Lessons From a Virus

In some ways I am feeling responsible for the Corona virus outbreak. I’ve heard it said that when you pray to God for things like more patience, courage or perseverance, he doesn’t wave a magic wand and poof, you are patient, brave or the Energizer Bunny. Instead, he gives you opportunities to practice those things, to acquire them through discipline, resolve and grace. Well as you recall, I have devoted this Lent to giving up control. I earnestly desired to grow in my ability to hand things over to God, to “set it down.” To shift my default button in life from fear and control to acceptance and gratitude. What better opportunity to practice that then a Corona virus pandemic! I have really struggled this week to write a blog. There is so much that has been occupying my socially isolated mind that it is hard to distill it into a couple paragraphs. I fluctuate between the intense sadness and seriousness of it all and the intense absurdity of it all. Our granddaughter Maggie turned six on March 19. So Papa and I dropped her gift off and stood outside while she opened it. (See the pic). Then we drove right home and hunkered back down. Absurd. But so grateful we are celebrating something happy. Many aren’t and that is the serious, sad part in all of this. In an effort to provide a temporary distraction from the four walls you have been staring at I want to share some random thoughts, lessons and humor I found so far in this enormous opportunity God has given me to practice letting go of control. The first thing to go was the need to control my day. I had nothing to control really, but I tried. It took me days to just stop thinking so much about what I should be doing and just be. To let my day unfold. Remarkably, at the end of the day, what needed to get done, got done. I noticed a letting go of my need to have my husband live up to my expectations. (Don’t let him know that). The prospect of being with him in the same space all day, everyday, for an unknown period of time with no escape was the terror I needed to be able to let go, to lower those expectations. I found myself softening in my usual habit of ruminating and hanging on to offenses for...

Baby Steps

I just thought I would update you on how I am doing on my resolve to give up control for Lent. I was right; it’s much harder than chocolate or mascara. For the most part I am doing better than expected. I did have a few slip ups like when I was having dinner with my daughter and eight month old grandson who was keeping himself amused with a tightly folded plastic bag, banging it on the table. He loves things that crinkle. I had to ask my daughter if it was OK that he was playing with a plastic bag. That was my passive, aggressive way of saying, “He’s playing with a plastic bag, next thing you know it will be on his head!” (Which, by the way, would be quite a feat for an 8 month old to open a tightly folded plastic bag and put it up over his head. Especially his head!) (See above photo.) But I couldn’t control myself. I just had to control what I perceived as a potential disaster. On the flip side, I did have a few minor victories in the giving up of control area. The first day of my new “set it down” lifestyle, (See my last blog.) I went all day without making my bed. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t for me. I usually make the bed right away when I get up. You just never know what the day will bring and if I will have time to do it later, so best to just do it. Well, the day passed and the bed police never showed up to ticket me for an unmade bed. My bed and I lived to see another day. A couple days later we had the family over and my husband was going to go to Papa Murphy’s and pick up some pizzas. I started into my usual litany of sizes, toppings, crust type and then this little voice said “set it down” and I stopped and just said, “Get whatever you want.” And you know what? He figured it out by himself and we all had just what we wanted. Last Wednesday morning my faithful Firstfruits partner Mary had the room set up already when I arrived for Well Time. The usual chairs in a circle with the “well” in the middle. However, this particular morning lets just say what Mary saw as the middle of the circle...

Control No More

So what are you giving up for Lent? I have decided to give up control for Lent. What exactly does that mean, you say?  Isn’t that the opposite of the discipline of fasting that is encouraged during these 40 days? Fasting takes a great deal of control. Controlling our carts as they propel us into the unnecessary aisle at Target. Controlling the steering wheel as we drive by Kopps and the flavor of the day is Tiramasu, or controlling our tongue as the car behind us decides we are driving too slow past Kopps and lays on the horn. This is a different control, and yes, it will take a lot of control to fast from control. But I know my need for control is one of my biggest obstacles to a deeper, more transforming relationship with God. Not being able to hand the reins over is a constant challenge. Not being able to set it down. During the February Fire, winter workshop at Firstfruits last Sunday, we talked about Self Care. We were encouraged to ponder where we are in that discipline. As I was writing down things I could do to take care of myself, the phrase “Set it down” popped into my mind. I don’t really know what that means, but it was loud and clear. One of those moments of clarity and at the same time wonder. What is “it”?  Who wants me to set “it” down? When did I pick “it” up? In the midst of the wondering, what was clear to me was that I really have been carrying a weight for as long as I can remember and I was tired of it. Just the thought of setting it down gave me a sense of peace and rest that felt so good, and at the same time so foreign. I’ve come to realize that cross I am carrying around, that weight that makes me so tired and keeps me from the lighter, lovelier life God wants for me is CONTROL. So, I am going to give up control for Lent. Wish me luck. It will be no easy task. This will probably be the hardest thing I have ever given up for Lent because it informs so much of my everyday choices, thoughts, and actions. But I felt a brief respite from it since yesterday as I made baby steps in letting go and it feels SO good. In the spirit of...

Video Evangelizing

We have exciting news from Firstfruits this week. Grab some popcorn, MilkDuds, or a glass of wine and join me for the “world premiere” of the new Firstfruit’s video! (see below) I promise you it will be the most inspiring two minutes and fifty seconds you have spent since the Super bowl half time show. (Don’t get me started) With this video we are a step closer to being able to really explain what Firstfruits is all about. If that is even possible. Many of you have shared with me about how hard it is to explain Firstfruits to friends and family. Believe me, I understand. I still don’t have my elevator pitch down. But isn’t that how it is with any working of the Holy Spirit? How can that power and transforming potential be put into words? How can an experience of God’s, freely given, no strings attached, love be adequately described in a sentence? These things need to be experienced first hand. Firstfruits is there to help you have those experiences. There are many reasons why we find it hard to talk to others about our spiritual experiences regardless of how amazing and powerful they are. It’s especially hard to share such intimate details with those closest to us. Extending an invitation to something like Firstfruits can be challenging. Now you can just send the video link and a smiley face and leave the rest to God! As we begin the season of Lent this week I hope you will consider joining us. And rather than giving up something this Lent, how about doing something each day to show your gratitude to Jesus for the ultimate sacrifice he made for you. Consider sending this video to one person each day. Help others find a place to be encouraged, inspired, and empowered on their faith journey and some remarkable women to share that journey with. The fruits of Firstfruits! Sit back, silence your cell phones, and enjoy the show! Joan [vc_video link="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bewlJK7QW5w&feature=youtu.be" title="This is Firstfruits" css=".vc_custom_1582064694414{margin: 8px !important;}"]...

Love 101

So you made it through another Valentines Day. Or should I say PALentines Day or GALentines Day? There are so many variations. How was it? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being highest, how loved did you feel? How precious, important, and irreplaceable did you feel? And how long did it last? In the worldly pursuit of the inclusion, connection, and love we crave, we lose sight of the powerful love that is all around us every minute of every day of the year. And we don’t have to pursue it or do anything to receive it except to say “YES.” All we have to do is accept it and it’s ours. It doesn’t come in dozens or coated in chocolate. It isn’t there one day and gone the next. You never have to wonder how long it will last or if you deserve it. You just have to believe it’s real and believe it’s for you. That’s the love of God. It’s waiting for you. Crazy you say? Hard to believe something so amazing could be that easy to obtain. Nothing in life is easy; you have to work for anything that is worthwhile. That’s the mystery and the majesty of God’s unconditional love. Easy for you to say, you don’t know the real me. You don’t know my track record. You would be surprised at some of the things I have done, said, and thought.  That love might be for some people but not for me. That’s the mountain of mercy in God’s unconditional love. And really, where is the proof of this unconditional love? How am I suppose to believe in something so abstract? That’s the meaning and the message of the season starting next week that we call Lent. What more proof of this amazing love than Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Stop the excuses. Stop the denials. Let down your guard and let in the love. Joan   Want to experience that love of God this Lent? Join us at Firstfruits for these special events: Mary’s Way of the Cross- Wednesdays from 10:45-11:15 Slow… Simple,,, Soft, a Lenten retreat with Carol Sullivan on Thursday, March 12, 19, and 26 from 9:00-10:45. See our calendar of events at Firstfruits.info for details....

Given

This week at Well Time at Firstfruits we finished up our discussion of what it means to live the life of the Beloved. In Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, he talks about how there are four movements of the Holy Spirit that define the life of the Beloved. These truths are that we are Chosen, Blessed, Broken, and finally, Given. In fact we are chosen, blessed, and broken so we can ultimately be given to others. It’s in living for others that our lives find their true significance. Nouwen says, “True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from giving of ourselves to others.” I don’t know about you, but there are days when giving of myself to others brings me the opposite of joy, happiness, and inner peace, it brings me resentment, anger, and a headache. Can I get an amen? I realized of late, that it’s when our “giving” revolves around what we can do for someone rather than what we can be for someone, that we can experience burn out. The giving in the life of the Beloved is a giving of ourselves; our joy in living, our sense of well-being, our inner peace, and our grateful heart. It’s through this giving that we can be for each other. We can be the encourager, we can be the calm, we can be the truth, we can be the hope for each other. But you can’t give that which you do not have. I repeat, you can't give that which you do not have. Our exhaustion comes when we try to give what we do not have. We have to let God fill us with all he has for us so it just overflows into the lives of those around us, the lives of those he puts in our path. Giving becomes a way of life rather than a check mark on a “TO DO” list. That overflow happens naturally the more we believe in and claim our chosenness, blessedness and brokenness. We will be able to give to others our joy in living and inner peace once we truly believe and understand the truth that we are chosen and precious in God’s eyes and nothing the world says can change that. We will able to give to others our grateful heart as we become more aware of the blessings that bombard us every day. We will be able to give to others our sense of well-being...

Brokenness

The last two weeks we have talked about the very good news of our status as the Beloved of God, the truth of our core identity. What could be better than that? The truth of that statement, if we can really believe it, should set us free. Free from a lot of the chains that bind us. Things like low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, doubts about our purpose, loneliness, and rejection. The list could go on and on. On top of knowing we are the Beloved, we are also to wrap our brains around the truths that we are Chosen of God and Blessed. That is the what the life of the Beloved consists of according to Henri Nouwen’s book The Life of the Beloved. It’s all so wonderful. My practical, cynical side says it just seems too good to be true, to simple, too wonderful. There must be a catch. This week we deal with the catch. Nouwen tells us that the third truth of the Beloved is the hardest and the least talked about. That is our brokenness. And we are all broken. If you think you aren’t, think again. For some it’s just harder to see. We often associate brokenness with people who are physically or mentally challenged but the brokenness that Nouwen says is more common is a brokenness of the heart. But who wants to talk about how broken they are?  Our brokenness is very intimate and personal. Who wants to go belly up and say out loud that they are addicted to controlling people and situations. Who wants to yell it from the rooftop that they are overwhelmed daily with fears and anxiety. Who makes a point of letting their co-workers know the depth of their sadness? We don the coat of denial and keep on smiling. We might find temporary relief in the mall, on the golf course, with our secret stash of Oreos, or maybe in the liquor cabinet. But it never goes away, it just hides for awhile. Nouwen says there are two healthy ways to respond to our brokenness. The first is to befriend it. Our natural instinct is to deny, avoid, and ignore our brokenness. We need to face it squarely as a natural part of the life of the Beloved. In order to do that, we need to find people we can be broken with. Just as we talked last week about the need to surround ourselves with people...

Pizza on China

For years now, I have been getting together monthly with four dear old friends for what we call Fun Club. It’s just so darn fun. We meet on a Friday night, taking turns at each other’s houses. The best part of Fun Club is that you don’t have to dress up or fuss with even trying to look presentable. Most of the time we just come in whatever we have been wearing all day. The only fussing I do is to throw some slippers in a bag to change into. We keep the menu very simple. Most of the time it’s pizza on paper plates, double chocolate malted milk balls, and lots of wine. I told you it was fun! But last Friday’s Fun Club was different. When I got to Deb’s house, the dining room table was set with heirloom china, crystal, and silverware along with linen napkins. I could still smell pizza so I knew I was in the right place but was thrown off by the ambiance. When we sat down to eat, Deb told us an amazing story. During her prayer time that morning, she heard the following and wrote it down. They are my daughters who deserve the finest china and linens in the house. Praise be to God for the love union of these women whom I call daughters. I love you. Later that day she had a strong sense of her deceased grandma’s presence as she was driving in her car. She was reminded of the china, crystal, and silverware that was gifted to her by her grandma, and collecting dust in her china cabinet. Then, randomly her mom phoned from Arizona and when Deb mentioned she was having Fun Club that night, her mom said,”You should use your nice china, crystal, and silverware.” It became clear to Deb that this Fun Club was destined to be a memorable one. If you have been following my blogs the last few weeks, you know that at Well Time on Wednesday mornings at Firstfruits we have been talking about our identity as the Beloved of God. We have been inspired by Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved to learn all we can about how to become the Beloved. The first couple chapters remind us that to really become the Beloved, to feel that truth to the core and reflect it in our words, attitudes, and actions we have to become more aware of how...

Chosen

It seems like yesterday, middle school gym class at St. Mary of the Woods grade school in Edgebrook, Illinois. We were picking teams for a game of basketball and, as always, I was picked last. No one ever appreciated the 4’5”, 80lb powerhouse I was. I wasn’t chosen. Have you ever not been chosen for something? Not a good feeling. But I’m here this week to tell, all you unchosen, some really good news. It comes from the same book I talked about last week, The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. As I mentioned last week, Nouwen wants us to believe in our Belovedness. The core truth of our existence is that we are the Beloved of God. The world tries to tell us otherwise. We have to ignore those voices that tell us we are worthless or unloveable and remind ourselves that we are the Beloved. Nouwen goes on to say that we are to become the Beloved, not just use it as an adjective. We need to believe it and let that truth filter into our words , actions, and attitudes. That is when we will change and we can then affect a change in others. The greatest gift we can give another is the gift of their Belovedness. So how do we become the Beloved? How do we get that truth so deeply embedded in ourselves that it makes a difference? The rest of the book deals with the four movements of the Holy Spirit that are continually at work in our lives to help us realize our Belovedness. They are described as Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given. This week I want to talk about Taken, or maybe a softer word for it would be Chosen. In order to really believe the truth of our Belovedness, we need to believe we are God’s chosen ones. Already, I feel a slightly sick, angry feeling in the pit of my stomach. Flashbacks of gym class filling my head. The worldly notion of chosen means when someone is chosen that means someone else isn’t. Someone else is excluded or rejected. In the world of God’s chosen it’s quite the opposite. To be chosen of God does not mean others are rejected. It includes others, accepts others. It is not a competitive choice; it is a compassionate choice. All are chosen. Before we were even knit in our mothers wombs, we were chosen by the eyes of...

Who Are You?

What does it mean to be the Beloved? This was our topic at Well Time at Firstfruits this past Wednesday morning. We looked up the definition of beloved and it said, "greatly loved; dear to the heart." One of the women in the group said that word has never been in her vocabulary. Probably quite a few of us could say the same thing. It’s not a word we would regularly use to describe ourselves, although we should. Henri Nouwen in his book The Life of the Beloved states that the reality of being the Beloved is the core truth of our existence. There is no better or more accurate way to describe our identity. We are, above all else, the Beloved of God. So why is that title so foreign and uncomfortable for us? I think it’s because it’s just too hard to believe. Nouwen goes on to say that the greatest trap in our lives is self-rejection. We so easily fall victim to the voices that tell us what we aren’t, those voices that remind us how often we fall short and screw up. And convince us that everyone else is doing just fine. He sums it up when he says “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved.” Do you hear that voice? It’s a gentle voice and comes to us in countless ways. People that have taught us, cared for us, or encouraged us. Simple, tender moments with those we love. The rush of joy or momentary deep sense of well-being that floods through us unexpectedly. We need to listen more carefully. Nouwen says, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert.” If we can become the Beloved, if we can believe and let that knowledge really sink into our every day words and actions, think how different life would be. None of the world’s voices could touch us. We would be free to live and love abundantly and with great joy. And be able to give the greatest gift of all to others, the gift of their Belovedness. This week I challenge you as I challenge myself to claim the truth that you are the Beloved. Broaden your vocabulary! Joan...