There is so much suffering.

We don’t have to look far to find it, and we will find it all over the world.

One paradox of the Christian faith is that one finds his/her salvation in suffering. “Take up your cross” Jesus said. I never quite understood or liked this sentiment. I have witnessed too many people playing the martyr in efforts to live out this paradox – be a doormat; stay in a destructive relationship; alienate oneself from others; turn faith into war… I could go on and on. It is exhausting to watch people remain in a suffering state that is entirely of their own doing. And this dysfunction is what I used to equate with the Christian principle of picking up one’s cross.

I don’t think Jesus meant for his followers to choose suffering over healing. If we have a choice, is it even something we can call suffering?

Then today happened…

Today, I might be wrapping my head around what it means to take up my cross.

Today, I saw this:

A friend added these words:

Psalm 44: All day long my disgrace is before me. For our soul has been humiliated in the dust; our belly is pressed to the earth.

Pray and act for Syria.

My disgrace is before me…

My inaction is before me…

My looking away is before me, and it is my disgrace…

The picture is hard to look at, just like so many that have come before it. Syria has stayed on my radar, but more often on the periphery. Mostly because I do not know what to do. I hate how this situation is being handled (or not handled) by governments all over the world. I hate to consider the large scale of suffering. I hate to think about what life must be like for those trapped in this hell on earth.


Today, I am picking up my cross.

Today, I am moving towards this monstrosity.

Today, I gave away a percentage of what we normally spend on Christmas gifts to organizations that are providing life-saving relief efforts.

But wait. A few less gifts under our tree? Is that really picking up my cross? It sounds fucking ridiculous as I write it. And yet, I don’t really know. It just might be the one step I need to take today. One step towards the suffering. I am going to keep asking. I am going to keep wrestling with what I can do. And not just for Aleppo.

I think we end up acting less because we fear we cannot do enough. We put down our crosses and ignore suffering because it becomes seemingly impossible to fix. But there is a cost when we do, and it just might be our salvation.

Maybe Jesus meant that picking up my cross is moving towards suffering. One step at a time, slowly – painfully slowly- moving towards the suffering. In this sense, the analogy resonates. It is a long and arduous journey that defies explanation. It is choosing to be burdened. This is what my journey will appear to be, to me at times and to most others indefinitely. People will not understand. It will feel and be difficult. And yet, God will become more real in the process. This is how I will know. My salvation will become more and more real, tangible, and practical as I carry my cross. God will become more real.

Let’s pause though, to address the need and value for self-care. If I am to walk towards suffering, I want to be able to walk that walk for as long as I am able. I must take care of myself. Self-care might seem trite in the wake of the suffering of others. But is it? Do we help others by denying our own needs? The passage that immediately follows the teaching of picking up ones cross is Jesus’ transfiguration. “If you are to follow me, take up your cross.” Then the text says in the next chapter that “Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Suffering and beauty. This is what the text offers, back to back. The text itself seems to affirm a certain tension.

The tension is pursing both life’s difficulties and life’s joys. Taking up my cross isn’t about denying joy. I don’t have to choose one or the other. I move towards suffering. I move towards joy. The more I make peace with the presence of both, the deeper I am able to move towards both. So maybe, just maybe, my salvation is found in suffering. And maybe my salvation is also found in joy.

Today, I donated to four quality organizations that provide practical help to those suffering in Aleppo. I also purchased two tickets for an upcoming concert that my husband and I will attend in celebration of 27 years of marriage. While these two acts done hours apart feels strange, it also feels right. I sensed God’s presence in both acts. I pray that God will lead me towards more paradoxical situations like these.

There is so much suffering in the world. We don’t have to look hard to find it. Will you look away next time you see it? Or will you walk towards it?

May your path bring you both towards suffering and joy so that in that space, you will meet God.


I Choose

I choose love over hate.

I choose faith over fear.

I choose hope over despair.

I choose good over evil.

I choose joy over cynicism.

I choose to laugh and cry.

I choose to believe.

I choose to be inspired.

I choose to seek ways can make a difference.

I choose to stand up for those who cannot do so for themselves.

I choose prayer over gossip.

I choose reconciliation over division.

I choose gratitude over self-centeredness.

I choose peace.

I choose kindness.

I choose life.

May God help me to live my choices which often contradict my very nature.


The Fear of a Blank Page

This post was supposed to be the conclusion to my “Best Dog Ever” series. I have most of it written, but something was missing. I considered stretching it out a bit to make it work, but Lucy deserves more. And I know there is more of that story to tell, but my brain feels like it’s working on fumes. I then considered pulling something out that I’d already written, and just tweak it a little. But I remembered a conversation with a pastor from a few years ago. He said that whenever he has a sermon to give but runs out of time to prepare, he goes to his file of previous sermons and pulls something out. “Always there when I need it.” Somehow this filing cabinet perusal to replace time, effort, thought, and preparation seemed to cheapen the whole experience. In reality it’s not a bad idea. When you have worked hard on something in the past, why wouldn’t it also have potential future relevance? I was probably just being a snob. But today, I procrastinated in finishing up this post and now face a looming deadline. The reality is I didn’t put the time into this when I should have, and now that I need to pull it all together I am struggling to do so.

I began this blog for two reasons: to build a body of work that articulates some of my personal journey, and to practice the exercise of writing regularly. Pulling something off the proverbial shelf could have accomplished my first goal, but it would have denied my second goal. I have spent the last few hours going between previously written essays and staring at a blank page. The blank page has proven to be the most daunting, the one I find myself most wanting to avoid. How do I fill this stupid page? What should I say? Do I have anything worth saying? At what point are my words forced and inauthentic? And yet as I tried to work and rework previously written words, it just wasn’t coming together. In my fatigued state, it finally occurred to me that maybe an opportunity was staring me in the face. Rather than exit quietly and replace what I’m trying to do with something previously written, I have decided to trudge ahead, explore my surroundings in spite of how difficult it is, and see what comes as a result.

This is all beginning to sound a lot like my journal as of late. Over the last several years, I found prayer increasingly problematic. I have wrestled with questions such as why do we pray? What happens when we pray? Do we strive to get God’s attention or change God’s mind? Is it simply one’s own exploration of thoughts, dreams, fears?  Phrases I previously used regularly began to sound increasingly hollow or trite or self-centered. If my healing means I am blessed by God, what does another person’s lack of healing mean? If my family’s good fortune means God is with me, what about that family that is falling apart? This kind of theology has contributed to poor behavior on the part of God’s “faithful” while alienating others who assumed they weren’t good enough for God. So as I wrestled with why or what or how to pray, prayer for me became either an exercise of silence, or words that someone else had written.

For 2015, I decided that it was time to start finding my own words when I pray. Not just meal prayers or end-of-the-day prayers, but working-out-my theology kind of prayers. Prayers that come from deep within expressing the most intimate part of my thoughts and feelings about God, self, and life. The work is hard, perhaps because it is both the most revealing of who I am and the most easily contrived. Yet I have to take risks through my words in what is perhaps the most vulnerable part of my spiritual journey. It is time. I decided that I would start to write a prayer each day to force myself to use words and to document what, if any progress is made. It typically goes like this:

  1. Stare at the blank page in my journal for awhile.
  2. Write “Dear God” then stare at the page with those two words for awhile.
  3. Avoid adding the words “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret” because that joke isn’t very original and I’m funnier than that.
  4. Stop thinking and just write.
  5. Seriously, just write something.

For now it’s just a few sentences that are honest and raw. Or it’s a question that I have. Or it’s something silly because that’s the only offering I’ve got to give. But it’s still taking a risk and I think that the effort is the point. As I finish this up, perhaps the same could be said for my writing today. My fear of the blank page isn’t so much about whether or not I can fill it because I’ve chosen to do so in spite of myself. My fear is more subtle and complex. I’m taking a risk by putting words to where I really am. But I have an opportunity to learn something and do better next time. There is freedom in acknowledging what is true, and interestingly enough I find myself not quite as tired as I was several hours ago. I find my mind a little more engaged. I will try not to procrastinate next time, and I am grateful that it’s okay that I did so this time.