"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.

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.