Sunday, July 15, 2018

Presence

The day was August 26, 2007. It was the Sunday before the beginning of my Junior year of college. I was walking into that year having changed my major… again, and not really knowing what I was going to do with my life. Back in May of that year, I remember telling everyone that was on the choir tour that I was going into ministry, but to be quite honest, that terrified me. I went home for the summer and came back to school convinced that God was not calling me into ministry, that I had simply misheard. I wanted to help people. I didn’t know what it meant, but that was what I wanted to do. So I majored in sociology. 

As per usual on the Sunday before classes, I went to Wesley. My home. As I sat in that room, that sacred space, the space that even now when I walk into it, I feel the presence of God. That space that when I sit down on one of the couches (they are different couches now thankfully), I can see the room lit only by the candle in the middle of the room as each person would go to take communion and prayer at the alter on any given Wednesday evening. That space that when I walk through the door I still expect to see those people who loved me and whom I loved, and who to this day I know if I needed something they would be there. That space that I can still hear “We are one in the Spirit” being sung a capella as we close worship each Wednesday night. That space, that sacred space. On that particular evening, I sat in the back of the room on the couch, I can/t remember who was sitting next to me, but it could have been Amanda Dennis (Harrell), but don’t quote me on that. We sang a few songs and then we sat down and we awaited a sermon from Bud. I love a good Bud sermon. Bud has this gift where he can take anything, even the most obscure object or film and bring light and God out of it. I had missed his preaching over the summer so I waited anxiously to hear what he had to say. He began to preach and I honestly don’t remember what he said, but he wouldn’t stop looking at me as he spoke. At first, it didn’t bother me because I figured he would look somewhere else soon, but I realized that he just kept talking and looking directly at me,. Later in the evening, I asked Bud why he kept looking at me, he said, “it felt right so I kept doing it.” Bud didn’t know that I had decided to walk away from whatever call I had. And Bud didn’t know what those words were doing, whatever he was saying was changing my heart and opening my heart to where God had called me to be. It was a Sunday that would begin to unravel even more where I would end up.

 I have told this story many times, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what he preached on that evening that began turning my plans upside down until tonight…

I have been going through my guest room closet, you know the closet. The one where you hide everything and there are things all the way up to the ceiling with no organization in sight. Well, I was tired of it so I rearranged my guest room and cleaned out my closet. I went through every picture that was present, some bringing back some great memories, some causing a great amount of pain, some that made me laugh out loud and some that simply made me reminiscence about “the good ole days.” But then, I also emptied 4 boxes of books that needed to be put on the shelves, and several of them were journals from the past. I opened the green one first and as I read through I was surprised to come across an entry from August 26, 2007, it read: 

“It’s the night before classes begin again. I am not really nervous but I am. I am nervous about the online classes. Lord, tonight Bud talked about being the presence of Christ. What does that mean? I mean to me personally? What am I supposed to be? I really feel like I am going where I do feel led to go, but while he was talking tonight it was like he was speaking directly to me. I don’t know what to do! I am at a dead end, I don’t know if I should turn right or left. I feel lost. I need your help.”

What I didn’t know is that God had answered that prayer. God had already shown me the way, I just hadn’t found it yet. I would spend that semester trying to figure out what to do with my life and trying to figure out why adults think that a college student should make a decision that would determine the rest of her life while she is in college. I mean, seriously! It was during this semester that I would join the UMC, taking all that I had learned growing up and spreading my wings. It was that semester that I would find a new church home in a retirement community 40 minutes away from Cookeville because they felt like home. It was that semester that I would wrestle with this idea of being a pastor and I would go back and forth and spend numerous hours talking to Bud, Lanita, Max, and so many others and trying to convince myself that I was wrong or that I misheard.

God began something in me a long time ago, something that I didn’t even know existed inside of me. A love for God and a love for people and God showed me that the best way to combine those two loves was to be a pastor. I would never have been prepared to listen to God if God hadn't begun calling me through other people who allowed God to move through them.

This morning in worship, I had the honor of baptizing a beautiful little girl. As I read questions to her parents and baptized her and prayed over her “The Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ,” I couldn’t help but wonder how will God use her over all of the years of her life. And how now I can't help but wonder how many people would God use to speak to her and how many times would God use her to speak to other people.

I don't tell this story so that you can tell me if I made the right choice or even as any praise to me. I tell this story because we need to be reminded that God uses people every day to change the trajectory of our lives by speaking through a person. I tell this story also to remind us that one day, there will be another little girl or boy who will grow up and God will speak to them through you, just as there will be people in the congregation this morning that God will use to speak to that little girl. Please don’t be afraid to allow God to use you to speak to another. God will use you, be open to it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I’m Not Ready...

This afternoon, I got home and just wanted to watch something silly. So I turned on Netflix and was flipping through the available movies, and settled on Dr. Strange. I realize that Dr. Strange isn’t silly, and I found that it was actually very stressful (but so good!!), and so profound on so many levels, but there was one scene that took me by surprise (shocker, I know)):


Dr. Stephen Strange: I’m not ready.
The Ancient One: No one ever is. We don’t get to choose our time. Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered. Your time is short.
[she holds Strange’s hand]
The Ancient One: You’d think after all this time I’d be ready, but look at me. Stretching one moment out into a thousand just so that I can watch the snow.

While the Ancient One was talking about death, and Dr. Strange was talking about fighting the powerful Dormammu, I believe that that the phrase, “I’m not ready” could be said about so many things in life, not just about death or in a fight. Over my 30 years, I don’t know how many times I have found myself saying that same statement, “I’m not ready,” nor do I know how many times I have heard it from other people. To be fully ready for anything takes preparation. Some preparation is easy, but some is difficult and hard. Some preparation can bring you to tears and some can bring you to laughter. There is this idea that for us to accomplish anything or be anything means that we have to be ready. At this point in the film, Dr. Strange had gone through so much preparation, but never felt like it was enough. Is there ever enough time to prepare? Will you ever be ready for that exam that you studied like crazy for? Will you ever be ready for something new? Or will we will always be wanting more time to prepare, more time to be ready?

One of the profound time that I remember saying “I am not ready” was when I told the pastor at the church that I was serving in, that I did not want to to become the youth director after it suddenly became available. He came to me a few days later and asked me to consider taking the role. By the end of the day, I had agreed to become the new Youth director at the church. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I was Terrified! There were many moments in that role that I had no idea what I was doing, but what I learned was that each time I found myself not knowing what to do, God placed people in my life to help me learn. In fact, looking back, God has consistently placed people in my life to help me find my way when I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I will forever be thankful to that Pastor because in many ways he was allowing God to use him so that I could find my way, just as God has used so many others.

This doesn’t mean that one should never prepare, nor does it mean that I want to just be thrown into something without the preparation that I actually need for whatever is ahead. It also doesn’t mean that I will never use the words “I am not ready” again, because the reality is there will be many moments when I don’t feel ready. But what this scene reminds me of is that even in the moments when I don’t feel ready, I know that I am not alone in feeling unprepared (no matter how prepared I really am). But I also see how even when we think we aren’t ready, we are still put in the game, and somehow we survive, even if we fail, we survive and we try again. 

So maybe one will never be ready no matter how prepared you are... or maybe we are more ready than we think we are, we just have to take the leap. 

For me, in those moments in the past and those moments that will be in the future where I will find myself feeling not ready, it’s often taking a leap of faith knowing that no matter where I land, God has me, that can be hard. The thing is, no matter how young or old you are, no matter how much life you have lived, no matter how many times God has brought you through those moments sometimes having faith to take the leap is scary... but in the end is so worth it. 

So, Here’s to us all taking a leap even in, especially in, the moments when we are so NOT ready!e

P.S. If you are reading this terrified of what is in front of you... know that you aren’t alone, we all have our moments! Your allowed to have your moment.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

I wait...

Typically, on this night, Holy Saturday, the night before Resurrection, I would have already been asleep by now. For the last several years I have awoken at around 3:30 on Easter Morning so that I could get to the church by about 4:30, have my first Coca-Cola of the day, and make sure that all the scripts and folders were in order for the youth that were coming to lead us in the Sunrise service. By the time they got there at 5:30, I was ready to go. On most of those Easter mornings, I would literally sit and watch the sunrise and think how different the day would be from the day before. I remember one of those mornings so clearly, I had gotten to the park early and the youth hadn’t come from warm-ups at the church, it was so cold, but I sat on the edge of the amphitheater and watched the sunrise over the concession stand in the park. All I could think was “I dreaded this moment because it was early, but I am so glad I made it.”

Tonight, however, I am sitting on my porch in one of my favorite rocking chairs drinking hot tea as I prepare for bed and thinking about how different this year is. Now, hear me say that I am grateful for different and I am grateful to not have to be up at 3:30 in the morning, but it is different, and I will wake up to experience a whole new Easter Sunday with a people that I have grown to love and care for deeply.

This season of lent that ends in a few hours, is a season that began with us remembering our humanity. As we receive the ashes upon our foreheads we are told, “from dust, you came to dust you shall return,” reminding us of our need for repentance and for forgiveness. This season of lent has done just that for me. There have been great moments where everything just fell into place, but there have been other moments where I have either fallen flat on my face or have been put in my place, and rightly so. But as each day ended, we found ourselves moving closer and closer to Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week and ends at a cross. For three long days, it seems like all of the darkness in the world will overcome the light that it blew out.

So, for now, I sit, in the darkness that is night, and wait. I wait anxiously for the coming morning. I wait for the light that will enter into the sanctuary as we proclaim, “Christ is Risen!” I wait for the joy that comes with each new morning, but specifically for the joy that comes with remembering that Christ is alive and that Christ lives within us and moves among us. I wait for tomorrow. I long for tomorrow.

But for tonight, I wait. Maybe it’s a good thing to wait. I live in a world where I could have anything and everything if I wanted it. I could place an online order with a restaurant and it would be at my door within 40 minutes. I could buy/rent a book or a movie with one click. I can talk to friends without actually having to talk to them. Maybe it’s a good thing to learn to wait. Maybe it’s good to long for something and it not be instantly given to you. Maybe it’s good to be open to sitting in the longing that you have. Maybe it’s good to feel the longing, to experience the waiting.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the disciples and those who followed Jesus. The one person who they thought was going to change everything is now lying in a tomb and to top it all off, they are terrified that they are coming for them next. They just sit waiting, not having a clue what to do, and grieving the loss of their dear friend and leader. I wait knowing that Christ is risen, they waited not knowing. They waited in anguish and sadness and heartache. I wait with anticipation. They waited in fear that everything is over. I wait knowing that it isn’t over. They waited.

Tomorrow is my favorite day of the year, and it is the day where it all continues in ways that the disciples never saw coming. It is a day where trumpets will play, the hallelujah chorus will be sung, and joy will be on everyone’s faces. It is a day where the darkness cannot overcome the light. It is a day where I can’t help but smile. I can’t help but laugh. I can’t help but be in awe. I can’t help but feel just a bit closer to God. I can’t help but be excited… because I know that tomorrow the story continues with the ultimate plot twist.


But tonight. I wait. Recognizing my own darkness in my life, and praying that the light will shine upon it… and that the darkness within my soul can dissipate, and that the light can fill it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Thank you, Katherine Graham.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love the movies. I love the smell of the theater, the sometimes uncomfortable seats, and the hustle and bustle that evening at the movies can sometimes produce. But more than anything, I love the way the stories are told. Sometimes they are fantasy, sometimes animated, sometimes dramatic, sometimes romantic, sometimes scary (I don’t enjoy those…), and sometimes they are real and raw. Movies can tell the stories of those who came before us that have been forgotten and encourage us to look back at our history so that we can see where we have been and what has brought us to today.

Yesterday afternoon, I watched one of those real and raw movies, I saw “The Post.” I must admit when the trailer first came out, I found it intriguing but I really wanted to see the movie because two of favorite performers were acting in it: Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I didn’t realize when I walked into the theater and sat down in the surprisingly comfortable seat that the next two hours would not only capture my imagination but make me grieve the many parts of history that I didn’t know.

Knowing my love of story, you can probably guess that I love to read. I have read many history books, biographies, and autobiographies just to be able to soak up stories of real-life people. You see, I believe, history tells us where we have been, how we have gotten here, and sometimes it can tell us where we must go from here.  As I watched this film play out in front of me, I tried to find in my memory this story. I tried to think back on all of the history classes that I have taken over my lifetime and the books that I have read, and I could not place this story and it grieved me. By the end of the film, one thought was in my mind, “It is because of this woman and women like her that I have the ability to do what I do. It is because of their willingness to give of themselves to risk everything that they had for something they believed in.” Why do we only hear about these stories once Hollywood decides to write a screenplay about their life?

Yes, this film was a film that was probably a little bit dramatized but it told the story of one woman who was willing to risk her entire company and her life for something that she believed in. Growing up, I heard that women fought for their rights, that they fought for the right to vote, for the right to work, for the right to have equal pay (something that we still work for), and in the church, for the right to be ordained. But I didn’t grow up in the time that this story of Katherine Graham actually existed, so to me, it has always just been a story, been a part of who I am, yes, but a story nonetheless. But yesterday, as I watched the difficulty and the way that Katherine was treated, not just by her adversaries but by those whom she called friends, it allowed me to grasp just a moment of what it was like. It allowed me to see just how much she was risking. It made me think about all that I have taken for granted in my life. I took for granted that I was able to be educated and receive a college degree; I have taken for granted that I have the ability to vote; I have taken for granted the fact that I could be an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. While Katherine Graham may not have directly affected any of these things, it is because of people like Katherine Graham that I can take these things for granted, not that I should.

I stated earlier that I didn’t grow up living in that time, I didn’t have to fight for any of my rights, I didn’t have to fight for my ordination, but I have friends who did. I have friends who like Katherine Graham, gave all that they had so that I and so many others could. And it is those friends and Katherine Graham that I have to thank. Thank you for being willing to teach those who would come after you how to stand up for what you believe in, even if it means risking your job, your company, your relationships, or even your life.

Katherine Graham was a pioneer. She, along with other women set a precedent that would lead us to where we are today. While I didn't grow up in that time, I am growing up in this time and even in the last 30 years, I have watched the roles of women change and I can see that there is still a long way to go, and it makes me wonder, do I have the courage to give of myself for something I believe in? Would I have been willing to say, “publish it,” knowing that I could lose everything? Will I have the courage to stand even when others say I shouldn't? May we not take for granted that which has been gifted to us by the many others that have come before us. May we live in such a way that their gift isn’t forgotten or taken for granted, but celebrated.


Thank you, Katherine Graham.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Getting Out of The Boat...

As I prepared myself for worship yesterday I went over in my head the service and the prayers and words and all of my responsibilities in the service. As we got to the sermon, I found myself so distracted by all that had gone on, on Saturday and all that was going on in the world that it took me out of being able to truly worship, until Rev. Cliff Wright began to preach on the text from Matthew 14 where Jesus walks on the water, and about Peter getting out of the boat. In every way, he was/is encouraging the congregation to get out of the boat, get out of their comfort zone, get out of their complacency. And as he talked about what that might mean, my mind went to what does it mean to get out of the boat in light of current events in the world? So often when I hear that text it seems blatantly obvious. “Get out of the boat, Jesus is there.” But as I listened I heard the biggest issue with getting out the boat: Fear. Not only is there a fear of the water below and drowning, but there is fear in what others will say, fear in getting too far from the boat, fear in the conflicts that will arise, fear in facing our own issues, and ultimately a fear that getting out of the boat will change everything. So what if it does?

That took me back to all that has happened over the past week. The thing that bothers me most is that this is not the first time this has happened. This is not the first show of hate and it is likely not the last. With that being said, it is happening more frequently, or maybe its always happened, its just that we are so acutely aware of this evil and its being talked about more and more. But what if getting out of the boat in this instance in time isn’t too far from the ways that MLK, Mandela, and so many others who have fought this fight before, got out of the boat?

Martin Luther King once said:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

There has always been darkness and at different moments in history we have seen more darkness than at other moments. Right now, the world seems eerily dark. There is violence and words of hate. There is a possibility of nuclear weapons being used. There is brother fighting brother, and families disowning families. There is disunity not just in the country and world, but also in the church. There is such darkness. But we have the opportunity in this moment to step out of the boat, to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to one another. Instead of responding with hateful words or name calling and blaming, to offer words of love and hope. Instead of responding in violence, respond in love. Is it easy, not at all. In fact, I would venture to say it is one of the most difficult things we have ever been asked to do. But I do believe that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [and will not] overcome it.[1]

You may read this and think she isn't actually thinking about the issue, she is skirting it so that she doesn't have to say its wrong, it is wrong. It is wrong, hurtful, and so painful and it teaches others that it is ok to speak of another person harmfully. Or maybe your thinking, she is just being optimistic, this is an impossible task. Trust me, I agree with you, it completely seems impossible and it might get worse before it gets better. But I believe in the words of Paul as he prays for his readers in Ephesus, “now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…[2]” God can and does move in and through us, if only we are willing to get out of the boat. I don’t know what getting out of the boat looks like for you, but I am beginning to see what it means for me. Yesterday, I witnessed a people who seemed ready to get out of the boat. I agree with Rev. Wright's question: Will you join me in getting out of the boat? Knowing that it will be hard, but that God is there to be the light in the dark and lift us up when we begin to sink. May we be a people of light not willing to let the light be hidden, but shining it bright for all to see.




[1] John 1:5, NRSV
[2] Ephesians 3:20, NRSV