Saturday, August 19, 2017

Moana and Hearing the Call of the Broken

Once we were voyagers, brave adventurers forging ahead to new lands, to explore unknown lands and meet unknown people. To follow the call to meet new people, washing them with healing waters and teaching them who we were once meant to be.

This could be the beginning of the story of Moana, or almost. That story begins with a young woman who lives in a safe little island community but who from a young age is called beyond the shores of her safe land to new places, to a mission greater than leading the familiar faces and solving the familiar, daily problems of those around her. This is also the beginning of the story of a church, who began by baptizing people, all people, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And somehow ended up in a very different place.

For me the last seven years have been full of ups and downs, of self discovery, frustration, joy, pain, and just about everything in between. I came to this journey toward ministry with a path set before me to do as others have done, but in my heart have always felt a different call and a different path, not one full of pews and hymns, but full of blood and guts and fist fights and kids throwing things at my head some days. One could say I've felt a call to adventure.

I was watching Moana last night for the second time, and it hit me what a wonderful metaphor for the church it is. Moana's people were once adventurers, until they found their safe island Motunui, and then somehow they stopped exploring. Soon their lives became about preserving the little haven they had created. It was lovely, and life giving for many, but it was also dying. Because outside of their little paradise the world was dying. But Moana's father, the village chief, was scared of what might happen if she followed the call of the ocean and the call of her heart, and forbade her from leaving. After her grandmother became deathly ill, in her grief she fled to a secret place and discovered that her people had once been explorers of the ocean. Reassured that this voice inside her was not insanity but a deeper call to her true identity, she escapes Motunui to restore the heart of Ta Fiti, the goddess whose heart was stolen long ago by the demigod Maui.

The heart of the world is broken, and it's no longer something we can address only within the walls of our churches. That's not to say that the broken aren't within our churches, but like Motunui, the church, too, is dying. An old, clunky, irrelevant institution struggling to demand its inhabitants stay on the island is nonetheless bleeding members, closing doors, and soon will die as well. The world is out there, beyond the reef, and demanding that leaders stay and grow coconuts on a dying island isn't how to solve the problem. This only delays the inevitable. Moana strikes out and in so doing finds herself, singing "Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island, I am a girl who loves the sea, it calls me..."

And in remembering her name, Moana is empowered to help the goddess Ta Fiti remember who she is, to heal her broken heart and ultimately heal the world.

Ironically, it was in leaving her safe little world for unknown danger that she saved the world and  herself, because so much about our suffering is about how we have forgotten who we are. We are not the sum of where we live, or our church buildings, or the things that have happened to us, though those things shape us. We are not our failures or our trauma, and we are not what others have said we are or what we can be. We are not defined by the lack of imagination of old, boring people who would put us in boxes, and we are not the the stories others have told about us. This does not define you: you know who you are.

Who is that? The daughter or son of the most high, child of the one who created everything. You are beloved. And if you can remember that you can stop being so scared of losing your safe island, and you can stop being scared of those hurts and scars, and if you can remember that, you can stop being scared of not getting the attention or respect of the people you think you need it from, and if you can remember that everything changes.

So remember. This does not define you, church. This does not define you, broken one. This does not define you, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother. This does not define you, criminal, hated or victim. This does not define you.

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

-Isaiah 43:1

Monday, July 24, 2017

Addiction, Bondage, and Affliction

This past week, myself and many of my peers were shocked by the news that rock legend Chester Bennington, singer for Linkin Park, ended his life by suicide at the age of 41. It's always so hard to see talented people in the prime of their lives take dramatic measures, but particularly given his long struggle with drug addiction and alcoholism there is an especially bitter edge. In my work, I frequently walk with young people dealing with the same issues. The day after I found out about Bennington's death, I was talking to a 19 year old young man and the way he described his addiction as a conflict between the love in his heart and his mind's desire for a high reminded me strongly of Paul's passage in Romans 7: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me." This passage is a classic description of what Martin Luther would describe as the bound will. Luther would say that the idea that our will is free is laughable, because if it were free, would we not, knowing better, choose to do the right thing all the time? But our will is clearly not free, because again and again we choose to do things that hurt ourselves and others? We choose the addiction. We choose to take advantage of others. We choose greed, selfish ambition, lust, and more. Like Bennington and this young man, in many of us this creates a painful sense of shame and self-loathing. Why do we do that which we hate? Why can we not do what we want? How can we receive God's love when we fail fail fail fail?

I have never personally struggled with addiction, but I have felt the weight of the law or some version of it my whole life. Because I so often failed to live up to society's measures of me as a woman, being too fat or too ugly or too girly or not girly enough too dumb or too smart or too opinionated or not opinionated enough or too prudish or not prudish enough that the idea that I could freely be a recipient of God's grace was hard to come by for me. It wasn't that I didn't understand it intellectually, but somehow in spite of hearing "God loves you" over and over, this message somehow failed to really sink into me. Even now when I know my salvation is assured, I frequently find myself needing the gospel declared to me. Most often I find this in the liturgy, when I confess my sins and the forgiveness of Christ is declared to me, and when I take holy communion and hear that it was given for me. Because the people that I work with are so often broken in many ways, I usually feel like what it means to hear the gospel is to have our worthiness declared. This is a very Lutheran thing, probably because Luther himself was kind of a neurotic who usually felt himself unworthy and his biblical study is what led him to understand this doctrine of salvation by grace.

On Sunday my husband and I went to check out a new church. There were many lovely things about it, and I can see it becoming my church home in the future, but my husband immediately pointed to the sermon as a central piece of importance for him. Ironically, I had found the sermon to be about the least useful thing to me in it, because it had been primarily about teaching. Lately, I have not been feeling very worthy. Left out in the cold by my denomination, struggling to feel loved and wanted and worthy as a person, I needed a declaration of belovedness, and I didn't get that there. I received it through the beautiful music, and the forgiveness of sins, and the eucharist, and the warm welcome of the people there. It was a fine sermon, it was just peas when I really needed potatoes. But after some discussion, I realized that it had not occurred to me that not everyone walked around feeling broken all the time like me and my patients. Part of me had always assumed that to be the case, or that if people were saying they weren't broken then they were probably lying about the places where they hurt. 

But then I thought about the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). In the story, a young man demands his inheritance and after squandering it on partying and irresponsible living, crawls back to his father who then greets him with open arms and joyful tears. Meanwhile, his older brother who was with his father working hard the whole time gets mad at his father for throwing the irresponsible younger son a big party. Rather than telling the older son that he was right, that he should also get a big party for always being right and doing the right thing, he reminds him that the reward was being with him the whole time, and that a lost child's return should always be celebrated. I always imagine the look of shame on the older brother's face at the father's words. Who could really argue with a father's joyful relief? The older brother serves as the perfect illustration for the "unbroken" among us. Some people never left the father, or never questioned their birth right. For my husband, the gospel for him is often hearing a word that helps him to live his life better within the assurance of his salvation that he already has, a gospel like Jesus' teaching which directs feet and shapes lives, "Because you are made worthy, here is how to walk with me.." For me and those who struggle to believe that worthiness again and again, that word is simply: "You are loved."

So for me as a preacher, the question becomes how to declare it? That's hard for me, because I think the beginning and ending always needs to be 'blessed assurance.' But I know I often forget that the law serves a function too, to drive us to the cross and guide us to live in community together, and the as Bonhoeffer would say, resurrection without the cross is cheap and gospel without the law is incomplete. There is a saying about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and I think that's pretty apt here. The gospel is not a single thing which speaks a single word, but is a massive, transformative, changing, living thing which speaks many words at many times. We so often see the pharisees as the butt of the joke in the stories of Jesus, but what if the pharisees and sadducees are also recipients of a different kind of gospel? What if, like the rich young man who goes to Jesus and asks how to be perfect, the gospel sometimes means being told that we are too comfortable and in order to truly follow we need to get a little bit uncomfortable too? You are worthy, and also as a recipient of this worthiness how are you being transformed? Maybe the gospel looks like giving your time or money in a way that pinches you a little more than you might like? Maybe it means getting up close and personal with the reality of police brutality or poverty? Maybe it means giving something up that you want for the sake of your spouse and marriage? Maybe it means devoting more time to God and family and less time to pleasure and work? How is God afflicting you? Because despite the reality that many of us are broken, and many of us are surely broken, many of us are simultaneously infected with complacency and comfort and God also calls us to be the church, to usher in the kingdom, and to lose our lives. Not to addiction or depression as Chester Bennington did, but to lose our lives to that which keeps us from being servants to our husbands and wives, children and parents, friends and neighbors, and all the world. You are loved. And because you are worthy, and because you are important, you are also called to grow, to learn, and to follow.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Broken Pieces: A Reflection on Grief

This piece was originally written for the Intranet Blog at Fairview Health Services, but I thought it might serve as a reminder to those who are carrying grief as caregivers or loved ones that you are not alone. We honor your pain.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comfored." -Matthew 5:4

When I was a girl I had a doll. My parents told me that on Christmas morning my little feet scampered into the living room where she sat under the tree, and I shyly asked my mom, “Mama, who is that dolly for?” I very creatively named her Gwendolly, and she got appropriately beaten as I dragged her everywhere with me from the age of three until her untimely demise. When I was seven, my parents took in two abused dogs, one whose horrible abuse left her blind in one eye, with an at-home docked tail. The other had not been as physically tormented, but was behaviorally just as bad. A friend of my mom's had seen them tied outside in the hot Kansas summer one too many days before finally spiriting them away in the night and begging my parents to take them in (as we lived far enough away for the owners to not come looking). They were awful. They destroyed everything, and had to be confined when we were away because they peed and pooped on everything. One Sunday morning, we left them enclosed in a room to go to church, and when we returned we found that they had tunneled through a wall out a closet and right into my bedroom, where they destroyed most of my favorite toys. Among the casualties was Gwendolly. I was crushed. My mom promised she could fix Gwendolly, and packed her away in a Price Chopper grocery bag with words of assurance that someday Gwendolly would be okay again.

Although this is perhaps a silly example, this story has come to my mind as I have found myself in the middle of several weeks of irreparable tragedy. The week began with a difficult on-call visit, where I ministered to family of a dying child, and the staff who were trying desperately to make it better for them. I then received a slew of bad news from friends and family members that left me reeling and struggling with how to care for those directly affected, and for my own feelings as well. I have spent some time attempting to wrap words around the depth of grief and pain that these experiences have awakened in me, not because these losses are my losses, but because private and communal tragedy raise such complex questions and emotions and I am left feeling like a child trying to understand senselessness and compassion and hope with a mind too frail to grasp it all. Being a caregiver is very much akin to this at times. Walking with patients and families through illness and death, though a gift, has unique challenges. It raises questions of cosmic justice and purpose, it can incite anger and remind us of our own trauma, and it raises our own fears in the midst of our pain for another. We not only hold our friends and patients when they grieve, but we wonder if we could be next; if their pain could be our pain, or when it will be.

And I think of my tattered and destroyed doll, and I think that even then I knew she couldn't be repaired. There is no healing from the digested destruction of canine teeth. Maybe she could have been some kind of Frankenstein's monster doll, but she wouldn't have been mine. And nothing can replace the children who are lost, and nothing can fill the holes which are left when the families of our patients leave the hospital with a teddy bear, or an old coat, or a wedding ring. And what of our hearts as we watch the tattered remains of lives moving in and out of our walls day after day? My heart was tired this week, and I suspect your heart has been tired at times. I have seen the weary faces of doctors, nurses, therapists, radiology technicians, psych associates, and more. We gather up remains of lives in our hearts, like my mom's grocery bag. And what to do with these things?

I like the biblical image of humans as “clay jars” because it adequately communicates our frailty, and something about how serendipitous our lives can be. My purpose in writing this is not to offer a nugget of wisdom for how to move beyond grief and let go of those stories which touch us, but instead to honor the broken pieces which we have lovingly gathered up into our arms and hearts. I don't think this is quite about hope, because I always have hope, and I grip it with fingers that are sometimes raw and bleeding from sheer determination as life and death pull me further from it. But even with hope in the palms of our hands, we are still carrying the heavy things.

Right now, as I grieve with my friends and co-workers, I am trying to put these things in a safe place. Not to abandon them, or forget them, but to entrust them to something bigger than me, whether that be God, the universe, the community, or something else entirely, because not one of us can bear such heartbreak alone. Like a seven year old nodding while her mom carefully places the bag on the upper shelf of her bedroom closet and gently reassures her that things will be okay, we must in time learn to lay these pieces to rest, trusting that somehow, someday, we, and the lost, and the ones who grieve will be whole again. But in the meantime, we honor the shards, and we weep over them, and we let our hearts be broken for a while.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Matthew 25:41-43 for Trump's America

"I was hungry and you told me to get a job. I was thirsty and you told me lead is good for me. I was a stranger and you built a wall. I was wearing a short skirt and you said I was asking for it. I was sick and you took away my healthcare. I was in prison and you took away my humanity..." 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Do Not Grow Weary

"It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington, D.C., August 1963

"Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all." -Galatians 6:7-10a

How relevant that today we reflect on the progress we have made since this day over 50 years ago, as well as all the many ways we have not progressed. How important to notice that injustice is not tied only to skin color, but sexual orientation, gender expression, and disability. How appropriate that this inaugural month that we notice those among us who still struggle to be recognized as truly one of God's children. And how appropriate that we should say 'not good enough' and fight on, not waiting on time or the whims of those in power, but pressing forward, demanding and creating justice in our communities regardless of those in power who say 'good enough.' This is how we bring about God's promised kingdom where lion and lamb feed side by side, where we dwell together in the city where the river of God that flows from the throne waters the trees which are a healing balm for our pain and hate and divide. Do not grow weary; the journey is long, but we go together.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Letters to my Dear Sophia: Finding Beauty in an Ugly World

This is a series entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.

It is December 29th, and it is cold and dark. Last week we celebrated your first Christmas, and it was everything I could have hoped it would be. Your dad was too sick to go, so you and I stood in church and sang Christmas carols and watched as we passed flames to one another during Silent Night, breaking the winter darkness with light and hope. It was so profoundly meaningful to me to share this moment with you, because for me, Christmas has always been a reminder of how to find beauty in the midst of the grimmest, darkest part of the year. Especially this year, with the horrible suffering in Aleppo and the many deaths of beloved celebrities, and the surge of white supremacy and hate crimes, the symbolism of this light, of Christ sweeping through the darkness like tiny flames that could not be overcome by the deep night soothes my weary soul.

But now Christmas is over, and we have entered what I consider the ugly part of winter. In November we have Thanksgiving, and in December we light candles through Advent, joyfully anticipating Christ's coming and coming again. In a few days we'll ring in the new year and celebrate Epiphany, and then it will be January and we'll enter not the darkest, but the coldest and gloomiest time of year. Although the days will be longer, the Christmas lights will come down and the tree will be brown and shed its needles all over the living room as I wrestle it out the door. We will commence the long slog of subzero temperatures, snow, ice, and an even more frustrating wait as the days get longer, but slushier. It's an ugly time of year, especially around late February or early march, when it's still dark outside at 5 pm, but now instead of pristine flakes, we have dirty half-melted snow piled eight feet high everywhere, and the weather teases us as it temporarily reaches habitable temperatures and then plummets again, leaving us six more weeks of snow boots and long underwear.

There's a lot of ugliness in the world, and it becomes readily apparent. Every day, news reports another horrible thing a politician said, or another terrible tragedy like mass shootings, hate crimes, poverty, destruction, and more. Every day we come face to face with callous people who would rather buy a new pair of shoes than give a quarter to a person in need, or who say disgusting, ugly things about women, immigrants, LGBT folks, or certain ethnic groups. So shocked are we in the face of this ugliness that it can be hard to know how to respond. It is overwhelming. Because I have raised you to have a soft, kind heart, I know you will see it, and that it will overwhelm you too at times. I have cried more tears than stars in the sky over so many tragedies that my fellow humans face.

Fred Rogers, one of my personal theological heroes, once explained how his mother instructed him to handle scary situations by saying: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." This is a beautiful example of how we can begin to respond to the ugliness of the world. Although it can sometimes feel like the darkness is more powerful than the light, looking for those helping demonstrates that there are glimmers of light even in the most deep, scary night. But to take it further, I would say it's important to spiritually feed yourself by seeking out beauty. Our brains are hardwired to look for the negative and scary. This is how we adapted to dangerous environments; learning from others' mistakes and paying attention to threads helped us survive as a species. But in our news-saturated, hyper-connected world, this tendency to look for the dangers can turn us from action and preparation to a terror which freezes us, and a hopelessness that is hard to overcome.

One of my favorite passages from the epistles says: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8) This is actually fantastic advice for how we can keep ourselves sane when things get really ugly. It's not to say that we ignore what's ugly, but that we cultivate in ourselves the ability to notice God's presence and God's kingdom in our midst so that we are not overwhelmed when things get really rough. If you notice the beauty in our ugly world when things are okay, it will give you strength and determination when it's harder to find those beautiful things. When you see how strangers contributed money to buy a car for a down-on-his-luck dad, or a child comforting a friend, or experience a warming hug in the midst of loss, you are reminded that we are not alone, and the darkness is not impermeable. Even the darkest night cannot overcome the smallest flame.

So choose beauty, little one. Choose to see with eyes oriented not at now, but at not yet. Choose not to see a terrified young woman with a frail baby in a manger, but the beginning of a story that changed everything. Choose to look at where light has broken into darkness so that you may see that the truth of light, and hope, and healing, and peace, and joy, and lions and lambs and a city where it is never night and the gate is always open is only a hair's breadth away from you at any given moment. When you look with those eyes oriented toward that promise, you will be emboldened and strengthened to bring that reality a little nearer. Your fears will be answered with an overwhelming word of peace and comfort, and you will begin to see the beauty which overwhelmingly renews and restores all that was once ugly, broken, or evil. You will see Easter lilies blooming in brown slush, and know that spring was actually waiting for you the whole time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Letters to My Dear Sophia: When Evil Wins the Day

This is a series entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.

My dearest Sophia,

I cried this morning holding you in my arms. Yesterday, we went to vote in the presidential election for the first woman to ever hold a major party nomination. I wore a pantsuit and a white shirt as a nod to all my sisters who came before and fought for my voice to be heard. I cried while filling out my ballot. Let me tell you why.

When I was in sixth grade I wrote an essay about Helen Keller. It was so good that my teacher accused me of having my older brother write it. When I was in 8th grade I got 104% on a US History test about WWII. The teacher made me take the test again under her supervision because she didn't believe I could score that high without cheating (I got the same score). When I was 18, I was mailed a flyer for deaconess training, the approved ministry track for women in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, who believe women cannot be pastors. When I was 26, I was told I was "a good little preacher" but that I wasn't "enough like a pastor" to lead a congregation (a pastor is male, apparently). When I was 27, a parishioner cornered me in the church office and joked about "getting me on the church bus" and "not letting me escape." He worked across the street from my house, where I lived alone.

All my life, I have been told that I can do lots of things! Except those things that are for men. I can be eloquent, but surely not as eloquent as my brother. I can be smart, but surely not the smartest in the class. I can be a minister, but not an equal to male church leaders. I can preach, but my words will always be hindered by my femaleness--my voice, my expressions, the length of my skirt. I voted for a competent, knowledgeable, tough stateswoman, with you, my daughter. And you and I and every other girl and woman were told that it doesn't matter how accomplished you are; you are still less than the least qualified man. That hurts. That's why I cried.

I cried because you deserve better. I cried because I worked so hard my whole life, have fought so hard for recognition, to be considered equal. And yet our president elect has admitted to sexual assault, and now he will become the leader of the free world. He has valued women only for their sexuality and appearance, and now we must listen to him; follow him, as a qualified woman sits, once again, on the sidelines. I am angry. I am angry at our country, for being so partisan that they would vote against me, against you, against our LGBT family and friends, against our Muslim and atheist brothers and sisters. I am deeply wounded. I have been told, once again, that I do not have value, and that you do not have value, except for what we offer to men. I am discouraged, that we have come so far only for so much racism and sexism and self-interest and white, angry hatred overtake it so easily. I expected better of us.

This is the first major historical event in your lifetime, but I think it's important for you to know about it even though you don't remember it because right now I feel fear, and anger, and disappointment, and pain, and you will feel these things too, someday. You will be told you have less value because of your gender identity or appearance. You will be told your voice means less, that your consent doesn't matter, that you aren't as smart or worthy of leadership positions. You will be told that justice is impossible, and self interest is the only way. But my dear Sophia, those are lies. You, like every boy and man in this world, were created in God's image.  You are worthy, not because of your appearance, your orientation, your reproductive organs, or the color of your skin, but because you are a child of God. Never forget that. Those who judge you as less, value you less, give you less regard, tell you who you love is wrong, tell you you do not have autonomy over your own body, they are speaking from their own brokenness. We are all sinners, and we are all separated from God's goodness by our mortality and the evil in and around us.

And yet, Christ is here. Christ is here declaring your worth as a child of God: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) And most importantly, Christ has made us a promise, that we will be redeemed. That "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:38-39) To me, this says that evil didn't win. Today, our country voted for injustice, for fear, for self-centeredness, for separation. But while our lives, our nation, and our world are finite, God is infinite. God's justice reigns supreme over all our human failures, over your life and your neighbors' lives, and the lives of every person who has ever existed. 

Do not let the evil of today define and discourage you, but continue to seek justice, love mercy, and walk with your God who is bigger than Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin, and hate, and greed, and all evil. Let that God rule your life. Fight for justice. Know you will fail sometimes, and despair, as I have today. Know you will let unkindness win, as I have today. But know that the love of Christ connects us both to our (gay, trans, black, immigrant, Muslim, atheist, pro-life, pro-choice, fearful, lost, angry, confused) brothers and sisters, and that it also connects us to the future that we have been promised. And that future is one of peace, equality, and redemption.

My prayer for you today is that you learn to let hope overwhelm you, and never give up, even when those around you tell you that you can't do it. And that the peace that surpasses all our understanding work in your heart as you act justly and love even those who persecute you.