Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany – Luke 5:1-11

Jesus has been born, baptized, blessed, baited and began his ministry in Galilee by being rejected by his own townspeople, evading their assassination attempt as he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:30). Jesus delivers people from unclean spirits, heals the sick, and teaches in the synagogues – all work fulfilling the Isaiah reading that led to his Nazareth rejection (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). Jesus is doing the thing he’s been called to do and the infancy of his ministry has already ruffled many a feather.

Jesus winds up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with crowds of people surrounding him – so great of a crowd that they were “pressing in on him to hear the word of God” (Luke 5:1). In an effort to alleviate the physical pressure (and perhaps to control the crowd), Jesus climbs into Simon Peter’s boat and requests that the fisherman and his partner row their new passenger out into the shallow waters just off shore. Perhaps out of fear of also being overrun by the crowd, perhaps sensing some power from this man Jesus, Simon does as he is asked and pushes the craft just off shore. The fresh lake waters lap against the side of the boat as birds float overhead and Jesus’ voice, teaching the crowd, rises above the disquiet seaside.

Simon has a literal front-row seat to the teaching, and he hears a message in stark contrast to the ones he’s heard so long from the rabbis in the synagogues. This man speaks good news to the poor and impoverished…this man cries for freedom for the captives…this man opens blinded eyes to Yahweh’s truths…this man claims freedom to the suffering oppressed. These are the words of the prophets of old, those chosen by God to speak for God. These are the words of the priests of old, those chosen by God to pray and sacrifice for the bond between God and creation. These are the words of the kings of old, those chosen by God to serve, protect, and defend God’s people. This man – this Jesus – is declaring the reign of God in the world! His words begin to seep into the deepest depths of Simon’s soul where they kindle the long-since extinguished flame held for Yahweh.

The proclamation comes to a close and Jesus turns to Simon, instructing him to move the boat into deeper waters where Simon and his partner should drop down their nets to catch fish. Simon snaps back to reality; he has believed Jesus’ words up to this moment but knows that fishing here and now will do nothing. He and his partners worked all night without pulling in a single fish…there’s nothing in these deep, overworked waters. But…but something moved him to begin rowing…if his soul could find a spark of hope, perhaps his nets could find a fish or two.

Simon and his partner get to work, letting down their nets into the Galilean waters until they reached the ends of their nets and immediately the side of the boat dipped towards the water. The men, confused, begin to bring in their nets but soon realize the enormity of the catch. They scramble to gain steady footing, using leverage to pull with all their might but their nets begin to give way under the weight of the catch. Holding tightly to their net they cry out to shore for their partners James and John to come to their aid. Simon and his partner – with Jesus at their side – wait, straining against the heavy haul of fish in their nets.

James and John in second boat hurries to Simon’s side where the small company of fishermen work together to bring in the catch – a bounty so great that both ships struggled to stay afloat under the weight of their haul. That fire that had kindled in Simon began to take hold in his soul and he felt equally blessed and troubled by the events that were taking place before him. While incredibly grateful and thankful for this gift from God, Simon’s sinfulness…his unworthiness… his shame struggled within him, bringing him to his knees before Jesus and the fisherman cried out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus knelt down and looked Simon in the eyes and had compassion for him. For a long moment they looked at one another and Simon’s sinfulness became engulfed in the flames of hope and promise, belonging and belovedness; he met Jesus in his innermost being where the two embraced. At long last Jesus spoke words of assurance, “There is nothing more to fear. Nothing more. From now on you’ll be fishing for a greater catch, you’ll be fishing for people!” At these words Simon and company had no questions, no reservations whatsoever – they believed.

The men struggled and strained to bring their burdened boats to shore where they told the crowd to take as many fish as they wanted. The men hurriedly cleaned themselves up and abandoned everything they knew to follow Jesus.


The beauty I find in this gospel story is found in Simon’s confession: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). I love these heartfelt words uttered by Simon because they encapsulate the meeting between humanity and God. When God comes near us we can’t bear to think of even imagining that the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that was, is, and is-to-come would dare approach us. Why would God do such a thing? Why would God come near us when we’ve done everything in our power to dissolve and deny that relationship?

In Simon’s confession we see the incredulity of Jesus’ reaction in spite of Simon’s state of being: in spite of his sinfulness Jesus still gave Simon an overwhelming load of fish. How would Jesus dare do that for a sinner like Simon…like me…like you? How is it that in spite of all our sin, in spite of all our unbelief, in spite of our spitefulness Jesus still chooses to load down our nets with big catches?

And Simon expresses humanity’s reaction to God’s blessing: Go away from me! Don’t you see who I am? Don’t you see how sinful I am? I’m not worthy of your gifts! Each of us has a reason to express these same ‘go away’ words to Jesus. Our life’s history is riddled with moments of sinfulness that have made us feel like we’re unable to be in the very presence of God, let alone receive such a gift.

Our own life’s story might read like a ‘greatest hits’ record of sins but Jesus sees us just as he saw Simon Peter, and Jesus isn’t the least bit surprised because he knows us. Jesus knows our own relationship with Yahweh is much like that of Simon: darkened, cold, lightless and lifeless. Jesus knows our flames of life may have long-since burned out. But he doesn’t give up on us. He steps into our lives, calls us to work, gives us more than we deserve, and on top of all of that Jesus loves us even when we express unworthiness and unbelief.

In this fishing excursion at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we witness the truth of the gospel: God loves us, God calls us, God blesses us, God invites us into repentance and restoration. God wants to be with us where we are. God wants to love us as we are and pushes us to do better and be better. Praise be that we are chosen, that we are loved, that we are blessed!

much love. sheth.

Truth: My Thing.

I was avoiding reading yesterday by watching The Road to Freedom: The Vernon Johns Story on TV.  I stumbled across it and stopped because I saw James Earl Jones, who portrayed the titular character.  I had never heard of Vernon Johns, but I had heard of the church where he was preaching – Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

The movie, narrated by the character who portrays his daughter, tells the story of Johns who had gone from church to church until he was called to Dexter Avenue in 1948.  Within two years of his time at the church he began to speak about and against the racial issues within Montgomery and chastised his congregants for ignoring the issues.  Over the years, with Johns’ criticisms of their standing idly by, the congregation became increasingly discomforted and eventually forced him to resign.  The church began to search for a more conservative and less-demanding pastor, and in 1954 they hired 25 year old Martin Luther King, Jr.  (lol)

In the final moments of the movie, the narrator stated, “On my desk is a plaque that I inscribed with something that I must have heard my father say a million times: ‘If you see a good fight, get in it’.”

I found this to be a particularly striking quote because it echoed back to my January-term class and some feelings I was having then.  While we discussed racism in that class, we also talked about when to speak up and stand against issues, both in the church and in the world.  I’ve been contemplating over the past six-or-more months what my ‘thing’ will be – what will be my cause that I will fight for, who will the my people I will speak up for, what will be the issue that I will oppose.  Truthfully, I’d want nothing more right now than to know what my ‘thing’ will be.

I’ve been wondering what it will be because things in my life are so wide-open – I have so many possibilities before me when I finish seminary.  I can be called in any number of directions and do any number of things, but I wonder if my ‘thing’ will be there when I arrive.  I suppose I’ve been thinking about this lately because I want to be prepared for it when I arrive – I want to hit the ground running and have all the information I could possibly have to combat that ‘thing’.  I’m a planner at heart, so if I had this information now, I could really be ready for what’s to come.

But as lovely and wonderful as it would be to have that kind of foreknowledge before I arrive at a location, I seriously doubt that will be the case.  If anything, I won’t know what my ‘thing’ will be until I’m in the thick of it, like Johns, King, Gandhi, Gregory Boyle, Fr. James Martin, or Walter Rauschenbusch. 

Hearing the call on my life toward seminary has been a blessing, and I know I’m supposed to be here in this moment.  I know that if I continue to follow this Voice in my life I’ll be where I’m supposed to be in the future and will recognize my ‘thing’ when it comes.  And I know that I will be able to fight against it because my Creator has been with me and will be with me.  The best preparation I can do now is fill myself with a complete understanding of love and who I am in the eyes of God.  And be ready to join that fight when I see it.

much love. sheth.

Truth: BCE

It’s been a crazy week, and I’m just now getting around to my writing that I usually do on Tuesday. Better late than never, I suppose. The past few days were spent on papers for my Biblical Hermeneutics class, cleaning, working, and trying to study for the Bible Content Exam I have to take tomorrow morning.

This exam is 100 questions about – you guessed it, Biblical content, with no Bible to lean on and no notes. Just me and an exam on what my mind has memorized about the Good Book. On one hand it’s a Bible trivia sort of thing: who wrote this…who was king when so-and-so was around…what is this passage referring to? If you’ve studied your Bible, you should know the stuff.

On the other hand, it’s a pretty important step in my ordination process – I have to pass this exam at some point in order to be ordained. I can take it a few times in an attempt to pass it, so I’m not overly worried…but still… there’s a certain ache in my soul about this exam: if I don’t pass, am I really meant to be in this field? Is this really where God wants me to be? Will this exam define my future in ministry? Is this a complete picture of who I am and what I’m capable of doing for God? Does this demonstrate all that I know about the Bible?

Truthfully, no, I don’t have the prophets memorized in order, nor which kings they were working with/against/in the vicinity of. And no, I can’t completely recognize the difference in writing between Paul, deutero-Paul, and not-at-all Paul. Nope I cannot, off of the top of my head, identify who recounts being lifted “by a lock of my head; and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem”?*

I understand that my denomination desires its ministers to be well-versed in the Bible – that’s a good thing. I mean, the book is kind of important since most of my work in ministry will revolve around it. Biblical content knowledge and memorization is important, but knowing how to use the Bible is equally important. Knowing how to find the answers, knowing where to find answers, or knowing that there may not be an answer is just as important – if not more important – than Bible trivia.

So I’ll take some time tonight to study a bit more, but will tell myself to not worry about it. This is just a blip on the road – I know who I am in God’s eyes. I know who I am in the world. I know I’m capable, I know I’m being prepared, I know I’m not the summation of the numbers I receive tomorrow. I know the Bible and I know that God will always love me.

much love. sheth.

*It’s Ezekiel.

Truth: Sad/Mad/Glad/Afraid.

Yesterday I was hanging out in a lobby at MD Anderson, waiting for my friend who was doing an interview for a potential chaplaincy internship. As she nervously made her way to the interview, I claimed a seat in the lobby to wait. This was not my first time in a hospital lobby – I’ve become acquainted with them over the years as family and friends have gone through surgeries, procedures, and emergencies. I settled in, knowing there is no definite time frame of when things will be finished in a hospital.

This lobby was familiar in a way: the furniture was slightly uncomfortable but bearable and there were sparsely read magazines and books on tables. People were coming and going – some knowing where to go, others bewildered at the enormity of the space. There were medical professionals nonchalantly talking about their work while commiserating about cases and patients. And there were nervous family members sparking awkward conversations with strangers to ease the tension.

While I sat there watching people come and go I felt sadness as I saw little kids as patients and the memories of children I have known who have had cancer flooded my mind. Kids who didn’t make it after years of fighting; kids who are now in remission but must live a guarded life to stay healthy. These little bodies that streamed past me were in different stages of that battle, and I couldn’t help but feel sad that their lives would be forever changed.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was mad – mad that my loving God allows little kids to get cancer. This wasn’t my first time being mad at God and this disease. I’ve been mad when my mom was diagnosed. I’ve been mad when I witnessed a student in my church’s youth group find no respite from the disease. I’ve been mad when my friends’ family members are diagnosed. I’m mad at this stupid disease that doesn’t have a pattern or rhythm and has no boundaries, developing in anyone at any time.

And I’m mad that God allows this stupid disease to continue to be an issue in our lives. While I don’t believe that God gives people cancer, I wrestle with the thoughts that God allows it to happen. If one thing were to bring me to atheism, it would be this disease. I just don’t understand it, and I don’t understand God’s work in it. Why allow it? Why doesn’t God just give us a cure? Why create bodies where this is an issue? Why did that little kid who just walked past me have to get it? Why did my grandmother have to die from it?

My brain took a turn toward being afraid (as it tends to do) as I realized that I have every potential to be the next one diagnosed. While the randomness of the disease alone makes me a target, my family’s medical history places me firmly in the ‘will develop cancer’ category. My grandmother was a patient in this very hospital in the early 1970’s, and a good plot twist would place me here at some point. My mind started racing: I need to eat more vegetables!  I need to exercise more! I need to see a doctor regularly!  I need to… that’s where it stopped because I don’t know what else I could do to make sure I don’t develop cancer. Part of me has been resigned to the fact that I’ll have to deal with it some day, but part of me is scared out of my mind that I’ll have to deal with it some day.

I overheard a couple nearby talking about their friend who had been under care at the hospital, and their voices were filled with so much hope, “You know Catherine from church? She had been through the wringer and no one could give her any help, but she came here – they couldn’t cure her cancer, but they extended her life and gave her eight years more than she thought she’d have!” They had hope that their own family member who was a patient at this hospital would receive the same benefits, if not more, than their friend had.

In the middle of my anger and fear I found a spark of joy in all of this messiness of cancer. Before me were people wrestling with the same emotions I had (if not more so), and they were choosing to remain on the side of gladness and hope. And I need to do the same. Cancer sucks – no doubt about it. But I need to find the goodness that comes from it. I need to bear witness to the strength of the human body which can go through countless surgeries, be flooded with debilitating chemicals and radiation, and can sometimes come out cancer-free. I need to shout for joy when small steps are made in cures, remission techniques, and research, and I need to shout even louder when people I know come through the messiness of it all cured and whole. I need to be glad that while my grandmother was in MD Anderson, she was part of research which led to better remission medications and procedures which are now helping countless others.

The truth is, I need to take all of this to God. I need to share all of my sadness, all of my anger, all of my fear, all my gladness with God. I need to lay it before my Creator and admit that I don’t know what to do with all of this. I need to voice my frustrations, my failures, my fears. I need to rejoice before God in the successes, in the design of the body, in the small steps we’ve made. I need to argue with the faults we have in our bodies, in its design, and how we need to be better.

I hope and pray for an end to this stupid disease. I hope there comes a time when MD Anderson has to permanently close its doors because there is no longer a need for its work. I hope that this can end and be a mere moment in history.

I pray that God is with each and every person who has cancer, and I pray that God will give them hope, give them a cure, give them just one more day. And I pray that we can continue to stare God in the face and ask why this has to be this way.

much love. sheth.


Truth: Comprehension.

My grandmother’s frail hands slightly shook, uncontrolled, as they waivered over the opened Bible in front of her.  She looked at me, then back to the text, and then back at me.  I could see the frustration in her eyes: she was frustrated because she wanted to talk to me and ask me questions about the book, but she was also frustrated by the book itself.  She pushed her weakened voice until a tiny sentence came out, ragged and quiet, “How do I read this?”

In her 95 years my grandma encountered the Bible many times – she had been to church for nearly all those years, had a close relationship with God, and fostered the love of her Creator in her children and grandchildren.  Over the last few years of her life she occasionally admitted to me that she had struggled in reading and understanding the Bible and all it entailed.  Her beliefs never waivered much, but she wrestled with comprehending the words she read.

In that moment as we sat together in the nursing home, I desperately wanted to say something profound and inspirational to her.  I wanted to say something that would console her in her final weeks on this earth; I thought for a second and blurted out, “Keep doing what you’re doing.  Read, ask questions, pray, re-read, pray, ask questions.  And repeat that again and again.”  I smiled and held her hand, but I knew my answer wasn’t entirely profound, and definitely not inspirational.  I knew that my words frustrated her even more.

It was hard to guide my grandmother at that moment in how to read the Bible because she knew the Bible – she lived out its pages all her life as she fed the hungry and gave to the needy (Proverbs 31:20), raised a good family (Proverbs 31:28), encouraged her friends (Hebrews 10:25), talked with others about God (Mark 16:15), brought my grandpa utter joy and love (Proverbs 12:4), built a strong household (Proverbs 14:1), and tried to understand the Word (Proverbs 1:7).  She wasn’t just a hearer of the word, but a doer (James 1:22).

My grandma sought after God and found what she was looking for in spite of her doubts, fears, and frustrations.  She may have thought she wasn’t doing this Christianity thing right, but she was doing it exactly the way it should be done.  She plowed forward and fought to find God so she could hear that still, small voice in the deserts of her life.  She professed her love of God with her voice, with her smile, with her love for others.  She understood the Bible more than she thought she did, and taught many others around her how to understand it as well.

Truthfully, I would do well to heed the same words I gave my grandma and act as she did because I, too, struggle to understand the Bible.  Despite the classes I’ve taken in (and out) of seminary, I often feel that I don’t know much of anything, and I often wonder if I’m doing anything right.  I suppose part of my struggle is that I want to do everything correctly and honor what I read before I put it into practice, but I’m putting it into practice and not perfection.  I’m going to screw up, I’m going to make mistakes and errors (a lot – trust me, I will), but thankfully God gives me (and you, and my grandma) lots of leeway to try and figure it out as we go.

May we read, ask questions, pray, re-read, ask questions, pray, and re-read the word of God until we comprehend the tiniest of details, and may we act according to what we read, even if we don’t understand fully how to do it.

much love. sheth.

The Heart’s Home

A few years ago I was living in a tiny apartment in Salida and I was trying to watch television.  I say trying, because I found cable to be an unnecessary expense, so I had the old-style rabbit ear antenna.  Its two wires stood straight up from a base on top of my TV, and with great hope I could pull in a few weak signals from Denver or Colorado Springs.  Usually the picture came in grainy and hard to watch, but if I got a decent picture I would watch whatever came through.

I was flipping through the channels (all five of them), trying to find anything that came through decently enough to watch when I stumbled across one of the PBS stations.  There on my screen were two people, standing in front of a small glass box which held a pair of shoes.

An older man, wearing a plain brown suit coat which hung loosely over a white collared shirt, was speaking, “These shoes are one of seven known pairs made for the movie.  They’ve been on display here at the museum since 1979.”  The man was balding from the front to the back, and had a white, bushy mustache.  His excitement about the shoes was visible, but the interviewer disregarded it, hoping for more general information.

“So how many people visit the museum?” the interviewer asked, clearly interested in the building itself and not its contents.

“Well, we have roughly four million people visit annually and they…”

“Wow,” the interviewer said exuberantly, “that’s a lot of people!”  Her interjection was unwelcomed by the man from the museum.

“…yes, it is…” he hesitated to say more as he was unsure of when she would speak again,  “…the National Museum of American History has about three million objects in its collections.”

She feigned astonishment, “Three million?  How do you show it all?”

The man smiled and answered politely, “Well, we only have about five percent of it on display at any one time.  We simply don’t have the room to show it all.”  He moved his hands as he talked, making wide but gentle gestures now and again.

“And what are some of your most popular exhibits?”  The woman clearly tried to make this interview more exciting than it was.  The man was not the best person to interview; he didn’t exude the vibe and excitement that television called for, even for PBS.

“Well, of our two-hundred thousand square feet of gallery space, the most visited include our transportation collections – cars, trains, planes, and the like.  Also, visitors seem to flock toward the collection on American Presidents.”

Her made-for-television smile beamed as she stared into the camera, speaking as if she knew what he was going to say next, “And of course, the Ruby Red Slippers.”

“Of course,” he said as he smiled, “they are one of the most asked about pieces in the entire museum.”  He placed his left hand on the glass case in a caressing manner, “Everyone loves these shoes, the magic they hold, the dreams and hopes they have brought to so many.  Dorothy Gale was able to fill the void in her heart with the use of these shoes.  Visitors to the museum want to see what they have believed in for so many years.”

“And what is that?” the interviewer asked.

“The belief that a person can go home again.”


Just off Fremont County Road 39 is Falls Gulch – at one time it was a rough and bumpy road only accessible to four-wheel drive vehicles, but has now become a somewhat better thoroughfare that my Nissan Murano could somewhat navigate.  Last week, when I was back home, I made a quick visit to the old road, partially to escape into nature and partially to find something for which I’ve been looking.

In years long-since passed, the earth around Falls Gulch was picked and prodded for minerals, and the remnants of discard piles can still be seen.  For all the traffic that goes through the area, even today the road is often washed out and will change its course based on the season and year.  Over the decades the forest service has blocked off some off-shoots with boulders and dirt berms.

This place held many memories for me: near where my grandparents retired, it’s where I would often spend some portion of any elementary school breaks with them.  Falls Gulch is where we would go to play, learn, and explore.  I spent summer days puttering around the hills with my grandpa in his old Jeep, our family held many picnics in the clearing near the long-dilapidated fireplace, and every fall I learned more about hunting for mule deer in those hills.

I don’t often make it into those hills now, mainly because they hold so many memories for me, and when I do return I realize how fuzzy my past has become.  It’s frustrating and a little sad to be in a place that was once so familiar, and to now not recognize much of it anymore.  The fireplace where we picnicked has finally crumbled to the ground and has become overgrown with scrub oak.  Once-tall trees used as landmarks have fallen with age and have been carted off by someone for firewood.  The amethyst mines we would pick through have been washed away and covered by the changing earth.

I keep returning to that place because it had always been a link to my past – it was where I spent time with my grandparents, where my father taught me life-long lessons, where my brother and I learned to shoot, where my cousins and I bonded after months of not seeing each other.  I always held out hope that my time spent in those hills would give me the opportunity to relive those times and days from so long ago.  But just as the landscape has shifted and changed over the years, so too does my link to that place.  As much as I want to step into the past’s memories and experience them again and again in Falls Gulch, I can’t do it anymore.  The place that it once was is no longer – this home is not my home.

I’m realizing that I’m home-less, and it’s a little scary.  My parents have been living a nomadic life for a few years and most of their belongings are in a storage shed.  My grandmother was moved into the nursing home two years ago, the majority of her life’s possessions sold off to pay for the extended care.  The landscape of Falls Gulch has shifted and changed into a nearly new and unrecognizable place.  The small town that I spent my formative years in is now a bustling, rapidly-growing, second-home community for people from the Front Range of Colorado.  I can’t go home again because my home is no longer there.


In 2001 I was in a small village in Kosovo, talking with Flamur, a sixteen-year-old from a local village.  Wiser than most his age, he was describing to me what had happened during the genocidal reign of Slobodan Milosevic two years prior.

“We were forced out of our homes by Serbs that live right over there,” he pointed to a small group of houses not more than two hundred yards away.  “One night, they just entered our village and started robbing the houses.  We fought back, but it was no good.”

He kept his head up; his voice was strong as he continued to speak, “We left to the mountains right over there.”  I looked behind him at the mountains behind which the sun was slowly falling.  “One hundred and seventeen of us left our homes, our belongings, everything.  We only took what we could carry, loaded up in the cars, trucks, wagons, and we left.  Only months later did we return after the United Nations had bombed and stepped in.”

I didn’t know what to say, or what to ask, and I told him.  “It’s okay,” he said, “I know it’s something that you couldn’t really get.  The good thing was that all of us returned to the village – all one hundred and seventeen.”  He smiled briefly as we walked down the road.  “Not many villages are lucky enough to say that.”

“And what about the village?”  I asked.

“Houses were burned out…you know, destroyed.  We found some of our things out in the fields, but most of it was gone.  We had to rebuild the houses, buy our new furniture.  We had to start all over again.”

There was a long silence as we both stood on the muddy road that weaved through the village.  “Let’s go,” Flamur said, “It’s not safe to be out after dark.”

Home, for Flamur and the others in this village was not a building.  Home was with the others.  There, each individual heart was connected to another; piece by piece, generation by generation they continually built a home where they could live, laugh, and love.  I can’t imagine the heartache each person would have felt if they had lost a single member of the village.  But I can honestly say that they would be missing a little bit of themselves.


Even with all of my ‘things’ with me here in Texas, it doesn’t feel quite like home.  While I can take the time and effort to make my dorm room more appealing to me and my sense of belonging, I know that in two years I’ll have to pack up and move on to someplace else in Texas, or Iowa, or Idaho or Montana.

This home-lessness is new to me, and I don’t know what to do with it.  I wonder if I’ll ever find that sense of comfort and peace that I once had in Falls Gulch or in my parent’s house on East 3rd Street.  I wonder if I can ever have a place where my heart will be able to find rest and where others can create memories of their own.

Maybe I need to re-frame my way of thinking about home.  I may not have a place – a physical place – that I can always return to, but I will always have people that I can go to who know my heart and my soul.  I have people that know me and my deepest secrets, pains, and joys.  I am but a phone call, text, or quick walk away from finding comfort and rest.

If home is where the heart is, then my home will always be, first and foremost, wherever I am.  That’s home – my heart, and that’s where I long to be with my family and friends.  It’s where I can love and be loved, where I can laugh, cry, speak openly, and express myself.  Perhaps Dorothy was right – there is no place like home.  There is no place quite like the heart.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Words

I’m not proud of it, but I must admit that there are times when I’m really good at tearing people down.  Sometimes I’m mad at the person and will intentionally say something mean or rude that cuts deep and will emotionally wreck them.  And sometimes, in a moment of playfulness, I’ll say something that is taken the wrong way and wounds the hearer.  In the aftermath of both cases I always feel miserable and plead for forgiveness, relationships are mended, and we (hopefully) move on.

This tongue in my mouth can lift people up, or bring them down.  It can encourage or discourage.  It can say something nice, or it can say something mean.  A friend of mine has recently been reminding me that I am in charge of my own body – and this includes my tongue as well, and the words I say.  I am responsible for what exits my mouth.

There’s a certain safety in hiding behind the screen and pecking out some words, some comments, about anything and everything that we come across on the internet.  In an age where we can say anything we want on the internet, it can be easy to let that spill out into real life where people are actually in front of us.  I try to refrain from making any comments online about anything – good or bad – because what I perceive as a joke may not come across as such.  What I perceive as a compliment may not be heard that way.

Both on-screen and off-screen I need to be more attuned to the words I speak, the words I choose to use, the comments I choose to make.  Will what I say uplift the hearer?  Will my words make the situation better?  Will this comment add to something good?  Is this the appropriate time to say this?  Do I need to say this?  Can I find something better to say?  Am I making a positive deposit in this person’s life?  It can be a challenge to wrestle with all these questions in the middle of a conversation, but it’s worthwhile.  If anything, I ask myself what I would want to hear if I were in the other person’s shoes, and then say those words.

Choose good words, my friends, and lighten up this world.

much love. sheth.

Palms and Purex

I had skipped church this morning and was sitting at the laundromat pondering this holy day, this Palm Sunday.  (Long digression: I have been crunched for time lately and my pile of dirty clothes outmatched my pile of clean clothes; I was dipping into the reserves – those clothes I wear only when I have nothing else to wear)  I don’t feel guilty about missing church – we should never feel guilty about skipping church – but I was a little sad that I didn’t handle my time better.

As I was watching my laundry tumble in the dryer, I was thinking about the Palm Sunday story: as Jesus and his disciples were walking toward Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his friends ahead and told them to bring back a donkey and colt.  The two disciples scampered off and returned shortly with the animals.  Jesus’ buddies put their cloaks on the beast, then Jesus climbed on and moseyed down the dusty road.  Shortly thereafter, the crowds began spreading out their cloaks and cutting palm branches to place on the road in front of him as Jesus moved along.

“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’”  (Matthew 21:9, NIV)

I’ve been reflecting on this passage and what it means – do I welcome Jesus into my own life like those along the road toward Jerusalem?  Am I shouting “Jesus is here!” every morning as I wake?  Do I look at Him with overflowing love and awe?  Do I speak of Jesus’ love in exuberant ways to those around me?  Am I recklessly running after Him, casting off my cares, my worries, and my to-do lists to be with Him?

I like to think of myself as being a fairly reserved individual – someone who is cool under pressure and can take care of business.  But how often do I let this ‘coolness’ keep me from expressing all that I feel, know, and believe?  How often do I let my reserved self hold back my joyous self?

How crazy of me to not be one of those on the side of the road shouting for joy at Jesus’ appearances in my life!  How silly of me to fail to recognize Jesus’ presence in my life each day!  How many fetters have I placed on my soul – on my joy – to not be willing to dance, like David, with all my might?  May God give me the ability to live in the freedom I have to lay myself down before Jesus and to shout with uncontainable joy at the top of my voice of His love!

much love. sheth.

Complaint Line Starts Here

Have you ever had a really bad day?  Like, really bad, where from start to finish, everything that could possibly go wrong went spectacularly wrong?  Those days where, by 9 am, you’re ready to throw in the towel and call it a day, head back home, and go to bed?  I will admit proudly that I have had many of those days.

At the end of those days it’s good to go out with friends, have a beer, and lament about how terrible of a day we had, and I’m sure it’s just as good to be able to go home and talk with a spouse about the terrible, no-good day.  If our friends, spouses, or partners are worth their salt, they’ll let us whine and complain and cry for as long as we need to, never saying much more than a “mmhmm” or “ah” or “yeah”.  Then, when we’re finally finished, when we’ve gotten out our final complaint, when we’ve run out of breath and tears and problems, and everything is on the table, it is at that moment that the person we’ve confided in decides to speak.

They might offer up some sage words of advice; they might wrap their arms around us to comfort us; they might tell us we’re totally in the right and the problem needs to be fixed.  Yet, they might tell us we’re the problem and we need to fix ourselves; they might tell us we’re wrong; they might tell us we need to forgive.  Sometimes, they might say absolutely nothing at all and will let us sit in front of our big pile of messiness until it’s time to go home.

There was a time in my life when I was nearly non-stop complaining to God about my life: why did I get my heart broken, why couldn’t I find a job, when was I going to get ahead, why was the world a shit-storm, when would it start to turn around for the better, what was the meaning of it all?  I had a million questions, complaints, and problems to get out to God, and I was getting more and more frustrated by the day because there was no answer.  I would call out in a loud voice, screaming to the heavens for some reply, only to hear the silence around me.  The next day I would drop to my knees and beg for just a whisper from someone and be left on the ground.  The following day I would stare at the bible on my desk and complain for a good hour about how I refused to read that gibberish until God would at least acknowledge my list of complaints and questions.

For days and weeks this would continue: a one-man shouting match at God about everything in my world that I had complaints about, and getting no response.  I thought God either wasn’t there, wasn’t listening, or didn’t care.  When I had exhausted myself, when I had lost my spiritual voice, when I had put everything out on the table and had stopped in silence because I had nothing more to say, it was in that moment that God began to answer my call.

There are times when God will allow us to whine and moan until we exhaust ourselves before He begins to speak.  There are times when God will sit, like our friends at the bar, and let us get it all out before saying anything.  He might throw in a “mmhmm” or an “I know…” but for the most part God might be silent.  God will let us put everything out on the table before speaking, because He knows we won’t listen until we’ve had our say – until we’ve complained and whined and said it all.  Then God will look at it all with us and say, “Okay.  My beloved, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and we’re going to get through this.  First, let’s work on…” and slowly, patiently, calmly – but with determination – God will guide us through our pile of stuff and help us sort it all out.

God might throw some things away.  God might tell us that we’re going to have to hang on to some things a little longer.  God might tell us how to deal with other things.  God might heal us, or God might let us struggle a little longer.  But God will be there at the table with us, showing us how to get through it all.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Shitholes

Jefferson is this little city in Colorado that I have oftentimes driven through on my way to Denver. There’s a small grocery/diner/bar/bathroom surrounded by a few houses. Located in the South Park Valley where it’s cold and windy, as an outsider I always want to move through it as quickly as I can. I don’t want to stop, I don’t want to look at anything, I don’t want to be seen there.

We all know those back-water towns – the ones with one stoplight on the main thoroughfare. It’s tiny, dingy, a little messy, and if you blink you’d miss it. Google maps doesn’t offer any suggestions on where to stop and eat lunch. The city government has no website. No money is being spent there, no money is being made there, nothing is happening in this dot on the map. These are little towns, little places. The backwoods, the boonies, the outskirts, the sticks, the shitholes.

There are cities which have gathered the same status, not because they’re pass-through towns, but because they’ve been neglected and abandoned, mismanaged for years by local governments. Cities like East Saint Louis, Detroit, Birmingham, or El Paso. Cities with aging populations, little to no job growth, crumbling infrastructure, and declining local coffers, these cities are dropping to shithole status.

Recently, my country’s president labeled entire continents as shitholes. Why? It might be because they’re poorer than the U.S., or because they’re not as developed as the U.S. It might be because they’re in need of assistance, or because they’re not known for anything. It might be because no one ‘America Famous’ has come from there. It might even be because he has all kinds of pre-conceived notions of what those countries are (or are not). Whatever the reasoning, I can assume that he wasn’t the first to do so, and he won’t be the last.

A tiny village off in the hills of Galilee with no more than 500 people living there, eking out an existence, it’s just another pass-through village with nothing to see, nothing to do, no where to spend any money. No one of distinction has come from there – no one would claim to be from there. Just another shithole on the map that people avoid if they can. This is probably why Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” In my recently acquired Texas vocabulary, I might translate it with a fake smile on my face as: “He’s from Nazareth? Bless his heart”.

Something – someone – good came from Nazareth. Out of this little backwoods town, this shithole, Jesus Christ came into the world to bring love and reconciliation to the world. Just like my country’s president, I believe we’re all a little guilty of assuming that these small towns, these crumbling cities, these poor countries are nothing but a blip on the map. Places where, if they get anything from us they’ll get our pity and nothing more.

When we assume places are less-than-desirous for our standards, when we label them boonies, or outskirts, or shitholes, we take away the good that those places have. We not only lower the place, but we lower the people who live in that place. We are inevitably tied to where we come from – our identity is linked to our location. I’m from Colorado, so people assume I ski, hike, and smoke pot. I know people from Iowa, and I assume they look off into the never-ending horizon and eat corn. And before moving to Texas, I assumed they all ate BBQ, shot guns, and drove fast. But when I maintain these perceptions I miss out on the good that I don’t know about. I’ve learned that Texans also like to listen to loud music, have great Tex-Mex, are passionate, very friendly, and yes, they do eat BBQ (which is delicious). By labeling places as shitholes, we in turn label the people there as shitholes. Nathanael assumed because Nazareth was a bad place, that anyone coming out of there would be bad as well.

We label places and people as shitholes because we know nothing about them. We label things and people and places because they’re below our “high” standards. When we attach these labels to people and places, we lose the potential to see them as they really are. We lose the opportunity to get to know and explore and fall in love with them. I am as guilty as my country’s president of labeling people and things and places because I don’t know or understand them. And it makes me just as terrible a person as him.

But it’s where I choose to go from this point that will make the difference. As I move forward in my life, I’ll ask myself: What can I do to change my pre-conceived notions of places, and people, and things? What can I do to change my perceptions? How can I allow God to work in my life to change my vision and allow me to see these people and places as His dearly beloved creation? My friends, places are not shitholes. People are not shitholes. Finding the good and working to lift up people and places is more important than labeling them. Join me in moving beyond our thoughts and into the vision that God has of all of creation: beautiful, wonderful, and dearly loved.

much love. sheth.