Ash and Starlight

Connecting with God, each other, and ourselves in the broken and beautiful

Category: Ash and Starlight Book

A prayer for boxes and a weekend recap

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

I shared this prayer in my Monday Manna newsletter today. I don’t know about you, but when I am under stress, I descend (quickly!) into black-and-white thinking. Especially about people and situations.

Last week, I saw Oprah’s Super-Soul Sunday conversation with Pema Chodron. One of the many wise things she said concerned our openness to “letting” people change. Or how we see situations. Our perceptions and beliefs about them can become so fixed and brittle (in large part due to justifiable pain). Here’s a little prayer to help us with this…. 

Humble Savior,

Help me be, see, and understand anew.

There’s a person, a place,

a question, an issue

I have put in a box.

Separateness gives the illusion

of some control,

and if I’m honest,

some superiority.

I am afraid to let

that person or that place

or that issue change

because of the change

that would ask for in me.

I’m cautious around invitations

with such ambiguous expectations.

Give me, God, the trust 

to see with innocent eyes,

to learn with a beginner’s mind,

to understand with a non-judging heart –

and really, to love even when I don’t understand.

Because showing how you were right

never seemed to be your first priority.

Rather than turn or edge back,

help me take one step closer this week

to what is other and different and hard.

Amen.

***

And then, yesterday was such a blessing to my heart – a meaningful gathering at the Winnetka Book Stall for reflection, reading, signing, and cookie eating. I was so moved by the cross-section of people who came….people from the congregation at which I first began writing prayers eight years ago all the way to beautiful new friends I’ve recently gotten to know. A tangible reminder of God’s goodness in the journey, always unfolding….Here are some pictures!

Ash and Starlight Book Launch Party!

Our family just settled in back home tonight from an incredible weekend in Minnesota. Yesterday, we celebrated the launch of Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life at Art House North in St. Paul, MN. This was the capstone on launch week. It’s hard for me to describe the matchless experience it was in recent days to receive pictures and texts from so many people I love, all sharing they’d received Ash and Starlight.

There is much marinating in my full heart right now…I’m overcome with profound gratitude, and will need to process for many weeks to come. So much beloved community – including family who flew in to surprise me – gathered to “give thanks, celebrate, and dedicate” at the launch party. It was a humbling and holy thing….to thank God, celebrate God’s goodness, and dedicate this offering.

I can’t stop reliving so many moments from yesterday. And what I’ve especially been awed by is not just the event itself, but the journey to yesterday – all the people and experiences, guided by God’s loving hands, which coalesced in bringing this book to fruition. Truly miraculous.

I sat at the piano as we sang hymns, I read prayers and reflected, and we listened together to the original recording of the musical piece, ‘Ash and Starlight – one of the earliest stepping stones toward this book.

This playlist played in the background. Lots of Sara Groves, of course….

More to come, I’m sure, about this day. In the meantime, pictures which speak a thousand words…..

Such a privilege to pen words of love to gracious friends and family again and again and again…
Programs for our time of worship and reflection
This 100 year old church was repurposed by musician Sara Groves, and her husband, Troy, with the intention of fostering creative pursuits after Christ’s passions.
Give thanks, Celebrate, and Dedicate – the handiwork of my sister-in-law, Shanna
Our foursome
My mom…
Especially meaningful to me was to discover the Good Shepherd stain glass imagery in the church. Some of my favorite texts in Scripture center here. And so did my dad’s.
Eden and Simon snarfing down star cookies
Hymns sung include: Praise Ye the Lord, Hymn of Promise, and Great is Thy Faithfulness…
The Lehn sisters, two of whom flew in to surprise me the day before the launch party. And of course, baby Joel (3 months old)
A chunk of the Lehn family….so blessed.
My aunt, Mary, and uncle TJ – dad’s brother who commissioned the musical piece of “Ash and Starlight”
Star cookies made by Emily Erickson and her mom, Gail – PERFECT – plus Costco cheesecake. Oh, and the toppings we forgot to throw together until 1 hour before leaving for the event….
When I started to give the benediction, Eden came up to join me. She sometimes does this when my husband gives the benediction at the end of our worship services in Wilmette…a sweet tradition.
Poster-child….
Also, just saw this tonight….currently a #1 release . One of the most effective things you can do right now to spread the word for Ash and Starlight to reach and bless others is to write a very brief amazon review. It can be 2 sentences!

My heart bursts….

With thanks, celebration and dedication to the Weaver of all our ash and starlight….

Death, New Life, and a Book Launch

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Today marks what would have been my dad’s 63rd birthday, and tomorrow is the birthday of my book – dedicated to my dad.

In John 12:24, Jesus says to his disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

This weekend, friends and family will gather for a book launch party at Art House North in St. Paul. We will celebrate, give thanks, and dedicate this fruit to the God who weaves all ash and starlight into beauty.

I’m reminded today of God’s power to integrate into wholeness the paradoxes of our lives. Joy and pain. Endings and beginnings. Death and New Life. The holding of this book is physical fruit from some of the most painful deaths I’ve experienced – yes, the particular and acute loss of my dad’s life, but also the surrender to a future I hadn’t planned…and in some ways, even wanted.

Surrender always feels like dying because it is. It’s giving up our striving for control. Real surrender is trusting God is still God, God is still good, and that the agency we have here and now is enough. It’s also trusting the very fabric of this world God’s so lovingly created is a cycle of continual death and resurrection. Richard Rohr was the one who helped me see resurrection wasn’t a one-time event with the cross. This is the pattern for everything in our world and in our lives.

In the introduction to Ash and Starlight, I write about being 31 weeks pregnant with our first child the day my dad died. I knelt at his feet in the living room of his home while he took his last breaths on earth.  I held his fingers with one hand and had my other hand over my pregnant belly, kicking with life. I experienced in such a tangible way the holding together of death and life, of greatest grief and grittiest hope. 

Following my dad’s death, his brother, Tim, commissioned a musical piece in remembrance – not just of my father, but of the message his life spoke. Tim asked me to write the text for the piece, and the first stanza begins this way: 

On waves where trembling feet

Sink and dance there rises

Between my toes a peace…

Where heaven and earth embrace,

Where the ash in my mouth,

The starlight in my bones,

Weave together in wholeness

The “ash and starlight” allude to the poetry of Genesis. While God created us from the ash and dust of the earth, God then blew divine breath into us. This same breath created the stars – what ancient people saw as “heavenly beings” filled with transcendent, pure, and powerful beauty. We are made of earth and we are made of heaven – ash and starlight not separate, but woven seamlessly together. And this is true too of our lives. 

The Ash and Starlight piece would become for me a kind of grounding touchstone (later the title of my blog, and after that, the title of my book), reminding me how everything in our lives belongs – the ash and the starlight.

We live in a culture that wants categories, and often creates either/or. Bad or good. Painful or joyful. Light or Dark. But God is much more “both/and” than “either/or.” And prayer is one of the ways God helps us integrate our lives and ourselves into wholeness. It can bring together the seemingly opposite things of our lives and our own selves as we see everything we are is held in unconditional love by God. Prayer keeps us awake and alive to what’s really happening inside of us when we most want to block or numb or judge. 

I’ve been humbled by the goodness of God and God’s leading in my journey. Eight years ago when I started writing weekly e-news prayers for the congregation in Highland Park, I wasn’t thinking to myself, “Someday, this will become a book of prayers.” It was truly a case of fumbling toward faithfulness in the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing. I felt God lead me to keep the prayer practice in Fort Wayne, then decide to start a blog, then  follow the nudge of a mentor who told me to try and float a book proposal to some publishers. 

This journey reminds me of one of my favorite prayers by Thomas Merton, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself. And the fact that  I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you…And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.” 

Today, I’m claiming God’s promise to lead me by the right road – even as I often feel anxious and fearful with the ambiguity of not knowing. I am a witness of God’s wonders and working.

That is what hope is. And that is Who hope is.

Monday Manna – an invitation…

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Summer blessings to you, my friends!

I hope and pray this summer has provided space for deepest renewal in all the ways you most need! Sometimes what is supposed to be “vacation” leaves us more drained and tired than our status before. Being a student of the Spirit’s voice within you and your core needs will keep you in tune to how and where to lean in or rest. You know yourself! Trust that inner voice.

I have an invitation for you.

In the past, I offered a prayer on Fridays to close your week (sometimes and inconsistently, because #life….. ) With the coming of my book launch this fall, I will be shifting to a newsletter instead that will come directly to your mailbox on Monday mornings should you so choose. I am desiring a more personal way to connect with you and invite engagement, and believe an email message to you will nurture that in fresh ways.

My hope with this new newsletter – “Monday Manna” – is to help set your week’s tone. I know many people (myself included!) who find themselves on Sunday nights a bit anxious, heavy, apathetic, or all-around overwhelmed that come morning, the routine starts rolling full-speed ahead. And so with this weekly email newsletter, my prayer is that you can begin your week from a place of intentionality – a spirit and stance grounded in the goodness and provision of God.

The meaning of “manna” is significant to me. It’s shared in numerous faith traditions, but the story to which I hearken is in Exodus 16.  The Israelites are in the desert wilderness, walking with a promise from God but living in total uncertainty as to how and where this journey would lead. God’s daily provision to them (along with quail – eeek) was “manna.” It couldn’t be hoarded or stored up, but had to be freshly received each day. The people lived in trust that what they needed to live and continue the journey would fall like grace. And every day, it did. The manna edified them at their deepest levels because while it was food to their bodies, it also restored their daily hope. God was still providing, present, and caring for them, and the manna they collected each day was a physical reminder of that.

And so, my prayer is that “Monday Manna,” will be a channel of God’s nourishment to you through four things:

  • A short prayer and/or reflection 🙂
  • A place to channel your prayerful energy this week
  • Something that nourished me in the past week
  • Upcoming book news

You can sign up for Monday Manna here, or through the box on my website! If you were already subscribed to receive my blog posts through your email, you are currently registered for the newsletter and don’t need to do anything. And of course, should you want to unsubscribe at any point (I also hate email clutter!) there is an easy button for that!

One of my deep hopes is that you might be so gracious as to share the ways God is nourishing you! Together we will be encouraged for another week of faith, hope, and love.

Coming October 22, 2019 – “Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life”

 

Ash-and-Startlight-Cover-Final-no-cropmarks

My dream cover, thanks to Penelope Dullaghan!

Friends, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life is now available for pre-order on both Amazon and Chalice (with more sites later on). All thanks and praise to God – the One who brought this into being amid years of grief, joy, pain, ambiguity, and the call to trust. My deepest prayer is that this book blesses and builds the beautiful threads of connection in your life – with God, with others, and with your own soul.

I cannot thank the amazing Penelope Dullaghan enough for making the cover of my book a dream come true. The story about how this cover came to be is in and of itself a testimony to the Spirit’s holy and surprising work.

My hope for you is to find in these pages a prayerful companion for your own journey. This book encompasses prayers for your inner landscape and outer rhythms. There are prayers for what you’re feeling and prayers for the year’s seasons. So many of you have prayerfully journeyed with me in the posts of this blog or in the years of congregational ministry.

These prayers can be starting spots for your own – a springboard from which you offer to God the unique thoughts and feelings you need to let loose. Or these prayers can also be a place for you to rest. I have been so thankful for the prayers of others when I myself didn’t have it in me to pray – or didn’t want to.

The book encompasses prayers for centering, confession and release, guidance and transition, waiting and struggle, comfort and strength, trust, and seasonal times of year. Each prayer offers voice to a particular place in your heart or life….“When I need perspective at the start of the day,” “When I want to numb, avoid, and block,” “When I’m in the messy middle of something,” “When I need to trust where I am is right,” “When I can’t sleep,” “When I need to know if this thing can life again,” “When I need some steadiness,” “When I’m headed to work,” and more.

Following each prayer are Scripture references connecting with the themes of the prayer. They provide nourishment and wisdom for further meditation. As God works in your beautiful heart, you will see how the experiences and emotions you want to leave behind are actually integral to who you are and are becoming. God wants your honest attention and availability more than piety and achievement.

You will be grounded in the deepest promises of which we all need the most reminding – We are loved as we are. We are not alone. We are instruments of blessing, even when we don’t realize it.

And I am praying you feel freshly empowered and equipped to approach your life with grace and curiosity. To surrender and trust amid your fears. To rejoice in your current life, even as you’re moving toward something else. You might awaken to sentiments you didn’t realize were harbored within you, and invite God to share in them. And you will say yes to the ash and the starlight in your own journey because there is no transformative power in what we deny.

I am planning some pre-order bonuses (not quite ready!). If you preorder now (which I’m learning is extremely helpful and important in forecasting a book’s worth to sellers) you can receive these bonuses when they become available (in addition to my unending gratitude!).

I am venturing into new and vulnerable territory, here. The marketing piece is one with which I am not only unfamiliar, but have also been uncomfortable. I am grateful to Anna LeBaron who put her hands on my shoulders last fall at the Ezer Collective (thank you again, Jo Saxton and Pastor Steph!!). She told me to view the publicizing as an offering to God and God’s people. If you have something you’ve created out of joyful love, and which you believe can help people, it is that which you are promoting. Not one’s self. Framing the marketing and publicizing piece in that kind of light has been just what I needed to keep stepping forward. I picture you, and that floods my heart with the love I need to keep going. Let’s spread the light and love of God in all the places we can, friends. Thank you for the ways you are a lamp and beacon.

 

#ashandstarlight, #grateful, #allmylove

 

 

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