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

Category: Prayers (Page 1 of 8)

What Matters

A version of this post appeared in my “Monday Manna” newsletter. If you’d like to receive this directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, friends ~ 

What matters? What really matters? 

I’ve been confronted with this question—and the challenge to answer it—in various forms and at numerous times in recent months. Perhaps one of the biggest sources posing this question is the sorting my brother and I are doing right now in my mom’s house. When my mom needed to make a swift and sudden move from her house (and our childhood home) a couple of months ago, we knew this was going to be an intense process, especially as my brother and I live hundreds of miles away and have kids in diapers. 

The time we have to go through our family home of nearly thirty years is limited. The stress of it all found me standing in my mom’s kitchen, eating my children’s bunny grahams by the fistful in pajamas at 7:00 p.m. 

Many of you know so deeply this experience. You’ve done it. You’re holding things in your hands and deciding what to keep. Is it sacrilegious to throw photos of the people you love more than anything in a dumpster?  

Does the photo matter, or the memory and people the photo represents? Sometimes it’s a yes to both. These matters of the heart can be tedious as we’re asked to sift our values out from all this chaff.  

I’m reminded of an Arthur Brooks’ article in The Atlantic a couple months ago (“The Satisfaction Trap”) which I keep returning to again and again and again. With a focus on how perpetually discontent many of us seem to be, Brooks humbly and wisely points us toward a complete reframing of what we want. Of what really matters to us. 

He describes being with some close friends at the home of a dear friend diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. As dusk settled in, his friend gathered the group to stand by a plant with tiny flowers, still closed. They stood still in silence for ten minutes. Brooks writes how all of the sudden, the flowers popped open, and the group drew in their breath with amazement. This happens, he learned, every single evening.  

It was such a moving experience of deep satisfaction that Brooks—a Harvard professor who has achieved more acclamation and awards than one could list—started making a daily item on his to-to list to, “be truly present for an ordinary occurrence.” 

It’s the marvel and the miracle of being grateful and alive right where you are, letting it shape you. It’s prioritizing presence. 

I’m beginning to wonder if this kind of living is the key to freedom. We suffer so much through our attachments and clinging, be it to people or things or plans. But what if what truly matters, what leads to the contentment and freedom God longs for in us, is planting our feet right here, opening our eyes, and receiving what’s before us as a gracious gift? What if all the the things we’ve been striving for and think we want are actually leading us further away from the vibrancy we long for? 

These questions shift my whole spirit in my mom’s house. Maybe I can let go of the stress and instead say, “thank you,” a million times with every item I touch, whether it’s stored or passed on, for the memories and moments it represents. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about a coaching summit I attended with some other Presbyterian pastors. At the close of each day, we gathered in a circle, joined hands, and chanted one of my favorite quotes from Dag Hammarskjöld. 

“For all that has been,” said the leader,

“THANKS!” we responded, taking a big step together into the circle. 

“For all that has been,” the leader continued,

“YES!” we exclaimed, raising our joined hands into the air. 

For now, this is what matters to me. Gratitude and a “yes” to the seemingly small and simple right here and now. 

This is a sacred time for many of us—Holy Week, Passover, Ramadan—all in these coming days. I personally am reflecting with amazement, confession, and hope over Jesus’ extraordinary love, and how his living out what matters changed everything.

And still does. 

A PRAYER

Getting grounded in what matters to me right now. 

From my book, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life.

When I need to ground myself in today

Calming One,

I am stopping now.

I am resting now.

I am letting the stillness

of being with you

wash in like a wave,

while the chatter and

activity around me recede.

Thank goodness I don’t need

silence around me

in order to have quiet inside.

This moment, God –

it’s what I need and where I am.

I find myself so encumbered

by yesterdays and tomorrows

that sometimes, I leave today 

in the corner.

But today is enough.

You’re giving me the daily bread I need for now –

a person who loves me,

a moment to breathe,

a meal on the table,

a word bringing hope,

a gleam of life outside my window.

Please help me open my hands

and receive today with gratitude,

letting past seasons fill me with appreciation,

and seasons yet to be give me hope.

But for now – 

Today. Today. Today.

I love you best when I’m present,

seeing and hearing and holding

what asks for my heartfelt attention

here and now.

You promise to hold

space for everything else.

Thank you for bringing me back, God.

Thank you for the miracle of manna.

Amen.

1 Kings 17:8-16 * Matthew 6:11 * Matthew 6:34

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

– Matthew 6:11

SOMETHING THAT NOURISHED ME RECENTLY…

Giving thanks for seasons, the  memories held there, and how God brings it all together. My husband gave me this week a framed art piece he created of three maps—the Twin Cities (where he’s from), Sioux Falls, SD (where I grew up), and Chicago (where we live now).  

Trampoline joy at the neighbor’s house. Reminds me of a beloved poem by William Martin….”The Marvel of the Ordinary.” 

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

A&S PLUS OTHER GOOD THINGS….

* Find Ash and Starlight here. 

* I am a team writer and editor for Illustrated Ministry and I am very excited about these new flags being launched. 

***

Grace and peace and presence and gratitude to each of you today…. 

Love and Light,

Arianne 

A Prayer for the New Year….

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Welcome 2021!!! A prayer for the new year with some accompanying Scripture from Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life.

For the New Year

Gracious One,

I thank you for holding my 

hand in this fresh, new year…

Against my inclination 

and with your help,

I let go of my desire for 

more control over my life.

My hunger to know what’s coming 

and to be ready for it.

My expectations to be in charge.

Have you not taught me again and again

how the joy is in the flexibility?

How all the unexpected, 

the unwanted, the unexplained 

things coalesce to carve me into

the person I really want to be?

Even the changes I asked for,

the changes I wanted,

can cause anxiety.

Treading on this shifting soil

calls for a steadiness

beyond my own capabilities.

So I trust your hand to hold mine,

carrying me into this new land –

good but different.

You are my Birthing Mother,

always re-creating, always open to change.

You keep showing me 

while change is eternally constant,

so is your presence.

You engrain in me 

how hope is born through struggle

and the fresh start brought through

change is an invitation to grow.

Whenever something leaves,

something new comes.

Please give me the 

wisdom of soul, Loving One,

to look for it.

For a soft heart open to newness,

sensitive to others’ pain,

resilient with hope,

trusting in darkness….

this is the heart for 

which I pray this year.

Amen.

 Jeremiah 29:11 * Ezekiel 11:9 * 1 Corinthians 2:9

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the 

human heart conceived, what God has 

prepared for those who love God…” 

– 1 Corinthians 2:9 

Prayers for Advent 2020…

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Regarding the picture, Susanne writes, ” It was such an emotional visit that I felt like I was defiling the memorial if I took too many pictures. Something about this one, taken from a distance, felt more sacred.” EJI was founded by Bryan Stevenson.

“Hope is our superpower,” Bryan Stevenson asserted in his recent interview with Krista Tippett for Onbeing. His words stopped me. The truth of that statement flooded me with this fresh, yet unsurprising, realization. This is how we are making it right now. In this year of COVID, national disunity, and a much overdue racial reckoning, we’ve been forced to draw upon a whole new level of resilience and faith. A superpower.

Stevenson, a modern day hero in countless ways, is fueled by hope – a gritty belief in “what is unseen” which he “[waits] for with patience” (Romans 8). Speaking of things unseen, Stevenson also shared in the interview how he’d never met a lawyer before he went to law school. His vision has always been one of hope-filled belief in freedom and abundant life for all, even as the picture in his heart’s eye is painfully far from the surrounding reality.

The traditional themes, or “gifts,” of Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I’ve experienced new meaning this year as to why Hope is always the first week of Advent. It’s both the opening virtue and foundational layer for all the other gifts and experiences to come. It harkens to a woman who said a hopeful yes to what she couldn’t see with her eyes but could with her heart. I think of hope as the true definition of courage.

I have two Advent prayers to share. One I included in my most recent “Monday Manna” newsletter. The other is a prayer from my book, Ash and Starlight, which even in this Christmas season like no other, still speaks from and to the depths of my heart.

While I wish all God’s gifts for you this Advent, I especially wish you Hope. A new day is coming, and God will carry us until we get there. In the meantime, we pray one of the most ancient prayers I know. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus…

***

A Prayer for Advent 2020 

Maranatha….

Come, Lord Jesus…

Amid my reality feeling unsustainable

but not optional…

In my questions of capacity

and burning-with-fatigue-faith….

In the standards I’ve been forced to shift

and the expectations left untouched, let alone unmet. 

Yours is the Story, Lord!

A Story which cannot be swallowed by

even the most chaotic, swirling storm 

of illness, grief, rage, fear…

Even now, musicians don masks, 

little hands light candles, 

hearts and souls unite over screens.

You are coming here….

A miracle never finished, but always unfolding,

bringing new gifts in this season

when I don’t recognize my life,

and at many times, 

myself. 

Because you come,

I will love my life. 

I will claim its gifts. 

I will hold hope 

and breathe peace

and speak joy

and listen to love. 

Maranatha…

For this world, for all I love, for me…

Amen. 

***

A Parent’s Advent Prayer (From Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life)

Dear God,

I now stop what I’m doing,

what I’m thinking,

what I’m scrambling to plan

and hustling to finish 

so that I can

be here.

Be here in the safety and warmth of your love.

This love that holds me fast and keeps me centered.

What I want to be a season of joy for my children 

so quickly becomes a season of 

increased expectations for me –

not because they expect things, 

but because I do.

It’s the pressure I put on myself to

make things perfect,

and memorable,

and happy,

and *special*.

But you came to me amidst darkness and stars –

reminding me how darkness and light 

are most beautiful together.

And in that holy, mysterious and messy night, 

you re-defined perfection,

promising me that leaning into the mystery

and laying down in loving awe

compose the most faithful response.

You tell me the best gift I can give 

my children this Christmas is

to look with love into their eyes.

To pause throughout the day 

to pray over them.

To envelop them with arms 

of fierce grace when I feel 

most angry or annoyed.

To sit in wonder for a moment (or many)

and marvel at all that shaped 

our family this year.

To give thanks

and allow tears to fall

and dreams to rise.

To take my pilgrim band 

by their hands and walk together,

deep into the heart of Bethlehem 

shining bright within our souls.

This will be more than enough,

because you’ve made a manger 

in which my heart will rest and find 

your heartbeat becoming mine.

Amen.

The invitation of anniversaries- one year of A&S…

My copy of Ash and Starlight, with a taped-in photo of opening my first boxes of the book.

Today, October 22, marks one year since Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life was born. Anniversaries are powerful days. They especially hold significant influence when our hearts and bodies pay attention to them with awareness and openness.

With an anniversary, we mark the event, but we also mark the life we’ve embodied and experienced since then. We remember the memory of that day a year ago (or more!), and we hold up our current life to the touchstone of what life held back then. We stretch our arms around new layers of that day, asking, “what does that experience mean now?”

I found out I was miraculously pregnant a few days after my final book event last December. We then entered a collective crucible in the late winter while COVID became much more than a concern in Wuhan. And as that fire rose, so too did the flames of a long overdue and necessary racial reckoning. Never would I have dreamt my current life on this day last year. Life then was book events with rooms of unmasked people and our family of four. Now it’s mothering a newborn, an active three-year-old, and a zoom kindergartner nearly exclusively within the four walls of our home. If you are a fellow HSP (highly sensitive person), perhaps your meter is off the charts too.

I wrote Ash and Starlight in the confines of my own personal crucible. Many of its prayers were penned during my most challenging seasons of surrender, loss, and questioning. The “Ash and Starlight” musical text itself came together as a commission following my father’s death. Over the course of nine years, writing prayers became a rope to hold, my steadying walking stick, on this endless life pilgrimage – a walk that’s never over, encompassing seasons where we question our ability to keep going.

Little did I know how I myself would need these prayers in the months following publication. I couldn’t forecast the fresh levels of chaos and profound reservoirs of grace which would rock and anchor me. Things have been hard. Really, really hard.

With this anniversary, I’m reflecting on the ash and starlight of this last year. In my hands, I hold the loss we’ve experienced with the world turned upside down, while simultaneously holding (literally Ergo wearing as I type this now) our “Little Miracle,” Noah. He enfleshes what I described in Ash and Starlight’s introduction…

“The poetry of Genesis [reminds us] God created us from the ash and dust of the earth, 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. The illumined meaning of the poem uncovers a beautiful truth. We are made of earth and we are made of heaven. Ash and starlight woven together.”

So are our lives. Every. Single. Day.

Amid the stress, tears, and sweet spots of this time, I’m trying, however feebly, to mark this anniversary by receiving its invitation – the opportunity to ask myself, Who am I? What needs prayer here and now? And especially, the question that led to so many of the prayers in the book…What can I let go of today? I so struggle to accept the bedrock place surrender has to have in my spiritual life.

My deepest desires for all of you and for the book remain, and I pray them anew…

“I hope you feel freshly empowered and equipped to approach 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…May you awaken to sentiments you didn’t realize were harbored within you, and invite God to share in them. And, may you say yes to the ash and starlight in your own journey, because there is no transformative power in what we deny.

The world is a broken and beautiful place, and a tender, strong God holds us in it. I pray you find connection and wholeness as you run with elation or crawl on hands and knees through the dark. We will all do both.

We won’t fully reach the destination – at least, not in this life. But God will give us glimpses along the way – enough to get us up in the morning and say “yes” all over again…” (Introduction, p. 3-4)

This is my hope for all of us – for how we show up to life, to God, and to ourselves. We seep in the paradox of finding what we most need by releasing what we think we do. We say yes to the life that terrifies us. The fire keeps burning dross away, and we see the face of God revealed in our own souls. And, with courage enough for now, we “unfurl our hands in aching yes, / and clasp the holy gift, / which is this day, / which is enough. / Another chance to live, / to burn with grace.”

The final stanza of “Ash and Starlight”….

To close, a brief then/now with photos…

2019

At the book launch…

And 2020, our family now…

(Jessie Hearn Photography)

Gratitude and praise to the God who is able and good, the God who is with us and for us. Grace, peace, love, and strength to every one of you….

Amen.

‘Ears as Soil’ and a fresh prayer to the Sower….

I appreciated the privilege of guest-preaching yesterday morning (virtually!) for a dear friend’s congregation. The Lectionary Gospel Text was the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13:1-9 (explained in vs. 18-23).

It was a meaningful, challenging text for me to pray over and ponder last week. What especially resonated with my heart in recent days was the connection between our ears and the soil to which Jesus refers – our ability/willingness to deeply listen and the various forms of resistance Jesus names. Listening actively and attentively is what will initially determine whether a seed of God’s truth and hope finds any lodging, and Jesus names this – “Let anyone with ears, listen!”

A quick overview of how I see these soils….

  • The first soil is, well, not listening much at all. In one ear and out the other. Looking compassionately at these ears (which I recognize often in myself), they just aren’t ready.
  • The second soil (rocky) appears to be “shallow” listening. We genuinely take in the transformative message Jesus offers, but it just doesn’t stick. We get exhausted or skeptical or both.
  • The third soil (thorny/sharp) can be thought of as “choked” listening. Maybe we accept what Jesus says, but we backslide into complacency when other things take front and center. I’m especially compelled by what this means for us in a time of such debilitating anxiety in our news – from COVID to racist policies to violence in my own city of Chicago making national headlines. It’s not just the lure of wealth or self-sufficiency that can choke our listening. What about all the handwringing we do over the world going to hell in a hand basket?
  • The last soil (good!) connotes what we all pray and strive for – active, deep, heartfelt listening. True listening builds on openness to being changed and transformed by what we hear. And it’s intentionally and continually giving that message continued room to grow (lots. of. work.).

We greatly miss out if we take this parable on solely an individual/personal level. The communal undertones are strong, as we we also collectively form an environment with others that builds or breaks down resistance to the Gospel’s spread.

Living out God’s message of liberation and transforming love is similarly difficult when it comes to the foundational blocks of our society. Cries for racial justice are a powerful example. There’s the hard path of white fragility, the rocky soil of fading out after a sprint of temporary attention, the thorns of sacrifices and reparations some feel are too much. Are we listening? What a call to use our ears!!

The Sower was where I drew my greatest hope in Jesus’ parable. This untamed and creative Sower is a lot like the wild nature around us. Beautiful flowers can grow in the sidewalk my kids roll over on their scooters and bike every single day. “Good soil” doesn’t have to look manicured.

The harvest of our active and deep listening may be to do some sowing ourselves, following in the footsteps of the Sower who gives freely without expectation and scatters resources without regulation. Every kind of soil is work the investment. We give ourselves to the work without getting too attached to the results. Because God cares more about our faithfulness than our success. If it were otherwise, we’d have a completely different parable and Sower.

Here is a fresh prayer inspired by this hope-filled word….

Wild and Lavish Sower, 

Your pockets overflow with redemptive seed 

which you grasp by the handful – 

scattering hundreds of hope-filled truths

in every direction, on every soil. 

You laugh with joy in the abundance of it all, 

stretching your generous hands 

toward a world hunkered down with 

questions of scarcity and skepticism. 

Make us ready for your seed, God, 

make me ready! 

Till and break and shake the 

hardened clumps in my own soul – 

the too comfortable heart 

or complacent attitude,

the rock hard opinions calcified 

over years of narrow gazing. 

Open me to change and growth.  

Cultivate courage in me to embrace

the inherent loss that will catalyze 

my best transformation. 

I want to truly see and deeply hear

what you so graciously plant…

to sprout the roots needed for

my nourishment when I become 

exhausted, bored, or overwhelmed. 

Nurture in me the staying power

to give your message room to grow, 

even as it asks for my greatest humility

(and at times, humiliation!). 

You will never stop sowing, 

nor ask for my readiness before 

tossing some seeds at me. 

And so today, 

I will slow down 

to seep in this quiet miracle – 

the potential wrapped 

in your Spirit seed 

settled in the soil of me. 

Amen. 

A prayer for this day…..

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Wherever you are, body, heart, and mind, I am wishing you a bedrock of peace. The peace “passing understanding” which resolutely lodges itself beneath the surface of the continual change we are facing, the unraveling of what we’ve known and depended upon….

How powerfully reminded I’ve been of our interconnectedness. We live in a culture which prizes (idolizes?) individualism. And this experience of Covid-19 is not only a profound reminder, it is in many respects a calling. What does it look like to “love my neighbor” in these days? Because as many have said, we belong to each other. Your trust, empathy, and daily, faithful action are a gift with unmeasurable value.

The Illustrated Ministry team is putting together a coloring poster to help us breathe and focus in the swirl and the stress, and I wrote a short, simple prayer for it. Similar themes to Ash and Starlight, which grounds itself in surrender and courage.

Into your spacious heart 

and loving hands, dear God,  

I place my fears, 

my “what if’s,” 

my spinning world and mind…

Comfort me with the truth 

No fear is too big  

for the Great One within me. 

I am never alone.  

Calming God, bring courage. 

Tender Spirit, breathe peace. 

Gentle Jesus, be close. 

Amen. 

A couple of prayers for Thanksgiving…..

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Blessings to all in this week of gathering, remembering, and giving thanks. My publisher asked that I write a couple of prayers for these coming days – one for Thanksgiving, and one for the stresses of complicated family dynamics at the holidays. This time of year can really push and press on family wounds for some. If this is your reality, I am praying extra gentleness and strength over you this week.

***

Thanksgiving prayer 

Generous One,

Everything is gift (from You!),

yet we become so used to 

what we have and who we have 

that entitlement and expectation 

can film over our eyes. 

So on this Thanksgiving, 

we rub those eyes as long as it takes

to see with renewed clarity

the matchless, limitless abundance

that is your love toward us. 

God, use this marked, single day to

embed in our hearts a 

lifetime of daily praise.

Give us uplifted hearts 

holding responsibility’s weight

to serve and love 

with all we’ve been given. 

And no token-giving. 

We say Thank You, God, with all we are,

and promise to live our Thank You 

with our lives, not only our words – 

neither of which can encompass how 

much gratitude we owe you. 

Amen. 

***

When you’re struggling with family over the holidays….

Steadying God,

Settle my stressed-out soul,

my ruminating mind, 

my churning body

in this time of joining family.

For the “most wonderful time of the year”…. 

To really love them,

I must love them as they are

You tell me it is not love, otherwise. 

But the age old wounds

and present dysfunction

make me realize how tender 

those pain points still are,

and I can crumble or armor up

at the lightest touch. 

Can you help me, God,

to somehow make gentleness and grace

my guardrails this day? 

To allow space for all the things 

that have changed alongside the things

that have not?

Give me the integrity, 

the self-awareness,

the courage to be who I am,

honoring the Youwithin me – 

and each person under this roof. 

To remember as much as I can

that in joining hands and hearts

we are united with you. 

And today can be one step,

as you promise to be there 

for every next one – 

forward or backward. 

Amen. 

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.

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