Friday Prayer, May 19, 2017

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Lord Jesus,

 

How blessed I am to have your love,

your peace,

your reassurance –

you give me the comfort I need to live my hardest days.

 

How blessed I am, God, to have your strength,

your courage,

your self-control –

you give me the determination I need to make tough decisions and follow through.

 

How blessed I am, God, to have your grace,

your forgiveness,

your promise of new life –

you give me the mercy I need to say, ‘I’ll make different choices today’ –

and then do so.

 

You see me, God, as I truly am –

that core within me that’s been there

since I was a baby and blossomed as a child.

It’s a core so buried beneath all of these…layers.

A layer of responsibility here and

layer of image there,

plus the layers of expectations

others place on me and

the layers of self-doubt and fear.

 

Please help mes shed the layers, God,

and return to the core.

 

Help me reclaim who I truly am – the person you’ve created me to be.

 

Help me live boldly,

speak confidently,

love unconditionally,

forgive readily, and

trust deeply.

 

Shape my life to match my soul.

 

Thank you, Lord Christ, for loving me I am –

may I embrace my true essence and your work for me today.

 

Amen.

 

Friday Prayer, May 12, 2017

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Ecclesiastes 3:11 – God has made all things beautiful in their time….

Timing….

It impacts everything, doesn’t it? We can have a clear picture of what we want/need to happen in our lives, but find ourselves at a standstill because of timing. You’ve probably heard the quote, too, that “the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing…”

And yet, the waiting is so challenging. It requires every ounce of trust we can muster, and a daily decision to surrender (again!!!). I’m not speaking of resignation or passivity. Your soul, your prayers, your inner work still progress toward and believe in the hoped-for-end. But you are willing to let the necessary earlier steps have their place.

You let God’s hands hold things until God says, “your turn.”

And in the meantime, while God does God’s thing,

we can enjoy the beauty that’s already there….

***

God of all seasons,

You make all things beautiful in their time.

As I prepare to enter the weekend before me,

please open my soul, God, to the beauty –

the surprising beauty –

around me.

 

My prayer is that I will journey

through this day with an awareness bringing

gratitude,

celebration, and

fresh hope.

 

So often, God, I miss the beauty

or even blind to it when it’s before me.

Your blossoms can draw me in

from distraction.

 

May I witness your brightness in the greening earth and birds’ song

as well as the restaurant waiter or the child’s sidewalk chalk.

 

Help me journey through the seasons –

even the seasons within this day before me –

with a grace and a patience that makes others feel at home.

 

Loving God, I rest in you

and your working to make all things beautiful –

someday, somehow.

 

In the name of the One

who showed us true beauty in human life,

Amen.

 

Friday Prayer, May 5, 2017

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Taken on my run last week at Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City, UT….

Where do you look for help?

When things are hard? When life feels overwhelming? When you can’t break free from the same debilitating thought patterns or behaviors that just won’t shake off?

My family I spent last weekend in the mountains of Utah while visiting my brother and sister-in-law. It was tangible therapy for my heart, soul, and bone. I went for a number of runs at a park nearby their home, and this was the scenery.

The steadiness of the mountains was such a grounding, restorative gift. After months of transition (which we continue to live into every day), I was reminded in a very physical way the source of my help. Where I can find my strength and my hope and my perseverance…

Psalm 121 has always been one of my favorite psalms. I return to it time and time again, and last week’s retreat with beloved family and steadfast mountains brought my soul to it once again.

Rather than write my own prayer this week, I want to share the words of this psalm. Perhaps we can all picture the mountains and in them, see the strong, resilient presence of God in our lives.

***

A Pilgrimage Prayer – Psalm 121 

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
    Where will my help come from?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth.
 God won’t let your foot slip.
    Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
 No! Israel’s protector
    never sleeps or rests!
 The Lord is your protector;
    the Lord is your shade right beside you.
 The sun won’t strike you during the day;
    neither will the moon at night.
 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
    God will protect your very life.[a]
 The Lord will protect you on your journeys—
    whether going or coming—
    from now until forever from now.

 

Friday Prayer, April 28, 2017

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From my time in Italy when I studied abroad in college (Fall 2005)….dreaming of Cinqueterre….

Spring blessings to each of you. I have always classified myself as a “fall” person – autumn was my favorite season with its rich hues, crisp running weather, and all-things-apple. But I realized something this year. My new favorite time of year is spring. The past few years, my soul’s been groaning with the earth for a re-birth and reminder of new life…of life that was growing beneath cold, hard dirt for months, seen only by God.

And so the blossoms and buds are tangible hope to my heart right now. I am opening anew to the promises of God that I might blossom myself. And you are too.

Along the lines of budding growth, I read something this week causing me to understand Jesus’ words about the “vine and the branches” in a very different way.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit.”

In the past, I’ve read this as the connection each of us has to God – that by being connected to God, we are rooted in our Love Source. Our lives blossom into outpourings of this love because of our connection to the Vine.

What my reading this week challenged and convicted me to consider, though, was how this analogy of the Vine speaks to our connection not just with Christ, but with each other. And to go one step further, to people we even don’t like.

What if, by claiming connection to Christ, we are then inherently linked to others? To all others? To the people we are struggling to love and the people who frustrate us and the people who make purposeful choice after choice away from goodness?

Christ draws each of us – just as we are – to himself, and so if we are branched with Christ, then we are with one another too.

Recognizing this is exactly where God wants us to start.

***

Loving Christ,

Your love force flows through me –

through each of these branches,

your branches.

Even as I struggle to see and love the goodness in another,

your life current nourishes us

with the same sustenance.

 

Maybe my first step

is to simply live into our connection

through you.

 

To unfurl my leaves, soak in the sun, the rainfall,

and in doing this,

open my heart to you

and every single other….

 

To keep all veins open

for transformative possibilities

that come not through my own doing,

but through being connected with you –

the One who can and does

bring connection where we

never thought possible.

 

Today, I will celebrate being a part of

the Vine, and rest in the

work you will do.

You only ask me to stay connected.

You will do the rest.

 

Amen.

Friday Prayer, April 14, 2017

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Photo by Lori Archer Raible

On this Good Friday, friends, I’m praying you find a centered, close sense of God with you…especially if that feeling’s been a distant one for quite some time. These holy days hold different layers of meaning for each of us. The shared beauty is the great Love that reaches out.

It’s embracing you right now.

***

O God,

We reach out for you on this Good Friday – this day of grief, desperation, and seeming hopelessness…

this day of weakness…

this day that will bring scars.

O Jesus, have mercy on us.

For the ways we turn away from your pain;

for the blindness we choose over seeing;

for the judgment we harbor toward the ones you’ve called us to love;

for our unwillingness to change…

O Jesus, have mercy on us.

There is no place more spacious than your heart.

May we hold your hand, God, as we go through the darkness of these days before the light of Easter morning.

In the name and love of Jesus, whose life brings life to all,

Amen.

Friday Prayer, March 31, 2017

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

“God put a new song in my mouth…” ~ Psalm 40:3

“New songs” often come through new circumstances. Hard circumstances. Times that call us to open ourselves and our lives to change, giving the Spirit fresh space to move and create. We can find a sort of comfort in the monotony of chords and words we’ve always sung, but God wants to create a new melody in us – stretching our voices, bringing us to fresh ranges of explored sound and experience. And in our new melodies, other voices (sometimes unexpected) may join in.

Will we give God the voices of our lives and surrender ourselves to a glorious symphony?

***

Loving God of all life,

On our hearts is the familiar tune, “Take My Life…” It is our prayer today, God,

                        Take my life and let it be

                        Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

                        Take my moments and my days;

                        Let them flow in ceaseless praise,

                        Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Oh God, we ask that you take all we are – our hands, our feet, our voices, our lips, our silver and gold, our intellect, our will, our hearts, our love, our very selves…wrap us into a chorus of ceaseless praise.

You are continually offering us all of you, and we seek to return the gift. You, the One who provides us daily bread and daily love, are the Source of all we are and all we truly need.

As we offer you our very selves we offer you the deepest prayers of our hearts – even the prayers for which we cannot form words. Thank you for hearing them.

We are prayerful today, God, for those who have recently faced difficult diagnoses. Words like “Parkinsons,” “Cancer,” “Stroke,” “Relapse”….

We are prayerful today, God, for those who have faced relational rejection and disappointment, hearing cutting phrases like, “I’m done,” “Leave me alone,” and “I’ve moved on.”

We are prayerful today, God, for those who have faced a bottoming out in self-esteem, holding questions like, “Why can’t I…,” “Will I ever…,” “Who cares for me?”  O God, hold us in the fear and steady us in the darkness of these words, these phrases, these questions.

Please, Spirit, form our lives into a song today –

a song that will soothe those in need of comfort,

a song that will uplift those in need of hope,

a song that will strengthen those in need of refreshment.

Take us, Lord – all of us.

In the love of the One who gave everything, Amen.

 

Breathing and Walking by Christ’s Power…

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Weekend blessings to you, friends. I  missed my prayer yesterday – it’s been a full week of relational richness, having friends and family visit and sharing in the joy of my husband, Jeff’s, installation at First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette.

I don’t normally do this, but I am going to share the sermon I preached at Jeff’s installation last Sunday. In so many ways, I was preaching to my own heart – I have been craving the reassuring reminder that in following Christ’s call, he will always provide the support needed to continue the journey. Even if we sink. Or rather, when we sink…

The connection between breathing and following God’s call especially resonated with me in recent months as well, and I explore that here.

So keep breathing. Keep walking. We’re in this together.

***

“Breathing and Walking by Christ’s Power”

Sermon preached by Rev. Arianne Braithwaite Lehn

Matthew 14:22-33

Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Presbyterian Church, Wilmette

 

Please join your heart with mine in prayer –

Loving and powerful Christ, please help us hear your voice, see your face, and feel your hand as we follow your call– in these coming moments and in the days before us. Keep our feet walking, our souls breathing, in faithful, courageous movement. In and by your strength, Amen.

When we think of “call” stories from Scripture, many of us might reflect on people altering their entire life trajectory – Sarah and Abraham following God’s call to a new land they’d never seen; Moses reluctantly agreeing to lead the Israelites; Esther bravely entering the king’s courts to save the Jewish people; Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others devoting themselves to being prophets; the disciples who dropped nets and the need for certainty in order to walk after Jesus.

This story of Peter walking on waves, though, is a tremendously powerful call story, reminding us how “call” is much more expansive, comprised of every day choices where risk and trust rule.

“Call” involves daily decisions about what we’ll leave behind and how we’ll use what we have. It challenges us to lean into things we’ve been promised, opportunities to express faith, and the struggle to put trust in God above fear over our own limitations.

Of course, some forms of call feel more dramatic than others. There’s the call to this job, this move, this college or residency program, this person to whom you’ll commit and say, I do

But sometimes, they’re seemingly small, yet deeply impactful, choices in your normal routine – the many little sacrifices to help your aging parent in need of rides for appointments and help cleaning the bathroom and your careful eye scanning over the pill counter. The random text you’re compelled to send your friend who unbeknownst to you feels buried alive in stress. The five minutes you spend each morning to meditate and settle your soul as the sun rises, the day’s light spreading across your lap.

Dramatic or inconspicuous, they’re all God’s call…all God’s leading toward growth and less petty, stingy living.

God’s call always points to the “bigger life,” but not necessarily what culture deems “big.” It’s been all too easy in my own life to confuse safety and stability with abundant life. At times, it’s taken storms where I’m rowing in rote exhaustion to realize the call of hope beckoning from outside the boat.

And this is exactly the place Jesus meets Peter and his friends early one morning – they are completely worn out having fought the storm’s waves and wind all night. They’re too far into the mess to turn around, but cannot yet see the land ahead of them. And to this completely vulnerable group comes what appears to be a ghost calling out the words to, “Be encouraged. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Nice words to hear, but the promise doesn’t override their terror. Peter especially had to know it was Jesus calling from the water. How could he possibly confirm this for sure?

When First Presbyterian of Wilmette called Jeff last fall, sharing they wanted him as their next head of staff, our family, too, felt afraid. The waters outside the boat looked so unknown. Our hands were bone-tired holding those oars, but there was that powerful yet familiar resistance – the clinging to what we’ve worked for already, the meaningful relationships established, and what was known. How could we know for sure this was Jesus calling from the water?

Peter understood the voice of Jesus well enough to know it often sounded like risk – like a call out of shallow water splashing into depths requiring some reliance beyond himself. The only way he’d know for sure it was Jesus was to take a shaky step of faith. To trust and act from a place of courageous, hopeful vulnerability.

So Peter stepped out. Bracing his face against the wind, believing he would receive confirmation on the waves, leaving his known security – even if it was a quivering form of stability at best. The boat and disciples aren’t there to catch him.

I bet you know from your own life experience exactly what Peter is feeling at this moment – this place where all facades get peeled away, layer by layer, and you’re left exposed and vulnerable with ghosty Jesus as your only way out.

This is the transition time when it’s Peter and the waves.

And this is the time he sinks.

Initially, it looks like a failure. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus, focusing more on the lack of stability beneath him than the One before him.

But what could have been the end of the story turns into its most important moment. We witness Jesus’ compassion and responsiveness as his hand interlocks with Peter’s. We watch how an honest expression of fear leads to greater faith. We see the journey of walking to Jesus cannot be completed on our own – how we need the support of his love and power to keep walking.

It is Peter’s courage – one person’s risk – that leads to worship and confession among the rest of the group. They are changed because Peter said yes to a call, was open about his fear, and received the life-saving grace of Jesus as his way forward.

Jesus’ calling Peter a “man of weak faith” may seem a little harsh, but don’t we know how a frank naming of where we are is what we often need to wake up and grow? And in the end, what matters is that Peter was walking toward Jesus – that he took those steps at all. I, for one, am so grateful for Peter’s sinking because it’s where I nestle myself in the story.

Those sinking moments are integral to our call stories too.

From a pastoral position perspective it might happen right around now. A month into the job when the winds of fear, anxiety, and an enormous learning curve can knock a pastor down. All the new people to meet, the different “system” to understand, the rapport to build, the community to navigate, the surprises to swallow.

Or maybe the sinking comes when you’re a few years into a marriage and you’re living parallel instead of intersecting lives, wondering if making that commitment was all you thought it would be.

Or you went for it – you started college at your dream school and now you feel like a total fraud for being there, worried someone will find out you’re not cut out for this and that you really hate it.

Or you felt convicted to start your own business, and now it’s pulled you away from time with your kids while the deficit budget’s jaws are about to swallow your whole family’s income.

Sinking moments in our call toward Christ happen in those smaller events too –the daily experiences where we grasp for what’s familiar, resist what’s ahead, and let our fear paralyze us.

Our call and walk toward Jesus mirrors our breathing – step after step, inhale then exhale. We can’t stay on the same step, nor can we hold onto that same breath, before it starts to turn on us.

All of us at some point have tried to hold our breath for as long as we could, maybe when we’ve gone swimming, or had a contest with a childhood friend. It’s not too long before we start twisting and turning, our bodies convulsing with a desire to let out that original breath.

Because what we needed then is not what we need now.

The same proves true with our walk and call. The waves cover us if we stay stuck on that single spot. Our feet, like the ebbing, flowing waves, are meant to keep moving.

Just like Peter, we need our sinking moments, and we can’t continue the journey on our own. We need Christ’s hand grabbing ours, our voices mingling with Peter’s as we cry out, “Lord, save me!”

I think this is what it looks like to rely on Christ’s power and love – we keep inhaling – stepping toward what’s before us – and exhaling – letting go of what we used to know. Maybe our very breathing can be our best teacher in how to follow Jesus.

The call of Christ is fresh and changing, asking us to be responsive and open on an everyday basis – to hear what the Spirit is saying now, even if it’s different than what we’d originally thought or planned. Each breath, each step, is the nourishment we need in the moment, and if we can trust that’s enough, we’ll have a whole-hearted journey of deepened faith ahead.

Trusting our inner experience of who we know Christ to be, we live, we walk, in courage, taking those words of Jesus to heart –

Be encouraged. He’s with us. Do not be afraid.

***