Monday, May 17, 2010

A New Beginning

I've often heard friends talk about their disappointment in themselves for not keeping up a blog. Well, I can't entirely be disappointed, because my blog wasn't started with the purpose of being consistent ... I was simply fulfilling a class requirement to start a blog and post at least 5 stories! I did just that and forgot about the whole thing ... until now.

I've just graduated from Campbell Divinity School with a Master of Divinity degree. Receiving a theological education was a 20 year dream of mine and a 4 year commitment. Tonight, I was talking with my Aunt Janie who was one of several family members to join me for my weekend hooding ceremony and we talked for nearly 90 minutes! During the conversation, I told her of many of my most enlightening moments of Divinity School and how I had changed so much as a person and as a woman during these years. At one point in the conversation, I was telling her that even after 4 years, I wasn't entirely sure of where God would send me in ministry; however, I was certain of this one thing ... if he sends me to a church, I will be the best educated church staff member I could be, or if he sends me to the mission field, I am ready to be there, or, if he sends me back into a secular office, I will be the best employee and a cubicle will be my sanctuary, or if he sends me to be a neighbor, I will be the best neighbor ... whenever he calls ... "here I am, Lord, send me."

She quickly remembered something I told her about 20 years ago ... I had auditioned for a traveling Christian musical troupe and I didn't make it. Although I was disappointed, she reminded me that I said at that time, "It wasn't within God's plan for me to be a part of that group, it was only his desire for me to be WILLING TO GO."

When she told me this, I was struck with that memory. I hadn't thought of it in years and suddenly, it came to mind ... and I was moved to tears. Indeed. It was not God's plan for me to be in that particular group, but in the process of trying, I was building muscles of obedience. I was learning to be available. I was growing in wisdom and faith.

These past 4 years of Divinity School have certainly been a journey of openness and joy. I never knew how much these experiences would draw me closer to the heart of God ... and yet ... somehow, they have.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sacred Sacrifices

Michael Wagoner proudly serves our nation as a Command Sergeant Major in the United States Army.

On his third tour of duty in Iraq, CSM Wagoner had a “bad feeling” for his troops. Afforded a measure of safety because of his rank, he was not supposed to be in immediate danger. However, on that day, he ordered his driver to transport him and his bodyguard to the front line. He had to see the men and women in his charge.

As we have heard all too often, regrettably, their Hummer hit an IED, blasting a hole the size of a baseball through CSM Wagoner’s leg. His left eye was nearly torn from its socket. Miraculously, the driver and the bodyguard suffered minimal damage and were able to pull the severely injured Wagoner from the burning vehicle; saving his life.

After several months of recovery at Walter Reed with more surgeries at a facility closer to his base in Ft. Campbell, CSM Wagoner was unbelievably considered well enough to return to active duty.

Now on his 4th tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan, he struggles with constant physical and emotional pain. Through his wife’s reports from home, he has discovered that his 10 year old daughter has been having a lot of trouble adjusting to his continued absence. She is often found lying in the fetal position, cries easily, and otherwise shows great emotional strain. She has suffered greatly as she fears for her father who has been absent for most of her young life.

This is merely one story in the ongoing narrative of the sacred sacrifices of America’s military families.

First Lady Michele Obama has been working toward bringing the emotional and economic
plight of military families into public awareness. Mrs. Obama has been moved to tears as she hears their stories of extreme poverty, fear, and depression. She is committed to bonding with these families and promises to work for them, expressing gratitude for their faithful and courageous sacrifices.

Still within his first 100 days in the White House, President Obama is overwhelmed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy at home and abroad, the ongoing threat of war in the Middle East and South East Asia, as well as the turmoil in Africa. With all of this and more going on, it will be interesting to see how long Mrs. Obama’s advocacy for the American military family will have positive results.

Unlike families in the era of the World Wars, unless we have a loved one in service, those of us at home are required to make absolutely no sacrifice on behalf of the war effort. We ration nothing. We are asked to give up nothing. We don’t even have to consider the hell these people live through until we choose to watch the news, read the reports, or otherwise try to find information on their activity.

When we hear of the death of an American soldier, we offer little more than a passing shake of the head. We are briefly saddened, but we are not broken hearted. We do not share in the on going grief of those mothers and fathers who have lost their children. We do not consider the impact on a child who has just learned of a parent’s death.

We must find our better nature and fervently pray for the men and women of our armed forces.

Despite ones opinion regarding the validity of the “war on terrorism” or the place of our military within the world, we should all support and encourage our troops with our thankfulness and prayers.

"Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers" ~ J. Sidlow Baxter

The Spirit of Thankfulness

An amazing thing happened at church recently.

During the final congregational song, I felt the overwhelming sense to stop singing. I was called to be still and quite before the Lord. Feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit, I immediately began to pray.

My first inclination was to utter a prayer for the Lord to “fix” something that was broken within my life, or in the lives of those I love. However, as soon as my mind began to move in that direction, it was as if the Spirit clamped a holy hand over my mouth, my throat was seized, and all my spirit could utter was, “Thank you, Lord.”

My prayer continued: “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. There is not a thing that I could ask for. I have no need. You are the Shepherd who knows my need and you make a way to provide before I am even aware there is a need. You are stronger than my deepest fear. There is not a thing I could do to make you love me more than you do. There is not a sin I have ever committed that is beyond the reach of your grace. There is not a sin I will ever commit that is beyond the blessing of your mercy. You know there is need in the lives of my dear friends and family. You know these burdens are on my heart; yet I trust you, Lord. I know that you will resolve their problems because it is the essence of who you are to give in abundance. It is only left for me to say, ‘Thank you.’”

I love Augustine’s words from his Confessions: “You have enabled me to love you with all my strength and with passionate yearning grasp your hand ...”

I am humbled that the Lord hard-wired me to love him. What a mind-blower. The creator of the universe, the one who has counted the hairs upon the heads of every man, woman, and child on the planet, the one who offered his son as a sacrifice for my sins is the one who chose to love me and desires to be in relationship with me.

God wants to hear the full menu of my prayers: the requests, the rants, the praises, the confessions. But at times, how it lifts my spirit to offer the heart-felt and humble…

Thank you, Father.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.
Thank you, sweet comforter.


thank you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is there Hope?

MSNBC carried the news. Eight homicides have killed 57 people in the past month. Last week alone, within 48 hours we heard the news of a Vietnamese immigrant in New York who killed 13 people then killed himself; three Pittsburgh, PA police officers were killed by an ex-Marine; and in Washington, a jealous husband killed his five children before killing himself.

Too close to home, a man in Carthage, NC entered a nursing home and killed 7 elderly patients and a caregiver while his estranged wife hid in a bathroom.

Experts suggest that “the dismal state of the nation’s economy” is a factor in the rise of such horrific violence. In addition, criminologists say “the epidemic layoffs, the meltdown of storied American corporations and the uncertainty of recovery have stoked fear, anxiety and
desperation across society and unnerved it’s most vulnerable and dangerous.”

Obviously, there are other opinions that are being thrown around, including a representative from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence who blames the broad access criminals have to firearms. Another criminologist claims it is impossible to make a definitive assessment regarding why homicides have increased.

No matter what their opinions, they all seem to agree that “most mass murderers share a common trait: a traumatic event such as a layoff, divorce or separation that sets off an internal rage and a desire for revenge.”

I have heard news reports after many of these events. Often, friends and family members of the killers will say they never would have dreamed the offender could do such a thing. Some of them were loving fathers who chose to end the lives of their families due to economic turmoil. Many were indeed driven to madness and committed their crimes.

It just causes me to wonder -- Is there hope?

Is there hope for our country and our world? With so much violence, turmoil, pain and fear, it seems "Pollyanna-ish" to suggest that indeed, we have hope! This message should be heard first from the church into a world that desperately needs to hear the truth. We have hope. And just where is our hope found?

Scriptures regarding “hope” are just too numerous to include here, but two immediately came to mind.

Psalm 33: 13 - 22
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth-he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.


Romans 5: 1-8

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ is our hope and the church must be more intentional with this message. Could the world be changed with the truth of Christ? I believe so.

Empowered Christians who truly believe their own message could make a lasting impact among those within our society who struggle with loss, depression, and fear. If they don’t hear the message of hope from us, just where will it come from?

There is hope. There is.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Unexpected Blessings

I am not a gardener. Quite the opposite of a “green thumb” actually, I would be known as more like a Dr. Kevorkian to the plant world

In contrast, my grandparent’s home was known and recognized for the perfect rose bushes lining the driveway, the trellis of creeping roses that grew up and around their front porch, and the vibrant forsythia that outlined the hill at the edge of the property. An enormous mighty oak, a grove of dogwoods, two large apple tree’s, and a corkscrew willow work to provide beautiful evidence that a great gardener’s hand had been at work.

My next door neighbor to my left is an avid gardener. There is not an inch of her yard that isn’t planned, pruned, and perfected with nature’s beauty. My next door neighbor to my right is a successful landscaper. He hadn’t moved in before a troop of employees descended upon his house; leaving behind a horticultural masterpiece in a matter of hours.

And then there is our house.

Two and a half years after moving into the neighborhood, I’m ashamed to say our backyard is a mess of mud, a half-completed retaining wall, tools, and an open trailer laden with a load of gravel. It’s been a work in progress for the past four months. Our front yard has a few builder installed bushes, but there is really no curb appeal happening here. We dream and believe that better yard days are coming, but I can’t stop feeling like the worst neighbor. I worry about what Avid Gardener and Landscaper think and the disappointment they must feel when driving into their picturesque driveways.

Then, the unexpected blessings occurred. Arriving home late one afternoon last week, Avid Gardener stopped to tell me how much she enjoyed having me next door and she was serious about the Facebook invitation for a night out for dinner -- her treat -- in honor of my birthday.

The next day, I opened the car door to see that my lawn had been aerated. I looked up in time to see Landscaper getting out of his work truck. He waved.

I swallowed my pride and asked, “I don’t suppose you know how my lawn got aerated, do you?”

“I sure do,” he answered.

I questioned, “Just how did it happen?”

“Galatians 6:10,” was his simple reply as he began to walk toward me.

He came over with his Bible and told me that he had been studying that week and Galatians 6:10 was pressed on his heart.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."

In the middle of a week that had me so stressed with busyness that I thought my head would spin off; I received such wonderful affirmations. To the left and right of me are friends who love me and my family. They are looking out for us in love, respect, and compassion. They are good and decent people. Their kindnesses make me want to be a better neighbor, a better person, a better friend.

And maybe a few lessons in horticulture wouldn’t hurt.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Don't Waste Jesus

Years ago my son Carter and I were in a grocery store when he spotted an “Incredible Hulk” toy display. Three year old Carter cried out to have the item. Upon rejection, surprisingly, he didn't protest. Instead, very seriously he said, "Mommy, why do you think the Hulk is so mad?"

In a rush, aggravated by the pile of errands to do, and annoyed that a grocery store couldn’t just sell groceries, I briskly said, "You know, Honey, I think he just doesn't have Jesus in his heart?"
Thinking for a second, Carter replied, "Is that because we're wasting Jesus?"

Suddenly, feeling the presence of something wonderful about to happen, I stopped the cart and asked my sweet little boy, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he began, “if we have Jesus in our heart and we don't share him then we're wasting him.”

These simple words from my three year old theologian caused me to immediately consider the question, “Was I wasting Jesus?” Sure, I had my own salvation and that was great, but what about those who were not Christ followers? Did I care enough about them to share the hope within me? Was I ignoring the Great Commission of Christ to teach, make disciples and baptize?

I was grieved by my conclusion. In that moment, I realized I had somehow lost a passion for sharing Christ. I was so caught up in my own “stuff” I had little desire to help those outside the faith. I was selfishly relying on my own faith to save me, but I was wasting the opportunities I had to share Christ with others.

That day, I was floored by the wisdom of a child, humbled by the lesson, and more motivated to make sure that I never waste Jesus again.