A Year I Didn’t Always Want to Embrace

Embrace–to take up readily or gladly; to avail oneself of

I started out 2016 embracing new experiences and all God had in store for me. In early February, while at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza in Anaheim, California. I embraced my first ever Disney experience. The joy in my heart couldn’t be contained as my friends helped me to embrace this experience. The character parade, riding Its A Small World, watching the families as they too embraced Disney and all it has to offer.

I embraced the nudging from God to begin writing my book “Chasing Our Untils.” The words spilled out onto the page. But then something happened, God put up a different road sign. I had to embrace the fact that this book needed to go on pause while I took my 2014 Write 31 Days series and self-published it into a book. From the moment the proof copy came, I knew this was indeed something I needed to embrace. And as I held my final copy in my hands and paged through, I knew that by embracing this task, others would begin to understand more and embrace the many stories of mental illness in our world.

Every day, I embrace who God created me to be. In embracing my true self, I embrace the ways that my softness is a super power and embrace all the ways that I am a giver. In doing so, my beauty is released into the world. “Embracing your true self radiates a natural beauty that cannot be diluted or ignored.”-Dr. Steve Maroboli

I did my very best to embrace everything that was put in front of me, but embracing isn’t easy. In fact, the further we moved into this year, the more I didn’t want to embrace the world that was unfolding in front of me. I didn’t want to embrace all the evil and hatred that was taking place. I didn’t want to wake up and embrace the stark reality of a world that is broken. And to be honest, I’m still struggling to embrace this broken world. There are days that I simply want to stay under the covers away from the evil and violence in our world.

Yet in the midst of our broken world, I think that’s the beauty of even embracing all that we don’t want to embrace. It allows us the opportunity to work towards freedom, justice, mercy and kindness. It helps open our hearts to a God who promises to come again and rend the heavens.

Trusting in the promise of Emmanuel–“God with us”, I’ll continue to embrace whatever comes my way even when that is difficult to do. I’ll embrace the joy and sorrow. I’ll embrace change (if that’s what I need to do). Sometimes, I’ll fail miserably at embracing life. But I promise to continue to keep learning, trying and embracing what God has to offer me.

All The Books

I’ve always been a lover of books and an avid reader. This year was full of so many great reads especially from so many of my blogging friends.

So here is what I read this year…

Looking for Lovely–Annie F. Downs
Annie is my soul sister as we are both single women. Her book “Lets All Be Brave” was so good. So I was excited to read this book. I love the reminders Annie gives about looking for Lovely in the midst of life’s ups and downs.


The Happiness Dare–Jennifer Dukes Lee
Jennifer’s words always speak to my heart. I love that she is a woman of faith who trusts in God. Through this book, I found out that I am very much a giver. Giving to others is indeed one of my love languages. Are you a giver, a thinker, an experiencer, a relater? Read The Happiness Dare to find out.

Beautiful Uncertainty–Mandy Hales
This book was gifted to me by my dear friend Susan when she attended the Allume conference. Mandy is also single. Every word of this book felt like it could have been written by me.

An Altar in the World; A Geography of Faith–Barbara Brown Taylor 
I’ve always wanted to read BBT and now I’m hooked. She encourages each of us to look for altars in the world. I love the ways she sees the church outside of the church walls. Where are the altars in our own lives?

Who Does He Say You Are?–Colleen Mitchell 
Colleen is a dear blogging friend and I’m so excited to say meeting her was one of my highlights from 2016. I read this book slowly as to savor her words. I found myself slowly reading and soaking in these words by my friend as they were indeed anointed by the Holy Spirit. I could have literally underlined and highlighted the whole book. Yet there is only one quote that I wrote down. It reads “Jesus doesn’t deny the truth, but he shines the light on the whole truth, the whole big wide story of human brokenness.” Read my review here: Brokenness and Resurrection Joy

Falling Free–Shannan Martin 
I became a quick fan of Shannan Martin and was excited to be on her launch team for this book. Her words are true gift in this world. This is one of my fave quotes from her book. “If community is the heartbeat of the gospel, hospitality is the hand that opens the door and waves it in.” Read my review here!

The Bridge–Karen Kingsbury 
I won a copy of this book from my blog friend Katie M. Reid. A sweet love story that takes place during Christmas. I’m always a sucker for a good love story and of course, with a Christmas setting is an added bonus. I recorded the movie but wanted to finish the book first so now I can watch the movie too.

Accidental Saints–Nadia Bolz-Weber 
Nadia is not your typical Lutheran pastor, but I’ve always admired how she was at rock bottom and fought her way back. Nadia’s church is truly a welcoming place for all people. Her first book Pastrix was so good so again I was excited for book two. We can find Saints in everyone. I love that because Jesus himself was the first to sit with tax collectors and sinners.

A Witness;The Haiti Earthquake, Song, Death and Resurrection
Renee Michele Splichal Larson 
Renee and I worked at a Bible camp in western WND together. Renee, her husband Ben and Ben’s cousin Jon were in Haiti when the earthquake hit there. Ben lost his life that day along with many Haitians. In the midst of grieving, Renee and Jon were each other’s light. They got married and have a son. This story is a powerful reminder of how God stands with us and never leaves us alone. Please read this story as a magnificent reminder that God makes beautiful things out of us.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek–Annie Dillard
A seminary professor recommended this book a long time ago. I’ve been meaning to read it and finally got around to it. In fact, it was my last read of 2016. I’ll admit it started out a little slow but once I got into the book, I enjoyed it. I love Annie’s description of the land and Tinker Creek.

Distant Lights–Marie Gregg
A collection of poetry by my blog friend Marie about her health battles. I love her honesty and vulnerability. I also love that she wanted to gift my mom a copy to let her know she isn’t alone. As a poet myself, I love reading others poetry.

Living as a Daughter: 31 Days of Mental Illness by Tara L. Ulrich 
It seems weird to mention it but it is a book that I indeed read this year. I’m proud of this book and the ways that I hope it helps educate others about mental illness. Watch for a podcast coming up soon that I recorded last week about my book. “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story.”-Brene Brown

On the to read pile is:
Learning to Walk in the Dark–Barbara Brown Taylor 
Full; Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction–Asheritah Ciuciu
Five Minute Friday–Compiled by Susan Shipe 


I’m currently reading Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I am reading it so slow because I want to savor every word. It is a book for all of us because we are all creative beings.

Sunday Blessing 152; Christmas Edition

(1) A great YouthWorkers gathering. We missed those of you who weren’t able to be there!

(2) A sweet surprise from EG

(3) Shopping, coffee and errands with KL

(4) Fun mail day!!

(5) Meeting new people

(6) A ride from RS

(7) Winter Solstice Concert

(8) SlateSpeak

(9) Recording a podcast with NC. So much fun!!

(10) Guestposting over at CS’s blog

(11) Voxing with KA

(12) Making it home safely for Christmas

(13) Christmas Eve candlelight service

(14) New Huskers gear

(15) Seeing good family friends

(16) Compliments on my Christmas dress.

(17) A warm house while it’s freezing rain outside.

(18) Talking to momma on Christmas Day

The Messy Hope of Christmas

Today feels different! I feel like I’m forgetting to do something after a month of writing and following a great devo. There was no Christmas Day worship due to an impending storm. It is currently freezing rain.

My sister and I ventured about a block to deliver a few Christmas gifts. By the time we got to their house, the wrapping paper was soaking wet. Luckily, the wet paper was overshadowed by the joy of a young child ripping into his present.

After visiting for awhile, we ventured back home. The rain was pelting my sister and I. As we arrived home, Dad was getting ready to take C back to work. The garage door was frozen shut. And in all this craziness, I can’t help but think of the beauty in this story. As my friend JC tweeted last night, it is so much more than just a bedtime tale! YES!!

The Word became flesh and broke into this broken world through this holy infant. This one who cries into the silence of the night announcing his arrival. An arrival that changes the world and hopefully changes us. A baby who births subversive hope into the world today and every day after.

And so this afternoon, I find myself thankful for this incredible radical gift; who steps straight into the shit of our lives. This one who knows the cries of my heart. This one who promises to never leave us or forsake us. This one who is the prince of peace, everlasting father, wonderful counselor, mighy God!

In the words of my friend KK, Jesus is this one we celebrate who comes in the midst of “life and truth and messy messy hope!!” Amen! That is who we need to celebrate today and every day!!

Merry Xmas!!

Born in a Barn

Good Friday, the day our Lord is crucified and we sing the haunting hymn, “Where You There?” “Where you there when they hung him on the tree? Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?” The chorus always sends chills running down my body, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

This Advent often has felt like that dark holy day. Our world full of so much trial and tribulation. A world filled with overwhelming hatred and evil. The Orlando night club shooting, a contentious election, the killings of innocent people simply due to the color of their skin, and Aleppo just to name a few. 
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.”-Luke 2:16 (NRSV)”
As the cries of the dear children of Aleppo have stopped, we awake to the holy cries of baby Jesus who breaks into the silence of the night. This holy one; Emmanuel; God with us who is born in a stinky smelly barn. As a farmer’s daughter, granddaughter and niece, I know firsthand that barns don’t have a pleasant smell which makes this image so powerful for me. I have literally stepped in cow shit and had it caked to the bottom of my shoes. 
The truth is we all have stepped in the shit of life; figuratively and literally. It took me a long time to get there, but I believe, our shit often shapes who we are. I wouldn’t be who I am; Sandy’s daughter; beloved, broken and blessed child of God, without being the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. Our shit reminds us that God too is one of us and steps right into that shit with us. This holy child, our beloved king, born that silent night with the stench and stealth of the manger all around him is the very Word made flesh! 
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”–John 1:1-4
In the midst of that smelly barn with shit caked on our shoes, the cries of baby Jesus piercing the darkness, the time is right to move from the Good Friday of this year into shouting and singing alleluias as the Word becomes flesh and is born into our broken fractured world. 

“The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Cursed

“Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'”–Galatians 3:13 (The Message) 

A cursed life! Words that make me look at my life and shake my head. A year ago, on my way home for Christmas, my car died 35 miles from my hometown. I sat in my car waiting for my dad to come rescue me. That night, in the bitter ND cold, I felt cursed. Why couldn’t my car have made it another 30 miles? 

In addition, we look back over our lives and it feels cursed, doesn’t it? When we hear that awful cancer word, when someone we love gets sick or passes away unexpectedly, when we are faced with doubts and hard decisions, when the mental health diagnoses takes place and so much more! Those events feel cursed. As a child (and even now) it doesnt seem fair that mom lives with a mental illness. In fact, I have found myself using visceral words to embody the depth of the pain and curses I feel in my own life. I’m not usually a swearer, but sometimes in the curses of life, those words sometimes are the only words that capture my own deep frustration and pain. 

Even today, it often feels like our world is cursed. Cursed because we haven’t shown each other radical love. Cursed because we don’t listen fully to one another. Cursed because there is so much hatred, evil and darkness in our world. One doesn’t need to look far to see  this evil and hatred. I think of the children in Aleppo whose cries no longer are heard. I think of those who live each day in fear of their own lives. 

I hear these words from Galatians and I can’t help but cling to the promise of this one who is born in a barn; in a stinky smelly barn surrounded by his loving parents. Mary and Joseph perhaps could’ve seen this as a curse, but in all honesty, it’s a beautiful reminder that Christ climbs down into the pit with us. Christ reminds us always that he is Emmanuel; God with us. God with us in the manger in Bethlehem. God with us as Christ hung on the cross. God with us as Christ overcomes death and the grave. 

And because this holy child comes to change the world and us, I must still cling to the hope that is born in this holy child. I must believe in the midst of my own questions and doubts. I must simply believe in this one who calls each and everyone of us beloved. 

For God loved us so much, God sent Gods one and only son into the world for each and every one of us; Gods beloved children. And because God gave God’s Son for you and me and all of God’s beloved children, I believe!

Weeping, Empty Words, Good Friday, and Advent

Weeping, dancing

Weeping, dancing

Weeping, dancing

WEEPING……….

I don’t know about you, but this year has felt much like a season of weeping. There was the Orlando night club shooting and killing of innocent people. There was a contentious election that many are still mourning and are afraid for their lives and their children’s future. Even here in my own state, there are those on both sides of the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is Aleppo and the children whose cries are no longer heard. There is death, destruction, and violence all around us.

Matt Morris’s words from his post today that this Advent has felt more like Lent immediately resonated with me. During Lent, some people often go from Palm Sunday straight to Easter. They often forget about the other days in Holy week. They are quick to move from waving their palm branches to shouting “He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” They forget to stop and have their feet washed or watch in agony as Jesus is crucified. For me, this Advent has felt more like we are stuck in the darkness of Good Friday as our dear Lord is hanging on the cross yelling out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (But do we not know what we are doing? It seems to me that the world often knows exactly what it is doing)

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”–Revelation 22:18-19 (NRSV)

This Advent, I too have scrolled through my Facebook feed and simply cringed at the comments and the words hurled carelessly at one another. My heart has broken again and again at the violence, death, destruction and despair I have seen. My eyes have yearned to find the light and hope in the midst of the deep darkness. I have continued to weep endlessly with Rachel.

In the midst of this season, the words “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” come out of my mouth when others say it to me. But yet, my words feel empty…empty because we live in a broken fractured world. And this year, more than ever, that seems more evident than any other year. I yearn for the birth of this Child who God sent to be born in the stench and stealth of the manger and who God will send again to come down and rend the heavens.

Christmas is only a few days away and I am so anxiously and expectantly waiting for the birth of this child; this child who comes to change the world and change us. I am ready to move past the darkness of Good Friday to the joy of Easter morning and resurrection hope. I am ready to proclaim in the words of Clarence W. Hall that “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.”

Advent is a time for us to remember that life not death, joy not sorrow and light not darkness are born that holy night in the Bethlehem. In this holy one’s birth, we are reminded that “Weeping comes for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).”

This year, there are definitely days I wanted to stay under the covers because I knew that the next morning would once again, more than likely, bring about evil, hatred, death and destruction. But now, as we move closer towards the manger and the birth of Emmanuel “God with us”, I am ready for the weeping to end and for the joy to come as “the weary world rejoices.” I am ready to fully trust that hope is born that one silent night as the Savior cries out into the world.

In the birth of Emmanuel God with us, we are reminded that God is with us in our joys. God is with us in our doubts. God is with us in our weeping and our dancing. God is with us when it seems all is lost. God is with us at all times and in all places. Emmanuel comes as the holy child; the king whose birth brings about a beautiful glorious sunrise for all the world to see; a reminder that there are seasons of weeping, but also seasons of great joy—“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.”

I am waiting and ready to receive the King. Will you wait with me?

Top Posts of 2016

Here are the top posts for each month at Praying on the Prairie

January–Embrace (A One Word 365 Post)

February–Honoring a Man in Blue

March–Friends to Share Life With

April–Pass the Chocolate

May–Not Broken

June–For the Love of LuLaRoe

July–Build One Another Up

August–Forever Changed (A Review of Shannan Martin’s Falling Free)

September–Brokenness and Resurrection Joy (A Review of Who Does He Say That You Are by Colleen Mitchell)

October–The Transformative Word
A Recap of My 2016 Write 31 Days Series: 31 Days of the Word Made Flesh

November–One Journey

December–Craving What I Didn’t Know I Needed

And a bonus piece because it was one of my favorite pieces and didn’t end up in the top #s! Something Like Lemonade

And if you didn’t see or hear, I was hanging out at Crystal Stine’s yesterday. Today my friend Tammy is there, so I stayed a little longer! 🙂 You can read my post here (and Tammy’s post is right above it!): One Silent Night

The Scandal of This Holy Child’s Birth

“Jacob had Joseph, Mary’s husband, the Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Jesus who was called Christ. There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and yet another fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Christ.”–Matthew 1:16-17 (The Message)

Do you know where you come from? What your lineage is? I know that I come from German ancestors who immigrated to the United States via Russia. Our lineage and history tells a lot about who and whose we are.
In the story of Jesus’ birth, it becomes quite clear to us that Jesus is a descendant of David. David is a descendant to Abraham…fourteen generations between them–a long line of faith followers. Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph; Mary an unwed mother and Joseph who believes that Mary has been unfaithful to him. As a single woman, I can see the scandal in Mary’s news. Hypothetically, what if I were to become the one chosen to bear this holy child? The glances and the stares would tell me how this is not appropriate.
The story of Jesus’ birth is extremely scandalous. Joseph could easily have had Mary stoned to death since he believes she has been unfaithful to him. Mary doesn’t expect to be the one chosen to carry this Messiah; the one who comes to save the world. This story unfolds in a lot of ways like a daytime soap opera.
One of the things that gets me every time I hear or read this story is that Joseph is returning to his hometown. Yet no one has room for him. Shouldn’t his family be able to open their doors to him and a pregnant Mary? Because this is Joseph’s hometown, it would appear that they are aware of this scandal and do not want to be a part of it at all. They would rather lean into their comfort, then be wrapped in the uncomfortable beauty of this holy child’s birth. To them, Joseph is no longer one of them, but rather is an outcast; a refuge.
Who are those outcasts and refuges in our midst today? Will we open our home to them so baby Jesus can be born in the warmth of our home and not in the stench and stealth of the manger? When we are able to truly do that, I believe we begin to live out mercy, justice, and kindness in our broken fractured world.
I am going to lean into my own discomfort, prepare my guest bedroom and open the door when I see Mary and Joseph standing outside it. Will you join me?

Our Words Matter

“Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.”–1 Samuel 2:3 (NRSV) 

Today has been an interesting day. I got selected to be part of a jury pool. After several hours of vetting, the jury was selected and myself and others were not selected and got to leave. Before the jury was selected and as we listened, I thought about how our words matter in more ways than most of us realize or even notice. 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Oh how wrong this little ditty is. Words do hurt! Words hurt when we ignorantly and arrogantly think we are right all the time. Words hurt when we carelessly hurl them at one another. Words hurt when we don’t speak up for justice, mercy, kindness and radical love. 

I have been the recipient of hurting words. I have had mean words hurled at me as a young child. I can still feel the sting of those words ringing in my ear. I have listened to words that called people like my mom “crazy” without even knowing them but simply because she and they live with a mental illness. Those words have stuck to me too. I will not forget those awful words that hurt me and made me feel so incredibly broken. 

Words indeed matter! Words came in the Son who is the Word made flesh. So how do we use our words? Do we use our words for evil or good? Do our words embody what we believe in both our words and actions? 

I am a lover of words. I often think carefully about what I tweet, what I say, and what I write.  I want my words to embody truth. I want my words to be gentle and kind when they need too. I also want them to be lit when I need to speak up for what is wrong. I want my words to share Gods radical love with the world. I want my words not to be arrogant or rude or boastful. 

My words, I hope, remind others of the hope and love that is born in a stable in a Bethlehem that holy night. My words, I hope, call forth action in the midst of the injustices in this world. More than anything, I want my words to not be proud or arrogant in any way. I want my words to share the Word made flesh in this broken world.