Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Escape Plan

I have an escape plan. My escape plan does not usually help the situation; usually it just puts it aside for a moment, and allows me to step into someone else's shoes. It allows me to see the world from someone else's perspective. But mostly, my escape plan reminds me of hope and joy. When life gets particularly hard, I escape to another world. A world where the good guy always wins, a world sometimes full of animation, a world where people fall in love, a world where the end is usually another beautiful beginning, my world is a world of fiction.

If you haven't guessed, my escape plan is movies and books. One time when I having a particularly bad day, and needed an escape, I walked into a theater and simply asked, "What movie is about to start?" The movie was Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, That was just poetic. There are other days when it has nothing to do with my mood, I just want to see a good movie; today was one of those days. I went with some friends to see Mr. Holmes. The movie was fantastic and it was filmed in a beautiful location, and oh yea, it was British. It was profound and truly beautiful, I left the theater with tear-stained cheeks and something to think about for a while.

My other escape plan, books, can really only happen during summer and winter break, so because I begin school in a couple of weeks, I am trying to finish all of the books that I have started since the Spring semester ended. The problem I have is that I keep beginning to read other books and never actually finish the ones I start. So in trying to finish one, I picked up another: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It was one of those books that I had been told I should read many times, but just couldn't get on the bandwagon. But I picked it up at the bookstore, and began to read. I read it cover to cover in about two days. It truly changed my life. It was a book about redemption. Redemption that seems to be only in the form of a man loving a woman, but in reality its about teaching a woman that she is worthy of being loved, not just by a man who adores her, but by God. The interesting thing is that God teaches the woman this through her husband. It was an unconditional type of love that was truly a gift from God.

Why is any of this important? I have had a good life, but for a long time I have found it hard to remember my own worth and at the same time to receive the grace and love of God. Interestingly, the books and movies have reminded me that God shows me my worth and ultimately, has shown me God's love through my friends and family. It wasn't what I anticipated, but for me it has been a source of redemption. 


My mom says, "God's timing is perfect, wait on God's timing."Often times, its hard to wait for God's timing, but my escape plan has shown me time and time again that I have all I need for right now, and the best thing that I can do is live my life to the fullest, and to love God and everyone around me. And for me, the best way that I know how to love those around me is to be present in their lives, and to allow them to be present in mine. I hope and pray that those whom I love will know how dearly loved and cared for they are, just as they have shown me how loved and cared for I am. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God in the Form of a Little Boy

The last few weeks I have been so concerned with so many different things that I had or have to do, and sometimes it seems like the days just pass by. With each passing day, my list gets longer, and at times the harder it is to see God through all the mess that seems to get in the way.

This morning when I arrived at the Sanctuary, I walked in and met a little boy that I had never met before, so naturally I asked his name and how old he was. He was so excited to tell me that he was 7, but that he just turned 7, but they had to have his birthday the day before his birthday. His birthday was in November, so I wished him a happy late, late birthday! His little sister sitting beside him told me how old she was and when her birthday was, and it was a truly delightful conversation.

I soon went to find my seat toward the middle of the sanctuary. As I began to sit down, I felt a tickle in my throat and because I have been sick over the last few days, I was afraid that I would have a coughing fit in the middle of service, so I moved to the back row, so it would be easy to slip out if need be. I sat right next to this little boy.

The service started and the handbell choir played beautifully. As we all stood for the Call to Worship and first hymn, I looked over at the little boy. It was obvious that he hasn't seen much of a church service. His mom, who serves as his foster mom, was showing him line by line as we read through the Call to Worship and singing in his ear as we sang the first hymn.

The service went on, and I watched this little family. The little boy tried so hard to follow along and toward the middle of the service, we stood for the next hymn, and I noticed he hadn't opened his hymnal, so I leaned over and I said, I'll trade you. He took my hymnal and we sang together line by line. It was a moment.

As I stood next to him singing the words into his ear, I couldn't help but smile. That little boy and his beautiful family was God. To listen to him say the Lord's Prayer, just a step behind the congregation, to hear him sing the hymns, and read the Nicene Creed. And then to hear his mom leading his words, saying ti loud enough for him to be able to follow. To be able to experience worship with them was truly a gift.

Before the sermon, I began to have a coughing fit and had to leave, but I have thought about that little boy all day. I have thought about the joy he had in sharing about his birthday. I thought about his little voice singing. I have wondered what was it like for him this morning? Did he enjoy the singing? Or hearing the children's moment? Or going to Children's Church? Did he get something out of it? Did he experience God this morning?

I hope he did.

Tonight, as I drove home, I was listening to Delilah on the radio, and a lady came on talking about her daughter. Her daughter made some not so great decisions, and when asked about how the mom would handle it, she said, "We may not always like their decisions, but they are my children, and I will love them and be there for them."

I thought of that little boy and his mom. I thought of the teenagers and parents I work with on a daily basis. I thought of my Mom and Dad.

I thought of God. God does that everyday.

Its amazing what a little boy and a mom can teach you without speaking to you. Its amazing how God places little moments in your life to remind you of God's presence. While I know the little boy's name, you don't need to. So I will ask that you quote Maria from the Sound of Music, "God Bless what's his name. And I pray for you, that you may experience a God moment. And maybe you will experience God through a little boy or a little girl just like I did.

Thanks be to God for the children that we meet or know that change our lives everyday!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Roses and all...

David Hume once wrote, "Beauty in things exist merely in the mind which contemplates them."

Often times when I am stressed or in a particularly contemplative mood, I go in search of beauty. Some of the beauty I find, will only be beautiful to me, because I agree with Hume's statement, beauty exists in the mind that is contemplating its beauty. Art is a prime example, what is beautiful to one, will not be to another. But I am not here to really discuss if Hume was correct in his statement, I am simply here to share the beauty that I found.

Yesterday, I found myself in Sewanee, and if you have never been there, please go. The natural beauty that exists within this small town is beyond words.

Anyhow, I found myself in one of those particularly contemplative moods, and went to one of my favorite places, sitting at the foot of a cross. My most deep thinking is found while sitting at the foot of a cross, sometimes metaphorically but on this occasion, physically.

Hidden down a road made of small hills is tucked away a memorial cross that opens up to the hillside below. This memorial cross is a memorial to those who have served in several different wars. I have been to this cross several times, and have taken photos at different times of day and at different angles. But last night, as I approached the cross, the sun was mostly gone, and the cross was beautifully lit up. As I approached the cross with my camera, I saw two roses and a jar sitting on the top step. As I got closer to photograph the two roses, I saw that they had to have been sitting there a while, because they were dried out.  I took several photos, spent some time just sitting and thinking, got in my car and left. 
As I drove down the interstate heading back home, those roses just stuck in my mind. I began to think of what they meant or who left them. I pictured someone leaving those roses as a memorial for someone that they lost in one of the wars. I pictured a person who had no where else to turn but to that cross, to that sacred space, and they left the roses as a sign of giving something to God. I pictured a beautiful proposal that took place at the overlook, and they left two roses as a sign of their love for not only each other, but for what that place represented.

The story could be absolutely anything. 

 I don't know why those two roses were left there, but as I thought about it, I wondered why I found solace in that place. Its the presence of God in such a place. Its the wind in my hair as I sit and see the creativity of God in the hills, the woods, the sky, and all of the surroundings of that cross. 

To see those two roses sitting at the foot of the cross, combined with all of the ways that I typically experience God in that place, reminded me of perspective. Sometimes I see the world through such small glasses, it narrows my view to only the immediate, and it hinders me from seeing what is to come or what could come. And it may be because I have experienced those short sighted glasses recently that this came to mind, but as I looked at the cross and the roses that sat beneath it, my thought was, "no one could have known what that cross would mean while Jesus hung on it. No one saw the bigger picture. But He did."

Why is it so easy to simply look as far as you can see, and because you can't see any further, stop looking? 

Choose to see the beauty. Choose to see the potential in the world around you. Choose to see the cross as Christ saw it, not as a means to an end, but to a whole new beginning.

Why is choosing this route so scary? My guess is because there is no guarantee in it. It is literally walking by faith. It is hard. 

I want to choose it. I have chosen it time and again. I want to see the roses, and remember the perspective that those roses brought. I pray that the roses continue to appear, because the reality is I need to be reminded to see the potential.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Next?

The last few days have been insane. Insane not because I have had a lot going on, but insane because of one question. The question of, "what is your next step?" Typically when people ask me that question, I automatically respond with "when the time comes, I will go where I am sent." But that person responded with you can have a plan, and talk about next steps. While I knew this to be the case, to an extent. That statement completely threw me for a loop.

It threw me so much, that it made me question everything, including the am I good enough? Can I really do this? God, are you really calling me to this? Can I really be a pastor? I am so scared, what if this goes all wrong and God really isn't calling me here?

Yesterday, I felt deflated and struggled the whole day with that question. I spoke to a dear friend, and she promised to pray as I go through this process of discernment. She gave me some words of encouragement that brought peace though. I heard one of her sermons recently, and she said something like "when you are called, God will give you the grace and ability to do it." And when I said that to her, she reminded me that sometimes you go into something and those things are given to you as you live into that call. That statement again rocked me.

I spent the evening in a space of just trying to listen through whatever I was doing. I watched a new movie, and it put me in tears. It was like I just needed to cry, and that movie started a really good cry. When I thought I was finished crying, I turned on some music. All Sons and Daughters', "Longing", came on and it just put me back into tears.

"Love is and always was
The longing place inside my heart
To know You
And be known by you"

And then reading words from the inspirational and amazing person, Mother Teresa, that spoke about Christ being in every person you meet. I went to bed thinking about what it all meant. I didn't know why it sent me into tears, I just knew that it did.

Today, there were three specific moments that showed me that I am where I am supposed to be.

1. I went to a clergy district meeting this morning and we went through the Wesley Covenant service. Wesley's covenant prayer is very dear to me, because that it was during that prayer in 2008, that I accepted the call to be a pastor. I couldn't say "I am no longer mine own, but thine..." without accepting it. So when we said it today, and I was amongst clergy who I respect and am lucky enough to call some of them friends, I again stopped, and also heard my friend Susan's voice in my head that said, "God is not a God of fear, but a God of love." Which reminded me of my own fear of not being enough. When I began to say "I am no longer my own, but yours..." I could feel God releasing so much fear and tension inside of me.

2. We had our annual SPRC meeting tonight where they decide if they want each clergy to remain at the church or if they want to request for them to move. And as I sat down, they asked me basic questions like who was I (for the new people on the committee), what did I do, etc. as I spoke, I could feel my passion for these kids. When I walked into my office afterwards, my thought was I love what I do, why am I so afraid that God isn't calling me here? Why am I not able to here the affirmation around me?

3. When I got home, I decided to go for a walk. It was a cold, beautiful night, and I wanted to experience it. As I walked to the coffee shop in the middle of town from my apartment,  I passed several restaurants and businesses, one of the those businesses was the library. As I was passing the library I noticed that there was someone sitting outside of the library just huddled up against the wall. I kept walking. I got myself a chai tea and began my walk back. As I got to the corner (where the church is), I stopped. I was thinking about that person by the library. I went back to the coffee shop and got a hot chocolate. I couldn't walk past the library with a hot drink without having one for the person sitting there. I stopped at the library, spoke to the person, gave them the hot chocolate, and left. As I walked back I stopped at the depot and just sat down. 

It was a moment. A beautiful moment. I took in the sky around me and the image in front of me as I sat there (the pictures below). And I listened to the music in my ears. Again, "Longing" came on. 

Love is and always was
The longing place inside my heart
To know You
And be known by You 

And it hit me. I am where I am supposed to be. As long as I can find myself at that longing place, the place of love and remembering the words of Mother Teresa, Christ is in each person that we meet, and as long as I can continue to live into that prayer: "I am no longer my own, but thine..." I will be fine and will be where I am called to be.

I still have those fears, I am still well aware of my downfalls, and I still feel rocked, but at this point, I will stick with my answer. I will go where I am sent, and when it's time to go, God will send me. Whether it be through me saying I am ready for what is next, or the Bishop calling me somewhere else. I will go, until then I am ok, in fact I am good.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Mother Teresa

Tonight, I began a new book, "Mother Teresa." I am struggling to get past the preface of the book. This struggle does not exist because it is a hard read, but because the preface alone is rich with the life and words of Mother Teresa.

So far there are two quotes that caught my eye:

"I believe", she once said, "in person to person contact. Every person is Christ for me and since there is only one Jesus, the person I am meeting is the one person in the world at that moment."

"No one thinks of the pen while reading a letter," she once wrote, stressing the unimportance of such considerations. "They only want to know the mind of the person who wrote the letter. That's exactly what I am in God's hand- a little pencil. God is writing his love letter to the world in this way, through works of love."

I am completely in awe of this woman. She had a vision of what the world could look like, and that God could change the world through her- the pencil. That God could use one person and change the world is an amazing thing, thanks be to God that God didn't just choose her, but so many more.

May we see Christ in every person we meet. And even if we forget, may we always keep trying to see Christ in each other. 

-Excerpts taken from "Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography" by Kathryn Spink

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Love Came Down at Christmas

I know it isn’t Christmas yet, and if you are reading this, you might be thinking we haven’t even hit Thanksgiving yet, why are you talking about Christmas? Well, I am one of those who watch Christmas movies year round, and the music, well it stays on pretty regularly. So it should be no surprise that I sat down tonight and watched a new Hallmark movie called “Signed, Sealed, Delivered at Christmas.” 

At one point in the movie, the words “Love came down at Christmas” were spoken between two of the lead characters. It was one of those aha! Moments. You know the ones that tears instantly spring to your eyes, and for just one second it takes your breath away. I can’t remember the whole conversation, nor could I find the quote online, but it talked about the love that came down. And with that love came hope.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in everything that begins to take place during these busy seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s so easy to forget why it is that we even celebrate Christmas, but as I continued towatch the movies with tears in my eyes, I was reminded why.

I was reminded of the beauty that the upcoming season of Advent brings. Reminded of the story of Christmas that over the next month will be told over and over and over again in churches and throughout families around the world. Reminded of the hope that came with one special little boy. Reminded that life, though it may be hard at times and seem like it’s too much to handle can eventually bring great joy. I was reminded of HOPE.

Most of all, I was reminded of a great hymn, written first as a poem by Christina Rosetti in the mid-to-late 1800's:

“Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.”

Throughout my life, I have lost hope many times. Even as I sit here typing this out, I have tears in my eyes because sometimes I know that hope is so hard to find, and sometimes it feels like God isn’t even there, or maybe God is there but God doesn’t care. But the beautiful thing about hope is that even when you lose it, or you think you are losing it, love is right there to offer it back to you. It may not happen immediately, it may take a longtime, but no matter the length, love walks right alongside holding your hand, waiting for you to be ready to receive the hope you thought you had lost.

The only thing that I know for sure about this love is that it is a gift from God, if not an extension of the persona of God. I have also found that people find this love differently. I found it tonight in the form of a movie. Some find it in the laughter of a child, or in the beauty of a sunset,or as we anxiously await, we find it in the straw of a manger on a late night. 

As we enter this time of advent, of great expectancy, and of hope in this “love that comes at Christmas,” my prayer for you is that you will know that the love that came down at Christmas all those years ago, is the love that walks with you every moment of every day, even when it feels like you have nothing left, and all hope seems lost. Just close your eyes and breathe. Allow that love to come over you, or maybe just allow that love to simply sit with you, “Love shall be yours and love be mine.” Love is here and love is ours.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Moments

Tonight, “The Vow” was on TV. It is a movie about moments.“Its like your own personal greatest hits of memories…” Moments. Many momentsare beautifully romantic (what can I say, I am hopeless), but there are somemoments that play in our minds that hurt, they are the worst moments, but wecannot forget them. Why is it just as easy to remember the bad moments than itis to remember the good moments? What is that about?

 As I sat and watchedthe movie, I began to think about the moments of my life. I thought about somany good moments, and not so good moments, but the moment I was thinking aboutthe most was now. Every year about this time, I become nostalgic. I blame it onmy birthday. Each year, I look back on where I have been, and I look forward towhere I think I will be next year. The thing is though that I am so concernedwith looking back and looking forward that I completely miss where I am at thatmoment. 

At this moment, I am waiting. What am I waiting for? Well, Iam not quite sure. I thought I knew, but what I thought I was waiting on,wasn’t it. I am a planner, it seems I have always been that way, and for aslong as I can remember I knew what I wanted, and where I wanted to be. It seemsthough that God had different plans. Nothing is what I thought it would be,absolutely nothing. Which to be quite honest, no matter how hard it was and isat different times. I am so very thankful that I am where I am, and who I am, andwith the people I am with. I wouldn’t trade the life that I have experienced.

Over the last few weeks of remembering this past year, andlooking forward to the year ahead, I think God is telling me that its ok to nothave a plan, and that God will take care of it. I believe God is saying, livein the now. Stop worrying about what will happen or what has happened andexperience today.  Take that moment andwalk to work because it’s a beautiful day outside. Seize the day and eat thatdelicious Krispy Kreme Doughnut while it’s HOT. Laugh with those around you,and don’t worry about whether they will be around next year. Cry at every sappymovie, because you FEEL it, it doesn’t matter that your friends laugh at you.Breathe in and breathe out. Experience today. Because in the end, you onlyregret not living. So today, I am going to experience the moments and take inall that I can, because I know there will be a day when it will all change.What it will look like, I have no idea, but it will change. Change isinevitable, seize the moment, and allow God to write a story that I, or maybe even you, never knewwas possible.