Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Playing in the Mud

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday as the sign of the cross is marked on our foreheads. A sign that reminds each and every one of us of our own mortality; a sign that God is with us in the midst of life's joys and sorrows. God takes our brokenness and turns it into something beautiful. God is always always playing in the mud!

Last night a friend tweeted "As we are reminded that we shall return to dust, fill us with the promise that you never quit playing the the mud." Ever since I cannot get that image out of my head. I picture a child or anyone of us playing in the mud. When I worked at a Bible camp for many many summers, we had a mud pit. The youth always begged to play in that mud pit. Once they got in that mud pit, the girly girls no longer cared about their beauty. They simply had a blast playing in the mud.

I love the image of God playing in the mud with each of us...getting down and dirty and not caring about what anyone else thinks but Godself. God is in the business of continually offering us grace; of continually shaping each and everyone of us into the "fearfully and wonderfully made being" that God created each of us to be.

Today, all over the world, Christians will gather to remember that we are dust. Gray-haired men and women, infants, teenagers, individuals living with disabilities, etc...all of us will gather as the pastor, rostered leader or lay leader in the church takes their finger, dips it into the ashes, and carefully marks the sign of the cross on each person's forehead; a visual reminder that we are to "walk dusty";a visual reminder that connects us back to our Baptism where a simple cross was marked on our foreheads too.

Five years ago, as I was reflecting on Ash Wednesday following an Ash Wednesday service, I wrote the following poem. I hope that my words today bless you as you remember your own mortality and remember that God is not giving up on any one of us. God is always willing to play in the mud with us. In fact, God often will get the muddiest of us all as God walks this journey of life with each of us!

Ash Wednesday Poem
By Tara L. Ulrich 
(Copyright Tara L. Ulrich)

My hands mark the sign of the cross
on the foreheads of those near and dear to me,
tears begin to trickle down my face
as I look into each of their eyes and say the words,
“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.”

And as the ashes trace
the sign of the cross on their foreheads,
I am reminded of the mortality of each of them,
Reminded that death does and will come
But also reminded of the love and mercy
Of the One who promises he will
Never leave us or forsake us.

Christ hung on the cross as he too
was faced with his own mortality;
Giving the ultimate sacrifice;
Dying on the cross for each of us;
Again reminding us that
God will never leave us or forsake us.

And so as we leave with the
signs of the cross traced on our foreheads,
We again are reminded of our mortality;
“Ashes to Ashes
Dust to Dust”
“From Dust you came,
To Dust you shall return.”

I am linking up with Holly Barrett and Testimony Tuesday; Kelly Balarie and the RaRa linkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Tell His Story, and Holley Gerth and Coffee for your Heart!



Monday, February 08, 2016

You've Taken A Piece of my Heart!

Five days ago, I boarded a plane to Anaheim California and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. The E as it is often called is a gathering of people who work, volunteer, etc with children, youth and families. This is my third E and I seriously love the time of learning, connecting with collegues, etc. It is balm for my soul that always completely refills my cup.

This year was no different, but for me, this time was needed this year more than ever. For those that regularly read this blog, you know my familie's story but for those of you that don't, I am a daughter of a woman who lives  daily with bipolar disorder. Since 2002, my sister and I have served as our mom's legal guardians. She also has lived in a nursing home since that time. But this summer, things shifted again. Mom seems to be beginning to show signs of dementia. She has completely stopped calling my sister and I weekly. It is something that I can't even begin to comprehend; a journey of mental illness AND dementia.

As the oldest, I often am the one left with a lot of the responsibility. I am a strong woman, but I forget how quickly this illness, our story and so much more wears on me. The E, for so many, who attend is, I believe, a space for us to share our stories with others whether it be around a supper table, or coffee table or wherever it might be. I know that I can count on these souls to bear my burdens; to share in my deepest joys and sorrows. It is holy space that often takes pieces of my heart; pieces that I know others will hold when I cannot hold or put them back together myself.

This afternoon I tweeted these words "How is it that you can finally meet friends in real life and you feel like you have left a piece of your heart with each of them." Those words capture how I feel about this wonderful community of leaders in our church; leaders who sometimes also struggle in the wondering of life. Yet that is exactly who and what this community is about; that when we forget our sense of wonder and forget our believing, we remind each other to keep believing and to keep wondering even when life doesn't make any sense at all.

These people; my friends walked with me as I got to experience my first EVER Disney experience. They let me wonder and drink from new life rather than from the nasty dirty cup of nostalgia. They listened as I shared how I felt God had called me to write my book "'Chasing our Untils." And for that I am forever thankful; forever grateful; grateful for a community of colleagues who hold a piece of my heart and always will.

Thank You for all you do E team to make this event such a success and blessing. I don't think we say it enough, so I am saying it for all 600 plus of us in attendance this weekend. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You for a network where we can sit, wonder and be refilled in the midst of this crazy spirit filled work.

Sunday Blessings 113

(1) Playing with little EG and then getting a hug for playing trucks with him.

(2) A sweet note from my friend HG

(3) RRS giving me a ride to the airport

(4) KG being willing to give me a ride to the airport.

(5) An awesome outstanding gate agent getting me on an earlier flight out of MSP.

(6) Traveling with friends

(7) Visiting with new friends and getting to know them.

(8) A nighttime Target run

(9) Finally getting to hug my friend LA in real life.

(10) Hugging and seeing of my fave things about the E!!

(11) LA and I walking to downtown Disney, catching up on life etc. So fun!!

(12) Supper with CT, MH and CT's friends.

(13) Meeting Twitter friends in the flesh. Feel like I've known them forever!

(14) A fun t-shirt off the $7 clearance rack at Old Lutheran!

(15) Fantastic worship, speakers, etc

(16) Hugging DG and DH in the flesh

(17) Word and Service dinner! So much fun!!!

(18) Hugging JK and getting to spend some time visiting with him. Also fun to have DH pop in on our conversation for awhile.

(19) Sweet comments on my FB status

(20) SG finding me hot tamales at the hospitality table.

(21) Hanging out with EF at the pool

(22) Lunch with EF and SG poolside

(23) My first ever Disney experience with BW, LA and NA. Thanks friends!!

(24) Being bombarded when I got off the shuttle by KJ, AS and SK. Also loved getting to catch up with these girls. Miss them!!

(25) Meeting #chsocm peeps in real life and getting to meet them in person.

(26) Playing peek-a-boo with sweet Will.

(27) Texting with STM and sharing Disney pics with her.

(28) Breakfast with LA and NA

(29) Playing peek a boo and taking to Baby Maisy on our flight back to MSP.

(30) An 89 cent Uber ride. Thanks roomie DW!

(31) All of YOU especially my E friends. It never surprises me how easy I can come up with a blessings list on the E week. And I could easily add so many more items!

Monday, February 01, 2016

What I Learned in January

I am linking up with Emily Freeman's monthly link-up today. You can check out all the posts over at Emily's Place.

1. Sharing in friend's special days is such a joy. My friend EG was ordained in early January. I loved getting to be a part of her day.

2. I also love creating pieces for others. For EG's ordination gift, I wrote her a poem that I framed and gave to her. Several years ago, when my friends MG and KG were married, I wrote them a poem too. There is something so incredibly holy about creating for others. I love sharing this gift that God gave me.

3. Time with dear Word and Service friends is balm for the soul. Such a refreshing day. I cannot wait until we get to gather again. So thankful for these dear women in my life.

4. LuLaRoe leggings are the best and feel like butter. I never thought I would jump on the leggings as pants band wagon. But with my new found love of LuLaRoe, I am in love! (Sorry not sorry!) I also love their Randy tshirt, the Cassie skirt and cannot wait to try out the other items as well.

5. Having your purse stolen is an extremely VIOLATING experience. My purse was stolen this month. I lost Christmas gift cards; probably close to $200 worth. Had to pay to get a new set of car keys made. I am so thankful for people who God placed in my life during this time. Also thankful for the cops and detectives who work hard to do their jobs. It is good to have a soft place to land.

6. Spending time with friends is such a joy. Loved spending the other night with CT and her girls. Loved spending time with EG and KG earlier in the month. At CT's house, I got to try out Blue Apron. Excited to try my first box in a few weeks.

7. Fox TV has taught us all what LIVE theater can truly look like. Grease LIVE was so much fun. I hope the other stations take cues from Fox and learn what live theater can truly look like. Julianne Hough and the cast were so much talented!!

8. One must embrace the Beautiful Uncertainty of it. This month, I participated in the The Single Woman's 31 Day challenge. Mandy had us pray prayers from her new book, write a letter to ourselves to be read exactly one year from today, and also make a list of those things that we love about ourselves. This process reminded me of the gift that I am to myself and to others. God created me this way for a purpose.

9. Six months is WAY TOO LONG to wait to get a haircut! It was way past time to get my haircut. But the new do is my absolute fave in a long time.

10. Receiving a phone call from a friend that you haven't seen or spoken to in a long time is INCREDIBLE! So excited to talk to my friend LA on the phone and even more excited to hug her in real life in a few days. Friendships like this are the best because we can pick up right where we left off last time we spoke.

You will see me linking up with these lovely ladies as well-Holly and Testimony Tuesday, Kelly and the RaRa linkup, Jennifer and Tell His Story, and Holley and Coffee for your Heart.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Blessings 112

(1) Receiving fun mail (LuLaRoe clothes and new cards)

(2) Finally hearing from the police

(3) Talking about names with the Curves ladies.

(4) Trish and Jake's twins being born

(5) A great night at Confirmation

(6) A hug from and a conversation with one of my fave little boys.

(7) A long overdue haircut

(8) Stopping by to see my friend CT

(9) My hairstylist telling me that her daughter calls me "my Tara!"

(10) Supper with CT and her girls.

(11) Hugs from CT's girls before I headed home for the night.

(12) Trying a new recipe

(13) Catching up on my DVRed shows

(14) Running into church peeps at Target

(15) A hug from one of my fave kiddos at church.

(16) Good annual meeting

(17) A PLN!!! (Post liturgical nap)

(18) Grease Live

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Hush of the Theatre, My Beloved ND Prairies, and Quiet

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung on her blog Heading Home. Today's prompt is "quiet."

The hush of the theatre, the lights beating down on my costumed body, standing waiting for the lights to go up. Soon the lights beam down and we are whisked away to a new time and place. My theatre days are days that I actually miss. I loved standing on the stage waiting for a show to begin. Nothing quite like the quiet as the audience watched intently and listened to the story unfolding before their eyes. And then at the end of the show, the quiet was distrupted as the audience applauded our performance. In college, I spent all but one semester either on stage or behind the scenes helping with a performance. I got to play Anne Frank's mother in the Diary of Anne Frank. I remember well the quiet and hush that fell over our audiences as we told the story.

Much like the hush of the theatre before a performance, one of my fave places to "be still and know that God is God" is on my beloved prairies of North Dakota especially at my favorite Bible camp. I stand and take in the quiet; only a gentle ND breeze whipping up against my face. I listen as the waves lap against the shore. I hear just the faint sounds of birds off in the distance. I look up in the night sky and take in the quiet and silence as I gaze at the amazingness of God's creation. Now the quiet of night, I give thanks for a God who is always with us.

Quiet can be experienced in so many different ways. Those that read this blog regularly know that I am a huge baby lover. But I have never truly gotten to experience the miracle of birth except what I've seen on television. I used to watch the show A Baby Story pretty regularly. My eyes would gaze on the screen and I would watch as the woman would breathe through each contraction. After awhile, the sounds of her breathing was all that could be heard. Quiet in the room until the quiet was broken as the new infant was born into this world. Cries of a newborn infant would break the silence.

Quiet. It is something I am not always good at. But the writer in me finds such peace and comfort when I turn off everything around me and truly take the time to listen to God's voice. This year, God is asking me to embrace the take time to remember that God is indeed in the stillness. It is important for us to take the time to be quiet; to turn off the cell phone, turn off the television, and sit in the holy quietness of a God who always brings us peace.

When I take the time to be quiet, my soul is restored; a soul restored by the quietness of God's creation--a reminder that God is in control. "Be still and know that I am God!"--Psalm 46:10

It's Award Season!


A couple of weeks ago, I was recognized with some blogging awards from my friend Mary over at Mary-andering Creatively. I had every intention of posting that week, but then life got busy and purse was stolen. So sorry it took me so long to get my post up, Mary! I am honored that you nominated me for the Liebster Award as well as the Blogger Recognition Award . One of my fave things about these awards are that they are given by fellow bloggers.

The Liebster Award is passed from blogger to blogger as a source of encouragement. Each Liebster award recipient should: post the award to her blog, answer the nominating blogger's ten question interview, nominate 3-15 other bloggers with fewer than 3,000 followers whom he/she wants to encourage, and create ten questions for the new nominees.

The Blogger Recognition Award asks you to thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog, attach the award to the post, write a post to show off the award, give a brief story of how your blog started, give a piece of advice to new bloggers (My advice would be "Tell your story, interact with your readers, etc."), select 15 other bloggers you might want to give the award to, and comment on each blog and let them know you nominated them.

1. How long have you been blogging? I started the blog in 2000 but only wrote two posts that year. The blog really took off in 2005. There were times I went through dry spells. In the last few years though, the blog has become extremely active as I linkup and meet new friends etc.

2. Did blogging start out as a hobby for you and in what ways has it grown than what you expected? I started blogging before seminary, but really started blogging when I graduated seminary. It was a way to stay connected to my friends and family scattered near and wide. Over the years, my writing has evolved as I have found cool linkups and writing opportunities like the Write 31 Days challenge. Some of my closest friends are people that I have met in the blogging crazy to say that, but it is oh so true!

3. How much time do you dedicate to writing or to your blog? I try to write 2-3 times a week. Posts can take me anywhere from a few minutes to an hour (creating graphics, editing, etc).

4. What is your blog about? My blog is a place for me to share my story; I cover everything from my mom's struggle with a mental illness and being her daughter; to my faith; to being a single 37 year old etc.

5. Where does the inspiration behind your writing come from? It truly comes from my everyday life. Quotes, words, stories that impact me. My latest post was written after a text from a friend and words she texted to me. The Bible and my faith also serve as inspiration. I also glean inspiration from other bloggers.

6. What is your best post or the one you had the most fun writing? Oh man it is so hard to pick just one. One of my favorites was a Five Minute Friday post when our host let us pick our own word prompt. I tweeted friends and asked them to tweet me back a word and the word I got in return "fuzzy." It was a fun post to write and still makes me smile. You can read that post Here.

7. What is the hardest thing about blogging to you? To not get caught up in the numbers and success of others. It isn't about me, but is about glorifying God and that is all that matters. It isn't about how grandeous my blog is.

8. Where do you see your blog in 3 years? In three years, I want to see myself still blogging. I would love to continue to grow my readership. It also would be cool to write my first book in that time frame as well.

9. What is the best social media outlet for your blog? Facebook. It links to my profile page every time I post. In the stats, Facebook is one of the first places that shows up of how readers got redirected to my blog. However Twitter is growing. And I am finding new ways to use Instagram as well.

10. What is the one thing you would want your readers to know about you? I love the color GREEN! I only have two first cousins and we are all girls; born on the third of the month. I am a Virgo. I love BABIES! I love spending time with my friends and family. I am pretty much an open book!

I nominate these lovely individuals: (No worries if you chose not to participate)

Karrilee at Abiding Love, Abounding Grace
Tammy at Sincerity and Hope
Christy at Homeskool Mom
Andrew at Blessed are the Pure of Heart
Valerie at Tales from a Southern Catholic Momma
Melissa at Plaidfuzz
Susan at Hope Heart Home
Mary at Passage Through Grace
Marie at Along The Way
Colleen at Blessed are the Feet
Anita at Blessed but Stressed

I am going to keep it simple and follow the lead of my nominator, Mary! So answer the questions that I answered. Or tell us about your blogging life, when you started, what you blog about, and your blogging goals for the New Year!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Soft Place to Land

I'm a rich woman; relatively speaking. I don't make a lot of money, but I'm rich in friends. I have a roof over my head and a pillow to lay my head down at night. I have awesome friends and family who bless me each and every day. But in just a few moments, it felt like I lost all of that. I was violated. My purse was stolen and I no longer felt rich. My security seemed to be completely stripped from me. I had to check out every sound I heard that night. I probably jumped every time I heard a new noise.

Each day it seems to have gotten a little better as I feel more peace. A friend and I were texting and she texted back, "It's good to have a soft place to land!" A soft place to heart immediately took comfort in those words. Because isn't that exactly who Jesus is. "Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Jesus holds us and calms our fears. Jesus is that soft place to land as we are embraced in his loving arms.

But I think sometimes it is still hard for us to find that soft place to land.

When another cancer diagnoses is shared,

When cancer takes another loved one,

When we feel insecure,

When we are battling the demons of depression,

When our prayer isn't being answered and so much more....that soft place to land seems to be buried in the dark. But God sent Jesus as a reminder of God's love for all God's people and Jesus is that soft place for us to all land especially during these difficult times.

It took me awhile to realize it, but Jesus was standing with me and was ready and waiting to catch my fall. He's waiting to catch your fall too. In fact, he's always ready and waiting. He is standing, arms held wide open, waiting to catch our fall. We just need to trust fall into his arms. He will wipe away every tear and calm every fear. For that, I'm so thankful...thankful to have this precious gift where I and where you too can fall.

Let's keep falling into the arms of this one who promises always to be our soft place to land.

Linking up with these lovely ladies: Holly at Testimony Tuesday, Kelly and the RaRa linkup, Jennifer at Tell His Story and Holley and Coffee for your Heart! 


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Blessings 111

(1) MLK Jr. Day off from work

(2) A sweet note from my friend EG

(3) Talking to an old friend on the phone. Thanks for reading for me friend!

(4) Church council was over before 9 pm

(5) Receiving fun mail in the mail.

(6) Police officers who responded when my purse was stolen and companies that cancelled my cards quickly.

(7) Nice people at the Drivers License and Motor Vehicle departments who gave me what I needed.

(8) Friends who sympathize with me and friends who texted to check in with me.

(9) Colleagues who go above and beyond for you when something bad happens to you!!

(10) A great chat with some of our sweet church ladies.

(11) Sweet surprises that make you smile!

(12) Spending time with a sweet Diaconal sister; TD.

(13) RS picking up an essential for me at Walmart. Also giving me a ride so I could get some errands done.

(14) A lock company coming and getting me new keys.

(15) A lady letting me sit in her car while the locksmith opened my car door.

(16) A beautiful 45 degree day

(17) Panera French Onion Soup and their new kale sandwich. So yummy!!!

(18) A hug and a kiss from one of my fave kiddos at church today.

(19) Camp Sunday

(20) Picking up my friend TE at the airport, having lunch and hanging out together.

(21) Sharing my house with friends. So much fun!!

(22) Greeting the Rural plunge crew and their crew.

(23) Showing EG my office

(24) A call from Uncle T

(25) And so much more including YOU!!