Saturday, December 31, 2011

Parting Words for 2011

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually. Psalm 105:4

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4.
Keep in mind, that in delighting yourself in the Lord, the Lord may change the desires of the heart, reshaping our thoughts and desires. In fact, I believe this will happen.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deut. 33:27

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How Big is Your Boat?

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things...
(Luke 10:41)

Have you been in that place, the place of busyness, of doing too much and--it seems--none of it well? Ever felt that you might not be able to do all that needs to be done? I have been dwelling in that place lately, not merely passing through in the past few weeks. Though I cast off the label of worrier and do not claim to fret or worry habitually, I acknowledge there are some seasons of life where the mounting needs to be met and concerns to be prayed over cast a huge shadow, dwarfing my limited ability to get the job done. We can easily feel overwhelmed, especially at the peak of the busiest season of the year at work.

What we call the holiday season is really the perfect storm.

This post-holiday let down is a common phenomenon, if that were merely all it is. It happens to everyone. But this is not about holidays at all, as I see it. It is Real Life. Life comes to us as a gentle breeze at times, lifting us and caressing us along the way, and with a storm's fury at others. Part of the rhythmic ebb and flow we can expect.

We must shift gears, adjusting to the demands to be met. And if we are wise, we will adjust our expectations of ourselves. That can be the hardest part.

I've written about jettisoning excess baggage to lighten our load when our boat feels too small to weather the storm. Get rid of non-essentials. Cut out something. As we go into a new year, that admonition rings true again as good advice.

As I am walking alongside a friend with a life-threatening disease, I will not let my whining about busyness and fatigue gain so much as a foothold. I will keep it in check, I promise. But we must be honest wherever we find ourselves, and live authentically out of our present situation--whatever it is. "Do not compare yourself with others. There will always be someone.....[thinner, richer, sicker, better, faster, healthier...]," is an oft-quoted directive that springs to mind here.

That is one thing that needs to go: comparison. It only invites envy or self-pity. Either is toxic to the soul. So, out it goes. My boat is too small to hold anything that feeds the flesh- and soul-eating bacteria of envy or allows for self-absorbed feelings.

If we take only one step toward lightening the load and making life's journey manageable today, may we cast off anything that causes us to look upon others with jealousy or envy because of what they appear to have that we do not. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? We do not think of ourselves as jealous people, I am sure. And that is just what makes envy and covetousness so universal and slippery for us. Just when we say we do not have a problem with something, we just got a problem with it; we set ourselves up for a match with the master of deception. Watch and see how such a practice can weave through our conversations and our actions during the course of a week, allowing us the chance to let it go.

My mother says it often and lives it well: Let it go. It's one of many gems we have learned from her.

No matter the size of our boat, it is sufficient to contain the One who will never leave us nor forsake us in the storm of life. His grace is sufficient when our abilities fail. Thanks be to God!

We may find ourselves in that place of being worried and distracted about many things, as referenced in the scripture above, on multiple occasions. If not for ourselves, we may experience such turmoil alongside others who are weathering tough times.

Storms of discouragement, disease and doubt slam into us at the most unexpected times ravaging our 'boats'.

Financial and relational struggles slash our sails.

High winds and turbulence toss us about leaving us fearful and wounded.

Where is the joy? Where is the peace in all this?

We've heard it said before: Those who try to anchor to position, prestige and power will drift away because those things cannot supply ultimate security and protection. They never have. They may only appear to do so. And how frustrating to see one spend a lifetime navigating the sea of Other People's Opinions only to find it leads nowhere.

...There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:42

Storms may batter, winds may blow, the sails may be torn, but the anchor holds! We have hope.

Reminds me of an old hymn from my childhood:
"In times like these you need a savior.
In times like these you need an anchor.
Be very sure, Be very sure, Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock.

That Rock is Jesus
Yes, He's the one,
That Rock is Jesus
The only one
Be very sure.
Be very sure,
Your anchor holds
And grips the Solid Rock."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stretching a Heart

Victorian symbols and romantic elements adorn this heart in a Christmas greeting. The rose has long been associated with Mary, and later among protestants, with Jesus. The poinsettia as a Christmas flower was a late-comer on the scene.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as those of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half spent was the night.*

I was just reading about being a dwelling place-- what it means to have God abide with us....

O come and dwell in me,
Spirit of power within,
And bring the glorious liberty
From sorrow, fear, and sin.
( From O, Come and Dwell in Me by Charles Wesley)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments [to love one another]. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, [Advocate, or Counselor] to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you." John 14:15-17

And for a contemporary insight on being a dwelling place for God, I recommend:
"And this Christmas, I’ll be stretched thin and I will feel myself asked to love to the furthest edges of myself, asked to extend grace to the outermost reaches...To be a womb for Christ, I'll feel my inner walls, my boundaries stretch..."
(Ann Voskamp, from her writings today. )

I feel a bit stretched in many directions this week, and it is safe to say you do too. Is our discomfort because we are engaged something of lasting significance, or just more busyness of what they like to call 'holiday hustle and bustle'?

Let not your labor be in vain.....make it count. It comes to me as a reminder during these days....Make it count.

*“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”
From the 15th-century German, translated by Theodore Baker
UM Hymnal, No. 216

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All nature sings and 'round me rings the music of the sphere...

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a [person] could stake his life on it a thousand times. (Martin Luther)

This does not mean that we know with certainty what is going to happen, nor do we have any assurance that what we want to happen will actually happen. These two misconceptions frequently trip us up when we begin to talk about faith and what we call answered prayer.

In fact, I think it is significant that we maintain the honesty that we do not know what will happen, and we do not have all the answers. The point to me is simply this: we have daring confidence in God's grace. Period. We entrust our life and times to the One who alone can guide and sustain us, especially when what we want to happen does not happen.

Tears of joy and sorrow mingle together inseparably, irretrievably a part of our story as we walk in faith. Rather than feel bereft and alone, we may find that we are never left alone and disconsolate. At the point of our deepest need, God's love is deeper still (Corrie Ten Boom).

As the second photo above suggests, the sun appears to be a small pink dot on the horizon. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The screen of our point of view is just too small to take in the size of the sun. The sun must set, actually, dipping below our line of sight before the vivid colors splash against the clouds creating the spectacular visions that result.

Today at 4:08 CST I drove into a magnificent full blown rainbow, completely visible end-to-end, spanning miles in each direction and leaving me awed. I could not photograph it, but I yearned to capture and share it. When I got to my destination I stared at it and shared with a friend via text the sheer joy of taking in this sight. She later replied with the snapshot of a breathtaking sight that cannot be contained in a screen of a complete rainbow taken aboard her flight at about the same time, and she wrote:
"My full circle rainbow only could be seen when we were over full cloud cover, not when you could see land. Amazing!"

And on this Earth, we only see one-half a rainbow, do we not? The other side is beyond our ability to see. It appears to disappear, much like the sun. To see a bigger picture requires a different point of view. You know where I'm going with this.

Life can be like that. When we are encircled by clouds and confusing circumstances, our vision is obscured. We are unable to see what is because of what merely appears to be. The temptation is to agree that the appearance is actually what matters. For the believer, we trust the grace-gifts of God to supply our needs--our very vision when our sight is limited--so that we learn to walk by faith and trust, and not by sight.

We know through science that refraction or bending light to create a rainbow requires a certain percentage of moisture content and a certain degree angle. Then when the light passes through the water-filled atmosphere, particularly in the evening, the glorious parallel bands of ROYGBIV color spread across the sky. All those things were present in abundance today for this startlingly beautiful phenomenon. It is not magic, but the precise function of the creator of all nature. All creation attests to the magnificence of God, and He's still got the whole world in His hands.

Psalm 19: 1-3: The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where the heavens' voice is not heard.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seeing is Believing?

The reading for Sunday, December 11, 2011

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1: 26-38

Connie said today in regard to this passage, "Perspective matters."

I agree. Having an eternal perspective gives one a different view of life at any age. It may not remove the fear factor for us--notice how each angelic visitation I can recall in scripture is accompanied by the 'do not be afraid' words, perhaps because we tend to startle easily in their presence--but seeing with the spirit allows us to take in a bigger picture than merely the scene our human eyes see.

An analogy that comes to mind: If we could change the aperture of our eyes, if we could alter the length of rays we see and change our ability to focus on near and far distant objects, then we might grasp the power wrapped up in perspective. Yes, it sounds super-human. It is the stuff of fantasy books for many, the idea of e-ray vision or peering through closed doors. But daily we use lenses to sharpen our focus while reading or typing or driving and to allow us to see much farther into the distance than our eye can see alone. Why then do we all not apply the lens of the spirit which aids in seeing what we cannot otherwise see clearly? That is what the spirit is made for. May we learn to see with eyes of the spirit.

May the Spirit of God touch our lives with truth and beauty through the unexpected events of the coming week.

May God grant wisdom liberally--superhuman insight that enables us to see beyond our circumstances.

And when we encounter those moments when we, like Mary, can only ask How can this be?...How can I live with this? ...How can we move on beyond this crushing loss of all that we had planned? may we, too, yearn to see a bigger picture. It may seem like looking through a glass darkly for we are not made merely for the limitations our bodies experience in this life, but one day, we shall see clearly and know fully, even as we are fully known.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. I Cor 13:12

We expect God's divine intervention while we choose not to look at the things that are seen but at the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are subject to change. 2 Cor 4:18

Thanks be to God. Let it be according to your will.

Nativity Facade of La Sagrada de Familia, Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Healthy Holidays

I saw this image on Sam's Fitness Food & Faith, and it looked so appealing, with its various fonts and cute colors. As I am walking through a time of illness with a precious friend and becoming more aware of foods that offer healing benefits, this really caught my eye. Why cannot all things that are good for us come packaged in appetizing, tantalizing colors? Then we'd want to do what is healthful, right, rather than load up on the empty sugars that drag us down and harmful fats that clog our bodies.

But wait, I realized; they already do.

It doesn't take a playful font in a memo style prompt to direct our eye to desire these foods above. God has already packaged them for us in the most extravagant way! See how they are created to appeal to our senses. I look at the complex and varied textures offered in the healthy foods-- smooth ripe tomatoes in eye-popping red shiny skin, multi-floral cruciform broccoli stalks, bouquets of leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard, walnuts and almonds in amazing little hard shell cases to keep them fresh and portable, and super-food blueberries eaten fresh or frozen continue to offer a feast for the eye and palate alike. And who can deny the pleasure of chocolate melting away, triggering the same good feelings in our brains as the sense of being in love.

God did all this and more to draw us to the things that are healthful and good for us, I believe. That's just a nice reminder of the gifts we have in nature that I take for granted each day, especially when holiday food tends to mean fat-laden, sugary richness that offers pleasure but leaves a calling card of lethargy and excess weight gain in its wake.

Choose wisely, I hear a little voice in my heart saying.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spinning Threads of Gold Over Tea

As a young girl scout, I sang the song as a round, "Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." Over and over, beginnings fell into endings and beginnings again. There was harmonious unity in that simple song in girl-voices.

Decades later I am still spinning threads and weaving songs of precious friendships.

Yesterday was such a day of spinning golden threads with old friends--a day for tea in the country offering hours spent talking, laughing, and praying together. Seems like old times. Except now, one is living with the unwelcome intruder of a brain tumor.

The story of these friendships began nearly 30 years ago as our lives converged in Memphis, and we, as newlyweds and young moms, shared some of the best of times. Like many gifts we are given, we did not know at the time the true value of what we held in that life experience. We would come to appreciate the tensile strength of shared bonds as the years and the miles between us unfurled.

We didn't take a photo of three friends curled up on the floor, sharing cups of tea and a cozy lunch around the coffee table as candle flickers reflected the icy rain outside. Don't look for them on facebook. We didn't record the moments anywhere but in our hearts; they are indelibly inscribed where memory does not fade and images do not disappear. They are secure where moth and rust do not corrupt; where the thieves of time and disease do not break through and steal.

The fine collectible cups and saucers we filled with ceremony and delight were worthy of just such a day, but even their hand-painted porcelain was no match for the beauty of true friendship in the Lord we share when we love one another with the best we have to offer: ourselves.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34,35
Bear ye one another's burdens. Galatians 6:2

Friday, December 2, 2011

Alleluia: Praising God in the Dark

Today's writing is quite personal in nature, but inspired in reflecting on yesterday's Service of Praise and Thanksgiving as friends gathered to comfort a grieving wife who is also a pastor and friend. If you know her, perhaps you'll be prompted to pray for her. If you do not know her, may the offering of these words be an encouragement to each of us to use our time and meager resources to build up one another through whatever means the Lord brings to mind.

Dear Vicki,
I will write a real note, but for now....while the word is so fresh....and while the image of your gentleness and beauty so lovingly, tenderly, yet powerfully offering a tribute for Kevin at the close of the service lingers in my memory, I must let you know how much I worshiped in this service. May I join the host of family and friends to say I got a picture of Kevin that was vibrant and real -- something I think you would like to know. I hope you were touched as well by the throng of people who lined up for hours to speak a word to you. You are a beloved child of God!
Your personal mementos of Kevin and photos the girls gathered displayed his smile and the life and times you two shared over the past nine years beautifully. Your annotated order of worship reflected you and your desire to share the essence of Kevin today.
The piano music set a welcome tone, planting seeds of lyrics in familiar melodies throughout the gathering. Call me old-fashioned, or call me country, but I like great piano music in a church. The "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" was a triumphant piece when you all entered, weaving through the standing-room-only crowd.
The Bishop was warm and honest in her appraisal that life is hard and that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The two operate at the same time; they don't cancel each other out. I could almost feel Jesus weeping with his friends over Lazarus in her scripture and at the church with us today. I did not know that Psalm 130 is used in every single service of Resurrection in the UMC. I will read it more carefully next time.
The musicians took my breath away with words and pure tones that fell on my ears and closed eyes as I prayed and worshiped.

The three men who spoke and shared honestly their stories about Kevin gave color and depth to an obviously well-loved life they will miss fervently. Their brokenness was palpable.
The last verse to Hallelujah is one I'll have to find. Sharon and Toby and Lindsey truly rose to the occasion. I love the old embroidered Alleluia on the white altar cloth as they sang. The church universal has known the power of resurrection, and we keep telling the story--each in our own age. We must.


I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Breathless silence. Musical magic in the air.
Rev. Hicks did a masterful job to me of wrapping us in stories of Kevin that felt like the real thing. No artifice. Nothing added. Just straight up Kevin. Delivered with tenderness and a lovely style, he did so well what you would love to have done, but  did not need to. I liked what he said, and hope, most of all, that you did too.
But then you wowed us all and took the stand yourself.
When you rose and began that walk you never expected to make this week, that walk from the Family Pew, from the Widow's Seat you've looked out upon so many times before, there was a barely-audible collective held breath and pause I sensed. You assumed your familiar place behind the pulpit and were - we could all tell - right at home. Even while a wayfaring stranger in a strange new land of grief, you knew the way home, Vicki. You stepped into that place and God graced you with a mantle of peace to share a personal word. I don't know how you did it.
The way home, however faltering the steps may be, took you through the gate of gratitude.

You expressed thanks to each one--to each person who had lifted you in prayer, had written a note or sent a facebook message or had come to give a hug. Thanksgiving was a verb today, not a noun. 

You gracefully did what you do so well: You loved a congregation of folks who were hurting right along with you. 

You kept the Light shining even in the darkest hour. 

You allowed a glimmer to shine through you, and in doing so, to radiate joy-in-sorrow upon us all. 

You became part of the mystery of faith: How the darkness does not overcome the light. How majesty dwells with the mundane in our humanity because Christ dwells within.
"At that moment you will know absolutely that I'm in my Father and you're in me and I"m in you."

This was one of those moments.
Or, in Kevin's preferred KJV:

John 14:18-20

King James Version (KJV)
18I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
20At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

You love the Hymn of Promise, and growing things, and nature's beauty even in winter. I always remember that about you, Vicki. The pine boughs and cones bearing seeds adorned the altar and stood before us today. Everywhere you stood - in the Community Center reception afterwards or in the sanctuary - you were always near a green bough. Did you notice? Of course.... You planned it all, with tenderness and love. It could not have been any better. I pray the singing bird will come to the green bough in your heart.
When I got home with you gentle on my mind, I read this from Ann Voskamp in her writing today about advent, and I wanted to share it with you. I also want to share your lovely service for Kevin with our friends who were unable to be there today, for we all love you and pray for God's immeasurable grace to fill your life one hour at a time, especially at this beginning of Advent.

"...The beginning of December, that is what I set out on the counter: a bowl of seeds. Through Advent, through all the waiting days, waiting for the Bread of Heaven to come down, we plant seeds of wheat. God, He gestated. God was a seed. I think this, holding a seed in the palm of my hand......
and then she continues:

"...Because the economy scrapes its dark underbelly too low and who can breathe, and some phone call can hang up on all our dreams and everything goes dim, and one kid, one parent, one hope, can falls into shadows overnight.
And this Gospel? It doesn’t come wrapped in twinkling lights and satin bows; it comes straight into our pitchest black. The Gospel of Christ, it’s a messy, bloody thing and this is how God was born, bloody and bruised, and that’s how God chose to die, bloody and beaten. And our God, He knows the comings and goings of our bloody battles, and this is exactly where He meets us.
The Gospel is good news in the eye of the worst news.
Advent is the believing this, and this is how Christ comes:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…” Isaiah 11: 1-2

May God bear you up, dear Vicki, and comfort the brokenhearted. I love you, my friend.
For our Russian friends reading, аллилуйя.
Alleluia. Hallelujah. It still spells praise in any language.

(from Please read in its entirety. I recommend her unreservedly.

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Battling Unseen Demons

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me fast Psalm 139: 9-10.

There is no place we can flee from God's presence, though often we try.

We who are built for fight or flight either lash out or run when faced with a foe. Perhaps the obvious enemy is easier to attack than the subtle interference of an unseen foe. The events of this past week confirm that we never know what is going on in the heart and mind of another. Many are battling unseen demons. Others have a target in the cross hairs and long to eliminate the unwelcome intruder of disease, death, accusation, and unfaithfulness among them.

At this writing tonight I join hearts with dear friends who are grieving the sudden death of loved ones and planning funerals, reeling from dreaded diagnoses and facing the decisions ahead with courage and grace, facing a literal trial with lifetime penalties hanging in the balance, struggling under the weight of depression, and living with weighty grief and loss in the approaching holiday season.

The demands of living through such stark rawness of life drive many into despair and hopelessness. "Makes you want to go and hide out 'til its over," one friend said. "The problem is, it's never over."

Whether we are intentionally hiding or just dwelling in the deepest pit feeling abandoned, we are not abandoned. We are held fast--securely--in the hand of God. Attributing hands to God who is spirit need not be a stumbling block, I pray. The expression occurs frequently in scripture and is merely an acknowledgment of God's power, authority and exalted position as we imperfectly describe the One who defies our human description.

There is a memorable song by Natalie Grant, "Held" which I love. The chorus reads:

This is what it means to be held
how it feels
when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.
This is what it is to be loved
and to know
that the promise is when everything fell,
we'd be held.

This is what it means to be held...

We will have occasions to think of that often. Life doesn't grant a reprieve from pain and loss because we profess faith or belong to a particular house of worship. We know that the rain 'falls on the just and the unjust.'

But we can know the companionship of the One who will not leave us alone nor forsake us.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8,9.

(excerpt from a previous post)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Our End is Our Beginning

The stone above anchors the contemporary entrance to the Facade of the Suffering Way, or the Passion Facade of La Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona. The Greek letters alpha and omega are carved in stone, showing that the beginning and the end are linked inextricably and represent Jesus.

In our end is our beginning...

Gaudí designed the portal during a serious illness in 1911, and it was in his own suffering that the last weeks of the life of Jesus were told. Another sculptor was charged with the task of creating the sculptures in 1988, and the impressive artistic and theological wonderland is still progressing toward completion. It is a glorious undertaking!

We rarely notice the connection between suffering and glory
until we either are walking through it ourselves or with someone we love. In the midst of the dark night of the soul it is hard to perceive glory. We can't make out hope among the shadows. It looks too grim. Where is the glory and goodness in this, we implore?

It is significant that it was precisely in his own suffering that he identified with Christ. May we, too, find a way to live into the mystery of God's presence and promises when we experience life-threatening challenges, and as we long to be faithful companions to others on the journey.

A favorite hymn reminds me of this truth:

Hymn of Promise
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

By: Natalie Sleeth and Copyright © 1986 Hope Publishing Company

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Majesty of the Moment

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea...Be still, and know I am God Psalm 46:1-2, 10.

Let the truth of these verses find a home in your heart now.

When life gets busy or chaotic, it’s easy to get distracted. We wind up focusing on problems instead of the One who holds the answer to our problems in God's hands. When that happens, stop. Focus on who God is and how much God loves you. Share your heartfelt psalm of prayer with the God of power and compassion.

Be still and know God is near. The words of Psalm 46 hold incredible power when it comes to knowing God is near in any and every situation.”

(From The 100 Most Important Bible Verses, 1996 Tyndale House Publishers, pg 43 via Moms In Touch)
Photo unedited or adorned, taken in La Sagrada de Familia of breathtaking shafts of light.

And then it hit me: when I encountered the beauty of the sight in the photo above, I stopped in my tracks. There was nothing to do but to be still and take in the majesty of the moment. To have conceived and designed and built an edifice such as this one that would cast golden light beams and cause visitors to draw in a breath and hold it? That was amazing to me. I had to stop and acknowledge that I was in the presence of a thing of great beauty.

How much more so, then, would we not stop and be still at points during the course of our day, when we are encountering DAILY the beauty we pass on the streets and in the world about us.

Recapture the majesty of everyday moments. Let's begin today!

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Russia with Love

Христианская не прощаемся, мы говорим: "Пока мы не встретимся снова." К. С. Льюис

(Christians do not say 'goodbye'; we say, 'until we meet again.' C. S. Lewis)

"The Church is not a temple or a building. The Church is a community of God's people."
Rev. Ludmila Garbuzova, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Moscow upon visiting Mississippi again this week.

My heart is filled with her music and that shared by Valentina, as well as folk tunes with Ivan and the two Elenas. Russian music is filled with both power and tenderness; such darkness and richness in minor keys fill in the spaces where lilting tunes might prevail in North America. My untrained ear tells me that even in familiar music, she changes chord structure to create more depth and intensity in the accompaniment, though the melody line is the same.

She says it best in a beloved Russian-tinged expression: "It is AMAzink." Amazing Grace indeed.

My daughter and I took conversational Russian language and culture a few years ago, and I at least had been exposed to rudimentary phrases for travel and greetings, but upon meeting our guests this week, I suddenly forgot anything I might have known and stifled the broken Spanish phrases that dared to surface. How embarrassing! I had to laugh at myself. My one chance to show a touch of hospitality and kindness to visiting Russian friends, and I blew it.

But warm hugs work in any language, no translation needed. Eyes speak when words do not flow. There is a language of the heart all its own. Why do we not used it more often? Sometimes our words just get in the way. There are those beautiful moments that come to us in life when we get to be present and connect with others on a plane that transcends conversation. This weekend was filled with a string of those beautiful moments laced together in memory.

Ludmila speaks lovely English and shared the amazing story of a dream that would not die. Stay tuned....I can't wait to tell it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Living Into Our Vows

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus. I will not look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotion, or popularity. I do not have to be right, first, recognized, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on God’s presence, walk with patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven.

My road is narrow, my way rough, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not give up or let up. I will go on until Christ comes, and work until Christ stops me.

I am a disciple of Jesus.

(Offered as the Zimbabwe Confession and attributed to an unnamed man whose faith was tested to the point of death.)

Photos: La Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Monday, November 7, 2011

Passing It On from Elizabeth

She says it with a conviction born of experience. She shares personal thoughts from a perspective many may not understand or agree with, but I think she is onto something at the core: There is no fixed if/then formula for raising children.

There are those who want the play book, the recipe, so parents can turn out the product of our hearts' desire. It doesn't work that way.

Parenting books abound today with 10 Point Plans and promises of a new kid by Friday, but few will honestly share the pain of estrangement from children when life choices cause division in families. I talked with a mom last week who gripped my hand and said through tears, "Twenty years. Twenty years! That's how long I have been waiting and praying for my son to come back."

Elizabeth, cancer survivor and mother of nine children, knows a thing or two about parenting. I found her writing link on Ann Voskamp's A Holy Experience site who has energized the practice of living with heightened gratitude daily. Because I have enjoyed Ann's inspiring writings about giving thanks, I am inclined to have her inform my day on other topics as well. The title alone caught my eye: What I'm Never Going to Tell You.

At some point in the process of maturity--or lack of it--our offspring will make their own choices. Some of those choices may send shock waves through our homes, shaking the very foundation of identity for parents who think their work product is a reflection of them, and it is so easy to do this in our culture. My generation did it too. In fact we think we started it all in true ego-centric baby boomer fashion.

We lived the generation gap and made such sweeping life choices over a period of time that our collective parents must have been dismayed at the social upheaval that changed the landscape in America. So I totally understand a young adult's desire to make his or her own decisions and to do it their way. I get it. It helps to have an elastic waistband, so to speak, in parenting to allow for a little discomfort when parents and kids butt heads over predictable issues because conflict is going to happen.

Yet, there are often  points in families where even the most elastic band fails to contain the teen/adult child whose own declaration of independence severs ties we thought would be unbroken as mothers.

I meet with young moms each week who yearn to pour themselves into this parenting role and give their best to the privilege of raising faithful, healthy children. I understand the desire to give this vocation our best shot. We don't get the chance to do it over. I also hear in Elizabeth's writings a word of comfort, a healing balm, to the moms and dads who, having done the best they knew how to do, then watched in dismay as children renounced their faith, rejected those who love them and separated themselves from their families. The heartbreak is palpable. Some have reconciled; others have not.

We pray for God to inspire, sustain, and accompany us on this journey, because parents need all the help we can get.

Sometimes the inspiration comes to us from one another, and so I offer Elizabeth's own honest words in case you are in a place of estrangement or pain as a parent. It is from Nov. 4, 2011:
What I'm Never Going to Tell You.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it James 1:2-5.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pass It On

The recap of this fall football weekend includes the announcer's summary of big games all over the country. Beneath the hype and heap of players is almost certainly a video replay of a crucial dropped pass, a game-changing play that airs too often to the utter embarrassment of the miscalculating player.

One of the songs of my life comes to mind when I hear them say that he almost had control of the ball, but couldn't hold onto it. Now he gets charged with the dreaded dropped pass.

"Pass It On" by Kurt Kaiser is what is now known as vintage music, believe it or not. It only takes a spark, to get a fire going opens the song that was popular in the 60's and 70's. My children, too, sang it at camp when they were coming along in the 90's, so it has spanned generations.
"That's how it is with God's love, once you experience it. You spread His love to everyone, you want to pass it on..."

When I think on this title, it occurs to me:
Sometimes we choose to pass it on, and sometimes we say, "I'll pass."

We say it in our actions if not in words.

"I'll pass on it." Not interested. Put somebody else in, Coach.

Tiny words shuffled make a big difference. Let's not fumble this one. Pass it on. We will not have a perfect record of completions in this life, but we can hold fast to the faith we've been given. (I know this post is evidence that I've read too many college admission essays on sports as a metaphor for life, but please permit me this one.)

Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
guard it well, for it is your life Proverbs 4:13.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful Hebrews 10:23

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Of Capes and Mantles

What is it about capes that fascinates boys and girls? We know how they love to drape themselves in a towel or sheet, and suddenly they become taller...braver....and boldly step into the persona of Superman or current superhero complete with sound effects? I witnessed it just this week with trick-or-treaters appearing at the front door.

I recall my cousin Clay's six-year old birthday party offered a garage filled with a dozen boys decked out in superman capes, exhibiting all their superpowers in the simple red capes his momma had zipped out on her machine. Etched in my memory, this scene is unforgettable in its simplicity and endures through the decades as I have watched the heart of his momma weave as a shuttle in the lives of her three sons, all grown, Godly men now with children of their own. There is something about that mantle that, when donned, gives them the confidence to step out as somebody other than who they are at the time. Imagination is invigorating! We can help children see beyond the limitations they face, or appear to face, each day.

I am suggesting that we give them an invisible mantle--one that doesn't come untied and will grow as they age-- an amazing mantle! Where do you get a cape like that? You can make it yourself, no sewing machine needed. I believe the daily prayers of a momma for her child availeth much, an old fashioned way of saying they are effective to provide clothing for the heart, growing soul and expanding mind of a boy or girl whose needs we cannot fully know, though we think we know them inside and out. There is, however, One whose Presence will serve as a shield and buckler, as a sure defense and strong tower--One whom they can learn to trust in time as much as a young child trusts the heart of his momma. Fathers and grandparents as well are capemakers to the little ones in our lives, daily bestowing the mantle that will clothe the interior life of a child.

We keep praying for God's shaping of the frame, God's instilling of dreams and desires, God's bringing to bear fruit in its season. It's not about us, though it is a steep challenge to extricate our identity from our children in this performance-driven society. It is also not about perfection, but you've probably already let that one go.
It is the task of a lifetime, if you ask me. It will take everything you have to give. Praying for and with them models a life dependent on God to supply our deepest needs. I'm still doing it, even as I am delighting in a man-son who is grown and bearing witness in his own faith journey and see our daughters likewise living into their pursuit of God's call in their lives. God is faithful even though we are not.

Wow. This began as an early morning email to some young mothers I meet with weekly, but I thought it suitable to share with others. God works like that sometimes--stops us in our tracks while we were busy doing other things and brings to mind a new thing. I hope you find beauty in a new thing today!

(image credit: capes pictured are made by Erin of

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dream Big Dreams

Have you ever had an idea to do something that was so implausible and success was so unlikely that the seed of the dream withered before you allowed its tendril of a root to burrow into the soil of your life? We have a way of suffocating God-size dreams, of snuffing out the life they might offer us because of our fears and insecurities. I met a man yesterday who is living into a dream bigger than he ever imagined. His example inspires and encourages me, and I must share his story.

A beautiful couple and their beloved service dog, Monte, are on an amazing ride. Rich Dixon is hand-cycling all the way from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota on a 1,500 mile journey which recently took them through the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and on through some Mississippi small towns before they arrived in Jackson. His story is too big to contain in my little blog, but his message is too powerful not to share here. Please see Rich's Ride to discover how a man who could not roll his chair ten feet down a hall tackles a journey such as this one!

His beautiful wife, Becky, is a part of this as well, and--though we only spoke for a morning--I can tell she exudes joy from a Source deep within. I will be reading Rich's story of God's Relentless Grace and hope you'll check on this book, which is not about Rich so much as it is a witness to faith in God who will not let us go.

Anyone who has ever had a deep loss or may ever face a deep loss (that about covers most of us) will benefit from Rich's journey of discovery that HOPE is an expectation rooted in faith.

Hope like this is not anemic wishing. Real hope is grounded in God's provision for us - providing presence, perseverance, and prompting dreams that spring up when we least expect them.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18,19).

I am only an amateur when it comes to dreaming dreams as I compare myself to Rich's life, but that is but one of the dangers of comparison: we can cower before the example of someone better/bigger/bolder and let fear of failure snuff out the flame of desire to do something. Sometimes the biggest step is the first--for Rich, the first ten feet were the hardest--and so we encourage one another to step out in faith and take that step . Let us strap on our walking shoes for the day and see what this day holds, emboldened by the example of someone whose life encourages us to do the same.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tired to the Bone

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail (Isaiah 58:11).

"Strengthen your bones".....I paused there when reading. Why bones?....I pondered.We hear it to describe the ultimate in fatigue: bone tired. Dry as a bone. Wasted. Used up. We get the picture.

This passage is not about osteoporosis, though, if you Google it, bone-strengthening treatments and medications pop up. Perhaps we rush too hastily to the quick-fix when it's too late. Rather than eating a calcium-rich diet and committing to weight-bearing exercise for life, millions of women wait until there are signs of deterioration before addressing what we already know to be true: we need strong and healthy bones or we risk life-threatening consequences. But as teenage girls, that fact is a lifetime away and has no bearing on our choices, for most.

My mother says, "We get too soon old and too late smart." She has a point. (She always does. That is another lesson I've learned.)

The NIV reads, "strengthen your frame." Our frame is that which supports us, hold us up. What if strengthening our frame means making small changes daily--both physically and spiritually? What if we have in our midst a source for continual guidance....for daily strength and refreshment....whose waters do not fail? Would we not be wise to make our way to that fountain, even if we come tentatively or without expectation of what we might find, and ask for it?

Make Your Presence known to us, I pray, in ways big and small.

Nothing refreshes like water. Gardens depend on it, and we do too.

But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

Photos: Longwood Gardens, Cathedral courtyard in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love in Any Language

Δεν υπάρχει φόβος στην αγάπη. Αλλά τέλεια αγάπη διώχνει το φόβο, διότι ο φόβος έχει να κάνει με την τιμωρία. Αυτός που φοβάται δεν γίνεται τέλειος στην αγάπη.

Scenes from tumbled stones in Olympia and the elegant carved marble sculpture of Achilles remind me that thousands of years ago, men and women sought wisdom, pleasure, heroes and significance from a myriad of places, much as we do today. Just as in the story of Achilles, each of us has a place of vulnerability: we may stand tall and strong only to fall unexpectedly when pierced in that place.

Fear is that Achilles heel for many--a debilitating dread that holds some in its clutches. Fear of failing, fear of not measuring up to others' expectations, fear of intimacy--the list continues--with a paralyzing result in not fully living this life we have been given. There is freedom from the bondage of fear, and it comes to us through love, not through a mightier sword or shield held high.

I have read that the opposite of fear is not courage; it is faith. I find that faith generates courage as well. A friend shared the Greek translation for the beloved passage I offer today:

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." I John 4:18
I, too, have found it worthy of trust. And my life depends on it daily. May the immense love of God be a blessing in your life journey and in this day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Doorways to Courage

“Always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." ~Winnie The Pooh

Encouraging words spring from many sources. Juvenile fiction holds a treasure trove of wisdom, frequently neither juvenile nor fictitious. We find more ancient parallels below as refreshment to our souls when we need to take heart--the original meaning of encouragement:

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:13
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

And parting words always call for our attention:

If there ever comes a day when we can't be together keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever.
~ Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grace Enough to Bear All Things

"It is a good thing to be without a trouble; but it is a better thing to have a trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it.”

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon, widely esteemed English theologian (1835 - 1892)

 Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering over 10,000 in Exeter Hall and Surry Music Hall before moving to the permanent site at Metropolitan Tabernacle.

10,000 gathered to hear the Word of God preached? With no microphones, no jumbo-trons?

Just a man and his message.

Would we do that today? Are we that hungry for hearing about salvation, for understanding more about the Spirit God sends to us? That many and more gather for a sporting event, but for a church service? I don't think so.

Let us hunger and thirst for food that satisfies--for the grace God gives to bear one another's burdens and to bear our own with courage.

So it is all for your sakes, that as grace extends to more and more people, it may extend thanksgiving to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:15).

From John Wesley's Notes on 2 Corinthians 4:15:

4:15 For all things, whether adverse or prosperous, are for your sakes - for the profit of all that believe, as well as all that preach. That the overflowing grace - which continues you alive both in soul and body, might abound yet more through the thanksgiving of many - For thanksgiving invites more abundant grace.

Wesley lived one hundred years earlier (1703 - 1791) also in England preaching in open-air venues in both his home country and as a missionary to our part of the world. Each of these proclaimed that the way of wisdom is to receive all that we have with thanksgiving, as gratitude invites grace enough to bear all things.

In 2011, Ann Voskamp announces a similar message in One Thousand Gifts a new venue through today's power of instant communications and the printed word.

Believers keep telling the story generation after generation: they keep giving thanks for God's unfathomable grace.

Sculpture of St. Francis on the coastline of Sardegna, photo taken 2011.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunset Beyond Pompeii

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised. Psalm 113:3

This spectacular sight needed a real photographer to deliver the photo, but I got the message just the same: some moments just take our breath away. Splendor and color unfold on life's big screen as I remember the childhood kaleidoscope opening in my hands, though I am now keenly aware that I am only a grateful spectator.

Let us never lose the sense of wonder at God's handiwork. When such a magnificent sight no longer gets our attention, we've gotten too preoccupied with ourselves. How many have I missed? More than I can say. But I am thankful for the time to turn aside and savor this one.

So Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." Exodus 3:3

Take the time to turn aside and see what great sights we might be missing. October is full of Harvest Moons by night and blue skies by day. Peace be with you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dappled Oaks and Unfurling Ferns

The ancient oak tree in our front yard bears resurrection fern on each weathered limb. It also bears little resemblance to the stately one pictured above, and this photo reminds me our tree is living on borrowed time. But then, aren't we all?

On most days the fern is barely visible as dried, brown leaves crinkle along the lines of branches. But in the rain that we had today, the transformation begins. By morning, I predict the tendrils of fern, profuse and verdant, will cover the charcoal gray limbs like an icing of fresh green.

Resurrection fern, they call it: these daily reminders of the truth of God's order in the natural and, I suggest, spiritual world. And yet, how many days do I drive under that tree and never look up--never notice that it's still going on, day after day: new life out of dark places, life out of death?

The unfurling ferns remind me that God is in the process of restoring and redeeming all things.
We, too, can allow ourselves to be refreshed by the fresh springs of God's grace. We need the mist of a gentle rain to fall softly upon ourselves, filling in the parched places and reviving our hearts.

I know so many who ask for courage for a challenging life season ahead. Others need guidance for the next step. Still there are more seeking healing for broken relationships and physical disease. The trees of our lives can appear to be dying from the inside out, infected with blight common to the human condition.

But then the rain of grace falls.

We glimpse a frond unfurling...then another. Take heart!

God gives strength to those who grow tired and increases the strength of those who are weak. Isaiah 40:29

"From every dying tree trunk or rotting piece of wood, ferns and lichens grow."

From Seeking With All My Heart, p. 49, by Paula D'Arcy, whom I met last spring when she visited our church. I recommend her Gift of the Red Bird if you have not read her story of life and death.

Photo courtesy University of Florida site

Monday, October 10, 2011

Paddle or Die

Remar o Morir!

My husband and one bold niece swept themselves down a river in Alaska in a raft like this one. Though I'm more of a canoe girl myself, there is something exhilarating about the anticipation of rushing water and the skillful navigation along the river's course. Have you seen rafters paddle while going downstream? It seems like that would be a good time to coast, to enjoy the scenery. Perhaps you've experienced river guides directing the paddling of the raft going downstream before hurtling over whitewater rapids. Do they really need to pick up more speed before reaching that treacherous water, I've wondered?

Paddlers stroke the water gently but steadily while the river propels them downstream because that is the only way to have some measure of control over the direction they are going. They must be going a little faster than the current carrying them. To navigate with purpose, we must control our direction.

We live in a whitewater world. Sometimes we lose our footing. Sometimes we get swept away in the frenzy all around us. But we continue to paddle so that we can maintain some sense of uprightness--of knowing our orientation--relative to God and to those we love.

Paddling for the believer may be an expression of keeping our eyes on Jesus. Don't be fearful or distracted by what is going on all around. There will always be something that beckons for our attention, maybe even something threatening or dangerous, but do not lose heart.

Keep your paddle in the water.

Stroke after stroke.

Hang in there.

Let us practice the disciplines that keep us connected to God so that we can remain strong.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how He did it, because He never lost sight of where he was headed--that exhilarating finish in and with God--He could put up with anything along the way. Hebrews 12:2 The Message

Inspired from devotional reading by Robert Schnase

Monday, October 3, 2011

October Blue Skies Beckon

I am an imperfect blogger.

I break all the rules.

I've been away for a long time with no guest bloggers and not enough time to pre-post meaningful contributions so no one would notice.

Don't know how to do all the cool stuff the techno-wizards do with their cyber canvas. Mine is a little like me: a bit old-fashioned, we can safely say.

Funny, I never thought I would use that word to describe myself. When I was growing up with one foot in the strident feminist world of a law student in the '70's Era of Empowerment and one foot in a beautiful traditional family in conservative Mississippi, I saw myself as a trail blazer. A pioneer of sorts. One to take on the challenges of the day with conviction and gusto!

Now the pioneer of today is a famously popular Pioneer Woman who can man-handle a ranch, a recipe, a family and run a small empire. What a woman!

And I'm on the eve of another birthday reflecting with deep gratitude for the people I've known, the places I've seen, the life experiences I've shared that make me who I am today: an imperfect, old-fashioned, trail-blazing woman. The trail is not the one I imagined hiking when I was in my 20's, but it is the one I am grateful to walk as I hold the lantern up pointing the way to One who loves us with an everlasting love and will never, ever forsake us. That trail can take more courage and boldness than I ever imagined in a time when Jesus' name is said to be 'hate speech' to some.

Maybe life's stages--like lilies of the field--offer us times for cocooning as buds and times for opening wide to embrace the world that awaits.

Let the Light of God shine brightly from October blue skies to direct your path today!

Lilies by Rhymes Stabler
. Thanks!