Chemotherapy Vials, photo by Bill Branson on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons
I wrote this prayer in July of 2013. The husband of one of my clergy friends had cancer. He was preparing to receive a triple lumen cath followed by 4 days of chemo before receiving a bone marrow transplant the following week.
I admired how transparent they were about the whole experience. She posted on social media, “With a healthy dose of fear and much hope, we are walking this path together with the support of each of you and the grace of God to lead us.” She also posted his words before receiving the cath: “and so it begins.”
And so it begins… so much in so few words.
Their faith and the promises of God inspired this prayer.
Over the years, I’ve sadly returned to it. Every time my heart hurts. Every time God remains true and near.
This week my prayers begin for a sixteen-year-old I’ve known since she was a baby. She has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
May this prayer be a blessing to her, to you, and to all at the beginning of a medical journey. – Lisa <><
And so it begins,
You are The Alpha and Omega
The Beginning and the End
The First and the Last
Unmatched Majesty, yet you draw near
to this beginning
to my frailty, my brokenness
closer than breath
closer than pulse
You are with me
You are for me
You are Spirit
Way, Truth, Life
Glory Itself, yet you walk with me
on this small path
through the shadowy valleys
unknown or anticipated
My Guide and Guardian
Every day of my life
My eyes are open to my need
You make space to feel it fully and honestly
You meet me there with
Goodness and Mercy
Help and Wholeness
You are my Hope and Peace
I love you and trust you and place myself into your compassion and care
Today and Tomorrow
Message 4 of 5
Scripture: Isaiah 40:3-5
These are the notes from a message offered 11/4/18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. I’ll be posting the series on Fridays in the coming weeks. I pray they are an encouragement to you.
Romans 5:1-5, The Path to Hope
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Isaiah 40:3-5, The Way to Make the Path
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Shall, by Lisa Degrenia
The time is now, for you have called, O God
The place is now, for you have spoken
Yes, it is a wilderness, a desert even
So dry, so rough, so uneven
Yes, the gap is so very wide between the high and the low
But, you have called
You have spoken
Not an if or when or maybe
Not even a try
You have spoken shall
Every valley shall be lifted
Every mountain shall be made low
The uneven shall be made level
The rough shall be made smooth
So we will persevere in this wilderness of preparing
We will not forge a path or blaze a trail but make a highway
A highway for your coming
For your glory, O God shall be revealed in this place
And all shall see it
All shall see it together
LEWIS AND CLARK AND THE MEN OF THE CORPS OF DISCOVERY
Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804 to find the Northwest Passage
Finding the route believed to connect the Missouri River with the Pacific would make commerce possible across the continent and the riches of Asia that lay beyond.
Whichever nation found the Norwest Passage first, and then controlled it, would control the destiny of the continent.
What they thought would happen:
Travel the Missouri River to its source
Over the next hill, they would find another river. They could then calmly coast to the Pacific Ocean because that’s the way the river would be flowing
What they found was the Rocky Mountains, mountains like they’d never seen. So high, so long, so steep. They were unprepared. Everything they had been told was absolutely wrong.
Lewis and Clark List of Hardships
ANIMALS: Plagued by Mosquitoes and Small Pesky Flies. Encounters with Grizzly Bears
MISSOURI RIVER: Fighting against strong currents and shifting sandbars. Dangerous hazards caused by navigating rapids and obstacles in the water
Exhaustion from the daily grind of moving the heavy keelboat up the Missouri River that involved arduous rowing, pulling the keelboat through shallows using a rope from onshore (called cordelling) or pushing the heavy boat with long poles (poling)
The boats were not canoes but a keelboat (55 feet long, 22 oars at its sides, and a cannon mounted in the bow)
The Great Falls proved to be a difficult challenge. The men had to bypass the falls which involved carrying their canoes, supplies, and equipment all by hand for over 1 month
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS: Later in the journey it was necessary to abandon travel by water and physically carry the boats. This process called portaging, proved to be very draining and extremely time
Traveling over harsh, tough terrain
The harrowing journey on the rough Lolo trail through the Bitterroot Mountains
WEATHER: Enduring extreme weather conditions such as intense, blistering heat, the bitter cold, blizzards, hailstorms, snow, and continuous rain
In the winter months, it was often difficult to find food
NATIVES: Confrontations with hostile Natives and Natives who were invaluable to their survival and success. (Sacagawea)
LENGTH OF THE TRIP: The outward journey and the return journey home covered over 7000 miles. May 14, 1804, to September 23, 1806 – two years, four months and ten days
As the journey progressed illnesses became an increasing problem
Hard to find supplies along the way
Their journey was nothing like what they expected. Everything they had been told was wrong. They were unprepared.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Somewhere you never expected? How does it feel to be that out of your element? That unprepared?
At that point, you have a decision to make. Lewis and Clark had a decision to make. You can turn around and go back. (Sometimes you can’t go back.) Or you can just stay where you are. Pitch a tent. Build a city. Or we can try to move forward. Off the map. Into the unknown.
Lewis and Clark decided to move forward. They adapted. They abandoned the boats, their safety net because they were no longer helpful. They were known for their skill on the water and now they would need to become hikers.
They moved forward. This is resilience, perseverance, endurance. Moving forward in the face of adversity. Moving forward in the face of the unknown. Moving forward in the face of suffering. Moving forward.
So many of us find ourselves in these positions. I did not expect to be here- divorced, fired, widowed, my family in multiple states, financial crisis…
So many of us did not expect to find ourselves in the face of the unknown but because of the grace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, we can move forward.
Lewis and Clark were able to move forward because
they made the decision to move forward
people came alongside them to move forward
We too can move forward. We can make the decision, we have people who will come alongside us, and we have God in Jesus Christ, the pioneer, and perfecter of our faith who is already out there ahead of us. For us, with us, behind us, before us, above us moving us forward.
I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. Christianity is a movement. A movement forward. We are a pilgrim people.
Isaiah 40:3-5, The Way to Make the Path A voice cries out: The voice is God shouting “Come on!”
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
This is what our God does. Our God moves that mountain so we can keep moving forward. Our God raises us up out of that valley so we can keep moving forward. Our God fills in the potholes so the rough places are made smooth. Our God takes those winding, curvy, rollercoaster-y ways and makes them smooth so we can move forward
It may not feel that way when we’re walking it. It may feel like a mountain high or a valley low or rough and twisty. But God is making a way where there seems to be no way.
This is resilience. Do you trust God to make a way where there seems to be no way? Trust God.
God is not only going to make a way for you, but God is also going to help you make a way for others. All of a sudden you’re going to find yourself a Sacagawea helping someone make their way.
It’s all grace. It’s all goodness. That’s the God we serve, we know, we love. That’s the God who saves us.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
In Christ we are resilient!
I’m excited to now offer mp3’s of my Sunday messages. A huge thank you to Mark and my brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota for all their help in making this possible. If you’re ever in Sarasota, please drop by for worship Sundays at 9:00 am or 10:30 am, or join us live on our Facebook page at 9:00 am Sundays or drop by during the week for a chat or small group. You and those you love are always welcome.
June and July are often months of moving, especially for United Methodist pastors who are appointed to new congregations. This prayer is for them and all who find themselves heading to new places. It’s based on Genesis 12:1-9.
The Lord God calls Abram (and Sarai)
Pack your things
Move your family
Travel far, to a place unfamiliar
Yes, they are established
Yes, it is difficult
They keep listening
They keep praising the Lord God
as they move farther and farther into the unfamiliar
Help me to trust you as well
You do not call and abandon
You are ahead of us on the journey
You are the journey- the way, the truth, the life
You guide and guard
You encourage and reassure and show signs
You and your way brings blessing for me
for my family
for the world
Deepen my trust
that I may be faithful in all things
and a blessing for the generations
Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn
You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr
Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God
Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming
The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life. ~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian
Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours. – Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself.
“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law. – Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”?
What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr
In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen
Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.
But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.
To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.
Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy
This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”
I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.
Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.
*********** Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”
Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.