Waking Up Alive

A few weeks ago, I was preparing to preach at the church I serve. Before worship, a woman in the church came up to me and said “I have a prayer request that I would like announced”. This isn’t unusual in the culture of this church, so I was happy to listen and take note. I listened as the woman told me that earlier that morning, while walking her dog in the park, this woman, let’s call her Karen, met a woman named Lisa. Lisa had spent the night in the park, so Karen quickly returned home, grabbed one of the blessing bags we had assembled at church earlier in the summer, and went back to the park to reconnect with Lisa.

They had a brief exchange, but Karen made sure to ask Lisa how she and the church could pray for her. Lisa’s response was: “Please pray that I wake up alive each day.” This is a powerful prayer from a woman who doesn’t always know where life will lead, or if she will have the things she needs, and for who, survival is a very real concern. What is even more powerful, is that this prayer was voiced to Karen, a woman who had just recovered from a severe brain bleed. Karen had looked mortality in the face and had encountered the fringes of life in very real ways.

When Karen told this story to me, there was a conviction in her voice that I usually only hear when people have experienced God in ways that surprise and terrify them. Karen knew that Lisa’s prayer was meant for her that morning. As Karen told me this, tears welled up in my eyes, because I knew something Karen didn’t.

I knew that in worship that morning, we were going to be talking about 2 women who desperately needed healing and resurrection. The scripture that morning was about the hemorrhaging woman, and Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (you can read the text here). Tears came to my eyes because the Holy Spirit was moving, moving in a way that reminded us that the stories we read, and the Jesus we praise- these are not static things of the past. In fact, the Spirit of Christ is still very much alive in each of us, and the faith we practice is a faith that should be life-giving and restorative.

What a prayer to hear on a Sunday morning, a prayer to “wake up alive.” Are we waking up alive each day? Or do we go through the motions in auto-pilot, not engaging with one another, not embracing opportunities for connection and relationship? Lisa’s prayer, and the way that it came to me, is something I will not soon forget, and in many ways, it has brought me to some much needed restoration, wholeness and healing. This prayer has become my own, echoed in my morning conversations with God, as I seek to live life to the fullest, embracing opportunity, and recognizing that God’s plan weaves in and through us all.

This past Sunday, Karen made a B-line for me before worship- and she excitedly said “Lisa is here with us this morning!” Karen and Lisa had seen each other in the park, and had built a relationship, and Lisa trusted Karen enough to take her up on her invitation to church.  I met Lisa, I shook her hand and I told her that we have been praying for her, and how her prayer was a blessing to me. She ate with us after worship, and was sent off with a few more blessing bags and the assurance that Karen would see her soon. We talked about how we can, as a congregation, continue to support and nurture Lisa, and how we might help to meet any of her needs. But what I keep coming back to is that Lisa has come into the life of this church at just the right time. She has come when we are needing resurrection, energy, new life- and without knowing it, she is inspiring us to wake up alive in new and exciting ways.

My hope is that we will all “wake up alive” each day, and seek to live a life full of connection and restoration.

pjp

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The Night Jesus showed up at the Drag Show

A couple of months back, I turned 35. A few months before that, my wife discovered that I had never attended a drag show. Kelli being Kelli, made amazing plans, gathered our friends, arranged transportation, and laid out what would be an incredible evening of dinner, and a drag show to celebrate the arrival of my “mid-thirties”. All was going well, until we got to the Rose Room for the show. When we go to the Rose Room, it was clear something had gone wrong.

Long story short, the Rose Room lost our reservation. It was a bummer, and put a kink in the celebratory evening. But again, Kelli being Kelli, she was not going to let that be the end of my Drag Show story- Kelli promptly got in touch with the Rose Room, and they were profusely apologetic and promised to make it right.

Fast forward to this weekend, our one year wedding anniversary. We had a busy and fun-filled weekend planned, and Kelli coordinated with our friends, and the Rose Room, to celebrate us in all of our year-old matrimonial glory. This time, we were met with front row seats and complimentary bubbly….talk about making it right!! The show was incredible, and I cannot wait to go back again!

The performances were incredible, and the night was so entertaining! But as I sit here, on Monday morning, the memory I am holding onto is what happened off stage, in the middle of the crowd.

About half way through the show, I turned around during one of the performances, and there amidst the large crowd, I spotted a young woman who used to be in my Youth Group. Years ago, when I worked at another church, this young woman was in high school. My first Sunday at this church, she greeted me with a huge hug and said “I am so glad you’re here!” She made me feel instantly welcome and at ease. For 3 years, I got to spend time with her and the youth group, and then, it was time for me to move on. I had seen this young woman since leaving that church- at funerals, or other events where I was invited to visit …but for the most part, we had lost touch. When I saw her in the crowd, I was surprised, elated, and…proud.

A break in the show provided me the perfect opportunity to jump up, and run to say hello. This time, the roles were reversed- this time it was me throwing my arms around her saying “I am SO glad you’re here!”  This girl, who I mentored and poured into during her High School career, this girl who loved makeup, anime, and is an incredible artist- this girl… is now a young woman. A young woman who celebrated that she could share in this Drag Performance with her old Youth Director. She got to meet my friends, and Kelli, and as we hugged to go back to our respective groups, she said to me “I am so happy that we now have more in common!” You see, we had church in common, and a shared faith in Jesus (mixed with a healthy dose of questions)…but now, we have a touchstone that goes beyond the context of church, now, we are members of the same community.

We didn’t get to talk long, or about anything life-altering, but there, in the midst of a rowdy audience and Drag Queens, as I hugged the neck of one of my previous youth-  Jesus showed up. Jesus showed up and reminded me that Holy moments can happen in the most surprising of places. More than that,  Jesus showed up, affirming to me that God delights in all people, in all places.

There is something funny about seeing kids that you used to lead turn into young adults. Watching them live grown up lives, get married, starting families, these are reminders of the markers of time, and in my case, aging. But sometimes, if you’re really lucky, the relationships made in church, get to transcend into life, and you get to forge new, meaningful relationships with these folks as they navigate adulthood. I don’t know when I’ll see her again, but I hope there are more opportunities for this young woman and I to connect. But if not, I am grateful for the holy moment.

On Saturday night, the Divine welcome that is usually (for so many) felt in the sanctuary, fellowship hall, or youth room on Sunday mornings, made itself known anew in a room full of people that the church so often calls out-casts.

On Saturday night, we had church, right there in The Rose Room. Thanks be to God.

pjp

Time Flies…

I realized today that it has been almost 9 months since I wrote here…and in nine months, so much life has happened. Joy, sorrow, grief, change, growing pains, laughter, comfort…so much life has occurred.

What I also realized as I looked back on my previous posts is how afraid I was. I wrote honestly, but didn’t bring my whole self to the page. So I celebrate the growth that has happened in these nine months, and that I can celebrate fully, the joy that is in my life now.

One of the best days ever happened on July 15, 2017. On that day, Kelli and I committed to life together, as wife and wife, forever. I’m not sure what compelled me to keep it quiet from this space, perhaps a fear based feeling of needing to protect us as we endeavored into marriage, but whatever the reason, I feel the time for being quiet about our life is over. Does this mean our life will still be private? yes. But will I bring my whole self and share stories from my/our life from now on? You bet.

The past year has been nothing short of incredible. As I look back on it, I am amazed at how truly good God is. Life abundant is the term that comes to mind. There were ups and downs, but as I look at our first year of marriage, I am amazed.

Kelli and I got married, twice. Once in our living room, and once with a gathering of our chosen family. We traveled to Mexico, celebrated birthdays and other milestones, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, recovered from surgeries, started new traditions, made drastic changes for our health and well being, we fell more and more in love, and supported and encouraged each other every step along the way.

Personally, During this year, I have felt the liberation that comes with being who I am, authentically, and as God created, in front of the world…and I no longer feel the need to hide any part of myself.

I got to shed my fear, fully and completely, at a youth conference in Arkansas. I had been asked to keynote, by a dear friend, and had been given permission to be candid and authentic about who I am, and who God has created me to be. I had plans, and knew how I wanted the weekend to go, and as I was settling into the comfort of being prepared, the Holy Spirit knocked me square into discomfort, and urged me to go deeper, and to be real. So I stood in front of a group of kids, with The Holy Spirit as my guide and companion, and did my best to create space for the pain that was so evident in them. I did so by sharing my own pain, my own struggles. Not in a way that made it about me, but in a way that moved the conversation forward, giving them permission to think about their own pain, their own shame, and allowing God in to help them move through it. That weekend transformed me, and after that weekend, I knew there was no going back. I couldn’t go back to being quiet, being afraid, and being anything less than real.  And so, I realize that in this year of marriage, I have also found myself living fully into all of my identities: beloved child of God, wife, pastor, queer, friend, leader, speaker, advocate, writer, and lover of people.

And darn it if The Universe has met me, again and again, with the hopes I have for my life (personal and professional). I have started a practice of saying yes to invitations, and digging deeper into my faith, and I have found such joy in living each life with my best friend, and biggest cheerleader.

There are few moments in life where things are clear- where you can say you know you are where you are exactly where you are supposed to be. And I count myself fortunate to have had more than one this past year- but what I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that on our wedding day, I was undoubtedly sure about the promises I made, and the person I made those promises to. It is an incredible feeling to find your hearts match in another person, and to spend my life with Kelli feels like a privilege and an honor. It isn’t always easy, but I can’t imagine doing my life with anyone else.

Kelli- As we round out our first year, and look back on who we were, and who we are becoming (independently and together), I am so stinking excited for our life ahead! I love you, and am so grateful that you chose me.

May each of look back, and see how much you’ve grown, and may you shake off the lies that fear tells you to believe. And if you are in a hard place, remember it is always darkest before the dawn…it gets better. I promise.

pjp

The more things change….

With the recent news cycle that seems to lift up the importance of religious freedom over the rights and livelihood of children, and LBGT+ families, I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would think.

There is so much talk about religious this, and religious that, but what about the Gospel? What about the truth that God created light, and created us all in God’s image to be bearers of the Light? What about the truth that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to protect and care for the most vulnerable. Where would Jesus stand when it comes to religious freedom?

I can’t presume to know…but I hope it would look like tables flipping, and assertion that somewhere, somehow, His message of love, inclusion, acceptance and peace has gotten horribly misappropriated in religious freedoms that uphold bigotry, injustice, and hate.

I also want to be clear. Many people talk about religious freedom as a “gay” issue- but it isn’t just that. Broadly, and easily, we are seeing “religious freedom” being used as a means to discriminate against those of other faiths and backgrounds, including those who have been divorced. And I wonder, who is beyond reproach? Who decides which “religious freedoms” are more important than others? And at what point do HUMAN rights become something extended to all people?

Two years ago, I was asked to write a blog for Reconciling Ministries Network on this very topic. I read the words again today, and they are all the more meaningful in our current context-  you can find them here.

We belong to each other, end of story. And if you feel helpless and hopeless today, take heart, November is coming- and we will get to VOTE…in the meantime, know you are LOVED, and you are not alone.

pjp