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

Friday, December 22, 2017

It's Okay to Wish Me a Merry Christmas

The recent death of my brother has put many people with whom I come in contact in a bind. They don’t know what to say during this time of grief that has been placed in what should be known as Christmas joy. Some shuffle their feet. Some look to the ground. Some avoid looking me in the eye. And others, well, they just avoid it all together and say nothing at all. I so appreciate their sensitivity to our family’s situation, our loss, but let me just put you at rest: it’s okay to wish me a merry Christmas.

Thomas was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma in October of 2014. The worst of the worst. But even then, we were not without hope. After all, isn’t hope what you hang on to in dire situations? It was for us. Surgeries pursued. The family was introduced to a new normal that at times even looked like the old normal. Thomas continued practicing dentistry. Leading worship in church. Taking vacations with his family and even running in 5K’s. We held tightly to hope. Hope that Thomas would be completely healed and live to walk his 2 daughter’s down the aisle. Our hope gained fresh ground as MRI’s kept coming back as “stable.” Yes, hope. Until two and half years later when we received the news: “There has been some progression.” And finally the doctor’s pronouncement, “We have exhausted all avenues of treatment.”

What does one do with that? 

Well, you hope. 

What followed was 3 months of rapid decline. Thomas lost his ability to process information or convert what his eyes were seeing. Visiting Angels were called in. Then Hospice. He went from walking, to a wheelchair and then to a bed. And in each stage, he remained so gentle. So kind. So Thomas. And through it all, he remained faithful to the hope he had found in Jesus so long, long ago. His one longing was to glorify His God through it all. And that's exactly what he did.

Hope remained alive in us as well. As the family was gathered around Thomas' bed in those last hours and minutes, we sang everything from “Jesus Loves Me” to “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” to “Because He Lives.” Yes, hope. We spoke words of blessings. Prayed prayers. Read Scripture. Moments before he took his last gentle breath, his wife Bristol quietly asked the children, “What is our only comfort in life and death?” And together they recited the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. It was a very sacred and holy moment as they declared together over their father:

“That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”

And thus is the legacy Thomas leaves. To his wife. To his 5 children. To all who knew him. A legacy of hope because his faith was fully in Christ Jesus.

I have said so many times that this has been our greatest sadness to date, but we have never been nor are we now without hope. So, it’s okay to wish me a merry Christmas, for Christmas is when God made good on His promise to send that Savior, Jesus Christ, into the world to be our salvation, our restoration, our deliverance, and ultimately, our hope. 

So to you and yours, merry Christmas and bright hope for tomorrow.

Just an ordinary moment…

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Great Allower

I read the account in John's gospel last week concerning Jesus' healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, a pool of mercy, near the Sheep Gate -- aptly named because that's where the sacrificial animals were brought into the Temple. It appears that the man was not the only one at the pool that day, but rather just one of what could have been a hundred or more persons. Each hopeless. Each helpless. Each in need of healing. Which begs the question: Why? Why this man? Why not the one next to him? Why not the whole lot of them? It's a legitimate question. With no legitimate answer. After all, weren't they ALL waiting for the waters to stir? Isn't that why each one was there?

In what appeared to be a moment of clarity that same day, my brother mumbled, "Life. I don't understand. It's not supposed to be this way."

"You're right, Thomas," I said as I leaned over his body and stroked his graying beard as he lay there in bed. "It's not supposed to be this way. And I don't have an answer for you. His ways are mystery to me. Like you, I don't understand. Yet I resolve myself to trust even when I cannot see or do not comprehend."

We are quick to acknowledge God as Loving, Faithful, True, Compassionate, Mighty, Holy, Forgiving -- just the beginning of an endless list of attributes. Yet, among the many things God is, we rarely acknowledge Him, much less worship Him, as the Great Allower. In fact, it just might be the most difficult to name. Truly, it's humanity's biggest complaint with God. Yet didn't Jesus Himself say, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to Me?" (Matthew 20:15)

Does that mean I understand this suffering? No. It remains mystery to me. But I'm still going to trust the One who allows it.

Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NAS)

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Fair Metaphor

It’s no secret to those that know me and my husband — as well as my brothers and their families — we are fair junkies. I’m not sure what prompted us to such; after all, we didn’t grown up going to such expositions or festivals. In fact, I only went to one fair in my childhood. I was in 6th grade, loved riding the double ferris wheel, and threw up the entire night afterwards. So my attraction to such is really unwarranted. 

But something about the Georgia National Fair caught me when it opened its doors back in 1989. My youngest child was in a stroller and Ray Stevens was the big draw; and I haven’t missed one since. You can even find me each year with a pencil and clip board walking the aisles of cakes, breads or grits as a culinary judge. 

For those first dozen or so years, my husband and I spent a lot of time over on the midway with our children — watching as they rode those rides that are put up what seems like overnight. And then came the years where they were grown-up enough they didn’t need our supervision and so we enjoyed the walking, the eating, the shows, the livestock and the fireworks. But now we have a grandson and it’s all about those rides again when he comes visiting. And what fun it is! 

I spent the best part of Friday night and the most part of yesterday having just that. Fun. I watched racing pigs chase after Oreos, eyed and learned about venomous snakes, fed carrots to a giraffe, ducked into a teepee, nervously watched a dare devil act, saw a real live Transformer morph into a Robo Car and drive away, watched a magic show, walked through the cow barn, was amazed by Pogo Fred as he slithered his body through a child’s tennis racket all the while jumping on an 8 foot pogo stick, and I ate portions of both a red velvet funnel cake and fried chocolate chip cookie dough, not to mention fried cheese. 

But I must admit the highlight of the entire day was watching two of my adult children ride the bumper cars with my grandson and great-nephew — both 6 years-old. I was completely mesmerized by the joy contained in that electric arena -- not just by those I call mine, but by every person who sat behind a wheel or rode as a passenger. The diversity of people was as great as the fish in the sea, and yet they were all involved in an activity that was bringing them such great unity … and joy. The chasing. The eluding. The bumping. The gut wrenching laughter by all participants. 

And as I stood there watching, I couldn’t help but be filled with the same great joy. When my husband approached, I pointed and said, “This is a picture of heaven.” 

The Greek root of the word metaphor means “to carry across” a meaning — to get from one place to another. Richard Rohr writes in his book The Divine Dance, “The paradox is, all metaphors by necessity walk with a limp.” But it’s the only possible language we have when it comes to speaking about God or trying to describe the kingdom ... or heaven in this case. Bumper cars might be a poor metaphor for heaven, but yesterday, for me, it worked. And in the meantime, I got to taste, and maybe even live, a portion of it from a very mundane, earthy position.

There are still 7 days left for fair going this year. There is still lots to do, see, hear and eat. Horse shows, cinnamon rolls and the world’s largest traveling ferris wheel await. But for now, I’m sitting with the bumper cars and my little window into heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is like...

Just an ordinary moment…

Monday, September 11, 2017

Irma: Brooding Above the Waters

As I sit here writing this, tropical storm Irma is blowing herself through. I’ve situated myself away from my normal writing space as there’s a tall sentinel of a pine standing watch just outside those sunroom windows. But there’s a view here in my music room and I still watch the to and fro of the smaller trees in the front yard and the larger ones in my neighbor’s giving way to the once hurricane force winds. I’m grateful for this seat.

As everyone else here in the southeastern part of the country, I too have been watching the approach of this storm for days now as it has broken all kinds of records. The size alone has given it its place in history. Maybe that is what has intrigued me the most. Its immensity. No doubt, even its advent yesterday as I took in with my eye the layer upon layer of clouds brought such feelings of majesty and awe. But as I have watched it make its way across the waters onto land, there is one word that has lodged itself in me.


So instead of seeing this mass of destruction, I began watching a move of God Himself as I recalled Genesis 1:2 — “God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss” (MSG).


My dictionary reads:

“To sit upon to hatch, as a bird; incubate.”

“To warm, protect, or cover with the wings or body.”

“To cover, loom, or seem to fill the atmosphere or scene.”

Strong’s definitions for this word in Genesis 1:2 is “to brood; by implication, to be relaxed: — flutter, move, shake.” 

Wow, “to be relaxed” is definitely not the image provided by the weather outside my window at this moment or that which has swept across Florida in these overnight hours. But it does fit the brooding definition above.

As I think about that verse in Genesis again, I try to imagine what that first brooding looked like. Did the Spirit indeed take the form of a storm, maybe an Irma or a Harvey, as He swept over the face of the waters — brooding? Did He move methodically, following a directional path? Did the waters become turbulent or respond in peace? However it happened or played out, I imagine it to have been of “historical proportions.” After all, the very next verse reads, “THEN God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” The Great Community joining in the dance of creation. Life. Talk about history being made.

And so these last days, I have been thanking God for the seeming storms in my life. And for the new things He is doing — in me, through me, for me, as well as in, through and for my people. That His Spirit is brooding, incubating, hatching.

Yes, it looks like a storm. But the point remains: I know that His Spirit IS moving. He’s still brooding. He still warms and protects and covers. He continues to fill the atmosphere and birth new things. Sometimes it just looks like a hurricane. The rains come and the winds rage. Things flutter, move and shake. But above it all, there is God who remains steady and sure. And who calls forth light and life.

Be watchful.

Just an ordinary moment….

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Mother's Day to Remember

I almost didn't publish this particular post. To the casual reader, it will be laborious; to the one looking for some deep thought, a waste of time. And while it was written in the early morning from my deck off the sunroom, it didn't arrive via long hours of contemplation or introspection but in the midst of a spring sinus headache. But for me, it is about a day to remember. And that's why I write.

I realize that for some, many even, Mother's Day is not a day to which they can look forward or enjoy. It's often a day that holds great heartache, questions, and regret. And certainly sadness. But Sunday night as I fell into bed, I did so with such a full heart and with such great joy.

What I thought was to be a day of church, lunch and a visit with my own mom turned out to be much more. My daughter surprised me by showing up on my door steps unexpectedly. (Her dad was aware of her arrival -- something they had been planning for days.) At my request, they took me to one of the city's finer restaurants: Maddio's Pizza, where she and I split a freshly made salad and dined on the best gluten-free pizza. When Marynan suggested we "get our nails done," we assured her dad that this was not a girls-only invitation and that he was welcomed to come, but he opted to drop us off at the door and hang out at the mall. Let me just say that any time I get to spend with my baby girl can always be labeled "experience." FUN experience at that. Humor is forever to be found when I'm with her. Even in the hard times. She sees it and she goes for it. Yes, she knows how to laugh -- and so laugh we do. As we sat there chair to chair, we had to intentionally avoid eye contact or else embarrass ourselves due to all the comic activity going on both around us as well as throughout the salon. At one point, I asked the darling conversing Korean girls in front of us, "Are you talking about us?" In horror, mine responded, "No!" To which my startled wide-eyed daughter silently mouthed to me, "Now they will be."

We left the salon and walked to Menchie's where we met my husband and all enjoyed a bowl of frozen yogurt while we sat on the patio in the beautiful May weather. We were able to relive with him the hilarious episodes of the previous events -- this time not having to withhold our laughter.

Shortly after, Marynan and I went to visit my mom who had a pound cake in the oven. Isn't that what mother's do? Fortunate for us, the cake tested done while we were there and we tested it "delicious." We split the first slice, which was almost too hot to handle, and then decided on another. Truly, nothing is better than my mom's pound cake straight out of the oven. Hot pound cake. It's the way she loves us. We cut 3 more slices and brought them home with us for later. 

Soon after arriving back at our house, my cell rang and my 6-year old grandson said, "Hi, G-Nan! Happy Mother's Day!" What a treat to spend a little time with him and his dad talking with both of them on speaker. When I asked him what he and his dad had planned while his mother is completing her master's degree at Asbury Theological Seminary this week, he said, "We've talked about it but haven't settled on anything yet." That made me laugh coming from such a young fellow. But at the present, they were watching "Homeward Bound," the same movie I must have watched a hundred times with his dad when he was little. What joy then. What joy now.

Just minutes later, I was on the phone with my first born; the one who actually made me a mother. He told me that he was sitting in Starbuck's writing a post for his blog, Sacred Brewings -- and had just hit the button to post. No clues were given, but after we got off the phone, I saw where it was entitled, "Mom." It didn't take long for the tears to spill over as I began reading such a beautiful tribute. I'm not sure I've ever received a more special Mother's Day gift. I had to completely redo my makeup before heading out for Mexican.

The day ended with Marynan and me sitting together on the couch, eating toasted pound cake, sipping Rose, and watching last week's episode of Dancing With the Stars. Indeed a perfect end to a perfect day.

Yes, I fell in bed with the thought: "I don't know when I've enjoyed a Mother's Day more."

So why write a blog about it? Because as I was sitting on my deck the next morning thinking about the day's events and recalling just how much I enjoy my children, not just this past Sunday but every time I'm with them, I sensed the Lord say to me: "Don't you see? That's the way I enjoy you." Yes, He loves us, but He also truly ENJOYS us. Not for what we do. Or for how we behave. Or for how we attempt to serve Him. No, He enjoys us simply because we are His children. Yes, His. 

Probably the most famous question asked to young Presbyterian children is this: What is the chief end of man? The answer: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Maybe we also need to be reminded that He enjoys us, too. At least I do. So I just wanted to remember -- and offer you the same opportunity as well.

Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Some Moments Are Too Holy To Miss

I checked the radar when I got up this morning and noticed that the rain was almost upon us. And so instead of making my way to the deck, I positioned myself on the couch here in my sunroom. 

I began what I call my spiritual practice, some might call it "routine," when I noticed the color of the sky. It was an odd shade of pink coloring everything within its reach, and, at once, I knew I must get out there less I miss it altogether ... for colors like this don't last very long. And after all, it had not begun raining yet. 

I'm not sure I've ever seen this color of earth. It was nothing short of beautiful. Even eerie to a point. All was very quiet. Still. Even the birds had hushed their singing. And the further east my eyes took me, the richer the color. Almost mauve really. I search for words even now to describe it, and the only ones that come to mind are ... holy ... sacred ... Beauty Himself: God.

And as quickly as it came, it went. I sat there and watched the earth gradually return to its normal hue of green and basked in the experience of that as well. I began to sense on my bare arms the prick of the water in the air. The kind you can't see; just feel. Shortly, I felt the first drop. I still waited to move. There was no rush to get in as I had taken nothing but my cup of tea out with me, which was now empty. No cushions. No books, pencil or journal. No device. 

And I wondered: How much color have I slept through? How much have I failed to see? How much has come and gone because I wasn't looking, or worse yet, saw and just refused to take the time to be still and know it? More than I care to admit.

But today at least I didn't miss it. I saw. I stopped. I knew. And I was known.

It's raining steady now and I'm back in the place where I began. A pair of cardinals sit just outside my open window: the male on the arm of the chair and his mate on the table next to him. Oblivious to the rain, they occupy my holy space on the deck. And I smile.

Yes, some moments are just too holy to miss.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

My New Favorite Hymn

I was 10 years old when I played my first hymn in public. Mr. Francis Nunn came and got me out of my 4th grade Sunday School class and took me down to the Men's Bible Class (which was aired live on the radio) and had me accompany the men singing. Since that day, spanning almost half a century now, I have had plenty of opportunities to join with congregations across the state in worship. The problem, however, with being the pianist is that I'm pretty illiterate when it comes to singing the great hymns of faith. After all, I rarely find myself in the congregation. Oh, I know the heart of them, but if I had to put my book down, I wouldn't be able to get very far in the actual verse. And so what I began as a spiritual discipline through Lent, I have continued today. 

Yes, during those 40 days of "fasting and prayer," I also began singing ... particularly the songs of the cross. Each morning I would take a different hymn from Petersen's "The Complete Book of Hymns" (which includes 600 of them), read of its history, its author, and then sing it -- all the verses ... out loud. It was a wonderful routine, "worship" being a better term, and I would often find myself humming the tune throughout the day. And what oftentimes happens, duty turned into delight, and today, I continue the practice.

The book begins with an Adoration and Praise section, with the hymns within arranged in alphabetical order. So Friday morning had me opened to All Creatures of Our God and King, written in the 13th Century by Saint Francis of Assisi. It begins

All Creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
     Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
     O praise Him, O praise Him!
     Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

St. Francis went on to call forth the wind, the clouds, the morning and evening to praise God; along with flowing water, fire and even "most kind and gentle death." Let all things their Creator bless, he writes in the final verse. When I finished, I scribbled "Top 10" in the margin. 

The next morning found me once again out on my deck in my adirondeck before the sun had made its peak and as "all creation" was beginning to find its voice. As I opened the book, I couldn't get past the day's prior. And so I sang it again. But this time, as I finished, I penned my own words to fit my own setting. And these are the words I sang.

Red Bellies from your morning drum,
Gray squirrels halt your play and come,
     O praise Him! Alleluia!
Come nesting pair with all your breed,
Come rabbit who on green does feed.
     O praise Him, O praise Him!
     Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O hummingbird who's drawn to drink,
Red-wings and Brewers black as ink,
     O praise Him! Alleluia!
O hawk that watches from on high,
Ye geese that trump in pattern fly,
     O praise Him, O praise Him!
     Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Ye croaking frog with forte voice,
Let song of praise be verse of choice.
     O praise Him! Alleluia!
O cardinals, doves and chickadees,
Finch, bluejays, wrens all bow your knee.
     O praise Him, O praise Him!
     Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Yes, ALL creatures of our God and King are bid to come and praise Him. This is your invitation. May you answer with a joyful Alleluia!

Let every creature praise His holy name for ever and ever.
Psalm 145:21b

Just an ordinary moment....

Monday, January 23, 2017

Clanging Cymbals vs. Windchimes

As I opened my Bible to 1 Corinthians 13 several weeks ago and read the first verse, my mind immediately took me to an incident that occurred at the local post office back before Christmas. The line was long and I was about 12 people deep before my turn to mail my package. A cake. In front of me was a woman with her boxes and in front of her a man who was obviously very suspicious of the government. His loud tirade began with cell phone tapping through the towers in Alabama and digressed quickly, moving from our then current president to the incoming incumbent. He was definitely not happy with the first and already trashing the second. Fortunate for me, the woman between us was taking most of the brunt from the storm. She would look at me from time to time and I could see the letters HELP written across her eyelids when she blinked. But all I could do was just give her a pathetic grin that said, "I am so sorry. I feel your pain." And this was just the beginning. It was Christmas after all, and fodder for more, as the advocate for "truth" moved from politics to peace -- and that there would be none until the Prince of Peace Himself comes. True. I could agree with that statement, and so I gave my sheepish grin again and nodded carefully. But then we moved on to the great white throne judgment where God would separate the sheep from the goats. And on it went, louder and louder, until we, he, had finally made his way to the customer service desk. I'm not sure, but I think I heard a collective sigh throughout the lobby.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1). I had my word picture. And it has stuck to me like white on rice. Why? Because I know that I have been that individual.

If there is any one particular material possession that brings me great joy, it would be the chimes my husband gave me for Christmas so many years ago now. Just this morning, I sat in the darkness and listened as one lone tube was struck, leaving its sound in the air until every vibration was dissipated throughout the neighborhood. And then another. Finely turned. Rich. Deep. Beautiful. Just one tone, the same each time, reaching to the depth of my soul.

As the wind began to stir, all the chimes were touched and the one note turned into a melody, a song, until the whole yard was filled with the very tones that when played in order sing "Amazing grace." I let them wash over me and I found great healing ... and peace.

As I picked up my morning reading, I was directed of all things to 1 Corinthians 13 again and was instructed to read the entire passage multiple times. I was asked to become a part of it and to see what images it brought to my mind. To see what phrases resonated within me and to meditate on those shreds of revelation. I was to let the the words come crashing into my spirit like waves on a shore. And to be aware of any memories or experience it kindled.

The word picture of earlier came to mind, but this time it was coupled with the sounds of my chimes that hung just outside my window on the eave of the house. The chimes that were now alive with dance and were singing joyously.

Yes, the world is full of noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. If anything, the last weeks have certainly proven that to be true. And so my thoughts turned to earnest prayer. "O God, may I not be among their number. Rather, let me be one who is moved by the wind of Your Spirit, Your holy Breath, and in doing so, peals forth Love."

Then and only then is there any hope for true Peace in this world.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; 
and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Just an ordinary moment...

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thin Places

Thin places. Those places of awakening when God is especially close. They are porous. Permeable. Where the boundary between what is and what isn't becomes soft. Where the walls become thin. Where we can glimpse the realm of the eternal. And where the eternal can seep through and touch us.

A friend told me recently that when she walked into the chapel at Sancturio de Chamayo, she burst into tears. It was a thin place for her. But it doesn't have to be a place.

Like beautiful music and good poetry.

Like the sacraments of holy communion and baptism where we are awakened to mystery. Or like  a common meal around a dinner table when we realize that every meal is communion.

Like when you hold your first grandchild.

Like when the sun begins its ascent in the east -- and God begins pouring out new mercies. Yes, the stillness of God -- presented Tuesday morning in a white woolen blanket of fog. Not to put down paper and pen would have been a sin. An affront to the One who was coming close. Is this how Elijah felt? It was not a time for dancing or singing or even prophesying.

No. Moments like these are for awareness. For being silent. For beholding. For just being.

Thin places. They are everywhere. Let's all ask for the grace to have eyes to see.

The Lord your God is in your midst...
He will rejoice over you with His gladness,
He will renew you in His love...
Zephaniah 3:17a

Just an ordinary moment...