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.