lived in town but my dad moved  our family from Nebraska to North Dakota when my sister and I were little so he could help his dad farm. My sister and I spent our fair share of time helping on the farm. My dad always recruited us to help move cattle from one field to another. It was a hard job. A lot of times the baby calves would not follow their mommas to the next space. They would stubbornly wonder off on their own which made life chaotic. I lost count of the  number of times I saw my dad chasing those cows and calves with a pickup truck; the truck door hanging half open.

Like those baby calves, sometimes we want to follow our own way. We think we know the way for us. But the truth is we often get lost. Like hiking in the mountains, we take the wrong turn and end up somewhere we didn’t expect or somewhere we shouldn’t be. The truth is that God always knows the way though. In fact, God calls us to get out of the boat and follow him.

The story of Jesus and his disciples in the boat is a great story. It is a story that reminds me; reminds all of us of the power of God. God calmed the storm. God called Peter to come out onto the water. God calls us to come out on that water too. But so often like Peter we don’t trust God and begin to sink. We need to trust fully and be beautifully in over our heads.

Because the truth is that when we trust and allow God to let us get beautifully in over our heads, amazing incredible things begin to happen. Like my friend KA and her family who have been called to start a new church…talk about being beautifully in over your head. Like my friends who have gone overseas to serve God…again beautifully in over their heads. And sometimes it is as simple as realizing that it is time to leave one place and start anew somewhere else. I tell you in those moments I realized that I was beautifully in over my head too.

The first summer I worked at camp, we took our staff picture standing on the island in the middle of the lake. The water was so high it looks like we are walking on water; like we truly followed Jesus onto the water. On our way back, our office secretary was getting into the pontoon when she fell in. I remember she laughed about it. What a great reminder that God calls us to always follow him and sometimes following him means getting beautifully in over our heads.