Sunday, March 15, 2020 was the first Sunday our church met online.  That night, as Pastor Sarah cuddled her 3-year old daughter to sleep, she sensed that she was being held by God.   She wrote: “God holds us. As foundation and bedrock. As the force that keeps us in place when the world is swirling. As a mother soothes a restless child.”

Since, she has written this series called “God Holds You,” daily reflections on life and faith during the pandemic. She will keep writing until the church can gather in person again. 

May 27, 2020
God Holds You. Day 74.

The psalm assigned for Sunday is Psalm 104. It’s a song of the harmony and diversity of creation. Birds nest in treetops and Leviathan plays in the depths of the sea. God is both powerful and benevolent, responsible for feeding the creatures and ensuring that all will be satisfied.

The assigned section is verses 24 – 34 and 35b. That means that one half of one verse, 35a, was omitted.

You might be asking, what is 35a?

“Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.”


That line isn’t included in the reading for Sunday presumably because it is jarring and hard to hear. Jesus said “pray for your enemy.” That’s a far cry from “let sinners be consumed.” A theology of grace leads us toward a God forgives sins rather than a God who smites the wicked. Plus, any student of Lutheran Confessions knows that there’s no such thing as a sinner that can just be plucked up and removed from the otherwise perfect world. We’re all sinners in need of redeeming.

Even so, I would include 35a.

One of the great things about the Psalms is their honesty. This psalm acknowledges that in the goodness of God’s creation, wickedness wreaks havoc. These are lines of lament about the world as it is.

They are also lines of confession. I can’t pray them without quickly realizing that I’m asking for the wickedness that lives within me to be removed, something only God can do.

And these lines are true. They echo the prayers in my heart lately, prayers that include an end to the power of people who have become consumed in wickedness and sin.

I don’t want to santize my prayers right now. It’s not like God just does all my bidding anyway. I think God wants to hear that we know some things are terribly wrong. And we need help.

These hard lines only add to the point of the psalm: Nothing is more powerful than God’s creative goodness. It is worthy to be praised.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 26, 2020

God holds you. Day 73.

The news of the day from my hometown is horrific. In Minneapolis, a black man was brutally killed by a white cop. He had committed no crime that warranted such a response.

This pattern is entrenched and it is evil. It existed long before coronavirus, but it sure seems that coronavirus has helped fan racist flames.

White supremacy is kin to many of the “you can’t make me wear a mask” sentiments. Covid-19 has disproportionately affected African American and Latino communities. It makes it too easy for white leaders to trivialize the damage. Plus, with all the generalized fear and anxiety, people are looking for someone to blame and someone to shame.

At one point, it seemed like coronavirus was bringing out our best “we’re in this together” instincts. Now, it seems to be ripping us farther apart. I fear we’re living in a tinderbox.

Enter the Pentecost. Flames are a dominant metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Fire is refining and powerful. It can destroy but it also can be for good. It gave the disciples power to speak new languages and build bridges toward people they’d been isolated from before.

We are promised the Holy Spirit’s power and fire. If we’re in a tinderbox, may it be one in which people burst into surprising acts of courage, unity, justice and love. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

PS: If anyone’s keeping track, you’ll notice I didn’t write yesterday. I had a lovely Memorial Day holiday chilling with my family and just couldn’t muster the energy for thought. This is going on much longer than I’d thought. But I’ll keep writing.

May 24, 2020
God holds you. Day 71.At one point this afternoon, my husband was prepping a canvas for a painting, I was setting up my pottery wheel, and both girls were doing their own messy art projects.This happened quite naturally and without coordination, but there was a reason for it.

We’d all been inspired in church.

For the past three weeks, our church has included a “creative offering” in our liturgy. Today, artist Marni shared paintings she’s made during coronatime. She connected the experience of painting them with her faith. They were breathtaking, whimsical and powerful. God was evident in them.

Afterward she led a simple line drawing exercise called “Signs of the Spirit.” She primed our creative juices. We’ll use the artwork next week on Pentecost Sunday.

With everything going on in the world, taking time to do art together might seem like it should be low on the priority list. But I think it’s one of the most important things churches can be doing. A community that creates together is alive with God’s spirit.

Everyone is in the process of creating new ways of being. I find it thrilling but also exhausting. Sometimes I don’t want to have to face another challenge or come up with some alternative way to get the work of the church done.

Today I tapped into a different kind of creativity: the kind that’s pure play. It comes when I’m coloring with the kids or making pottery or gardening. It fills me back up.

Who knows if any of the projects my family started will get finished. That’s not the point. For a short while today, we each got lost in the pleasure of creativity without consequence or purpose. It was good.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 21, 2020
God holds you. Day 68Memorial Day weekend.Sibs and Spice. That’s me and my four siblings, plus our spouses (they named themselves the Spice). They’re all cool, interesting, kind people. Good company. We love being together.

The last time we were all in the same place was six months ago, Thanksgiving in Minnesota. Somewhere between the cranberry sauce and the pumpkin pie, we realized that in spring, two of the ten would turn fifty. Certainly, a celebration was in order.

We decided to take a weekend away. We’ve never done anything like this, but with kids growing and jobs stabilizing, it seemed possible. After bouncing ideas around, we made a plan.

Nashville. No kids. Music, food, cocktails, coffee, lounging, cards, laughter, more music.

You guessed it…Memorial Day Weekend.

We all arranged childcare (no small feat with sixteen kids involved!), got off work, found flights, rented an airbnb for ten, and googled music venues.

You know the rest of the story. None of us will be boarding a plane tomorrow.

All day, I’ve been thinking, “in the alternate universe, I’d be packing, prepping the kids for our departure, making a list for the babysitter.”

All day I’ve been thinking, “I’d see some of my favorite people in the whole world, tomorrow.”

I know this isn’t life or death. In the grand scheme, it’s no big deal. The weekend at home will be fine. The family will rally. Maybe we’ll do a zoom with the Minnesota crew. The sibs and spice will make it happen another year. But dang. I’m really bummed out tonight.

If anyone needs me tomorrow, I’ll be nursing my disappointment, requesting songs from my guitar-playing husband, texting with the sibs and spice, and dreaming of a different universe.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 20, 2020
God holds you. Day 67.
Water. Parts of Bangladesh and Michigan are under water. A lot of indebted people are too. Disasters are even more catastrophic when poured on top of pandemic.The psalmist writes about the rising noise of the sea, the deafening sound that makes it impossible to hear anything but its thunderous power.

Water can be a metaphor for chaos. We are swimming in it.

God saves through the water. Prescribed floods and parted seas and wells that never run dry. Little boats seek out survivors and homes are opened to those in need and climate scientists warn of the floods to come, so that we may be saved.

We start worship each Sunday with a remembrance of baptism. From their homes, worshipers dip their fingers in bowls of water and trace a cross on their foreheads. Because I am alone in the room, I mark myself. Even so, the water always surprises me. It is fresh and cool.

There is God’s majesty, dripping down my arm. Rising above the chaos. Cutting through the noise. Bringing holy order to a raging world.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 19, 2020

God holds you. Day 66.

Prayer. I wish I could say I’ve prayed more than ever since this all begin. But the truth is that prayer takes time and sustained attention, things that have been in short supply.

I spent a lot of time in prayer today. I prayed for specific people in my congregation. You may be asking, “what does a pastor do when she says “‘I prayed today.’?” Here’s what I do.

I make a list. It’s like each person on my list is a fine crystal statue on a big table. I pick one up, hold it to the light and examine it. I turn it over. I look closely.

Focused on the person, I imagine all the different parts of the their life and try to connect them to God. It’s like I’m pulling them close and asking God to come close too. I bring to mind their family, their work, their health, their spiritual life, their struggles, their friendships, their rough edges, their talents and joys. I think about the things I know and the things I don’t know. This takes a few minutes. Then I thank God for them and ask for God to be with them in a way they can sense today. I gently put them down, and go to the next person on my list.

That’s what I do. It was good to get back to it today.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 18, 2020

God holds you. Day 65.

I once got to hear Sam Nzima give a talk. He’s a Southern African photographer who took the iconic photo of a child, Hector Pieterson, who was shot and killed during the student protests in 1976. That picture went round the world and changed the global response to apartheid.

Nzima said something that stuck with me “if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen.” He wasn’t giving commentary on the actuality of an event, but pointing out that without journalists reporting on the truth, it’s too easy for people in power to twist reality.

I thought of Nzima because on Sunday, our church service was photographed by journalists working for a news outlet that’s documenting faith communities in this time. One photographer took photos of me while another was at a members’ home, photographing their family at worship.

The pictures are pretty cool, though they’re not mine to share here. But what was cooler, to me, was scrolling through the website and seeing all the photos these folks have taken.

It got me thinking about all the moments that journalists show up for, creating a body of work dedicated to truth. Much of it is as unglamorous as hanging out in a pastor’s cramped basement on a Sunday morning. But it all adds up, and sometimes, they get the picture that can change the world.

During the trial that would end in his execution as an enemy of the state, Jesus told Pilate, “I have come to bear witness to the truth.” Pilate responded, “what is truth?”

Praying tonight for the safety and courage of journalists who pursue the truth. May their holy work bend our world toward justice.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 17, 2020

God holds you. Day 64.

Like many churches, Peace’s zoom was down this morning. Our team scrambled and responded well, but we were stymied. When I finally discovered it was a problem with zoom worldwide, I was relieved. I’m not solely responsible for making worship happen but I am on the short list. At least it wasn’t my ineptitude that kept people from worshiping.

But it also wasn’t anyone else’s, not really, not even Zoom’s (thought I may have let a curse word slip their direction). Three months ago, Zoom didn’t know they’d need to scale up quite so dramatically. There are bound to be hiccups.

It’s so easy to judge using old standards. Today, I remembered how new this still is and how much we’re asking of one another. It makes me want to lower my expectations and increase my gratitude for everyone who has adapted so quickly.

I also remembered that the good people of our church will come through for one another in predictably kindhearted ways, no matter the technology. Had it been my fault, I would have been forgiven. Our church is a church of grace.

We recovered. It was stressful, but hardly the end of the world. We worshiped. Our community stuck in there for one another. God was near.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 14, 2020

God holds you. Day 61.

“If suffering is God’s will, it is better to suffer because you did good than because you did evil.” 1 Peter 3

I don’t like to suffer. I like a firm mattress, a well-stocked fridge, and a society that’s built to cater to my needs. I can easily convince myself that’s what God wants for me too. An easy life. The absence of pain.

I have a hard time with this stuff from 1 Peter. I chafe against the phrase “suffering is God’s will” because I cling to the phrase “God is love.”

But the existence of suffering is obvious. And I respect a worldview that puts God at the center and relates everything – even suffering – to God. It’s the worldview I strive for. I want God to shape me, not the other way around.

The passage from 1 Peter gives me some room to wrestle because it indicates that not all suffering is equal. Some suffering leads to good. And that, too, is obvious, as countless nurses and bus drivers and others have shown in recent weeks.

I think we call that sacrifice – literally “drawing closer to the sacred.” I think we call it love. And God is love.

Maybe the point is that we don’t get to choose whether or not we will suffer. What we get to choose is if our suffering is in the service of evil or of love. Lord, help us choose well.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 13, 2020

God holds you. Day 60.

Today our oldest daughter turned five. With no party, we were worried it would be a bummer of a birthday. To compensate, we planned a day full of little surprises, bought a few too many presents, and hung a big sign so everyone would know. We need not have worried. People came out for our girl to show her the love.

Some examples: a neighbor snuck over at night and chalked a birthday greeting in our driveway. Another neighbor family delivered balloons. Some church members did a drive by hello. Friends recorded videos of themselves singing happy birthday. Both sides of the family hopped in on zoom calls. Even the UPS guy got in in the action, leaving a happy birthday note on the door. And the highlight, neighbors came out to cheer at our birthday parade down the sidewalk.

It’s like everyone knew it might be sad to turn five in the middle of a pandemic, so they did what they could do to make it great. No one huge thing; just loads of little ways people showed their love. It added up to the best birthday a five-year old could ask for. I’m a grateful, tired momma.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 12, 2020

God holds you. Day 59.

Bleak Day. Another congregant died of this virus. Employees at the grocery store where we shop have tested positive. NPR aired a story about a nearby neighborhood that’s one of our areas’ hot spots.

There’s a theme here: extreme vulnerability. Our congregant was in memory care and completely dependent on his care-givers. The grocery store employees need their low-wage jobs to survive. (And we need them to keep working). The neighborhood is impoverished, crowded, and full of people who have to work jobs without protection.

A good society should care for its most vulnerable. Instead, we’re throwing them under the bus. Our leaders keep feeding us a line that this is inevitable. That there’s no way through this with people’s lives and basic economic well-being intact.

When Jesus tells Judas “you will always have the poor with you,” he’s not talking about the inevitability of poverty. He’s talking about Judas’ lack of moral imagination. Judas was both holding the common purse and, not surprisingly, stealing from it.

It’s not that hard to imagine a world where we don’t have to choose between saving people from poverty and saving people’s lives. I don’t know the mechanism for how we can do it. But I can imagine it. And I know I’m not alone.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 11, 2020

God holds you. Day 58.

“I will not leave you orphaned.” In Jesus’ farewell to his followers, he promised the Spirit of God would be with them even after he was gone. It’s always reminded me of a commencement speech. Part nostalgia, part pep talk. It’s a divine “you got this,” and by “you,” Jesus means “you plus God.”

I’ve been astounded, outraged and terrified by the leadership of our country.

But I’ve been impressed with how many people, seeing the vacuum of leadership at the top, have bypassed traditional channels of power. A faith-based organization in Baltimore bought tents for homeless people because shelters were unsafe. A nearby church partnered with Jose Andres to become a world kitchen site. Our congregation is poised to expand a staff position for community outreach.

I wish our government were different. That’s an understatement. I think people of faith need to keep up the hard press of advocating for justice and demanding caring leadership from our elected leaders. But it helps my soul breathe to remember government doesn’t hold all the power.

No one is coming to save us. But we have not been orphaned. God’s Spirit is here. We got this.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 10, 2020

God holds you. Day 57

Mothers Day. One of the hardest things is not knowing when I’ll see my parents again. I live in Virginia, they live in Minnesota. We’re trying to figure out if there will be enough testing that we could get there in late summer. Of course, we won’t know that till late summer. I’m not holding my breath. Realistically, there’s a good chance I won’t see them for a year.

I have made our daughters promise that we’ll all live next door to one another when they’re adults and I am, in their words, “ancient.”

But if I am anything like my mother’s daughter, I won’t hold them to that promise.

One of the most enduring gifts my mother gave is that she never held my decisions hostage to her needs. She encouraged me to become who I am now. That meant dropping me off at airports not knowing when she’d see me again, helping me move cross-country, and letting me go.

Coronavirus has shown me that physical distance really does matter. Even with zoom and FaceTime, something is lost by living far from the ones I love.

I’m not gonna lie, I’ll be thrilled if I can live near our daughters when they are adults. But I’ll be more thrilled if they say about me what I can say about my mom: She is content in her life and eager to help me find contentment in mine, even if it is different from hers. She just wants me to be happy.

I love you mom. Feel my hug.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 7, 2020

God holds you. Day 54.

I’m supersaturated tonight. Too much work. Too much zoom.

And too much news, much of it falling smack in the middle of a demoralizing Venn diagram of:

A – things I care about;
B – things that are awful;
C – things I can’t control.

I think what’s got me down tonight is feeling powerless. It’s bigger than the coronavirus, though that’s in there of course. It’s also the gutting of our nation’s best institutions and the pervasive racism in our legal system and the chaos of the news reporting itself and feeling like there’s nothing I can do about any of it.

In the gospel for Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples “whatever you ask for in my name, I will do it.” What a display of power; what an offer. At first glance it seems prideful, unrealistic, and dangerous. After all, how many faithful people have begged to God only to have their prayers go unanswered and their faith destroyed?

Jesus echoes what an evil leader, Herod, said earlier to his daughter in a show of power meant to flatter dinner guests. “Whatever you ask me, I will give you.” She asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Her wish was granted. People eager to prove their power can quickly turn dangerous, even lethal.

That’s not what Jesus is about. Jesus doesn’t just give us what we want. He has nothing to prove. He gives what we ask for “in his name.” In the name of the one who was about to be crucified.

Jesus doesn’t mean we can become all-powerful. Instead, he shows us that we can access the power Jesus had on the cross, power to be intimately connected to God, even when the world has taken everything.

God always gives some power. Power to pray. Power to tell the truth. Power to forgive. Power to dream. Power to hope. In Jesus’ name.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 6, 2020

God holds you. Day 53.

For the bedtime story tonight, we pulled out our gorgeous children’s book of Noah’s ark. It’s all pictures, no words. I love “reading” with our kids as they tell the story. But I fear the day they narrate the page when the flood begins.

On that page, there’s a succession of paintings of the poor elephants who were left off the ark. As the water rises, they’re up to their knees, then up to their heads, and then they disappear.

With great harm, too much of Christianity has echoed this interpretation of Noah’s ark: God saves some people; the rest are sunk.

I don’t buy it. I cannot believe in the narrowness of God’s salvation. Thankfully, there’s plenty of scriptural and theological basis to draw a different conclusion. God loves the whole world. That’s the point of Jesus.

Right now, my family and church are mostly safe and sound. It could be easy to shut the doors of the ark and count my blessings.

Because of Jesus, I don’t want to. Because of Jesus, I refuse to accept the proposition that only some people can be saved. And I don’t just mean spiritually saved. I mean healed and fed and housed and financially solvent and able to live a pleasant life.

So in a weird way, I’m grateful for images that disturb me. For the picture of the elephants drowning. For stories of food lines and data about financial duress. I’m thankful for journalists who keep pointing out how black and brown people bear the brunt of society’s sin. For prophets who disturb my peace. They help me see what’s wrong, so that I can ask God to help me make it right.

I want to rewrite the Noah story. I think we can save those poor elephants. I believe God can make room for everybody in the ark.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 5, 2020

God holds you. Day 52.

In the first weeks, I was in triage mode. My priorities were dictated by immediate needs: How does Zoom talk to Facebook? Who is watching our children? Is everyone in the congregation ok? How much longer can we go without milk?

Now, as the country is opening up, my energy and mental space are opening up too. The problem? I can’t figure out my priorities.

I can easily recall how I used to spend my time, how I structured a day. Some was great. But some was not. The same is true for the church and society.

I sense that it’s more important than ever to open up slowly, and not just to keep people healthy. I fear if we go quickly, we will default to a past that didn’t always serve.

I think of the sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus critiqued Martha for being so distracted that she missed an important moment. Jesus praised Mary for her focus on “just one thing.”

My prayer tonight is for focus and discernment, that I not jam up the future with the priorities of past but instead let God show me the better way.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 4, 2020

God holds you. Day 51.

One of the assigned scriptures for Sunday is the story of Stephen the martyr. (Acts 6-7).

Stephen led the feeding ministry of the earliest church. He made sure widows could eat.

For such a crime, he was brought to trial. The accusation? “Changing customs” and following Jesus.

He pointed out his people’s long history of killing prophets and propping up unjust leaders. He was stoned to death by a crowd that was outraged by his truth-telling.

I see obvious connections with the protests of the past weeks. The violent crowd, armed for blood. Willful ignorance of history. Treating those who serve others as if they are the problem.

Contrast that outrage with Stephen, a witness that upset the status quo because of who he served: hungry widows. The crucified Jesus.

Stephen didn’t fight back with violence. He was full of grace. His dying words contain the key to the future. “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

May 3, 2020

God holds you. Day 50.

My soul was restored this weekend. A canoe trip. Fresh radishes. A weekend off from preaching. A socially-distanced visit with my cousins. I even got a nap.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that I would have felt bad about enjoying days like this while the death toll and unemployment and bad behavior are all still on the rise.

But God keeps showing me that joy and peace are gifts to be cherished, especially when the world is in so much turmoil.

Revival is God’s work. We aren’t only made for labor and mourning, for the burden of healing and peace-making.

We are also made for rest and laughter, for being healed and at peace.

So again, today, I am grateful for still waters. God restored my soul.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 30, 2020

God holds you. Day 47.

Usually for a memorial service, formal bouquets, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars, are delivered to the church.

For today’s service, church members dropped off a bouquet of colorful tulips and branches of pink azaleas.

The flowers were beautiful, meaningful, and free. It was one of hundreds of times this covid life has made me think, why don’t we always do it this way?

There’s a flip side of course. An entire industry has been built on arranging and delivering flowers. People will experience financial insecurity if we no longer need fancy bouquets.

From oil producers to restauranteers to florists to – yes – pastors, covid brings terrifying financial insecurity. But it also brings the possibility of a new economy driven by values like compassion, simplicity, neighborliness, and a livable planet.

I don’t want fear to keep me from stepping into this new world. Instead, I want to look at the lilies of the field and trust that God will provide.

After all, the azaleas are fading, but the roses are just about to bloom.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 29, 2020

God holds you, Day 46.

The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in. Psalm 121.

We went out tonight. It has been a draining few days and I wanted a boost. I wanted a drive and some comfort food.

It was the first time the kids have been in a car for forty-six days. They were giddy. They shouted at each landmark and shrieked with delight when we passed their daycare. I was giddy too. It felt so good to be out together, wind in our hair, Frozen 2 on the radio.

By the time we got to the drive-thru, my excitement was fading. We were masked, gloved and sanitized, but still I felt anxious. I also felt shame. Did we support the local economy or put ourselves at risk? Rather than eat in the parking lot – the original plan – I just wanted to get home.

Driving home, we passed the hospital where our girls were born. They eagerly pointed it out, as they always do, but something was amiss. The block was filled with police cars and firetrucks. Groups of people in masks were lined up out front. We don’t know what was going on, but it seemed ominous. I was suddenly nervous and sad, reminded that things are not all right.

Home again, we ate our food on the front yard, chatting with the neighbors across the street and playing tag until the sun went down.

The Lord watches over the going out, yes.
And also, the coming in.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

***edited: I’ve learned that the activity at the hospital was actually a parade to boost hospital workers’ spirits. Worthy of reflection that I saw a parade and thought it was a protest. On edge anyone?? The Lord WILL watch your going out

April 28, 2020

God holds you. Day 45.

What do we have in common? Typically I’d answer that question with personal characteristics. Are you from Minnesota? A mother of preschoolers? A fan of the band U2? etc. If we share one of these, I’m bound to feel some kinship.

In the Biblical book of Acts, the early church is described as having “all things in common.” But it’s not talking about characteristics; it’s talking about resources. They shared it all.

Their impulse to hold all things in common was a sign that they trusted God.

When I’m secure, I’m also generous. When I’m afraid, I store up treasure for myself and I try to go it alone.

This virus has revealed just how much we share. It’s also shown how dangerous the fiction of independence can be.

What do we have in common? The power grid. Food production. The well-being of our children. Our planet. Our future.

What do we have in common? Everything. Most especially a loving God who we can trust to provide all we need, emphasis on the “we.”

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 27, 2020

God holds you. Day 44.

Thanks to everyone who has reached out in sympathy for the death I wrote about yesterday. It is wonderful to be cared for.

Today I was itching to move my body. I hauled my old bike from back of the garage and pumped up the tires. I wobbled around the backyard to test the brakes, then did a couple of loops through the neighborhood. Fifteen minutes. Just enough to remember how much I love riding a bike.

Zooming down a hill I laughed as I remembered the original meaning of the word zoom. As my legs struggled to crest that same hill a few minutes later, I felt like a person, not just a face behind a screen. I felt playful and childlike and strong. I felt free. I felt like myself.

During this quarantine, parts of my identity have been on overdrive (caregiver, housekeeper, facebook poster, etc.) but other parts have almost disappeared (reader, athlete, host of dinner parties, etc.).

I miss myself. I miss the balance of all my parts. I was grateful today for fifteen minutes on a bike and the wholeness that came with it.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 26, 2020

God holds you. Day 43.

Friday, the church I serve had had our first death from coronavirus. The woman who died was 90 and had underlying health conditions.

It’s too easy to read those statistics and think “that’s not a tragedy.” But without this virus, she would be alive, her husband of 67 years would have his life’s companion, and her death would not have been so lonely or disorienting.

Today I feel the urge to move past this quickly. I miss my friends. I’m no longer enchanted with online worship. Heck, I want to renovate my kitchen! It was finally underway after seven years of dreaming and then. Stopped.

It’s that grief again. Wanting things to be different. Aware of all that’s been lost.

I preached today about the importance of going through grief. I guess I was preaching to myself because I don’t want to grieve. I’d much rather be chipper and count my blessings.

But I have no choice. I am sad. The only way through is through.

I’m going to carve out time in my schedule to grieve. I will be still. Alone. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe take a nap.

I worry that if I don’t, I will get blindsided by grief in the guise of anger or resentment or burn out.

Grief is hard, but it’s not the worst thing. It’s how we get through. We will get through.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 23, 2020

God holds you. Day 40.

That’s right. Day forty. The quarantine is over, right?

Quarantine comes from the word forty. It was the number of days ships had to stay in port during the black plague. Forty. The number of years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the number of days Noah’s ark floated and Jesus fasted.

Forty is a Biblical number that marks the end of a period of trial.

But we’re not done. When I started writing this on March 15th, the first Sunday our church went virtual, I thought it would last a few weeks. We’re on day forty and it appears we are going to be in quarantine for a long time, even if the most stringent restrictions lift soon.

We’re on a journey, not in a port.

One of my favorite Bible stories is the Road to Emmaus. Grieving disciples met the resurrected Jesus on the road. Scripture is full of roads and pathways, people setting off toward the unknown and meeting God along the way.

What was true forty days ago is true now and will be true every day that lies ahead. God joins us on the way, and that makes all the difference.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

PS – When I started, I planned to write every night except one sabbath a week. I need two nights off. So I will take Fridays and Saturdays off and write again on Sunday.

April 22, 2020

God holds you. Day 39.

Earth day.

I’ve never been a climate change denier. In high school in the late 80s I wrote a paper about the destruction of rain forests and the greenhouse effect. Even then, the science was clear and terrifying.

Until corona virus, climate change was my main experience of existential despair. I don’t use the word despair lightly. I’ve had wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night panic about the warming earth. It’s made me wrestle with God and come to the edge of faith.

Like I said, I’ve never been a climate change denier. But I have been a “people can change for the good” denier.

And I’ve been a “God can turn this ship around” denier.

The corona virus is undeniably awful. But it is showing that systems can change quickly when people realize our lives are at stake and our love can make a difference. It’s given me hope that the kind of total change needed to reverse our ecological trajectory is possible.

Its also made my trust in God more alive than ever. My despair has been met with renewed faith. God’s power is palpable and unleashed.

I have ridiculous amounts of hope for the future. Happy Earth Day.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 21, 2020

God holds you. Day 38.

Our church has just received guidance on how to count worshipers for online services. By some measures, we’ve quintupled our reach. I’m excited about that. I want to share the good news.

At the same time, I am wary of equating success with large numbers. Some tiny churches are beacons of God’s grace. Some mega churches are corrupt. I’ve never been able to nail down the relationship between fidelity to the gospel and church growth.

On the eve of Earth day, I’m reminded of Dr Seuss’s ecotale “the Lorax.” He teaches that growing bigger for biggering’s sake can have disastrous consequences.

Jesus met one woman at the empty tomb. Maybe it was three. Two more people on the road to Emmaus. Yes, the news spread, but it started small.

I don’t know if I should be thinking more about how to capitalize on online worship growth right now.

What I do know is that I can’t. I still only have energy to think small as I try to turn my outrage and uncertainty into peaceable productivity.

Kids. Seeds. Individual relationships. The church I serve. I hope that in these small things I am being faithful to the gospel. God will take care of the growth.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 20, 2020

God holds you. Day 37.

In staff Bible study today we read Acts 2. Peter, a disciple of Jesus, preached to a crowd of people about Jesus’ resurrection and death. “You crucified him.” That “you” signified not only the particular individuals who executed Jesus, but all those who let it happen. It includes those who benefitted from the injustices Jesus’ life exposed. It included Peter himself.

The listeners were “cut to the heart.” They asked themselves, “what should we do?” Peter told them “repent and be baptized.” In other words, “be forgiven, change, and join us.” Three thousand people were baptized. By the end of the chapter, they held all things in common.

As I witness the stories of covid-19 deaths and devastations, I am “cut to the heart” by an all-too-familiar pattern. Those most harmed are people of color, people in poverty, people in prison, people without legal status, people on the margins. Its not surprising that there’s overlap between white supremacist groups and protestors demanding that society reopen too soon.

Who is being crucified? What can we do?

Some of the best stuff in the gospel is captured in the word “repent.” Peter knows firsthand. Forgiveness is liberating. Change is possible. A new community can be formed.

God help us. God help me. Let the Holy Spirit come. Let this moment be for repentance and for the common good.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 19, 2020

God holds you. Day 36.

For the last two Sundays our church has sung a version of psalm 136 written by one of our musicians, Paul. The chorus says “For his steadfast love endures forever.”

Today, our four-year old told me it was her favorite song from worship. She doesn’t understand all the words but that hasn’t stopped her. She sang it all afternoon, belting out “love” and “forever,” and thoughtfully trying to remember “steadfast” and “endures.”

Some 20 miles a way, a man wrote a melody. And some 3000 years ago, a different man wrote a prayer. And while worshiping via zoom from our living room couch, my little girl learned a song that might be in her heart forever.

This covid online distanced worship, it is real worship.

This sickness has taken a lot, but it has not taken our ability to praise.

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 18, 2020

God holds you. Day 34.

News. Today I worked on a yard project that involves laying down newspaper and layering mulch on top. My subscription is only digital so a church member gave me newspapers. They were from last week. As I spread out the papers, I felt like I was seeing headlines from a different world.

Typically, I read the Washington Post daily and I listen to NPR whenever I’m in the car. I read two or three magazines a week too. I used to enjoy it and more, I think that to be a responsible citizen and a relevant pastor, I need to know what’s going on.

But for a month, I’ve only had energy for my bubble of home, church, family, friends, neighbors. I check headlines for five minutes and most days, that’s all I can take.

I’m having a hard time not feeling guilty about it, not feeling guilty about all the ways I’ve stopped engaging with wider issues.

But I don’t know what to do about it. I just can’t muster the energy. I find it overwhelming. So I’m trying to treat myself with grace.

A famous theologian once quipped that a pastor needs to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

I’ve got the Bible. Scripture has never been so alive for me.

But the paper? For now, it is under the mulch. At least it’s doing some good there.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 16, 2020

God holds you. Day 33.

A few years back I travelled to Haiti because our church was one of many helping with a health clinic. We visited a variety of medical facilities, from a well-funded hospital to a low-income clinic. As I watched terribly impoverished people wait for hours to see doctors in ill-equipped rooms, the contrast became stark: health is tied to wealth.

Of course you don’t need to travel to notice this. In the US, it’s well-documented that populations which have been systematically kept from creating wealth – especially African-Americans – have higher infection and mortality rates from covid-19.

I’m going to state the obvious: Wealthy people have better health care, and better health, than poor people.

There’s no way that’s ok with God.

Jesus was all about healing people, including those with no option but to beg. Jesus came to bring “good news to the poor.”

I’m no expert on health care policy, and I know I’m saying nothing new here. But I think it’s worth stating the obvious because it makes it obvious something is wrong. Our health care system does not work for poor people.

Maybe this crisis will give us some real impetus to change.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 15, 2020

God holds you. Day 32.

Our eldest doesn’t know the phrase “the day after tomorrow.” Instead, she calls it “tomorrow tomorrow.” Sometimes she’ll string tomorrows together and ask about ‘tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow,” aka five days from now.

It seems like we’re getting collectively itchy to know an end date. From ‘we’ll reopen May 5th’ to ‘we’ll be social distancing till 2022,’ there’s a wide range of predictions for when we’ll be back to normal. How many tomorrows will it be?

I’m resisting the need to know. God gave the Israelites manna every day, enough for the day, as they wandered through the wilderness. That’s where the idea of daily bread comes from.

The word manna literally means “what is this?” The promise of daily bread is connected with the experience of bewilderment.

The inability to plan for the future is a kind of wilderness. Still, I know what tomorrow looks like. And what we will eat. And I trust God’s promise that when tomorrow tomorrow comes, we’ll have what we need for that day too.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 14, 2020

God holds you. Day 31.

Leadership. My grandfather worked his whole life at a meat packing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Not Smithfield but a subsidiary, Morrells. He was a humble man. 8th grade education. Wanted to tinker and fish and go to church. Needed his paycheck. Worked hard.

Maybe that’s why the outbreak at Smithfield in Sioux Falls has hit a nerve.

From what I can tell, their leader – the governor – has little regard for the people she serves.

I have a lot of sympathy for leaders who haven’t been sure how to make the right decision. Been there. Made mistakes.

But I’ve run out of sympathy for leaders who seem puffed up with pride and keep putting their people in harm’s way.

I’m beyond grateful for the leaders who helped me find my way through this. I think of the episcopal bishop Marian Budde who was one of the first to urge churches to shut down in-person events; my own bishop Leila Ortiz who gave thoughtful recommendations while also saying “I trust you;” and Pastor Traci Blackmon of the UCC who always has an eye for how people in poverty will be affected. I follow them because they are wise and compassionate and brave.

Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit, but leadership was not conferred on him by an election or a title. It was earned by his care and compassion for people.

In his time, he had very few followers. Over time, his style of leadership became the one to emulate: humble, powered by love, not self-serving, but willing to challenge those who led people astray.

I truly pray for leaders at every level as we see or way through this. It is hard to lead. I pray for followers too, that we all can discern which voices to follow and which ones to ignore.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 13, 2020

God holds you. Day 30.

Easter Monday. I didn’t write yesterday. Had every intention, but fell asleep on the couch, then in a kid’s bed. Finally dragged myself to my own bed and konked out again.

I think I’ll be tired for a while. I loved putting all the services last week. Easter Sunday was glorious and God’s spirit was palpable, at least from my basement altar. But it was also exhausting.

I woke up today with my brain buzzing with new ideas and unfinished business. Names of people to thank and other people to check in on. Easter Sunday is a beginning, not an end. There is work to do!

But I stopped myself. God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead so that I’d get worn out 2000 years later. I can’t continue at this pace and thankfully, the leadership of my church understands.

Today I rested. I didn’t check email or texts or even look at the news. I cracked a novel. Drank tea. Napped and went on a long walk. And it was glorious too.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 10, 2020

God holds you. Day 27.

Good Friday.

I’ve been emotional all day. Good Friday always gets me and this year, it felt even more significant.

Before we began our evening service, I wasn’t sure how it would end. Normally, we end in darkness – but for one candle – and silence. I didn’t know how the candlelight would convey on video. I definitely didn’t know how we’d handle the silence. I had music cued up on my phone to play into the darkness, if we needed it.

When worship ended, the silence was pitch perfect. The candle gave ancient light, so different than the light from a screen. A calm came over me as I prayed, watched the light flicker, and let the music and words from worship reverberate in my mind.

That calm is still with me. It is not sorrow. It is peace.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 9, 2020

God holds you. Day 26.

Maundy Thursday.

Ridgeway and I love having people over for dinner. We’ve served feasts of grilled salmon, roasted veggies and wine. Sometimes, when kids were tiny and money was tight, we served frozen pizza, sliced apples and generic lemonade. No matter. The company was the most important thing.

Tonight, Paul made the wine (Zin Boldly). Christy made the bread. Our table was one of fifty or so zooming together and sharing a meal. We ate with friends and family. We ate as church. Grandma and Papa. Oma and Grandpa. Heather. Rachel. Mabel. Cilicia and Lucas and Petra. Kathleen and Marcia and Ardell and Linda. Jim and Adela and Kris and Steve. And so many others.

Jesus was there too.

The supper was satisfying, but the company was the most important thing.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 8, 2020

God holds you. Day 25.

Tonight, Jewish people begin Passover with new ways of telling ancient stories and sharing a sacred meal. Tomorrow, in a ritual that echoes Passover, many Christians will do the same.

The Passover refers to the time when the Lord came to kill all the Egyptian firstborn but “passed over” the Hebrews’ homes.

The story used to bug me. I chafe at idea that God saves some people at the expense of others. I’m not criticizing Judaism here; Christianity has the same problem.

But there’s a political aspect to this story that’s worth remembering. Pharoah’s hard-hearted regime would not listen to the pleas of a suffering people. God was on the side of the oppressed. It took drastic action to get Pharaoh to loosen his grip and set the people free.

I believe wholeheartedly in the saving love of Jesus. I also believe in the mystery and expansiveness of God, who works in all sorts of religious and people.

On this Passover, my prayer is that the angel of death passes over every home, hovel, tent or street corner tonight. Marked or unmarked, Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, you name it. All are precious.

I also pray that God helps us find a way to loosen the grip of modern day pharaohs, so that we can all be free.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 7, 2020

God holds you. Day 24.

Singer John Prine died today, age 73. My dear pal and mentor, Bob, introduced me to his music 15 years ago. John Prine is intertwined with memories of Bob and Binnie’s home, guitar and mandolin duets, the people of my internship at Luther Place, and the fullness of my young earnest life in Washington DC.

About this virus, I keep thinking, thank God it isn’t affecting many children. That’s a major source of security as I tuck my girls in at night.

But that reminds me of what my husband said as he drove our newborn home from the hospital going 8 miles an hour. He said “I want everyone to drive extra safely because I have a baby. But doesn’t everyone in all these cars matter to someone? Shouldn’t we drive safely all the time?”

Everyone who is dying these unnecessary deaths matters to somebody. I shudder at the numbers of 70 and 80 year olds who make my life meaningful and beautiful. I admit, I am afraid for you. And I’m afraid for me, without you. So let’s all keep up the distancing and the advocating for PPE and supporting leaders who make decisions that save lives. Let’s take this thing as seriously as if it were affecting children.

Thanks for your life, John Prine.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 6, 2020

God holds you. Day 23.

Today, I presided over a memorial service for a church member, Ann. It would have been her 95th birthday. Her death was not related to the virus.

She probably never imagined her memorial would be over zoom with people from all around the country logging on. But she probably could have imagined that the eulogies would be glowing and the grief, sincere. In a most humble way, she knew that she was loved.

There’s a scene in scripture where one of Jesus’ friends, Mary, takes expensive, fragrant oil and anoints Jesus as if anointing him for death.

She didn’t wait for him to die. She loved Jesus while he was alive.

Since this virus, I’ve said “I love you” much more freely. I’ve heard it more often too. Maybe one silver lining is that, newly aware of the possibility of death, we’re more apt to lavish one another with love while we can.

For our dinner table tonight, I clipped a few sprigs of fragrant lavender from the garden. I rubbed some on my wrists. I did it to honor Ann and to remember that God’s love is generous.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 5, 2020

God holds you. Day 22.

Palm Sunday.

I told you I’d report on what we did with our palms. Some were displayed in our live-streamed worship. Some were dropped on the porches of people living in isolation.

Parishioners put their version of palms – branches, leaves, coloring pages – and posted them in visible places. I put many on our windshield and mailbox. I went a little overboard. Our house looks like it got leafleted by palms.

The symbols of church are more important than ever because we can’t rely on the symbol of the building to keep us connected.

I think of the hymn “God is here!” by Fred Pratt Green. I’m guessing the hymn assumed “here” would be the sanctuary. But now that every home has become a sanctuary, “here” is everywhere.

The song says “Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace.”

Today I toted home paraments and candles in order to set up a worship space in our home for at least three of this week’s services.

Tomorrow I’ll do a memorial service using zoom from the altar set up in our spare bedroom. Here are symbols. On our front door. In our basement.

Right. Here.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 3, 2020

God holds you. Day 20.

Today my husband did the weekly grocery shopping. When he returned with the food, I felt irrationally afraid.

At my worst, my fear comes out in anger. I want to scream at people who are still taking this cavalierly or shirking their responsibilities to keep us all safe.

At my best, my fear comes out in empathy. It connects me with other people’s vulnerabilities. It makes me open-hearted.

I think it’s the case that “don’t be afraid” is the sentiment said the most in the gospels. In my experience of gospel-based communities, “be not afraid” is never just lip service. It’s followed with a version of “what do you need so that you won’t be afraid?”

I am profoundly grateful for people stocking the shelves and paying my salary and tending the sick and making it so that I actually don’t need to be afraid. I see God in them. I pledge my absolute best to do the same in return.

And I am grateful for a husband who doesn’t judge my fear but instead, scrupulously handles the groceries and leaves his shoes outside.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 2, 2020

God holds you. Day 19.

Our almost 5-year old daughter has learned to “read” a book. The only word in it is “hug.” It’s about a little gorilla who wanders through the jungle bereft, crying “hug” until his mommy finds him and hugs him.

This afternoon, our very clingy 3-year old would not let me put her down. It was adorable, but also frustrating. It’s hard to chop carrots with one hand. I was getting fed up when a neighbor who lives alone stopped by and I remembered my abundance. I wish I could share these hugs.

The fact of Jesus shows that God understands; bodies help us know we are loved. I’m genuinely concerned for those with no physical contact. I have been suggesting that people get cats.

People who are isolated can’t be hugged. They can’t be in the physical presence of the church, “the body of Christ.”

I’m noticing people talk about flowers and food and the comfort of a warm blanket in almost sacramental tones. I pray tonight for people who need a hug, that one of these other ways that God inhabits the world helps you know. You are loved.

As one friend always signs her emails, feel my hug.

Sleep well world, God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

April 1, 2020

God holds you. Day 18.

We had our final Lent vespers service tonight. Five people in the sanctuary were joined by thirty-two others on Facebook. I read a favorite passage from 2nd Corinthians: “We carry this precious message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”*

As I walked to my office afterward, I tripped over a large box.

The palms came.

We ordered them months ago. Normally we use them in worship this upcoming Sunday, Palm Sunday.

Here’s what’s remarkable: I didn’t spend an ounce of energy lamenting that we’re not waving them en masse this year. Instead, I matter of factly stuck them in our empty office fridge and thought, hmmm, how are we going to get creative with these?

I have only a slim idea of how Holy Week is going go. I’ve done precious little advance planning. Easter is ten days away. Normally I’d be freaking out, but now it seems almost laughable to think so far in advance.

And still, I’m positive these services are going to be meaningful – even if also clumsy and unpolished. Maybe because they’re clumsy and unpolished. Our humanity will be on full display. God’s divinity will shine through. The passage from Corinthians goes on to say.

“We’re not sure what to do, but we’re sure God knows what to do.” Sounds like very good news to me. I’ll keep you posted on those palms.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

*2 Corinthians 4:7. The Message version.

March 31, 2020

God holds you. Day 17.

Our kids, ages 3 and 4, have gotten really good at washing their hands. They look like little doctors, lathering front, back, between the fingers, thumbs and wrists. They sing “Jesus Loves Me” to time their rinse.

I feel hemmed in by anxiety tonight. All these predictions, all this uncertainty. I can protect us pretty well, but there are still too many unknowns. Add kids into the mix and I’ve had moments of searing terror.

I think I’ve swallowed some bad theology that says anxiety is sin because it means you don’t trust God. Consider the lillies and all that.

I trust God. But I also recall that Jesus didn’t throw himself off cliffs to prove God would save him.

Prayer and sleep help with the anxiety. So do information, exercise and talking. But you know what else helps? Hearing the Jesus Loves Me song belted from the bathroom sink and knowing, we really are doing all we can.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Since, she has written this series called “God Holds You,” daily reflections on life and faith during the pandemic. She will keep writing until the church can gather in person again.

Pastor Sarah

March 30, 2020

God holds you. Day 16.

I have learned that I don’t like change. At least I don’t like change that happens quite so fast. In the DC region, we’re once again readjusting our horizons. June 10th. That’s the new stay-at-home date. June. Tenth.

The news came today quickly and surprisingly, but not really. Really, it’s been months in the making and I easily could have predicted it. If I had, I’d have been prepared. I’d have stocked up on Home Depot-y projects. I’d have learned how to be a worship-tech wizard while I still had emotional energy to take on anything new. I’d have visited our members in nursing homes one more time.

Jesus predicted his own death plenty of times. His disciples never understood what he was talking about. Then when it happened, it all went quickly; within a week the world was upside down. He also predicted his resurrection, but they understood that even less.

Jesus knew. Sacrifice was coming. And sacrifice was not the end of the world, but the beginning of it. When Peter tried to tell Jesus his predictions were wrong, Jesus said “Get behind me satan.”

I’ve always focused on the “satan” part but tonight I love the “behind me” part.

Jesus goes first. I may take some time to catch up.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 27, 2020

God holds you. Day 13.

Grandparents. We usually talk to them once or twice a month. In the past two weeks, we’ve talked with them almost everyday, often via FaceTime.

We’ve had art class with Papa, books with Grammy, and Story & Songs with Oma and Grandpa.

Our kids play in the yard of our neighbor-turned-surrogate grandma down the road. She made us playdough. We fetched her milk.

The phrase “from generation to generation” shows up throughout scripture. It indicates the promise of a future that’s rooted in the faithfulness of the past.

I’ve been impressed with the way the millennials have self-isolated out of love for their elders, and the way the over-seventy set has learned social media to stay connected.

I sense that the world we’re suddenly living in is similar to my grandparents’ world. Twenty-five year olds are calling their grandmas to learn how to knead bread. The wisdom of people who lived through World War Two is regarded as invaluable.

Is it a stretch to say a silver lining of this this virus is that we’re listening to each other across generations?

From generation to generation, God is faithful.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

 March 26, 2020

God holds you. Day 12.

For the past few years, I’ve served on the board of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS), most recently as the treasurer. It’s been an effective way to work on climate issues. I love it and the people are great.

For the past two weeks, I’ve slipped farther and farther behind in everything. I’ve cut a lot of fat off my schedule, but still, my totally chaotic in-box has made it clear that something else has to go. In a desperate moment, I sent an email called “hitting the wall” to the other leaders of FACS.

They received my email with enormous grace. They gave me a two-month hiatus and other board members have already picked up my duties. I am breathing a sigh of relief.

This is a question of calling. My calling has just changed because the world has just changed. I now need to be a different kind of parent, a different kind of pastor, a different kind of daughter. Plus, I need much more reflective time to figure it all out.

When the apostle Paul wrote about spiritual gifts, he described them as spread out in a community. No one person is gifted for the complete task. “There are a variety of gifts, but one spirit.”

Tonight I am keenly aware of my own limitations. At the same time, I’m at peace because of the abundance that shows up in community. One spirit unites us for the common good.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 25, 2020

God holds you. Day 11.

A member of our church is a pediatric hospitalist. She reported that a few nights ago, she and some other doctors joined the nurses in their three-am mid-shift huddle and led them in a song. The next night she brought her ukelele and they did it again.

Why do I love that so much? I think it’s because I know how much I experience God when I sing with other people. It’s healing and catharsis and play and joy. It’s worship and prayer. There’s nothing else like it.

The apostle Paul wrote “And sing! Sing your hearts out to God!” (Colossians 3).

Of all the things I miss about church as usual, singing with people is near the top of the list. Zoom is great for meetings, but there’s no online platform that enables people to sing together. The time lags make it impossible.

Maybe that’s why I love the idea of those doctors and nurses singing. It’s church. Even in the midst of scary and stressful nights, there will be music.*

Sleep well world. God holds you.

*the phrase “there will be music” is from one of my favorite poems, “A Brief for the Defense” by Jack Gilbert.

Pastor Sarah

March 24, 2020

God holds you. Day 10.

I heard the phrase “the new normal” at least ten times today, including from my own mouth.

The phrase kind of drives me crazy, but it’s true. Today felt…normal. Having back-to-back zoom meetings no longer feels noteworthy. Now it’s just what I do.

I didn’t worry today that I was getting sick. I didn’t obsessively check in my parents to see if they’re ok. Instead of panicking that we’re almost out of bananas, I simply added them to the grocery list.

I just lived. And it was boring and really nice.

I have a hard time balancing this sense of calm with the knowledge that there are people losing jobs, falling ill, and sacrificing for the common good. I’m guilty of a kind of spiritual pride that says if I’m not in anguish about the world, I’m not being faithful.

But there’s blessing to be found in rhythm and routine. Jesus certainly had plenty of days that weren’t recorded in scripture, even as he was contending with the powers of the world.

There’s no way that this actually is the new normal. But today, I’ll take it.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 23, 2020

God holds you. Day 9.

Today’s announcement of school closures demands a massive recalibration of expectations. This will not end soon. I keep hearing people say “how will we get through this?” I wish I knew.

At the same time, my kids (ages 3 & 4) are having the time of their lives. They haven’t been rushed for a week. They haven’t even been in a car. They wake up late and play all day. The surfaces in our house are covered in art projects. Life is slow and full.

When the psalmist told us about our journey through the valley of the shadow of death, he promised goodness in the midst of it.

You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

That’s not to say the enemies disappear. Fear and greed and misguided leaders and sickness and despair are present and accounted for. But among them, something else appears.

I don’t know any better word for it than grace. It looks like cherry blossoms and smells like kids coming in from outside and sounds like a three-year old belting Frozen 2 and tastes like chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven.

The table has been set. My cup overflows.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 22, 2020

God holds you. Day 8.

Am I allowed to say I don’t want to be a televangelist? The people of my church – like countless others – have done a heroic job of getting us online. Worship today was lovely.

But it wasn’t what I wanted.

I poured bleach into the baptismal font to sanitize it. When I reached in for confession, it smelled like a pool. I preached about God setting a table and anointing with oil, but no one ate and no one was anointed. I looked into a camera instead of the eyes of my beloved church.

It was a lovely service, but I long for real things with real people. Thats why we rang the church bell before worship, something we never do. The world needs all the real reminders of God’s presence we can get. Or at least I do.

Tonight I looked to the book of Lamenations. It begins “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people.” But it ends with “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies are new every morning.”

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 21, 2020

God holds you. Day 7.

I plan to write these reflections every day until the church celebrates Easter. No, not the Easter slated to happen in three weeks, but the one where the choir sings shoulder to shoulder, and we dip real bread in a chalice held by human hands, and the passing of the peace takes forever because of all those hugs.

I plan to write till then, except on Saturdays because I need a sabbath. Sabbath is the day set aside each week to cease from work and rest in God’s care. It helps a faithful people remember that we aren’t God and we don’t need to be.

Jesus often retreated and took time away for renewal. We can too. Even now. Especially now.

People who regularly keep sabbath know it takes a little planning. You may be thinking…how’s she posting when she says she’s taking a sabbath?

I wrote this yesterday.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 20, 2020

God holds you. Day 6

Today I performed a wedding. The original plan was for the father-of-the-bride (a pastor) to fly in to officiate at a fairly small ceremony. But he couldn’t get here and even a small ceremony was too big. Instead, I performed the wedding outdoors, six feet from the couple, while the groom’s parents held up a phone so the rest of the family could be present.

It wasn’t ideal. I’m certain they were disappointed. But it was also lovely in its simplicity. What mattered most happened; they got married.

Our church faces a busy street. After the ceremony we went out front with a “Just Married” sign and got honks galore. The church members who live across the street pulled out a tambourine and jangled it with joy.

Jesus made sure the wine didn’t run out at a wedding party. He knows: celebration is essential. We always have reason to shake that tambourine.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 19, 2020

God holds you, day 5.

Our bishop gathered all our synod pastors on a zoom call today. We were something like 60 people in a massive Brady Bunch style formation. Below each of our faces, our names.

My church pulled together a care team today. That handful of people will be the front lines of spiritual care for those most in need. There’s now a spreadsheet filled with names.

Jesus changed systems and confronted the powers that held the world captive to sin, yes. But he did it by encountering individual human beings. Relationships. One after another. People with names.

In a time of isolation, I think names become even more important. Say yours out loud. Say someone else’s too. This diminishment will not last forever. You are still connected. You have a name.

“I have called you by name, and you are mine.”

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 18, 2020

God Holds you, Day 4

Grief is starting to settle in. No one I know has died. No one has even gotten sick. But the little losses are piling up like snowflakes on a branch. No play dates. No ice cream stop on the way home from work.

I found old notes today about the family vacation we were planning for August. Are we still planning it? I grieve the ability to plan.

There’s a church overlooking Jerusalem built in the shape of a teardrop. It’s where Jesus wept. What a perfect place for a church. When I imagine Jesus crying, I see great love.

I am going to try to welcome grief as the permanent resident it’s bound to become.

I’m going to try to trust that when I welcome grief, I also welcome the love that will bear it.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 17, 2020

God holds you, Day 3

Today I noticed people getting creative. Children’s author Mo Willems is giving online doodling lessons. I doodled alongside my children, as Mo taught us to draw Gerald, the famous elephant of the Elephant and Piggy books. The five minutes of concentration calmed my brain. I was oddly proud of what I made. And I was happy.

God created out of mud. Jesus put mud on a blind man’s eyes and recreated his world. Today our kids made mud pies and I planted some Zinnia seeds. And it was good.

God is in the creativity. The songs and art and poetry that come out of this time will be breathtaking. So too, in their ways, will be the government programs and church structures and community connections that recreate people’s worlds.

All things will be made new.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 16, 2020

God holds you, Day 2

The day started with our whole family running across the street in our pjs. We saw our neighbor headed to work and we ran over to say good morning, check in. We waved and chatted with more neighbors in one day than we have in a month. All from a distance. But all so sweet.

The day was filled with neighborly kindnesses. A bouquet of daffodils. An offer of a grocery run. At night we read the story of the Good Samaritan which in our kids’ Bible is titled “The Good Neighbor.”

Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means “God is with you.” But I’ve also heard it translated “God moves into the neighborhood.” I like that. Jesus was in our neighborhood today. I hope also in yours.

Sleep well world. God holds you.

Pastor Sarah

March 16, 2020

God holds you, Day 1

This thought came to mind as I cuddled my little one to sleep tonight: God will hold you.

I barely recognize this world, not only because of the virus – though I can hardly go there – but also because of the economy and politics and fear. The suffering is bound to be massive, even if we manage to stop the viral spread. It’s like all at once, everything that gave life its basic structure is up for grabs.

Still. I believe God holds us. As foundation and bedrock. As the force that keeps us in place when the world is swirling. As a mother soothes a restless child.

God holds you. May you feel God’s arms around you tonight. Sleep well world.

Pastor Sarah