Hold Us In Love

“For peace between nations”
“For peace between people”
“God of mercy, hold us in love”

These words are words that we sing every time we sing Marty Haugen’s Holden Evening Prayer. Holden Evening Prayer is one of my most favorite worship settings. I honestly love the poetry of words that is in this service. As we heard the news of the events unfolding in Paris last night, a seminary classmate and friend posted the above words as her Facebook status. And ever since, I have been singing these words to myself.

Our God is indeed a God of mercy and love. God wants us to show love to one another especially in the midst of heartache. What if instead of blaming each other, we stood together…like people all over the world stood together on the days following 9-11? What if instead of sowing hate, we sowed seeds of love? What if we were instruments of God’s peace in the world? My friend Ben, as he lay in the Haitian rubble, uttered the words “God’s peace to us we pray”. Then moments later, Ben died in that rubble. Ben’s words remind me that God has the power to bring about God’s peace. So may God bring out God’s peace and may we also be instruments of God’s love in the world.

As I think about this horrific tragedy, I can’t help but think of those who lost loved ones last night. But I also am reminded of those who have taught me to love and to show God’s love to the world. My friend Laura is now laying in a hospital bed at a hospice center as she continues to fight her cancer.. From day one, Laura was one of the kindest, most welcoming, most loving women that I have ever met. She has taught me what it means to be gracious. I also think of my own mother who, even though she has lived my whole life with a mental illness, is one of the most welcoming, kind, loving women as well. My mom literally would give the shirt off of her back to someone in need. These two women along with many others have shown me the power of what it means to sow love rather than hatred. “For perfect love casts out fear!”

Yes, God’s perfect love casts out fear. Look at how many times the words “Do not be afraid” appear in the Bible. God calls us to trust in him and to cling to the promise that God’s perfect love does indeed cast out fear.

I understand that those words can be hard to cling too especially in the midst of deep darkness, but God’s light and love shine in the midst of that darkness. When I was in college and also in seminary, I was in a play production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Anne and her family hid from the Nazis. Day in and day out, they fought for their lives. Eventually they were found by the Nazis. Yet at the very end of Anne’s diary, she wrote “Despite everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Oh Anne, may we remember your words today and every day.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”-Francis of Assissi

Joy Comes With The Morning

This is Day 23 of 31 in my Write 31 Days series: 31 Stories of God’s Grace. I also am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today’s prompt is “Joy.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

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

This has become a  favorite verse in my life. It really began to appear in my life after the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. My friend Renee, her husband Ben and Ben’s cousin Jon were in Haiti when the earthquake struck. I was in Gettysburg PA as a small group leader for the Diaconal Ministry formation event. Eventually we received the news of Ben’s death. My small group was to lead  worship that night we found out Ben had lost his life in the earthquake. As people entered into worship, we had Ben’s version of  Psalm 30 playing through the loudspeakers.

Ever since this song has become one of my favorites. It also is such a beautiful joy filled promise! Even in our darkest times, God finds a way to eventually show us light; to show us God’s grace at all times and in all places. God’s grace shines the light even in the most gut wrenching places. We just can’t always see it or find it.

Our lives are full of brokenness, sadness, celebrations, and joy. It is during those times when it feels like it is going to be night forever when God especially offers God’s grace. God knows when the morning and that joy will return.

For me, the joy has come in seeing my mom live a joy- filled faith-filled life. The joy has come in seeing a new relationship form where it once was broken. That joy has come in seeing friends finally get pregnant again after trying for so very long. I have seen that joy come in God’s grace being offered again and again and again!

If you are feeling like it is a long dark dank night, please know and trust in the promises of Psalm 30. That night soon will come to a close and you will be awakened to God’s grace as the sun begins to rise and a beautiful sunrise is spread out for your eyes to see.

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

Mourning into Dancing–Ben Larson

He Still Sings!

Good Morning Friends! This is a longer post than I usually write, but I promise you will be blessed by it. And I will warn you that today’s post much like yesterday’s post might make you cry too!

I sat in a classroom with several young ladies at Gettysburg Seminary on a cold Pennsylvania January day in 2010. As music flowed out of the speakers from my friend Shera’s computer, we strained to listen to the words coming forth. The song we were listening to was a song by Benjamin Splichal Larson and his cousin Jon. The words were words penned by a seminary classmate and friend. We listened closely as we heard them sing “hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive!”

The song ended and we talked about the image of our hands parted after prayer. Class ended and we all went our separate ways. I sat in my hotel room later that afternoon scrolling through Facebook when I received an instant message from a seminary classmate. This classmate told me that there had been an earthquake in Haiti and three Wartburg Seminary classmates where there including my friend Renee who I had worked at Bible camp with for several summers.

For awhile, as you can imagine, the news was very vague. First, Renee was found but the boys were missing. Second, they were all missing. And then finally, Renee and Jon were together but Ben was still missing. As we waited for news, we found ourselves reading news articles and stories on the Internet and watching the news. I felt bad for our morning speaker the next day because most of us were not listening to her words but rather were trying to glean any news we could about the earthquake and Ben.

After the morning presentation, one of the young ladies in my small group came to me and shared an article with me and several of the other ladies. The article included an interview with Ben’s dad where he shared “If you want to know Ben, listen to his music.” We looked at each other and exclaimed “That is what we did yesterday!”

From there, we went to our classroom. In the classroom, we finalized our service which we would be leading the next day (Thursday) The young ladies had decided to honor Martin Luther King Jr. as it was MLK day the following Monday. They also choose to sing the song “Freedom is Coming” from the This Far by Faith hymnal.

Thursday morning, I awoke to my alarm clock ringing. I crawled out of bed, jumped into the shower and got ready for the day. As I was blow drying my hair, my cell phone rang. I went to answer it. Shera was on the other end of the line. She asked “Did you get an email from the seminary this morning? I replied no. She then asked “Can I come to you?” I said “Of course” and hung up the phone. The minute I hung up the phone I knew that the news was not good.

I waited for the knock at my hotel door. Finally I heard the knock. I opened the door to Shera and her roommate standing there. Shera looked at me and shared “Ben is gone!” We embraced each other and slowly let the tears begin to flow. After a few minutes, the three of us walked to the refectory for breakfast. When we walked in the door, several of our friends asked if we had heard anything. Shera couldn’t get a word out and “Ben is gone” was all I could say. Those words were on autopilot that morning.

Before we knew it, Shera and I both were being embraced by our friends. And as they embraced us, the tears began to flow even more. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see them as God’s grace in the midst of this tragedy.

After breakfast, we continued on to the chapel for morning worship. We sat down in our pews; Shera and I next to each other. It came time for communion and the tears begin to flow even more freely as we gathered at the holy table. The words from the song from Tuesday were echoing in each of our ears “Hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive.”

After worship, we went to our classrooms. As we gathered, we found ourselves wondering what we were to do as we were still to lead worship that evening. We made the decision to still honor MLK Jr but also to honor Renee, Jon, Ben, and Haiti. We also choose to still sing “Freedom is Coming!” We also decided to play Ben’s version of Psalm 30 as worshipers were entering into the chapel that evening.

Ben sang the words “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning” as it played and streamed through the speakers in the chapel. As worshipers entered into the chapel, we shared that it was Ben who was singing. After the prelude using Ben’s song, we moved into the smaller chapel which was more intimate. Throughout the service, we shared about why Ben, Renee, and Jon were in Haiti and also about MLK and his actions. The time came for the song “Freedom is Coming” and we joyfully sang out the words to that song.

After worship, we all went off to our hotel rooms. I remember laying my head down and reflecting on how that service and the whole week had felt like being wrapped in God’s grace. Little did I know that the next day, this would be immediately confirmed for me. I closed my eyes and drifted off to dreamland for the night.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and loaded up into limos that would drive us to Baltimore for our flights. As I was standing in line with two of my new friends, I pulled up Facebook and came across a blog post that someone shared. The post included Ben’s sermon from his senior year at college. In the sermon, Ben shared how international music was important and special to him especially the song “Freedom is Coming.” Chills began to cover my entire body.

Little did we know, the week before that when we choose that song, it was one of the most influential song’s in Ben’s life! BUT, GOD!!! God knew. God, through the Holy Spirit, graced us with the gift of those words.

Today Renee and Jon are married and have a little boy. Yet another gift of God’s grace in the midst of this tragedy.

His last words on this Earth were sung. He sang the words “God’s peace to us we pray” And, my friends, Ben Still Sings! He sings through his new liturgy. He sings when we listen to his music. His music is another gift of God’s grace in this world.

This experience of God’s grace indeed changed me. It, for sure, did not leave me where it found me! And it will always be a way to share about the incredible goodness of God’s grace even in the midst of tragedy. I am so very thankful for that gift.

Mourning Into Dancing (Psalm 30) by Ben Larson

I am linking up with my favorite gals today: Holly at Testimony Tuesday, Kelly and the RaRa Linkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Tell His Story and Holley Gerth and Coffee for your Heart.


The Language of Love

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 “World.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the word prompt was the song “We are the World” by Michael Jackson. These words from the chorus kept replaying in my mind “We are the world. We are the children.” Yes, we are God’s children scattered all over the world. Throughout the world, as God’s children, the language of love is one that is universal.

Tonight I was working at church with the kids who are attending the National Youth Gathering and their parents on a fundraiser. One of them brought their little brother with her. This little boy is so kind and polite. He constantly reminds me of the power of love. I was going to the kitchen to grab some stuff and he ran after me. Then later, he came up to me and gave me a hug. He also kept holding my hand and kissing it as we were walking to the janitor’s closet to get a garbage bag. This little boy’s actions remind me of the universal power of love…a love that is shared all over the world.

My friend Heather and her husband David have spent the last several years in Japan where Heather was teaching English. It was always such a joy to read about their experience on the other side of the world. I even sent them a package that didn’t make it to them. When it arrived back at my house, the box looked like it had been through heck. I wondered where in the world that box had been. Now Heather and David are back in the States, Heather shared a sweet memory book with me that her kids shared with her. Another picture of the universal language of love.

*Five years ago, my friend Renee and her husband Ben and Ben’s cousin Jon traveled to Haiti. While they were on that side of the world, the Haiti earthquake occurred. Ben lost his life that day. After the aftermath of the earthquake, Jon and Renee were wrapped in the arms of the Haiti people. They took the blankets off of their backs and shared them with Jon and Renee. Now Jon and Renee are married and have a little boy. Another image of the universal language of love!

There is a lot of turmoil in the world. But God brings about God’s peace and justice; a peace and justice that we continually pray for in the world…especially as we hear the news stories–ISIS, Caitlyn Jenner, and so much more. The truth, I believe, is that God calls us to be a “voice and not an echo.” God continually calls us to share God’s love with the world. We may not always agree but God calls us to love Caitlyn Jenner even when we don’t understand her decisions.

God sent his son Jesus as the example for us all. Jesus was always turning the world upside down. Jesus was always sitting with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was continually inviting all of God’s people, all around the world, to sit at the table of grace; where we fill up and spill out for the kingdom.

*This is where my five minutes stopped.

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.


Here I Am Lord, Send Me!

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 “Send.” Write for five minutes; unedited.

“Here I am Lord, Send Me!”

Do we truly believe these words? Or do we run and hide as we say them for ourselves? Yet there is such a gift in trusting in the call to be one of God’s disciples in the world.

Earlier this week, I shared about the 5th anniversary of the Haiti earthquake and the death of my camp friend Renee’s husband Ben. Ben, Renee, and Ben’s cousin Jon were in Haiti because they had been sent their to help teach about the Lutheran church there. They were staying and volunteering at St. Josephs School for Boys when the earthquake hit. Renee and Jon somehow were able to get out of the rubble but Ben breathed his last breaths as it was believed he sang the words “God’s peace to us we pray.” Today Jon and Renee are married and both serving as Pastors. In fact, they are expecting their first child any day now.

“Here I am Lord, Send Me!”

My friend Nicole and her husband Rob were sent to Bulgaria last year to pick up their newly adopted daughter. This adoption process began over three years ago, but now their daughter is at home with them. What if they hadn’t heard the words proclaimed to them to be E’s family…

“Here I am Lord, Send Me!”

Being sent to seminary, starting my last call, leaving that call and starting this new call….were all times when I was afraid to take the next step. Yet God kept urging me to say those words and to trust him fully in saying them…

“Here I am Lord, Send Me!”

God continually calls us to be God’s Servants in the world.
God calls me…God calls YOU!

“Here I am Lord, Send Me!”
“Here we are Lord, Send Us!”

To Remember….

Remember=”to have or keep an image or idea in your mind of (something or someone from the past)”; “to cause (something) to come back into your mind;” “to keep (information) in your mind;” or “to not forget something.”

This morning I woke up and immediately began to “remember.” Five years ago today, the earthquake struck in Haiti. My friend Renee (we worked at Bible camp together), her husband Ben and Ben’s cousin Jon were in Haiti when the earthquake hit. Ben lost his life that day. It is believed that his last words were breathed as he sang the words “God’s peace to us we pray” and then it was silent.

I was in Gettysburg Pennsylvania that January day. I was a small group leader for the Diaconal Ministry Formation Event (all diaconal minister candidates are required to do the formation event.) My small group and I were talking about prayer that Tuesday morning when one of my students said she wanted to share a song with us. She pulled it up on her laptop and we strained to listen to this beautiful song. The song was song by Jon and Ben and talked about “hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive.” (The words were  words of a poem that a seminary classmate wrote). So that morning we listened to the song and than later that afternoon we found out that the earthquake had taken place. Immediately my IM box was popping up with messages from friends letting me know that Ben, Jon, and Renee were in Haiti for a J-term class and that they had not been heard from yet.

For several days after, as you can imagine, there was much confusion. On Thursday morning, one of my students and a dear friend called and asked me where I was. I told her my hotel room and she asked if she could come to me. The minute I hung up the phone that morning I knew that something was wrong. Shera came to my door and informed me that it was confirmed that Ben was gone. We cried and held each other. We proceeded to breakfast where we were asked by the rest of our group if we had heard anything. Shera couldn’t get the words out. I was on auto-pilot and all I could keep repeating was “Ben’s gone.” From breakfast, we gathered in the chapel and worshipped together. When it came time for communion, tears welled up in our eyes as we recalled the words from the song we had heard just a few mornings before “hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive.”

After worship, we all went to our small groups. My small group was in charge of leading worship that night. The girls decided that they still wanted to continue with our original plan; to sing the song “Freedom is Coming” etc. We made one small change; to play Ben’s version of Psalm 30 as individuals entered into worship that night. “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Now you understand why this verse has become one of my faves). The next day, at the airport, we found a blog post where someone posted Ben’s sermon from his senior year at Luther College. It talked about how the song “Freedom is Coming” was one of the most influential songs in his life. (Anyone else get goosebumps. I know I did that day…and still do!)

It is hard to believe that it has been five years today since the earthquake hit. I found myself waking up this morning. My cell phone clock confirmed today as January 12th. Grief has a way of swooping in and declaring to us the date even before we realize what day it is. Today I was reminded of that again. Immediately I took a breathe and began remembering.

And throughout the day I was continually reminded of the promise of hope and Resurrection. A couple of friends texted to say they were thinking of me today. I went to start my car this morning and an envelope was taped to my driver’s side window. I opened the envelope. Inside was a note talking about how it wasn’t it much but hopefully it would brighten my day. With the note was a McDonalds gift card. Then from there, I got to spend the day with one of my dearest friends and dear colleagues as I headed to our YouthWorkers meeting. We spent the day talking about the ELCA Youth Gathering this next summer and tips we wished we knew when we went for the first time. Tonight at Curves, I shared the story of Ben, Renee, and Jon and the promise of hope and Resurrection.

And today Renee and Jon are married and expecting a baby. What a beautiful promise of hope and Resurrection! Ben’s music still lives on. (Check out the website Ben Still Sings) Another reminder of hope and Resurrection! And for me Psalm 30 especially Ben’s version will always hold a special place in my heart. It is currently playing as I type this post and it is such a breath of fresh air for my soul. It is a song that continually reminds me of the power of hope and the power of Resurrection. (However sometimes grief does sneak in and cause the tears to flow…today is one of those days)

Mourning into Dancing (Click here to listen to Ben’s version of Psalm 30)

Freedom Is Coming!

In a small chapel in Gettysburg PA, voices were raised as these words carried through the chapel: “Oh freedom, Oh freedom, Oh freedom, Freedom is coming, Oh yes I Know; Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus, Jesus is coming, oh yes I know!” These words were joyfully lifted to the Lord that night. It’s a memory that is forever engrained in my mind.

My small group was to lead worship on Thursday night (the Thursday before Martin Luther King Jr. day). A couple of them had suggested “Freedom is Coming” from the This Far By Faith hymnal so that is what we sung. That day was an extremely difficult day because that morning we received news that Wartburg Seminary student Ben Larson had lost his life in the Haiti earthquake. Having planned worship a week before, we decided to continue with our worship that night which still included “Freedom is Coming.” I remember watching and listening as our voices were lifted joyfully to the Lord as we sang this magnificent African American hymn. The next day we were reading a blog that someone had posted from Ben’s senior year of college and he talked about international music and the song Freedom is Coming and how that song was a song that was very important to him. Little did we know when we planned worship what this hymn meant to Ben. The Holy Spirit truly works in mysterious ways!

Today as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am reminded of all that MLK Jr. did for us. I also am reminded of why Ben, Renee, and Jon were in Haiti. What beautiful witnesses to faith! Yes, there are times when it is hard to share that faith or see that faith because of all the evil in the world around us. Yet with hope, I believe that freedom is coming. Christ promised to come again to judge the living and the dead. And in that moment, it seems to me that true freedom will be reached.

And so may we all lift our voices declaring that “Freedom is coming!” (I found this video of children’s choir singing in Uganda. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!)


My I-tunes is opened to Ben Larson’s version of Psalm 30 and I am currently on like my 6th time of listening to this song. It seems like such a fitting way to end my day as today we remembered the 4th anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. So many lives were turned upside down on this day 4 years ago.I remembered exactly where I was and who I was with when the news broke. I remember so much about that day. But nothing can compare to what I am sure was felt in Haiti by those that were there. I think of my friends Renee and Jon and what they were going through. I know that today is not easy for them or their families. It reminds them of all the loss they experienced that day. Yet I know they cling to hope.

Hope is a beautiful and powerful witness to our faith! It is important for us to cling to hope; especially when hope seems so far away. Because I believe when we cling to hope, we are able to experience joy. I am reminded of the words of Psalm 30. “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Sometimes it seems to me that we need to weep before we can find joy and hope again.

So tonight as I remember 4 years ago today, I see hope as I listen to Ben’s music coming through my computer speakers. “Weeping may come for the night but joy comes with the morning.” Amen!

Hope Stands Up To Its Knees

I don’t know about you but on days like today especially, I find my emotions on an emotional roller coaster. The truth is feeling emotions is only human. It is only natural to feel these emotions. ..to feel brokeness, sadness, and probably even a little anger. Today a tornado hit in Oklahoma City and it appears many children have lost their life. I don’t understand why these things happen and I know that I am not alone in questioning why things happen. But what I do know is that God is with us in the midst of it all. God is with those who are laying in that rubble tonight in Moore OK.  I think of my friend Renee’s husband Ben as Ben lay in the Haitian rubble. What comes to mind are the words that Ben was singing that night, “God’s peace to us we pray…”

Even in the last moments of his life, Ben prayed…prayed for God’s peace. And tonight in the midst of our hurting broken world, we too pray and ask God’s peace to reign. However it is hard to find that peace when there is so much sadness is in our world. This past year there has been so much brokeness—a tornado, West Texas, the Boston Marathon bombings, Sandy Hook, Auroro Colorado….and the list goes on. So much sadness….so much brokeness….so much pain….so much fear….so much doubt. Yet God promises that God will always be with us. God walks with us in the midst of our pain, our sorrow, and our sadness. God is ALWAYS there.

A friend shared the following quote from Frederick Buechner (I love Buechner!) on his Facebook page tonight. Buechner’s quote offers the peace and hope that I think many of us are searching for tonight. My prayer is that it brings you a little peace, hope and comfort tonight as well.

“Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom, as whatever it is in our hearts–whether we believe in God or not–that keeps us human enough at least to get by despite everything in our lives that tends to wither the heart and make us less than human. To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift.” (Frederick Buechner)