Things I Dream About

Another staff member brought up stress dreams about Higher Things conferences today, which reminded me of one I had a couple years ago that was so vivid and memorable, I wrote it down and emailed it to the conference staff members who were in it. As I read through it again today, I could still picture every scene, and all the emotions that went with it.

I figured I’d share it with the world, because…why not?


To: Crysten, Patrick
From: Sandra

I was just TICKED at you two so much I couldn’t even see straight.

Probably because I was asleep and dreaming.

And Honey Boo Boo was on in the background.

I got to the Purdue conference, only it wasn’t Purdue but it was a huge campus. And somehow I got there later than I had wanted to, but I knew you had things under control so I wasn’t too worried. Borghardt was doing something at church and was going to be even later, but Patrick was making sure he got there.

I got to the main plenary space and the opening was starting! I didn’t realize I was that late and didn’t know where I was going, but the flow of the crowd brought me to the gym/auditorium. So I followed authoritative-looking people from the campus up to the booth on the 3rd floor and figured I’d see you there. I got there in time to see some woman dressed up like an angel jumping off the balcony in the catwalks. Before I could finish thinking, “Oh no she didn’t…” she swooped by, on wires. Doing some sort of acrobatic trapeze like act. As a warmup.

I marched out to try and track down Crysten to find out WTH was going on with this conference but was hushed by a stagehand before I got far. He was having a crisis because there was something that was set out as a prop that wasn’t supposed to be and didn’t they know that his actor was wearing a white tux (WHITE TUX!)?? It was some sort of giant bowl of something in tomato sauce. Beans and weenies I think. He was all afraid to take it off the stage (still unlit) because it was too hot to touch, so I walked up and grabbed it and took it to the back area. What a wuss, it wasn’t hot or even heavy at all. There was no danger of it spilling on the actor’s tux.

That’s when the spotlight fired up and landed on Ryan Seacrest. In a white tux. “Seriously??? This is a Higher Things conference! Who planned this?” The angel lady was still swinging around overhead. Then I ran into Tracey, who was backstage, madly passing out bunches of glow stick things to a few dozen people for the next act. Someone had just dropped out – all I had to do was run around like a madwoman and wave the glow sticks and we’d be fine. “Oh heeelllll NO.”  This better not be the opening worship service, because we always opened conferences with a worship service, not a stage show like this…Tracey knows better than this. She’s SOOOO FIRED!

As I went back to the staging area trying to think of how to get the glow stick people off the stage, I ended up going the wrong way against a stream of African dancers. Once they had passed, I looked back to see what they were doing and it was some sort of running and jumping thing, sling-shooting each other across the stage and into the aisles, and back.

By this point I was seething. Where the hell was Crysten? Where was Patrick?? I got lost as soon as I left the building and couldn’t even find a CCV. If I couldn’t find my way around, Borghardt was going to be seriously lost. And where was Borghardt anyway?? I pulled out my phone to text someone but couldn’t figure out what to do and was so mad I couldn’t even read the screen on my phone to text anyone and didn’t want to send the wrong message to the wrong person. Why hadn’t Patrick set up the staff or even CCV lists yet? Where were the CCVs anyway?? Seriously?? And there were people for the conference everywhere so I couldn’t look mad or upset or they’d know things weren’t going according to plan.

I went back into the building and before I knew it I was swept up again by the African dancers and a Dr. Seuss hat put on me and a bunch of glow sticks put back in my hand. And then I found myself on some sort of swinging platform, sandwiched between a sweaty Patrick (there he was!) in a wifebeater (seriously, Patrick??) and some other sweaty hairy guy I didn’t know — but his armpit was in my face so I automatically didn’t like him, whoever he was. We flew by the crowd and Patrick yelled, “Oh, there’s Borghardt — with the kids…of course…” At least he was found and safe. But he was supposed to be helping me stop this fiasco, not joining in!

We swung around and all the lights went off and the show was over. I still hadn’t found Crysten, but this was NOT how to pull off a Higher Things conference in my absence. What was she THINKING?? And where was everyone? How did I not know what was going on? What was next on the schedule? I couldn’t even find anyone with a conference book or a bag or a shirt! They must not have checked in! CRYSTEN — how can they not be checked in??

And then I woke up.

Thank God.


The Femininity of the Church


The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation, by water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride.
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation: One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food.
And to one hope she presses with ev’ry grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

Through toil and tribulation and tumult of her war
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth has union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav’nly chorus! Lord save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us, may see You face to face.



“The Church’s One Foundation” (Lutheran Service Book, 644)

The Imposition of Repentance


I’m a pretty terrible Christian. As people are posting on social media about what they’re giving up (sometimes social media!), what they’re adding, what they’re doing to try and practice some penitent self-control through the season of Lent, this fact becomes all the more clear.

I am really bad with self-discipline. Like, seriously bad. I rebel against any and all constraints put on my freedom — even just to follow through with the basic necessities of life and have things scheduled on my calendar. Oh, I can do reasonably well for a few days, but then it’s almost always back to what suits my mood and desires at the time.

So Lent is a difficult time for me. I know we’re supposed to be repentant, feeling sorrow for our sins and contemplating Christ’s sufferings. But most of the time, I’m just feeling guilty for being so weak as to not be able to participate in the season as I think I should, and like everyone else does. I don’t think that’s really the kind of sorrow I’m supposed to be feeling. More like self-pity.

And if I’m honest enough, it’s not just during Lent. That’s just when it’s most obvious. I’m selfish, greedy, irritable, contentious, lazy, prideful…I’m sure many readers can come up with a few more things I am! I can never seem to make this Old Adam to stay drowned. He has such control over my mind and body. Like Paul says, “I do the things I don’t want to do, and don’t do the things I know I should do (and even want to do). O wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”

Wretched, indeed. But the reality is that I can’t drown my Old Adam. I can’t make myself stop sinning. Just when I think I’ve got one under some semblance of control, a bunch more pop up somewhere else. Or worse, I eventually screw up and go right back to doing exactly what I didn’t want to do anymore. Ugh! I can’t even come up with proper repentance for just 40 days. And what pitiful amounts I do manage to muster up still come with a smug pride telling me that at least my repentance is better than someone else’s. I went to church on Ash Wednesday. I got ashes on my forehead. I am being good and Lent-y. At least for a few moments.

But then it hit me, as I was sitting in church with ashes fresh on my forehead and crumbling into my eyelashes, listening to the Gospel lesson that tells us not to look gloomy and disfigure our faces (some translations add, “with ashes”) so that our fasting may be seen by others.


Wait. Even while I was trying to be piously gloomy and penitent, I didn’t disfigure my face. I didn’t put ashes on my own forehead. I didn’t come up with my own repentance. That was imposed on me by my pastor with ashes in the smudgy shape of a cross —like the sign of the cross that marked my forehead (and my heart) long ago at my baptism. That wasn’t just my pastor’s hand waving over me, that was God marking me as one who had been redeemed by Christ the crucified. Those weren’t just my pastor’s words spoken over me, it was God’s Word that baptized me into His name, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, adopting me as His own dear child.

The gifts of God come to us from outside of us (the fancy Latin term there is “extra nos,”). We listen to God’s Word read in our worship services so that it can come into our ears from outside of us. (Incidentally, that’s also why we use the liturgy — because it’s more of God’s Word and who can improve on that?!) Baptism, the Lord’s Supper…more gifts from God through His Word tied to means, all come to us from outside of us. We even believe that the faith itself to receive these gifts isn’t of ourselves, but also a gift from God. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…”

Today, God’s Word came to me from outside myself through the voice of his servant, along with the ashen reminder that, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” On Ash Wednesday ashes are imposed on our foreheads precisely because we cannot repent on our own either. And then, repentant, our sins are absolved with the Gospel and faith receives the Word with the bread and body and wine and blood — even more forgiveness in our mouths, in the Lord’s Supper!

In our new, absolved, baptized life in Christ, then, we can wipe off that reminder of the dusty and dead Old Adam so that our fasting and repentance is not seen by our neighbors but only our new lives of love and service for them. We have been given life not for ourselves, but for them, after all — to serve them and put their needs before our sinful need to be seen as good, Lent-y Christians. God knows what’s in our hearts. He’s the One who has given us our new, clean ones.

Thanks be to God that He has saved us from making even repentance about us, and that He imposes it on us today with the ashen reminder from His own Word.

“Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Hannah’s God


Had God forgotten Hannah? Was He just too busy with other, more important things? Maybe Hannah had sinned sometime in her past, earning her the punishment of childlessness…or at least had made some bad choices way-back-when that landed her here. She knew how the other woman looked down on her and wondered why she had the “woman’s curse.” Or worse. Maybe the LORD had just struck her barren for His own sick enjoyment, so He could laugh at her suffering and mock her childlessness, like her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, did. All the time.

Sure,  Elkanah said he still loved Hannah…she might’ve even been his favorite wife. As much as a wife who can’t give her husband any children can be favored over the one who does, anyway. You know how men are. He probably just liked her more youthful figure, compared to Peninnah’s stretched-out, well-used one. But a husband’s love, while wonderful, just didn’t fill that void.

And then one day, just after the annual sacrifice at the tabernacle in Shiloh…Hannah lost it (again). She was frequently depressed and didn’t want to eat or be around the family. But this time, she was DONE. Cracked. Bat spit crazy.

Only this time, they were all out in public, for God and everyone to see. Pastor Eli was sitting right there, on the bench next to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. And Hannah just brazenly wandered right up to the Doorway of God’s Own House! By herself! She didn’t even notice Eli, what with all the sobbing and incoherent mumbling going on as she poured out her heart, directly to God, laying it all drenched in tears and snot, right on His front doorstep.

God answers her prayer and gives her a son, Samuel, whom she then gives back to the Lord to serve in His house. In the next chapter, she sings a song of thanksgiving.

Yay, Hannah! What an example of an effective prayer! You should pray like that if you really want to see results.


Actually, I think Hannah would be pretty horrified to hear our version of this story, the one praising her for her such a powerful prayer that God rewarded her by granting her plea for a son. What you need to do, then, is be like Hannah.

But she wasn’t given Samuel as a reward for being such a powerful pray-er, who managed to say just the right words and suddenly change the Lord’s mind about her barren state. And she wasn’t given a baby because she was just so pathetically desperate for a child that she promised she’d give him right back to God as her special gift to Him.

Hannah prayed to God, not because she thought her tears and sincerity would convince Him to do what she wanted and give her a child, but because she knew that He was the one from whom all good gifts come — including (and especially) the gift of children. She prayed to the LORD because she had a God who gives good gifts.

If her “pouring out her heart before the LORD” was anything like my pouring out my heart before the LORD, the world is probably better off not knowing what she said with all her groanings too deep for words. It’s bad enough being barren. Being barren with a husband who had another — very fertile — wife (who even mocked your childlessness)…that’s got to be a real special kind of torture.

Hannah probably told Him about Peninnah’s hurtful taunts and her utter hatred for her and all her stupid kids, and how it killed her to see her husband being fatherly with them. How she hated everyone for their polite questions and unhelpful platitudes, and their whispers and gossip. How she’d wait and pray and try-not-to-hope but couldn’t-help-hoping that this time it would happen…and then have those hopes-shattered-into-tiny-little-pieces as her period inevitably returned. Every. Single. Month.

Why God?? Why not her? Why all those other women? When would it be her turn? Didn’t He love her? What had she done wrong? She must’ve done something to deserve this shame-filled fate. She poured out all the doubts and fears and feelings that she had kept pent up for so long. ALL of them.

When she had confessed everything to the LORD, there was nothing left to get in the way of faith anymore. So she made a vow. Notice how this part gets recorded in Scripture, possibly because, unlike the sobbing confession, Hannah’s speech was now clear and quite lucid. “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV)

Oh, but there’s more! Hannah’s brazen faith didn’t even back down when, after watching the whole scene, Eli called her a drunk and told her to go sober up. She had just triple-dog-dared the LORD God Almighty to remember her and give her a son. It was nothing for her to now give His Holy Priest the what’s-what, explaining to him that she is not drunk (thank you very much), but that this is what a woman praying to her LORD “in anxiety and great vexation” looks like. The stunned Pastor Eli could only respond by sputtering out a perfunctory absolution and quickly sending her on her way.

And her faith Amen’d even that!

Whether God gave Hannah a child after this is beside the point. Hannah’s Canticle (foreshadowing Mary’s Magnificat) is not sung in celebration over her son’s birth or his being given to the Lord, but in praise of Her God, from whom all good gifts come. He doesn’t operate like other gods. In fact He does all sorts of things that Gods aren’t supposed do— even in the Old Testament! Hannah’s God is the One who strengthens the weak, feeds the hungry, gives children to the barren, and raises the poor from the ashes. He kills and raises to new life. He is the one who gave her barrenness and He is the one who gave her Samuel and his other brothers and sisters.






And You, Miss, are no Lady.

When I think of quiet and gentle spirits, I admit that Sarah isn’t the first one who comes to mind (1 Peter 3), though she certainly must fit the bill. I think of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. Or “Mealy-mouthed Melly,” as Scarlett O’Hara referred to her. To Scarlett, as passionate and brash as her name, Melanie was a wuss. Melanie also married Scarlett’s crush, so that didn’t help the situation between them any. But you’d never know there was even an iota of tension between the two women by the way Melanie behaved.


Melanie exemplified thoughtfulness, generosity, and gracefulness. She always managed to put the best construction on everyone’s actions — especially when it came to Scarlett. Scarlett was moody, stubborn, outspoken, passionate, manipulative. And stunning. She had the smallest waist, prettiest dresses, perfect pout, and she knew how to work it all to get nearly anything she wanted.

Gentle and quiet are definitely not words that anyone (including me!) would normally use to describe my spirit. Hard and outspoken would be more like it. I guess that makes me more Scarlett than Melanie. (Just don’t look at my waist!)

But I figure I’ve got good reason to be that way. (Cue the flow of excuses. I’ve suffered. I’m a double-parent, I’m always on duty. If I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. I don’t know what a vacation is. And don’t even get me started on my relationships. My health literally changes with the weather.)

Gentle and quiet are great, but they don’t pay my bills.

And yet, buried away, that person is still there. Hidden actually. Or, in my case, buried under piles of self-pity, fear, and overbearing pride. I don’t want to be that way. I beat myself up whenever I hear that someone is afraid of me. I feel the nastiness welling up and still just can’t seem to stop the hurtful words from coming out. I can’t even manage to be gentle and quiet with myself, much less with the people stuck in range of my ever-swirling anger vortex.

Yeah, yeah. I’m the Father’s beautiful, beloved, precious child. My baptism means something to me, for a few seconds anyway. At least until everyday (read: fallen) life gets in the way. When we get a little stressed out and things aren’t going the way we want them to, we go dredging up our own sinful images from the muck. Gentle and quiet? No, what we really need is tough and forceful. Or maybe downright selfish and catty will be more expedient today.

You know what the problem is with being gentle and quiet in the face of this life’s troubles? It only happens by faith. You can’t fake a quiet and gentle spirit. Only the Spirit gives that to you. Sure, you can bite your tongue and retract your claws. You can force yourself (or be forced) into outward quietness and submission. You can only be as quiet and gentle as you are faithful. And you can only have as much faith as you have Jesus.

We get so distracted by the worries of the day that we even forget that we have a Jesus. And it’s not even that Jesus was gentle and quiet in the face of trials so we should follow His example and be that way too too. It’s so much better than that. We have a Jesus who is our guarantee, our promise that the Lord only has good gifts for us. Our baptism reminds us that we don’t have to storm ahead, take charge, and manipulate situations to make life tolerable. Christ died to save us from an eternity of worrying about ourselves. He was not just gentle and quiet, He was gentle for us. He was quiet for us.

Take a moment and step away from whatever has you stressed-out and worried today. Make the sign of the cross and remember that you are baptized. You have a Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)










Hats and other Headcoverings

In a culture where it’s commonplace to see bare bellies, tramp stamps, and both bra and thong straps, pictures of ladies wearing Easter hats stands out. Well, maybe not so much compared to the sea of (rather ostentatious) hats in Westminster Abbey for the royal wedding this morning. But women adorned with hats are still noteworthy.

Sure, we might see women once in a while wearing headcoverings in everyday situations. It’s becoming more and more common to see Muslim women in their hijabs out and about, especially in more sub/urban areas. In some parts of the country, there are Amish and Mennonite communities with the women in their starched bonnets. But aside from the occasional woman in a baseball cap (which I’ve always found a little strange looking), that’s about it.

If you go into a very traditional Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic church, you may see a few particularly devout women wearing scarves or mantillas. But those coverings are generally doffed as soon as the head under them exits the church doors.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, a woman wouldn’t even think of leaving the house without a hat or at least a scarf on her head. What changed? Is it part of the women’s liberation movement? Does a woman covering her head in public just not mean the same thing anymore?

I don’t remember any suffragettes marching for our right to vote…and go out with our heads uncovered. Sure, shorter hair and shorter skirts (up to the KNEES!) was all the rage at the turn of the 20th century, but ladies still commonly wore hats. But sometime between WWII and Roe v. Wade, women just stopped covering their heads.

I’ve heard (and even made) the argument that, according to Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), women covering their heads is supposed to express the principle of submission to their husbands. In “Bible times” that was how a woman showed that she was married. Now in our “enlightened” age, we don’t cover heads anymore…but wives do wear wedding rings. That’s kinda the same thing. Only it’s not.

I actually tried doing the headcovering thing a few years ago as an experiment for a Lenten fast. And I didn’t just pin a doily or kerchief on my head, I tied on a tichel that covered all my hair. I lasted only a few days. It was very disconcerting. I didn’t realize how much of my self-identity and self-confidence was tied to my hair.

When I went out in public, I got sidelong glances of pity – as though I was wearing the scarf to hide a balding chemotherapy head. One friend asked if I had started telling fortunes and looked around for my crystal ball. Another later said she thought I just had dirty hair that day and didn’t have time to wash and style it before going out. To my already surprisingly vulnerable confidence, these well-intentioned comments were too much to take and in my weakness, I stopped.

But I did notice that my demeanor changed for those days. It was hard to let my temper fly with my hair covered. It was a constant reminder on my head to be more patient and put others before myself and trust that they would also do their vocations for me.

Everyone acknowledges what it means when a woman wears a hijab, babushka or starchy stiff bonnet. She’s not doing it because it’s fashionable. She’s doing it out of a religious belief about what it means to be a woman of faith. So it’s not like it doesn’t mean anything.

Or maybe that’s the reason right there – it does mean something and we just don’t like confessing what it means. That women have heads, people in authority over us. People the Lord has given us to be Christ for us and take care of us. And those people are men. And it’s scary

We live in a pretty androgynous culture – we don’t like there to be differences between men and women and we certainly don’t like anything coming close to interfering with  our independence. And headcoverings…well that just shines a spotlight on women being different from men, and that we were created to be in relationship with them as Christ is with the Church.

In my experiment, this feminine tradition ultimately lost out to fear. It’s pretty scary to make such a bold confession of faith, to make such a drastic change to your appearance. And I guess I wasn’t ready for it yet. My personal value is still too tied up with outward adornments – with doing my hair, wearing pretty jewelry, and attractive clothes. In Baptism, I was given that gentle and quiet Spirit that’s so precious in God’s sight, when Jesus Himself made me pure and sinless, with out spot or blemish. Yet it’s easy to give way to fear of letting others see that person I am in Christ.

Maybe the ladies in the Easter Facebook pictures and at the royal wedding experienced something similar. If not, why bother wearing them? If so, why don’t we do it more often?

Demeaning Women

So often when the issue of women’s ordination comes up the traditionalist response is to circle the wagons and defend itself with the Law. How dare a woman even think of usurping the Office? It’s bad enough to have a lay man reading lessons and/or assisting with distribution. A woman? Perish the thought! The idea of a woman in the chancel for any reason except receiving the Lord’s Supper is practically blasphemous, her presence there almost desecrates the holy space. Women are to be seen and not heard. Women are not to be in any positions of authority, ever. And we should just get used to it, because that’s just the way it is.


Maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. Maybe I’m particularly “feminist” to see and hear things that way. But the tone and the implication is definitely there: women’s ordination demeans the Office of Holy Ministry.


I see things differently and so rarely (if ever) hear it the other way around – women’s ordination demeans women. Everything gets stuck around defending the Office from the onslaught of women’s ordination that the women get forgotten. I’ve gotten beyond being offended when I see or hear about women in the Office. Now, to me, it’s just sad. And even more sad are the men who defend it.


There are so many issues that feed into this problem and so much that could be talked about with it, but I’ll just save that for the book one day. 😉


Suffice it to say that women have been particularly set apart to be receivers – even our anatomy is designed to receive. And it truly breaks my heart to see women to think so little of themselves and of the vocation of lay-woman that they aspire to (and obtain) that of pastor. The Office of Holy Ministry is dignified apart from the specific sinner in it, male or female. But like a law student who strips on the weekends or that transgendered man who had a baby a few years ago, it’s just sad when women turn from the dignity of the vocation of laity to that of pastor. It’s beneath them.


“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (St. Mark 10:45) Laity are the ones who are served, and it’s very difficult to receive others service – even (especially?) that of the Lord God Himself through the means of the pastor. If the pastor needs any assistance, it should be men who sacrifice their receiving time for the sake of the rest of the laity’s receiving. Women (and children) should be the last ones expected to sacrifice in such a way, men should do everything necessary to avoid that situation – not because the women are in any way less capable of assisting in the leadership of the service, but to guard the sanctity of their precious vocation.


So I think we need to find a new way of talking about this issue. One that is less defensive, one that is more Christ-centered. One that is more Lutheran.