Ash and Starlight

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

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

 

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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

 

 

Friday Thoughts and Prayer

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My view of Lake Michigan on an icy morning run 

So many people I know are living through some excruciating things. A number of them are grappling whole-heartedly with grief over death,  seeking to honor the space they need for all the emotions while simultaneously receiving the task to relearn their world. It is hard work to live with integrity and integration amid loss. The pressures to compartmentalize, ignore, or control are so real and so strong. But the person who lives in wholeness decides to scoop in everything with open arms. We can never selectively numb.

This winter has been much different than the last, and I was surprised to witness how much of Lake Michigan was frozen over on my chilly run the other day. There’s an overlook at which I love to pause on most of my runs, and in doing so that day, I noticed something. While from a distance the lake seemed like a frozen block of stillness, there was movement. In looking a bit more closely, I saw the ice formations on the lake’s surface gently swaying – not much, but a slight back and forth, responding to the nudges of the current below.

What appeared to be static and hard was actually breathing in a quiet, small way. I’m not sure how long the winter will last, but even as things look frozen and unchanged, there are breath, life, and little tiny movements keeping everything from getting stuck.

For all of you grieving a goodbye today, I bless you in your small breaths and movements. In the strong victory of the choices you will make today to do the next thing, even as your world feels frozen over. Free-flowing, strong waves eventually come, but this is not the time nor the season to really even think about it. Hibernating in the hush is where healing must begin.

This prayer is one I wrote for my forthcoming book, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life to be published later this year by Chalice Press. There are a few Scripture references following the prayer to which you can turn for even deeper comfort and connection with the One who holds you in your grief.

When I’m grieving a goodbye

Compassionate One,

Be with me in my goodbyes.

When I’m asked to

open my hands and

release what I’ve held –

held tightly

place your peace

between the fingers.

Put your comfort in

the cracks and crevices

of my heart.

Use my falling tears

as nourishment for

this ground of grief,

bearing fruit for

a new season which

also promises sweetness.

Amen.

Matthew 5:4 * John 12:24 * Revelation 21:3-5

 

“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.” – John 12:24

What do you need to remember?

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Each of us wore one of these during the Collective Conference…

Normally I write to you at the close of a week but here we are at the threshold instead. A week ago (after turning in the book manuscript to my publisher – finally!), I attended the Ezer Collective, a dynamic conference dreamed up by Jo Saxton. She and Steph Williams O’Brien saw a great need for women to live fully into their leadership capacities and God-given gifts. They created a space in which many women were empowered for exactly that. I loved their definition of a leader – a person who is intentional with her influence.

The name of the gathering – Ezer – references the Hebrew in the Genesis account of creation. After God created man/Adam, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a “helper”(ezer) as his partner” (Gen. 2:18). The word so often translated “helper” appears numerous times throughout the Old Testament, but most of those times, ezer is describing God. It’s used when God is delivering and rescuing people. As Jo Saxton writes, “it’s a word conveying power and strength…To be named ezer is not some afterthought…not for someone deemed unable to do more than assist because of their weakness, but one who can help because they have the passion, power, and purpose to do so.” Ezer is dynamite.

For some time now, I’ve been in a season of yearning and have sought God’s wise guidance for some important discernment. I entered the Ezer weekend hoping God would bring answers to some of my questions. That God would speak some direction over my wrestling.

But on the last morning of the conference, a new, wise friend I made said, “I have a strong sense that God has already spoken, Arianne. That God is telling you to remember. And remember way back….”

And what I started to remember were times I’d felt most alive or moments I’d lept into something with God-given-courage or opportunities God had empowered me to embrace. I remembered the confidence I’d misplaced a long time ago and the voice that went quiet. I remembered all of these gifts God had given me, and in doing that, remembered the most important truth of all – the abiding love and steadiness and mercy of God, running like an undercurrent, nourishing the soil of my every step.

So one of my greatest take-aways from the Ezer Collective was God reminding me who I am. God bringing to mind a stream of memories – some from childhood, some just days before – illuming for me the light that’s been quietly and eternally burning. Isn’t it interesting that when we ask God again and again what we are supposed to do, God answers with remembrance of who we are? Of who God is?

So I leave you with some questions Ezer stirred up for me, hoping God will wash over your heart what you might need to remember. There are seven questions – maybe reflect on one each day. Grace, peace, and mercy to you, friends. And remember, remember, remember….

  • What memories of yourself do you need to sit with? 
  •  What parts of yourself do you need to say “yes” to? Maybe again? Maybe for the first time? 
  • What is one area of your life that needs fresh intentionality?
  • What is one area of insecurity you want to let go of today? 
  • Are you living out your voice, or thinking you must be an echo? 
  • What would it look like today to claim with new authority and fresh resolve the freedom that you have (and have had all along)? 
  • What do you need to remember about God? 

#ezercollective, #ezercollective2018, #josaxton

 

A peek under the hood – almost there!

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The place I’m learning to practice faithfulness….

 

The home stretch is here, dear friends! In less than two weeks, my book manuscript is due with Chalice Press! I’ve sorely missed my prayers here in this space – and my correspondence with you. But I hope to return soon.

Here is a photo of my mess desk where I’m surrounded by books, journals, and beauty out the window. I don’t always work here, but it’s a good place to squirrel away when I can.

The book writing process has not been what I envisioned  years ago when I dreamt of writing one. I don’t have hours strung together to sit down and find inspiration. Most of this book has come together in thirty-minute increments. Times when both the kids are asleep or pacified (which is becoming more and more rare). I am learning to simply keep my journal open on the counter to jot down a thought here or there when I’m in the flurry of other things. I am seeing that small scraps of time can equal enough.

I remember Tsh Oxenreider lifting up the power of “partial solutions” – this truth that we don’t (and many times can’t) get our ideal, but we can work with what we have. And many times, what we creatively compose through compromise ends up being not only enough, but beautiful.

I didn’t anticipate that the season in which I’d have a book contract, I’d have two young children, another house move, and a lot of personal upheaval, but this is where God calls and moves, my friends – in the midst of life happening in all the unexpected ways it always does.

So we learn how to grab onto the grace of what we have and to be faithful with it. We learn to be content with knowing and having what we do right now. A mantra I have been repeating to myself many months now is, “Faithfulness here…faithfulness here…

I will be back in touch, and Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Pilgrimage will hopefully be to you next summer. I will keep you posted in the editing and publishing process. Thank you for all of your encouragement and support – a form of holy manna that’s kept me fed.

And for now, faithfulness here.

Book Contract!

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Out for a celebratory breakfast – Pictured hands belong to Jeff 🙂

Last week, a long-held dream came to fruition. I received a contract to publish a book.

So many emotions are swirling right now. I am profoundly grateful, humbled, and in awe, really. It is a holy gift and a holy opportunity –  one I’ve prayed over and worked towards for years.

With Chalice Press and the support of Young Clergy Women International (THANK YOU!), I will be publishing a book of prayers – Journeying through Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Pilgrimage. Hoping for a launch date of July next year (2019).

Like this blog, Journeying through Ash and Starlight will help us pray through the every-day inner landscapes of life, as well as specific seasonal and liturgical times of year. Life is a journey of continual progression and change – a pilgrimage deeper and closer to the true self and to God. This book will be a compilation of my prayers which I hope helps you find connection and wholeness in your own spiritual pilgrimage.

I am profoundly grateful to all of you, and to the congregations and communities that have nurtured my writing. Composing prayers began as a practice eight years ago in my early pastoral work. Each week, I wrote and emailed out a prayer incorporating the prayer requests received from the congregation. The practice followed me to our beloved congregation in Fort Wayne, and then to the creation of this blog.

The world is broken and beautiful, and a tender, strong God holds each one of us in it. I write from love and I write for love. My deepest desire with this book is to bless and encourage as many people as I can, and in doing so, bring great joy to God.

 I look forward to these coming months of honing my manuscript. Things may be quiet on the blog for the next month or so as I get my head around a new game-plan (and we also move into a different house!). Be well, friends, and stay tuned for more updates soon.

 

 

 

 

Friday Prayer, May 25, 2018

 

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Think for a moment about a time in your life when everything went according to plan. 

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing….

So begins God, Improv, and the Art of Living. Thanks, MaryAnn…It’s been water to my soul in recent weeks. Changing my life, really…..Please, please read this book, friends.

Life doesn’t really go the way I’d thought it would go. Pretty often. I need look no further than my own two feet (now finally out of the aircast boot!!) to be reminded that the best approach to life is one of improvisation. Denial = misery (I’ve been there soooooooo many times). It’s painful (literally).

As I pour over this book and the dissolution of my own plans, I’ve been struck by its connection to Pentecost – the holy day we celebrated at church last Sunday. Pentecost – when the Spirit came roaring in as wind and fire – happened when everything had just gone off the rails for the disciples.

They’d faithfully followed Jesus for years, only to have him suddenly crucified. Wait! He’s back?! That was a close call! But then, he starts speaking things about empowerment and all of this “you are my messenger” stuff before poofing into the air (cue: Ascension Sunday).

It’s when the disciples are called to improvise and do something new (amid a lot of fears!) that the Holy Spirit breaks in with all her gifts, creating a path forward in the transitional time before them.

Here’s a prayer for when Plan A doesn’t happen (or B, C, D…..need I say more?)

***

Spirit of Surprise and Faithfulness,

As I encounter what I didn’t expect to face,

I need your help.

 

When life feels out of control (my control!),

unpredictable,

scary….

 

When my normal coping mechanisms

aren’t available this time around…

 

When the overarching question is,

What do I do now?

 

Your reassuring, Spirit-filled wind comes

blowing at my back,

telling me I’m not alone,

that you will fill me with

everything I need to take on what’s next

and do the things I didn’t think possible.

That you are the master Improvisor…

And I will learn too.

 

This is how you do it….

yes and yes and yes and yes….

 

Help me ride

the current of this

Pentecostal wind.

 

Use this change in plans to be a change in heart,

that I might not move forward with a dead soul,

clinging to what’s known, but no longer there…

 

Open my heart to what you will do in

this pocket of open space between

before and after.

(Even if this involves a lot of blowing around and burning)

 

Today, I say yes and yes and yes and yes…

 

Amen.

Friday Prayer, May 18, 2018

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

For all of us in the messy middle of something…..

 

***

Slow and Steady God,

Things have changed, and I

know they’re not done changing.

 

I’m here on your potter’s wheel

where you’re shaping my essence into

something new with your

guiding, loving hands.

 

But this messy middle time….

it’s painful, and scary, and hard.

The wheel spins and my world swirls

and all I want is to

see the end result.

 

Becoming the broken-down

lump of clay was a

hard stage too, I might add.

 

Help me, God,

to commit to the process,

not the outcome.

 

Help me embrace this messy, middle time

where I must make space

for shifts and questions.

 

Change my mantras from

clarity to exciting ambiguity,

definition to open-endedness,

known to awe-filled surprises,

timeline to trust.

 

Help me believe, Lord,

that even what seems like negative change

makes room in me and around me

for something fresh (and beautiful).

 

You hum a tune of possibility and potential as you work.

With each move of your hand, you mutter,

“good.”

“good.”

“good.”

 

And you smile.

Friday Prayer, April 20, 2018

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At the family greeting area with my parents and Jeff, just minutes before the bombs went off.

 

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This past Monday was the fifth anniversary of the Boston marathon bombing.

I ran that race on my 28thbirthday. It was an exhilarating day that ended in horror. The height of humanity’s enduring spirit sidled by the depth of humanity’s pain. I wrote about my experience here….

I haven’t seen the movies made about it. I haven’t run a race since. Someday, I will do these things….

But each year, something shifts – even soars – in my spirit as I watch the coverage and read the results. I’m taken back to the essence of the day, which is one of goodness and perseverance and overcoming. The evil that happened that day has not held victory. Every year, thousands still gather to run together. They take back the ground in the name of beautiful strength with each stride and stomp of their feet.

This year, as I read the coverage with my broken foot, I was awe-struck by the story of Sarah Sellers who finished second for women on Monday. No one knew who she was. I learned that as a senior in college, Sarah had a broken foot and didn’t run one step for a year. She has been working as a full-time nurse, and the race on Monday was only her second marathon. She didn’t even realize when she crossed the finish-line that she’d taken second place. When asked what she would do with the award money, she said she’d try to pay off her and her husband’s student loans.

Or how about this story?! Talk about tremendous.

The affirmation I hear in this and to which I keep returning is, We are overcomers. I am an overcomer…..

It can feel like we barely catch our breath from one setback before the next one surprises us.  Author Paul Coelho says, “Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.”

The overcoming rarely comes in one, big wave. It’s more like a series of cascading waves that roll in and recede. But each wave will bring us further up the shore….

 

***

Strong and Loving God,

In You,

through You,

because of You,

I am an overcomer.

 

I keep my eyes forward

that I might see the beauty

before me.

 

Thank you for

helping me trust

amid the setbacks…

for helping me see that progress

isn’t a straight line,

but a squiggly one.

 

The simple choice to try again today

is victory in your book.

 

Yours is the coaching voice

I need most,

speaking directly in my ear

as you run alongside,

stride for stride.

 

I believe in you.

I am with you.

We will overcome this together.

 

Amen.

Breaking Open

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A new potential toy for Simon

What do you do when you live through the same nightmare twice?

Many of you know that this happened last fall.

On Easter evening two days ago, I was carrying a heavy laundry basket and turned a corner on a rug. My weak ankle gave out, and I heard a “pop” from my foot.

Yesterday’s appointment (with the same doctor I initially saw for my ankle) confirmed my worst fear. I broke my foot. She said my bone density looked fine on the X-ray, but the tendons and ligaments surrounding my foot bones were still weak from my ankle injury. They couldn’t fully support my foot bones with the weight of the ankle giving out.

I had to pull out my boot from a shelf in the garage. The friend who lent me her crutches brought them back over (still adjusted to my size).

I just sobbed.

After five months of recovery from my ankle, I’d just finished physical therapy. I’d returned to my running regimen. We got a double stroller for the kids and me to enjoy the coming spring. I’d just said to my husband last weekend, “I am so happy.”

I told family yesterday I didn’t know what was more broken….my heart or my foot. It is truly devastating. And I thought about my prayer from last Friday and how that is exactly what I am leaning into today.

I’m paged this morning through my journal for recent quotes I’d copied. About a week ago, I’d read this from Elizabeth Lesser in Oprah’s new book, The Wisdom of Sundays….

You can either break down and stay broken down and eventually shut down, or you can break open…I’m not going to waste this precious experience, this opportunity to become the best me.

To be honest friends, all I wanted to do yesterday was break down. And through the night, I lay awake, picturing what lay ahead of me. The dependence. The helplessness. The pain.

Jeff turned on “pray-as-you-go” this morning where the music was a rendition of Psalm 118 –

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

I remembered how my dad, who endured a cycle of continual relapse and remission with his cancer, said this in the morning for 11 years.

I thought about the immediate influx of of support I received from community yesterday – God’s presence made tangible in my midst.

And though I write with tears in my eyes, I am loosening my grip on my soul’s shards and letting them fall into the open hands of this beautiful community. This beautiful God.  How good you are. How good God is.

I once heard of an ancient rabbinic tradition where Jewish rabbis would pray the “Aleph-Bet” (or the Hebrew alphabet). The belief was that the Spirit would form from the recited alphabet the words needed when we feel unable to pray ourselves. A, B, C, D, E……

So many of you have faced and are facing terrible things and gone on to blossom. Your lives are witness to me.

So here’s to breaking open today.

And saying yes to all things.

And letting the Spirit form the prayers I need today.

 

Friday Prayer, March 30, 2018

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“Tree of Life” oil canvas by Arianne Braithwaite Lehn

A blessed Good Friday to each of you, my friends.

I am grateful to be writing after some long radio silence – sick kids, meaningful visits from loved ones, new baby developmental milestones that equaled wonky sleep around here, and the like (I forgot how the ability to stand up and cruise around in a crib throws things off!). I am praying this Lenten journey has been a grace-filled one for you, even if your moments to reflect have not come as often as you would have liked. It can be enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about death and new life. Especially today. Before being taken away for crucifixion, Jesus talks to his disciples about seeds. New life comes from a seed when it goes into the earth and “dies.” And death, as we know, comes in all kinds of forms.

The part of Jesus’ final discourse that really stood out to me this week was when he says,

Right now, I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this?’ No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’ (John 12:27-28 The Message)

Jesus said ‘yes’ to the death because he knew that particular ‘yes’ was also ‘yes’ to a whole bunch of other things.

As we hold space today for Jesus’ yes – to a cross and ultimately to new life – I am praying for you in the personal forms of death for which you are holding space right now. I pray there will be lots of room for both the death as well as the new life, because they always need each other.

You are brave.

***

Wonder Worker,

When I peered up from the hole and saw no way out,

When what was taken away gave no warning,

When I didn’t think I had the courage

(or even the energy)

to live into a life looking nothing like it did before…

 

Something was happening.

 

The thing I I thought would break me –

that did break me

is now making me.

 

Great is the mystery of faith…”

 

The pieces of life’s puzzle come together here and there,

or shockingly in a big patch at once,

and I see You,

active and good in all things.

 

Your power to redeem –

to take the most painful death and losses

and grow from them living, breathing gifts

that take my own breath away in awe.

 

Somehow this hard, hard, hard thing –

when given in earnest to you today

(and many tomorrows from now!)

becomes an open channel where

something amazing will flow.

 

A passage echoing

with a tender Voice –

 

You can trust me with all the things….

in all the things…

This too.

And yes, this.

 

Why is it, God, that

death is so demanding –

commanding space in my soul,

in my schedule,

to really lean in

to the new reality I’m asked

to embrace?

 

It took your disciples a while too.

 

I know you promise

I have as much time as I need,

and that fruit will continue to

bud and burst.

 

Amen.

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