In Rembrance…In Unity

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. I love this Sunday. I loved it when I was a pastor. I observed it in all the denominations I worked with. The thought and feeling of partaking of the Lord’s Supper along with believers all over the world moves me, encourages me, humbles me. Today was no exception.

Today I worshipped outdoors with a group of people I have only met with twice before. The weather was perfect. The message clear and inspiring. Two of the pastor’s points stuck out to me.

First, he described a study that was done in which people were asked what their favorite phrase in the English language were. The number one response was, “I love you.” Understandable. Don’t we all love to hear that? Also high on the list, and pertinent to the message, “Dinner’s ready!”

Time to eat. Come and get it. Come and dine. Come to the table. Do you remember how you were called to dinner as a child? I don’t have particularly fond memories of dinnertime as a child–but oh how precious those shared meals became when shared them with friends in college, and later with community in the church.

The pastor’s text was Jesus invitation to the crowd as recorded in John 6. Everybody was invited. Everyone was included. Y’all come.

Who doesn’t want to hear that? We may need a bigger table.

The second thing that hooked my heart was the concept of remembrance. Living with Mom I’m daily dealing with issues of memory: odd rememberances, distorted memories, lost memories. Hers and mine!

As I sat in the gathering on Sunday morning, one question percolated to the top: What do you want me to remember today God? It seemed like a simple question, but it brought on a whole slew of recollections. They came in waves: communion services from across the years; faces of clergy mentors and friends; different places; and different times.

Sitting alone, in a gathering where I knew no one, I drew comfort in the sense not only of God being present, but with me–speaking my name. Just as the bubbling memories spoke to the how there had been people all along in this journey of faith, the Spirit gave clear assurance that even now when I felt so incredibly alone…I was not, and would never be.

Remembering this, hearing this, feeling this prods me to wonder if you, dear reader might be feeling alone. Jesus calls you to the table. There is clearly not just space, but a space for you. As you take your seat, please remember the times and places where God has brought you into the company of others as a means of assuring you of your place in the family, and God’s great grace and provision for us all.

yes magazine.org

Y’all, come.

Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

Unlikeliest Hero

It is a rare thing that the moment I start to write, my eyes fill with tears and the truth of what I’m thinking overwhelms my heart and mind.

But it just happened.

This morning during breakfast, Mom made some comment about heroes. I can’t even recall what it was because it immediately sent me into my head where I began formulated this post. I was so into it, I excused myself from the table and hurried to jot down some notes I could come back to after I was done cleaning up from breakfast.

Heroes. We all want them…need them. And if we would get honest, want to be one.

This past year while we’ve done battle with a raging pandemic, we’ve lauded the efforts of first responders, medical professionals, and those researching for a vaccine. Politically, we’ve sought for a restoration to civility and accountability. Emotionally we’ve longed for answers, peace, and a return to normal or comfort or familiar.

Many years ago, my husband and I watched a television program called the Equalizer. Then there were two movies with the same premise starring Denzel Washington. Now Queen Latifa has reprised the role and hooked me once again.

I stopped typing and called my husband (keeping in mind the 3 hour time difference). I told him what I was doing and then asked him why the original show hooked him? What was it that appealed. He put words to what my heart was feeling: it was like a modern Robin Hood of sorts. Robert and Robyn McCall as the equalizers brought/brings help for the oppressed; help for those who can’t help themselves.

Thinking about his statement sent me down another path—a spiritual one. Imagine that.

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. I made a reference to the Christmas song, “How Many Kings.” As we move through Holy Week toward the resurrection, a phrase from that song keeps going through my mind. Referring to the baby Jesus, the words describe him as the “unlikeliest hero” for he was wrapped in his mother’s shawl.

This week, Jesus is wrongfully accused, murdered, and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Talk about an unlikely hero.

Our heroes don’t die. Or do they?

Shouldn’t our heroes be the ones who give up their lives. Jesus tried to explain this to the disciples: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

Paul described this to the Philippians this way: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT).

Jesus gave up the fullness of his super powers and maybe that’s what made him an unlikely hero. But the way lived, died, and rose again demonstrated God’s power to the max! Those powers may be overlooked by the world that is mesmerized by flash and boom. But Jesus, like the Equalizer, was and is more concerned about helping those who can’t help themselves…about bringing relief to the oppressed .

That’s the kind of hero I want to be. The kind of hero this needs more of. We may seem to be unlikely heroes…but we can change the world by following Jesus’ example, by having his mind.

He gave his all…all for me…all for you…just like the song says.

Monday Morning Magic

My alarm went of at 5:15AM. I leapt up, made my bed, grabbed a shower, dressed in the clothes I set out the night before, and raced out the door. Between getting dressed and dashing out the door I did pause to make sure that Mom’s meds and breakfast were set out exactly the way she likes them.

Once out the door I headed for the the place I love to be on Monday mornings: The Animal League of Green Valley. Choosing to volunteer on Monday mornings is the best thing I ever done. My week starts out with lots of wags and puppy kisses. I walk whoever I can, and love every moment whether I’m being pulled along or stopping to smell every leaf. Then when every dog is walked by all the volunteers, we hang out for socialization and some training.

There are times when I ache for my dogs back in Ohio. I would rescue in a heartbeat, but Mom can’t handle the stress or the dander. I’d volunteer every day, but Mom can barely handle me being gone for one day. So I suck the life out of my time away and give thanks for this respite that feeds my soul.

As I was reflecting back on my morning doggy therapy session, I had a pang of sadness. For a brief moment I was reminded of the Syrophoenician woman who had a conversation with Jesus. It went like this:

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her with even a word. And His disciples came up and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us!” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” Yet He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord; but please help, for even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at once (Mark 15:21-28, NLT).

I love this story. She wasn’t asking for the world. She was, in her own mind, willing to settle for “crumbs that fell from the table.” The scraps. The castoffs. Jesus commended her for her persistence and her faith. The Apostle Paul said it this way: little is much when God is in it.

So while others are dreading Mondays, I’m ready for the “crumbs.” They more than satisfy.

Wednesday’s Word—A Day Late…Again

All right. I did it again. I feel a little like the Reese’s Cup guy: Sorry…not sorry.

There was no way I was going to get the weekly word posted yesterday. I thought maybe. I thought several times: I need to get to it. But I was glued to my TV all day. I needed to be.

I needed the return to decorum. I needed to feel the healing that comes from change. I needed ritual. I needed the ceremony. I needed to feel connected to something bigger than me…and something positive.

I went to bed thankful. And I woke up literally formulating this post. My first thoughts at 4:12AM were this post.

My prayer is that you can see and feel hopeful.

One of the highlights of the day was the reading by the Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Her words bring me to tears…in the best kind of way.

Hope will make us brave enough to be it.

Wednesday’s Word: Miracles

Today’s word comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Mary Hofacker.

When I think of miracles, I am reminded of a song Nelson and I heard at a Steve and Annie Chapman concert way back in the 1980’s. Living far from family with two toddlers and very little income, we felt desperate and prayed for God to miraculously reveal his power and grace. The song was a constant ear worm: things are looking right for a miracle.

When I went to WordSwag to create the pic for today’s post, I used a font I rarely use, but it fit perfectly. Miracles quite often come in very plain and obvious ways: a miracle healing, the perfect job, etc. But sometimes the miracle we need comes disguised as something else and we appreciate the gift or improvement to life, but we don’t see God’s intervention coming in a way we couldn’t have imagined or even begun to ask for. We missed the backstory completely, claimed the gift, and moved on.

I think that’s why I appreciate Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (see Eph. 3:20): Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything and everything we could ever ask or even imagine…

And that God knows me best and loves me most. You, too.

Things are looking right for a miracle.

Stepping Back on Goals

My mind is churning on creating goals. I’m feeling good about it and then I read this in my morning devotions: “Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “ What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don’t know what God is going to do next (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Special Updated Edition, edited by James Riemann).”

So I sat there on the floor of my bedroom wondering. Maybe I struggle with setting goals because I’m a very strong P on MBTI. (If you don’t know MBTI, that means I “fly by the seat of my pants.” This also describes my writing preference: I’m a ‘panster’ not a ‘plotter.’)

What if I’m not wired to map, plod, plan, or calendarize everything? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know how to do those things. I can keep a calendar, sort of. I can function on a schedule—I have to work harder at it, but I can do it. I don’t like it. I feel confined, and like I’m not at my best. I resist and procrastinate until I have no option but to capitulate…so I do.

Serendipitous, free-floating, unscheduled, unplanned, unfettered. The very words make my heart happy.

I can teach others the steps to creating goals, and writing vision/mission statements. I can help them peal back the layers and really get to the heart and meat of their goals—who and how they want to be and function. But I suck at it for myself.

For example. Yesterday I mentioned in my worksheet the goal of riding my bike 50 miles a week. It’s a totally SMART goal. If goals were attractive to me at all. The problem for me is that as soon as I quantify and feel I have to measure up, bike riding loses all it’s joy for me. It’s a job. It’s something I have to check off my list and resent it. (Okay. Right now there are tears in my eyes as I think about this—I must be getting close to my truth).

That takes me back to the OC quote and something I talked about in my message last week. One thing. In the Bible there are 5 places where we’re told that God seeks one thing from us:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm27:4).

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10:21).”

“…but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).”

He replied, “whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see (John 9:25)!”

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

Matthews George in an internet article (Five One Things in the Bible, mathewsgeorge.medium.com, April 4, 2017) shows how these 5 verses help us know God: Psalm 27:4 helps us know God through a heart of prayer; Mark’s verse helps us know God through a heart of surrender; Luke’s helps us know God through a heart of service; John’s helps us to know God through a heart of witness; and Paul’s directing us to a hear of ambition.

What if (I’m doing a lot of that right now…) my goal is to focus on having a heart for God and to do that I’m to incorporate prayer, surrender, service, witness, and ambition. And to do this intrinsically—to come from within instinctively and naturally. Instead of having x amount of goals ranging over an array of time, to live daily. Live with eyes wide open for how and what God wants to teach me, or use me. Then at the end of the reflect, thank, and rest.

Okay, I’ve meandered and pondered enough on this for now. More to come.

New Year! New You?

For several weeks I’ve been thinking about how I want to be different next year, how I want to be better, and what I want to bring with me into 2021.

Do you set goals or make resolutions? I used to. And they would last until about the third week of January. I know I can be disciplined and include routine in my life, but so many of the things I try to add just don’t stick.

So I began to dig into why. Why don’t they stick? Why can’t I pick goals I can achieve. Goals need to be SMART:


(I couldn’t find a graphic that included everything I wanted to put here, so I made my own—forgive the raw nature, but that’s how I’d teach it.)

Going back over this information, two words stuck out to me: relevant and attractive. This is probably where my goals failed. Realizing this reminded me of when I failed my oral exams for my M.Div. so miserably that they suggested we act as if the horrible showing never happened and schedule to do them again next time around.

Regurgitating information merely to demonstrate an array of facts didn’t work for me. How was I going to figure this out? Then without even knowing smart goals I realized I needed to find a way to make my accumulated knowledge both attractive and relevant.

At the time I was trying to figure this out I was engaged in the learning/training experience called Clinical Pastoral Education, CPE for short. Each quarter (I took 10) I had to identify my learning goals. What did I want to learn? What learning would enhance my skills and move me along in my long range plan?

The way this all worked out, I began to link my learning as being under an overarching theme. Everything began to fall into place, become connected, and make so much sense that when I went in the second time the committee commented on how confident and clear I seemed—two words that never would have described my first time before the committee.

Thinking of that brought me to my lightbulb moment. The goals I had been setting were goals I felt I should set. They were goals that had greater meaning to others than to me, so they were neither relevant or attractive to me, and therefore unsuccessful.

With this awareness, how will I set some goals for this year?

First, what is my appealing over arching theme? I landed on the scriptural call to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Here’s my worksheet so far:

So…I need a little time to live with these, but I’ll be back by Wednesday to let you know how this has developed for me.









































Pressing On

For several years now, I have taken time and given much thought to a theme or driving principle for the year. I begin the process in the fall, September or October. When I decide I contact Premier Designs and have a bracelet engraved with the word. Then I wear the bracelet all year as a reminder. Two years ago my word was “persevere.” Last year I chose “Go further!” And for 2021, my word is “makarioi.” Makarioi is the Greek word used in the Beatitudes, often translated happy or blessed.

Makarioi. It means so much more to me.

A couple years back, I did a sermon series on the Beatitudes and I discovered that the word Jesus used was much richer than what seemed to be the typical, superficial translation—especially when translated happy. The word has more to do with thriving or flourishing.

Think about it for minute. There’s nothing happy about being dependent, or mourning, meek, or persecuted. Jesus wasn’t advocating living in misery. The perspective he offered related to the way we face the circumstances of life. Will we choose to recognize how blessed we are in spite of what is being thrown at us, dragging us down, discouraging us…You get the idea.

Will we choose to strive, to thrive, to flourish?

Here I will have to echo Paul’s words: not that I have already obtained all this, but I press on (Philippians 3:12-14).

Until then, I’ll wear the bracelet and keep pressing on.

What Makes You Weep?

This morning I have had everything from moist eyes to full-out sobs.

The first tears came as I was reading material for my message on Sunday. I am continuing my series on “Continuing the Work of Jesus, Simply” by focusing on Jesus’ compassionate invitation to learn from him the “unforced rhythms of grace (Peterson’s translation Matthew 11:29 in the Message). During my study this morning, I came across this quote: “But they had limited evidence. They did not see the end from the beginning. They drew their conclusion only from what they saw, not from the infinite wisdom of God. And, even so, they looked at the evidence through prejudiced eyes. The Christ must behave according to their own pattern, or else He was not the Christ. It is no wonder that they came out with the wrong answer.” (An Exposition of the Four Gospels Matthew, Herschel H. Hobbs, p. 141)

How like today? We still don’t get it. Tears.

Then I read a Facebook post from a high school friend. Yesterday was her birthday. Two weeks ago one of her dogs died right in the middle of playing out in the yard. This morning they had to put their other dog down because they discovered bladder cancer. My heart broke. I sobbed. (Typing this now even a couple hours later, I wept all over again.)

How like today? Sorrow, disappointment, aching. Tears.

I had just gone back to reading when Mom tapped on my door. She brought me a section of the paper. The USA Today published an insert, “Women of the Century, 100 Women Who Changed the World.” In January they invited nominations of notable women. Then a committee put the list and bios together. As a woman who felt a calling from a very young age to a predominately male occupation, christian minister, I have experienced prejudice, nastiness, and discrimination for forty years. I shed many tears and sometimes begged God to remove this calling from my life. But I have also been supported by other women clergy who understand in multiple denominations. I have been encouraged remain faithful. Reading over the names and bios, seeing their pictures, reminded me that I am not alone in this battle, and there’s still much work to do. Work I have been and will be given to do.

How like today. We are still fighting: to be heard, to be recognized, to make a difference. But we do not fight alone. Tears.

Tears. Why do I cry this day?

I cry because some days I still don’t understand the “whys” of my life. Why I’m here and my husband there. Why I had to quit the one job in my life I loved like no other. I don’t want to come out with the wrong answer. But I will lament…release…and keep seeking to serve even when I don’t get it.

I cry because loss is a part of living. I cry because sorrow can blindside us. I cry because losing the things I treasure, value…love hurts. And to say that it doesn’t is a lie. To hurt indicates that we had something special and now it’s gone. How fortunate we were to have those things. But that doesn’t mean something else, possibly more perfect or valuable won’t come along. Grieving, acknowledging what was lost, enables me to keep living—treasuring the memory and making room for whatever is next.

I cry because others have to struggle. Being gifted, intelligent, and motivated doesn’t guarantee an easy road. The prejudice of others, the insecurity of others, the selfishness of others can throw painful blocks, detours, and frustrations in our path to fulfilling our callings. But clearly, we do not walk this road alone. Others have gone before us. Others walk alongside us. Others are placing their trust in our faithfulness.

This morning I wept. And oddly, I feel a clarity and strength, a desire to keep on. I’ve laid that burden down. And look ahead.

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