Summer’s Coming… Keeping the Faith.

A guest post from a good friend that I couldn’t help but be excited to share as the calendar turns quickly toward summer:

Keeping the Faith, while on Vacation!

Schools out and so families everywhere are working on their vacations, from short – drives to a state park, flying to Disney, or spending every weekend at the lake. As Christian parents we struggle finding a way to enjoy the beauty of summer, especially after a grueling winter, and helping to teach our children the importance of faith, even while on ‘vacation.’

Some ideas (adapted from a post on UMCOM) include:

  1. Finding specific daily devotional to do as a family. Some ideas such as The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide (Here) or taking your children’s Bible along to talk about specific stories. Sometimes, your church may send a specific devotion or Bible reading plan.
  2. Wherever you happen to be on Sunday, go to church. Most vacation communities are used to extra visitors in the summer. Either scout one out as you drive around, or use Find-A-Church (here), a useful tool for finding a United Methodist Church to worship in.
  3. God Sightings – While driving, or moving about in nature, ask your children, where you found God today. If it’s something that connects with the church, post it on their Facebook page or email the Pastor to send out in the newsletter. Stay connected, even if you miss worship.
  4. Take a family picture wherever you are, and post it to your church Facebook page, or send it to whoever sends out the newsletters. Say #hello from vacation!

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Blessings in the Midst of Weeds

My husband and I have a little garden in the backyard of the parsonage. It is a small garden plot, just large enough that you can’t reach all the way across from one side to the other, but small enough that you might try. I have seen how some people can make both “little” and actually little gardens produce a lot of goodies, so much so that they have enough to share (and for the occasional bag of fresh produce, the plump tomato or asparagus bundle that lands on my desk – I am thankful). But this garden of ours is not a prize winning plot, part of that is the nature of being comprised of back-fill soil and part of that is lack of attention by me. It wasn’t until almost June that I got out to even start to clear last fall’s debris out and by that time 2/3 of it was covered in freshly growing knee-high grass. So I went out into the garden expecting the reality of what I could see – weeds, grasses, and the need for a lot of physical labor to just get it to the point where new things could be planted. However, sometimes things are not only as they appear. Sure there were weeds, sure there were a lot of grasses to remove but in between the grasses and the weeds, I found a treasure. There were 6 lush strawberry plants and 4 melon plants that had restarted from the seeds of last year. From my previous vantage point, I didn’t see the beauty growing between the weeds. Cleared out and ready to plant, I already had the beginnings of this years garden. Often we get caught up in the weeds. They can seem daunting and overwhelming, like it might be easier to take the fence down and let it return to the rest of the lawn. But signs of life were already there waiting for me like beacons of hope. As I discovered each one, I got a new jolt of joy to see the reality that God is already working in the rocky, back-fill soil of that garden plot. It is that way with our faith sometimes, we get lost in the mere reality that weeds come, we become overwhelmed by the idea of the task (and tasks) at hand. It is then we don’t see what is working just below the surface until we are willing to wade into the trouble. 

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” Hebrews 11:1 (CEB) .

Living in the Beats of Time

This has been a hard year for a lot of people. I remember being part of a conversations just a few weeks into the year, January 21st, and so much had happened that she wondered if this whole year would be a wash. I was still hopeful. I thought it couldn’t be a sign for us that things would be this hard for a whole year, it had only been a few weeks. But through the lens of many families, this year has been the most challenging, the most heavy, the most needy of the recent history. In September, there were those who wished to close the books on 2014 early, ‘just call it done,’ I heard. But we could not and cannot end time early, it marches on to it’s own relentless beat. While it never speeds or slows, our perceptions of it do. There were times where I begged God to speed up the clock. I begged God to speed up those last hours of agony of listening to a friend’s labored and pained breath and for peace to set in, I begged. I pleeded. Time remained constant, although I think I heard a marching band in between each of its steady clicks. And there were times so sweet that I asked if I could stay in them forever, and they flitted past with no concern of my enjoyment of them. The blessings were there in the midst of it all. The blessings were in the life that occurred between those beats of time. In the world of hurt, in the world of joy, blessings surrounded them all. As we round the corners for Christmas Eve, I want to capture that bitter sweet emotion and to speak truth that love was present through it all, God was present for it with us, abiding with us. Emmanuel.

An Ode to Coffee

I believe that God works through coffee.

I have a general rule of life that has become important, especially on Sundays. The rule is simple: No public speaking before coffee.  It helps counteract my ability, or should I say, inability, to form sentences when I’m tired. But it’s also more than that, it helps convince me that I can and should do something active with my day.

The oldie but goodie movie “You’ve Got Mail” referred to coffee as being able to give even those totally lost an identity. Joe Fox, says, “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.” First off, remember when a cappuccino at Starbucks was only $2.95? It’s more like $4.50 now. But I digress, back to coffee and my rule of life. Perhaps coffee, in its glorious ability to create a defining sense of self, is what is most required before entering into public speaking.

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Emmanuel, God with us.

Before becoming a pastor, I never heard the word Emmanuel outside of Advent and Christmas. It’s unfortunate because that word, Emmanuel, is so much more apart of our lives than relegating it to just Advent and Christmas. It is a word I love deeply. It is the expression of how God comes to earth, and interrupts our lives. So often we miss it, we overlook it, we see past it.

Recently Netflix recommended that I watch “Call the Midwife.” I scoffed its recommendation, while I am a fan of many BBC shows, I thought it appeared to be a shallow and flimsy recommendation based more on my liking of “Downton Abbey” than of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who”. But as I often find myself saying, I was wrong. Both birth and death, while scientific in their execution and fundamentals, always seem to present themselves to me as spiritual events. It is as if the veil between the worlds of here and hereafter are thinner. The 2012 Season Christmas special of “Call the Midwife” was one of the best expressions of the meaning of Emmanuel and use of the song “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” I’ve seen in a long time. The midwives, as nurses often do, act as Jesus. They become expressions of Christ to the people they serve.

The concluding lines of the episode rang true – “Like Hope, Faith is both a rope and an anchor in a shifting world… and though I couldn’t not grasp it then, I felt it’s heartbeat, that it was love”

Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.

In the Midst… of Tiny Things

When you choose Mustard for your hotdog instead of ketchup, you are an adult. When you are more proud of a weekend spent accomplishing stuff off your check-list than proud of a weekend of grand adventures, you are an adult. If you get really excited about buying large appliances or renovations to your house, you are an adult. But where does it go? Where does being a child go when the adult grows out of it?

It’s natural that we grow and change but often I miss that child-like wonder of the world that use to fascinate me at every turn. Sure, I still experience it in the big moments, but I’ve lost track of the little moments. Those are often the moments that we take for granted. Those tiny things that would change our perspective, change our worlds, open our eyes and bring joy inside: a flower, a bird, lightening, a bike, fresh air, clean scents.

… of the Fray

The Fray

To fray is to unravel or become worn at the edge, typically through constant rubbing. It is to wear thin and show the effects of stregn. Nerves fray, relationships fray, nature frays, our patience frays, our favorite childhood blanket frays, the thread that connects us frays. What is wearing you thin? and more importantly, what is building you back up? Fraying doesn’t have to be a bad thing, sometimes it is the process that helps us to move forward. Like a young male deer with fresh antlers, who rubs against a tree with his head in order to remove the velvet so that growth can occur, we often grow when we allow ourselves to live into the fray.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray.

 

In The Midst… of Grief

This story begins in grief. Grief can be an overwhelming experience, it is more than just feeling or something you can push aside, it is deep like an ocean and washes over with tides that ebb and flow. I’ve known that my dear friend, Char, was dying for the last 18 months. Just 18 months ago, she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer that had already spread to the liver. Char spent her professional career as a nurse and a nurse manager and in her calling in parish nursing. That is how I got to know Char. I was sent, in the usual United Methodist way, to Boone as one of their pastors where she has been the parish nurse of Boone First United Methodist Church for many years. When I came, she was the one to help show me the ropes and point out people and ways to help care for them. She assisted in hospital visits, nursing home visits, home-bound visits, took calls to help church members sort out their medications and diagnosis and aches and pains. She helped people make calls to their families to tell them about what was happening in their lives. She faithfully followed up with people and made special notes of those who might need a pastoral visit but would never ask. She gathered the widows so they could be not-so-alone together. She was friend and mentor. When I had questions, her door was the one next to mine.

She is a woman of great strength and faith. Last winter, she told me that she would look out her window to a great tree in her yard. All of the leaves had left the branches barren, except one red leaf that held on all winter. There it was, life in the midst of death. She saw that red leaf as a sign of blessing, of holding on past all the odds but it would go in God’s time. It is the way the tree’s leaves and our lives are created, we hold on until it’s time to go.

On Tuesday, I was biking with my husband. We came to the bottom of a very steeply inclined hill next to a large park in our town. We decided to get off and walk the bikes up. Instead of looking intently in front of us, my focus wandered. About half way up, he pointed up to a strange tree.  It was the middle of summer and all the leaves were green, except for one red leaf near the top. In the midst of life, we are in death. In the midst of summer green, we are in the midst of fall red. The next morning, Char made the courageous decision to stop treatments, there was really nothing else the doctors could do. She has been moved to hospice, and we are in the last times we will spend together on this earth. It has become time to let go, not to give up or give in, but to give over.

This blog is dedicated to Char, my mentor and friend who helped teach this often task-list pastor to stop and find the blessings in the midst of life in all of its wonder, complexity, pain and pleasures. We are not alone, God is with us.

Blessings in the Midst.