Rising Strong: Failing and Falling

In this “Rising Strong” series, we have remembered a few things so far about what it means to live as children of the resurrection.

First – we have to be ourselves.  God has uniquely created us with gifts and skills and has put us in this place for this time.  We shouldn’t spend our days trying to be someone we are not.  We need to learn to love and embrace who God has made us to be. 

Second – we should wholeheartedly put ourselves to work for the Kingdom of God.  If you are a fisherman – go out there and fish for people.  If you are an accountant, go out and count people for Christ.  If you are a mom or a dad or a grandparent, love every person you meet as a child of God.  Take the life God has given you and use every minute of it to serve the Lord. 

We are called to take both of those things and put them into practice.  So, if you haven’t already filled out or turned in the “Gifts and Talents” booklet that we handed out last week – this is your opportunity.  It is one way you can let us know here at the church what are some of the ways you are willing to be yourself and go all in for God.    There is a box at the back of the sanctuary to turn them in, or you can drop them off in the office.  There are also some blanks there, as well. 

 Today, we are going to ask what happens next…

What happens when you figure out who you are and you give it all to God? 


Let’s pray:


In the past six weeks, I joined a gym… a “transformation center”… and spent some intentional time focusing on my own health and well-being.   I’m now twenty pounds lighter and trying to figure out how to keep up the effort without the strict diet and accountability of the group I worked out with.

One of the things that we talked a lot about during those six weeks was failure.

Every week, there would be at least one exercise where our goal was to do as many as possible.  Whether it was sit ups or planks, a dead lift or overhead press, the goal was to increase either the weight or the duration of the exercise so that you physically could not do one more rep. 

Now, this was not how we were supposed to exercise every muscle every time.  But the general idea was that if you weren’t pushing yourself and trying to really grow, you wouldn’t.

Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “the last 3 or 4 reps is what makes the muscle grow.  This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion.  That’s what most people lack: having the guts to go on and say they’ll go through the pain, no matter what happens.”

What most people lack is the guts to go on.

We lack the drive to be willing to push ourselves to failure.


In our gospel reading this morning, the disciples of Jesus Christ are in a boat.  They have been sent by Jesus to head off and get ready for a new ministry adventure, but they have been kept up by everything that is going on outside of the boat.  The wind is blowing, the waves are strong, and they are a bit fearful of what lies ahead.  They really don’t know if Jesus will be on the other side of the lake in the morning. 

We are a lot like those disciples.  We are all here, because at some point we responded to the call of Jesus Christ in our lives and we showed up.  We heard the call and got into the boat, even if we didn’t quite know where this boat was headed. 

But, like the disciples, we also really want Jesus to come with us, to be with us, and we are afraid to push off from the shore out into the world. 

In some ways, I think that is where our church is right now. We are hanging out in this boat that has kept us safe. You’ve been kept your heads above the waters and have navigated lots of storms. But the winds of the spirit have been blowing and have been moving among us, and I think that in many ways, we are now finding ourselves in uncharted waters – we are just a little ways from the shoreline that we are used to.

Right out there with the disciples.  They found themselves in stormy waters, in unfamiliar territory, in a place they thought Jesus couldn’t possibly be.  So much so, that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he showed up in the middle of the night. 


Only Peter was brave enough, courageous enough, only Peter had the guts to go on and seek Jesus out there on the water. 

He remembered who he was and who God was.

He remembered the ways that Jesus had called him to follow and the amazing things that could be accomplished in God’s name.

And he took the risk to step out of the boat… to be foolish and daring and to trust where the Spirit is leading.

He didn’t let his head tell him “no” when his heart was screaming “yes”. 

And he walked on water.


Well, for a minute.

He got scared. He stumbled.  He started to fall.


By all accounts, Peter failed.

But the thing is, he took the chance where no one else had. 

He pushed himself far enough that he could fail, that he might fail, and while he did – it also meant that he was the only one who was in a place to grow from that experience. 


In his book, Failure: Why Science Is So Successful, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein points out all the ways the scientific process guarantees failures and flops.

There are very few eureka moments or big discoveries compared with the thousands of failures and flops that happen along the way. 

But every one of those failures is an opportunity to learn, tweak, grow, and do something different.

Every one of those failures allows you to learn a new limit or boundary and to push past it. 


As a church, maybe we should embrace not only the art of ministry, but also the science of ministry. 

We should take big enough risks and have the guts to try new things if the Spirit is leading us.

And we should not be afraid to fail and to fall flat on our face.

Because every time we do, we have the chanced to process, evaluate, and make adjustments.

When you turn in your Gifts and Talents booklet, here is the thing I want you to remember.  You don’t have to be perfect in order to offer your gifts to God.  None of us are.  You will make mistakes.  You will need others to help you and teach you.  And you might even discover that something really isn’t for you.  But you will never know what your limits are and how God might stretch you unless you offer yourself!

As a community, that also means that we need to be open and ready to surround people with love when they offer themselves and work for God’s kingdom, fully expecting that there will be mistakes along the way.

Innovation and discover take time, patience, grace, and a familiarity with failure.  Holy failure.  The kind of failure that means you are constantly moving on towards perfection – without judgment for where you have been.


God isn’t done with us yet… so may we have the courage to be ourselves, go all in, and make a whole lot of holy failures… knowing that Jesus (and this community of faith) is right here, ready to catch us.   


Six Week Challenge

I stepped on the scale about two months ago and the number was higher than my previous personal highest.  I was busy, in the midst of finishing up writing a book, and knew I didn’t have the time and energy to do anything about it.

Now that its a few months later, the book is finished and I have realized that taking care of myself isn’t something that can or should be put off.   So I signed up for a six week challenge through a local “transformation center” and I’m going to give this a go.

There is a very strict nutritional plan that goes along with said challenge, and I’m working hard to keep myself on track.  Basically, every meal has 4 oz of protein, 2 oz of carbs, and unlimited vegetables.

I spent today doing a bunch of meal planning and some of my food prep.  Although I might get a little bored with my meals, I’m going to stick to the plan!  Pinterest has been a great friend here!!!


Steel Cut Oatmeal: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603653229/
– put into 1/2 cup muffin tins.  Based on the amount I cooked up in one batch, I should have 12 days worth of servings with 2 “muffins” each.

Egg White and Spinach Muffins: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603652268/
– I made the turkey sausage today (a big batch) and I’ll make the omelets tomorrow.  I’m planning on 3oz egg white and 1 oz sausage per muffin


Lunch and/or Dinner: 

Sheet Pan Chicken w/ Sweet Potatoes: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603651999/
– I adjusted this recipe per FTDI instructions and made 7 servings worth. I cut up the chicken into 4 oz portions and left out the apple & only used a spritz of oil. I’ve got 1 extra chicken breast I can use for a snack.

Tuna Lemon Rice: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603653739
– I haven’t made this yet, but plan to do up a big bunch of brown rice. I might just add the tuna/spinach/seasoning each morning I want to take it to lunch or add it in the evening

Balsamic Chicken and Veggies: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/570268371549956543/
– I haven’t made this yet, either

Cilantro Lime Chicken: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/60869032439694073/
– I have a batch of this going for tacos tonight. I plan to portion out leftovers and use for salad  with brown rice and vegetables during the week.


Other things I’ve pinned for the future…

Pastoral Persona

Pastoral Persona

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A while back, Verily put out an article:  Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Post Something on Social Media

The basic three questions are these:

  1. Is it useful?
  2. Is it truthful?
  3. Is it fruitful?

I had shared the article with other pastors because I thought that the three questions raised in the article are good guidelines for how we can interact with parishioners and one another online.  In today’s vicious political climate and in the lead up to our own General Conference, I thought these questions would be good to revisit.

On the one hand, these questions help us to utilize social media and our web presence and be truly vulnerable.  But I think they are also guidelines that allow us to be real without oversharing or crossing boundaries.  These questions act as a filter for whatever content we might put forth – from our feelings on a basketball game to our opinion of a candidate to our experience of worship that morning.

Verily doesn’t have a Christian background, so I find it so interesting that fruitfulness is one of the criteria they use. And the very idea of promoting ourselves as a brand seems the very definition of inauthentic.  However, we do have a persona, a public perception, that we are known by – whether as pastors or as church folk or as church bodies in general.  The world sees us based on what we choose to put out there via blogs, websites, tweets, and posts.  So, what are we saying?

Is it useful?

“if I think someone else will benefit intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually from my post, I’ll push it out.”

I think this could also be thought of as relevance.  Is this something that my community should be aware of or are they already talking about it? I’ve long used the Barthian quote about having a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and I think this usefulness question asks us to make connections with the lives of people and the gospel we proclaim. And, I think it invites us to look to the secular world and see where we can find insight that is good for the people of God, too. (like the article I’m referencing!)  One of my hobbies is watching television shows and I am constantly discovering questions, insights, and realities of the human dilemma that we fail to talk about as a church.  So occasionally I try to blog about where I see grace or the human condition or redemption in the media we consume in the secular world.  If we aren’t paying attention to the world we live and breathe in, I think our posts will fail to be useful.

Usefulness also has to do with what we are trying to accomplish with our posts.  Maybe we need to ask if the church will benefit intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually from our posts.  Or, are we simply trying to stir the pot?  Are we trying to build up the church or does our commentary simply serve to tear it apart?  The same could be asked of our national conversations and politics.

Is it truthful?

“Is what I’m broadcasting… an accurate representation of who I am personally and professionally?”

While this item does have to do with actual facts, and we shouldn’t ever promote or share things that simply aren’t true, this point for me really is about whether something accurately represents me.  I post about sports and food and family and friends because it is who I am.  Yes, I am a pastor, but I am also a real, normal human being, just like others are.  If my online pastoral persona is all about the church or if it is all about ministry, then I am painting a false image of what it means to serve God.  I don’t create space for others to live their lives AND serve God, too.

The flip side of this is that ministry is a high calling and we commit to living according to higher standards.  And as a colleague noted, perhaps as pastors we give up the right to a “private” life when we take on our calling.

Or perhaps, a different way to say it is that our lives as pastors are always under the microscope of public opinion.  What we do, even in our private time, reflects our profession (whether we want it to or not).  I hang out with a lot of non-churched people.  They are at my house every Friday night, playing board games and ping pong.  Even in that little microcosm of personal life, they don’t forget that I am also a pastor.

And so, if I can’t say it in front of colleagues or in front of the church, maybe I really shouldn’t say it… or at the very least not say it online.   I find it much harder to remember this when I’m at home watching a basketball game and my team is down by 35 points.

Is it fruitful?

“Will what I’m sharing create something bigger or make an impact, whether in the form of an online debate or dollars for a charity?”

My colleague, Deborah Coble Wise, noted that this definition of fruitfulness is sometimes part of the problem:  “When everything because a ’cause’ or a debate… does it lose the possibility of authentic relationship?”

How we, as the church, define fruitfulness is very different from the rest of the world. Sometimes, yes, it is about numbers and getting people on our side (if our side is the Kingdom).  We could ask how this post could help make disciples of Jesus Christ and how it will help to raise money for a project we are working on.

But we also define fruitfulness in a lot of un-quantifiable ways.  Will this post help us transform the world?  Will it bring hope to someone?  Will it spark a conversation?  Will it create a deeper relationship or community?  Will it impact the life of a youth?

Life's Not Perfect #NaBloPoMo

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It was a lovely day.

We slept in.

The Hawkeyes won.

Friends came over and we binge watched some television (Newsroom is FANTASTIC, btw).

I figured out how to do a double crochet front post and a double crochet back post for an afghan I started.

My husband made apple pie.

The snow fell and it was so lovely.

And then tonight, as I’m setting my clothes out for the morning, I find it:

A nice little pile of poop.

A present left by Tiki or Turbo.

It rarely happens. I could guess at the reasons, but whatever, I’m not a cat.


Tomorrow, I’m preaching on thankfulness and gratitude, so I’m led to say these things:

I’m grateful for the invention of paper towels and carpet cleaner.

I’m grateful messes can be cleaned up.

I’m grateful for the companionship of those two little furballs.

I’m grateful for imperfections that ground us and humble us and help us to not take life so seriously.

I’m grateful for the grace that I have received when I have messed up.

I’m grateful for people who have helped me to clean up my own mistakes and fumbles.

What I am learning as I give up social media for Lent…


#1 – I seek praise, sympathy, solidarity through social media.  The smallest, most insignificant thing could happen and my first instinct is to post it so that other people will comment and respond.  It is attention-seeking behavior that often slips into a self-centered focus.  Having to constantly fight the urge to post has led me to wonder what I’m getting out of those posts… and what others are as well.  Sometimes, it is an authentic search for community and others to share the journey with.  Sometimes it is  race to see who has the biggest sob story or frustration of the day.  These past weeks have reminded me of my insignificance.  No one  really cares what I had for breakfast or about a stubbed toe or that I shared an article.  I’m just not that important.  And I shouldn’t be.

#2 – Most of my news comes from social media. When I hear of breaking news, I search for the topic on twitter instead of turning on the television.  The variety of sources, the mix of images, video, stories, personal reflections, global perspectives is amazing.  I just don’t get the same depth of information watching one news channel go on for hours at a time about a single event, and when you flip stations between the networks, the information is often similiar with only slight colors of perspective.  As Ukraine and Russian and the Malaysian flight disappearance have made headlines, I have largely been out of the loop of what is happening in the world.

#3 – Many of my conversations with close, personal friends, happen on Facebook.  While texting is part of my communications toolbox, I rarely call or email these individuals.  I never realized how much I rely upon Facebook groups for keeping in touch with a circle of friends – whether they are colleagues or my girlfriends.  I had to write a clause into my lenten discipline that allowed me to continue using the Messenger part of Facebook (which meant I had to download the app), because I realized I would be completely out of the loop on conversations about health, upcoming events, and personal struggles.  Not being on facebook and able to follow posts on group pages has left me feeling fairly isolated from those I am most connected with.

#4 – I pray a lot through Facebook.  Whether they are shared prayer concerns among colleagues or simply reading the everyday struggle and hopes of friends, family, and colleagues, I am frequently moved to pray as I interact with posts and snoop on people’s lives.  Not having that source of prayer material at my fingertips, however, has led me to pay attention a bit more to the people around me… the guy sitting on the park bench, the people in line.  I find myself wondering what their story is, what they hope for…  I haven’t worked up the courage to ask yet, however.  I’m not sure if I’ve always been an “overhearer” of people’s lives or if this is something that a social media culture has developed in me and others around me.  And sometimes I wonder if that extension of ourselves into the public space is good or not.  I hesitate to lift up a prayer out loud on the bus, but I don’t when I’m commenting on a friend of an acquaintances post.  It’s something to ponder.

#5 – I enjoy watching sports with social media.  I enjoy the quick stats and the commentary that is often far better than what is on the television.  I like the sense of solidarity in amazing plays and in bad calls.  Yet, with the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team being told to stay off of twitter because of the criticisms, I also recognize how brutal it gets out there.  The things we yell at the television in the quiet of our own homes now are the things we post online in public in the heat of the moment, without tempering our emotions and remembering it is, after all, just a game. 

#6 – I’m following the practice of celebrating Sundays as “little Easters” and not fasting from social media on those days.  In the past two weeks, I’ve largely used those days to dump pictures and a quick narrative of the highlights of my week, as well as to quickly skim my group pages, catch up where I can with friends, and have left very few comments.  I might have spent a total of 2 hours on facebook between those two days.  The time I spend in my typical week on social media must be astounding.  I’m sure there is an app somewhere to monitor it, but I’m afraid to look. 

#7 – I use Facebook and social media equally for work and for personal matters.  Conversations with friends and co-workers happen simultaneously.  I’m more aware of that fact as I try to occasionally use it for work-related items (like updating our facebook page for Imagine No Malaria), but the distinction is so blurred that I have tried to avoid it or batch post.  I think it would be worth it to do some hard work of creating new lists on facebook to better discriminate what I post and to whom so I could use it for both in a better way. 

#8 – this is NOT going to be a permanent fast.

With Careful Intention

I have a nasty smart phone habit.  Every commercial break, every need to stretch, every chance I get, I check my phone.  I browse through Facebook posts.  I glance at tweets.  I absorb a lot and pay little attention to what is happening right here, right now.

I realized that I often do not interact, therefore, with much intentionality.  I don’t really take the time I need to engage, because I’m just giving content a skimming glance.  By the time I have time to sit and think and reflect and engage… well, something else new and shiny has distracted me.

So I reorganized the apps and widgets on my smart phone so the notifications and alerts and temptation to take a quick glance is less prominent.  I put all social media into one folder that isn’t so easy to get to.  I have a whole page dedicated now to “self-improvement and edification” that includes writing, prayer, health, finances, etc.  I’m trying to take give myself just a little bit more sense of organization, time management, and focus.

What this means, is that I also need to take intentional time each day to truly interact and engage through social media.  No more hit and runs but prayerful, thoughtful engagement. That hasn’t been too difficult so far and I’m actually finding I have MORE time because that effort is focused.

I would often check posts as I was stirring at the kitchen stove or walking up stairs or between episodes on Netflix.  I have more time to be present in the moment, to breathe, and I think I’ve tripped a few less times.

I’m also a lot less anxious.

When I have constantly been flooding my presence with news and disaster and debates and provocative posts then my senses are on high alert all the time.  Before Christmas, with the flood of Duck Dynasty and Schaefer Trial posts I was on edge, all day long, feeling agitated, frustrated, and not sure how to really respond.  But to pull back a little bit allows space for engagement and time for processing.  I’m not worried about the sinking ship all the time.

Philippians reminds us that fretting and worrying push God out of the center of our hearts.   I’m not necessarily only going to focus on the good posts people share and ignore the struggles and trials of life… but being intentional about how I read and respond is giving me the opportunity to transform my engagement into something good, rather than crude and ugly.

Turning It Off

The balance of self-care, Sabbath, and work is sometimes a tenuous one in my life so I try to set boundaries and guidelines for myself.

They are:

  • never work more than two blocks in a day (morning, afternoon, evening)
  • take two days off every week
  • take all of the vacation time allotted to me

The easiest to follow probably has to do with vacation time.  My family has planned some vacations together and setting aside those weeks to go and be with them has made it easy to take full advantage of the time given.

One of the ways that I try to honor my commitment to take two days off every weeks it to be flexible about which days those are.  With my work as a state-wide coordinator, my schedule varies greatly.  Sometimes those days off are a full Saturday and Sunday.  Sometimes I move them around and take time in the middle of the week instead.

The same goes with the two blocks in a day.  To allow for the chaos of ministry, focusing on those two blocks means I can sleep in after late evening meetings, or take an afternoon off to play disc golf if I know I’m going to be working the rest of the day.  If in a particular day, it is not possible, then I steal a block from another day and make space for two blocks of rest then.  At least, that’s the idea.

Lately, however, I’ve been struggling.

light switchesIt is a blessing and a curse to do work that you love, because while it is incredibly fulfilling, it is also very hard to put down.  I have been fed by and energized by this work and there is always so much to do.  It is never-ending work and while I trust in God’s working even when I take time to rest, I really don’t want to stop!  And I’ve been discovering that there are a few particular things that make this idea of rest even more difficult. It’s hard to turn off your brain.  It’s hard to turn off the phone.  It’s hard to turn off the computer.

Imagine No Malaria has provided an outlet for a lot of creativity in my life.  I’m doing graphics, website design, social media, writing – all sorts of things I love.   And I could tinker with graphics and websites eternally.  I’ll wake up with an idea about how to sell an idea or a plan to present something and those ideas don’t stop when I’m baking or hanging out with friends.  I have scraps of paper littering my desk with ideas and to-dos of things I have thought up at random moments.  More often than not, I’ve been in my office, working hard and forget to stop for lunch or lose track of time and need to be reminded by my husband it’s dinner time.  When you love what you do, it’s hard to turn off the brain and let go of the work.

I’ve also noticed that working from home, the technology I use day in and day out makes it harder to find balance.  When I hop on the computer on a day off to check my personal facebook account, I also find myself glancing at the project page or responding to a question someone posted.  When I left something open on the desktop and come downstairs in the morning (even if I’m taking that morning off), I find my eyes drifting to it and starting to work on it even when I didn’t intend to. My office is also the place where I play video games and listen to music and practice guitar.  It is not some separate place I can close the door on and leave behind.  My car takes me to speaking events and to the grocery store… and glancing in the back seat on a day off I’ll notice that thing that I had forgotten and will go home and pick up the piece of work instead of letting it rest.

And then there is my phone.  I’m typically okay at screening phone calls and letting them go to voice mail on days off… at least when I was in the local church.   But it’s a lot harder to do that when it’s the Bishop who is dialing your number.  It’s hard to ignore the blinking blue light on my phone that indicates a new email.  I’m not getting emergency phone calls in the middle of the night, but that quick text back to someone who asked you a question about a document seems so easy to do when you are in the middle of watching a football game with your husband.

I guess one of the things that is a common thread, one of the reasons it is hard to turn off the work is that it doesn’t feel like work.  It is a joy.  It is fulfilling.  It is making a difference.  But the truth is, I’m not very good at keeping it from impinging on sacred time of rest.

So I’m going to work harder at turning things off… turning off the wi-fi that picks up new emails… turning off the ringer on game day… closing documents… closing the door to the office if I have to.  I think that also means allowing myself to turn off the brain and let a few ideas go instead of pursuing them immediately.

Yesterday, I re-installed a game on my computer and played for two hours.  I ignored the documents.  I let the ideas rest.  It was nice to turn off for a bit.

Writing… just not here

I sat down with the Bishop a few weeks ago and he asked me if I was still writing.

It was a hard question for me to answer, because I full well knew this blog has been neglected in the past few weeks and months.


But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing.

To start with, I finished my manuscript for this book as part of the Abingdon Press “Converge Series.”  I even got my Cokesbury catalog in the mail yesterday and saw the cover inside!  I’m not ashamed to admit I was a little giddy to be published.  Although it isn’t in the Advent section, it makes a great Advent group study (hint, hint).

I also was busy preparing materials for Advent and Christmas for Imagine No Malaria.

So, words have been going down on pages.

But I haven’t done a lot of the personal reflecting that is a part of my blog writing, so in that sense, no, I wasn’t doing the kind of writing that really feeds my soul.

That needs to change.