Shortly after my mom died at age 95 in July, my wife Regina found the following letter in my mother’s desk drawer. Her letter is a brief reflection on her three sons, one of whom is gay. While there is much within the letter, at its core, it reflects not only who my mom was, but the essence of Matthew 22: 36-40. I love my brothers and I love and miss my mom.
Written some time ago by Mardee de Wetter:
“On this small earth, we equally receive the love of God. But as the world sees, we are differently disposed. Some of us have lived the simplest sort of lives, cradled from the beginning by loving parents, growing up in ways that pleased. We had the opportunity to meet and fall in love with God’s own choice for us. We spent our lives in chosen fidelity and in constant love for one another.
When children were born to us, one grew up worldly-wise and made his way, living by prescribed civic rules, honored because of his many contributions and loved by his wonderful wife and children. One was born with great sensitivity and spiritual gifts with which to become a pastor, a preacher of unique ability. He too had the great love of his wife and children. Then among the three sons one was born with a difference, though his talent and intellect told us at once he was gifted.
This special one, the creative child, found his rather lonely place among those who compose the music, play the instruments, paint the art, and pen the books. He learned to fend for himself in a world so hostile that those of us who live in pristine elegance of spirit never know their pain.
Every once in a while God looks down and selects a family, so sublimely blessed with understanding that He says, ‘Ah, here are those that will welcome this child of mine and learn of him and love him. They will always cherish him as my own child, vouchsafed to them. He, in turn, will open doors for all of them as many lives are better for his touch.’
Does it matter then that the self-righteous Pharisees offer him condemnation? Does it matter that the church which nurtured him through childhood now renounces him? Does it matter that he who served his church in its choir, as an acolyte, as a vestryman now finds rejection? It must not matter, because in the end this is God’s world and Jesus takes each one of us unto his breast and comforts us. Our family, learning through its pain, has found that all God’s people are intended to share His Rule of Love, as Jesus, our persecuted Savior, taught the Way.”
Claire Wineland had a national social media following and it is no wonder given her character, strength and wisdom. She died this last week following a 21 year long struggle with Cystic Fibrosis. I never had the blessing or opportunity to meet her, but I wish I had. Near the end of her life, Claire, as quoted on CNN, said, “Go enjoy your life. Really. I mean that seriously. Go enjoy it because there are people fighting like hell for it.”
These are powerful words worth not only reflection, but incorporation. For a number of years I had the privilege of working in oncology with both staff and patients when I was a psychologist. So many of those I worked with, in essence, said the same thing Claire Wineland did as she neared the end of her life.
Enjoying life is not a self-centered, egocentric, narcissistic stance. Rather it is an approach to day to day living that is based on a heart of gratitude. I believe if more of us woke each morning with gratitude and began our days with such intention, we would find our culture to be vastly different than what we are experiencing now.
Fighting, caustic commentary, negativity, hostility, division, hatred, and quick reactivity is not reflective of people who are living from a place of gratitude. Yes we can have passions and convictions, but who said we need to be so ugly about it all. I believe gratitude, while not a panacea, would address much that ails what has been happening in the country.
Gratitude is not a denial of what is wrong. Gratitude is not about sticking our heads in the sand. Gratitude is not about inaction. Rather gratitude enables us to face difficult and complex problems from a vastly different place in our hearts and minds. Gratitude can be a common ground from which we approach each day with an expectation for positive change, listening, empathy, and respect.
And let us all remember that our walk with Jesus is all about gratitude whether we work as a server, in business, at a school, or even if we work in Washington at whatever level. From beginning to end, scripture is filled with stories of gratitude and what happens when gratitude is lost and replaced by much of what we see happening in our nation today.
I invite you to join me in spending some time thinking about Claire’s words. “Go enjoy your life. Really. I mean that seriously. Go enjoy it because there are people fighting like hell for it.” Ponder how such a stance might lead us to gratitude and how gratitude could change everything in our own lives and those around us.
The video reviewed some recent data on something known as digital dementia. As the speaker on the video simply states, “Smartphones make us stupid.” When we depend on smartphones we tend to use our brains less.
Examples were given such as the fact we memorize fewer phone numbers, we let the phone do simple math for us, and we rely on the phones to keep obvious and regular appointments, etc. In other words, just as muscle atrophy happens when we do not exercise, when we stop using our brains as much because of smartphones, our brains may very well degrade.
All of this worries me with regard to children, teens, and adults, and raises big concerns about me because of my smartphone use.
As the video finished, however, something equally if not more troubling came to mind. Our relationship with God requires quiet, down time, making room for few distractions, and turning computers off or at least walking away from them. When we have a smartphone in hand and it inhibits us from truly focusing on the person in front of us, if we keep smartphones in hand when communicating and listening to God, does it not also diminish our focus on God?
Also, when someone reads a text or email or tweet we send along, the person receiving the message only has the opportunity to respond and react to words. Words in isolation do not represent a whole way of communicating with a person in any way shape or form. This is why e-mails often get people into trouble because words alone can be misinterpreted.
We are all much better off communicating directly with people. And if this is the case, if our brains are affected by smartphones, are we then, therefore, not more likely to be relating to God in a diminished way because smartphones train us to focus on words alone. When God communicates with us, God uses many modes of communication, not just words alone.
I believe God is calling me to make some changes in response to all of this, changes that are not easy to make because so many of us, including me, are addicted to technology and smartphones. That said, I realize if I don’t make some changes, my relationship with God will be affected in an unhealthy way. I invite all of us to examine and pray about where we are with this whole issue and to take some time with God, and to ask God what God would have addressed. If we do so, I believe we will find our journey with God to suddenly become far deeper and more transformative.
On Tuesday, July 3rd, at 6:30 PM, I was at Snowmass Chapel preparing for my Gospel Choir Rehearsal when I received a call from one of our housemates: “There is a fire. We are being evacuated. What can I grab for you?”
As many of you know, my mom, Margaret Belding de Wetter, died July 11 after 95 years of living, 94 of which were wonderful. The last year of her life was tough on everyone as she slowly degraded in mind and body. She spent many arduous hours lying in bed, unable to do anything as her body shut down. I have grieved much in my life, but losing a mother is different. A friend of mine said, “When I lost my mom, it felt as if the world shifted.”
I, along with many are so grateful and thankful to God for my mom’s life. We are grateful she lived the life she did and we feel the same way about my dad who died 19 years ago. My brothers and I along with our families are so blessed we had the parents we did. That said, in the midst of gratitude, celebrating her life, being thankful her rough journey at the end is over, I for one am experiencing a litany of feelings, including deep sadness in the midst of the joy I have for her life.
I’ve recognized for many years that when life is full and then ends, it is not tragic. That said, the journey in grief we each take is unique. When families lose someone, I pray that members of the family will give each other the room and space to grieve in various ways and that the journey in grief for each will be honored by all. My family certainly has been doing exactly this. For me, our faith invites each of us to allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions God has given to us, whatever those feelings might be.
In the midst of everything, this last week I have been reminded once again about the heart and spirit of the Chapel. Thank you for being so incredibly loving, kind and supportive. Regina and I have felt so loved and cared for since we arrived 9 years ago. Thank you. We are grateful!!! Thank you for showing us what it means to walk the talk as we all follow Jesus.
One of the great gifts of summer in this valley is the visitors! People seem to come out of the woodwork to spend time in this glorious place. Case in point – my cousin and his family came through last week as part of a family road trip of western national parks.
With his many successes, flourishing family and big physical presence, my cousin could seem intimidating to some. BUT, as so often happens in families, when I am with him I am instantly transported back to childhood summers on our grandfather’s farm. Together, we swung on the creaking porch swing, jumped off piles of hay bales, played Pick-Up-Stiks on the front porch and yes, we memorized Bible verses together. It was the simple stuff of Norman Rockwell and it built an enduring bond of love between us. In his company, I felt at home, known and comforted by that familiarity. It occurred to me: this is how God sees me and every one of us – as our undefended, true selves – not as we may sometimes present ourselves to the world. What a loving and healing gift to be known and accepted for who we really are!
If it can be healing to be with someone who has known us for a few decades, can you imagine the healing power of our relationship with God who knows and has known us for eternity? Wow! Jeremiah 1:5A comes to mind – “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you…” And, in Luke 12:7 Jesus says, amazingly, “The hairs on your head are counted.” What incredible intimacy those verses imply! Can we really even fathom being known in such detail and forever?
Science has repeatedly shown that loneliness is detrimental to our health and longevity. (Click on this link for more about Dr. Cacioppo’s research on this subject.) We are wired to thrive on connection – knowing each other and being known makes us healthy, mentally and physically. No wonder Jesus, the embodiment of God, healed by his very presence. He knows not only our changeable personality and circumstances but our eternal soul. And He loves that soul. Profoundly. Just because we are of God.
But wait a minute… that can also be a scary thing – to be known so thoroughly. Some may even be afraid of God for that reason – if God really knows me surely he would reject me, the thinking goes. But this is God, the father of the prodigal son. This is Jesus, who said quite directly, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)
As we make our way through the ups and downs, the apparent gains and losses of this life, it is comforting and therefore healing to keep in mind that our eternal soul is always known and profoundly loved. This intimate, loving relationship with God is our eternal, safe home. It will outlast and, ultimately, heal everything.
Summer is here and the flowers on the hillsides of Aspen and Snowmass are in full bloom.
Last week the kids and I trekked a sweet path behind Clark’s market. We stumbled upon a wooden staircase that was surrounded by purple and yellow flowers. We made it to the top and once we got past the dusty peak, we descended onto a trail encased by bushes and shrubs. Every once in a while the dense folliage opened up to small meadows of vibrant flowers that seemed to be doused with fluttering butterflies.
How many butterflies could we count? We couldn’t, there were so many!
Grandma told the kids that some people think of butterflies as special spirits who are with us. They liked this concept and continued our hike in awe of the wonders of our earth and mesmerized by the thought of the spirits beyond.
The very next day a butterfly kit we had ordered from Amazon arrived in the mail. A netted cage was included along with a small container of live caterpillars that were no bigger than the width of my pinky nail. The caterpillars seemed lethargic after their bumpy ride to our home. We weren’t sure they were going to survive. But slowly, as they gobbled up the muck at the bottom of their container, which looked like peanut butter but much less appetizing, the caterpillars began to grow. Each day they doubled in size. In their tiny plastic container they crawled around and ate and ate and after 7 days, one by one, they climbed to the lid of their habitat. We watched as, little caterpillar foot by little caterpillar foot, each one slowly released their grasp until their world was turned upside down and they were just barely hanging on. Currently they are chrysalises, attached and asleep. Our family waits in anticipation for the beauty we expect to emerge at the end of this cycle.
I just love the deeply simple metaphors that nature gifts us. Here are the profound spiritual truths that these tiny creatures are teaching our family as we watch a transformation take place:
- Baby caterpillars (at least these ones) start off kinda ugly.
- You have-ta start somewhere, and that might mean crawling around in the muck for a while.
- You need to feed yourself to grow.
- As you grow, you’ll climb to new hieghts.
- To be transformed, you have to be willing to let go, little foot by little foot.
- Once you let go, your world will be turned upside down.
- Those watching the transformation take place will be awe-struck and inspired. It is very cool to witness!
- When you emerge from the transformation process, you’ll be more beautiful than you ever thought possible.
- Once you have your wings, you’ll see the world with a whole new perspective.
- True freedom comes only after all these other steps are complete.
I am just as in awe as my little children watching this whole cycle unfold. But, the truth is, if we look close these kinds of transformations are happening all around us in the human world too!
Have you ever watched a caterpillar go through it’s process? What stage do you find yourself in right this minute? What areas of your life would you like to see transformed? Do you believe God has a plan for you, to make you STUNNING, AWE-INSPIRING, and NEW? Do you think the caterpillar ever mistake its stages and think that it is in its final stage, when it is actually just entering another transformation?
Just some food for thought, and I hope it tastes better than the sticky goo those caterpillars are eating. :o)
It may only be June 14 but we are happily ensconced in summertime around here! I finally spotted the elusive Snowmass Village moose and her babies last night – what a treat to see them galloping across the greens on their way to the golf course pond.
A few familiar faces have already arrived in Snowmass for the summer and were somewhat surprised by our beautiful June weather – not the usual cool with bouts of rain, but rather temps in the 80’s, a rainbow of wild flowers, and abundant blue skies.
If you are reading this from parts unknown, we look forward to welcoming you back to Snowmass Chapel soon! Your mountains are calling….
Camp SMashBox began this week and with it the joyful shouts and songs of kids (human ice cream sundaes, anyone?). This is our 7th season of Camp SMashBox at Snowmass Chapel and this summer we will welcome 400+ young campers throughout the five weeks of camp. And – this is HUGE – our very own Jenna (who started with us as a high school counselor 7 years ago) is opening a Camp SMashBox in Grand Junction in July!
Truly, it’s hard not to appreciate the enthusiasm and natural joy that accompanies almost anything children do at SMashBox. We are blessed by the talents of Kara & Adam Gilbert who founded the camp while working here as youth leaders, and by the amazing college and high school crew who lead each day’s chaos. And while the kids think it’s all about play, at the heart of what they do is a desire to love kids and staff and to communicate, “You are special. You are valuable. You serve a purpose. You matter.”
Now if that isn’t a ministry based on Christ’s love, I don’t know what is.
I’ve been reading the wonderful little book, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. He contends that the awesome love of God has been hidden from us by churches, parents, pastors and life itself, which would have us believe only in a God of holiness, justice and wrath, rather than in God’s furious love of us. He writes:
We must go into a desert of some kind (your backyard will do) and come to a personal experience of the awesome love of God. Then we will nod in knowing agreement with that gifted English mystic Julian of Norwich, “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to love gladly because of the knowledge of God’s love.”
So we have taken to the backyard here at Snowmass Chapel, and will mightily endeavor to give kids an experience of the awesome love of God. Served with a heaping pile of chocolate sauce. Which I think is just SMarvelous.
What do your prayers reveal about your relationship with God? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some moments of real surprise in my prayer life. Let’s see if any of this sounds familiar to you?
“Dear God, please be with my friend, Shirley. She’s going in for surgery on Tuesday at 2 PM MST and I’m asking You to please guide the doctor’s and nurse’s hands. Grant her Thy strength as she recovers and give her the peace that passeth understanding. May her insurance company be pleasant to deal with and please give her family patience and helpfulness as she recuperates. We come together to ask this in Thy name, because Matthew 18:19 clearly says, ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven’ and I know that Thou wilt honor Thy Word. In the powerful and effective name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.”
I began to notice that my prayers assume that…
- God doesn’t know about my friend Shirley or her surgery, so at least one function of my prayer is to raise God’s awareness.
- God only speaketh, understandeth, and respondeth to King James’ English.
- God needs a high degree of supervision – if I don’t give God detailed instructions, my prayer might lead to some very unintended consequences. Explanations need to be literal and precise and avoid anything that might be misconstrued, require interpretation, or lead to independent thinking on God’s part.
- God’s arm needs to be twisted before anything good will happen. God needs to be reminded about what the Bible says in case God was thinking about not following my detailed instructions.
- Prayers are a bit like a magic spell. You have to perform your incantations – I mean prayers – with the proper form or nothing will happen – or worse – the prayer could backfire!
Sometimes when I stop and listen to myself, I’m amazed at all of the things that my prayers reveal about my view of God. I see evidence of belief in a God who is angry, vengeful, capricious, mischievous, reluctant, recalcitrant, and probably worse. So how would I pray if I really believed that God already knows what I need and loves me and is working all things together for good?
Let me start by saying that I don’t like the idea of ending prayers to God. If God is available for us to talk to, why would we EVER want to cut off communication? Start your prayer to God, but don’t shut the door of communication with an “Amen” of dismissal – leave the door open. You never know when you need to hear from God. It’s okay if you are talking with other people. Let God be part of that too. Remain available.
A big part of this life seems to be about trust. Lots of things happen to us every day that unsettle and scare us. When we respond with fear and when we get defensive and when we counter-attack, we reveal our belief in a powerless god. What if we really believed in a God who is the Creator of the Universe with limitless resources and creativity? What would it be like if we had a different response to big scary things? What if we just tapped into our open link with the Creator of the Universe and said, “This thing just happened and it scares me, but I know you’ve got this – is there anything I can to help? How can I cooperate with your plan for this situation?” And then we trust and listen.
Some of us are probably still holding on to the idea that we need to have a relationship with God – not because God is the most interesting being in the universe, and worth the relationship – but because God is our ticket to heaven. I challenge myself (and you) to consider what it means to have an open link to a Being who is loving, available, helpful, creative, powerful, relational, and knowledgeable. I don’t know if our prayers change God, but I’m pretty sure that prayer has the potential to change us – and what a privilege that is!
Know that as you leave the Chapel grounds this morning and walk across the bridge and go back out into the world that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ goes with each and everyone of you. Let him lead you the quiet places of your heart where he will speak with you. Know that he loves you and listens to you with a gentle understanding, and know that he is with you always, wherever you are, whatever you’re feeling, whatever it is you might be enduring. And may God’s blessing and joy and peace and strength remain within each and every one of you now and always. Amen.
God knows that I can be a slow learner. He knows that I need to be reminded of the simple things just like that silly sheep that needs to be guided back to the stream. That’s what I like most about Robert’s benediction (above)— it reminds me of the simple truth that Jesus is with me always and it’s ok to cross the bridge… but that doesn’t mean that crossing the bridge will be easy. Life transitions and changes always seem to be challenging. However, they offer us a chance to take a second and look in the “rear-view” mirror. There’s something about looking back that allows me to see God’s footsteps more closely and his actions more clearly. In part, I am writing you to tell you that I am crossing a bridge in life. In June, I will be starting a season with the Youth Recovery Center as a therapist (don’t worry! I’ll still be working at the Chapel part-time). However, I also want to share what I am seeing in my rearview mirror as I reflect on the last three years at Snowmass Chapel.
Listen to the kids. I think most of the teachers reading this will know what I mean when I say the kids have as much to teach as they do to learn. When I read about the times that Jesus spent with children I think about how much fun He must have been having with them. One of my responsibilities at the Chapel has been to teach quite a few Sunday school lessons. In teaching these I find that I’m consistently impressed by the depth inside and the wisdom our little ones have. Their honesty and authenticity is continually challenging to me. I love the way children live without having their guards up. They simply are who they are and need not to pretend to be someone else. This has served as an example for me in my walk with Jesus. Thank you children of the Chapel.
Jayla and I hadn’t lived in the Village long before we had heard someone tell us to “trust your edges!” The whole idea of having long skinny things strapped to your feet while flying down the hill without a semblance of stability and trusting the thinnest and smallest part of the ski seemed like nonsense to me. Although it took me a long time to feel the confidence that comes from well-tuned edges, when I did I felt like a whole new world opened up. It’s a little ironic how skis require you to lean in and trust them before they’re really trustworthy. Similarly, I found that the further I lean into Jesus’ embrace, the more security I feel in it. The wisdom found in this silly skiing analogy has pushed me to challenge myself to walk through times that were uncomfortable, but just like trusting edges up on the hill opens up new terrain, trusting God in this way opens up a whole new lens for you to see the world. I challenge you all to trust your edges a little more everyday.
Before I came to the chapel I think most of the so-called communities I had been a member of were built out of common worldviews. What I mean is that those communities were made up of people who all happen to see certain issues the same way or believe certain things were true. One of my favorite things about the Chapel is the different perspectives that make up our community. I now feel like community is richer and much more fulfilling when you have diversity of thought, actions, and life experience. I love that we have seasonal employees that come from everywhere, second home owners that bounce in and encourage us all, and a real diversity of locals who live here. We may not all have exactly the same doctrine or the same political viewpoints but I love coming together and worshiping with you all on a Sunday morning. I’m thankful I’ve been able to be a part of this body with you all and experience the joy of having all the differences in one place worshiping the same Creator.
I think it was my second summer here that a friend of mine asked if I would be willing to help him pack out an elk if he got one during hunting season. He was new to hunting, so I figured it was a low-risk promise to agree. Little did I know, he would get a large mule deer and an elk in the same season… I also didn’t know just how large a fully grown Colorado elk could be! Somewhere between all of the many trips up and down the mountain I started thinking about how special it is to walk beside someone helping them carry a load. I think about when Jesus talked about His yoke being easy and His burden light I think about the grace He offers us and the freedom from the weight of all the ways that we are incomplete and all the ways that I do life halfway. I feel that freedom with you all at the Chapel because I feel free to be authentically myself. At many points you all have helped me carry my burdens and hopefully I have helped you carry a couple myself. However, more importantly I have been reminded by you all and by this community that it’s simply not my job to carry these burdens. Sometimes I need this to be reminded to me daily. I challenge you to ponder the burdens you’re carrying that Jesus says you don’t need to carry. Think about the things that weigh you down that you could be sharing with your Community of Faith. Then maybe try taking something out of your backpack… you’ll like the way it feels.
It’s All About Love. If you spent any time in and around the Chapel you’ve heard about love. You’ve heard about the passage in Matthew 22 that says to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your mind. I hope that if you look closely you’ve seen that love in action. If you’re like me you’ve seen people give up chunks of their life to become Stephen ministers. You’ve seen people give up first tracks on powder days to come greet and welcome others into this community of faith and love. You’ve seen people sit and visit with others not because they have nothing better to do, but because someone else sat and listened to them when they needed it most. You’ve seen people give sacrificially so this Chapel could exist (and so that I had a job where I could focus on students, not funding). You’ve seen people be little Christs to each other. Only God could dream this stuff up. This Great Commandment is so simple that a child can understand it but so challenging that it may take your whole lifetime to pursue it. I don’t know about you all, but a lifetime pursuing what it means to love our God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves, sounds like a life well-lived.
I want to thank you all for being a part of my Snowmass Chapel family. I want to thank you for teaching me all these lessons. I want to thank you for reading my rambling writing, and I want to thank you for loving me as yourself.