"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Eve Communion

As I sat in the Christmas eve communion service this past Saturday evening, I watched people go down the aisle to receive the elements.  There was the older woman pulling an oxygen tank behind her; the man with a debilitating disease who was being carefully monitored by his young wife; a sister-in-law who had managed to leave her ill mother long enough for this moment; and another woman, a friend, who reached out to offer a hug and who herself, within hours, would be the victim of a fatal heart attack.

I'm not sure if it was the brokenness of the body or the love for it that overcame me.

But I wept.

Just an ordinary moment....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Merry Christmas! Or is that Happy Holidays?

A number of years ago, an "evil" establishment popped up in the town where I lived.  Evil in that it sold BOTH hard liquor and pornography.  A little known fact is that on several occasions, after dark, a petite spit-fire of a woman named Mrs. Mary would take a bottle of wine and walk around the building anointing it while praying -- cursing the evil therein.  Is it any surprise that before too long, the place burned down and was never rebuilt?  I have to admit, I applauded Mrs. Mary for her efforts and her boldness.  Oh, to have such conviction ... and FAITH!  But over the years, my thinking has developed a little bit as I have thought about this story.  (And it's indeed a true one.)

Could it be as Dr. Leonard Sweet shares that too many Christians want to change the world, not because they love the world but because they hate it?  That was a life-shaping thought for me.  How many times had I ridden by establishments, palm readers, night clubs, stripped joints, etc, and "cursed" the place.  Maybe I hadn't asked God to burn it down, but I had requested it be no more. 

More recently I was touched by something Nancy Heche shared in her book, The Truth Comes Out.  (You might recall that Nancy's daughter Ann had a highly publicized lesbian affair with actress Ellen DeGeneres.)  Nancy related her hard and stubborn heart toward her daughter ... until the last verse of Acts 3 jumped out at her.  When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.  Did you hear that?  God's blessing is what turns us from our ways to His ways.

The Greek lexicon says this about the word "blessing."  "To bless is to ask God to interfere, to take action in one's life, to bring them to the desired relationship with Himself so that they are truly blessed and fully satisfied." 

Instead of offering blessings, I'm afraid we get caught up in the lover's quarrel of which Dr. Sweet spoke.  And it becomes more and more evident every year.  If a particular store won't recognize Christmas, well, then we'll just take our business elsewhere.  If they call their pines "holiday trees," then we get back in our cars and go to the next place that actually sells Christmas trees.  Or worse yet, if an employee wishes us a happy holidays, we respond with a haughty, "Merry Christmas." At least I know I have.

Listen, I wish everyone understood and appreciated the meaning of Christmas, but the truth is we live in a society where that's no longer the case.  And, yes, I'm aware that these same people are more than willing to receive our monies.  But what would happen if we began blessing instead of cursing?  If we began offering Christ in the person of our presence rather than avoiding altogether?  What if we extended grace?  What if we really loved the world instead of hated it ... and asked God to bring the heads of companies as well as their employees to a desired relationship with Him?  What if?

Frank Laubach, a missionary to Muslims in the Philippines back in the 1930's, wrote in his book, Letters by a Modern Mystic, these words. "Clearly, clearly, my job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion. And, my loved one, that is the best gift you can give to your own town."

Sounds like a wonderful Christmas gift to offer all those with whom we come in contact during this special holy-day season.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Voice in the Desert

I've seen him more times than I can remember to count.  For years now, he has carried a sign and shouted in a loud voice with a long drawl that winds its way through moss laden oaks and time worn squares of Savannah.  Whether he's denouncing communism or predicting the end of the world, I truly cannot say, because like most who encounter this self-proclaimed prophet, I go out of my way to avoid him.

The 2nd week in Advent draws our attention to another somewhat like the man forementioned ... yet very different.  His name?  John the Baptist.

I have to admit I have an affinity for this one who is so unique ... so strange.  I was first introduced to him when I was a child in Sunday school.  After all, he was the one who baptized Jesus!  The one who wasn't worthy to tie Jesus' sandals.  The one who proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  The one who had his head chopped off and served on a platter.  (Okay, so that last one probably wasn't offered in my Sunday pre-school literature.)  But more recently, I was re-introduced to this fiery character by a former pastor who was also magnetized by this unique individual.

Mark's gospel doesn't begin with an annunciation to Mary or with shepherds abiding in the fields.  It doesn't have angels shouting in the heavens.  It simply says, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Song of God.  As it is writen in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way." And, bam, John, the first real prophet in Israel in some 400 years shows up on the scene.  And what an appearance he made!  He was dressed in a camel's hair cloak tied with a leather belt around his waist.  His hair and beard had never been cut, and living on a diet of wild honey and locusts, he must have been as skinny as a rail.  This is the one the Lord had chosen to announce His coming?  Surely he looked more like a cave man than a prophet.  But indeed he was, and people flocked to him.  And that's one of the differences right there in the street evangelist and the character in Mark. 

Another way they were different is that street evangelists seem to plant themselves in your way and dare you to get out of it.  Not John the Baptist.  One had to GO to the DESERT to find him.  And go they did.  In droves.  Through rocky crevices and down bandit infested trails, they traveled by foot and mule to see this one who seemed from another planet. 

And that's what amazes me so about all of this; something of which I've never thought before now.  The "beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ" did not have its inaugural in a church.  Only those who were willing to enter the wilderness got to experience first the freedom of which John proclaimed.  And for someone that's been living in some barren land lately, that's huge.

As one author put it, "The good news is always beginning somewhere in the world, for those with ears to hear and hearts to go wherever the way may lead." 

Heard any voices lately?

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gift Giving

When I sat down with my list last night, I was feeling pretty smug.  After all, here it was Dec. 3, and except for just a few gift cards, all my Christmas shopping was done.  Three good weeks of just enjoying the season without all the distractions.  And then it hit me: the real gift giving is not to be found coming from the purse at all -- but one that originates and comes from the heart. 

And so my Christmas list grows.

Time ... given to the lonely and hurting.

Tolerance ... when I want to be angry and lash back.

Peace ... during moments of frustration.

Forgiveness ... when evil is done toward me.

Compassion ... for the less privileged.

Gratitude ... for each blessing that comes my way.

Grace ... for every negative comment or attitude.

Somehow I think this list might be the more costly. 

May we all find joy in our gift-giving this season.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We've Been Robbed!!!

While out Saturday, I received a text from my husband asking if anyone had borrowed his gas-powered blower.  He went to do a little yard cleaning and it was no where to be found.  To my knowledge, no one had, but it's always best to ask the children.  I found none guilty, and since such equipment usually doesn't walk off by itself, it was determined we had been invaded.  The disconcerting part of this is that the thief had come in the daylight while I was home and walked right into my garage.  The "what if" rang in my head.  "What if I had walked out on him and startled him?"  And the other troubling spot is that any such tools cannot be seen from the road.  Therefore the officer who took the report said the perpetrator had probably been in the garage before and scoped things out before coming back.
So is it any wonder that my guard was up this morning when the fellow with the yellow hard hat carrying a box under his arm crossed my backyard?  I was quick to call our electric provider and ask if they had workers in the area changing out boxes.  And they did.  But as I was looking out the front window to see if I saw a vehicle, I noticed an SUV in the driveway across the street and a man dressed in black trying to shimmy the front door open -- with a credit card! 

Like I said, my guard was up.  And so, within a 24 hour period, I made my 2nd 911 call.  I was almost embarrassed when, again, the emergency operator quickly responded, "911.  What's your emergency?" 

"Well, it's not exactly an emergency, but there is someone trying to break down the front door to the vacant house across the street."  What I didn't mention was that there were papers on the front door stating that anyone intering the premises would be arrested on the spot. I described what the fellow looked like, what he was wearing and what kind of car he was driving, and then she asked for a license plate number, at which time I had to confess to using binoculars.  (Please let it be known these were bought for the sole purpose of bird watching.)  Before I could get through with all the information, an unidentified vehicle zoomed up and blocked the driveway.  I cautiously asked, "Have you dispatched a policeman, because a blue car just pulled up and two large men are getting out."  I think she got a little concerned as well and asked me what kind of car it was.  All I could say was, "Blue."  What can I say?  I'm a woman who doesn't know any make of car except the one she drives.  At this point, a marked police car pulled in behind them, and my thought was, "Lord, what have I started?"  Over and over, I kept apologizing, telling the dispatcher, "It's probably on the up and up, but I'm just very guarded right now."

And why not?  I'd been robbed.  And before that, my next door neighbors were burglarized when someone entered their home while they there, no less, and had stolen her jewelry ... heirloom pieces that could never be replaced.  A thief has paid us both a visit.  I think I had legitimate reason for caution and to make the call.

I don't know about you, but when I normally think of thieves, I imagine one dressed in a stocking cap pulled low with maybe a mask over his eyes -- as in the movies.  One who sneaks and tiptoes and enters cautiously at night.  One who is so quiet that we don't even know he's been there until we find a door open, a piece of jewelry missing ... or wake to find him standing over our bed.  Really, all a thief has to do is watch us for awhile, and he will find a way in, because he's normally very good at what he does. He violates one of our most precious illusions: that our homes, that we, are safe. 

A thief is scary, to say the least.

I guess that's why I have such trouble with passages of Scripture that allude to Christ coming like a thief in the night.  Matthew, Luke, Peter.  They all talk about it.  And then Paul writes it out plainly in Rev. 16:15 when he quotes Jesus as saying, "Behold, I come like a thief! ..."  Really?

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is, "What is He after?" 

May I encourage you this Advent season to let this Beloved Invader have His way with you.  If we could get over the fear of His intrusion, I think we might find His desire is to empty His pockets and not fill them.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, November 28, 2011

And They're Off.....

Thansgiving has come and gone and the Christmas season is officially here.  Of course, the stores have been decorated for weeks now, and even a local church was decked out in its Christmas array before we could sing, "Come, ye thankful people, come...."  But why not, I've been hearing It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the radio for 2 weeks now.  Yet before I get too judgmental, let it be known that even I hit the stores a little bit on Black Friday, though I really didn't purchase much ... just a lavender chamomile candle for my bathroom and a fuschia vest from Bass Pro.  The excursion was more for family fun than anything else. There was even a hope of seeing Santa Claus.  But there were some serious shoppers out there.  Bags not only in their hands and over their shoulders but under their eyes as well as many of the stores had opened on Thursday evening offering all night shopping for that perfect gift for those special ones on your list. 

Yet this rainy Monday morning I woke with my own list.  Not so much a shopping one but a "to do" one.  All pointing toward Christmas.  All getting ready for the big day that will be here before we know it.  My mind is already going in a thousand directions.  Do this.  Do that.  See to this.  See to that.  Pick up this.  Order that.  My lands, I have lists within lists.

But as I sat down for a few minutes and lit my Advent candle, a certain word kept coming up and up again. "Wait."

Excuse me?


Wait for what?  Christmas is coming!

You see, I'd already fallen into the cultural trap.  I had already begun to lose the joy of the present moment by getting ready for the "big event."  I was already on the verge of missing Christmas because of the frantic to get there.  Seriously folks, how many times have we felt a deep anticlimax on Christmas day when that long-anticipated day didn't live up to our expectations?  Could it have been because we had lived so in the future, that when the future became the present, we didn't know how to deal with it because we had lost the ability to be fully present, right now?

So what do we do with that?  Do we do as in days past and wait to decorate our homes until Christmas eve?  Do we wait to sing Christmas carols until that morning?  Do we go on a crusade to have our neighborhood covenants read "No Christmas lights on houses are to be turned on until the evening of Dec. 24"?  Of course not.  That would not only be ludicrous but completely unattainable.

I ask again: what do we do?  What is this Advent "waiting" all about? 

For me, it means active waiting.  Advent summons me to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life I live right now.  If I want to appreciate Advent fully and experience Christmas in its entirety, I need to relearn how to wait, to rediscover the art of savoring the future, of staying in the present and of finding meaning in this act of waiting.

My list of "to dos" has not changed.  The transformation has taken place in my heart.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stay Awake!

I awoke early this morning.  Call me strange, but there's some anticipation I experience when I know a new season is rolling in.  And today is the first Sunday in Advent.  A new candle was to be lit.  And it was.  But somewhere in the pre-dawn, I began to "slip."  Okay, so it's not unusual for me to pull the blanket off the back of the couch, throw it over my feet and slide down within its warmth, and then wake to find myself late for whatever's next.  In fact, after the activities of this past week, this morning would have been such an opportune time.  I even thought about it as I felt my eyes getting droopy. 

And then I remembered this morning's Scripture.  It focused on staying alert.  Keeping awake.  Why?  Because Jesus could be returning at any moment!  Matthew 24:37 says it this way: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  Truly, the most basic formulations of the Christian faith include this expectancy.  You can hear it in the communion liturgy: "Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again."  In our Apostle's creed: "... He will come again to judge the living and the dead..."  There's no getting around it; Jesus will come again.  And that's what we do this Advent.  We wait.  We expect.

Advent colors are not the hues we associate with this season of the year.  They are not green and red, but purple, moody and dark.  The music is not major, but minor.  Its theme is not "deck the halls," but "Repent!"  It is a season focused on the coming of Jesus -- not only to Bethlehem some 2000 years ago but futuristically on a white horse.  Yet while we wait and while we anticipate, we also look.  And as we do, we find Him in our midst right now.  We see Him in our spouses, in our children and grandchildren, in our neighbors and bosses, in the girl behind the cash register, in the homeless and the weary and the tired.  We begin to recognize Him in our daily chores, in our time spent with friends, in our pains, and in our sufferings.  In fact, every moment of our lives can become an Advent.  A time when the Lord is near ... present.  But we must stay awake ... and look.

So my prayer for you this first morning is that you would be blessed with a spirit of Advent.  That He would awaken your senses to His presence in the here and now, and that as He does, you would become a sign of love, hope, joy and peace in a world that seems chaotic and out of control and that desperately needs Him.

Blessings to each of you this Advent morning.

Just an ordinary moment....

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The End of One Season ... Welcomes Another

The last 24 weeks on the Christian calendar have been what is known at Pentecost ... or Ordinary Time.  According to Sarah Arthur in her introduction to At the Still Point, "If Advent, Lent and Easter are the glitzy celebrities at the liturgical party, Ordinary Time is the plain auntie collecting dirty wine glasses afterward.  We almost forget she's there."  After all, Advent announces the coming of the Savior of the world with the scenes of a wild man dressed in camel hair.  Christmas heralds "Joy to the World! The Lord is come!!!" Lent is marked with ashes and fasting ... and mortality.  Easter, of course, is the highlight: He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But except for the initial wind and fire falling upon the disciples in Jerusalem, Pentecost is marked by ... well, by ordinariness.  As the longest season of the liturgical year, it really has no high points; it boasts no showy colors or costumes. 

Pentecost provides a pause.  But it's a pause worth taking. 

As Enuma Okoro wrote:
This ordinary time is
gifted in its quiet, marked passing
Christ slips about
calling and baptizing,
sending and affirming,
pouring his Spirit like water
into broken cisterns,
sealing cracks and filtering our senses,
that we may savor the foolish
simplicity of his grace.

During this time, an E.B. Browning quote, ...Speak Thou, availing Christ! -- and fill this pause, stayed tucked inside the wreath surrounding my morning candle.

George Herbert's poem remains taped to a print on my bathroom wall.

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and fly away with thee.

I've meditated upon Elizabeth B. Rooney's prose:

Must we use words
For everything?
Can there not be
A silent, flaming
Leap of heart
Toward Thee?

And what about the poetry of the Greek Synesius?

May my soul, her want perceiving,
Turn her gaze to where Thou art,
And in all Thy fullness find Thee
Food to satisfy the heart.

And lastly, "Love" by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

And thus I have. 

But tonight marks the end of this journey ... this Ordinary Time ... this pause.  It has been good.  And it has been necessary.  But now the Thanksgiving wreath and orange pumpkin candle have been replaced by purple and pink and white.  Ordinary is replaced with anticipation.

Advent begins.  The end of one season welcomes another.

Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Love Nest

In the dark stillness of the morning, I find myself drawn into a love affair. I do not know his face -- only his voice. But each day finds me listening for and anticipating the rich melody of love. It's only 5 notes ... 3 tones to be exact. For the musical connoisseur, that would be D-C-A-A-A. Sometimes it's short and staccato-like; at other times boisterous and dramatic. Regardless, it's as if he sings for me. Calls to me. And when I hear it, my ears become receptors, my senses come alive and my spirit leaps.

And I answer ... with my own mimicking whistle.  

Where or what he is, I do not know. I just recognize for this period of time, we are both hidden ... from the world and from each other -- in our own little gardens enclosed. But there is sweetness. There is connection. There is communion. And for today, the sound of his song is enough. 

As light breaks and the day rises to meet the sun, there is a hushed reverence, and I find myself alone once again. Yet the melody remains within me ... and it is enough. 

Desires are satisfied.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff,
Let me see your face, let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.
Song of Songs 2:14
Just an ordinary moment...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sacred Ground

I've been walking on sacred ground lately. Not the kind that has ornate walls or stained glass windows. Nor have I visited any Indian mounds in recent past. This one has just been a basic home with rockers on the front porch and a fruit bearing pear tree in the back. It belonged to my daughter-in-love's mother who passed away on Sept. 10 at the age of 59. Far too young. So I've been helping do what one does when such happens. And in the process, finding the need to maybe take off my shoes.

We began the difficult task in the kitchen ... after all, it was "safe." The patterns may be different, but we all have dishes, basic pots and pans, and cooking utensils. The living room provided ample opportunity to find out what kind of movies she liked to watch; what kind of books she liked to read; and what kind of music she liked to listen to. The walls of the back room revealed her past love of horses. And turned down pages in the cookbooks revealed her favorite recipes. But it wasn't until we began dusting off boxes and opening closet doors did the need to remove my sandals become increasingly evident.

Dolls she had cradled as a child ... a brown paper bag full of letters written to her love when he was away ... a well loved lamb that dated back to her childhood ... a worn teddy bear, the kind with real button eyes ... a tiny song book compiled for US soldiers and sailors, with her grandfather's name, battalion, and station inscribed in it -- in his own handwriting -- which he carried while serving in WWI ... teachings on deliverance ... century old hymnbooks ... an unfinished baby blanket for a grandchild she will never hold ... poems from her own pen ... a poinsettia Christmas pin attached to a favorite coat ... a family picture album she had made for her mother so many years ago ... a well-used Bible that remained right next to her bed until the day she died. Quite frankly, I found moving that off its place on the nightstand the most holy act of all.

At times, my daughter-in-love and I have laughed so hard we have snorted. At others times, we've shed tears. We have sneezed. We have rolled our eyes. And yet sometimes, many times, silence has been the only appropriate response. But if the truth be known, I've learned more about this woman in the last 6 weeks than I knew in the previous 6 years. And I'm honored and grateful for the privilege.

Sacred ground. It comes in all shapes, forms, and fashion.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hi, Daddy!

Her voice rang out amid the silence of a congregation full of worshipers. "Hi, Daddy!" It was the first time my 3-year-old niece had been in a worship service when her daddy was singing in the choir. When she saw him, she was thrilled. Again the voice rang out a little louder. "Hi, Daddy!" And again with a bit more shrill to it each time. "Hi, Daddy!!" Completely oblivious to the "reverence" and sobriety of the moment, this child gave way to the excitement of seeing her daddy.

"Abba" is the Greek term for daddy. It's the word Jesus Himself called His Father when He was praying in the garden before His crucifixion. It's a term of intimacy ... familiarity. Just as it was for my niece to her daddy this particular morning.

After the choir sang, the members dispersed into the congregation to sit with their families. My brother was no exception. He leaned over the first pew to where his little girl sat with her mother and picked her up in his arms and carried her to the nursery -- which is where 3-year-olds go during the sermon time. But she didn't care. She was in her father's strong arms, and she was delighted. One could tell by the tight grip she had around his neck and the wide smile on her face. After all, she worships her daddy.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ashes to Ashes

What began as just a normal invitation to tea last week turned into a most spiritual moment for me Friday. It wasn't the first time I had been asked to such an engagement and it certainly wasn't the first time I had been in my friend's lovely home. Nor was it the first time we had talked about the beautiful blue and white tea canister sitting on her mantel -- and her father's remains that were encased within it. What was different this time is that she actually opened the container and pulled them out after making sure none of her 3 guests found it morbid.

There he was, at least 1/5 of him, as the other siblings each had a share, completely comprised in a plastic zip-lock bag no larger than my hand. I stood there just looking at the silvery gray ash before asking if I might hold it. When my friend said, "Of course," I reverently took it in both hands and studied the metallic "dust." It was much more dense than one would have thought for ashes, and much heavier than one would have suspected, even though it only weighed 1.8 lbs. (Yes, we actually weighed it later.)

But somehow I knew that I was standing on sacred ground, and no words seemed appropriate. It was indeed a moment to be embraced.

"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust." I've heard them all my life and have even participated in the imposition of ashes to my forehead on Ash Wednesdays for more than a decade now. But not until that moment did I catch the magnitude of those words. From surely we come and to surely we will go. And in the meantime, God chooses to give us life -- His life, that we might know Him, so that when those ashes return to their former state, our spirits live on forever. With Him.

Who but God could think up such a plan?

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wall Street Versus East Africa

I was not shocked by today's headlines; after all, it had been all the over the news and internet last night. In fact, an entire page in this morning's paper was given to just such. Complete with pictures. Stocks fell 634 points in yesterday's trading.

What did catch me off guard however was when I turned the front page and saw the small 1 1/2- by 3-inch blurb concerning the famine in East Africa. In less that 70 words, we were told that "hundreds of thousands of kids could die in famine." The news wasn't new to me, but it jolted me as if lightning from last night's storm had hit its mark on my own heart.

And so I wondered: what stirs the heart of God more? A middle-aged man crouching behind a computer screen with his hands covering his face or a starving refugee child reduced to nothing but skin and bones looking through bulging eyes at his mama.

I know and I think you do as well. Now what are we going to do about it?

Honestly, with such an unstable economy, maybe we're thinking we can't afford to do anything. Beloved, we can't afford NOT to do anything.

Is this not the fast I have chosen: ...
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry ...?

THEN your light shall break forth like the morning,
your healing shall spring forth speedily,
and your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, "Here I am."
(Isaiah 58:6-9)


Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wordy Girl

I'm such a wordy girl. I probably should apologize for it; but it's who I am. I know some of my friends must roll their eyes when they receive letters or emails from me as I tend to fill my epistles with way too much information. Useless facts. Needless news. But if they only knew what I actually left out... And on more than one occasion, after a rather wordy flirtation, my husband has been known to say, "Yet another insignificant moment in the life of Nancy." Which is just another way of saying, "Much ado about nothing."

I also confess to being somewhat nerdy. After all, I receive a "word of the day" each morning -- and I'm not talking some rich devotional thought to inspire spiritual thinking. I'm talking about a word with its definition. For example, today's was "overslaugh." It means "to pass over or disregard (a person) by giving a promotion, position, etc., to another." Maybe you think that's useless. Maybe it will show up in a blog one day.

And is it asinine or peculiar to have a shortcut to thesaurus.com on one's desktop? If indeed it is, then call me so.

I also keep a game of "Words with Friends" going with both my son and his wife. Basically, it's just Scrabble played at one's leisure back and forth on our smart phones. It always thrills me when I can use all 8 letters -- like "pirating"! And a triple word square makes it even better! Today I was able to play "abba," "rotated," and "faux," which brought in some hefty points with the "X".

But what has me thinking is the weight words can and do carry. In fact, God's Word has a lot to say about words and their effects on you and on me.

Just listen:

Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction (Prov. 18:20).

The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions (Prov. 10:11).

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov. 12:18

A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul (Prov. 18:7).

And can I just add that the world itself was framed by the word protruding out of the mouth of God? It all began with, "Light!" And there was. Words hold creative power, my friends! Not to mention destructive as well. Whoever said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," had his head in the sand. They can downright kill!

Yep, I'm a wordy girl. But I need to be careful. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Prov. 18:21). Sounds like I have a choice to make every time I open my mouth or put pen to paper.

What about you?

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mike's Jewel

There is a song that needs to be sung -- but I find there are no words to equal the strength and beauty of the melody. Deeply soulful and sometimes restrained and delicate, the notes are being hammered out in the day to day. In some places, it rings of broken hearts and shattered dreams, yet the overlying theme resounds of a love stronger than death itself.

Thing is it's not even my song to sing, yet one that has found cadence on the strings of my own heart and harmony within my own life's orchestration. It's the psalm of Mike and Julie.

I have known Mike all of my life. In fact, he and I shared a table in the back far corner in Mrs. Barfield's first grade class. My most vivid memory of those days is when I felt the need to align our little table for two with the one next to ours and, in doing so, pinched Mike's already scabbed elbow that was sitting directly in the place of juncture, thus reopening the wound. If I recall correctly, the entire class came to a halt from the screech of pain and while Mrs. Barfield applied a bandage.

The next 12 years swept along and Mike and I found each other in and out of homerooms together. Our senior year came and went, and quite sadly, so did Mike and I as we did not see each other for another 34 years. That is until Tuesday evening.

Actually, our reconnection took place a couple of years ago when we "found" each other through facebook. Mike had recently remarried and I delighted in looking at pictures of his and Julie's "redneck wedding," as he calls it -- a simple but beautiful ceremony in their backyard by the lake. Shortly thereafter, posts began appearing about Julie's condition: a large cyst on her brain stem, surgery, crossed eyes, more surgery, therapy, a set back, more surgery, pneumonia, paralysis on her right side, 135 days of continuous hospital stay. An orchestration filled with highs and lows, faith and fear. But after 18 months and 13 surgeries, Julie is home and Mike is right by her side. A duet of grace.

After a few messages back and forth, I called Mike and asked if I could come by to see him and meet his bride; he was more than gracious to my offer. He told me the therapist was there, but he'd leave the door open and for me to come on in. Much to my delight, he was waiting at the door when I arrived, and our first moments together reminded me why I have always had such an affinity for this fellow. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things," Matthew 12:35 says, and that's Mike.

My friend pointed me to the living area where Julie sat waiting in her wheelchair. Our introduction was an embrace. And for the next period of time, the 3 of us got acquainted and reacquainted, with lots of reminiscing and stories thrown in the mix. And as we did, my heart grew larger and fuller as this beautiful woman took her place within its posts.

Several times a week I seem to run into someone whose only response to life is to complain. It had happened the Saturday morning before and it happened immediately upon leaving Mike and Julie. Both from individuals I don't even know. But here sat a couple who have every right to curse and complain, yet choose to bless instead. Though Mike does not diminish his past, nor do he and Julie deny their situation, they attest to a God who is faithful to them in this present moment and speak nothing but life giving words.

Mike calls Julie "Jewels," and rightly so, for indeed she is his gem. He looks at her with an expression of love that would melt the hardest metal. And she responds in like manner. His voice is kind -- albeit stern like a father when she gets to going too fast in her wheelchair. And her face is playful when she cuts her eyes toward him and drops her jaw.

It has not come without cost, and yes, each day brings its own source of challenges, but these two are writing a melody that is eternal and one that resounds in the heavenlies. My heart is indeed blessed by its tune.

In the 9th grade, Mike and I once again shared homeroom in Mr. Kelly's class. But this time we're on the front row. I'm 3rd from left and he's far right.
Who would have ever guessed that 37 years later, he and I would once again be on our knees together -- this time with his beautiful Jewel and in the presence of a mighty God whose life pulses through her body to the tune of mercy and grace.
Oh, how I bless you two in the powerful name of Jesus! May the days ahead be filled with nothing short of love, wholeness, and miraculous wonders. Not to mention lots of music!

Just an ordinary moment...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

From Where I Sit, There is Happy

Last week I was showing a friend the potato vine I had rooting in a glass bottle that was sitting in my window here in my "garden enclosed." The green vine came out of the lip like it was springing into dance. I told my friend, "It makes me happy."
He then pointed out that I have a Christmas tree in my sunroom.
I told him that indeed I had used it on my front porch at Christmas last year and didn't have a place to store it after the season was over; and so I put it here. And then without thinking, those same words came out of my mouth: "It makes me happy."

Now my husband the forester will tell you that his whole life is geared to that one thing: to make me happy. But since making that statement myself twice within minutes of each other last week, I've been thinking about "happy."

I suspect happy often times gets a bad rap -- especially within the Christian community. For some reason, we think we are to be "joy-filled" and not "happy-filled." After all, "happy" is fleeting and joy is lasting, is it not? At least that's what we're told. But I beg to differ. I believe we're called to be happy Christians! In fact, I think the Scriptures give us license.

In James 5:13 we read, Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. That word happy means to be of good spirits, to be cheerful. In Psalms 68:3, David penned these words: But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy AND joyful. The very first time we read of "happy" in the Scriptures is in Gen.30:13. And Leah said, "Happy am I! For women have called me happy." So she called his name Asher. Which means HAPPY! Later, in Psalms 84:5, one of sons of Korah used that same word, Asher, though many translators have rendered it "blessed." Blessed [Happy] is the man whose strenth is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. We can be happy on this journey!

Quite frankly, I think we'd give the Christian community a big boost in the world's eye by not only being joyful, but adding a little happy to the mixture as well. Dare we take off our dour faces, put on such dancing shoes and take a hint from a potato vine -- and be happy?

Want you enjoy some of my "happy"? From where I sit each morning in my sunroom...

... a lone leaf waves in adoration
... an old blue bottle speaks revelation
... the morning sun rises on a wooden cross
... a grapevine reminds me of abiding
... a Pentecost candle burns on "ordinary days," begging God to "fill this pause"
... clasped hands remind me to pray for those I love
... wonder of hidden beauty is revealed
... a garden enclosed is my beloved
... portulaca blooms open to the sun
... Eucharist happens
... light rises with healing in its wings
... I commend the squirrels on their ability to reason
... I'm reminded me of His care
... I'm reminded of the sweet fragrance of dear friends
... St. Francis of Assisi calls me to holy living -- and peace
... my favorite devotionals beckon time spent in relationship and awareness
... light penetrates agatized coral
... beams make gold of citrine
... beauty is dispensedYes, from where I sit, there is happy. May I be faithful to take it into the world when I leave.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Left to Wonder

"I am amazed. I am absolutely amazed." These were the words I said over and over this morning at breakfast. The forester and I were discussing his new John Deere riding mower when he casually commented, "John Deere is what we used when I worked for the lawn service."

"When you did WHAT?" I queried.

"Worked for the lawn service."

"And exactly when did you do this?" After all, I've been married to the forester for over 32 years now and not one mention has ever been made of a lawn service.

"Back when I was in high school. The guy hired me because I could drive around the 15 year old kids who didn't have a license yet. How do you think I learned to back a trailer?" (I'm always telling him how impressed I am that he can maneuver and back a trailer with such ease and expertise.)

"I thought when you worked for Coca-Cola," I said. "So, when did you do this 'lawn service' bit?"

"Right before I went to work for Coke. Actually, it was right before I went to work for the grocery store." At least I knew about the whole grocery store stint; it had only lasted a day but was obviously worth mentioning.

"What was the name of this lawn service?"

"Albany Turf Masters." (That's pronounced "All-benny" for those of you not familiar with these parts.)

"Well, of course... But I'm still absolutely amazed. I knew about the grocery short-order, about delivering colas, and even the babysitting job for the colonel and his wife. But the lawn service? I'm just amazed." I wanted to ask, "What else have you got hidden up your sleeve that I don't know about?"

But that would ruin the element of surprise, would it not? Those moments of discovering something new about your spouse that you had never even imagined before. Good things. Worthy things. Things that leave some wonder in a marriage. Things as simple as a run-of-the-mill lawn service job.

But, you know, I believe that God has some "secrets" up His holy sleeve, too. After all, we're told in Ephesians that God can do anything -- in fact, far more than you and I could ever imagine or guess or request in our wildest dreams! That sounds like some divine mystery to me. Besides, if we knew everything about this One, would He be God? Hardly. Part of the wonder of it all is NOT knowing. Oh, but how amazing when He indeed does reveal something new of Himself. The exciting thing is that He is so huge, so large, so eternal, that we will never, no never, discover all there is to know about Him.

Honestly, when I discovered this new thing about my husband the forester, I got a kick out of it. In fact, it made me laugh out loud, but it also filled me with an amazement that I could live for so long with someone and not know that detail of his life, small as it was. May we be even more astounded, more astonished, more amazed as we discover the inexhaustible riches and wonder hidden in our magnificent God.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Strong Password

I was reading an article this morning that I had clipped from yesterday's paper. It's entitled, "Strong password more important than ever." The title alone is a dead giveaway to the topic: the admonition to be careful with the passwords we choose involving our website accounts. The writer, Shan U, of the Los Angeles Times, suggests a number of tips to protect oneself online.
  • Use mnemonics, which really is nothing more than a catchword or clue. An example might be picking a personal sentence and then "paraphrasing" it by using the first letter in each word to create the password. For example, "I live at the corner of Main and 1st Street" would be "ilatcoMa1s." And while this is a great suggestion, I personally think the word "mnemonics" would be password enough.
  • Longer is better, but not always. It's better to use a short group of irregular numbers and characters such as "4%k#9!" than a phrase such as "numberonemommy."
  • He also suggests we change our passwords to banking institutions frequently -- every few months. Fortunately, my bank makes me do this anyway.
  • Write down the passwords on a list without user names and keep it in a safe place. Okay, so I'm at that age where it's hard enough just to retain in my mind where I put something after I've told myself, "Remember, you've placed this here." Now I have to recall where I put my user names AND my passwords? Besides, I figure if someone is going to break into my home, they are not after my user name and passwords to my blog or MyPanera member card account.
And a few "Nevers."
  • Never use simple phrases -- even if you spell them backward and add a number. (Honestly, hackers have WAY to much time on their hands...)
  • Never have the same password for every account. I think this has something to do with sites "storing your credit card information." Which is another whole reason for concern.
  • Never email passwords to yourself. That's a no-brainer.
  • Never use personal information such as your address, birthday, etc. Another no-brainer.
  • Never share your password with family or friends.
The author ended with the uplifting news to remember that, even after following all the "rules," no password is completely immune from being cracked.

I found myself sighing and breathing the prayer, "Lord, please protect my identity." And as quickly as my next breath, I heard, "I have. And your password is spelled C-h-r--i-s-t."

Ah, yes. Christ! Does this mean no one will ever hack into my accounts or steal my credit card number? No. In fact, it has happened before. But the interchange did bring me home to what really matters in the end: my identity and the One who secures it. I don't have to worry about changing this Password every few months, I need not be concerned about hiding it, and I certainly don't have to add anything to it to make it more secure. This Password works for every "account" I have, it contains all my personal data, and I can share it with whomever I please. It's completely immune from being cracked. And as for strength, I won't find a mightier one.

Indeed, a strong Password is more important than ever.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Searching for Steeples

I found myself riding shotgun this morning as my husband drove us home from a few days of babysitting our new grandson. My heart was a little heavy as our early departure didn't afford me the "sugar" I normally get before heading out. And so for distraction, and maybe a little comfort, I reached for a particular devotional book I had stashed in my bookbag and was sitting at my feet: Peace of Heart. Upon reading the day's selection, I sensed in my spirit to look up and take notice. As I did, we passed a church on my right, and before I could even begin to guess its particular affiliation, another one loomed on my left. It's huge size and close proximity to the interstate gave it an almost ostentatious look. But both were houses of worship, both standing high and mighty, erect and strong; both on the outskirts of town, and both waiting for their early morning parishioners to arrive in their "Sunday best." So I began to offer up prayers for the congregations, ministers and lay persons who would be gathering very shortly for worship. I prayed their hearts would be warmed and that God would reveal Himself fresh and new to them this morning. And as I did, I found myself earnestly searching for the next steeple to rise in the distance as we headed into the metropolis of Atlanta. But where there was spire after spire on numerous buildings, and although we did pass a church van from Beulah Missionary Baptist Church picking up its congregants, there were no "steeples" to be seen.

Oh, yes, I know that Atlanta is filled with churches. Small, medium, and mega ones. While searching with my eyes, I thought of places such as First Baptist, Mt. Paran, North Point Community, and Passion. But where were the churches here in the very heart of the city? Had all moved out and away? Or were they there and had just been consumed by all the towering buildings. And then, after miles of searching, there it was. Unable to take a shot with my camera, I captured the startling and unforeseen picture in my heart: a small, weathered church building tucked unpretentiously within the shadow of Grady Memorial Hospital -- smack-dab downtown.

Simply known as "Grady," it's the largest hospital in the state of Georgia and the public hospital for the city of Atlanta, serving a large number of her low-income patients. But it has also boasted a few more prominent subjects: Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, died there after being hit by a drunk driver. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, also saw his final days there. And supermodel Niki Taylor entered its level 1 trauma center after being in a car accident and underwent 50 surgeries. Grady also takes its place historically as the current facility was built as a segregated institution -- and remained that way for years.

So, how appropriate that this little worn, unassuming church would be resting in her wings. But more importantly, how befitting that hanging in bold blue letters -- (they may even have been neon!) -- high across the steeple, which was still midget to its surroundings, were the life giving words, "JESUS SAVES." How could I not be affected by the stark irony of it all?

My mind went back to my devotional some miles back now. I was reading of St. Francis of Assisi, a man who gave up incredible means and affluence to follow God in abject poverty. Who at one time found the sight of lepers so detestable that he would go miles out of his way to avoid them and then still hold his nose only to later embrace and kiss them. And these were the words I had read and the prayer I had prayed: "You alone can cut through the chorus of voices that threatens to deafen my soul with empty promises and false hopes. Your words alone can make my soul burn within me. Speak to me." Indeed, He had.

I bless you, little church, as you sit among the indigent and poverty-stricken and offer true hope. I am convicted and moved by your example.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Think God Laughed

I got to the church early this morning to prepare my music for the upcoming service. The doors leading from the narthex into the worship center were still closed and the sanctuary itself was still dark. As is often my custom when the church is empty, I walked through the main doors down the center aisle. Because I can tend to be a might demonstrative in my worship, I usually throw open my arms and say something aloud to God upon my entrance. But for some reason this morning, I kept the words contained in my mind and my motions to a minimum as I thought, "Good morning, Lord. I acknowledge Your Presence here in this place." Almost without missing a beat, I heard this deep, rich voice come from the rafters overhead: "Good morning, Nancy."

Indeed, what we wait for all our lives: to hear the voice of God. To know for sure He exists. And He had spoken. To me! He had read my mind and even called me by name, for crying out loud. Audibly! It was a moment that I would cling to forever hoping upon hope for yet another word.

So very slowly, I twisted my body and lifted my head to see if I might get a glimpse of this One who puts us in a cleft and passes by. And there, sitting in the balcony, as I live and breathe ... was a deacon trying to learn how to use the sound system.

I think God laughed. I know I did.

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, May 27, 2011

In the End.... (A Final Few American Idol Thoughts)

I have a confession to make: I have an addiction. It's not a pretty one, but by all social standards, at least it is acceptable. However, of late, I've been finding myself sneaking around to indulge, and that's never a good sign. Sometimes I stay up very late; other times I'll take a morning "break." And last week during a short vacation with my husband, I "excused" myself for a moment -- several times. But this week I threw caution to the wind. On Wednesday night at 8:00, I pulled out a portable stadium cushion from the hall closet, filled up a styrofoam cup with iced tea, and planted myself in front of the small TV out in my "garden enclosed" -- a.k.a. sun room. Yes, I'm a full-fledged American Idol junky. It was the 2-hour 2011 finale and I was not going to miss it. After all, I had seen every single episode since mid January and knew every contestant by name. I had even voted on occasion! And so I planted myself in front of the tube for one last trip of the season.

Of course, to get to the actual culmination of the American Idol winner, I had to endure an hour and 55 minutes of preliminaries: preliminaries which consisted of an assortment of entertainers. From Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, and Tom Jones to Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw to Jack Black, Beyonce, Lady Ga Ga and Judas Priest. How much more diverse can one get? I have to admit there were times when even this seasoned AI enthusiast had to turn her head due to some of the worldly sport being played out. It was just too much for me.

But this season of American Idol has not been completely lost. I would find myself often times praying not only for the contestants and their parents but also the judges. I was particularly drawn to Scotty McCreery's mother, Judy, as week after week, she and Scotty's dad, Mike, sat in the audience supporting their 17 year old son. Without their ever saying a word, I sensed an extremely strong faith in these two. I also found myself offering up prayers for the judges -- particularly Steven Tyler, probably the most crass of the 3, but the one I believe to have the most supple heart to respond to God's wooing. O Lord, may it be...

American Idol pulled out every stop to make Wednesday's finale the best and probably the most costly ever. Wind, fire, huge name entertainers and even a "spider" falling from the rafters. And, of course, the confetti. It seemed no stone was left unturned.

And so after numerous episodes -- sometimes as many as 3 a week -- the moment finally arrived for Ryan Seacrest to announce the 2011 American Idol. As only he can do, the seconds turned into an eternity as America waited for the "s" sound or "l" sound to denote "Scotty" or "Lauren." And this time, it was Scotty. A young man who's not even old enough to vote, join the draft, buy a drink or smoke a cigarette. A fellow from NC who walked 4 miles while in Hollywood just to buy a sweet tea. One who though inundated with the world remained grounded in his faith and humble in his walk. This one had taken America by storm.

When Seacrest asked him what he was thinking in this moment, this one who had responded with such grace to even Lady Ga Ga's brash comments several weeks earlier, remained faithful to who he was and said: "I just thank the Lord for getting me this far."

Yes! Even in all of our illusion and disillusion, America chose an Idol that knows his place. As both the confetti and tears fell and as throngs applauded, I was reminded of the Word that says, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11).

The truth is that in the end, ALL the nations will come together and bow down before the Lord and shall glorify His name (Ps. 86:9). And rest assured, He will not be just any idol voted on by the people. This One was chosen before the foundation of the would to be eternally beloved, adored, immortal, supreme, divine, holy, and very, very worthy of worship.

May we all be so addicted!

Just an ordinary moment...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Ordinary Moment Kind of Day

When I got up Thursday morning, I asked the Lord for an "ordinary moment" about which to write that day. At one point, I actually thought it might occur when the state patrolman bore down on my tail on the interstate between Atlanta and Forsyth. Thankfully, he was just getting a close-up view of the car next to me as moments later his blue lights went on (and my heart slowed down a pace) when he pulled the other fellow over.

Oh, but I had my holy moments indeed.

I got me lots of sugar.

I danced to Hillsong United.

I sang old familiar hymns.

I rocked... and rocked... and rocked...
Yes, some days are just ordinary moments made holy through and through.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Death of One Man

I remember sitting in a hotel dining room on St. Simon's Island June 11, 2001 watching the news of the Oklahoma City Bomber's execution. Timothy McVeigh had been put to death earlier that morning by lethal injection due to his setting the bomb which killed 168 people, 149 adults and 19 children, at a federal building some 6 years earlier. I was particularly struck by the interviews of some of the family members of those who had lost their lives. One woman said, "I thought this would bring some closure. But it doesn't."

Some of the same thoughts I had then I had yesterday while reading and watching the reports of Osama Bin Laden's assassination. The father of one of the many firemen who gave their lives that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001 said basically the same thing on the evening news. "I was glad for a moment when I heard the news, but my mind quickly returned to my son." And with tears in his eyes, he said, "I still miss him so much... [pause] so, so much."

I certainly commend our military for a job well done. And I am fully aware it did not come without great cost to many. I have a friend whose son gave his life 2 years ago for just that moment. But what I do contend is that the death of one human-man can bring peace; for it cannot. It is only the God-man who can do that. And He did it.

And so today, my heart weeps for all those who while looking for closure found their wounds re-opened by Sunday's events. May they find solace and healing not because one man died, but because one Man gave His life. A Man who doesn't necessarily take away the pain, but who bends down and enters into it with them. The Man Christ Jesus.

Just an ordinary moment...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Collecting Treasures

It's not unusual for me to provide music for funerals. I've done it for years; some have been for dear friends and others people I've never met. What is unusual is for me to come away so stirred by the life of the one lived and now passed. I've played for 2 funerals lately -- both ladies I really didn't know that well even though they both had been staples of this community for decades. But one thing is for sure: they both left legacies -- and a challenge for me.

After Mrs. Betty's funeral, I came away thinking, "I want the pastor to be able to say those kind of things at my funeral." And within days, I could feel parts of my life adjusting to those honorable areas of her life and her positive example.

Yesterday's service was no different. Once again, I came away challenged. The pastor spoke of how Mrs. Bonnie accumulated treasures -- but not the kind of which you and I would think. She collected twinkles in an eye, wrinkles in a smile, and inflections in a voice. She didn't invest her time in facebook, but rather entrusted her life book to "face-time." She was about joyful relationship and about encouraging the ones in her presence or on the other end of the line.

It's so easy to get caught up in "safe" relationships, isn't it. It's as quick as a text message, an email, or a post. But what are we giving up in lieu? What treasures, if any, are we collecting?

As I got to the middle of the 3rd paragraph of this post, my friend Phillip came to mind. But this time, instead of writing a note on his facebook page, I didn't wait but picked up my cell phone and dialed. It had been such a long time since we talked. To hear his voice brought a warmth that a cold page was incapable of producing. When I softly said, "How's my Texas friend?" he responded, "Not good; today's actually a dark day for me," as days often are after experiencing a severe loss of someone we love. I wouldn't give anything for the moments that transpired during our conversation. I now have a treasure tucked into the pocket of my heart that was not there earlier.
Chris, me, and Phillip -- 1995 My two Georgia buddies both gone Texan.

My Scripture this morning was from 2 Cor. 5:15 -- He died for everyone, that those who live might no longer live just for themselves... Oh, that He would open my heart and give me the gift of a generous spirit so that others might know life and live -- and so that I might have a few treasures to lay at His feet.

Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Idol Worshiper

Well, I did it. I joined the 50+ million and cast my vote last night for the next American Idol. Embarrassed to admit it? Yea, a little. After all, my husband says I need to be careful to whom I admit my obsession, and then a dear friend virtually laughed in my face when I told him last week I watched it. But it is what it is -- and I'm hooked.

If you must know, all these final contestants are worthy winners and each one of these young people has found a little place in my heart; but I voted for James Durbin last night. I remember James' first audition with AI and was touched by his hard-knock story. He's a young father, just 22 years old, from Santa Cruz, CA, who grew up barely knowing his own bass-playing dad who was always on the road, and then was raised by his mother after his father died of a drug overdose. James was later diagnosed with both Tourette's and Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, and found himself turning to music to help calm his rattled nerves. Subsequently, a job was hard to come by, and at the time of his audition, he and his wife and very young son were living in a tiny apartment with not even the means to buy diapers.

For those of you less informed, this year's competition has it all. Country, blues, gospel, jazz. But James is the rocker in the group, and last night's performance of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" was over the top. The purity of his voice shined brightly as he began a cappella before going instrumental. There's no doubt this boy can sing as well as perform. And whether James realizes it or not, God's Spirit rests heavily on him and His plans for the boy are good.

Actually, this is not the way I meant for this particular entry to go. I had another whole direction planned. But I think I'll leave it at this and let James have his day. Take a look at the 3 links I've highlighted, and be blessed by a God who gives beauty for ashes, is called the Repairer of Broken Walls, and who turns our mourning into dancing.

Yes, James, may you become a TRUE worshiper of Him who gifted you so mightily and who calls forth the deep places in you so that you might lead your generation forward in praise of the One who is worthy of it all.

Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I called my pastor first thing this morning and exclaimed, "I learned something new just now, and I've just got to regurgitate it! And I choose you on whom to do it!" He was quick to point out that he has 3 small boys and therefore it wouldn't be the first time he had been vomited on and therefore gave me the go ahead to share.

Today is Maundy Thursday and I had been reading in my early morning devotion the gospels' accounts of the Last Supper. Up until then, I really had never noticed how many times the word "betray" was included in the text. I discovered it was too many times for my comfort anyway. Shortly afterwards, I picked up a book called "Facing the Wall" by Don Potter. Its subtitle reads, "A book for praise leaders and those who love to worship." In it he speaks of oil and its being a symbol of God's power manifested through the Holy Spirit. He also mentions that the oil that was used at the last supper was for dipping bread to soften it and "make it more palatable." (Don't you just love that word "palatable"? It even feels good on the tongue.) Of course, oil was used for other purposes as well including anointing for healing, for setting someone or some thing apart for holy service, and even embalming.

But in Matthew 26:23 Jesus said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me." Notice it does not say "bread" but "hand." You see, the oil was in a communal bowl that sat in the middle of the table in which all dipped. Therefore anyone who dipped his bread in the oil was to do so without letting his finger touch the oil else the oil become contaminated or defiled. But here's the interesting part. The Greek word translated "hand" in this particular verse is cheir, which means "literally or figuratively power .... grasping". It wasn't so much that Jesus' betrayer was going to dip, it was that he was going to defile the oil by putting his hand in it. In other words, he was going to grasp (or attempt to) the power of the anointing and make it his own. How dangerous can that be!

This got me to thinking. How often does the Lord anoint you or me with some special something? It could be a number of different ways. Teaching, preaching, ministering to the poor, sick or lonely, leading in worship, wise counseling, just to name a handful. But what happens is that when we take that anointing as our own -- grasp it as our own -- we attempt to take the power for ourselves, therefore becoming the betrayer. Just like Judas. The name Judas is a form of Judah which means, "He (God) shall be praised." Yes, it is possible to betray the Lord even when our intention is to praise Him. How does this happen? When we begin to think that because of our praise, we have earned the right to use Him.

You might says it begins when we dip our hand in the bowl. Betrayal. Anybody but me?

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday: A Wrenching Paradox

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a church girl, and with that comes loving to celebrate certain days on the church calendar. One such day was today: Palm Sunday. Very often it is celebrated with the children walking down the aisles of the church waving their palms high in the air while the choir or congregation sings "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna." I remember one particular occasion when my small nephew passed close by the piano where I was playing, but out of the corner of my eye, I was able to catch his swift pop of the palm on the head of the little boy in front of him.

This morning was a sweet processional as 10 little preschoolers walked down the center aisle with small branches in their hands as my brother accompanied his oldest daughter while she sang in her sweet little voice, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest."

After the children processed down and placed their palms at the front of the altar table, they sang a couple of songs themselves.

Is there anything more precious than children worshiping? (When, pray tell, do we learn to be so "sophisticated" in our worship?)

But Palm Sunday processionals don't have to be for children only. I remember a former pastor gathering us outside on the steps and lawn, and after a Gospel reading, opening the doors for us ALL to enter singing and waving our branches. It was a joyous celebration. And being one who has the propensity to be somewhat "demonstrative" in worship, I tend to wave my palm high and hard. But what always compelled me to wonder were the half dozen or so people who refused to join in the pageantry but rather sat comfortably in their designated seats watching as the rest of us paraded by. After all, weren't we reenacting a glorious and momentous event?

Truth is how many of us really have a clue as to what Palm Sunday is all about? Some, of course. But my suspicion is that if a passerby saw such a crowd standing outside the church as we were that day, they'd wonder if the custodian had forgotten to unlock the doors. But even those of us who try to re-enact such an event fall horribly short. We sing "Hosanna!" and wave our palm branches and most of us even do it with joy, but what we fail to remember is that this One of whom we praise was not entering as just the King but as the approaching Sacrifice. This King who entered on the back of a donkey arrayed with fishermen's coats because there was no royal accoutrement. This King whose entourage consisted of street people, of the mentally deranged, of questionable women -- and the like. This King who entered in disgraceful poverty. No, it was no common parade that day. In fact, Matthew 21:10 tells us, "the whole city was shaken." Yet, Jesus entered and He did so in complete control -- which only makes the scene all the more scandalous, for He knew the end of this peculiar parade was the cross.

But isn't that what was stated just a few weeks ago when we began this journey of Lent? Did Jesus not steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) ... to die?

And so, yes, I sang my hosanna's this morning as those precious sweet ones marched in with their palm branches. But this particular Palm Sunday found me not only in greater awareness of the day's activity but my heart shaken due to the wrenching paradox of this King who rode in to lay Himself down.

Just an ordinary moment...

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Dusting and writing can wait 'til tomorrow,
For babies grow up -- we've learned to our sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; blogs, go to sleep,
I'm rocking my baby 'cause babies don't keep.

Just an ordinary moment... (NOT!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Gun Show

Very rarely do I go somewhere that when I walk through the door I'm asked by an officer of the law wearing a side arm, "Do you have a weapon on you?" But that's where I found myself this morning. Normally, it is I who leads the pack when it comes to a shopping trip, but today I was trailing behind my husband at Eastman's Gun and Knife Show at the Ag Center. Somehow I've always managed to stay clear of this yearly event, but not this time. (Even now I'm sporting a reentry stamp on the back of my left hand of a pistol with an "explosion" coming out the end of it.) I somewhat jokingly asked the attendant if I had to pay the $8 if I promised not to look at any merchandise, but he told me that there was a lady in the back corner selling earrings, so he knew he had me. And indeed she was: earrings made out of recycled shotgun shells. She said it was a vision from the Lord she had received in church. Who would have thought?

It probably comes as no surprise that I was outnumbered. For every one female, there were at least 50 males. Men: all sizes, all shapes, all ages. I'd venture to say there was more testosterone in that one room than all the Bass Pro Shops and Home Depots this side of the Mississippi combined. Yep, it's what a man does. It's what he likes to do. And maybe, just maybe, it's what he was created to do. Protect and provide. And whereas I'm pretty decent when it comes to hitting a bull's eye, quite frankly, I prefer the difference in roles.

As I made my way up and down the aisles, lagging just behind my husband, my mind was drawn to a particular passage of the book, "Heaven is for Real," where little Colton tells of being given a glimpse of the battle of Armageddon during his short stay on "the other side. " Strangely enough, he says that the women and children stood back and watched while only the men fought. And while I'd never thought of such, somehow being in the setting in which I found myself, I could imagine it. At least it gave me some interesting food for thought.

So did my particular man leave the show having made any purchases? No. He never does-- though I'm sure he would have liked to have done so. But maybe coming away with a new sense of personal awareness of who he was created to be was all he was looking for anyway.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Different Perspectives -- Same Answer

One of the staples of Lent for me is John Piper's book The Passion of Jesus Christ. Previously, the book was entitled 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, and that is exactly what the book is about. (Mrs. Harrison, my high school English teacher would die that I just ended a sentence with a preposition, but it just didn't fit the correct way.) This book walks me through this season of reflection like none other as each day's reading begins, "Christ suffered and died..." and then offers 50 reasons why. Day 1's reason: To Absorb the Wrath of God. Day 19: To Give Eternal Life to All Who believe on Him. Day 22: To Bring Us to God. Day 41: To Secure Our Resurrection from the Dead. And thus each day offers another reason, with heavily supported Scripture. It is nothing short of rich reading. I love absorbing each day's "reason," thinking about it through the day and worshiping Christ for His absolute right to be worshiped.

This past weekend, I picked up yet another book to add to my collection: Heaven is for Real. I had heard about it via an email I had received the week prior that had an attachment of a news segment interviewing the author and its subject. The little boy's name is Colton Burpo, and he has been to heaven and back. It was a fascinating account and so when I saw the book, I picked it up. It probably took all of an hour and a half to read, but nothing has offered my mind such play about heaven since I read Randy Alcorn's book several years ago entitled just that: Heaven.

Colton's dad, Todd Burpo, along with Lynn Vincent, wrote this fascinating story after Colton suffered a severe case of appendicitis that left him quite literally at death's door. What is so absolutely warming about this story is the simple way Colton expresses incident after incident of his time in heaven. He tells of seeing his great-grandfather, who had died a quarter of century before Colton had even been born; of meeting a sister who had died in her mother's womb, again before Colton's birth; and even of sitting in Jesus' lap. While I always read such accounts with caution, I have no reason to disqualify any of what is written within these pages.

At one point in the book, Todd Burpo, a pastor himself, writes about a conversation he had with Colton and his older sister Cassie on a Good Friday. He simply asked the question, "Do you know what Good Friday is?" Colton said he didn't know, but his sister emphatically and excitedly answered, "That's the day Jesus died on the cross." Moving to the next question, he asked, "Do you know why Jesus died on the cross?" When Cassie couldn't come up with an answer, Colton nodded he knew. "Okay, why?" asked his father. "Well, Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could go see his Dad."

Here's how Todd Burpo relates the rest of the story. "In my mind's eye, I saw Jesus, with Colton on his lap, brushing past all the seminary degrees, knocking down theological treatises stacked high as skyscrapers, and boiling down fancy words like propitiation and soteriology to something a child could understand: 'I had to die on the cross so that people on earth could come see my Dad.' Colton's answer to my question was the simplest and sweetest declaration of the gospel I had ever heard. I thought again about the difference between grown-up and childlike faith."

And so, while each morning between now and Easter, I will continue to pick up Piper's book and read yet another reason Jesus came to die, and yes, even be blessed by it, the most profound reason has already been uttered -- by a 4 year old: "He died on the cross so we could go see His Dad."

Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.
1 Peter 3:18

Hear the invitation ... and come.

Just an ordinary moment...

"The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of His Son's life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy, namely, Himself."
--John Piper