The Author of our Stories

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. This is also Day 6 of the Write 31 Days challenge. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung over at our Five Minute Friday website. Today’s word prompt is “story.” We would love to have you join us. 

A good story has a true beginning, middle and end. It’s plots twist and turn as you try to figure out where the writer is headed. Sometimes tears are shed. Other times you may find yourself rolling on the floor in laughter. The words find a way to seep into our heart as we find ourselves falling in love or even hate with one of the characters.

And like a good book, life often unfolds in ways we never imagined either. Sometimes life paralyzes us with our own grief. Or we find ourselves enamored with joy. This week has been a week where the story of life had unfolded unexpectedly. Two young pastors taken way too soon–leaving behind their beloved spouses and children. As I read the words of their deaths, it seemed as if they were words unfolding out of a fiction book. But instead they were real. They were autobiographical for their families, friends and all who knew them.

Sometimes there are parts of our story that we want to run from. We don’t want to live into our own reality. But God calls us to trust in him. To live out these words. that we hear from Brene Brown, “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story.” In telling our stories and clinging to resurrection hope, we trust in the promises of grace; jagged grace for each of us. It is in the telling of our stories that we can loudly proclaim, “This is my story. This is my song.” A story that God authors and writes.

Click Here to Head to the Jagged Grace Landing Page

My Kintsugi Life (Part 2)

As the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness, mental illness is a huge part of my story. It is part of the crack that I, at one time, would have liked to have hid. But over the years have learned to share in this part of my story.

There are so many pieces of my story that I hid from and wanted to hide from in my life. I never thought I would end up at seminary. In fact, I am pretty sure I tried to shut every door and window as God tried to lead me here. But our God is a persistent God! I did end up at seminary. And to this day, seminary is a piece of my story that I love to share. Seminary wasn’t all peaches and cream. In fact, it was full of so much hard. It seemed like every time I turned around, the next hard thing was placed in front of me.

As I struggled and struggled and struggled to pass systematic theology, I wondered if I would ever pass the class. It was a seminary professor who realized that I am an auditory learner who created an independent study for me. Together we would talk. I would record our sessions and then go home and listen to them. I would come back to the next session with my questions. I passed the class that year!

To this day, my Wartburg Seminary community is one of the greatest joys of my life despite the hard and awful that seminary gave me. In the end, I came out stronger and more confident than I had been before. And it is because of this, that I am so thankful for this place and the people I was blessed to get to know there. The truth is that our community suffers when another suffers. It hurts when another hurts. Together we are a community of faith that holds each other in our joys, pains and sorrows.

As I write this blog post this morning, friends and colleagues are gathered in two different states to say goodbye to faithful servants. In Norfolk Nebraska, my friend Justin Wiese is being laid to rest. Justin and my paths crossed at Wartburg Seminary. And today, there are so many from our community who are grieving. We are sad, shocked and wonder why this life was taken way too soon. Everything in me wants to gather and hold my friends and not let go.

And in Minnesota, friends and colleagues are gathered to say goodbye to Maggie Lux Cumings. I didn’t know Maggie, but am connected to her through our mutual friends. Two lives taken way too soon leaving behind spouses and beloved children. It is hard not to be paralyzed by this deep grief.

And yet in my deep grief, especially for my friend Justin and all who know and love him, I cannot help but be thankful for Wartburg Seminary where together we experienced the joy of learning. And where together we became friends and colleagues who support one another in the midst of life’s awful.

So in the midst of today’s sadness; today’s grief, I am clinging to this promise of jagged grace especially for Justin and Maggie’s families. May we cling to the promises of resurrection hope as in Minnesota and Nebraska these words are spoken over both Maggie and Justin. “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Justin (your servant Maggie). Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him (her) into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light (ELW; P. 283).”

Thank You for giving us these two faithful servants to know and to love.


Click Here to Head to the Jagged Grace Landing Page

 

 

My Kintsugi Life (Part 1)

The daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness….

The child who was picked last during gymn class….

The older sister who took care of her younger sister growing up….

The college bound young lady who barely made it through her first official job interview; looking at the floor almost the entire time….

The young woman who was hired to work at Bible camp; later learning the camp director only hired her thinking he would take her as long as she would last. Then he couldn’t get rid of her…..

The woman who failed and failed and failed systematic theology…

The woman who yearns deeply to be a wife and mom….

The woman who finally almost conquered the summit of a mountain in Colorado…

Each of these stories tell the story of who I am as a beloved child of God. They also tell many of the tales of my life’s awfulness; of my life’s brokenness. It is because of each of these experiences that I truly have experienced jagged grace. A grace that shapes each of us back into whole beings. Whole again but a little more fragile than we were before the “next hard thing.”

If you are not familiar with kintsugi, kintsugi is “the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.” Kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise.

Being the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness is a huge part of my own story. (You can read more about this story in my 2014 Write 31 Days series Living as a Daughter: 31 Days of Mental Illness Landing Page or find it in my self-published book Living as a Daughter)   

It took me a really long time to tell this part of my story. In fact, 18 years to be exact. I remember standing outside talking on the payphone at Camp of the Cross as my sister called to tell me that Mom was once again in the hospital. As I saw my co-counselors walking by, I turned my face because I wanted to hide the tears that were streaming down my face. Little did I know that they still saw and went to get the camp director.

Before I knew it, the camp director was knocking on the door of my room. He asked what was wrong. Almost immediately the words began pouring out of my mouth as I shared my families journey with mental illness. Since that day, I have come to realize how much of this is part of who I am as a beloved child of God. I cannot not tell my story now! I am once again reminded of the words of Brene Brown “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story.”

I’ll admit that this is part of my story that I tried to run from for a long time. And oh how often do we all want to run when we experience awfulness. Yet it is jagged grace that calls us back to trust in the one who continually calls and claims us as God’s own. The truth is that we are called to be storytellers of jagged grace; storytellers who have been shaped by kintsugi.

Today I am linking up with these ladies: Holley and Coffee for your Heart and Kristin and Porch Stories!

 


Click Here to Head to the Jagged Grace Landing Page

 

Clinging Tightly to the Promises of Resurrection Hope

Sometimes it is so hard to see the beauty in the midst of the brokenness; in the midst of jagged grace. Lives are taken way too young and we find ourselves grasping to hold onto hope; resurrection hope. Yesterday I learned of the news of a seminary friend and colleague who passed away in his sleep. Justin was one of the kindest souls around and he had a pretty awesome sense of humor too. Yesterday that laughter was stifled by the tears of those who know and love him. My heart is weary and numb and aches deeply for Justin’s family especially his beloved wife Jillian and their two young children.

Brokenness…..

Justin is not the only life to be taken way too soon. Last week, many of my seminary friends shared of the death of one of their colleagues. Maggie too leaves behind her beloved husband Michael and their two young children.

Brokenness….

The reality, my friends, is that life is filled way too often with the awful. It is hard to cling to the amazing when we hear these stories of brokenness. We want so desperately to hear the promises of resurrection hope. In the words of Clarence W Hall, “Easter says you can put death in the grave but it won’t stay there.” I want to believe these words, but in the midst of brokenness and jagged grace, they are extremely difficult words to hear.

I want to hold those I love even more close. I want to gather my seminary friends as we grieve the death of a beloved colleague and friend. And as we gather, I want to embrace each of them and not let go. It is during times like these that I have an even more love-hate relationship with the world; emphasis on the hate part.

My heart cries out in the midst of the brokenness; why oh Lord? Why did children lose their parents? Why do we lose a friend way too soon? Why did a gunman feel the need to shoot individuals in Las Vegas? I find myself searching for answers to my questions; finding very few answers in the midst of the awful.

It can be so hard to cling to the promises of hope when we lose those we love. It can so difficult to reach out to our God as we cling to resurrection hope. But it is the awful and the brokenness and jagged grace that changes us; that shapes us into whole beings who are just a little bit more fragile than we were before. Our cracks are where God’s love and the light shines through. It is the cracks that tell the story of who and whose we are.

The truth is that life and death are a part of the journey. One of my favorite theologians Frederick Buechner once wrote, “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found. And all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” Those are words that I am trying to cling to today as I mourn a friend and a colleague. Life often isn’t fair and brings with it its fair share of awful.

But it is the awful that breaks forth to the amazing. However, we would much rather not experience the awful; the next hard thing. Yet, in the midst of the awful and the amazing, God has this way of, in the words of Gungor, making beautiful things out of us!


Click Here to Head to the Jagged Grace Landing Page

Today I am linking up with these lovely ladies: Kelly and the RaRa linkup and Jennifer and Tell His Story!

A Love-Hate Relationship

June 1 2017 was the day that I began a new journey. It was an unexpected journey that caused me to live in liminal space; that space between here and now. It was a time I found myself yearning for what would come next and lingering between what was. I found myself in a love-hate relationship with the awful; the next hard thing that God had placed in my life.

In the midst of the uncertainty, I found myself yearning to find peace and calm; a peace and calm that truly only comes from our Creator; the one who calls and claims us as God’s beloved children. “Tara Lee Ulrich, you are a baptized child of God; whatever else you are; remember that you are that; for that is the basis of whatever else you are.”

As a beloved child of God, life still comes with the awful and the amazing. In fact, it is during the awful that one deeply yearns to feel God’s presence; to know that God is indeed walking this journey with us. Sometimes that awful comes through an unexpected diagnosis, through a difficult death, through job loss or through many and various ways. Yet it is through the very waters of Baptism that God calls and claims us as God’s own.

In a post written here on June 10th, I shared these words: “In the words of beloved author Ann Voskamp in her book The Broken Way, ‘The warming rain comes delivering life and common grace keeps falling regardless.’ In other words, it’s the life giving water of Christ that continually reigns down and reminds us all that no matter who we are, we are always first and foremost beloved children of God. And that’s a promise I can cling to just like water splashing against every fiber of my being. Because sometimes when your faith is shaken, that’s all one can cling too.”

The truth is that it can be so easy to get caught up in the awful and forget about the blessings one has in life. It can be so easy to forget that one is surrounded by incredible friends and family who continually have a shoulder to cry on or give an ear to listen. In all honesty, it can be so easy to get caught up in the love-hate relationship of life; forgetting that the awful often leads to the amazing. That eventually we can and do find our way back to the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary.

Yes, we do have a love-hate relationship with the awful because we don’t want to experience the awful. We would rather each day and every moment would grow forth roses and beauty. Yet it is because of the awful that we are shaped back into wholeness. We are made whole again because of the jagged grace of each of our lives and journeys.

And because of that, sometimes we need to live into the fullness of our love-hate relationships with the amazing, awful and everything in between.


Click Here to Head to the Jagged Grace Landing Page

Sunday Blessings 190

(1) A nice road trip to CCM

(2) Our awesome mentor group with PH

(3) The return of This Is Us

(4) Texting with my friend JK

(5) Great Confirmation class

(6) Flight booked for the E!!

(7) A great lunch with area youth workers.

(8) Texting with KL

(9) Raspberry lemonade taffy

(10) Yummy poppyseed dressing

(11) Texting with KG

(12)Yummy Blue Apron meals

(13) Texting with JH

(14) The return of Will and Grace

(15) A new cut and color

(16) Playing FriendO with AD

(17) Watching Pitch Perfect 2

(18) 70 degree days

(19) An awesome installation day

(20) A PLN

(21) Talking with Aunt P and Uncle T on the phone.

Since I’m participating in the Write 31 Days challenge, Sunday Blessings will go on hiatus until November 1st. I’ll keep a list on my phone and share then!

Jagged Grace; An Introduction

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”—LR Knost

The summer months came with unexpected change; with the next hard thing. I found myself hanging in the balance between here and there; living in liminal space; wondering what was next for me. Where would God lead me next? Would I find myself through the awful back into the beauty and the amazing?

Thats the thing about life. You are shown the amazing and the awful. But in between that you are given this beautiful life hand sown by our beloved God. God has this way of taking the broken and making them whole again. I’m reminded again and again of these words from Gungor’s song Beautiful Things: “God makes beautiful things out of dust; out of us.”

A few weeks ago, at a synod gathering, our synod bishop preached an awesome sermon. Paraphrased words from that sermon that are still echoing in my ear are these: “There must first be breaking before it becomes whole again.” There was a time I felt completely broken and would never be whole again. I had to be broken to be pieced back together again. And it was during those times that I realized the power of “Jagged Grace.” A grace that continually shapes us and changes us. It’s a grace that overcomes life’s obstacles.

Throughout this month, we will hear stories of “jagged grace”; of living in liminal space, of becoming whole again, and of reaching summits that are only possible because of “Jagged Grace.” It is jagged grace that reminds me; reminds all of us that we are never alone. It is a grace that taught me to surrender and fall freely into God’s trusting arms.


Click Here to Head to the Jagged Grace Landing Page

What Can We Depend On?

I am linking up for Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on the new Five Minute Friday blog. Today’s prompt is “Depend” This community is such a gift to me. We’d love to have you join us on Thursday nights for our Twitter party.

An infant cries out
A parent comes
A dirty diaper changed
Or simply a cuddle ensues.

Two lovers
Come to the altar
Their life together
Now linked
As they walk away
Arm and arm.

Sitting
At a hospital bedside
A life lost
Way too soon.
Hearts broken.
Tears shed.

No words
Spoken

Life and death
Joy and sorrow
Resurrection hope

To the holy one
I will cling to
And depend on
in all these circumstances.

My heart is heavy tonight friends! A young pastor in Minnesota passed away tonight; leaves behind a husband and two children. So many of her friends are my friends. And they are all hurting tonight! I just want to wrap them in my arms and not let go. Sometimes life isn’t fair. And it is in moments like these that I wonder what I can cling to. And in the end, it’s Christ and God’s love for all of us that we can all depend on.

So tonight I’m depending on love….God’s love for me and all of you! Depend on that, my friends and know you are loved. Rest well!

Reading People (And Learning More About Who I am)

Have you ever thought about who God truly created you to be? I was lucky to have been chosen to be a part of Anne Bogel’s launch team for her book Reading People. I have always enjoyed taking tests like the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram and many personality tests. Almost every time I took the test, I came out as an “INFJ” on the Myers-Briggs and always as a #2 on the Enneagram. In reading Anne’s book, I learned more about who God truly has created me to be. Throughout the book, I found moments of peace and contentment while there were also times when I felt fear.

As a writer, I have always seen myself as a strong introvert. One who enjoys spending time alone with a good book. One who carries strong emotions within herself. One who who is highly intuitive of others. But in reading about introverts, I also found myself realizing that there is a part of me who is extroverted in some senses of the word. I love being around my people. I also have absolutely no problem wearing my heart on my sleeve which according to Bogel is “extroverted feeling.” I have been known to cry at Hallmark commercials and my last Sunday at one of the churches I served, I had 5 boxes of Kleenex stashed under the pulpit.

Talk about words hitting me straight in the gut!!

“People who lead with extroverted feeling wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are quick to display their feelings and opinions and are equally quick to turn to others for emotional support. They can’t fully relax unless those around them are happy and healthy. They are highly reactive to other’s peoples feelings and prone to reflecting others’ emotions back to them. They are expressive, accommodating, and sensitive to criticism.”

In my life, I have always been labeled as the encourager. Those words could not be more true. But I also get life when those words are shared with me. This quote from Anne’s book really stuck out to me.

“For a person who needs words of affirmation, it’s all about words, words, words! These people love compliments, thoughtful notes, and encouraging texts. Kindness is universally important; these people crave it–and appreciate it–most of all. They need to be sincerely thanked for what they do, and they need to regularly hear the actual words I love you.”

As I read those words, I started to begin to understand why this is so much of who I am. I need to hear it myself and so I give it freely to others in the hopes that it will be returned back to me.

On the Enneagram, I am indeed a #2; the helper! A year ago, I took Jennifer Duke’s Lee’s Happiness quiz and one of my top happiness styles is the “giver.” I would much rather give to others than receive which also plays directly into my role as a #2 on the Enneagram. God made me uniquely to be someone who is always called to help others. And explains a lot about my call to “word and service ministry”; one who is called to pick up basin and towel and serve all God’s people no matter who they are.

It also explains a lot about why my blood pressure rises when I see the awfulness, the evil, and the darkness in our world spewed out on the news, through social media feeds, etc. Everything within me wants to fix it immediately! The truth is we all have different gifts and have been called to use them in this broken fractured world.

“We all have different talents and bring different things to the table. And we are all happiest when we get to capitalize on our strengths and be appreciated for them.”

It is hard to know ourselves. But when we truly know ourselves, there is so much gift in sharing our whole self with the world. Do me a favor, friends! Go read Anne’s book Reading People and learn more about who God has created you to be. It is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and those you love.

“Truly knowing yourself is one of the hardest things you can do, but it’s also one of the most valuable.”

As my friends and readers, what stands out to you about my personality? How do you see these characteristics lived out in my words and actions? Do you agree or disagree with who these tests say that I am?

I am linking up with these lovely ladies: Kelly and the RaRa linkup, Jennifer and Tell His Story, Holley and Coffee for your Heart, and Kristin and Porch Stories!

Sunday Blessings 189

(1) A surprise call from my dad

(2) Winning the door prize at a friend’s online book party.

(3) Talking with my fave.

(4) Leading the Bible Study at the women’s retreat at CCM. So fun!!

(5) Texting with KL

(6) The return of my Blue Apron boxes. Oh how I’ve missed them.

(7) Fall

(8) Catching up on my DVRed shows

(9) Texting with my sissy

(10) New episodes of Fuller House

(11)A wonderful PLN

(12) Talking to momma on the phone

(13) Rain