Sometimes there is something comforting about working at my kitchen table

It’s Ash Wednesday. I have barely over a half an hour before chapel starts, and there is other work scheduled in my time slot for this precious time, and yet I feel an irresistible pull to simply acknowledge this space and time.

The busyness of the semester has begun. I have not yet finished entering all of my assignments and deadlines into my calendar and already I realize that is not going to be the “light” semester I had hoped for. Instead we continue to muddle through each day moment by moment while rarely feeling as if each item is receiving my full attention. I have also drastically cut back on some commitments or extra activities. Meanwhile I offset that balance by being very intentional about family and self care time, including exercise.

And lent begins today. How do I honor that part of the journey. How do we observe lent as a family?

I am so thankful that I am making this seminary journey with my family. I cannot imagine it any other way and yet it does change the journey.

I am also thankful for my Wartburg seminary community. We are a community centered around worship, and I have become more and more appreciative of this during this second year livin gin this community.

In a short while I will leave my warm sunny kitchen and trek up to “the castle” and worship with others in this community. Each Wednesday we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and today there will also be the imposition of ashes … dust, we are dust.

Here in my kitchen I feel a connection to all of it. I do work at my office desk at times (I can see it from where I am sitting in the kitchen; it’s not a big house) and in the library as well, but sometimes with the sun streaming in the window in the morning, uplifting music playing in the background, photos of my family on the wall, and the food given to sustain our bodies surrounding me … the kitchen is what pulls me. Cooking and baking have become a surprise blessing to me in recent years, and now I often look forward to spending time in the kitchen during my sabbath time. The fact that I can work on a sermon or other work here feel like an integration of my identity in ways I cannot fully articulate yet.

Today I give thanks for all of it.

Now, one more cup of tea with the next productive 20 minutes.

Love and belief,


Contemplating Sabbath

Ever since our first semester of seminary when we heard examples of how to keep sabbath time in our lives I have been considering what this would look like or possibly could look like in my life. As a parent it seems I need to be somewhat flexible on this. I also know that staying up late working on homework Saturday simply to be free from doing homework Sunday would not be a plan that would work for me. There are many other possibilities I considered along the way, but nothing that I really practiced.

I would start each semester or time of transition by planning out when I would take time to take care of myself — such as carving out yoga time, time for groups I like to attend, and so on. Sometimes this works better than other time and maintaining a yoga and exercise schedule certainly is an important part of my self-care plan; however, I no longer thing it’s truly sabbath time.

I’m considering doing a Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown. This would give me Saturday night to relax with family or friends (something that comes naturally to me on both Friday and Saturday night actually), and leaves Sunday night for returning to school or other work. I would still need to be careful about not leaving too much for Sunday night although this semester is the perfect semester to experiment since my class load is lighter on Mondays.

My brain can’t help but wonder how I would work this with an on-call schedule such as if/when I again start working in a hospital in the chaplain role … and then I tell myself that is no reason to not to try it now.

So, starting in just over an hour I will begin my Sabbath time. I will try to be gentle with myself in this transition as I attempt to discern what are appropriate Sabbath activities. I think, at least initially, I will fast from social media during this time, but still allow electronics in various forms (especially my e-reader — just for pleasure rather than work).

The main thing though is that I will free myself from the “should” feeling of what I should be doing — and the long “to-do” list that I always have.

I think that I will also find some additional meditation or spiritual practice books to dig into on Sundays. I could probably just look on my book shelves for books I have not had a chance to start reading yet, but if you have recommendations, please leave a comment. Since starting seminary my personal reflection and inspirational reading has moved to those that can be read in very short spurts of time (like 10 minutes each morning) rather than slowly devoured word by word over an afternoon.

I may even come back and write many Sunday evenings about how the experience was for me. How slowing down, connecting intentionally with God and the community God has given me — as well as intentionally connecting with myself — feels and how it nourishes my soul.

For tomorrow we already have a few plans, and most of them such as attending church and going swimming at the Y as a family I think fit in well with a day of rest. A few things may need to be altered however, and I am already thinking the day will likely seem extremely short and that the benefits of take such intentional sabbath will come after repeatedly keeping such time set aside as sacred.

Please comment with your own personal experience with sabbath time!

55 minutes to relax (more intentional meandering reflection)

What does a busy seminary student do when told to take 55 minutes specifically to relax? Hmmm, well it varies, but today Shawn and I used it as all the incentive we needed to take the afternoon totally off and hang out downtown.

I’m sitting in the Dubuque library now. Earlier, it was a yarn store while Shawn relaxed in a book store. And first we took time to eat together.

Thankfully our professor is aware that many of us have hit the wall regarding the intensity and emotional exhaustion of our Jterm class after travel to Chicago and Madison to hear speakers who work in some way directly with domestic violence issues. So, today class was done early and we were told to use that 55 minutes to relax! This is a lovely thing.

Right now my mind feels like it’s being pushed and expanded in so many ways and directions, and these is even with very little of the actual information being totally new to me. However, viewing it from a pastoral perspective is new to me. I also seem to keep wondering about the generational and cultural influences of abuse that affect the rest of the culture as well. I particularly think about this as when talking about power and control (and lack of empathy) in domestic violence (including rape) we hear mentioned the impact of patriarchy and colonialism, and it leaves me wondering about the abusive marks left simply by a culture. I include marks left on our men and the challenges of all in navigating through such a world in these wonderings.

In other “trying hard to relax, but not always succeeding” fronts, I keep checking for word from the CPE site I interviewed with this past Monday for any word since I was told they would decide quickly. I remind myself that if I am ever in that interviewer position again I will tell the person it will likely be a long time just to not get their hopes up. 😉

Trying to live in the moment and recover after all of the travel and finding it hard not to fill my to-do list past what will work for such relaxation and renewal. This weekend is primarily about rest and spending time with my 7-year-old after being away from her so much … yet, a long list of other things keeps trying to sneak in.

January is such an “in between month” it finds me almost missing the intentional intensity of the regular semester.

I find this especially interesting considering everything I
have been learning about domestic violence in my Jterm class
(including rape and human trafficking as well).

… Added later
Concerned about violence? Read this for an example of how it has permeated our children’s culture in such a way that a part of our population finds this behavior to just be boys being boys … Seems so impossible for many of us and yet it’s there … Doesn’t have to be a large part of the population to make a large impact on the population though.

I find myself wondering what I /we (Shawn Brooks) would have done as parents in this situation. Not that I needed more to think about tonight as I am processing all of the intense Jterm domestic violence info!

Deep Breaths … first in a series of mid-January 2013 reflections

I am wondering why I still dwell on some things so often.
For example, after someone misinterpreted something about me as
ungrateful I was stunned and although it is months ago I still
dwell on it daily. Yet, I can not sacrifice my authentic self in
order to convince others that I live a life full of gratitude. Even
my grateful self is sometimes tired, exhausted, sad, challenged,
frustrated, and even angry. And, just because I have gone through
much more challenging times in my life does not mean that the work
and stress of going through a full-time Master’s degree program
while also attending to my family is not hard at times, and my
authentic self is going to let others around me know that. It’s
part of me. If my mind is on a particularly hard test or
challenging paper and I trust you / the space enough to share that,
I believe that is a good thing. My life does not seem to grow when
I need to remain guarded. It’s OK to be vulnerable and two of my
biggest goals for 2013 is to work on being more open to
vulnerability and to continue to grow more fully into being and
expressing my authentic self without.

Currently it is Jterm for
Wartburg Seminary students. This year both Shawn* and I are taking
a course on Domestic Violence that includes a trip to Chicago, two
days in Madison, and many local Dubuque speakers as well as
readings to reflect and discuss in class. I will likely bring some
of my reflection here, while others is too personal for the blog.
Before taking the class I heard many students say that it was the
single most useful class for ministry/pastoral care that they took
while in Seminary. I agree. The class has and continues to be very
powerful. We just finished our Chicago and Madison travel this week
(Chicago one week and Madison the next), so at this point we are
exhausted physically and emotionally and yet we keep going. This is
what I imagine ministry to be like at times. We/I need to practice
good self care and spiritual renewal so that I am ready for the
times when I just need to keep on keeping on. Fall 2012 Semester
was like that. It was a good semester in general with the family
maintaining general good health (although Nessa, 7, was/is going
through some challenges including frequent insomnia), and yet, many
days were simply keeping on keeping on days. It may have been
evident from the lack of posts to this blog that some thing was up.
I actually did some amazing things this semester such as start a
Diaconal Minister Facebook group (& now I need to promote
additional activity there), do some work that included interviewing
students and alumni, … and made lots of soup 🙂 But the writing
just would not come in many areas. I came back from summer CPE
simply worn out on writing, especially reflective writing. I am
finding that I now need to become intentional in order to fit it
back into my daily life routine.

Over Christmas vacation I did not
write or read AT ALL but rather rediscovered crafting, particularly
crochet, as well as did A LOT of baking (gluten free bread and
desserts) and cooking (especially soup!). It was wonderful. As was
the family time. I want to hold on to just a bit of that while
returning to this intentional written reflection (& sharing
of the journey) as well as balancing other aspects of wellness.

last half of January will be a good time to experiment with all of
this intentionality prior to second semester starting in February.
Today I find myself particularly grateful for my husband and that
he is taking this journey with me. It has been a challenge but more
often a huge blessing to share classes together along this seminary
journey. Love and belief — and official Happy 2013 (just a little
belated 😉

*For new readers, my husband, Shawn, is also a full-time
student, but in the MDiv program. You can follow his journey at

quick update & thankful at this moment update list

First my apologies for anyone I owe an email, call or visit! This summer was even more intense and exhausting than I imagined, and my only non-CPE priority was my family (as in my daughters and my husband), and in that regard I think we did OK. However, my dream of connecting with other La Crosse area friends or extended family was dashed by the first week of CPE. 🙂

So, both Shawn and I not only survived CPE but did indeed also pass the CPE unit. Our CPE experiences were very different and yet we each learned what we needed to (although we are both still processing as well). It was even kind of hard to leave the hospital and those I had let myself be called to serve (my “favorite” was the in-patient psychiatric unit and I am looking for additional training in this area), when we had to say goodbye the week of August 10th. As good as it is to be back to Wartburg I am already thinking about a Chaplain residency (3 or 4 more CPE units) for next year (while Shawn is on his Internship year). I am also in the midst of trying to figure out my Diaconal MInistry fieldwork, but that is a another post …

I hope to have time to reflect on CPE more here, but right now I am in the midst of trying to conquer my Endorsement essay as part of the ELCA candidacy process. Shawn and I both have to have this important essay written by Sept. 1st. In the meantime we also got our daughter, Nessa, off to her first couple of days of 2nd grade here in Dubuque (Megan has her high school registration next Wed. as she starts high school in La Crescent, MN after Labor Day).

I stumbled upon this free (nook) ebook the other day: Spiritual Practices for Happiness and it reminded me about the practice of being grateful, and then that I hadn’t been following through as much as I planned to publicly share my gratitude with all of you!

So, here goes my current, very quick, top ten thankful list!

1. Shawn took Nessa to her chiropractor apt. today (yes, little and yet oh so big)

2. That we are HOME!!! (really my home is wherever my family is so home is multiple places right now, but this house here at Wartburg is my home where my heart can thrive and oh how I missed it and this community this summer!)

3. for this community! It’s so good to see not only my classmates but also the professors and others.

4. for our parents in helping Nessa to survive this summer. IF there is one person the summer was hardest on, it was her. Hopefully she will recover soon so that we can fully recover.

5. for my fabulous teenager, Megan! She not only helped with Nessa and guided her with doing chores this summer, she was ready to hang out for mom & Megan time when my scheduled allowed and I rarely had to stress about her behavior, etc. … if having a teen is like this, I LOVE it!

6. for my health … when it’s always “on the edge” so to speak (auto-immune disease can be like that) I remember to be grateful for what I have & the ability to make it better with my behavior … leading us to

7. YOGA … and specifically the hot yoga I did this summer as my scheduled allowed … now to find a place in Dubuque that I can practice yoga to help maintain my health and wellness

8. my kitchen … and a family to cook for!

9. my church … both of them 🙂 (it was good to be able to have a little time to reconnect with Good Shepherd this summer and I am blessed to have a wonderful church home here as well).

10. my husband! … not only did he survive the summer with me, we are reconnecting for a blessed fall and school year.

Thankful this Sunday morning

Just a quick note to share my joy and thanksgiving this morning … and let you all know I/we are still out here taking each day of CPE as it comes — challenges and joys!

The opposite on call schedules my husband and I have is challenging at times (and possibly good preparation for what is to coming in future ministry?), so we are learning to be intentional about setting time aside to reconnect as well. This morning we are on a “Sunday morning date” 🙂 With a full house at the farm this weekend, I saw Sunday morning as a good time for Shawn and to connect away from everyone else (after church we went to Festival to their deli area … trying to practice being frugal along with getting wifi and time together 🙂

It may be a couple of weeks before I have a chance to get a few more posts ready to share here; however, we are starting to settle into some type of comfort zone this summer rather than continually being overwhelmed.

So here is my off-the-top-of-my-head thankful list this morning:
1. Time with my husband this morning sharing and planning … and praying!
2. Seeing our friends at church this morning and many Sunday mornings recently as we’ve been able to get back to Good Shepherd more frequently so far this summer.
3. Having a 2-day weekend!!!! (won’t happen again for awhile!)
4. Seeing more of my family (including parents and niece Ahnika and nephew Cully) this weekend.
5. The mother-daughter time I had with Megan on Thursday (especially since I was able to leave work “early” after working call Wed. and through the night)
6. That Shawn and I are in this together — challenging but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
7. That the hot humid weather only lasted long enough for me to appreciate the weather we’ve been having most of the summer
8. That produce is starting to come in abundance at the farm
9. That I have been sleeping well.
10. That many dots are being connected and I have been able to do some good emotional and mental work as part of CPE, and that I am now able to step gently into my own identity as minister and chaplain — special thank you to my mentors, supervisors and peers at Gundersen for being a part of this! (this clinical pastoral education thing is really like no other educational opportunity — amazing growth experience if one is open to it.

Peace and blessings to all!!

Love and belief,

Justification and Justice

This assignment was the culmination of one of our Fall (1 seminary semester) classes. I did not edit it from the actual assignment I turned in.

Justification & Justice

Justification is what God does for us through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. We can speak of what justification means to the world in multiple ways, including the common phrases of “forgiveness of sins” and “reconciliation of sinners to God” as well as creating a new reality where humanity is restored to right relationship with God and other humans. These descriptions of what happened on the cross are all part of restoring life in the midst of death and brokenness. This work of God, or justification, is God’s free gift to all humans. We call this universal free gift grace.

We are justified by grace alone through faith alone. Faith is our response to God’s grace, and how we individually participate in this universal grace. Faith, as trust in God’s promises of Jesus Christ, is also the link between justification and justice. Faith becomes active in love. When we act in love—based on that trust—we participate in God’s struggle to restore life. That is, our living out of our faith is our participation in justice.

Scripture proclaims the gift of grace and our faith response of love. Paul says in Romans 4.25 that Christ has been “handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” Ephesians 2.8 proclaims “ For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” And in Galatians 5.6b we hear “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” In Micah 6:8 we also see God’s intention of humans living out justice in actions of love: “He has told you o mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? “

God’s word creates a new reality, and our faith gives us a vision of this new reality. When we act differently because of being freed by God’s love to truly love others, seeing them also as individuals Christ died for, we are living fully what God created us to be. Thus justification restored humanity to live in justice as we live lives in right relationship to God and others.

All Bible references are from New Revised Standard Version

Works Consulted
Closely read the following readings:
Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The Lutheran World Federation and The Roman Catholic Church. English-Language Edition. Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans, 1999, pp. 5-47 (43 pages)

Altmann, W. Luther and Liberation, 13-55 (43 pages)

Braaten, C. E. Justification By Faith, 81-99 (19 pages)

Lull, T. ed. Luther, “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhood” (1591), pp. 242-266; “Freedom of a Christian” (1529), 585-629 (45 pages)

Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, Vol. VII, Justification By Faith, The Consensus Statement, 58-74 (17 pages)

Persaud, W. D., “The Article of Justification and the Theology of Liberation,” Currents, 1989, 361-371 (11 pages)

Also read/consulted these readings:
Luther’s Works, Vol. 27, Lectures on Galatians (1519), 381-394 (14 pages)

Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” 293-306, in Lull, T. ed. Luther, 149-165 (17 pages)

Brief CPE Reflection

Since I promised at least a few quick updates or reflections, here is one at least. 🙂

Obviously, I am limited in terms of what I can share in terms of direct experiences, but I can say that this is a learning experience like no other, and when former CPE students say that there is nothing like it and that there is really no way to prepare — they are right! The same can be said about our experience of both Shawn and I doing this at the same time (different CPE programs – thankfully!), and yet day by day we are doing it.

I just finished my first 24 hour on call and while there are so many things I could have done differently, I did do it and did not have any real anxiety or times of panic, so that is certainly an OK thing. So much to reflect on in terms of where all of this meats my own faith and theology. Since my on-call was on Sunday I was also busy planning and leading two worship services. Going into CPE I thought that the worship services would be a major time of anxiety since planning and leading worship is not an area I feel called to, but that was not really the case. The small group led type service was an especially comfortable and fulfilling.

Surprises so far? — too many to even name briefly. On a practical level the amount of outside work, at least this first couple of weeks as I was in class a lot and starting with quite a few on-call times to (try) to prepare for this weekend was more intense than I would have imagined.

I am becoming quite protective of my “off” time and prioritizing self care and family time. I am also redefining what good self care is for myself, including care that restores my spirit. For example, I really do love listening to public radio and since I don’t have much time to do that, my time commuting alone in the car was always valued as a time to “connect with the outside world” so to speak in that way. This week I realized that was not really helping me in the way that I needed so I switched to listening to the music that connects to my soul right now (currently a few CDs by Dakota Road as well as one by Casting Crowns), and this helps. I have also been getting back to prioritizing physical movement as well as meditation … and rest.

Prayer requests — that our family can continue to navigate this summer in a way that meets the needs of our family and does not leave anyone burned out or otherwise exhausted (spiritually or physically), and that I continue to be open to the learning process this summer.

I’ll end with one verse from a Dakota Road song that I also shared with my peers this morning before leaving for my day off (and now I realize the value of two days off in a row … looking foward to next weekend when Shawn and I both have two days off in a row!!!)

Your touch is on us God of day and of night
Inspire our living to do what is right
Move in our hearts with your Spirit that we
may bring hope to places of hurt and of need

Blessings on your day.

Love and belief~

Thankful at this very moment

1 a sleep room with wifi (1st 24 hour on call)
2 that my family came to my evening worship at the hospital!
3 all the people that smiled at me today!
4 that I am somehow keeping up with assignments and essentials in spite of frequent momenys of overwhelm
5 music that restores my spirit
6 my peers here
7 yoga and walking
8 seeing my girls happy together
9 my haircut!
10 you!

Prayer requests: sustained energy and that I can be the pastoral presence needed in this place and time … For our Wartburg community during another summer of transition (I miss the community and yet still feel its presence)

Love and belief~