A Pity Party for one, please!

This is the transcript of a sermon I preached at the Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, IL on Aug. 12, 2017 based on Matthew 14:22-33, 1 Kings 19:9-18.

Aftpityparty_02er a rough day I would often come home and say, “A pity party for one, please!”

You know, a lot can happen at a pity party. Like I can eat or drink whatever I want. I can be silent or listen to music. I can set the place settings however I want. We all have pity parties. Elijah was having a pity party in today’s Old Testament passage and for a split second Peter was having a pity party too. In both passages, Elijah and Peter witnessed God’s power. Let’s look at Elijah.

“There he went into a cave and spent the night,” verse 9. Sounds like he found a location. The cave Elijah ended up at was not a random location, it was the very place where Moses encountered God, where Moses received the 10 Commandments. This isn’t any ordinary mountain or pity party location it is believed “The mountain is Ho-reb (v. 8)—probably synonymous with Mt. Sinai… (Exodus 19ff.) ­­— and the place where the Lord protected Moses by covering him with his hand while the Lord’s glory passed by (Exodus 33:22).” https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/1-kings-191-21 Sometimes our pity party leads us to some place comforting and familiar.

In verse 10, we have the reason for his pity party, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

This might be a good reason for a pity party. He has been on fire for the Lord. God showed up when he battles the Baal priests in the previous chapters. But still no one is listening….those Israelites will not turn from their wicked ways. He had expectation and things didn’t turn out the way he thought they should. We’ve all been there; when everything seems to be going wrong in our lives and we feel alone in our misery.

But what led him here? What leads us to reserve our pity party?

Pity party reservations just don’t happen overnight. If we go back a bit in this chapter we see that Elijah was being pursued by Jezebel because he killed all of her priests. He is being chased. But the cave isn’t his first stop. His previous stop was under a bush. Where the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and fed him. Where Elijah slept. Then he got up and headed to Mt. Horeb. Interestingly Mt. Sinai is only a 7 to 8 day walk from the bush where he was sleeping but the bible says that it took him forty days and forty nights. I wonder if Elijah realized that he did not get hungry during this journey. Did he realize that the food the Angel provided sustained him for 40 days? The bible doesn’t say why he takes the long way. But I can imagine Elijah wandering around the desert; kicking a rock, thinking about all the things that went wrong and all the things that God had done to show Himself to be the one true God and the Israelites still didn’t get it. He risked his life and killed the priests, now he was on the run and is all alone.

When making the reservation for your pity party think about what has lead you there:

In Elijah’s case he was overwhelmed. He was paralyzed by defeat and fear. He felt that the Israelites were ungrateful. He felt alone. https://bible.org/seriespage/15-crisis-elijah-1-kings-194-14.

The most interesting part of this passage is that God does not allow Elijah to stay in the safety of his pity party. God forced him to move on and not as a command but as a still small whisper reminding him he still had work to do. Imagine the sound of the wind, the sound of the rocks falling all around from the earthquake and the sound and smell of the fire. Yet Elijah only hears God in a whisper.

Can you hear God’s whisper among all of the noise around you? The demands of your life? Caring for your ailing parents, the campground flooding issues, the political climate in our state and our country? Can you hear God above the talking heads on TV? What is God whispering to you?

“What are you doing here?” God asks in a whisper for a third time. Elijah gives the same response. “The Israelites aren’t listening and I am alone in this fight.” God does not go into small talk with Elijah. He doesn’t try to explain anything. He does not rebuke him. He simply gave him instructions. What is God instructing you to do?

In the midst of our pity party we lose focus. Just like Elijah, we cannot hear or see that God is calling us. I’ve had my share of pity parties. Sometimes I know exactly what has led me there, I know the route and the scenery and the rock I kicked along the way. The first 3 years of my walk with Christ, I experienced significant loss. In 2000, just weeks after my adult baptism, my Aunt, my mom’s oldest sister was killed in a car accident. She was only 55 years old. I asked God, “Why?” The tragedy of 9/11 in 2001like so many of us, rocked my world and caused me to ask, “Where are you, God?” In 2002, my cousin, age of 32, died of a drug over dose, my grandfather passed away and a dear friend died suddenly at the age of 28 all within a month. So much senseless death. So many unanswered questions. My heart and my faith were shattered. I would go from being angry with God; to feeling guilty for being angry and my lack of faith.

I applied to Moody Bible Institute in the fall of 2002 and in August 2003. I went there with all the shards of my heart and faith; I wanted God to show me who he was and what a better place than Bible college…”Bible” after all was their middle name. I wanted to believe that he was real even if he didn’t answer my questions or my prayers for healing and protection or spare me and my family from these tragedies and pain. The Moody campus became my cave.

I was in over my head in so many ways, I was 11 years older than my classmates, I did not grow up in a Christian home; therefore many of the theological terms were foreign to me although many of my classmates were very familiar with many of the terms. I commuted an hour each way; every day. I listened for the voice of God in my bible classes, my theology classes….I learned so much but it was a lot of noise. My soul was still restless and I wasn’t focused.

Until I entered into my second semester of my freshman year. I had to take an English 102 course. In that class we read “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. The book is Lewis’ private journal entries during the time after his wife died. Lewis was angry with God. He wrote that Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ … Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent— non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, p. 6-7). I imagine that was what Elijah was thinking while in the cave. Why wasn’t God dealing with those Israelites? Why was God bothering him in the cave? I was thinking that in my cave, I was in danger of believing such dreadful things about God.

But God did not leave Elijah in the cave. He did not leave C.S. Lewis in the cave. He didn’t leave me in the cave. And he will not leave you in your cave. But we have to listen in the mist of the wind, earthquake and fire; we have to listen for the small whisper with our spirits. C.S. Lewis concluded that his wife knew him in his most rotten places; she knew him in his pity party and loved him anyway and the same was true of God, despite the ugliness of the world. Lewis said, “So can you. Rebuke, explain, mock, forgive. For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives—to both, but perhaps especially to the woman—a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted. To see, in some measure, like God. His love and His knowledge are not distinct from one another, nor from Him. We could almost say He sees because He loves, and therefore loves although He sees,” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, p. 72).

Things will go wrong. We will have pity parties. God doesn’t always speak to us in a windstorm, in an earthquake or a fire. Sometimes He speaks to us, like he spoke Elijah in a whisper. God saw Elijah at his pity party and met him there in that cave. God saw me in my pity party; He met me in my English 102 class. God sees you. His love does not stop no matter how many rocks we kick along the way. His love comforts us in the still small whispers in our souls.

This Mother’s Day is Different

Marble/Mother
Definition of Mother.

Mother’s day is a bittersweet day for me. I often think of the “mothers” I’ve had throughout my life who have left this world, I think about the women who long to become a mother but cannot and I think about the rocky relationship with my own mother.

Last year, my daughter announced right before mother’s day, she was spending her birthday at the end of May in New York. I was heartbroken. It was her first birthday away from me. She was leaving me on her 22nd birthday! In retrospect, I was going through so much more than my daughter going away.

Whenever I am hurting, I find an outlet. Sometimes, it’s writing or a creative expression of when I am feeling. During this painful time, I created a slide show set to “Photograph” by Ed Sherran. I went through hundreds of photos of my children throughout the years. Through this project, I got to see that my youngest son was no longer so dependent on me and was ready to start school, my older son had grown into a strong but gentle young man and my daughter was a beautiful woman.

I saw that it was time for me to let go of my older children, especially my daughter. She was my first born, the first to call me mama, the first baby I carried and cried over. But here she was a strong, confident, independent woman…all that I raised her to be.

I also saw something else while I was working on the Photograph project, I began to see what a great mom I had become. I had made it-if one can ever make it as a mom, lol. When my daughter was born, I was a teenager living without hope…living for my next paycheck. As I went through the photos I saw the joy in my children’s faces. I saw their hope for a bright future. Mostly, I saw love. My children always knew that they were wanted and that they were loved.

I know that not all children grow up feeling wanted or even loved. Some grow up feeling like they are more of a burden than anything else. Sometimes, that pain is so deep that it’s hard to move on and even harder not to repeat the cycle. Turning off that inner voice that says “you’ll never make it.” Holding back the name calling because that’s all you know but you also know how much it hurt. Never laying a hand on your child because while words hurt; it is also confusing that the same hands that hit you want to comfort you.

Breaking the cycle is speaking life into your children, being their biggest cheerleader, admitting when you’ve made a mistake and apologizing, loving them when they go against your beliefs, holding them when it hurts, never ever speaking bad about them to anyone and always being the realest member of their team.

This mother’s day is different. I am excited to spend the day with my children. These beautiful souls that call me mom fill my life with unspeakable joy, they have healed me in ways that they will never know and I love that they will never know.

Oh Diane!


From the day I was born, Auntie was a constant in my life. She waited at the hospital while my mom was in labor with me. She babysat me when my siblings were born. After my brother died she came to my house and cooked and cleaned for us because mom just couldn’t.

When my husband first met her, he couldn’t understand a thing she said because although she lived in Chicago for more than 40 years, she still spoke with a very strong southern accent.

Until she got sick; she drank too much, smoked too much and cussed too much. When I became a Christian she tried so hard not to cuss around me. In almost every conversation we had she’d slip up and say “oh Damn! Sorry Stephanie!” I’d just roll my eyes and smile.

My older son’s favorite memory of her is when she was still well enough to drive and we’d be in the car with her. She was an awful driver, very nervous, she drove fast and hard. When it’d became too stressful for her, she’d say, “oh Diane!” and talk to herself. To him, at age 7, it was cute. Every time we talk about her he says, “oh Diane!” Taking me back to the car rides and so many memories of Diane C. Clark.

In July 2008, I had the honor of delivering her eulogy. As I prepared to speak about her life, I went through her photos and discovered that many of the wild stories she told me as a kid were true. Like how she ran away and joined the circus, I saw photos for the first time of her in her circus costume. Or the stories of her life on the wild side, when I saw photos of her in mink coats, dressed to the nines. Everything I questioned about her stories faded when they came to life through her photos.


When something exciting happens in my life, I ache to call her. When my bonus child was born, I cried because I knew  he would never have the “oh diane!” experience. 

When we bought our house, I felt so lost that she wasn’t there to be excited with me, to tell me how proud she was of me, to see the look on her face when she saw all that I worked for come to reality. Just like she did when I was the first to graduate from high school, the first to go and graduate from college….she always told me how proud she was of me…and how much she loved me. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders!

In a lot of ways she drove me crazy. She was never afraid to offer her opinion whether you asked for it or not. She told me when I was wrong, called me out on my bullshit, it was never with grace just brutal honesty.

It wasn’t always easy to deal with her because she was so good at telling me how to run my life. She loved me unconditionally and she demanded that love in return. And believed it was her right to tell me what to do because she loved me so much.

When my mom get on my nerves, I realize how much I need to talk to her.

Her laugh was contagious, she was contagious. She always made me feel like I was the most important person in her life.

Auntie and Papito
Auntie and Papito, July 2008.

Home Ownership 101 or something like that!

We purchased our first home little over seven months ago. After more than 18 years of apartment living, we are living in a single family house…it’s beautiful, spacious and for the most part it was move-in ready. Over the last few months our trips to Home Depot have increased. New locks, a new door bell, lawn bags, lots of lawn bags. Of course living in Chicago, we bought rock salt and a shovel.

But going to Home Depot or any of those big home improvement stores has always stressed me out. It’s so overwhelming! And there is never enough associates on the floor. If I do see someone there is usually a line of people asking for help. So I wander around, hoping I find what I need. But I really just waste time. I see all that lumber and I want to build my own house. I see plumbing and I think about all the pipes that could break in my new house, I see all of those light fixtures and I begin to dream of all the new lighting and I keep hoping I see a mirrored disco ball to hang in my bedroom (always a house head 🙂 ). But all I went into Home Depot was for more rock salt and a lint catcher for the washer. Simple! I go in with my cart and head straight for the salt. That’s an easy find. I’ve purchased it before….but they moved it to a more convenient location. Nice blizzard marketing move, Home Depot!

Now for those lint catchers. I think, “where would I put the lint catchers if I was in charge of the world? Of course, next to the washers.” And I head to the appliances but before I get there I remember that Home Depot isn’t that simple. And they aren’t going to make it that easy for me. So I head to the plumbing department. I start wandering around thinking, “when you buy a house there should be some sort of orientation about where to find these simple products. like a ‘home ownership 101: taxes, minor home repair and navigating a home improvement store’. I pulled out my phone to  email to my favorite Realtor and tell her about my wonderful idea.

Instead, I opened my chrome app and GTS (Googled That Shit). “where are the lint catchers in home depot?” It took me to home depot’s mobile site. It showed me there there were 43 in stock at my local store. and right beneath that, there was a button that said “store map”. Could it be that simple? I click the button and there it was a map of the store with the exact location of the lint catchers down to the aisle number and bay number. It was like a real treasure hunt, a map and all. I found exactly what I needed in the very next aisle. I grabbed a stack and I walked up to the register beaming from my accomplishment.

cancer, what cancer?

“No Mark!” was all I heard. “No Mark…” followed by weeping. My co-worker and I had been waiting all day for the call. Our prayer warrior, our light, our shining example of hope and God’s grace had a mass growing in her ovary. We wanted it to be just a cyst. It was not. We cried. We asked God why?

As the fog began to clear, it was ovarian cancer and she would need chemotherapy. She and her husband, Mark had just adopted a son. They had planned so much. And now they planned chemo treatments. We still asked God why?

That was a few months ago. We had lunch this week. She was so full of life. She laughed as she told me about her wig and showed me her battle wounds from the chemo. She was smiling from ear to ear, telling me all about her son, her church and her journey.

She is half way through 17 weeks of her chemo. “Sometimes we just sit around with our wigs off and talk,” she said with a giggle as she talked about her days at the Cancer Institute. 

“One of my new friends is an 80 year old woman. When we met, she told me that she had never been sick until the cancer and now she is only known as what type of cancer she had. I’ve made lots of friends there.”

As she spoke, I listened intently, her energy and hope was contagious. 

“My oncologist said to me, ‘you are so encouraging to me’, she said with a smile.

Over lunch that day, Cerna was encouraging to me…encouraging me to believe God’s plan and to always cling to hope.

Ride or Die….Love hurts, Friends help!

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Me with Cathryn Michon (star, director, producer and writer) and Nellie

A few weeks ago, I attended a movie premiere playing one night in Chicago. I was invited by a very dear friend, Mary-Carol, who is friends with the movie producer. Mary-Carol gave me two tickets and said, “invite a friend!”

I thought, I could make this into an incredible date night but after watching the trailer, I decided to invite my friend, Nellie.

Muffin Top: A Love Story  was tagged as a rom-com, according to imdb.com,

Muffin Top: A Love Story” is the story of Suzanne (Cathryn Michon) a Women’s Studies Pop Culture professor at Malibu University, who studies images of women in the media for a living, and yet is made insecure by the constant parade of female perfection that is our airbrushed culture. She has been going through IVF treatments to get pregnant by her network executive husband (Diedrich Bader), but discovers on her birthday, that her husband has knocked up his younger, skinnier, co-worker (Haylie Duff) and wants a divorce. Happy Birthday! She goes on to find a more authentic version of who she really is, despite the delights of being suddenly single in Los Angeles, where low self-esteem for women is our number one export to the world.

Total chick flick, right? As I watched Suzanne’s life fall apart on the big screen, I noticed that her friends rallied around her. They cheered her on, they laughed with her, they ate cake with her, they drank wine with her, they believed in her and saw a greater version of her than she could see in all the mess.

In one particular scene, she asked her sister to return an item that was a part of the divorce settlement. Her sister, one of her biggest cheerleaders, says she would take care of it and she does in an over the top kind of way. My friend, Nellie, lends over and says, “She’s a ride or die!”

I laughed. A ride or die chick is what every woman needs. Someone who holds your hand when you can’t face the world. Someone who holds your hair back when you’ve drank too much and you are hugging the toilet. Someone who sits next to you in a movie theater not sure what she’s gotten herself into but enjoys every moment.

Muffin Top was about empowering women but not just on screen. Its actually written, directed and produced by a woman, Cathryn Michon who also stars as the lead character. She intentionally hired women to work behind the scenes. She even went to extreme lengths to find a female composer for the music. We need people like Michon, according to a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Films women are underrepresented in the movie industry.

the stats:

  • Females comprised 15% of protagonists
  • 29% of major characters
  • 30% of all speaking characters (we TALK a whole LOT more than men in real life).
  • Only 13% of the top 100 films featured equal numbers of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters.
  • Female characters were younger than their male counterparts and were more likely than males to have an identifiable marital status.
  • Female characters were less likely than males to have clearly identifiable goals or be portrayed as leaders of any kind.

For minority women, it’s even worse:

  • 73% of all female characters were Caucasian
  • 14% African American
  • 5% Latina
  • 3% Asian
  • 3% other worldly
  • 2% and other

With those stats and women often being are hard on other women; judging and dismissing each other without a second thought. We are a part of the same sisterhood, trying to define ourselves in our mess. It was refreshing to see this displayed on the big screen in not just one supporting role but many.

I’ve had a few “Ride or Die” chicks in my life. Sometimes distance or changes in life styles have caused us to go our separate ways. But its always been the kind of woman who helped me define myself and I have walked away feeling empowered and most importantly loved. Whether it’s been a road trip when we laughed til we cried, changing an alternator on my car because it needed to get done or experiencing the still small voice of God at a conference with thousands of other women…these women have helped me through many of my messes and I will always be grateful for my ride or die chicks!

Muffin Top can be seen video on Demand click here for a complete list. Have a party and invite your “Ride or Die” Chicks!

Parenting Sucks

I didn’t think it would ever happen to me. Having the bonus child 4 years ago saved me from the empty nest. My older children were 17 and 14 years old when the bonus child was born. I always thought, I’ll never have any empty nest because by the time they all leave I’ll be busy with the little one and when he leaves I’ll have grand-babies to fuss over.

Then it happened.

Last night, it was so cold in Chicago. Too cold to go Trick or Treating. Too cold for trick or treaters to ring the bell. The bonus child dressed up in his Captain America costume ready for the trick or treaters that never came. When the door bell did ring it was the pizza being delivered.

And it hit me. As we sat at the kitchen table eating pizza.They were gone. The children I’d spent 21 years celebrating Halloween with were gone. I began to cry into my pizza. They were out with the significant others (a story for another post) and I was home missing them like crazy. Aching to hear them laugh, tell me about their day, listen to them talk to each other, listen to them argue over who got the most candy, talk about all the crazy costumes we saw. But silence filled the room. My face streamed with tears.

The bonus child was concerned and interrupted my silence, “what’s wrong mommy?”

“I’m missing your sister and brother,” I replied.

“Don’t worry, mommy. Meme is dressed like Starfire. And AJ is dressed like Batman. Papito is with Tori. They’ll be home later,” he said laughing at me.

The voice of reason from a 4 year old. Still my pizza filled with my tears.

I was not prepared for this…it’s like a break up. You spend years building a strong relationship…loving, crying, celebrating, arguing, growing together…then they just move on with their lives. You have to watch and be happy. I know this will pass and I will be too busy to get lost in the silence. But I also know that there will be more growing up to do…I just hope I can grow up without them.