Looking Back on 2014 and Forward to 2015

Image courtesy of suphakit73 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As 2014 is winding down, I thought it would be a good time to go back and revisit some of the most popular posts on my little blog here. I say most “popular” with a heavy dose of humility as popular here pales in comparison to popular elsewhere on the internet. 2014 was my first year of consistent, weekly blogging. There were some hiccups, but I somehow managed to put out 142 posts that brought in nearly 4,000 views. I want to say a big “Thank You” to those 4000 sets of eyes who took the time to read what I write and share you thoughts and comments. Your conversation and support is greatly appreciated. With that said, here are the top 5 posts (by views) that I rolled out on the blog in 2014:

  • Advent Lectio: Comfort When There is Little to be Found This should come as little surprise that my first post about the miscarriage of our baby girl, Zoey Grace, flew to the top of this list. It was only posted earlier this month, but the outpouring of support from friends and family all across the country made this the post popular post of 2014. I know this post was helpful for me in working through the craziness of the situation, but I was also surprised at the amount of people who revealed how healing and touching it was for them as well.
  • The Biggest Myth Revealed by School Shootings Posted in the wake of the high school shooting in Troutdale, Oregon I lamented about how we in America believe violence to be a solution to our problems. Especially in America, we glorify and define our history by moments of violence. I point out that Jesus seems to come along to reverse this myth that violence solves problems by acting in ways that attempt to end the rolling cycle of violence (see Matthew 5:38-42).
  • Saint of the Week – Lin Zhao Agatha Some saints get regular attention throughout the year. This one was a sleeper surprise to me. Practically every week somebody stumbles over to my blog by searching for this saint. Lin Zhao Agatha is a somewhat obscure, Chinese saint, that has a short but powerful story. Born in 1817 and beheaded in 1858 for her faith, Lin Zhao Agatha’s story should enlighten us to the struggles that our current brothers and sisters in the faith still encounter in China.
  • 10 Things I Learned from my Dad – Part 1 This post appearing in the top 5 should not be a big surprise either. Posted after the passing of my father I spent two posts going over 10 things my dad taught me. Some were taught directly (like mowing the lawn) but most were learned by just watching my dad and learning his character. Lessons like how to love my wife, the importance of Sunday naps and being involved in church were picked up more through experience rather than instruction. Be sure to check out Part 2 to get the full list.
  • Saint of the Week – Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe Another saint rounds out the top 5 posts of 2014. This one was not that much of a surprise. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe had quite a year. She was named one of Times 100 Most Influential People in 2014, appeared on the Colbert Report and had her work featured in a documentary called Sewing Hope. Since 2001, Sister Rosemary has worked to save nearly 2000 girls from being forced to be child soldiers or sex slaves in Africa. At the St. Monica Girls’ Tailoring School in Gulu, Uganda Sister Rosemary teaches them to sew, cook and other skills and will help place them in consistent jobs in their community. The story of Sister Rosemary is one we all should know.
  • Honorable Mention – Brittany Maynard’s Choice and the Challenge of Death – I wanted to also highlight this post as it sparked the most conversation on the blog and on Facebook. The post looked at the choice of Brittany Maynard to move to Oregon and utilize their Death with Dignity option after discovering she had terminal brain cancer. The post examined what death and dying looks like in our modern medical world and what it means to “play God”. We are given the option, by God it seems, to act as his caretakers of earth and humanity. What matters is how we choose to play God with the choices and opportunities we’ve been given.

So, where will this blog be going in 2015? Truthfully, God only knows. However, I do plan to try and continue posting at least one blog post a week along with the regular prayers on Sunday morning. The Lenten Lectio and Advent Lectio series will continue as usual. Something I’m considering switching up is not doing a regular saint of the week. I have not been as consistent with a weekly saint as it does take a bit of work to find a good story to highlight. This may transform to a Saint of the month because I would like to continue highlighting people who are doing, or have done, great things for the church. To replace the weekly Saint, I will instead try to do a weekly, lectio type, reflection on a Psalm or segment of a Psalm. The Psalm will come from the lectionary reading for the upcoming Sunday as provided by one of many online resources I frequent for lectionary matters (The Text This Week, Mission Saint Clare, Sunday Worship app).

Thanks again for a great year. Please continue to read, comment and share my posts on your social network of choice to further the conversation.

God bless.

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Prayer for the First Sunday of Christmas

Pakistani civil society activists light candles during a rally in Karachi on December 23, 2014, held in solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar school massacre. (Getty)

Pakistani civil society activists light candles during a rally in Karachi on December 23, 2014, held in solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar school massacre. (Getty)

Heavenly Father, whose children suffered at the hands of Herod, though they had done no wrong: by the suffering of your Son and by the innocence of our lives frustrate all evil designs and establish your reign of justice and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Prayer for Christmas Day

The Nativity by Jacques Stella, 1639.

The Nativity by Jacques Stella, 1639.

Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Savior and our eternal God.

Advent Lectio: Finding New Life

Our family after spreading Zoey's ashes near the Golden Gate.

Our family after spreading Zoey’s ashes near the Golden Gate.

My Advent Lectio series this year took a very abrupt turn after the initial post. Shortly after that post my wife found out that the child she was carrying, and we were eagerly expecting, had passed away in her womb. Thus began a long process of waiting, doctors office and hospital visits, and grieving. You can read about some of that process in the last two posts here and here. Today I’m probably wrapping up my reflections on this process in a neat trilogy of posts, but this does not mean the process has been neat or that we have stopped grieving. Quite the opposite actually. Which is what I want to explore a bit in this post.

After we found out that the heart of our little Zoey Grace had stopped beating, I wrote about in my first post how we entered a sort of liminal space. There was this small body in my wife who we knew was dead, but she had not been born yet. We were caught in an odd moment between the realities of life and death in our child’s life.

It was probably one of the hardest weeks of our lives.

Since then, my wife has given birth to Zoey and we held her small body. We worked with a very gracious and understanding funeral home to have her cremated. After receiving her remains, we traveled to San Francisco where we spread her ashes over the bay at the Marin Headlands with some close family. We said some prayers, read a bit of Psalm 139 and, as my wife said, “we returned Zoey Grace to God and nature.” Yesterday we also held a small memorial service with friends and family at our house. We shared some prayers, quotes and verses that have been meaningful to us during this time. We enjoyed some birthday cake for Zoey and revealed a shadowbox of memories from the events around her birth and death.

With all those events behind us, our family takes the first steps into this new life both with and without Zoey Grace. It’s an odd place where we know we really have two daughters, one who is with us and one who is not. Because Zoey is not with us, that does not mean we live as if she never entered our lives. She is now an important and necessary part of our story so we move forward with our new family into a new life.

I think the interaction between Mary and the angel Gabriel from this Sunday’s Gospel reading is appropriate for us during this time:

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her
Luke 1:38 (CEB)

Zoey entered our life and left us much as the angel Gabriel came in to Mary’s life. Zoey came in and, even in her short time with us, she transformed our lives. Her time with us was brutally short and we still have many questions, our hearts still ache and they days ahead will not be easy. But, ultimately we accept that we are the Lord’s servants and we are thankful for the time we did get to spend with Zoey. We do wish it could have been much longer because we had great dreams and hopes, but as with Mary (and the Beatles) we are beginning to be able to say, “Let it be.”

One thing my wife has been saying during this time is that we can not treat our time with Zoey as a “Nevermind.” She was not a mistake, this was not an accident and there are no apologies to make. We have welcomed her as our daughter and felt her passing as deeply as any other family member. We are moving forward as a family, into a new life as new people into a new part of our story.

Our tiny angel Zoey, our tiny messenger of love and life, has left us.

We are the Lord’s servants. Let it be with us as the Lord has said.

And, along with Mary, we will never be the same.

Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Pregnant Girl by Philippe Halsman, 1950.

Pregnant Girl by Philippe Halsman, 1950.

Eternal God,
as Mary waited for the birth of your Son,
so we wait for his coming in glory;
bring us through the birth pangs of this present age
to see, with her, our great salvation
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Advent Lectio: Our Tiny Messanger

Image courtesy of Keattikorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Keattikorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week I published one of my most raw and emotional posts ever to this little blog of mine. For those of you who missed it, please go check it out as today’s post is a sort of Part 2. In a woefully short summary, my wife and I found out the heart of our baby she was carrying had stopped at about the 20 week mark. Last week was a tumultuous week filled with hospital delays, tears and frustrations. It would not be until Wednesday night at about 11:30pm we met our little girl and named her Zoey Grace. Our time since then has been a whirlwind of emotions and busyness.

One of the main things we have been discussing is our role as parents to Zoey Grace. We believe she is and will forever be a part of our family. Since we will not be able to do the standard things parents do when raising a child, we realized our role as parents is to remember Zoey and tell her story. We figured that since she would not be around to show and tell others about herself and our family, it was our job as parents to do the showing and telling. We have to be her voice. So, much of our recent emotions and busyness have been spent finding ways to remember Zoey and help tell her story.

What we did not realize, is how much Zoey is already talking to us and helping us tell our story through her life.

My wife and I were sitting together with our counselor talking about the recent events. We discussed learning about her death, going to the hospital, giving birth, our emotions and the outpouring of support from friends and family and how much we have felt loved by them. Our counselor stopped us and said:

“Maybe that’s what Zoey is telling you? Maybe she is telling you how much you are loved.”

We realized, we gave her the name Grace because we knew we would be needing some. Little did we realize that she would be the one helping us find some love and grace. Zoey was our tiny messenger of love, light and grace.

In thinking about this, I was reminded of the gospel reading from this past Sunday.

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light
John 1:6-8 (CEB)

John the Baptist acted as a messenger for the “light” that was coming in and through Jesus. Zoey Grace was a tiny  messenger from God in our lives that shined a light to show us how much we are loved. My wife and I both cried and were angry at God for a while there. Honestly, we still question this whole thing from time to time. But, the kind words, hugs and loving support from friends is on a level we have yet to experience as a family. Even before this our own insecurities often caused us to question how much we were truly loved and who our friends were. Zoey Grace passing through our life has truly shown us the depths of love that surround us in our friends and our family. We know that the support of our friends is also an extension of the love and support of God who is hurting along with us. Whether you believe God ordained this to happen or not, we believe that God is mourning with us. We are just beginning to understand God’s grace in new and almost unspeakable ways.

Speaking for myself here, but I feel that bringing Zoey Grace into the world has even brought my wife and I closer together. We have had to hug tighter and listen closer to each other than we have ever had to. Emotions are higher and the need for grace has risen with it. Yet, through it all, Zoey Grace is helping us find new depths of love and grace in our relationship.

We gave her the name Zoey because we believe she is a living and active part of our family.

Little did we know she would help us find new ways to live.

We gave her the name Grace because we needed grace.

Little did we know the overflowing springs of grace and love she would help us find.

We thought we would have to be messengers for Zoey Grace and her life.

Instead, she is our tiny messenger.

Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent

Waiting by Constantin Artachino, n.d.

Waiting by Constantin Artachino, n.d.

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.