"Graceland" is the name of my favorite song and album. It's by Paul Simon, but more importantly, it's what "home" sounds and feels like to me. We always listened to this album as we traveled from my home in Tennessee to my parents' childhood homes in Florida. But today, it's also a pretty good snapshot of my theology. Somewhere I really believe that the Christian journey is all about a wild trip to Grace-land. As I see it, Grace-land is the place where God is waiting to meet even us–with all the baggage and brokeness that we tote with us. Grace-land is the place where we will be received with open arms, even though our attempts at “getting it right” have been miserable failures at best. But, I think, every step we take is a step on the journey to Graceland.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like...

July.  Or maybe October.  But not Christmas.  Not even close to Christmas, what with the 72 degree days we're having. I'm still running my car air conditioner.  Once ten or eleven o'clock comes, I can safely open the windows and walk around the house in shorts and a t-shirt. We took the comforter off the bed.  And the sweaters I so look forward to wearing are still packed up in their rubbermaid boxes.

I guess I should be thankful, but instead I feel grouchy.  The weather is beautiful, but it's wrong.  As my dad says happily, "It feels like Christmas in Florida! This is what it felt like when we were growing up." I'm happy for dad, but this weather in no way makes me think of Christmas.  

My snow-flocked garlands and my silvery white and snow flake decked dining room feel ridiculous.  I'm kind of hating the idea of going Christmas caroling. I don't even check the weather anymore (which considering how much I love weather, is a pretty big statement.) And I can't bear (really-- it kind of makes my stomach turn this year) to hear "Baby, It's Cold Outside" or "Frosty the Snowman" or any of the other billion and a half Christmas songs that reference cold weather.

Maybe it's ridiculous to post on something inane as the weather.  Maybe it's silly to base Christmas feelings on something so unrelated.  Maybe it's sinful to send up prayers for a change in the weather when I should be praying for world peace or something.  But this wrong weather is bringing out grinch like grouchiness on my part.

"I need a little Christmas" is what the song says.  Christmas will come, of that I'm not worried.  What I need is a change in weather, and that is nowhere on the horizon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sleep that will not come...

They (the "experts", whoever they are) say that when you can't sleep you should do anything but watch the clock.  To watch the clock, these experts say, will only cause you to panic as you watch the night dwindle away, which will in turn cause more sleeplessness.

I've prayed.  I've read. I've watched seven or more episodes of Grey's Anatomy in one night.  I've taken Benadryl, or Melatonin. I've had a glass of wine or warm milk before bed.  I've given up my afternoon cup of coffee.  I've moved to the couch. But still I do not sleep.

 Oh, I fall asleep, but as soon as the slightest thing jars me, I'm awake, and likely for good.  Something must be troubling me and at least if I were anxious about something, I could tell someone.  But I'm not.  I'm just awake. Just watching the minutes tick by, thinking I should probably do something productive, but knowing I'm too tired to do it.

Somewhere, my heart must be breaking for someone or some thing, and this is how my body is responding.  I just wish that I knew who or what was causing the heartbreak.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beyond Words

Several years ago, singer Bobby McFerrin (whose name you know from “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “Medicine Music”) came out with an album called Beyond Words. Considering words were a big chunk of how he made his living, that was an interesting switch.  I can’t say I loved the album, because I missed what he had to say.  But today, I understand that sometimes you have to say things other ways, because sometimes, you find yourself at a place that is beyond words.
I guess that’s where I am, and it’s odd, because I love words and putting them together.  But today, all the words I have are all a jumble and none of them come close to saying anything intelligent about the ways my heart is broken open.  I wish I could write beautiful words of lament like the psalmists did, but maybe that will come later.  For now I’m beyond words, and this is what it looks like:
Holding my husband’s hand, even in public, because it feels like the only thing to hold onto.
Eeking out a pre-dinner prayer that said simply, “Thank you for the food” because anything else was too hard to pray.
Being “kissed” over and over by my doggie, who doesn’t understand, but who knows that something is wrong.
Avoiding the phone, because I haven’t anything to say and there isn’t much I want to hear. Except maybe the voice of God, answering with a brilliant explanation that I hadn’t previously considered.
Going to the gym and running and running and running, as if a treadmill could take me to the far away places that my heart dreams of.
Sighs too deep for words, unintelligible to anyone but the Holy Spirit.
Tears running down my face, making a mess of carefully applied mascara, cracking my carefully constructed facade of strength.
Asking the question “why” but not really wanting an answer.
Still praying “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” because you know, somewhere,  that God comes to messy, broken apart people.  It’s just been so long since you were of those people, that you don’t remember what is it is to wait.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Pinterest in Ruining My Life--This time in pictures

I'm not going to lie.  After I posted earlier about my new pinterest addiction, I started plotting about how to do some of the things that dreams (or at least my pinterest boards) are made of.  The first thing that I just had to have--no really, I HAD to, was the curtain light.  Which would've been great, had it come with any instructions.  As soon as my mother-in-law, who's conveniently an engineer, got into town, I showed her my vision. Tired though she was, she said "let me think about it." And by time I saw her the next day, she was ready to tackle my project.  It was up by that night.

Then, of course, I needed a "J" for my house.  After all, who doesn't love a monogrammed bit of holiday bling? Here's the result of that:

Really, this pinterest thing is dangerous.  Look out wallet.  Look out husband.  A newly minted DIY-er is on the lose!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sing Loud... It's a Big World!

That's what one of my favorite bumper stickers says. (For you Presbyterian Folks, you probably recognize that it's a David Lamotte thing.)  I love it so much perhaps because I love to sing so much--nevermind that I really really can't sing.  But perhaps I love it more because I know that the world is full of people who could probably use a song in their hearts more than anything else.

Every year, I look forward to going to Dicken's Day--an event put on by our town on Black Friday. Folks dress up as Dickens-era people, vendors come, shops stay open late, and there are horse drawn buggy rides through town.  But forget all that.  The best part is the parade at sunset.  Thousands of candle-bearing people slowly process toward the markethouse singing Christmas carols.  I look forward to it all year long, because it's one of the few chances I get to really sing--the one time for me to blend in, singing as loudly as I want, because I know that there are so many people and my voice won't be heard.

But this year, while everything was completely festive, there was a major hole in my celebration.  There was no singing.  Just a bunch of silly-looking, candle-bearing people slowly walking and looking confused. Clearly, everyone missed the singing as much as I did. A few people tried to get it started, but it never caught on.  And the comment I heard most from other Dicken's Day goers? "It was great, but what happened to the singing?"

I was suprised that it meant so much to people.  After all, surely many of them get to sing...? But maybe not.  Church seems to be about the most likely venue for people to sing, and with fewer and few people going to church, maybe there are fewer and fewer places where it is acceptable to sing.  And somehow, that outlet is something that people recognize is missing.

Why could it be so important? Because singing seems to transport us to another time, when even if it wasn't, life felt simpler.  Because maybe people realize that it's fun to be part of a community that is all doing the same thing at the same time--that contrary to what our world tells us, "we" is a lot happier than "me."

Or maybe it's because that's what we were made to do--a wild voice within each of us that is clammoring to be set free.  Because each of us, together with buzzing bugs and singing birds was meant to be a part of a terrific symphony.

From Dicken's Day 2010.  When there was singing.  And fireworks.
So, sing loud.  After all, it's a big world.  And for the love of everything pure and holy, don't let a city who just doesn't know any better throw a bah-humbug on your parade.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What really matters

I like to set a beautiful, Southern-Living worthy table for big days.  I like to cook meals that look (and taste...mais oui!) like they might have come out of Gournet magazine.  I like my house to look just right (though it rarely does...shhh...don't tell!)  I like to really decorate for Christmas, as I pretend at least to myself, that the glitz matters--if only for a few weeks. These things make me happy.

But truth be told, they don't matter.

In my busy madness, I've tried to practice wide-eyed looking around.  And I've been well rewarded with the sightings of things that matter considerably more than my fine china dinner or the number of Christmas lights that now adorn my house.

So here's what matters:
Squeezing one more person around the table, even if I had to get creative to do it.  A new friend with no other place to be made our feast all the merrier.

Watching my husband smile his proud husband smile--because for all the hard work that he complained about, the day was one he loved.

Making one thing that someone has been looking forward to all year.

Waking up and realizing that I have so much to be thankful for, itty bitty things and ginormous things, that shape my world in unimaginable ways.

Saying thank-you to people who have really made a difference.

Watching a child, who doesn't know that much about church, feel excited to be a part of a community of faith.  Watching a church, who hasn't had any kids in sometime, grin with sheer delight as a child lit the candles for the first time in years.

These are the things that matter.  These are the things for which I am deeply thankful.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dirty Thirty?

Despite my best efforts to keep it from happening, despite the number of times I have said that I was turning 25 (which I guess I've done at least five times now. The plan was to stay 25 until I hit 80), the card that my grandmother sent me is alerting me to the fact that I'm turning thirty.

And I'm strangely ok with the fact.  (Really strangely ok.  I thought I was going to be ten shades of ill about the whole thing. I really planned to ignore my birthday.) But here's the truth:  I know a lot more than I did when I was 25.  I'm a lot more interesting that I was when I was 25.  I'm a lot less in-over-my-head than I was at 25 (when I was engaged and finishing seminary.)  Yeah, I have the gray hairs to show for it (which are well hidden, thankyouverymuch), and yeah, I'm a...uhem... few pounds heavier than I was then, but it's not a bad gig.  I think I'm just now starting to turn into the person I've always wanted to be, which might be the best gift of all.

So maybe this year, I'll actually be thirty instead of turning twenty-five...again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Pinterest in Ruining My Life (or at least my productivity and wallet)...

letter wreath.
I try really hard not to go to the "Christmas Dark Side" very much.  I try to think about the nonconsumer things that mean so much to me, like linking arms with my Dad as we sing Silent Night together as we finish leading the Christmas Eve service at my church.  Like knowing that Mom will be wide awake by about three or four on Christmas morning because thats just how we are.  Like waiting to give my doggie her Christmas bone, which is maybe my favorite tradition ever.  (Seriously, It's about as big as my leg...she works on it all year long.  This year I'll take pictures.) Like knowing that my husband can recite every line of "A Christmas Story" which will air approximately 56 times on TBS. (I'm kidding about the 56 part...it just feels that way!)

But I can't lie.  I love decorating for Christmas.  Every year, I tell myself I'm going to keep it simple,  but I rarely seem to mean it.  However, my need to decorate is made ten times worse by the newest interest craze: pinterest.  It's basically a cross between facebook and other social networks and a pinboard.  Not only can I pin and organize anything I see on the internet, but I can see what all my friends are pinning and organizing.  Suddenly, the possibilities are endless.  Now I think I need to make a monogram holly "wreath" or a fabulous light display like what you see.   And gosh, while I'm at it, I might as well make the house smell like christmas, so I can use this DIY potpourri recipe, right?

Strings of mini lights attached to a rod behind sheer fabric. Make no mistake.  I don't really have time for all this.  But a girl can dream, right?  Pinterest is ruining how I do things.  You should join the craze too. (There's a link at the side of my blog to follow all the ridiculous things I pin.  I'd love to follow your ridiculous pins too ;-p)

Pinned Image

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remembering a Saint (by channeling my inner domestic goddess...)

I was lucky to have three living grandparents for a good chunk of my life.  I'm lucky enough to still have a grandmother (Grandmommy to the family), who loves all of us grandkids more than anyone could imagine.

But there are days when I really miss my Nana, who died when I was in middle school.  I hear that I'm a lot like her as she always wanted her table set just so, as she dirtied every pot in the house to make dinner on any given night.  Yup, that's me.  But there are lots of ways that I'm not nearly as much like her as I would like to be.  Her house was always spotless (at least as far as I knew.)  Her freshly ironed sheets always smelled faintly of roses.  Come to think of it, her whole house smelled like roses because she grew them in her yard, and like to keep fresh ones around.  She always had little candy dishes around that made you feel as if you were the most cherished of people.  And until her later years, I'm not sure I ever saw her without pearls and a set of spectator pumps.  (Which I guess is why I love spectator pumps so much now.)  In short, before I ever realized it, she was what became my definition of elegant.

I would love to become the hostess she was, the housekeeper that I believe she must have been.  I too would love for people to think of me as elegant-- but maybe that's what I want to be when I grow up. I don't know if it's the life Nana would have chosen for herself, or if she just did what all the women of the time did.  Either way, she's a role model in my eyes.

 Today, I think Nana must be smiling.  I've baked two pies and have rolls rising, and before the day is through, I'll make two more pies and a stew for dinner.  I thought I was doing all of this because it was my job, because I was trying to be effecient and get ahead of the game.  But the farther I got in the process, the more I realized it wasn't work.  It's been a holy sort of day where the person my Nana was is shining even through me-- domestic goddess though I'm not.

Tuesday was All Saints Day, and I'm still celebrating.  I'm still remembering a lady who would laugh if she heard me call her a saint.  And I'm thankful for a woman who still challenges me to be the woman I want to be.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Black Friday...Year Round

My mom (and probably countless other folks) have taught me over the years that it's not ok to push and shove.  I thought that was something we got over as we outgrew 5 year-old meltdowns in the grocery store.

But as I was running errands yesterday, it felt like there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on.   I lost count of how many cars almost ran me over, not because they didn't see me,  but because they were convinced that if they moved in on me, that it would be no problem for them to come on in.  I'm glad I drive like a granny, because were that not the case, I'm certain I would have been in a serious accident yesterday.

Even at the stores, it was the same thing.  Angry people with buggies who just weren't going to stop, nevermind that your buggy had the right-of-way. (Yes, there is such a thing...it's just like driving.  You don't make a left turn on top of someone who is going straight.)

And I got cussed out at the gas station for pulling into a pump.  Apparently, someone across the station had their eye on that particular pump and made a beeline toward it just as I was pulling in.

The lady that helped me at an office supply place treated me like I was dumb as a rock when I asked for a box to mail something.

What's going on, that people are boiling over all the time?  What has happened that people have become convinced that if they don't push and shove, they won't get anywhere in life?  I hate to feel this way, but I've come to expect this on Black Friday.  People want the deals and the parking spaces. Parents will do whatever it takes to get THE toy. I dread it, but at least I know it's coming. I've called it "the angriest day of the year" for many years. But for one day a year, I can handle it.

Black Friday attitudes are taking over.  It's an angry world out there...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dancing before the Lord

Prayer is a dangerous thing.  Before you know it, you get answers and instructions that you couldn't even imagine praying for.

For two days now, I've gotten an instruction that seems, at least to me, a bit ridiculous.  As I've been laying in bed, praying that God will work through me and open my eyes in the coming day, I've heard "Dance before the Lord."  My mind has been flooded with songs that talk about dancing, including "The Lord of the Dance" and John Michael Talbots "Canticle of the Sun"--which says "Come Dance in the forest, come play in the fields." (You can see it on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch v=OGMIjwf0SVw )

Certainly, King David danced before the Lord-- the ESV says "David danced before the Lord with all his might."  The message renders it as "David danced before the Lord with great abandon." Well, that's lovely.  I've always enjoyed that mental picture and believed that folks shoud dance a jig of joy before the Lord.  Other folks...not me.

"So You Think You Can Dance" is nowhere on my radar, because I know I can't.  When it comes to dancing, I'm a frozen chosen to the core.  I have no rhythm.  I thought that spending 3 months in Kenya would help me get some rhythm, and at the beginning of my time there, the kids assured me they could help.  But by time I left, we all knew that rhythm was nowhere in my future.  I would argue that my heart is just about as joyful as anyone's, but I don't dance.

But what do I do with the instructions that have been given me?  Maybe it's not about physically dancing, though if God has that in my future, I'd say miracles certainly still happen.  But maybe it's about submitting all of my days to the rhythm of God's movement in my life.  Maybe it's about coming before the Lord with erruptive Joy that can't be contained.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

With what shall I come before the Lord?

"How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil?  Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin?" (Micah 6:6, The Message)

There have been days, lots of them to be exact, that I've wondered what would impress God, or what God required of me.  There have been days when I've missed the mark...badly. But today, as I've had a week "off" (though most of it was spent doing continuing ed-- in the beautiful mountains-- poor me!) and I've had a chance to collect my thoughts and do some things just for me, I realize that the things that God asks of us are to live "holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth." (A Brief Statement of Faith--PCUSA).

I spent the morning cooking for the week. (We're trying to quit eating out so much-- and cooking ahead and freezing are the only way we can achieve that.)  I even baked bread, using a recipe that my grandmother used to make--and made it with her mixer that my parents gave me as a wedding present. But there was a holiness to all of it, a holy luxury of just having one task at hand.  Then DH and I sat outside, enjoying a fire in our firepit.  I did some knitting and some reading (for fun! how bout that?) and then went for a lovely walk in the cornfields.  I watched my doggie smile as she ran and ran.  Then DH and the other doggie came out to meet us, and the light was magical--I took some great pictures (that at least make me happy).

And that is how I come before the Lord, at least today. Covered in the remnants of a very good day that fed my soul and gave me a few opportunities to see God in my midst.  "With what shall I come before the Lord?" the prophet Micah asks.

I come before the Lord with knitting and baked bread and a greatful heart, having stood on holy ground, having been made joyful at the presence of God in my midst, waiting to see what God is up to in the days ahead.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Being Jesus to the World/ Living for Christ in the World

[Thoughts from Montreat Wee Kirk 2011]

I've spent the last four days talking about Jesus.  I'm glad that's the case, but I figured with a title like "Wee Kirk" that we'd be talking a lot about church.  As a pastor, I find that many conversations are about church.  How we do it, how we can make it better, what's right, and what's wrong. Budgets. Committees. Polity.

But the thing I didn't realize until this week is that I have a lot more conversations about church than I do about Jesus.  No wonder I feel a little listless.  How did that happen?  When I took ordination vows, I don't remember thinking about all the ways I could do church. I remember being in love with Christ and wanting to share that love with as many people as I came in contact with.

Somewhere along the line, though, church became what I did.  Is it possible that church has slipped into the center of my focus, and pushed Christ to the margins.  What a terrible travesty! And if that is the case, how do I reclaim my love and passion for the One who has saved me from myself? How do I make "it" less about church and more about Christ (and why, why, why, do we live in a world where those seem to be different things?!).

Here are two things that I heard this week, that should have been common sense, but that have gotten under my skin.  Maybe these are starting places to shift me, and the world around me.

1.  Be Jesus to the World.  "Don't be like Jesus.  Be Jesus" is what one presenter said.  "The world doesn't necessarily mean across the ocean.  The world is where you are, the people even right around you" is what another one said.  This made sense to me, even though the governing philosophy for a while was "No one can be like Jesus, and it's blasphemous to assume that you are Jesus."  Well, maybe it's not assuming that I am Jesus, but rather about believing body and soul that I am an extension of Christ, that I am quite literally the "hands and feet of Christ" as Theresa of Avila called it.  How can I be Christ to all that I meet, especially outside of the church.  Maybe it's a smile.  Maybe it's a word of encouragement.  Maybe it's plopping myself down to listen.  Maybe it's radiating grace to people who have only known judgement.  Sure, I tell myself, I've done these things, both as a pastor and as a Christian.  But today, I am making the decision that I will keep those thoughts at the forefront of my brain. I will consciously work toward being Jesus to all I meet.

2. Submitting all that I am and do to Christ. I was blessed to hear Steve Hayner speak this week, about being the Aroma of Christ in the world and also about serving Christ in the 24/7 world.  He told of an exercise that he did with some students, where he asked them to write down everything they had done for a week.  Then he asked them to label each item with "Things I did for the love of Christ", "Things I did for the love of Christ's body" (and one other category which I can't pull up right now.  I'll edit this later when I remember!) Steve said that one smart aleck said "What about my laundry?" And then another said "What about my homework?" Even as I saw where Steve was going, I realized that there are so many things I do grouchily. I have never rejoiced at mountains of laundry--that's for sure. But what if I took that time and used it as a time to pray, not in the pious, wordy, head bowed sort of way, but in the way that is inviting Christ into that which is perfectly ordinary about my life? What if I viewed the yard mowing as a chance to be reminded that I'm standing on God's holy, ever-singing, ground? What if I view my time waiting in line at the store as a time to connect with or pray for those in front of me?  Perhaps that's one of the things I loved about Barbara Brown Taylor's "An Altar in the World"-- the sense of worshipping God in and through everything I'm doing.  So that's my second decision.  I am going to make every attempt to bring every boring and ordinary thing on my to-do list before Christ, not just the things I deem as holy.  I want my every day world to be flooded with the presence of Christ in and around me.

God's Paintbrush

[Thoughts from Montreat's Wee Kirk Conference 2011]

I can't always see God. I have days when I wonder what God is up to in the world. (Maybe that's funny for a pastor...or maybe that's just the reality of things-- that we're people too. People with questions and distractions and everything else that goes along with being a person, not a saint.)

I have been lucky enough to see God at work a lot lately, but for the days when I'm having a tough time:





How about that for a visual reminder? Thanks be to God, who goes to all that trouble to make the world spectacular for us.

Unplugged but Connected

[Thoughts while at Montreat's Wee Kirk Conference this week]

Spending several days in Presbyterian Heaven (Montreat) was an introvert's dream come true. Not only was it a beautiful time in a very Thin placee, but I found plenty of space to get away from everything and be quiet. Certainly we had been warned, but I suppose DH and I were a little disappointed to discover that not only did we not have cell phone coverage, but that the Wi-fi was pretty limited. It bothered him more than it did me that there was no TV in our room, but it added to a picture of being completely unplugged. Of course, since I'm an ipad-toting sort, I actually had 3G, which made me feel better as we arrived. Who could be completely unplugged, after all?

Turns out I could. I barely checked my email (I think I checked it once or twice in four days). I didn't look at facebook. Voicemail wasn't really an option.

It was holy quiet. And I didn't miss it at all.

I heard the things that I've been too busy to hear in recent days: the gentle whisper of God as the windchimes twinkled, the quiet flowing of streams, the voices of little bugs and animals singing the Living God's praises. I took time to notice things I might have over looked: flowers that were ordered just so, the face of Jesus staring back at me from many other faces, the mist that couldn't quite turn loose its grasp on our world. I felt things that have seemed cut off to me for a while: a sense of pure shalom, worship with my whole body, the poetry at work in the body of Christ.

Oh I was unplugged alright. But I've never felt more connected.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Holiness of Being Sick

Despite my best efforts to take care of myself, I seem to catch a doozy of a cold or sinus infection a couple of times a year.  Just as the seasons are changing, and I want so badly to go and do and enjoy.  Just as I get the busiest.

I guess this is one of those times for me.  I've been rocking a fever all week that has left my body very achy. Sometimes I cough and cough and cough until it hurts to breathe.  And my throat feels like I've been swallowing steel wool. I don't have a voice to talk.   I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

But, I think there is a certain holiness about being sick--not something that can or should be sought, but an opportunity to make the most of when it comes your way. Though there are thousands of things you're supposed to be doing, you know that you're pretty much useless. So you excuse yourself for a little while, delight in the feel of your softest pjs, and read the book that's been calling your name for weeks.  You sleep some, and eat some, and pray some.

My sweet husband has been taking care of me, and my cats and dogs all pile on the bed, as if napping beside me will make me feel better.  And it does.  There is something very vulnerable about being sick, about knowing that you don't have it all together enough to take care of yourself, about letting the love of others surround you when you need it most.  Perhaps just at the moments when I have the most to do, God says "Be still (literally "cease striving", from the Hebrew) and know that I am God.  And on days like this, all I have the energy to do is listen, and allow myself to be loved and cared-for.  And for today, anyway, that is enough.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seeking Solitude

In my "spare" time, I am a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run.  If you don't know about it, it's an amazing program for girls in 3rd-6th grades.  It's not just about helping them train to run a 5k, but about teaching them to have a positive sense of self worth and helping them celebrate their unique gifts and talents.  In the two or three hours a week that I spend with these girls, I'm constantly amazed by them and what they have to teach me.

I was caught completely off guard at our last session.  I read the curriculum for that day and it told me that the topic for the day was celebrating gratitude.  "That's lovely", I thought to myself.  But when the handy-dandy book instructed me to have the girls run or walk for 40 minutes in complete silence without even walking next to someone else (so that they could have time to think about the things for which they were grateful), I expected to have a mutiny on my hands. Our little darlings are social butterflies.  Sometimes they are so chatty that we have a hard time getting them to settle down.  But what happened that day amazed me.  Each girl did exactly what we asked of her, even the ones who sometimes have a hard time following directions.  Each girl set off at her own pace, and seemed to be completely at peace walking or running on such a beautiful day.  There was no peer pressure.  The ones who often seem to be distracted were completely focused.  And without exception, every girl finished more laps than she had ever done before.   When we talked with them again at the end of the session, most of them expressed how much they enjoyed that time, and how it was easier for them to achieve their goal when they were in their own zone.

I know I need solitude-- that's the curse of being an introvert. But I wasn't aware of just how noisy their worlds seem to be.  Maybe that's one of the greatest needs of our soul: to be silent and still, and to have a chance to hear the whisper of God.

Friday, September 23, 2011

God said, "Let there be brightly colored paints"

I'm pretty sure that's somewhere in Genesis, while God was creating all sorts of delightful things. Why else would God have spent so much time describing the amazing birds and landscapes and oceans, if we weren't to use them as models for things to draw and paint and write about?

I've had a need to paint lately...almost as strong as the need that often holds me captive--to play with words. Something in my soul has needed again to feel a paintbrush, to create something vibrant and life-filled, to use big bold colors and potentially even bolder brush strokes. My "safe" color-pencils, though often a medium of choice, weren't cutting it. Pastels seemed too limiting. Pen and Ink felt too heavy to hold the subject with any integrity. The only thing that would do is a big canvas and super bold oil paints. Nevermind that I haven't painted at all since the two random pictures I did in seminary.

I spent the morning with my sketch, and did the color blocking for a painting that I hope to love. But that's the thing with oil. If I don't love it, I can paint over it or blend it into something else. Or if I really don't love it, I can pretty much scrape the whole thing away. But even if I don't love the finished product, even if I can't get the paintbrush to convey the emotions I'm feeling, I LOVED the process. I'm only beginning, but I felt so free as I was watching the strokes take shape in front of me.

And I loved the types of Oil Paint--the kind that thins with water. No nasty turpentine, no hours spent cleaning brushes, no reeking for two days, no long drying times. Every thing I didn't love about oils is gone. Now I can just paint without all the hassle. Where was that when I was doing a lot of painting?

As DH is in his busy, workaholic season, I'm glad to have something just for me. I can be nerdy and play classical music and leave the windows open. I can create the scenes that have only been visible to my mind's eye.

Lookout, boring eggshell walls. You may be next!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Soul Food

It's a delightfully chilly, cloudy fall day.  The husband is yelling at the Tennessee-Florida game, and the pets are hiding out from his loud voice.  I've had the windows open all day and have been snuggled in all the quilts that I collect. I didn't get out of my pajamas until 2. I've been fighting a cold, but mostly my brain is tired.

Today is everything I've ever prayed for in a day of rest. I started with a clean house.  I had a little time to myself while D was on the radio (sometimes, being an introvert married to an extreme extrovert is tough!) I'm getting ready to go on a long child that will require a sweatshirt.  And I've cooked. Spaghetti is simmering away.  I made D "pub dip" and pretzels, and a pumkin dip for me. Before the night is over, I'll have made most of the meals we'll eat during this busy week. Tonight, maybe I'll read and knit.  Maybe I'll start a new painting.  Or maybe I'll just be.

But I'm grateful for a chance to put myself back together, a day that has placed absolutely no expectations on me. I haven't cooked anything that would be classified as "soul food", but my heart doesn't know that.  Today is a happy-heart sort of day.

Seek Ye First

From the Orignal Revgalblogpal starter:

I was struck in our weekly Lectio Divina group by a few verses from Psalm 105:3-4:
. . . let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. 
Seek the Lord and his strength; 
seek his presence continually.
Seeking is rejoicing. Rejoicing comes from the seeking, NOT the end of glory, heaven, enlightenment, or whatever. Seeking is the journey--RIGHT NOW!

So for this Friday Five, list what you are seeking, whether it is trivial, profound, or ordinary--whatever you would like to share! List 5 and add a bonus if you feel like it!

I feel like I am seeking a lot of things right now.  For a reason that I can't explain, fall always seems like a time of introspection.  Maybe it's a time of taking stock and reasking the question of "who am I?" even as I ask myself "who am I called to be." But here are some of the things I'm seeking, in no particular order of importance.

1.  God's will.  Yeah, yeah... that sounds like me slapping down the preacher card, but I don't mean it that way.  This is a seaon of big questions for me.  While I spend a lot of time in prayer anyway, I'm spending more time in conversation with my creator.  I guess the honest thing to say is that I'm asking a lot of things of God, but I'm working really hard at listening too.

2. Self-determination.   I've accomplished lots of my life goals already, but there are several smaller ones that I'm having a hard time meeting. I've let life distract me.  I've lost motivation.  I've at turns believed they were impossible.

3.  Shalom.  Peace with how my house is kept, with how my body looks, with how things are, realizing that there are just some things that will never be as perfect as I'd like them to be.

4. Time.  To feed my creative soul, to paint, to cook lavish meals, to run without watching the clock.

5.  A place to be who I am called to be.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Goodbye... bathing suits, and days meant for lounging around.  Goodbye days that it's too hot to cook, or run, or breathe.  Goodbye days of waking up, already dripping with sweat.

Hello, beautiful days of soft light. Delicious, warm smells, and deep, rich colors. Days meant for running and playing and basking. Open window and snuggly quilt days.  Days spent yelling for the team in orange, because that's God's color.  Welcome back, Pumpkin Spice Latte days. Glad to see you, apple baking days.

These are the days I was meant for...days when my heart is the happiest.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Aniversary...of sorts

September 9, 2011. The day my world shook, two days before the whole world shook. The day I wept, some forty-eight hours, almost to the minute, before our nation wept.

Sitting in a sunny spot on my dorm room bed at Tennessee, praying and reading scripture, God spoke. I was reading through the Bible day by day, intending to read from Genesis to Revelation. I should have been plodding through Leviticus, but a voice kept nagging at me to read Jeremiah. I told the voice that I had a plan, and that I would not get to Jeremiah for many months. But still the voice nagged, and bugged, and whispered. My dorm was unairconditioned, so I had all the windows open. In a way that seems like something that could only happen in the movies, a strong breeze came through, and blew the pages of my bible around. Not to Jeremiah, thankfully, because that would have been unbelievable. I tried to get back to Leviticus but the pages kept blowing, and still the voice tugged at me. "Read Jeremiah." So Jeremiah it was. The voice, however, was not specific about what I should read, so I just started at the beginning. A mere four verses in, here's what I found

 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me,“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and rtouched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put smy words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day kover nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Words to a hestitant Jeremiah.  Words to a hestitant me.  People were beginning to recognize my call to ministry, though I was quite certain they were wrong.  But that day, I said yes.  And the irony was not lost on me, two days later, as I sat in a pew with mourners from all over Knoxville, as we prayed for our heartbroken nation.

God's call to me was clear:  Share my love with the ones who have put their trust in the things of this world.  Show them that though the mountains may shake, my love for them will never falter.  Bring my love and shalom to all the broken places and people.  Go to those to whom I will send you.

It's been ten years.  Many will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, because that's the day that defined a whole generation of people, the day that changed a nation. I will join with everyone else remembering the day on Sunday, but tomorrow, I will remember that it was the day I said yes, the day from which my life will never be the same.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wish I had thought of this!

Wow...I love this! What a great video!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze5nCEmiamQ?rel=0&w=640&h=390]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Carving out Sabbath Time

"Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."  A commandment.  Perhaps the commandment with which I struggle the most.  But I know God must be trying to get my attention, because Sabbath keeping is showing up over and over again in the things I pick up to read.

Eugene Peterson started it off as I was reading his memoir about being a pastor.  He recounts a conversation with a colleague of his when they were in the diner.  His colleague had had many conversations with their waitress, apparently about the spiritual life. Peterson's colleague, Tom, says "Eugune, did you see us talking, the way she was talking--that intensity? I wish I could do that kind of thing all day long, every day.  Every time I come in here and there are no customers, she wants to talk about prayer and her life." Peterson asks why he doesn't, and Tom answers in a way that haunts me. He says, "Because I have to run this damn church."

Certainly, that must have been a sign of his colleague's burnout. It made Peteson and a group of pastors realize just how much they were all overwhelmed by the tasks of ministry. They all began a practice of serious sabbath keeping which Peterson speaks of in his chapter called "Emmaus Walks." Peterson made the commitment to keeping a Monday sabbath, and describes the shift they made from taking a day off to keeping a Sabbath.

I'm a little fascinated by this.  I try very hard to set aside one day as a day off, but my husband and friends would say that I'm not very good at it. There is always a sermon that just didn't get finished or there are bulletins to run or there is a possum to get out of the office (no, seriously!) When I'm in town, I might get a chunk of time for myself, but more often than not, I spend it cleaning or doing errands in town. Maybe I will get in a long walk with my doggie, but that's about it as far as doing something completely for myself. I understand that I need a day off.  But I also understand that it's not enough. I want something more, something other. I want delicious time to think and pray and listen and watch.  I want to fill my soul.

I've been "reading at" Abraham Herschel's Sabbath again, and I'm reminded of what a beautiful job Jewish folks do with Sabbath keeping. They don't cook or clean.  They don't drive.  They don't use electronics. They pray and worship and enjoy family time, without the destractions that weigh us down.  I want that.

I can't however, for the life of me, figure out how to actually make it happen.  I did make a start last night.  I stayed up and cleaned the house.  I ran my errands yesterday.  There is still a sermon to finish today, but it feels a little bit different.  It doesn't feel like one more thing on a very long to-do list.  It feels like a cherished time to write and think about God's word. Assuming the hurricane doesn't come in this afternoon, I'm looking forward to a long walk in the cornfields.  Maybe I'll cook, just because I love to cook--not because I have to get a meal on the table. Maybe I'll draw as I pray-- like I used to do.

Maybe I can learn to Sabbath a little bit at a time, until the whole thing just takes over my being.  After all, it's 8:42 in the morning, and I'm still in my pajamas listening to the dogs snoring on the couch beside me. I've not made a manic rush out the door in an attempt to fit more things in to an already crowded day.

It's a start.


If you'd like to read more about Sabbath keeping, here are some books I love:

Babara Brown Taylor's "An Altar in the World"

Eugene Peterson's "The Pastor: A Memoir"

Wendell Berry's "A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems"

Abraham Herschel's "Sabbath"

Don Postema's "Catch Your Breath"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mowing Meditation

Despite the fact that I haven't had to do it nearly as often this summer as I usually do, I've been putting it off for weeks. It's just been too hot and it hasn't been at the top of my list. But I had the time this afternoon, so me and my push mower headed out for some quality bonding time. Lots of quality bonding time--our yard is huge! It didn't take long until I was dripping with sweat, but it was just a short time past that when I realized I wasn't hating the mowing. I was cranking my ipod (which was also counting my steps-- 11,000 of them to be exact) and the music that I love but never seem to get a chance to hear was making me smile.  I even got caught up on the "This I Believe" podcasts that I cherish so much.  I was thinking and daydreaming, and while it wasn't as much fun as curling up with a great book, the hours out there were mine.  Time for me, cleverly couched as productivity.

I finally took the plunge and mowed down what I had considered to be a garden.  At the beginning of the summer, before we had our own personal drought, the area around my sidewalks had all sorts of pretty flowers.  But when it got so dry, the only thing that would grow was weeds.  So I mowed them down, and its lost potential only broke my heart a little bit. But I guess that's redeeming too, because now I have a brand new space if I want to plant beautiful fall flowers.

Tired and sweaty though I am, I'm a happier person.  Not just because the dreaded chore is finally over, or because my yard is finally presentable again, but maybe just because of the work itself. When I was a teenager, I always wanted to mow the yard, but dad would never let me.  I thought it was because he was worried about my safety--as if I might fall off the riding mower or something.  But now I understand what he meant when he said "That's the only place where I can make order out of chaos."  There's something meditative about mowing.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I saw God while pushing a mower, but there's something in me that feels just a little freer from having spent the time working so closely with God's creation.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Do you write?

The conversation started innocently enough with "What was your major in college?" I'd never met the man, but he was visiting in our church one afternoon.  He was a charming, elderly fellow and brilliant musician. (And listening to him and one of my congregants as I worked on my sermon was probably the highlight of my day.)  But he'd asked a question, and I owed him an answer.  I told him that my major in college was English, hoping the conversation might stop there.  "Oh, that's simply marvelous", he said. "Literature? Poetry? Technical Writing?", he wanted to know.  But it's not any of those things.  I majored in creative writing, and had to tell him so, knowing the next inevitable question.  "And do you write?"

Well, there's the million dollar question.  "Oh, these days, my creative writing is mostly sermons and newsletter articles.  God has a funny sense of humor-- because this isn't what I had in mind when I chose my major, but I'd guess it's creative enough."  I'd blamed my lack of writing on God's funny sense of humor--as if that answered anything at all.  But the wise man saw through it.  "Creative? Yes.  But enough? I can see in your eyes that it isn't."


Maybe it's time.  I finished up a big writing assignment in June, and I was kind of burnt out after that.  The assignment, though I was honored to be invited to do it, was much harder than I expected.  It was a huge blow to my writing ego.  And I was just done for a while. (As evidenced by my complete lack of blogging since April or whenever it was.) But maybe it's time again.  The need deep within my soul is coming back.

The problem is that once I start, I can't seem to stop.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Never the twain shall meet

"OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet..." (Rudyard Kipling)

I'd additionally argue that "Preaching is preaching, and writing is writing", now being equally certain that these would never meet up.  Seems like they should, as both obviously use words. But, perhaps the similarities end there.

For years, I wrote well.  I edited major projects.  I wrote for a paper.  When my assignments were returned, they had fewer red marks than did the papers of my peers.  I knew all the rules for commas, and could give you the definition for an appositive without even thinking about it. I'd even look down my snobby little nose at people who didn't know the difference between "they're", "their", and "there".

These days I write for the ear, which has entirely different rules.  Commas are thrown in somewhat lacksidaisically in places that I'd pause if I were speaking.  I don't mind "flowery" language because it helps paint pictures.  And I've become amazingly fond of adverbs.

People that have watched me grow into my role as a preacher like to tell me what a difference they see in my sermons.  I've worked on and studied the craft of preaching, just as I once did with the craft of writing.  And I can no longer make a clear, concise, grammatically correct sentence.

Never the twain shall meet indeed...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Days like this...

Some days, a girl just needs to:

Make something beautiful

Cook the pretentious sounding "Southern Living" recipe


Wear great shoes

Dig in the dirt

Run fast enough to shock her lungs

Turn pink from too much sun

Dream of better days

Love anyway

Ask for a do-over

Oh, mamma said there'd be days like this...


Sunday, March 27, 2011

They Comfort Me

They Comfort Me

Ps 23

Lent 3a

March 27, 2011

For my entire adult life, I’ve avoided the newspaper.  Oh sure, I worked for a paper in college taking pictures and reporting and editing-- I loved it then.  But that was different. About the most exciting thing that happened about which to report was that there were some cows that were on UT’s campus illegally. It never seemed like there was too terribly much at stake in that paper. For the most part, we coved the sporting events and the things that campus clubs were doing and what the fraternities and sororities were up to.  We did the occasional restaurant or movie review and featured a spot about whatever concert was coming up.  But once I left that cozy world of the college paper, I realized that what I saw there wasn’t how most papers looked. I realized there was more bad news than I ever realized “out there.” Donovan and I have just started subscribing to the Fayetteville Observer, and these days, my once quiet mornings are filled with Donovan sharing whatever headlines there are.  In just this week, there was “Caregiver charged with Mother’s Death”, “2 arrests made in double-homicide”, “Police say marijuana found in man’s boots”, “Hope Mills Man charged with Arson”, “Spring Lake Man Jailed in Shooting”, “Suspect Held in Soldier’s Slaying at Nightclub.”  I guess it’s hardly any wonder I worked so hard at avoiding the paper-- with such an uplifting start to my days.

The world is not the same place it was when you were growing up. It’s not even the same place it was when I was growing up.  And yet, the words that we read this morning are the same.  They are the words that we’ve all learned by heart, the words that we’ve heard read at more funerals than we care to believe that we’ve been to.  They are the words that somehow speak to that which is in the depths of our hearts.

I’m not sure when I first heard these words, but I have some vague recollection of being in a yellow nursery, and gluing cotton balls onto the outline of a lamb, and coloring the pastures a beautiful shade of green.  On that day, in that yellow nursery, they didn’t say a lot to me.  But they did paint a beautiful picture in my mind-- of sheep and streams and fields and shepherds, of blue sky days.  That day, my biggest concern was whether or not I’d been good enough during church to merit an after-church trip to McDonalds, and whether I’d get the nuggets or the hamburger with my happy meal.   I didn’t know that there were things in the world I needed to be protected from.  As far as I was concerned, my parents were responsible for meeting my needs, and they were doing an alright job with that. Telling me that God was my shepherd didn’t mean much to me, because as far as I could tell, sheep and I didn’t have much in common.

But these days, I have bigger worries than a skinned knee or little-girl tights that never seem to stay up.  And still, these are words that when I can say nothing else, they are words that I keep tucked away in my heart.  Oh, they’re beautifully written, and I love and collect beautifully written words, but they are more than just words.

Do you ever think about why these words are read at so many times of crisis and death? Not just because they are beautiful, but because they’re the very truest words that we’ve known about life. And not only that, but because they are promises that we desperately need to be true.

So how do we read these words when a glance at the paper tells us that all is not right in the world? How do we read these words in the midst of our own struggles, which threaten to be our undoing? How do we hear, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” when life is more than overwhelming?  How can we believe that we will be made to walk beside still water when it feels more like we’re standing on the shores of a raging sea? Do these words still mean something, now that we’re in such a different world than we were when we learned them?

I wonder what the Psalmist’s world looked like? This Psalm is so peaceful that it makes us feel like we’ve stepped into a beautiful painting, where the grass is green, the waters are still, and the sheep are just happily munching away.  Surely, we think, the shepherd is just sitting around thinking about the beauty of God’s creation when he writes this.

If we look closely, we can see that the Psalmist has been in some sort of trouble.  You don’t speak of being delivered from the valleys of the shadow of death for no good reason. In fact, the whole viewpoint of this Psalm is a look through the eyes of someone who has already been delivered from something terrible.

Of course, though, you already know all of that.  And you know that the Psalmist isn’t trying to defend his faith in God--he’s not written a big theological statement for us to break apart.  He’s just singing a song of praise to the God who has kept him so safe in the midst of great danger.

One of the things I have had to come to terms with this week is that nothing I could say about the 23rd Psalm will add anything to your experience of it.  There is no new revelation that my studying all week could provide to make you say “Aha! I’d missed that before.”  Though the world doesn’t look like it did when we first encountered these words, still we cling to them as if they are the very best promises of God-- because they are.

All week long, I’ve told myself I’m crazy. The passages that people are so familiar with are without a doubt the hardest ones to preach.  What new life could a young preacher bring to words that you’ve treasured longer than I’ve even been alive? But finally, I caught on. My job this week wasn’t to shed new light on these words.  My job was to faithfully call to mind the light that was shed generations before any of us were alive to learn these words.

Part of what makes these words so powerful is that we don’t “own” them. We recognize that they are part of the world body of literature-- that even people who aren’t specifically Christian know these words.  We know that our mother and father and all the people that we have loved have probably also loved these words.  We know that these words have been said at bedsides and gravesides, on the best of human days, and on the worst of them.

No, these words are not among the things that fall apart from too much use.  They are like the family skillet that bears the seasoning of so many meals lovingly prepared throughout the generations-- which somehow seems to cook better the more it has been used.  These words are like the old quilts I collect, which have their own stories long before they ever come into my house-- stories of sick children they have wrapped up, or the young couple who wanted to look up at the stars and who wrapped up in the quilt as they snuggled close, or the young wife who quietly sewed all the stitches at one of the lowest points in her life.  When I curl up for a nap, I reach for these old treasured quilts, because I feel safe and loved in them as I think the other people who have been safe and loved as they were wrapped up in them.

The words we read this morning are beautiful on their own, but they are powerful because of all the experiences that generations of humans have had with them. They are powerful because they sing of a faith that is more than just the Psalmist’s faith--a faith that is all of ours.

I read these words this morning not from one of my own Bibles, but from my grandfather’s bible that my grandmother gave me following his death. It felt like the right thing to do to read this Psalm in the King James Version because that’s the version so many of you memorized.  I picked the bible up because it was the only KJV I own, but I found more than the words of the Psalm.  I found underlinings and notes from sermons that he’d heard. I found notes on passages that he found especially meaningful--and I could see that this Bible had known it’s fair share of both good days and bad. I found that the words on the pages had been a source of strength for my grandfather, even when the world must’ve felt like it was crumbling around  him.  The words became so much more than they were on just the page.  This well worn Bible is like holding a living body of faith that as I hold it, my own faith increases.  My grandfather wasn’t perfect, but as I hold this, I can see his struggles and questions of faith and the things that held him in his walk with God.

Perhaps it is that way with the 23rd psalm that so many of us hold so dear.  As we look at the words, we can see the struggles and doubts of all those that have read them over the generations.  But as we read them, we can also see the hand of God at work, and the ways that they have been carried with these words.

I asked earlier if these words still meant something, even though the world is such a different place than it was. Perhaps they mean more than they did, because they have seen us through so much over the years.  Perhaps they mean more, because they are like the family skillet, gathering up "seasonings" and experiences that make them stronger.

The words of the 23rd psalm have become more than just words. They are words that will take us from the nursery to the grave, watching over all our days in between.They are words that carry the stories of generations, words that bear witness to the fact that the world has changed, but the Savior hasn’t.  The words are an account of a living faith that the perils of the world have not yet been able to squash. The words we read this morning are a song of praise that we’ve all sung.  And they touch our heart so deeply because we all sing them together.

I invite you to pray the words you all know so well with me--pray them however you learned them, and together our words will make a song of a faith that will not fall away, no matter the ills that come our way.

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Bloom Where You're Planted

Going to Graceland Photography, 2008
I love tulips, and irises, and hyacinths, and daffodils...and a whole host of beautiful, vibrant other flowers.  But until recently, it had never dawned on me that the flowers I love the most are bulb flowers.  Flowers that once planted keep showing up year after year-- though the keeper of them has done very little to make sure that they come up.  Whatever needs to happen is between God and the dirt, and is somehow taken care of.

Just a few weeks ago, as I was preaching on the passage where Jesus talks about being like the flowers of the field, who don't worry, I saw a single buttercup that had sprouted in my yard.  I certainly didn't put it there, but it showed up, completely without help from me-- or for that matter, without me even knowing it was there.   That was a delightful surprise, and because I'm trying to teach myself to see God's blessings everywhere, I decided that God's hand was in that, reminding me that the buttercup had everything it needed.  It's days are in God's hands.

Oh, I love these flowers.  They're strong and independent, unlike some of these little flowers that I plant each spring--the ones that whine and require so much care, and then still die at the end of the season (or before, if I've gotten busy.)  Winter doesn't kill these, droughts don't kill them.  They don't fall over in a good wind. These bulb flowers are the ones that thrill my heart.

And until today, I've never planted a single one.  In Cleveland, there was never a good spot and I had better things to do-- like be a typical, boy chasing teenager.  In Knoxville, I never had a place to call my own.  In Atlanta, my dogs might have eaten them. And here in Fayetteville, the idea of planting something and knowing you wouldn't see anything from it for a year was unfathomable.  Who knew what a year could bring?

I've kept these flowers in pots on a porch, and then thrown them away as soon as the flowers fell over, never bothering to dig up the bulbs.  But this year, as the flowers have fallen over, I've stuck them in the ground, believing that I will be here to see them sprout up in the spring, though I will have long forgotten that they are there.

I've always heard the expression, "Bloom Where You are Planted", but it's never meant much to me.  But after two and a half years here, I finally feel like that's happening for us.  The church is going well, my writing is on the move, and DH has found that which he loves to occupy his time (and bring in the money.) We've survived bitter winters of the soul. Strong winds have threatened to blow us over.  But here we are: Happy and healthly, loved and in love.  It may not be a forever home, but we've planted our feet.  And finally, we're beginning to bloom.

Friday Five: Spiritual Disciplines

From the RevGalBlogPals site: For today's Friday Five, please share with us five spiritual practices or disciplines from your experience. They can be ones that you have tried and kept up with, tried and NOT kept up with, ones that you flirt with at various times, or even practices that you have tried and found are definitely NOT your cup of tea. Let us know what's worked for you...and not.

I've spent a lot of time with Richard Foster and his list of classic spiritual disciplines (As found in Celebration of Discipline).  And at various times, I've played around with all of them: prayer, fasting, meditation, study, confession, service, submission, and even celebration.  They've served a purpose, but the ones that I keep gravitating back to are not necessarily from this list of "classics".  Except prayer.

So, in no particular order, here are the list of spiritual disciplines that keep me afloat:
1) Prayer: I try very hard to live into the verse that says "Pray without ceasing", thus making my entire life a prayer.  Sometimes, I wake up with long, formal prayers on my lips, but more often than not, I'm working with flash-prayers where I simply pray for something that catches my eye.  I also frequently use the techniques that I found and loved in Praying in Color. We've started something new at church where we're keeping logs of the people we pray for, and that's been useful as I think about intercessory praying.

2) Paying Attention: This isns't a classic, but it did make sense as I read Barbara Brown Taylor's "An Altar in the World".  I try very hard to keep my eyes wide open for what God is doing in the world, and have been consistently surprised by the things I see that I might have otherwise taken for granted.  My preaching professor (Anna Carter Florence) said something that echo's Taylors thoughts on the subject:  A preacher is a lot of things, but most importantly, a preacher is somebody who pays attention.

3) Writing: I guess this goes along with paying attention, but for me, at least right now, writing is a spiritual discipline that refreshes my soul.  I am trying to be diligent about reflecting on the things that I see, and putting them in words.  Somehow, the act of writing itself seems to set me free, and allows me to open my eyes even further.

4) Examen: In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about the examen, which is a means of reflecting on the events of the day, and using them to discern God's will for your future.  Each day, in my mind or on paper, I try to do a simplified version in which I think of three things I've been grateful for that day, as well as three things that I'd like to do better in the future.  And then it's done.  The events of the day don't get to nag at me any more.

5) Sabbath-keeping: I have watched many clergy colleagues burn out because they didn't do the things they loved, and that became a lesson to me to keep watch for my own soul.  A seminary professor said to us, "If the shepherd isn't fed, she'll eventually devour the sheep."  I work hard at not only engaging in holy rest, but I try to carve out time to do the things that feed my soul.  I read books and work on quilts and daydream and take pictures and walk for miles on end--even when a convincing argument could be made that I should be doing other things.  I don't work around the clock, and I don't feel guilty about taking care of myself (at least most days.)  During crazy busy weeks when I just can't make it happen, I'll try to carve out some time for myself as quickly as I can.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grief doesn't go in a line...

Or at least that's what they told us in seminary.  Grief doesn't necessarily take a track that goes directly from point A to point B.  Sometimes (most times) it goes in a spiral--sometimes you're closer to "ok" and sometimes closer to the depths of dispair.  And anything can trigger the change.

I know this.  Yet I was surprised when I walked into the emergency room last night to be with one of my congregants who had been in a nasty wreck that invovled the car flipping a couple of times.  I was with her, yet I was also in another Emergency room on New Year's Eve Eve several years ago, where I was looking between my parents who shouldn't have walked away from their wreck.  I was also in yet another emergency room at UNC, where I had to tell a woman that the same wreck that had put her there had also killed her sister.  As I was watching the guy stitch up my young congregant, I was in all of those places-- places which I haven't been in a long time.  Places that I had more or less forgotten about, or at least managed to bury pretty deep.

The mom reminded me of something I had felt when my own parents were in their wreck-- I was a rock until I saw the car.  My dad kept telling me "When you see the car, remember that we're ok." (We actually saw the car before we saw them, per Dad's request to get their luggage and things before the wrecking yard closed.)  When you see the way a piece of steel crumples-- a piece of steel that contains people you love-- how can your own strength and resolve not crumple too?

But I was also reminded how I could literally see the hand of God around not only my parents, but around this young girl.  In my parents wreck, the sunroof caved in on both sides of and in between my parents, leaving only enough room for them.  A few inches either way and the story I'm telling today might have had a different ending.  From what I hear of the young woman's wreck, her car caved around her on both sides, except for a tiny space big enough for her.  Maybe this is because I'm a preacher, and I'm pretty active about looking for God's presence in the world, but I see the ways that God's hands literally made a shield for these that I love.

I prayed with the family last night--and I guess prayed the prayer that I wish I had prayed to myself several years ago, which went something to this effect:

Living God, thank you--thank you, thank you for your care.  Thank you that your hand was upon these people.  As they look back on this day, may they see not the distaster that almost was, but instead remember that you were ever present, holding them in your hands. May they not remember this day with anxiety and grief, but with a sense of your peace, which surpasses all that we know. Help her heal quickly, body and spirit.  Calm the fears of those that love her.

Maybe that's still a prayer I should be praying.  I don't think of that day of my parents' wreck often, but when I do, I've never felt a peace about it.  Until right now, some two years later.  And I am grateful.

[caption id="attachment_166" align="alignleft" width="1024" caption="My parents' wreck-- Dec 29, 2008"][/caption]




Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Beauty for Ashes


Ash Wednesday

“Remember, o mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” What haunting words those are.  I remember the look in my dad’s eyes every year as he would trace the sign of the cross during our church’s Ash Wednesday sermon.  I remember that his hands would shake and tears would fill his eyes.  And I remember the first year that I was a minister, and I made the same sign on my new husband’s forehead, my own eyes filling with tears.  And this year, I’ve said the ancient liturgy, “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust” as I’ve commended a dear friend into the hands of God.  They are haunting words. The words are not easily said.  They do not tumble joyfully out of our mouths as do other things that we say.  No, they become thick and syrupy, and force the speaker to think very carefully about what he or she is saying.


And they are words that no one wants to hear.  After all, who of us cares to be reminded that our days are finite-- that there will come a day when air will no longer fill our lungs, and our spirits will again be joined with the Creator.


These words stand in opposition to what our culture would have us hear.  Every year, we as a nation, spend more money than is imaginable to keep ourselves from aging. I’ve laughed at my Dad the last few years as he keeps saying “I’m a 25 year old, trapped in a 62 year old body...that’s a dirty trick!” He is not, nor are mom and I, interested in thinking that his body is growing older, and that he is just not able to do all the things he once was.  The world around us says “You’re only as young as you think you are.” But God says to us, “The days that you are alive in this earthly realm are numbered, but from start to finish, that is in my hands.”


Oh yes, the ashes remind us that our days are finite.  And the other reason we mark ourselves with ashes is no better.  After all, who cares to be reminded that in addition to being creatures with a limited lifespan, that we’re also tremendously sinful creatures.  Yes, I know...I’m just filled with good news tonight.


And I know, maybe from personal experience, that it’s quite easy to convince ourselves that our sins aren’t that big.  Most  of us work rather hard at keeping the Big Ten, at least.  And because  we don’t murder and steal or take God’s name in vain, we figure we’re doing alright.  Oh, we know we’re not perfect, but we reason to ourselves that we’re probably good enough.  At least we’re not as bad as some people.  And besides, surely we get some heavenly brownie points for the fact that we come to church, and offer of our time, talents, and treasure.  We seem to have the same attitude as the country song, “Everybody wants to go to heaven”, which says this:

Said preacher maybe you didn’t see me
Throw an extra twenty in the plate
There’s one for everything I did last night
And one to get me through today
Here’s a ten to help you remember
Next time you got the good Lord’s ear


Well, of course, that’s silly when put like that.  We know we don’t buy our way into God’s good graces--at least not literally.  But it is awfully easy to think that God might put a checkmark next to our name every time we love our neighbor or warm the pew or refrain from saying something we shouldn’t.  Tonight, our pews are thin-- this isn’t a popular service because we really don’t want to be reminded of our failings, or be forced to take our sin as seriously as God takes it.


When I get a few free dollars in my pocket, one of my favorite things to do is go to an antique store and find pieces of sterling silver for not too much.  I’ve found lots of great pieces this way-- pie servers to tea sets to serving bowls--and they are usually quite inexpensive.  I asked one of the dealers why that was, and she said “because it’s a different world.  No body either wants to or has the time to bother with polishing silver. People would rather have something that doesn’t require so much care.”  Well, of course, upon hearing that, I determined that I would break that pattern.  I’d buy silver or receive it as gifts and I’d keep it polished.


Every time I’ve walked by some of my favorite pieces in the last month or so (which have been really busy), I’ve thought “Gosh I need to polish that.” And then I will remind myself that it won’t get much worse in a day or two, so I put it off until a day when I have a little more time.


But of course, it all starts adding up-- and pretty soon, the silver pieces that I love so much are this ugly color.  And what if the maker of my silver pieces, the ones who lovingly and gently fashioned them, saw how I was taking care of them?  They’d be horrified, because that’s just not what the pieces were created to be.  They were created to be beautiful and shiny, to bear witness to good craftsmanship.


As I was noticing how tarnished my pieces were becoming, it dawned on me that that’s how sin works.  Even our little sins that we think don’t matter too much start adding up-- and pretty soon our hearts are terribly tarnished.  Pretty soon we’ve gotten so far away from God’s will, and we haven’t even seen it. Wouldn’t it be awful to realize that our hearts, like silver, some times require more work than we’d really like to put in?


And so we gather here tonight, not sure that we want to hear it, but knowing deep down that we’ve lost sight of Christ’s call to us, and that we’re every bit as tarnished as my poor tea set here. Tonight, we will be marked with ashes, and remember the ways that we miss the mark.


There have been years when I’ve thought that the Ashes on our foreheads were a sign and reminder of our sinfulness, but that’s actually not entirely correct.  We wear ashes as a sign and reminder of our willingness to repent.  The tradition of ashes even shows up in the Bible-- several times we read that Job sat down in ashes and repented. Even the gospels mention the idea. We allow ourselves to be marked with the ashes because we want to do better, because we again want to draw close to Jesus, because we want the world to know that we are a new creation, and that sin will not get the last word in our lives.


So my invitation to you during this six weeks before Easter isn’t about giving up things.  It’s not even about adding things to an already busy calendar, but if you’re feeling so called, please do those things.  But my invitation to you right now is to make a conscientious effort to shine.


“How’s that?”, you say.  Shine by coming clean before God-- own up to your sinful ways.  Recognize that you want something better, and ask God to show you how. Work really hard at being Christ-like, even when it’s downright inconvenient. Let Christ’s light shine through you, because when that happens, that smudge of ash on your forehead means not that you are sinful, but that you don’t want to be tarnished anymore.


Don’t shine to impress people, or because you think you might get a checkmark by your name in heaven’s roll books, but shine because this [hold up candelabra] is who you were created to be.


Charge: There’s a verse in Isaiah that says this, “The Lord has anointed me to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” As God has again made us clean, we have been given beauty for Ashes.  Our only job is to shine, to be the people we were created to be.


For Three Years...

On the occaision of my third anniversary of ordained ministry

For three years, I

have wondered why You called me...

or why I said yes...

have lived a strange life...

have been invited into holy moments of the people I serve with...

have wept, and laughed, and been broken open by Your holy word...

have seen Your hand upon me, guiding me in Your path, even when I wish it wasn't...

have given my heart and soul to the one body of Christ, the church...

have said little words at big times...

and big words and little times...

have searched, and been found...

have had "Reverend" in front of my name, though sometimes that still makes me laugh...

have done my best...

and have seen Your best come my way.

It's been three years, and I'm still glad You called, and still grateful You gave me the courage to say yes.

Hold On

The church still smells of last night’s feast-- of bacon grease and pancake mix.  It hasn’t yet been replaced by the holy smell of an old church. The tacky green and yellow and purple jester’s hat that I wore still sits on my desk, ready to be retired for another year, but it’s not done with me yet. “Remember”, it says to me.   The sounds of the party have not yet left the building, still echoing the noise of laughter and fellowship and community.  Usually the church is silent throughout the week, save for the occasional creak or grown of a building that’s seen so many years. The colors have not yet been changed in the sanctuary-- if you were to walk in, you might convince yourself that we were still shining in the light of Epiphany, instead of starting to trudge toward the cross of death.  The ashes have not yet been made ready, maybe because I’m not ready.

What a jarring thought to realize that on this holy and somber day, the church still bears witness to the party we had last night. It’s like the church is holding on, not yet ready to let go.  “Don’t you know it’s over?” I started to ask the church, but of course it doesn’t know. I wanted the church to feel somber and reflective, so that maybe I would too.  But the church still seems to want to celebrate, and maybe I do too.

Quickly, though, the preparations will be made, the smells and sounds will fade, and the church will shift from a season of light to a season of dark. The party can’t last forever.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are the words I will weep to say over loved ones tonight, but I’d really much rather say “Remember that there was life and fellowship and joy--even in this place.”

The church doesn’t know the party’s over and I, for one, don’t plan to tell it.

Little church, hold on for me.  In the dark and quiet days of Lent, I might just forget.  Hold on, because it’s good and pure and holy, because though we pack away our Alleluia’s, they are not lost to us. Hold on to the celebration, beloved church, because we yet have much to celebrate.


KLJ, 2011


Tuesday, March 1, 2011


It might be one of my least favorite words in the English language (well, right after "moist" which I think is a fairly disgusting sort of word).  I think "mine!" makes us all sound like two year olds, and I don't see much good coming from using it terribly often.  After all, how many of our wars are fought because one side or another is saying "Mine! Mine! Mine"? I'm not a huge fan of "stuff"--at least not in the way that I think it ought to rule our lives.

But today, as I made the final car payment on my husband's car-- I couldn't help but like the way the word sounded.  We own his car  now.  It's ours, not a banks. It requires no more budgeting each month to make sure it stays ours.  To say that this car is ours represents our first real step (at least it seems that way to me) into grown-up land.  It's a very definitely step towards living the debt-free life that we want for ourselves. (We've been working with Dave Ramsey's ideas toward this end-- if you haven't read it, Total Money Makeover is well worth the read.  I love what he has to say about the freedom you experience after becoming debt-free.  Suddenly folks are able to serve Christ on a whole new level without having to worry about making ends meet.) To say that the car belongs to us means that we've been dedicated enough to keep up with the payments, when there are other things we would have liked to spend the money on.

I've never really been able to say that I own something--at least not something of significant value.  We live in a church owned house.  We're still making payments on my car, and will be paying off my seminary education for years to come.  But that honda that sits in our garage is ours.

It's a good feeling.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Holy Spirit is Still at work in the church...

It's been a long weekend.  I willingly gave up both of my days off--which I guard with my life.  And though I'm tired, I'm grateful.

I spent the weekend with our Presbytery's candidates and inquirers as I lead my inaugural Annual Consultation as the Committee on Preparation for Ministry's chair.  I've been to two other such events, and every year I dread the long days of talking (which is really hard for this introvert).  But every year, I walk away, again surprised by the ways that the Holy Spirit is still at work within the church, despite some folks' ardent protests.

The Holy Spirit is still setting souls ablaze with the need to preach God's word-- a word which has never yet been silenced.  The Holy Spirit is still shaping what the church will yet become through people, young and old, who believe that God is still active in the world, and are willing to give up their lives as they know it to make sure that God's presence is still seen in the community.

I'm grateful for the passion I saw in these ministers-to-be, passion that reminded me of my once urgent, unquenchable need to be a pastor.  These days, I'm more world-weary, I'm a little more skeptical, and most days, I'm happy if I've managed to get one thing checked off my list.  I no longer feel like I have to conquer the world right now.  I no longer slave over every single word in a sermon, because I know that whether or not I "hit a home run" this week, there will be another chance next week.   Oh, in a lot of ways, I'm more seasoned.  There are less things that I view as an emergency.  I breathe in, and breathe out, and most days believe that I have done my best to be faithful to my calling.  In some ways, I'm in a lovely, complacenet sort of groove.

And so I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours being reminded of what that passion and urgency was like. I loved the ways they lovingly challenged "the way things have always been" as they dared to imagine a new(er) future for the Church, while still having a deep appreciation for the places from which the denomination has come. My favorite quote says "Some people see the world as it is and ask 'why?' Some people see the world as it could be, and ask 'why not?'"   These folks helped reopen my eyes to the fact that if you take out "world" and replace it with "church" that it would make a rather profound mission statement indeed.  The people with whom I sat and fellowshiped and prayed and (hopefully) imparted wisdom to relit a fire within my own soul.

No, the church has not yet become all that it is intended to be, but today, I am reminded that the Church is not a dying institution as some would suggest. The Holy Spirit is alive, well... and dare I hope it, active.  (Even amongst the "frozen chosen".)

Thanks be to God for the reminder...