** a talk given at People's Congregational Church, Bayport, MN 12/30/18
"We are Precious"
Sayings are a regular part of our lives.. such a part that sometimes, we don't even realize we're using them! 'Laughter is the best medicine.' 'Don't judge a book by its cover.' Here's one I use a lot "I put all my eggs in one basket!" Albert Schweitzer said "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats." Bob Marley once said "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."
My name is Nici Peper. As long as I can remember, I have been touched deeply by lines, either melody or in lyric. The first time to my recollection,was when I heard "Tupelo Honey" by Van Morrison in elementary school and it hooked me. I grew up in Hudson, WI until my parents built a home outside of Hammond, WI where I graduated from in 2003. My dad works for Ryan Construction and my mother is a Lutheran pastor at Neighbors United in Christ, a 3-point parish church in Amery, WI. It has seemed like the Apple fell quite far from the tree although... I'm now here standing before you.. I am a songwriter and have been playing music professionally for about 8 years now. I am stubborn, artistic, sensitive, and feel things so deeply, it often overwhelms me. It was difficult to start writing this for multiple reasons... I felt unworthy.. who I am to fill in for any pastor, much less one as amazing as Reverend Tossey? Thankfully, we have a deeply understanding and loving God who I could pray to for heelllllllpppp! To at Least- have something entertaining to say! And at best- maybe something He can channel through. To you.
How beautiful is the concept of warm milk and Honey? How comforting? Perhaps so needed with stress or hurt or fear of our day to day lives, and when the news of the world is so filled with pain. I've had a lot of pain and change in my life. My body went into precocious puberty when I was 3 years old. (That's not supposed to happen) My worried parents brought me to Mayo Clinic where I became one of three known cases in the country at the time. They saved my life. I would have ended up maybe 4 ft tall and dead by the age of 30. The tough downside was, my naked body was touched and thoroughly examined by doctors, nurses, and interns every three months, from the ages 3 to 13. This taught my little child brain that when people told you they were supposed to touch you, you had to let them. I could make my mind transport me to another world, to check out. Upside! I'm 33, alive, and 5 ft 6-- I have a strong, healthy body - and imagination... It just took me a long time to realize I was allowed to say "no".
Being an avid watcher of Disney movies, I've always been a romantic through and through! That being said, I've been divorced twice. After the first one, the church I'd been attending was "no longer interested in my involvement ", now that I was going to Hell and all. I just couldn't reconcile the idea that the same God who supposedly loved me would have wanted me to stay in that miserable situation. Or that a God who 'loved' me would send me to Hell for leaving it. So I "threw the baby out with the bathwater" and shunned God and religion all together. I went to college and played rock and roll at night. But.. like me, God is stubborn, too. I walked into my astronomy class at UW River Falls late so what chair was open? Front and center! Lucky me! My strongly opinionated, atheist professor put a slide on the overhead projector. Stages of The Big Bang Theory. Suddenly, it hit me.. Like a Ton of Bricks! Like a Big Bang! The stages directly correlated with the days of the Creation Story. I realized maybe this God was bigger that I'd thought... bigger than I'd been told.
Ever since, God has busted out of every box I've tried to put him in.. I've met hippies, boat captains, famous musicians, drug addicts, kind little grandma's, every different type of person. I've traveled all around the country. I've been to Mexico and Europe. I'd love to continue to see as much of the world as I can but in the meantime, I read a lot. But what I've come to realize is that He loves every single one of us. Every person has a story. Every person has fought great battles. We have all screwed up. We all make mistakes. But Every person deserves compassion, kindness, understanding, and love. I don't fit into many churches any more. But I feel at home in my mother's church.. and I feel at home here. Thank you so much. I try to use the logic of compassion as it seems Jesus did. What makes sense? What is needed here? I don't believe a God who created us and loves us unconditionally would condemn anyone to Hell. I don't believe a loving God waits to pounce on us after we die to humiliate us with every mistake we've ever made. He's literally with us and within us every moment. He's there when we make mistakes - and with us through the consequences of those mistakes... He knows every thought, every need of our heart. I believe every Thing, every human, every bird, every ray of sunshine is dear and Precious in God's sight.
So much hurt. So much pain. We live it. We hear it. We see it every day. What has helped me is learning something that's only come to my recently. It came through in the magic of God, the magic in us, the magic in our minds. Recently, every time I get scared, every time I get insecure, or begin to freak out, I try to tell myself " I Am Precious." I've been told this is how God feels about me and I've decided to believe it. I've decided to have Faith that He means what He says. That He Loves me. That He Loves You. In Loving us, that means that He wants us to be happy. That He wants us to enjoy this gift of life He's given us. He wants to help me heal. He hurts when I hurt... He hurts when the world hurts.. I've decided to trust Him and allow that Love to steer my life.
I've held onto this music career so tightly. So many prayers. "God, why am I not more successful?? God, why do I never have any money?? God, why aren't you listening to me? Why does everything have to be so hard, all the time?" Suddenly, last week, I got the call of a lifetime. "Nici! Come, fly out to Vegas! All expenses paid! Bring your guitar! You're going to perform for people who can bring you into the Big Time!" Well, Oprah says 'When the opportunity arises, you gotta jump!!" So, of course I jumped!! Picked up by a limousine, taken to the top floor of the MGM Grand to a suite with a grand piano that overlooked the Vegas skyline. The stuff this country girl has only seen in movies! Unfortunately, the night ended up being a page from Harvey Weinstein's script. Down to the phrase "I'll be meeting your needs so naturally, you'll have to meet mine." This was said to me by a "gentleman" (I use that phrase loosely) who had just shown me the scar from his surgery. His wife had given him her kidney. I was able to avoid him and then while others were out and he was asleep, I left a note and took a taxi to the airport. I had written "If that means I'll never be Taylor Swift, I guess I'm okay with that." So much for "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!"
Funny enough, though the details have changed, this is the third time it has happened.
So maybe you can see why I had no idea how to begin writing this.. I just chose to say 'No' to what I had thought I had wanted most... But the reason I said no, I can only boil down to one thing.. I now know that I am Precious. It has become my deepest Truth. I am Precious. As you are Precious. This is our warm milk and honey. We are Precious to the very Heart of the Universe. We are Precious to the One who is the Beginning, the End, and the Now. He knows everything about us and loves us non stop, without conditions. His voice calls us from the Desert but His presence walks us every step of the way. We are Loved. We are Precious. We are His. So if you're looking for a new saying to add to your list, please consider "I am Precious". It has changed my life. Thank you so much for listening. Peace and blessings in 2019.