I have Lyme Disease and a new Vlog

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There's no easy way to announce that the physical problems that have been slowly leading me to a place of non-functioning have finally been diagnosed as chronic late-stage Lyme disease. The diagnosis came in April 2017, and the journey has been life-threatening and harrowing to say the least.

I don't write much or do much of so many things right now, but I have found an outlet in sharing my hope and concern about Lyme disease and how we are going about finding hope in the midst of this hard place. Please join me on the Chronic Hope Facebook Vlog, or simply subscribe to the Chronic Hope Youtube Channel.

 

I would love to communicate with you in these forums. In the meantime, may God bless you and keep you, as his face is turned toward each one of us, extended in love.

Sermon Audio: "Freedom in Community" by Suzanne Burden

Listen to more sermons at 3rivers.church.

My whole life I've been asking the question: What if freedom begins in my areas of greatest brokenness? (Neither of us knew it when we were five or even 10 years old, but I think you've been asking the question, too.)

Along the way, our culture and communities have been moving toward isolation for over 50 years now. But Jesus created us for MORE. The very place I've been hurt the most (the Church) is the very place Jesus has ushered me into unimaginable healing (the Church!)

Hear Paul's words to the church in Galatia, and find yourself in God's big story of reconciliation: just as the vertical beam of the cross reminds us that we are reconciled to God through Jesus, the horizontal beam reminds us Jesus intends to make all things new, including our relationships in community.

Your turn: How does community scare you? Inspire you? Challenge you? Would love to hear from you.

Suzanne Burden is a pastor, writer, and friend. But  most importantly, the Beloved of God. She speaks on a variety of topics, including: Women of the Bible, Allied: God's Intentions for Men and Women, Being Apprenticed to Jesus, and Run Hard, Rest Well: Restoring our Souls through Four Biblical Rhythms of Rest. Contact her here.

Come to me, all who suffer burnout

I am surrounded by the broken, the bedraggled, the burned out.

Aren't you?

We are all just a step or two away from exhaustion. Some are closer to collapse than others; those who seem to have it all together are often the ones who are disintegrating slowly on the inside.

But enough of all this good news, right? Every day or two someone shares their story of weariness and I look for the presence of Jesus in their pain. Sometimes I just listen. Other times I am the one sharing about my slow recovery from a health crisis, about this or that struggle that threatens to consume my light and my peace, of my longing for spiritual rest.

We are all of us, every last one, looking for a resting place. A place of shalom—the Hebrew concept in the Old Testament that conveys a a meaning of being "complete or whole," of "being sound." We are talking about a wholeness of life or body, as well as a rightness of relationship, a prosperity or flourishing. When used as an adjective, it describes a warm feeling of peace and safety (biblestudytools.com).

I have yet to mean a human being of any age, stage, place, or mindset who isn't ultimately craving shalom, this place of peace. For no matter our disposition and the details of our life, every day is a search for wholeness leading into all manner of trial and error: workaholism, addictive behaviors, isolation, looking for payoff without pain, control and manipulation.

When Jesus said "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest," I know he said this because he knew that this was our need. Our soul's cry. A reminder of the cry of a baby longing to be held, to be assured that they are OK and well and whole and complete. This longing answered by a gentle touch, gentle words, a soothing connection of presence and protection.

But if I had to ask Jesus to make one thing concise and clear-as-mud for all of us who are somewhat deaf from the chaos of our worlds, I would ask him to say it this way exactly:

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you PATHWAYS to peace."

Before you accuse me of revising Scripture, hear me out. When Jesus says to take his way of life and learning on us, he is inviting us to actually do something. The Message Bible paraphrases his conclusion this way: Come to me...[and] learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Jesus is inviting us to come to him and to do what he did, to employ the spiritual practices that caused him to abide in, stay connected to, his Abba-Father who loved him. To pray. To practice 24-hour Sabbath rest one day a week or as many hours as we can to start. To go away in silence, stillness and solitude. To study and meditate on the Scripture. To practice love of God and neighbor while he changes our heart to resemble his own more each day.

To reflect on and internalize his love until the voice of love and shalom, and the very realness of it, becomes louder than our shame, our busyness, our self-obsessiveness. Until we realize that all is well in Christ, that we are held.

Here is where shalom rustles in, quietly, almost imperceptibly, yet tangibly. These are the pathways to peace we so desperately need. But they mean making the hardest of choices. Saying no all the time to less than the best. Saying yes to the voice of Christ and inviting conversation and communion with him in stillness.

Come to me, all who suffer burnout, and I will give you rest, he says, with a smile in his eyes. Choose these unforced rhythms of grace. We are invited to actually do something, to be coworkers with God in pursuing a life of wholeness and peace.

For excellent resources on this topic, I recommend two resources that are impacting me these days:
Hearing God through the Year: a 365-day Devotional by Dallas Willard
• The Emotionally Health Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero

Your turn: Are you burned out? Recovering? Pursuing a pathway of peace? Share your story here and encourage someone else.

The singular power of my spiritual intention

This is the truth as I know it: we are so loved.

There isn't a day that I don't testify to the love of Christ for the ones he has created. I realize pastors are supposed to do this, but I also believe people who have received the love of Jesus are supposed to do it. I know from experience that Jesus can give us Spirit-directed eyes to see his love for the crustiest of folks. 

But here is my truth: I don't always believe Jesus loves me without reservation. 

It is so much easier for me to have relationship with others and to visibly be moved by Jesus' love for them than to believe that he is crazy about me. I realize this indicates something is broken in me, that healing is needed, and I so I have plunged into the deep end this summer. I have begun to receive spiritual direction.

Right from the beginning, my spiritual director asked me to consider writing a spiritual intention on an index card. This was so helpful for this first-born people pleaser and doer, because it was an action I could take. I wrote out this little mantra, stuck it in my journal or on my bedside table, a little intention filled with all I know about God's furious love for me. 

It contains Scriptural truth, reasoning, experience, and is informed by everything I have ever witnessed about our Jesus and his heart toward us. Behind the words there have been years of struggle, depression, physical disability and brokenness, faulty ideas about God, and the rubble of dashed dreams mixed in with the glorious hope of the resurrection.

And, my, how it heals to put the truth in front of your eyeballs consistently. 

It has been 1 1/2 months now. My heart is growing lighter. There are days when I see good happening around me, movement in people and beauty, and I want to say to people I meet, "Did you know Jesus is making all things new?" But in order for this thing that I know so well to be my truth, I also need to be able to say:

"Did you know Jesus is making me new?"

I imagine myself doing it with a bit of a laugh and a twinkle in my eye.

Neither childlessness nor a real struggle to be a woman in ministry nor church loss nor relational losses nor physical disability can have the last word. The story is not over. Jesus lives. He will do what he said he will do in setting things right again. And wonder of wonders, he is already doing it. In me!

Words on paper are only a singular step in our healing journeys. But they are an important one, I think. So feel free to steal mine to start. Or better yet, let my words inspire you to write on your own little index card. And keep it close. Along the way, I believe you will start believing it, too. 

Your Turn: What are a few things your spiritual intention might say and why?

The Brutally Honest Truth about Christmas

The Brutally Honest Truth about Christmas

I AM EXPERIENCING THAT BOUNCEBACK NOW. TODAY, SOMEONE TOLD ME I AM A PERSON WHO SEES THE GOOD IN THINGS, WHO IS HOPEFUL ABOUT LIFE. SMALL WONDER, I THOUGHT, AFTER REVIEWING THE LAST MANY YEAR'S CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTERS AND FINDING WE HAVEN'T BEEN FULL OF WHAT I WOULD DESCRIBE AS HAPPINESS SINCE 2010.

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A whole lot undone over Charleston

A Whole LotUndoneOver CharlestonThe family members of those murdered at Mother Emanuel popped up on my TV screen, speaking words of forgiveness to Dylan Roof. And I sat in my comfortable blue chair, tears streaming down my face.

In the words of a Washington Post article:

"The killer was welcomed by the ones he murdered, and then forgiven by the people he deeply harmed."

I ran to my bedroom, lay down on my bed, and wept some more. 

I wept because I believe that the Church of Jesus has often not been the one to lead the charge to justice and reconciliation across racial and ethnic lines; we have not embodied the truth that each person of every color imaginable is made in the image of God. We have not done our job well. I have not done everything I could.

Lord, have mercy on me! Lord, have mercy on us!

And who will lead us into the reconciliation Jesus ushers in?

It will be the very ones who have lost their family members to a premeditated, hateful act of terrorism when those family members welcomed him into their Bible study.

This is the gospel, the good news, that defeats death, and says that contrary to what we see death does not win. Our brothers and sisters in Charleston's Mother Emanuel Church declare that Christ is reconciling all things to himself. It is those hurting the most who will most embody the gospel for us to see on national television. This morning a CBS reporter quoted a Scripture verse read at one of their funerals, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes.

Yesterday, my good friend Natasha Sistrunk Robinson posted this article on the Missio Alliance blog. As a black woman of deep faith, she is mourning and she is calling her white sisters and brothers in Jesus to say something and do something:

"I need there not to be silence from my white sisters and brothers."

When I called Natasha yesterday, I told her how proud I am of her. Though I had texted her, I told her I was afraid to call for fear I would cry on the phone. South Carolina is her home state; you see, this tragedy could have involved one of my dearest friends.

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I remembered all the regular Skype calls we've shared for several years now. We have talked about Jesus, and seminary, and my childlessness, and our call, and reconciliation across gender and racial lines, and we have cried through searing life changes and laughed and rejoiced in times of victory.

I am bound to Natasha not by blood, but by a deep sisterhood in Christ and a desire for his love to transform our relationships, for the good news of Jesus to evidence itself in our relationships, service, and daily living.

She said something to me on the phone that reminded me of how our posture should be on this crucial issue. She said she is not judging, but is open to meeting her brothers and sisters in Christ where they are at, to being an ambassador that brings both forgiveness and reconciliation to the great, big, beautiful body of Christ.

And this is so true. She has dealt with my ignorance with grace; she has educated me with conviction and love; she has answered my questions on race honestly and patiently. 

A month or two ago, I was at the Missio Alliance conference, a diverse gathering of folks who are interested in embodying the gospel and exploring what reconciliation means. My husband and I had experienced a searing adoption loss literally days before, and in a period of several hours, three women had crossed my path who had spoken words of such conviction, understanding and comfort in my suffering that I was blown away by their ability to empathize and enter into my pain.

As we entered our hotel room that night, I told Natasha about these women I had shared lunch and dinner with and she said, smiling: "They were black women, weren't they?" And I laughed, and said, "Yes, they were, and how did you know?" She said that those who have suffered often have a unique ability to enter into the suffering of others. What's more: each of these women held an openness that made me comfortable approaching them—with them, I felt safe.

So, yes, I am a whole lot undone over Charleston. Because Jesus has been teaching and loving and instructing me through friends of color who embody his love and his gospel and forgiveness in ways that take my breath away. I am not lamenting without hope, however; for my black sisters and brothers are showing us how to love like Jesus does.

My prayer is that I, and the rest of those who follow hard after Jesus, will have ears to hear and voices that no longer remain silent.

Your turn: Are you undone over Charleston? How might God be using this horrible crime to bring about renewal and reconciliation? How can we be a part of it?

Leaning In to our Grief on Christianity Today's Her•meneutics

Regular blog reader? Consider sharing this post I wrote for Christianity Today on your social networks. And let's encourage everyone to enterbook their grief, airing their feelings that they might further reveal their faith.

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg wrote her first book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, selling over a million copies and launching a movement for working women. This week she shared on Facebook a public statement of grief following the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, one month ago. Both have been remarkable conversation-starters.

Sandberg’s recent reflection illuminates the way tragedies cause us to stop life as usual to feel deep loss. After her husband died in a gym accident last month, Sandberg entered the 30-day mourning period prescribed by Jewish tradition. The Facebook COO shares heartbreaking details from the first hours, days, and weeks: the anger when motorists didn’t yield for her husband’s ambulance; the way her mother holds her at night while she cries herself to sleep; her child’s school event where she could not manage to make eye contact with anyone.

Read the rest at Her•meneutics

On trusting others with our grief

Trusting others with your grief-4I haven't been regularly blogging for months, but recent events have opened a vein of some kind, there is blood still pulsing underneath the grief of the last 3 1/2 weeks, and as author Richard Foster has said, "When you write you must bleed." We are a messy pair right now, my husband and I, but we are not without hope. 

I was watching a beautiful video by Sarah Bessey this morning from The Work of the People, "You Are Not Forgotten," and she said something about a late-term miscarriage she had and how she did not trust her community with her grief. And how she wished that she had. I have so been there. And so I thought, "Oh, the expectation we put on ourselves not to fall apart right in front of everyone—especially when we are in ministry." And my other thought was, I don't want to be that kind of pastor or chaplain.

Never mind that, I don't want to be that kind of person

I long for my spiritual roots, my roots in community, to be so much deeper and truer than that. I want to tell the truth with as much grace as I can muster and believe that others care and that they will enter our grief (imperfectly so, and that is to be expected) and that together we will facilitate healing that couldn't happen if David and I crouched in a corner and waited for the storm cloud of loss and grief to pass us by.

Now, having said all that, there are some roadblocks to being this vulnerable, and I share them here with a spirit of hope that others will help us to overcome them. In truth, they already have been helping us. Often people are capable of so much more than we know.

I believe we won't know who can enter into the pain and loss with us until we let them know our pain. And I see now that the ones who end up doing the comforting often appear unexpectedly. They may or may not be those closest to us in life.

Here are a few observations on what we are realizing we need right now:

1. We need to know that our grief matters.

The other night a friend told me that we had lost a baby and a birth mom, and that being our reality, we need to grieve it. We actually need to go through the stages of grief, being open and allowing them to happen when they come, that we need to honor our grief. The way she said it was solemn and true, she faced it head-on and acknowledged it for what it was, giving us permission to grieve. But then in her honesty and care, she went farther. "Not only do you have something significant to grieve, if you don't grieve this, you won't heal."

This morning my friend Natasha prayed for our process of grief and for God showing up in it. She read a passage to me about sorrow. She participated in our healing.

2. We need to know that we are loved by others as a way of being reminded that we are the Beloved of God.

Love manifests itself in many ways. But the way we feel it best right now are through words of acknowledgement that others see our pain, through people showing up with food in their hands, through friends who help us wade through our emotions when we are able to talk, through people who are PRESENT. And by the way, people not saying anything often feels worse than someone saying something awkwardly. I very much understand "we have no words" as an initial response. But eventually we do need you to say something. Even if it is just "we love you guys."

Oh, the ways we are being educated on our own sensitivity to those in loss. We want to do better. We want to be more present, whole, and listening well.

As I was writing this post, the doorbell rang and the FedEx guy delivered something so thoughtful I started crying. It was a large box of gourmet chocolates from a local company, DeBrands, with a note that said "We love you and care about you! Praying for you!" An amazing couple we are just getting to know sent them. Let me just say that I can't wait to get to know these folks better. My friend PeggySue says chocolate is medicinal, and it is: both the thought and intention and the actual chocolate. (David, all of the dark pieces are mine! So far dark chocolate mocha tops the list.)

I am ending this post feeling affirmed, loved, and known. These are steps into the vulnerable for me, for us, but we want to say, "Friends, we are working to trust you with our grief." Thank you for walking with us through it.

Read: "If you are hurting and you follow Jesus"

Your turn: Have you trusted your community with your grief? How have they helped you through it?

If you are hurting and you follow Jesus

if you arehurting &you love jesus-2Have you ever had one of those seasons when you are overwhelmed at the hurt and loss around you? More pointedly—at the daggers of pain that seem aimed at your own heart—the kind of pain that slices a person in two and leaves you gasping for air?

In the last three weeks my husband and I have felt this pain so intensely, so cutting, that we have taken turns with the tears and uttering words of anguish and anger. They are not directed at each other, but at the sheer horror we feel. I have wanted to pinch myself. Is this for real?

We haven't wished to pull everyone into our pain, for we know others have pain of their own. But we have experienced another adoption loss. An adoption we didn't seek, didn't initiate and in fact very carefully stepped back from, allowing it to unfold purely on the birth mother's initiative. This was the only way we would even consider it, I had said last year, if someone we knew asked us to adopt their child

We were stunned and hesitant when that very thing happened. And over a period of five months of joining in this pregnancy, the ultrasounds and so many other moments that happen pre-birth in an open adoption,  we began to feel it: joy, hope, anticipation, some promises we began to believe, a feeling that God was restoring the years that the locust had eaten, and any number of things people who believe in resurrection and redemption hope to feel once again. We have cared deeply not only for the baby but for her beautiful and determined birth mother.

Oh, and let me be honest, it doesn't matter who you are: I believe those who don't actively believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ still long for wrongs and pain to be made right, to be healed. For rebirth and renewal.

Oh, we are suckers for a story where hope springs forth where there was searing pain and disappointment.

Now, one might think that in our case our anger would be directed at the situation and the people involved. And we have had some of these feelings, surely. We are human and we have been hurt. (Though in the same breath we acknowledge everyone involved bears their own pain and loss in life.)

But there is a deeper and much more complex reality for us: we have been angry at God.

We have been shake-our-fist angry, cry-out-to-the-heavens hopeless, pounding-on-the-bed and asking, Lord, what in the world?? We understood that you loved us. And we asked that you never take us anywhere near a situation like this again. We have already sustained adoption loss and infertility and numerous other obstacles and losses, piled atop one another like unfortunate bricks bearing down on us, and we just couldn't do this. You knew that, didn't you??

Oh, we have been angry, and in our anger, I do not believe that we have sinned.

We are tempted to turn away from our heavenly Father, but we are like the apostle Peter in John 6, when Jesus says: "You do not want to go away also, do you?" And Peter blurts: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

We may feel harassed and helpless, but we still have a Great Shepherd, and with a a bit of a shake to my voice, with guests around our table yesterday, I prayed: "Father, You are our Shepherd, and because of this, we know that somehow we lack nothing..."

To whom else would we go?

If I may be honest for a moment, our anger could easily become sin if we dwelled on these responses to our pain and loss:

  • "God has a reason for everything. You just have to trust him!"
  • "You can try again. I was just talking to someone who adopted."

Sometimes we are lying on the ground, suddenly and in some ways irreversibly wounded in some way, and the rest of the world continues to go on around us. And here is what we need in those moments. We don't need platitudes or verses. In case you were wondering, we don't believe that God caused this to happen. No.

I'm not sure how we'd survive if that was all the hope we had. 

We believe that our world is broken, and that in that brokenness, bad things, inexplicable things, happen all around us and to us and that we ourselves inflict pain upon others. A friend reminded us last night that God will bring purpose to our lives BUT THIS WAS NOT HIS PLAN.

Do you know how much healing was contained in that one sentence?

Especially because it came from the computer of a man with cerebral palsy, as he typed into his assistive technology device with his feet. His wife, using what I believe to be her spiritual gift of sarcasm, said: Yes, I see where you are at. You know, we've been told God planned for my husband to be disabled his entire life....riiiiiight. She started rattling off all the horrible things people say, You will grow through this... And I couldn't help it. I just started laughing.

It was the absurdity, the "lack" in these comments, that grounded me in reality. Grief and anger are appropriate responses to searing loss. God made us spirit and body and mind all wrapped up into one, not into two or three parts, and so we experience emotion all the way down to the marrow. Paradoxically, I'm actually thankful for this. I am so glad we are not mere robots.

So please, if you are hurting and you follow Jesus, follow the trail of your grief. I believe that Jesus wants nothing more than to be gentle with you and me, his children, during heart-wrenching times.

Follow this hard trail with us while we search together for cracks of light, will you? Keep your eyes peeled for spirit-openings that illuminate hope in the life of another, for remembrances of all of the good, good things our heavenly Father has provided for us in the past. There is comfort in knowing that even when I have little appetite for the food in front of me it has still been provided for my good and for my nourishment—and that someday it will taste good again. I mean this both physically and spiritually.

You and I, we will again taste and see that the Lord is good. He will restore our souls. And it just might start by acknowledging that the Lord will bring purpose to our lives but that this pain is not his plan

(If you have been blessing us with cards or your presence, we want you to know we feel your love. Thank you for showing up.)

Your turn: What hurt or loss has cut you to the quick? How are you processing the pain, both physically and spiritually?

Audio Sermon: "From Hope Lost to Hope Found" at Cornerstone University

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Recently, I preached a sermon on The Unclean Woman at Cornerstone University chapel, my alma mater. I could not have known that just a few weeks later my husband and I are facing loss and grief of our own, and I desperately needed to hear this message of hope myself. May you be blessed by Jesus' pursuit of the least and the least likely—and his willingness to break all of the rules to identify with those on the "outside." 

Hope starts here. Listen and be encouraged.

Your turn: Do you identify with the Unclean Woman's story of exclusion? How is Jesus restoring hope where all hope was lost?

I enjoy speaking at universities, retreats and churches on a variety of topics that relate to brokenness and the redemption found through Christ. Contact me here to inquire. Find the book Reclaiming Eve and the Small Group Study.