Beatitudes for Week 9: Blessed are Your Dirty Camp Feet

SLMBlessed are you who love your campers, even when it’s hard. Blessed are you who wait for that last camper to tie their shoe, who sit by the homesick one at mealtime, who offer to be their canoeing buddy so that they don’t feel left out or afraid. Blessed are you who work hard each week to learn each camper’s name, you who patiently say “if you can hear me clap once!” five million times so that you can start the next activity, you who after a whirlwind of adventures find yourself saying a series of bittersweet goodbyes at the end of each week.

Blessed are you when you stick with and show grace to this beautiful, messy community, even when someone forgot to do their outcamp dishes and someone else didn’t show up in time to help lead worship and someone else forgot to clean up their mess in the staff lounge and really all you want to do is find a quiet place of sheer solitude.

Blessed are you who continue to offer yourself in worship and prayer and Bible study, even as you wrestle with your own big questions and doubts and insecurities.

Blessed are you when you find yourself pushed outside of your comfort zone: when you end up leading songs even though you have never considered yourself a musician, when you are trying again and again to get your fire started to no avail, when you are suddenly left in charge with other people’s children or adults with disabilities and wonder who the heck ever thought this was a good idea.

Blessed are you who feel like you can’t make it one more step and yet you dig deep to welcome another batch of campers—each with their own gifts and quirks, joys and insecurities, expectations and surprises.

Blessed are your dirty camp feet, blessed are your muscles that are sore from playing running games or hauling canoes, blessed are your fingertips calloused from playing the guitar. Blessed are you who got acrylic paint on your favorite shirt, you with campfire scented hair, you with bags under your eyes from too little sleep. Blessed are you with rockin’ Chaco tanlines, with Gaga ball battle wounds, with a sunburn from a long afternoon lifeguarding, or with a hoarse throat from leading the Hammer Song one too many times.

Blessed are you in your mountaintop joy, in your total camp glory, in your laughter, in your newfound friendships, in all of your gifts and passions and each act of service. Blessed are you in your exhaustion, in your frustration, in your anxiety, in your questions. Blessed are you, for you are a wholly loved, claimed, and called child of God. Blessed are you, good and faithful servants.



25 Nuggets of Mom Wisdom

I12004692_10152983122672191_6993991532165851134_n’ve reached the ripe old age of 25 now, and with each passing year I’ve become more and more aware of the fact that, well, I’m basically my mother. My siblings, cousins, and I like to joke about the random quirks we’ve picked up from our own family systems (and trust me, there are plenty!), but every time I shrug and say, “Just call me Gwen…” I have to admit, I say it with a significant amount of pride. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here are 25 lessons I’ve learned from my mom. Thanks, Ma! (#FavoriteChildStatus)

  1. Hold your head up high, and always be true to who you are.
  2. It’s okay to be weird.
  3. Color coordination is important. Like, really, really important.
  4. Hospitality is in the details.
  5. Pretty much any room can feel like home with proper wall decor.
  6. We can uncover some of life’s greatest truths by digging around in the dirt.
  7. Cook with and eat fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden whenever you can.
  8. It’s okay to make a mess and have several works in progress at the same time. (Relatedly, it is okay to be a work in progress.)
  9. Sometimes you just have to start compulsively cleaning at weird hours of the night.
  10. It’s okay to be a little bit stubborn.
  11. True service often comes without a lot of fanfare. So does true leadership.
  12. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to practice integrity and compassion.
  13. Cheerleading is still the best sport.
  14. Art and music are gifts to cherish and practice, not tools for competition. (But also, don’t wait to practice your piano music until an hour before your lesson starts. And, let’s be honest, it’s okay to hold tiny grudges against those people who just seem to be really good without ever having to practice…)
  15. It’s okay to cry in movie theaters (even during Disney animated films).
  16. You can never own too many books.
  17. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. But even if you mess up (or heaven forbid, you miss a word on a spelling test), trust that you are loved anyway.
  18. Always show compassion, and give others the benefit of the doubt (even when it’s really, really hard.)
  19. Say yes to the things that matter. Say no to the things that aren’t life giving.
  20. Everyone should have recipes for a good cookie and a good cocktail at the ready.
  21. Also, one should always have ice cream and red wine on hand.
  22. NPR actually isn’t so bad. Turns out, it’s rather delightful.
  23. Say thank you.
  24. Feeding people and eating together are profound acts of love.
  25. For the love of all that is holy, refill the ice cube tray before sticking it back in the freezer.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!!

The Art of Taking Up Space

2010.02.10 Yoga Time by Werner Moser

“Breathe deep, my friends. Take up space.”

With an exhale I sunk deeper into my Warrior 2 pose, back leg firmly rooting me to the earth, front leg boldly stepping forward toward the front of my yoga mat. With resolve, I lowered my shoulders, sending my arms out wide in either direction, gaze steady toward the distance.

“Root to rise. Use your breath to ground down through the earth; then draw your energy up through your torso.”

I inhaled again, heart space rising toward the sky as I gathered strength from my foundation, pressing firmly into all four corners of my feet.

I felt alive. Rooted. Tall. Bold. Strong. Powerful. My recent dedication (okay more like re-re-dedication) to my yoga practice has started to feel like my own personal daily act of resistance, my way of cultivating a counter-cultural way of living in a world that tells me to be weak, small, quiet, and passive.

I’ve spent the last few years waging a war against my inner critic. Against the voice in my head that won’t ever let me rest, that insists that I can check just one more thing off my to-do list, that casts judgment on myself for every less-than-thrilling Friday night or every submitted paper that falls short of solving the entirety of the world’s problems or every selfish or anxious thought that my brain creates. And I’m really, really over it.

Like many women, I have been trained by society to take up as little space as possible—physically, emotionally, academically, even spiritually. I have been trained to hand over my sense of personhood, to place my own worth firmly in the hands of others. I have been taught, often by my own religion, to live submissively while simultaneously striving for perfection, all in the name of “piety” and “self-control” and “personal sacrifice” and “selflessness.” And, if I’m honest, I’ve all too eagerly and all too often embodied each of these ideals (even when I’ve known better). I’ve tried to nurture and to provide care while never admitting to needing care myself — all too proudly embracing what I’ve come to call “superwoman syndrome.” I trained myself to ask thoughtful questions about how others are doing, while refusing to answer those same questions honestly — and then running away before my stubborn propensity for tears betrays my true inner messiness. I’ve strived to create space for others, while denying myself the same space— calling it “servant leadership.” I’ve learned (and am now desperately trying to unlearn) a hatred for my own female body, seeing it as inherently sinful or tempting or problematic for simply existing – too short or too curvy or too, well, feminine—with too much make-up or not enough makeup or hair that’s too short or too long or too straight or too dark or too blonde or eyebrows that simply refuse to be controlled.

I’ve wasted way too much time waiting to be acknowledged, waiting for permission (or even an invitation) to speak or to write or to simply show up and to take up space. I’ve struggled to simultaneously make myself invisible — calling it “selflessness”– while desperately longing to be recognized and to be declared worthy of my own personhood by achieving perfection. Just as my first-grade self tirelessly spent hours learning to write letters in the dotted handwriting lines, my (mostly) adult self has become obsessed with trying to neatly package my life (trying to organize everything from my closet to my course schedule to my 20-year life plan [lolz]) so that I can present it to the world and have someone (anyone?) finally say, “Well done, good and faithful, servant. You’ve made it.”

For a self-proclaimed theologian, I think I’ve messed things up a bit.

I’m really good at talking about grace, love, and mercy. But it turns out that grace, love, and mercy in the abstract aren’t overly helpful. And it also turns out that unless I learn to claim at least a little bit of that grace, love, and mercy for myself, my attempts to bestow it upon my neighbors are going to look a lot more like self-serving flattery and inauthentic friendship than the radical love of Christ.

So I’m going to keep showing up on my yoga mat. I’m going to keep breathing deeply and finding ways to boldly take up space. I’m going to find ways to love my neighbors without totally erasing my own personhood. And I’m going to cling desperately to the faith that tells me that I am already wholly and unconditionally loved—and maybe I’ll even find that this faith has been clinging to me the entire time.

And guess what? I’m not even going to apologize.



NoteIt needs to be acknowledged that while I have deeply internalized the injustices of sexism in our society, I have also been shaped by my own, too often unacknowledged, privilege of whiteness. I strive for a feminism that is intersectional and sensitive to the very real realities of racism and xenophobia in all its devastating forms. Please continue to be my fellow journeyer as we, together, learn to be loving neighbors to all people.

The Year of the Cold and Broken Hallelujah


In my nearly 25 years (that I can remember), rarely has a year felt like it’s come with so much baggage. And, quite honestly, you probably don’t need another post reflecting on the year we are soon to leave behind filling up your news feed. I for one feel like I’ve read and listened to my share of words lately. In my general state of numbness, I’ve been constantly consuming news and blogs and sermons and Tweets and Facebook posts hoping to make some sense of the world through the emotions, perspectives, and words of others. And, in the process, I’ve been absorbing the anger, the sadness, and the grief, layer upon layer until I feel like I can hardly stand under the weight of it all. I’ve sought to hold and care for my own emotions while desperately trying to create space to hold the anger and frustration and grief of my sisters and brothers, especially those who have so much more to fear than I. In my clumsy attempts to listen and to act, I feel like I’ve finally begun to understand what it means to have my own liberation bound up with the liberation of my brothers and sisters, and, to put it rather ineloquently, it hurts. We, as the Body of Christ are so deeply broken. We have been broken over and over and over again, and even my eternally optimistic self is struggling to envision the possibility of wholeness.

2016 has been devastating for many of us.

And, at the same time, 2016 was devastatingly ordinary. Sometimes, 2016 looked like laughter-filled nights complimented by my favorite milk stout at happy hour or life-giving coffee dates with the people I love. At times, it even looked like traipsing down the cobblestone streets of the old city of Jerusalem and  listening to a loon’s morning greeting as the fog rose off a Boundary Waters lake and the loving, Colorado sunshine-y embrace of a city I once called home. Sometimes the ordinariness of 2016 looked like the perfect sunset over Lake Como or that postcard-like view of the Minneapolis skyline from I-35. Sometimes it sounded like my carefree ukulele strumming or the uncontrollable giggles that have a habit of interrupting late night study sessions. Sometimes it smelled like my favorite banana bread recipe or that unmistakable crispness announcing the arrival of fall. Sometimes 2016 tasted like that much-anticipated first sip of coffee before the sun rises or a bottle of red wine shared with dear friends. Sometimes it felt like slipping into my favorite hooded sweatshirt after a long day or my well-worn Chacos that know the shape of my feet so well.

Just as often though, 2016 looked like late nights in the library frantically writing papers. It looked like my zombie-like stumble to the coffee maker early in the morning before I rushed off to my 8am class. 2016 looked like Wednesday nights at youth group after which I wondered if I was really making any sort of difference at all. It looked like boldly changing my graduate degree and then changing it back again and then just ending up so confused and exhausted that I kind of ignored the whole situation for a while. It looked like the impatient tap of my fingers against the steering wheel as I mumbled under my breath about how “traffic jams like this don’t happen in South Dakota.” It looked like painfully ordinary acts like washing dishes and organizing my closet and scraping off my car on cold winter mornings and looking for that pesky other shoe. It looked like clumsy attempts at vulnerability and stubborn tears that refused to be held back. It looked like the usual culprits of social anxiety and perfectionism that continually seem to drive me to my breaking point. It looked like flat tires and wisdom teeth and weird nightmares about my high school sports days. And 2016 looked it looked like way too many hours spent on social media comparing the ordinariness of my life to the perfected social media version of the lives of my friends.

  1. You taught me a whole lot, but I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see you go.

All too often, in the midst of the year’s seemingly never ending stream of bad news and in the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of racism and sexism and homophobia and islamophobia and nationalism and every other form of systemic sin that erases our own humanity as well as the humanity of our neighbors, it has felt nearly impossible to hold on to hope. The Gospel message sounds great and all, but my so many of my experiences these days tell me that hate has won. Love feels distant and elusive and far too often like it has nothing to do with our shattered reality. Even the ordinariness at times has felt oppressive.

But, as the musical prophet, the late Leonard Cohen reminds us, “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

A cold and broken Hallelujah. A defiant Hallelujah that will not be silenced, even under theIMG_2790.JPG most hopelessly oppressive or devastatingly ordinary circumstances. A Hallelujah that just might show up in the most unexpected of times and the unexpected of places, calling us back to a new reality in which the only force with any type of defining power is not hate or scarcity or fear after all, but Love. A Love that looks a lot less like our preconceived notions of power and victory and instead looks a lot more like a cold and broken, even desperate, proclamation of hope in an otherwise bleak-looking world.

After all, it is only this type of Hallelujah that can take shape as a baby’s cry in an otherwise silent night in first-century Palestine.

Emmanuel. God with us.

May my broken spirit join yours this Advent, as together we muster our own cold and
broken “Hallelujah.”




On Being a Vocational Mess

Alternate Title: Embarking on a Vocational Adventure with No Known Ending and Pretending You’re Not Completely and Entirely Stressed Out About It

Jerusalem PathI like to be right.

I’ve been on a mission to find the “right” answers since I was really young. My first-grade-self took great pride in acing spelling tests week after week. I thrived in the routine of taking a fresh list of words home each Monday afternoon, figuring out the patterns and rhythms of the words on the list, memorizing the tricky sight words with extra care, and knowing that by the time Friday morning rolled around, I could confidently produce a list of correctly spelled words at my teacher’s dictation. My third-grade-self rejoiced in her ability to memorize math facts like nobody’s business and found incredible joy in the certainty of forever knowing that 3×7=21 and 56÷7=8.  As friends who have been subject to my text message critiques know all too well, my 24-year-old self has a deep affinity for grammar: for the consistency, for the structure, and for the mere fact that most of the time there is a right and a wrong answer. I like rules. I like answers. I really, really like clarity.

This is maybe one of the reasons why I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the concept of vocation. First of all, no one has ever been able to truly give me a satisfying definition of vocation, which is enough to drive anyone with a love of words and definitions and clearly defined categories absolutely crazy. If we don’t really know what “vocation” is, how exactly am I supposed to know if I’m living out my vocation correctly? Isn’t there a Vocational Checklist for Overachievers for easy reference, or at the very least a Buzzfeed quiz to tell me if I’m on the right track?

But maybe therein lies the problem. Maybe vocation isn’t about finding the right answer. Maybe a right vocational answer doesn’t even exist. Maybe vocation is just broad enough, just messy enough, just beautiful enough that it cannot be reduced to a single job description or a list of specific academic degrees. And maybe for each of us, a number of expressions of vocation are not only equally valid but equally holy.

I knew I had to reevaluate the way I’d been engaging with the concept of vocation when I found myself in tears while reading about Martin Luther’s concept of “the priesthood of all believers” for a summer class a few weeks ago. (In tears while reading Luther. Welcome to my life.) I came to seminary hoping to ask a lot of questions and wrestle with my own theology and do a whole lot of discerning, and while I have done all of these things, I also realized that somewhere along the line, the beauty and mystery of vocation got swept away. My freedom in Christ to serve my neighbors that is so foundational to Lutheran theology was replaced with a sense of total dread, a pit in my stomach, and the belief that I had to fit a certain seminary mold, allow myself to be shaped in the traditional seminary way (whatever that means), and eventually be sent out to serve as a parish pastor. This started to feel like the only “right” way to live into my vocation, the only way the church would recognize as valid, and the only way to show that I really was dedicated to my Lutheran faith. And don’t get me wrong: the call to parish ministry is a beautiful call. I have all the respect in the world for parish pastors, and I am so excited for my seminary classmates that sense this call themselves. But, to be honest, I don’t know that that particular call has ever really fit me. And it turns out I needed the words of Martin Luther himself to shake me to my core and to remind me that there are other, equally valid, equally holy paths so desperately needed in the Body of Christ.

So, maybe I will be a pastor. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll find my way into social work or education or writing and will live out the call to love my neighbors in those spaces. Maybe I will help lead the Church by inviting people to taste the Holy Spirit’s goodness in ministries being lived out in unexpected places and ways outside of our church buildings, or maybe I will invite people into these buildings to create a space of radical hospitality, refuge, and community. And maybe I’m not failing or giving up or “running from the call” but instead maybe I’m courageously living into a call that is broad and layered and cross-disciplinary and, like the untamable Spirit who calls us into community and equips us with her gifts, maybe this vocational call refuses to be pinned down into a single “right” answer.

And, maybe that’s okay.

Intoxicating Grace

Iphone 7-28 110Since these promise of God are holy, true, righteous, free, and peaceful words, full of goodness, the soul which clings to them with a firm faith will be so closely untied with them and altogether absorbed by them that it not only will share in all their power but will be saturated and intoxicated by them.  – Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian”

It’s been quite the summer. The increasing clamor of political rhetoric based on hate and fear and name calling in the midst of an election season that seems only to divide and accuse is enough to completely overwhelm even the most politically inclined among us. Our hearts have been shattered again and again with news of more and more violence until we find ourselves desensitized and emotionally empty. We argue about how best to respond and who should respond, how to love and comfort all victims and care for each other while refusing to condone the systems of
oppression that have laid the blueprints for the emotional walls we have constructed around ourselves, brick by brick, until we are no longer able to recognize the humanity of our neighbors.

And frankly, I’m exhausted. I’ve grown cynical and angry, frustrated with our polarized political reality that seems to prevent any action from ever being carried out, devastated by the long history of racism woven into the very fabric of our nation, furious with “those people” on the other side of the political spectrum who I am sure are the ones to blame, upset with my own friends who don’t’ share my liberal views, who aren’t responding in the way I would like, or who maybe think I should be responding more strongly.

And in the midst of my fear and frustration, I’ve been doing a whole lot of wrestling. Vocational wrestling. Theological wrestling. Personal wrestling. In between youth group get-togethers with sticky bowls of ice cream on the fraying youth group couches, weeks spent turning church fellowship halls into under the sea wonderlands and backyard barnyards, sailing and canoeing adventures with middle and high school students, summer classes, friends’ weddings, and trips to visit the various places I’ve once called home, I’ve been desperately seeking peace, clarity, and wisdom.  I have gone in circles time and again desperately trying to remember what brought me to seminary in the first place, trying to peel back the layers of conversation and prayers and sleepless nights and long walks and Google searches and crazy leaps of faith that have brought me to this particular place in this moment. I’ve done everything I can think of to catch a glimpse of the mysterious call that seems to defy all definition, this call that no matter how desperately I try to clutch onto and control it to seems to prove itself to be too messy to confine in a box marked “pastor” or “youth director” or “teacher” or “psychologist.” I’ve exhausted myself trying to discover what is desired of me, what is needed of me, what specific role I am called to fill in this broken, aching world.

We all have those lies that we believe. The lies that get under our skin, driving us to whatever dark places that always seem to be lurking just around the corner, waiting to devour us the moment we are at our weakest. Those demons we wrestle with over and over and over and yet always seem to take us by surprise. My lie? “You are not enough. You will never be enough. Do more. Be more. Try harder. Then, and only then, you will be worthy of love.” In the midst of a busy schedule and emotional exhaustion, I have found myself once again facing this particular demon. This time the demon critiques every emotion and destroys every attempt at vocational peace as I attempt to find some semblance of clarity in how my gifts might best line up with the needs of the world. The demon tells me the world is my responsibility to fix, my duty to save. The Church with its declining numbers and at times paralyzing politics is resting on my shoulders. Systems of poverty and oppression and homelessness and abuse are mine to eradicate. It’s up to me to be everything to everyone all of the time—and then I can rest assured that I am loved.

I recently started a summer class on Martin Luther and the Reformation. I entered the course with my usual academic gusto which, more often than not, nurtures the perfectionist inside of me and drives me to live up to the most unattainable standards. But as I delved into Luther’s works, I kept running against this one, consistent, pesky problem: grace. All-encompassing, saturating, intoxicating, beautiful, and, at times, straight up offensive grace. An entirely one directional grace that could care less about my most desperate attempts to prove my own worthiness, a grace that declares me loved, forgiven, and freed, but not because of anything I have done or not done or could ever do. Grace that surrounds every fiber of my being simply because of the Grace Giver. Grace that destroys the demon telling me to “try harder” with a single breath. Grace that calls me to trust in the promise of God, a promise that tells me that whatever price I am so dearly trying to pay has been paid in full, that I have already been declared beloved, and that nothing, absolutely nothing, can take that identity away. Grace that frees me from the lines I have drawn to isolate and protect myself, to prove myself superior and somehow more worthy of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness than my brothers and sisters on the other side of the political spectrum or with different theological perspectives or radically different life experiences and world views. A grace that refuses to choose sides. A grace that frees me to love and to serve and to be vulnerable, not because of my own need to prove to myself or to others or to God that I am good, but because I have first been wholly loved. A grace that tells me I don’t have to do it all, but more than ever opens me to hear the call of my neighbors. A grace doesn’t take me out of the messiness and brokenness of the world, but a grace that is somehow forever and always more than enough.

And this, my friends, might just be the good news that we so desperately need.

In the Spirit of Camp Withdrawals

024It’s always around this year that my heart starts to feel a very specific kind of ache. My social media feeds fill with images and video clips of staff trainings and the first weeks of programming at outdoor ministry sites around the country. My camp friends and I start to reminisce (more frequently than usual) of our own camp glory days. These days, my heart skips a beat every time I catch a whiff of campfire, and I lace up my Chacos with an extra dose of nostalgia and look for every possible excuse to break out the tie dye. Yes, it’s camp withdrawal season.

People often ask what it is about camp that is so special. Was it just a really fun job? Do I just miss my camp friends? Am I simply feeling reminiscent of the days in which I got to hide from “the real world” all summer? Yes and no.  Quite honestly, my summers at camp were some of the most beautiful and challenging months of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They were far from perfect, but they were real and they were holy.

Never has a community seen me laugh or cry harder (or more often). Camp helped me find the courage to speak publically, to dance with abandon, to play the guitar in front of people before I would have ever deemed myself “ready,” to lead children on canoes and build a campfire and make silly games up on the spot because we ended up with an extra fifteen minutes before lunchtime. Camp forced me to admit that I don’t know everything when campers asked me tough questions in Bible study about heaven and hell and where God is in the midst of suffering. Camp taught me to ask for help, reminded me that I don’t have to constantly prove myself worthy of being loved and that maybe, just maybe, I am enough even when all I do is simply show up. Camp helped me develop the endurance to push through just one more day when it was Thursday morning and my campers were homesick and exhausted and covered in mosquito bites, and all I wanted was to wash my feet and take a really long nap somewhere with air conditioning. Camp taught me to speak up when I had something to say, but also constantly reminded me that sometimes the ideas we could create together were far greater than anything one of us could come up with on our own. Camp helped me embrace the messiness: of faith, of life, of carefully coordinated schedules that had to be changed last minute because of the rain and of worship services that were poorly planned but in which we somehow managed to encounter the Spirit anyway.

It was at camp that I felt most intimately connected with God the Creator in the early morning sunrises, in the gentle lapping of the waves against the dock, in the dirt underneath my fingernails, in the gentle rustling of the leaves, and in the thunder that shook the cabins during middle of the night July thunderstorms.

It was at camp that I met the Word made flesh in high-fives covered in sticky marshmallow goo, in the friends who patiently sat with me as I cried on the back steps of the chapel, in the campers who screamed the last couple rounds of The Rock at the top of their lungs, in the co-workers who left me encouraging notes decorated with markers and glitter glue when I needed cheering up, and in the friends who loved me in the midst of my imperfections.

And it was at camp that I encountered the Spirit as mysterious and beautiful as the campfires around which we gathered in song and prayer: the Spirit who swept us into Her dance of relationship and community, who called and weaved together our ragtag bunch of stories, experiences, and personalities into one Body and then sent us back out into the world, forever changed, if ever so slightly, from our time together. And it is this Spirit who continued to sustain us in faith, love, and community, long after the lingering scent of campfire washed out of our sweatshirts and our Chaco tan lines began to fade.

Thanks be to the God who continues to call and nurture, create and encounter communities of campers, staff, volunteers, boards of directors, alumni, and loyal supporters. To all of you faithfully preparing for Summer 2016: Blessings on your journey!! IMG_3948