Grace Personified

The suitcase was packed away last night.

It has been a crazy summer of traveling for me..my favorite continuing education event in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, taking youth to the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit MI,  and topping it all off with a sister’s trip to Nashville.

And in the midst of all of my travel, life has continued on as usual. As many of you know, our mom lives daily with a mental illness and has lived in a nursing home for the last ten plus years. In June, my sister called me to let me know that Mom was once again hospitalized. And since that hospitalization, life has been chaotic and hectic…..a few times this summer in and out of the hospital. Mom just hasn’t been herself. She has been asking to move which isn’t like her at all.

Then last week, we got a phone call saying she just wasn’t budging about the moving. We stuck to our guns because we just didn’t think it would be a good idea for her to move. Yet she still kept asking to move. We finally gave in…and she moved to a new place that specializes in pysch care. Instead of 45 minutes from me, she is now like four hours away from me. My sister and I are trusting this all to God…hoping that she can come back once she gets back on track, but for now she is in the best place for her. Just not so easy to navigate or trust in. Yet I know that this is all in God’s hands! (Not the first time, we have placed Mom in God’s loving care!)

My sister and I had an amazing time last week. But in  the backs of both of our minds, Mom was not far away. I am pretty sure we were both thinking about it just a little all throughout the week.  And then I got to meet a few FMF ladies! None of them knew what was going on…BUT each one of them (And each one of YOU!) is “grace personified.” They reminded me that we are connected beyond computer screens and rather are connected at the heart…heart connections made by God.

In those heart connections, God reminds me; reminds us that I am/we are never alone. I loved these words from my friend Tammy’s post this week: “Always listening, always hearing; Peace He gives us, love endearing; Storms may come, but then are clearing; He is here.”

Trusting in those promises…..
Today and every day.

Bottled Tears

I stood on a bus last week, my cell phone pressed up to my ear. I listened intently to the woman on the other end of the line. And then she handed the phone off to my mom. Mom came onto the phone and was adamant about moving to a new nursing facility. Even though she has been struggling some with her health this summer, this came completely out of left field. I finished the conversation with my mom and hung up the phone. The minute I hung up the phone, tears began welling up in my eyes. I turned away because I was on a bus filled with my youth as well as several other youth and adult leaders as we were returning from the ELCA National Youth Gathering. Immediately my youth and several of the other adult leaders whispered the words “Are you okay?” to me.

A moment of peer vulnerability! I didn’t expect the tears to flow, but they did.

As a child, I was a very emotional child. I cried often. In fact, I have even been known to cry at Hallmark commercials. As I have grown up, those tears often have found their way into my eyes yet again. Those holy tears are a part of me that I wish didn’t come so easily. Yet I can count the numerous times that my eyes have filled with tears. More times than I care to even admit. And so often, those tears appear at the most inopportune times.

Yet those tears are so much a part of who I am. They are like the waters of Baptism that continually flow over me and cleanse me. Those waters also always call and claim me as one of God’s children. God has gifted me with this gift of holy tears. Yet so often I want to force the tears back down. I want to hold them back and not share that part of me. I don’t want to break open that piece of who God has called me to be!

But what I have come to realize is is that God has gifted me with this gift, because in sharing this gift with others, we realize we aren’t alone. Some of the holiest times in my life are times when I have sat and shared tears with those that are near and dear to me….and also with those that have been complete strangers. In those moments, I am reminded of one of the shortest verses in the Bible “Jesus wept.” Jesus wasn’t afraid to weep. Jesus wasn’t afraid to shed his own tears. And Jesus keeps track of all of our tears as well. In Psalm 56 verse eight, we read “You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle (ESV).”

Jesus has kept every one of the tears I have wept and put them in his bottle. It is so easy to think that God doesn’t see our tears. But the truth is that God sees every one of our tears. God wants us to know that we are not alone. God wants us to open up to those moments of vulnerability and like a waterfall cascading down, God wants us to release our tears and let them shower God with our tears.

Last week on that bus and many other times throughout my life, it has felt like my tears are paralyzing and drowning me. Yet God wants me; wants all of us to know that our tears are a gift from him to us. God collects every tear we shed and places them in the bottle of grace, forgiveness, hope and love. So the next time you feel those tears welling up in your eyes, simply let them come, knowing that God collects them and accepts them from us in all of our grief and brokenness.

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

 
 




Perfect Love Casts Out Fear!

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 “Fear.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

“Lord have mercy”

Those are the only words I can seem to muster up as I heard about the shooting at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston last night. What has our world come to? Can we not feel safe in our own places of worship? Can we send our children to school without the fear that a shooter might come into their building? Can we not take the lessons we learned in Sunday School and share God’s love with ALL of God’s people?
When I hear these stories of violence in the world, I  immediately feel fear. Because so often the media blames the violence on a person who is living with a mental illness. That maybe true…but not everyone who lives with a mental illness will resort to this violence. In fact, most of them will not resort to violence because they have gotten the proper treatment. Yet so many  individuals are filled with fear because they do not understand. They do not understand that there is treatment. But more importantly, they haven’t asked the questions or learned about this very treatable illness. 
Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am a daughter of someone who lives daily with a mental illness. She has taught me more about life and faith than I could ever imagine. She would literally give the shirt off of her back. She is a beautiful child of God who understands what it means to cast out fear. 
“Perfect love casts out fear!” 
And I truly believe that perfect love casts out fear! * God sent Jesus into the world for our sins. Jesus was never afraid to sit with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was always breaking bread with the outcasts and the downtrodden. Jesus was a world changer and boundary crosser! Jesus hung on a cross and uttered the words “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” 
Again “perfect love casts out fear!”
What if we followed Jesus’ examples? What if we stopped and truly listened to each other’s stories? Wouldn’t we see that when we love each other, fear is tossed to the wayside and joy and happiness boil to the top? Doesn’t God call us to show love to each other; to show love from all ends of the globe to the next?

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) 

For perfect love casts out and conquers fear!

Last week, I wrote about Godly fear vs worldly fear. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, here is the link: http://prayingontheprairie.net/godly-fear/

*This is where my five minutes ended. I told them at the Twitter Party that this would be one of those word prompts that would easily go beyond the five minute limit. Sometimes you just have to keep writing!


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:

 

The Spilled Sand Art Cross (Or How God Takes Brokenness and Makes It Beautiful!)

So much of our society and world is about striving to be perfect. We think we have to be perfect. But the truth is that God didn’t create us to be perfect. We are human…and we are sinners! I mean look at the world around us. This week especially I have been acutely aware of our sinfulness. Just turn on the news the last couple of days, riots breaking out in Baltimore. And I am saddened by what I see! My best friend’s husband is a highway patrolman. I know that RT would never act the way the policemen are acting in Baltimore. Yet I am not blind to the fact that we are all created to be both saints and sinners alike.

I am reminded of these words that we read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, it is through our brokenness and our imperfections that we are made more powerful.

When I worked at a Bible camp for many summers, it was always awesome to watch how God often would use brokenness, imperfections to shine the light of God’s love on each other. One week in particular a friend and I were co-counselors together. Like many other weeks, this week had its challenging campers. One afternoon we were gathered in the craft shack to do an art project when one young girl in particular was testing our buttons. I don’t remember the particulars of that afternoon, how the sand art ended up on the floor, but it did. And in the midst of the spill, the sand art sprawled out onto the floor to create this beautiful cross. My co-counselor and I looked at each other and just smiled. A simple reminder of beauty out of brokenness.

The truth is that it is so easy to get caught up in wanting to be perfect, yet when we truly take the time, God has this amazing way of showing us how God takes our brokenness and makes beautiful things. My mom is one of those examples for me! Even though she has lived most of my life with a mental illness, her story/our story has blessed many. In the deepest darkness of the depression or in the highest high of the mania, God has taken it and reminded me that God indeed takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful. My sister and I wouldn’t be who we are without this journey. There were many days growing up when I didn’t understand. But as a young woman, I have become more and more aware of how God takes our brokenness and makes beautiful things out of our brokenness. In fact, to be honest, my mom is one of the most beautiful women that I know….beauty out of her own brokenness!

I think of my friends Jon and Renee and Renee’s first husband Ben. They wouldn’t have gone to Haiti if they knew the earthquake was going to happen and Ben was going to lose his life that day. Today Jon and Renee are married and have their first child. Again God took a horrific event and in the midst of it all, God wove together something incredibly beautiful.

Like that spilled sand art cross, God takes all of our brokenness and often weaves it into something incredibly beautiful. We may not always see it at first. But take a closer look and the beauty out of the brokenness is quite evident!

Today I am linking up with these beautiful writers 
Holley and Coffee for your Heart, Jennifer and Tell His Story.

 


My Love Language with Words

This is a little longer post than usual but I needed to get the words out. Thanks for stopping by friends!

Words are my love language…my love language to God. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always had a strong love of words. I spent many hours reading books or when I was really little being read to by my parents. But most of all, I was a kid who was content with pen and paper. My mom has told me that there were many times that I would sit at the kitchen table or on the floor of our living room and pour out my heart in words. All I needed was crayons/markers/pens/pencils and paper!

Recently my friend Dana started an adventure at her church using art in its many creative forms. She started an event called 4th Fridays. Dana shared her introduction talk on her blog. I just listened to it and my heart is now undone..undone as I remember why I started writing stories, poetry, etc in the first place. I don’t write words to be recognized for them (Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to be recognized for them but that is not the most important), but to remember where I come from; to remember that I am rooted in Christ and God’s love for me.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”–Ephesians 2:10 (New International Version) In some translations, the word handiwork is sometimes translated as workmanship. Handiwork/workmanship comes from the Greek word “Poema” which comes from our English word “poem.” In the words of my friend Dana, we are God’s walking poetry. Ummm…I don’t know about you but that makes me think about my life, my artwork in a whole new perspective.

How do my words share God’s love? How do my words connect me to God and connect others to God as well? How do my words show that God is with us through the sadness and the joy, the tears and the sorrow, and so much more? How do my words/ our words impact those around us?

There have been many times that I have lifted my words to God. I have lifted them through poetry when my mom was lying in an intensive care unit. I have lifted them to God when I didn’t understand why our family was struggling with the deep grief of a mental illness. I have lifted them to God as I have yearned for God to answer the desires of my heart. But lately, I have not truly taken the time to sit, listen, and let the words truly flow onto the paper or the page as I remember the vulnerability in sharing who I am through words that I have written to share.

Working at a church, I write sermons, lead worship and Bible studies, teach Confirmation class etc. And I am pretty comfortable doing that, but ask me to share a poem or my heart and immediately I am filled with fear; deep fear. There is something so incredibly scary about sharing truly who I am with the rest of the world and especially with those that I serve. Yet God wants us to share our stories with each other. There is pure gift in knowing each other’s stories and knowing that we are not on this journey alone. I cannot tell you the number of times that God has placed someone in my path because I needed that person to hear my story OR I needed to hear their story.

Too often in this world, words are used in a negative way. We use them to bully others. We use them to hurt peoples feelings. But God wants us to use our words for the greater good. God wants us to use our words to bring glory to him. I know that can be difficult especially in this world where we use words to hurt each other, but God always sees us and knows our heart. That is a promise that I still want to cling to daily. I think of a blog post I read earlier today where the writer shared this quote by Jen Hatmaker: “People may hate us because of Jesus, but let’s not make them hate Jesus because of us.”

So, my friends, I am grasping onto that promise that if only one person reads this post and this poem, that is a-ok with me because that one person may just be Jesus. And knowing that he is seeing me and my words, I am throwing out my fear and sharing my own words with you. This poem was written about two years ago as I was thinking about  my mom, her journey with a mental illness and how very difficult that can and has been for me especially.

My Momma By Tara L. Ulrich
Talking about boys and life, 
Picking out my wedding dress,
Sharing about my life and loves;
These are all things that I wish
I could do with my momma
Like my friends have with their mommas.

Yet she is still my momma.
My momma has always been my shining star.
She has always been one 
Of the most kindest caring people in my life.
Yet she cannot do the things that I wish for
To the degree that I hope and pray for.

Yet she is still my momma.
I want to talk to her about boys and love.
I wish that she could come with me
To pick out my wedding dress someday.
I yearn for the day when our conversations
Will be more than a few minutes. 

Yet she is still my momma.
Momma has taught me so much about life.
Momma loves my sister and I UNCONDITIONALLY!
Mmomma continually shows me that normal is relative.
Momma is and will always be my momma;
A momma who reminds me daily
Of what it means to be who God created me to be! 

I am linking up with Anita at Inspire Me Monday, Holly at Testimony Tuesday and Kelly at the RaRa Linkup.

  


Hidden Tears (Five Minute Friday)

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 “Hide.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

When I was a teenager, my sister and I babysat for some of our favorite little girls. Their mom and her sister used to babysit for us and then we started babysitting for her kids when she had kids. I remember McKenzie coming to my dad’s house and often wanting to hide behind my sister and I. We couldn’t figure out why she was afraid to go downstairs in our basement. One day it dawned on us that she was afraid of the deer head that our dad had mounted on the wall.

Isn’t it crazy how we want to hide when things are unfamiliar to us? Or how we hide because we don’t want to show that side of ourselves to those around us? As a little girl, I often would shed many tears because of the words that were slung at me; the names that I was called. But the tears always came! I couldn’t hide them from the people that were slinging names at me. In a way, I felt that they were winning because I couldn’t hide those words.

But one of the biggest things that I hid from others was our family’s journey with a mental illness. It took me a very very long time before I brought our story out of hiding. But once I began sharing our story, many other stories came out of hiding too. There is so much power in those two words “me too!” Stories are meant to be shared. They are not meant to be hidden. They reveal a big part of who we are; of who God calls us to be.

*Yet there are still times when it is hard for me to share my story. There are still tears that I want to hide. There are the tears that silently fall from my eyes when I am not sure that God has heard the desires of my heart. There are the tears that I secretly shed when I come home to an empty house and bed. There are the tears that I want to hide because I don’t want the world to see how vulnerable I am. Yet there is something so holy about no longer hiding our tears. There is something healing when we show our tears to each other.

*That is where my five minutes stopped but I had to finish out my thought.

Telling our Stories Offers Sweet Relief (Five Minute Friday)

Tonight I spent time on Twitter multitasking between a #fmfparty Twitter Party and an Incourage #girlfriend gathering Twitter party. It is such a joy to find community online. I never knew how incredibly blessed a girl could be. I am so lucky to have dear friends who bless me each and every day; those InRL and those in online community. Thanks for loving me friends! And always reminding me who I am!

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 “Relief.” Write for five minutes; unedited. (I am also featured on the FMF Intro video this week as well. Hope you enjoy!)

Our stories are never easy to tell. Each of us carries with us our own stories of brokenness and death and destruction. It took me a really long time to share my mom’s struggle with a mental illness. I never realized how much relief there would be in telling my story. But the truth is, my friends, that in telling our story; our story of brokenness but also of joy, redemption and resurrection I have felt sweet relief; the sweet relief that only Jesus can give.

Our stories tell people who we are. But  they also remind us of who we are. Our stories are full of vulnerability. Yet that vulnerability also opens us up to be brave; to continue to share our stories in the hopes that others will find relief; sweet relief in knowing that they are not alone in their own journeys of brokenness.

Our stories won’t always bring the relief that others will want to experience and will need to hear. Yet in sharing our stories with each other, God is there among us. God has a way of overcoming death and the grave. God, through his son Jesus, always offers relief; a sweet relief that we all need and yearn for. So, my friends, tonight please know you are not alone. God is there in the midst of all of the brokenness and God is also there in the midst of our moments of joy as well. God has sent his son Jesus to bring us relief; sweet relief!


Breaking the Silence (A Five Minute Friday Post)

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 “Break.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

My Lighthouse by Rend Collective Experiment has become one of my all-time favorite songs. I love the image of the lighthouse in the distance breaking through and providing that light that we need. Or, I think, of a candle which in a blackout provides just enough light; just enough light breaks through and shows us what we need to see.

Sometimes what we need to see is right in front of us. This week I have been finishing (I only have a chapter left) of Annie Downs’ book “Let’s All Be Brave.” That book has opened me up in ways I never thought possible. It has help me break through and be more brave than I ever thought possible. My friend Colleen at Blessed are the Feet reminded me of that today in this post she wrote Go Ahead and Tell Your Story.

God wants us to tell our WHOLE stories; even the bloody messy pieces of our stories. My story is filled with much joy but it also is filled with much pain and sorrow too. My Mom had a nervous breakdown right after my sister was born. (She is three years younger than me) She has lived with a mental illness pretty much my whole life. And I have learned the power of sharing my story; our story. There are so many in this world whose hearts are breaking because they haven’t been able to share their whole stories.

I also believe that when we share our stories, God finds a way for the light to break through in the midst of the deep darkness. In sharing our stories, we break the silence about the so many things that I believe God weeps along with us with in this world. And by sharing my story and the story of all those who daily struggle with a mental illness, I am able to hopefully break the silence.

**Since I referenced this video, I decided to add this video for your enjoyment, friends. Maybe you could break dance to this? (Just Kidding!)

Dear Grief….

I will be linking up with Kate Motaung on her blog this coming Monday. In conjunction with the release of her E-book Letters to Grief, Kate is asking us to blog on, “If you were to write a letter to grief, what would you say?” So here is my letter….

Dear grief,

You find a way into my head and my heart especially during this holiday season. I am reminded of all the wonderful Christmases we had at Grandma and Grandpas, but now they are both gone. My heart aches as I want to talk to my Grandpa and bend his ear as he was such a wise man. I want to hug them both so tightly again. It has been 8-10 years since they have passed but I miss them each and every day!

But the reality, grief, is that I don’t just experience you through the death of a loved one. I experience you through the loss and grief of a parent who lives each day with a mental illness. I love spending time with Momma, but there are so many things that you try to take away from me. You make me angry when I wonder who will hold my hand and go with me wedding dress shopping when I find that Mr. Right. You make me angry as I yearn for the days that I can carry on a longer conversation with her. You try to take away my hope; my hope of sharing grandchildren with her. You also have a way of taking away all of the sparkle I feel when I am with her. I cannot even begin to tell you how many tears you have made me cry; tears that are so heavy; so heavy that you take my breath away.

And as I think about these things, grief, I realize that you are the one who is in control most of the time. And I don’t want you to be in control. No, I need you not to be in control! I want to treasure all the time I have with my Mom. I want to talk to her about boys even if she maybe won’t be able to go wedding dress shop with me. And I realize that one way or another, I will have someone special with me to share in those precious moments with me. I want her to become a Grandma because I know that is something she dreams of and yearns for so deeply.

Grief, yes, most of the time, you are the one who is control because you fill me with such anger. But today I am choosing not to let you diminish my hope. Because grief; my old friend, I am not going to let you have the final word. But rather am going to let God have the final word.

“Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning!”–Psalm 30:5