Truth: Amazing Grace

This week’s gospel lesson from the fifteenth chapter of Luke about the prodigal son is a familiar story to both Christians and non-Christians alike. While the idiom is usually reserved for a long-gone person returning, the Bible story itself is one of amazing grace: a son selfishly goes off on his own to live a prodigal life – one of wasteful extravagance – and he winds up in destitution and poverty, eventually returning to his father’s household so he could work as a hired hand. But the father’s grace – his unmerited favor – is poured out on his prodigal son, who is welcomed back, reconciled and restored to his former life of love and acceptance. The son would assuredly sing out with joy the first verse of Newton’s hymn, “Amazing grace – how sweet the sound! – that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found…was blind, but now I see!”

De Terugkeer Van de Verloren Zoon c. 1669, oil on canvas, 262 x 205 cm.
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

This prodigal son story is one of three used by Jesus to convey the inviting, welcoming, never-giving-up-on-us love of God. These tales of the great generosity of God is brought about because the Pharisees and scribes “were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.”[1] These Jewish leaders are appalled that a rabbi would be in the presence of sinners and, more than that, this Jesus welcomes them and spends time with them! Hearing their disgust, Jesus shares three stories: one of a lost sheep, one of a lost coin, and one of a lost son. All three serve to demonstrate the lengths and depths to which God would go for God’s beloved creations, lengths which far exceed those which the Pharisees and scribes would permit. While these religious leaders uphold the letter of the law and grumble amongst themselves when it’s bent, Jesus shares with them the vastness of the spirit of the law and the amazingness of God’s grace.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with some great comment on this passage… staring at this screen trying to write some riveting, new insight that would really make this passage come alive for each of us. But perhaps that’s not what God is calling from this passage. What if God allows this passage to come up so frequently in the Church and in the world because we need to be reminded – again and again – that we are to reconcile broken relationships? What if God keeps bringing the prodigal son home so we can witness – again and again – the overwhelming love that God has for every single person who has wandered from God? What if God wants us to read this passage during lent to give us hope, to remind us of promise, to break through our stubbornness and guide us to be just as reconciling, welcoming, forgiving, and loving?

If this passage does anything for me this week it’s this: it reminds me that I, too was just as wretched as this son, but I am saved. It reminds me that I, too, was once lost but am found. It reminds me that I, too, was once blind but now see. It reminds me that I should be as loving and gracious as the son’s father…I should be as welcoming and excited when I see people seeking their Father…I should be generous and encouraging when I witness people coming Home.

Friends, I pray we’ll never forget the amazing grace that God has for each of us. I pray we’ll find ways to reconcile with our Heavenly Father who sees us and is filled with compassion. I pray we can see Abba Father running after us, throwing his arms around us, and kissing us with great affection. I pray that we can hear our Creator’s voice whisper in our ear: “My beloved, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” May each of us live in the Amazing Grace of our Father.

much love. sheth.

[1] Luke 15:2, New Revised Standard Version

Truth: Travel Companion

In the morning, Chelsea May and I are leaving Texas, heading north to new locations (undisclosed for a week!) and new, unforeseen adventures.  I came to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to attend seminary, and I’m leaving in the wake of Hurricane Hannah, seminary completed and ready to move into ministry, married to my best friend and heading to new locations and new experiences.  It’s more than I ever dreamed of and more than I ever imagined.

When I landed in Austin I wanted to finish seminary and do ministry in a small town; I had no hopes or dreams of dating – let alone marrying – someone.  But God is funny, and by the end of our first year of classes I knew Chelsea May was going to be a significant person in my life.  While we got along in class, we somehow gravitated toward one another outside of the classroom and we just…kinda stuck together.  Going for late night pizzas…seeking ice cream on summer nights…going to church together…grocery store runs…movie nights and late night discussions.  Honestly, it’s one of those gross, fairytale, romantic montages from a rom-com that shows up on the Hallmark channel late at night.

And I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with the mushiness and the romance and the overly-cute nonsense that we do for one another and with one another.  It’s great – it’s what I always wanted and what I need in a relationship.  But I’m also okay with hanging out in our sweats and doin’ nothin’ on a Friday night as the cats run around the room like banshees.  And I’m okay with the arguments and the ‘serious discussions’ and being grumpy because it’s a Thursday.  I’m okay with all of this and all the unknowns, all the mysteries, and all the for-sures because I love her, and she, me.

Charles Schulz says it best for me as she and I rest up before our trip tomorrow: “In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.”  While I’m confident that the future is unknown and scary and a little worrisome, I’m also confident that when I travel with Chelsea May, I know I’ll be fine.  She’s capable.  She’s strong.  She’s confident.  She’s loving.  She’s ready.  She’s trusting.  She can carry my baggage when it’s too much.  She can help navigate my dangerous waters.  She can lead me when I can’t do it.  She can take care of me when I need it most.  She can do all the things I can when I simply cannot do them – and she will – because she loves me.  And she knows that I’ll do the exact same for her at any moment because I love her.

I’m ready to travel to unknown places and unknown spaces because Chelsea May will be with me every step of the way.  I’m ready to travel into these next moments of ministry and life because God is with us both.  I’m ready to go because we’ve been sent.  I’m ready!

much love. sheth.

Truth: Complex Simple Sentences

After 95 years, my grandma moved from this life and into the next, and while expected, it is no less difficult. I’ve cried, prayed, and cried some more. I’ve called or messaged family and friends who needed to be notified. And I’ve thanked the fullness of where she is now for the values she instilled in me and the unending love she gave me.

While it’s difficult to mourn the loss of someone so great, if I were truthful I’d admit that the difficulty I’m having right now is being apart from my family and sharing in the grieving. I could share my stories and memories with my friends here in Texas but it’s not the same; I have to set up the context, describe locations, find pictures of certain items, cars, and breeds of dogs.

If I were with my family I could easily say something like, “Grandma’s cinnamon rolls at the table in Coaldale around Christmas…” and I wouldn’t even have to finish the sentence. Everyone in my family knows what every word in this sentence means, feels like, smells like, and tastes like. While my Texas friends might have a general understanding of cinnamon rolls, being with a grandma, and the feelings surrounding Christmas, to me and my family it’s different.

Our grandma made cinnamon rolls from scratch and when she would serve them the plate would be swallowed up by their size. The warmth was visible from the steam that came off of them as they were straight from the oven, and the scent of cinnamon and butter filled the house. We would get to eat them at least once when we visited, and they would be served with a tall glass of cold milk.

The table where we sat was stained dark and the table itself was thick and sturdy. At the head of the table sat my grandpa, while the rest of the family squeezed in where we could. At the height of family gatherings we would have 15-20 people around a table built for eight. But we didn’t just eat at this table – we played Skip-bo or UNO for hours on end; we planned out hunting trips while poring over topo maps; we shelled peas, shucked corn, and prepped green beans; we drew pictures, decorated Christmas ornaments, and dyed Easter eggs; the adults talked and the kids listened all around this one table.

Coaldale was where my grandparents chose to spend their retirement and they built a house in the hills, far removed from any city. When I would go to my grandparents’ I got to experience ‘country’ life: dirt roads, no traffic, and a slower pace. I would get to be in nature, too: climbing pinion trees, chasing away magpies, stalking deer, and catching lizards. The house itself was different from the houses that were crammed together in the suburbs of Denver: constructed of cut logs, their house had wood floors and ceilings, and was heated by a wood-burning fireplace, but it never felt overly ‘rustic’. My grandpa, dad, and uncles spent hours building this place and took pride in its completion. It was comfortable, warm and inviting, quiet, tranquil, and filled with scents that ranged from cooking ingredients, to my grandpa’s Old Spice after shave, to the fresh spring breezes that brought in the smells of blooming sage and pine.

Holidays were the times when, in spite of everything that may have been going on, my family would always get together; nearly every year I would spend either Christmas or Easter at my grandparents’ house. And we would go to their church – usually on the holiday itself, but if not, then soon before or after; my grandma would always give us grandkids a quarter to place in the offering plate. As a child those holidays held more than just the religious meanings for me. Christmas was filled with presents, hot chocolate, games, sledding, watching TV while laying beside the fireplace, trying to stay awake and listening for any hints as to what I’d be getting as gifts, laughter and smiles, childish fights and scuffles. The Easter weekend would be spent going to town, getting eggs and PAAS egg dying kits and then attempting to craft the best egg we possibly could (my dad usually out-doing everyone with his intricately drawn designs using markers).

All this (and so much more that cannot be described) is wrapped up in the simple and incomplete sentence, “Grandma’s cinnamon rolls at the table in Coaldale around Christmas…” I look forward to being with my family in the coming weeks so we can share in these stories and the memories they hold. Until then, I will rest on my own memory and cherish the unending gifts my grandma gave me.

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.